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Hunter’s Dawn – Chapter One

Hoping there aren’t typos, because it has been edited. Enjoy xx

Chapter One – Hunter’s Dawn

“Well,” Shadow said, looking around at the reinforced doors and security system cameras, “this is impressive.”

Jackson smiled as he led them along the corridor. “Hazards of the Paranormal Division—and I guess government intelligence agencies in general. They have to be prepared for attack.”

Gabe’s eyes narrowed as he examined their surroundings. “I guess they do. It feels like a warren down here.”

Harlan was walking alongside Shadow, and he nodded. “I think I’m lost already.”

“I felt like that the first time I was here,” Jackson admitted, “but I’ve got used to it.”

Shadow exchanged a look with Harlan. As suspected, Jackson was very familiar with this place, and as usual, he’d underplayed his hand.

It was Wednesday morning in early July, a couple of weeks after the events with the Dark Star Astrolabe in France, and Jackson had invited Shadow, Gabe, and Harlan to the government’s Paranormal Division headquarters. It was situated in the basement of the MI5 building and accessed via a rear entrance on Thornley Street. They had passed through the plain front rooms to a well-manned security checkpoint where they had been searched and scanned, and annoyingly, Shadow had to leave her weapons in the screening area—even the ones she tried to conceal.

Once through security, they used the lift to descend two floors down from street level, and found themselves in a low-ceilinged space with narrow corridors and small rooms. It felt cramped and neglected.

Harlan huffed. “It feels like you’re out of sight, out of mind down here.”

“That’s exactly how they treat the PD, and it suits us,” Jackson admitted, not looking concerned in the slightest. “The bigwigs don’t really like to acknowledge what we do here. Hence the rear entrance. But there are a couple of labs here, a back entrance that leads to our own morgue, and even a few cells which we can use for a limited time. They have another entrance, too.”

“I presume,” Gabe said, prowling like a caged cat, “they are well guarded?”

“Of course.” Jackson grinned as he stopped outside a closed door. “Anyway, time to meet our director, Waylen Adams.”

Our? Shadow had a feeling they were being recruited, whether they wanted to be or not.

Jackson swung the door open into a very unusual office. The entire back wall was glass, and as they progressed into the room, Shadow could see that the vast window looked onto a couple of labs staffed with a handful of black-clad scientists. There appeared to be one old-fashioned laboratory, complete with alembic jars, glass jars, flasks, crucibles, and other equipment, and another one kitted out with state-of-the-art machinery and modern technology.

She inwardly groaned. More alchemy and magic. She’d pretty much had her fill of it with Black Cronos and JD, but knew it wasn’t going away. However, she had very little time to take in the details, as a man rose from behind the desk and limped around to greet them as Jackson made the introductions.

Waylen was a very average man who Shadow estimated to be in his forties. Average height, average build, wearing an average suit, and with sensibly cut hair, but his eyes were a pale brown the colour of honey, and it felt like they looked right through her.

“Good to meet you all,” Waylen said, shaking their hands. “Jackson has explained how helpful you’ve been regarding Black Cronos.” He ushered them into seats around a large, wooden table. “Your fighting skills are impressive.”

“Er, not mine,” Harlan said, shooting Jackson a nervous glance. “Are you sure you want me here?”

Waylen smiled, his sharp eyes narrowing. “Oh yes. You work with JD.”

“Unfortunately, yes, I do. What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I’ll get to that.” Waylen turned back to Gabe and Shadow, studying them with interest. “Not many could have killed so many of Black Cronos’s…soldiers.”

Gabe gave him a grim smile. “As I’m sure Jackson has told you, we have a few extra skills that others don’t.”

Waylen nodded. “Advanced fighting ability, wings, and,” his gaze slid to Shadow, “fey magic.”

Shadow bristled under his stare. “I presume we’re here because you want our help.”

“With Black Cronos, yes. We’re trying to find where Toto Dax and The Silencer of Souls have fled to, but so far are having limited success. They’ve covered their tracks well. But,” he stood and walked over to the window to look at the labs, “in the last twenty-four hours we have identified one lead that seems to be current. I’m just waiting on an update.”

Gabe nodded. “And you want our help to find them?”

“Exactly.” Waylen leaned against the glass and folded his arms across his chest as he stared at them. “I had originally thought to keep our search within this division, but I have to be realistic. We need your help. What I want to do now is secure your agreement. You have brothers, I understand, and a witch who helped you in France.”

Herne’s horns. Shadow knew she’d have to put up with more time around Estelle, but it still grated on her.

