Hunters: Chapter 8 (a)

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

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

 

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Eight

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d say you found someone,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Any beheadings?”

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

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

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

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

 

Continue to Chapter Eight (b)

 

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

Hunters: Chapter Seven

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

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Seven

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Garrison

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

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

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

“Forward me the links.”

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

“He’s at the Queens Inn, room 220?”

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

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

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

“Then I’ll deal with it,” I snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

“But they look like twins.”

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

“Eugene.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“212. Watch yourself.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did Ursula want, then?”

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

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

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

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

“Fine, I assume.”

“Are you willing to take that risk?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?”

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

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

“No, he’s here. He’s just dead.”

“Oh. Oh. What? You killed him?”

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

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

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

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

“Is everything okay?” I said.

“If Antoine is still alive it is.”

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

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

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

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

“Not until I know Eugene is-”

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

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

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

“Get out of here,” I said to Antoine.

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

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

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

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

“You don’t want two sprained arms.”

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

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

I heard a thump as Vasily dropped the phone.

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

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

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

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

“How’d he find you?”

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

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

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

Silence on the other end of the line.

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

“Um. My left hand is gone.”

“What do you mean, gone?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Eugene. 911. Don’t contact me.”

“Fine, bro, but I need to find milk.”

“911! Don’t contact me! Repeat it!”

“911. Don’t contact you.”

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

I hung up before he could say anything else.

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

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

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

 

Continue to Chapter Eight (a)

 

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

Hunters: Chapter Six

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

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Six

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

 

Hinge is here.

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

Hinge is here.

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

Hinge is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could no longer contain my excitement.

“You’re okay,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t have to be scared-”

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

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

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

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

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

“He must not have been from here.”

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

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

She shook her head and swiped at her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you get me into the morgue?”

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

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

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

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I told you, I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The morgue, I thought. “No,” I said.

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

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

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

 

Continue to Chapter Seven

 

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

Hunters: Chapter Five

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Chapter Five of Hunters is up! Feedback on this and previous draft chapters is appreciated.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Five

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Garrison

 

I winced as a cramp knotted the scarred muscles of my leg. I unfolded it as much as I could in the confines of the coach-class seats and finished the plastic bottle of vodka in my hand. For a moment the torturous memory of shattered bone gripped me. The cabin filled with distant, scouring winds that reeked of avgas and burning meat. Always the itch started with memory. It had been hours since I last dosed, and it would take me at least an hour to score in Seattle after landing. The fact I could, and often did, go without for longer didn’t help. That I had no option to indulge at that second prodded my nerves.

“Another vodka?” I asked the stewardess passing by with the beverage cart.

Her thoughts morphed to concern as I spoke.

“You won’t be a problem, will you, Mr. Decker?” She asked.

“I’m not interested in causing a problem, ma’am. Just another vodka.”

She frowned and exchanged a bottle in the cart for the twenty dollar bill I gave her. “This is the last one,” she warned, but it was an empty threat. She had made almost a hundred off me with the tips.

I smiled and waited for her to move on. Then I swallowed the two Vicodin in my palm and chased them with the contents of the bottle. The VA threw pills at me despite the warning signs. My problems were far easier to medicate than cure.

“How many bottles is that, bro?” Asked a thin, reedy voice through my earbuds. The digital image of a knight scowled at me from a window in the corner of my tablet screen. Red and orange pixels of flame licked the medieval cottages behind him.

“A few.”

“And how many pills?”

I scowled. “You’re not here to monitor me.”

“Mea culpa.” The knight raised his hands, palms forward. The veneer of corded muscle and shining armor hid his sallow skin, thinning black hair and prodigious weight, though I could see hints of Eugene’s body language behind the avatar. The Gluttony Cursed I had rescued him from had chosen him for a reason.

Eugene continued. “By the way, nothing made the news about Rothschild manor.”

“I didn’t think it would.”

“That’s because you didn’t torch the place. That seemed the smartest plan for taking on four demons.”

“There were at least a dozen humans in there. I wanted to destroy demons, not murder their thralls.”

“Crap. Then a big thank you from the ex-Cursed puppet crowd for no collateral damage.”

This was more casual conversation than Eugene had ever ventured. I scowled. “I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

“I thought you couldn’t, you know, see things long distance.” Eugene wiggled his fingers as if using magic.

“I’m a psychologist. Give me some credit.”

“Fair enough. But,” he overemphasized the word, “then you jump on a plane and jet off to Seattle. How much did you pay for a last-minute flight across the country?”

“I thought you were a computer wizard. Just find out.”

“That doesn’t take any more voodoo than hitting up a travel site. It’s just I didn’t have time with the goose chase you sent me on. I’ve never seen you with a hard-on for a Cursed like this.”

I grimaced. His slight carried more weight than he understood. “So did you find anything?”

“With all that info you gave me?” Eugene scoffed. His avatar’s gauntlet, holding a leg of meat by the bone, moved toward his mouth. The crunch of chips rattled over the connection. “Tricia Praest is a ghost.”

“You found nothing?”

“I have a name and your drawing. Oh, and that she’s sexy as heck. That’s it. Not the best start for a search.”

“You’ve worked your magic with less than that before.”

“True. But there is nothing to find. There are no records of a Tricia Praest in Seattle,” Eugene said. “And before you ask, not in Washington either, or the whole country. No tax records, no utility bills, no licenses, no arrest records, no bank accounts-”

“She can’t live off the grid in the middle of a city.”

“Um, apparently she can. Plus no mentions of her in blogs or emails. No teen hotties with crimson eyes in the ‘I saw you at the club’ sections of the local papers. I even tried an image search, which was close to pointless going off a drawing. Did you ever take art lessons?”

“I told you there wouldn’t be any images.” Most Cursed had unique weaknesses I could exploit. But if Praest had one beyond lacking a reflection or electronic image, neither my wife Helen nor Ashlea Rothschild had known it. Even my drawing wasn’t worth a great deal. The memories of Praest from the two couldn’t be trusted with the raw sensuality that drenched every recollection.

 

Eugene shook his head. As he spoke, a woman with arms flailing and hair afire ran out of the blazing cottage behind him. “Think about that for a sec. She can’t get a passport, driver’s license or ID. That means she’s not flying or driving or renting an apartment, let alone opening a bank account or buying property. She probably lives off the grid because she has to, and uses thralls for anything public.” Eugene’s voice stumbled. His Cursed had milked his soul for months until I rescued him. “Which isn’t terrifying at all.”

