By readersdigest

Dedication to the wonderfully insane and lovely Raela Morgan


Bells tolling in the distance. Briefly, I wonder who for, stopping, silhouetted against the mottled sky on the rise of the hill. Before continuing onwards, I take a moment, just one, to acknowledge the brief, flickering beauty of the scene around me; moonlight playing on my hands, wind ruffling my hair, earth comfortingly solid beneath my feet.

The moment passes, and reality steps forward again. I sigh, taking up my burdens once more, both physical and figurative, and move along with the time.

As a hunter, I've been a lot of places, seen a lot of things, death being no small feature.

What I encountered when I took my newest hunt, however, surprised me. Evil I was used to, people who had done so great a wrong, they were forever damned. Not this.

I watch the man standing to the side of his dark beauty, eyes cast watchfully to his surroundings as though he can sense them closing in on him.

The wind picks up around me before swirling away and taunting the lone figure with its knowledge of what is to come, enticing him with its promise of freedom, of death, urging him to run, to fight.

The baying carries itself on the wind like a wave rides the ocean, urging itself closer on will power alone. He stiffens, all pretense of being relaxed banished into a warrior's stance and again the unusualness of the situation hits me.

The hounds are closer now, their stench, that of death, lingers on the stilling breeze. Normally, I would never be so close to the hunt, preferring to stay away. Watching the damned be torn to shreds by the hounds was not a pleasant sight to behold.

But this hunter intrigued me. I knew not what he had done to be damned, but his soul was clean. Not innocent by any standard, man or beast, but clean, honest, pure, even and I could not imagine what he had done to deserve such a fate that was being put before him.

My hounds were growing restless, sensing their almost kin nearing the hunter. I come to my decision, when a most fearful howl was ripped from one of the beasts, and step forward, striding over to the man.

He tightens his stance; tension thrumming through him like the vibration a hummingbird makes staying in the air.

"Funny," he says, "I was looking forward to one last kiss."

I look at him in confusion, and then realize he must have me confused with someone else. Watching me, he must notice I'm not aware of who he's talking about and his eyes grow harder.

"You're not her" he states coldly, "Who are you?"

The ratchets choose that moment to step forward, growling with tension in time to this hunter's. I watch this man, as he seems to grow even tenser. "They won't harm you" I say calmly.

He laughs, reminiscent of bitter almonds, "Oh, of course not, hounds of hell are just big fluffy puppy dogs with bad teeth" he mocks.

The howls grow louder, his face more confused. "They will" I state, pointing to where red eyes gleam steadily in the darkness.

He turns toward me again and the ratchets surround us, "Who. Are. You?" he asks, stressing each word as though his very life depends on it. It probably does.

"A friend" I say.

Again with the laughter.

"I don't have any friends like you" he says, watching my hounds as they continue their vigil in their protective circle.

"I never said I was yours"

At that I see the first true almost smile, a glimmer of a smirk, and I know now I won't back down, that this man is mine for the saving. My hounds may hunt out and chase the damned, but it doesn't mean I do. Not this kind, at least. Evil I have no problems with.


"Aren't you going to ask me what I'm doing here?" I ask, intrigued by his lack of curiosity.

"Aren't you going to ask me?" he returns.

I grin, "Touché"

He smiles grimly back, "Look, if you don't mind, I kinda have a pressing engagement with an uber-bitch in a hot black dress and it's bound to get a little messy, so maybe you and your dogs here should leave.

"Why?" I ask.

"Why? Dude, I just told you it ain't gonna be pretty, seems to me most people would be ok with that answer and get the hell outta dodge"

"No, why are you damned?"

He stills, "What?"

"Why are you damned? They will come for you soon, my hounds sense them. But I want to know why you are damned? What is it you did that makes you surrender to the very depths of hell?"

A long moment of silence stretches between us, and just when I begin to think he will not speak, he answers.

"Love. Love damned me."