Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 11

“You’ve picked up too many civilized sensibilities,” Thea informed me as we headed back to the safehouse.

“Because I didn’t kill him? He’s misguided, not evil. He doesn’t even hate me. Why kill him?”

“It’s the only way to be sure you’re rid of an enemy.”

I didn’t ask her about the others. I didn’t ask her how many she had killed – knowing it was likely to be more than one, less than all of them. But I didn’t think I could ever become…easy about it the way she was. Or maybe the way I had been before. “I’m not…whoever I was before.”

“Oh, you are. People just change and drift and sometimes drift back. You don’t even have to have memory problems for that.”

I knew she was right. I had changed and would change. “I want to protect people, not hurt them. I want these people to stop going after me and I would rather not have to kill all of them to do it.”

“I’d rather not have to kill all of them, either. But I don’t want you getting hurt.” We’d reached the door. “…because of your sensibilities. Next time, shoot the guy.”

So, that was her concern. “I’m better hand to hand and you know it.”

“At that range?”

She had a point. I let out my breath, which blew hair away from my face, although the wind put it back there a moment later. Irritated, I brushed it away as we went inside.

To discover we had been compromised. There was a note on the table. It was addressed to me. I started to go over.

“Gloves,” Thea cautioned.

“Worried about contact poisons? Maybe a face mask too, just to be safe.” We had those lying about. But there was no white powder in there that might have been anthrax or cocaine.

Just a note, written in an elegant yet masculine hand. “Mr. Otter.”

“Might have known. What does he want?”

“Believe it or not, lunch.” Did I say yes or no? He was probably going to try and convince me to give him the horn again. Or something. “I don’t think he means any harm.”

“I am pretty sure he would never hurt you,” Thea said quietly. “Intentionally, anyway.”

“Maybe he already has.” I wasn’t even sure why I said that.

“Intentionally,” she repeated, heading for the fridge to raid snack food. I stared at the note. He wanted lunch. He named the place – not one I’d been too before, out along the orange line.

I somehow felt it would cause far more trouble to refuse than to accept.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 10

Save the world or destroy it. But right now, I was worried about something far more mundane – my own survival. I was crouched behind a dumpster, both hands on the gun. And a bullet had just whizzed past me.

It was, of course, the cultists again. I suppose I should have been grateful for the respite I’d had from them. Instead, I was pissed. I was trying to sustain the moral high ground and not actually kill any of them.

That was proving to be extremely hard. I knew I’d hit one of them and I wasn’t sure how bad it was.

A second bullet, and I snapped a shot off in return. Thea was circling somewhere to try and get behind them. I was wishing we had certain less legal non-lethals. Tear gas grenades would be completely awesome right now.

I wasn’t sure how to get any of them, though. My breathing slowed a little as the firing stopped. They were probably just reloading, but then one of them jumped onto the dumpster.

I didn’t shoot. At that range I would hit him easily, but that wasn’t my goal. Instead, I reached up and grabbed his legs, unbalancing him so he fell on my side of it, my knee went into his groin.

He oofed and went down. Still no shots from his buddies. Thea had put the fear of the gods (I was sure plural) into them.

“I’m really getting quite tired of you guys. Why don’t you go home and watch the game?”

“It’s not football season.”

That he had the presence of mind to zing me caused both of my eyebrows to elevate a little. He wasn’t bad looking, either.

He was also trying to kill me. As he tried to get up I pushed him back down with my foot. “You’re not going anywhere right now.”

“What are you going to do? Kill me? Call the cops?”

What could we say to the cops? Not much…although the fact that I hadn’t killed him worked in my favor.

“Send you home.” I shifted position, dropping next to him quickly, exchanging a hand for the foot as I relieved him of his gun. And three knives. And a set of handcuffs, of all things. “These for your girlfriend?”

He swore at me.

“You’re here to kill me, why the restraints?”

“Don’t want to kill…anyone else.”

He meant Thea. “That’s a point in your favor. Now, go home.”

I kept the knives. And the handcuffs.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 9

I told Thea about the guy later that night. She only nodded with pursed lips and went back to cleaning her guns.

I figured it was a good opportunity to check mine and make sure it was loaded. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. There wasn’t the rightness that flowed through me when I picked up a sword. Guns I had to think about.

I put the thought to one side. “I really wish the one thing I was good at wasn’t hurting people.”

“Do you?”

“Yes.” I turned towards her. “I almost got Barry killed. I might get Kanesha killed. And I seriously considered putting a bullet in that guy today and I’m not sure I’d have regretted it. What am I?”

“The fact that you didn’t says a lot. You’ve got control over yourself and your own tendencies…but you come from…” Her lips quirk. “Aggressive stock.”

I scowled at her. “Whoever my parents were, I don’t have to be like them.”

