I

If you’d told the man sitting in a Newcastle pub that he’d save the life of one of the rarest creatures in England on an otherwise dingy weekend, he’d have laughed in your face. Then, he’d probably have had another pint. Maybe he’d have had a shot too, for good measure.

 

This pint, his third, went down as willingly as their predecessors. He sat in the corner of the bar, underneath the picture of the fat lady with her breasts out. This had been their favourite spot, but now Thomas sat alone – and he drank.

 

But the bar itself wasn’t empty. Far from it. His phone buzzed constantly, GPS and NFC notifications lighting up to let him know that there were non-humans nearby. But Tom didn’t need a phone to notice that. In the Town Wall, people looking to dull the pain of a recent breakup weren’t the only beings around.

He raised the pint to his mouth again and surveyed his surroundings, noticing the spiked ears and ridiculous beauty of the elves – just a handful of them in tonight. He picked out the glowing red skin of the Imp folk, the green tinged hue of the Goblins. Some non-humans mingled with Tom’s own kind, sharing the easy conversation of truly integrated citizens. Others, however, kept to themselves. The greenskins especially.

 

The door to his right swung open and a gust of icy wind announced a new patron. The bartender, a human girl covered in tattoos, turned to the new customer with a smile. Thomas let his gaze drop and looked down at his phone.

 

The text message was simple. It read: “The target has entered.”

 

To most of the people in the bar, the new visitor looked like them. A human male, around six foot tall and clothed in typical Newcastle winter gear – a pair of jeans and a shirt. No jacket. An old myth maintained that Geordies didn’t wear jackets.

 

Tom had been taught the origin of that legend long ago by his tutor, who’d told him about the early Giants that lived in the North of England, roaming the ancient landscape of what was now Northumberland National Park, and how their thick hides had kept them safe from the weather – so they strode the lands as naked as the day they were born. Their ancestors, years later, bore some of the same cold resistance – but fortunately not the same propensity for nakedness.

 

This new visitor was dressed like a local and, to Tom’s ears, talked like one. But he was not one of them. Thomas could smell it. Some of the other non-humans in the bar shot strange glances at the new arrival. They too, could sense what he was.

 

But they were powerless to do anything about it. When the real monsters come out to play, the ordinary monsters are no scarier than a spider on a windowsill. Even the Orc currently sat amidst the goblins, his huge mitt gripping a specially designed glass, averted his eyes from the new visitor.

 

The humans, unfortunately, failed to notice. They continued with their celebrations. After all, it was Friday night and geordies knew how to party. Thomas replied to the text with a single word. Received.

 

The new guest sipped a red liquid from a wine glass. He had black hair, white skin and coal-black eyes that surveyed the humans celebrating with the alienesque disinterest of a lizard assessing insects.

 

It didn’t take long. It never did. A girl, tall and blonde with the kind of dress only a Northern girl would dare risk in the winter, moved to leave the bar. As she did, the new visitor followed her. Thomas, as much as he’d have loved to sit underneath the fat lady picture and drown his sorrows, downed the dregs of his pint and winced. Then he reached under the table to pull his backpack on.

 

The night was clean and crisp, the cold biting immediately. Unlike the man he was now following, and the woman ahead of them both, he wore a coat. It’s pockets bulged with the tools he needed for the job. He pulled it up over his neck and felt the bristles of the scruffy beard he was growing – no, not really. More accurately, it was facial hair he was just too busy ignoring.

 

Up ahead, the target raised a hand and pointed a finger. The girl being followed, as Tom had seen so many times before, stopped in her tracks as they walked down the cobbled streets of Pink Lane towards the train station. Whatever she’d had on her mind, likely a taxi from the station, dissolved in an instant. Behind her, the target closed the distance between them and placed a hand on her shoulder. That was all it took.

 

Tom kept his distance, waiting. He felt his breath slow and his pulse rise. Maybe he shouldn’t have drunk on the job. Fuck that, he thought. How else would I do it?

 

The new couple began to walk together, the leggy blonde now held with the man’s hand around her waist. He squeezed her buttocks and Tom grimaced, following them slowly and staying well back. Getting close would ruin it. But being too far away…that wouldn’t work either. Not if he wanted to save the girl. Did he? Do I?

 

He moved a little bit closer. Yes, I do. The new couple suddenly veered to the left behind another pub, which had its typical Friday night lights and sound blaring out into the the street. Two bouncers stood on the door, one a large human, the other a Golem with a particularly stony face. The human didn’t bat an eyelid at the couple, but the Golem turned and regarded them quizzically.

 

Yeah, but you’re not going to lift a fucking finger are you, Rock boy? Thomas thought. Maybe if the target had entered the golem’s bar, things might have been different. But they slid past, and into the alleyway – and the Golem made no move.

 

Tom picked up the pace. He shouldn’t have let them get out of sight. He quickly swung his rucksack around and pulled out the knife. It glistened in the dark, a silver blade and a handle crafted with ornate rosewood. It was a holy weapon – but Tom wasn’t a holy man. He had a job to do.

 

He pulled his hood up and swept around the corner and into the alleyway. It was dark in there – too dark. No light from the street penetrated the long corridor, which was littered with large bins full of rotting fast food from the Subway nearby. He couldn’t see the couple he had followed in – but he didn’t need to.

 

He could hear them.

 

It was the sound of struggle. The moaning of a woman caught in the heat of passion. Then, a shrill scream. It flared up, escaped into the night before being silenced almost as quickly as it had sounded.

 

That was all Thomas had needed to hear. He darted forward and saw them, the woman pressed up against the wall and the man pressed against her. That sight alone was nothing unusual for Newcastle – but the man also had his mouth against the woman’s throat. Red blood spilled down over the girl’s skin, splashing onto the litter-strewn floor.

 

Thomas drew the knife and approached, his arm raised and the knife ready to strike. The victim had a few moments left, based on the blood already spilled. The vampire was too caught up in the feeding to hear Tom’s approach – which was exactly the plan. Thomas was near enough now to smell the blood. To hear the wet slurping of hungry fangs on veins.

 

Just as the vampire began to squeeze the girl’s neck like a child squeezing a packet of sweets to get the last one out, Tom lurched forward. As he had done five times now, he drove the knife down towards the creature.

 

It didn’t land.

 

His brain couldn’t process it, but as he made his attack, a thin girl with bright red hair stepped from the other side of the alleyway – ahead of the rutting couple. She had her finger pointed at Tom and it froze him solid. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t move a single muscle. He noticed the point of her ears, the shape of her nose. The crystalline blue eyes.

 

A fae.

 

The vampire turned to face him – still inside his victim with his hand on her bloody throat. Tom could hear her whimpering, the last of her lifeblood spilling messily into the street. The black eyes of the monster stared lazily at Tom, as if mildly amused by his presence.

 

Then the Fae girl spoke a word Tom’s mind couldn’t comprehend and everything went black.

 

II

 

He woke up to daylight and the smell of urine.

 

Thomas blinked a few times, fearing for a moment he was blind – until his sight rushed back and he sat up. He was still in the alleyway, but the night had long gone and instead he saw the bins and litter clearly. The blood from the woman stained the ground, but there was no body.

