Five Years before The Might of Gabriel…
“Okay… okay, okay, okay.” Riley Marx sighed, blowing out as much air as possible. He stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, the poor lighting making him look sickly more than anything else. Every attempt to look older did nothing to fight his perpetual baby face. From his unruly deep brown hair to his superhero t-shirt and glasses, there was just no denying how young he really was. “This is it. I’ve got this. I’ve got this… I’ve… I definitely don’t got this. Oh, I think I’m going to be sick…”
“Honey!” His mother’s voice was overly loud from his phone on the sink. Both his parents were on video chat. Again. It was his mother’s favorite way to talk and check-in. She loved to remind him of how much she missed his face. “Honey—see, I told you he wasn’t ready for this, Christian! I told you that you weren’t ready for this, sugar bear.“
“Mom!” he exclaimed, crouching to make sure she could see him clearly. Delilah Hanson’s kind face scrunched together with concern, her warm honey eyes filled with worry. He was used to it and genuinely appreciated how much she loved him.
“It’s okay to come back home! There’s no shame—”
“Sweetheart!” his stepfather, Christian Hanson, was out of the frame and yet somehow the louder of the two. “Let the boy speak!“
“I’m fine, Mom,” Riley said. “A little nauseous, but fine.”
“Did you take your vitamins?” she asked.
“Your anxiety medication?” she continued as if he hadn’t answered. “Do you have that? Do you carry it with you if you need it? Your inhaler?“
“He hasn’t needed his inhaler for years, Dee,” Christian cut in.
“Mom, I haven’t needed my inhaler since I was fifteen,” Riley reminded her, working hard to keep his tone gentle. His mother had always been a little overbearing but in the nicest way possible. Growing up had been a feat after his father, Richard Marx, was killed by a demon in front of him when he was eight. It stuck with him, something he couldn’t quite move on from. It changed him, something his mother took to heart and did her best to compensate for.
“Sweetie,” Delilah began, “you’re twenty-two. There’s no rush to leave home.“
“Oh, there’s a definite rush…” he muttered as he returned his attention to the mirror. He wasn’t in Arizona just for school. No, he had something else he needed to accomplish. It was bigger than any degree he could attain or any career he could chase.
No, Riley was in Arizona on a mission.
“Why do you need to do your degree in person this time?” Delilah pushed the issue further. “You’ve got… what was it he’s got, Christian?“
“A Master’s in Computer Science, a Master’s in Software Engineering, and a Master’s in Data Science.“
Riley grinned, thankful Christian remembered such details that didn’t pertain to him.
“A Master’s in Cybersecurity would go a long way toward what I’m trying to build, Mom,” he explained and hoped she wouldn’t ask him to explain it further. While he loved his parents, they had no clue what he was talking about when he started talking about technology. They’d listen endlessly because they wanted him to feel heard, but it really was a waste of everyone’s time.
“We don’t doubt that,” Christian said.
“We don’t,” she agreed. “But why in person, sweetpea? You did the rest of them right here at home, where I could be there if you needed me!“
“He’s a man, Delilah! You need to let him be a man!“
“He is a man!” Delilah exclaimed. “A grown, beautiful specimen of a man! There’s no need for the world to ruin that!“
A hot flush crept up the back of Riley’s neck at his mother’s words.
“You have to let him go sometime!“
“Dad’s right, Mom,” Riley cut in, knowing full well they could go back and forth on the topic all day. They had gone back and forth on the topic all day. “You have to let me go sometime.”
“I just hate the idea of the world bringing down that beautiful soul of yours,” she replied. Sighing, Riley crouched down once more to make sure she could see his face. A soft smile broke her upset expression at the sight of him.
“Mom, I promise you I’m going to be just fine,” he said. “No anxiety meds, no inhaler, nothing else needed. Yes, I’ll take my vitamins. I can do this. I can… I can definitely do this.”
The truth was that Riley didn’t know if he could do it, but he wasn’t trying to convince himself. He was trying to convince his mother. He could handle living on his own, even if she worried. It was all the other stuff he wasn’t telling her that he wasn’t sure he could handle.