“Good.” She turned back to her gun.

I was starting to want out in much more serious terms, but I suspected I was going to have to hurt a lot more people before they backed down. And wasn’t that proving them right about me? Wouldn’t they be more likely to think I was the anti-Christ if I was beating them up? I thought working with the guy who was trying to get a leash on them might be more effective.

Which was part of why I hadn’t shot him. That and I really didn’t want to turn into that. I’d fight if I had to. I’d kill if I had to. But I wasn’t going to be a murderer. That firm thought in my mind, I finished cleaning the gun and wandered into the other room, such as it was. I sure as heck couldn’t give this address for school. Dropping out seemed inevitable at this point.

Unless I could find some way to rapidly catch up, but that would be suspicious. Just enough to make people realize I was smart. Or I could get my GED later.

Pheh. Maybe I didn’t need one. If I was supposed to either save the world or destroy it.

The sense of a monstrous presence was abruptly stronger. That thing was searching. It might even be searching for me. And this time it wasn’t sleeping through the night.

This time it was on the wing and on the hunt.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 8

I thought I’d deflected Kanesha. I’d forgotten she could be as tenacious as a pit bull at times, but at that point I thought I’d convinced her to go home, forget it was going on, and worry about her studies. Unlike me, she had a good chance of graduating, although not much of one of going to college. If she’d had rich parents, she could have done it.

Thea and I practiced swordplay, then I told her I was going out for a walk. I couldn’t spend the entire summer indoors, even if it was insanely hot. I simply couldn’t. And she trusted me to look after myself. I now understood that the reason we were living in a hideout was in case anyone followed me home. It was to protect Kanesha and Pauline and the others.

Protect them from my enemies. When footsteps approached behind me I tensed. It didn’t help that I could still feel that avian presence.


It wasn’t Mr. Otter, who I had been half expecting. It was a suave man with an English accent and a cane. “Go away.”

“Not just yet. I came to apologize.”


“For a small part I played in…setting off the people who want you dead.”

I scowled. “Can you convince them I’m not what they think?”

“I’m trying, but I can’t promise.” He tapped his cane on the ground. “They genuinely think you’re going to do something to trigger the end of the world.”

“And you know better?”

“I don’t know.” He turned to face me. “I’ve studied the situation and I don’t know whether you’re going to destroy the world, save it, or neither. To me, that’s not enough to warrant going after a kid.”

I scowled even more, but he had a point. “Well, can you try and get a leash on your people.”

“I told you. I’m trying. They’re not my people, though. They’re going off of my work…but I don’t own them, employ them, or particularly know them as people.”

In, out. Part of me wanted to plug him, but if he was telling the truth he was trying to help. If he wasn’t, then I’d never get information out of him if he was dead.

That scared me, too. Why was I even considering it as a tactical option? I knew the answer. Because I was pissed.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 7

Meeting with Kanesha was risky. I mitigated it by hauling her far from our usual haunts and to a Mexican place way out in the burbs. On Thea’s money. She seemed to have a solid supply of it, at least. I didn’t get the impression she was rich, but I did get the impression she was comfortable.

I didn’t ask where it came from. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she wasn’t involved in some variant on the oldest profession, about which I completely did not want to know. Fetish modeling, maybe.

So, I didn’t ask. “So…what’s really going on?” Kanesha asked, finally.

“I can’t tell you. As in, I really can’t. It’s not that I don’t trust you…but I thought we were going to talk about your problems.”

She let out a breath. “No. I wanted to talk to you about yours.” Her lips quirked. “I lied, and I’m sorry, but this sudden disappearance, this weird woman you’re hanging out with and there’s now been two sets of people asking after you. The smarmy guy and…” A pause. “One of them had a gun.”

“That’s why you need to go home now. You never saw me.” I knew I couldn’t go back, but I also…no, what was the point in going back to school? I was never going to graduate, never going to be ordinary. “Look. It’s something to do with my real parents. They think they can get information out of me that I can’t remember – it’s a mess.”

The lie came easier than I liked.

“And your cousin?”

“She’s a friend. But I still don’t know anything.” It was true on that front. I was pretty sure she was a family friend. Or a distant cousin. And I still didn’t know anything.

“I think that smarmy guy is related, too. No offense.”

I laughed. “I’ve wondered the same thing.”

“He was trying his best not to look at my breasts. I think he only cared because he didn’t want to get into trouble.”

Reaching for a bite of taco, I eyed her. “You’re probably right.” And he hadn’t looked at mine which, likely, proved that we were related. What other reason would there be? I knew the pattern Kanesha talked about. Guys who thought we were attractive but couldn’t admit it and would try to fight what was natural male behavior.

I’d even once seen it from a woman. But that wasn’t that surprising, I supposed. Thea hadn’t looked at me like that.

