I didn’t scream. I didn’t have time to; it would be swift and painless. I sat there on the floor and waited for the slashing of cold metal against my tepid skin.
I allowed an eyelid to crack open slightly, just enough to see the figure had released his iron grip on the blade; letting it fall to the floor. The metal clanged against the wooden floor and echoed through my skull. I looked up puzzled; there was only a silhouette in my view and I shaded my eyes with my hand to try and distinguish features, or a face.
I managed to muster few shaky words, “Who are you?”
The figure took a giant step forwards and came into the light.
It was a man, and a burly one too, his enormous muscles rippled under his smooth olive skin. His head was shaved apart from a singular braid draping round his neck and his eyes were black holes, pulling me in. His features were broad and beautiful but compressed into a foul scowl. He was wearing cotton pants with Aztec patterns printed onto them, his torso was bare and he wore nothing but a chain with a trinket attached. I had already noticed the torch strapped into his belt.
That’s when I saw it. His right arm. It wasn’t human tissue, it wasn’t real flesh. It was made from metal and was as cold as his eyes. It was metal that glinted, metal that moved when he moved; as if it had always been part of him, as if he had been born with it. The only way I could describe it was robotic. It began at his shoulder, as if his real arm had been brutally severed off years ago. His skin grew into and around his alien limb like it had been with him for decades. He didn’t look a day older than twenty.
“I am Eztil,” His angry voice boomed over me, sending shivers of terror over my cowering body, “I am the hunter, and the hunted.” The words rolled off his tongue with a thick, foreign accent.
I suddenly realized he was like me, fighting for survival. Kill or be killed.
“What are you waiting for?” I asked, “Go on. Kill me.” I spat, “End this!”
His expression was taken aback; maybe he didn’t expect such willingness from his victim. “Kill you?” He laughed mechanically, “I am not going to kill you!”
I drew my eyebrows together, “Why? Why not?!” I demanded.
“I have been expecting you, for all these years... And here you are,” His smile was kind, comforting, “Ivy Taylor, you are The Demon Hunter.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Alexander mused over his mug of green tea, inhaling the steam, “Ivy, is supposedly in some ancient scroll and hunting demons is her destiny?”
Eztil nodded, “Yes, that is right,” He turned to me looking quizzical, “I do not get why that is so hard to understand?”
I shrugged, suppressing a giggle. I took a sip of my tea; it soothed my aching throat and warmed me from the inside.
“So, where’s this scroll?” Alexander questioned.
“I have it.” Eztil pulled a face, “Well… I have half of it.” His face turned grave, “The other half was taken when I lost my arm.” He shook the metal limb irritably, like it was a burden. I wondered what happened to him, but before I could ask Eztil got to his feet and started rooting through his jars.
“You don’t believe this do you?” Alexander leaned closer to speak in a hushed whisper, “He’s crazy.”
“I do, actually.” I replied calmly, “I mean, how else would he know my name? How else would he have known I hunted demons? He was going to kill me Alex. He was only stopped when he realized who I was. He wouldn’t have done that for just anybody.”
“Yeah, me,” Alexander rubbed his forehead where a deep cut now lay, and grimaced, “He didn’t hesitate to attack me.”
Eztil sat back down, shaking the table as he did so, “This should help your friend, I will make up a potion and a cream, you can give it to her and hopefully she will be okay.” He laid two glass containers and a small bottle down in front of us then reached up and grabbed a handful of herbs from a hanging bunch.
“Thank you,” I said, keeping my voice steady even though I wanted to break down and sob all over him. “That’s very kind of you.”
He just smiled back at me and got to work, his fingers mixing and grinding.
I looked over at Alexander to find he was watching me affectionately, blinking with interest. I saw this and felt rather uncomfortable, “Can you find some clean water and a cloth to wash Phoenix’s wound please?”
Alexander slowly stood up, his chair scraping against the timber floorboards and began to rummage around the room.
“There is nothing like that in here,” Eztil said, getting up, “Unless, you have anything.”
Alexander stood there, looking ridiculous and lost, unable to think of anything to say. “I’ll try the van then.” He mumbled eventually and stalked off with a tremendous sigh.
I turned to face Eztil. “You said you were a hunter?” I inquired gingerly, fully aware that I was prying into something personal.
“Yes,” He replied solemnly, looking at the lit candle in the center of the table, his dark eyes unwavering from the flickering flame which cast shadows across his somber expression. “Yes,” He repeated, “A hunter of demons. Yes… that I am. For years I have been running, for years I have been hiding from them. It is time I stopped running and fought back.”