“Are you sure? Why Arizona? Why couldn’t you just do it here? I miss my baby!“
“I promise I’ll be back in Chicago for Thanksgiving. I promise,” he told her. “I need to do this for me, Mom. I told you my premonitions are never wrong. I have to do this. I’ve seen this.”
“I know, I know,” Delilah whispered. It was something she couldn’t argue with. As a descendant of Raguel, Riley was more in tune with the intricate details of the universe’s bigger design than most. Unlike other hunters, his power was passive. He had premonitions of the future. It gave him the chance to prepare for whatever was coming. He also knew better than to fight them. It was pointless. He was powerless against them.
It wasn’t a gift.
It was a curse.
Some things were better left unknown.
“I love you, Mom,” Riley said with a smile.
“I love you more. I always will. Just remember what a kind, brilliant, creative young man you are. And just remember, if you ever doubt it, you call me, and I’ll remind you,” she replied. “I’ll always be your biggest fan, honey.“
“I know, and I will. Promise.” His smile widened, truly grateful for his relationship with his mother. No one would ever be as lucky. “Love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, kiddo.” Christian’s aging face squeezed into the frame long enough for him to give Riley a big grin and a thumbs up. “Go show those schmoes what a real genius looks like!“
Before they could say more, Riley ended the video call. He let out a heavy sigh, not sure if it was relief or stress. Either way, he was a whirlwind of emotions he wasn’t good at handling.
“I can do this. I can do this,” he muttered once more, nodding firmly.
Standing tall, he ran a hand through his messy hair and straightened his glasses. Sighing, he knew it was about as good as he was going to get. He was who he was. There was no denying that.
The living room furniture was pushed up against the walls in favor of standing cork boards. Pages filled with sketches of demons alongside notes and other information he’d gathered along the way were stuck pinned to the boards. They were messy and quickly thrown together. Two, however, were meticulously pieced together in a way that emphasized the information being displayed.
The first board contained information on Nathaniel Warren. Born in the United Kingdom, he was a hunter orphaned at a young age with no discernible power lineage. Most of his childhood was hidden behind closed doors, being homeschooled with no external activities to speak of. The only real footprint he had in life was the ones he made for himself after leaving home to start college. He seemed to struggle to dedicate himself to anything, moving from job to job and even quitting his classes to become a police officer.
The other was Sampson Michael West, a descendant of Gabriel born in such a small town in Texas that it didn’t show up on most maps. His childhood was filled with sealed court records, school suspensions, and a long-standing battle with addiction that paved the way for his early twenties. After getting his life together, he moved to Arizona to start school and apparently recreated his identity right down to dialect training to get rid of his Texan accent. He was loud, cocky, and opinionated. Between law school and fight clubs, it was clear he had an impressive ego as well.
Riley had been watching both of them for months, studying the way they hunted. Their dynamic was an interesting blend of planning ahead and doing whatever came to mind mid-hunt. It left them with a massive hunting footprint. It surprised him that no one had caught onto either of them yet.
They were the reason he was in Arizona. School was a cover. He had no need for a fourth master’s degree. He wanted to get close to Nate and Sam, to figure out why he was having repetitive premonitions of them. Maybe he was supposed to be like them, join them, and do something phenomenal.
Or maybe it was going to be the death of him.
He really didn’t know.
It could go either way. That was the problem with his premonitions. They often left him clueless as to exactly what message he was being given.
Either way, Nate and Sam were proficient hunters with the potential to be great. They just needed him, even if they didn’t know it yet.
“I got this,” Riley whispered once more before grabbing his bag and hurrying out of the apartment.
The headache was ever-present. No matter how many painkillers he took, Riley couldn’t get rid of it. Throughout the day, the intensity built behind his eyes until he couldn’t see straight.
Palms pressed to his eyes, Riley sat on the floor in the dark of his apartment. An open sketchbook was at the ready between his knees, complete with a sharpened pencil. His heart pounded hard in his chest as his body shook with anticipation. The wait for a premonition to hit was always torture.
It was in those moments he missed being home. He missed the things his mother would do to ease the transition. Dark lights, soft blankets, a cup of warm milk and honey, and quiet music made it less intense.
It wasn’t something he knew how to do for himself.
His apartment was cold and offered no comfort as he waited.
He wanted to call her, wanted to ask for help, but didn’t.
