Chapter Three (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Three for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

As the first introduction to Garrison, I felt it started too slowly. I also added an additional Cursed to deal with in future drafts to better show the difference between types of Cursed. You can check out the current version of Chapter Three here.

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Chapter Three

The Telepath

 

The worn flask felt warm and comfortable in my gloved hands. It had been my constant companion through miles and years and wars, and my fingers traced the stories held in every dent. The vodka within, just as warm and comfortable, but the past dimmed with each swallow, an amnesia as fleeting as the heat it brought. Watered down, the vodka aroused my thirst more than quenched it. Still I stopped while it remained half full. Even the predawn cold and the sour bromide aftertaste on my tongue couldn’t justify draining it.

I knew I would need the rest once I was done here.

A patina of ice glittered over the bronze R on the carved double doors in front of me. I pulled my coat tighter around my throat and shivered in the chill. Rough cement lions, covered by a carpet of frost-brittle leaves, flanked the long low steps leading to the doors. I knew from Lilly that a multitude of entrances existed to the upstate manor, but all were heavily secured. Not unbreakable, but a time waster. Better to be welcomed in.

The doors swung open. I couldn’t see what lay past the hulking man who opened them. Eduardo. His bleached hair and eyebrows made his mahogany skin all the darker. Tattoos peeked from under his collar and cuffs. He moved with a deliberate grace that belied his size, of a height with me but with fifty pounds more muscle.

“Mister Decker,” he said, in a voice an octave higher than I expected. “Lady Rothchild isn’t expecting you.”

Brazilian accent, which explained the capoeira training. Eduardo was not employed based on any butlery skill. I plucked other details – number and general location of security, basic layout – that were on the surface of his thoughts in case I caused problems.

I smiled and took off my cap. I felt steam curl off my bald scalp. “I’m sorry to call so early, but can I speak with Lilly? It’s urgent.””

“Lady Rothchild does not entertain visitors without an appointment, even at a sensible hour,” Eduardo said. His mind blossomed with images of the doors to Lilly’s study. He had never been inside, but she was there now, and seldom left when home. As far as he knew, she never slept.

The other two members of the Rothchild family had equally inexplicable eccentricities, though I already knew what I was up against from Lilly’s thoughts.

Eduardo started to close the doors, but his eyes lost focus as he listened to his earpiece. His expression changed, as if any concern over my presence had evaporated. He nodded once and swung the doors wide.

“Lady Rothchild will see you. She is waiting for you on the balcony landing.”

He stepped aside to reveal an elegant foyer. The intricate marble floor, inset with a coat of arms and another stylized R, reflected a cascade of light from the chandelier overhead. Two broad staircases swept up to the overlooking balcony. The still air was warm and smelled like leather and old books.

I hung my satchel on the coat rack beside the door, clicking the locks as I did so, and walked toward the stairs. My footfalls resounded on the marble. Eduardo’s eyes followed me the whole way. He was accustomed to people showing up to see his employers at odd hours, and he assumed that I, like many guests, would quite possibly never leave.

Poor guy had no idea what he was part of.

Lilly stood at her open door when I reached the landing. Slim, auburn hair pulled back in a bun, face ageless and smooth. She wore a crisp gray business suit with a light blue blouse at four in the morning, with a microphone at her lapel to summon staff at any need.

“Garrison,” she said. “Our next session is not for six hours. And I do own a phone.”

Her voice held the lazy southeastern accent I knew well from my childhood, and held no displeasure at seeing me.

“I prefer to do business in person,” I answered, letting the same easy drawl touch my words. “And the opportunity you alluded to sounded far too lucrative to pass up.””

“I thought that might be what drove you here.” She smiled and gestured for me to follow her into her study. “Money never rests, does it?””

I could feel her hunger crash in waves, nothing like I’d sensed in our sessions. She had been feeding, and cradled the thought that she already had me. I fingered the metal loop on the inside of my jacket. I needed a minute more, at least.

Her study looked out over the frozen grounds of the estate, shadowed blue and gray in the cold dawn. Decadence draped the room, illuminated by lamps and a flickering fireplace. An antique and well-stocked bar spread below oil paintings that would break millionaires. Her massive cherry desk held no paper, pens or a computer, just a desk lamp and an ancient wooden globe. Greek statues stood vigil in the recesses. The only nod to technology glowed on the wall behind the desk, a massive screen that tracked the indices of every market on the planet.

Light crept from under the solitary door opposite the desk, muting murmurs and the clack of keyboards.

“What is it you want, Doctor?” She said. “What do you desire?”

“A glass of your Balvenie Fifty.”

She chuckled and gestured toward the bar. “I feel you’re thinking a little too literally.”

“Not at all. I seldom get fifty-year-old scotch.” I filled a rocks glass with two fingers and swirled it under my nose. “This would set me back six grand.””

“Six thousand dollars is nothing. What is it you really desire?”

“To hear more about the opportunity you mentioned in our therapy sessions.” I took a sip and let the flavors explode on my tongue. It was the first thing that managed to cut through the bitter taste of the anti-nerve agent that clung to my throat. ““This is good.”

“I should hope. You’re dancing around the question.” She leaned against her desk and crossed her arms, regarding me. “The investment requires one million initially.”

“I would have to liquefy everything I own. That’s quite a risk.”

“We both know that’s not true.” Her lips curled into a smirk. “You could pay for it all if you cashed your wife’s life insurance policy.”

The hook. I grimaced as I touched the bump of my wedding band under my glove. “How did you know that?”

“It’s my business to know. You could come up with the money quite easily.” She took a step toward me. “And you would never again want for anything.”

The nearer she came, the more real the temptation became. Mansions, women, cars, jets, drugs, every vice imaginable. It could all be mine.

“It’s been two years,” Lilly whispered. “Whatever your reasons, they don’t matter. What is it that you most desire, Garrison? Anything could be yours. Everything.”

I shot a blatant glance at the door opposite. Her eyes stayed on me, but her thoughts went right where I wanted them to. Laptops manned by empty-faced men and women, wasting in their endless pursuit of wealth, draining family savings and sacrificing friends in pursuit of one more million. One more dollar. One more penny. Their avarice sated Lilly’s hunger, so she was free to cultivate other more difficult – and satisfying – manifestations at her leisure.

The keyboards had stopped clacking.

I smiled at her, my clenched teeth betraying my anger. “I want my wife back, bitch.”

Lilly took a step back in surprise. She watched me with her dark eyes, calculating, severe. Her mind scrambled, unsure why I was there. What I intended to do.

“Eduardo,” she said into her lapel, “send in my uncle and aunt if you would be so kind.”

She waited a beat for a reply. Her brow furrowed.

“Eduardo.”

She shoved past me out the door of the study, and stopped at the edge of the balcony. In the center of the marble floor, highlighted by a sea of reflected light, lay the prone body of Eduardo.

I ripped the garrote wire free from my jacket lining and charged her. She had just started to turn when I looped it around her neck. She tried to scream and choked on her own blood. I planted my knee in the small of her back, pressing her against the marble balcony rail. A red fog sprayed out from her neck.

“Tell my wife Helen that I will avenge her, demon.”

I sawed the garrote back and forth. Lilly struggled, gurgled, went limp. The wire snapped free. Lilly’s head, a twisted and horned green reflection of its human guise, rebounded off the marble below before disintegrating in a smear of ash. Her body crumpled, imploded.

The nerve agent in my satchel would have dispersed through the entire mansion by now. I pulled out my pistol – a refurbished LeMat Confederacy revolver – and backed into Lilly’s study. Everyone here would be unconscious except for me and the two demons that still remained.

I had never taken on more than one demon at a time. They seldom worked, let alone lived, together, especially not ones of different types. But these three came from the same corrupt mortal family. Lilly was the youngest, untrained in fighting and new to her powers. Neither of the remaining would be as simple.

Angus Rothchild was a sadistic rage demon. Lilly had been terrified of him, even after her transformation. The Carolina slave master was the eldest of the clan, and might have been the patriarch if his grandniece Aissa didn’t control him.

I knew intimately well the power a succubus could wield. I touched my flask, then frowned and left it in my pocket. After.

Stillness and silence draped the mansion. From behind me, a grandfather clock beat its steady rhythm. I breathed the warm air, forcing my heart to match time with the clock, and edged toward the doorway. Back against the doorjamb, I darted my head out onto the balcony to make sure the floor was still clear.

Hands the size of turkeys clamped the sides of my head and dragged me out of the study. A nightmare Colonel Sanders with baleful eyes stared at me as I dangled in his grasp. Then he threw me. My stomach crashed into the balcony rail and I cartwheeled over. Floor rushed at me. Instinct kicked in. I tucked and rolled and tumbled onto my back. My flattened lungs refused to drag in breath. I lurched to my knees and grabbed for my pistol as it skidded across the floor.

Angus smashed into the marble in front of me. His white hair and moustaches glowed stark against skin the color of hot coals. Two wicked horns twisted up from his temples.

I finally managed a trembling breath. I raised my pistol, trained it on the demon’s chest, then dropped it and gasped. I collapsed to all fours as a wave of euphoria clenched my midsection.

“Why, you do not want to fight at all, do you?” A soft voice whispered in my ear. “I hardly had to try.”

I kept gulping air, trying to will my sluggish limbs to respond through the afterglow haze.

“He beheaded Lilly!” Angus snarled. His Appalachian twang was so thick I had trouble understanding it.

“You would have done that anyway, like you’ve done to all of the rest but me.”

I made a clumsy swipe for my pistol. Then another orgasm seized me, more powerful than the first. I felt cool marble against my cheek as I writhed.

“Stop it, you harlot!” I felt the floor rumble as Angus neared me. A constant growl churned from the depths of his barrel chest. “I’’m gonna kill him.”

“Oh, Angus. This doesn’t mean you don’t get yours.”

The rumble of the floor stopped, the growl changed to a soft mewl.

Aissa crouched over me. Her creamy bronze hair, the same color as her eyes, cascaded down in graceful curls to her shoulders. The light passed through her gossamer white gown to reveal her slender body, her delicate curves, her tattoos and piercings.

“I can make him come as easily as I can you, old man.” She laid a smooth, cool hand on the side of my face. “You’ve been the minion of a Cursed before, haven’t you?”

My mind screamed for me to pull away before she killed me, to grab my gun and shoot her in her lovely face. My lips brushed her palm, tasted her silken flesh as I raised myself toward her.

“Do you want another?” She cooed. Her lips were the color of raspberries. “Those were so rushed. So… weak.”

No, God no, get away from me. No words escaped my lips.

She patted my cheek. “Not yet. You did kill my niece. Angus will make you pay for that. But I want you to enjoy every minute of agony.” She leaned closer, curling her finger under my chin. “I want to make you beg for every minute of it.”

Our lips touched, first a casual brush, then deeper, my arms were around her and rapture filled me until her mouth became bitter ash. She screeched and tore herself away from me.

“What did you do?” She shrieked. Smoke belched from the blistered skin around her mouth, her skin now black with fiery red cracks and hair a mane of flame. Her talons clawed at her sizzling lips.

I ground my teeth together in fury. Emotions seethed through me in a torrent. I saw what she wanted to do to me. I saw my own weakness through her eyes. I felt disgust at my own vulnerability. At least in my haze I had managed enough self-control to grab my gun.

Most infuriating of all, I saw Her in Aissa’s mind. The one who corrupted Aissa. The same one who corrupted Helen.

