Malachi spotted the Grigori foot soldier at the edge of the bazaar. The man walked slowly through the Spice Market, stopping occasionally to examine wares he wouldn’t buy, scanning the crowd for…
Dark curling hair shielded her face, but her figure was slight and quick. The human woman radiated energy, even as she strolled through the cacophony of sounds, sights, and smells that careened through the market in the heart of Old Istanbul. Vendors yelled out their wares as tourists sampled the variety of spices, dried fruits, and nuts the market held, and deft boys dodged the traffic, delivering trays of sweet tea.
The woman seemed to exist in her own space, blending into the colorful mosaic of the bazaar, though she spoke to no one.
Malachi’s gaze drifted from her back to the Grigori soldier. In his mind’s eye, he approached the man quietly, stalking him to a deserted corner, grabbed him silently and stabbed a sharp blade into the base of his skull, killing the murderous creature and releasing its soul to face judgement. Then he melted into the crowd, another passing traveller at the crossroads of the world.
You’re reckless. Looking for trouble instead of using your head.
The voice of his last watcher mocked him, so Malachi did none of those things that morning. Instead, he fought back the instinctual rage and watched the man carefully.
The Grigori was hunting.
Casually adjusting the silver knives he wore under his shirt, Malachi tossed a few lira toward a vendor, grabbing a small bag of roasted almonds, just another nameless tourist in the market that morning. Though he was tall for a Turk, hundreds of years had taught Malachi the art of blending into his surroundings. He followed the Grigori as he followed the woman. Hunting him, hunting her. The soldier kept his distance, but never let the woman stray too far ahead. There was no sense of urgency, as usually seen when a Grigori was tracking his prey. The man almost looked relaxed, if one didn’t notice the dark eyes that never left the figure winding her way toward the courtyard that separated the bazaar from the mosque.
The man was nondescript, as the best soldiers were. Local, if he had to guess, though he’d never seen him before. But Malachi had returned to the country of his birth after hundreds of years away. It was possible one of his brothers was familiar with the soldier who was tracking the woman with such restraint.
Who was she?
Her face still obscured by her thick hair, she could have been Turkish or foreign, local or tourist. Her clothes were unremarkable, a loose pair of linen pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Modest, but not religious. The only feature that struck him as notable was the messenger bag she carried. It was expensive. Worn. A man’s bag. Once belonging to a father? A brother? It was a decidedly masculine accessory for the delicate female.
She stopped at the exit to the L-shaped building, turning back to take a picture with a small black camera, just another tourist taking in the sights. As her face lifted to the sun, he saw her features. European… with a distinct hint of something else. A common enough look in a city like Istanbul. The breeze lifted her curling hair as she raised the device, holding it away from her body as she framed the entrance to the building. The Grigori stopped near a small mountain of hazelnuts, trying to ignore the eager vendor who shouted at him about a sale.
The woman paused, and with his shoulder turned away, the Grigori missed the quick glance she gave him, as well as the slight shift in angle as the woman captured his image with her camera. Malachi had to smile. The clever female had spotted the tail, and she’d captured her pursuer before he could duck away. But she didn’t give Malachi notice before she turned and sped out in the sunlight, just as the call to prayer began to echo through the heavy summer air.
Who was she?
The Grigori finally shook off the hazelnut vendor and turned, picking up his pursuit. Malachi continued to follow at a distance, watching him, watching her. The woman ignored the müezzin that called the faithful, stepping lightly along the crowded streets, as she made her way back toward the train station. She turned right near Gulhane Park and followed the tram line up the hill, walking a few blocks before she stopped near the lobby of one of the larger hotels.
Then she stepped into the glass-fronted building and out of sight. The Grigori stopped a block away, watching for a few moments before he pulled out a mobile phone, called a number, and spoke animatedly to whoever was on the other end. After a quick conversation, the man took one last look at the hotel, then walked away, back toward the train station.
But Malachi waited. The Grigori didn’t know he had been spotted, but Malachi had seen the quick recognition on the woman’s face. She hadn’t recognized the man, but she’d known she was being watched. Perhaps, like him, she could sense it. She was more perceptive than the average human; Malachi would have to be careful. He sat down at an outdoor cafe to wait, ordering a tea and continuing to munch on the roasted almonds as he scanned the streets from behind black shaded glasses and pretended to read a newspaper someone had left on the table before him.
