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Harlequin and the Hunters
The glass shatters and my body falls to the pavement. I muffle a scream in my sleeve- my wrist is twisted awkwardly from falling on it, surely broken. My eyes watering, I stagger to my feet and limp away from the dangerous alleyway as fast as the numerous bleeding cuts on my leg will allow. As I run (if it can even be called that), I mentally call out for Giz. A few moments later, his black reinforced Jaguar pulls beside me, purring, and a door swings open. I leap inside and slam it closed behind me.
“God, Quinny, what the hell were you thinking?!” Pixie stares, open-mouthed, at the wounds gaping through my ripped clothes. She points to my injured hand. “That’s broken. Did you go on a frigging suicide mission?!” I glare at her, and she immediately stops talking and puts her hands on the worst of my leg injuries. She Surges, and a wave of energy hits me, pulsing through my leg. I sigh and lean my head back against the seat, absorbing as much of her Surge as I can without overdosing. The cut heals, leaving absolutely nothing but my pale, muscular leg behind, and she shifts her hands to focus on the next bad scratch, her violet eyes narrowed in concentration.
Up front, Giz taps auto and turns around in his chair, the headrest lowering so he can see Pixie and me in the backseat. “Quin, we’re coming up on Canal Street from Bowery. Arrow called in and said he found a Duo. He wants permission to engage.” As usual, his voice is incredibly deep for such a small guy, mixed with a slight metallic edge that roughens his tone.
I close my eyes. “Who’s at the Nest?”
“Lyra and Arrow. Blaze’s a few blocks away.” He pauses, and I know he’s reaching out with his mind to locate the others. “Marrow is engaged with a Screamer near Central Park. Can’t see anyone else at the moment. The Duo- before you ask, because I know you were about to- is on Leonard Street, near the Health Clinics.”
I sigh and rub my eyes with my uninjured hand. “Fine. Permission granted- as long as Blaze and Lyra go as well. And tell them to pick up Marrow on the way in, as well as some pizza or something. Enough for everyone, this time. We don’t want another freak-out like last time.” He grunts and turns back to the wheel, turning off auto and returning the headrest to its original position.
Marrow and Tig both reach for the last slice of pizza at the same time, and their eyes shoot up to the other as they stare down their opponent. While they’re distracted, Blaze reaches between them and snatches it up, biting into it with relish as their faces fall. I roll my eyes at him as he settles beside me and plants a huge, sloppy kiss on my cheek. Pixie looks up and her lip curls.
“Ew, Blaze, you got pizza sauce on her!” She wrinkles her nose and shudders, purposely making a show of turning her back on us and immersing herself in her book. He pretends to lick it off, eliciting a few fake gags from our teammates, then wipes my cheek with his sleeve. I smile appreciatively at him, but he’s already too busy chomping on his slice of pizza to notice.
Arrow slides down the banister of the stairs leading out of the lair and deposits his bow around Giz’s neck, who glares at him before putting it on its hook on the wall. The tall boy plops down next to Pixie and steals a brownie off her plate, shoving the entire thing in his mouth. She turns to him, disgusted. “Ugh, Arrow, you’re such a bigot!” She says, her eyes glowing just the slightest and her fingertips sparkling with purple lights. He ignores her and reaches for another brownie, but she slaps his hand away. He gets shocked, his hair standing on end.
“Tut tut tut,” He says, grinning. He flattens his hair with one hand and pokes Pixie in the side with the other. “C’mon, Wings, you’re supposed to be the fun one!” She narrows her eyes at him, the back of her jacket rustling suggestively. “Just loosen-“
“Cut it out, Arrow.” I force as much authority into my voice as I can. “If you’re going to be a pest, go bother someone your own size.” I smile wickedly. “Me, for example.” Tig wolf-whistles and everyone laughs. For all his skill in archery and his good looks, he wouldn’t dare mess with me. He rolls his eyes, knowing he’s been beaten, and lounges on the ground with his head on his forearm. He closes his eyes and promptly falls asleep- one of the many luxuries of being out hunting all day. Pixie glances up at me for a moment, her eyes full of gratitude, then picks up her things and announces she’s off to bed. She stands, her short white hair fluttering around her face, and flounces off to the girls’ room.
Soon, it’s just Blaze, Lyra, Giz, and me left in the Common Room. Lyra hums to herself and flips through a fashion magazine, and Giz fiddles with one of his little machines. Blaze has fallen asleep with his head in my lap and his foot propped up. Giz looks up at me and grins. “Some beast today, huh?” He says, his voice tinged with boyish excitement. Sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s only thirteen, with his smarts and his deep voice. I nod, too tired to start a conversation. Giz, however, is unusually hyper for the time- until I notice the two empty cans of soda beside him. I’d forgotten to make sure he didn’t drink too much caffeine before bed again, as usual. “I mean, I didn’t get to see the fight, but you were so torn up, and-“
“Gizmo,” I groan. “Please stop talking.” He pouts for a moment, then the machine in his hands whirs and he pops up, running to the little room he uses as a workshop with an enormous grin on his small face.
