I’d had several jobs in the past year. This one I’d managed to keep for a few months. Most of my employers frowned on me coming to work with cuts and bruises all the time. It made for “poor presentation,” they’d say. I was thankful it hadn’t interfered with this job, yet.
I finished up my shift and had started my walk home from the burger joint when I felt it. A hunter doesn’t mistake the feeling that demons are around. It moves down your spine and chills your bones. Feeling it proved I was indeed a hunter, even without an element.
The August air was warm for the late hour, and a thick layer of sweat made my white shirt cling to me. I stopped and unzipped my duffle bag, locating the silver dagger inside. Silver was great no matter what you were fighting; it could do serious damage to anything of the Underworld.
The tingle shot down my spine again. If I focused, I could feel each hair on my neck rise. I saw a blur of movement across the street and watched it disappear into a shadowy alley. I moved across the street in a low crouch, resting my weight on the balls of my feet. I slowed my breathing and pulled the dagger from my bag before I slipped around the corner.
My senses were alive and strained to see movement, or hear the sound of feet shuffling against loose rocks. As a hunter, I could see well in the dark, though the only light came from a single flickering street lamp.
I was almost to the end of the alley when it hit. I couldn’t tell what “it” was, but it struck my back and launched me forward. My feet tumbled over my head and my back smashed hard into the concrete wall at the end of the alley. Hands grabbed me and lifted me to my feet, dragging me a few steps before throwing me back the other way. I flew through the air, hit the ground and rolled out into the street.
I used my momentum and came up on one knee to recover. My back burned where pavement had grated the skin off, but I pushed the pain aside as the figure stalked towards me.
“Your death will bring me great glory, hunter. Killing the son of Riley Williams will make me a legend among the Underworld,” the low voice gloated.
“That’s really great, good luck with that,” I said.
He smiled and the fangs that slid down from his gums were long and sharp. His pale skin started to thin as the vampire changed into his demon form.
Milky skin faded into transparent flesh, revealing the moving muscles beneath. Veins ran black through the vampire’s face and limbs, pushing against the thinning clear skin. Strange muscles in his hands pushed bony talons out over his finger nails, and the whites of his eyes disappeared, filling with an inky blackness. The dark orbs stared at me as his fanged mouth curled into a smile, and in a blur he sprang forward, talons swinging.
I ducked as they sliced through the air over my head. I brought the knife up into his stomach and twisted the blade before I pulled it out. Blood spilled onto the ground, but I knew the wound wasn’t enough to kill him. Cut off his head or pierce his black heart – those were my options. I could light him on fire, but I was fresh out of matches.
I brought my foot up and kicked the vampire back to give myself some room. I steadied myself, waiting for him to charge, but his body jerked and the point of a silver blade appeared in his chest before he could move.
The vamp’s body went limp and collapsed, then exploded in a flash of orange light. It burned away into a cloud of ash and littered the pavement, revealing the girl – of all things – who had beaten me to the kill.
Raven hair spilled over her pale shoulders with hints of red highlighting the occasional strand. A tight leather top revealed a sliver of toned stomach and a tease of cleavage. Black pants hugged her hips and long slender legs and met knee-high boots. Her skin glistened in the light, but the most noticeable of her features were her eyes.
Bright green orbs sparkled with an odd glow: demon’s eyes. They had the slit pupils of a cat that I’d never seen on anything other than a house pet or a shifter in animal form. I slipped back into fight mode. I’d never watched one demon kill another, but I suppose for the fame of killing me, why not?
I lunged and threw a punch at her face, but she dodged it with ease.
“You almost messed up my kill,” she snarled, and I had barely enough time to dodge her powerful kick.
“Your kill? You stole it from me!” I swung my fist and hit her stomach. She bent over, winded, before she stepped back and caught her breath, regaining her stance and composure.
“Stole it? Please, I’d been tracking him for blocks.” She spun and caught my chin with the heel of her boot, snapping my head to the side. I rubbed my jaw where she’d hit me and smiled.
“Well then, I guess it’s a good thing I was here to slow him down. Who knows if you would have been able to catch him?”
She moved in for another kick but I was ready. I grabbed her foot and pushed her back. She fell to the ground but quickly came to her feet. “I would have gotten him just fine on my own. Hunting is an art. It would’ve gone on as long as I deemed necessary.”
“Call it hunting if you want, but a filthy demon killing her own kind is still just that: a filthy demon.” I could tell I’d offended her even before she hit me.
My eyes watered when her fist smashed into my nose and her foot connected with my stomach in quick succession. I jerked back to avoid the knee that flew towards my face and pushed it to the side, but she was already moving towards me. Her hands hit my chest hard and I soared through the air for a long moment before I hit the ground. I felt a sharp pain shoot up through my spine and I could hear her laughter as I struggled to my feet.
“I have to admit I expected more from you, Chase, being the infamous son of Riley Williams and all.”
