Where I come from the sea is wild. The beach is a forest of torn up forests one day, a jungle of seaweed ripped from its beds the next. Waves crash relentlessly over jagged rocks spouting foam high into the air. My village nestles in a protected cove, cliffs soar high behind. Access is by a road for the stout of heart that twists over the bay, or a narrow channel to be braved only at high tides. Not surprisingly the population is small. It had grown though, over the years of my absence. Until now. I have been aware of a sudden drop in population, a spate of disappearances. I must return.
My old van chugged along okay and was a serviceable home when on the road, as I was much of the time. It took a lot of coercing to make it from Kilder’s bay over the peninsula into my first home, the village of Awa. I stop in the narrow band of arable farmland that lies between the descent and the village itself. Partial walls and floor, and a few stairs are all that remains of my childhood home. A ripple of nostalgia runs through me. Silly. Images float around me, imprints of myself and my sister racing up the stairs, laughing together, huddled around the fire, running down the path to get water. I almost hear our wolfhound, Odin, barking at us, or with us. I smile and leave. Ancient history.
It had grown dark, which suited me and my purpose. My van would soon be parked in a small rocky cove I know well, but few venture too. I did not want to attract attention. First, I stopped next at the cemetery, at the grave Ma and Pa shared. Another pile of crumbling stone, with no one since I left to care for it.
I heard her then. Not a memory of her, but her.
A howl. She knew I had arrived.
Time to shed human form, be prepared. I shook out my long fine feathers down my neck and over my back, I held back pain as my wings emerged. I sound like an angel don’t I? I am not. My feathers are dull grey, my real face a dull blue. My face is a broad beak filled with shark-like rows of teeth. Pain rips through me again as my knees bend back, taking on the shape of the legs of a beast but with bird-like toes and talons. Now I sound terrifying. I am a hybrid of human and demon, as were both our parents. Not all demons are evil. My preferred diet is fish, my preferred lifestyle is one of peace. Not so my sister. I thought I had buried her long ago, but something has woken her.
She is hunting again. She would not spend long in the village, I cannot let her finish here and venture into the world beyond. A voice intrudes on my thoughts.
“Sister Nadia. You have come home. So happy to see you.”
The words were hissed. Nadia’s demon form is serpentine.
“You seem to be up to old tricks Sister Letitia.”
”Nadia, dear. You know the meaninglessness of these people’s existence in this forsaken dot on the map. I have been asleep for a while. I need to feed. Why was I asleep so long, Nadia?”
The last word was spat at me. She knows full well I had fooled her with a mix of a drug and spell woven of the elements that bound us. Father was of fire, Mother of the sea. We are both and more.
My wings are out of practice, I only just evade her lunge. Her venom is deadly.
I realise how unprepared I am. I cannot battle her on the ground. I have no means to contain her without some form of distraction or deception.
“I need to feed.” With those chilling words she slithers away, her speed is impressive. I cannot keep up. It is too long since I held this form, I am weak.
I grit my teeth and fly until my wings ache and hunger sends urgent messages to refuel me. I enjoy a dive into my old hunting grounds. Two or three fat silvery fish. So much easier to eat like this, no preparation or cooking.
I will be stronger tomorrow night, so long as I hold my form. Best to lock myself in my van and sleep through the remainder of the night and the day. I will be stronger, much stronger when I wake.
A scream reaches my demon-sharp ears before sleep takes me. My sister has fed.
I wake late evening, hungry. I find a shoal of fish, I relish the crunch of raw fish head between my teeth, their guts slither down my throat. Feeding as a human has been so dull.
Rested, fed, I feel stronger and ready to face what I must. I have rope, I have a syringe of anti venom, and most importantly I have concealed the same elixir I treated my sister to last time, but stronger. This time must be the last, but she would not be easily fooled.
That last time was when I discovered how she had turned, what she was doing. She didn't know I cared. What I gave her then was meant to be lethal, but she was stronger than I thought. How had she escaped the deep sink hole I had dragged her comatose bulk into, before filling it with rocks? It was not an easy feat to dispose of her, both physically and emotionally. I shed tears for the sister who had left me, who had let her demon form rule. It had to be done, and now it must be done again.
I fly back to the sinkhole. After over 300 years the land had changed. An earthquake had at some time split the land. The rocks I had hurled in had scattered, the space now filled with water. The influx of water and oxygen would have woken her, fish would have poured in to feed her. Unfortunately fish would not satisfy Nadia.
I need to spend more time feeding, I am stronger but not yet at full power. A young shark is more substantial than the other fish I fed on earlier, but not enough. Feeding is taking time, it is annoying. A brief vision of a Thai fish curry my human self was fond of flits through my mind. My stomach rebels. Meat must be raw.