Lyra finally finishes her magazine and seems surprised that the room is so empty. She looks awkwardly at Blaze and me, then smiles slyly. “Well, I guess I’m off to bed now, boss. Don’t bother coming in yet, you might as well stay out here… alone… with Blaze… alone.” She winks.
I growl under my breath. “Oh, shut it, Lyra. Go to bed already, you’ve got an early morning tomorrow, remember?” I turn on my brightest, fakest smile. “You’re on breakfast duty!” She scowls, the ugly expression marring her usually gorgeous face, and scampers off to bed.
I’m suddenly struck by how right she was. I glance down at Blaze’s peaceful face, his usual playful smile replaced with the unassuming calm of slumber, and I’m stuck between wanting to let him sleep and wanting desperately to escape to the safety of my room. I sigh and shake his shoulder.
He jolts awake and bolts up, nearly colliding with me. Yet another perk of being a hunter. His eyes flash around the room, startled, then he relaxes and looks at me. “Oh, hey, Quin. Sorry I fell asleep.” For once, he looks extremely awkward. “On your lap. Um. In your… nevermind. Thanks for waking me up, I guess?” He rubs the back of his neck with his hand, then stands up and extends his hand to me. I accept it and he pulls me upwards. “Goodnight, Q.” He grins a little and hugs me, then backs up and salutes. He turns and walks into the boy’s room, and his hair catches on fire. I suppress a giggle and walk into my own room.
Lyra’s movement as she pulls on clothes in the half-light of a flashlight wakes me, and I groggily sit up in bed, wincing as my wrist, not fully recovered from my fall despite Pixie’s Surges, sends pain shooting up to my elbow. I slide out of bed and make my way to the door, yawning.
Marshall finally came in sometime during the night and his fast asleep by the table, his head propped up on his forearm. I place a hand on his back and Surge, giving him just enough of my energy to wake him up. He blinks slowly and straightens, staring at me. I sit next to him, leaning back in my chair and propping my feet on the table.
“Good hunting?” I ask, meeting his eyes. As I watch, he wakes enough to widen the slits of his pupils and turn the unnatural gold to a warm brown. He nods. “What all did you catch? Any Sleepers? Arrow, Blaze, and Lyra took down a Duo, and Marrow got a Screamer yesterday.”
He sighs, and I feel guilty for an instant. He hates talking- the low purr of his voice disgusts him, though it’s quite good for calming terrified newbies. “No Sleepers. A Duo, a couple of Turneds, one Sucker.” He raises an eyebrow. “Arrow and Blaze worked together to down a Duo?” I nod, and he laughs, the soft huff of a pleased cat. Then he stretches languidly and stands, walking into the boy’s room as Marrow and Tig come out, already arguing about something.
“Quit it, boys, you’re acting ridiculous!” Lyra says, her voice especially high in the early morning hours, as she emerges from our room. They glare at each other, then Tig bounces over the back of the chair Marshall had just vacated, cupping his hands around the back of his striped brown and black hair and leaning waaay back. Blaze, as he passes, pulls it backwards and Tig topples to the ground, his tail whipping in surprise. We laugh, and Blaze sits on the edge of the table beside me. Lyra arches her eyebrows at me and opens the door to the outside. It slams shut behind her, a gust of cold air ruffling our hair.
“So, boss, Giz’s already picked up a live one on 54th. He thinks it’s underneath the Cleaner’s on the corner of 54th and Fort Hamilton, but he can’t be sure. Want me to take a team and check it out?” He grins, his dark eyes glinting with the thrill of an anticipated hunt.
I shake my head. “No, send Tig and Pixie.” He pouts. “Oh, don’t give me that look! You, me, Marshall, and Lyra are going after a couple of Suckers after she returns from getting breakfast. Giz told me about ‘em last night, but I figured it was smarter to hunt Suckers in the daylight, when their powers are weakened.”
His face lights up and he whoops, punching the air. “Suckers! My favorite! Righty-o, Q, I’ll go wake up Marshall.” He notices the look I’m giving him. “Don’t worry, I’ll give him a Surge first! God, I’m not heartless, ya know!” He winks and kisses me on the cheek, then leaves. I glare at the others, staring at me with knowing looks on their faces.
“Oh, shut it!”
