Home > A City of Lies (A Shade of Vampire #55)(9)

A City of Lies (A Shade of Vampire #55)(9)
Author: Bella Forrest

“Does anybody know what happened?” I asked, looking around at the concerned Imen. They all shook their heads and shrugged.

“He just fell,” one of them said.

“It’s the slumber before death for sure,” another chimed in from the back. The others nodded in agreement.

“Has he been sick for long?” I inquired, touching the Iman’s face.

“Out of the way,” a Correction Officer barked as he pushed the crowd away. He was joined by two others, and all three scowled at us, as if they didn’t think we were supposed to be here. It irked me, and I had a feeling that they were here for the Iman. However, I wasn’t ready to let go just yet.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, while the Imen moved back, visibly fearful of the Maras with blue insignia on their arms. The first Correction Officer raised an eyebrow at me.

“I could ask you the same thing, milady,” he retorted, then looked down at the Iman. “He needs help. We’re taking him to the infirmary.”

“I’ve got this,” I replied, nervous about letting the Maras take the Iman away. After everything I had just read, I had a hard time trusting these Correction Officers, or anyone else in the city.

“You don’t, because you don’t even know what this is,” the Correction Officer shot back.

“She said she’s got it,” Heron interjected, stepping forward and standing next to me in a protective stance. While I found his gesture endearing, I didn’t want him, or us, for that matter, to get in any trouble. All we had were suspicions and nothing else. As much as I hated it, I had to let them take the Iman away.

“It’s okay, Heron,” I said, then stood and put my hand on his arm, squeezing gently. “He’s right, there’s nothing I can do. I’m sure the Iman is better off in the care of nurses, upstairs at the infirmary. We can just go check on him later, if anything.”

I glowered at the Correction Officer, then moved back, allowing him and his colleagues to lift the Iman off the ground and carry him up to the second level. We watched quietly as they disappeared above, unable to shake the wariness off.

“He isn’t the first, nor the last, to just fall like that,” one of the Imen said.

Heron and I turned around to face the thinning crowd, as those most wary of the Correction Officers were already walking away. I focused on the young Iman who had just spoken. He seemed to be in his early twenties, and was wearing a waiter’s uniform.

“Did you see him collapse?” I asked.

“I only heard the thud.” He shook his head. “Then I turned around, and I saw him lying on the ground.”

“Do you know him?” Heron replied.

“No, sir, but he had just come out of the perfume store,” the young Iman said, pointing at the building next to Lemuel’s studio. It was a small building with a white façade, dark brown trim around the windows, and flowerpots cluttered by the entrance. Stylized perfume bottles were drawn on a wooden board just above the door, along with the shop’s name: Marion Scents. “I only caught a glimpse of him, as I was on my way to work, before I heard him collapse.”

A beautiful, well-dressed Mara stood in the doorway, his shoulder leaning against the frame. He crossed his arms and quietly watched us. His long brown hair was pulled into a ponytail at the back, and his white shirt was rich with dainty ruffles, contrasting the straight lines of his black waistcoat. There were very few Mara businesses that I knew of in these parts of the city—and his was one of them, catering mostly to the Imen.

Heron and I nodded at the Iman, then walked over to the Mara, as the rest of the crowd dispersed. The Mara straightened his back as we reached him. The frown on his face told me that he wasn’t fond of speaking to strangers, especially strangers from another world.

“What did you see?” Heron asked him, while I inched a little closer so I could catch a whiff of his scent—his natural scent, to be precise.

“Not much,” the Mara replied, his gaze dark and full of secrets he didn’t wish to share. He reeked of distrust, among other things. The upside in my ability to sniff out various chemical changes in any living creature was that I had learned to interpret them as emotional reactions, and my accuracy was nearly flawless. “He was just looking around. I think he wanted to buy a perfume for someone, but he didn’t. He just walked out and collapsed.”

“Was there anyone else inside the store?” I took a step forward, leaving only a few inches between us, and I caught a subtle, lemony note in his sweat. He moved back, uncomfortable with my proximity.

“I don’t remember.” The Mara shrugged, narrowing his eyes at me. “Are you implying something?”

“What could she be implying?” Heron replied, his jade gaze firm and cold. A muscle twitched in his jaw, and I could feel the tension in the air. One sudden move, and I had a feeling that the Mara would end up against the wall, with Heron’s blade at his throat.

The Mara gave us a weak smile, then shrugged, feigning nonchalance.

“Nothing, my lord,” he muttered. “I’m just saying, he didn’t show any signs of being sick. He was just looking at perfumes, then walked out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to inside.”

He didn’t give us a chance to reply. He just turned around and retreated inside his store. We could have gone in, but he definitely wasn’t going to tell us more, and we had nothing on him, other than my scent-based assessments.

Heron and I looked at each other for a few moments, before he took a deep breath and walked over to where the Iman had collapsed. I followed, quietly, watching as he gazed around. He was thinking about something, judging by the way his eyes darted from one spot to another.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked him, my voice low.

“I think he’s lying,” he murmured.

“I can tell you for a fact that he was lying,” I said. “His scent was sharp, almost acidic with deceit. Something did happen inside, but I don’t think we’ll get anything out of this guy, even with force.”

“What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know. But it probably does have something to do with his condition. I am starting to think that maybe all the lore we’ve been reading yields more truth than fiction.” I sighed. “Maybe the Maras have something to do with this… slumber before death. Maybe they are responsible.”

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