He had to do it himself.
He had to—
Copper light and wicked shadows swirled together, contrasting shades creating discernible images.
Two men walking in the night, side-by-side.
One with a gun.
One with an ax.
Electric blue eyes shimmering gold.
Eyes of blue steel narrowing to slits.
A flickering blaze of glorious fire, reaching for the sky behind them.
Stark and flat, a building consumed by flames.
Riley groaned as the premonition vanished, collapsing against the wall. His chest rose and fell hard as he clutched his head, the searing pain ebbing away quickly.
While he knew he should take his time to recover, he didn’t. Riley swiped the sketchbook off the floor and stumbled for the light switch. His legs were heavy, his steps unsteady, as he made his way to the kitchen.
“Orange juice, orange juice, orange juice,” he muttered under his breath. Fumbling his way through the refrigerator, he took out a container of orange juice and gulped down as much as he could straight from the container. Something about orange juice always made him feel better. There was no real science to it. It just helped. Slipping his glasses back on, he took his time studying the scratches and scribbles on the pad of paper.
It told the story of a building on fire as two men walked away from it. The two were armed and readily resembled Nate and Sam. The only truly discernible thing in his drawing was the sign reading Chemistry Lab on the burning building.
“Shit!” Riley exclaimed. He dropped the notebook to the countertop and hurried for the door. Despite the way his body trembled and protested, he had to go. “Shit, shit, shit!”
Sitting inside the table by the door, Riley pulled out a gun and slipped it into the waist of his pants. A good hunter never went anywhere unarmed.
At least, that’s what he read on the Demon Web.
Breaking into places was way harder than Riley expected it to be. The movies made it look easy. They gave him a false sense of confidence.
In reality, sheer dumb luck was the only reason he managed to break into the chemistry lab. If he ever told the story, however, he’d leave that little detail out.
His hunter instincts were going haywire, buzzing against his skull, as he took slow steps through the hallways. Honestly, he didn’t know what any of it meant. He had absolutely no experience when it came to dealing with demons face-to-face. For all he knew, it was hunter instincts or indigestion. Both were very real possibilities after the questionable leftovers he’d had for dinner.
Scrape. Smash. Clang.
The clattering of metal tables and breaking of glass was the only indicator he had something was wrong. He was going to face his first demon or get his ass kicked trying to stop a robbery.
Crash. Scrape. Crash.
Claws scurried through the hallway, smashing through the door into another classroom. He caught a flash of a demon, and his heart lurched into his throat. It was long enough to span the width of the hallway with its head in one classroom and its tail in another.
“Oh, shit,” Riley whispered, his chest constricting. “Oh, shit… shit, shit, shit.”
What had he gotten himself into?
Reptilian in nature, the demon crashed through the classroom in a frenzy. What it was looking for, he didn’t know. It did, however, give him the chance to study it as he tip-toed inside. Armored scales covered its taut body and led into a muscular tail covered in spikes. Bulbous eyes covered most of its head, large and giving it a wide range of vision. As it surged through the room, its body phased through a myriad of colors.
“Okay, okay, okay,” he let out softly. With trembling hands, he took his gun out.
And promptly dropped it.
It skidded across the tile, and the demon’s head whipped in his direction. A wet tongue flicked out between bared fangs.
“Oh, shit!” he yelled when it bolted. Leaving behind the gun, Riley spilled into the hallway. He wasn’t all that coordinated, nor did he have great endurance, but figuring out how to run for his life wasn’t too difficult. He sprinted down the hallway, glancing over his shoulder every chance he had.
The demon barreled after him, skittering off the walls. Its tail smashed through glass windows and long claws punched holes in the concrete as it went.
Scrambling, Riley rounded a corner, his sneakers slipping and his legs nearly giving way.
It was one long hallway after another.
There was no good way for him to get any real distance over it.
When he saw an open door, he ran into the classroom with the demon hot on his trail.
Hitting his knees, Riley slid under the first table he found and covered his head, eyes squeezing shut.
He was going to die.
He was definitely going to die.
There was no way out.
He was as good as dead.
A soft rush of air coupled with some furious swearing made him peek.