I shuddered at the memory of my own enthrallment. My eyes drifted to the background image on my tablet, a photo of me and Helen at the beach. The picture froze us before I left for war, before she changed into the thing I had destroyed. Her skin held faint wrinkles and blemishes her transformation had erased, and her deep brown eyes were clear of the malice and lust that the Curse had devoured. Her beauty as a succubus had been unearthly, consuming, yet nothing close to that of the woman I had married.

I had changed as much as she since that picture. My reflection in the screen’s surface loomed wraithlike over my younger self, from a past more distant than four years would warrant. My hair was thick and vibrant instead of shaved and thinning. Face clean of stubble, fuller, eyes yet untouched by the horrors wrought by the demons I destroyed. Innocent of the months of demonic enthrallment and years of addiction to dull the memory of her euphoria.

“So, why go for this Cursed in Seattle?” Eugene said. A jeweled silver goblet now glittered in the knight’s hand, accompanied by the gurgle of a soda can and a rumbling belch. “I’m pretty sure we’re not out of demons over here.”

I closed my eyes. “Tricia Praest fed on my wife’s soul and let her become a demon. She Cursed my wife.”

Eugene’s avatar blinked. “Holy crap.”

“The succubus at Rothschild manor knew Praest was in Seattle.”

He cocked his helmeted head. “That’s random. Do all sex demons just know each other?”

“Random or not, she knew where Praest was. I can’t ignore her.”

“Beg to differ, bro, but you can. You should. I know how you work. You find, you watch, you plan, you destroy. None of which you’re doing here. You don’t run off on half-baked quests for vengeance.”

“She started it all. I destroyed Helen because of her.”

“Do you even have a plan how to find her? Or destroy her once you do?”

“Beheading and fire always work. As for finding her….”

I had been chewing on that problem since leaving the manor, but my voice trailed off before I could answer.

“Someone is watching me,” I said.

Eugene snorted. “Maybe because you’re drinking all the vodkas and talking demons with a medieval warrior.”

“It’s more than that.” I sharpened my senses. Most of the time I blocked the thoughts of others out of necessity. I would go insane if I eavesdropped on every stray thought. But focused attention on me could still draw my attention.

There, two rows behind me in the opposite aisle. A man held an airline magazine, but his eyes weren’t looking at the pages. He was paying attention to me.

“This guy knows who I am,” I said. “And he’s following me.” His thoughts were indistinct, and I forced myself not to look back at him. But his intent was clear.

“Um.” The knight’s face crunched in consternation. “You realize that’s crazy. You found Praest totally by luck, booked a flight and got on a plane in less than a day, and someone is following you on that same flight?”

“Yeah, I know how weird it is. Weird is normal in this job. I’ll let you know what I find out.” I closed the connection before Eugene could respond and slipped the tablet into the seat pocket. I had to push aside several bottles to make room.

“Everyone on our left will see the spectacular Mount Rainier,” the captain said through the overhead speaker. “With the lovely spring weather in Seattle, the mountain won’t be out when we land in twenty minutes.”

Movement and chuckles filled the cabin. My pursuer’s attention shifted from me for a moment, and I stole a glance back at him. He was pale, nearly an albino, and hairless. His head shone like a veined and dimpled egg. No eyebrows, facial hair or eyelashes I could see. The gray ridges of long-healed scars traversed his full cheeks with neither the carelessness of violence nor the traces of medical treatment. His brown sweater and jeans hung over a tall, thin frame. He would tower over me by half a foot standing. The dawn light glowed from his skin as he stared out his window.

My connection to his thoughts sharpened as soon as I laid eyes on him. His mind took in the glowing red and purple sunlight thrown back by the ice-capped summit. I shuddered. The reds he saw tingled my skin. The roughness of the purples mixed with the silken warmth of the whites. Thoughts seldom came with more than the recollection of smells, tastes and sensations, but this man had synesthesia. What he saw stimulated all his other senses, and those sensations flowed into me through his thoughts. Experiencing the sensations directly from my pursuer’s mind was disconcerting.

A flight attendant’s voice replaced the captain’s. “In a few minutes we will start our descent. Please take a moment to stow your baggage and use the facilities before we turn on the fasten seat belts sign.”

He unfastened his belt and rose. With last-minute tickets, both of us were seated in the back of the plane. I waited a few moments for him to start toward the plane’s rear bathroom, then stood. The interior of the plane swayed as if drifting underwater, and I gripped the back of my seat. I waited for the vodka-induced vertigo to pass, then followed.

A handful of passengers were in the aisles stowing bags, and the attendants were picking up headsets and trash. I used them for cover as I followed, but the man never bothered to glance back. He had no reason to suspect he’d been spotted.

When his hand pushed against the accordion door to the lavatory, I moved. Behind him in two quick strides. Quick glance to confirm the rear galley of the plane was empty. Plenty of buffer from sound and view. Palm against the back of his smooth head, a crack as I smashed it against the edge of the sink. He groaned and went limp. I pressed his bleeding head to the mirror and pulled the door shut behind us. Thick smells of urine and feces hung in the lavatory after six hours of use.

His pale eyes stared back at me in the mirror with surprise, but not fear. The sight of me smelled like curdled milk, which for a moment drowned out the stench of excrement.

His mind showed military discipline as he tried to sort out how I had spotted his tail. I wrenched his arm back in a hammerlock and kept his face crushed to the mirror. Pain scattered his thoughts, then a disturbing glow of enjoyment at the agony.

“You’re following me,” I growled in his ear. “Who are you?”

He tried to pull free but had no space to move. His lip quivered. “Not many can tell when I follow.” His soft voice was strained, but in a way that could have either pleasure or pain. The English carried only a thin Eastern European accent despite its lack of fluency.

The name sprung into his mind regardless. “Jesper Hoodjink,” I said. “Why are you following me?”

Jesper tensed again at the mention of his name, but his composure quickly returned. “I don’t expect you to be able to stand with all the drinks, Mr. Decker.”

I barely heard his reply through his rush of discordant thoughts. Ursula Filitov had him follow me. Thin to the point of malnourishment, with piercings, tattoos and artistic scarring across her body. The left half of her head was shaved bald, the right half a platinum curtain draping over her face. Her intense blue eyes shone from the depths of sunken sockets.

I had never seen or heard of her before.

“Who is Ursula?” I asked. “Is she following me for Tricia Praest?”

His mind stumbled on the name Praest. But his body turned rigid at Filitov’s name. “Ursula does not fear you. Nor do I.”