I was stunned; the demons were after him just like they were after me. I reached out and squeezed Eztil’s brawny hand weakly, “It’ll be okay, you’re like us,” I soothed in a comforting tone, “We’re in this together now.”
Grimly, he nodded in agreement, his mouth forced into a thin line. He indicated to the ring supported by a chain around his strapping neck, “It is all because of this stupid thing!”
I drew out my locket, flashing it in front of him, “Same here. Have you ever thought about hiding it?”
He shook his head, “No, I do not dare. If they find it, and open the seal, I will be dead. My soul will belong to the devil.” He scowled, “I cannot let that happen, I have fought for too long to take the chance.” His eyes held flaring flecks of anger.
“How would the Shadows find it?” I frowned.
Eztil looked at me, “I do not know for sure, it must be some kind of location spell.”
“Oh,” I looked down in disappointment, “I thought, of all people, you would know.”
“It is the only way possible,” He offered me more tea. I smiled but shook my head, “They are attracted to the soul inside – it is a beacon to them.”
“So, they’re like bloodhounds?” I quizzed.
“Yes, pretty much.”
I stared at the intricate works of Eztil’s metal arm, it glinted in the lamplight. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how did you lose your arm?”
Eztil cleared his throat. “A Shadow hoard jumped me one night whilst I was out hunting. I didn’t see them coming. I barely got away with my life.”
“The one you have now looks very expensive,” My eyes glittered excitedly, “Did you steal it?”
“My father, God rest his soul, worked for a private sector of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for many, many years.” He explained.
I gawped at him, my mouth open so wide I could have caught flies in it, “Your dad worked for MIT?” I said in disbelief.
Eztil merely nodded, “He was a manager for creating and building advanced robotic technology, technology we as the human species should not have discovered yet.”
“Well,” I smoothed my hair back from my face, “They do say that robots are the future.”
Eztil grunted, as if he disagreed, then went on to say, “My father taught me the basics from a young age, I could build toasters from scratch before I could count to ten.” He took a sip of his own tea before continuing, “After that he started teaching me how to construct prosthetic legs and arms. When I was fifteen years old I could build an entire working limb from scrap metal.”
“So, you didn’t steal it?”
“No, I made it.”
After a short pause I asked, “How long have you lived here?” I gestured to the room, “It looks like a long time, how come they haven’t found you?”
“Hex bags,” He said simply, when he caught a glance at my questioning look he continued, “A mixture of herbs put together in a bag, they circle the entire room.”
Sure enough, when I cast my gaze over the walls, I saw them. Little leather bags strung up all round the room, “How do they work?”
“They hide the beacon. It is like we are invisible to them.”
Alexander opened the door and both Eztil and I jumped. “Sorry,” Came the muffled apology, “All I could find was this...” He held up a water flask, that I presumed was full, and a moderately clean cloth.
“That’s fine,” I told him, exhaling in frustration. Was that really the best we had? Then again, I had almost grown accustomed to the hospitality of Eztil’s living space. “I’ll boil the water and soak the cloth first.”
Alexander grabbed a metal bowl from a nearby table, and then passed it to me, “Thank you,” I said, clutching the cloth under my elbow.
Eztil had, not what I would call, a hob, it was more like a camping cooker, powered by gas. I poured the contents of the canister into the pan-like bowl sat above the stove and waited. I tapped my foot impatiently until tiny bubbles started to form on the surface of the water. I soaked the cloth whilst the water was still bubbling, to ensure it was somewhat sanitized before I washed Phoenix’s wound. I turned off the heat and, again, waited. The water slowly cooled, when it had chilled enough for me to carefully tip it into the metal bowl Alexander handed me.
I got up and went over to Phoenix. I knelt beside the bed, my face close to hers. “It’s going to be okay,” I said, my words barely loud enough to hear, “You’re going to be fine,” I reached out and stroked hair back from her face, “We’re going to help you, we’re doing all we can.”
“She can’t hear you,” Alexander said cynically, “She’s unconscious.”
Before I could reply Eztil’s voice rose above us, “Actually, even though she may be uncon… un-un… uncon–”
“Unconscious,” I helped.
Eztil grinned at me in thanks, “She can still hear you. She is not dead, she is not sleeping. She is in a special coma. She can probably hear every word we are saying. If that is the case, she knows we are trying to help her.”
I gave Alexander a smug look; he just rolled his eyes in response.
“How?” I asked, “How can she do that?” I didn’t turn my head. After cleaning her leg injury, I had rolled the cloth into a sausage shape and was dipping one end into the water and then applying it over Phoenix’s head in attempt to cool her down. I knew it was pointless but I felt like I needed to do something to help her.
