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Few Are Chosen
By Storm Grant, Rachel Haimowitz, Kate McMurray
Riptide PublishingCopyright © 2011 Storm Grant
All rights reserved.
Shading my eyes against the moonlight and streetlamps, I deliberately dilated my pupils, searching the dark cemetery for movement. Or glowing eyeballs.
On my twenty-fourth sweep, I saw it: a creature moving between the headstones, barely a shadow amongst shadows.
"Time to man up," I said aloud. My balls had another idea, though, and tried to retreat to their place of origin at the thought of facing my first demon.
"This is excitement, not fear," I told them. "The thrill of the chase. It's what you—I've—been training my whole life for." I took a deep, centering breath as my mentor had taught me. It worked. My heartbeat slowed, my breathing evened, and my balls descended. I was ready to go find me some demon.
Shunning the elevator I had ridden up to the rooftop, I spread my leather duster like the wings of a bat and sailed gracefully to the street three stories below.
My landing, however, was less than graceful. I sprawled on my ass in the middle of the street and lay where I'd fallen, wind knocked from my lungs.
Behind me, lights caught my attention, and I leaped for the sidewalk as a speeding taxi gunned directly at me. A minion of evil, no doubt sent by my enemies.
He pulled abreast of me and signaled before pulling away. I returned his one-fingered salute and focused my attention on the greater foe.
I set off for the cemetery, leather duster swirling about my legs as I strode through the deserted streets.
Having reached the locked, spike-topped gates of the graveyard, I turned southward and circled the perimeter. I ran a hand through my curls, smoothing them into place after my crappy landing. My hair was medium ash blond this week, with electric blue streaks that looked awesome in the right light. I located the break in the cemetery wall and squeezed through, vowing to give up pizza pockets for a month.
Once inside, I froze in place, surveying the houses of the dead and their pale markers. The night seemed to grow darker still. A cool breeze brushed my cheek, which was refreshing since a leather coat really wasn't summer-wear. Still, the coat was de rigueur. I'd say all the cool demon hunters wore them, except I was, of course, the only one. All the prophecies said so.
I've been training for this day as long as I can remember. I am the single line of defense between the sleeping innocents of Detroit who believe themselves safe in their beds at night, and the Hell spawn that rise to slay them all.
It is my destiny to—
A tinkly version of the theme from the Lord of the Rings jerked me from my reverie. Drawing my iPhone from my pocket, I pressed the answer icon. "Talk to me."
The phone sighed, or rather Hadley, my mentor, did. Or maybe it was just a bad connection. "Blake?"
"Are you in position yet?"
"I'm inside the hallowed ground now. I have yet to locate the target."
"Well, be careful then. Oh, and if you pass a convenience store on your way home, we're out of pizza pockets."
"But sir, I'm on my first big mission. I can't go to 7-Eleven."
How dare he sully my noble mission with something as mundane as pizza pockets? But my stomach rumbled loudly at the thought, and I had to admit a pizza pocket would've gone pretty good right about now.
"Stop whining. It's unbecoming. If you don't want to stop for pizza pockets, then don't, but don't look at me when the freezer's empty. Now, be alert and stay safe. This is just a fact-finding mission. Don't forget that. Do not engage the demon. And remember; let's be careful out there." He always ended with that line which I'd been disgusted and disillusioned to learn came from an '80s TV show. Couldn't he be more original? Witty lines were the stock-in-trade of a good warrior. He should've been helping me hone my wit as well as my wits.
Oh, good one. I'll have to remember that one for next time.
Although he couldn't see me, I nodded solemnly. "As you wish," I said, breaking the connection and setting the phone to vibrate before returning it to my pocket. My stomach rumbled again.
And then there was another rumble, off to my left. So, not my traitorous belly, then. I turned my head toward the sound. Not just the rustling of a squirrel or raccoon, but the rumbling, snorting, and wheezing of a demon!
Crouching low, I followed the noise toward the huge mausoleum in the middle of the graveyard. A massive demon stood before the crypt. It was like no demon I'd ever seen before. Okay, I'd never seen one alive before. The tomes and scrolls I'd studied did not do justice to my evil foe in the flesh.
Its eyes bulged from its toad-like head, which swiveled about, searching for prey. I stepped further back into the shadows. It sniffed at the air, its noseless nostrils hairy and moist. Where its bare flesh poked out of its clothing, its pink skin rippled as if walnut-sized parasites roamed beneath it. It raised a giant ax. For a moment I thought the ax was its hand, until the clouds drifted aside and moonlight illuminated filthy clawed fingers wrapped around the ax handle.
An awful grating sound echoed from the depths of its flabby belly, sending a wave of flame and noxious fumes on its putrid breath. I tried not to cough, reining in my enhanced sense of smell. It pursed its puffy red lips and horked. Where the spit landed, the earth sizzled. Only one type of demon belched fire and spit acid: the dreaded reflux demon!