The pocket of my jacket ripped as I tore the vials of holy water free. I mixed enough of it with my vodka that my urine would consecrate any toilet I used for a week. Before I could lose my determination, I hurled the vials at Aissa.

They shattered against her skin, fried like napalm. Shards of chandelier rained down on us, shattered by her shriek. Light flickered and died. She twirled and collapsed and bucked on the ground and dissolved into a smoldering heap.

Angus smashed into me like a boulder. His momentum carried us across the room, crashing into the far wall.

The demon could barely make a coherent sound. He clamped his meaty hands around my head and squeezed.

I fired the shotgun barrel of the LeMat, inches from his heart, loaded with rock salt.

The pressure on my head disappeared. Angus stared stupidly at the burning crater in the center of his chest, where his heart should be. His body shattered like leaves as he toppled to the ground.

I stood trembling in the again silent mansion. The pistol dangled from my limp hand. Sweat drenched my face, my clothes. I fumbled the flask out of my pocket and drained the last of the holy vodka in one long swallow. The horror never left.

On shaking legs I walked up the stairs to the balcony, back into Lilly’s open study. I took the Balvenie Fifty from the bar, not bothering with a glass, and collapsed into the leather chair behind the desk.

Lilly had shown me the existence of three demons, and their weaknesses. In my arrogance I thought I could destroy all three, but one succubus had brought me to my knees.

While showing me the one demon I had been hunting since my wife was taken from me.

I swallowed deeply from the bottle, but a gnawing need had grown since Aissa’s touch. The same insatiable need that had plagued me since Helen’s corruption, the need I could never satisfy. My hand went for my inner pocket. Empty. For an instant, panic gripped me, then I remembered I left my works kit at home when on missions. With everyone in the mansion waking up within the hour, I couldn’t dose here and risk capture.

But there was one thing I had to do, while the images from Aissa’s memory were still fresh. Taking another pull of scotch, I slipped the wrinkled slip of paper I kept always close to my heart and smoothed it out on the desk.

I had updated and redone the charcoal drawing countless times over the years, every time I saw her more clearly in a thought or more precisely in a memory. The demon had hung ephemeral since Helen, appearing in memories when I least expected it. And my rendition was all I had to go on.

Aissa had given me the piece that might lead me to the end of my journey.

The scotch had steadied my hand enough for me to draw in the simple wooden cross that hung around her neck, and sketch the faint outline of the Space Needle overshadowing her.

I’ve looked for you for two years, I whispered as I stared at her striking burgundy eyes. The one that destroyed my world, the one that took everything from me. And now I knew where you were.

I am going to destroy you, Tricia Priest, and finally, truly, avenge my wife.

Chapter Two (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Two for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

Again, previously the tense was present, and I moved the Andrasi encounter entirely to the second chapter. I also amped up the sexual tension Tricia feels. You can check out the current version of Chapter Two here.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

 

 

Chapter Two

The Cursed

 

I step out of the private room, leaving crumpled rapist husks laying in the darkness behind. Constellations of body fluids flare across my body under the black lights of the dance floor.

It will be awhile before anyone finds them. They would have made sure no one would interrupt their conquest of a drugged teenager. No rush to leave. But a club is a dangerous place for me to be. I just gorged on four corrupt souls. They are mere sustenance, not nourishment. Their memories, their sadistic plans for me, their recollections of past conquests strip their souls of any purity. I feel satisfaction ending their miserable lives, but I still hunger.

Holy Christ, I still need to fuck. Really fuck.

I close my eyes and stand still. The body heat of the dancers flowing past beckons me. Desire, everywhere desire, need. Theirs are mere whispers next to the screaming inside me. Every doubt about coming here explodes. The hunger is too powerful to resist. I have no desire to. My mind goes numb.

I reach out into the human sea, grasp the nearest person by the hair and spin her toward me. She lets out a squeal of surprise, cut off when I drag her lips to mine. At first she stiffens and presses her lips tight. Then they quiver, open, and we devour each other. She tastes like spearmint, cigarettes, cum. Her embrace is sudden and fierce. The world dims. Her body melts into mine, scorches like an inferno. Our hands move over each other, exploring, wanting. Her rich and intoxicating scent engulfs me.

I feel her passion, her power, her eager soul. The lasers strobe over the seething dance floor around us. Lust thunders from the crowd. I tremble as it pulls at me. I want more. I want it all. The dancers are so embroiled by lust that I could drop my human glamour, walk across the dance floor in my full demonic glory and take every last soul in an orgy of desire.

Her mind opens to me the second we touch, and Stacey captivates me. Not like the worthless raping shits I ate. Stacey is kind, she doesn’t steal or lie, she doesn’t cheat on her boyfriend and wants a family with him. My God, she is the purest, kindest, most delicious creature I’ve tasted in decades.

And if I enslave her, I would damn the soul I’m struggling to redeem, if it’s redeemable at all.

Fuck. I shove Stacey away.

She stares at me, gasping. Her short-bobbed blonde hair curls over one eye, but the other stares, the thin rim of her dilated eyes the color of a winter stream. Her cheeks flush fire.

“The fuck,” a guy next to her says, and wheels her away by the elbow. The boyfriend. His haircut is a mirror of hers, but brown with gilded strands like wood grain. His shirt looks painted on his sculpted torso. Groomed stubble carves out his jaw, and his straight teeth glow in the black lights. My head barely reaches his chest.

I turn my attention to him. I couldn’t actually feed from another woman, just enslave her, but her boyfriend was another matter. I can feel desire mixing with his anger. Seeing me kiss Stacey again would shatter his resistance.

I stop myself before I indulge the thought further.

“Thought she was someone else,” I say.

“She’s not. Fuck off.”

His biceps strain as he holds Stacey back from me. Her gaze hasn’t left me the whole time.

God damn it. I spin away and bolt deeper into the crowd. In a moment I can’t see them anymore. I’m trembling with desire, but my sanity slowly claws back. Rapists and sinners, their souls empty of true satisfaction, at least deserve death. But a few more seconds and I would have enthralled that girl whether I wanted to or not, and I would have consumed her boyfriend’s soul for the fuck of it. A succubus isn’t built to cope with abstinence or control. Demonkind call themselves Cursed for good reason.

I can’t let myself give in to my nature, and a feast like this club is too much temptation. I won’t be able to look at Pastor Tom again if I throw away all my work fighting my Curse now. I have to get out of here before I do something I’ll regret. I push my way toward the doors.

I feel its presence behind me an instant before its sword slashes at my head. I wheel to the side. The black sword misses me by less than an inch. The blade carries straight through two guys dancing in front of me without slowing. The music drowns their screams. Blood sprays over me and the dancers around them.

An Andrasi rage demon towers behind me. I’m at eye level with its belly button. No glamour to disguise its nature. Angelic wings fan out behind it. Its muscular arms hold a blood-stained sword as tall as me. Long hair that looks like a tangle of wet eels hangs to its shoulders. Its translucent crimson skin glows from the fiery black skeleton underneath. Its eyes blaze emptiness.

“You die, succubus,” it growls, straight into my mind.

“What….” A girl turns as blood splatters across her face. She stares at the two bodies on the dance floor, shocked in to silence for a handful of seconds. Then she looks up, straight into the eyes of the Cursed that cut them down. She screams.

The club goes apeshit.

Humanity surges past me in terror, scattering in all directionss. I use the chaos to crouch and draw the kukri at the small of my back. I had spent the last century working to become a physical badass – a necessity in the Northwest, alone and surrounded by Andrasi – but I haven’t needed to draw a weapon in decades.

Since the last time a rage Cursed swung a five-foot sword at my head, come to think.

A vacant bubble has formed on the dance floor around us. Hentai sex screams over the screens. Lasers ripple through the translucent body of the Cursed as it stares at me with those empty eye sockets. Blood curls down its black blade.

“You don’t want to destroy me,” I say, as calmly as I can. Despite my mental guards, I feel the Cursed’s aura of rage needling at my self control. It smells like blood and ash and mindless anger. The shouts and crashes from the fleeing patrons confirm that the mortals are as intent on fighting as getting away, all because of this fucker.

Its voice boils into my brain. “You break oaths, you die.” It laughs, a chilling sound that claws my mind with fury, and strides toward me.

I skip sideways, keeping out of sword range. “I’m not the one in someone else’s territory,” I say. “Makes you the oathbreaker.”

“You die, then I kill your friend,” it says.

Friend? Oh for fuck’s sake. Talking to these things is like throwing eggs at a brick wall.

“Fight me,” it says. “I like when you fight.”

“Well, then.” I snap invisible, then lunge.

It’s one of my tricks. Makes up for not showing up in mirrors, cameras or video, which is a bigger pain in the ass than you’d think. The Andrasi know I can do it, but I need every millisecond of surprise it might give me.

The Andrasi swings its sword across my expected path in reflex. I roll out of its path and spring to my feet at its exposed side. My kukri chews crimson jello. No blood from the cut, it just opens like raw steak. Arcs of chartreuse energy flicker from the wound. I hope that means it hurts like hell.

Its elbow smashes the back of my skull. The world sparkles and tilts. I turn the fall into a sideways tumble away from the Cursed, cradling my head. Agony.

“I smell you,” it growls. Its eyes no longer follow my movement, but it charges straight at me.

I slash the kukri across its wrist on its next swing and break for the doors. But thoughts of escaping that way vanish. The front of the club is pandemonium, a pile of people tearing themselves apart, some to get out and some overwhelmed by the rage aura. Not getting out that way.

“Fight me,” it says again. Its blind slash takes a chunk of my jacket.

I wheel around and charge it again. Badass or no, I can’t go toe to toe with a rage Cursed. Need to get out in the open.

It smells my approach and swings again. This time I leap over the blade and spring off its rocklike bicep into a somersault over its head. I grasp where its wings meet its back as I tumble by. It roars. My momentum drags it backward, upside down in front of me with wings and feet thrashing in midair.

I sprint forward, smashing my shoulder into the small of its back.  Its screams shake my body. It feels like carrying an active volcano. I barely hang on long enough to plow it into the wall.

Masonry and rebar explode. The impact knocks the air out of my lungs. A second crash, a second wall. My shoulder wrenches and shatters. Rock cascades over me seconds before the constant Seattle mist. I let go of the Cursed and collapse on all fours. The momentum carries the Andrasi face first into the opposite building, cracking brick. It collapses onto its back, leaving a cracked indent half a foot deep in the wall.

I will myself to stand and leap on the Cursed’s chest before it can recover. It tries to get up, but I hang on by its greasy hair, ignoring the pain of my broken arm. I hack my kukri repeatedly across its neck. It howls in my head. My side explodes with pain, I feel its sword plunge into me and split out the other side, but I keep slashing. Its body glows putrid with each cut.

I hit spine. The jolt travels through my body. Its howls silence and it collapses back to the ground.

“Don’t die yet,” I say, and plant my lips on a mouth big enough to swallow my head.

Flashing, discordant images fill my mind to replace its dying whimpers. Images tear through my thoughts, and I shove myself away with a gasp. I grip its head by the sides, my broken arm howling in protest, and twist.

Its head tears off with a wet, ripping sound. The Cursed begins to smoke as it crumbles. The smell of burning carcass fills the air.

