Full summary: Sometimes you regular people can be so stupid, you know. It's your fault that Monster Hunters are dying out, and the reason they were here in the first place was you. Yeah, I'm looking at you, weenie. See, in the 21st Century, people have started wanting to be afraid. And that fear has fed the monsters up until they were strong enough to kill the Monster Hunters. Ooh – by the way, they're coming for you next. If I can't stop them, that is.
Max is a hundredth generation Monster Hunter (Monstrum Venator[es]) and it's her sacred duty to protect regular humans from the horrors of your imagination. It's both a curse and a gift that so much intellect, strength and undying courage has been passed down into Max's soul – and of course, the rank of 2nd Class Monster Hunter. The rank system determines how much territory of your own you're sworn to protect – sometimes a town, a state, or a whole country (or if you're a natural loser, probably just the street you live on). Being second class, Max has to travel the USA, dealing with the top of the pile. It always somehow leads her into very… interesting situations.
A/N: I promise peeps, this won't get in the way of Freefalling. I just got a little stuck on chapter 6 and decided to write this to get my creative juices flowing. As you can probably tell, I am just obsessed with having Max drive across deserts in old cars with her (very tasteful, if I do say so myself) music blasting out of the stereo. Enjoy.
Max, Los Angeles to San Bernardino, 28/10/12
I hauled myself into my old black clunker after my equipment and saluted Jeb as I pulled out of the drive. Crossing my worn combat boots over the dashboard, I headed straight East for Mesa, Arizona.
Allow me to introduce myself. The name's Maximum Ride. I'm eighteen years old and have never known a family of my own. I've read all about my ancestors in books; hundreds of documents have been kept of them. Ride is a name treated like diamonds where I come from, and I, 2nd Class 100th generation Monster Hunter, and only known Ride in current existence, am the crown jewels. I'm yet to earn my title of 1st Class, which is the highest and most prestigious reward possible. Some can only dream of 10th Class, but I was born for what I do. I was using pistols before I could walk. They're not supposed to tell you when you're expected to achieve the next rank, but with my low-down hacking skills I managed to get into the system for a whole twenty seconds, which was much longer than I needed to find my files and get the info. I'm predicted to reach 1st Class by thirty years old. Bit pessimistic, I'd say. Shame really. I was hoping for, say, now plz?
As my van picked up speed, I rolled down the window and leaned my head out, feeling the wind whip back my dirty blonde mane. Without looking, I flicked on the stereo system and found Hurricane by Panic! At the Disco on my favourites list. I found the town border in minutes, incidentally the border between LA and San Bernardino, and onwards was a stretch of barren land, with a few fenced-off factory-type buildings strewn over the land. There was no one around to hear my horrifying singing, so I started to join in with Brendon Urie's voice (loudly). "I led the revolution in my bedroom, and I set all the zippers free. We said 'no more war, no more clothes, give me peace'. Oh, kiss me! HEY, HEY, we are a hurricane; drop our anchors in a storm! HEY, they will never be the same, a fire in a flask to keep us warm!" I yelled, completely off-key. "Cause they know, I know, that they don't look like me. Oh they know, I know, that they don't sound like me. You'll dance to anything!"
Around others, I am completely focussed and professional. There's nothing like forcing everyone into a state of undoubted respect for you, then seeing their faces when you goof off once in a while. Not that I'd ever, of course. No, I wouldn't dream of it. Wait, Jeb isn't here? Oh God, thank goodness. I thought I was going to have to act like a square all night.
Really, the real priceless look occurs when I first meet another Monster Hunter. It usually happens something like, "Hi, I'm Brett. This village is my Monster Hunting territory." And then I say, "My name's Max Ride." And that's usually about when 'Brett' faints. Once, the guy stayed out so long I used my stun gun, which has the opposite effect on someone who is already in shock. That or it fries them. Afterwards, he tried to act all manly to regain some of his dignity around me. I couldn't help but seize the opportunity to humiliate him further. What can I say? I'm merciless. ("Hey Brett, want some lemonade?" "Pfft, lemonade is for sissies." "Really? 'Cause I love lemonade." "I didn't – uh, I didn't mean- I mean… uh…")
Most kids who live in human-based towns find out that they're Monster Hunter when they're 15, so that they can have a normal childhood, but it's really up to the parents. I never had any parents, so I was brought up in the Cali base by Jeb Batchelder. That's part of the reason why I'm such a well-known Monster Hunter, especially for a teen. I've been training my whole life. As far as I know, I'm the only 2nd Class under-twenty female in the states. Probably under-thirty too.
