Stephanie Colbert-Fire Wolf, Hunter of evil-book cover design

Fire Wolf Excerpt

Chapter One

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April 2023

 

“Rayne, duck!” Liam shouted. I heard the familiar swoosh, then suppressed a cough as a layer of fine ash rained down on me.

Killing vampires was low on my list. I preferred challenges, and a creature easily slayed with one stroke of my katana didn’t meet my standards Man, was I in for a surprise.

I stood and spotted two undead coming at Liam from behind. “Back-to-back, Liam.”

We turned in unison like a well-oiled machine. But then my feet slipped on the loose hay littering the barn’s floor, and I almost went down. I fought for my balance, and just when I stood firmly upright, long fingernails clawed at me from untold sources. The fight-or-flight instinct should have taken over, but a seasoned hunter understands what one must do: kill.

My katana hung by my side in my right hand, and by the gap around it, they knew of its danger. I fought to switch hands when I felt the creature’s cool breath on my neck. I butted heads with the hissing banshee, who recoiled. In mere seconds, I firmly gripped the handle of my katana in my left hand and attacked the greedy bloodsuckers in haste. But each one I felled was replaced by too many to hold off long.

If I didn’t come up with a plan—like now—they’d tear me to pieces.

In the lead, one big, ugly vamp charged me. I waited until Big and Ugly stood right where I needed him.

The katana is a sword fit for a king—or queen, in my case. Mine was well-balanced, strong and lightweight, and it had the perfect-length blade. I loved my katana. But right then, I would have traded her for the longest broadsword ever made.

With the weight of every ounce of my body behind my katana, I swung as if my life depended on it.

It did.

But Big and Ugly caught the blade. Son of a bitch. The razor sharpness of the sword’s edge had no effect on him. I could have done more damage with a paper cut.

Time for Plan B.

Now, if I only had one.

He outmatched me. His preternatural strength, six-foot-seven height and massive muscles all screamed, “Game Over.” With one shot to live, my limited options flew through my mind at breakneck speed. Then suddenly, I knew.

I placed my left leg behind me, then sprung up and kicked the mother square in the nuts. He squealed and doubled over, clutching his balls. The din echoed throughout the structure.

Who knew vamps had the same weakness as any other man?

After I caught my sword, I wanted to kiss it. Its cold, smooth steel was a comfort in my hands. With Big and Ugly’s neck exposed, I severed his head from his body with one clean stroke.

Swoosh.

His oversized body disintegrated, creating a lot of dust. I held my breath so I wouldn’t inhale any of it.

I didn’t have time to bask in the glow of satisfaction, though, because Uno and Dos reached me in a flash. Did I mention vamps move at warp speed? Uno’s hands tore at me. His far-reaching, razor-sharp nails could have ripped me apart in an instant, but my suit saved me. The black, Kevlar-reinforced leather one-piece outfit would have been stifling if not for the top-secret design. Breathable and supple, the formfitting bad-ass uniform could have passed as biker’s gear.

In one swift move, I took my Ka-Bar from my weapons belt and used the knife’s armor-piercing blade to slice off Uno’s ears. I cringed when he shrieked, and I ended up slicing through the dusty air. But the wracking noise didn’t cause me to falter. Uno stepped backward, his eyes ablaze. He reeked of the distinct metallic scent of blood. Drunken rage consumed me. He’d given me an opportunity, and I took it. His severed head soothed my ire.

As with the others, his body disintegrated. I kicked the heap of sallow, fine ash—all that remained of the filth.

I realized I hadn’t heard from Liam. “Talk to me. I need your location.”

“Ten feet to your right.” His voice rang clear, but he sounded short of breath.

“You okay?” What a stupid question. How could he be, with the vast sea of preternatural creatures out for our blood?

“No fang marks on me, if that’s what you mean.”

“Keep it that way,” I ordered.

Then I spotted an opportunity, the one chance to complete the mission and live to tell made-up, grandiose stories. My adrenaline-high mind laid out the plan of action.

“Liam, can you hold them off for thirty seconds?” I knew I was asking the impossible of him. But they didn’t choose you for the unit and expect less.

He turned his strong, angular face until our eyes met.

