Chapter One: Sunday, October 1st
A bright green flash explodes across the screen accompanied by the sharp pang of two metal weapons.
“What is that thing?” I ask.
No one speaks. A cloak darts across the screen. The live feed transmits from my dad’s body camera.
“He can’t hear us,” Mr. Swigart says. “His earpiece is damaged.”
The image jerks up and down as my dad pursues his assailant. His labored breaths echo over the speakers.
“Coordinates?” asks McGarrett.
“Last triangulation put him in tunnel K56, section 91,” Mr. Swigart says.
“If you can… me,” my dad says the transmission cutting out. “I’m not… what… is… appears to… but I’ve not….”
The screen flashes as dad deflects another strike.
Dad twists, the video bounces as he spars. An unearthly screech sends shivers across my body.
Dad backs away; his weapon before him. His opponent stands disarmed; its image grainy and cast in shadow. Its face remains hidden beneath a hood. The assailant bumps against the hewn rock wall behind it.
“What… you?” asks my dad.
A wheezy laugh fills the tunnel.
“Wh… are… called, demon?” dad asks again.
Its teeth flash a smile, which shines bright green from the night-vision.
“Then… gone in the name—” The video feed jerks. A glimpse of a scaly arm and torso shoot across the screen and the camera goes black.
“Dad!” I cry.
Gasping for air, my eyes open. My chest heaves. My white V-neck is soaked. I wipe sweat from my forehead.
Embers crackle in the hearth. I’d fallen asleep in a chair again. It’s not the first time since my dad’s death I’ve had this nightmare; the memory of his last moments alive.
I rub away several tears. Don’t cry. You’re stronger than that.
I stare into the burning coals. A book lays open in my lap. I shove it to the floor.
My stomach aches. My shoulders are tense. My anxiety wants to consume me like a beast with cornered prey. My heart beats of its own pulse. It feels as though at any moment, I’ll succumb and be forever mindless. The last two weeks have been nothing by training and now the Day of Rising is almost upon us.
After dinner I came to my room to prepare. Not like you might think someone would for a death-match-fight with a demon; sword practice, physical training, or test flying my jet pack. No, instead I was reading scripture. Scripture! I glance at the Bible on the floor, it is my dad’s, or was.
I heard these stories all my life. Every year in Sunday school we make the rounds; Creation, the Flood, Moses, Samson, David and Goliath, so on. What do they expect me to learn now? This text is thousands of years old and it isn‘t changing today, or ever. A fact my trainer says I should take comfort in.
A piece of firewood pops. Hours can be lost staring at the hypnotic dance of the flames. That trance may be exactly what I need to take my mind off of the nightmare, off the helpless feeling filling me.
A knock at my door ends hope of that.
“Taylor?” Ike asks.
“Come in.” I shift lazily in the tall wing-backed chair.
The door creaks. “Were you reading?” His foot falls are soft on the wood floor; he’s wearing his moccasin slippers.
“Naw.” I recall the nightmare of my father. “Relaxing.”
Ike remains behind my chair. “I can’t sleep.”
“I know the feeling.” Though I know our reasons are different. I can’t sleep because I’m anxious, he can’t sleep because he’s excited.
“I sketched a picture of it for you.” Ike hands me the drawing. “I drew it based on a description in a The HowlSage Haunting.”
I straighten at the grizzly image in my hand.
“Have you read it yet?”
I pause guiltily, “No.”
“I think you should. You can learn from the hunter’s mistakes. He was a veteran of twenty years before he got maimed.”
Ike means well, but the fact a twenty year veteran with all his experience got maimed is what my mind focuses on. I’m not a veteran. I’m hardly a trainee.
“If you’re going bug me, at least bring good news.” My face flushes with frustration.
As the words leave my lips, I already want to take them back. I’m not angry at Ike.
The door shuts. I should go after him, but pride holds me back. I pull my knees to my chest and stare into the hearth. Scenes from the last few weeks’ crash course training flash through my mind.
At my dad’s memorial the man who trained me I overheard McGarrett tell the leader from our Society, “He is the youngest hunter ever trained.”
The man he spoke to simply replied, “He is chosen.”
My youth doesn’t put me at a disadvantage, but my experience does. The specific demon I’m hunting isn’t your everyday run-of-the-mill, steal the candy bar demon. No, a HowlSage is one of the deadliest; one of the most powerful demons of all.
The next full moon is in two days, October 3rd. HowlSagen, as is the plural form, rise only on the full moon prior to a full moon on Halloween. A full moon on Halloween is never a guarantee a HowlSage will rise, but with the increase in minor-demon activity at the mine, and the presence of the cloaked figure my dad chased, a rising is likely. My dad caught the cloaked figure preparing a den for the HowlSage. Everything needed for the demon to rise on the full moon was there. Then my dad was killed.
When we went back his body was nowhere to be found. I still haven’t gotten over that. I wasn’t even given the chance to lay him to rest.
The den was moved also. So we don’t know where the HowlSage will rise. The mines are extensive and McGarrett won’t let me go in alone, stopping any chance of finding the nest again.
I stare at Ike’s sketch. This is a HowlSage. This demon is what I must find and banish.