Though the shadows didn’t quite understand what a “park” was in word, they knew in thought and theory. It was a place of fun, and of training. A place that reeked of fizzy joy, tangy adrenaline, and the rich, almost peppery anger of screaming children forced to leave before they desired. The shadows here didn’t fully comprehend the emotions, but Kyair knew them all well. Each of their delectable flavors, every one as different in taste and smell one from another as fruit to a human.
Though, he had to admit, he almost couldn’t choose whether he liked the taste of the humans’ emotion or food more.
The pools of darkness whispered to him, drowning out the distant, muddled echoes of the day beyond the in-between place. Guiding him. Keeping tabs on the two he’d seen—or almost seen. Though they’d refused to show him the other girl, they at least kept track of her for him now.
Kyair stopped at the side of a plain, two-story home. An unwarded
home. Pompous fools. No doubt, they thought they were deep enough in their little “safe” community that they didn’t have to worry about invasion. To them, there were no monsters here.
Even when they
were the ones more worthy of the title than the beings they hunted.
Kyair smirked. If only his intended victims had been that foolish.
He let his shadowy, wispy form solidify in the darkness. Even against the rest of the shadows, his body stood out as black as night amidst the Inbetween. A shadow to rule them all.
In the world of humans, the shadow beside the house seemed to quiver, then darken. But only the deserted side street bore witness to the nearly imperceptible, human-shaped mass hiding within. The gurgled, hollow echo of a lawnmower ricochet through the air, adding to the faint background noise of the otherwise quiet.
He took a deep breath, letting the chilled air of the Inbetween seep through him. Letting it cool the uncomfortable warmth from the stretches of light that had tried to infect him in his travels.
He scowled out at the blurry world of light in front of him, as if the expression alone could frighten the sun to submit to its gentler sister sooner. But its discomfort would be worth it. He’d make
it worth it.
The park was near, that much he was certain. He had beaten the girls here. Alas, from what his shadows told him, the mystery girl was delaying them. Taking a ride on a motorcycle. Wretched hunter.
He sighed heavily, taking the moment of dull inactivity to mull over the situation.
Two of his four targeted families were out on assignment, that much he’d gleaned in the night. Their houses stood vacant, the darkness left to play at its leisure through their homesteads. But the Gennings girl and Prescotts remained. Even the Prescotts had a child, from what the not-quite-words of the whispering Inbetween told him. And if anything would call the Gennings couple back, it would be the disappearance of their daughter.
And what better way to get revenge? Blood for blood. Family for family. He’d take his time, though. Oh, yes. He’d enjoy feasting on their
A sadistic smile quirked at his lips, twisting at the the black mass of his face. Whoever had stated “Revenge is sweet,” must have been a noxtren. More, though, their suffering would ensure their families knew their children died for the sins of their parents. For the innocent lives they’d ripped away from him.
The innocent for the innocent.
If you could call the spawn of hunters “innocents.” As a plus, their death would mean there would be two fewer hunters in the world.
He sighed and leaned his back against the shadow of the house. The murk of the light world turned the solid, crisp edges of its silhouette into a smoky afterimage of itself where the sunlight touched it. There, but intangible to him in this existence between the human world and Nocreum. The unguarded walls stood out from the warded homesteads of other hunters nearby, a faint colored aura shimmering over their forms, distorted where they bathed in the daylight.
He tapped his foot impatiently. If they didn’t get here soon, he may just have to risk another trip jumping shadows.
Ava frowned theatrically at Jason’s comment about keeping his cat company. “Don’t worry, Hanna!” she called in the general direction the cat had stalked off in. “I’m sure he wasn’t calling you a werewolf!”
Ava eyed Lydia at the other girl’s refusal. Ava looked at her thoughtfully, trying to figure out if the answer was for her sake, or Lydia’s. She raised her brows, then gave a small, encouraging smile. She jerked her head toward Jason and his bike. She nodded almost smugly when Lydia finally accepted the offer.
If her friend was going to figure out how Jason really was, it’d have to be for herself. And the sooner, the better.
Catching as Jason’s expression changed like a kicked puppy offered a steak, Ava rolled her eyes. Can he get any more ridiculous?
Ava swiftly took the bag her friend handed her to look out for. She smiled at the promise of keeping everything in it if Lydia didn’t come back.
“Sure.” She slung the bag over her shoulder. “But if you have any snacks in there, I can’t guarantee they'll still be there even if you do
get back!” A sly smile spread further over her orange-painted lips at Lydia’s last promise. “You know you’ll probably regret that, right?”
As soon as Lydia was situated on the motorcycle behind Jason, Ava stepped fully outside the garage. And not a moment too soon. With the garage around it to amplify the engine, it rumbled to life with the volume of a herd of trumpeting elephants.
Ava barely heard Jason’s shout to her. She rolled her eyes, her whole head accentuating the action, but she was sure he didn’t see it; the motorcycle rolled from the garage like a living thing, narrowly missing her.
