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Hunter of Souls

(Book One)



By

Blush Rose








Published by Blush Erotica

Copyright 2017 by Blush Rose

Smashwords Edition


Chapter One


Persis shifted on the uncomfortable barstool, clutching the glass so tightly her knuckles turned white. Her target grew close. The knot in her gut told her so. Looking to her left and gazing around her dark hood, she clenched her jaw at the injustice of it. An innocent would die, and she could do nothing to stop it. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. She could stop it but wasn’t allowed to. Her orders were to wait until after the deed was done, and then claim the dark soul.

In the beginning she had watched from a distance, but no longer. She couldn’t bear to watch death claim an innocent, not when she could have stopped it. Picking up the shot of hard liquor, she downed it quickly, hoping it would numb the pain. Killing evil was easy. Letting that evil kill another was entirely different. It hurt, surprisingly so. The pain made her heart throb and her throat constrict. She almost choked on the liquor seeping down her throat.

“Would you like another?”

Her dark gaze flicked over to the bartender, who dried a glass and watched her warily. The quick shake of her head had him shrugging and skulking off the other side of the bar.

Grunting in discomfort, she tossed money on the bar and headed for the back door. It was time to collect her bounty.


The blonde woman lay in a pool of her own blood as Persis stepped into the dark alley. She watched as he searched through the blonde’s purse, pulling out her wallet. Narrowing her eyes and extending her arms, Persis grasped the twin blades sliding into her palms. It only took a few quick strides to reach him, and her weapons silently sliced through the air and then his neck like warm butter.

He fell to his knees as his blood joined the dead woman’s on the ground before him. Wiping her blades on his jacket, Persis sheathed them and turned away, not sparing either a second glance.

Her feet made no sound as she strode down the alley, her senses attuned to her surroundings. This was why his presence startled her, forcing a gasp from her lips before she could stop it. Immediately going on the defensive, the cold steel of her blades in her tight fists, she dropped into fighting stance. Since his gaze was clearly on the dead man and woman at the other end of the alley, she relaxed slightly and frowned. Had he seen her kill the dark soul? Certainly she would have felt him. Wouldn’t she? No mere mortal had ever been able to surprise her…until now.

Straightening, but keeping her weapons ready, she studied him. Was he a mere mortal? His hair was just a few shades darker than hers, and almost as shaggy, but she couldn’t see his eyes. The shadows gave his face a rugged look, though his lips were too full for a man.

Finally his slow gaze moved to lock with hers, and the street light lit up half his features. Slight flutters in her stomach made her cringe, not wanting to admit that he was quite striking. Persis never noticed such things in the humans.

As they stared at each other, she wondered if he would ever speak. Suddenly wanting to hear his voice, she cleared her throat.

“Why do you just stand there?”

He blinked a few times, and she finally noticed he gripped his phone in his right hand.

“Speak, mortal!” She ordered, and his eyes widened.

He tilted his head down the alley. “I saw him kill that woman, and I was just about to call the cops when you showed up.”

Persis nodded but didn’t take her eyes off of him. His voice resonated within her, and she sheathed her blades. He was no threat to her or anyone else.

Clearly letting out the breath he held, he nervously licked his lips. “I’ve never seen anyone move like that. Why did you call me mortal?”

She could see from his expression that he already knew the answer, so she didn’t bother to respond. He nodded and looked down at his phone. “The way you used those blades on him, I figured you couldn’t be…”

Human

The unspoken word hovered between them.

“If you want to call the cops, you can. I’ll be gone before they get here.”

Turning to leave, she continued walking.

“I won’t tell them you were here.”

She smiled without looking back. “It won’t matter if you did.”


The magistrate stared at her, fighting the smile. “I can see that you’re upset, Persis, but you know the rules.”

His mirth angered her further, but she forced the respect that was due. “Yes, sir, I know the rules. I just don’t agree with all of them.”

“You’re still so very young and new to this. Once you’ve collected enough bounties, you will realize how useless it is to worry over those unsaved souls. We cannot interfere with the humans. When it is their time, it’s their time.”

“But how can it be their time, when a dark soul interferes?”

He sighed deeply. “Persis, you insist on forgetting the one key thing here. The dark souls are human, too.”

“Then how are we not interfering by taking them?”

He didn’t reply at first, and she almost smiled.

“The dark souls are different, you know that, and it’s your job to claim them…not to question why.”

Pursing her lips to keep from damning herself, she forced a nod.

“Persis, you won’t be a bounty hunter forever. Once you collect your quota, you can move on to greater things.”

“And what is my quota?”

He rubbed his hands down his face. “I tire of the same questions every time. All hunters have their own number. Only you will know when you have collected the last.”