Thea was straight. Obviously. “Just don’t trust him. You’re right about him being smarmy.”

“He has one heck of a voice, though.”

“He has. Kanesha…this isn’t about you. I need to know you aren’t going to be involved. I have to deal with this…and Thea’s a pro.”

She shuddered. “I don’t like that idea.”

Thinking about it, neither did I.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 6

“I need to…I can’t go back,” I told Thea as we walked through the night. “You saw her. She can’t…”

“She’s not quite as badly off as you think, but I’m glad you’re concerned about protecting her.” Thea considered that. She was, for a long moment, silent.

I stayed alert, glancing around. The giant bird thing was still around somewhere, I could feel it, but it was a faint, muted presence. Perhaps, being a bird, it slept at night and, thus, its presence was weakened. I wished I could see it. I almost felt as if I should be able to.

I didn’t want to break the silence, though. I almost hoped the cultists would show up, I felt like beating on them some. At the same time I hoped we could get to the bottom of them.

How do you convince people you’re not the anti-Christ? And how did I help Kanesha without dragging her into all of this? Barry would be fine, eventually, but things could have been so much worse.

With no answer from Thea, I moved slightly ahead of her, watching the streets. There were a handful of people out and about, but no more than that. The summer night was warm, though. Pleasantly so, without the heat that beat against us.

Then I saw it. The fight. It was in an alleyway, on the other side of the street, and all I could see were silhouettes. I didn’t know who was fighting about what, and I figured it wasn’t my concern. Nonetheless, I glanced at Thea and then crossed the street for a closer look. I didn’t move my hand towards the gun.

Two guys fighting. A woman in the alleyway behind them. She wasn’t wearing very much – possibly a hooker, possibly a clubber, it was often hard to tell. Maybe that was what the dispute was over. My inclination was to go act like a human shield, but I couldn’t get past them to do it. She wasn’t running, anyway.

In fact, I saw a look in her eyes and realized she was entirely happy with the situation. Some women like it when men fight over them, I guess. I let out a breath. No, it really wasn’t my concern, and as I thought that, one of the guys backed down. He ran past me, calling me something unpleasant on his way past, and didn’t stop running.

I moved before the “couple” could notice me, shaking my head as Thea joined me.

“Not worth beating on them?”

“She egged them into the fight. The three of them deserve each other.” I firmly, in that moment, believed it.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 5

“Who’s your friend?” Kanesha asked, leaning over the table next to us.

“Her name’s Thea.” I had a growing suspicion that was not, in fact, her name, any more than Jane was really mine.

Thea, though, offered Kanesha a slight smile. “Join us.”

I tensed, but it was the right decision. Throwing her out was only going to make a scene. She settled down next to me with her bowl and I looked at what was left in mine. Not much, and I pushed it around a bit before eating it. I didn’t like this at all…but if Kanesha talked to us and then left, she might be the next person to end up like Barry.

Maybe. But she couldn’t fight as far as I knew. Or could she? I realized I didn’t know her that well, that I didn’t know what her hobbies were. I should have fixed that months ago, but it was too late now. “Hey. How’s it been?”

“Not bad. Are you coming back or are you staying with…” Kanesha did a slight double take. “Are you related?”

“No!” I exclaimed. “Just because we have about the same color hair. No. Thea’s a friend, that’s all.”

Thea laughed a bit, but didn’t say anything. There was something about the laugh, though, that made me abruptly wonder if I was wrong. Maybe we were related after all.

Nah. We couldn’t be.

Kanesha laughed. “You have exactly the same color hair. But you’re right…you don’t look that alike other than that.”

I couldn’t resist, “And you have exactly the same color hair as how many people?” Which was unfair. Blonde varied in tones much more than black did.

She laughed again. “I want to…I want to do lunch some time.” Then, softly, “I need to talk to somebody.”

“I’m not a shrink.”

“I know. I just need…” She tailed off. “And you’ve always struck me as a good listener.”

I knew it was a really bad idea. Despite that, I found myself just nodding to her. A really, really bad idea…but she needed me, and it was hard to walk away from that.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 4

That evening, we secured what I could not help but think of as our lair properly and went out. Out meant a ramen house, of all things, near Chinatown.

The food was good, but the place was too noisy to really talk. Perhaps that was what she wanted, but it made me a little frustrated. Ramen, tea, and decibels. Wasn’t that restaurant critic always complaining that everywhere was too loud these days? What was his name?

Yeah. This was definitely too loud, even rowdy, precluding conversation. I wanted to ask her about the bird, and I still sort of sensed it. Still knew it was around. Maybe it was a roc? Some kind of mythical thing, and dangerous. I could tell that much. Finally, the volume died down slightly. “There was something flying above the city.”

