Here is Chapter Three of my dark fantasy novel Hunters. As with all drafts, feedback is appreciated.
Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.
Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.
Compare the latest version with the first draft here!
“Why, Doctor Decker,” Lilly Rothschild said as the doorman stepped aside. “What brings you to the manor at such an uncivilized hour?” Her lazy southern accent held no displeasure at seeing me. Slim build, auburn hair pulled in a bun, milky face ageless and smooth. She wore a crisp blue business suit even at such an uncivilized hour.
I stepped into the foyer of Rothschild manor and felt two centuries crumble away. The perfect recreation in upstate New York of a plantation estate enveloped me in the feel of the deep South. The elaborate marble floor, inset with a coat of arms and a stylized R, reflected a cascade of light from the chandelier overhead. Carefully preserved furnishings and shelves of worn books filled the perimeter. Two broad staircases swept up to an overlooking gallery. Incense, leather and tobacco weaved their scents through the still air, accompanied by the steady rhythm of an unseen grandfather clock.
“Please, call me Garrison,” I said, letting the same long disused drawl touch my words. “I apologize, but I couldn’t let my concerns wait for our next session.”
Lilly’s dark eyes sparkled. “I never knew a psychologist who made house calls. Eduardo, will you kindly take Garrison’s coat so we can retire to my study?” Her eyes slid over me to emphasize her use of my name.
The butler didn’t reply. He stared at Lilly with an unfocused gaze.
“Eduardo?” Lilly repeated.
Eduardo crumpled to the floor.
Lilly gasped and started toward him. The moment her back was turned, I ripped the garrote wire from my jacket lining and looped it around her neck.
She wheezed and clawed at the wire. I planted my knee in the small of her back. She tried to scream but gagged on blood. A red fog sprayed out from her neck as I sawed the garrote back and forth. Razor wire shredded flesh.
She struggled, gurgled, went limp. The wire snapped free. Lilly’s head rebounded off the marble before disintegrating in a smear of ash. Her body imploded with the scent of sulfur and embers.
“Go back to Hell, demon,” I spat.
I stepped over Eduardo’s unconscious body and took the brushed metal canister from my satchel. A stream of gas rippled in the light from its top. I rolled the canister across the foyer and it spiraled to a stop in the middle of the marble R.
Any mortal staff in the manor would be unconscious within a minute. No one would remain awake but me and the three other Cursed I had yet to destroy.
I’d never taken on four demons at once. I slipped a worn flask out of my breast pocket, felt under my fingers the memories etched in each scar. The vodka within, thinned by holy water, aroused my thirst more than quenched it, yet still I stopped while it remained half full. Even washing away the bitterness of the anti-nerve agent couldn’t justify drinking more.
I drew my LeMat revolver, the stacked double barrel refurbished to hold modern ammunition, and scanned the foyer. I’d read the butler’s thoughts before he passed out and meshed his memories with what I’d read from Lilly during our therapy sessions. Demons seldom worked, let alone lived, together, but these four came from the same mortal family. The demonic heads of the Rothschild clan had bred debauchery in their descendants for centuries.
Lilly had been a young Greed demon new to her powers. She went to therapy sessions, conferences and any other meetings she could arrange in a search for corruptible souls. I was glad I had gotten her out of the way quickly. The Sloth demon Danforth was in a room at the top of the stairs. I would destroy him first. Lilly hadn’t ever seen inside his sanctum, let alone seen him leave it in years.
After Danforth, that still left the two most dangerous Cursed in the family to deal with. Each Cursed had unique vulnerabilities, based as much on their personality as the sin they represented. Most of the time I could exploit these to dispatch them. But even reading the Rothschild weaknesses from Lilly didn’t make this much easier to pull off.
Angus Rothschild was a Wrath demon who treated the manor’s mortal staff with slave master brutality. He killed anyone, family or employee, Cursed or mortal, who angered him, and it didn’t take much to do so. Lilly had been terrified of him. He was the eldest Cursed in the family, and might have been the patriarch if his grandniece Ashlea didn’t control him.
I knew well the power a succubus like Ashlea wielded. I itched at the scars in the crook of my arm and willed myself to hold together.
Stillness draped the mansion. I forced my heart to match time with the clock as I crept up the stairs to the gallery landing.
I took a moment to enjoy the silence within my mind. With no one nearby, no errant thoughts or images bombarded me. I had learned over the years to filter out the background noise that other minds created, but I seldom appreciated the effort it took until I could relax.
A faint scrape rustled from behind Danforth’s heavy door at the center of the balcony. I trained the LeMat on the door and pushed it open.