 Gabe said, “Six brothers, but not all are free to help all the time. I organise their availability.” He glanced over at Harlan. “We also work with The Orphic Guild, in addition to doing a few other things.”

Waylen shrugged. “That’s fine. I trust you to organise who you need and when. Just be aware that you may have to move quickly.”

“We can do that—for a price. I presume you offer good rates?”

“We’re competitive.”

Shadow butted in before anyone else could answer. “You’ll have to be very competitive. Black Cronos is dangerous. That means hazard pay. Or no deal.”

“And,” Gabe added, “we want real details, not just some sketchy, scant amount of information you’re happy to tell us. If we’re risking our lives, it’s the least you can do.”

“Agreed.” Waylen limped back to the table and Shadow wondered what had caused his injury. If Waylen noticed her interest, he didn’t explain himself, instead saying, “I want you to be successful, so of course I’ll share what we have.”

Gabe leaned forward, arms resting on the table. “Are we expected to catch them or kill them?”

“That really depends on the circumstances, I guess.” Waylen glanced at Jackson, who was watching the exchange. “Jackson will liaise with you.”

“And where do I come into this?” Harlan asked, looking very suspicious.

“I need you to keep tabs on JD, and make sure he doesn’t get in the way.”

Harlan snorted. “You’ve got to be kidding! You want to me to watch that sneaky son of a bitch? I hardly ever see him. And in case Jackson didn’t tell you,” he gave Jackson a long sideways glance, “we’re not exactly on good terms right now.”

Waylen smiled. “I understand. JD is a tricky character. Has he recovered from his experience in France?”

“Being kidnapped by Toto Dax? I think his pride was more injured. It’s Mason who was affected more. He’s grieving for Smythe. In fact,” Harlan shuffled in his seat, “it would be fair to say he wants revenge. He’s furious.”

Waylen’s hands steepled together, elbows on his desk, and he leaned on them, his eyes hooded. “Yes, I understand that. They’ve been responsible for many deaths in their time. How is Caldwell Fleet? I gather his colleague was killed, too.”

“As well as can be expected,” Harlan told him. “Especially considering the manner of his friend’s death.”

“Aubrey Cavendish,” Gabe said, his voice hard, “was killed by The Silencer of Souls. You wouldn’t happen to know how she kills with her lips, would you?”

Waylen sighed. “I’m afraid not. But I would dearly like to.”

Gabe muttered under his breath, “Of course you don’t.”

Shadow knew that Gabe had been more disturbed than he’d like to admit when he was attacked by The Silencer of Souls. Not many things unnerved him, but she did. However, Waylen ignored Gabe’s sarcasm and opened a slim folder, extracting several sheets of paper. He slid them across the table, one for Shadow and Gabe, and one for Harlan.

“Our contract. It outlines our terms and pay. I need your answer now, though obviously I’ll give you a few minutes to go through it.” He headed to the door. “I’ll be back soon.”

In seconds he’d gone, leaving them alone, and Shadow leapt from her chair to study the labs beyond the glass wall. Jackson joined her. “Don’t you want to read the contract?”

“I’ll read it in a minute. I’m more interested in those.” She nodded to the men carrying out their investigations. “You obviously come here a lot. Do you know what they’re doing?”

Jackson gave a lopsided grin and ruffled his shaggy hair. The last time she’d seen him he’d looked tired, exhausted from the chase. He looked better now, flushed with success. “I’m not privy to everything that happens here, you know.”

Shadow stared at his mischievous expression. “Liar! You’re a dark horse, Jackson Strange.”

He just laughed. “It’s the name of the game.” His eyes travelled across her face and then back to the labs. “I know some things, but am not privy to all. Some of the scientists are trying to recreate Toto’s experiments. Not on humans, you understand!”

Shadow stifled a snort. “No, of course not!”

“I’m serious. It’s more the alchemical process they’re interested in.”

“For now.” Shadow knew how these things worked. The Paranormal Division were at a disadvantage, and they didn’t like it. That’s why they needed them. “They’ve been trying for years though, right? And failing.”

“But the documents we found weeks ago have changed things.”

Shadow turned to look at him. “Caldwell allowed you access to his papers?”

“Of course. That was the deal that allowed the order to have access to the Dark Star Temple.” Jackson pointed to a far wall where a series of objects were laid out. “A few things we retrieved. But so far, all that they prove is that Toto—or someone—is a genius. And of course, he escaped with some of the research.”

“It’s early days though, isn’t it?”

“Very.”

“And you have the bodies?”

Jackson nodded. “Yes, and the remains of those who had been dead in that temple for years. They’re being examined, too.”

