Hunting Shadows

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Chapter 18

Eryn and Jayson suited up in the deep-sea scuba diving gear. Her ears popping as the mask suctioned to her face.

“Ready to do this, lass?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

She responded to his thick voice coming in from her earpiece. The captain checked over the gear, made sure the breathing tubes were aligned and working, along with the rest of the scuba equipment before sending them below the freezing water.

Underwater was much different, the current dragged them under immediately; tossing, tugging, pulling and sucking at them. It dragged them into the dark waters as the temperature continued to drop.

A hand gripped hers, and she looked over to see the dark form of Jayson holding onto her hand, and miraculously swimming with the current towards a sunken ship at the bottom of the ocean.

The dark hulking form of the ship rose to meet them, and schools of silver fish scattered at their approach.

The ship had been sunk for decades becoming home to the various underwater sea creatures. Algae and corals covered the rusting hulk and bottom feeders and crabs scuttled here and there out of sight. That far down the current was not nearly as strong, but it was nearly pitch black.

If it hadn’t been for their eye enhancements, seeing in the dark waters would have been more disorienting than it was. They entered through a large jagged hole in the side of the ship; she followed Jayson through the skeleton into the belly of the beast. He pulled her onto a coral encrusted ledge. The darkness of the ship made his form a shadowed outline against the blackness.

“If I remember correctly, the earrings should be in a locked box either in or around the bridge. We didn’t trust anyone with the earrings of Charisma because we didn’t want some foolish human tampering with what was not theirs.”

His voice sounded thicker than usual and distorted by the breathing mask. She nodded and motioned for him to lead on.

They swam through the water until they had reached the bridge. Small bottom feeder creatures scattered at their approach and the disturbance in the water.

It was freezing cold that far down and as pressure built, her head began to feel heavy and like it stuffed with cotton balls. Jayson looked back at her, his eye scanner picking up on her elevated heartrate and slightly pinched breathing.

“Almost there, lass.”

They swam on. The door to the bridge was jammed shut, and crusted with algae and corals and debris from decades of build-up. Jayson slammed his foot into the door handle, putting all the force of vampire strength behind the blow.

The skeleton groaned and underwater creatures darted into the shadows at the noise. It didn’t do anything to open the door. He kicked it again and again until the door budged just a tiny bit.

A bubble of stale air rose outward to meet them and putting his shoulder against the door frame he shoved hard against the door moving it slowly until there was enough of a space that both could get through.

Inside was another world. Instead of the blackness of the interior of the sunken ship, the bridge was an underwater haven of kelp, algae and brightly colored coral. The ceiling showed the ocean from an upward angle. They could see the currents churning and bending, waving and weaving through the ocean.

The sky above them was dark and thunder clouds snarled out their anger while the winds tore and howled. It was an odd thing to watch a storm from underwater.

Jayson motioned her forward and she followed. The box was under the captain’s chair, hidden in a compartment with a sliding metal panel. The box was of simple construction and design. He picked it up and then followed Eryn out of the bridge and back through the skeletal ship. Once out they let the water drive them to the surface. As soon as they surfaced, Captain Darugan grabbed them and hauled them onto the ship.

“A little bit of harsh weather we’re having.”

He yelled over the deafening noise of the raging storm. She nodded, laughing at his comment.

The captain knew storms, and sailing in them would be highly suicidal; especially that far out to sea. Jayson joined her below deck while the captain and his crew manned the storm.

“Some storm huh?”

“Oh, aye lass; sea storms be a great nasty bitch to deal with.”

She chuckled at his sense of humor, and wrapped the blankets tighter around her body. Thunder boomed above them, and a massive wave crashed against the side of the boat, sending her reeling into Jayson. He caught her, holding her close to his chest. She buried her face against his chest and prayed the storm would end quickly; she was more than ready to get home on solid ground again.

The storm lasted quite a few hours, and she spent most of them curled into a ball in the corner of the ship below deck covered in blankets. Her partner in the meantime had gone above deck, not just to smoke but also to help the crew with battling out the storm as it battered and raged against the single lone ship.

To her credit; the S.S Marina held on incredibly well. The boat had been outfitted with the latest storm-resistant technology along with a few enhancements made by the captain: such as dual anchors and state of the art navigational tech.