Before she could stop herself, she rolled her eyes. Quickly dropping her chin, she looked at the floor and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“I have other hunters to attend to, Persis. Please remove yourself from my sight… and don’t forget to cleanse your swords.”

She bowed deeper, rolling her eyes as she walked backwards to the door, only then turning and fleeing the chamber. Cleanse your swords. The thought echoed in her head, and she snorted. It was an important ritual and necessary, but she’d only forgotten once as a new hunter. To be constantly reminded made her feel like a child.

“Well, you are the youngest hunter we’ve ever had.”

The teasing comment irritated her, but she inclined her head in greeting at Chance, another relatively new and young hunter.

“That doesn’t mean I have to be reminded every single time.”

Chance chuckled. “The magistrate just wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again. He does the same with me as well. I don’t think he’ll stop until after a century of hunting.”

The way to the lake of souls was downhill, and she usually counted the steps to help pass the time. Since it seemed she would have company this time, she lifted her gaze to the tall man beside her.

“Do you know why they insist we do this every time? Why can’t it be every 2nd or 3rd collection? Why every time?”

He kicked a pebble in front of his foot, and she watched it bounce down the steps in front of them. “It might be best if you stop questioning the wisdom of the elders, Persis. You know why we must cleanse our swords.”

Sighing deeply, she nodded. “Yes, of course, to free the trapped soul into the waters, so it cannot return to Earth. But that doesn’t explain why we can’t do it after we’ve collected more than one.”

He stopped descending, and it took her a few steps before realizing. Giving him a questioning look, she paused and leaned against the stone wall.

“You don’t want to find out, believe me.”

Excitement rushed through her at his ominous warning. “What do you know?”

Shrugging, he descended until he was a few steps below her. Before she could move to catch up, he placed the tips of his fingers in the center of her chest to still her. She always bound her breasts but still held her breath, resisting the temptation to slap his hand away. That was something a man wouldn’t do, and she and Chance were friends. Staring across into his eyes, she attempted to casually lean away from his touch, crossing her arms over her chest. He looked beyond her and then behind him before leaning closer and lowering his voice.

“I heard a few of the elders discussing how a sword was lost long ago, and it contained many souls. The hunters en masse searched for it until it was found, but all the souls were gone.”

She gasped. “Gone? Where?”

He shrugged again, turning to resume descending the steps. “No one knows.”

Persis rushed to catch up. “What happened to the hunter who lost them?”

“He lost his immortality, and the elders don’t want it to happen ever again. This is why we cannot return to Earth with any dark souls still in our swords.”

“Damn,” the word was slowly expelled on her breath, the surprise of such a loss extraordinary. Not only the souls but the hunter. Losing immortality was a death sentence, but losing the dark souls was an unforgivable crime. They could then return to Earth and be reborn, which would be horrible. A baby born with a dark soul seldom lived very long, the young flesh unable to deal with such evil. Persis shuddered at the alternative, never wanting to meet one who survived to adulthood. That would rival the anti-Christ. So far it had never happened and was considered impossible.

They didn’t speak again until reaching the lake of souls. A few other hunters waited their turn with swords clasped in their hands. She knew most but not all and took her place in line behind Chance. The first time she came to this place, she feared seeing it. After all, it was where the dark souls were trapped, so she visualized a horrible place. She smiled at her initial thought, having pictured an active volcano, with hot red lava filling a bottomless cavern. The dark souls would scream as their swords dipped into the fire. It wasn’t like that at all. The lake purified the souls with the holiest of water, which sparkled like a million sapphires, refracting off the shiny glassed ceiling. Everything was blue while standing at the lake. She held out one of her swords and watched the sapphire hue sparkling along the blade.

When it was her turn, she knelt by the ornate wall, leaning over to dip each sword to the hilt in the clear blue water. She gripped the wall, which was barely higher than a street curb, as an anchor with her free hand. A cool rush flowed through her body as the soul was released from the second blade. She couldn’t see the soul but always felt it go, and she smiled at her reflection.


Chance saw one of his other hunter friends, and they left together. Persis was thankful to make the return journey by herself. It wasn’t until she was alone that she let herself think about the human man in the alley. It troubled her that she wanted to think about him at all, but she couldn’t get him out of her head. In all the years she’d been a hunter, no male had ever intrigued her. She thought back to that moment when their gazes locked, and she was shockingly reminded that she was female. His voice had been like a caress, and her body grew hot. Of course, none of this showed on the outside, but she cursed these unfamiliar sensations. She’d been young when she died and was resurrected as a hunter, not ever having known the touch of a man. In the decades since becoming immortal she’d certainly never had the curiosity or desire to explore the temptations of the flesh, as did many of the male hunters she knew. Since she never let the others know she was indeed female, none of them had made overtures either. Persis could never let her guard down with them, afraid they would think she less than them, especially since she was the only female in their midst. Luckily, she was as tall as many of them, and she let her hair grow wild and wore loose tunics and her ever present hooded cloak. When she spoke, she deepened her voice an octave lower than normal, and she never bathed around them. Truth be told, she rarely ever did. It wasn’t as if they sweat or stank. If she got dirty, she’d wash the dirt off and wear clean clothes.