I stumble back on the surrounding rubble, hitting the ground hard. My entire body is agony. I touch where it stabbed me, confirming the sword dissolved along with the Cursed, and focus my energies on sealing it and mending my shattered shoulder. It takes most of the power I got from the rapists to heal the damage.

Holy fuck. I lay in the drifting mist for what must be minutes, still invisible, trying to make sense of what happened. The Andrasi haven’t bothered me in years, because we stay out of each other’s shit. They keep out of Seattle, I let no other Cursed – specifically, no incubi or succubi – in. But this one decided to kill me in the middle of my city, in a nightclub full of mortal witnesses.

And I find out why as I sift through the jumble of its dying thoughts. A pale man in a tailored gray suit worth more than a car, getting out of a limo at the most expensive condo tower in Seattle. Long black dreadlocks, a goatee and eye patch, smoking a black cigarette. Just a momentary image, but the image bites just as deep as the Andrasi’s sword had. Nothing has changed about this Cursed beyond the cut of his suit in the century since I last saw him, or in the centuries before that, knowing him.

My end of the bargain with the Andrasi is easy to keep since no one gives a shit about a place surrounded by roving packs of rage demons. Besides, I don’t like my kind any more than they do. But there is an incubus in Seattle. One purposefully shielding his presence from me, or I would have felt him the second he entered the state. And one I know more intimately than I would ever want.

Sebastian Essex is going to tell me what the fuck he’s doing in Seattle, or I’m going to kill him.

 

 

Chapter One (First Draft)

Standard

 

This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter One for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

This chapter was totally revamped. I started with it in present tense (as opposed to Garrison’s chapters, in past tense) since it was happening right now, while Garrison’s were happening in the past. Also, I have it from Tricia’s point of view, which took away the suspense of what she was and planned, plus made her less sympathetic even though her victims were rapists. You can check out the current version of Chapter One here.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

Chapter One

The Cursed

 

The eternal hunger is my Curse, and it’s a bitch.

It’s not like I don’t deserve it. My mortal life brought this shitstorm of an existence on me. A mortal life I try to atone for, whatever good that will do. I believe in God – who else could Curse me? – and that He can forgive. But I also believe that omnipotent Fucker hates my immortal guts.

And though I say the Curse caused my current mess, truth is it would have found me regardless.

 

I feel the pounding beat inside the club. The music is so loud the tempo reverberates through my bones. Each throb reaches inside and caresses my heart. The press of writhing bodies, the scents of alcohol and sweat and sex and passion, feed my desire.

My leather midriff jacket is open. The top underneath is not low cut or flattering, and the miniskirt reaches the top of my knees. But both hug every curve of my body. The outfit was good enough to keep the bouncer’s eyes on my tits rather than my license, with its picture of a 40-year-old blonde with glasses and hair three decades out of style. I used to dress for the club scene, whether I needed to or not. The best I can do with my current wardrobe is forgo a bra and panties.

Humanity swallows me, surging with the rhythm. Lasers etch a carpet of shifting light above us. Colors pulse to the music. I can barely see the stage above the crowd, where the DJ spins in front of a video wall playing hentai clips. I can’t make out the bar at the back wall at all. Shadows obscured by smoke move and watch and lust in the balconies. Silhouettes flow together and break apart in passionate tempo. The candle lights at each table flicker like stars in an artificial night.

I close my eyes and stand still, feeling the body heat of the dancers flowing past. Desire, everywhere desire, need. Theirs are mere whispers next to the screaming inside me. Now that I’m inside, every doubt about coming here explodes. The hunger is too powerful to resist. I have no desire to. My mind goes numb.

I reach out into the human sea, grasp the nearest person by the hair and spin her toward me. She lets out a squeal of surprise, cut off when I grab the back of her head and drag her lips to mine. At first she stiffens, her lips pressed tight. But then they quiver, open, and our tongues dance. She tastes like spearmint, cigarettes, cum. Her embrace is sudden and fierce. The world dims. Her supple body melts into mine, scorches like an inferno. Our hands move over each other, exploring, wanting, her rich and intoxicating scent engulfs me as we devour each other, warm and wet and desperate and fuck I shove her away.

She stares at me, gasping. Her short-bobbled blonde hair curls over one eye, but the other stares, the thin rim of her dilated eyes the color of a winter stream. Her cheeks flush fire.

“The fuck,” a guy next to her says, and wheels her away by the elbow. His haircut is a mirror of hers, but brown with gilded strands like wood grain. His designer shirt looks painted on his sculpted torso. Groomed stubble carves out his jaw, and his straight teeth glow in the black lights. My head barely reaches his chest.

I turn my attention to him. I couldn’t feed from another woman, but her boyfriend was another matter. In the old days I would seduce them both and have my way with them, him as sustenance and her as a playtoy. But I stop myself before I indulge the thought further.

“Thought she was someone else,” I say.

“She’s not. Fuck off.”

His biceps strain as he holds her back from me. Her eye hasn’t left me the whole time.

God damn it. I spin on my heels and bolt through the crowd toward the bar. In a moment I can’t see them anymore. Some level of sanity claws back. Losing control like that would undo all my efforts in an instant. It’s the reason I cut myself off from this scene in the first place. A few more seconds and I would have enthralled that girl whether I wanted to or not. I’m trembling with desire, but I can’t give in. I convinced myself I could slake my hunger without returning to my old ways, ignored the doubts I could control myself. I wouldn’t be able to look at Pastor Tom again if I fucked it all up now.

I slip on to a barstool still warm from its previous occupant. Multicolored slashes of spilled drinks, blurred with smudged fingerprints and discarded napkins, glow in the underlighting. I lean to avoid the wall of mirrors behind the bar without conscious thought. The two bartenders, one of each gender and wearing emo outfits that reveal more than they conceal, are both occupied with other customers. I’m in no hurry. I’ll have a drink before they notice me.

“You look a little young to be in here,” a masculine voice says, so close to my ear I can feel his breath on me. The sound is smooth like chocolate melting on the tongue, as only practice can achieve.

I don’t turn to look, but push my stool along the bar rail to open up space beside me. “That’s a lousy line. Hear it all the time. Makes it even worse. Your next will be about my stunning eyes.”

The man slides in to the space. He is at least six feet tall, and wears a red v-cut sweater over a purple tee. A seashell choker glows around his neck. His deep brown eyes, cradled under dark eyebrows and short cropped hair, take in every inch of me. “It’s no line, sweetie. You’ll have to tell me who did your ID.”

“What do you need with a fake license?”

He grins, dimples kissing the smooth skin of his cheeks, and he leans closer to me. He smells like bottled leather and spice. “I’m only twenty,” he says with mock conspiracy. “You going to turn me in?”

“Hardly. I’m seventeen.”

His eyes go wide, and he starts to laugh. No shock, disgust or horror on his face, even though I can tell he believes my every word. Good.

“Sweetie, no seventeen year old has curves like you,” he says, his stare continuing to drink in my body.

“Whatever you say.” I lean back in my stool to give him a better view. “You going to turn me in?”

“I’m going to buy you a drink.” He tugs the bartender’s sleeve as he passes by. “Lemon drop?”

I purse my lips. I loved the chase, drawing out the pursuit as much as possible, making my prey so overcome by lust that the final payoff was a feast. A brush of my hand against his, a purr, a moan of acceptance as I lean forward to display my neck to him in submission. But this isn’t about the chase anymore.

“Only if the lemon drop is yours,” I say.

He flashes his teeth at me again. “Wanna play with the big boys, huh? Two vodkas. Neat.” I notice his eyes flick across the crowd. He’s not alone. Even better.

He says, “My name’s Derek, by the way.”

“Tricia. Never met a Derek before.”

“I’m one of a kind.” The bartender places the drinks in front of Derek. Derek takes my glass by the rim, palm cupping its mouth, and scoots it in front of me. Smooth.

“Cheers.” Our glasses clink together, and he lifts his drink to his lips.

I throw my head back as if laughing and drain my shot in one swallow. The liquid, hot and biting, slides down my throat, a pleasant warmth descending with it.

He laughs. “You keep drinking like that, you’ll be on the floor.”

“You keep drinking like that, I’ll look for someone else to get me drunk.”

“Not if I can help it, sweetie.” He nods to the bartender and taps in front of him. Moments later another vodka fills the empty space. He passes the glass to me with the same motion as before. The fucker’s doubling down. “Let’s go.”

 He slams his vodka, his eyes fixed sidelong on me as he swallows.

“Shit.” I down the drink, letting a little dribble out of the corner of my lips. I remember to cough this time. “God.”

He pats me on my back, and his hand drifts up to massage my neck.

“We’re in the advanced class now. You took those like a pro.”

“I’m not as naïve as you think.”

“Oh, I’m sure. Seventeen year olds don’t sneak into bars alone if they’re naïve.”

“They don’t flirt with twenty year olds if they’re naïve, either.”

“Sure they do. Teens sneaking in to bars like to live dangerously.” He nods with his chin at the wooden cross hanging around my neck, nearly lost in my cleavage. “Or you expect that to be your protection?”

“More than you know.”

He snorts a laugh, and his eyes stay fixed around my cross. “You’re not like any of the teens in bars I’ve met, sweetie.”

I nod my head back at the video wall, showing an anime girl with huge tits fucking a demon with two cocks. “Because most aren’t in bars that show shit like that?”

He turns to the wall and his breath catches.

“You’re too young to watch this stuff.”

“But old enough to be here? This is tame compared to the shit I watch. And you’re tame compared to the guys I normally flirt with.”

 I see a flush of excitement on his dimpled cheeks. “We need more drinks,” he says.

“You need another one to catch up with me.” My words tumble together.

“I’ve already had three. You’re the one playing catch-up, Tricia.”

“Mmm? Don’t remember….”

I slip a little from the stool and let him catch me. He hands me another shot and nods to his friend in the crowd. “Tell you what. I’ve got a private room upstairs. How about you finish your drink and we head up? It’ll make conversation easier.”

Another set of hands wraps me from behind, bigger and rougher than Derek’s. I look over my shoulder to see a block-shaped head, shaved bald. A thick brow ridge shelters black darting eyes.

“Easy, babe,” he says. The smell of rum and chicken wings coat his slow words.

“This is Steve,” Derek says. “He’s a friend.”

“You came with a friend.” I swallow the shot and knock the glass over as I put it back on the bar. “Hi, Steve.”

Steve’s granite brow crumbles into a frown. “All three?”

Derek nods.

“Fuck. We’ll have to carry her with three.”

“I can walk,” I protest, but both of them take me by the elbows and steer me up the spiral staircase. My feet don’t touch the ground.

Their desire seethes as they carry me, and I struggle to control myself. I have to let them dig as deep as they want. The passion of the crowd flows around me. Hands, not just those of Derek and Steve, brush me secretly and intimately as we move through the crush. In moments a door clicks behind me. The music muffles, the press of dancers disappears, the air cools. The private room.

“Holy shit.” A third voice says, nasally and high pitched.

I loll my head to get a look around the room. Plush red couches line the walls. Darkened one-way windows overlook the dance floor. The anime demon on the video wall has grown dick tentacles. Liquor bottles and electric candles stack the circular glass table in the center. At least one of these kids is loaded.

The one that spoke is short and at least a hundred pounds overweight. His rolex and thick gold chain scream he’s the loaded one, his body screams why he lets his buddies do the work in the club. His pale, moist flesh smells like he bathed in Axe. A fourth guy sits on the couch smoking a cigarette, his shoulder-length black hair parted neatly in the center. He wears a tailored black suit with a red silk shirt.