Eyes laced in gold and skin glowing bright, Sam West stood over him with the table lifted high in one hand. He chucked it at the demon, slowing it slightly.
“Watch yourself, kid!” Sam snapped, never looking back. The screech that came out of the demon was deafening. Riley pressed his hands over his ears, curling around himself.
Sam knew what he was doing.
Sam could handle the demon.
Strong hands grabbed Riley by the back of his shirt and lifted him clean off the ground as if he weighed nothing. Nate Warren shoved him into a corner. Slamming him into the wall, he jabbed a finger in Riley’s chest, his expression severe.
“Don’t move, or you’ll get yourself killed,” he ordered, his British accent surprising even though Riley knew Nate was adopted. It was like being rescued by James Bond. Unable to speak, Riley nodded rapidly. “Good boy.”
Nate drew his gun and followed Sam into the hallway after the demon.
Unable to curb his curiosity, Riley trailed after them. He maintained a decent distance, but he was far too curious to leave it alone. He wanted to see them in action.
Using a metal table torn in half, Sam beat on the demon to keep it at bay. Every chance he got, Nate fired. Bullets pinged off the demon’s scales, vanishing into the walls.
It was a horrific way to manage the situation.
Bullets wouldn’t kill the demon.
“You’re doing it wrong!” Riley shouted, trying to get their attention. They ignored him. “You need to cut the head off!”
If they heard him, they clearly didn’t care.
Sam discarded the table top and opted to use a crushed table leg to try beating the demon. Even with his strength, the rounded metal didn’t pierce its scales when he managed to get a hit in.
“Hey!” Riley hollered at the top of his lungs. It was enough to make Nate turn and Sam glance over his shoulder. “You need to—stop shooting it, you idiots! It’s plated! Cut its head off! Fire ax! Fire ax!”
He gestured wildly at the boxed-up fire ax on the wall. Sam smashed through the glass effortlessly, completely disregarding the way sharp shards cut into his skin, while Nate continued shooting purely to distract the demon.
In one fluid motion, Sam brought the fire ax blade down on the demon’s neck. With a squelching sound that made Riley’s stomach churn, the demon’s head plopped to the ground.
“Oh,” Sam let out, breathing hard. A stupid grin overtook his face as he held the ax out in front of him. “Oh, I need me one of these!”
“You absolutely do not,” Nate retorted.
“It’s useful!” he exclaimed.
“That’s what you said about the flamethrower! And you almost burned half our apartment complex down—”
“Hey!” Sam interjected heatedly. “I still maintain that a flamethrower is useful.”
“And I still maintain that you aren’t allowed one,” Nate said. “That’s why I got rid of it!”
Despite the dead demon on the floor or the odd smell in the air as its body sizzled and melted away, the two of them bickered as if nothing else was going on around them. It was simultaneously impressive and idiotic.
“What if we come up against an ice demon?” Sam demanded.
“An ice demon?” Nate scoffed. “In Arizona?”
“It could happen!” he motioned to the melting demon. “What the hell do you think we deal with?”
“If—and that’s a very big if—for some goddamn reason we ever come across an ice demon in Arizona,” he began, “I’ll buy you a flamethrower myself.”
While they were completely engrossed in their own bickering, Riley slipped away unnoticed. He wasn’t ready to talk to them. He didn’t know what he was supposed to say or even how to say it. It was easier to leave them and deal with them later.
He was far too rattled from his own near-death experience to think straight. It brought back memories he wasn’t ready to face.
Outside, he ducked behind a row of bushes and collapsed in the grass. His heart slammed against his rib cage, and for the first time in a while, he realized he should’ve brought his inhaler with him. Breathing out wasn’t too hard, but drawing in air was still a feat.
Smoke billowed from the top of the building, and an alarm sounded deep within the building.
“Damn it,” Riley gasped out. Even though he knew there was no way to avert what was coming, he still hated to see it unfold.
Bolting out the front door, Sam and Nate ran from the building at breakneck speed.
“Oh, shit!” Sam yelled, turning to look at the building.
“Faster, you idiot!” Nate hollered and yanked on Sam’s shirt to pull him forward. Behind them, the windows and walls burst outward in a loud explosion. Fire rushed outward in every direction. The smell of chemicals and smoke burned the air, and Riley scrambled back across the lawn. Even from where he sat, the heat was suffocating.