I ignored his bravado and wrenched his arm back harder. “Why are you following me?” I repeated.

He might have answered with words. His mind screamed the answer unhindered. Pain. Torture of every kind. Misery that under her hand was the ecstasy she paid him with. All while she leeched away his soul.

I swore at myself for the question. I needed to know why Ursula wanted me followed, not why Jesper obeyed her. But I stopped to digest the current of memories flowing from him.

“Ursula is a Cursed,” I said. “And you’re her thrall.”

He struggled against my grip. “You are seeing my thoughts,” he said. “You are demon to do these things.”

I clicked my tongue. “If I were a demon, you would be dead right now. They don’t bother to ask-”

For a moment I thought Ursula again sprung to his mind, but instead it was a man. Eyes golden, body broad and muscular, clean-faced with long unshaven hair, but in every other way a masculine duplicate of Ursula. Jealousy swathed Jesper’s thoughts of this one. Vasily.

“What does Vasily have to do with this? Why does Ursula care about me?”

The answers began to coalesce in his mind, but his terror at what I was doing drowned it out. He pulled his free arm up enough to press it against the mirror and slide his sweater back from the shirt underneath. A rough strip of wine-colored cloth with intricate geometric designs was sewn at the cuff Holy Christ agony at the sight of it I jerked away and withdrew from his mind.

Sweat beaded over his brow as he stared at the cloth. His expression froze in a disturbing mix of giddiness and agony.

“Quick thinking,” I said. “That’s not the only way to interrogate you, though.”

A bell rang through the cabin, followed by the voice of the flight attendant. “We are starting our descent….”

“Can you interrogate before we land?” Jesper said through teeth clamped together. Despite the pain of my arm lock and his synesthesia, a macabre smile spread across his thin lips. The agony must be luxurious for him.

“I have everything I need for now.” I released his arm and pulled the lavatory door open. The galley was still empty. “Let’s chat again. I’m staying at the Four Seasons, since you want to keep an eye on me.” I tugged a paper hand towel free from the dispenser and pressed it against his bleeding head, then turned away before I let my mind chew on the implications of what I’d found.

I returned to my seat and pulled my tablet out of the seat pocket. My hands trembled, and the need to land, to score, to dose, started to rumble again. Damn it. I tried to ignore the urge, ignore Jesper and the glares from the attendants as I typed in a last message to Eugene before shutting down.

“Ursula and Vasily Filitov. Everything you can find.”

 

Continue to Chapter Six

 

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

Hunters: Chapter Four

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Chapter Four of Hunters is live!. Warning: Adult content. Feedback is appreciated

Also, check out my short story Harsh Mistress, along with thirteen other great stories, in the Saints and Sinners Anthology. In this prequel to Hunters, the pirate Sebastian Essex sails his ship Harsh Mistress into Hell on a quest to save the woman he loves. On sale now at Amazon.com!

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Four

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

 

I said I was going to kill Sebastian Essex, but I really meant I’d try. I didn’t like my chances despite every weapon I owned crammed in the trunk of my car. Sebastian had at least two centuries on me. Age meant power for a Cursed, and even if I weren’t beat to shit from the Andrasi this was going to be a bitch if it came to a fight.

Lucky Sebastian hated physical confrontations. Might mess up his suit.

My puke-green Mercury Montego looked twice as shitty in front of Millennium Tower, a luxury high-rise where base floor studios went for a million. The hundred I handed the college-aged valet didn’t soften his horror at having to park the relic. Maybe he would at least get a contact high from the coke Gordon had snorted with the bill.

I disguised my limp as best I could as I crossed the lobby to the bank of elevators. Mirrors and brushed steel abounded. The staff were too fixated on my bruises and ripped clothing to notice my lack of reflection, but that wouldn’t last. I couldn’t risk staying down here.

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

“Sebastian Essex.” I punched the elevator button. The doors slid open in seconds.

“He’s on the-”

“Top floor, I’d guess.”

“But he had to buzz you in!”

“He will.”

The closing doors cut off any reply.

I pounded the button for the penthouse and waited.

The elevator buzzed and rumbled to life after a few seconds. No preamble, no questions. Sebastian knew who the elevator’s empty video feed wasn’t showing.

The doors opened onto a dim condo. A wall of windows looked out over the glittering night sea of the city, the glow painting in silver the modern lines and sweeping curves of the room’s stark embellishments. Leather couches and recliners faced a cold hearth. No artwork, no plants, no color but black and white. Even the granite, appliances and tile in the overlooking kitchen lacked any disrupting shade.

Two lean and severe bodyguards stepped out of the shadows as I entered. One held a metal detector wand. I was used to some level of desire fogging eyes that looked on me, but both their gazes were numb, lifeless.

“The hand comes off with that thing,” I said without looking at the one with the wand.

Both guards paused at my tone and shot blank glances toward the living area.

A flare of red – the tip of a cigarette – winked to life in the darkness.

“Patricia fucking Praest,” Sebastian Essex said, proper British weaved thick through his words. “Already threatening to remove limbs. You’ve been in America too long.”

“So have you.”

“I was keenly aware of that the second I got off my jet. Please, humor them. They’re only doing their vertical jobs.”

I glared the two monkeys away, then slid the kukri from their sheaths and dropped them on to the countertop. The machine pistol followed, then the pistol shotgun, knife and phosphorous grenades. Each landed in the pile with a hollow clang.

“Aren’t you the good little Yankee now? Ready to start a Goddamn war.” The cigarette tip floated across darkness as Sebastian stepped into the light.

Sebastian Essex might have been black in life, I’d never asked. The ages had scoured all color from his skin save alabaster and pale lead. The eye not covered by an eye patch shone dark as he regarded me. Black dreadlocks cascaded to his shoulders and a goatee the same color framed lifeless gray lips. A golden coin, its markings burning a dead orange, rested snugly in one ear.

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

“It will do. I refuse to live in squalor while in this shitpile of a hemisphere.” He made a slow, appraising circle around me. My gaze didn’t follow him. “You’re still the ray of sunshine I remember.”

“Fuck you.”

“Possessed of the same ten word vocabulary, I see.”

“Says the Cursed who swears every other word.”

“My dear, I am Shakespearian in my use of the profane arts. Your vulgarity seldom strays from the comforts of fornication and defecation.” He took another pull from his black Sobranie cigarette, let the pale smoke slither into the air. His eye lingered on my bruises and the blood on my clothes. “I thought you were the only Cursed in Seattle. Only you could manage to pick a fight here.”