You know. Not that I'm cocky or anything.
Growing up a Monster Hunter has its knockbacks, though. It's not perfect. I would've liked a dad to teach me how to ride a bike in the back yard, a mom to teach me how to braid my hair in front of my bedroom mirror, a few human BFFLs to have sleepovers with where we would have pillow fights and eat way too much candy and talk about boys, and a kiss on the doorstep from my very first boyfriend after our very first date (at the movies, of course. Go cliché or go home). It just wasn't the way that the world worked out for me, though, and what's done is done. If I dwell on what could've been, remorse will hijack an RV and back it over me. In my world, I'm not speaking figuratively.
I'm grateful for what I have, and proud of whom I've grown to be. It's not like I don't have friends – I have the two best buds you could hope for. Better than your loser friends. Ha-ha, jokes. Maybe?
You could call us three-way partners-in-crime. Sometimes I hear over the intercom at the Cali base: "Professor J Batchelder please report to Room 057 for special briefing with the AMAT." Which means even the secretaries know our little codename, because we used to call ourselves the AMA Team when we were little. Too much Mr T, if you ask me, but it's really the Org's fault that our tiny minds were allowed to watch whatever they wanted on TV.
We've had some great times, some that would beat even late-night pillow fights and prank calls (not that we've never been there before). We took down our first monster together, when we were all six. I remember it vividly. We had been out trick-or-treating, accompanied by 3rd Class Sergeant Valencia Martinez and her Second, 5th Class Brigid Dwyer, because we were too young and 'significant' to go out alone and unprotected. There was a skeleton loose in the street. Undead always go after the first creature containing a beating human heart that they see. Skeletons rely heavily on sight, because they can only hold onto a few organs while they decay, so they focus on maintaining their eyes and brain. This however also gives them a few disadvantages: aim through the thinner parts of the skull, hit the brain and they're instantly gone for good. They can also be easily fooled by skeleton costumes, and out of sheer coincidence, the only other trick-or-treaters in the street had come dressed as a horde of fleshless undead – so naturally, the skeleton latched onto us five instead. Unfortunately for it, we were all bloodline Monster Hunters.
The three of us slipped out of sight of our entourage and ran recklessly after it, packing heat of our own. We managed to get in a few decent shots at it, cracking off at least four ribs within the first five minutes. It grabbed my wrist and yanked me away from my team, who could no longer shoot for fear of hitting me, and etched in a few scars that would last forever. I escaped by displaying a good roundhouse to the back of the femur, sending it crumpling onto the asphalt, just as Valencia and Brigid found us. Anyone else would have pushed us back and dealt with the situation themselves, but Val knows a good opportunity when she sees one, and allowed us to continue in real live combat. We made countless holes in the skull, trying, to no avail, to get at the brain, until I threw some candy around to confuse it and snuck round the back to get under the neck. It was a goner. That night, we came home to more than just chocolate bars and liquorice whips: we had sealed our friendship forever.
Their names are Ari and Angel.
In the Monster Hunting world, we three have a few significant items that people will recognise us for. For Ari, it's his guitar. It's eccentric but not flashy, shaped a bit like a pear, and the sounds are magnificent. He never travels without it. For Angel, it's her special gun, which she's named Aima (it's sort of a play on words. Because we're called the AMA Team, and the gun has spectacular aim, she combined AMA and aim and hey presto). It's sleek, white, futuristic, and shoots with a 2 mile radius.
Mine is much less distinct than either of them: it's a simple fitted metallic grey T-shirt, with 'TAKE ME FOR THE RIDE' written in chunky letters. My mother wore it when she was reckless and young, just like me. I never met her, but it's special to me. Plus, I get the name Ride from my mother's side, and nobody can resist a good pun, right?
