Templeton Sewell opened the door to the little bayside bar and entered the dark, dimly lit room. It was a few degrees cooler inside and provided some relief from the scorching Mexican sun outside. The heat was wearing on him, having driven all over the countryside, visiting what felt like a hundred little bars, almost identical to this one. He hoped this would be the one that would end his exhausting search.
The room was peppered with a few locals, huddled over their afternoon drinks. They looked up with curiosity at the gringo that entered, but quickly returned their focus to their conversations and liquor. Templeton glanced around the room, swiftly and expertly taking in the details. Hope soared as he spied his target at the bar, the lone foreigner in the room, apart from himself. There he was, hunched over the glass of solace he was nursing. Whiskey, neat, Templeton speculated. Could be with the heat, the ice had long melted in his glass.
Templeton walked over and took a seat beside the man, even though the other stools along the bar were unoccupied. The man paid no attention to the person who just invaded his space, and continued to stare into his whiskey. He picked up his glass and took a sip of his drink.
The bartender, an elderly, weathered Mexican, hobbled over to Templeton. He gave him a curt nod and looked at him expectantly. “What he’s having,” Templeton said, indicating the man beside him.
Wordlessly, the bartender hobbled a few steps away, poured the whiskey and set it in front of him. Templeton reached into his pocket, extracted a few pesos and placed them on the bar in front of the old man. He glanced at the glass in front of him. Neat, as always. It comforted Templeton to know that he still knew a little something about the man beside him.
He took a sip of his drink, held it briefly in his mouth, then let the amber liquid warm his throat. He put the drink down and turned to examine the man seated beside him. It had been five years since he last saw him, but he looked as though he had aged twenty. He was a tall man with a large frame, solidly built, though not as muscular as he once had been. Even still, he was hardly the type that you would ever try to pick a fight with. He was sporting a week’s worth of beard growth on his strong jaw, which added to his intimidation factor. Although he looked worn, he still retained his darkly rugged, archeologist-turned-treasure-hunter good looks. His skin had been made olive by the relentless Mexican sun. Medium brown hair, which he had normally kept short, was now shaggy and long. While he had let himself go a bit, there was no doubt that he was still a very powerful man.
Despite Templeton’s long examination of him, the man continued to sit silently by his side, apathetic to his neighbor's nosiness. Periodically, he would take a drink from his glass, then set it back down on the bar in front of him. Templeton followed suit. They sat in silence for some time in a way that would make onlookers wonder if there wasn't some kind of secret, non-verbal exchange being conducted between the two.
At last, the glasses sat empty on the bar. Templeton motioned for the bartender to re-fill them. The friendly gesture went unacknowledged by the man at his side. He simply picked up his refreshed drink and continued sipping.
“I’m sorry,” Templeton finally said. “There is nothing that will ever be...”
Templeton’s words broke the spell of silence and spurred the man into action. He swivelled viciously on his stool to face Templeton. Now, it was his turn to examine the man seated next to him. He looked into the face of his one-time mentor, the one man in the world he had trusted with everything.
Templeton's hair, once salt and pepper, was now completely silver. The strong, toned body he had had at one time, was now, almost cruelly, replaced with one of a much older, frailer man. Templeton was shorter than himself, but now, five years later, it appeared that he had shrunken, become smaller, less significant. He too, had aged so much.
He looked Templeton dead in the eye. His own eyes were so black and cold, that Templeton almost made an involuntary movement away from him. The radiation of hate shot silvers of fear through him. He had hoped that he was still the same man underneath, that the wounds had healed or at least been soothed. But Templeton had misjudged the effects of time. With that one look, he realized the wounds he had helped cause, were still as raw and vivid as the day they had been received. The look told him he no longer knew this man.
The man said nothing, but shot out of his chair, almost knocking it over. Templeton flinched inside, but kept his stoic composure. It was entirely possible that he could die, right here, in the middle of this nowhere, dusty, little Mexican town. This man could kill him where he sat and no one in the bar would give it a second thought. Not that Templeton could blame him if he did. The man merely downed the rest of his drink and started to walk away.
“Berkeley,” Templeton called out. “The storm’s coming. We need you back.”
As Berkeley reached the door, Templeton’s words stopped him in his tracks. He paused a moment, as though he were letting the meaning of them sink in. Templeton was hopeful that he had uttered the password, that he had presented the magic key to bring him back.