It suddenly occurred to her that the human she’d met must certainly think she was a man, and she chuckled. Well, it wasn’t as if she would ever see him again, which was probably a good thing. As she walked through the portal that separated her realm from the human world, she tried to ignore the twinge of disappointment that thought brought.



Chapter Two


The next dark soul she collected had yet to take a human life, but he enjoyed torturing small animals. When this perversity graduated to his pet dog, the darkness claimed him and called out to her. When she stealthily tracked him to his back yard as he clumsily tried to bury his crime, she quickly sliced his throat and left the yard before his body joined the animal in the shallow grave.

Persis was thankful for the ones she could claim without loss of another life. Animals had no souls to lose, so she could muster no sympathy for them. Of course she bore them no ill will, but their deaths were the lesser of two evils.

She went about her days, waiting patiently for her next target. In the past, she would sometimes wait months before being called, but lately it was happening more often. Now it was only a week.

After countless victims, her next dark soul was the one to change her destiny. She stared at the children, frozen with uncertainty. Normally, she would stay away until the deed was done, but a maternal instinct she hadn’t known she possessed forced her to approach them. She’d never seen a child marked as a dark soul, and she wondered if there was some kind of mistake. The conversation she’d had with Chance came to mind, but she didn’t want to consider the boy had been born with one of those lost souls. She shuddered at the thought. It was impossible. Though, as she watched the boys, the darkness encompassed them both, undulating between and around them. She’d never seen anything like it before in all her years of hunting. Ordinarily, it would concern her, since it would be hard to distinguish which was the dark soul. Of course, she always had to wait for the conversion to be complete, when the human took another life. She figured it must be due to their ages.

The children were laughing and holding hands as they walked behind an abandoned shed. As she watched, the older boy’s expression changed, and he reached out to slap the toddler, who began to cry. The boy, who couldn’t be more than eleven or twelve, then picked up a rock and threw it at the smaller boy, who looked about three. Dazed, the toddler fell to his knees, where the older boy kicked him before sliding a long bladed knife from the back of his pants. Persis, going against everything she’d been taught, interfered. A dark souled child should be impossible, but she could see the rage seething beneath the surface. Her sword pierced the back of his neck and came out at his throat for an instant before withdrawing. The rock fell with a thud, quickly followed by his limp body.

A ripple of dread filled her as she knelt beside the toddler to feel for a pulse. It was faint but steady. Gasping, she pulled her hand away as if his skin burned.

“What did you do?”

Sucking in her breath, she unsheathed her second blade and whirled on the intruder with both swords extended. Shock coursed through her as she recognized him. “It’s you.”

The blonde man from the alley ignored her and ran over to the dead boy, feeling for a pulse. “You’re killing children now?”

She was struck speechless as she watched him move to the toddler.

“Oh, thank God one of them is alive.” He turned to glare at her.

“God had nothing to do with it.” She grimaced at the blood still on the end of her sword and wiped it on the child’s back before sheathing her blades and walking away.

He ran up to her and grabbed her arm to pull her around. She moved faster than human comprehension and pressed one of her blades against his throat. Shaking her head, she stared into his eyes.

“Don’t ever touch me.”

Holding up both his hands, confusion filled his features. “But why? I saw what you did the other night. You killed a murderer. But now…children?”

“Child,” she corrected. “He would have killed the little one.” For the first time in her existence as a hunter she fought the urge to cry.

“Maybe they were just playing. You couldn’t possibly know what was in his heart.”

Persis frowned. “Why are you here? Are you following me?”

He blinked at the subject change. “I live right there.” He pointed behind her. “Are you following me?”

If the situation wasn’t so dire, it would have been humorous. “It’s my job to know what’s in the heart of darkness.”

Shoving away from him, she sheathed her blade and turned to go. He didn’t attempt to stop her but fell in step beside her.

“Your job? What does that mean?”

“When a soul goes dark, I claim it.”

“Dark soul in a child? That makes no sense.”

She shrugged. “I must admit I’ve not seen it before, but then I haven’t been a hunter for that long.”

“How long?”