You might be wondering why I'm heading to Mesa, or at least you would've been when I mentioned it, and then I went on to ramble about my insane life and you forgot. Its four days until Halloween and Arizona has been flashing dangerously high levels of supernatural activity. You might think we'd get the 31st off, but it's really when the hard work starts. Monsters blend in with the costumes, which can be a very big problem for paranoid Hunters and innocent trick-or-treaters. The radars start blaring generally within a week of Halloween, and the Whitecoats spend a few days determining which state is going to have the most monsters spawning before Hunter Dispatch, when they deploy an amount of Monster Hunters depending on the conclusions of their research. Arizona is under close moderation, and thus the reason for this journey.
On a lighter note, I was quite pleased when I got the message for my mission. I've never seen Arizona before. I always get meself some new friendies on me travels, and I'd like to see what them Arizonies is like. It's a bit sad when I have to scoot my butt back to Cali, but I've learned to cope with much more horrific ordeals than that. Letting go of a few month-long friends isn't too hard, and they usually turn up at some point for a happy reunion, then disappear off somewhere again. It's good to know who will be with me forever. And I do.
Angel. Beautiful, manipulative, determined, innocent, dangerous, reliable, fashion-savvy, devilish and laid-back are nine adjectives that should not be in the same sentence, let alone the same person, but they suit her perfectly. However much she pushes my paranoid buttons, I know that she will always be there for me as long as I'm there for her, and I can trust her with anything. Except my face, because on her it looks perfect, but on other people (aka me) that amount of makeup looks splotchy.
Ari. He's like the brother I never had. He's the one that goes along with my kooky plans, however stupid and dangerous, and gets excited when he sees that 'I've got an idea' glint in my eye while everyone else is frightened of it. I may need to see Angel's sense sometimes, but I also need to see Ari's crazy too, or what fun would life be? I've told him some of my darkest secrets, and every day he keeps them chained up, like I would do for him. We would risk our lives for each other.
Sergeant Martinez. The kind of mother we all want. A caring maternal figure to guide you through the ups and downs of your teenage years and bake you cookies when you need them most, but also gives you free reign when she can see you want it badly. She knows how independent I like to be, and she doesn't want to stop me. She's more like a cuddly guidance councillor than anything, but she's the opposite on the job. Always alert and ready for action, Valencia never misses a shot.
Professor Batchelder. Jeb, the man who has raised me like a daughter and never left my side. He's never there for a hug, or a word of comfort, or a cushion to fall on. He's more like a brick to fall on, because he doesn't see that I need a reassuring exchange – he sees that I need a reality check. He's a complete genius, and though he may have failed me slightly on the academic side of things, he was the one who provided me with three things that have proved forever useful: wit, sarcasm, and most of all, sass – how to dish it, and how to shove it back in people's faces when they try to give it to me.
It seems a pretty lonely list, but not to me. They're all the company I need. I never ask for too much, but it always just seems to come to me, what with all this second class Monster Hunting getup and whatnot. It's a rough lifestyle and it's better not to get yourself tied down to too many people or places. But anyway, enough of my slightly depressing rambles and back to Max in the studio for some live action.
I leaned back into my truck, turning off the song and scrolling through my playlists. I don't need to look at the road to know that it's going in a straight line, mother. I tapped on my Sleeping with Sirens playlist and sat jamming out to Do it Now, Remember it later for the next few minutes. Don't panic, raving is all-inclusive in the crazy party teen package. You don't have to pay extra. "Remember when they said that what we want could never be done? When it all comes falling down. We'll do what we want to, so we'll do what we want to, yeah, yeah, yeah! Remember when they said that what we want could never be done? Well look who's laughing now." Kellin Quinn's disembodied voice bounced around the truck.
The outline of a town was visible in the distance, so I sped up and drove with a fraction more concentration, excluding the frequent punches I threw at the steering wheel along with Gabe Barham's drumbeats.
I slammed the door closed with my hip, swinging the keys around my finger, and turned my head to take in the hotel room. Smallish, decent, but I would probably have to pay extra for stupid things like soap and towels and oxygen.
I tossed the keys and my suitcase onto the short double bed and went in to check out the en-suite. It was a square room with a shower cubicle, a sink, a toilet, a mirror, and a radiator. I retracted myself from the room and went to unzip my suitcase. It would have to do, because I was only going to stay here for a day. My flight to Arizona was scheduled for 10am tomorrow, so I grabbed my shoulder bag, having decided to on a little Explore-and-Exterminate Expedition. I also latched my Transformers-looking arm gun to my wrist and checked my skinny jeans to make sure my pistol was still safely hidden. Satisfied that I would be prepared, I whipped my hair up into a messy ponytail, shoved my room keys into my pocket and jogged down the stairs and out of the lobby.