The sharp-dressed one whistles through a fog of smoke. “Bravo. She’s built like a brick shithouse.”

“This brick shithouse is in high school,” Steve growls.

“Holy shit,” the fat guy says again.

“Didn’t know you had so many friends, Derek,” I mumble. “Sweet digs.”

“And he dosed her three fucking times,” Steve continues.

“She’s going to OD,” Sharp says.

“Then shut up and let’s go.” I feel Derek’s lips on my neck, one hand pulling my head back by the hair, the other cupping my breast. “You taste delicious, sweetie.”

My self-control snaps. Dropping the act, I straighten and collapse into Derek’s arms. “So I get to fuck all of you, or the other three just watch?”

Sounds of soft laughter, buckles and movement fill the room. Derek’s already hard, but his excitement swells even further. I grab the sides of his head and plant my lips on his. My legs wrap tight around him. His hands are already up my skirt.

“You’re not wearing panties,” he moans. His eyes are mindless with lust.

“They get in the way.” I fumble at his pants. “Like your fucking jeans.”

Derek groans. He picks me up and I feel him slip in to me, small and unremarkable.

“Holy shit,” Fatty repeats again, breathless. “She wants it.” His buckle clinks rhythmically, the fuck is jacking off.

“Come on,” I hiss. The hunger is everything. I don’t hear or see the three others in the room. I grind in time with the throbbing music, the flickering lights on the dance floor. I used to savor sex as long as possible, enjoying the deliciousness of every moment, making them wait for days sometimes for release. But him I need now. Derek’s life force pulses inside me, surges, and my hunger swallows it whole. I pull more from him with each thrust. More, more, I want it all, the ravenous desire is all that matters and Derek is bucking and screaming in ecstasy with the most mind-devouring pleasure he will ever know. His orgasm slaps inside me. I devour the explosion of power that travels with it and moan with the pleasure. God, too long, it’s been too long. Derek drops me and falls away.

I collapse onto my back on the table, shivering. Bottles crash out of my way. Derek’s life courses through every inch of me, power I haven’t felt in years, and I want more. I want every last one of these fuckers.

“Shit, I get her next,” Fatty says, and climbs on top of me.

I latch onto him like I did Derek. “You didn’t have to wait.”

“Derek?” Steve says. “Holy shit, look at him.”

Sharp dashes over to his side. “Oh my God. I can’t find a pulse.”

“Holy fuck, look at that bitch.”

Fatty raises his head to stare at me, but he’s too consumed by passion to care that my skin is now obsidian cracked with fire. I can never hold my human glamour after feeding.

Steve shoves Fatty off me and hauls me up by the shoulders. Fatty crashes to the floor with a cry of dismay.

“What the fuck did you do to him?” Steve screams.

I smile and grab his arm with both hands. The crunching and ripping is louder than his scream. His arm explodes in a mass of shattered bone and blood, bent straight toward the floor.

“I ate a rapist.” I grip his neck with my talons. They sink at least an inch into his flesh. Steve gurgles, and I rip his throat free. His blood hisses against my skin.

Fatty gropes at my calf. “God, don’t stop,” he mumbles. Steve’s blood, still spraying from the mess of his neck, splatters across Fatty’s face.

“Get out of the way,” Sharp says, and levels a pistol at me.

His dress pants are around his ankles, his cock still erect and pulsing. I laugh at the sight.

“I will have you all.” I stride toward him.

Sharp’s voice trembles. “Stay away from me.” With monumental effort he steadies the pistol on my chest.

I slide the kukri from the jacket scabbard at the small of my back and lop his hand off.

Sharp screams and collapses into the couch. Blood fountains from the stump of his hand. I leap on top of him.

“Don’t die yet,” I whisper, and slide him inside me. No finesse. I rip his orgasm from him. He explodes in seconds, spurting blood as he thrashes in bliss. He arches his back and goes rigid. His eyes turn white, his cheeks sink, his skin drains of color. I scream with the ecstasy of devouring his soul.

Fatty scrambles over the table, slipping on the blood and alcohol on its slick surface.

“Please,” he begs. His hands stretch out to me, imploring.

I wheel off Sharp and throw Fatty against the window. My right hand wraps around his neck. His cock throbs eager in my left.

I feel his passion, his power, his eager soul. The lasers strobe over the seething dance floor behind him. Lust thunders from the crowd. I tremble as it pulls at me. The power of the two I consumed, the power of the one I’m about to, fills me, and I want more. I want it all. The dancers below are so embroiled by lust I could walk onto the dance floor in my full demonic glory and take every last soul in an orgy of desire.

And I would damn the soul I’m struggling to redeem, if it’s redeemable at all.

“Fuck.” I release Fatty’s cock, but keep him pinned by the neck. “What’s your name?”

His throat bobs under my palm. “Scott.”

“Scott. I’m leaving. When the police come, you say you wanted to drug and rape a girl, you fought over who got her first, and you killed them. Make them believe you. If you do this, I will find you, and you can do whatever you want to me.”

A grin spreads across his face, and he giggles. “I can?”

“Anything you desire, Scott. But only if you do what I ask.”

“I would do anything for you.”

I lean forward and brush my lips against his. “I know.”

He shivers. His cum spurts across my top, and he slumps back against the wall.

I wipe the cum off and flick it in his face before leaving. My glamour is back up. Just another clubber, probably glowing in the black lights with all the body fluids on me. No one seems to notice as I push my way downstairs. The afterglow of feeding lingers, turning down the urges that buffeted me before to a manageable hum. About ten minutes before a waitress goes in and notices the mess. Plenty of time to….

I feel its presence behind me an instant before its sword plummets at my head. I wheel to the side. My kukri is out in the same move. The black sword misses my head by less than an inch and cuts through two guys dancing nearby. Blood sprays over the dancers around them.

The Andrasi demon towers over the crowd. No glamour. Angelic wings fan out behind it. The Cursed’s muscular arms hold a blood-stained sword as tall as me. Its translucent crimson skin glows with the fiery black skeleton underneath. Its eyes blaze emptiness.

“You die, succubus,” it growls, straight into my mind.

“What the fuck….” A girl turns as blood splatters across her face. She stares at the two bodies on the dance floor, shocked in to silence for a handful of seconds. Then she looks up, straight into the eyes of the vengeance demon that cut them down. She screams.

The club goes apeshit.

 

 

Hunters: Chapter 8 (b)

Standard

The second half of Chapter Eight of Hunters! Split in two posts due to length. Tricia find her old master Hinge’s victims in a Seattle morgue, and flashes back to the London Blitz and the night she rebelled against him. Warning: Adult content.

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.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

Chapter Eight (b)

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

 

Air raid sirens howled in the darkness. The glow of fires traced the shattered skeleton of London on the horizon. Shapes of planes blotted out the stars splattered across the clear sky.

Over the bombs and sirens, I barely heard the cries of the crippled old man I fucked in the alley.

I thrust down on him and felt his hip snap. His lips frothed blood from a broken rib that had punctured a lung. The pain didn’t even touch his mindless eyes. Rough and palsied hands, caked with the same dirt and ash and shit that coated everything, scraped over my skin.

His scream was wet and grating and he collapsed. Clarence Berkshire’s paltry soul ebbed, scoured of hope by Verdun and poverty and misery. It left a husk of dried meat and leathery flesh as decrepit as the soul it had held.

“Fuck!” I hurled the body into the rubble-choked street. Its flailing limbs carved through the scarves of smoke that drifted along its path. It landed on the cracked cobblestones and I glared at it, willing a German bomb to immolate the worthless sack of shit. Dust settled. Klaxons blared. Nothing happened. I screamed with frustration and pulled my dress back down over my legs.

“To time the likes of him lose all their savor.”

The melodic voice, thickened with a Spanish accent, melted over me. I spun around.

Hinge stepped from the shadows of the alley. His deep chocolate eyes smoldered beneath a carpet of curled shoulder-length hair. A thin moustache and arrow of a goatee framed generous lips. Despite the filth and destruction around him, his voluminous white shirt, velvet vest and pants were immaculate.

A mix of lust and fury smothered my frustration. I rushed at him. “Where have you been?” My fist smashed into his jaw. He didn’t react. No mark from the blow against skin the rich color of milky tea. His mouth remained a pitying smile. I screamed and hit him again, desperate for a reaction. “You left me for weeks.”

His slender fingers clutched my neck before I knew he moved. I gagged as he lifted me from the ground.

“You hold such passion in your rage, my love.” He drew me close and nipped at my lower lip before pulling away again. The heady scent of his body filled my nostrils, stabbed into my brain, moments before he threw me into the wall of the alley.

I barely felt the impact. I launched myself from the cracked facade and slammed into him. In moments our bodies were tangled on the ground, nails clawing flesh, mouths biting and sucking and devouring. His laughter drowned out the raging blitz around us.

“You hunt the souls of those already dead,” he said when he pulled his mouth free of my breast. “Why hunt the dregs of life when feasts await?”

“This is my feast.” I struggled his pulsing cock from his pants and tried to take him into me.

He gripped me by the chin and hauled me up to face him. “Mi amor, this is no what I mean.”

I struggled against his implacable grip. “Let me go.”

He held me close, tantalizing just beyond physical contact. The hellish flames in my body seared with need. He kept laughing, and I struggled harder.

“Ravenous desire makes you a beast.” Excitement and reproach filled his words in equal measure. He shoved me away and flowed to his feet with preternatural grace. His fingers fastened buttons and brushed away dust, and in moments our passion had no evidence but memory.

“You and I are meant to feast on pleasure,” he continued. “Yet you slave yourself to sustenance,”

“We don’t have a choice. There’s nothing but old men left. The young fight on the mainland. The women cower in shelters! I can’t survive like this.”

“You hunt the prey that life already drains.” He held his hand out to me. “Come with me to truly sate your hunger.”

I glared at him, but couldn’t sustain my anger. I slid to his side and draped his arm over my shoulder. My head barely reached his chest. “Show me, my love.”

He smiled and kissed the top of my head. “Tonight you do no starve. Tonight you dine.”

“And for dessert?” I bit loose the buttons on his shirt, ran a tongue over his smooth, hard chest.

Hinge grasped my hair and tore my head up to face him. “For that you need the strength entire you take.”

I grinned and tugged at his hand. “Then what are we waiting for?”

Tranquila, mi querida, queda cerca.”

The sirens bounced from the buildings and piles of rubble we passed. Fog rippled like a pool beneath our steps. Shapes, some holding torches against the darkness, darted in alleyways and between buildings, but Hinge held me each time I started to move toward them. The soot that dappled the air around us seemed to wash over him without clinging to him as we passed.

Finally he drew to a stop next to a long, relatively intact building with rows of boarded windows that ran the length of both stories. Black ivy twined over its cracked facade. An empty shadow where a sign once hung stamped the brick above the wooden doors.

I started to speak, but Hinge pressed a finger to my lips. “Do no ask. I will no spoil the secret.” He strode up to the building’s front door and threw it open.

The musty entry beyond sagged with age. Years of traffic had scoured permanent ruts into the floor. Bulbs flickered through wire cages and thick films of dust. Torn notices and pictures kept tenuous hold on the walls. Dust trickled from the ceiling with each thunderous explosion.

On the floor lay sprawled several dismembered bodies of women wearing hoods and black robes.

