“We found a couple of monsters,” Allen was explaining to the group. “Just two, some of the snake people, so take care of poison. We’re taking extras this time just in case we have a repeat of last Hunt.” He glanced around at everyone. “I suggest you work off any nerves and get a good night’s sleep. We leave first thing in the morning.”
He nodded to me and his lead Hunters before leaving the group. A couple of the Hunters offered encouragement to me and Opal about how they were sure we’d get to complete our first Hunt this time, with Opal nodding nervously but not really looking at anyone.
“You don’t look worried,” Dean observed as he neared me.
I shrugged a bit. “It’s two of them and more of us. I wouldn’t have really hesitated to deal with them on my own before joining up but now I’ve got better training and weapons – why would I be worried?”
“Most people are, on their first Hunt.” His eyes gleamed a bit. “I remember mine – killed an entire group of them, one of the easiest ones I’ve ever been on. They barely even fought back. I still remember some of them trying to make a run for it and Allen catching them by their legs with his whip.” He laughed cruelly. “Seeing them get dragged back to get killed, I can’t forget the looks on their faces.”
Right, well, that was an image I didn’t want in my head, but at least those poor people’s murderers would be dead soon.
“I’ve killed them before,” I grunted. “The whole ‘first Hunt’ thing just isn’t that big of a deal to me.”
“Oh, true, that probably takes some of the fun out of it,” Dean agreed. “Well, good luck! Hope you get to kill one of them tomorrow.” He clapped me on the shoulder and then headed off to check in with some of the others.
Right, well, the thing was, none of them would be killing any of the naga tomorrow. Or at least, that’s what I was assuming the target was. They didn’t know this yet, but tonight was the last night this Hunter clan would exist.
There was a tradition pre-Hunts. People trained, then ate together, then headed off to sleep in the barracks so everyone was ready bright and early. Kind of a stupid idea, having everyone eat the same food, especially when there just so happened to be someone in the group who was planning to drug the entire clan.
Drugging was just part one, though. Once everyone headed off to their beds, I waited exactly two hours before getting up and carefully sneaking around the facility, locking doors and removing alarms. I made sure to lock all the major Hunters in their rooms, alone, and made it easier to partition off groups of Hunters so even if one group realized what was happening, they couldn’t get to others easily and any alarms wouldn’t go off if they tried to sound them. I also made sure to remove weapons as much as possible, though I had to be very careful about getting near sleeping Hunters just in case they woke up. They were drugged, yes, but drugging people was an imperfect science, even when using magical potions, so I couldn’t guarantee that all of them might not still wake up and notice if someone was stealing all their equipment.
There were guards out, as expected, but they were sleeping, too, so they didn’t even notice when I unlocked the doors and let George and Jo in.
“Ready?” George asked.
I nodded grimly. I couldn’t say I enjoyed this part, but it was necessary.
It was time to exterminate the Hunters.
Most of them never knew what hit them. They were dreaming their dreams about how to murder innocent supernaturals and then they were dead, never realizing there was a threat nearby. Opal, Joey, and Hunter, whom I’d taken care to give a heavier dose of the drug, we locked in a separate room to deal with later while we first addressed the more serious threats.
Somehow, Allen must have heard something, or maybe he just needed to get up and go to the bathroom, because as we got down the hall after dealing with most of the clan and Jeff without incident, we could hear him banging on his door and cursing.
Jo grinned darkly. “I was kind of hoping he’d put up a fight. I’d like to give him something to remember before he dies from my demon kindred.”
“Careful,” I warned. “He’s better than the average Hunter.”
She waved me off as she removed the chair I had in front of the door, suddenly allowing it to burst open.
Allen clearly did not expect us to be there, let alone for there to be two supernaturals there, but he didn’t waste any time and threw something at all of us. Something like a smoke bomb, but it seemed to affect the supernaturals more and they struggled to breathe for a bit while Allen ran down the hall.
I swore and ran after him, intent on not letting him get away. Jo should have made sure we were ready before removing that door and should have taken him more seriously, but there was no way I was letting a monster like Allen escape. He was the main target here, and he would not get away.
I paused at the bottom of the stairs, looking about swiftly for where he had gone. The front door was still closed and locked, maybe the back door – wait. I heard a different sound, a door that sounded like…the basement.
Of course. Allen wouldn’t want to leave without his precious prisoner. He assumed he could deal with a couple supernaturals and me, and probably thought his Hunters would be up to help him soon, but he had no idea that George and Jo were actually trained in Hunter techniques – by me, after I learned them from Hunters – and that I actually knew a lot more than I was admitting.
Allen had thought my unpredictableness would be a benefit to his clan. He didn’t expect me to turn it on him, and right now, I was willing to do whatever it took to keep him from escaping.
I thought about just blocking the door, but I was worried he might threaten his prisoner so instead I followed after him and raced down the stairs just in time to see him toss a rope ladder down into the pit.
Allen turned when he realized someone had followed him, and the surprise on his face in the dim light told me he hadn’t noticed me earlier, after all.