“Fuck!” Sam shouted, stopping dead in his tracks. “Damn it!”
“Keep your voice down—”
“That fucking kid is still in there!” he snapped. Riley frowned, realizing they still thought he was in the building and had probably tried to find him to save him. “We could’ve—”
“We can’t save everyone!” Nate interrupted.
“But we sure as hell fucking try!”
“And get killed in the process?” he demanded. As they spoke, he took a necklace out of his pocket and handed it to Sam. Sam slipped it on, the glow and tendrils of his power vanishing when he did. “Because I’m not Fire Bound? Are you? No! So, let’s get the hell out of here before we get our asses arrested.”
“Fuck!” Sam yelled once more, swinging the fire ax angrily. “We could’ve saved him.”
Riley remained hidden where he was, watching the two hunters walk away. Sam settled the fire ax over his broad shoulders while Nate carefully holstered his gun at his hip, their backs to the flames as sirens rose in the night.
It was exactly as he’d seen it.
For two guys hiding an illegal amount of weaponry in their apartment, the fact that Sam and Nate left their back door open was just astounding. Days after having watched them hunt, Riley finally worked up the courage to go over and introduce himself. Unfortunately, his timing was impeccable, missing them as they went out for a hunt.
Riley let himself in, tablet in hand, his curiosity getting the better of him. The living room was made for movies and entertaining, though he couldn’t imagine who they were having over, considering everything the apartment had to be hiding. As hunters, he had to believe they kept a wide array of weaponry in their rooms.
He wandered to the kitchen, slipped the tablet on the counter, and helped himself to a glass of orange juice from the refrigerator as he waited for them. Flipping screens around, he kept tabs on Sam and Nate once more as they hunted. An algorithm ran under everything, deleting security footage and traffic camera feeds as they did. The last thing he needed was for them to get caught before he propositioned them.
Nearly an hour later, they came home.
“—that’s all I’m saying!” Sam was saying as they entered through the patio door.
“You’ve been saying it,” Nate replied, shaking his head. “You keep saying it! When are you going to be done saying it?”
“That demon was fucking hard to kill. I’m just saying! I should start carrying around an ax at this rate. The bullets didn’t work!”
“That’s because the demon you came up against tonight was vulnerable to steel. Most axes are made of steel in some capacity while bullets are actually lead-based,” Riley commented, casually joining their conversation as if he hadn’t let himself into their apartment. Nate and Sam rotated fast, drawing their guns. He took a sip of orange juice, knowing full well they wouldn’t shoot him. “Riley Marx, descendant of Raguel. I have three master’s degrees.”
Why the hell did he think telling them that was a good idea?
“Is that my orange juice?” Nate demanded with a frown.
“That’s what you take away from this?” Sam snapped. “It’s the kid we thought blew up, and you’re asking about your orange juice!”
“I’ve had trouble finding orange juice lately, okay.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Sam asked, turning back to Riley.
“Riley Marx, descendant of Raguel.” He set down his glass of orange juice. “I have three master’s degrees.”
Again, the words just fell out of him.
Maybe he was trying to put it out there that he was just as impressive as they were even if
he didn’t have all the muscles or weapons to back it up.
“You’re like twelve!” he exclaimed in disbelief.
“I’m twenty-two,” Riley retorted, offended. He knew he looked young, but twelve was an insult. “I’m a genius.”
“Clearly not,” Nate began, “considering you broke into the apartment of—”
“A police officer and a law student?” he finished for him. “A descendant of Gabriel and… unknown. That sounds weird saying it out loud. Is it weird knowing that? That’s not an appropriate question to ask. Forget I asked.”
“That doesn’t tell us anything about you except that you’re good with a computer,” Sam said loudly over him.
“Like I said… my name is Riley Marx. I’m a descendant of Raguel. And, yeah, I’m damn good with a computer,” he reiterated, taking another sip of orange juice. He stared at the glass, awkwardly trying to figure out how to navigate the quiet spot in their conversation. “This is really good orange juice.
“Thank you,” Nate replied. He holstered his gun and crossed his arms, watching Riley closely as he moved deeper into the apartment. “What are you doing here? How’d you get in?”