“Hurry,” Liam gasped.

I did. I spun toward the aged, weathered double barn doors. A rotted two-inch by four-inch pine board slid into the wood brackets that kept the doors closed. I held my breath, then raised my sword over my head, aimed, and cut the two-by-four in half with one swing. The force of the blow sent pulses of sharp pain up my arms, almost knocking me down.

Pure instinct drove my next moves. The years I’d trained in numerous forms of martial arts had turned my body into a weapon. I planted my front foot, then pushed off the hard-packed dirt floor with my rear foot. I rotated my front foot and leg so my heel pointed toward the target, adding additional rotational momentum and energy. I completed the roundhouse kick and shattered the door. Another skilled kick destroyed the other.

Piercing wails filled the air as the noon sunlight punched through the dreary interior of the barn. Their bodies burst into blue flames, the color of fire’s hottest temperature. I smelled their terror and agony and wondered what they faced that fueled their terror. For an instant, I saw their eyes—dark crimson colored.

Did hell await them?

I could only hope. Then poof, they disappeared. I’d seen it happen many times, but I didn’t think I’d ever get used to the sight.

I studied the layout of the weathered barn. Sixty-feet long by forty-feet wide, it showed no signs that the owner had ever used it for anything other than to store hay. The lofts on both sides were littered with yellowed, musty Bermuda grass that gave the vamps ample places to hide. I trembled when I thought of the danger Liam faced. If only we’d had time to call for backup. I turned my thoughts to ways to destroy the hidden vampires who’d managed to remain alive and inside.

Sometimes I hear whispers that others cannot. I had my gift, of course, but this ability was not normal. Where did it come from? I dared not worry about it now.

I heard the vampire’s master telepathically give the order to his remaining underlings.

“Go to the darkest parts of the barn and be still and silent. You in the loft, burrow yourselves in the hay. When the hunters,” he spat, “get close, use your speed, and before they even know they’re in danger, rip out their hearts.”

I got the impression he didn’t like hunters. But the master’s plan had one huge flaw—the lights built into the front of our suits ensured the darkness wouldn’t hinder us.

“All right, kick-ass woman of my dreams. You want the left or right side?”

I didn’t want Liam to walk into a trap.

“We need to stick together. There’s no way to tell how many are left, and I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get this far only to wind up dead. Besides, it’s still here. I’ll bet he doesn’t stick around, the coward.”

“You would chop off my head if I’d made that sexist assumption.” Liam snorted. His back was turned toward me as he scanned for vamp hiding spots, so I couldn’t read his expression. And with his thoughts focused on the search, I remained clueless. It seldom happened, but that didn’t mean I liked it.

“What sexist assumption?” I asked, eager to learn the answer to my question.

“Huh? We need to get our butts in high gear and flush out the rest of the vampires. This is not the time for chitchat.”

His impatience filled me with embarrassment. I turned my complete attention to coming up with a plan.

“Let’s remove boards on the other end of the barn. We’re as good as dead if the Dracula wannabes cross behind us as we go. They must have boarded it up, and master carpenters they are not. How about we let in more sunshine?”

“All right, genius. How do you plan to accomplish that with no tools?”

“Oh, monsieur. There’s a tool rack on the left of where the doors should be.”

“Smartass,” he retorted, his favorite nickname for me.

We hurried to the tool rack and lucked out. An ax, a hatchet and two pry bars hung from the rack’s brackets. What a sweet sight. After we removed the tools, we went to work. The vamps had used old lumber they must have found in the barn to build an interior wall. It took us ten minutes to remove the barrier, and then a gorgeous scene stood before us. We scrambled forward and threw open the doors. The breeze caressed our bodies. Oh, golden orb in the sky, I will worship you forever. I grinned from ear to ear.

“Let’s kick ass!” Liam exclaimed. Blinded by the light, the leeches couldn’t put up much resistance. Preternatural filth didn’t last long without their heads. We worked our way through the ground floor with ease. For the thousandth time, I wished I could meet our suit’s creators. I’d grovel before their superior intellect and offer my endless gratitude.