Conveniently, the sun was already beginning to disappear, and it was time for the monsters to come out of hiding. It was a true adrenaline rush, searching for monsters to blow to smithereens. Regular humans try to recreate this kind of adrenaline with things like rollercoasters, but nothing will ever be quite the same as blasting the bloody grotesque visage off a raging zombie fledgling. It's what I live for. Not that a good rollercoaster isn't pretty cool too.
I turned into an alley, bouncing on my toes and listening out for any sound signals. I was completely immersed in my element. Soon enough, I was flung into the wall deep in the alley, and there was a guy pressing me to the bricks. "Hello there, sweetheart," he said darkly with a voice like sandpaper. "Got anything for me to… drink?"
"Not mine, buddy. Mine is a bit too salty for you." He instantly backed away. Every goon knows that Monster Hunter blood tastes like sea water, and vampires hate it. Human blood is sweeter. It's all he needed to hear to realise what I was.
"I see. Know any good vendors, sweetheart?" he asked, grinning widely and leaning back against the wall opposite. His fangs were impressive for someone his age. They'd grown out well, and he'd been taking care of them – probably had them for quite a while, I guess. Fledglings don't know about fangcare, you see. Still choosing their favourite fangpaste. "Checking out my babies? I don't blame you." His laugh was a lot smoother than his voice, and seemed to bounce eerily between the damp brick walls. The International Federation of Monster Hunters (usually referred to as TIFOMH, pronounced tih-fom) has given vampires certain rights, since they are still partially human. I wasn't to attack him until he attacks me and/or I have proof of prior attacks on innocent humans, no matter how much he annoyed me. And he was annoying me.
"Grown in pretty big." I observed offhandedly, and he nodded cockily. "Bet you could get real deep with those gnashers."
"Oh yeah, once there was this boy who – wait." He gives me a suspicious look, only just realising that I was trying to get a confession out of him. It's my turn to grin psychotically, and beam like a madwoman I do. I slowly slip off my jacket and come closer until I'm right in front of him. Vampires are confident, tough and hardly ever nervous, but come on. Look at our situation. I'm sure to get some evidence out of him somehow. His jaw tightened, and he looked at me with wide eyes. I could see the desired emotion deep in his eyes: hope. Well, you know. Probably doesn't get many women, what with his 'condition'.
"Got anything to tell me?" I asked nonchalantly, cocking my head and suddenly becoming very interested in the jacket I was currently folding into my arms. Then I looked up from beneath my eyelashes to see a bead of sweat forming on his brow. I batted my eyelids a couple times. He sang like a canary.
Five minutes later, I was sauntering along the street with that particular jaunty swing in my hips that I only ever get when I kill a monster. I pulled my jacket sleeves back down to conceal my wrist gun and kept my eyes peeled. I could really feel the essence of poltergeist. It makes the air feel heavy and humid, and it makes everything look funnier than it should be. It also kind of smells zesty, if I think about it. Or maybe it's just this town.
My brows knitted as I recalled that poltergeists usually appeared around vulnerable looking people, so I scanned the street for children or the elderly and tried to make myself look weaker so they might go for me instead. An elderly couple was having a walk on the other side of the street, the tall man helping the woman walk with her Zimmer frame. I heard the shrill cackle and knew what was coming even before I saw an eerie figure swoop from the heavens and snatch the Zimmer away from the poor old lady, causing her to fall over. Her husband tried to help her up, but he ended up clutching his back and looking around frantically for the culprit.
I crossed the road swiftly and helped the lady back onto her Zimmer. Hurriedly refusing any gesture of thanks, I advised them to just go home and get some rest. I watched to make sure they were out of sight before I slinked into the alley to my right and kept my eyes skyward. As I was walking, a banana was flung out of nowhere and in front of my feet. I swerved to miss it, and caught sight of a silvery shape above me, giggling manically. I lifted my arm up slowly, rolling down my sleeve to reveal the gun, and the poltergeist froze in shock. "Who's laughing now?" I smirked broadly, aiming my wrist gun towards him and pressing my middle finger into the trigger. The impact of the blast rattled my bones, but my arm was well-practiced and stayed stiff as a board. The heat lifted immediately, and I jogged triumphantly out into the open street, imagining James Bond music playing loudly as I left.
