Hunters: Chapter 9

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Chapter Eight of Hunters! Garrison struggles with what to do now that he knows Cursed are hunting him, and Tricia is still on the loose.

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 Nine

 

Garrison

 

“I know all the bars in the city that open at six AM, but you’ll need to take a couple buses to get there.”

I stared at the bent man in the stool next to me. The comment was unsolicited, but unsurprising since we were the only two patrons in the bar. Red veins spiderwebbed over his cheeks and pockmarked nose. Gray ropes of hair spilled over the shoulders of a flannel jacket so worn that I couldn’t determine its original color. A thin film of whiskey sat at the bottom of his glass and it chattered against the bar in his palsied hands.

I glanced at the time on my tablet in front of me. Ten was plenty early for a bar to be open. I didn’t want to encourage him further with a reply and instead took a deep draw of coffee from the stained mug in front of me. Jameson whiskey fluttered at the edge of the bitterness. The bartender had burned the coffee while hunting for and dusting off a mug, which had a pale floral bouquet painted across the side.

“But here’s where I end up.” His pale tongue flicked over dry lips in a motion he’d repeated at least a dozen times already. He tossed into his mouth a handful of corn nuts from the bowl at his elbow. “This place is a niner. I can’t drag myself out of bed earlier than this most mornings, and Mel’s is close.”

Even though I shut out his thoughts, I couldn’t shut out the constant monologue. He was as hard to ignore as the stench of the bar. It had been years since anyone could smoke inside anywhere, but decades had infused tobacco smell into the burnt gold shag that crawled up the walls. Erasing it would require changing the carpet, and that seemed low on Mel’s list of needed improvements.

“Leastways it’s one I can get to on my bike.” He nodded out the front window at the adult tricycle on the sidewalk. “Bus rides are a waste of good money.” In the rust-flecked basket between the rear wheels sat a cooler, its once white surface battered and discolored with a nauseating rainbow of stains. A net of bungee cords lashed it and a rolled sleeping bag in place.

“So what brings you here?” The man asked. The tongue again slid over his upper lip. “Haven’t seen you around before.”

“I’m here for work.” I hunched over my tablet screen and scrolled through apps, more to get him to leave me alone than to review anything I’d entered since the fight at the Queens Inn the night before.

“Where you from? Your talk got a bit of a twang.”

“Back east.”

“I fought with some shitkickers back in ‘Nam. Carolinas, sounds like.” He scooped the last of the corn nuts into his fist and funneled them into his mouth. “Enjoy some Northwest hospitality. Leastways while this place is around. You closing what, next month, Mel?” His raw eyes fixed on the bartender, a leathered man whose white mustache was stained a dark tan above his lip. I wondered how much he had contributed to the eternal smell of his own bar.

Mel gave a slight nod. His shoulders sagged at the admission.

The man wheezed a sigh and wiped his hand along the thigh of his pants. “Who knows what I’ll do then. The bus, I guess. Waste of good money.”

Mel slid a tin of corn nuts from below the bar and refilled the bowl. “We won’t have our talks anymore, Vance.” It was the first time I’d heard Mel speak since I came in, and his voice was as thin and bony as his body.

“We don’t talk no more anyways. Ran out of things to say a while ago.” Vance pushed back from the bar. His stool squealed against the floor in the quiet. “I gotta go piss. Save my seat.” His laugh sounded like a cement mixer as he trundled to the restroom.

I took a sidelong look at his glass. Whatever he’d been drinking smelled like turpentine. I grimaced and tapped the worn top of the bar beside my mug. Mel took the bottle of Jameson at his elbow and filled.

“Need a warm-up too?”

I shook my head.

Mel pointed with his chin at the restroom. “Sorry about Vance. He comes in twice a day like a Swiss watch. He’s got a goddamn schedule. Pissing right on time, too. Been here an hour, so he’ll come out and say he’s leaving. Then he’ll be back here at nine tonight.”

“He looks like he’s homeless.”

“He’s a drunk and a vet. What do you think? Let me know when you want a refill.”

Mel walked away, dragging a towel across the bar top to sweep the few errant crumbs and pools of liquid off its surface. It would take little effort to slip into his mind and see if he figured I was a vet too, meant the comment as a barb rather than an ill-placed quip. But it wasn’t worth prying into heads I didn’t need to. I tapped the notes file on my desktop now that no one could see and again tried to decide on my next move.

“See?” I muttered. “Preparing. That should make you happy, Eugene.”

I hadn’t heard from Eugene all night, and I tried not to let myself worry. He called the hospital, I told myself. He got help before he bled out. And if I were him, I wouldn’t have had any more contact with me, either.

My small network of rescued thralls was now closed to me. I couldn’t risk their lives to help me, not with Vasily or any of his minions on the loose. Whether it had been his plan all along or not, his attack on Eugene cut off my support network. And having to do all my legwork had shown me just how bad I was at a lot of it.

I would have to depend on Army surplus stores for any gear and weapons I’d need, which limited my options. At least I knew where to look in the armaments department. But I had no idea how to track down Vasily or his sister/aunt/whatever Ursula. Antoine had intimated that Vasily was coming to Seattle. He had been in New York last night so I doubted he was out here yet, but it was only a matter of time.

And who the hell knew if Ursula was coming, too, or if she was already here. I didn’t know what I’d done to gain their attention – they were part of the Russian mafia and intelligence, and I hadn’t crossed paths with either – but it was serious enough to have pulled at least Vasily across the Atlantic.

The last action I’d taken against Cursed had been destroying the Rothschilds. That Cursed family, which made them an oddity on its own, might have had dealings with the Filitovs. Cursed were insular enough that they seldom dealt with others of their kind, but why not add another oddity to the pile? The Rothschilds and Filitovs might have had some connection that my activity had disrupted.

