The Desert Beast

Nine Years before The Might of Gabriel…

A hot night breeze swirled through the open door, brushing against the back of his neck as he balanced precariously on a broken ladder. He made fast work of attaching the small speaker to the ceiling and fastening the strip of blue lights to the seam of the wall. The moody lighting was the perfect complement to the freshly painted black wall. As he stepped off the ladder and across the room to survey his work, he smiled. The combination of pitch black paint, mood-setting blue lights, and total room-inclusive surround sound was the only way he imagined a small home movie setup should be. 

That was, if he ever got the television mounted on the wall. 

He ran a hand through his dark curls, sighing heavily, and steel-blue eyes scanned the set-up on the wall once more as he considered the situation. He had no friends, no family, and no roommate around to help him do so. It left him with a predicament he wasn’t sure how to tackle but knew he’d figure it out. 

He always did. 

Being alone was nothing new to him. 

Nate Warren was a lone wolf. 

He spent his time balancing demon hunting, college, and appeasing as many of his disabled father’s whims as he could. It was absolutely exhausting, but the only life he knew. It made him appreciate the little things like his own home movie setup all the more. 

On the kitchen counter, his phone went off.

There were only two people listed in his phone: his father and his father’s care nurse. 

If one of them was calling, it wasn’t a good thing. 

Either he was in trouble or he was going to be. 

The room grew uncomfortably warm as he weighed the phone in his hand, staring at his father’s name. It flashed at him almost as violently as his father’s temper was, demanding to be answered or shit would hit the fan.

“Hello?” Nate answered and cleared his throat to mitigate the thickness of his accent. While he was used to the adoration his British accent received around campus, he still did his best to soften it as best as possible. “Hello, Father.”

There’s a hunt,” his father snapped, his tone livid as always. Nate stood taller. Aeron Warren would never win the father of the year award. A hunter severely injured in a fight against a highly skilled demon, he was bound to a wheelchair and subsequently angry at the world. He’d spent fifteen long years pouring all his rage and frustration into how he raised Nate since the day he adopted him. He used it to mold, shape, and chisel away at every little thing about Nate, turning him into a killing machine.

Nate often wondered why Aeron had even adopted him or how he managed to do so. They were questions he only dared to ask once. The solitary answer was a violent outburst that left him with multiple broken bones. 

He never asked again. 

“Tell me where,” Nate said. He made his way to the bedroom as they talked. “Do you know what I’m dealing with? Or am I going in blind?”

A good hunter has no issues going in blind,” Aeron retorted gruffly. Nate held back the sound of frustration that nearly came out of him. It wouldn’t end well if it did. “There’s a desert park—

“I know the one.”

Don’t you interrupt me when I’m giving you directions, boy!” he shouted into the phone. Nate faltered, feeling his chest tighten. Even miles apart, where he was theoretically safe from his father’s wrath, the mere raising of his voice over the phone was utterly stressful. 

“Yes, Sir,” he whispered. 

You do what I trained you to do and report back to me when you’re done, do you understand me?

“Yes, Sir. Are civilians—”

The line clicked abruptly, going dead as his father ended the call.


His father never cared about collateral damage.

Nate threw all of his focus into collecting his gear for the hunt, trying hard not to give into the anger ebbing its way to the surface. Deep down, he was bitter and frustrated with everything in his life. It ate at him day in and day out, but he refused to give in to it. He didn’t want to end up like his father. 

Alone, he could do. Being alone never bothered him. 

But angry, abusive, and miserable? 

He wanted to avoid that at all costs. 


There were demons from Hell, and then there were demons from a special place in Hell. 

At least, it sure felt that way some days. 

Whatever Nate was dealing with came from the special place in Hell.  

Long and lithe with the body of a massive dog, it was something straight out of a nightmare. Massive, cavernous ears twitched and fluttered as it stalked him from between desert plants. The ears clearly made up for the lack of eyes. Its elongated snout hung open as the demon huffed out angry breaths, showing off several rows of razor-sharp teeth. Mirroring the nightmarish display, its thick tail ended in a second gaping mouth, complete with teeth and all. 

The desert setting of the arboretum offered an easy setting to hunt the demon in. Minimal

foliage peppered the flat and dusty terrain while the only real worry was the wide assortment of cacti. The smartest thing he could do was avoid them at all costs. 

Nate stood still, waiting for the demon to attack. Keeping his movements slow and meticulous, he slipped his gun back into its holster. Instead, he opted for his hunting knife. While it required up close and personal contact with the demon, there was something about the way its skin didn’t move as it stalked him that gave Nate an inkling his bullets wouldn’t pierce its hide. 

