Day 16, and this was a tough one to write. It started differently, and ended in a place I didn’t expect. So much so, that the beginning didn’t fit anymore. I’ve edited it – something I said I wouldn’t do in this challenge – because the writing demanded it. I’m going to re-use the edited material, knock it into better shape. For now, you folks get the better part of today’s writing.

Trust me. I’m a writer.

She watched from the bench near the reflecting pool, counting the humans as they passed by, counting the demons carried. She stretched and resettled into a crouch. A breeze picked up and sent a faint tremor through her: she scented a clean human.

Her nostrils twitched and she turned into the breeze, working to locate the source. It was difficult work in an open and public space, filled the smells of burdened humans. The sweet-rot smell of sweat and brimstone tinged with sulphur swayed with the breezes, drowning out the flowers in the park and the cut grass all around. She stood and paced the edge of the reflecting pool, nose lifted high as she followed the hints. She was trying to find the gaps between the smells – the absence of scent – and it was a challenge.

One she wasn’t willing to fail.

More on instinct than on olfactory evidence, she left the open spaces around the pool and chose a path pointing east. She trotted, unseen, at the edge of the path. Though she could avoid contact with the humans, the demons saw her, and trumpeted a greeting as she passed. Some guessed at what she was up to, and would try to follow her. They were stopped by their humans – and their links – as their agitation made their humans anxious and eager to appease them. She left a wake of demonic disturbance behind her, but she couldn’t hide her purpose.

She was new – no colour, no detail – and wished for a human of her own. Too many humans could not cope with more than one demon, and the population she had been assigned were almost tapped out. But she was assured several times that there was a human for her – she just had to find it.

The scent-gaps were growing; she must be getting closer. She dared to pick up her pace from a trot to a jog, nostrils flaring the air as she went. Pain raked her back, and she stumbled. Recovering, she glanced over her shoulder to inspect her back. Even in a glance, she saw new bone structure pushing through two gashes on either side of her spine. She smiled and redoubled her effort – her human was close enough to be imprinting its preferred shape on her. There! She could smell only flowers and mud.

She angled her pace off the path, galloping across the grass towards a picnic blanket. Sharp points of heat stabbed across her head and neck, feathers sprouting from each, and her face sharpened, pulling itself long and shaping itself into a hooked beak. She stumbled as her back legs went numb, and rewrote themselves into lion’s legs.

She didn’t stop though – she kept dragging herself forward using her newly-clawed front legs. She stretched and shrugged her back to release some of the pockets of pain, and went tumbling forward in surprise at her sudden momentum. She landed in a tangled mess of new talons and wings – and a tail! – and stayed for a moment while she sorted out her new body. She closed her eyes, taking stock of every change. The sun warmed her as she lay quiet, then she was plunged into shadow. Her eyes opened, and she looked straight into the face of her clean human.

She couldn’t help it, but she was sad that she would never smell that scent again. For as their eyes met, and human and demon bonded, the flower scent disappeared, tainted by the brimstone.