“I just had the shit kicked out of me by an Andrasi.”

“And I assume said Andrasi got the shit kicked out of him in return.”

“He’s dead.”

“If you’re here, of course he fucking is. I would think pack demons would know to stay clear of you.”

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

“Well, glad to be of service. If you need a topper, feel free to fuck one of my guards. They’re rubbish outside bed anyway.”

The bodyguards again gave no outward reaction. Sebastian had dominated every fiber of self out of them.

“Speaking of,” he continued, “how long has it been since you enjoyed a proper shag with a proper Cursed?”

Our eyes met, and his domination scraped my mind. Compulsions to submit, a succubus surrendering herself to the merciless fucking of a Pride Cursed. I slid off my jacket, shuddered against the temptation to drop to my knees before him. Jealousy swallowed the empty eyes of the bodyguards.

Then I realized what was happening. I sprang forward and grabbed Sebastian by the lapels. My injuries screamed, but my rage shoved the pain aside. I smashed him against the penthouse windows and pinned him in place with my forearm. The downtown lights sparkled along the cracks that spiderwebbed across the glass.

“Get out of my head,” I snarled.

He smiled. “You’ve let your mental guards slack over the years.” He shook his head at the two bodyguards, who had their guns out and ready to fire.

“Something that won’t happen again.”

“That’s lesson one. What’s the next one I should teach you, Tricia?”

The cracks in the windows squealed as they spread under my pressure. I snarled once, low, ominous, and threw him across the room.

Sebastian crashed to the floor. I pounced, pinning him under me. Even without his attempts to govern my will, the allure of sex with another Cursed was luxurious. I ripped his suit open. Tumbling buttons glimmered in the city lights.

“Don’t ruin a perfectly adequate fifty thousand quid suit,” he grunted. His glamour dropped, leaving his Belethi appearance unmasked. White skin, no blemish or variance but his black hair and goatee. His single eye burned a cold diamond blue.

“You’ll buy a new one.” I dropped my own glamour. “After I teach you a lesson.”

My body devoured him with such demonic Lust the entire tower came with us.

 

“That made the trip a bit less shitty,” Sebastian murmured, hours later when we’d finished. His dreadlocks spilled in a tangle across the white silk pillows of his bed. The slanting light of the overcast morning trickled through a break in the curtains to cut a colorless line across the room. The scent of sex perfumed the air.

I twined my fingers through his chest hair, black and wiry against porcelain skin. Ran them across the hairless swaths of scars from his mortal life.

“How’d you get the scars?” I had never thought to ask.

“Chasing the woman I loved.” He turned to me at my sound of disbelief. “She didn’t make the scars, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

The glint of the coin in his ear caught my eye. He had left it in the whole time. As I studied the unfamiliar markings, a faint, maddening babble brushed my senses, words I knew I could understand if I concentrated enough. I looked away and the sounds disappeared.

“It has been too long,” I said, stretching in the languid afterglow.

“It’s nice to have your partner survive coitus for once, I suppose.”

“Not as nice as you think.”

He let out a one-breath laugh. “Your pillow talk is still shit.” His hand moved to caress my breast and tease the nipple until it hardened. I moaned and swung myself up to straddle him, felt his cock respond under me. But his eye dropped to the cross dangling from my neck above him. “Do you ever take that off?”

“No.”

“Our Curse doesn’t allow us to change much over the years, does it?” He grimaced at the slash of light creeping across the floor. “Be a dear and pull the curtains shut, will you?”

I pressed my cheek against his and bit his ear, the one without the coin. “Let your goons do it.”

From somewhere he pulled a black cigarette and spewed smoke within seconds. “Their brains are still mush from the collateral of a succubus fuckfest.”

I shoved him away and glided across the room to the curtains. A Pride Cursed that hated the sun. Sebastian hadn’t changed, either.

“Finally got you to do something I want,” he said. “And without having to try.”

Less than five minutes after a night sex and I was already done with him. “Why were you checking up on me?”

He propped himself on an elbow and studied me. A grin, neither playful nor humored, crept across his mouth. “What makes you think I give a fuck about you?”

I couldn’t keep the surprise from my voice. “I’m the only Cursed you’d care about in Seattle. Maybe in the whole country.”

“You’ve gained that American arrogance, too.” He sighed. “You are a blunt instrument, Tricia. A comely one, true, even when it looks like someone worked you over with a sledgehammer, but no great mystery. The only way you could garner my attention is if you enthralled the entire city. Which, let’s be honest, would take a while even with the spectacular cunt you’ve got.”

Sebastian used degradation with such frequency that I hardly noticed anymore. “Then why are you here?”

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

Holy fuck.

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

Sebastian grinned. “You think he stayed in the closet the whole time?” He swept his hand in the direction of the curtained windows. “I meant in Seattle somewhere. Even I’ve got difficulty feeling his presence, and he’s not hiding from me.”

I slipped back into visibility. “What’s he doing here?” The panic in my voice was humiliating.

“You’re his long-lost daughter. You didn’t think he would leave you alone forever, did you?”

“I’d hoped. It’s been decades.”

“Hinge had many irritating qualities, but the most vexing is his patience. Which runs contrary to his batshit insanity.”

I watched Sebastian’s face. His expression betrayed nothing, but I could feel it. “You’re scared of him.”

His gaze narrowed. He turned away from me, dropping back on the bed. “Let’s just said we notice when a five hundred year old Cursed picks up and runs to the New World.”

“‘We?’“

“The most powerful of us keep an eye on each other in case anyone gets up to truly monumental fuckery.”

“Why did they send you, then? Victorian and the Roman are older than Hinge, for Christ’s sake. Why aren’t any true elders here?”

Sebastian’s eye hardened. The reaction disappeared fast enough that I was sure it meant something. “No one sent me. And no one else wants to muck about with him. These days, even a mildly content Hinge is a disaster of biblical fucking proportions.”

“And this disaster is in Seattle. How powerful is he?”

“Powerful enough that mortals don’t even remember him. He can rewrite memories, even those of newly Cursed, with impunity.”

“Then he’s worse than I remember.”

“Hard to believe. But never underestimate the power – or arrogance – of a Cursed who Descended.”

I stared at him. “Hinge Descended.” It was as much a statement as a question.

“Get off. You didn’t know? He told you fuckall about anything.” Sebastian rolled his eye. “No one made him. Being an inquisitor fucked him up enough that Hell Cursed him all on its own.” He pointed his cigarette at the cross around my neck. “He must still have got some Catholic guilt knocking around for that thing to work.”