The silence was deafening. 

Every breath he took, every beat of his heart, echoed in his ears. The rustling of the wind through desert flowers and the quiet huffing of the demon overtook the sounds of the night. 

His senses went wild, honing in on the incoming chaos. 

He was ready, his mind sharp and his muscles tight with anticipation. 

What he didn’t expect was the sudden burst of speed. 

The demon lurched forward, coiling together like a spring. 

“Oh, shit,” Nate muttered as it vanished from his sight. His head tilted to the side, pulling on his hunter instincts to help him. While other hunters had a direct lineage to one of the seven archangels, giving them uniquely useful powers, he didn’t. He was powerless and relied completely on his weaponry to land his kills. 

What he did have going for him was the same thing all hunters had. His awareness was more acute than a human’s, giving him a better sense of hearing, sense of smell, and sense of sight in the field. His endurance was stronger, staving off the fatigue of a long hunt and giving him a fighting chance to keep up with the demons he crossed.

The advantage was minimal to most, but it made all the difference to him. 

He focused on his hearing, trying to pinpoint the demon in any way he could, his instincts buzzing against his skull. 

The world opened up to him.

Sand shifted. 


Cacti bent and broke.

Scrape. Scratch. Scrape. 

Angry growls phased through the surrounding night.

Nate’s grip tightened on his knife as he followed the demon’s path. Its movements were erratic, its speed changing drastically as it raced through the arboretum. 

For as hard as he tried, he couldn’t anticipate its location. It simply moved too fast. 

A searing pain coursed through his body, flaring up instantly. 

Dozens of teeth bit hard into his shoulder. 

Flesh tore and his muscles screamed out. 

Reacting, Nate thrust his knife into the head on the demon’s tail. A shrieking wail filled his ears. 

His knees buckled as the screeching volume ripped through his skull.

In retaliation, the demon flung him. 

He toppled head-over-foot, losing his orientation as the world spun out of control. 

Dozens of cacti spines broke through his skin as he crashed into a cactus, halting his momentum abruptly.

Nate groaned, freezing. Every minuscule motion pushed the spines further into his skin. 

He knew it’d be hours of painfully plucking each one from his skin before he had relief. 

It was enough to make him want to be done with all of it. 

He was nearly out when the demon appeared from nowhere in front of him. Nate didn’t move, didn’t draw his gun, or even reach for his spare knife. From the way its tail moved, he knew it was going to toss him a second time. He wasn’t about to lose another weapon to being thrown around and resolved himself to wait the situation out. 

Its ears twitched, and its head cocked slightly as it honed in on him. 

Lashing out, its tail bit into the same shoulder, same spot. If it didn’t hurt so damn much, he’d have appreciated the impressive accuracy. He cried out with the shock of pain as teeth dug further into his muscles. 

Nate didn’t have the time to focus on it. 

As powerful jaws slowly dug into his skin, he coiled the thick tail around his forearm, ensnaring the demon. 

One rotation.

Two rotations. 

Yank tight. 

The demon roared, hot spittle misting his face, its breath rancid and nauseating. 

Rounding on the third pass, he was quick to draw his spare pistol.

The demon was nearly faster, lunging to close the distance between the two of them. 

Nate fired rapidly, emptying his gun into the demon’s face. 

Blood, brains, and flecks of bone joined the saliva on his face and decorated his clothes as the demon’s head exploded. He faltered. He had no issues with blood. That came with the hunt. 

However, a demon’s head exploding was a new one. 

That he wasn’t expecting. 

Its body dropped to the sand, and Nate unwrapped the tail from his arm. He winced as spines tore from his skin. Blood welled and drops fell into the sand. He brushed it away, rubbing his skin hard. 

Nate stepped away from the body, sighing heavily. He eased to the ground and the weight of the hunt seeped from his body as he waited for the decay to set in. Demons didn’t last long once killed. Smaller demons decayed rapidly, returning to Hell, while larger ones often took more time. It meant he was forced to stick around until it was gone. The last thing he needed was for some unsuspecting human to come across the dead body of a demon. 

Conspiracy theories started that way.

As he always did, Nate shifted to pull out his phone, minding the way the cacti spines strained against his skin. It hurt. It all hurt, but he had to call his father. He had a report to give. 

“The demon is dead,” he muttered when his father picked up. “No civilian casualties, one full magazine in the demon’s brain, no property damage outside of one broken cactus, and I’m fine in case you decide to care. I’m waiting for the demon to decay.”