She cupped her hands around her mouth, trying to amplify her voice. “Remember, no kissing on the first date, Lids!” she called after them, unsure if they would hear over the engine.
She watched for a moment as the bike sped down the road. Adjusting Lydia’s bag, she stepped over to the mailbox. She eyed it, trying to figure out how best to set it right.
She tried simply to straighten it, but it tilted right back over as if wilting in the summer heat. She sat Lyida’s pack on the ground and tried a couple more times, even kicking some earth and rocks at its base, but what damage Jason had dealt it wouldn’t be so easily undone.
With a shrug, she gave up, reshouldered Lydia’s bag, then sat on the small sliver of grass between sidewalk and street. She wouldn’t put it past Jason to take longer just to spite her.
She picked at a peeling rose mixed in with the fake tattooed flowers raining down her arm, then moved to take her phone from her pocket.
She looked up as a convertible Chevy Camaro rolled down the street, its top open. Her shoulders slumped and she looked toward the sky in dismay as she recognized the driver. The navy car slowed as it neared her, then parked at the curb a couple yards from the mailbox.
“Good morning, Ms. Gennings!” Matthew Sallow called as he opened his door. “Or is it afternoon now?” Half in and half out his car, he checked his watch. He sighed heavily, frowning at it as if it was its fault for making time pass. “Afternoon, then.”
Ava forced a smile in greeting to the community overseer. “Good afternoon, sir!” She felt almost proud at how convincing the lightness in her voice sounded.
A man in his late thirties, Matthew took a moment to smooth out his short, curly blond hair. He opened the door and stepped out. He retrieved a tan business suit jacket matching his pants from the back seat and tossed it over his shoulder, holding on to it by the collar.
Ava couldn’t help but think he looked more like a rugged, clean-shaven politician than a hunter.
“Your tie’s crooked.” Ava nodded toward the black tie standing out against his white, long-sleeved undershirt.
He glanced down and scowled at it. With a sigh, he slung his jacket over the car door, then worked on straightening his tie.
Ava struggled to hide a grin.
“Are the Bennetts in?” Matthew retrieved his jacket, brushed a speck of dirt off its front, then draped it over his arm.
Ava shrugged. If Jason had said, she hadn’t been paying attention. “Jason just left, but he and Lydia should be back soon. No clue about his parents.”
“Lydia Prescott?” His eyes lit in surprise.
Ava’s brows rose. “Know any other Lydias around here, sir?”
“No, I suppose not.” Matthew paused, his gaze turning thoughtful. “They spend time together often, do they? The Bennett boy and Lydia?”
“No. But I’m sure Lidd—Lids,” she corrected her nickname, “is hoping that’ll change.” For now, anyway.
“Should I tell her to say hi to her parents from you?”
He pulled himself from his thoughts, his gaze returning fully to Ava. “No, no.” He waved his free hand in a lazy dismissal. “Their homestead’s my next stop once I’ve concluded my business here.” He turned, retrieved a brown briefcase from the front seat, then strode down the sidewalk. The sunlight shone dully off his slightly scuffed shoes.
“About a hunt?” Despite Ava’s dislike of hunting, even her
interest was piqued. In this era, where missions were delivered in the span of a phone call and email, a personal visit from an overseer to deliver one was rare. Especially to a lower-ranking family like Jason Bennett’s.
He glanced over his shoulder with a grim smile. “Yes, Ms. Gennings. A hunt.”
In Lion’s Ridge, you didn’t question an overseer. But Ava scrambled to her feet and trod after him. She held her hands loosely behind her back, Jason and Lydia’s adventure momentarily forgotten.
“What kind of hunt?” she asked, falling in slow stride with him in the driveway. “Something in town? Or something big elsewhere? Must be big, if you’re recruiting both the Bennetts and
the Prescotts! Though, I don’t get why’d you need the Bennetts with the—”
“Ava,” Matthew let out an annoyed sigh as he stopped. He turned and looked down at her, standing about half a foot taller than her. “I’m afraid I can’t discuss the specifics with any not listed for the cases in question. But they aren’t linked. My business with both are separate matters. Matters which,” he raised his hand with the briefcase, checking his watch again, “I’m already behind on. So, if you’d excuse me, Ms. Gennings.”
“Ugh,” she threw her head back in exasperation.
This Society and their stupid secrets. It wasn’t like the Bennetts and Prescotts weren’t going to brag about it, anyway. All it took was a couple beers and a hand of poker, and the whole community would be in on the secret while pretending they weren’t. Rumor had it, overseers knew everything that went on in their community, so she’d think he’d know that, newbie overseer or not. That he'd actually showed up on their doorsteps
would be rumor fodder enough for the innumerable nosy neighbors already peeking through their windows.
” she finished through a heaving sigh as she turned and slumped back to the curb. She glanced back as Matthew sat his briefcase down at the doorstep and rang the doorbell.
Ava leaned forward and rested her chin in her hand. Trying to keep her curiosity from running wild and forget about this newest hush-hush hunt, she could only wait for Lydia to return.