To my kind and gentle readers:

The story you see below is loosely based off of a poem I wrote a while ago, although I must confess I fancy the original poem much more than the offering below.

It is my sincerest hope that you will enjoy what I have to tempt your capable imaginations with today.

The moon, bruised dark and swollen like a corpse, drew itself stately into the sky above the city. Far below it, like a field of empty stars, a billion lights sparked off the windows of the towers that covered the land in a dark forest. The city was spread like a plague over the land, miles and miles in either direction; a person standing on the tip of the tallest tower wouldn't have been able to see anything but black spires and shadowy walls from horizon to horizon.

But there was nothing in the city that would dare put itself in full range of the light. Even the dull light of the corpse moon was cruel to the scaly skins and metal plates of the shadows that lurked below.

The moon stared down coldly on the city of towers. It was not welcomed here. Far below it, a million claws scraped on a million stones as bits of the darkness slipped back into the gutters and hissed as the moonlight rose smoke from their hides.

One by one, the streets emptied and the city grew dormant as the dead moonlight fell like a deathly shawl on the city walls. Shadows settled into crevices and began their wait, cursing the light that made them hide away in their nests.

Seconds, then minutes, then hours slipped by, the shadows and demons waiting for the moon to start its backward slide across the murky sky. Nothing moved. The air itself was choked thick with emptiness.

Then slowly, in a place where the towers buckled forward and the street sunk down into a valley, a noise was noticed. It was faint, no more than two quiet thumps, one after the other.

The noise flew like a dove to the ears of the demons that lurked beneath the cobblestones and inside the towers. Slit-pupil eyes widened in disbelief, fanged mouths opened and stinking breath panted in and out. The noise wound its way through pointed ears, tangled itself in wires, sunk itself into metal plates, calling, calling, laughing.

The pull was unbearable. A single snout, then an entire slanted head, slid out of a smashed window, eyes frantically searching and breath coming in short gasps. A taloned hand scraped at the glass, ignoring the shards that dug into scaly skin. Other eyes began to peek from the niches of the city, tantalizingly out of reach of the dead moon's light, all searching for the noise that called them like a siren.

A human, a real one, lay gasping on the street, his murky clothes torn and one of his ankles twisted in a strange way. Blond hair haloed around his head and his chest billowed in exhaustion.

But all the shadows could see, could hear, could feel, was the pounding of his living heart. Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.

It drove them mad, that noise, that irresistible siren. Slick bodies trembled and shook with tension, teeth gnashed and snapped, whatever real skin that was left grew damp with sweat. They had to have it.

Then one bolted from a crevice in a wall, a red-black streak in the empty air, a slick arc that hit the human and rolled with him, thick talons scratching at his chest. Scales smoked and metal shivered in the moonlight, but the creature was too frenzied to notice.

Instantly, the others poured on, thick and hard and fast, biting and clawing each other to get to the treasured noise, they had to have it, they needed it, who cared if eyes got torn and wires got snapped as long as that noise just stopped.

Then underneath the squealing and snarling, four sharp snaps popped out, and a wet tearing noise shivered through the air.

The frenzy stopped. Pale eyes flicked about, narrow chests heaved. Then, slowly, a single taloned paw rose out of the pile. A still-humanoid head followed, jaws rimmed in red, then a six-legged body and a serpentine tail.

A single demon sat atop the pile, shakily balancing on backs and wings, and grinned its alligator smile.

And then they were gone.

The street was empty again, empty but for a small, twisted form. Its arms were curled up awkwardly, the few tatters of clothing left bloodstained and dark. A spiderweb of red swirled inward towards its chest, centering on a gory pit where a heart might once have been.

The moon watched, cold and distant, as the heat faded away into the eternal night. It was not so unusual, to see a body on the dark streets. It was not so unusual to watch as flesh buckled and slipped away and left pale bones behind.

It was not even unusual to watch as a heartless corpse got to its feet and walked away.

Soft human feet, quickly hardening into paws, carried the lurching body down the street. Pale skin began to thicken and grow dark, taking on colors never meant to grace the human body. Some fingers swelled and lost joints, while others tapered to vicious claws. Blood-spattered legs stumbled as a spine suddenly gained a curve it had never known and shot newly sharpened vertebrae through toughening skin.

The moon watched it all with its usual apathy as the creature stumbled away into the dark, slinking inside of a tower before the light could begin its caustic work on newly grown skin. The change was not yet finished, though; the new shadow had yet to find the metal parts it would need to replace all the organs that would stop working when its new skeleton grew in. It had yet to work its way into the hierarchy of the shadows.

But nevertheless, it was done. The shadow might once have been human, yes, but it had become something else once its heart was taken away. They all had.

The moon reached its apex and began to slip down towards the horizon again, watching as the shadows sighed in relief. A few lucky ones in the areas where the light was receding slunk out, flexing their spines in the shade of the towers and reveling in the darkness.

The new shadow probably wouldn't leave its new nest for days. It would need to finish changing, to stake out its territory. It probably wouldn't become a real threat to anything for many more moonrises; the darkest shadows had lost their hearts before the city even rose.

But it would emerge soon, its skin replaced with metal and its limbs covered in scales. And when it did, it would join the hunt that every shadow burned for, the search for the two soft noises that it would never possess again.

Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.

How was it, gentle audience? If it pleases you, I would request that you leave your sentiments in the form of a short message of review, so that I may improve in my offerings to you.

Do feel free to PM with questions, comments, complaints, and the like. I shall strive to respond with great haste.

With gratitude immeasurable,

Steampunk Champagne