Wading through the gate was like moving through water. Lucious’ limbs were heavy. The only thing that tethered him to the world was the hand he gripped as they were consumed by the void. Within this abyss, he could not see her or hear her fluttering heartbeat.
The darkness dissipated, and they emerged on the cracked dirt.
Lucious scanned Helena to make certain she was in one piece and stole a brief glance at his body.
The hunters were not too far behind. They jumped out of the gate with their weapons drawn and the items in their backpacks rattling softly.
“What is that thing?” Helena pointed to the eight-foot tall bald man standing by the mirror-like circular gate they came through. His lips were stitched together with a black thread. A shadow as black as the demon’s eyes shifted around him. It morphed into trousers and a tucked in shirt.
“Whatever it is, I doubt it’s friendly,” Maya whispered.
The creature’s lips stretched into an unnaturally long smirk. The shadows from his body reformed into a scythe at his side and materialised into a real object.
Lucious yanked on Helena’s arm and pulled her to stand behind him.
The creature gripped the weapon with his clawed hands.
The hunters didn’t wait long. They raised their weapons and fired off silver rounds into its chest, but it didn’t seem to do anything to the monster they were facing as he took a threatening step in their direction. The bullet holes closed a second later.
“Run!” Ben shouted, and they turned on their heels towards the barren wasteland.
They did not get far. Some kind of barrier separated the gate from the much smaller demons. They lurked on the other side—waiting for them to emerge.
“Shit,” Maya cursed and fired off more rounds into the mass of demons. Loud hisses escaped from within the concentration of bodies, yet none fell to indicate any mortal wounds. “Unless it’s explosive rounds, bullets are useless.”
The link shook with agitation, and he glanced at Helena rubbing her shoulder nervously. Lucious returned his attention to the main threat. “Helena, hold on to me and don’t let go.”
With her eyes flicking between the demons, she did as she was told and grabbed Lucious’ arm. “We can’t use the blade here.”
Ben grasped Maya’s shoulder, yanking her back. “I’ll distract the big guy. The rest of you should get going.” He pointed both of his pistols at the advancing demon.
“What are you talking about?” Maya shouted, hurting Lucious’ sensitive ears.
Her partner eyed Lucious. “The vampire can carry you both out of here with his speed. It’s impossible for the four of us to make it.”
“You can’t be serious!” Maya protested.
Ben pushed his partner into Lucious’ arms. “You better take care of her. I will be seeing you on the other side of the gate.”
Lucious grasped both women and lifted them as he would two sacks of potatoes. Not the most glamorous escape he could envision, especially when the female hunter flailed as he gained speed. She almost managed to knock him to the ground a few times as they fleeted past the seeking claws and snapping jaws with razor-sharp teeth.
They surfaced on the other side of the demon horde that shifted to chase after them, and Lucious shook the hunter under his arm. “Stop fighting, wench. I am not doing this because I want to either.”
“Maya, listen to him!” Helena pleaded.
“What if something happens to Ben?” Maya shouted. “He’s my partner! We take care of one another.”
“We do not have time for your complaining,” he said. “Be silent. We must find a hiding spot. My legs are getting tired.”
Lucious did not say how tired. A burning sensation had set in. Vampires speed was fine when it was moving alone. Carrying heavy objects or people sped up the process of muscle tearing. And, he did not want to be incapacitated with two bickering women at his side in the middle of a demon-infested realm.
He scanned the area for anything that could be considered as a hideaway. The demon stampede had disappeared as the monsters could not keep pursuing them, and he was thankful for it. When he reached a small hill, he let go of both women and rubbed his thighs better. The burning in them had overpowered the other sensations.
“We have to go back!” Maya said.
Lucious glared at the hunter. He gave up on his legs and straightened his posture. “You cannot possibly expect me to endanger our lives because you’re incapable of trusting your partner.”
“I trust him, but I can’t help worrying, you parasite.”
“Lucious is right. Ben will head back through the gate. It was still active when we ran away,” Helena said.
Maya crossed her arms. “If it was this monster in Ben’s place, you would be singing a different tune.”
“If I was the one staying behind, I would expect Helena to finish the task.”
Maya’s scowl melted into lip-biting agitation. “Fine. I’ll kill the damned demon and go back. But, one major problem remains. Where the hell is he? How do we find the right monster in this endless wasteland of monsters?”
“There is something over there,” Helena said and pointed at a large dome-like structure encapsulating golden skyscrapers.
“Going there isn’t a good idea. It looks like demon-central,” Maya said.
Lucious inclined his head. “It would be wise to remain hidden until we figure out where the demon could be.”
“Lazarus probably already knows we’re here. That guy has been planning this whole thing for months. So, he won’t want to share his hard-earned trophy with other demons,” Helena explained and rubbed her right shoulder.
The hunter mimicked her action as she added, “I am sick of it. This whole thing might be a death-trap, and we have wasted Ben’s efforts for nothing.”
Lucious studied the two women. “Why are you doing that?”
Helena frowned. “Doing what?”
“You’ve been touching your shoulder for a while now.”
Helena’s hand fell away. “That’s where the mark is. It’s itchy.”
“It’s also a way for that demon to track us if he isn’t doing so already,” Maya added.
“Does the mark work both ways?” Lucious asked.
Maya gaped at him—an expression that highlighted how young and inexperienced she was. “Well, I’ll be damned! He planned this. He wanted us to come to him like the little lost lambs that we are.”
“I wouldn’t call us lambs,” Helena said softly.
“For once, I agree with the hunter. We are walking into an obvious trap with our eyes closed.”
Helena nibbled on her lower lip. They fell silent, and Lucious studied the rest of the land. Over two dozen miles east, a small mountain reached towards the swirling grey clouds. Lucious was hesitant about being in a world without a single ray of sunshine haunting his every step.
Glancing back in the direction they came from, he spied the gate about a mile away with the demons swarming it like locusts. The disturbing view made him understand how insignificant their knowledge about demons was. They were not of the same power level or strength.
He sampled the air. It was similar to the Human Realm but drier. How long would they need to search this place before they came in contact with more demons? How long until the supplies in the hunter’s backpack run out?
“What do we do now? We have one weapon that can kill a demon, and it has to be lodged in his heart to work. That is if Reaver spoke the truth,” Maya said.
“It’s the best hint we’re going to get,” Helena replied. “I don’t think Reaver was lying. I remember reading something about it at Vincent’s library a long time ago.”
“Because we have one weapon at our disposal,” Lucious began, eyeing the bulge around his ankle where the sheath of the blade dug into his skin, “when it comes to it, I want you two to stay back. I will take on the demon.”
Maya snorted. “Are you serious? That only works if he’s alone.”
“What if something happens to you?” Helena asked.
“I will deal with that when the time comes. Right now, it is best to locate the demon and get out of here before we are discovered by the others.”
Maya pointed at the mountain. “Ten bucks he’s in there. If we go off the information Helena gave us, and the itching in our shoulders, I bet that’s where he’d be. It’s not far from the gate and away from their bling city.”
Stones shifted at the bottom of the hill, and he looked over his shoulder. A few dog-like demons managed to draw near and were eagerly climbing the hill. He voiced his frustration in a form of a curse. Grabbing both women, he fleeted for the mountain, ignoring the dull pain in his thighs and calf muscles.