Ripper wasn't alone in the tunnel. No footsteps tagged his. Hot breath didn't fog the air. Shadows only shifted when his torch drove them away. Nothing overwhelmed the sickeningly sweet stench of rotting vegetation. But he could feel it under his skin, like an itch he couldn't scratch. He wasn't alone.
He cursed, but silently. His new mates weren't much more than babes in the woods when it came to demons. No, worse, they were dinner, or would be if Ripper had been stupid enough to let them tag along. Frustrating, that. You'd think there'd be someone, outside of the Council, who knew what was really going on. Someone he could trust; someone he could depend on. Still, he didn't have to be here, alone, beneath London, hunting demons. He could have called on his old associates but pride hadn't allowed him to ask for help. That had been a mistake, although with any luck not his last.
Speaking of which, time to see who was out and about. Demons seemed the most likely, given he was hunting in the sewers, except... If they were demons, he shouldn't have noticed them, not if they were hiding. Perhaps they wanted him to know they were there. Time to find out.
Ripper reached out with his magic. Ah, there. He could feel, but still not see, a single form against the stonework of the tunnel. The odds were good, better than he'd expected actually. He drew out his sword, stepped into a fighting stance, and thrust the blade forward, slowly.
"All right, all right." Ripper heard the voice before he saw the speaker. It sounded human, but that didn't mean much. Many things sounded human. As the spell dropped, the air shimmered like waves crossing a lake. The figure looked human, looked like a man actually, although not like a man who would be found dead in the sewers, or perhaps more like a man who would only be found dead in the sewers. Dressed in a glam rock style, the height of some kind of fashion, the man appeared not a little incongruous in the dark tunnel.
Still, just because he looked human didn't necessarily mean he was. Ripper held the tip of his sword up to the stranger's neck. "Who are you then?"
The stranger's gaze never left the sword. He seemed to be trying to press himself into the wall. Good. "I don't suppose you could move that?" He sounded nervous, which would make sense if he were human. Most magic-users, even those in the Council, were useless in a free-for-all.
"I could," Ripper replied. The sword didn't budge. "What was your name again?" He thrust the sword forward until it pressed against, but didn't break, the stranger's skin.
"Ethan." The voice had gone up in pitch. "Rayne. Ethan Rayne."
Ripper drew the sword back until it wasn't quite touching skin. "And what would you be doing here, Ethan Rayne? Are you what I've been hunting?"
"Gods, I hope not."
The tone was so frank that Ripper barked out a laugh, although the point of his sword didn't move. "Perhaps you'd care to try again?"
When Ethan took too long to reply, Ripper inched the sword forward again. "All right," Ethan complained. "You don't have to be quite so obsessive with your point. A few, let's call them associates, are less than thrilled with me at the moment. Having no other recourse, I retreated into this labyrinth to avoid them. When things became... disconcerting, I hid myself."
"Disconcerting?" Ripper asked.
Ethan eyed Ripper as if assessing him. "Ch'rakat demons. A nest."
Oh, Ripper glanced down the tunnel. They hadn't attacked, which suggested they weren't close but perhaps a quick exit would be in order. Lucky he'd found this Ethan before he'd gotten in over his head. He should probably drag the idiot out too. No need to have a death hanging over him.
"Is that what you've been hunting?" Ethan's words sounded innocent, but they weren't, they couldn't be, not if Ethan had any clue.
Ripper lowered the sword and pressed his other forearm into Ethan's chest. "What are you?" There was a glint of gold at Ethan's neck. Ripper yanked off the chain. It held a pendant, a badge of one of the lesser known mystical orders. "I. A. D.?" Ethan must be human – no demon would put up with that nonsense – but that didn't make sense either. Ethan knew how to hide himself from demons.
"Reformed branch," Ethan said with a smirk. Ripper shoved his arm tightly against Ethan's throat. "You are aggressive, aren't you?" Ethan sounded as if he didn't mind. "Granted they have no idea what they're doing but they can be so willing when one wants to perform some of the more degenerate rituals."
Ripper lowered his arm but tightened his grip on his sword as he thought through the situation. "You were going to stand by and watch as I walked into that nest. Tell me why I shouldn't run you through right now."
"Well, I do know a degenerate ritual or two that we could try, if you'd like that is."
Ripper stepped in closer. "Try again."
Ethan's smirk grew more confident. "I never interrupt a mistake?"
"Does that make us enemies, then?"
"We don't seem particularly friendly," Ethan said.
"Why aren't you worried?"
"I think you'll find I'm terribly worried." Ethan leaned forward until Ripper could feel lightning zap in the gap between their lips.
"Are you?" Ripper didn't join in Ethan's smirk, but he didn't move back either. "My sword at your throat had you quivering like a leaf in a thunderstorm, but a nest of Ch'rakat demons doesn't phase you at all?"
"Oh, that." Ethan fell back against the wall, but his gaze raked over Ripper in open invitation.
Declining Ethan's leer wasn't the easiest thing Ripper had ever done, but something wasn't adding up. "Yes, that," Ripper said. "Tell me about that."
"You won't believe it," Ethan said.
Ripper grinned. "I imagine I shouldn't believe half of what you say. Tell me anyway."
"They're dead." Ethan's tone was carefully neutral.
"The demons?" Ripper asked. Ethan nodded. "At your hand?"
"Are you insane? I like my skin where it is, thank you very much."
Ethan looked everywhere except at Ripper. "This is where you think I'm lying."
"Perhaps," Ripper replied.
"It was a slight bit of a girl. She waltzed in, killed them all, and walked out. Not a scratch on her."
The Slayer. Ripper had heard she was in London but hadn't expected their paths to cross. It did confirm one thing though: Ethan was almost certainly human. A demon would have known who she was and would have expected that Ripper wouldn't. A demon wouldn't have mentioned the Slayer at all, not to a human.
"And you do believe me after all. Isn't that interesting? Tell me all about it."
"It's none of your business," Ripper said.
"You could let it be, for a short while." Ethan rubbed a hand up Ripper's chest. When Ripper growled, Ethan grinned and added, "Or perhaps a long while. Your choice."
"No." As if the word were a command, Ethan drew his hand away until it was held, not moving, an inch from Ripper's chest. "I..." Ripper stuttered. "It's... She's none of your business."
"Very well." Ethan's hand still hovered near Ripper's chest.
Ripper inched forward until Ethan's hand was touching him. "And you?" Ethan asked. "Would you like to be my business?"
As he leaned in, Ripper thought he might be making a mistake, but Ethan let him, and so he made it anyway.