A full forty-five minutes later, the woman emerged. She lingered at the entrance for a few minutes, holding a map in front of her as she scanned the streets from behind her glasses. Satisfied her follower had left, she started back up the hill.
She crossed the street, heading toward the Hippodrome. The hairs on Malachi’s neck rose as he walked. The walls whispered, centuries of secrets held in the cobbled brick and marble of Byzantium. As he strolled, ancient graffiti flickered black and grey in the corner of his eye. He saw the woman pause and take a picture in an old graveyard before she kept moving. As Malachi passed, he saw a lazy cat stretching in the sun.
Who was she? And why had she attracted the attention of the Grigori that morning? More, why had the soldier not hunted her in the common way? Grigori didn’t show restraint when seducing a target. Their wicked charm was relentless. If the woman survived the encounter, she was discarded. To follow a woman so discreetly indicated some other, more enigmatic, motivation.
She walked the length of the Hippodrome, past the obvious tourist traps, then turned right near a small cafe. Climbing up a side street, she dodged a car coming out of a parking lot as she put her map away. It looked as if she was walking into a dead end street before she took a sudden left and disappeared. Malachi followed cautiously, hoping to not appear too conspicuous as he approached a building tented for renovation. He stopped to read a sign detailing the improvements to the structure, which housed a museum. Then he watched from the corner of his eye as the woman approached what looked like an old Ottoman house, but was probably one of the many boutique hotels that had sprung up in the last few years. A discreet doorman stepped outside, opened the door and spotted him. Without a pause, Malachi walked away.
He turned back to the Hippodrome, pausing to take note of the glowing red lanterns in front of the Chinese restaurant near her hotel, before he began the trek back to Galata. The woman, whoever she was, was staying at the small hotel. He’d find her again if he wanted. As for the Grigori’s odd behavior…
He’d have to ask Damien if he’d seen anything like it before. His watcher had centuries more experience than Malachi. He may have been called reckless, but he knew how to use the resources he was given.
Stuffing the almonds back in his pocket, Malachi’s thoughts turned to decidedly more practical matters. With the heat of the day rising and too many salted almonds in his belly, he needed a drink. Throwing one last glance toward the wood-fronted house, he started back toward home.
He slammed the door shut on the small refrigerator.
“Doesn’t anyone buy beer besides me?” he yelled to the empty kitchen. “If you don’t buy it, you shouldn’t drink it!”
From upstairs, a faint voice came. “You spent too much time in Hamburg. You’re back in Istanbul, Mal; we drink raki.” It was Maxim, no doubt lying in bed, waiting for the city to cool before he emerged.
“Or tea,” another voice added in the same thick, Russian accent. If Maxim was upstairs, so was his cousin, Leo. “Gallons of tea.”
“Oceans of it.”
“If only the Bosphorus flowed with vodka.”
“We should get the brothers in Odessa working on that…”
Damien walked into the kitchen, glancing upward as the cousins continued to rib each other. “Drink water. You’re not used to the heat yet.”
Malachi grimaced. “I’ll be fine. I was born here.”
The watcher pulled a bottle of water from a cupboard and threw it toward him, the tattoos on his bare arms rippled as he threw the plastic bottle. “But you haven’t lived here for hundreds of years. The city has grown, and that makes it hotter.”
“Anthropogenic heat,” said Rhys, walking into the kitchen from the library and holding his hand out to Damien for another bottle of water. The pale man had been sweating non-stop for three days, not surprising considering the air-conditioner had broken around that time. His dark brown hair was plastered to his forehead, and his normally pale skin was flushed. “Human activity produces heat. More humans. More heat. Not to mention climate change. Bloody humans and their automobiles will kill us all.”
Damien and Malachi exchanged amused glances. The cranky British scholar was constantly nostalgic for pre-industrial times.
“Heat can’t kill us, Rhys!” Leo called from above.
“But your whining is doing a fairly good job of torture,” Maxim added. “Is whining a violation of the Geneva Convention?”
“Does the Geneva Convention apply to us?”
“Ask Rhys. He knows everything.”
The scholar’s face only grew redder. “Maybe if I wasn’t the only one working—”
“Stop.” One quiet word from Damien was all it took. The three men fell silent, even the ones on the second floor, who could hear their watcher’s voice from a distance.