I stepped over the first of the corpses and grimaced. “You brought me to a convent?” Each sister, disemboweled as if by an animal, eyes pried out, lay in a glistening slick of blood. One hung nailed to the wall, her blood dripping from the viscera that spilled from her torn belly. Their robes were in shreds below their waists. Hinge’s work, I knew. He had taken them and ripped away their souls even as he tore them apart.

“No, my love, this is no nunnery.” Hinge swept past me. His steps avoided the bodies and blood without any apparent effort.  He beckoned for me to join him.

I weaved around the slain sisters as I followed. The doors along the hall were shut but for one that led to a chapel. A carved crucifix with a bleeding Jesus towered out of the shadows over the rows of pews that faced it. Hinge sped past on the far side of the hall, not even sparing it a glance. He stopped at the set of double doors at the end of the hall and waited for me to reach his side. He gave a deep bow as if unveiling a masterpiece and swept the doors open.

The bar of light from the hallway sliced the darkness ahead. The feet of metal beds and scarred trunks studded the edge of the light. Sheets and bedclothes rustled, stirring the air. Dozens of eyes blinked to life like stars in the darkness.

“I have returned, queridos hijos mios.” Hinge flicked on the lights.

The dormitory lit up. Children, both boys and girls, dirty and unkempt, cheeks hollowed from hunger, were sitting up in their beds. They stared at us with eyes at first vacant and blurred with sleep. Then the gazes darkened with other emotions. They began to rise from their beds, moving slowly toward us.

Hinge strode forward on his long legs into the midst of the orphans. The sound of explosions was like a nearing drumbeat as they surrounded him. “This is the feast I promised, mi amor.”

Their hands grasped at his shirt, ran over his body as he passed his palms over their heads. “The young possess an unmatched purity. Even orphaned, life has yet to sour them.” He took a young boy’s head and guided it down. The youth eagerly pulled my master’s pants open. “They will no longer cry into their gruel. Tonight we save them from their misery.”

“An orphanage,” I mumbled. The vitality screamed from them. Young. Powerful. Pure. The air vibrated with the power of their souls. I took several steps forward, then stopped. “I thought they evacuated the children.”

“Only those deemed worthy were the saved.” Hinge cocked his head to the side as more small hands pulled his clothes away, small mouths ran over his flesh. “Does not their innocence enflame your hunger?”

“They’re too young,” I stammered. My hunger seethed. I took another step toward the orphans, then backed away. A disquiet that I didn’t understand stirred at my core.

“Only some of these have not yet flowered.” He shrugged, then closed his eyes and threw his head back as the orphans fawned over him. “That is a barrier for me no longer.”

One girl neared him. Black hair flowed down to her shoulder blades. Even from behind I could see womanhood had not yet touched the slender body under her thin white bedclothes.

Hinge took one look at her and for an instant agony swallowed his expression. He turned and batted her away. “I give you her to whet your appetite.”

The girl turned toward me and glided forward. A wooden crucifix hung from a leather string between the shadows of her nipples. Lust consumed her blue eyes. The delicate lines of her features were elegant, smooth. Beautiful.

I hungered for her. I needed her. So long with nothing that satisfied, nothing that touched my desire, only what I could hunt down to survive. And now this, innocent and pure and willing and yet my trembling hands remained at my sides.

As our eyes met, she moaned. Her lips parted. A small red flower of blood bloomed on the crotch of her gown.

I inhaled and fought the temptation to kiss her, to wrap her in an embrace that would sustain me and damn her. The unfamiliar disquiet built.

“She looks like… my sister?” I said. Emotions bobbed from the murk of confusion swallowing my mind. “My daughter? I don’t-”

“You have no sister, nor a daughter with your youth. I find you on the streets alone.” Hinge tugged aside the bedclothes of the boy in front of him, exposing pale flesh crossed with switch marks and bruises. The other orphans began to disrobe of their own accord. “What gives you pause? I feel your building need.”

I leaned down on one knee and took her by the shoulders. Her heat, her smell, her beauty beckoned me. She leaned forward, and our lips met. Before I could stop myself I pulled her thin body close. I felt her heat, her beauty, her eagerness, her soul. Her virgin mouth was delicious, her memories childlike and innocent and pure and holy Christ my hunger screamed.

Something was wrong. I clenched my jaw and pushed her away. My mind seethed with dread and half-recalled dreams and faded memories. What was stopping me?

What had stopped Hinge? The sight of her had pained him.

My eyes fixed on the cross at the girl’s neck. None of the other children wore crucifixes that I could see. He had kept his distance from the chapel, too.

“Get to the chapel,” I hissed, and slipped the cross from around her neck.

“But I need you,” she whispered. “Take me, please.” She grasped me with her small hands and moved again to kiss me. The beckoning fragrance of her blood and pheromones and excitement pounded at my will.

“Go!” I roared to her, to all the children in the dormitory, and thrust her toward the doors.

As soon as she was clear of me, I charged. The orphans scattered as I smashed into Hinge.

My momentum carried both of us to the back of the room. Beds and trunks careened in our wake. We crashed into the rear wall just as another bomb blast split the air. The orphanage shook.

“What the fuck’s happening to me?”  I smashed him to the floor, rained down blows with my fists. My skin was black, my nails talons of fire. “What did you do to me?”

His voice rang with mirth. “I do no know from where it comes, this rage.” He started laughing. His clothes were in a tangle around his waist and ankles, and he made no effort to right them. “I give you willing-”

I clenched my fists together and crashed them into his face. Unbridled. Bones crunched under my knuckles.

Hinge roared. His own demonic form took hold. A blazing palm slammed into my chest. I flew off him and tumbled over the mess of the room. Bed frames bent under my impact.

“What don’t I remember?” We were both back to our feet at the same instant. Our eyes seared into each other.

“I do nothing to your memory,” he said. His voice was no longer musical. It was fury.

“Why does this feel wrong?”

“Your sin is much too great for this to bother. They are no different from your victims past. And death, it is a blessing for these children.”

More explosions ripped the air, marching closer. Dust and splinters trickled through the roof, raining down on us. I ignored them. “Do I have a sister? A family?”

“I find you on the street alone with nothing. I take you as my own and give you all.” He spread his arms and started to advance on me. “Yet in your doubting moment now you fight me. Let stop this foolishness and come to me.”

His engorged cock throbbed with fiery veins. I felt the erotic pull of the pleasures we had shared countless times, nearly fell to my knees. So much death and depravity through the years. Yet I had never taken a life as young – as innocent – as these. The temptation of such purity fought with the strange revulsion that gripped me, from some memory or past I could feel but didn’t remember.

The windows exploded inward. Jets of smoke and fire spilled around us as the foundation buckled. The ceiling started to collapse. I turned invisible and rushed over the heaving ground.

“What did you take from me?” I drove my claws at his chest.

He caught my wrist as if I were still visible and slid to the side. In the same motion he flipped me over and whipped me into the broken floor. My back wrenched. He kept my hand in his grip and hurled me through the curtains of fire and debris falling around us.

I sailed until I slammed into the remains of a wall. It crumbled over me from the impact. The world tilted. Flames blistered my skin. My invisibility dissolved. I struggled free of the debris just as Hinge’s fingers clamped around my neck and hauled me off my feet.

“I do no suffer doubt from my own daughter.” His fingers squeezed. “I never think my child would dare defy me.”

His fingers squeezed, and I gagged. With the last of my strength I lifted my hand and opened my palm.

He released me with an anguished shriek. I landed hard on the rubble, holding the crucifix in my trembling fingers like a shield.

Voices behind me gasped. I looked back to see the orphans huddled together, black with soot. The remainder of the wall between the dormitory and the chapel had crumbled when I hit it. The pews smoldered, broken, and the chapel cross lay at an angle but intact behind them.

Hinge started to laugh. He held his hand out toward me and the crucifix, fingers splayed, and began to stagger back.

“So my Tricia also finds my weakness,” he said between spasms of laughter. His obsidian and fire demonic form faded. “This will no save you from my wrath forever.”

“You won’t ever see me again.” I stood on shaking legs, still holding the crucifix, and resumed my human glamour.

“You defile yourself with sin enough for Hell to Curse you, but at this you turn?” He kept chuckling, quieter now. “I swear you will regret this night, mi hija.”

“Never again,” I repeated.

“We shall see if that is true, my love.” He dropped his hand and bowed to me. “This night I gift you life, but know that it is mine to take whenever I but choose.”

The smoke and flames swirled, and he was gone.

I watched the empty space where Hinge had been until the stirring of the orphans roused me. I turned to them, trembling.

“I won’t hurt you,” I said. My voice was hoarse. “Stay close to the chapel. Help will come soon.”

I looked over the imploring faces and saw the girl who had approached me. Her hands clutched her gown to cover the stain on it. Shame colored her cheeks. I untangled the leather cord from my fingers and held her cross out to her.

She pressed her palm flat against my hand. Her blue eyes again met mine, but this time her gaze was clear.

“I think you’ll need it more than me,” she said.

 

I shook myself, my hand clutching the wooden cross that still hung around my neck.

No doubt remained. Hinge was in Seattle. He was ravenous, taking a new soul daily. And I would have to face him again.

“I’ll need to know if this keeps happening,” I said softly. “I’ll leave you a way to contact me if….”

My voice trailed off as I looked up at Grayson. He was slowly walking around the room, staring at a spot just over my shoulder. As he moved, his own reflection warbled over the steel behind him. The reflections showed only one person standing in the room.

Fuck.

“Grayson. Look at me.”

Grayson gasped and tensed. His eyes snapped into focus on my face.

I took the clipboard from the nearest cart and scribbled a number across the page. “Call this number if more anonymous kids start showing up.”

He swallowed. Sweat curled down from his temples.

“I won’t hurt you. But these deaths will keep happening. The police can’t stop it. I’m the only person that can.” I gestured with the clipboard at the bodies. “Can you call this number if more bodies show up?”

Grayson swallowed again and nodded. He made a squeaking sound, but formed no coherent words.

I nodded and dropped the clipboard onto the floor. My boots squealed as I started toward the doors.

“What are you?” He asked. His voice quaked.

I stopped. “Just call me,” I said, then pushed through the doors to the other side.

 

Continue to Chapter Nine

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All rights reserved.

.

Hunters: Chapter 8 (a)

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The first half of Chapter Eight of Hunters! This is the longest chapter yet, almost double my previous chapters’ lengths. Tricia has confirmed Pastor Rosie is unharmed, and now she must find out if her insane master has truly returned for her.

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.

Hunters

 

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Eight

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

The street artist slashed his charcoal stub across the sheet with the precision of a swordsman. The breeze rustled fat raindrops from the trees overhead and they popped steadily against the umbrella that sheltered him. He sat back for a moment, rubbing his chin as he examined his work. His blackened fingers added to the streaks already bruising his face.

“Are you done?” I asked. The street lights around us were flickering to life in the encroaching dusk.

He picked up a pipe balanced on the rim of a cracked Bob Ross mug and held a lighter to the bowl. “With a slice like you, things like this can’t be rushed.” He took a deep drag, his voice squeaking as he held in the smoke.

I tugged a crumpled twenty from my jacket pocket and thrust it toward him.

“Or maybe they can.” His words washed a cloud of foul smoke over me. He stabbed a last few marks on the page, then whipped it from his easel. He handed it to me and took the bill in the same motion. “Suit yourself. Price is the same.”

