“Thank you so much for coming, Sir. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Gerry plastered a fake smile on his face and tried to not step on the little man walking next to him. The man was a dwarf. Not a dwarf as in a little person, but an actual dwarf. He’d been present at the gathering where Gerry had accepted the contracts, but had been hidden from view by the simple fact that his head didn’t clear the pew.
The dwarf’s contract made it into the pile despite his height, and now Gerry found himself south of the city on the McDowell Nature Preserve. The small patch of land with developments on all sides and Lake Wylie running along most of its boarder wasn’t anything special to look at if you had human eyes. Those that had the spark of magic, Divine light, or Infernal fire saw what it really was. McDowell Nature Preserve was a sanctuary for nymphs that had emigrated from Greece half a millennia ago.
The nature spirits took the forms of young girls. They flitted among the trees, rivers, and streams of the preserve where they endowed the land with beauty. The nymphs were a harmless species that favored singing, dancing, and generally being merry. Gerry found their existence interesting but ultimately pointless. Still, they provided a convenient alibi.
“It’s terrible, just horrible, Sir.” The dwarf, the Preserve’s caretaker, was on the verge of tears. “Six Dryades and three Naiads gone in a fortnight. Who would do such a thing? It’s an unthinkable loss. They’re on the endangered species list. We can’t afford to lose any more.”
It was obvious who was doing it. Tracks were all over the place, and reports of animal attacks on the human population were common over the last two weeks. It was the Lycans who’d found the Preserve and were feasting on the nymphs.
<Word on the street is they’re delicious.>
Satyrs had hunted the nature creatures in the old country, and things had only become more dangerous once they reached the new world.
<And now I’m here to save the day.>
“Thank you for your contract, Dwarf.” Gerry didn’t remember the little creature’s name. “I’ll take it from here.”
The little creature looked more than a little relieved at not having to enter the dark forest with Gerry. It was for the best. The dwarf’s stubby little legs wouldn’t carry it that far before the wolves snatched him up and ate him. The imagery of the little man trying to run for his life brought a chuckle to Gerry’s lips which he quickly disguised as a cough. The little thing didn’t even notice as it scurried back towards its miniature cabin built into the side of a hill.
Gerry had another thought about huffing and puffing and blowing houses down, but stopped the train of thought before it could continue. He had a job to do and it required him to concentrate.
By now it was easy to harness his Chi and pull it out to create weapons. He created the sword and shield he’d used on his first contract against the troll. He buckled the sword to his belt – it was easier to maintain the construct if he had physical contact with it – and he slung the circular shield over his back. Next he crafted an eight-foot spear from his energy.
<Just like old times.> It had been a few hundred years, but Gerry hadn’t forgotten his spear-wielding days as a skirmisher in Seere’s legion.
With his weapons ready he marched into the forest looking for his prey.
Grimm walked through the neighborhood sniffing the air and searching for the scent his master had given him.
There were other two-leggeds running around as he prowled the streets, but his master told him to ignore them. They were not to be harmed. Harming them would lead to pain. Grimm loved his master. He didn’t want to disappoint him. Pain was the least of his worries.
Human’s couldn’t see a Hellhound, which was why they weren’t all running in absolute terror as a large black beast, slightly larger than a Great Dane, walked down the center of their idyllic suburban street. His fur was midnight black and sleek. Anyone who touched it would find it was only slightly less yielding than steel. Grimm’s kind were built to last, to track, and to kill their pray for their master.
Grimm could feel his creator. He was far away to the south, almost too far to feel him through the bond of creation. Master was on his own hunt. Master would kill his own prey tonight.
Grimm breathed deeply and his forked tongue lashed out and tasted the air. The prey was close. The scent was strong here. He turned his head left and right. The scent was weaker to the left so he started walking toward the dwelling on the right. It was tall, three stories, with a well-maintained lawn, and white picket fence around the edges. Grimm easily leapt the obstacle and continued around the back.
The scent only grew stronger. The prey walked this path consistently.
Doors weren’t a problem to a Hellhound. There was no warding to keep him out, so Grimm focused on the other side of the door – and he was there. Only a small tremor through the fabric of reality revealed his hop from exterior to interior.
An adult two-legged sat at a table with its face buried in an electronic device. It smelled similar to the prey but was not it.
Grimm thought about it but shook his big head. His master’s orders were specific. He might come back later if master allowed it.
Another creature inhabited this dwelling, and it came around the edge of the table screeching.
“Shut up, Ruby!” The two-legged growled at the dwelling’s four-legged defender.
