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 my 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 . . . y . . . 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 burst 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 the blue wing-backed chair in my room. 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. Anxiety consumes me like a beast with cornered prey. My heart beats of its own pulse. My mind is numb, and it feels as though at any moment, I’ll succumb and be forever mindless. The last two weeks have been nothing but training and now the Day of Rising is almost here.
After dinner, I went 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 read scripture. Scripture! I glance at the Bible on the floor; it is my dad’s, or was.
I have heard these stories all my life. Every year in Sunday school the teacher makes 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, McGarrett Riley, says I should take comfort in.
A piece of firewood pops. Hours can be lost staring at the hypnotic dance of the flames. A 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 footfalls 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,” he says.
“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 that old journal we found; The HowlSage Haunting.”
I straighten at the grizzly image in my hand.
“Have you read it yet?”
I pause guiltily, “No.”
“You should. You can learn from the mistakes of the hunter mentioned in the journal. He was a veteran of twenty years before he got maimed.”
Ike means well, but the fact a twenty-year veteran got maimed despite his experience and training 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, I overheard McGarrett talking to the head of our society, Sir Declan Grey, the sir because he was apparently knighted by the Queen of England. McGarrett said, “He is the youngest hunter I have ever trained.” And seemed to be unsure of himself as he said it, as if asking Sir Grey to offer a new trainer in McGarrett’s stead.
But Sir Grey simply replied, “We believe he is the youngest in all our history. But it is clear; he is chosen. And you are the one to train him.”
McGarrett looked toward me, then straightened when he realized I was listening to their conversation. He tried covering by calling me over for an introduction. It’s not my youth that puts me at a disadvantage, as much as my lack of experience. And that’s what seemed most concerning to McGarrett in that moment.
The next day McGarrett began my formal training to become a demon hunter. He asked if I wanted to ,of course. But a demon had just killed my father, and I wanted revenge, so there really wasn’t much question if I would accept.
You see, the specific demon I trained to hunt isn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill demon who steals candy and pinches babies to make them cry. No, a HowlSage is one of the deadliest; one of the most powerful demons to walk the earthly realm. They have the fierce qualities and abilities of a wolf, with the strength of ten men.
But none of this mattered, what mattered to me was getting revenge for my dad’s death. To banish the demon, and find out whoever summoned it, and make sure they could never again do so. We call that person the Cloak because that’s all we saw that night through my dad’s video feed; a dark figure in a dark cloak. Not much to go on, and we’re already out of time.
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 old coal mine tunnels, and the presence of the Cloak my dad chased, a rising is likely. My dad discovered a den for the HowlSage, which must have been built by the Cloak. All of the ceremonial items used to raise a HowlSage on the full moon were 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.
We searched for the HowlSage den, but it had been moved. So we don’t know where the HowlSage will rise. The mines are extensive and pepper the mountain range that shadows Ashley Meadows. And because I’m still training, McGarrett won’t let me explore alone, stopping any chance of finding the new nest before the HowlSage rises.
I stare at Ike’s sketch. This is a HowlSage. This demon is what I must find and banish.