Which was speculation I now had no way to follow up on. Two Cursed were chasing me and I didn’t know how I’d hurt them, let alone where they’d try to hit me from. But without help I’d be floundering in my attempts to figure that out.

And they weren’t even the reason I had left my home turf to come to Seattle. The demon that had Cursed my wife and destroyed my life was.

I slid the drawing of Tricia Praest from my pocket and smoothed it out on the bar. Where did she enter into this mess? Ashlea had known her. That might connect her to the Filitovs and make her part of their plans for me. But if I was wrong, Praest had no reason to know I had found her.

Her intense burgundy eyes stared back at me from the paper. My hatred of the succubus boiled, but struggled against the memories of her I had perceived. When I looked at her I didn’t see the drawing, but the amalgamation of the thoughts I’d seen of her. Her demonic sensuality pulled at me in the glances she had given. The seductive power of her scent filled my mind. I tasted her passion, experienced the heat and bliss of the sex that had consumed my wife. The carnal power I had sensed even in memory rivaled what I had felt under Helen’s sway.

My erection throbbed. I longed to feel her hands on me, her mouth, caress her breasts and lips and taste every inch of her flesh. I ached to feel the fire and pleasure deep inside her. I knew those pleasures and remembered those pleasures and desired those pleasures even if it meant my soul….

Jesus. I took a steadying breath and unclenched my fists, then drained my now tepid mug of coffee and whiskey. Taking on Praest terrified me. It was as if I had been her thrall already, already made love to her and died, because I had seen every moment of those things in Helen’s mind. I had already been with her as a fellow succubus and felt the inhuman ecstasy through Ashlea’s memories. I knew her body, her soft flesh and flavor and warmth. And those experiences mixed with the luxurious, horrifying memories of Helen’s enslavement. I knew what they had felt and remembered too well what had happened to me. Despite my anger, I still feared I would simply give myself to her when I faced her.

My hands trembled and I scooted my coffee cup out, beckoning to Mel. Now wasn’t the time to break down and dose, God damn it. I needed as clear a head as I could manage.

Vance lumbered back to his seat. An unpleasant odor clung to him, which pulled me out of the memories clawing at me.

“You gotta clean your shitter more often,” he said. “Looks like it hasn’t been since the last time I used it.”

Mel wrinkled his nose. “Something crawl up your ass and die, Vance?”

“It’s your corn nuts. Something about ‘em makes me shit terrible. I think they went bad.”

“Corn nuts don’t go bad.”

“Yours are bad. Get rid of that shit.”

“But I still got a case.”

“Then take it to the food bank. They’re bad”

Mel flipped him off, but moved to refill his glass.

“No thanks. Gotta get going.” Vance patted me on the back. “Let me know if you need a list of them bars.”

I grunted a reply. Vance turned toward the door, then stopped. His eyes lingered on my drawing.

“You looking for that girl?”

I froze.

“Tricia Praest,” I said, tapping the drawing. “You know her.”

“Well, didn’t know her name till now. But you don’t forget a beauty like her.”

My senses pierced his mind, and I struggled against the flood of emotions that followed what I saw.

“She comes round the homeless camps every so often, usually with Sister Rosie. She don’t say much, but oh my God is it a blessing when she wanders through.”

I gripped him by the shoulders and steered him back into his barstool. When he opened his mouth to protest, I pressed a hundred dollar bill into his dirty hand.

“Vance, you’ll have to break your schedule today. You and I need to talk about Praest.”

Vance stared at the bill for several moments. He couldn’t tear his eyes from it even as he answered. “What do you need to know?”

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, All Rights Reserved

Chapter 7 (first draft)

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

I worked on a lot of blocking issues from the first Chapter Seven draft, and also added a few more details that I was not explicit enough on before. The incident with Eugene is also shifted to be more logically consistent with what would have really happened. You can check out the current version of Chapter Seven here.

Back to Hunters

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Chapter Seven

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 shimmered off the sheets of water that rippled down the steep hills of the city. Mist hung suspended in the cool night, fresh and salty with the scent of the Sound. Distant horns and sirens rebounded from the buildings, their sounds hollow and flattened by the drenched air.

“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 five years, so I can’t say what other training he has.”

“He’s at the King’s Inn, room 220?”

“Room 212. Not even under an alias. You okay?” Eugene paused long enough to take a deep draw from a straw. “Your voice sounds, I don’t know, slurry.”

“I’m fine. What about the Filitovs?” As he talked, I watched the pixelated videos of Jesper’s fights on my phone. Beneath his tight black shorts, his skin looked dusted in flour and cut with networks of pale blue veins. He seemed heedless of opponents battering him, appearing to enjoy the pain, even inviting it. Then he would twist them to the ground with his long limbs and either fracture bone or choke them out. None of them left the ring under their own power.

“Ursula and Vasily Filitov are legends. Most people think they’re code names or titles or something. A pair of Filitov siblings have 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. During St. Petersburg’s capitalist boom he was in the thick of the subsequent crime wave. 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 in the Cheka after the Revolution. He was her liason 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 around when he deserted. What about Ursula?”

“She did a better job staying out of the spotlight. I found a birth record that might be her 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?”

“Yes. Watch yourself.”

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

Whether by luck or design, Jesper’s hotel was only a few blocks from mine. The King’s 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 entire hotel. No great exit options. The exterior lights threw rainbow halos into the mist.

I slid the Lamat 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 Lamat 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 door shrieked open. 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 Lamat following the path of my eyes. The room was still and empty of anyone else. I looked back to the body.

Jesper was tied to the headboard by towels, but 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. No restraints held him in place. 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. Even if he had been killed the moment he reached his room, he couldn’t have been dead more than twelve hours.

I took a cautious step into the room. A shape darted from the bathroom. No time to catch any thought. Something made a popping sound in his hand. Two tugs of barbs snagging my pants, and 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 agony. Five 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. 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.