 

Did she get away?

 

Tom got to his feet, shakily. The memories returned: The woman being drained dry as she was fucked. The hungry black eyes of the vampire. The Fae. His knife. The knife. Where was it?

 

He looked down to see that his coat, and his bag, were gone. He stood only in his t-shirt and jeans. Rain had begun to fall, and Tom scanned the alley for any signs of what the hell had occurred. The Fae, he remembered clearly. How could he have forgotten? The slim redhead was a creature out of a fairytale – one of the rarest entries on the government’s ‘dangerous non-humans’ register. She’d been beautiful, too. The Fae. More than any girl he’d ever seen – even more so than the elves.

 

Not that Tom had much time to consider her looks. The spell had worked quickly. But why? Was she defending the vampire? Attacking him and getting Tom out of the way?

 

The questions flew through his head – but the main one throbbed there, more important than the rest. Why am I still alive?

 

Tom didn’t have his phone, so he couldn’t text the group he worked for to let him know what had happened. He didn’t have anything, except the spare key to his house he kept in his sock. He was just about to leave the alley when he noticed the scorch marks.

 

In the wall, two side by side marks burned into the brickwork, a few feet from where he’d woke up. They were half a foot deep each, enough to have burned straight through Tom’s body. But they hadn’t. He was here.

 

Alive.

 

Tom couldn’t help but laugh. He’d only been a ‘professional’ vampire hunter for a few months after the mechanic job hadn’t worked out. As a Hunt Squad member, he was paid a wage – but unlike a real pro, he had no real idea what he was doing. It was a freelance sort of job. An underworld version of Uber or Deliveroo. Sign up through a friend, receive the tools, get targets sent to your phone. No real laws permitted it – but none stood against it, either. Many dangerous non-humans had no rights at all. If someone was willing to pay you to kill the stuff that goes bump in the night, why wouldn’t you? At least, that’s the way Tom saw it.

 

After all, someone had to keep the creatures of darkness at bay. The most malevolent and powerful, the ones who couldn’t integrate. The government kept most of them locked down with the special forces police and investigation squad – but vampires and other nasties were easily spread. Some registered vampires stayed on the right side of the law, visiting blood banks and sometimes trading for blood donations. Others were explicit criminals, hunting humans like cattle. There’d been a proper war, once, which had exterminated most of them – but like any infection, they soon returned. So now it was left to the police, the odd vigilante and shady groups like the one Tom had joined to find and kill the non-humans who didn’t like the law.

 

Why’d I choose this?

 

Tom recoiled as he felt something touch his leg. He jumped back and raised a fist. Then he relaxed – it was only a piece of paper.

 

He wasn’t sure what made him reach down and pick it up. There was nothing to distinguish it from any other piece of rubbish. Nonetheless, he reached down and plucked it up. He unfurled it, tattered and scorched at the side as though caught in whatever had ruined the brickwork.

 

It was a letter addressed to a name Tom had never seen before, Raya Shaddath. Even in the piss and blood soaked back alley, the paper smelled of something…different. Celestial, even.

 

Dear Mrs. Shaddath,

 

You have failed to pay your bill on time for the sixth consecutive month. As a non-human on the endangered list, you have been privy to some level of financial reprieves but, as you have been informed on the phone on thirteen separate occasions, you have exceeded the maximum repayment window.

 

As such, you will now be forced to leave your home and register with your a new government minder. You have five days to remove your personal effects or we will confiscate them when we move ahead with the repossession.

 

Kind regards,

Andrew Havercroft.

Non-Human Integration Council.

 

He stared at the letter. It could have been anyone’s letter, a single piece of rubbish blown out of the bins that surrounded him on all sides of the alley.

 

But it wasn’t.

 

He knew it was hers. The Fae girl’s. The smell on the paper was intoxicating – sharp to the point of stinging. On the bottom of the note, scrawled in what looked like lipstick, were two simple words. ‘Find me.’ Another line of lipstick circled the address at the top of the letter.

 

She lived in Byker.

 

Thomas could only laugh out loud at the audacity of it. You take a shit job to distract yourself from someone. You fuck it up and yet somehow don’t get killed, then you get a letter from a Fae and she lives in bloody Byker!

 

Thomas, who lived in a house with a bunch of university students in Jesmond, one of Newcastle’s nicer areas, had only ever stepped foot in Byker for work. It was a poor area, famous for the social housing that ringed it – a colourful attempt at arthouse architecture that looked unsightly as it rose up into the Newcastle skyline. At best, it was a collection of cramped flats that now housed drug addicts, orcs, goblins, trolls and apparently Fae. At worst, it was a shithole.

 

Thomas knew it well. He’d been there on his first job. A werewolf. He’d got him in human form, but even then he’d been tough – and Tom was just your average loser with bills to pay, so taking a life had been a struggle. He’d had to remind himself time and time again that the things he was being paid to kill were out to do much worse to his fellow man. Still, the man’s eyes had been so normal.

 

All these thoughts played through Tom’s head as he walked back to his shared house. The city of Newcastle Upon Tyne is rainy, wet and grey in summer. In winter, it’s piercing cold and the sky is near-constantly drizzling. Tom hadn’t even been left his coat and the sky had opened up, soaking him to the bone as he skirted past the Saturday morning families heading out for coffee. He caught sight of a few Satyr selling newspapers, famous for their charm. The headlines boasted about another crackdown on dangerous non-humans. We’re keeping you safe, they tried to claim. Bet that blonde last night doesn’t feel safe. Bet her family doesn’t, either.

 

With no money in his pockets to buy the drink he sorely needed, Tom made it back to his house in record time with his thoughts thrumming through his head. He tried the handle and the door swung open. That’s what I get for living with students. They had no concept of risk.

 

He dodged any awkward questions or unwanted altercations by heading straight up the stairs to the top floor, where he rented the largest room in the house. After all, he used to need the space. He thought of Sarah, then pushed the thoughts away by thinking of the Fae girl. Or what he could remember about her, at least. The red hair that hung in curls around her, the crystalline eyes that shone with intent. The pale skin, almost white as snow. How it had been so different to the vampires, who wasn’t exactly dark himself. The way she’d pointed her hand at him and he’d simply been knocked unconscious.

 

Dangerous then. That was obvious. But a job’s a job, and Tom really needed his dagger and belongings back. Even if it meant dying. After all, the company he worked for would probably kill him a second time if he lost the dagger. He’d heard of other hire workers being wiped out by the creatures they were up against and a recovery team being sent in just to recover ‘company equipment.’ Valuable.

 

Tom changed his clothes. Showered, making sure to bring his bottle of moisturiser infused with holy water into the communal bathroom. He waited until he was showered and towelled, then lathered himself with light dashes of the solution. He wasn’t sure if it worked on Fae, but it was worth a shot.

 

Thomas looked at the note again. Whatever she was, she was in deep in debt and for some reason hadn’t finished him off – and perhaps had even stopped the vamp finishing the job. He dressed, then went downstairs and slid a kitchen knife into his jacket. Better safe than sorry.