Damien was of average height and weight. His face could make humans stop and stare, or blend into a crowd, based solely on his demeanor. The only remarkable thing about him was the intricate tattoo work he had inked all over his arms. Malachi knew the work covered most of the man’s legs, as well, though he kept them carefully covered. Malachi glanced down at his own markings. Four hundred years of scribing himself still hadn’t left him half as covered as Damien. Who knew how old the man was?
Damien continued in a low voice, “Leo, did you call the man to repair the air-conditioner?”
A thundering set of footsteps came down the stairs and the hall. The man they belonged to stopped in the door, filling it with his massive frame. “They said they will come tomorrow. Beginning of the summer means lots of work. They’re busy.” Sweat dotted a pale forehead, topped by a thatch of sandy blond hair. Maxim followed Leo, a mirror of his cousin. The two were inseparable, cousins being as rare as siblings in their race. Their mothers had been twin sisters, and the men looked like twins themselves. Even their tattoos were almost identical, though their personalities couldn’t have been more opposite.
“So no air-conditioning until tomorrow?” Rhys asked.
Damien shrugged. “Sleep on the roof. There are beds up there and the breeze will be better when the sun goes down.”
For some reason, Malachi’s thoughts flicked to the woman slipping into the wooden house near Aya Sofia. The house had a plain street view, a classic Ottoman design, it was probably cool and shaded in the interior. There might have been a courtyard. And air-conditioning.
“I should have kept following the woman,” he muttered.
Damien’s ears caught it. “What woman? Why were you following her? You know you’re not allowed to—”
“Do I look like a foolish boy?” He glared at the man. “There was a woman at the Spice Market. She’d caught the attention of a Grigori soldier. I was watching him, and he was watching her.”
All amusement fled the group. Each man knew the danger of a Grigori attack.
Maxim asked, “Did you kill him before he got to her?”
Rhys offered a bloodthirsty smile, forgetting his misery in the contemplation of Grigori death. “Set his soul free to be judged, brother? I wish I could have helped.”
“I didn’t. I’m being cautious, remember?” He aimed a pointed look at Damien. “Besides, his behavior was… odd. I wanted to ask you about it.”
Damien narrowed his eyes. “Odd how?”
“He was hunting her, but he wasn’t. He never approached her. Never tried to charm her. He was actually trying to remain unnoticed.”
Leo shook his head. “No, that’s not how they work. They seduce. They—”
“We all know what the Grigori do, Leo.” Damien was staring at Malachi. “What happened?”
“He followed her back to a hotel, and…”
Maxim said, “And what?”
“Nothing. He just watched her, called someone on the phone, then left.”
Damien was silent. The others were silent. It was, just as Malachi had suspected, unusual behavior for the Grigori of Istanbul. He was hoping that Damien would have some clue, but the man’s face registered nothing. Not shock, not recognition. Nothing.
The watcher finally said, “So you know where this woman is staying?”
He smiled. “I do, but the Grigori doesn’t.”
“I thought you said—”
“She spotted him at the market. Took his picture, when he was looking away. She went into the lobby of one of the hotels near the palace, waited for forty minutes until he’d left, then went to her real hotel. The Grigori never saw where she’s actually staying.”
Damien nodded, seemingly impressed with the resourcefulness of the human. “Clever.”
Leo nodded and grinned. “I like the clever ones. Was she pretty, too?”
Maxim elbowed his cousin. “That’s not important.” Then he turned to Malachi and narrowed his eyes. “But was she?”
“She was… interesting.” She had been pretty, Malachi realized. He’d been concentrating so hard on the chase that he hadn’t really noticed until he remembered her fine features, the slope of her eyes. “Yes, she was pretty.” Not that it mattered to him, but the cousins were still young enough to find human women attractive. They had never known true beauty like the older men had.
“I want you to go back to her hotel tomorrow,” Damien said. “Find out more. And you’re sure she wasn’t…?” There was a slight, hopeful rise in his voice.
“I don’t think so,” Malachi said quietly. “She would have heard me, if she was. And the Grigori wouldn’t have shown any restraint.”
“Of course.” Damien looked away. All the men found things to look at, other than each other. “Go back tomorrow,” Damien said. “Find out more. We need to know why she’s attracted their attention this way. This is different.”
Malachi took a deep breath, alternately concerned and excited about the chase. It might be his most interesting day in the Old City yet.
The woman took a lot of pictures. And from the look of her equipment, she was a professional. She took picture after picture of the Sultanahmet’s mosques and streets. The alleys and corner gardens. Odd angles a tourist wouldn’t think of. Glimpses of old women selling lace and children selling toys. She even lay down on the dirty sidewalk at times. She ate corn and chestnuts from the carts in front of the Aya Sofia, and watched the tourists feed the pigeons. She captured it all, from the grand to the gritty.