According to my studies, the reflux was a crafty son of a bitch. It'd be no easy prize to be won with a few sword strokes and a witty one-liner.
I felt my phone buzz against my hip, but chose to ignore it. I knew it'd be Hadley calling to remind me not to engage.
But how could I not? Who knew when I'd get another chance? Or how much damage the reflux would do before I could dispatch it?
I rose from my half-crouch, a war cry gathering in my throat. My balls once again surged upward. Ignoring my scaredy-cat testicles, I took a deep breath, raised my sword, and rushed at it.
"Fear me, oh spawn of Satan. For I am Blake St. Blake and I have come to return you to Hell!"
I had to slow my run a bit to get that all out before I arrived.
A flicker of movement caught my eye, but it was too late for me to stop my charge.
Another creature sprang from the darkness, weapon at the ready, crying, "Yo, asswipe. I'm gonna rip off your head and spit down your throat!"
I ground to a halt in front of the confused demon. And honestly, I was as confused as it was. I didn't know which one to smite: the ax-wielding, acid-spitting, fire-belching demon, or this other thing, cloaked in dark cloth and brandishing a glowing stick.
"Who be-est thou?" I demanded of the newcomer. I had to shout to be heard over my pounding heart. At least I'd remembered to use formal demon-hunter language like the heroes in books and movies did.
"What the fuck?" the cloaked being said, raising his glowing stick. His eyes shone from beneath his cowl.
The demon lifted its ax, orange-slitted eyeballs rolling from one side to the other.
The stick-wielder turned to face me. "Who the fuck're you, sucka?" he asked, shaking his stick at me. A sly look grew upon the demon's face and it shifted its weight toward the newcomer.
"Yesss," came a hiss from the depths of its flabby body. "Who the fffuck are you, sssucka?"
So they'd either arrived together from Hell, or had decided to align forces against me. Oh, shit. I just couldn't catch a break! I gripped my sword hilt tighter, knuckles shining white in the moonlight. I would just have to slay them both. "Nay, 'tis I who shall ask the questions. Are you two together?"
"Oh, hell no," Stick-wielder said, moving back a step from the demon, who had sidled up close and personal. "You're not pulling that bullshit on this wizard." He clenched his stick tighter. "Dude, you are toast!" The stick began to glow brighter. It occurred to me that it might be some sort of oversized magic wand and not just a plastic light saber bought on eBay. Especially since he'd called himself a wizard. "It's my freakin' destiny to slay your sorry ass!"
Now I knew he must be delusional because I was the only Chosen One around. Nobody else got divine powers. I was the only one with enhanced senses and the ability to leap off buildings in a single bound. I would have raised my sword, but it was already up as far as I could lift it. In fact, my arm was beginning to tremble from holding my weapon aloft—these things were a lot heavier than they looked in the movies.
Having no idea if the sorry ass on the wizard's slaying agenda belonged to me or the reflux, I decided to engage him in conversation. Perhaps I could trick him into revealing his allegiance. "So ..." My voice broke. I coughed and tried again. "So ... You're a wizard, are you? What are your powers, pray tell?"
"Prey what? I ain't nobody's prey. Prey this, motherfucker." He shook the glowing stick at me. "And who are you to get all up in my business, I mean, bidness anyhow? I can't hardly see in this damn moonlight." He squinted in my direction. "Oh, wait. I can fix this," he mumbled.
He raised his stick higher, although not as high as I held my sword. The stick began to glow brighter and brighter, until the entire clearing lit up.
Now it was my turn to squint, before I remembered that dilating and contracting my pupils was one of my powers. The enhanced senses had come on only lately so I wasn't used to them yet. I blinked several times and concentrated, shrinking my pupils down so the light no longer blinded me. There, now I could see again.
"So you claim to be a wizard. Can you do anything else with that stick, or is it just a fancy flashlight?"
The wizard rounded on me. I bit my tongue, wishing I hadn't goaded him. There were always painful things one could do with a stick, magic or not.
I could barely see my opponent's features beneath his hood, but his tone dripped venom when he said, "No, asshat. I came out to mix it up with this badass demon here with nothing more than ... Wait? Where'd it go?"
I turned just in time to see the demon duck back inside the mausoleum, pulling the solid stone doors closed behind it. They thunked into place, barely a seam to show they'd ever been open.
"Ah, shit!" the wizard cried. "Now you've gone and driven it off. How'm I supposed to send it back to Hell if I can't get anywhere near the thing?"
"You're going to send it back to Hell? That's my job. I'm the Chosen One. Why, I'm—"
"Don't make me laugh. You're a Chosen One?"
"Not a Chosen One, dumbass. The Chosen One. As in the one and only. All the prophesies say so."
"Well, don't believe everything you're foretold. There's a bunch of Orders going way back to the Crusades or the dawn of time or the '50s or something, and each one gets its own prophecy and its own Chosen One. Sheesh. Don't they teach you anything in your Order?"