Marshall surveys the ground from his precarious perch on the windowsill six stories above, his black tail flicking. His ears, partially covered by his thick curly black hair, swivel on the top of his head, pointed and tufted like a cat’s. Normally he wears a hat- his particular powers come with a price he doesn’t like to pay- but while hunting he ditches the hat so his hearing isn’t hindered. He looks down at the three of us squatting below and nods, then quickly climbs down the building with soft leaps from window to window. When his sneakers touch the concrete, he crouches beside us.
His eyes are wide and an incredibly dark yellow, his nose filled with the scent of our prey. He briefly grins, a dark grin that shows the points of his canines, and holds up two hands, one fully spread and the other closed into a fist except for his pointer and middle fingers. I curse under my breath. Seven Suckers?! We hadn’t seen that many in one group for years… not since the Vampire Epidemic of ’09. We lost Gibbon that year, to the nasty little demons. They sucked the life right out of him- I had to put a stake through his heart to end his miserable existence. The thought of his childish face, marred by enlarged canines and red eyes, still haunts me to this day.
I shudder, and Blaze puts a hand in the small of my back. You okay? He thinks, sending the thought directly to me. Is it Gibbon? I nod, my breath hitching in my throat before I steel myself and nod again, sharply. He looks knowingly at me, then removes his hand from my back and returns his gaze to Marshall.
There are some Wolves there, too, Harlequin. I glance at Marshall. His eyes are leveled on mine. I did not want to tell the others until I had told you. There are three of them, but I smelled more. His ear twitches. This does not bode well. We should ask for backup.
I agree. I think, pointing the thought to him, then I broaden my mental view and send my voice into the rest of the team’s minds. There are Wolves in there, guys. Marshall says there are at least three, maybe more. I suggest we call in the others. Blaze and Lyra look shocked, then a wall falls over their expressions and they nod. I send out a message to the rest of the team, touching Tig and Pixie as they return to the Nest with bloody clothes. They send back an affirmative, and I briefly get a picture of two dead Sleepers underground as I brush past Tig’s mind. Marrow’s harder to find, until I find him punching the life out of a Screamer near Chinatown. I urge him to hurry, then reach out for Arrow and Giz. I find Giz first, testing out one of his machines in Central Park with Arrow lounging on a tree nearby (I’d quickly decided, after Giz joined us, that he was always to be accompanied by one of us while out and about after a nasty episode with a Wolf). I relay the message, then start to retreat back into my own head.
Then my mind whispers past the bright, pulsing light I only see with one of my hunters.
I gasp out loud, and instantly Blaze and Lyra are at my side, putting their hands around my wrists and joining with my mind as Marshall’s tail stands on end and he quietly hisses. Together, the three of us focus on the light, and the image of a weeping girl, her bright blue eyes wide, becomes clear. Nothing seems out of the ordinary about her- until I widen my gaze and notice the tail. She’s underwater, and I can feel her overwhelming fear as she slaps at the tail and backs into the wall of the pool she’s submerged in. My eyes widen, and I reach back out for Pixie. Newbie! I shout into her mind, and she pauses, waving for Tig to go on without her. I send her the address and an image of the girl. She’s underwater- grab her, quick, before anyone sees! She nods and starts jogging down the street.
I finally pull back into reality, and Blaze gapes at me. Lyra’s mouth falls open, and she quickly turns to Marshall and fills him in with nearly inaudible whispers. His ears flick and he stares at me.
Giz and Arrow zoom around the corner, Giz perched on his back for a better speed. They crouch beside us, and we wait for the others to arrive so we can ambush the Suckers- and, it appears, the Wolves.
Arrow fires one of his specialty arrows over the wall, and there are shouts as the arrow explodes in the center of the group of sleeping Suckers. A Wolf comes jumping out of a window, halfway between his human and animal sides, and Blaze reaches out and snaps him toward us. There’s a crack, and the man howls for a moment before Marrow crushes his skull with one hand. He collapses onto the ground, his head bashed in. Lyra gags and covers her mouth.
I nod to Marshall, and he leaps over the wall with Tig clinging to his back. Halfway in the air they separate and Tig jumps towards the door while Marshall lands in the center of the crowd of Suckers. There’s a scream, then the door swings open and Tig peeks around the corner. “Guys, what are you doing out there?” He jokes. “The party’s inside!” I grimace at him and lead my team into the garden.
A few Suckers are locked in battle with Marshall- and they’re losing. He swipes his fist across the unearthly beautiful face of a female Sucker, and she crumples. Tig springs into the air, over a few yelling Suckers, and slams a wooden stick into her chest. She gurgles, then her blonde locks fade to gray, her flesh sinks onto her bones, and she explodes into ash. Tig crows and runs after another.
