Authors: Holly Evans
Book One in the Infernal Hunt series.
by Holly Evans.
Copyright Holly Evans (2016)
. All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogue are purely from the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is fictionalised and coincidental.
Licensed material is being used for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted in the licensed material is a model.
First and foremost to my dear husband, for his unwavering support and encouragement. Next, I dedicate this to my best friend. He is at the heart of every snarky elf I write, and I love him for it. Last, but not least, my twin (in spirit if not in blood) Mollie. She made me smile during the darkest times and reminded me why I love writing so much. I’d be lost without these three amazing people in my life.
had come from all over the country for the blood moon. Prague was an old and powerful city; there was a great deal of magic within its boundaries, and that made blood moons interesting to say the least. Even more so given that the planets were in an unusual alignment, making everything more potent than it had been in a century. Some of the hunters were there to make a profit from their kills, others just wanted to keep the innocent humans safe. Us? Prague was our home, we had to keep it safe… but we did still have bills to pay.
We’d gathered with other hunters to split the city up into zones to stop arguments over bounties and profits. Quin and I were covering Old Town Square, where we stood facing down a small collection of blood-thirsty redcaps. The drunk tourists they’d been stalking had slipped away to safety, but the redcaps had crossed the line and killed three humans that night. They had to be put down; of course, if I had my way, redcaps would be wiped out of existence. They were vile creatures who served no real purpose; the only use for them was as parts that we sold to alchemists for reasonable money.
The leader, Red, although all redcaps are called Red, glared at us. They’d even put on shoddily made red hats for the night, for tradition’s sake I assumed. The caps started the evening out white, but the redcaps had dipped them in the blood of their victims, turning them red. They truly were vile creatures, and it wasn’t very easy to tell them apart in the semi-darkness. They all had slightly yellowed skin, yellow pointed teeth, and filthy long nails that had started to curl. The leader had blood drying around his mouth (which was currently twisted into a snarling grin) and a missing ear. It turned out that one of the tourists from before we’d arrived was quite feisty and put up a good fight; it was a shame they got overwhelmed and lost in the end.
I glanced to Quin, who had his pouch of iron filings in his hand; he gave me a small nod and we pushed forward. Iron is poisonous to fae, which given how difficult they are to kill without it, is useful to know. I’d coated my blades in iron filings; they clung to the blade by the thick viscous blood of Red’s brothers, who were heaped up against the old stone wall of the tower. The leader lunged forwards at Quin, who laughed heartily and threw the filings in the creature’s face. The smallest of the group slashed at me with his twisted nails; I blocked the clumsy attack with my forearm and plunged my blade into his stomach. He screamed, an animalistic blood-curdling sound that echoed around the square.
I dragged the blade down and pulled it back as Quin took the legs out from under the leader with a heavy kick to the back of the knees. The leader’s knees crumpled under the impact, forcing him to land in a kneeling position. The final redcap was desperate. He screamed and ran at me with his fingers extended. He feinted to the left; I didn’t move quickly enough and felt those cursed claws cut through my jeans and sink into my thigh. I refused to give him the satisfaction of screaming. Instead, I hacked at his bicep, causing him to leap back.
Quin punched him in the temple; that made him stumble before Quin slit his throat.
“Really, sis, you shouldn’t play with them like that.”
He flashed me a roguish grin. Blood covered my jeans, and the pain cut through my thoughts. It wasn’t the only injury I’d incurred that night, but the sun was rising, the night was over, and we had enough bounty to live well for a few months. We set about gathering as much blood from the redcaps as we could into the vials and jars that we had on us. We stripped out their teeth, hair, and claws. The alchemists would pay us a small fortune for everything we’d managed to gather. The bodies disintegrated and left nothing more than small black puddles after some half an hour. The fluid would evaporate, leaving no trace of the night by the time the tourists got up. I’d never understood what caused fae to vanish like that, but it made my life easier.
We pulled on our backpacks full of clinking glassware with various disgusting odds and ends that the alchemists would coo and grin over. My thigh was hurting more than I wanted to admit; I couldn’t help but limp a little.
Quin flashed me another grin. “Don’t worry, Ev, I’ll fix you up like new.”
I squeezed his shoulder and couldn’t help but grin back at him; his enthusiasm was contagious.
“It was a good night, worth a little pain.”
I wasn’t keen on his dabbling in alchemy, but he used it to help keep us safe and kick creatures’ asses, so I couldn’t complain too much.