I glared at him. I had lots of practice at glaring instead of answering. He didn't seem to require an answer, anyway. Just kept on talking.
"Sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, man, but I'm all over that Chosen One shit. See this wand?" He raised it again. It was kind of hard to look at since it was glowing like a supernova, so I contracted my pupils down as far as they would go and looked again. The wand, or more accurately, staff, was made from some sort of twisted old wood with runes and symbols carved along it. The wizard gestured with it and a beam of greenish light shot toward me. I used my super-human reflexes to leap away, coming to rest on the other side of the clearing. In the spot where I'd stood a moment before, the ground smoked a little.
"Hey, man. How'd you do that?" Wizard Boy asked.
"You're kidding, right? You nearly blew me up with your magic stick, but you think jumping a few feet is impressive?" He shoved back his hood, which I now saw was actually a Gap hoodie, worn over slouchy jeans riding low on his hips. I hitched up my own nearly-identical pair, although I'd bought the kind with the real waistline. A demon hunter can't have his jeans falling down in the midst of the chase.
"Um, yeah. That jumping thang's pretty neat. And actually, I smoked the ground a coupla feet in front of where you were standing. I wasn't really going to hurt you." The torch-bright glow from his stick illuminated one side of his face, while the other side was lost in shadow. I assumed they matched, though. He had dark skin, knife-sharp cheekbones, and wide-set brown eyes. He wore his hair in a medium-length afro combed or cut to a peak at the center of his forehead. I found my gaze lingering on his lips. They looked soft and inviting. Until he said, "Wasn't really gonna hurt you ... yet."
I shook my head to clear away distracting thoughts. "Ha! As if you could hurt me," I yelled, gathering myself for another leap.
"Can so," he said, raising his magic staff. It shot green light at me, and this time he managed to hit me. Suddenly all my muscles froze. I'd been poised to leap, so my center of balance was thrust forward and my stiffened body toppled over, face-first into the dirt.
The wizard's laughter went on for quite some time. I would have said something cutting, but I couldn't move my mouth. At least my lungs weren't paralyzed, or I'd have asphyxiated. This guy was kind of scary. Also kind of cute. Which, I mentally chided myself, was an entirely inappropriate thing to notice in one's enemies. Evil can be glamorous. I needed to be careful, despite the wizard's hotness.
I lay on the ground, flushed with anger. The wizard also fell to the ground, not from spells or blows, but from laughing so hard he couldn't stand. "Oh, man. I'm sorry, but that was one awesome face-plant. Where's my phone? I want to take a picture before it wears off."
Pins and needles prickled my body, and I began to unstiffen as if I were melting. My power of speech returned—mostly. I spit dirt and forced out a few words from one side of my mouth: "If I hear a single click, you are so dead." Pausing, I added, "I shalt slay thy sorry ass." Clearly, I needed to work on the warrior speech thing some more.
"Oh, yeah, Sword Boy? You and what army?"
I dragged my stinging limbs into a sitting position, massaging a painful cramp in my calf. "I alone am the Chosen One." I was still slurring a little, like I'd just had a cavity filled. "The one boy in all the world with the strength and power to fight the evil ones."
"You is so played out, dawg."
"And I notice your gangsta speech disappears when you're not paying attention."
"Same with your flowery speech, man. Just how many times have you watched the Lord of the Rings?"
I flushed again. So what if I owned the extended-edition box set special director's cut in Blu-ray? And an action figure or two. Or ten. "Now see here. This was supposed to be my first kill and you've gone and wrecked it. You're just some Chosen One wannabe and I'm not going to stand for it." Except, I did stand then, rising from the lawn like his worst nightmare. Or sexy wet dream, I hoped.
"Yeah, well. Sometimes you're the knight, sometimes you're the grail, man. I guess we're both Chosen Ones. Ralph says there can be more than one."
"Ralph? You call your mentor Ralph?"
The wizard scratched his neck. "Well, yeah. It's his name. And I'm sure not calling him by the time-honored title of Master." In a much lower voice, he added. "Or Dad."
My heart, which had finally stopped racing while we talked, now sputtered a little. "No. Uh, not that." I'd begun calling Hadley "Sir" right about the time I was old enough to realize no Mommy or Daddy was ever coming for me.
We stood there awkwardly for a few minutes, staring at the closed doors of the mausoleum, each sneaking sidelong peeks at the other. I checked him out and found him even hotter when we weren't giving each other a hard time. I was almost sure he checked me out, too.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, reminding me of my purpose. I was the Chosen One, and I had an important mission. "I must away. But ere I go, I warn the thee, apprentice wizard, that I will not suffer your interference a second time." I crossed my arms over my chest and stared down my nose at him.
Excerpted from Few Are Chosen by Storm Grant, Rachel Haimowitz, Kate McMurray. Copyright © 2011 Storm Grant. Excerpted by permission of Riptide Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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