Hunting Shadows

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Chapter 33

The large brown manila envelope could only mean one thing: a new adventure. JB had left early that morning to collect another soul; and she hadn’t heard anything from Jayson’s lieutenants so she figured that nothing had changed in his condition. That left her with the morning alone to pack and plan her trip.

The Swiss Alps were beautiful; covered in snow and glistening like diamonds in the mid-afternoon sunshine. The small bush plane flew over them banking slightly to the left and she reveled in the rush of adrenaline from the plane ride.

“No partner today?” The pilot’s voice was loud over the speaker, blaring annoyingly in her ear.

She had decided to go with a new pilot since Katrina was still tied up with her father. Turning the volume down slightly on her own headset she shook her head.

“No, he’s busy this week.”

She turned her head to look out the window, closing the topic on the subject. Though she liked and had hired the pilot, she was not in the mood to discuss her relationships with her partners. “Are we coming up to the landing pad?”

“Yes, soon; we are almost there.”

“Excellent; just hover above the mountaintop here, and I’ll get off.”

She slipped into the back of the cockpit and slid into her gear.

“Wait; you’re not planning on doing a wing jump, are you?”

The pilot’s voice was loudly alarming and distressed. But that was the whole reason she had chosen the 356 Cessna. Cautiously, she opened the door, secured her backpack straps and with her feet dangling over the side, she strapped her custom-built snowboard to her feet. The pilot to his credit kept the small bush plane at a steady altitude.

“Have you ever done a wing jump before?”

“I’ll figure it out. There would optimal.”

She was pointing to the smoother side of the mountaintop.

“I wish you had told me this was what you wanted to do. I wouldn’t have agreed to this if I had known.”

But she wasn’t listening anymore, while the pilot grumbled she shoved herself out of the plane and was now plummeting into a downward spiral, spinning like a top as she dropped toward the earth.

This was the adrenaline rush she had been looking for. The wind rushing past her body, adrenaline and blood pounding in her ears and her head feeling like it was about to explode.

She hit the fresh powdered snow with a grunt and shifted her weight on the snowboard until she was gliding effortlessly down the mountainside. Maybe JB was right and she a bit reckless; but at that moment she couldn’t find it in herself to care.

“So where are you running off to this time?”

She glanced over at his shadow semi-human form slouching against the inside of the cave she had found. Oddly enough he was sucking on a lollipop.

“I thought you didn’t eat human food; what’s with the sucker?”

“I don’t usually, but I like the mouthfeel… and if I’m being honest… sometimes I miss being human.”

“Alright, fair enough; can you even taste anything?”

“Not in the slightest.” He grinned, and she shivered; though not from the cold.

“Why are you here JB?”

Instead of answering he began setting up the fire pit while she set up the rest of camp for the night. She wasn’t ignoring him exactly… more like avoiding the questions.

“So, where’s your vampire boyfriend these days?”

Sighing, she looked over the fire at him knowing that they would have to have this conversation sooner or later.

“Well if you must know, he’s in the Elder Vampire Realm, healing after the raid on Ace’s castle. How’s the city doing?”

“It’s under heavy construction, and they lost a huge chunk of the population but the cities doing alright, the people will bounce back as humans always do. How are things with you?”

“Since the raid on the castle you mean?”

“Yea, how’s Jayson?”

“We’re good… he’s healing. Ace did quite a number on him. He’ll be out for the next couple of months.”

“I’m sorry to hear, that was some fight.”

“Yea; we really worked well together, and I never got to say, ‘thank you’ for your help with rescuing him; we never could have gotten him out if you hadn’t been there; so, thank you.”

JB smiled and shrugged, a very human gesture; and she noticed for the first time that his human gestures were becoming more and more infrequent and stiff; as if he were beginning to forget how to be human.

She wondered if it were a result of him becoming a reaper, or if it were linked to the fact they spent less and less time together. She was staring into the fire, lost in memory when JB waved his hand right in front of her face.

“You ok? You seem lost in thought.”

“Oh, uh; yea I’m alright. I was just thinking.”

“Well think too hard and your head might explode.”

She chuckled, and lay down in the sleeping bag she had rolled out. “So, if you’re here; who’s watching the city?”

“Baby; I’m the King of the Middle realm; all the other reapers answer to me now. Kyros is watching over the city; training new reapers.”

She snuggled against him, a habit she couldn’t seem to break and leaned her head against his chest, watching the fire while the outside world howled and raged in the sudden snowstorm that had sprung up. Morning came and with it, a coldness like no other, the fire had gone out in the middle of the night, and JB has disappeared early that morning. She decided to text Katrina about her father, since she hadn’t heard from anyone on Jayson’s crew in a little over a week.

“Dad’s doing better… he’s been asking about you? Btw, where did you disappear to? I heard you commissioned Patrick as your pilot; said he took you to the Swiss Alps”

“That’s good to hear, and yea… I picked up a mission. Patrick was available and I knew you were with your father so I didn’t want to bother you. I’ll check back in when I’m home again.”