The defender couldn’t see Grimm, but it could smell him. It didn’t even come up to Grimm’s knee. It wasn’t a threat, but it could alert the prey to Grimm’s presence. A sub-vocal growl echoed out of Grimm’s throat. The defender cut off mid-yelp and toppled over onto its side – paralyzed.
The two-legged didn’t even notice.
Grimm followed the scent to a set of stairs that led down. He took them silently, his padded feet hiding his approach from his prey.
Grimm took one last sniff and knew he had who he was searching for.
The room was cloaked in an unnatural darkness, but Grimm was a creature of darkness and fire. It only served to heighten his senses. He stalked through the inky blackness until he came to a bed. The prey was fast asleep and unaware that it was living its last moments.
Grimm pulled himself up onto the bed until he was towering over the prey.
The prey was small, skinny, and weak. Grimm could smell the scent of magic in him, but it was soft.
Grimm didn’t let the prey finish.
His master’s command echoed in his head as he clamped his massive jaws down on the prey’s throat. The prey gave a strangled scream as serrated teeth sawed into him as Grimm shook his head back and forth.
He backed up and easily pulled the prey neck first out of the bed and onto the floor. A thick trail of blood marked their path.
The prey was trying to say something and weakly batting Grimm’s shoulder with his fists, but it was no use.
Grimm thrashed, flinging the body like a rag doll all over the room until he felt the crack of the prey’s neck break. The prey went limp. Blood coated the walls and continued to flow from its corpse.
Grimm opened his mouth to an unnaturally large size and revealed his black maw. Like a black hole the body of the prey was sucked toward him before shuddering. It stopped like it was caught on something, and then a bright object pulsing with power detached itself from the body and disappeared into Grimm’s gullet.
He burped as the soul passed through him and down into Prince Seere’s realm. Master had been very specific about leaving the body, but not the soul. Still, Grimm had to mark his conquest someway, so he lifted his leg and peed on the remains.
There was another pop of relativistic disturbance as Grimm went from the interior to the exterior. He broke into a trot as he headed back toward the city. His bloody tongue lolled out the side of his mouth and dripped the life essence of the Dark Mage of Charlotte along the middle of the street.
Master had promised him a treat if he did what he was supposed to. Grimm couldn’t wait. His three tails wagged excitedly as he headed home.
Completing this contract served multiple purposes. One, it provided him an alibi for Grimm’s mission. Two, it satisfied Vicky’s incessant grumbling about the Lycans to the south. Three, it continued to show the supernatural community of Charlotte that Gerry was a good guy. Finally, it allowed him to kill something.
It had been too long since he’d killed something, and Lycan’s like these unorganized mutts weren’t terribly difficult to kill. So, to make it more of a challenge, he waited for the full moon. They were at their strongest under the light gray orb in the sky, their instincts were sharpest, and they were at their most vicious.
<But they never look up.> Gerry stood on a tree branch fifty feet above the forest floor.
He could see the whole pack moving beneath him. They were spaced out over several hundred feet with one wolf farther forward. Their alpha was at the center. A large gray wolf half against as big as any of the others. Gerry hoped to deal with him last. First he needed to deal with the others. There were four of them.
A plan quickly formulated in his head, he waited for the right moment, and he stepped off the branch.
He plummeted to the ground without a care in the world. He bent his knees at the last moment before smashing into the spine of the first wolf. The creature didn’t even have time to cry out in pain as Gerry snapped its back in half and plowed it into the ground. The parts of the creature that didn’t explode outward crumbled until the Lycan was hardly recognizable.
The Alpha’s head whipped around at the sound of its underling’s death. It gave a sorrowful howl that had an uptick of rage at the end. The pack stopped moving forward and immediately charged Gerry. Two headed straight for him, the Alpha hung back, and one vanished from sigh, presumably circling around to get him from behind.
It was all very predictable.
He stood there and watched them charge. They were faster than an average wolf, moving close to a hundred miles an hour when they got up to full speed. Their power was heightened by the full moon and their animal instincts were in overdrive after the death of their pack mate. Gerry used it all against them.
At the last second he leapt off the ground at an angle. Soil and roots exploded around him from the power of the leap. One of the wolves craned its neck trying the snap at him while trying to turn. It missed, and trying to turn at that speed didn’t end well. It tripped and careened into its partner. They both went tumbling into the underbrush.
Gerry’s launch took him to a nearby tree, he used it as leverage, pushing off it, and going even higher.
The sound of claws on wood was the only advanced notice he had. Instinctually, he tucked and drew his sword. The wolf that had tried to go around had climbed a tree and launched itself like a fury bullet right into Gerry’s path.