She stopped walking and turned to glare at him. “Forty years, give or take.”

His expression told her that he clearly hadn’t expected that answer, and she smirked.

“Forty? You don’t even look twenty. Are you even an adult?”

Moving closer, he studied her face. Sneering, she held up a hand to hold him back. His chest pressed against her palm, and when his hand moved up to cover hers, she gasped. His touch sent a jolt through her body directly to her womb, and she snatched her fingers away from his.

“If you touch me again, you’ll be sorry.”

He shuddered and nodded at the threat. “The more I learn about you, the more confused I get. You’re a hunter of dark souls. How do you know dark from light? Have you ever made a mistake?”

The dread within her grew, and she nodded. “I wasn’t supposed to claim the boy until he’d gone completely dark. I broke the rules and will be punished.”

“So there was a chance he wouldn’t have done it?”

She shook her head. “No, he was already marked. I was just supposed to wait.” Her lower lip trembled, and she bit it. “This time I couldn’t, and I’ll pay for it.”

Concern for her filled his face, which confused her. Why did he care?

“How will you pay for it?”

Her chin dropped as she stared at the ground between them. The child’s soul would not be counted against her quota. Even though he had been marked, she had technically taken the life of an innocent. His worst crime had been throwing a rock and kicking another child. It didn’t matter that his next strike would have resulted in a lost life, since she had not stood by and let it happen. Unless he was already a dark soul. She shook herself of the unwanted thought.

As long as she’d been a hunter, she’d never heard of any other breaking the rules. That is until Chance told her of the hunter losing his sword, but certainly immortal death was only for the worst offenders.

Finally, she raised her head to meet his gaze. “I don’t know.”

“What’s your name?”

She didn’t understand the question at first. Why did he want to know her name?

He smiled and put his hand to his chest. “Well, my name is Erik. I’d just like to know what to call you.”

She knew she shouldn’t tell him, not to encourage him. She opened her mouth to tell him it wasn’t his business. “Persis.” Her jaw clenched shut, and she wished she could pull the word back.

“Persis…that’s nice. Never heard it before. You’re certainly unique.”

She nodded, unable to respond.

“Do you need to find your next victim, or can we get something to drink? I’d like to talk to you a bit longer.”

Her brows rose at the suggestion. “You’re strange.”

He laughed. “How?”

“You know I’m not human and that I am a hunter of dark souls. You’ve seen me kill two people, one of whom was a child, but you want to get something to drink with me so we can talk. I think that’s strange.”

Smiling, he winked at her. “Then I guess I’m strange.”


Ten minutes later she found herself on another bar stool, but this time seated beside Erik, who’d just ordered two draft beers. He raised his pint in a toast, and she hesitantly clinked her glass against his.

“To making friends.”

“I can’t be your friend, Erik.”

“Well, it seems like you could use one.”

She looked away, letting her hood block his view of her face. Staring at the bottles lining the mirror in front of her, she took a sip of the beer. She preferred hard liquor but didn’t say so.

“Do you always wear that hood? I can barely see your face in that thing.”

“That’s the idea.”

“OK…you didn’t answer my question earlier. How can you tell a soul is dark?”

She turned to look for the barkeep, making sure he was out of earshot, before meeting Erik’s gaze. “It’s hard to describe. I guess you could say they call to me. Those souls radiate darkness.”

“Does my soul radiate anything?”

His question intrigued her, and she smiled. Studying his face before lowering her gaze to his chest, she really looked at him. Without even realizing it, her hand moved to touch his chest where the skin peeked out from the V of his shirt. Though she expected the jolt this time, it still surprised her as it rushed through her body. “The light souls usually give off a faint indication, but yours is brighter than most. It’s really quite exceptional.”

“Believe me, Persis, I am exceptional.” His tongue caressed the word as he spoke it, reminding her of where her fingers touched.

She blushed in spite of herself and pulled her hand back. He raised his hand as if to stop her retreat but stopped just short of touching her. He must have remembered her threat.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“What were you before…hunting?”

She shrugged and looked away. “A human, like you.”

“What happened?”

“I died.”

“Damn, how?”

She’d never talked about this with anyone. She’d been killed and suddenly brought back to life as an immortal hunter. They had trained her and sent her out to do their bidding, but that was it. She didn’t make friends, and she most certainly did not talk about her past. So why was she now?

“A dark soul killed me, and the hunter who claimed him brought me back.”

“Wow, so you can do that too? Bring people back from the dead?”

She quickly shook her head. “Oh, no, we can’t do that. I must have been close to death. They never told me why I was chosen.”

“Are you a vampire?”

The laugh slipped out before she could stop it. “There’s no such thing.”