“Hey Eryn; be safe out there, dad would be pissed if he lost you too.”

“I will, thanks Kat.”

She bit her lip, debating on what to do next. The artifact she was after was in another realm, and she didn’t quite know where the connecting portal was. Adjusting her backpack, she decided to see if she could find it by hiking up the left trail. Birds flew in sporadic patterns, swooping and diving through the air, and the sun sparkled off the freshly fallen snow like diamonds. It looked so peaceful, so tranquil and removed from the rest of the chaos that was life. She had just crested the first mountain when something caught her eye.

A shimmer to her left, catching and reflecting the sunlight. Investigating further, she walked around to the front of the snowbank, and glimmering just under the surface of ice was a translucent wall of snow. Portals were fickle things, and one had to be careful when traversing them. She touched the ice, feeling the cold immediately seep into her fingers, but she could then gauge how thin the surface ice was. She pressed down, shattering the thin wall and revealing the source of the shimmer. This was a new portal, and excitement mingled with adrenaline through her veins.

She found a heavy rock and tied a rope around it. Experience was the best teacher and she had landed in different worlds with unknown dangers too many times to not be a little more cautious this time around. Once secured, she tossed the rock through the portal.

The rope flew forward and she waited the few minutes until the rope pulled tight. There was too much tension on the rope for it to have hit the ground, but something on the other side of the portal was preventing it from moving to either side. Maybe it caught on something or maybe it was being held by something, either way; she had her loaded 72mm pistol out and ready in her left hand. She cut the rope and listened closely. It seemed to be a long time before she heard a far-off splash under the wind whistling through the swiss mountains.

She put her pistol away, strapped her triangular kite to her back and secured her backpack to her front. Then she started running, the electrical current danced over her skin as time and space flew by in a blur of seconds and then, clear-sky as far as the eye could see. And ocean, endless and blue. She released the cord, felt the jerk of the flyer opening, caught the updraft of air currents and sailed over the endless expanse of ocean. She was lost in the pure adrenaline rush, and as she got closer to the water, she could see an entire world. Dark patches of trees, mountains, gully’s and ravines.

She tucked the kite’s wings closed, and dove towards the water. It was weird and jelly-like and she had to almost crawl through it to get to the other side. When she surfaced, she could see the trees and forests that rose and fell. It was beautiful and new. A world she immediately fell in love with. The water on this side was much more fluid and she swam to shore.

The sun was warm and the forest smelled of life and vitality, and she could hear creatures scuttling and shuffling within. The panther raised its head in the prospect of hunting. She hadn’t hunted like the animal in days, and now she looked forward to it. At least she knew the water in the lake was drinkable. She made sure to tie all of her kit together before stashing it in a tree, after that she let the panther overtake her body, her mind, and then she disappeared.

Giddy with excitement, and while she was still on her adrenaline high, she became the very animal everyone thought she was. She spent the day hunting and by that night, she was calm and sated. Being an animal gave her sense of complete calm and serenity that she didn’t normally feel as a human.

“JB, I found an awesome world full of trees, life and prey. Are you able to find me?”

She sent JB a quick text and stretched along the tree branch she was on.

The next day was bright and warm; and though she knew she should be looking for an ancient statue, she was having far too much fun stretching her limbs as a large black cat. Her shadow elongated and from it came a terrifying, amorphous, grinning skeleton with black red tipped wings.

“You know it’s really freaky, how you have a whole new set of powers that I know nothing about.”

He just grinned evilly as he sat on the branch with her. “Oh, yea baby; anyway… you called?”

“Yea, how long can you stay?”

His eyes became distant, and he looked sad. But his form was translucent and fading fast. “I’ll always protect you.” And with that, he was gone. Even though he was the king of the underworld, death was usually tied to Earth. With her reaper gone, and the world she was in settling down for the night, she decided to pick up in the morning.

She was on the move, looking for a temple hidden deep within the forest. She kept track of where she was heading, sketching important landmarks and trails; where good locations for cell towers would go. When she got back to Earth, she would be able to pinpoint and map out the planet or world she was in.

Vaguely, Jayson passed through her thoughts and not for the first time she wondered how he was doing. It had been a little over a month since the incident at Ace’s castle. And although, she hadn’t told him yet; she possessed the Vampire weapon made from the jewelry her and Jayson had found. With the help, of an off-world jeweler she knew, together they had recreated the individual pieces which she had swapped out during the fight at Ace’s castle.

Now the Vampire weapon along with Pandora’s Key, was kept under lock and key stored safely away in Tyver’s castle. Some things were best left forgotten in time and humanity was better off without them. She was also making sure that neither Jayson nor Ace would be able to wipe out the other. Like the joker and the batman, they needed each other they just didn’t realize it yet. Focused on the task at hand, she slipped through the undergrowth as no more than a shadow.

With her senses on high alert, she crept closer to the temple entrance. And though nothing out of the ordinary appeared from the forest, she had a sneaking suspicion that the temple would be full of nasty surprises. She was debating on whether it would be safe to enter, watching quietly from the protective shadows of the trees when something caught her eye.

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