“She has put herself into a magical sleep, she is a witch. Witches can do that.” Eztil said simply, “She is magic.”
I focused on Phoenix, confused and amazed all at once. She was protecting herself; she had turned off her body to prolong her life. She was buying us time. Time to work out how to save her.
“You clever girl,” I sighed, “You clever, clever girl.”
Phoenix didn’t move, she just lay there. She looked as pale as a perfect pearl and consequently very, very sick. I could virtually see her lifeless body deteriorating before my eyes. We needed to act fast.
I shuddered and walked back over to my stool, my eyes darting over to that mysterious chest. I longed to know what was inside. Was it jewels? More herbs? Weapons? I sat down and forced my eyes to focus once again on my cup.
No one spoke. Alexander slumped in his seat, twiddling his thumbs impatiently. I stared at him, fascinated by the patterns his thumbs were making in the air.
“It is nearly done,” Eztil announced, causing me to jump out of my trance, “Just a few more things.”
“Where are you from?” I watched with intent as Eztil brewed a strange, foul smelling remedy in a miniature cauldron.
Eztil lifted his chin, “Mexico City… originally, my mother is from the Philippines.”
I nodded, “Cool.”
Eztil walked over to the bed and bent down over Phoenix, his fingers working on and around the wound. I crept up beside him, silently watching in hope.
After the cream was over the wound it stank. It smelt like someone was burning meat in a swamp. I coughed and covered my nose with my sleeve, it knocked me sick. “Now what?” I asked, muffled by my forearm.
“Now, we wait for her to wake up,” Eztil seemed deep in thought, staring at Phoenix’s pasty face, “It should not take long.” He gave me a smile of empathy, “Do not worry, she will be okay.”
I tried to smile back, but my lips refused to form one.
“So,” I heard Alexander settle once more into a seat, “Can we see the scroll? The one that’s about Ivy?”
“Not yet, I will have to get it from where I hid it,” Was the reply, “I will get it when I go hunting at dawn.”
“The sun will start to rise soon,” Alexander said.
“I apologize. You must be hungry. I could go now, if you wanted, but I would not get anything big, a couple of rabbits. No deer for dinner.”
“That’s fine,” Alexander and I said at the same time, my stomach rumbling for something proper to eat.
Eztil got up and wandered around the room, gruffly grabbing items such as a long, brown coat and a wooden bow with a quiver of arrows attached. And then, without a sound, he left.
I sat back down beside Phoenix and continued to apply water to her forehead; neither Alexander nor I spoke for a while.
I reached out to feel Phoenix’s temperature, big mistake, her skin was scorching hot. I snatched my hand back in surprise. “It’s not working!” I exclaimed manically, “It’s almost been two hours!”
“Then it’s not septicemia,” Alexander groaned, “If it was, she would have either woken up, or died by now.”
“Then what is it?!” I cried, “What is it?”
Alexander was sat at the table, his head face down on the smooth wood, “I don’t know Ivy, if I knew I would be doing something about it.” He didn’t raise his head, I supposed he didn’t have the energy left to reply properly.
I suggested, “You should get some sleep.”
Alexander hadn’t asked for any of this, it had been thrust upon him, he had volunteered out of the goodness in his heart to leave his old life behind to help me. He didn’t deserve this, or the attitude I sometimes gave him.
“You’re exhausted… And you look terrible.” I smirked, even though he didn’t see.
He chuckled meekly and lifted his head as if it weighed a tonne, “Cheers love.”
“Go on, get to bed,” I ordered playfully, pointing in the direction of our van parked outside.
He stood up wearily and approached me, he didn’t stop until our bodies were touching lightly, and the tension between us was enlightening. “Is that an order, missy?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” I winked seductively, “If you don’t obey, I’ll have to punish you.”
He ran his thumb along my jaw, “Maybe I’d like that?”
My skin trembled with pleasure under his touch; I took a deep breath and said, “How can you do that?”
“Make me forget about all the bad things in my life?”
He stopped stroking my jawline, “I didn’t know I did.”
“Hmm, quite often.” I laughed softly.
“Well, I must be doing something right,” He yawned, “I’ve always been quite the charmer.”
I smiled, shaking my head, “Goodnight Alex, sweet dreams.”
He grinned at me, “Goodnight.” He kissed my forehead and then he was gone.
I sat on the edge of the bed next to Phoenix and waited in silence, hardly breathing, taking in my new surroundings one final time and sat patiently for Eztil’s return.