My body ached. Our backpacks full of varying body parts and fluids sat near the front door; the alchemists could wait. I didn’t want to walk into his lair in my injured and exhausted state. He hadn’t done us any harm yet, but the fact remained that they were creatures of magic, supernals, and thus not to be trusted. I peeled my jeans off and threw them onto the heap of bloody clothes that Quin had already amassed. We’d soon have enough money to replace our entire wardrobes and live well for a few months. The ruined clothes still irked me, though. I stood in front of the full length mirror standing between our bedroom doors and inspected the night’s injuries.
There were four relatively deep holes in my upper thigh, thanks to the final redcap. Claw marks ran down my lower ribs; a lycan had gone rogue and had to be put down. Teeth marks sat around my left wrist where a particularly savage nymph had tried to chew my hand off. I hadn’t known anything like it, the planets really had made them all insane. It had been a long time since we’d encountered quite so much chaos in a single night. Quin danced around behind me, humming to himself as he mixed various powders; he loved playing with alchemy. I’d rather that neither of us had anything to do with magic, but I couldn’t deny that it had its uses. That didn’t make me any more comfortable with the concept of magic; it was too easy to abuse.
I left him to his gleeful mixing and had a quick shower to wash off the worst of the blood and filth. Exhaustion sat in my very bones as I closed my eyes and allowed the steam to build around me. No matter how much I scrubbed, I couldn’t remove the feeling of being defiled by the redcap’s claws. The images of their twisted dirt-caked visage kept forming into my mind. I pushed it away and dried myself off, pulling on a pair of shorts and a strap top. Quin and I were used to being almost naked around each other; we’d lived together our entire lives and had to patch up more injuries than I cared to remember. Any weirdness that may have been there had long since evaporated.
I walked into the living room to see him leap back before a ball of neon pink fire leapt up from the bowl in front of him. He threw some green powder on it, causing it to disperse into a shimmering silver mist. He poked at the remnants of the bowl once more, before he yelped as it set on fire once more.
“Please don’t tell me that’s the healing paste you plan on putting on me,” I said.
He flashed me a large grin. “I’ve almost finished perfecting it!”
The bowl cracked. Dark blue gloop with golden stripes began spreading across the kitchen counter, the same kitchen counter where we made our food. He scooped the gloop into a fresh bowl and did a little dance.
“It didn’t go quite as I envisioned, but I have absolute faith that it will be superior to my previous attempt,” he said.
I exhaled slowly through my nose. The previous attempt at it had burned like a sonofabitch and required a rather expensive salve from the alchemist to fix. He either conveniently didn’t remember that experience, or gleefully ignored it as his face contorted into a look of intense concentration. He twisted around trying to smear some of the stuff onto his ribs and lower back.
His thick black hair began to fall into his eyes causing him to blow upwards; that only made things worse. I flopped down on the sofa and waited for my turn. I knew I should probably have helped him apply the stuff, but I’d seen it catch on fire. Twice. The pain of the injuries was growing and making me stiff, but I was too proud to allow it to show any more than was absolutely necessary. A quiet celebratory noise came from Quin’s direction; I assumed he’d succeeded in coating the wound from the lycan in the healing gloop.
He stood and looked over to me with a grin on his face. “This is a new recipe, it tingles but it should heal things more quickly.”
A weight settled in my stomach. He’d never intentionally harm me, and I trusted him with my life, but I couldn’t shake off the memory of the fireballs. It had been a long night and I really didn’t want to end it by being set on fire. Some of Quin’s previous experiments had resulted in nightmares for weeks. He approached me with a look of eagerness that wouldn’t be out of place on a puppy. With a soft shake of my head, I stood and prepared myself for his latest healing gloop. Our parents had been friends with a very strong old witch. She had taken us under her wing as children and taught us the basics of magic so we could defend ourselves. She also taught Quin the basics of herbs; he loved every second.
The paste really did tingle; I had to fight not to squirm against the cold, almost fizzing sensation.
“Is this from that elf, Kadrix?”
I had to ask. I wasn’t fond of the elf alchemist, myself, but Quin had a way of making friends with all and sundry, the elf being no exception.
“Sort of.” That didn’t fill me with confidence. “He told me how the three main ingredients come together, so I applied what Serena taught me. It seems to be working pretty well so far,” he said with a distracted tone.
He was almost done, and it hadn’t hurt yet. He couldn’t help but keep poking and experimenting with things. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t leave well enough alone. Still, sometimes his experiments did help us, so I kept my complaints to myself. He stepped back, looking satisfied that everything had been done; he looked quite absurd with random splotches of bright pink on his lightly tanned skin.
He wandered into the kitchen to wash up and called back over his shoulder, “It really is a shame you had to kill Serena, I could have learned more from her.”
I sat down slowly, trying to keep the paste off the sofa.