“I never knew,” I breathed. “If he Descended, his age is meaningless.”

“Not meaningless. It just means he’s got a metric fuckton more power than he should.”

“And you came alone to watch him? That’s stupid.”

“This from the blunt instrument.”

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

Sebastian let a cloud of smoke stream from his lips. “You are definitely not an idiot.”

The clues began to coalesce in my thoughts. “You snuck in to Seattle. You didn’t think I’d find you. You meant me to be your bait.”

Sebastian shrugged. “That plan’s shit now. At least I got a night of succubus out of it.”

I ran a hand through my hair. I never expected Hinge to care about me, much less come after me.

“I can’t very well find him if he doesn’t want me to.” I reached down and started pulling on my clothes. They were in worse condition than when I came in. “What am I supposed to do? Wait till he comes after me?”

“I don’t care what you do. Flee him, fight him, fuck him, it makes no difference. I only care what his plans are for you.”

I was tempted to rip the curtains open and bathe the asshole in daylight, just to see what would happen.

My body tingled as my fingers cupped and tugged my breast. I moaned and started to slide my hands under my skirt, then swore and wheeled on Sebastian.

“Don’t fuck with me,” I growled.

“I just wanted to see if your aura was as potent when you masturbate,” Sebastian said. “I’m still up for another go.”

Rage burned my cheeks. I could never let my shields down even for a second around him. Or Hinge.

“Stay out of my way, Sebastian.” I headed for the elevator. “Or I’ll do worse than open your fucking curtains.”

“Tricia,” Sebastian said. I turned to him in surprise. For a second, his voice held 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 any of us.”

“Hopefully that means my past was a lie.”

“Oh, no. You were a stark-raving bitch. You still need forgiveness for that.”

His words were thick with mockery. At the mention of forgiveness my thoughts skittered to Pastor Rosie. Worry started to prickle my spine.

“Stay out of my way,” I repeated, with even more venom.

“Oh, I plan to enjoy the show from afar.”

I couldn’t even muster a retort. I spun on my heels and headed for the door.

“I’m sure you’re off to do some soul-searching after murdering three rapists, killing a demon and fucking another,” Sebastian said from behind me. “Better not forget your guns. Who knows what shit you’ll manage to get into when you leave.”

Anger again swelled at my vulnerability – Sebastian had laid bare how out of practice I was at guarding my thoughts – and I stormed to the kitchen to scoop up my weapons. I needed to get out of here before I got into some shit right here in his penthouse.

 

Continue to Chapter Five

 

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

Hunters: Chapter Three

Standard

Here is Chapter Three of my dark fantasy novel Hunters. As with all drafts, feedback is appreciated.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Three

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Garrison Decker

 

“Why, Doctor Decker,” Lilly Rothschild said as the doorman stepped aside. “What brings you to the manor at such an uncivilized hour?” Her lazy southern accent held no displeasure at seeing me. Slim build, auburn hair pulled in a bun, milky face ageless and smooth. She wore a crisp blue business suit even at such an uncivilized hour.

I stepped into the foyer of Rothschild manor and felt two centuries crumble away. The perfect recreation in upstate New York of a plantation estate enveloped me in the feel of the deep South. The elaborate marble floor, inset with a coat of arms and a stylized R, reflected a cascade of light from the chandelier overhead. Carefully preserved furnishings and shelves of worn books filled the perimeter. Two broad staircases swept up to an overlooking gallery. Incense, leather and tobacco weaved their scents through the still air, accompanied by the steady rhythm of an unseen grandfather clock.

“Please, call me Garrison,” I said, letting the same long disused drawl touch my words. “I apologize, but I couldn’t let my concerns wait for our next session.”

Lilly’s dark eyes sparkled. “I never knew a psychologist who made house calls. Eduardo, will you kindly take Garrison’s coat so we can retire to my study?” Her eyes slid over me to emphasize her use of my name.

The butler didn’t reply. He stared at Lilly with an unfocused gaze.

“Eduardo?” Lilly repeated.

Eduardo crumpled to the floor.

Lilly gasped and started toward him. The moment her back was turned, I ripped the garrote wire from my jacket lining and looped it around her neck.

She wheezed and clawed at the wire. I planted my knee in the small of her back. She tried to scream but gagged on blood. A red fog sprayed out from her neck as I sawed the garrote back and forth. Razor wire shredded flesh.

She struggled, gurgled, went limp. The wire snapped free. Lilly’s head rebounded off the marble before disintegrating in a smear of ash. Her body imploded with the scent of sulfur and embers.

“Go back to Hell, demon,” I spat.

I stepped over Eduardo’s unconscious body and took the brushed metal canister from my satchel. A stream of gas rippled in the light from its top. I rolled the canister across the foyer and it spiraled to a stop in the middle of the marble R.

Any mortal staff in the manor would be unconscious within a minute. No one would remain awake but me and the three other Cursed I had yet to destroy.

I’d never taken on four demons at once. I slipped a worn flask out of my breast pocket, felt under my fingers the memories etched in each scar. The vodka within, thinned by holy water, aroused my thirst more than quenched it, yet still I stopped while it remained half full. Even washing away the bitterness of the anti-nerve agent couldn’t justify drinking more.

I drew my LeMat revolver, the stacked double barrel refurbished to hold modern ammunition, and scanned the foyer. I’d read the butler’s thoughts before he passed out and meshed his memories with what I’d read from Lilly during our therapy sessions. Demons seldom worked, let alone lived, together, but these four came from the same mortal family. The demonic heads of the Rothschild clan had bred debauchery in their descendants for centuries.

Lilly had been a young Greed demon new to her powers. She went to therapy sessions, conferences and any other meetings she could arrange in a search for corruptible souls. I was glad I had gotten her out of the way quickly. The Sloth demon Danforth was in a room at the top of the stairs. I would destroy him first. Lilly hadn’t ever seen inside his sanctum, let alone seen him leave it in years.

After Danforth, that still left the two most dangerous Cursed in the family to deal with. Each Cursed had unique vulnerabilities, based as much on their personality as the sin they represented. Most of the time I could exploit these to dispatch them. But even reading the Rothschild weaknesses from Lilly didn’t make this much easier to pull off.

Angus Rothschild was a Wrath demon who treated the manor’s mortal staff with slave master brutality. He killed anyone, family or employee, Cursed or mortal, who angered him, and it didn’t take much to do so. Lilly had been terrified of him. He was the eldest Cursed in the family, and might have been the patriarch if his grandniece Ashlea didn’t control him.