“Land Ho; Lass, we’re here.”

She cracked her eyes open at the sound of Jayson’s rough voice. She must have fallen asleep some time during the night. The sun was shining through the port windows and he was crouching in front of her holding a steaming mug of delicious smelling coffee.

They pulled into the dock, and secured the ship before the crew could help Eryn who looked mildly sea sick and Jayson who just looked kind of bored.

They thanked Captain Darugan and headed back to Jayson’s place. The earrings were small pearls, imbued with magic and charm. She could feel the power that radiated through them as she held them.

“So, what exactly do the earrings of Charisma do to or for someone?”

“Well if a person were shy or quiet, or didn’t do well in public situations like parties and gatherings; and they wore the earrings, they would immediately become comfortable and boisterous.

“A shy person would become more lively and noticeable; whereas a person who’s already charismatic would become even more so; more over-the-top and excitable – life of the party kind of person.”

“Are they weapons?”

“Well, sort of … one’s a flashbang grenade and the others a smoke bomb.”

“Neat… how do they activate?”

“You simply take them off and push down on the tops then throw.”

“Sweet, that would come in handy; I’ll have to get my guys to research something like this. It would be quite useful on the missions.”

“Do you always come across dangerous situations and creatures on your missions?”

“Most times; somethings either trying to kill us, eat us, or sacrifice us.”

“I see….”

Was all he said before getting up to go back outside for a smoke, leaving her sitting at the kitchen table studying the earrings. His personal chef was frying something that smelled of garlic, onions and meat.

The other various members of his staff mostly kept to themselves, doing the chores and maintenance they had been hired to do.

Later, that day, his daughter Katrina was supposed to be coming over to train. The cook was just setting out plates of steaming beef slices on bread smothered with onions and mushrooms and floating in gravy when the doorbell rang. Jayson went to answer it, returning a moment later with a brown package in his hands.

“What’s that?”

“I’m not sure, Karsa; did you have anything ordered?”

He looked at the cook as she finished setting the plates on the table.

“No sir; you would have been notified if anything were on order.”

She shook her head and continued to set the table. Her black hair was pinned behind her head in a bun, and her dark olive toned skin set off her deep brown eyes. Something about the package was bothering Eryn.

“I wouldn’t open it if I were you.”

“Why not, my eye scanner isn’t picking up on anything dangerous…. It’s not a bomb if that’s what you’re thinking lass.”

“Maybe not… but something about it doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it just smells off…”

He raised an eyebrow; but put the package on the counter all the same.

They finished eating and the staff had left for the day. Jayson took the package to his study where he had a safe designed to blow or disable certain things. The scanner beeped showing the all clear; he shrugged and took the package out.

“It says all clear, no wires no nothing; just a small packet of pine leaves.”

He slipped his finger below the packaging and pulled. She just reacted on instinct; tackling him and knocking the package out of his hand a moment before it exploded into a thousand tiny particles of greyish powder. The oxygen in the air began to crackle and they dived behind his desk, squeezing into the large square for the chair. The second explosion rocked the room, sending papers and things flying in a hazardous maelstrom of sparks and debris.

Jayson growled low and threateningly, his eyes glowing with an inhuman brightness. His fangs elongated fully and he truly looked demonic. Eryn pressed herself further into the corner, trying to get away from the terrifying vampire.

“Jayson?”

Her voice was a mere whisper in the sudden darkness of the room.

He looked at her, and recognition seeped into his eyes, his face slowly changed back to normal.

“I would never hurt you. I’ve been sworn to protect humans, never to hurt them.”

“Alright… Shall we go see the damage?”

He breathed deeply through his nose, trying to quell the rising anger that threatened to overwhelm him.

He was over 5,000 years old; this wasn’t the first time someone had tried to kill him and the person he was with. She wasn’t quite sure if she should offer him solace or leave him to his internal turmoil. Cautiously she slipped out from under the desk, and between one moment and the next she was a sleek black panther, blending in with the shadows and darkness of the study.

The destruction of the study was nearly as bad as what they figured it could have been. Papers and debris were scattered everywhere and a section of the wall had been blown out. Small fires smoldered along the book shelves and floor, which he easily distinguished with a fire extinguisher.