“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?”

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

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

“What did Vasily 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 you didn’t knock the sign off the knob.”

An emotional fist clenched my stomach. “You mean, you assume.”

“Fine, I assume he don’t care.”

“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. I rocked backward and kicked. His momentum carried him over my head in a graceless tumble. He smashed into the dresser, tipping the TV on top of him. His knife buried itself in 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 from the wreckage of the dresser.

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

He made it two steps. 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 yank it free of 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 I smashed the heel of my hand into his nose. His eyes flooded with tears. Blood gushed in a fan down his face. He fell backward, cradling his shattered nose with his good hand.

“Broke my arm,” he groaned. The limb dangled motionless against his chest. His good hand was cupped under his nose with a puddle of blood forming in his palm.

“Sprained,” I corrected. “Stay down.” I pulled free of the coiled mess of wire and tossed it aside, then 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 guy woulda put me down.” His voice was wet and slurred from the broken nose. “I smelled ya before I heard ya.”

I grimaced but didn’t answer, pulling out my phone and punching in Eugene’s number. “Hey, Eugene, change of plans.”

“I hope Antoine is still alive.”

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

“Vasily Filitov.” My heart pummeled my ribs. Millions of questions flooded my mind, but one screamed the loudest. “Where is 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-”

“The only thing you know is Eugene will certainly be dead if you don’t let Antoine go.”

I clenched my fist and pounded it into the bed. 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.

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 pulled two Kleenex from the box lying next to him. He twisted the ends and slid them into his nostrils, then stood and held his hand out expectantly to me.

I glared at him, but flipped the knife hilt outward and thrust it toward him.

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

His thoughts telegraphed his plan before he moved. I slid to the side and felt the breeze from the hilt’s handle as it passed.

I tapped my temple. His scowl could have melted concrete.

“See you around,” he said, and opened the askew door. In moments he had disappeared into the night.

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 Eugene’s phone hit the floor.

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

Something dragged across carpet, then the sound of someone picking 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. Like I said, he’s fast. I’m not too quick but he’s, like, ridiculous Flash speed. He just appeared next to me while I was surfing and bam, I’m on the floor. He didn’t even ask me anything, just sat there till you called.”

“You’re sure he’s gone? You’re safe? Because I need you to look up an ex-Army sergeant named Antoine Golden.”

“Yeah, sure. 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. All the fingers on my left hand are gone. To the knuckle. He must have cut them off. 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 walls. Hey, aren’t you supposed to put fingers in milk or something? To save them for reattachment.” His voice was slurred, like he was half asleep. “I don’t want prosthetics, how hard would it be to type with a fake hand? Damn, when did he do this? I don’t remember, his sword must be really sharp-”

“You’re going in to shock. You have to hang up and dial 911, now. Text me when you’re at the hospital, but… 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 fingers and get them in milk. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

“Eugene. 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. There was no way I could risk Eugene, or any of my other contacts, with Vasily on the loose. I had to assume he was targeting my support network of rescued thralls. Until I could make sure none of their lives were at risk, I couldn’t drag any of them into this.

Sirens sounded over the hiss of mist outside, getting nearer. Antoine had probably stopped at the front desk to report Jesper’s body. Not only was I in a room with a corpse, but I had about half a dozen chemicals in my body and no believable explanation of the situation. No time to dawdle.

I dropped on all fours to retrieve the Lamat, scooped up the taser and wire 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.

Chapter Six (first draft)

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

Tricia has much less reflection on Sebastian’s news in this version, and has a much more selfish motivation. I changed both in future drafts to reflect the fear Hinge’s presence inspires, and her genuine caring for Sister Rosie. You can check out the current version of Chapter Six here.

Back to Hunters

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Chapter Six

The Cursed

 

I strode invisible through the homeless camp beneath the downtown I-5 overpass. Vagrants huddled in a motley collection of tents and sleeping bags, sheltered beneath the shadow of the freeway. A few gathered around bitter fires of whatever they could find to burn. The torn cyclone fencing around the camp rattled against the breeze, dripped from the sheets of mist falling from the cold sky.

The reek of smoldering trash, sodden clothing and unwashed bodies assaulted me. The wind, rather than driving the odors away, churned them into a repulsive soup. But I followed the faint scent of coffee and perfume through the camp until the woman I sought came into view.

Police Chaplain Rosangela Marinha do Carmen crouched on the trash-strewn and mossy gravel in front of one of the homeless men. To most, the steady vibration of traffic would drown out the words she spoke to him.

I could have stood yards away and still heard them, but Rosie’s warm presence always drew me close. I stood just a few paces back as I listened.

“Are you positive I cannot offer you a ride to the shelter?” Her Brazilian accent melted her words together in a graceful waterfall of sound. The gentle voice was striking coming from such an imposing woman. Her hair, black streaked with gray, was pulled back in a bun, and her snug uniform held no decorations other than her name, badge and a cross stitched into the collar.

The man shook his head but said nothing. The wind gusted, drug the morning mist under the shelter of the overpass and took the man’s breath with it in an erratic stream. He pulled his torn blue sleeping bag closer at his neck with skeletal fingers. The slate gray light from the overcast sky muted his already lifeless colors. His callused hands were caked in grime, his cheeks beaten to a rosy shine by the elements. His yellow and bloodshot eyes swiveled aimlessly 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 warm as the shelter, but it will ward off some of the chill.”

A river of steam poured from the thermos as she filled a paper cup for him. The richness of its smell rolled over me on the wind. More than for her ministrations, more than for her caring, the homeless knew Pastor Rosie for her coffee.

Life touched the man’s eyes as he cradled the cup close to his face, inhaling the scent before taking a sip. Rosie twisted the thermos closed and set 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 decide the shelter is a better place to sleep,” she said. The man didn’t reply and clutched his coffee in his trembling grip. Rosie turned away, her boots crunching over the gravel and brittle weeds.