I knew well the power a succubus like Ashlea wielded. I itched at the scars in the crook of my arm and willed myself to hold together.

Stillness draped the mansion. I forced my heart to match time with the clock as I crept up the stairs to the gallery landing.

I took a moment to enjoy the silence within my mind. With no one nearby, no errant thoughts or images bombarded me. I had learned over the years to filter out the background noise that other minds created, but I seldom appreciated the effort it took until I could relax.

A faint scrape rustled from behind Danforth’s heavy door at the center of the balcony. I trained the LeMat on the door and pushed it open.

Decadence swathed the room. Its windows looked over the frozen grounds of the estate, sparkling blue and gray in the predawn cold. A well-stocked bar spread below oil paintings that would break millionaires. Fresh fruit and meat were heaped on the center of an imposing cherry desk. Greek statues stood vigil in the recesses. The excess was so great that it took several seconds to register the thick stench of excrement and death in the room.

Danforth Rothschild, a naked skeleton of emaciated gray flesh, lay on a leather chaise under the windows. His chest rose and fell with deep, even breaths. Glittering gold and jewelry dripped from the long fingers knitted over his concave belly.

Dozens of bodies, emaciated, dead and dying, covered in their own shit and piss, lay wreathed about Danforth. Dry tongues scraped over cracked lips. A few clouded eyes turned in my direction, but none made a move toward me, the door, or the food set out for them. Despite the misery of their condition, their faces and thoughts were calm, unpained. Restful. An air of peace and tranquility pervaded the room. No agony troubled them, no misery or hunger or thirst or anxiety or addiction or worry. They cared about nothing, and in this idyllic state died and gave their souls to their blessed God of Sloth.

I’d never experienced a Sloth demon before, but his aura was insidious. For the first time, my body didn’t crawl with the need to move, tremble with unrequited yearning. Release was but a few short, serene steps away.

I drew in a deep breath and choked on fetid air. Christ. I was sitting on the floor, when did that happen? I stood up and fished an incendiary grenade from my satchel. The grenade hissed as I popped the tab and tossed it onto the chaise where Danforth lay. Flames blossomed over the gaunt body in moments. The thing collapsed in on itself as the sprinklers in the room came on, extinguishing the flames before they spread to any of the mortals that remained alive. I slammed the door before the water washed rivers of filth onto the landing.

The stench of the room clung to me. I glanced at my watch and found that five minutes had passed. Christ, just sitting there for five minutes. Danforth had been no easy kill, and my disregard for the danger all Cursed posed had put me at the mercy of his demonic aura. I shuddered and turned away, and hands the size of turkeys clamped the sides of my head.

Angus Rothschild dangled me a foot off the ground in his crushing grip and stared at me with malevolent eyes. Then he threw me. I crashed into the balcony rail and cartwheeled over. Floor rushed at me. I tucked and tumbled onto my back out of reflex.

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

I lurched to my knees, struggling to breathe. My pistol lay on the floor a foot away. I grabbed it and trained it on the demon’s chest, then gasped. Bliss clenched my body. I dropped to all fours, trying to scream from the mind-splitting orgasm while my deflated lungs begged for air.

“Why, that just took all the fight right out of you, didn’t it?” A soft voice said from behind me, like chocolate melting on the tongue.

Ashlea Rothschild ran a delicate hand over the bannister as she descended the stairs. Her hair, cream streaked with bronze and gold, cascaded to her shoulders in graceful curls. The light passed through her gossamer white gown to reveal every detail of her slender body and delicate curves.

“Took the head right offa Lilly!” Angus snarled. His Appalachian accent was so thick I could barely understand him. “Burned Danny alive!”

“You could hardly call Danny alive. And you were going to kill Lilly anyway.”

I fought to move my sluggish limbs through the afterglow haze, made a clumsy swipe for my pistol. And another orgasm more breathtaking than the first flattened me. I felt cool marble slick with drool against my cheek as I writhed. Finally I screamed, halting and weak and ecstatic.

“Stop it, you harlot!” I felt the floor rumble, smelled brimstone as Angus neared. A growl like a roaring furnace churned from the depths of his chest. “I’m gonna kill him.”

“Don’t be jealous, Uncle. This doesn’t mean you don’t get yours.”

Angus stopped, his growl softening to a childish mewl. I felt the power Ashlea sated him with, many times more potent than what the bitch had given me. Jealousy flared. The LeMat lay right in front of me, and I tried to grab for it so she would subdue me again. My hand slid only a handful of slow inches toward the grip.

Ashlea crouched over me, and her scent pierced my mind. The pheromones the Cursed oozed sparked long forgotten emotions and cravings. She smelled like raw desire. She smelled like Helen. And in an instant it was two years ago, my wife still slaved me with her power, and I yearned for a new master.

“You respond to my powers as easily as my dear old uncle,” she said, and placed a warm hand on my cheek. The sensation was as intense as if she were stroking my cock. “You’ve been the thrall of a succubus before, haven’t you?”

My lips caressed her palm, tasted her silken flesh. My mind whispered to pull away before she killed me, to grab my gun and shoot her in her beautiful face. My body screamed to surrender to her. I raised myself toward her, my hands clutching to pull her close.

“Do you want another?” She cooed. “I’ve just given you a taste. You’re young, muscular, virile. Nothing like my uncle there. You deserve so much more.”

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

She patted my cheek. “Not yet. You did destroy my niece. Angus will make you pay for that.” She leaned closer, curling her finger under my chin. “But I will make you beg for every minute of his wrath.”

Our lips touched, first a casual brush, then deeper. My arms were around her, pulling her into an embrace. Rapture filled me with every touch.

Then her tongue crumbled to bitter ash. She screeched and tore away, smoke belching from the blistered flesh around her mouth. Her demonic form took hold as fiery red cracks spread over her black skin and a mane of flames consumed her hair.

“What did you do?” She shrieked. Her talons clawed at her sizzling lips.

Her aura faltered, and fury seethed through me. I saw what she planned for me, saw my own weakness through her eyes. My vulnerability disgusted me. I grabbed my gun and rounded on her.

Angus barreled into me. His movements were sluggish after the pleasure Ashlea had given him, but it didn’t stop his momentum. I smashed with him into the bookshelves against the wall. He clasped his meaty hands around my head again and squeezed. Pain exploded.

I fired the shotgun barrel of the LeMat straight into his heart.

Angus dropped me and stared at the burning crater in the center of his chest. The rock salt in the shotgun load chewed through his demonic flesh.