Gerry’s tucked chin pulled him into a somersault. The wolf barely missed him, flying right over him, but Gerry didn’t miss. His sword lashed out and cut open the wolf’s stomach. Blood and guts fell to the forest floor and the creature howled in death. It smacked into tree Gerry had been aiming for with a crunch and then fell twenty feet to the ground. It didn’t get up.
<Two down. Three to go.> Unfortunately, Gerry’s tuck had also thrown him off course.
He hit the tree hip first with a THUD that vibrated up into his shoulders before falling toward the ground. He got his feet up and pushed off the tree causing it to crack under the pressure and tumble to the ground. Gerry launched horizontally away from the tree, back flipped, and was able to get his feet under him before he hit the ground at an angle. He dug a shallow trench before he stopped.
He straightened up and was immediately hit and knocked to the ground by a ball of gray fur. The impact knocked all the wind from his lungs, but he was able to get his shield back around before razor sharp teeth followed up the Alpha’s attack.
Sparks flew as the giant wolf tried to eat his shield. <Move!> His instincts screamed at him. Staying still meant death is a fight like this.
The Alpha lunged again, digging his teeth into the shield. Gerry angled his shield to the side, throwing the Alpha off balance, and delivering a swift kick to the ribs. The blow staggered the gray wolf, and gave time for Gerry to arch his back and launch himself back to his feet.
Just in time, because the two other wolves came barreling back in to join the fight. The weren’t all the much shorter than Gerry on all fours, and when a brown one reared up on two legs like a horse it dwarfed the Infernal Dux’s human form.
Not that it mattered. Gerry knew the Lycan was trying to bring its full weight to bear on the shield in the hopes of breaking it, but it never made contact. Gerry spun lightly out of the way, so the wolf came down on hard ground with Gerry to its side.
Where he promptly stabbed it in the neck.
The brown wolf collapsed with blood squirting from the severed artery, but there wasn’t any time to celebrate. The final black and gray wolf were circling him now, snarling with hate.
Gerry considered his options and started to pour power into his shield. It glowed hot like molten iron as the power built up. The black wolf took a step back, but the Alpha wasn’t afraid, and it snapped at its remaining underling to get it back into line. The black wolf shook its head like if had just been physically struck, snarled, and charged.
Gerry was ready. He caught the wolf mid leap with a blast of light from his shield. It stunned the Lycan and didn’t allow it to see the spear Gerry summoned and was bracing into the ground. It pierced the black wolf’s heart, but didn’t stop it from collapsing on top of Gerry.
The Alpha didn’t hesitate. It jumped on the corpse of its final pack mate and began to tear through him to get to Gerry.
He partially succeeded.
Gerry felt claws rip into his shoulder before he could bring his shield back around. A chunk of flesh was torn from him and blood because to leak down and stain his clothes.
Now it was the Infernal Dux’s turn to growl.
He lashed out with his sword and took the Alpha’s foot off. The big wolf hissed in pain, but kept up the attack. Claws rasped against Gerry shield over and over again. His dismissed his Chi spear and summoned another one. He drove it out from the mutilated wolf carcass and caught the Alpha in the shoulder. This time the big wolf squealed in pain and backed up. It slipped it its own blood, and without the traction of its fourth foot it fell hard.
It scrambled to get back to its feet, but the fall was all the time Gerry needed. He exploded out from the wolf carcass, showering the nearby forest in gore. He raised his sword up high above his head as he fell and drove it into the alpha’s skull. It went through skin, bone, brain, and exited the lower jaw.
The big gray wolf shuddered violently and then keeled over.
Gerry took a moment to recover, regulated his breathing, and felt the adrenaline begin to fade. With it came a rush of pain that almost drove him to his knees.
<I got lucky.> He grimaced through clenched teeth.
A Lycan Alpha’s bite was poisonous and would have required Gerry to tap into his Infernal nature to heal. It would have ruined the whole reason for him being out here in the first place. Now, he didn’t have to pretend that the fight had taken something out of him. It would cement him even more as the human martial magician, and no one would be the wiser.
He reached out with his mind and located Grimm. The hellhound was already moving deeper into the city back toward the demesne.
<Good boy.> He thought and got to his feet and started to trudge out of the forest. He had to see the dwarf on the way out to confirm he was where he said he was when he said it. He expected the questions to start coming his way by morning.
<We both had a good hunt today.> He could feel Grimm’s elation at master’s mental presence, and he had the sudden urge to scratch the big dog’s belly. <Vicky’s whores can wait.>