Without turning around and without feeling, Berkeley said, “Deal with it yourself.”
He was out the door before Templeton could say anything further.
Berkeley Thorpe had managed to keep his emotions buried for the past five years. Templeton Sewell had just stepped into his world and put an end to that. They were starting to bubble and he was struggling to keep them down. He knew he had to get away as fast as possible from the bar and from Templeton before he lost control of everything. He could feel the whole ball of ugly, churning within him, threatening to be exposed. And he knew if he didn’t get away, he wouldn’t be able to keep the demons down. There was just too much hurt for that.
Berkeley hopped into his car and sped off down the road, desperate to put as much distance between himself and the monster that had come to seek him out.
Audra Duncan strode through the nightclub, surrounded by gyrating bodies, which were illuminated by the neon lights. The hypnotic, pulsating music emanated through the darkened room, ravaging the senses of the enraptured crowd. She was oblivious to the appreciative stares from men on the hunt and to the glares of jealous women, trying to capture the attention of the men. She was appropriately dressed - though not on purpose - in black leather pants and bustier that accentuated her tight, shapely body. Her black hair flew out in soft, kinky ringlets, giving her a tousled look that emphasized her wild sensuality. Liquid brown eyes swept the room, searching the crowd for her prey.
She made her way to the back of the club and arrived at the corridor, jammed with females, waiting their turn for the washroom. She glimpsed movement at the end of the hall and took off in pursuit of it. She was blocked by disgruntled women, who protested her cutting through the line. She ignored their displeasure and continued fighting through the crowd until she was free of the snaking line.
She continued down the rest of the short length of the corridor, and arrived at the last door at the end. She yanked it open, quickly scanning the room before she entered. It was the kitchen to the nightclub, whose operations were winding down for the night, now that the dinner hour was long over. Once again, she was met with protests to her presence, but she ignored them and jogged through the narrow aisles, past counters, racks and the kitchen staff. One of the workers reached out to grab her, but she shook him off without so much as a beat in her step. She arrived at the back door, leading to the alley and burst through it. She looked to the right, which led to the front of the nightclub. Nothing there. She stepped around the open door and quickly closed it, looking to the left. Jackpot.
Twenty feet in front of her were two men involved in a fight. The larger one was outfitted in a black leather motorcycle jacket and jeans. His hulking form towered over the other man, who was of a slighter build and dressed in a button-down shirt and khakis. Button-down laid a punch on Motorcycle Jacket that sent him reeling backwards, but he quickly regained his composure. He went back after Button-down, connecting a solid right hook with his face. It barely budged him. Motorcycle jacket rained repeated punches on Button-down, trying to flatten him out. After many punches, Button-down fell to the ground and Motorcycle Jacket immediately pounced on him. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a silver dagger, which he raised up, ready to deliver the fatal blow.
Both men were so absorbed with their fight, neither one realized that Audra had snuck up to them. As Motorcycle Jacket tried to bring the dagger down into Button-down's chest, Audra caught his wrist with both hands and snapped it back. The dagger went flying in the opposite direction of its intended trajectory. Motorcycle Jacket jumped up in surprise and spun around to see who had thwarted his action. Before he realized what was happening, Audra stuck her foot behind his legs, flipped him off balance and sent him crashing to the ground. Big, dumb and lands hard, she noted with satisfaction. While this was going on, Button-down managed to scramble away from the scene and was now running desperately down the alley.
Audra quickly jumped on top of Motorcycle Jacket. She smiled seductively down at him. The surprise on his face was replaced with recognition, then stormy annoyance. He tried to bring his hands up to throw her off him, but she quickly pinned him.
“Ah, ah, ah,” she taunted. “This dance isn’t done yet. Just like a man to want to rush things, but I need a little more foreplay.”
“Audra, get the hell off of me,” he growled.
“What, don’t like having the woman on top?” she laughed. “Okay, we’ll play your way. Just not tonight. This one’s mine.” Audra's face hovered close enough to kiss him. “Did anyone ever tell you how delicious you are when you’re angry?”
She hopped off him and ran at full speed down the alley, to where he had left his motorcycle. She jumped on the bike, threw on the helmet and gunned the engine. She took off in the direction that Button-down had fled.