I was on a roll, at the heat of my game, until something slammed me into the cream-coloured brick wall of a house. As I eyed the massive fangs which were dangerously close to my face, I smelled Eau de Canine with a hint of Foster's. Werewolves are typically the kind to get drunk, they're not as negotiable as vampires, and definitely not as discreet. You can kind of tell, because this guy was fully-morphed in a public street and about to ravage an 'innocent bystander', aka me. I gripped his shoulders, digging my nails into his matted brown fur, and rolled us roughly along the wall and around the corner into the alley.
"I am not a steak, mister!" I hissed, shoving him into the wall. You should never be gentle with a werewolf, or they'll think they can get away with it. And with his impressive height, broad shoulders, five-inch claws, blood-red eyes and desire to eat people, he would probably get away with it. If I was someone else. But unless you're some kind of stupid star-shaped person who lives under a rock, you should know by now who I am. (I'm talking to you, Patrick.)
"Girls are steaks to me." He rumbled, eyes glinting with rage and flexing his knife-like claws.
"I'm not just any steak. I'm a steak packing heat." I wrenched the pistol out of my jeans. A wrist gun doesn't cut it in this kind of situation. I aimed with precision at his heart. "Didn't bet on that, did you?" I smirked sideways, catching the brief look of disbelief that came over him. I wrapped both hands around the pistol and slid my index over the trigger. I could feel eyes piercing my jacket, but unwillingly shrugged it off. Take your eyes off a werewolf for one second, and you're toast. Toast smothered with butter and jam and topped with even more toast.
"I'll eat you." he played his last card, trying to wriggle out of death's way. But death does not play nice.
I laughed lightly. "You'd eat me anyway, and now that I have a confession of violence, I can legally blast your pelt off."
I pulled the trigger.
I extracted a pouch of what I call disintidust from my jacket pocket and scooped a small amount into my hand, then blew it over the carcass. It lit up in flames in literally seconds. As soon as it started, it was over, and there was a scattering of ashes on the floor. I pinched the pouch shut and put it back in my jacket. I then turned around and looked for the piercing eyes that could've distracted me from my task. My own eyes quickly latched onto a dark figure by the navy blue skip bin on the other side of the alley. "Hello?" I asked uncertainly, hoping they weren't human. I would be in some serious trouble and would have had to perform a delicate memory wipe if they had just seen that.
They stepped out into the light, which was when I saw the fangs. Vampires are territorial, and don't normally share one area, and since I had found another one earlier, it was a little strange. "I saw you kill that werewolf." I couldn't tell before, but it's a guy, or a girl with an unnaturally low voice. I nodded. "Thank you. He was getting in my space."
"He was going to eat me. It's the least I could do." I replied simply. He laughed and stepped even closer. From there, I could see that he had floppy brown hair, sunkissed skin, small but sufficiently pointy fangs and the soft amber eyes of a neutral vampire. I probably wouldn't have to kill him.
"Hunting much good around here?" he asked, referring to the amount of monsters in the town.
"I could ask you the same thing." I said slyly, eyeing him. Vampires are never neutral for long.
"I wouldn't." he frowned, looking sad and slightly put-out. "I was turned a year ago. I lived with a human family too long to eat people and not hate myself." I nod understandingly. Briefly, I once knew another vampire like that, who went mad with grief and died because he took a wasps' nest home for decoration. The wasps weren't too chuffed.
"You'd better not. I know what you look like now." I smiled like I was talking to a human, and began to walk away, sloppily shoving my pistol back into my jeans.
"Wait." He called. I turned around to find him suddenly behind me. Stupid flit powers. "My name's Sam. What's yours?"
"Max. Max Ride."
A/N: So how'd you like it? Sucky? Suspenseful? Review with your thoughts. Also, I'd greatly appreciate any PMs on where Freefalling should go next and maybe some story names. I kind of like this one, but if you've got anything better, I'll be glad to hear it. By the way, the hunting scene is much cooler with music. I'd suggest I Remember by Tristam or Overcome (This Time) by Hot Date & Chrisson, but that's just my taste. Nothing like a good DNB to get you pumped. -Faximum