Authors: The Hunter
Copyright © March 2010, Eve Langlais
Cover art by Anastasia Rabiyah © March 2010
Baltimore, MD 21216
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To my husband, who was the inspiration for Hunter.
When he strode into the nursery and found it empty, he screeched loudly. A primal, venomous filled sound that shook the plaster and would have made the one who’d angered him wet her pants in fright.
The screamer, in the grip of a full blown tantrum, grabbed the nearby rocking chair and swung it hard against the wall, splintering it into matchsticks. Not enough. He tore the soft, white bedding from the crib and ripped it to tatters. But his rage bubbled like a volcanic inferno requiring ever more fuel. He kicked the wall, right through a hand painted bunny, the momentary pain ignored by his adrenaline soaked body. He ripped down the mobile hanging on the crib and flung it to crash into the wall, its fluffy little sheep lying in a tangled heap of string and broken plastic. A yellow moon lamp sailed across the room and broke through the window, the sound of tinkling glass raining down on the street below and finally waking him from his destructive tantrum. It wouldn’t do for the authorities to arrive. He didn’t have time for their stupid questions, not if he was going to catch them.
Breathing deeply through his nose, he shoved his rage deep down inside, stored for use later when he found what had been taken. He paced the wrecked nursery, the cogs of his cold mind starting to turn.
How dare she leave me! How dare she take my son!
To think he’d thought her cowed enough. Never would he have imagined she’d have the nerve to dare to go against him like this. To actually plan her escape behind his back and succeed. That bitter fact made his rage try to rise again, and he tamped it down with promises. When he caught her, for he would find her
. That stupid cow isn’t smart enough to escape me forever
She would regret ever defying him. He’d let her meet the force of his fury, let it sate itself on her fear and pleadings. The thought of her on her knees begging made him smile, a sweet appetizer to tide him over till he made it reality.
But how to find her? He doubted she’d left a forwarding address. Ah, but she would have filled out paperwork when she enrolled. The university office would have an address, a contact in case of emergencies. The cow had a mother back East. Perhaps she’d fled there with the boy.
She would never be able to flee far enough, though. He smoothed his dark hair back and smiled coldly. No, never far enough. He would search the ends of the earth to find his son, his heir. And when he found his son and his cow of a mother, well, he’d finally do the nasty, evil things he’d been dreaming of doing to her. Maybe then would the hunger of his wrath, that living creature inside him, be satisfied.
Three years later. . .
As his calf cramped for the third time that night, he wondered,
What, by all the higher powers, am I doing
? This was, to put it bluntly, degrading.
I am the Hunter
renown killer, stealthy stalker and mysterious spy
Men respected and feared him. His foes trembled at his name, and the ladies. . . Let’s just say the ladies
him. Yet here he crouched, in the dark hour after midnight, hiding behind a rank Dumpster in an alley bordering some burger place. Definitely not something they’d be writing ballads about back home.
And what was the mightiest of hunters using his carefully honed skills for?
. Pixies. Yes, his latest mission involved the capture of one of the pesky little critters that had escaped through the thinning boundary separating the magical Realm from the rest of the world. Talk about a waste of his skills. He, who’d fought an ogre barehanded and won. The man who had taken on assassins and beasts of legend, reduced to hunting cute faerie creatures.
When he’d accepted the assignment to work undercover from his feared commander on the other side of the boundary, he’d mistakenly thought he’d be seeing a lot more action. After all, the briefing he’d received had made him believe that he would be saving the Realm from being discovered and seeing their way of life destroyed.
“The boundary is getting thin in spots, and we’ve had incursions into the Other Side. Completely unacceptable. We cannot afford to be discovered!” barked his commander as he paced his stark office.
“The mundanes would never understand. We need someone on the other side. Someone with your skills to hunt down these trespassers and take care of them.”
The hunter’s shoulders had straightened, and his already lean stomach sucked in. Excitement had filled him at the thought of a mission on the Other Side. His buddies would have, and had, killed for this mission. He’d just done it better.
“This task we are setting you will be difficult and require the utmost discretion. You will need to blend in with the mundanes around you. Begin studying at once so that you may blend in without notice. We’ve located a home for you near the agency offices that guard the portal. You will be given a mundane identity and job. You have one week to prepare.” His commander leaned forward on his scarred wooden desk and narrowed his eyes. “The Realm is counting on you, son. Your acceptance is assumed. Dismissed.” With a sharp salute, the hunter whirled about and marched out, shoulders straight, a huge smile on his face, unseen by his commander.
Back in the barracks, his comrades had whacked him overly hard in congratulations when they found out. He’d strutted around, the envy of all, and as he prepared to move into the Other Side, he’d harbored grandiose visions of his new life. Sadly, while the Other Side had proven to be wonderful with things as incomprehensible as magic itself—like cars, computers, and action movies—the job, unfortunately, did not turn out to be the heroic quest he’d thought it would be.