The monsters didn’t need ladders to reach the loft. With their superior strength, they leaped onto it with ease. We searched, but if any remained, they were hiding well. A split post gave us the opportunity we sought. After I removed a lightweight, high-tensile rope from my belt, I tossed it over the post on the first try.

“Beginner’s luck,” Liam teased.

“Luck, my ass.”

“Let’s discuss its perfection later. I can’t afford the distraction.” He gripped the rope with his hands and used the fast-S wrap preferred by special ops, climbing with his legs. Once he reached the loft, he landed with grace.

“They’ll be hiding under the hay. Be careful.”

“Yes, mother dear,” he jested. I scampered up the rope.

“You’ll pay for that when we spar in the gym later.” Man, would I ever kick Liam’s ass.

I swept the areas where the vamps hid and spotted them. A group of three young vamps attacked me. They could be the most dangerous. Their insatiable lust for our sweet sanguine nectar made them kill every human who crossed their paths. Their weakness was, they had the speed of fully developed vampires but thought themselves invincible. The three of them rushed me from all sides.

My skills saved my life. Clumsy and without defense, my katana plunged through the new vamps’ necks with ease.

My blood was still pumping hot, and my mind was focused only on the slaughter of the undead.

It almost cost me my life.

Suddenly, I heard a monster race toward me from behind. Vamps could move without making noise, but the moldy, dry straw on the floor crunched with its every step. I knew I had little time.

My left hand, mere inches from my belt, almost touched my bo-shuriken—an iron dagger with a pointy spike whose cross-section looks like a circle. Composed of silver, ours wouldn’t kill, but it slowed down the bloodsuckers. Poisonous spikes are tradition. The unit prepped our weapons and had dipped the bo-shuriken I carried in holy water, which heightened my advantage.

The vamp turned out to be a vampiric vixen. Her high-pitched bellows brought satisfaction. A few seconds later—she was nothing more than another pile of ash. I retrieved my weapon and put it back in its place. Then I finished my sweep but didn’t find any more vamps.

“You done, short stuff?” Liam chortled but played it safe and kept his distance.

“Short stuff? I will so kick your ass. If you’re through with the insults, it’s time to call in the chopper and bask in the glow of another win.”

“Music to my ears.” Liam threw back his head and howled.

“That is not music.” We traipsed outside, inhaling the fresh scents. Captain Aaron’s voice came through our earbuds loud and clear.

“If you two clowns know which way is east, walk in that direction for fifteen minutes and we’ll pick you up in Hunter One.”

“Yes, sir!” we said with one voice.

“Good job, partner.” Liam hugged me tightly. Our 100 percent success rate proved we made an effective team.

“You, too. I’d be dead if not for you.” I grinned at him.

“And we’d both be dead if you hadn’t opened the barn doors.”

I shrugged. “We’re both alive because we trust each other.”

“Damn straight.” The enthusiasm in his words reinforced them.

“Rock, paper, scissors?” I asked without explanation. Liam understood.

“No need. Marcus is all yours.” He bowed.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Quit the nonsense, you two. You’re needed back at HQ, A.S.A.P.” The captain delivered the bad news.

“Yes, sir!” Our mood deflated, and we jogged the rest of the way in silence.

Whatever the reason, they had called us out on the carpet. I hoped it wouldn’t interfere with my plan to get back at Marcus. When we’d received our orders from Marcus, our superior in rank only, he’d assured us it would be a breeze.

Belowground in an empty army base, HQ stayed protected. Only God knows where it is. Surrounding the base stood an area so dead that if it had been in Texas, I’d have expected to see tumbleweeds tossed in the air whichever way the wind blew. But HQ wasn’t in Texas. The packs of coyotes interested me as they watched us with their cold yellow eyes. I swear I could feel drool pouring off their tongues. No doubt they anticipated the taste of our flesh. I sneered at them and their savage desires. On all sides of the entry stood a ten-foot electrified fence. Its charge was powerful enough to instantly kill even a mammoth, much less a coyote.

After the chopper landed, we hurried to a panel near the entry. It required biometrics— fingerprints, vocal, and facial recognition. Once inside, one at a time, lasers did thorough body scans. I expected the next security measure would entail a strip search. Maybe attack dogs trained to detect our scent. Who knew? We rode the high-tech, pressurized elevator thirty floors under the millions of pounds of hardpacked soil and rocks.