I glanced at the drawing. As I had requested, the rendition was more realistic than his displayed selection of caricatures, though the exaggeration normally reserved for chins and noses was focused instead on my breasts and hips. The bruises across my face were nowhere to be seen. I had slept for hours after getting home, and the downtime had made more difference than I expected. I smoothed my tangled hair before folding the drawing into squares and slipping it in my back pocket. The artist winced but made no comment, filling the air around him with a nimbus of pot smoke.

The artist was blocks away from the Medical Examiner’s office, but he had put his station right along my path. Some compulsions were more powerful than even the matters pressing me.

It was full dark when I reached the glass and concrete office building with a large King County police shield on its doors. I searched the street to make sure no one was watching and snapped invisible.

At this hour the lobby was empty except for two security guards, one watching the nightly news and the other reading a tattered novel. The one at the television looked up as the doors opened on their own, followed by a breath of cool wind. He grunted and returned his attention to the program. I walked around the metal detector, scanned the display of the building’s offices and floors next to the elevator, and found the King County Medical Examiner. Both guards glanced when the elevator chimed and opened, but lost interest when they saw it empty. I was used to people, even guards, giving little heed to doors and elevators misbehaving.

Getting in the building was never going to be the problem, anyway. My guts churned as I went through my options for getting inside. For decades I had obeyed a self-imposed vow never to use my powers on innocents. That Hinge was formidable enough a threat to make me consider softening my moral resolve was troubling.

I dropped my invisibility as the elevator doors opened. The click of my boots on the laminate roused the man behind the desk. He closed his laptop and pushed his bifocals down, clinging to me with his gaze.

“Can I help you, miss?” He straightened his green smock to hide the paunch it did little to conceal. A fringe of gray hair ringed his glistening pate. His nametag said Grayson. He had yet to look me in the eye. “Are you lost?”

“No.” I stopped at the edge of his desk. “I’m looking for someone.”

His eyes refused to lift from the curves of my body. He smiled broadly, displaying teeth stained by coffee. The indent of a wedding ring stood out on his finger. His nails were chewed down to the skin.

“I’d say you found someone,” he said.

Sweat gathered on his upper lip, stirring to life the sickening spice of his cologne. Desire already held him in its grip and I had done nothing proactive. I could brush my fingers against his cheek, stare into his eyes, and with the slightest effort crumple his will with my Cursed allure. It would be that simple to get what I wanted.

Instead I took a step away. The fact that he was an old, lonely man might be just as effective as using my demonic powers. I nodded at the examination room doors behind him. “I’m afraid a friend of mine might be here.”

Grayson looked up. Our eyes finally met. “We would have notified the family if-”

“I’m actually looking for many people,” I clarified. “I just need to see the bodies. Or see that they aren’t here.”

A look of apprehension displaced the desire in his gaze. The change unsettled me. “Who are you looking for?”

I pushed a hundred dollar bill across the desk toward him. It was the last cash I had, but it was worth the expense. My next kill had better be loaded. “Have any unidentified teenagers died recently?”

Grayson glanced down at the bill, then back up. His face solidified into a grim cast that unsettled me even more, as if whatever worried him had been confirmed. “Are you a reporter?”

I shook my head.

He looked uneasily down at the money, then back at me. Again his eyes fogged as he stared, clouded as much with desire as a sudden dissipation of his concerns. It seemed as if his worries no longer mattered somehow. “You look too young, anyway.” He stuffed the bill in his pocket and motioned for me to follow him through the double doors behind the desk.

I pushed through the doors in his wake. Florescent lights arced from the gleaming floor and cabinets of the room. I paused for a moment, staring at the multitude of warped reflections in the stainless steel surfaces. I could only hope he didn’t notice anything. I took a step into the room, then stopped. The doors swung back on me and I stumbled forward.

Six corpses in the middle of examinations rested on autopsy tables lined at the room’s center. Grayson did a circuit around the room as I stared. Casters rolled and metal scraped as he pulled out at least as many more body drawers with similar corpses occupying each one. All of them cold, gray, undamaged but for the autopsy incisions.

Bodies just embraced by the transformation of puberty. None over thirteen at most. Bodies not just dead, but empty. Bodies ripped of their souls.

Fuck. The edges of my world started to crumble. The smell of antiseptics and Grayson’s cloying aftershave faded in the cold, dead air as they were swept aside by a scent I hadn’t smelled in decades.

Memory swelled. I could smell Hinge on all of them.

Grayson pulled out the last drawer and gestured at the room with an air of futility. “All of them John and Jane Does.” He gnawed at the nail of his middle finger. “If you know any of them, we could use some help identifying them.”

I stared at him. So many young, unidentified bodies did not seem to concern him in the least. Hinge’s effect on memory and emotion were far too familiar, but they never spread from afar before, never lingered around places or objects. Just as his scent clung to the bodies, his Cursed powers clung enough to cloud the thoughts of those simply near them.

“When did this start?” I could barely form words.

Grayson shrugged. “A few weeks ago. Maybe a month. They’re from all over. These are just in King County.”

My body trembled. “It’s happening in other areas.”

“They have at least this many in Tacoma. A couple more in Snohomish.” He walked among the gurneys, his eyes darting from the bodies to me. “None with an apparent cause of death, no identification, no one asking about them. Weird.”

More than weird. Horrifying. I wanted to throttle him out of his complacency. At least twenty-four teenagers dead in a month. That was close to one a day. At worst I needed one soul a month.

“Any beheadings?”

Grayson did a double take. “God, no. Just whole bodies.”

Fuck. That either meant he was burning the worst to prevent them from rising as Cursed, or….

I stepped closer to the nearest body. She was the only one not yet scarred by an examination. Her blonde hair spilled down her shoulders and over the edge of the table. Acne concealed under makeup, breasts mere buds under the autopsy sheet, face peaceful in a death so thorough it left nothing of her behind. Even in death the faint but newly blossomed aroma of her was potent. Mixed with the dark, intoxicating scent of my old master.

A delicate golden cross lay askew at the hollow of her throat. It flashed in the colorless light above. I couldn’t tear my gaze from it as memories stirred, and the crush of bombs from decades past shattered the calm around me.

 

Continue to Chapter Eight (b)

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, all rights reserved

Hunters: Chapter Seven

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After a long delay, Chapter Seven of Hunters! My apologies for the wait.Garrison spotted a man named Jesper following him on his flight to Seattle at the behest of two Cursed he knows nothing about. Now in Seattle, he s going to confront Jesper on who the Filitovs are and why they are following him. Feedback for this and previous chapters 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.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Seven

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Garrison

“You drew aggro from a couple of heavyweights, bro,” Eugene said over my earbuds. “And this Jesper dude is no slouch in the pain-in-the-butt department, either.”

“Tell me,” I said. Streetlights glittered off the water that rippled down the steep hills of the city. Cool, brackish mist hung suspended in the night. The drenched air flattened the echoes of horns and sirens that rebounded from the buildings that surrounded me.

“Let’s start with Mr. Hoodjink. Born in Finland in 1990. His family moved to St. Petersburg when he was six. He was an amateur MMA fighter until he joined the Russian mafia. I watched a couple vids of his fights. Guy seems to get off on getting hurt.”

“Forward me the links.”

“On the way. He’s been with the mob full time for the past few years, so I can’t say what other training he has.”

“He’s at the Queens Inn, room 220?”

“Room 212. You okay?” Eugene paused as soda gurgled through a straw. “Your voice sounds, I dunno, slurry.”

I felt the punctures at the crook of my arm twinge at his statement. “I’m fine.” I pulled up the pixelated videos of Jesper’s fights on my phone. He seemed to invite his opponents to batter him until he twisted them to the ground with his long limbs.

“That’s room 212 if he’s still there, I mean. If I were him, I’d assume you know where he’s staying. Your plane landed like twelve hours ago. What if he moved or he’s waiting-”

“Then I’ll deal with it,” I snapped.

Eugene inhaled sharply. “Um. Okay, then.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Sorry. What about the Filitovs?”

“You were right to assume they’re Cursed. Ursula and Vasily Filitov are legends. Most people think they’re code names or titles or something. A pair of Filitov siblings has been in charge of St. Petersburg for a century. We’re talking both the spy and mob circles. They’ve been involved since the Cheka days, back during the Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin. It would make the Filitovs one of the first connections between government espionage and Russian organized crime. Fascinating stuff.”

“Don’t get sidetracked. Did you go any further back? We know it’s been the same brother and sister the whole time.”

“Hold on, they’re not brother and sister. They’re like eight decades apart. Like, she’s his great aunt or something.”

“But they look like twins.”

“That’s the funny thing about genetics. Dominant genes get passed down through generations. Even with long breaks between offspring, grandchildren can share up to fifty percent of-”

“Eugene.”

“Right. I’ve got more info on the guy. Vasily was born in 1871. He was in the thick of the crime wave that followed St. Petersburg’s capitalist boom. But there’s a decade between his last record there and when I found him again. Get this, he was a captain in the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese war.”

“How did he get to be a captain with no records?”

“Probably destroyed. He only shows up because he deserted. He disappears again until he shows up with Ursula after the Revolution. He was her liaison to the city’s crime bosses.”

I did a quick mental calculation. “He looked like he was in his thirties. He must have been Cursed abound when he deserted. What about Ursula?”

“She did a better job staying out of the spotlight. I found a possible birth record from 1788, and a few investments through the 1800s. She doesn’t really stick her head up until the Revolution. Her connections to the State since then are well documented.”

“She’s over two hundred years old.” I shuddered and unscrewed the top of my flask. “So why do they care about me?”

“No idea. Their interests seldom leave Russia. Hopefully Jesper knows something.”

“I can only hope.” I took a pull from the flask and slipped it back in my pocket. “212?”

“212. Watch yourself.”

“Call you back.” I slipped my earbuds out as I reached the parking lot of the Queens Inn.

Whether by luck or design, Jesper’s hotel was only a few blocks from mine. The Queens Inn was a three-story dive wrapped in a U around a mostly deserted parking lot. The lot’s mouth was the only way in or out. The room windows, most dark, looked down on the lot from a railed walkway that ran the length of the hotel. No great exit options. The exterior lights threw rainbow halos into the mist.

I slid the LeMat from my arm holster. The whole hotel would hear if I fired it, but it was menacing enough to intimidate and heavy enough to break bones. I kept out of the pools of illumination from the parking lot’s lights and made my way to the nearest stairwell.

A scarred and dented legacy of violence marked the door of room 212. The drawn curtains hung motionless over a cracked window framed at the corners by spiderwebs and gray stains. A Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob rocked quietly in the breeze. I gripped the LeMat with both hands as I pressed my ear to the metal. Passing cars, the whisper of wind thickened with rain, but no sound from within. I took a step back and smashed my boot into the door.

The doorframe exploded, the lock and deadbolt tearing through wood, to reveal a room swallowed in darkness. Pale shadows of furnishings rose along the corridor of light that spilled from outside. I kept my gun raised and reached around the inside of the door to flick on the light.

“Jesper, it’s time for us to-” I said, then stopped. Blood pooled on the crumpled sheets of the bed. It took a moment to make out Jesper’s pale body sprawled atop the stained piles of bedding.

I swept my gaze over the room, the LeMat following the path of my eyes. The room was still and empty of anyone else. I looked back to the body.