Decadence swathed the room. Its windows looked over the frozen grounds of the estate, sparkling blue and gray in the predawn cold. A well-stocked bar spread below oil paintings that would break millionaires. Fresh fruit and meat were heaped on the center of an imposing cherry desk. Greek statues stood vigil in the recesses. The excess was so great that it took several seconds to register the thick stench of excrement and death in the room.
Danforth Rothschild, a naked skeleton of emaciated gray flesh, lay on a leather chaise under the windows. His chest rose and fell with deep, even breaths. Glittering gold and jewelry dripped from the long fingers knitted over his concave belly.
Dozens of bodies, emaciated, dead and dying, covered in their own shit and piss, lay wreathed about Danforth. Dry tongues scraped over cracked lips. A few clouded eyes turned in my direction, but none made a move toward me, the door, or the food set out for them. Despite the misery of their condition, their faces and thoughts were calm, unpained. Restful. An air of peace and tranquility pervaded the room. No agony troubled them, no misery or hunger or thirst or anxiety or addiction or worry. They cared about nothing, and in this idyllic state died and gave their souls to their blessed God of Sloth.
I’d never experienced a Sloth demon before, but his aura was insidious. For the first time, my body didn’t crawl with the need to move, tremble with unrequited yearning. Release was but a few short, serene steps away.
I drew in a deep breath and choked on fetid air. Christ. I was sitting on the floor, when did that happen? I stood up and fished an incendiary grenade from my satchel. The grenade hissed as I popped the tab and tossed it onto the chaise where Danforth lay. Flames blossomed over the gaunt body in moments. The thing collapsed in on itself as the sprinklers in the room came on, extinguishing the flames before they spread to any of the mortals that remained alive. I slammed the door before the water washed rivers of filth onto the landing.
The stench of the room clung to me. I glanced at my watch and found that five minutes had passed. Christ, just sitting there for five minutes. Danforth had been no easy kill, and my disregard for the danger all Cursed posed had put me at the mercy of his demonic aura. I shuddered and turned away, and hands the size of turkeys clamped the sides of my head.
Angus Rothschild dangled me a foot off the ground in his crushing grip and stared at me with malevolent eyes. Then he threw me. I crashed into the balcony rail and cartwheeled over. Floor rushed at me. I tucked and tumbled onto my back out of reflex.
Angus smashed into the marble in front of me. His white hair and long moustaches glowed stark against skin the color of hot coals. Two wicked horns twisted up from his temples.
I lurched to my knees, struggling to breathe. My pistol lay on the floor a foot away. I grabbed it and trained it on the demon’s chest, then gasped. Bliss clenched my body. I dropped to all fours, trying to scream from the mind-splitting orgasm while my deflated lungs begged for air.
“Why, that just took all the fight right out of you, didn’t it?” A soft voice said from behind me, like chocolate melting on the tongue.
Ashlea Rothschild ran a delicate hand over the bannister as she descended the stairs. Her hair, cream streaked with bronze and gold, cascaded to her shoulders in graceful curls. The light passed through her gossamer white gown to reveal every detail of her slender body and delicate curves.
“Took the head right offa Lilly!” Angus snarled. His Appalachian accent was so thick I could barely understand him. “Burned Danny alive!”
“You could hardly call Danny alive. And you were going to kill Lilly anyway.”
I fought to move my sluggish limbs through the afterglow haze, made a clumsy swipe for my pistol. And another orgasm more breathtaking than the first flattened me. I felt cool marble slick with drool against my cheek as I writhed. Finally I screamed, halting and weak and ecstatic.
“Stop it, you harlot!” I felt the floor rumble, smelled brimstone as Angus neared. A growl like a roaring furnace churned from the depths of his chest. “I’m gonna kill him.”
“Don’t be jealous, Uncle. This doesn’t mean you don’t get yours.”
Angus stopped, his growl softening to a childish mewl. I felt the power Ashlea sated him with, many times more potent than what the bitch had given me. Jealousy flared. The LeMat lay right in front of me, and I tried to grab for it so she would subdue me again. My hand slid only a handful of slow inches toward the grip.
Ashlea crouched over me, and her scent pierced my mind. The pheromones the Cursed oozed sparked long forgotten emotions and cravings. She smelled like raw desire. She smelled like Helen. And in an instant it was two years ago, my wife still slaved me with her power, and I yearned for a new master.
“You respond to my powers as easily as my dear old uncle,” she said, and placed a warm hand on my cheek. The sensation was as intense as if she were stroking my cock. “You’ve been the thrall of a succubus before, haven’t you?”
My lips caressed her palm, tasted her silken flesh. My mind whispered to pull away before she killed me, to grab my gun and shoot her in her beautiful face. My body screamed to surrender to her. I raised myself toward her, my hands clutching to pull her close.