 

No silver blade, no real form of protection against a being so powerful she could end his consciousness with a gesture, no plan. I’m getting good at this. On a whim, he opened his housemate’s laptop and pulled up WhatsApp. He hovered over Sarah’s name for a second, his fingers hovering over the keys. What would I even say? Goodbye? Maybe you’ll get what you wanted after all?…He stared at the picture of his ex-girlfriend, a girl who’d cared more about non-humans than him. Fuck it.

 

He used Google maps to locate the address. It was one of the first apartments when you entered the ‘wall.’ Easy enough to find, even without his phone. By now, he imagined the people he worked for would think he was dead, so he fired a message across on a free wireless text service. ‘I’m still here. Target escaped. Will update shortly. Thomas’

 

Then he closed the laptop, pulled his bicycle outside and sped back out into the rain. It was going to be a strange day.

III

The directions he’d looked up did the job and he reached Byker in less than twenty minutes. He was panting from the ride and his breath sent mist into the damp air, mingling with it. The surrounding loomed on all sides of him, the wall rising up from a row of normal council houses and stretching down towards the Ouseburn valley.

 

The rain had swept the usual denizens of the area into their homes – leaving only the determined shoppers, commuters and good-for-nothings. Thomas had rode through Shields Road, which had once been voted the UK’s worst shopping street, and saw the Lizardfolk with their market stalls, the normal humans with their eateries and a few pubs run by hardened old half-giants. He’d had a drink in one, a long time ago, and as he rode past he’d remembered how much getting thrown out onto the concrete had hurt.

 

He’d probably deserved it.

 

Thomas kept his head down and tucked his coat collar up. He locked up his bicycle against a lamppost and then walked up the steps that led to the ‘wall.’ The doors to the apartments ran along the left hand side and to the right, Tom looked out across Newcastle. He was taken aback by the sight of the Civic Centre’s green tower rising triumphantly up out of the grey and rainy day.

 

He reached the address on the letter within a few steps. A white door, the number seven emblazoned on it. He stood gazing at it for a second, waiting. Expecting to hear something.

 

Nothing came.

 

Thomas moved closer. He held one hand at the lapel of his coat, clutching the handle of the blade tucked in it. He looked left and right – neither side of the walkway showed any signs of life. Breathing gently, he tucked his chin down further, ready for impact – and knocked on the door.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Tom felt his pulse quicken and heard himself exhale. Again, he looked up and down the walkway. No-one.

 

He knocked again.

 

Nothing.

 

He started to pull back from the door when he heard it. Quiet, almost imperceptibly so.

 

“H-Help me.”

 

The voice had come from behind the door. A whimpering moan followed it, and Tom took in one sharp breath. He clutched the knife handle and shouldered hard into the door. Surprisingly, it gave way easily. A thin metal privacy chain bounced free as Tom stumbled into the apartment.  

 

Inside, the mess of last night’s alley seemed like a palace. The whole flat had been destroyed, pulled apart by what looked like a team of inept burglars. Papers were strewn everywhere, furniture knocked over, TV smashed.

 

In the middle of it all sat the Fae. He hands were bound behind her back, as were her feet, forcing her to kneel forward. The brilliant eyes were full of a pleading sort of desperation and Tom was once again stricken by how impossibly beautiful she was. But the fear in her eyes was unmistakable. As he recovered from the forced entry and slowly inched towards her, he noticed her eyes move. They’d been fixed on his, silently begging for help. Then, ever so slightly, they’d flitted to the right – to the corner of the room.

 

Tom only just managed to throw himself to the floor to avoid the man who dove out of the other room. With a snarl, a dark-haired shape flew overhead and then spun as it landed. Tom rolled, pulling himself back up to one knee and facing the attacker. It was the vampire from the night before.

 

“Had a feeling you’d come here.” The creature hissed. His face, as handsome as the other vampires Tom had encountered, was contorted into a sneer. He waved one hand at Tom and pointed quickly over at the Fae. “I should have never trusted a fae….come on then, hunter.” The vampire stepped closer and Tom tensed, ready for the creature to spring.

 

It eyed him with irises that were almost human. But sharper…. Hungrier.

 

“You’ve killed some of my friends.” The vampire said.

 

Then it launched itself at him, nails scything out at Tom’s face. He ducked underneath, but the vampire sensed the evade and sent a knee into Tom’s solar plexus. It crashed into him and took the wind straight out of his chest – sending him instantly to the floor. He wheezed, trying to fight breath into his lungs, but the Vampire didn’t relent, stamping down on Tom’s wrist with a biker-boot clad feet.

 

The snapping sound was louder than Tom’s cry of pain.

 

“Pathetic.” The vampire said. “You DIY hunters are fucking cowards. I bet you don’t even know who you work for. Or why you kill us.”

 

Tom, kneeling on the ground with his broken wrist splayed out on the floor, charged at the vampire and tackled him with his shoulder. As he’d done with the door – but unlike the door, the creature didn’t give way. It was like hitting a block of iron. Tom recoiled in pain and fell back onto his haunches.

 

“Hunters used to train for us. They used to know how to kill us. How to make us suffer.” The Vampire kept talking as he stalked around the room, his eyes fixed on Tom and flitting to the Fae girl. He was clearly enjoying the theatre of it – toying with him. Thomas thought of Sarah, and her work with women who’d been bitten by vampires. The one’s who were turning but didn’t want to. How they’d looked when Sarah had had to explain to them that the change was irreversible. The pain on their faces. His left hand, unharmed, swept inside his coat and gripped the handle of the blade.

 

The vampire charged again.

 

Tom drew back his shoulder and punched the knife as hard as he could into the oncoming creature’s path, aimed at its chest. Skin met blade and the kitchen knife stabbed into Tom’s attacker, jarring his arm with the impact. The Vampire pitched and fell, crashing into the already broken furniture. Tom, his chest heaving with exertion, panic and abject fear, got back to his feet and walked to the Fae. Her eyes were as piercing as ever. For a moment, Tom debated killing her too. After all, she was on the dangerous non-human list. Howay man, who do you think you are mate? The fucking terminator?

 

“I’m Thom-” he said.

“You’re an idiot.” The Vampire said.

 

Tom spun around. The creature stood with the knife buried in its chest. Unperturbed by it, in fact. It watched Tom and then slowly drew the blade out, tossing it to the floor. No blood.

 

“Like I said. Your predecessors were tough. Now, you’re just a pawn in a game lad.”

“The only game I’m playing is making a grand for each one of you I kill.” Tom retorted, his fear exploding from him as he spat speech back at the creature. This was the first one he’d ever actually spoken to.

“I hired her to protect me from you lot.” The vampire said. He still watched Tom, and the girl who knelt behind him. “But she’s soft. Too soft for this.”

Tom looked over his shoulder.

 

That was all it took.

 

The creature crossed the room in a flash, digging a left hook into Tom’s ribs. Again, he felt something break and crumpled to the floor. The Fae behind him moaned into her bindings.