“That’s good to know.” He paused to look at her mouth. “How old were you? I mean when you were killed?”

“18.”

“How many of you are there? Hunters I mean?”

“Too many to count.”

“Thousands?”

“No, not that many. At least I don’t think so. I’ve not met them all.”

“And you’ll live forever?”

Her face fell at the question. “After today, I’m not sure. I should probably be getting back to accept my punishment.”

He reached out to touch her but didn’t. “Please stay a while longer. I’m afraid that if you leave, I’ll never see you again.”

Persis looked at his hand, reached out toward her but not touching. She wished he hadn’t stopped this time. “Why would you fear that?”

As if he could read her thoughts, his hand touched hers, and her eyes closed as the pleasurable jolt coursed through her. “I told you not to touch me again.”

“Yeah, I know, you said I would be sorry, but I’ll be sorrier if I don’t do this.”

His lips gently touched hers, and her eyes flew open. His hand moved up to sift through her hair to the nape of her neck, pushing the hood back away from her face. Her hands braced against his strong chest to hold him back, but as he deepened the kiss, her strength left her as her arms went rubbery. His tongue scorched where it tasted the inside of her mouth, and her tongue met his with a rush of fire igniting between her legs.

When they finally parted, she was breathless, her fingers clutching his shirt.

“How long have you known?”

“What?” He asked, confusion clear in his features.

“That I’m female. No one else in over 40 years has figured that out.”

“I knew the second I saw you smile. It did surprise me, though I have to admit to being relieved I wasn’t gay. There was something about you that attracted me from the beginning, but I couldn’t figure it out.” He kissed her again. “Now I know.”

She knew she should stop him. She had broken the rules and needed to atone for her crime, but she couldn’t make herself leave. This might be the last chance she had to be on Earth…to spend time with Erik, the first man who had made her feel like a woman. How could she walk away from that? If she was to lose her immortal life, couldn’t she spend a little bit of her last moments in his arms?

“You said you live around here?”

He nodded and without another word, got off the barstool. After tossing a $10 bill on the bar, he took her hand and led her outside and then across the street. If there were other people on the street, she didn’t see them, only having eyes for the man who held her hand. After spending more of her life not being touched, she couldn’t imagine not having him touch her now.



Chapter Three


They barely made it up to his apartment. As soon as he kicked the door shut, he stripped off her heavy cloak, letting it fall to the floor behind her. He looked down her lithe body, shaking his head.

“I can’t wait to see what you have hidden beneath all that.”

Their lips met for another fiery kiss as his hands worked at removing her layers of clothing. When she finally stood naked before him, his mouth fell open in pleased surprise. “Damn, you’re beautiful…and that hair. You look like that gal from Brave, but with silvery hair. Was it always that color?”

She shook her head, not even asking him to elaborate on who he was talking about. She didn’t care, she just wanted his mouth and hands all over her body.

Putting a finger over his lips to silence him, she unzipped his pants and reached inside to fondle his thick cock. “I’m done with talking. This might be my last night on Earth. Please make it special.”

That was all he needed to hear. He unbuttoned his jeans and kicked them and his shorts down his legs and off his feet. He took her into his arms and kissed her hard. His hand slid between her thighs to massage her clit. The jolt of pleasure left her breathless, and she almost bit his tongue.

“Fuck, you’re so wet.”

They didn’t make it to his bed. He pressed her against the wall and impaled her in one thrust. She called out in both pleasure and pain, as she held onto his shoulders, wrapping her legs around his waist. He withdrew and then drove into her even deeper than before. She whimpered and dug her fingernails into his back. Over and over, he tilted his hips upward with each thrust, pounding into her pussy. His fingers grasped handfuls of her hair, yanking her head back as he ground against her. She screamed as she came, never knowing such pleasure was even possible.


Hours passed, during which they fucked on every surface in his small apartment, finally ending up in his bed. Persis slept for the first time as an immortal, something she didn’t even think was possible. It didn’t last long though, and she awoke with the knowledge of a dark soul nearby. It surprised her that she would still get the call, figuring they would want to punish her before she did anything else.

Getting out of bed, she dressed quickly. Once the cloak and hood was back in place, she leaned over and softly kissed Erik’s lips. She hated leaving without waking him, but he couldn’t follow her to where she needed to go. Leaving through the fire escape, she jumped to the ground below and gazed around. The call was from the west, so she followed it.

As Persis followed the invisible trail, her mind kept wandering to her illicit liaison with the human. Now that she could think clearly, shock filled her at her wanton behavior. What would the magistrate think of her actions? Would he know? She’d never been completely sure they knew what she did while she hunted, but they always knew when she claimed a soul. She was sure they must know she had killed the boy before his soul completely darkened. Persis groaned and shook her head at the reminder.