You watch your tone when you talk to me, boy,” Aeron snapped. “If you don’t get your ass back in line, I’ll drag you home myself.”

“You really can’t, Sir,” he retorted, unsure of where his attitude was coming from. If he had to guess, it was the sheer number of spines in his skin and the open wound in his shoulder. The searing pain made him nauseous, and the way his blood pooled in the dust was worrisome. He was going to need medical attention sooner rather than later. “I’m here to go to college, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

College is a waste of time!” he exclaimed. 

Nate said nothing, waiting for the silence to stretch on long enough to push his father into hanging up on him. The truth was, he didn’t know why he was going to college. There was no point in getting a degree. He was a hunter. That was about all he was good at. The only real benefit to college was the ability and necessity to move out of his father’s house. His college of choice was just far enough away to warrant a move and just close enough to go back home if he was needed. He’d never truly be out from under Aeron’s thumb, but at the very least he had room to breathe. 

Sometimes all he needed was to breathe.


Nate lost count at fifty. 

Rather, he gave up after counting fifty. 

Truthfully, he would never figure out personally how many spines were stuck into his skin. They littered his back, his arms, his sides… and those were just what he could see. Between them, the dust, and the blood, he was a mess. 

He also needed help. There was no way he was going to handle it on his own, which was how he ended up back on Melanie Moore’s doorstep despite the ridiculously late hour. As a med student, she was better qualified to patch him up than he was.

It was something she reminded him of every time he came to her. 

After three minutes of waiting, she threw open the door. She looked ready to fight someone, but the moment they made eye contact, her resolve faded. Pale blonde hair was tossed back in a messy bun while thick-rimmed glasses were nestled in the mess of strays atop her head. No less than four forgotten pens he could see joined them. There were bags under her pretty baby blue eyes, and her clothes suggested she was comfort-studying and had been for hours. 

“What was it this time, Nate?” Melanie demanded, hands on her hips. He offered a forced smile, trying to appear charming through the pain. Charm wasn’t his thing, and he knew he wasn’t good at it.

Melanie had no clue the demon world existed and had no clue he was a hunter. Theirs was a weird companionship out of the understanding he did stupid shit in his spare time that required medical attention he didn’t want to explain at a hospital. Unfortunately, it left him coming up with lame excuses to justify his injuries.

It’d started with him showing up for a first date with a black eye and a bloody lip. The rest was history. Every time he got hurt, she was his go-to for help. However, it was also fairly obvious she didn’t believe a word he said about his endeavors anymore. He didn’t have a damn clue why she kept letting him come around. 

“I tried to save a stray cat… ended up in a cactus,” Nate told her as if it was a normal thing for someone to do. She scrutinized him, eyes narrowing and lips coming together tightly. His voice was pathetic as he pleaded with her, “Please, Mel?”

“All right.” She sighed and kicked open the door, silently inviting him in. “You’re lucky Corrine is at some party tonight. I don’t know how I’d explain your dumb ass… chasing a stray cat into a cactus.”

“I fell into a cactus… unintentionally,” he elaborated. He went straight for the kitchen, knowing the routine. Every time she fixed him up, it was in the kitchen, on the tile, with a bottle of scotch nearby no matter what the time. Who drank the scotch came down entirely to how bad his condition was. Sometimes it was him, sometimes it was her, and sometimes they both drowned in a bottle together.

“Most people fall unintentionally,” she murmured. “Must’ve been a big cat.”

“Oh, you know… standard cat,” he lied. “What can I say? I have a stray problem.” 

“I think I’m the one with a stray problem,” Melanie muttered to herself. She dragged a chair to the middle of the kitchen floor, gesturing for him to sit down. He straddled it and pressed his forehead on the back. As he rested, she collected what she needed to patch him up. “So… you going to tell me what happened to your shoulder?”

“It was an… angry cactus.”

“It looks like an angry cactus,” she said. Her hands touched his back, carefully plucking 

at the fabric. He winced but said nothing. “I’m going to have to cut you out of this. Do you have spare clothes? I’m sure you’d look real sexy walking across campus in one of my crop tops, but I can’t imagine you’d want to.”

He chuckled at the image in his head.

“I have spare clothes in my car,” Nate told her. 

“In case you come across an angry cactus, right?” she replied, and he nodded. “Did you at least save the damn cat?”

“It got away,” he said with a tired grin. 

“Of course it did.” Melanie went about cutting him out of his shirt little by little, scraps of fabric falling to the floor. Her hands walked over his back and shoulders, inspecting every inch of him as she made sounds to herself. From the small noises she made, he could only hazard a guess at how bad it looked. “This is going to hurt.”