My heart leapt at seeing her unharmed. Though Hinge was in Seattle, he had done nothing to hurt her. Again the suspicion tickled my thoughts that Sebastian was fucking with me.

Even though I couldn’t think of a reason why he would bother, I had to confirm his story. If my old master was indeed here, it was inevitable he would harm my lone mortal friend.

“I need into the morgue,” 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?”

“You’re always at the homeless camps. It wasn’t-”

“Your face!” Her expression darkened. “What happened to you?”

I looked away. Once she pointed them out, 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 heard the reproach anyway. She had never asked how old I was, though I didn’t look old enough to drink. Then again, she had been my friend for almost a decade.

I shoved away the concerns that followed that thought. I wouldn’t deal with my eternal youth until she brought it up. And I had no idea what I would tell her when she did.

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

“Guys. Plural.” Her eyes widened. “Did they rape you?”

“No.”

Her eyes stayed fixed on me. I looked her straight in the eye. “They didn’t rape me. I’m fine.”

She didn’t break her stare for several moments. Then she shrugged and started walking toward her car. She pulled the 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 shook my head and matched her pace, took the offered cup. “Do you ever run out? It’s like loaves and fishes.”

“Except with coffee and biscotti for Seattle?” Rosie’s big, embracing laugh warmed me to the core. “I have an urn in my squad car. Coffee is the only way to get most of the homeless to talk to me anymore.” She nodded to indicate the homeless camp.

“Why?”

“I used to be able to overcome the uniform. They are suspicious of police. But lately it seems I am gaining the reputation as an angel of death. Some of those I talk to have been disappearing. The worst of them.” She crossed herself with a movement so natural it seemed like second nature. “With the lives they led, it is no surprise that ill became of them. But even the worst sinners deserve the chance for redemption.”

I covered my reaction by taking a swallow of coffee. Hot and smooth, no bitterness. I couldn’t help but smile. I had no idea how she brewed it, but it was incredible coffee.

She must have seen my expression as I drank. She smiled. “My husband used to say 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 a Seattleite than me.”

Passing traffic and the hiss of rain filled the silence. I knew hints of her life before we met, shadows of her history, but she was seldom more open than me about her past.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I said. It felt unfamiliar, awkward to ask. I tried to keep the distaste out of my words and failed completely.

She waved a hand. “What’s there to talk about? I don’t blame him. I doubt Joao has fond memories of me, either, or Eduardo any.”

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

“I need into the morgue,” I repeated, as much to break the quiet as to press my immediate need.

“Oh, meu filha, why do you need to go there? I haven’t set foot in the place since my days in homicide. Before we met. What reason would I have to take you?”

“You’re police. Can’t you just go when you want to?”

Rosie laughed again. “Why would anyone want to go to the morgue? You have to sign in, they want to know what your business is-”

“But you could take me if you wanted.”

She shook her head. “I don’t have a reason to be there. Or to bring a civilian.”

“You must still know people from your time at homicide.”

“Well, of course, but….” She kept shaking her head. “I’m not going to take you into the morgue.”

“Why not?”

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

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

Rosie looked at me sidelong. I didn’t lie to her often, but she gave me that same look every time I did. She started walking again, with a pace fast enough that I had to jog to catch up. “She would be ID’ed if she died.”

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

“Does this have anything to do with the fight last night?”

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

We had reached her car. She stopped and turned to me with her arms crossed. I felt like a child under her gaze, cowering before a woman as immovable as a statue. “You have come by my apartment for years just to chat. We talk morality and spirituality for hours. You seem genuine in your desire to become a better person. I thought we trusted each other and were truthful with each other. But you show up today in ripped clothes, bruised from a fight, looking like you were up all night, and all you say is that you want to get in to the morgue.” She set her mouth in a determined line. “Tell me the truth about what happened to you last night – and why you really want to go – and I’ll find a way to get you in.”

I could only hold her stare for a few moments before looking away. Even if she didn’t see through any lie I gave her, I couldn’t do it anyway. I had the ability to break her face into a jigsaw puzzle before she could move, or seduce her to my will, but doing any of that to her was as impossible as lying.

“I did not think so.” She tried to hold her glare, 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’ll make some coffee and we’ll 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. If even for just that embrace.

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 go on and stay out of trouble,” she said. “I will see you soon?”

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

The click of my boots on the pavement fell dead in the rain around me. I needed to get back to my lair to change, drag a comb through my hair, at least look as presentable as possible. I never wanted to use my powers outside the hunt. I had wanted Rosie to help me avoid confrontation while getting into the morgue. And fuck, I wasn’t even sure the place would reveal anything. But I had to get in there to follow the only lead I could think of. If I confirmed Hinge was here, and I didn’t find a way to track him, I feared the next late night discussion at Rosie’s apartment would never happen.

 

 

Chapter Five (first draft)

Standard

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

I left this draft unfinished. I gave more background into what happened to Garrison, but decided most only needed to be implied rather than shown. I also changed Chapter Five to incorporate more B-story conflict. You can check out the current version of Chapter Five here.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

 

Chapter Five

The Telepath

 

Stupid. Fighting four demons at once, one a succubus, was sheer idiocy. I was lucky to get out of Rothchild manor alive. Even luckier to make it out with my will intact.

I hadn’t learned a damn thing in two years. I knew the risk, yet I sought out the temptation. Toyed with it. Wanted it.

My leg ached in the cramped coach-class seat. I knew the agony of shattered bone was in my mind, the acrid smell of avgas and burning meat stinging the dry desert air. But the itch started with memory. Then calculating how long before we land in Seattle. How long since I last dosed. The panic, drugged to a low murmur with anxiety meds, threatened to rip back.

The thoughts of the stewardess morphed to concern as I asked for another vodka. She didn’t know I would be jumping out of my skin without the previous five. But I couldn’t waste a week on a trans-country train trip.