I glanced at Liam. He wore the same grim face I’m sure I did. Orders to see the director equaled a bad omen.

We changed our expressions to confident optimism, held our heads high, our bodies straight and tall, and headed straight for Director Gold’s office. She’s our liaison with Five-Star General Black, whose name suited him. Every time we’d had the displeasure of doing a job with him, the barrage of insults and curse words would make me ill enough that I headed straight for the showers afterward and stayed there until the water had cleansed me.

Director Gold, a tough but fair leader, had succeeded in a military world dominated by men and had earned the respect of even her harshest critics.

We did a ten-hut, clicked our heels together, saluted the director and stood frozen in place until we heard the magic words: At ease. We took a broad stance, hands locked behind our backs. I made sure no one knew, then scanned the room but didn’t spot General Black. Relief washed over me.

“I said at ease. Pretend you’re not soldiers and relax like normal people. If you don’t remember how, I’ll remind you.” The sternness in her tone warned us we didn’t want that to happen. After we relaxed our bodies, we stood in a civilian stance, our hands at our sides, our legs relaxed and close together, with a slight smile and expressive eyes. I ignored Liam’s glance. I dared not show my feelings for him in front of Director Gold.

I bristled when I saw the witch enter the director’s office. My lips curled into an involuntary sneer. I wouldn’t trust the witch to polish my boots. No way would I work on any mission that involved her.

Director Gold glanced at us but didn’t meet our eyes. She was the boldest person I’d ever known, so I knew there had to be a good reason.

“We’ve chosen you two for a special mission. I want you to know before I continue that this is a request and not an order. I’ll be open and honest—there is a good chance you won’t survive. But I cannot stress its importance enough. The world as we know it would end if the powerful demon Marchosias’ plan succeeded. You should remember him from your manuals. He earned the title ‘King of Killers’ because he leaves a body trail everywhere he goes. Any questions so far?”

“Yes, ma’am. How did you discover this plan?” I inquired.

“Lucinda will fill you in on the next part.”

I could feel the witch’s eyes scrutinize me. My instincts told me she didn’t believe I could complete the mission.

Screw her!

“How we discovered what will happen is classified. I wish I could tell you both more. I discovered Marchosias is most vulnerable in the year 1999. I will take you back. You’ll have lives there and will not remember anything about your futures. Once you slay Marchosias, I will return you to the present, but you won’t remember what happened in 1999. If you’re worried you might change the future with your actions—don’t be. I took care of any potential problems. Questions?” Lucinda asked.

“Are you saying we won’t remember our mission?” I hoped I misunderstood.

“Yes. But I will be there to guide you,” Lucinda answered with her usual deadpan expression. She’ll let us die before risking her own life.

“That’s not good enough. We could be walking into a trap wearing blindfolds!”

“I agree. I won’t go on a deadly mission without remembering what it is.” I knew Liam wouldn’t agree, either.

“It must be that way. Events won’t unfold the way they must,” Lucinda responded with her usual unreadable expression.

“So you say. But I’m not going anywhere unless you tell us what will happen.” My need to punch her was so great my hands were balled into fists tight enough that my fingers dug into my palms.

“You can’t.” Lucinda met my eyes when she spoke. For once, I was glad she could read minds. Stupid bitch. Fuck you.

The director spoke up. “You cannot repeat to anyone what I tell you, or a court martial will be the least of your worries. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Liam and I said in unison.

“Marchosias will kill a man so powerful the world will come unhinged. Countries that are allies will go to war. Many people will be murdered because they are wrongfully blamed.” The director paused, her look grim. “Nuclear weapons will destroy much of the earth. You must stop him.”

The weight of her words left me stunned. But I needed answers. “Why us?”

“You two are the best suited for the job,” the witch responded.

The witch and the director stared at us expectantly.

Slay Marchosias? Impossible. A surefire way to die.

Neither of us spoke up, even though I had a million questions running through my mind.

She continued. “The fate of the world is in your hands. I need to know your decision within the hour. If you—”

Liam and I exchanged looks.

“We’re in.”

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