“I’m no stranger to pain, Mel,” Nate let out softly. 

“I know,” she said under her breath. Her touch was delicate as she ran her fingers down the length of scars on his back, the ones he wished he could say were hunting-related. Pain was about the only constant relationship he had. She whispered, “Hold still, Nate. I’ll be as gentle as I can.”

As if to reassure him, she ran a hand through his hair and kissed the curve of his shoulder. The small gesture was comforting in ways she’d never understand.

“Thank you, Mel,” he replied softly. He did as he was told, his eyes drifting shut. Even as gentle as she was, Nate could feel every little thing she did to him. Every pluck, every pull, every stitch resonated down to his very core. It still wasn’t enough to keep him from teetering on the edge of sleep, and when he fell over that ledge, he knew he was in excellent hands.


Despite having spent the night passed out at Melanie’s, Nate was exhausted and ready for another nap. He trudged his way through the apartment halls, tugging his zip-up closer around his body to make sure all his cuts, scrapes, and bruises were covered. Mostly used for student housing, the building was already active as people hurried in and out of their apartments. The chatter and laughter were high as he weaved his way past them, keeping his head down to avoid interaction.  

He fumbled for his keys to let himself in when a throat cleared behind him. Nate paused, waiting to see if it was his attention they were trying to get. 

“You’re looking a little worse for wear there, bud.” 

“Excuse me?” Nate asked, rotating slowly on his heel to face the speaker. Slightly taller than him and built like a man ready to fight, the stranger grinned when they made eye contact. He shoved his hands in his pockets, his back lengthening as he stood taller. Nate recognized an  attempt to appear intimidating when he saw it. From the vivid hues in his blue eyes and genuine smile to his neatly combed chestnut hair and obviously new clothes, it was clear he was trying to make a strong first impression. 

The only problem was Nate didn’t know who the hell he was, and he definitely wasn’t intimidated.  

“The sand all over—”

“My clothes are clean.”

“Skin, hair, facial hair,” he elaborated as he gestured to all of Nate. “Bandages on the shoulder—your clothes are all puffed up—”

“Do I know you?” Nate demanded, his tone harsh. He didn’t like being picked apart by someone he didn’t know. It set off a red flag. 

“Sam. Sam West.” He stepped forward and held out a hand. Nate stared at it for a long moment before giving in and keeping the shake brief. His shoulder screamed at him, but he held back a cringe. “I’m here to see the room for rent. That is, unless you picked someone else already.”

“Ah, fuck me,” he muttered under his breath, running a hand through his hair. Sand peppered his face, and he brushed it away quickly. He’d completely forgotten he’d set up a tour of his apartment to lease out the second room. 

“I can go—”

“No, no.” Nate shook his head and resumed unlocking his door. Taking longer than necessary, he mentally ran through his pre-hunt routine, trying to remember if he’d left out any weapons. When he was certain he hadn’t, he invited Sam inside. “It’s fine. Just come on in. Sorry about the mess.”

“What mess?” Sam asked with a chuckle. He wandered through the practically empty apartment, running his hand over the counter mindlessly. “I’ve never seen a cleaner apartment.”

“I meant me, but yeah,” he said. “It was a… hell of a night, you know.”

“Women.” He grinned. The expression was all-knowing as if he’d been there before. “She really ran you into the ground, didn’t she?”

“Yeah, yeah… you could say she was a real beast.”


“I’m thinking it’s best if it was a one-time thing,” Nate told him. It was a horrible lie, but he didn’t have the mental capacity to come up with anything better. Sam seemed to buy it, but Nate wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not. “Anyway, there’s no smoking in the apartment, and the patio is stupidly small. It’s about enough room to stand alongside the one plant the company insists stay out there. We can grill if we want. You just have to move away from the side of the building. There’s usually some sort of tailgating going on in the parking lot so no lack of social interaction if that’s your thing.”

“Do they know how to throw a party?” Sam asked, and Nate shrugged painfully. He’d never gone to a single one and spent his time skirting around them. They always seemed to fall on a night he needed to hunt, making it difficult to leave. “Good to know.”

“The second room is down there. It’s on the inside of the building so no windows. The bathroom has only a stand-in shower.”

“Damn. No bubble baths.”

“Right.” Nate forced a smile, feeling it was the appropriate response expected of him. “There’s a small storage unit in the basement. I have nothing in it so it’s open for use. And that’s about it. I like my space. I don’t mind a few guests, but no one goes into my room. Ever.”

