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🖤 Her Adventure with the Hunters of the Night
Evenings of terror and dark pleasures
The rumors led her to a dark industrial building in an unfamiliar part of the city. She drove by as the sun was setting, and decided to return after dark to stake the place out. There was a vacant lot full of trees and brush across the street that looked perfect for what she had in mind.
Stakeout. What in the hell was she thinking? A psych professor behaving like some spy or private investigator. What had she gotten herself into?
But she couldn’t walk away from the information she’d finally uncovered after all the years of digging into William’s murder. The twists and turns, false hope, and dead ends. Now, she had a lead that definitely was something. These men may not be involved, but she could already tell they didn’t behave like people leading normal, innocent lives. Perhaps there was something to the rumors linking them to the strange occult practices and ritualistic sacrifices that had been taking place over the past few years.
She had a camera with a telephoto lens in her backpack. If nothing else, she wanted some photos of their faces to research later and find out who they were. She was also prepared with a new cloaking spell that Callum had reluctantly taught her. She was going to owe him even more than she’d already paid, which was annoying, but also a little exciting (if she was being honest with herself). She felt a familiar tingle in her tummy and almost reached down to touch herself, but quickly squelched it.
Several blocks away, she found a quiet street to park her car. Grabbing a hair tie from the center console, she pulled her long curly hair back and out of her face. She slipped into a black jacket, tugged the hood up, and grabbed her gear and backpack. The walk back to the building was a little unsettling now that the sun had fully set. This part of the city didn’t have as many streetlights as she was used to on campus.
She left the sidewalk and entered the overgrown lot, quietly slipping between the trees and bushes before approaching a spot close enough to watch the building. Sighing deeply and wishing she’d made more time to work out lately, she carefully climbed into the lower branches of a tree that gave her a good view of the entrance. Her hands were painfully scratched by the rough bark and bleeding a little by the time she settled onto a thick branch near the trunk where she could hold on. She hated heights and even climbing up into the tree made her heart race uncomfortably.
Jessica took a few calming breaths and tried to clear her mind. Using magic was always tricky and risky, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing. She had no illusions about her skills, but she was getting a little better every day. The challenging part of invoking a cloaking spell like this was knowing when to do it. As soon as she completed the incantation, the clock would begin ticking and she wasn’t strong enough — or experienced enough — to make it last for more than a few minutes. But if she waited too long, they might arrive and see her before she was fully concealed.
She hoped the dense leaves of the tree would help a little, and kept scanning the building’s entrance and the street in both directions. Very few vehicles passed by and none slowed. But finally, a large dark sedan slowly rolled into view, driving cautiously down the street. That had to be it. She quickly whispered the incantation and felt a tickling surge of magic crawl across her skin as it took effect.
It was unnerving to have no idea what she looked like from the outside since she could still see everything around her. But she had to trust the spell — and Callum. He wouldn’t betray her. He had assured her that eyes would slip past a spot that no longer made “visual sense,” ears would hear no sounds, and even her scent would be masked.
Quietly unzipping her backpack, she slid the camera and lens out, and eased the strap around her neck. She brushed an errant curl out of her eyes, looked through the viewfinder, and adjusted the lens to zoom in on the windows as the car came to a stop in front of the entrance. They were deeply tinted, so she couldn’t see inside. But the driver and passenger doors soon opened to reveal two men in dark suits as they stepped out onto the street.
The driver hesitated and peered into the area where she was hiding. She held her breath and her heart lurched a little as his face was illuminated by the dim streetlight. Something about his eyes — his facial structure — made her feel a little queasy. She couldn’t explain what it was, but he felt wrong.
She snapped a few shots before he turned away and walked around the front of the vehicle to follow the other man up the front steps. He unlocked the door and they slipped inside.
She let her breath out in a relieved gust, and the jackhammering of her heart slowed to a more reasonable pace. She was trying to decide if she should take this chance to slip away with the photos she’d already taken, or if she should wait for god knows how long until they came back outside.
Before she had made up her mind, she felt a rippling sensation across her scalp and a sizzling pop in her ears as the spell fizzled out. Suddenly, a low voice whispered in the darkness above her head, "What do you think you're doing?"