Take where he hid now. For four nights in a row, he’d been staking out this stinking Dumpster, all because the agency had received reports of a little creature with wings in the area. He, the top of his class, reduced to faerie catcher. He even had a—
Hold on a second, though.
It seemed his stakeout was finally going to pay off. He heard a faint whirring sound that increased in volume as something approached and came into view. A tiny, winged figure flitted through the air. Pulling his hood down to hide his face in the shadow, the hunter watched with predatory eyes, the professional in him taking over, as his prey hovered over the open Dumpster. With a quick look around and blonde curls jiggling, the little mite dove into the giant trash can for a snack.
Time to earn his keep.
He stood up silently and glided forward to peer over the edge of the bin. His prey, oblivious to his presence, nibbled on a discarded french fry with great gusto. With a swoop, the net came down, the low whistle of its flight not enough warning. With a scoop and a flick, he trapped the pixie within its silken 2
threads. The little creature went into panic mode, its little body thrashing and twisting inside the net, its squeaky words coming so fast they were incomprehensible. “Enough!” snapped the hunter, almost immediately feeling contrite. He’d have fought, too, if someone had trapped him like a bug.
The pixie settled down and peered up at him with big, jewel-like eyes, the reproach in them making the hunter uncomfortable.
“Don’t look at me like that. You know you’re not allowed to cross the border.” The pixie’s eyes glistened. The hunter felt guilt poking him hard. After all, he happened to love greasy fries and burgers too and he could understand the temptation.
“Don’t do that,” he said, sighing.
Why do I feel like such a bully?
Squashing his guilt, he reminded himself of the job at hand. “You know you’ve got to go back.”
Pulling out a small jar with holes in the lid, he lifted the net up and showed it to the pixie. “I don’t suppose you’ll just get in there, will you?”
The pixie shook its head and crossed toothpick arms over a tiny chest. Wouldn’t his comrades be laughing at him now to see him reduced to begging a stupid pixie that he could squish with two fingers to obey?
“Tell you what, if you get in the jar nicely for me, I’ll buy a bacon cheeseburger and a large fry for you to take back home with you.”
The pixie tilted its head for a moment, considering the offer, then solemnly nodded. The hunter almost chuckled at its response. After all, it didn’t really have much choice, but at least the little mite wouldn’t go back empty-handed.
Kneeling down on the dirty asphalt of the alley, the hunter set the jar on the ground and popped off the lid. Laying the net beside it, his large, yet nimble fingers spread the net open, taking great care not to snag or tear the pixie’s wings. The pixie stood up, and with a hard look at the hunter, sniffed before turning and fluttering into the jar. The hunter popped the cap with the air holes on and tucked it in his pocket, making sure the lid stuck out a bit for ventilation. So considerate of him. Not really, but his little sister thought pixies were cute, and she’d kill him if she ever found out he’d abused one. He might be tough, but his sister played dirty. He still had a scar from the time she’d found out he’d stuck frogs in her bed. And besides, while he’d never, ever, not even under the pain of torture, admit it, he kind of liked pixies too.
He folded the net and slid it into an inside pocket, one of many—did he mention his leather duster had been custom designed for today’s modern hunter? Totally badass, as they liked to say out here on the Other Side. A term he still didn’t quite understand, but had adopted after seeing it in many action type movies.
Now to find a burger place still open for business so he could keep his promise to the pixie and pick up something for himself as well before his growling stomach got any louder.
Several hours later, having deposited the pixie and a double bacon cheeseburger, two large fries, and an onion ring at the agency’s office for transport back to the Realm, he made his way home, balancing a bag of burgers for himself–double patties of course–and an icy milkshake. Not an easy feat considering he rode a Harley while doing it.
But he made it home fine. He’d always had incredible balance. Just ask his mother about the castle ledge incident, a fantastic example of dexterity that she still unfortunately remembered in great detail.
He’d never understood how mothers could remember every single mischievous incident that happened in their children’s lives. And why did those embarrassing childhood moments always get mentioned at family functions, or even better, get spoken of in great detail whenever he brought a lady friend home to for his mother to meet? He’d put a stop to that! No more family functions and no more bringing women home. The latter was easy because a lot of the women he met weren’t the type you brought home to Mother anyways. Marriage and settling down were not high on his list of priorities, no matter how many grandchildren his mother hinted at.
Coasting his bike up his silent street lined with dark houses, he clicked his garage door opener, still amazed at the technology behind it. A pity the Realm remained stuck in its old ways. Hadn’t they realized that magic didn’t have to be the solution to everything? This side of the boundary might be magicless, but the technology and machines they’d created over the years more than rivaled the finest magic a wizard could perform.
Parking his bike inside the garage, he balanced his late night snack in one hand as he carefully swung one muscled, leather clad leg off the bike.
Home at last
. He fought to hold back a yawn.
Damn late nights
He didn’t have any new missions planned for this week, so there would be plenty of time to rest.
Clicking his key fob to close the garage door and arming his bike alarm, he strutted from the garage to the front door of his house, his keen eyes taking in everything around him.