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Kim McDougall Author

Outtake from Book 3: Hell HOunds Don't Heel

Kyra Finds a new Species in an Old church

Emil lived in an old Catholic church that had been converted into apartments, not far from where Cyril died last fall. As I pulled to the curb, an older white woman rose from where she’d been crouching in the garden. Silver hair blew around her head in a cloud and she squinted behind oversized glasses.

The spring wind was fierce and I zipped up my jacket as I jumped from my truck. Emil had already parked and was standing next to the woman.

“Kyra, this is my landlady, Maude Bellamy,” he said.

Maude pulled off her garden gloves, but made no move to shake my hand. She was shorter than me by several inches, but her fierce blue eyes made her seem bigger in stature.

“Damn rats dug up nearly all my tulip bulbs. You need to whack ‘em before they get onto the roses.”

I glanced at the garden. Rats didn’t eat tulip bulbs, but when a customer had an idea in their head, it was best to just go along with it until you had proof otherwise. Even then, many of them would look at a trapped, hissing pooka and swear it was a raccoon. It was all about what let them sleep better at night.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I assured her. “Emil can you show me where you last saw them?” Emil nodded and we left Maude to her roses. 

“She doesn’t see too well anymore,” Emil said. “I try to help with some of the maintenance so it doesn’t become too much for her. I’d hate for her to sell.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “Maude is one of the few people who don’t care that I’m a vampire. With the way things are these days, I’d have a hard time finding another place to stay.”

The harsh noon sun glinted off the rosetta window above the door. We stepped inside to a large open room with couches circling a wood stove. High on the walls, light filtered in through a series of arched stained-glass windows.

“I thought these were apartments,” I said.

“More like a boarding house. This is the common room. We all share the kitchen and a couple of bathrooms.” He led me through the main room to a small hallway and then the kitchen. 

“The cellar is down here.” He opened another door, revealing rough wooden stairs leading into darkness. 

“Any traces of them in the kitchen?” I looked around at the tidy countertops. The appliances were old but clean. “Any droppings?”

“No, but I’m pretty sure I saw something run across the counter a few nights ago when I came down for some hot blood at midnight.” He smiled wryly. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“There’s a lot of that going around.” I hadn’t had a decent night’s rest since Mason left for France five months ago.
I opened a few cupboards looking for, but not really expecting to find rodent droppings. 

“You said your cat trapped one?” I asked.

“Not sure. He only brought me the tail. Dropped it right on my bed. Here. I saved it for you.”

He handed me a thin, greenish tail covered in fine scales. Interesting. What kind of rodent had a lizard tail?

“He must think I’m a bad hunter because he brings me little presents,” Emil said. “I heard scurrying in the cellar, but I don’t think there’s an infestation of these things, or we’d see more of them. But Maude is pretty fastidious. She doesn’t like the idea of any vermin in her home.”

“Let’s go take a look, then.” I ducked through the low door to the cellar. The stairs creaked with each step, though Emil bounded down them like a teenager. At the bottom he flicked on one bare bulb that hung in the middle of the room. The place was a mess. Metal shelves lined the walls, but everything had been dumped off them. Canned goods lay in piles on the floor, their labels mostly chewed off. A crate of lightbulbs had fallen and smashed. Other baskets and boxes were chewed through and their contents scattered across the floor. It looked like vandalism, until I crouched to examine several fallen boxes. They had tiny bite marks all over them. And the labels were chewed off all the canned goods. 

I stood upright and scanned the chaos. 

“Any idea what we’re dealing with?” he asked. 

“None whatsoever,” I said. “But that’s not unusual in my line of work. Critters are better at finding cracks between worlds than us. With the magic so strong here, Terra is a magnet for all kinds of otherworldly beings. Or we could be dealing with a prehistoric animal that has been in hibernation since the last great magic age…Aha!” 

I felt more than saw a creature run along the topmost shelf. It was fast. I stood in the middle of the room and pushed out my keening, the sixth sense I use to detect even the minutest traces of magic. Every creature—and plants too as I’d been learning—had a unique signature of energy. Their life magic. And I could track it.

These creatures were something I’d never encountered before. Their magic was sweet, in a way, like warm milk and honey. I sensed two tiny bodies, huddled together somewhere in the ceiling. Hardly and infestation, despite the level of destruction.
Now I just had to find them. 

“So what’s up with your friend, Mason?” Emil asked. “He’s been gone a long time. Word on the street is that the Guardians are going to pick a new captain if he doesn’t come back soon.”

My gut twisted. I went through every day trying not to think about Mason, about how he’d promised to be away for two months and had been gone for over five. The last email was sent from the ship just before he arrived in Port Marseilles. At least I knew he hadn’t been eaten by sea monsters or taken by pirates on the trip over. He was going tracked down his mysterious weapon against Polina in a small village in the mountains above Marseilles Ward. He would be traveling the Inbetween alone. Anything could happen to him in those wilds. And clearly something had or he’d be home by now.

“Would you quit chattering and let me listen?” I snapped at Emil. The vampire held up his hands and backed away in surrender. 

“I’m sorry.” I sighed. “It’s just that I need quiet to hear them.” It was a poor excuse, but I didn’t want to get into my personal issues with Emil. “Why don’t you go get a trap out of my truck?”

Emil nodded and headed back up the stairs with a glum face.

Great. Now I could make even the undead sad.

If you want to find out what kind of rodent could have a lizard tail, visit Kyra’s blog at ValkyrieBestiary.com.