Aidan St-Pierre picked himself up off the ground and stood in disbelief as Audra rode off with his motorcycle, after his prey, that she had let escape. He threw up his hands, then remembered his dagger. After a few moments of fruitless searching, he figured she had taken that too.
“Son of a bitch!” he spat, then walked away in the opposite direction.
As Audra approached her brownstone, she saw that Aidan was waiting for her. He had been leaning on the stone mouldings of the steps, but as he saw her approach, he stood up. He was a tall, imposing figure – six feet, four inches of moodiness. He was still in his motorcycle jacket - a geared up cowboy missing his horse. Audra could tell he was furious with her. She screeched his motorcycle to a stop in front of him, a move that would aggravate him further. She hopped off the bike and pulled the helmet off, her wild mane cascading to her shoulders. She tucked the helmet on the back and then stood beside the bike. She swished her hips and put her hands on them, thrusting out her chest. She hoped the little flaunt would help diffuse his anger.
Audra sashayed up to him, a playful, flirty smile on her full, sensual lips. Aidan walked toward her, meeting her half-way. Before she could do anything, he hooked his arm around her and pulled her close. Audra’s smile widened as he made the move. He grabbed her right hand, wrestled the keys from it, then let her go. The flirtatious smile faded.
“Is that all?” she asked. “You just gonna leave a girl wanting more?”
“Touch my bike again, and you and I will have serious issues,” Aidan said calmly, but firmly.
He strode over to his bike and put the helmet on. The intoxicating scent of her perfume was all over it. He wanted to inhale deeply and let it wash over him but he would never give her the satisfaction. She was one of the sexiest women he had ever known and she played it for all it was worth. He took one last furtive look at the mocha goddess standing before him. No wonder they nicknamed her Black Magic. She effortlessly was able to get men to bend to her will. She wasn’t going to get him to fall under her spell.
“It’s not your bike I want to touch,” she taunted. The smile returned to her face.
He ignored her goading. “I’ve been chasing him for months. Did you at least get rid of him?”
Audra, still smiling, cocked her head to the side. “Sometimes you need to lose the battle in order to win the war.”
“You let him get away,” he said incredulously. “I hope whatever you’re playing at, it's worth it.” He dropped the visor and started the engine. He gunned the bike and peeled off into the night as Audra watched him go.
Audra dropped the vixen demeanor as soon as Aidan was gone. She let herself in through the front door of the brownstone and wearily climbed the stairs to her apartment on the second floor. The apartment was ablaze in lights, the Kinks blaring from the stereo in the bookcase. It was a British invasion in her home. She glanced around the room for signs of life. Other than the Kinks, there was none.
Audra went into the kitchen, grabbed herself a bottle of water from the fridge, then went back to the living room and flopped into a chair, her legs dangling over the arm. She pulled off her leather boots and extracted Aidan’s silver dagger she had picked up during the fight. She tossed the boots off to the side and turned the dagger over, admiring the craftsmanship and the weight of it in her hands. It felt good and powerful. She could do some serious damage with this beauty. At least her little seduction trick had worked, distracting him enough so that he forgot about it. His only concern had been the big ticket item she had taken from him. Sooner or later, he’d realize she had it and come looking for it.
“The only time I feel alright is by your siiiide.”
A high-pitched voice screeched, interrupting Audra’s thoughts. She heard the voice before she saw the creature that was making it. Presently, a slender, half Japanese - half white, pixie of a girl danced into the room. Her black hair, which was tied into two short pigtails made her look much younger than her twenty years. She looked up and was startled by Audra's presence. She dropped the book she was balancing in surprise. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t know you were home.”
The pixie girl was Ellie Goodwin, her roommate. As she bent over to pick up the book she had dropped, Audra slid the dagger between the cushion and the frame of the chair. Ellie retrieved her book, then went over to the bookcase and turned the stereo down. She flopped on the sofa next to Audra’s chair.
“You know, there’s this great invention they came out with, it’s called an iPod. It even comes with headphones so you can play music and not torture your poor roommate with it,” Audra said.
“Yeah, I know. What do you think’s playing on the stereo?” Ellie said cheerfully. “So did you get any info out of our guy?”
“No, I tried chasing him down, but he got away,” Audra said, irritated at the reminder.
“Was Aidan still waiting when you got home? Boy, was he ever pissed at you. He came up here ranting... He’s so hot! In a scary big, bad boy, way older guy, kind of way, you know? Did you really steal his motorcycle?” Ellie gushed.
