The hairs on the back of his neck bristled after stepping inside the manor.
He paused. His night sight was better than that of a human, but his amber eyes still had trouble penetrating through the gloom. Moonlight seeped in through vine-covered windows, allowing him to see a little better.
He clutched his two-handed sword, Imance. Its platinum blade winked at him, giving him comfort in knowing it was his protection.
He stepped slowly, passing sumptuous furniture draped in cobwebs and filth, the smell of mold assaulting his nose. It didn’t look like much now, but thirty years ago this manor must’ve been a splendor to behold.
He worked to keep his breathing steady. Any of the shadows could hold dark secrets, so he trained his ears for the slightest noise.
And that’s when he heard a whisper of something leaping through the air.
He instinctively dropped to a roll, coming back up in a crouch. Something thudded down on the spot where he’d just been standing.
The being that stood before him–a dead body controlled by a demon–appeared as a normal human woman in her mid-twenties, with exceptions. Her skin was greenish gray, her fingernails and teeth were much pointier than they should be. Worst of all were her glowing eyes; the infernal scarlet irises could paralyze anyone with fear.
Luckily, Tavio was used to those penetrating stares. However, seeing the Possessed stirred something inside him, and a face came into his mind from long ago.
His hesitation was only a second long, but in that time the woman pounced, snarling. She took a vicious swipe at him with her claws, and narrowly missed as he sidestepped to dodge. Strike after strike, she continued coming after him, but he ducked and spun away from her razor sharp nails.
At one point, the Possessed tore through his white linen shirt and ebony cloak; the new clothes he just purchased. An intense fire flashed within his eyes.
What he wanted to do was sever her arms clean off so he could get easy access to drive his blade through her heart. But that would mean desecrating the body unnecessarily, which would not please this woman’s family. Not to mention it was bad for business. Her only wound had to be the fatal one; the one that slew the demon within.
He pirouetted to the woman’s right, using the flat of his blade to parry her oncoming swipes. He then dropped low and stuck his foot out, swinging it around so that the Possesed tripped, landing on her back. She shrieked as she fell.
He flipped Imance in his hands and thrust it down, aiming for the Possessed’s heart to finish the battle. The quickness of a being from a nether dimension rivaled his, so his sword tip met the rug as the woman rolled out of reach.
“Damn,” Tavio growled, lifting Imance again.
The Possessed woman sprung up onto her feet in one swift motion. He stabbed Imance at her, but she jumped back, high enough to land crouching on a chestnut table. As she did, one of the designer vases on it wobbled and crashed to the floor in shards.
The woman paused to consider the broken vase. Then, she wrapped her fingers around another one and heaved it at him.
He held his blade up to shield his face as the vase collided with it, bursting into pieces with a clatter. He started to lower Imance, but more vases came flying as the woman hurled them faster than was humanly possible.
The assault was so fierce, he was forced to take a few steps back. He didn’t have time to use his sword for anything but smacking away the vases of the frenzied woman.
He took cautious steps backwards until he entered the doorway of another room, a parlor by the looks of the elegant sofas. He quickly spun to the left and placed his back against the wall next to the doorway. One last vase clinked to the floor beside him, then all was silent.
He hesitated, then peeked around the corner, back into the main room. He withdrew his head just as another vase sailed toward him.
He scanned the parlor. A window on the opposite wall cast the moon’s luminosity onto the grimy wooden floor. A bookcase of thick volumes was beside the window, then there were two couches and a grandfather clock also in the room. Spider webs draped over a chandelier hanging on the ceiling.
An idea blossomed in his head. When a being died, their soul began its travel to the Netherworld, but sometimes it didn’t make it. A demon could capture the wandering soul and force its way back into the body, where it would work at becoming strong enough to survive in this dimension, the Physical Realm. To do that, a demon needed to feast on blood.
Tavio grasped Imance’s hilt firmly in his left hand and scraped its blade across his right forearm. He grimaced at the sting of his cut as crimson blood leaked out.
He thrust Imance into the scabbard slung over his back and took a deep breath. Then, he stuck his arm out for the Possessed to see. He knew she wouldn’t be able to resist the stench and sight of blood.
The Possessed let out a crazed cry, then bounded off the table toward Tavio. As soon as he heard the charge, he turned around and dashed toward the bookshelf. He placed one foot on the second shelf and climbed as though using the rungs of a ladder.
When he neared the top, he turned so he was facing the entryway, right as the woman appeared. Her eyes flashing, she rushed at him, claws extended.
He pushed off the bookcase and leaped, grabbing onto the chandelier. The ceiling groaned in protest, but held fast. The chandelier swung back and forth, its crystals jangling.
The Possessed stopped as she reached the bookshelf, whipping around to locate the blood she thirsted for. Meanwhile, Tavio spun the chandelier till he was facing the woman and used his body momentum to swing backwards and forward again. Then, he lifted his feet and slammed the heels of his boots into her head. The force of the blow launched her into the bookcase, causing a cascade of books to fall on her as she collapsed, moaning.
He jumped down from the chandelier and stepped around the books to reach the Possessed, unsheathing Imance. The woman stared at him dazedly, though her scarlet eyes revealed the panic of the demon within.
Again, he hesitated as he thought of his mother. He swallowed, shook the image out of his head, and steeled himself to finish the job.
Imance’s thin blade sunk into the Possessed’s chest, and the usual ear-splitting, otherworldly screech blared from between the woman’s blue lips. The wail of a dying demon.
As the demon perished, the dead woman’s soul was freed. It appeared as a wispy white apparition as it rose from its body, and the demonic corpse fell motionless.
Tavio sagged against the wall, taking time to catch his breath. He stared at the young woman’s body, and his heart clenched.
Another young woman who had her whole life ahead of her, he thought. Maybe she even had a child, a little boy maybe…and then she died only for her soul to be captured by a demon…
He sighed and straightened. One of the most important rules of soul redeeming was that he had to remain detached. Emotions could easily swamp him if he didn’t keep them under control.
He put away his sword again as he glanced at the body one more time. Someone would be sent later to get it. He did the hard work; now he just needed to collect his payment.
He walked out of the dilapidated manor and into the night. Possessed beings only came out after sundown, which was an ideal time for Tavio. The dark tint of his indigo skin made him blend in with the shadows. The silvery white dreadlocks that fell past his shoulders sometimes made that complicated, which was why he wore a cloak with a hood to cover his head at night.
He stared at the starless sky. There was a touch of purple in the east; dawn was approaching. He had plenty of time to get some sleep before midday.
Or he would have, if three figures hadn’t chosen that moment to emerge out of the nearby forest.
As they stepped into the moonlight, Tavio recognized them. The Triniti Assassins. And he was their target.