“One of you forgot to lock the door.”
“How many times am I going to tell you to lock the damn door before you leave?” he demanded with frustration as he rounded on Sam.
“How do you know it was me?” Sam countered.
“You were the last one out the door!”
“Do you realize the footprint you two leave around town?” Riley cut in. He really wasn’t interested in their bickering. “It’s amazing you two haven’t been arrested. Security cameras, traffic cameras, property damage… I could go on. The list is stupidly long.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, interrupting Sam. “I erased it all for you already.”
“What is it you want?” Nate asked.
“Are you going to put the gun down?” Riley looked at Sam, gesturing to the gun still in his hand. “I’m clearly not here to hurt you. I’m practically harmless.”
“No, but you stole his orange juice,” Sam retorted but holstered his gun nonetheless while Nate chuckled. “I haven’t decided if you’re actually harmless. Three master’s degrees? At your age? That doesn’t scream harmless to me.”
“Smart cookie. Look, I suck at small talk… and social skills… and flirting.”
“Kid.” Sam laughed and dropped into the chair beside the couch. He kicked his boots up on the coffee table, getting comfortable. Despite his jovial tone, his relaxed nature never reached the hard edge in his eyes. He may have appeared at ease, but it was obvious he was ready to strike if needed. “Maybe don’t go around announcing that to people.”
“I also suck at hunting. Guns… definitely not my thing,” he continued.
“Then why were you in the lab?” In cautious movements, Nate joined Sam by settling down on the couch. He remained tense, keeping a watchful eye. Riley didn’t blame him. He’d be considerably less composed if someone broke into his apartment. “Hunting demons requires guns.”
“That’s because I know a lot about demons. I know more than both of you combined,” Riley stated.
“You’re awfully confident about that,” Sam murmured.
“I am,” he agreed with a firm nod. It wasn’t a statement up for debate. “I’ve developed numerous computer systems designed for the identification and classification of demons, tracking demons, and protecting hunters. What I can learn with these systems in a few minutes, it takes most hunters to figure out over the course of decades… if the demon hasn’t killed them first.”
“Sounds like something you should put out there for other hunters to use,” Nate replied.
“Again, my social skills suck. Like… massively suck,” he admitted. “You need me to operate the entire system. I have to run the system. I don’t… I can’t run teams of hundreds of hunters. That’s… that’s too many people.”
“What’s your offer, kid?” Sam asked. “You’re clearly trying to get at something here.”
“Let’s be partners.”
“I’ll take you two from your everyday kind of hunters to a formidable team that can’t be messed with,” Riley told them. “I can streamline you in a way you never thought possible. I cultivate and provide on-the-spot information regarding what’s being hunted and how to kill it most efficiently to minimize the footprint left behind… like your demon tonight that needed to be killed with something steel based.”
“Do you hear this kid?” Sam glanced at Nate. “He thinks we can’t do our job.”
“I know you can,” he said with confidence. While he didn’t trust his social skills to build any real kind of relationship with them, he trusted the numbers. Numbers told him exactly what they could accomplish if he got both of them onboard. And that was before he threw his premonition into the mix. “Believe me, my resources are unlike anything either of you has seen.”
“How?” Nate asked.
“Have you heard of hunter houses?”
“I have. Are you—”
“The Marx hunter house in Chicago has been in my family for generations,” Riley interrupted Sam, answering the question he knew was coming. “All of its resources—weapons, connections, and information—are at my disposal. They’d be at yours, too.”
Sam considered him for an intense moment. His stare never wavered as he leaned closer
“That’s an offer hard to pass up,” Sam whispered.
“Oh, I know,” Nate murmured. Louder, he continued, “What do you get out of this? It seems like we’re the only ones benefiting, which begs the question of what you get out of it. What’s the catch here?”
“There is no catch.” Riley sighed. “I can’t hunt. I’m not… I’m not a hunter. Not in the capacity that you two are. But there are still demons that need to be killed. There are people that need to be saved. How can I do that if I sit in a chair?”
“By running a team of hunters,” Sam stated. “Makes sense.”
“Right. Short of the weird… old married couple dynamic you two have going on here—”
“We kind of are,” Nate interjected over Sam.
