This isn’t what it looks like. I swear. You see, though I may be tied to this wooden beam with unbreakable chains, and yes, though I may be hanging over a boiling pot full of something that smells worse than an angel’s anus, I am in complete control. Utter domination. You get the picture. So, don’t worry. All children and sensitive souls may read on. But wait, Iris, you may be saying. What about those three old crones, Iris? How kind of you to be concerned. But those ugly witches stirring the pot and seasoning me with pepper are no problem. Let me introduce you. There’s Al’Kallach, the Devourer. Then Ma’Ga’Ta, the Deceiver. And Jane the… um, well there isn’t much to say about Jane, to be honest. Except perhaps that her mother disliked her.
They call themselves the Three Sisters, because the Fates was already taken, and the Evil Trinity has a trademark pending. Now I know what you’re thinking. Iris, where did you learn all this? You don’t hang with that kind of crowd, and you’re right, I don’t. I learned all this from them… because they’ve been blabbering for the past three hours. You’d think they’d cook me already and get it over with, but nooo… Al’Kallach says the pot must always be preheated to five hundred degrees just as their mother taught them. In case you can’t tell, I’m rolling my eyes. Now I’m blinking. Rapidly. Because the steam is hot and drying out my cornea. “Jane,” I ask, tilting my head at her.
“I’ve heard so much from your sisters, but I’m thinking it’s time we focus on you now. And let’s skip all that normal mumbo jumbo I can get off Facebook. I want to get to know the real Jane. What dreams swirl around in that little head? What secrets lie in that cold heart?” She turns away shyly, cheeks flushing red. “Me? I don’t… I don’t have any secrets.” “Oh, come on Jane. You can tell me. I mean, who am I gonna tell, right?” I glance at the boiling pot filled with chunks of lizard tail and bat wing. “Oh… I’m not sure.” “Come on, Jane.
Please? It’ll make me happy. I hear happy meat tastes best.” She side-eyes her sisters, then shrugs. “Oh, alright.” Bingo. Crones are a level five monster. Powerful, but not particularly smart, making them very run of the mill. You may be wondering: Iris, why is an awesome hunter like yourself after three average monsters? Good question. But I am not here for them. I am here for someone else.
Oh, Iris, who can it be— Patience, little bird, patience. All will unfold in time. Now back to Jane, who is so damn good at stirring that pot, I mean, check out that form. “Me and Elias,” she says proudly. “We’re a thing now.” Huh, not what I was expecting. I nod. “He’s your bae?” Al’Kallach scoffs. “If Elias is your bae then I’m a mermaid.” “Shut up,” yells Jane.
“Shut up, you old hag.” She raises her ladle, spraying hot stew on my shiny black cloak. The heat singes, but worse, that’s my favorite cloak. “No. No,” says Ma’Ga’Ta the Deceiver. “You are both too tall. Elias like his woman small. Elias like me.” Oh, boy, here we go. “Ladies please, calm down.
Relax. We’re all women here. No reason for us to fight each other over a man. Am I right? I mean, it’s not like Elias is even here?” I let the question hang between them. They freeze. Jane blushes. “Elias is upstairs.” Then she adds with a cheeky grin. “In my room.” Score.
I knew he was close, but not that close. Elias is a level ten monster (some would say eleven but eleven doesn’t exist) and number one on the most wanted list. Who’s the best hunter in the world? Huh, huh? Al’Kallach hisses in fury at her sister, like she’s the one being cooked alive, except, oh yeah, that’s me. Ma’Ga’Ta’s jaw drops, eyes bulging in her face like bowling balls. Shit is about to hit the proverbial fan and Al’Kallach is ready to bring the pain. Then Jane clasps both of them on their shoulders. “Now remember, sisters, what the therapist said. We are a team. And though sometimes we might get angry, we must communicate before resorting to forms of violence. Because we love each other.
Because no one and nothing should get between us. Even someone as handsome and as dashing as Elias.” She reaches forward with her hand. “Three Sisters forever.” Begrudgingly, Al’Kallach and Ma’Ga’Ta lay their hands on hers. “On three now. One. Two. Three.” All of their voices chime in together.
“Three Sisters forever! Woo!” What the… They turn to me. “I’m hungry,” says Ma’Ga’Ta. “Temperature’s just right,” says Al’Kallach as she puts her finger in the boiling water. “Let’s talk over dinner,” agrees Jane. Now, wait. Wait a second. That’s not how this was supposed to go. “Please good ladies, please don’t boil me alive. I don’t taste good, I swear. Much too gamy I’ve been told.
” They grab the beam and start to lower it. On second thought. Children and sensitive souls may want to skip the page. *** What? Still here. Well… don’t say I didn’t warn you. *** The crones lower me into the pot, boil me alive, and enjoy a nice dinner. No joke. But they didn’t account for one thing. My gift. I call it renewal.