Nadia has a demon cunning, and arrogance. But she is not smart. She has not spent the many years I have been allowed to gain knowledge. Nadia is stronger, but I have an edge. She has been enjoying human prey roughly every few weeks from what I calculated, but I think tonight she will feed again, I know, more to upset me than to satisfy hunger. She won’t be able to resist. Nadia would use her human form to find food, her demon body is hardly inconspicuous. Then she has to lure her prey to places possible to transform.
I am tempted to take human form, to walk the streets, to follow her. To talk to her as a human again. A longing for that relationship with a sister I once loved holds me, briefly, but I can’t. Changing forms uses more strength than I can afford. I need every edge I can muster.
It is not hard to perch on roof tops, to spy on the goings on of the village. Only one small main street. One bar. .
I indulged a small energy in a rune to mask my scent.
The bar was not surprisingly the best target to watch. Nadia entered around 9pm, a time when many patrons had imbibed enough to be readily friendly. My demon sight sees clearly inside the bar. I am getting more fond of this form, why have I kept it hidden for so long?
I need to get closer. I can hear, but not clearly enough. I creep into the trash alley. The bathrooms are a lean-to addition on the ancient stone building. Above the lean-to is a narrow window into the bar, open to let out the heat that easily builds in such places. I land softly its the roof. The angle is perfect, I cannot be seen.
They know her well. She is greeted. Her name here is Latvana. The men like her, the women don’t. She accepts a lot of drinks, I notice she likes Vodka. I wonder if she holds some demon strength in her human form as I am sure her apparent inebriation is an act. She is looking around a lot. Looking for me. Her eyes rise to the window, I flatten myself. When I look back her attention is on her target.
She is flirting at every opportunity with a man who seems to have a girlfriend with him. He is flirting back. What an ass. The girlfriend blows up at Nadia, who plays innocent victim. The girlfriend storms off. Nadia works on her prey.
I see her leave, but she doesn’t go home. She is waiting in a doorway down the street. The man soon joins her, looking over his shoulder. They are sticking to the shadows, stopping for quick kisses and gropes. She giggles, and he shushes her. She would not like that.
How long will my rune hold from her detecting my scent? I don’t know. There are few places she can take him. A park, under a bridge, patches along the river bank. I shall hang back and rely on my hearing. The village knows people are disappearing, but no bodies are found. Nadia is a clean eater, she swallows bodies whole. She must spit out the less desirable bits of clothing somewhere distant. No trace is left.
She is heading under the bridge. She drags him down, giggling. I can no longer stay hidden, my mask on my scent has evaporated. She hisses, looking straight at me. Her prey stays firmly gripped as she transforms. He is screaming, but not for long. Nadia/Latvana cuts off his scream by pushing his head into her widening mouth. She is sure I cannot stop her. I wait and watch, that last gulp, she throws her head back. I fire. I fire my dart of toxin, not into her, but into the calf of the man rapidly disappearing down her throat.
His feet disappear. She lies, languidly, looking at me.
“What do you plan to do sister dear? Offer me something to swallow him down with?” I think she is giggling, a series of short hisses. There is a shimmering ward around her. It won’t last long, but long enough for her to grind the poor man’s body into easily digestible pulp, and be ready to face me.
“How long have you held that form for Nadia?” She asked, looking briefly triumphant. Why would she look like that? The triumphant smile fades, the toxins I fired into her dinner leech into her flesh.
She lunges at me with a final, adrenaline fired surge of strength, I surge up, fast. Not fast enough, I feel one fang graze my foot before her body slumps and rolls. Where is my anti-toxin? It has fallen. I am lucky it is a toe graze. My foot is already dead, I can feel the toxin creeping up. I see it. I grab the syringe and jab it into my thigh. The venom retreats.
The river was her fast get away, out into the sea to spit out her left overs. No evidence. The river made it easy for me to roll her corpse into its current and nurse it out to deep sea. With my rope I tie a boulder to her body to drag her into the ocean, to a deep trench I know runs through this seabed. In a couple of weeks all the fish that feed on her body will wash up dead on the beach, but her bones should stay tethered until they fall apart.
I am now ravenously hungry, yes, a shark, a decent size. Strength flows back, but this is not enough. A longing builds in me. A longing for warm red blood. Too late, I understand Nadia’s last grin. I had held demon form for too long, fish would no longer satisfy. My hunger, my lust for red meat consumes me. My eyes are swirling blood, my mind, my mind is lost in a red haze… all I know is I must feed.