By: Catherine Olaso
Christine jolted awake, her breath strangling her as she gripped the hospital bed rail.
The crack of light from the doorway couldn’t quell the darkness invading her. Luckily, Christine didn’t rely solely on her eyes for sight.
“I know you’re there,” she said, every cell in her body alert. “I can feel you. You hover in the shadows, but I know your deadly game.”
The faintest sound rustled in the corner. A typical human ear wouldn’t have caught the noise, but Christine’s extraordinary senses were sharp and honed. She’d hunted demons since she was sixteen – a calling extended with birth, not circumstance.
“Show yourself,” Christine demanded. “And I’ll kill you quickly.”
The infinitesimal noise shifted, ricocheting to the window.
Christine kicked the blanket off and swung her legs over the bed. Dizziness pounded her skull.
The car crash only hours ago, still crippled her body. She hugged her cracked ribs and bit her lip against the pain. Injured or not, she would show no weakness to the demon. It would be difficult, but Christine knew she could still take him.
“Do you really think so?” A low voice whispered. “No, Huntress…I believe it is you who must rely upon mercy tonight.”
The curtain parted, illuminating the room with moonlight. A tall, dark figure stepped into the glow, his brown eyes keen and piercing.
Christine’s battered body tensed. “Clever,” she hissed. “A pretty one. Doesn’t matter. You may have the face of an angel, but a devil lives inside you.”
The demon smiled and ran his hand along the top of the hospital table. He took his time, as if contemplating something important.
“Give me your word you’ll stay seated until I’ve finished what I’ve come to say,” the demon insisted.
Christine clenched her hands into fists, annoyed that she’d already let the demon live let alone get close to her.
“No promises.” She grit her teeth. “Start talking…and maybe I’ll listen.”
“Christine. I have no wish for blood tonight.” The beautiful demon reached for a lock of her blonde hair, then thought better of it. “Especially yours. I’ve admired your skills for a long time, you know.”
Despite herself, Christine sat mesmerized. There was something different about him…something to earn him a chance. She shook off his charm with a hard blink.
“Keep your flattery. What’s worth risking entry into a Huntress’ room?”
The demon studied Christine a minute longer. “A coven of traitors exists among your kind. They plot to destroy the hierarchy, seeking power for themselves.”
Christine laughed, ignoring the pain stabbing her ribs. “If what you say is true, why would you care?”
“The coven endangers both our clans. It destroys yours…while creating an alliance with mine.” His lips curled back. “This cannot be. For centuries our factions have opposed each other. It is the natural order…wouldn’t you agree?” He raised a brow, challenging her.
“Why are you telling me this? I’m a soldier, same as you.” Christine kept the hardness in her voice.
“I lead a revolt on my side, but I cannot fight alone. You are young, but not unpopular. Many will listen – even follow you in your own uprising.”
The demon held up his palm, displaying his tribal runespear tattooed down the underside of his arm. “My name is Archelaos, and this night I speak truth.”
Christine couldn’t ignore the sincerity in his voice or the earnestness of his gaze, imploring her to believe him. She felt her heart lurch, disoriented at the effect Archelaos roused in her. Never before had she trusted a demon.
“This coven,” she said, raising her chin. “Identify them.”
Archelaos shook his head. Jagged strands of hair fell into his shrewd eyes. “I have no names, only auras by which to recognize them. Silver-red frames their souls; the color of treachery.”
“Hunters cannot see auras. Our gifts don’t allow it.”
“Not anymore. May I?” Archelaos lowered his palm, wanting to touch her.
Christine narrowed her eyes, but relented, her muscles tight.
Archelaos put his palm to her forehead, his flesh warm and supple. A shiver passed between them. Mortal enemies consenting to vulnerability struck both of their cores, rattling their equilibrium.
“Close your eyes,” Archelaos said, increasing the pressure of his fingers.
A sharp tingling flooded into Christine as her eyes fluttered shut. Fire and ice shot through her veins while an indescribable color flashed behind her eyelids. She gasped at its intensity and the way it quickened her mind.
“There,” Archelaos said, drawing both his hand and the pulsing power away. “You are like none other.” He trailed a gentle finger down her cheek. “A woman forged into huntress and demon… you are even more dangerous than you were before.” He bent and whispered in her ear, “Use your gift wisely, sweet Christine.”
A rap at the door startled her.
“Christine? May I come in?”
“Umm… yes, mother…of course.” Christine looked to Archelaos, but he was already gone, the shimmer of his midnight-blue aura fading fast.
The light clicked on as Isabella rushed into the room. “I came as soon as I heard. I should never have insisted you drive my car to the Council meeting.”
She sat on the edge of the bed and studied Christine’s pale face. A huntress like her daughter, Isabella’s beauty belied her age.
“It wasn’t your fault the brakes failed, mother.”
A ripple of color caught Christine’s eye, forcing her to focus on the light clinging to Isabella’s outline.
Silver-red blurred her vision. Archelaos’ warning rushed back. ‘Silver-red, the color of treachery.’
Christine’s eyes widened. Her pulse pounded while betrayal shredded her heart.
“Is…something wrong?” Isabella leaned closer to Christine.
Blinded by silver-red, Christine could only utter, “Mother…what have you done?”