 

“The people you work for. They’re worse than me, you know that? They fucking use you lot to do their dirty work.” The Vampire said. “They teach you how to strike at us in the dark with that stupid silver dagger they give you. But they don’t teach you how to fight us…”

 

A kick caught Tom by surprise and almost lifted him off the ground. His breath gave out in a wheeze and he couldn’t help but curl up in agony.

 

“You know why? Because then you’d know how to fight them.

 

Tom closed his eyes. He’d known death was a possibility when he took the job – but usually the tasks were smooth and simple. Wait for it to feed, then stab it with the silver. It had worked every time. Now, he was faced with insurmountable odds and it was clearly pissed off. He opened his eyes and looked up at the Fae. She’s absolutely unreal. Despite the danger, he couldn’t help but be stunned by her.

 

Then he noticed her hands.

 

The vampire’s view was blocked, but the Fae had somehow got ahold of the kitchen knife and now held it pointed up between her feet, sawing her bound wrists with the blade. Hope flashed into Tom’s mind and he turned back to the vampire, desperate to avoid him seeing the Fae’s movements.

 

“I don’t give a fuck who I work for. The less of you, the better.” He spat out. The man slowly began advancing on him, looking down at him with a mixture of hunger and pity.

“That’s a shame. It’s always better to know you’ve made the most of your life. It makes your blood so much…tastier”

Tom closed his eyes, unable to stand up as the vampire loomed over him. Its face contorted and it revealed the fangs he’d watched drain an innocent girl dry last night. Tom thought of Sarah and felt a pang of regret as the nightmare descended on him to finish the job.

 

ZZZZZZZZZRRRRRRAAAAAAP

 

Tom felt heat envelop him and a bright flash of red light. He opened his eyes to see a vampire-shaped scorch mark on the wall next to the door he’d forced himself through. The Fae stepped forward and knelt down, placing her now free hands on his arm. He immediately felt more relaxed.

 

“…He stayed here to avoid daylight. Overpowered me while I dreamt. I didn’t realise he knew I’d left you the note.” She said softly. Her voice was a song, a note of mourning in every inflection. “I’m sorry.”

 

Thomas almost laughed, looking up at this dream of a woman with her wild red hair and baleful blue glare who had just annihilated the vampire with magic Tom had only read stories about. “Sorry for what!?” He croaked out, his ribs hurting with the effort of it. “You just saved my life!”.

 

“Because there are more of them. Because I stopped you when you could have killed him. Because I had to parlay with these…creatures of the night.” She began moving through the apartment, around a corner and out of sight. Tom couldn’t even hear her footsteps. He felt overcome by the effort of what had occurred.

 

His backpack dropped down in front of him.

 

“Can you walk?” The Fae asked. “Nightfall will bring more. I’ve broken the pact I made. They’re going to come for me. I still need your help.” She looked straight into his eyes and the strength of her gaze took his breath away. She extended a hand.

 

He grasped it. Her skin was impossibly cool to the touch. Not cold like the grave – but like a still pool in a dark forest. Through her grip, he felt his injuries lessen. His pain recede. He gritted his teeth and stood.

 

“Where do you live? Is it safe?” She asked, a note of need in her voice.

“It..It’s…S-safe” Tom breathed. He picked up his rucksack with his good hand and shouldered it.

 

The Fae led him out of her apartment and into the day.

 

IV

 

Outside, she slung on a pair of sunglasses produced from what seemed like nowhere. Tom raised an eyebrow and the creature shrugged. Then she turned back towards her apartment. The air thrummed, and Tom jumped back as a ball of fire appeared in the girls’ open palm. He looked at it for a moment, then shot a glance back to the apartment and in a horrified gasp of understanding he shouted: “No!”

 

The Fae, ready to throw the fire into her home, looked at him – expressionless. “Why?”

Tom pointed above her to the second and third story homes. “Other people live there. You’ll ruin their lives.”

 

The Fae regarded him for a few more seconds. She appeared to weigh his words and then shrugged again. She tossed the flame through the open door and it burst into a million smaller flames, catching on the strewn furniture with a blaze of heat.

 

She shook her head. “He was the head of a group. They will do everything they can to avenge him. That includes using our scent to hunt us.” She paused and watched the flames spread. Tom stepped back from the encroaching heat and looked up and down the walkway. No one in sight. “I can’t give them any leads.”

 

Tom looked up at the flats above the Fae’s. He hoped they were empty. The fire was raging now, scorching the entire room where Tom had almost lost his life.

 

The girl took him by the hand once more, and together they fled.

 

They walked quickly, doing their best to blend into the crowds of people going about their daily business. They headed to the Metro station and paid for tickets with money from Tom’s wallet, which he pulled from his rucksack. Inside sat the silver blade and he regarded it for a moment. She did just burn down an entire flat…

 

The Fae’s hand on his wrist snapped him out of the thought and they boarded the metro. The carriage was practically empty, save for an old woman talking to herself and an elf wearing a beanie and hoodie to try and avoid attention. Tom only guessed he was an elf from his slight built and the smell of flowers in the carriage. It certainly wasn’t coming from the old woman.

 

They sat together, and for the first time, Tom had a chance to get a proper look at her. She was, as he’d thought, the most beautiful creature he’d ever laid eyes on. Porcelain skin, curled red hair, a figure that spoke of lithe prowess and an air of mystic power humming around her. Yet despite all of that, she’d left him that note. Asking for help.

 

He ignored the pain in his wrist and ribs and spoke. “So, why me? Why stop the vamp offing me? Why the note?”

 

The Fae’s sunglasses slid down and she quickly pulled them back on. “One hundred and twelve years…” She said. “That’s how long I’ve been hiding.”

 

Thomas did his best to choke down the surprise. “You look good for it.” He said, then immediately scolded himself for it. Idiot. The Fae ignored the comment and instead continued as the metro began to roll along the tracks.

 

“It’s only in the last forty or so that things became really difficult for non-humans. Originally we had trained hunters to worry about.” She smiled slightly “But they were well trained and knew about each species. They knew Fae weren’t to be harmed. They were real hunters, who sought out the malevolent races.”

 

Outside, Thomas watched the city flit by as they moved at speed.  The Fae continued: “Then came the Dangerous Non-Humans act. The registrations. The unofficial hunters. Like you.”

 

Thomas felt his face flushing. “It’s just a job.” He said.

“That’s why I need you.” She said. “You’re not too deep in it yet. You don’t know the truth.”

“Truth?” He asked sceptically.

“That the vampire was telling you the truth. The people who you work for. They’re not human. They’ve never been human.”

 

Thomas shook his head. He dug out the work phone he used to track targets, relay information and receive new instructions. It was dead – of course. Bloody smartphones. He began to consider the fact that, to his knowledge, he’d never met any of his employers in person. His equipment had been delivered to a locker. His training had taken place online. He spoke on the phone, but he’d never met them.

 

“The way I see it, the only way I can stop hiding so much is if I align myself with the non-humans who are so powerful that your people can’t even tell they’re there…” She sighed slightly and looked out of the window. “I like this city. It’s the first place I’ve felt comfortable. I was only helping that vampire for money. It’s tough trying to pay bills when you’re genetically exempt from real work.”

