The woman striding across the parking lot toward the now-closed Hepzibah's Wings bristled with weaponry. An untrained eye, like those of the two men leaning against the wall of the Mediterranean grocery, smoking, would see a tallish redhead, maybe five foot seven, in a black leather duster and sensible boots, wearing elaborate eyeglasses. Oren Stolt knew better. She was armed, and heavily. He might be dead tired, his own coat shredded from tangling with an ancient vamp earlier tonight—and why hadn't the local vampire organization put that poor, skeletal thing out of its misery?—but a blind man could see the way the coat swung heavily around her long legs, the pockets weighted, most likely with ammunition.
She walked with a slight limp, and he suspected a sword or a crossbow quiver strapped to her leg. Gang members didn't carry that sort of weaponry, not even in this part of town. If the Memphis PD caught her, it would be a trip to a holding cell at 201 Poplar for sure. But they never came down to this part of Orange Mound, where rap and Latin music warred for dominance with the half a dozen languages in the air. It was a favorite hunting ground for renegade vampires, who didn't adhere to the local rules.
She made her way up the deserted side street, fully alert even at this hour, which looked good only to suicides. Oren stepped out of the alley and tried to fake going about his business. Not that anyone had much business in this neighborhood at any time of day. Animal control was his business. He ran this territory, and no paranormal entered its boundaries without his people knowing—not vampire nor Undying—and she was likely the latter. Vampires didn't normally carry weapons. The Undying followed trouble, usually. A rare few arrived in advance. Neither sort was welcome.
He heard the distinctive sound of a crossbow's crank from behind him. That settled it. Undying for sure: only they used such archaic weaponry, finding crossbows well suited to their task.
"You, Ungodly. Stand and identify before I shoot you in the back." Her voice carried, cold and flat. He wondered if she was one of Jacob's Undying protégés. Oren never wanted to work with Jacob's people. It was said that the renegade Undying trained only psychopaths, and rumor had it he removed their pleasure centers before releasing them into the wild to hunt their own "ungodlies." Oren gave the last no credence—Undying could regenerate from anything, he'd heard.
He stopped in his tracks, raising his hands to show they were empty. "Oren Stolt. You one of Jacob's people?"
She stepped into his line of vision, the pistol grip crossbow loaded with a sharpened stake and a Magnum in the other hand. "No, I'm one of Lielit's."
Oren breathed more easily. Lielit was one of the sanest Undyings he knew of. He'd heard she was a stickler for rules and for doing things right. All of the Undying went a little mad in some way, and obsessive compulsion was an easier shade of crazy to live with than full-blown homicidal mania. The trauma of waking up after being dead tended to shake an Undying's world to the foundations. The atheist ones had it worst, the stories said. At least the monotheists had a myth from Genesis to explain it, inadequate as the story was. Polytheists, rarer in this day and age, came up with their own stories, according to his mother's research.
Now all he had to do was stay alive long enough to explain who he was.