Jessica startled and lost her grip on the tree trunk, slipping off the branch and falling into the void below. A pale hand shot down and grabbed the back of her jacket, which brought her to a halt and left her dangling uncomfortably in midair. Slowly, she felt someone hauling her back up until her full bottom was seated back on her perch. She clutched the tree and whipped her head around to see who it was.
“Careful, little one. Hitting the ground from this high up would hurt. But, you’d be in for much worse if they heard you fall and found you.”
A beautiful pale face gazed down at her with a slight smile on its lips. A woman, dressed all in black, was barely visible in the tree above. Her short dark hair gleamed in the light that penetrated from the street.
What in the hell was going on?? Jessica was trapped between some sort of superwoman who had scared the shit out of her and two men who were probably even worse. She was well and truly fucked.
She stammered, “Wh-wh-who are you?”
The woman snorted quietly. “Who am I? I’m the person who saved you from breaking your neck. Who are you, young one, and what are you doing up in a tree spying on some very, very bad men?”
“Thank you for grabbing me… ummm… scary lady. Whatever your name is. Seriously. Thank you.”
The woman locked eyes with her, and Jessica felt a strange twisting twinge in the pit of her stomach. “Valeria. That’s my name. And you didn’t answer my question.”
Before Jessica could respond, the rusty metal door across the street opened and the two men stepped back outside. Again, the driver hesitated with his hand on the car door handle. He looked up and down the street, and then stared into the depths of the dark wooded lot. He tilted his head back as if he had caught the scent of something in the air. Rapping sharply on the side window, he gestured to his partner and motioned for him to come around to his side.
“Shit,” Valeria softly exclaimed. “I can fucking smell your blood, and I’m guessing he can, too. We need to move!”
Without the spell, her human scent was carried on the evening breeze with the rich iron tang of the blood on her hands. Both men appeared to sniff the air, zeroing in on their sheltered location nestled into the tree. In a flash, they split and began running with blinding speed across the street to dash into the darkness of the brush.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!! We have to go. Now!” She dropped to Jessica’s branch, wrapped one arm around her, and leaped down to the ground below. Absorbing the shock with her knees, she set Jessica on her feet.
“Do you have a vehicle nearby?”
In shock, Jessica could only nod her head.
“Where, damn it?! Where is it?”
“Th-that way,” she responded, pointing vaguely to the south.
She grabbed her hand and began pulling her as she ran faster than Jessica could. “Stay close to me. It’s your only chance to live through this night.”
They began running through the thick underbrush and dodging around trees, heading for the edge. In the darkness, she kept stumbling, but the strong woman pulled her to her feet and dragged her along.
Without warning, a dark shape launched into Jessica and tore her free of Valeria’s grasp. They fell to the ground, rolling over and over with the force of the attack, and came to a stop with her body pinned underneath her silent assailant. She saw a brief flash of glistening teeth as he lunged for her throat. She sucked in her final breath and almost had time to scream before a hot spray of blood splashed across her face.
Blinking in shock, she reached up to wipe her eyes and felt for her neck with the other hand. Nothing. It wasn’t her blood.
Valeria emerged from behind the man looking like a dark avenging angel with small gleaming blades in each fist. He gulped and gurgled as dark blood fountained from a precise incision across his throat. Moving almost faster than Jessica could comprehend, the woman lunged and slashed across both of his Achilles tendons, hobbling him as he collapsed into the dirt with a whistling shriek.
Before she could finish the job, a second dark form flew from the brush and slammed into Valeria’s back, taking her to the ground. He was much larger and began hammering crushing blows onto her head and neck. The shock of his impact knocked the blades from her hands, and she vainly twisted trying to roll free.
With a rage-fueled scream, an emerald flame erupted from Jessica’s outstretched hands and splashed across the man’s back, igniting his jacket and hair. He screamed and swatted at his head, before pivoting to dash away into the darkness with fire trailing behind him. It ignited some of the brush and dead branches, spreading quickly through the dry grass.
Jessica collapsed to the ground in an unconscious heap. Valeria quickly looked around to make sure there were no other attackers before she strode over, knelt down, and cradled the limp human in her arms.
The first man was still gurgling and trying to drag himself through the underbrush away from the approaching fire. She slipped Jessica over one shoulder as she walked over to his squirming body, raised a dark leather boot high into the air, and brought the heel down to crush his dense skull. Flames began licking the edge of his pants and crawling up his legs.
Now, it was time to go.
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