 

Thomas still didn’t know what to say. So like his mother had taught him, he kept his mouth shut. “The rest of the vampires, the man you tried to kill last night’s friends – they’re going to find us. It won’t take them long. They won’t move in the daylight – but if you tell your employers I can help them eradicate their targets…maybe..” She looked back at Thomas and even through her near-celestial glow, he could tell she didn’t believe her own words. “..Maybe they’ll help me.”

 

The metro dinged to indicate they’d reached the city centre. The Fae girl took Tom by the hand again and he felt any hesitation he had leave him. Together, they walked out onto the bustling shopping district of Northumberland Street. There was a stand of humans advocating for pro non-human rights, shouting on megaphones while passersby did their best to pretend not to notice.

 

“My name is Raya, by the way.” The girl at his side said.

“I’m Thomas.” He replied.

“Nice to meet you. I’m sorry about all of this.”

Thomas looked up at her. She was surveying the crowds, taking in the people as they went about their daily lives. Her sunglasses hid her true nature from them, and she seemed to visibly relax in the anonymity of it all.

“I really do love humanity.” She said, but the words sounded more like a sigh. “All I really want is to stop running. To settle. Being the way I am…it’s not my fault.”

Is she talking to me, or humans as a whole? Tom thought. He said nothing. He wondered why they were here, in the city centre. He’d brought a girl who’d just burned an apartment down to a bustling street on a Sunday.

 

She brought you here. Idiot. He thought.

 

They wandered down the street and took a right, where Grey’s monument jutted up into the sky. A stone pillar that reached above most of the buildings in the city, it was a sight Tom had known his whole life. Only now, after the last big non-human incident, the statue at the top was broken in half. Raya, as if sensing Tom’s train of thought, smiled ever so slightly.

“The demon that did that. He’s not like my kind…”

“Oh?” Tom said, again lost for words. The acts of destruction he’d already witnessed from the Fae didn’t leave him with much confidence.

“There are lots of us who have the power to do that. Worse. But that doesn’t mean we do it. Some non-humans, like the vampires you so cheerily hunt down, are out and out evil. Others…” She looked up at him. Even through the dark sunglasses, he could see the glowing blue eyes.

“Others are like you?” Tom finished.

“Yes,” she said, and took his hand – a dangerous non-human who could throw fire from her palms, leading Thomas through the crowds.

 

They walked in silence for awhile. Raya seemed to be drinking in the energy of the people she passed, smiling wryly as she watched the comings and goings of the people of Newcastle. “I feel like this might be my last day in Newcastle. I wanted to come here to just…” Her lips parted into a smile that showed white teeth. “Savour the energy.”

 

Thomas bought them coffee and handed her a paper cup. “The vampires will come for us tonight.” She said, sipping her drink without waiting for it to cool down.

“And how can I help you with that, if I don’t know what I’m doing?” He retorted, tiredness and confusion beginning to weigh heavy on his mind.

“You know how to kill them. That’s a start. You have a connection to the Hunt Squad. That’s my chance…besides, If I leave you alone, they’ll tear you apart.”

“Oh.” Tom said, trying his own coffee and immediately scalding his lip. The pain of it numbed the roof of his mouth. “When you put it like that…”

“Thank you, by the way…for coming into the city with me. I know you must be afraid. Try not to be.”

“I’m not afraid.” Tom lied.

 

They made the mutual decision to head back to Tom’s home and begin preparing a defence. The metro, again paid for by Tom, took them there in ten minutes. Raya smiled at Tom’s housemates as he led her upstairs and Tom heard them chuckling amongst themselves. She’s a bit too fiery for you lot.

 

In Tom’s room, he hooked up his work mobile to the charger and turned it on. Immediately he was bombarded with messages. He read them, feeling a solid lead weight drop in his stomach. They read, in order:

  1. Target has moved. Were you successful?
  2. Agent Edwards, Respond?
  3. Priority 1 target detected near your location. Please read guide on app for instructions on combatting Fae.
  4. Agent Edwards – Should you not respond, an agent will be sent to carry out your task.
  5. Agent Edwards – Secondary agent has been dispatched to eliminate original target and priority target.

 

They ended abruptly, finishing at 5am. Tom checked the time, 3pm. He explained the situation to Raya, who was sitting on his bed and absentmindedly flipping through one of Tom’s books on non-humans.

“You’re trying to get serious with this hunting thing, aren’t you?”

“Did you hear what I said?” He said.

“Yes. They’ve sent someone else out to come and get the vamp we killed – and me.”

“And you’re not worried?”

“Why would I be? They’ll be just as amateur as you.”

Tom was taken aback by the insult and fell silent for a moment. He considered his wrist and ribs, the pain in both had slowly receded to a dull ache. His wrist didn’t even feel broken anymore. Then he remembered. That’s the wrist she’d been holding when they walked through the city.

“I…I’m…” He protested. “I’ve killed five vampires in the act, so far. That’s at least five victims that I’ve saved from being drained dry. I don’t just listen to my instructions.  I read. I research. I want to get good at this.”

“Killing non-humans?” She quipped.

“…Yes” He replied.

“Why? Why do you hate us?”

“I don’t hate all of you. I hate vampires, gargoyles, demons, poltergeists, werewolves and all the other things that hunt humans.”

Raya looked up at Tom and shrugged. “Wouldn’t you hunt those who tried to kill you?”

He fell silent.

“The vampires will be coming as soon as it falls dark. What time is sunset?”

Tom looked it up on his phone. 5.42pm, according to the weather app. Winter didn’t give them much time. He told Raya and she nodded. Then, she placed her head in her hands and pulled her knees up to her chest. “I need to concentrate. Please call your employers and see if they’ll accept my deal.”

 

Tom called them. He’d only spoken to the Hunt Squad leaders a few times. First to get the gig, secondly when he’d had a few questions about his equipment and third when he’d had to ask for help with a particularly elusive vamp. This time, they answered immediately.

“Agent Edwards?” The voice said.

“Yeah, it’s me. Sorry I didn’t ring – my phone died and I’ve only just got it back.”

“We had marked you as MIA. An agent has been trying to hunt down your target and the new priority one.”

“Yeah…the thing is..” Tom paused. “The target is dead.”

“Dead?…You’re sure?” The voice said.

“Yes. I killed him myself.”

“Location?”

“There’s nothing left there now.” Tom said. “There was a fire.”

“Ah yes. Inventive way to destroy a vampire. Well done. And the priority one? Have you found it?”

“If you mean the Fae…yes. She’s with me.”

“With you!? Agent Edwards, this is a priority one. Do you understand what that means?”

“Yes.” He said. “But she’s…nice?” He winced as he said it and immediately felt the voice on the other end of the phone stiffen.

“Nice? Agent Edwards? Do you understand the gravity of the situation. This is a priority one. Vampires are priority three. Do you have any idea what that means?”