Across the yard, the dead Sucker’s mate screeches and runs for Marshall, his red eyes glowing with hatred and his canines extending rapidly over his lip and onto his chin. I hold out a hand, and he freezes, his mouth stuck in a snarl. The world recedes, and though I feel my team spreading across the yard, my eyes are on the Sucker. I bounce up to him and then release Time. The world rushes back in, the screams of dying Suckers and Wolves filling my ears like a demonic symphony, and the Sucker falls to the ground. He looks up at me, perplexed, and I smile sweetly at him.
You shouldn’t mess with my team. I shoot my thoughts into his mind like daggers, breaking into his mind and spreading my words into the darkness of his brain. He breaks out in shivers and clutches his head. As my friends destroy the other nasties, I focus my attention on him, searching him. Why are you here? I ask, going through his memories as I send the thought. He cowers, his teeth receding. Why have you teamed up with Wolves? Your kind sees them as scum. Vampires and werewolves don’t mix. Why have you- He glares at me, and I get an image.
A beautiful woman, the Sucker Tig killed, dances across the room, still human, and into my- his- arms. He smiles down at her and she beams, a hand on her belly. I know she’s pregnant, can remember when I- no, when he discovered her pregnancy. They were so pleased. I shake myself from his thoughts, and focus my attention back on him. He’s smirking just the tiniest bit- he can tell he’s shaken me. My hands shake on the wooden stake in my hands. I raise the weapon to plunge it into his heart, knowing that I couldn’t handle going back into his head. As I aim downwards, he sends another memory.
The woman, Emma, screams as a red-eyed man pulls her away from me. I lunge after her, yelling, but the man holding my arms back is too strong. I wrench my wrists, nearly breaking them, but I can’t escape. I watch, my heart tearing in two, as the man holding my beloved plunges razor-sharp teeth into her porcelain neck. Her eyes flutter and close, and her body quivers. I scream, pull, and cry for her. The other demons laugh at me. He drops her on the ground, blood dripping from two puncture marks in her skin. My eyes fill with tears. Then there’s an excited shout, and another comes out of the nursery with little Aaron dangling from his grasp. Aaron screams, pumping his tiny baby fists and yelling, his chubby face turning red. The man holds him up by his arm, near the face of the terrible woman near me, and shakes my child. There’s a sickening crack, and Aaron screeches. His pain horrifies me, and I struggle towards him once again. The woman notices my reaction and smiles. “He means much to thee, this little babe?” She says, her voice stuffy and old. I weep as Aaron does. She waves a hand, and the man holding my precious child flings him to the ground. Aaron’s screaming stops. I collapse in the arms of my captor, sobbing. My wife, my son- dead. “Kill me,” I beg her. “Please, kill me now!” She turns her back on me and walks away, kicking Aaron’s lifeless body as she passes. “PLEASE!” I scream, and wrench myself from the demon’s grasp, launching myself at her. “PLEASE!!!” She looks down at me and smiles. “Very well.” She says, and pulls me to my feet with unearthly strength. She plunges her own teeth into my neck, and my body explodes in pain.
I scream and return to my own body, the stake falling from my hand and hitting the ground. The Sucker on his knees in front of me smiles just as the woman had in his memory and jumps towards me, his mouth open and his teeth sharpening.
Wood blossoms from his chest, ripping through his suit. He looks down at it, surprised and almost fascinated by the sudden addition to his physique. Then he explodes, and Blaze stares at me through his ash.
“What the hell happened back there?!” Blaze screams, turning on me. My eyes fill with tears, and I angrily blink them away. “What, you just suddenly decided you wanted to die?!”
“God, I’m sorry, okay?!” I yell back, and my neck burns as my team looks away from me- all except Blaze, whose glare is leveled on me. “I didn’t ask to see his memories, I didn’t ask to-“ My voice catches on the lump in my throat. “Oh, God, their son…” I burst into tears and bury my head in my hands, hiding my face from the others. I’d worked so hard to be tough, be respected… And that was all falling apart because of a damn Sucker!
I feel hands on my shoulders and look up. Blaze is crouched down in front of me, his dark eyes soft. He gently Surges, not because I needed the energy but because it was comforting. I lean my forehead on his shoulder and cry.
Arms encircle me, and I feel the minds of all of my teammates pressing gently on mine, distracting me with images of cakes and kittens and bleeding Sleepers slowly dying (Marrow’s particular brand of comfort, don’t ask me why). Blaze’s mind is most prominent, not sending me images so much as just being there. He draws circles on my back, slowly relaxing me and calming me down. I sniff and straighten, my team drawing backwards as their hugs aren’t needed any longer. I smile gratifyingly at them, wiping my tears away with one sleeve. Lyra pats my knee, humming a series of notes woven with comfort as Tig pets my hair. The hair thing is annoying, but I can tell he’s trying, so I’m thankful. Blaze helps me to my feet, and we all walk towards the car, closer than before.