Images of blood tests and autopsies flooded Shadow’s mind. What a fate. Another thought struck her. “What about Stefan Hope-Robbins? Has he said much?”

“Ah! No.” Jackson rubbed his jaw, his eyes brooding. “But I haven’t seen him for a few days. Our security team continues to question him, though.”

That sounded suitably ominous.

“Have you found the order’s mole yet?” They all knew someone had betrayed Caldwell and Aubrey, despite their protestations. Shadow just hoped Caldwell wouldn’t become a victim, too. He was an odd man, but she liked him.

“No. Things have been very quiet there, but we’re watching and waiting.”

“And this new lead?”

“Looks good.”

Before she could ask any more questions, Gabe called her over. “Have a look at this, Shadow.”

She walked to his side and lifted the contract, skimming through it. “I’m happy with it. I’m sure your brothers will be, too.”

He nodded. “At least we retain discretion as to how we organise ourselves.”

Harlan’s eyes narrowed as he put his contract down. “Standard waffle,” he drawled, “and the money is okay, but I earn more not having to babysit that awkward bastard, JD.”

Gabe looked at him, clearly amused. “You must get paid way more than us, then. I thought the rates were pretty good.”

“Maybe you’re risking death more than I am and your rates are better,” Harlan answered, his hand raking through his hair. “I’m just risking my sanity.”

Jackson was still at the window, and he called over, “You don’t mind spying on your boss, then?”

“I’m not exactly comfortable with it, but if it keeps us all a little safer, I can deal with it.” He signed his contact with a flourish. “JD is borderline nuts…a loose cannon. I guess that’s what immortality does to you. Gives you a damn God complex. I’ll do what I can to keep an eye on him. Hell, I try anyway! I may as well get paid for it now.”

“I don’t envy you,” Shadow confessed, sinking into her seat again.

The last time they’d seen JD was in France, and he’d left early to go to the Paris branch, leaving the rest of them in peace at the château. Days of bliss, in which Shadow had only reluctantly left Gabe’s bed. She only wished she hadn’t hesitated for so long. She glanced at him now, noting his hard jaw, firm mouth, and dark olive skin. The sun was kind to him, and he looked good.

“Seriously, though,” Harlan continued, addressing Jackson. “How the hell am I supposed to keep tabs on that man? He does what he likes when he likes, and I’ve barely seen him since France. And Mason is tight-lipped about him. There may even be a rift between them.”

“Perhaps,” Gabe suggested, also signing their contract and passing it to Shadow, “he blames him for Smythe’s death.”

“Yeah. I think there’s a fair bit of that.”

Despite the fact that Gabe and the others had saved JD and Mason, JD had barely given them thanks. Instead he was preoccupied with the papers that Caldwell had retrieved from the Minotaur’s tomb. Ungrateful bastard. But Shadow reminded herself that she wasn’t doing this for gratitude, but for the money, and JD was unlikely to ever show gratitude for anything.

“I think,” Jackson mused, “that once JD knows we have a lead, he will suddenly make himself very available to you. Just make sure you keep him updated.”

The door swung wide as Waylen re-entered, a broad smile on his face. “I hope you’re happy with your contracts, because our lead has been confirmed. Can you travel today?”

“Today!” Gabe’s voice rose with surprise. “Sure. But I need to get the team together. Where are we going?”

“Scotland. A remote abbey, in fact. We’ll have to fly you there. We can provide weapons, but…”

Shadow interrupted him. “We prefer our own. Are you sending a team, too?”

Waylen’s smile disappeared. “There’ll be an extraction team like the last time for anyone you catch. Or kill. But you go in alone.”

“And we attack tonight?” Gabe asked. “My preference is to do this in darkness.”

“Absolutely.”

“And some of my brothers will need flights from Cornwall.”

Waylen didn’t hesitate. “Not a problem. I just need names.” He nodded to Jackson. “Liaise with him. He will organise it all.”

“And me?” Harlan asked, alarmed. “Do I need to be there?”

Gabe answered immediately. “No. It’s too dangerous. But we’ll let you know what we find so you can update JD.”

Harlan looked relieved as a wicked grin crossed his face. “Sure. I’d like to rattle him.”

“In that case,” Waylen said, skimming the signed contacts and adding his own, “here are your copies. Can you be ready by late afternoon?”

“No problem,” Shadow said, already eager to be out of there. “But we need details. Background.”

“Of course.” Waylen settled himself at the table again. “I’ll tell you what we know so far. But I warn you, it’s not much.”


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