Mere days after a succubus had played havoc with my emotions, with my addiction, I flew across the country into the jaws of the succubus. This was either the end of my quest, or the beginning of a new hell. I didn’t know which one I wanted more.

I stared at my laptop screen, telling myself I needed to review my notes on Tricia Priest. Aissa was just the latest in a string of memories inching me toward that elusive hell bitch. But again I opened the diary entry from two years ago. Homecoming. The night my life changed. The wound that would never heal, like the veins I tore open in a futile hunt for relief.

I reopened the wound to remember.

 

Two years ago.

It was the first time I’d felt clean in months. A full shower in my own bathroom. The water scorched enough to turn my skin red. No cast encased my leg, the pale flesh once again whole save the pink valley that carved down my thigh. I dug at nonexistent grains of sand under my fingernails out of habit. I rinsed my mouth in the spray and spat a stream of unsoiled water down the drain. I tried to enjoy a luxury I hadn’t known in years and forget.

A swirling cloud wrearthed me as I stepped out of the shower, fogging a mirror cabinet empty of toiletries. The moonlight in the bedroom spilled pale and silver over a barren closet. My suitcases sprawled open on a bed stiff with pristine guest sheets. The stale air, the pile of unopened mail, spoke of how long my wife Helen had left this life behind. 

We hadn’t spoken in months. When she wasn’t there to greet the boat, only denial kept me from accepting reality. The thick manila envelope on the kitchen table, stamped with a lawyer’s name and contact information, shattered even that.

At least she’d been thoughtful enough to leave our pictures.

I toweled off but didn’t bother with clothes in the warm night. My bare feet creaked across the wooden floor as I walked to the dining room and its bar. A patina of dust covered bottles untouched since her departure. I grabbed a bottle of scotch and poured two fingers into a tumbler, swallowed two vicodin to chase the ones already dissolving in my stomach. The military threw pills at me despite all the warning signs. Thank God it was easier to medicate than cure.

The front door lock clicked.

My fingers ripped the chef’s knife from the block. Two windows, sliding glass door to the deck, bedroom hallway, arched entry to the living area. Against the wall next to the arch, all other entrances in sight. Steps, quick, light. Movement. I grabbed the thin wrist as it came through the arch, hurled the body over my hip. Crash to the foor, knife at the throat, and my wife screamed under me.

I jerked back and dropped the knife. Sweat broke over my trembling skin.

Terror lit the deep mocha pools of Helen’s eyes. Her hand went up to her throat, came back with droplets black in the moonlight.

“Garrison,” she managed in a weak voice.

“Christ.” My voice shook. “What are you doing here?”

“This is our house.” She tucked her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.

 I cupped my face in my hands and tried to slow my breathing. The hammering pulse, the adrenaline frying my veins, refused to abate.

“I could have killed you,” I said.

“It’s you. You’re back, you’re really-”

“Of course I’m back!” Anger plowed through my frazzled nerves. “How could you not know?”

“I didn’t pay attention… I mean….” Her voice failed. She began sobbing on the floor in front of me.

I could see her beauty even through the confusion and fury and tears. Long auburn hair. Flawless light brown skin. She wore a tight crimson top and skirt in the balmy summer evening. Her face was beautiful despite the terror twisting her expression.

“What are you doing here?” I repeated. The words hissed through clamped teeth.

She scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “Why do you bother to ask?”

“Because I keep my word.”

Her laugh sounded wet and distant, eyes darting to the untouched envelope on the table. “I was sure you would break that promise the second you saw me.”

“I keep my word.” My voice was iron.

It wasn’t just a promise to her. I kept out of the thoughts of everyone outside my work. It had broken too many relationships.

I wouldn’t violate it even for a relationship that had already disintegrated.

“I needed to see you.” I barely heard her voice. “I fucked up.”

“How exactly did you fuck up?” I said with surprising calm, all the more menacing for it.

“Don’t make me tell it to you. You could just—”

“I want to hear it.”

She shook her head. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Try.”

Her body tensed.

“Shit. I wasn’t doing well after your first tour. Another two years without anyone….” She shrugged, and her voice struggled to claw through her tears. “I had an affair. No one you know. Then a fling. No one I knew.  And it just got easier. Christ, just like before we met.”

My mind spun. She had been a borderline alcoholic and sex addict through college and med school, and had still managed top honors on account of her brilliance.

“We weren’t talking, then you got hurt, and….” She nodded with her chin at the envelope and buried her face again.

“You hoped I’d die,” I said.

She glared at me. “You fucker. Promises shit.”

“I don’t need to see your thoughts for that. It would have made everything easier if I hadn’t survive.”

Her head bobbed, and she tucked her chin behind her knees. “But then you were coming home. You’re going to laugh, I looked through our wedding album. I remembered how happy we were.”

It sounded like a line, but the expression etched on her face howled a different story.

“I came to get that.” She pointed to the envelope. “Before you saw. I couldn’t put my stuff back in time, but least I could hide how far I’d gone.”

I stood in silence, watching her curled up on the floor.  Emotions seethed. I felt my dormant attraction and caring for her wrestling with my anger. But I said nothing. Silence begged to be filled, and I knew she would fill it.

“I can’t lose you,” she said. “You saved me. You gave me more than I deserved. I still love you.”

Her waiting eyes fixed on me. I stood still, smothering my conflict of reactions.

“Can we work on this?” Her voice was pleading. “Do you still love me enough to do that?”

I closed my eyes. Exhaled long, trying to release my tension.

“I still love you,” I whispered.

“You do?” The joy was palpable in her voice, and I heard her shift on the floor.

“I never didn’t. It kept me alive after that crash. I still love you.”

I opened my eyes to see her now on her knees, expectant. “I had to know, sweetie.”

