City in Embers - Stacey Marie Brown


The pavement came up, slamming against the soles of my shoes. My legs stretched farther, leaping over a garbage can. Trying to slow me, the entity I ran after hurled another container to the ground, which crashed loudly in the narrow, grimy lane. My breath held in my lungs as I sailed over the bin, keeping my pace through the dark, shadowy maze.

“Zoey!” I heard Daniel call my name. My head swiveled to see his outline point down an alley, splitting off from the one we were in. I gave a nod and turned my focus ahead. We had been working together for almost three years, and I knew even by the lift of his eyebrow what he meant. We knew every inch of the alleyways in downtown Seattle by heart. The one he went into now eventually turned and intersected this one.

Breath pumped radically in my lungs as I sprinted after our target. This one was faster than most. He slithered around a dumpster, veiling his position. My fingers wrapped around the grip of the gun harnessed on my right side when the guy came back into my view. It was a dart gun, filled with a high dose of chloroform. The real gun loaded with special fae-designed ammo was attached to my left side and was only used in emergency cases. In my three years, I only used it a handful of times. Hopefully, tonight was not one of those occasions.

The long, lean body cut around a corner, disappearing from sight once again. I rounded the bend and down the alley in pursuit when a trash lid came hurtling at my head like a Frisbee. With a squeak, I threw myself onto the uneven terrain. The metal rim grazed my head, hitting the wall before it clattered to the pavement.

The man’s lip twisted in a scowl as he took off running. Scrambling up, I tore after it. It. Him. Whatever. In reality, he was fae. And fae meant vile, threating, loathsome creatures.

“Dammit,” I mumbled as the figure hopped onto a dumpster and bounced up to grab the building’s escape ladder. Aiming my dart gun at his back, my fingers twitched on the trigger. I only had one dart. If I missed, it would be all over, and Daniel was too far away. Our target would slip through our fingers. Shoving the weapon back into my holder, I scrambled up the bin. My jeans tore on a bent piece of metal, slicing deep into my knee. Sucking in a hiss of pain, I jumped for the fire escape, climbing the rungs to the roof.

A massive element came rushing toward my head. What the hell? First a trash lid. Now a satellite dish? This guy really wanted to decapitate me. I dipped below the building as the object skimmed my hairline, tumbling to the ground with a loud crack. Pieces of plastic, metal, and wiring scattered.

I peeked over the ledge. The spot where he had been standing was empty.


My arms pulled me onto the roof, my feet scaling over the last two steps. I had barely landed when something sprang at me, knocking me down. A fist came for my face. I twisted, his hand grazing my ear, hitting the surface.

“I know what you are.” His voice was more high-pitched than I expected. A forked tongue darted between his front teeth. The canine teeth had grown into long, spiky points, dripping with venom. Great. A snake shape-shifter.

No wonder Dr. Rapava was anxious for us to collect this fae. It was a rare find. Being close, I could see his eyes were a bright golden brown, his nose was stumpier than a normal man’s would be, and his skin had a smooth, scaly look to it. Like a reptile’s. His hair was black on top and tan on either side of his head. A tattoo of a cobra was inked on his neck.

“And I know what you are, too. Awesome. Introductions are over.” I kneed him in the groin. Snake or not, he was still a man. He wilted, contorting, giving me time to scuttle back onto my feet. He spit on the ground and curled up, striking out for me. His mouth open, his teeth ready to sink deep into my skin. Why couldn’t he be a cute garter snake?

I ducked, hitting him in the stomach. A long hiss broke from his lips. He spun and lunged for me, his knuckles contacting the side of my mouth. Pain burst up my