And it’s one badass skill. Or talent, really, since I did nothing to learn it. But that’s a story for another time. Right now, all you need to concern yourself with is renewal lets me… well… renew. Or revive. Or resurrect. You get the picture. I always regenerate my body though, so here I stand, leaning against the doorway, watching as the Three Sisters devour the Iris special, aka my old corpse, aka disgusting. I’ll leave them to it. Because again, I’m not here for them.
I’m here for Elias. And though the crones may be dimwitted, they are dangerous in a fight. It’s why I let myself be captured—to extract information from them. Trying to beat it out of them would have been quite the hassle and not guaranteed to succeed, so I’ll stay my blade for now. Old Uncle Sly would be proud. Brains before brawn, he always says. Though he says some weird shit too, so I probably shouldn’t pat myself on the back quite yet. At any rate, it’s time to go. I wander down the stone hallway. More of a cave, really.
A tunnel? Yeah, a damp and dark tunnel filled with buzzing flies and other creepy crawlies. Something squishes under my black leather boots making a wet sucking sound. It may only be mud, but it also may be a decomposing corpse, so let’s not think too much about it. So walking… walking… oh, what do we have here? A festival. A party. It appears the local monsters got together for a little fun in the crones’ basement. A giant cave full of torches and natural light from the open ceiling. Dozens of bodies writhing to a chorus of beating drums. There are ghouls. And gargoyles.
Their dancing is hard to watch, so I’ll spare you the details. A satyr glances at me and winks, then leaps away on his goat legs to join the nymphs grinding in the corner. No one else gives me a second look. No one notices me and thinks, “Oh shit, run, badass hunter over here.” Because I’m a monster too. Well, half-monster. But we’ll discuss that later. The important thing is, I look human. Like a twenty-one-year-old woman, some would say. But there are monsters that appear pretty human.
Succubus, for example. All they need to do is cover up their hairy legs and their little horns and they could pass for a cover model. So, as my legs are covered in black leather and my head is hidden under a black hood—noticing a trend yet?—I look enough a Succubus. Perhaps a shade not pretty enough, but I make up for it with a great personality. Yay! Sorry… I grew up with a Succubus. Dating was… difficult… when everyone was supernaturally and heck, naturally, attracted to your best friend. Still have some hard feelings about that. I should probably tell my therapist. If I had one… Note: get a therapist who specializes in paranormal teenage angst. Now that’s handled, time to party.
I groove my way to the nymphs and casually bring up that I’m trying to find Jane. Perchance she’s in her room? Oh yeah. Where is it? Upstairs, take the third right. Thank you, creepy satyr. I follow his directions and reach a dreary corridor that could really use some re-decorating. Seriously, why hang a picture of Captain America next to a picture of Dracula? It’s… odd. Anyway, I’m alone here, the music from downstairs a barely audible thud reverberating through the floor. I draw my trusty twin daggers and step forward, a small part of my mind worried for the battle that is to come. Then he shows up. The destroyer of worlds.
The butcher of armies. The Prince of— Oh, it’s only Imenath. Sorry, I thought it was actually someone dangerous. “We meet again,” growls Imenath, stepping forward from the shadows behind me, his entire body covered in silver armor resembling a skeleton. His head masked behind a helmet sprouting horns. He swings his giant spiked mace from his shoulders and grips it with both hands. “Will the hunter prevail —” “Yep,” I say. “Or will Imenath the Terrible, number three on the most wanted list—” “You’re not number three anymore, buddy. You’re not even on the list.” “Or,” he continues, “will Imenath the Terrible have his revenge.
” “Nope.” “Imenath will destroy you, lying hunter.” I sigh. This is so messing with my cover. “Hey, Imenath, buddy, remember that time when I captured you? You went to prison? Served your time? Got out early for good behavior?” I pat him on the shoulder. “You’re not a criminal anymore. I’m not after you.” “I stole a chocolate bar from downstairs.” He growls. “I am a menace to society.
I am—” “Great. Maybe the chocolate police will come after you. I don’t know. Not my jurisdiction.” I lean in conspiratorially. “But listen, I’m kinda here on a mission, you see. High-level stuff. I need to stay on the down low. And you’re giving me away, man. I just, I just need some help here.
” “Imenath will destroy puny hunter!” roars Imenath. He swings his giant mace with all his might at my head. To some, like Imenath himself, perhaps this would be a fierce and swift blow. But to me, well, it’s as if he’s moving in slow motion. Oh boy. This is so embarrassing. I assumed I was past fighting level four monsters, but it seems some never learn. Well, I guess there’s nothing left to do except… I punch him in the face. He flies ten feet through the air, crashing through a window down the hall, falling, his voice echoing on the wind. “I will return…” Now that’s handled, back to the mission.