“Know? Why was there any doubt?”

“I had to make sure you still loved me. I can’t just look into your head.” Her smoldering eyes slid across my body. “I like you bald. And cut. And the scars! You should go to war more often.”

I had forgotten I was naked. I dropped my hands to my lap, just as my penis stirred with her gaze and my realization.

“Don’t be modest.” She flowed to her feet and started to glide toward me. “Aren’t you at all curious?”

My throat clenched. In seconds her bearing, her demeanor, had transformed. “What’s gotten in to you?” I took an unsteady step away from her.

“Don’t you want to know how lonely I really was?”

Her smell enfolded me, the scent of her skin, her hair, her sex. My back hit the wall as she neared. Confusion at her change replaced my anger, and a raw, unfocused lust began to swallow me.

“You want to know how many men I fucked?”

Anger flashed, sputtered as her hand brushed against my erection. My thoughts tangled and stumbled.

“How many women I fucked? How many I fucked at the same time?”

“You’re lying.” I couldn’t move.

Her eyes swallowed me, pleading and demanding. “The sex and cheating and lust and unfaithfulness. Look into my mind. See how much of a dirty cheating slut your wife has been.”

“I promised—”

“I want you to.” Her hands curled around the back of my head and pulled me closer. “It’s the only way you’ll know how naughty I’ve been.”

I couldn’t think. Her mere presence agonized, ignited, overwhelmed. It had been years, but time was not the barrier that separated us. She was a different person. Changed.

Her mind blossomed at my mental touch.

Bars, beds, men and women growing less and less familiar with each encounter. The old vices taking sway, choking the fear and loneliness and resent at my absence. Complete surrender to her desires. The lustful sins of her past not gone, but dormant. Reawakened.

Then the last stranger. A young girl. Black hair, perfect skin, stunning curves, scent like concentrated desire and need. Burgundy eyes that burned lust. Tricia Priest, the name whispered, moaned, screamed, before….

Burning.

Then more men. All dead. More women. All her slaves. Ravenous, unquenchable hunger.

“What the hell happened to you?” I said. “What are you?”

Her eyes flashed fire against obsidian skin, magma crackling veins and hair blistering with lust.

“I will be your universe,” Helen said. “And I will savor every last drop of love that you harbor in your soul.”

Then she touched me, and the release I craved with every drink and pill faded in the ecstasy of her demonic touch.

“It was so lucky you survived for me,” she purred in my ear. “And so, so much worse for you.”

And she slowly began to kill me.

 

“Are you alright, sir?”

I started at the stewardess’s voice. My hands trembled on my lap.

“I’m fine,” I mumble, wiping my face. The time on my laptop said the flight had an hour left. “Can I get another vodka?”

Her deep brown eyes looked concerned. “I think you’ve had enough. Let me get you a ginger ale.”

I started to snap, clenched back the retort and nodded. She smiled with a mix of emotions that didn’t include humor as she turned away.

God. I stared at the white space on the screen. That entry had been my last act off defiance before I didn’t care anymore. Months of no entries. No thoughts. Nothing but a slow death masked in a veneer of endless, unfiltered ecstasy.

I forced myself to continue to the next entry, written weeks after the fact. The memories I truly needed to relive.

 

Six months later.

I focused on the creeping, frozen clarity spreading like a spiderweb up my arm. A handful of seconds of coherent thought. I tossed the needle aside and repeated to myself what I did this for, what I had to do.

Helen would devour the shadow that remained of my soul.This was my last chance. If I didn’t resist now, I never would. I still didn’t know if I wanted to and focus dissolved.

The ice in my veins disappeared as quickly as it had come. A haze descended over the world. My body sank into a warm, luxurious bath. Thoughts drifted. My limbs grew warm, languid. The sharp pains and aches of new scars, bruises, burns, all disappeared in a blanket of euphoric content. The gnawing desire for the demonic pleasure of my wife faded. Still there, but I no longer craved it like before.

I lay naked in the basement that had become my dungeon. No doors, no locks, I remained with no consideration of escape. Thick pillows, cushions, silk bedsheets, walls of domination equipment and anything Helen’s twisted mind desired. I left only when compelled by Helen, to work out, to stay in shape for her, to serve her.

But for my most lucid moments, I craved nothing but the near-constant ecstasy of her presence. I read in her thoughts what she did to me, milking the emotions I held in my soul for her, more delicious than the men she fucked and killed for sustenance every night. I drank more, popped more pills, because they gave me the slightest respite to her control.

This was my last gambit. I had read her weaknesses from her thoughts, the only things within my power that could destroy her. It had taken all my will to find and purchase the heroin I just injected, because it meant the possible end to the domination she held over me. I knew tonight I would escape, or I would die.

This I could say looking back. But at that moment, nothing mattered. It took all my will to remember what I had to do. So simple to accomplish. So impossible to care.

I heard her before I saw her. I heard everything. Her soft steps. The whisper of her breath. The thunder of my pulse.

“Hello, lover.”

Helen, my angelic demon goddess, glided with unearthly grace down the stairs, dropping her guise as she entered. The hair on her head and above her sex blazed in a halo of sensual flame. Black upon black skin, smooth and glistening, glowed with veins and nipples and eyes fiery with concentrated lust.

She was well out of reach, but I stretched my arm toward her, a struggle to move. I had no urge to leap up like normal, whether I could have or not. My body felt leashed by weight, apathy, delicious bliss.

She ignored my lethargy. striding around the room to inventory the sexual implements available to use on me.

Then she stopped and turned to me. Her gaze pierced me even through the warmth and haze. Hard, pulsing sensations cut through the drugs. I arched my back in ecstasy.

“You look like shit,” she said.

I groaned and collapsed back on the bed. Afterglow mixed in the unfocused sea of intoxication. But my mind phased out and my god, the consuming need that her power brought did not return.