Audra smirked. “Yeah. He found our target and was about to kill to him. Apparently, he’s been hunting him for months and I put a stop to that.”
“No wonder he’s pissed at you. But he’s so totally hot.”
“Okay, calm the hormones. He’s volatile and aggressive, not to mention dangerous. Did you find out anything more?”
Ellie opened the book she was carrying and placed it in front of her on the coffee table. “Not really. There’s a vague passage in this book about the Gem of Hazmerath. It just says it’s an instrument of The Calling - don't ask me what that is," she said, preempting Audra. "But how it works or what it does - you got me. There’s not even a picture of it, so we don’t even know what it looks like." She paused in thought for a moment. "Maybe we should let Aidan in on what’s going on. He’s a good Hunter. Maybe he can track this guy down for us again and not kill him.”
Audra sat up and leaned in close to Ellie for emphasis. “No. Aidan does not get involved with this. He doesn’t understand. His game is kill first, ask questions later. You can’t get information out of something that’s dead. He sees everything in black and white.” Thoughts of Johan popped into Audra’s mind. She quickly dismissed them. There wasn’t time for that now.
“So what do we do? Audra, I don’t think we can do this on our own. We need help. We just don’t have enough information and our little underground network is either disappearing or doesn’t know anything. I get the feeling we stumbled on something way bigger than just the two of us.”
Audra nodded thoughtfully, staring off into space. “I know. But who would believe us?”
There was something not right with the world and Ellie Goodwin was painfully aware of it. It wasn’t anything she could put her finger on, but she had a knack of knowing when things weren’t as they should be. It was a feeling that had hit her as she walked across the university campus, travelling from her Latin class to the student center to meet up with some friends for an evening coffee. There’s a disturbance in the force, Luke, had flashed through her mind. She had stopped, pulled the iPod ear buds out of her ears and looked around in confusion. Nothing seemed any different, as she observed the activity through the campus square. Students were milling about as usual. People walking through campus as usual. Nobody else seemed to notice that soemthing was askew. But somehow, things were not the same. That had been less than a week ago.
She had felt too jittery and just plain weirded out to sit through her evening class after that. Three hours straight of listening to a less than dynamic professor drone on about ancient civilization was more than Ellie could bear. She begged off having coffee with her friends – she didn’t need the extra caffeine in her state – and headed to the comfort and sanctity of home instead.
When she arrived at the apartment, she had curled up on the sofa and pulled the throw around her. She had chills going through her body, even though outside it was a balmy seventy-five degrees. But Ellie needed it more for protection than for warmth. She had remained that way until Audra had tumbled into the apartment, much later that evening.
Ellie looked up at her roommate, covered in the remnants of a green substance, completely dishevelled and looking far from her normal, well put together, flirtatious self. She was missing buttons from her blouse and it gaped open, revealing glimpses of cleavage and a lacy bra. Her usual confidence and energy had been reduced to sadness, exhaustion and something else - was it fear? The two had stared at each other for a long while. She could tell that Audra was searching her mind for an explanation. Ellie decided to put her out of her misery.
“Something’s happened,” Ellie said. “Something’s happened to the world.”
Audra had simply nodded and closed the apartment door. She was hunched over in her chair, studying the floor, deciding where to begin. The two had sat together in silence, absorbing the situation. Audra thought of how she could alleviate Ellie’s suspicions. She wanted to reassure her that she was just being silly. Or maybe she was worried about something else and projecting that worry into something bigger. But when Audra had looked into Ellie’s eyes she knew she had to tell her the truth. Ellie was incredibly perceptive and would see right through her if she didn't. Which was kind of ironic, since Audra had originally chosen her as a roommate because she figured her to be clueless and flighty.
Audra had finally realized she could tell her everything she knew and Ellie would understand. It would be a welcome relief, telling her the truth. There was comfort in sharing this awful reality with someone else. It would no longer be hers to bear alone.
“We’re not alone in this world,” Audra began carefully. “There are others...”
And so she began the fantastical tale of what she knew and of her double life. Privileged master’s student by day – demon hunter by night. Ellie had absorbed everything and at the end, to Audra’s relief, she showed no signs of signs of freaking out. Once Audra was done with the story, she had merely processed all the information quietly for a few moments.
“I thought it was just me,” Ellie finally said.