No one was with her, and the Grigori hadn’t found her again. Malachi watched her for hours the next morning as she made her way through the old city. Every now and then, she would duck into a quiet alley or deserted shop, hold her head in her hands and rub her temples.
Was she dehydrated? She’d been sipping water all morning, but looked to be suffering from a terrible headache. Still, she didn’t return to her hotel. Her face, now that he was looking at it, was a picture of well-concealed tension. Crowds seemed to make her particularly nervous, and she avoided the swarms of tourists that came off the cruise ships at regular intervals.
Was she afraid of them? Was that why she took shelter in the quieter corners when she could? Malachi didn’t think so. She looked, more than anything, exhausted, though every now and then a child or group of children would pass and her face would light up. She liked children. So did Malachi. The thought made him smile.
Despite her exhaustion, she continued taking pictures all morning, checking her phone every now and then. He would guess she was a regular traveler. The way she navigated the city, the way she talked to people, there was something about her manner that told him she was very comfortable with new places. If she was a professional photographer, it would make sense. What didn’t make sense was why the Grigori soldier had been following the human woman yesterday, but not hunting her.
She worked her way through the Sultanahamet and toward the Galata Bridge, closer to the neighborhood where he and his brothers made their home. She picked up the tail just before the the tram stop.
There were two this time, still watching. Still hanging back far enough that Malachi could keep them in sight while watching the woman. She paused near the train station, then turned back and turned left to a more empty side street. What was she doing? Was she headed for the park? The police station? No, she turned right again. She was headed back up the hill. Malachi tried to get closer, only to see her turn to look over her shoulder at the two Grigori following her.
She’d spotted them.
He could tell she was trying to lose the tail, ducking into crowds when she could and darting across the street, coming far too close to cars for his liking. She walked quickly, but the soldiers were good. Just before the street opened up, she made a quick left into an alley and Malachi’s heart leapt.
Bad move, woman. Why were humans so stupid at times?
He sped up. They wouldn’t attack her in the open during the day, but Grigori would have no qualms about disappearing with her. If they caught up to her, she was history. No government in the world would find a trace. The soldiers turned left and followed her into the alley.
Malachi started running, no longer worried about attracting attention. He had to get to her. Had to keep them from—
“And that is why you don’t fuck with someone with pepper spray, asshole! What? Did you think because I’m a tourist I wouldn’t be able to protect myself?” She kicked one in the kidneys, standing over both men holding a small can. Malachi turned his head away as the breeze drifted toward him. Both Grigori soldiers were on the ground, writhing and clutching their faces. Holding preternaturally sensitive eyes and noses that were, no doubt, in agony from the pungent concoction she’d sprayed from the can.
Malachi was gaping. How had she caught them by surprise? Their race could move almost silently. No human should have been able to fend off—
“And you!” The woman was pointing at him now, aiming the can in his direction. He brought his right thumb to his left wrist and began tracing, silently rousing the spells that would protect his senses, should she choose to attack. He felt it, the warm glow of magic spread up his arm, suffusing his body with power, activating the tapestry of magic that protected him. In seconds, Malachi would be covered with an armor even the fiercest warrior could not penetrate. “Why the hell have you been following me?” she demanded.
“I haven’t been following you.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I saw these men follow you into the alley.” He lifted his hands, no longer worried about the pepper spray. He could feel the ancient power swirling over his skin. “I’m just trying to help.”
“Don’t lie to me!” Her energy was high, her adrenaline staining the air as she walked toward him. Malachi backed away, drawing her out of the alley and into the safer street. “You were following me yesterday. You’ve been following me all morning. Why?”
How had she known?
“I haven’t been following you,” he lied. “Do you need some help? Is there someone I can call for you?” She was attracting enough attention just by her raised voice. He didn’t want to attract the police. That was the last thing either of them needed. “Put the pepper spray down. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I might. If you tell me why you were following me all morning.”
“For the last time, I have not been—”
Her temper burst. “I heard you, you lying asshole! Do I look stupid? Why were you following me?”
The ground beneath him shifted. The spells on his arms pulsed.
‘I heard you.’
Malachi blinked as his vision scattered, then focused on the fearless woman in front of him.
“What did you say?”
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Hunter