“Who would have done this?”

“Most likely one of the Blades; or their leader’s sending a message.”

She could tell he was still struggling to contain the anger. He strode purposefully into the next room, went to the desk and pulled out a piece of paper that held a greenish tint to it. He wrote something on the paper before pulling out a small packet of bluish grey powder and very carefully dusting the paper with it. He sealed the envelope and tucked it into his coat pocket.

“Are you alright?”

“I’ll be fine; not the first time a bomb’s gone off in close quarters.”

She chuckled, but the sound was higher and breathy and his retina scanner picked up on her elevated heartrate and the slight tremor in her hands.

His study was a mess of shattered bookshelves, statues, and paper, wood and computer parts.

“How did you know it was a bomb?”

“Call it a sixth sense; like I said… it’s not the first time a bomb’s gone off in close quarters. Going on the missions, travelling worlds, I learned to pick up on things that don’t smell right…”

“You have an increased sense of smell because your panther?”

“And… a military experiment. The enhancement drugs they used on me, enhanced everything from physical senses to –” She flexed her fingers and her eyes went dark and distant. “Everything else.”

He went to her and wrapped his arms around her; the hard strength of the human surprised him and called out him on a level he didn’t want to acknowledge right at that moment. She stiffened a moment before wrapping her own arms around him and burying her face in his chest.

“What’s the plan now?”

“Well, I’ve got to set up repairs to my study, and in the meantime, we’re going to train and I’m going to find out who did this.”

“What kind of training?”

“Every kind, if we’re going to work together; I need you to be able to take on a vampire without difficulty. Will you be willing to learn?”

“Of course.”

Training with Jayson was the most brutal thing she had done in her life. She was panting hard and sore from bruises and strenuous combat exercises in the center of the training room.

She blocked instinctively as he brought his arm down and then swept his legs out, effectively bringing him down. He rolled and she caught him across the throat with her forearm and he coughed, but lashed out with a kick to her ribs.

She gasped and slid across the cement floor. He crouched ready and beckoned her forward. Her eyes turned golden yellow and she snarled.

He approached cautiously sliding his right foot in front of his left and she crouched low, prepared for his next attack.

“You’re very good, and your stamina is astounding.”

“Thank you; you’re very good as well.”

She was listening to his heart beat strongly under her fingertips while she idly traced patterns on his bare chest.

“You know if this is going to become a habit between us, I think we need to start training more often.”

He just chuckled, a deeply satisfying sound and kissed the top of her head. Thoughts and plans were swirling like a tornado in his head. Not even the sex had calmed the inner storm. After training they had done it in the training room, in the shower, against the kitchen counter and on the living room couch before lastly coming to bed and he made her scream his name in pleasurable ecstasy for the sixth or maybe it was seven times that day? He was surprised he wasn’t sore and stiff from all the physical exercise and yet all it gave him was focus. Eryn had fallen asleep against him, her breathing slow and steady, and if he was being honest with himself… he really liked having her in his bed and training with her.

She offered a fresh perspective in his otherwise quiet lonesome life. She was a phenomenal fighter and a fantastic lover. She was fun, and a little reckless if not a little crazy. But she was also strong, and beautiful and determined, interesting, and smart. And she was human.

Inside he knew he would have to break off what they had, and after they found the other pieces to the vampire made jewelry, he would have to send her back to her own life. Protected of course. She shifted against him and muttered something in her sleep. With her features relaxed, she looked young; but no less beautiful.

The Blades would stop at nothing to destroy the Armies of the Night, and with Jayson at their head, he was a prime target for them. Anyone who he was with was also a target, and that meant Eryn. He would never purposefully put her in harm’s way. The more time he spent around her, the more he was beginning to love her. He sighed and leaned against the headboard. The other three pieces would have to wait until the Blades were dealt with.

They already had the amulet of Speed; the earrings of Charisma; and he had the pendant of Toughness. One of his lieutenants had their own pieces of magically imbued jewelry from the collection.

The earrings he would probably give to his daughter; since she had vampire blood in her, the earrings would not harm her as much as a human. He snuggled down next to the human who intrigued him and sent him over the edge. His arm tightened protectively around her, and just before he slipped into unconsciousness he heard her say his name on a whisper.

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