“You two are efficient, and demon-related deaths have been down since you’ve been here. It’s why I sought you out. I saw this…”
Why he said it, he wasn’t sure. He hadn’t intended to bring up his premonition.
“What do you mean?” Nate frowned. “By you saw it?”
“He means he had a premonition, descendant of Raguel and all that shit, right?” Sam asked.
“Yes. Premonitions are always accurate.”
“Yeah, look,” he began slowly, “I don’t subscribe to all that the future is set in stone shit.”
“You get better weapons, additional backup, and smarter intel… what’s not to invest in here?” Riley demanded, his voice laced with annoyance. They confused him. Why were they making him practically jump through hoops to agree when the benefits were so prominent? He was offering them the chance of a lifetime.
“You stole my orange juice,” Nate reminded him. “You broke in and stole my orange juice.”
“I’ll replace your orange juice,” Riley promised. “I’ll buy you more orange juice.”
“I want a flamethrower,” Sam said. Riley frowned at the ridiculous request. If that was all he wanted, it was a stupid, easy request.
“Fine. I’ll get you a flamethrower—”
“No! No!” Nate cut in over both of them. “We had a deal! No flamethrower!”
“I want an ax—one that doesn’t break with my power.”
“That’ll take some time to figure out,” Riley told him. “I’d probably say we should start with getting your weapons magicked against your strength. You’ve bought a lot of guns. I’m guessing you can’t control your strength?”
“He’s good,” Nate said.
“Too good,” Sam murmured, eyes narrowing slightly. Clearly, it was a sore subject, and Riley stowed that piece of information away for future interactions.
“There’s no such thing.” Riley shook his head. “We can always be better.”
“Bud, what do you think?” Sam looked at Nate for his opinion on the entire thing. Silence filled the room as they held an entirely nonverbal conversation. Nate made a small face, prompting a shrug from Sam. While they went back and forth without a single word, Riley unlocked his tablet, glancing at the notifications popping up on his screen. In the end, Nate gave the slightest of nods, and both men returned their focus to Riley. “All right, we’re in, Riley Marx, descendant of Raguel, who has three master’s degrees.”
“When do you want to start?” Nate asked.
“How about now? There’s a demon about four miles from here… animalistic in nature, a high heat signature indicates a connection to fire, and satellite imaging shows malleable skin. It’s roughly half Sam’s size, but the length of a small car,” he said. With fast fingers, he moved images around on his tablet to pull up a short video from a surveillance camera. Lifting it, he showed them. “It seems like a good start if you ask me.”
“Oh, I’m going to like this,” Sam replied with a laugh. He got to his feet as Riley tossed two earpieces in their direction.
“Keep those in,” he ordered. “I can give you input as you go.”
“Deal.” Nate slipped it into his right ear. “How do we kill it?”
“Point and shoot. Just be aware of fire… could be fire breathing, and its skin could cause burns… it’s hot. I just don’t know how hot yet.”
“See you soon, kid,” Sam said. “Don’t drink his orange juice. You hear me?”
Riley grinned, proud of himself for pulling it off with no major setbacks. Sure, it’d taken some work to convince them, but he’d done it. He took out a third earpiece, put it in, and activated the three-way link through his system.
“All right, boys,” he began, touching his earpiece. “Check the parking lot.”
“What’re we looking for?” Nate asked.
“Check Sam’s glove box for keys,” he replied. “You’ll see I left a little something for both of you next to his car.”
“Are you fucking with us right now?” Sam demanded, his voice filling with excitement. “Please, tell me we get to keep these.”
“Yes, you do. Faster travel is ideal,” he said about the two motorcycles waiting for them. “Plus Sam’s gone to the dealership to look at it more times than I can count… I have the exact number written down somewhere.”
“After we kill this thing, we’re going to have a conversation about boundaries,” Nate told him. “You’re invasive even if you think you aren’t.“
“Okay,” he replied. “Drive safe, but drive fast.”
As the sounds of their engines starting passed through the earpieces, Riley swiped his tablet off the counter and made his way to the couch. He settled in for a night of hunting, staring around the simple apartment.
Good things were coming.
That much he didn’t need a premonition to tell him.