Where was I? Oh yeah, about to break into Jane’s room and capture Elias. And again, sorry about that interruption. Imenath and I go way back. He used to be my mark when I was still figuring out how to break out as a hunter, make my own way and all that. He was my first real challenge, real wall, as it were in gamer speak, and it took about a year before I finally captured him. We had some good battles, Imenath and I, but what can I say except… some of us improved in life, some didn’t. Imenath went to prison, I continued hunting, until I became number one in all the worlds. That’s right. Iris, your girl, is the number one paranormal hunter of all time. But even I have a final challenge.
And as I step into the crone’s room and hide behind a stone chair, there he is. Elias. Full name: Elias Vane Spero Classification: Half Vampire / Half Fae Title: High Prince of Hell Physical Description: Six feet tall, all muscle, black tattoos, dark hair, blue eyes Number one on the most wanted list Wanted alive for all manner of nefarious deeds He is the most dangerous man in the world. And he’s standing ten feet in front of me. Bastard better be ready. Because I’m coming for him. 2 ELIAS I watch from cover, studying the cavern, planning my attack. It’s a large space with rounded walls that curve up, revealing an open ceiling in the center. Beneath the opening is a bed carved from a boulder and covered in furs. I’m describing it in a way that might sound charming.
But really, it’s drafty, dirty, and kinda gross. There are bugs. Those furs look flea-infested. And who wants to sleep on a stone bed under the stars on nights when it’s pouring rain? Or really, any night. Talk about backbreaking. But hey, to each their own. Elias stands on a patch of moss-covered stone near the bed. Beams of moonlight dance on his pale skin, his dark hair drifting in the light wind. He’s shirtless, for reasons I’d rather not imagine… (Crap, it’s too late. Now I’m mentally seeing him and Jane doing the horizontal tango and it is nasty, get it out.
Note to self: Gouge out third eye.) So back to the half-naked vampire who’s only wearing black pants and black boots as he strides across the cave in three easy steps. I’m pretty certain I’m just imagining it, but the very earth seems to quake under his feet. As if Mother Nature herself doesn’t want to get in his way. He’s right in front of me, but he can’t see me as I crouch behind the chair and palm my daggers. I need to strike but… Something pulls me toward him. Draws me closer. They say Elias picked up some tricks from his uncle, the Prince of Lust, and I can’t discount that theory. His movements are both graceful and strong. His smile both inviting and dangerous.
His eyes both piercing and seductive. If one wasn’t afraid of sounding cheesy, they might call him dreamy, yummy… Wait a second… what’s happening? Oh no, my legs feel like jelly. Crap, my palms are sweaty, my heart beating faster. What’s going on? I want to leap out of my hiding place and yell, “take me,” but I shouldn’t… I mean, I shouldn’t, right? Snap out of it, Iris. It’s just some unnatural power making you hot and heavy. It’s not real. Get it together. It’s hunting time. The magical pull fades away—with some serious force of will on my part—and my focus returns. Elias may have eluded me before, (twenty-one times exactly, but who’s counting?) but today… I’m gonna catch the bitch.
I wait for him to turn his back to me, and sure enough he does, revealing the coils of serpentine black tattoos across his muscled body. He walks over to the rumpled bed in the corner, clearly disheveled from a night of passion, and grabs a silver pitcher from the side table, then pours himself a cup of something red and sips the viscous liquid, staining his pale lips a dark crimson. His weapons—a sword and dagger—lie casually against the side of the bed. They are two steps away from their master, far enough to give me the upper hand. I palm my— “You can come out,” Elias says, his voice dark and smooth like a glass of rich wine. I groan. How does he always do that? Reluctantly, I leave my hiding place, daggers raised. “You have nowhere to run this time,” I say. He chuckles so charismatically it’s almost disarming. “My dear Iris, you should know by now, I have no intention of running.
Your company is so pleasant, after all.” He puts the cup of blood down and walks up to a painting of… well, one ugly ass crone, who I can only presume was Jane’s mother, and pulls it open like a door, revealing a safe carved within the stone wall. In an instant, he spins the dial, imputing the proper combination and unlocking the container. “Ah,” he says, eyes glinting. “Finally.” He reaches within the safe and draws out a sword, more beautiful and deadly than any I have ever seen. Ancient glyphs engrave the steel, glimmering in the light. The air itself stirs around the weapon, and as Elias sweeps the blade before him, it seems to sing a haunting melody on the wind. “The Moonlight Sword,” Elias says softly, as if speaking to a lover. “So, that’s why you came here.
” “Yes, though Jane’s company was pleasurable as well.” He glances at the bed with a smirk, and I shiver as unwanted images once again fill my mind. (My third eye gauging trick didn’t work.) Elias shakes his head. “So human of you,” he continues. “There is beauty in all things, Iris. Perhaps one day you will understand. Even a crone can be a maiden.”