“I was going to ask you to help,” he said, slowly taking in my stance and weapons, “but somehow I think you’re not here for that. Turned on us after all? What, the prize was too tempting, despite what you said?”
“Your prisoner was never my goal,” I told him coolly. “Freeing them, partially, but the real goal here is stopping you. You and all the murderous clans like you.”
Allen seemed startled with this assessment. “Murderous – what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about how you Hunters murder innocent supernaturals and how you, in particular, enjoy watching them suffer,” I spat at him. “Oh, don’t give me that lie about how they’re monsters and will kill all of us humans. I know perfectly well the real monsters here are people like you. You’re not even in this to protect humans like some people are, you’re just here so you can torture people and find some justification in it.”
Allen’s hand dropped to his side. He was half dressed in daytime clothes but he’d grabbed several weapons before leaving the room, including a gun. Guns were kind of problematic to me because I wouldn’t survive as well as supernaturals if shot. The whip, even the throwing stars or knives I stood a better chance of dealing with. Guns…guns were harder.
Still, I made no move to budge from my spot on the stairs. George and Jo would be here soon enough and Jo would not hesitate to take some bullets if it meant she could kill this guy. Even if he shot me, I wasn’t going to let him get away. At worst, they would hear the shots and figure out where we were then, but as long as he was stopped, I would consider the mission successful.
“You call us monsters?” Allen laughed halfheartedly, but his eyes were alert and he was watching me, waiting for an opening. “Because we kill them?”
“Because you kill innocents. And in your case in particular, you just enjoy killing people and watching them suffer. Yeah, I’d call that a monster.” I was watching just as closely, but I noticed something he did not.
Behind him, the rope ladder moved ever so slightly.
“Innocents?” Allen laughed again. “Tell me a single one who is innocent.”
“Oliver Harrow,” I answered instantly. “His brother Brent, his sisters Kelly and Gabby, who were only five, his parents Alexander and Eleanor. Nina Rodriguez, her son Donny, and her unborn child. Daniella Emerson, her parents Willow and Carter, her daughter Ellie, and her entire coven. Quinn and Chelsea Bourne, and their entire pandemonium. I could name hundreds more, hundreds we’ve confirmed were innocent of any human blood but you Hunters murdered them anyway. These are just the ones I and my fellow anti-Hunters knew personally. Our family. Our friends.”
“Anti-Hunters?” Allen seemed ridiculously amused by the idea.
I chuckled as darkly as Jo. “We hunt Hunters. You’re far from the first clan we’ve taken out, and you won’t be our last.”
For the first time, I saw a flicker of concern cross his face just as his fingers moved for the gun – and then he let out a strangled scream, his eyes going wide as he seemed to freeze in place. He tried to say something, but was unable to get any words out before he fell over onto the ground, struggling for just a moment more until his eyes faded into solid gold.
Jo and George arrived on the top of the stairs just in time to see the process finish, confusion in their faces as they took in the bedraggled person clutching the top rung of the ladder, their bare fingers gripping Allen’s ankle tightly until they were sure there was no spark of life left.
As silence filled the basement, I considered for a moment, then set my weapons down and came over closer, crouching down closer to their eye level.
“You can come out, if you want.” I nodded towards Jo and George on the stairs. “They’re supernaturals, like you. Hopefully you figured out from that conversation, but we’re friends. We’re here to stop the Hunters and free you.” I wanted to offer them a hand, but figured this might actually be a really bad idea given that they’d literally just turned someone to gold by touching them. “We still have a few details to deal with before we can leave here, but we can get you to safety and give you a chance at a new life.”
The person hesitated, then climbed all the way out of the pit, attempting to stand up before apparently realizing that climbing up the ladder had worn out most of their energy and they’d have to stay seated instead.
“He’s a friend,” George added abruptly, coming over closer to me. “August is, I mean. He helps us infiltrate the Hunter clans.” He seemed to be concerned that the newly freed prisoner might hurt me, which was probably a fair assumption – the first time they’d seen me, after all, I’d appeared to be just another sadistic Hunter.
“We still have two Hunters left,” Jo interrupted impatiently, “then we have to deal with the second chances and getting bodies to the cover-up locations and setting this place on fire. And I have no idea how we’re going to explain a gold body. That’s a new one. Anyway, hurry up, we can’t waste time.”
I glanced at her, then turned my attention back to the supernatural. “I’m going to get you some food, or George can if you’d prefer, for you to eat while we wrap things up, okay? We have a doctor friend arriving soon, he can help you, then we’ll get you to someplace safe.”
“Safe,” the supernatural murmured, their words sounding almost rusty from lack of use. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been safe.”
I wasn’t used to dealing with prisoners like this, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed, but the fact that they were speaking – and seemed to understand what I was saying – seemed promising.
“Give us a bit to get things wrapped up and then we’ll get you out of here,” I promised. “You won’t have to ever be a prisoner again.”
The supernatural met my eyes and through the tangle of hair, I could see a tear fall down their face. “Thank you,” they whispered. “Thank you.”