Towels bound Jesper’s hands to the headboard, but there was no evidence he had struggled against them. His face appeared peaceful despite the skin flayed from his glistening chest. Blood splattered his teeth and lips under gray-blue eyes that stared at the ceiling. The cool air kept the scent of the carnage at bay, but Jesper had died too recently for the smell to thicken. Not even flies had begun to congregate.

“Damn it,” I muttered. I wasn’t sure if he was connected to Praest or not, but I had no other leads to find out why I was being followed.

I took a cautious step into the room and felt the explosion of thoughts just as a shape darted from the bathroom. Something made a popping sound in his hand. Two barbs snagged my pants, then the first click of a Taser discharge. Lightning crawled through my veins and dragged agony with it. Every muscle in my body clenched. Vision sparkled, flared. Body rebelling. Gun dropping. Floor. The Taser’s metronome beep counted the seconds of mind-numbing agony. On the second beep, my only thought through the pain was that I had three more to go.

A boot kicked my gun into the shadows under the bed. Whoever had tased me stepped over my body – I tried to see what kind of shoes, but my muscles refused to obey any commands – and the deadbolt and lock crunched shut in the shattered frame behind me. Springs squeaked on the bed as he sat down on its corner.

Sloppy. If I’d concentrated I would have picked up his thoughts before I entered the room. I clamped my teeth together and through force of will drug my head around. The short, bristling carpet scraped against my cheek.

The man staring down at me wore combat boots, camouflage shorts, a stained T-Shirt and torn blue Seahawks windbreaker. A matching sweatband circled his bald head. His braided white goatee, the only indication of age, glared against his black skin. The Taser rested on his lap while he dug at his nails with the tip of a foot-long army knife. Islamic symbols were tattooed across the knuckles of each hand.

“Who are you?” I grunted, my words muffled against the carpet. My muscles twitched every time I shifted my body.

The man said nothing and swept his dark eyes over me as if inspecting a slab of meat. Despite his silence, his name sprung to the surface of his thoughts.

“Why did you torture Jesper, Antoine?” I asked.

Antoine grinned. He nodded to Jesper’s corpse. “He said you read minds. Maybe he weren’t full of shit. The demon tale he spun true, too?”

The details of the contract, hazy and inexact, bobbed to the surface of his thoughts. No names of his employers, just the targets and the price. But it was a mafia job, and that meant Vasily had ordered it.

“Vasily didn’t ask you to torture Jesper.” My fall had pushed one of the barbs deep into my calf, and it throbbed. “You did it anyway.”

“Yeah, that was me time.” Antoine snorted. “This – Vasily, is it? – don’t care what I did. Jesper there cared lots, but in the wrong way. That was sick, man. I stopped after a bit and he just jawed till he bled out.”

“What did Ursula want, then?”

He stuck his newly-manicured thumb back over his shoulder at Jesper’s body. “Beyond whitey there dead and you caught? Fuck if I know.”

I sighed. “Vasily had you kill Jesper so I couldn’t learn more from him. And you don’t know anything.”

“Oh, I know plenty. Like I know Vasily don’t care what condition you’re in, neither, long as you’re still breathing when he gets here. Which might be awhile. Hope the staff don’t notice the number you did on the door and interrupt us.”

An emotional fist clenched my stomach. “You mean, you assume he won’t care.”

“Fine, I assume.”

“Are you willing to take that risk?”

“I assume,” he overemphasized the word, “he’ll do the same thing I’m gonna do when he gets hold of you anyway. I’ll just be saving him the trouble. I got my own mind reading powers, and they work damn good.” He tucked his middle finger under his thumb and flicked it against the blade of the knife. The metal sent a cold ring through the air.

The moment his finger struck the blade, I grabbed at the taser wires and rolled. My awkward fingers tangled in the wires, but my momentum was enough to drag the taser from Antoine’s lap. The electrodes popped free as the weapon clattered to the floor. I rolled twice more in an arc, stopping with my feet facing him.

Antoine leapt from the bed. An incoherent snarl erupted from his lips. He leveled the knife and dove at me.

My feet caught him in the chest, flattening his lungs. Spittle flew from his mouth as the breath rushed out of him. He spiraled through the air into the side of the room’s dresser, the impact cracking the cheap wood. His knife flew from his hands and sunk into the floor beside my head.

I tried to stand and toppled in the tangle of wire that wrapped me. I looked up just as Antoine dragged himself to his feet.

“Vasily gonna get you back alive,” he said between gulping breaths, “but not in one piece.”

He made it two steps before I stomped my boot heel down on his instep. He yelped and stumbled to one knee. I hauled myself up by the edge of the bed, the wires still snarled around my legs.

Antoine grabbed the knife hilt and started to pry it from the floor. I drove the heel of my hand into his forearm. His arm went limp and he let go of the knife. In the same move my fist shattered his nose. Tears flooded his eyes. Blood fanned down his face and through his beard like the branches of an inverted tree in winter. He fell backward, one arm flopping motionless against his chest.

“Broke my arm,” he groaned. He cupped his good hand under his nose, and in moments blood dribbled through his fingers from the puddle forming in his palm.

“Sprained,” I corrected. “The nose is broken. Stay down.” I struggled free of the coiled mess of wire and tore the barbed electrodes off my pants. The knife remained upright in the floor. I studied it before tugging it free.

“Nice knife. You ex-military, Antoine? Let me guess, Desert Storm. A sergeant, really? Too bad about the dishonorable discharge. Life would have been very different if you’d finished your twenty.”

“If I finished my twenty no drunk punk woulda put me down.” His voice was wet and slurred. “I smelled ya before I heard ya. What all you on? Shit, I can see the back of your head through your pupils.”

“You can thank that for why I didn’t notice you before you tased me. Let’s call it even.” I pulled out my phone. “How did you get the job to kill me?”

He tucked his sprained hand into the flap of his Seahawks jacket and winced. “Fuck you, man.” A wave of bloody snot bubbled from his nose and he moved his hand back over it.

“You shouldn’t take last-minute jobs from the Russians. Do you know Tricia Praest?”

“Who?”

I shook my head. “Of course you don’t. That would make things too easy.” I punched in Eugene’s number. “Hey, Eugene, change of plans.”

Eugene’s voice came muffled through a mouthful of something. “Did Jesper skip?”

“No, he’s here. He’s just dead.”

“Oh. Oh. What? You killed him?”

“Of course not. An ex-Army sergeant named Antoine Golden tortured him to death. Black, fifties maybe – oh, fifty-two.” Antoine’s eyes widened in surprise, and I winked back. “I need you to find out everything you can about him.”

“Hold on a second. How did this guy find our guy and-”

There was a thump as the phone bounced on the carpet. I heard scuffling, a few more thumps, and sounds of movement. No more sound from Eugene.

The background noise disappeared as someone picked up the phone, but still no one spoke.

“Is everything okay?” I said.

“If Antoine is still alive it is.”

I froze. The voice was not Eugene’s. Deeper, less emotion. Thick Russian accent.

“Vasily Filitov.” My heart pummeled my ribs. Millions of questions flooded my mind, but one screamed the loudest. “What happened to Eugene?”

Antoine started to laugh, a ragged, slurping sound. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

“Antoine is alive, then,” Vasily said. “Let him go.”

“Not until I know Eugene is-”

“I guarantee Eugene will be dead if you don’t do as I say.”

I tried to will Eugene to make a sound, give any indication he was still alive, but nothing. Antoine kept laughing and had pulled himself to a sitting position. Blood stained his white beard a brilliant crimson.

I clenched and unclenched my fist. God damn it. There was no sense belaboring the only choice open to me. I nodded to the door.

“Get out of here,” I said to Antoine.

His laughter dribbled away as he swiped his sleeve across his nose. He staggered to his feet and held out his open hand, glossy with bloody snot.

I glared at him, but flipped the knife hilt outward and slapped it into his palm.

He pulled it from my grasp and spun it once in his hand. “Well, I should get, then.” He winked at me, then whipped the pommel of the knife at my temple.

His thoughts telegraphed his plan before he moved. I slid to the side and felt the breeze from the hilt as it passed. I caught his forearm in my palm, but stopped my reflex before I did any more damage.

“You don’t want two sprained arms.”

His scowl could have melted concrete. “See you around,” he said, and jostled the askew door open. In moments the night mist had swallowed him.

I watched the darkness for a second to confirm he was gone, then clutched the phone to the side of my face. “Now where is-”

I heard a thump as Vasily dropped the phone.

“Eugene?” A beat, and nothing. “Eugene!”

Something dragged across carpet, then picked up the phone. “Good lord, that guy is fast.” His voice sounded weak and unsteady, but it was Eugene.

I let out a long sigh. “Thank God you’re okay. Where’s Vasily?”

“Gone. He’s, like, ridiculous fast. He just appeared next to me while we were talking and bam, I’m on the floor. Didn’t hear a door or anthing.”

“How’d he find you?”

“Russian intelligence, bro. Gotta be. They found your flight, found out we talked. Heck, sounds like they killed Jesper, too. Don’t you ever watch spy movies?”

“No. You’re sure he’s gone? You’re safe?”

“Yeah, sure. So who’s Antoine… holy wow there’s a lot of blood all over the….” His voice faded.

Silence on the other end of the line.

The stubble prickled on my scalp. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

“Um. My left hand is gone.”

“What do you mean, gone?”

Eugene sounded suddenly and eerily calm. “Cut off. Like, at the wrist. I didn’t know he did that. When did he do that?”

I pressed my eyes closed. “Listen to me. Hang up and call 911.”

“I’m going all Jackson Pollock on the carpet. Hey, aren’t you supposed to put parts in milk or something? To save them for reattachment. I wonder if it would work with a hand.” His voice started to slur, like he was half asleep. “How hard would it be to type with a fake hand? When did he do this? His sword must be really sharp. Oh, he had this big-ass sword-”

“You’re going into shock. You have to hang up and dial 911, now. Text me when you’re at the hospital.” I bit my lip. “Don’t contact me after that until I tell you, okay?”

“But how will you find out stuff? You can’t find out stuff. I can find out stuff. I need to find my hand and get it in milk. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

“Eugene. 911. Don’t contact me.”

“Fine, bro, but I need to find milk.”

“911! Don’t contact me! Repeat it!”

“911. Don’t contact you.”

“Do it.” I ground my teeth together. “I’m sorry. Goodbye, Eugene.”

I hung up before he could say anything else.

God damn it. I would have dialed 911 myself, but I didn’t know where he lived. We had met exclusively online and over the phone to give him a measure of safety. I did this with as many of my network of rescued thralls as I could.

Nearing sirens warbled over the hiss of mist outside. If I were Antoine, I would have stopped at the front desk to report Jesper’s body. No time to dawdle.

I dropped on all fours to retrieve the LeMat, scooped up the taser and wires and slipped out the door. Once I was out of the danger I could think about my next move, but that would have to wait. Right now I had a crime scene to leave and cops to escape.

 

Continue to Chapter Eight (a)

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All rights reserved.

Hunters: Chapter Six

Standard

Chapter Six of Hunters! After discovering Hinge has come to Seattle, Tricia wants to make sure her old master has not harmed her lone mortal friend. Feedback on this and previous draft chapters 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.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Six

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

 

Hinge is here.

Sebastian’s words thundered through my mind. He had spoken them with a casual indifference that showed he didn’t appreciate the horror it brought me. Or maybe he did know and didn’t give a shit. Or planned on it. Or fuck.