“Lilly knew your weakness,” I groaned. “She always kept a trail of salt around her room.”

Smoke and sparks vomited from Angus’s chest and he toppled backward. His body shattered like leaves against the floor.

Ashlea stood up, trembling from the pain. She had returned to her human form. Even with lips melted away, leaving behind a permanent tooth-filled grin, her beauty still made me weak.

“I saw your mind when we kissed,” she said. Despite the slur from no lips, her voice was still sultry. “I know your powers. I know your pain. And I know the one who corrupted your wife Helen.”

My breath caught. The image of a Cursed boiled out of her mind. Body rich with graceful curves, pale angelic face, black hair, burgundy eyes. I had never met her, never seen her in person, but I could never forget her.

Anger swept my budding lust aside. “Where is she?” I snarled.

Ashlea ran her hand across my chest, an enthralling pleasure rippling like the surface of a lake along the path of her fingers. “We can find her together.”

“You already know where she is,” I said.

Her brown eyes widened as she realized I knew now, too. She grabbed the back of my head and wrapped one leg around my waist.

I struggled against her grip. “How do you know her? Why do-”

A guttural howl drowned my words as another orgasm flooded me, then another, building stronger, stronger. My legs wilted and she fell on top of me, her smooth legs straddling me. She slid her gown up over her hips and reached down to free my cock.

I screamed with desire and pulled the trigger.

The ecstasy ended. She straightened and touched the red stain blooming across the chest of her gown.

“No,” I murmured, quaking, gasping. Somehow I pulled again. She spun off me with the impact. I emptied the cylinder, toppling her to the floor.

I pulled myself to my feet, sliding the LeMat back in its holster. Ashlea screamed and thrashed against the floor in an expanding puddle of blood. The wet gown was plastered against her body, revealing her small red nipples and the beckoning triangle between her legs, and I had to force myself to look away.

My jacket pocket ripped as I tore the vials of holy water free. I had mixed enough of it with the vodka I drank that I would consecrate every toilet I used for a week. I unstopped the vials and poured them over her.

The holy water fried gullies in her flesh, sloughed dissolving skin from bone. She shrieked and bucked on the ground. Horror consumed her beautiful eyes as her body dissolved into a smoldering scar across the floor, surrounded by a sea of blood.

Silence. Sweat drenched my face, my clothes. I fumbled the flask from my pocket and drained the holy vodka in one long swallow. God I needed to dose. My nails again dug at the scars at the crook of my elbow. It was the only way to quiet the yearning my wife Helen had awakened in me, rekindled by the succubus I had been on the cusp of surrendering to before I destroyed her.

I couldn’t dose here. The mortals would start waking up within the hour. But there was one thing I had to do while the images from Ashlea’s memory were still fresh. I dug through my satchel to find the folded square of parchment at its depths. Its creases were hard and set from years tucked away, discolored with spills and dirt and lint. I smoothed the page out on the antique secretary beside the door and steadied my hand enough to sketch the wooden cross that hung around her neck, and the outline of the Space Needle overshadowing her. The demon’s burgundy eyes, the two lone spots of color in the drawing, stared back at me with the same innocent malevolence I first glimpsed in Helen’s mind, and again in Ashlea’s.

Tricia Praest had destroyed my life and my world when she Cursed my wife. Now I knew where she was. And now I would destroy her.

 

Continue to Chapter Four

 

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

Hunters: Chapter Two

Standard

This is Chapter Two of my dark fantasy novel Hunters. Warning: the content is mature. Feedback is appreciated. I will post a chapter a week.

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

Other novel chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Two

Compare this latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia Praest

 

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

It would be awhile before anyone found them. They would have made sure no one would interrupt their conquest of a drugged teenager. No rush to leave. But a club was a dangerous place for a Lust Cursed to be. The souls I just ate were sustenance, not enjoyment. Their memories of past conquests, their sadistic fantasies for me, stripped their souls of any purity. None of them were depraved enough to rise as Cursed after death, but that didn’t make their souls any less decrepit. I felt satisfaction ending their miserable lives. But holy Christ, I still needed to fuck.

Really fuck.

I closed my eyes. The dancers surging against me radiated heat, thundered with lust. Desire, everywhere desire, need. They were so embroiled with passion that I could walk into the crowd in full demonic glory and take every last soul in an orgy of desire. Yet their fervor was a mere whisper against the eternal hunger inside me that never died. Usually I could ignore it, often I had to subdue it, but not here, not now. Every doubt about coming here exploded. I wanted more. I wanted it all. My mind went numb.

I reached into the human sea, grasped the nearest person by the hair and spun her toward me. Her squeal of surprise cut short when I dragged her mouth to mine. At first she stiffened and pressed her lips tight. Then they quivered, opened, and we devoured each other. She tasted like spearmint, cigarettes, cum. Her embrace was sudden and fierce. Our hands explored each other with delirious intimacy. I felt her passion, her power, her eager soul as our bodies melted together.

Her mind opened to me the second we touched, and Stacey captivated me. Not like the worthless raping shits I ate earlier. Stacey was kind, she didn’t steal or lie, she didn’t cheat on her boyfriend Mark and wanted a family with him. My God, she was the purest, kindest, most delicious creature I’d tasted in decades, and I wanted her. Not to consume her soul like Derek and his minions, but to possess her, enslave her, savor her.

Stacey’s the kind of bitch I go for. Derek’s voice, weak and distant, slithered through my thoughts.

A chill gripped me. The echo of my victims’ unfiltered souls was the most revolting curse of feeding from the worst of humanity. Derek’s presence would linger in my mind for a few hours, sometimes even a day. But it reminded me of why I fed from shits like him. If I enthralled Stacey, I would damn the soul I struggled to redeem, if it was redeemable at all.

Fuck. I shoved Stacey away.

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

“The fuck,” the guy next to her said, and wheeled her away by the elbow. The boyfriend Mark. His haircut was a brunette mirror of hers.

I turned my attention to him. Yearning mixed with his anger. Seeing me kiss his girlfriend again would shatter his resistance.

I stopped myself before I indulged the thought further.

“Thought she was someone else,” I said.

“She’s not. Fuck off.”

He strained as he held Stacey back from me. Her gaze never left me.

God damn it. I spun away and bolted deeper into the crowd. In a moment I couldn’t see them anymore.