For the first time since the night she died fear flooded her heart. What would they do to her? Even though she knew she couldn’t escape her bond with the hunter alliance, she didn’t want to return to that realm. Couldn’t she stay on Earth? Erik could make her happy.

She neared her target and desolation nearly consumed her. No, she knew she couldn’t defy the magistrate, or her eternal soul would be damned for all time. Fighting back the threatening tears, she squared her shoulders and rounded the corner, preparing to take another dark soul. Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw.

Persis froze in mid-step, and her mouth fell open. “Golyth?”

She’d not seen the hunter since the night he’d claimed the dark soul who had taken her life. His sparkly eyes narrowed upon seeing her, and then he smiled.

“Persis? I barely recognized you.”

She slowly released the tight grips on the hilts of her blades, crossing the distance between them. “I don’t understand. Why are you here?”

He lifted a finger to his lips. “Shhh…the dark soul is almost ready to be claimed.”

His head titled to the side, and she looked in the direction he gestured. At first she refused to believe what her eyes saw, sure her brain was getting it tragically wrong.

“No,” she muttered, wishing she could look away.

The toddler she had rescued hours before was unconscious, and a cloaked figure stood above him with a sharp knife clutched in both fists. The tip of the blade was an inch above the boy’s throat, and the person who wielded it mumbled something incoherent. As the knife slipped slightly closer, Persis shook her head.

“What treachery is this? Why is that child here?”

Golyth moved closer and gently pushed her hood back enough to whisper in her ear. “The child should have died today, but you interfered. So now that wrong is being corrected.”

Time seemed to stand still as Persis tried to digest everything going on around her. For the first time as a hunter, she wondered if she was on the wrong side of right and wrong. How could they condone the death of a child? True, she’d made a mistake, but was this how they would right it? She couldn’t allow that to happen.

“No!” She shouted, not entirely surprised that the cloaked figure with the blade didn’t even flinch at her yell. Golyth’s brows lifted as he stared at her questioningly. Persis glared at him. “This was my mistake. Please do not let another innocent suffer because of me. If the toddler truly needs to die, then…” She choked and had to clear her throat. “…then I’ll be the one to do it.”

Without a word, he swept his arm out, gesturing toward the child. Knowing she couldn’t back down, she swallowed the lump in her throat and moved forward. It wasn’t until she touched the cloaked shoulder that he or she moved away from the toddler. Persis stared down at the boy, and tears filled her eyes. How had her existence come to this? What divine power could justify taking this boy’s life simply because a blossoming evil had picked him to torture and kill? Bile rose in her throat as she dropped to her knees, unsheathing one of her swords. Gazing at the long blade, her lips curled at the thought of running him through with something longer than he. Dropping the sword, she slid her hands beneath his small body, gathering him into her arms and staring down into his sweet little face. Somewhere, there was a mother wondering where he was, probably crying in fear at his fate.

“Persis?”

She ignored Golyth at first, realizing she couldn’t kill the little one, and she wouldn’t let anyone else do it either. Slowly, she reached for her sword, lifting it and then glaring at the other bounty hunter. Tearing her gaze from the toddler, she stared up at her elder.

“I didn’t make a mistake sparing this boy. I couldn’t have. He is innocent.”

Golyth stared down her blade, ignoring the child in her arms. “You would risk your immortal soul for this?”

Keeping her sword aimed at him, she nodded and looked at the face of the toddler. The boy in her arms slowly opened his eyes and stared up at her. Her breath caught, and her heart skipped a beat. His eyes were as black as tar, and her grip on the blade weakened. The sword fell at her side, but she made no attempt at retrieving it. The toddler’s small hand moved up to touch her cheek, and then he viciously scratched her face. She dropped him and fell back. The toddler screeched and came at her. Too shocked to pull her other sword, she watched in surprise as the cloaked figure jumped between them and held up the blade. The toddler landed on it, and it slid into his chest.

The cloaked figure stood and then walked over to Golyth, who rested his hand on one shoulder. “Well done, my protégé. Well done.”

She looked back at the toddler, whose vacant eyes were a dull blue. She opened her mouth to ask her elder a question, but when she looked, both were gone. And when she looked at her feet, the toddler was gone, too.


Persis wondered if she might be dreaming. She hadn’t slept in forty years, so could she still be in Erik’s bed? Dreaming of the toddler she’d saved being a dark soul. Were both the boys dark? If not, had she actually killed the wrong one? The older boy was clearly about to kill. It made no sense.