Her lips curled in disappointment. “Garrison, I don’t think you’ll live much longer.”

I saw her thoughts morph as the words, sultry and thick, flowed from her lips.

“I think this will be our last time together.”

She dropped on all fours and crawled over the bed toward me. “You don’t know how much I will miss this, Garrison. You mean so much more to me than the others I consume. But I always knew you couldn’t last forever.”

The heat of her body beckoned as she neared. Her mind bloomed with images of how best to enjoy me as she consumed my soul.

I gasped. She was going to fuck me.

My resolve shattered. She never gave me the height of her power, never shared with me the greatest pleasure she could bring.  But now she would. And Jesus, that was all I had wanted for months.

Helen’s talons stroked my cock as she threw her legs astride me. She drew me across her lips, burning with

 

Chapter Four (first draft)

Standard

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

Again, still in present tense, and I added conflict and sexual tension in future drafts. You can check out the current version of Chapter Four here.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

 

Chapter Four

The Cursed

 

I say I’m going to kill Sebastian Essex. I really mean I’ll try. Not only am I still beat to shit from the club fight, but Sebastian has at least two centuries on me. For the Cursed, age means power, and it’s going to be a bitch if it comes down to a fight.

Lucky Sebastian was never much of a fighter. Might mess up his suit.

My puke-green Mercury Montego is twice as old as the college-aged valet that has to park it, and looks twice as shitty in front of Millenium Towers, where base-floor studios go for a million. The hundred I hand the kid doesn’t soften the horror on his face. Maybe he’ll at least get a contact high from the coke Gordon snorted with it.

I disguise my limp as best I can as I walk across the lobby to the bank of elevators. Mirrors and brushed steel abound, and I can’t risk staying down here. The staff are too fixated on my bruises, ripped clothing and splattered blood to notice my lack of reflection anyway.

“Can I help you, miss?” The clerk asks. His voice cracks on the last word.

“Sebastian Essex,” I say, punching the elevator button. The doors slide open in seconds.

“He’s on the-”

“Top floor, I’d guess.”

“But he has to buzz you in!”

“He will.”

The closing doors cut off any reply.

I pound the button for the 35th floor and wait. The monitor above the panel shows the video feed from inside the elevator, empty.

The speaker clicks and buzzes. The elevator rumbles to life. There is no preamble, no questions. Sebastian would know exactly who the cameras weren’t showing.

The doors open onto a dim penthouse. The wall of windows looks out over the glittering sea of downtown Seattle, limning in silver the modern lines and sweeping curves of the room’s embellishments. Leather couches and recliners face a cold hearth. No artwork, no plants, no color but black and white. Even the granite, appliances and tile in the overlooking kitchen lack any disrupting shade.

Two lean, wiry bodyguards, clean shaven and angular, flank the elevator. Both step forward as I enter, one holding a metal detector wand. I’m used to some level of desire shadowing eyes that look upon me. Both of them stare with numb, lifeless eyes.

“The hand comes off with that thing,” I say, without looking at the one with the metal detector.

Both guards pause at my tone, and shoot blank glances toward the living area.

A flare of red – the tip of a cigarette – winks to life in the shadows.

“Tricia Fucking Priest,” Sebastian Essex says, proper British laid thick over his words. “Already threatening to remove limbs. You’’ve been in America too long.”

“So have you.”

“No shit. Please, be a dear. They’re only doing their vertical jobs.”

I glare the two monkeys away, then slide my twin kukri from their sheaths and drop them on to the countertop. The machine pistol next, then the pistol shotgun, knife, and phosphorescent grenades. Each lands in the pile with a satisfying clang.

“Christ. You are a Yankee now.” The cigarette tip floats across darkness as Sebastian steps into the light.

Sebastian Essex may have been black in life, I never asked. The ages have scoured all color from his skin save alabaster and pale lead. His one eye shines dark as he regards me, his other covered by an eye patch. His black dreadlocks cascade to his shoulders. His matching goatee frames his gray lips. A golden coin, its markings the dead orange of burning coals, is tucked snugly in one ear.

I make a show of looking around the penthouse. “Nice place.”

“Isn’t it. It will do, I suppose. I refuse to live in squalor while in this shithole of a hemisphere.” He makes a slow, appraising circle around me. My gaze doesn’’t follow him. “You’re still the ray of fucking sunshine I remember.”

“And you’re still an asshole.”

“With the same ten word vocabulary.” He takes another pull from his black Sobranie cigarette, lets the pale smoke slither from his lips. His eye lingers on my bruises, the blood on my clothes. “I thought Seattle was a haven of tranquility. Only you could manage to get into a fight here.”

“I just had a metric fuckton of shit kicked out of me by an Andrasi.”

“What’s the standard conversion for that?”

“Fuck you.”

“I figured even pack demons would stay clear of you.”

“They came after me because you’re here.”

“Well, if you need a topper, feel free to take one of my guards. They’re shit outside of bed anyway.” He chuckles. “Speaking of, how long has it been since you’ve enjoyed a proper fuck?”

Our eyes meet, and his domination scrapes my mind. Raw desire, incubus and succubus fucking each other mercilessly, two Cursed the incarnation of desire unleashing our passions on each other. I feel jealousy swallow the two bodyguards. They can feel the temptation flaring between us. Even without Sebastian’s attempt to dominate my will, the seduction of demonic sex is luxurious.

I don’t move.

He lets out a one-breath laugh. “I see you haven’t let your mental guards slack.” His eye drops to the cross around my neck. ““I suppose our Curse doesn’t allow us to change much over the years, does it?”

Less than ten minutes and I’m already done with him. “Why are you checking up on me?”

Again he studies me. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“Tricia, Tricia, Tricia. I don’t give a fuck about you.”

I can’t keep the surprise from my voice. “I’m the only Cursed in this city you’d care about.”