“I know. Could you see it?”

“No. I just knew it was there.” I let out a breath. “Is it dangerous?”

“It could be.” She studied me for a moment. “It’s probably an Each Uisge. An Irish…a kind of fairy that likes that form, amongst others. But if you can’t see it, you can’t do anything about it.”

There was an unspoken yet in there. But I also suspected she could do something about it, if she needed to. “Then I won’t worry about it for now.”

“Good girl. Let’s worry about the cultists who think you’re the anti-Christ first.”

I laughed. “That does seem to be the idea, doesn’t it? So. How do we convince them I’m not?”

“I haven’t worked that one out yet.”

I didn’t respond to her, though, because there was somebody familiar in the doorway. Somebody I didn’t want to bump into. My stomach clenched a little and I really hoped she couldn’t see me from this angle.

It was Kanesha, and she was heading for the counter – this was an order at the counter type of place. If she saw me and said hi…I could say Thea was the friend I was staying with, I supposed.

We didn’t look related. For some reason, that thought became uppermost in my mind. Were we?

Or was there something else going on that made her inclined to look after me. I didn’t know, but it was too late. Kanesha had definitely seen me.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 3

Once Thea was back, she gave me permission to leave as long as I took the gun. It was a heavy weight under my jacket. Not just physically, either. I was more keenly aware that I didn’t have a permit for it than I had been before; especially within DC. But I felt naked and unsafe without some kind of weapon.

I walked out onto the Mall, down towards the reflecting pool. It reflected the trees, a few geese floating on the water. The geese liked it…a nice, shallow pool surrounded by tasty grass they could help mow. I liked it too. There was something quiet and meaningful about this end of the Mall, the furthest from the Capitol and everything that went on there. Politics, stupid and otherwise.

Or maybe all politics were stupid. I stopped by the pool, regarding my own reflection. Blonde hair, tall, but somewhat more slender than Thea, and it wasn’t just the difference in our ages. For all we had similar coloring, nobody was going to mistake us for sisters. I thought I looked more like Mr. Otter, then put that thought out of my mind.

I wasn’t related to him – and if I was, I was disowning him at my first opportunity. I wasn’t sure, though, exactly why I felt so strongly about it.

Except…and a shadow passed across the sun. I glanced up, but nobody else did. Just a cloud, but it spread chill into me. As if it wasn’t entirely that, or as if it was both that and something else. The firm knowledge that there were monsters out there came back into my mind.

And me without my sword. I somehow felt that would be a more effective weapon if what was up there decided to bother me. The tourists didn’t see it. Literally didn’t. And I couldn’t see it either, I just knew it was there.

A great bird of some kind. Nobody would look up anyway. Bitterly, I knew they’d ignore it even if they could see it. Let it go past their mundane, ordinary lives. Bitter, because I was jealous of that ability.

Instead, I watched the shadow, following it as best I could. It was only a suggestion of a presence, as if it was not quite here. As if it was real but not on…not on our plane of existence.

Maybe it was a ghost. “What are you?” I whispered.

I got no answer.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 2

The sword was naked in my hand at this point. No true help against guns, but it might make them hesitate. I didn’t want to kill anyone, but sadly it was as much because I didn’t want to be arrested for murder than out of any real concern for the lives of people who wouldn’t leave me alone.

“Whoah!” The person bursting through the door lifted his hands.

I lowered the blade. “What. Didn’t know anyone was in here?”

“No!” There were three of them. “We were looking for…”

“Somewhere to shoot up.” It was in their faces, their eyes, their jittery manner. “You can’t do it here. Go.”

I wouldn’t turn them in. Drug use struck me as very much its own punishment. Pushing it to kids, trying to get people addicted, those were crimes. These guys? Just victims.

And they fled, but then it occurred to me. They could tell somebody where I was…but what could I do about it? The only way to prevent it was killing them. I decided, for now, to rely on the fact that people would not be likely to believe three junkies…they would probably even think they’d hallucinated me themselves.

How fast had I drawn the sword? Faster than I liked to think, but I sheathed it again now. I wanted out of here, now, to be out on the streets, not hiding. If I left, though, the next bunch of junkies could steal my stuff.

Instead, thus, I went and tried to fix the door. Which fortunately wasn’t that hard. They’d damaged the hinges, not the lock, and there was a tool kit around here somewhere. Yes, there it was. I’d have it fixed before Thea came back.

But I couldn’t stay here. I was on edge, I wanted, almost needed a fight. Not just a sparring session. A real, honest to goodness fight. I was too young to go find a dive bar…that would be Thea’s suggestion otherwise.

She enjoyed fighting. That much was obvious. That was what drew me to her more than anything else. That open enjoyment of violence. It should scare me. Somehow, it didn’t. Yet.