Thinking of Erik almost made her smile, and she instinctively walked back to his apartment. As she neared, she heard the sirens and then saw the yellow police tape marking off the area around the shed where she’d claimed her last dark soul. A young woman cried as the police questioned her, and guilt stabbed Persis through the heart. She was the boy’s mother, and her grief was palpable.

“Who would do this to my baby? Why?” The woman wailed. Everyone looked at the paramedics as they carried a small body bag to the back of the ambulance.

“I’m really sorry, Ma’am. We will not rest until we find who did this. It’s usually someone who knows the family.”

It was at that moment when Erik stepped out of the apartment building across the street. One of the people in the crowd pointed at him. “He was there. I saw him walk back there earlier today.”

Time seemed to slow down as pandemonium broke out. The police as well as reporters and the child’s mother all flocked around Erik, questioning him. Their gazes found each other, and his expression was confused and unsure.

Persis, it’s time to come home. You cannot interfere further.

She stood helpless, shaking her head as tears filled her eyes, knowing she could do nothing to help him. Without calling it, the portal opened and pulled her in. Her last sight of Erik was the police reading his rights and handcuffing him.



Chapter Four


“But you can’t let him be held responsible for what I did. He is innocent.” Persis pounded her fists on the Magistrate’s desk, bringing his surprised gaze up to meet hers.

“The laws of man have nothing to do with us. If he is innocent, he will walk free. We cannot interfere.”

She could only stare at him at first but then leaned down and got right up into his face, glaring him down. “That is bullshit. We interfere all the time.”

He put his pen down and leaned back in his chair, putting some space between them. When he put up his hand, she vaguely realized the rest of the tribunal had stood and stepped closer, but she refused to take her eyes off their leader.

“You will refrain from such vulgarity in my presence, Persis.” Though his voice was soft, she still flinched from his threatening tone. “It is clear you feel something for this mortal, so I can excuse your behavior…once. I highly suggest you pull yourself together and move on.”

As the temptation to spit in his face wormed its way through her mind, she forced herself to back away from the desk. “How can you sacrifice another innocent? He’s done nothing wrong.”

Empathy briefly filled the magistrate’s expression. “We’re not sacrificing the man. What we are not doing is interfering with their laws. However, your dalliance with the man is a different story.”

She blushed in spite of herself. Did he know of her indiscretion with Erik? She refused to even contemplate the idea of anyone being privy to their intimacy. A shudder passed through her, but she put on a stoic exterior.

“Fine, but what about the boy?”

“The boy?”

“I killed the wrong one. I thought I would be punished for that.”

The magistrate’s fierce expression changed immediately. It took her a moment to realize that uncertainty flashed across his face before changing to an inscrutable mask.

She thought of her swords. The blade certainly couldn’t have claimed the soul if it wasn’t dark. “Were they both dark souls?”

When he didn’t answer, she unsheathed the sword she killed the boy with and held it up. “I suppose it’s not necessary to cleanse this, since I broke the rules and killed him before he went dark?”

Several voices filled the chamber, but then the magistrate slammed his palms on the table and stood. A throat was cleared and another shifted in his chair, but Persis did not take her eyes off the imposing man before her.

“Give me the sword.”

Though his voice was low, she flinched and handed it over without comment.

“Your punishment is losing one of your swords. Now leave my sight.”

Not knowing what else to say, she spun on her heel and left the chamber.


As soon as the door closed behind her, Persis ran. Since she couldn’t get tired or sore, she finally stopped when her mind grew weary. Refusing to cry, she placed her hands against the cool rock wall and leaned her head forward. If Golyth were there at that moment, she would ask him why he chose to make her a hunter. She’d been immortal longer than she’d been human, so it was hard to remember what that felt like. Erik helped her remember, so how could she let him take the blame for what she had done? How could she allow a man she loved to suffer? Even as she thought the word, it gave her pause. Did she love him? She barely knew him. It was then she realized she’d always known him. Maybe not the man he now was, but she knew his soul.

“Is it true?”

Persis flinched but didn’t turn around. She recognized the voice as one of the other hunters. Sighing deeply, she tried to ignore the way her body shuddered as she exhaled. Slowly turning, she faced the older immortal.

“Is what true?”

“You’re a woman?”

Of all the things he would ask, that hadn’t been on the list she expected. Frowning, she scowled at him. “I never lied about what I am.”

“Lied? No, but you definitely weren’t honest about it.”

Her scowl deepened. “This isn’t a dating service, so why did I have to post anything about myself? I didn’t lie, nor was I dishonest. I merely camouflaged myself to go unnoticed.”

He pouted. “I thought we were friends, Persis.”

She couldn’t help but grin. “Friends? I don’t even know your name.”