“You’ve gained American arrogance, too. You are a blunt instrument, Tricia. A pretty one, but no great mystery. The only way you could garner my attention is if you fucked the entire city into submission. Which, let’s be honest, would take even you awhile.”

I stare at him. “Then why are you here?”

“Because,” he says, taking another drag from his Sobranie, “Hinge is here.”

Holy fuck.

I snap invisible out of reflex. My senses lash out around the condo, hunting for the presence of my former master.

Sebastian breaks out in laughter. “He still makes you jump, doesn’t he?” He sweeps his hand in the direction of the windows. ““I meant in the city. Even I have difficulty feeling his presence.”

I slip back into visibility. “What is he doing here?” The panic in my voice is humiliating.

“That should be obvious, even to a blunt instrument.”

I grind my teeth together. “Me.”

“The prodigal daughter. You didn’t think he would just leave you alone, did you?”

“I’d hoped.” It has been almost a century.

“Hinge has many irritating qualities, but the most vexing is his patience. Which seems to go against his typical batshit insanity.”

I bite my lip, watch Sebastian’s face. His expression betrays no thought or emotion, but I can feel it. “You’re scared of him.””

His gaze narrows. He turns away from me, walking back toward the leather recliner. “You would know he’s the scourge of all Cursed in Europe if you had any way to find out.”

“How’s he a threat to other Cursed?”

“He’s eating them.”

My open shock renders my long-practiced mental guards irrelevant. “You can consume other Cursed? Is that possible?”

“Christ, you live in the wild Goddamn west out here.” He rests his elbows on the armrests and steeples his hands as if giving a lecture. “You get old enough, mortal souls no longer sustain you. So you start feeding off other Cursed. Hinge is ahead of the curve by several centuries. We usually don’t worry until someone hits a millennium.”

“‘We?’”

“When a Cursed goes off the rails, the most powerful of us organize to stop them. The one time Cursed of all types can get our shit together.”

It’s my turn to laugh. “You’re what, three centuries old? There were Cursed older than you… and Hinge… in Europe. Victorian. The Roman. Why aren’t they dealing with him?”

“Hinge has consumed them.”

“Fuck.”

“That’s an understatement. No one noticed what he was doing until he ate Victorian. These days, even a mildly content Hinge is a disaster of biblical fucking proportions.”

My head swims. “How powerful is he now?”

“Powerful enough that mortals don’t even remember him when they see him. He can rewrite the memories of newly Cursed with impunity.”

 “That was always his gift,” I say. “Probably how he got away with eating those elders from under your noses.”

“Slow down there. You keep thinking, your brain will fucking explode.”

I glare at him. “I came here ready to destroy you. I still might. Don’t treat me like an idiot.”

Sebastian lets a cloud of smoke stream from his lips. “No, you are definitely not an idiot.”

“How did he manage to destroy elders? He’s barely half Victorian’s age.”

“Never underestimate the power of a Cursed who Descended.”

“Hinge Descended.” It’s as much a statement as a question.

Sebastian rolls his eye. “He told you fuckall about anything, didn’t he? No one made him. He was fucked up enough as an inquisitor to become Cursed all on his own.” He points his cigarette at the cross around my neck. “He must still have some Catholic guilt knocking around somewhere for that thing to work.”

“Which means his age means nothing,” I breathe.

“Not nothing. If someone Descends, I assume their age is doubled.” The corner of his mouth curls. “And I’m conservative.”

“So you came here to try to destroy him. Alone.”

“Fuck no. I’m here to watch him.”

“Really. And leave me out there as bait.”

Sebastian shrugs without answering.

I run my hand through my hair. I never expected Hinge to give a shit about me, much less come after me. My brain scampered through the facts I knew, assuming Sebastian wasn’t feeding me utter bullshit.

“There have to be other Cursed that could stop him. One Memnonite would do the trick. Hell, look what one Andrasi did to me. A pack would rip him to shreds.”

Sebastian shakes his head. “Beings fuck for lust. They also fuck for pride. They fuck for greed. For envy. For gluttony. For wrath. A powerful lust Cursed will take any other Cursed with ease. It’s hard for a Memnonite to fight through an orgasm so powerful it would turn a mortal’’s brain to mush.”

“What am I supposed to do about Hinge, then?” I turn to the countertop and start re-stowing my weapons. The bodyguards both start, but retreat further when they sense my fury.

“I don’t give a shit. Ignore him, fight him, fuck him, it makes no difference. I’m only here to see what he does about you.””

I hold the kukri in my hands, feeling their weight, balance. I imagine Sebastian’s head flying off his shoulders.

I gasp and force the sudden building orgasm down. My hands tighten on the kukri as I steady my breath.

“That’s just a taste of what Hinge can do,” Sebastian says.

“Thanks for the help,” I growl, and sheathe the kukri under my jacket. “You’re still an asshole.”

“Tricia,” Sebastian says. I turn to him in surprise. For a second, his voice holds a note of concern. “Don’t trust any memories of your time with him. There’s no telling how long he’s been fucking with all of us.”

“Hopefully that means my past is a lie.”

“Oh, no. You were a murdering, stark-raving bitch. You still have to seek forgiveness for that.”

I can hear the mockery in his tone.

“Stay out of my way, Sebastian.”

“No worries. I plan to.”

I can’t even muster a retort. I spin on my heels and pound the elevator button.

“But if I did want to get in your way,” Sebastian said from behind me, “I’d probably start with your friend, the good pastor.”

Anger again swells at my vulnerability – Sebastian has laid bare how out of practice I am – but fear sweeps it aside. Sebastian isn’t the one who wants to fuck with me.

I bolt into the elevator and try to will it to plummet to the lobby. Descended or not, Hinge will pay if he has touched Pastor Tom.

 

Chapter Three (first draft)

Standard

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.

Back to Hunters

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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)

Standard

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.