The restaurant was packed to just the right density for Henri to move unobtrusively through the crowd. His slim form slipped through darkness along the room’s edges, the slick black suit swallowing the light. The shadows greeted him like an old friend and he smiled, appreciating the little things that made his business easier.
Beyond his sheltered alcove, spindly crimson tables glittered with fineware and crystal goblets. Smoked saffron drifted on the air, collecting in sparkling glass dishes where holographic exotics danced. Showy for a human restaurant, but his place was not to comment. If the humans gathered wished to elevate themselves above their status, he would not prevent them. Well, not all of them.
His dark eyes lit upon his prey, a pure star dimmed by the pretentious milieu of the restaurant. She should not be there. But beneath her vibrant surface were one too many flaws – which his client had discovered, now to exploit.
“M’lady,” he whispered, stepping so close her fresh jasmine scent brushed his skin. She froze at the breath from the shadows, then excused herself from the nameless many to take his outstretched hand.
“Is it time?” Her whisper was as frail as the curling smoke, and as fragrant.
He nodded, leading her further from the light. The bartender turned away, deliberately unseeing, palming his credits beneath the counter.
Outside the rain fell like a veil, hiding the tall black man and his small white companion, fear and excitement warring on her face. They passed swiftly through back doors and alleyways. Up a flight of sandstone stairs cut into the city wall. Into a portal thrown with a practised flick. Abruptly onto a worn paisley carpet that smelled of damp and time.
Henri was up in a bound, leaping to the door to check they had not been heard. The woman, the fallen star, was slower and more wary.
“What is this?”
Her tinkling voice did not tremble. Henri admired that. He returned to crouch beside her, withdrawing a bundle from a sliding panel on the way. He pressed it in her hand, long dark fingers strangely smooth and cool.
“Kali sends her regards.”
Eyes that cut like crystal pierced his. “What? No. I did not pay for this!”
“She thought you might say that. By the time you wake, it will be too late.”
Something hissed and the woman crumpled gently to the floor. Henri checked her vitals, then left the package by the sleeper and plucked a single golden hair. He closed his eyes, concentrated, and shimmered.
When his eyes reopened, they were the colour of crystal in the rain. Instead of Henri there now stood a petite woman identical to the sleeper, from hair to fashionable clothes. Checking her reflection, Aurora reviewed Kali’s directives against her other client’s… and the steps required to bring him down. She smiled in satisfaction at her new body. As always, Kali had taste.
It was the little things that made her job worthwhile.
This story began as a response to Reddit Writing Prompt’s Theme Thursday challenge, to write about Taste.
It features a character who turns up in the novel I’m currently writing, book one of the Archivist series. To say more would give things away, but I’m pretty excited that I got to write about them!
Part of the feedback I received from the amazing folks at Writing Prompts was that Henri’s transformation into Aurora was not foreshadowed much, except that he commented on the ‘humans’ at the beginning. Also, people were not sure about his features, making him hard to picture. I would love to expand this 500-word piece into a short story where I could elaborate more. I shall put it on my ‘to-do list’…
In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed. Please do comment – critiques are welcome. And as always, subscribe below to receive notification each time I post. See you next time.