“Do you want another?” She cooed. “I’ve just given you a taste. You’re young, muscular, virile. Nothing like my uncle there. You deserve so much more.”
No, God no, get away from me, I thought. No words escaped my lips.
She patted my cheek. “Not yet. You did destroy my niece. Angus will make you pay for that.” She leaned closer, curling her finger under my chin. “But I will make you beg for every minute of his wrath.”
Our lips touched, first a casual brush, then deeper. My arms were around her, pulling her into an embrace. Rapture filled me with every touch.
Then her tongue crumbled to bitter ash. She screeched and tore away, smoke belching from the blistered flesh around her mouth. Her demonic form took hold as fiery red cracks spread over her black skin and a mane of flames consumed her hair.
“What did you do?” She shrieked. Her talons clawed at her sizzling lips.
Her aura faltered, and fury seethed through me. I saw what she planned for me, saw my own weakness through her eyes. My vulnerability disgusted me. I grabbed my gun and rounded on her.
Angus barreled into me. His movements were sluggish after the pleasure Ashlea had given him, but it didn’t stop his momentum. I smashed with him into the bookshelves against the wall. He clasped his meaty hands around my head again and squeezed. Pain exploded.
I fired the shotgun barrel of the LeMat straight into his heart.
Angus dropped me and stared at the burning crater in the center of his chest. The rock salt in the shotgun load chewed through his demonic flesh.
“Lilly knew your weakness,” I groaned. “She always kept a trail of salt around her room.”
Smoke and sparks vomited from Angus’s chest and he toppled backward. His body shattered like leaves against the floor.
Ashlea stood up, trembling from the pain. She had returned to her human form. Even with lips melted away, leaving behind a permanent tooth-filled grin, her beauty still made me weak.
“I saw your mind when we kissed,” she said. Despite the slur from no lips, her voice was still sultry. “I know your powers. I know your pain. And I know the one who corrupted your wife Helen.”
My breath caught. The image of a Cursed boiled out of her mind. Body rich with graceful curves, pale angelic face, black hair, burgundy eyes. I had never met her, never seen her in person, but I could never forget her.
Anger swept my budding lust aside. “Where is she?” I snarled.
Ashlea ran her hand across my chest, an enthralling pleasure rippling like the surface of a lake along the path of her fingers. “We can find her together.”
“You already know where she is,” I said.
Her brown eyes widened as she realized I knew now, too. She grabbed the back of my head and wrapped one leg around my waist.
I struggled against her grip. “How do you know her? Why do-”
A guttural howl drowned my words as another orgasm flooded me, then another, building stronger, stronger. My legs wilted and she fell on top of me, her smooth legs straddling me. She slid her gown up over her hips and reached down to free my cock.
I screamed with desire and pulled the trigger.
The ecstasy ended. She straightened and touched the red stain blooming across the chest of her gown.
“No,” I murmured, quaking, gasping. Somehow I pulled again. She spun off me with the impact. I emptied the cylinder, toppling her to the floor.
I pulled myself to my feet, sliding the LeMat back in its holster. Ashlea screamed and thrashed against the floor in an expanding puddle of blood. The wet gown was plastered against her body, revealing her small red nipples and the beckoning triangle between her legs, and I had to force myself to look away.
My jacket pocket ripped as I tore the vials of holy water free. I had mixed enough of it with the vodka I drank that I would consecrate every toilet I used for a week. I unstopped the vials and poured them over her.
The holy water fried gullies in her flesh, sloughed dissolving skin from bone. She shrieked and bucked on the ground. Horror consumed her beautiful eyes as her body dissolved into a smoldering scar across the floor, surrounded by a sea of blood.
Silence. Sweat drenched my face, my clothes. I fumbled the flask from my pocket and drained the holy vodka in one long swallow. God I needed to dose. My nails again dug at the scars at the crook of my elbow. It was the only way to quiet the yearning my wife Helen had awakened in me, rekindled by the succubus I had been on the cusp of surrendering to before I destroyed her.
I couldn’t dose here. The mortals would start waking up within the hour. But there was one thing I had to do while the images from Ashlea’s memory were still fresh. I dug through my satchel to find the folded square of parchment at its depths. Its creases were hard and set from years tucked away, discolored with spills and dirt and lint. I smoothed the page out on the antique secretary beside the door and steadied my hand enough to sketch the wooden cross that hung around her neck, and the outline of the Space Needle overshadowing her. The demon’s burgundy eyes, the two lone spots of color in the drawing, stared back at me with the same innocent malevolence I first glimpsed in Helen’s mind, and again in Ashlea’s.
Tricia Praest had destroyed my life and my world when she Cursed my wife. Now I knew where she was. And now I would destroy her.
(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All rights reserved.