Hinge is here.

The memories of my old master seethed from the mental tomb where I’d buried them. His utter ruthlessness. His lack of compassion or mercy. The agony and ecstasy that shrouded everything he did. Each memory brought with it the humiliation of my complete servitude to him, and the temptation to luxuriate again in my Cursed nature.

Hinge is here.

The possibility terrified me. Again the hope tickled my thoughts that Sebastian was fucking with me, but I couldn’t risk assuming that. There was no reason the chain-smoking bastard would bother. And if my old master was indeed in Seattle, it was inevitable he would harm my lone mortal friend.

I strode invisible through one of the many homeless camps tucked beneath the I-5 overpasses. The torn fencing around the camp rattled against the breeze, dripped water from the mist that hung in the cold air. Vagrants huddled in a motley collection of tents and sleeping bags under the shelter of the freeway. A few gathered around harsh fires fueled by whatever detritus they could find. The slate gray light from the overcast sky threw a lifeless cast over the camp.

The reek of smoldering trash and unwashed bodies assaulted me, churned into a repulsive stew by the wind. Sound drummed from above as a steady rhythm of traffic poured into the core of downtown Seattle.

Through the thunder of cars I picked out a voice, faint but familiar. The tension in my shoulders relaxed for the first time since I’d left Sebastian’s apartment. I followed the voice through the camp toward the woman I sought.

Chaplain Rosangela Marinha do Carmen crouched on the mossy and trash-strewn gravel in front of one of the homeless men. She wore a beaten leather jacket and dirty black sweats, and silver crosses dangled from her ears. A pair of half-moon glasses hung from a beaded necklace around her neck. She carried nothing save a large black satchel hanging from her shoulder. I could have stood yards away and still picked out what she said, but Rosie’s warm presence always drew me close. I stopped just a few paces back. She was alive, unharmed. If I got any closer I was afraid I’d jump her in joy in the middle of her conversation.

A wall of body odor wrapped over me as I neared the two, but Rosie seemed unfazed by his stench.

“Are you positive I cannot offer you a ride to a clinic?” Her Brazilian accent melted her words together in a waterfall of sound. The gentle voice was striking coming from such an imposing woman. Even crouching, she was nearly as tall as me and dwarfed me in width.

The man shook his head but said nothing. The wind gusted curtains of mist under the overpass, drug the fog of his breath in an erratic stream. His skeletal, callused hands clutched his torn blue sleeping bag closer at his neck. The elements had beaten his reddened skin to a smooth shine beneath the shadow of dirt and stubble. His yellow, bloodshot eyes swiveled in their sockets to avoid her gaze.

She smiled sadly and pulled a black thermos from the bag hanging at her hip. “Well, at least let me offer you a cup of coffee. It will not be as comforting as a clinic, but it will ward off some of the chill.”

A river of steam curled from the thermos as she filled a paper cup for him. The richness of its smell cut through the pall of body odor. Life touched the man’s eyes as he pulled himself to his knees, cradled the cup close to his face. He inhaled the scent deeply before taking a sip. More than for her compassion or ministrations, the homeless knew the woman they called “Sister Rosie” for her coffee.

Rosie twisted the thermos closed and placed her dark hand on the man’s greasy tangle of hair. Her massive grasp could have picked him up by the skull.

“I’m no believer,” the man said. His voice sounded like rocks tumbling over metal.

Rosie laughed. “That is fine. You do not have to be.” She pulled him close and whispered words in his ear even I couldn’t catch. He shuddered, fell against her shoulder, and she held him for several moments before patting his back and standing.

“I will be back tomorrow if you are here,” she said. The man didn’t reply and cuddled the coffee cup in his trembling grip. Rosie turned away, her boots crunching over the gravel and brittle weeds.

I could no longer contain my excitement.

“You’re okay,” I said.

Mae de Deus.” Rosie spun with an alacrity I would have thought impossible for her. “Tricia. I did not see you. What are you doing here?”

I grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. “You’re okay,” I whispered, and stood on my toes to kiss her cheek. Errant strands of gray-streaked hair that had escaped her bun brushed my face, smelled of earth and sweat.

When my lips touched her cheek our minds entwined. Our physical contact wasn’t intimate enough for a strong mental connection, but I couldn’t see any tampering.

Her cheeks blushed and she hugged me back with a laugh. “Why would I be otherwise?”

I pulled away, breaking our brief mental contact, and fought back shame. It felt too much like a violation, not just of an innocent mortal but of my spiritual savior. Telling myself it was to make sure Hinge hadn’t tampered with her didn’t help. Using my demonic powers on anyone I wasn’t hunting, no matter the reason, felt like a sin.

Rosie’s expression darkened as her eyes passed over me. “Your face! What happened to you?”

I looked away. Every ache I had been ignoring started to groan. The marks of the Andrasi fight must still look terrible. “I’m fine.”

“How did you get hurt?” Her thick hands touched my bruises with surprising tenderness. “We should get you to a hospital.”

Her touch was warm, welcoming, but I jerked away from her examination. “I said I’m fine. It was just a bar fight.”

“You got into a bar fight.” She said it without reproach. I imagined the reproach anyway. She had never asked how old I was – I doubted I looked old enough to drink – but she had been my friend for almost a decade.

The nagging concern about my eternal youth grumbled, but I shoved it away. I couldn’t worry about that on top of everything else, and certainly not until she made an issue of it.

“You should see the other guys,” I said.

“Guys. Plural. You were assaulted?” She turned pale. “Dear God, were you raped?”

“No.” I met her concerned stare without blinking. “No. I swear to you I wasn’t raped.”

Then her eyes widened. “Wait. Were you in the stampede at the Trinity Club last night?”

I blushed. Even if Rosie didn’t take advantage of her police connections, that clusterfuck would be all over the news by now.

“You were there,” she breathed, wagging a finger at me. “Ten people died, Patricia. The survivors are either catatonic or in the hospital. What happened?”

I shrugged. “Everyone went crazy. I fought a few guys blocking my way out.” I gestured to the bruises on my face and the tears in my clothes and hoped that would be enough explanation for how I got them.

“You should give a statement to the police. They have no real witnesses.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know anything. I ran.”

“You don’t have to be scared-”

“I’m not scared,” I said, with enough force to cause her to take a step back. I looked away and spoke more softly. “I’m not scared. I just don’t know anything.”

She didn’t break her stare for several moments. Then she started walking toward her car and pulled the coffee thermos back out of her bag. “You could probably use some coffee. You do not look like you have slept since the bar fight.”

I matched her pace, took the offered cup. “Do you ever run out? It’s like loaves and fishes.”

For a moment I didn’t think she’d let the subject of the club drop. But then she let out a big, embracing chuckle that warmed me to the core. “Except with coffee and biscotti for today’s crowd? I have an urn in my car.”

I took a swallow of coffee. She must have seen my expression of pleasure and smiled. “My ex told me I needed to drink water as well as coffee to survive. I never saw the point.”

“He must not have been from here.”

“He was born here.” She frowned. “Even if he moved right after the divorce, he would still be more from the Northwest than me.”

“You don’t know if he’s still in the area?”

She shook her head and swiped at her eyes.

Passing traffic and the hiss of rain filled the silence. I knew hints of her life before we met, but she seldom spoke about her past before her religious calling.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I said.

She waved a hand. “What is there to talk about? I do not blame him. He thought he married a wife and instead married a job. I doubt any memories our children have are fond, either. But without the divorce, I would not have become a chaplain. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

I heard sadness edging words that were dismissive on the surface. More silence followed. The mist cloaked us as we passed out of the freeway’s shadow into the open.

She batted her hand in front of her nose. “You need a shower. You smell like cigarettes.”

Fucking Sebastian. Not only had he called me a blunt instrument, he made me reek like….

I nearly stumbled. After Sebastian’s warning I had rushed to find Rosie and make sure Hinge hadn’t harmed her. But Hinge had no way of knowing about her unless he had been watching me for a very long time… or if I had just led him to her.

Sebastian wanted me to provoke Hinge into action. He might have planned that I would go straight to anyone I cared about. Just like he could trust a blunt fucking instrument to do.

I didn’t have a choice. I had to find Hinge as soon as possible. Demons could sense each other, but Hinge was powerful enough to mask his presence from anyone, even Sebastian. That left me precious few options for tracking him down. And I would not use Rosie as bait like Sebastian intended.

My mind scrambled. “You were a police officer, right?” I said in a rush, as much to break the silence as to cover my disgust at my stupidity.

Rosie looked away. “That was another life, Tricia.”

“Can you get me into the morgue?”

She couldn’t disguise her shock. “Oh, meu filha, why do you need to go there? I haven’t set foot in the place in years.”

“You must still know people from your time in the force.”

“After all this time? One or two, maybe, but….” She shook her head. “I am not going to try to get you into the morgue.”

“Why not?”

She stopped walking and turned to me. “Why do you need to go there?”

“One of my friends is missing. I want to make sure she’s not there.”

Rosie looked at me sidelong and resumed walking, with a pace fast enough that I had to jog to catch up. “She would be identified if she died.”

“I doubt it.” I started to dig the lie deeper, then thought better of it. “This is something I have to do.”

“Does this have anything to do with what happened last night?”

“No.” At least I didn’t have to lie about that.

We had reached her sedan. The necklace that held her glasses chimed as she slipped them on. She crossed her arms under her massive bosom and fixed her gaze on me. “We have been friends for years. Some of the most stimulating conversations I have ever had are our midnight talks of morality and spirituality. You seem genuine in your desire to become a better person. I thought we trusted each other. But you show up this morning bruised and in ripped clothes, looking like you were up all night, and all you say is that you were in a bar fight and want to get in to the morgue.” She set her mouth in a determined line. “Tell me the truth about what happened at the club last night – and what you are really looking for – and I will find a way to get you in.”

I could only hold her stare for a few moments before looking away. I had the power to break her face into a jigsaw puzzle before she could move, or twist her to my will in a fog of desire, but I felt like a child cowering before a woman as immovable as a mountain.

“I did not think so.” She maintained her glare for a moment, then her features softened. “You do not look as bad now that you are in the light.”

“I told you, I’m fine.”

She sighed. “You are always welcome to come by my apartment. I will make a pot of coffee and we can talk. But no morgue.”

I looked down at the ground, sorting my thoughts, then nodded. “Right.” I turned to walk away.

“Oh, no, we are not ending like this,” Rosie said, and reached out to me. I let myself melt into her embrace.

“You know I am always here for you, yes?”

I nodded. In her warm grasp, the weight of my worry, even the aches of my injuries, seemed to evaporate.

She gave one last squeeze, then released me and opened the car door. “Can I give you a ride anywhere?”

The morgue, I thought. “No,” I said.

“Then stay out of trouble,” she said. “Por favor. I will see you soon?”

I nodded. She winked and slipped into her car. In moments I was alone in the lot with the Seattle mist surrounding me.

The click of my boots as I reached the pavement fell dead in the rain around me. I needed to get back home to change, drag a comb through my hair, look presentable at least. I had hoped Rosie would get me into the morgue so I didn’t have to resort to using my powers. Fuck, I wasn’t even sure the place would reveal anything. But I had to follow the only lead I could think of. I had to confirm Hinge was here and find a way to track him. If I didn’t, I feared the next late night discussion at Rosie’s apartment would never happen.

 

Continue to Chapter Seven

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, all rights reserved