“Yes, I know what it means. I’ve seen her…do things. But she’s nice. And she wants help…from you”

“From us?” The voice queried.
“Yes. She wants to work for you. She said she can use her powers to help.”

“Oh? And in return?”

“The right to stay in Newcastle. To live here, undisturbed.”

The voice was silent for a long time. Long enough for Tom to debate hanging up.

“Hello?” He said. “We have more trouble too, the vampire I killed is part of a pact. Raya thinks they’re coming for us.”

“Raya?” The voice said, almost making Tom jump after the long silence.

“The Fae. She says they’re going to try and get revenge on me.”

Another long silence followed.

“Agent Edwards?” The voice softened and Tom could have sworn he heard a weary sigh. “A priority one cannot be allowed to live. She trusts you. Use that. Allow her to assist if you are pursued. You’ll know by tonight if the Vampire’s pact has decided to track you down. The secondary agent will come to assist. After you’ve dealt with the vampires – deal with her.”

“D-deal with her?” He asked. He felt a flare of annoyance. “Is that all the help I’ll get? Deal with her? She can shoot flames from her hands for fuck’s sake!”

“You will find instructions on the app. If you fail, others will replace you. Good luck, Agent Edwards. You have 24 hours or your employment will be terminated and the authorities will be notified.”

“Authorities!?” He questioned, almost shouting now: “What do you mean!? Wa-”

The line went dead.

 

V

 

The app guide to Fae left much to the imagination. The Hunt Squad either didn’t put much faith in their hunters or they’d never met many Fae, because the description and techniques were minimal.

 

Fae, or Fairy Folk, are non-humans that entered the world thousands of years ago. They claim to be a natural part of nature but are in fact, Daemons of the highest order. They utilise magic to shape, alter and destroy. Fae live for hundreds of years and are identifiable only through their eyes – which glow with powerful force, and their great beauty. Agents: killing Fae is as biologically simple as killing a human being. However, getting close enough to a Fae for it to drop its guard is a challenge in itself. Advise calling head office for support.

 

Tom read the guide and then closed the app. He went back to his bedroom, but Raya was completely immobile and unresponsive in her meditative state. For a brief instant, Tom eyed the girl’s chest and considered the silver blade he had in his rucksack. Then he shook his head. It didn’t seem right to kill something as it slept. At least, not something that had saved his life. But, as Tom reminded himself, it was something and not someone. Remember that.  

 

He went downstairs and faced his housemates. Chris and Jake, both students, were full of questions about the redhead he’d led upstairs. Thomas, older than them both and used to being the voice of reason, shook off the questions and instead made his instructions clear. “You guys need to get out of here for the night. It’s going to get lairy.”

 

Both protested. They didn’t want to leave him alone – both could see the desperation on his face. They both offered to help, which gave Tom a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach.  It wasn’t until he threatened them both and threw a wad of notes into their hands that they started to agree.

“Are you sure?” Christ asked as Tom pushed them towards the front door.

“Yes. Stay out – late. Get as pissed as you want. Go wild.”

“Tom..this doesn’t feel right.” Jake said.

He slammed the door in their faces, then locked it. Then, he wandered the empty house, making sure the windows were also secure. He went and retrieved a bottle of holy water he’d asked a priest for at the Westgate community church. The man had only looked at him gravely and then dispensed the water into a plastic bottle. “God speed, lad.” He’d said.

 

God speed. Tom thought. What the fuck does that even mean?

 

He looked at the time again. 4.30pm. Outside, the sky was beginning to darken. He felt the first stab of nerves in his stomach and he had to run to the toilet. He closed the door and locked it. For a moment, Tom debated just staying in the confines of the toilet – safe and sound. Maybe they’d take the Fae and leave him…maybe.

 

A knock on the door jolted him upright.

“Are you ready?” Came the girl’s near ethereal voice.

“Nearly.” He said.

“Did your employers want my help?” She asked.

Tom was grateful for the door between them as he grimaced.

“Yes.” He lied.

She looked at him, sunglasses now gone from her face. The piercing gaze held his own and Thomas looked away. “What do you need from me?” He asked.

“Just because I can cast spells doesn’t mean I don’t need an extra pair of hands.” She said, sensing his hesitation. “We can start by fortifying the building.”

“Can’t vampires not get in?” He said. She raised an eyebrow and a light smile touched her lips. Thomas faltered, but managed to blurt: “Because they need an invite, right?”

The Fae laughed at him. It was the first time he’d heard the noise, a high, shrill and slightly mocking chuckle.

“They really don’t teach you people anything do they? That stuff is ancient history.” She looked out of the window at the darkening sky. “If they want to get in, they’ll get in.”

 

Together, they sat on Tom’s bed. She took his hand again and he found himself thinking of Sarah, how they’d shared a bed together before he’d found her in it with someone else. “I remember how she’d cried in that bed for three nights…” he found himself saying, not bothering to explain who he was talking about – but the Fae girl said nothing. “She begged me to forgive her. Said it was a mistake. That he’d cast a spell on her…” He sighed. “I found out later that he was an elf from the centre she worked at. He probably did cast a spell on her. But I couldn’t let it go…” It felt as if the anchor that had held Tom down was hauled up slightly. He looked up at the girl’s shining blue eyes and shook his head. “I think I still love her.”

“You do.” The Fae said, then removed her hand.

 

The first of the vampire’s arrived at six, just after the last of the light had vacated the winter horizon and left Tom’s street bathed in the eerie glow of street lamps. They watched through the window as a man clad in a long coat strolled along the street, glancing up at Tom’s house and holding his face aloft as if…sniffing? Aye. That’s what he’s doing. Thomas glanced at his phone.

 

“Really?” The Fae quipped. “Humans and technology…”

 

Thomas was looking at the text’s on his screen. It was from his employer, again ordering the Fae’s elimination but offering no help towards the vampire situation or how to actually kill a creature that Tom had watched burn an entire building. The second text said: “We have dispatched a senior agent to your position.”

 

“Look!” Hissed the Fae.

 

Tom shot his glance up, forgetting about the text as he saw what she was motioning towards. Across the street, six tall men were congregating – all looking towards the house. A few cars were still driving past, the headlights illuminating the gloom, but somehow all six men stayed in the darkness. The sight sent a shiver through Tom’s spine.

 

Six, he thought. That’s how many I’ve killed.

 

”What are they waiting for?”

The sound of glass smashing split through the house and Tom jumped. The Fae looked towards the bedroom door and sighed again.

“That.” She said.

A new voice Tom had never heard shouted. Loudly. Loud enough for the whole house to echo with his shrieks. “COME INSIDE!” The intruder shouted. “YOU ARE INVITED.”

“Remember when I told you it wouldn’t stop them?” The Fae asked. Tom didn’t have time to think up a retort as he watched the six vampires clothed in shadow suddenly flit across the road and hop the fence into the garden. Then, he heard the noise of the front door being forced open.

 

Panic gripped him. Six of them. Too many. In the house. In his house.

 

Coming up the stairs.

 

For him.

 

“Fuck.”