“That’s reasonable,” Sam said. “I’m not particular to raging parties in my home. Usually, the occasional overnight guest, if you know what I mean.”

It wouldn’t surprise him if Sam was used to a revolving door of overnight guests. There was just something about the way he held himself, and the way he talked that suggested he preferred casual relationships over anything serious.

“Easy to figure out,” he replied. “How do you feel about guns? I have a few locked away. You’re not allowed to handle them‌, but I know having them around is a deal breaker for some people.”

“I’m from Texas,” Sam said with a smile. “I come with my own guns.”

“Got it.” Nate nodded slowly, studying him. He never would’ve pegged him as a guy from Texas. “You don’t sound like you’re from Texas.”

“And you definitely don’t sound like you’re from the States.”

“I was born in Britain,” he explained quietly. “I spent several of my former years there before being adopted and brought to the States. Just British enough to sound British, just American enough to sound American.”

“Texas born and raised,” Sam told him. “I hired a dialect coach to help me lose the accent. I feel like I’ll be taken more seriously as a lawyer that way.”

“So, law school?” 

“That’s the plan after I graduate. And before you ask, I’m a junior, so I have another two years before I graduate. You know, at this rate, you really should be a cop. You give a damn good third degree.”

“I’m really not sure what I’m doing in college yet,” Nate admitted honestly. “I’m focusing on my gen-eds at this point, trying to figure it out.”

“That’s a solid way to go about it,” he stated. Sam fell silent and wandered through the apartment. He disappeared down the hall, and Nate let him. He felt no need to monitor him. While he was a bit off-putting at moments, there was something about Sam West that made Nate believe he could trust him. His gut instinct was strong, and he knew better than to ignore it.

“It’s a nice place, the price is right, and something tells me you’re a decent guy,” Sam announced as he came back into the living room. “I only have one real question, and that is… why is your TV on the ground?”

He pointed to the downed television.

“Well, it’ll go up on the wall as soon as I can figure out attaching the mount and holding the TV all at the same time,” Nate replied, smiling slightly. It was genuine and a little foreign. He was used to faking it around people, but Sam was easy to talk to. 

“Is that all?” He laughed. “I can help with that since I’m here. No obligation to rent to me. Promise.”

“Are you sure? It’s heavy.”

“Please,” Sam scoffed, offering a cocky grin. “I think I can handle it. I’ll lift, and you get the mount in the wall.”

Nate doubted it. Despite his confidence and broad build, Sam didn’t look like the guy who could deadlift a television. Still, he decided to let him help with hopes it’d get it off the floor. 

True to his word, Sam was more than capable of holding it up while Nate screwed the mount into the wall. Between the two of them, it was fast work. As he stepped back to stare at the finished setup, Nate smiled happily. It was the one thing he’d done for himself in a long time, and he was proud. 

“You can move in whenever,” Nate said, keeping his tone casual. He took his keys out of his pocket and removed the spare from the chain. He tossed it to Sam, who caught it with ease despite barely looking.


“The room is yours. Sunday morning is movies and breakfast, and Sunday afternoon is football and wings. You’re welcome to join anytime,” he continued. “If you let me know when you plan to move your stuff in, I’ll make sure I’m here to help.”

“I’ll have my brother drive the rest of my shit up from Texas… this weekend, maybe? I don’t know.” Sam shrugged. “I have to find out Cole’s schedule first. Mind if I crash on the floor until then? I can’t do another day in those damn dorms. It’s so damn—”

“Loud,” Nate finished for him, and Sam nodded. It was the exact reason he’d moved out. Twenty-some floors with dozens of rooms each had been a complete noise nightmare. For him, his hunter senses couldn’t handle it. He was sure for Sam the reasoning was different. “Well, other than tailgates, it’s pretty quiet here.”

“Good to know.”

“Yeah.” Nate started for his room, comfortable with Sam’s presence in the apartment. “And you can sleep on the couch as long as you don’t mind me going in and out. I… have a nighttime job, so I tend to be in and out on random days. I’ll be quiet though.”

“That’s okay,” Sam called after him. “I tend to spend my nights out. I really only sleep early in the mornings.”

“Sounds like it’ll work out well,” he said. Pausing in the doorway to his room, Nate added, “It was good to meet you, Sam. I think this roommate thing will work out well.”

“Please.” Sam grinned widely. “I’m going to be your best friend before this semester is over.”

“Right,” Nate murmured, nodding his head slowly. It was a hard sentiment to believe. He was a loner and was better off that way. He didn’t need anyone else. 

At least, that’s what he had himself convinced of.