I gripped my dagger until my knuckles turned white and spoke through gritted teeth. “I’ll try not to disappoint.”
My fist hit her jawbone and made a loud crack. I came back with my other hand and wrapped it around her throat. I stepped into the movement and threw her forward in a burst of hunter’s strength. She slammed into the ground but recovered faster than I anticipated. Before I could brace myself she was on top of me.
I pulled her body down and we rolled over each other against the cold concrete until I was on top. I kept a handful of her hair wound tight in my fist and pushed my blade against her throat. “More what you expected?”
“Not really.” She smirked.
I felt the point of a knife pushing against my stomach. Before I could react, a commanding male voice came from behind us.
“Enough!” it boomed.
I didn’t take the knife or my eyes off the demon beneath me.
“But we were just starting to have fun,” she complained. The smile on her face was anything but threatening. If this was her idea of fun, I didn’t want to know what she considered boring.
“Rayna, enough,” the man repeated.
She sighed, sticking out her bottom lip in a pout before the knife left my skin. “Truce?” she said with an innocent face.
“Not a chance,” I replied, pushing the knife harder against her throat.
I was pulled away from Rayna and pressed against a wall, thick hands around my throat. I raised my blade but my opponent blocked and twisted my arm at an awkward angle. The man ripped the blade from my hand and I squirmed.
“Calm down, Chase. We are not here to hurt you,” the voice said. A complete shadow hung around the figure, moving as he moved.
“So she attacked me for fun?” I snapped.
“If we wanted you dead, you would be,” he said, releasing his grip, and I fell to the sidewalk. He stepped back slowly and the shadow peeled itself from his body. As it faded, it revealed a large man whose magic I’d never sensed before.
“If you don’t want to kill me, what do you want?” I asked.
The man reached forward, a large dark arm holding out my dagger. I wrapped my hand around it in confusion. The contrast of our skin was drastic; my pale flesh glowed against his midnight color and the size of his hand alone made me feel small.
“What Rayna told you was true. We were tracking the vampire, not you. Although I’m happy to finally meet you, I’d imagined this moment under different circumstances,” he said.
“There are ways to meet people besides attacking them.”
“I agree. You must forgive us; Rayna is quick to lash out when insulted.” My eyes met his and I couldn’t read his expression. I knew I hadn’t been polite, but I wasn’t about to apologize to a demon. “You know, your father would not have hesitated to kill her, no matter his position.”
“Congratulations, you’ve discovered I’m not my father. What the hell would you know about him anyways?”
He turned his head to the side and as the light hit his neck it revealed a tattoo. It was the one every hunter received after their ceremony. The one I never got.
The tattoo made me realize why he could bend the shadows; he was an air elemental and a powerful one at that. I had heard stories of hunters being able to work with shadows, but I’d never seen it done firsthand.
I looked him over, not sure what to think of a hunter working with a demon. He was taller than me by an inch, around six-foot three. His head was smooth shaven, though there was a small patch of hair under his lower lip. His skin seemed like a smooth dark chocolate. His body was large and square, broad shoulders making him a massive column of strength and power. He filled out a sharp black suit jacket and wore black loafers, leaving the only color on him a flash of bright blue dress shirt.
“You’re a hunter.”
“Once upon a time, yes I was.”
He broke eye contact and cleared his throat, extending his massive hand towards me. “Look at my manners. Let me introduce myself. I am Marcus Starkraven.”
My eyebrows shot up; I knew that name! “You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Is that what you heard?”
“You used to hunt with my father.”
He nodded slightly, but otherwise ignored the comment. “You already met Rayna,” he said, taking his unshaken hand back.
I looked at Rayna and got caught in the depths of her green, slit eyes.
“What are you doing with a demon?” I said, spitting out the last word like a curse.
“How’s your nose?” Rayna asked.
I touched it and looked at the blood on my fingers. “Lucky shot.”
She chuckled and stepped towards me. “Care to go again?” Marcus put an arm in front of her.
“Not what we’re doing right now,” he said.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“She is my student. And my friend.”
I couldn’t respond. I didn’t believe it. A hunter being friends with a demon was unfathomable.
“I would have thought, being out in the real world, you’d have come to understand, Chase. Some Underworlders don’t fit the Circle’s black and white image of good and evil,” he said.
“The only Underworlders I’ve come across have tried to kill me.”
“Your name is feared by many in the Underworld. Your father has created quite the reputation for himself, so they fear you as well,” Marcus said.
I smirked. “As they should.”
He shook his head. “That wasn’t a compliment.
M.R. Merrick is a Canadian writer and author of The Protector Series, a Young Adult mash-up between Urban and Epic Fantasy. Having never traveled, he adventures to far off lands through his imagination and in between cups of coffee. As a music lover and proud breakfast enthusiast, he’s usually found at the computer between a pair of headphones and in front of a large bowl of cereal.