“Come on.” Raya said. She took his hand and immediately the tension eased off in his mind. Together, they quickly left the bedroom and slowly began to walk down the stairs from Tom’s room, down into the hallway where his housemates lived. The intruders, wherever they were, had fallen completely silent.

 

The lights went off.

 

Tom immediately thought of the circuit breakers in the kitchen. But between him and the kitchen stood a flight of stairs and the living room – which he imagined infested with the living dead.

 

In the darkness, the first one fell on them.

 

Tom didn’t even see it come. It flashed from the darkness and its claws, elongated fingernails cut sharp to draw blood, raked down his arm. He fell away with a shriek. Raya, still gripping his arm, kicked the attacker in the midsection with agility Tom had only seen in documentaries. The vamp leaned forward, winded from the force of the blow. In an instant, Raya slapped her hand over its mouth and pushed its head back against the wall. The creature, whose strength had shocked Tom, was pinned by the Fae – snarling and spitting saliva down her wrist where her palm clamped his mouth shut. Tom felt the air grow hot, and the vampire’s eyes began to widen in panic. It kicked out, but the Fae held it tight. The air grew even hotter and Tom felt sweat break out immediately on his neck. The Vampire began to scream into Raya’s hand as acrid black smoke seeped out of…everywhere, Tom thought with horror. Smoke was coming from everywhere.

 

He looked away as the creature’s skin began to boil away and the smell of cooking meat filled the hallway. By the time he looked back, there was a black stain against the wall and Raya was holding out her hand to him. The same hand she’d just burned the creature with. Tom, always one to try and pick the best of a bad bunch, hesitated.

 

“Come with me or you’ll d-” Two black shapes slammed into Raya, hissing and clawing. Tom saw her drop from their attack and saw blood splash the walls as they pinned her on each side and sank fangs into flesh.

 

He jumped to his feet and quickly pulled the lid off the plastic bottle he’d been carrying. He ran forwards and splashed both attackers with it, nearly emptying the liquid onto them. An echoing hiss of pain sounded from both vampires and they reared up, furious black eyes fixed on Toms.

 

Shit.

 

They dove forward just as Tom was considering how young both of them looked. Clawed hands scythed out, but not with the same training or force that Tom’s original target had possessed. These were young, inexperienced vampires. Members of the group, but new ones. Tom was no experienced hunter, but he’d kickboxed for years when he was with Sarah – and sloppy attacks were sloppy, even when they came at you from two unholy hell demons.

 

Tom ducked and rolled under the vampire on the left’s swipe. In the hallway, space was limited, so he pushed himself up against the left hand wall and stepped forward – directly into the vampire’s space. This left the one on the right hitting air and having to turn around to try and reach Tom. With the silver knife from his backpack grasped in his bloody right hand, Tom punched it backwards – blade down, into the vampire he’d just out maneuvered.

 

The effect was the one he’d been used to seeing working for Hunt Squad – and the reason so many people took the job. The silver blade caught the vampire in the side of the ribs, puncturing up through lungs. The creature wailed in agony and fell back into its ally, knocking them both off balance. The stabbed vampire crumpled to the floor, and began to dissolve. No bodies – another reason the Hunt Squad was a decent gig. No awkward disposal to take care of.

 

Tom didn’t have time to celebrate. The remaining vampire launched itself at him with supernatural speed. The force of its body cracked Tom’s head against the wall and stars flashed into his vision. He stumbled, tried to recover, found his knife slapped out of his hand and a hot line of agony score across his cheek.

 

A bright flash lit up the hallway.

 

Tom opened his eyes and the vampire was gone. He looked to his left and saw Raya, caked in blood but with her arm outstretched.

 

“Three left.” She said.

“And whoever let them in.” Tom reminded her.

“You see? You are useful.” She said, and smiled ever so slightly.

 

Neither of them felt like waiting. There were three more of them. Somewhere in the house. In the darkness. They grabbed one another, Raya taking Tom’s arm. This time, he felt no shift to his nerves or fear. He looked down at her bloodstained hand, deep red even in the darkness of the hall.

 

They edged their way down the staircase, eyes wide and ready for the attack. Thomas knew the house, so he led – gripping the knife he’d picked back up and holding it blade down, ready to punch it as deep as he could into anything that jumped at him. Despite the fear that coursed through his veins, he felt excitement there too. Thrill, perhaps. Maybe this it’s like to be a proper hunter.  

 

They walked into living room, still tense and anticipating attack. Nothing happened, but to Tom’s delight, light from the street outside alleviated some of the darkness. They edged into the kitchen and Tom immediately realised they’d made a mistake. The cupboard behind them flew open, blocking their escape. From inside of it, two adult vampires emerged. From the other side of the kitchen, where the table his housemates ate breakfast from sat, the third attacker jumped up.

 

Raya tensed up and pulled Tom closer to her – but none of the vampire’s moved.

 

“Why did you kill Lucius?” The one on the table asked.

“Luci-?” Tom began.

“Because he, just like you and your kind, make it impossible for my own kind to survive.” Raya snarled.

“We had a deal. Protection for payment. Protection in general.” The vampire said.

“Protection from what? Your own stupid organisation has deemed your group dangerous. That’s why -” Raya motioned to Tom “This one was sent to hunt Lucius.”

“W…What? They sent…him?” The vampire on the table seemed genuinely shocked by this. Tom, feeling angry at this – and at everything, blurted out: “I don’t know who the fuck you are, and I don’t really know what the fuck is going on…but I know that this fucking Hunt Squad thing wants you all dead. And I want you all dead too.”

 

The vampire sighed. “The people you work for. They are us. We are them…you humans think you’ve got control because we let you think that. It’s safer if we do. Kill the bad examples of our kind. The ones we don’t want…” He motioned his head to the other side of the kitchen. A man was slumped against the cupboards, blood pooling on the tiles. “And you’re so inexperienced. So easy to sway…”

 

The man against the cupboards raised his head and Tom saw he was no more than a teenager. In his hand was a silver knife. The same one Tom carried. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but only a dull moan escaped.

 

“Sent to kill us. Ended up letting us in rather than face death. Not like a real hunter. The one’s you all think you are…” The vampire laughed. Tom watched as the young Hunt Squad employee’s head dropped back down.

“You’re ignoring the fact your own kind wants you dead.” Raya’s voice cut through the vampire’s hubris like a knife. His body language changed immediately and he scowled at her.

“And you, Fae. You were paid to protect us. Together we could have controlled this city. All of us.”

“Your kind are scum. Sucking the throats of humans like cattle. Satisfying your base desires. You are not like my people. The chosen races. You are a…” Raya smirked. “Disease.”

 

All three vampire’s jumped at them at once. Tom threw himself to the ground to avoid the ones behind them. They tripped over him, not expecting the move. Tom jumped back to his feet to see Raya and the vampire who’d been talking locked together. He stabbed his knife into its back just as the other two attackers tackled him the ground.

 

Thomas, for all the fight he’d put up in his brief but fruitful venture as an amateur vampire hunter, was powerless against two vampire’s bearing down on him. He was forced onto the tiles face first. One of them grasped his hair and yanked it back – causing a flash of pain that meant nothing compared to the agony that hit him as the vampire slammed his face into the tiles. He felt teeth break and bones crunch. Then it happened again, sending his vision nearly entirely white.

