The Hunter’s Sodality
Reclined upon the rooftop parapet, hands crossed behind his head, Rick Brighton trained his eyes to Orion and considered their shared brotherhood, the Hunter’s Sodality.
Rick sought and found moments of solace upon the rooftop here, away from others, somewhere above, somehow closer to his precious Viv, taken decades ago. He spoke to her as if she were laying next to him, shared his thoughts and fears, explained his struggles, and paused to await her whispered responses, words which never came.
Below, the people of Harrisonburg had mostly retired for the evening. It was well past two in the morning, the air biting but clear. Evening stragglers still milled about, some were students of JMU ready to call it a night, some were the usual rowdy locals, and a few individuals huddled in shadowed recesses away from light ready to spring upon the unaware.
There came a thunderous crack, followed by a drawn, hollow groan. Rick rolled feet first from his perch and landed upon the gravel roof with a crunch, his eyes still searching the night sky. The passersby continued unaware of the cacophony which was only audible to Rick, a sound he knew all too well. Then came a familiar vision. He was transported. Suddenly, Rick was standing upon a frozen river, the ice cracked and groaned then settled beneath his feet. The ice began to shift. He lowered to steady himself as some force pulled at him. Icy water sluiced up through the fractured web.
A hulking and hooded form on the far shoreline watched from within a turbulent shroud of smoke and steam, piercing eyes burned red. Rick could see foot prints crossing the frozen waters, trailing across to the shoreline of the living and disappeared into the woodlands beyond.
Another of His legion had gained an ill gotten reprieve.
An ember was seeded within Rick’s brain which burned with a searing throb. It pulsed as it began to grow, deep behind his eyes. The eyes of the hooded form also began to pulse. The rhythm within his head mirrored the strengthening pulse of the red orbs of the specter across the water. Then the words formed within his mind, always the same deep gravelly bass. “Make haste. Return to me what is mine.”
The pulsing continued to increase. Rick grabbed his head, his fingertips digging into his scalp, iridescent runes shimmered and skittered across his arms and the backs of his hands, his head felt as if it would split like an overripe fruit. The pulsing reached its crescendo.
Rick collapsed upon the frozen river.
Returned to the rooftop, Rick lay curled upon the graveled surface. He squeezed his eyes closed then opened them forcefully, trying to make them focus again on the here and now. He rubbed the meat of his temples with the heel of his hands, the pain subsided. Rick regained his feet again and braced himself upon the half-wall parapet.
He felt a prickle spreading across his skin, bleeding into a burning sensation. Bitterness edged into his mouth and the familiar scent befouled him, musky, smoky, pungent. In the distance came the clap of hard soles echoing down the alley below. Tongues of runic ink moved up and down his neck, capturing ambient light, shifting, moving upon the tapestry of his flesh.
He scanned the skyline, like a hound locking in on a coon. He said to nobody, “That’s what I am, a fucking hound, a hell hound.” He felt used. He felt a rush of adrenaline. He felt the pleasant rise of anger. He felt powerful.
She walked alone, her pace was fast and hard, determined. She was unaware that each step was being matched by someone else’s, each click of her heel concealing his as he moved from shadow to shadow. Although Rick could not yet see him, he could feel his presence, he could smell him.
Rick swung a leg over the ledge, focusing intently, honing in, then slid down the escape ladder to the macadam below, landing in a low crouch. Then he sprang into motion, his movement quick, each step nearly silent. Rick was on the prowl.
He was hunting again.
Ahead, only the repetitive clacking of heels. She turned back once to look behind but found only the oddly leaning shadows cast by the sodium lights above.
She was being stalked by an animal, and escapee from hell.
The scent made Rick’s pulse quicken. His breathing became more rapid in anticipation. He had come around them, through service ways clogged with dumpsters and littered pedestrian accesses, he circled from behind, and was now closing in upon the animal, hands reaching like talons. Then, something happened. The scent had changed. Only momentarily, but it had changed for an instant. Was this animal somehow aware of Rick? Was this new scent fear?
There was a dull thud followed by a scraping of something across the poured cement walkway. She turned her head once more, uncertain that she had really heard anything. She saw nothing, or perhaps there was something, she couldn’t be sure. She turned forward and, the primal kicking in, instinct taking over, she ran, ran like the dickens, ran like a mare escaping a burning barn, she ran, a mane of blond hair flowing in her wake.
The villain was wide-eyed, his pulse slowing. A hand cupped his chin and covered his mouth, silencing any cries of pain. Fingers from another hand, having penetrated the musculature of his throat, had torn down and outward, leaving a hollow beneath the prominent mandible. The meat of his tongue and trachea jostled with each labored and failing breath, blood roiled in his gullet. Rick embraced him from behind and held his weight from slumping to the ground as he watched her flee.
She was safe, for now. She was also beautiful. So lovely. So much like Viv.
The entirety of Rick’s skin crawled as if it were alive and moving of its own volition. Rick, with his head tilted back and his mouth hung wide, clutched the dead man to his chest, like some child with a cherished toy. A cloud of blackness emanated from the throat of the slumping dead man, as if he was sublimating. The body crushed in upon itself, withered and compressed. With each breath Rick took in the essence of the man, took in his evil, contained the blackness within this corporeal vessel, until there was nothing more of the animal.
The runes became active again, their radiance less now as they seared Rick’s skin. He cried out.
The pain was exquisite.