Even as she said it, she realized she did know his name. He was called Samorah, but she didn’t correct herself. Feeling petulant and unable to save Erik, she wanted someone to suffer as bad as she.

He leaned against a nearby wall and shook his head. “I guess I understand why you hid yourself. I can’t remember the last time there was a female hunter in our midst.”

That piqued her interest. “How long have you been a hunter?”

He looked up at the cosmos above them and shrugged his broad shoulders. “Just over a hundred years, I think. There might have been one during that time, maybe two.”

“What happened to them?”

Samorah grinned. “You women aren’t cut out for this type of work. Always afraid to do what needs to be done.”

Her eyes narrowed in anger, her hands moving for her blades and flinching at the reminder she now only had one. “I have no problem doing what needs to be done.”

He eyed her speculatively. “Do you really want to fight me?”

Biting her lip in an attempt to cool her anger, she shook her head. “No, but you will suffice as a substitute.”

Samorah unsheathed his swords and smiled at her. “For what, the magistrate?”

She nodded, dropping into attack mode.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Persis? I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You can’t.” With that, she attacked.


Sore and exhausted, Persis stumbled back to her quarters. It was unclear who had won their battle of wills, but she had gained a friend. Realizing she could use one, their sparring had ended with both on their backs, laughing up at the stars. For a moment she could almost forget her torment, but only for a moment.

Against the magistrate’s wishes, she kept tabs on Erik. The mortal law officials began to weave an elaborate plot against him, eventually pinning most of the souls she had claimed. When he was also blamed for that first murderer’s death in the alley where she met Erik, she’d had enough.

It wasn’t as if she’d never disobeyed orders before, and nothing could stop her from at least trying to save the man she loved. As she crossed through the portal to Earth and found him asleep in a jail cell, Persis stared at his frowning face. Wondering if he suffered from nightmares, she gently touched his forehead. Not wanting to immediately wake him, she paced the floor of the cell and thought. What could she do? Did she dare take him back through the portal to her realm? Could he survive such a trip, not being immortal?

She stared through the bars, willing them gone. As an immortal, she had certain powers but wasn’t allowed to use them in the human world. Should that be another wrong she committed? How many wrongs would make a right? As she stood there, it slowly dawned on her that a dark soul was nearby. She turned to look at the other bunk and saw him, Erik’s cellmate. Her hand moved to the hilt of her sword, but it stopped there. She couldn’t exactly kill someone when she was there to help Erik. The dark soul was in jail, so maybe their justice system would do her job. Smiling at that thought, she wondered if the magistrate would know she had neglected to claim his soul.

“Persis?”

Her whispered name was like a caress. She looked over her shoulder to meet Erik’s gaze, almost afraid to breathe.

“I’m sorry I woke you.” She whispered as well, not wanting to wake his cellmate. Then she would be forced to kill him.

Erik could only stare at first. He blinked a few times and then shook his head, sliding out of his bunk. “You’re sorry you woke me? Are you kidding?”

Not knowing how to answer, she shrugged. “Sorry, I’m breaking every rule just being here. I’m not sure what I’m doing.”

He lifted his hands as if to touch her, but they froze in mid air. “I didn’t think I’d see you again.”

A slice of ice seared through her heart at his comment. Had he really thought she would desert him? Conflicting thoughts raced through her mind, and she didn’t know what she should say next. Grabbing the first thing she could grasp, she blurted the words. “I shouldn’t be here. It’s against the rules.”

Hurt and confusion flooded his features. “So, you’re not here to help me?” His arm dropped to his side, and she almost reached up to catch his hand. What could she say to him? She wanted to help him, wanted to get him out of that cell, but she didn’t know if she could.

“I’m so sorry, Erik.”

He shook his head. “No, don’t say that. Makes it sound hopeless. Please tell me that you’ll get me out of here. Please…”

Persis licked her dry lips and pointed at the metal bars. “I can’t open that door for you. The only way out is the way I came in, and I don’t know if you could follow me.”

Closing the distance between them, he pressed his forehead to hers and gripped her wrists. “They’re going to kill me, Persis. Nothing that could happen with you could be worse, even if I can’t survive leaving with you.”

A tear slipped from her eye, and she resisted wiping it away. “I don’t know if I can bear the burden of your death.”

“You will either way, so what have you got to lose?”

She closed her eyes and winced at the truth in his words. He would die either way, so why not risk it all to save him? Slowly nodding, she lifted her head to meet his gaze.

“OK, but you need to close your eyes and hold on tight. Don’t open until I tell you to.”

Erik nodded, sucking in his breath and clinching his eyes tight. She called a portal and then pulled him in with her.


The End of Book One



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