Rapists and sinners deserved death, even if their souls were empty and ungratifying. But a feast like this club was too much temptation. A Cursed wasn’t built to cope with control, or a Lust demon with abstinence. I had almost enthralled Stacey and consumed her boyfriend’s soul just for the fuck of it. Had to get out of here before I did something I’d regret. I wouldn’t be able to look at Sister Rosie again if I threw away all my work now. I pushed my way toward the doors.

I felt its presence behind me an instant before its sword slashed at my head. I wheeled to the side. The black blade missed me by less than an inch and carried without slowing through two guys dancing in front of me. The music drowned their screams. Blood sprayed over me and the dancers around them.

An Andrasi Wrath demon towered behind me.

“What the….” A girl turned as blood slashed across her face. She stared in shocked silence at the two bodies on the dance floor, eyes wide and white in a mask of glistening red. Then she looked up into the empty stare of the Cursed that cut them down. She screamed.

The club went apeshit.

I was at eye level with the demon’s waist. No glamour to disguise its nature. Its bones glowed through its translucent red skin like a skeleton suspended in gelatin. Angelic wings draped its back in a shadowy cloak. Muscular arms as thick as my waist held a blood-stained sword as tall as me. Long hair hung to its shoulders like a tangle of wet eels. Its eyes blazed emptiness.

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

A wave of humanity broke around me, scattering toward the exit. I used the chaos to crouch and draw the twin kukri sheathed at the small of my back. The curved blades were heavy and a pain in the ass to keep hidden, especially when people touched me. I hadn’t had to draw them in years.

Since the last time a Wrath Cursed swung a five-foot sword at my head, come to think. Good thing old habits were hard to break.

A bubble formed on the dance floor around us. Hentai sex flashed over the screens. Lasers rippled through the body of the Cursed as it glared at me with those empty eye sockets.

“You don’t want to destroy me,” I said, as calmly as I could. Despite my mental guards, the Cursed’s aura of rage needled my self-control. It smelled like blood and ash and mindless anger. The shouts from the fleeing patrons had turned guttural, frenzied, as much rage as fear. A quick glance at the brawls erupting around me confirmed that the mortals were as intent on fighting as getting away, all because of this fucker.

Its voice boiled into my brain. “You break oaths, you die.” Its laugh claws my mind with fury.

I skipped sideways, keeping out of sword range. “What oaths did I break?”

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

Friend? Oh for fuck’s sake. I had to concentrate on surviving, not figuring out what the hell this thing was talking about.

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

“Well, then.” I lunged and snapped invisible.

It was one of my tricks. Made up for not showing up in mirrors, cameras or video, which was a bigger pain in the ass than you’d think. I assumed this Andrasi knew I could do it, but I needed every moment of surprise it might give me.

The Cursed swung its sword across my expected path. I rolled under its arc and sprang at the demon’s exposed side. Kukri chewed crimson Jell-O. No blood from the cuts, they opened like raw steak. Streaks of chartreuse energy flickered from the wounds. I hoped that meant they hurt like hell.

Its elbow smashed the back of my skull. The world sparkled and tilted. I turned the fall into a sideways tumble away from the Cursed, cradling my head. Agony.

“I smell you,” it growled. Its eyes no longer followed my movement, but it charged straight at me.

I broke for the doors. But thoughts of escaping that way vanished. The front of the club was a pile of people tearing themselves apart, either to get out or because they were overwhelmed by the rage aura. The burn of mace started to fill the air, and I heard the hollow pop of a gun from the midst of the melee. Jesus, someone got a gun into the club. This was getting ugly.

“Fight me,” it said again. Its blind slash tugged the edge of my jacket.

I wheeled around and charged. I couldn’t take on a Wrath Cursed in the middle of innocents, or let its rage aura drive them to kill each other. Needed to get out in the open somehow.

I leapt over its next swing, somersaulting over its head and grabbing where its wings met its back. My momentum inverted him in front of me, and I smashed my shoulder into its back and sprinted.

It roared, wings and feet thrashing in midair. Screams shook my body. It felt like carrying a volcano. I hung on just long enough to plow it into the nearest wall.

Masonry and rebar exploded. A second crash, a second wall. The impacts knocked the air from my lungs, wrenched and shattered my shoulder. Brick cascaded over me seconds before we were in the alley and the Seattle mist was falling on us. I let go of the Cursed and collapsed on all fours. The Andrasi kept going into the opposite wall of the alley, cracking brick. The impact left a crater half a foot deep. The demon tumbled onto its back, its broken body arcing with internal sparks.

I willed myself to stand and pounced on the Cursed’s chest. It tried to get up but I hung on by its greasy hair, hacking the kukri across its neck. My arm screamed in protest with each movement. It howled and plunged its sword into my side. Agony exploded but I kept slashing. Its body glowed putrid with each cut.

I hit spine. The jolt traveled through my body. The demon collapsed back to the ground.

“Don’t die yet,” I groaned, my own blood hissing against its skin. “Why’d you try to kill me?”

I planted my lips on a mouth big enough to swallow my head. Flashing, discordant images tore through my thoughts. I shoved the Andrasi away with a gasp. My broken arm hung limp at my side. I lurched up and rammed the heel of my boot under its jaw.

Its neck shattered with a wet, ripping sound. The Cursed began to smoke. The smell of burning carcass filled the air.

I stumbled back on the surrounding rubble, hitting the ground hard. My entire body was pain. I probed where it stabbed me, confirming the sword dissolved along with its body, and focused my energies on mending my wounds. The power I got from the rapists ebbed, exhausted. My side and shoulder burned with any movement, but at least they were whole again. I wouldn’t recover fully for the better part of a week without eating anyone else.

Holy fuck. I lay in the drifting mist for what must have been minutes, still invisible. Andrasi pack demons hadn’t bothered me in years because we stayed out of each other’s shit. They kept out of Seattle and stuck to their outlying territory, and I let no other Cursed in. But this one tried to kill me in the middle of my city, in undisguised demonic form and in a nightclub full of mortals.

I sifted through the jumble of its dying thoughts and found out why. 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, goatee and eye patch, smoking a black cigarette. Just a momentary image, but one as painful as the Andrasi’s sword had been.

My end of the bargain was easy to keep since no one gave a shit about a city surrounded by roving packs of Wrath demons. Besides, I didn’t like my kind any more than the Andrasi did. But a Pride Cursed had come to Seattle. One shielding his presence from me or I would have felt him the second he entered the state. And one I knew intimately enough to loathe even after a century.

Sebastian Essex was going to tell me what the fuck he was doing in Seattle, or I was going to kill him.

 

Continue to Chapter Three

 

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