 

The air felt hot above him and he heard a scream. Suddenly, the weight on his back seemed halved. Unfortunately for Tom, the creature that remained lent down. He felt its cold, acrid breath on his neck even as his head swam in pain. He writhed and kicked, desperate to avoid it. Not this. Not this. Not this! His thoughts raced. In spite of them, the sharp piercing agony of fangs sunk into his throat.

The pain was worse than anything Tom had ever felt. He could feel the creature’s weight pinning him down, the warmth of his own blood as it spilled on the tiles and worst of all, the sound of the vampire slurping it down. Tom felt his vision grow blurry.

 

The knife.

 

The knife in the other Hunter’s hand.

 

Tom reached up with his left arm and grabbed it from dead fingers. He felt his strength failing, his arms weak and heavy like slowly deflating tyres. With nothing left in him, he raised his left arm behind his own head and stabbed downwards at the creature on his neck.

 

It fell away.

 

Tom, his blood still pouring from the open wound, rolled over. He saw Raya pinned against the wall, the vampire punching her repeatedly in the stomach and pinning her with his forearm.

 

He saw, in that moment, how vulnerable the Fae was. How without her magic, she was just a small, thin girl with beautiful blue eyes.

 

Eyes which were growing brighter and brighter. With each punch, the vampire attacker seemed to make the girls’ sapphire-blue eyes flash and grow more and more intense.

 

Too intense.

 

A crescendo of light filled the room as Raya screamed with deafening force.

 

The explosion ripped Tom from consciousness and into the darkness.

 

VI

 

The car rumbled along as the first rays of morning began to break the winter sky. Tom checked his phone as he drove and glanced at the rags in the passenger seat. Underneath them, something was snoring. He smiled slightly.

On his phone’s text message screen was an address.

 

Texting her had felt hard – but after witnessing the smouldering ruins of the house he’d called home and the night he’d had, it wasn’t hard to put aside personal demons.

 

He’d awoken on the floor, surprised to find himself alive. The wound on his neck was gone – but so was the upper floor and roof of his house. Not in a way that resembled any good old fashioned, traditional explosion – where the neighbouring terrace houses would also have been destroyed. No, this one was – as Tom was now unsurprised to realise, a special explosion.

 

He’d found Raya lying down amid the scorched ruins of a vampire. She was paper-thin, white as a sheet, much shorter and her firey red hair had fallen out. All that was left was a thin, fairy-like girl. And yet despite that, he’d still approached her with caution – wrapping her in a blanket. As he was lifting her gently out of the ruins, Chris and Jake returned to the smouldering ruins of their house. Wide-eyed, they stared at the pair. Tom shook his head sadly and they stepped aside, allowing him past.

“I need to borrow your car.” Tom had said, his tone brooking no argument.

“W…What the fuck?” Chris mouthed.

Tom held out his hand as Chris staring at the Fae girl wrapped in the blanket and then looked back at their house.

“If you’d stayed, you’d be dead.” Tom said.

Chris fished in his pocket and dropped the car key into Tom’s hand. Both of them stood in silent awe at the carcass of the building in front of them as the sirens began to blare.

 

Tom placed Raya in the passenger seat. Then, he picked up the phone.

 

“Hello?” She’d said.

“S-Sarah?”

“Tom!?”

“Aye…it’s me.”

“W-why? I thought you didn’t want to talk to me.”

“I…”

“I’ve missed you.”

The words carved into his heart. He looked at the bundle of blankets sleeping in the car and sighed.

“I need help.”

“Oh?”

“I need to know a safe place, for non-humans. The safest one you know of.”

“W-why?”

Tom took a breath. He drove as he talked, the steering wheel taking on a mind of its own as he drifted, directionless, with the recovering body of a Fae asleep next to him.

“…I’ve had the strangest weekend.” He said. Then he explained everything.

 

The address Sarah had given him meant the drive took all night. They headed north, away from Newcastle and across the border into Scotland. Despite everything that had happened, Tom felt fine, physically. Whatever had poured out of Raya in the explosion had clearly healed him. But mentally…he sighed as he looked out of dashboard and up into the clear starlit sky. In the darkness, he could have sworn he saw a dark black shape glide through the night.

 

There hadn’t been a dragon in Scotland in years. But Tom smiled, regardless. Sometimes, he supposed, it was better to permit the world a bit of mystery. Here was a Fae, a ‘dangerous non-human’ – who had saved his life twice. And here he was, a hunter for hire, trying to save her.

 

She woke up just as Tom’s Satnav told him he was arriving at his destination.

“Where are we?” She asked, her voice now childlike – devoid of the cold power it used to contain.

“The Cairngorm mountains.” Tom smiled at her. “You said you didn’t want to run anymore.”

 

Raya sat up in the seat, the blankets falling off her to reveal a much younger version of the girl Tom had fought alongside. The car pulled up and a thin smile touched her lips.

“How did you know about this?” She asked.

“…An old friend.” He replied.

 

Outside, a forest that stood at the foot of an enormous mountain gave way to a clearing. A great pool of water sat there, almost as large as a lake. As they pulled the car to a halt, non-humans of all shapes and sizes were congregating. The morning was beginning – and the refuge was awakening. Tom could see elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, giants, trolls and more as they gathered around the car.

 

“They think we’re intruders.” Raya said.

“Better go and tell them, then.” Tom replied.

 

As they left the car, Tom felt his phone vibrate as the NFC sensor detected all of the non-humans nearby. He pulled it out and immediately felt a pang of dread hit the pit of his stomach. Even as Raya explained herself to the crowd, her gentle voice full of hope, Tom stared at his phone, where a text message sat.

 

AGENT. RESPOND. ELIMINATE PRIORITY ONE TARGET..

 

He looked back up as Raya took his hand. She smiled softly at him. “They’ll let me live here.” Her voice was quivering and her blue eyes, now far softer than Tom had ever seen them, were filling up. “T..Thank you. For this. For not abandoning me to the police…For… For everything.”

 

Tom smiled at her. Then he placed her hand on his phone and leant forward to whisper in her ear. As he did, he caught the scent of summer as though Raya herself was a field of wildflower. He whispered his request.

“I think I can manage that. One last time.” She said, smirking.

The device melted underneath Raya’s hand. She dropped the remains in the grass and Tom looked at the plasticky sludge. It seemed appropriate.

“What will you do now?” Raya asked. She pointed at the silver daggers tucked in Tom’s belt. His own, and the one from the other hunter.

 

Tom looked at the crowd of non-humans, who were returning the look but with gentle curiosity as he talked to Raya. He tilted his head back and drank in the clean air, then looked up at the dull rays of morning breaking over the mountains. He pulled out the knives and then dropped them in the grass at Raya’s feet. He felt a smile touch his lips.  

 

“I’ll go and tell someone very special how wrong I was.”

“About non-humans?”

“About everything.”

 

The End