Not much good ever happens in dark basements. Dark basements are like a magnet for terrible events or just plain old shady going-ons. A bright, well-lit basement. That’s what you want in your life. None of those dark ones. Especially if they’re also sound proofed.
If a dark basement is a magnet for terrible events then having it sound proofed turns it from a decently powerful fridge magnet into one of those things that hang from a crane in a scrap metal yard.
Salazar ‘Slick’ Lorica, bounty hunter specialising in the weird, wonderful and paranormal, sat in the only chair in the darkened room. The wooden frame creaking as he leaned forward, counting off the candles at the tip of each point of the large chalk pentagram scratched onto the concrete slab beneath his feet.
‘Two, three, four and Slick maaaakes five.’ With a smooth downward arc he kissed the wick of the candle with the long match then leaned back to shield his eyes.
You would almost think he did it for showmanship, if there was anyone watching. Years of experience had taught him that the huge flares following the lighting of the king candle could mess with ones low light vision leaving them open to attack from anything that was tricky enough to hitch a ride up to his plane.
A shimmering ellipse stood before him. A huge red disembodied head stared back through the haze. It’s glowing green eyes stared into Salazars own. The bounty hunter shook his own head and inhaled sharply.
‘God dammit I hate it when they do it this way.’ The inside of his skull started to feel fuller, like it was packed too tight with brains. He clenched his jaw and gripped the chair until the pressure eased up and a voice appeared in his head.
‘SPEAK, MAKE YOUR WISH HUMAN. YOU HAVE PAID A HIGH PRICE FOR THIS HONOUR.’
They always shouted at first. Salazar had a theory that it was just your brain getting used to them invading it but that didn’t make the ibuprofen with bourbon chaser any less necessary after every little pow-wow.
‘No wishes big red. In fact, I have a deal for you.’ He always spoke his end out loud. It made him more certain of what he was saying. There’s nothing worse that slipping up your wording when dealing with a demon.
The head scowled back at him baring horrible jagged teeth bellow its hollow and exposed nasal aperture.
‘YOU DARE WASTE MY TIME YOU SPECK OF DIRT? I WILL HAVE YOUR SOUL FOR THIS DISRESPECT.’
Salazar felt a cold stone drop in his stomach. He suddenly felt thinned out. Pulled. Like he was being siphoned out of his skin. Then, as quickly as it started, the sensation stopped.
He smiled wryly as the demons face transitioned to confusion then to rage. Opening his shirt, Salazar exposed an intricately interlaced pattern of runes, sigils and words coating his skin. He winked at the demon and chuckled.
‘We haven’t met but this ain’t my first time knocking on the gate. If you catch my drift.’ He may have protected his soul but he demon made sure he wouldn’t leave without a headache as its roar reverberated through his skeleton. ‘CHRIST SAKE! Calm down you whack-job! Is this how you treat all of your sub-contractors?’
‘MAKE SENSE. MAKE IT WITH HASTE, OR MAKE PLANS TO OUTRUN MY MINIONS FOR THE REST OF YOUR PITIFUL HUMAN EXISTENCE.’
Salazar stuck a finger in his ear and gave it a wiggle. Pointless as the voice was internal but where’s the fun in dealing with a greater demon if you’re not going to try its patience.
‘I hear you’re chasing a certain rare soul. A negative. Someone who was used as collateral in a deal, the last outstanding collection on your predecessor ledger before he was; wiped from existence.’
‘Little boy Wilson. Son of William and Lily.’
‘THE MUTT AND HIS BITCH. MY MINIONS ARE DEALING WITH THEM.’
‘Good to see we’re on the same page. How’s that going by the way? Last I heard Lily was making a pyramid out of demon skulls in her backyard but had to start throwing them out because the council were getting annoyed about zoning laws. Something about it breaching their airspace.’
The demon huffed out a grunt.
‘ALL OF LITTLE CONCERN TO ME. I HAVE OTHER MATTERS BEGGING MY ATTENTION. BE GONE AND COUNT YOURSELF LUCKY I AM FEELING GRACIOUS.’ The ellipse vibrated, beginning to turn slightly opaque.
‘Your call. Mind you I would think that capturing a rare soul, plus the escaped mutt that killed your predecessor would really improve your ranking am I right? Maybe get you a few layers deeper?’
The ellipse glowed brightly and the demon raised his voice to a shout in Salazars head.
‘I HAVE WASTED MY BEST ON THIS ENDEAVOUR! DEMONS CAPABLE OF FLAYING YOUR PITIFUL FORM BEFORE YOU COULD EVEN BEGIN PRAYING TO YOUR IMPOTENT GOD. WHAT FOOL SHALL I BE KNOWN AS TO DEAL WITH MORTAL SCUM IN THE CAPTURING OF A SOUL?’
Salazars soul was protected but he didn’t doubt some pretty darn permanent brain damage if this talk wasn’t over with soon.
‘I have dealt with the Wilsons on numerous occasions. Trust me when I say that I will get both souls for you. The bitch is away, it’s just the mutt and the runt and if any of your boys could still speak they’d be telling you right now that she’s the protective one. William may be more dangerous but that’s to your kind. Not me.’
‘YOU UNDERESTIMATE THE FEROCITY OF A FATHER IN THE GUARDING OF ITS CUB.’
Salazar smirked and shook his head.
‘William is a pussy. He doesn’t like killing. Hell he doesn’t even like fighting. Sure he’s a tough son of bitch but he’s only interested in taking down demons and shit. Not humans. Believe me he’s had heaps of chances to kill me. You look smart enough to know how that panned out.’
‘YOU FORGET THE HOUND WITHIN.’
‘See that’s the beautiful part. He’s too much of a pussy to kill a human. He’s DEFINITLY too much of a pussy to let the Hound out to do it and even if he didn’t have a choice; he’d be too afraid to let it kill a human and taste its blood because he’d never be able to leash it back in. It’d probably rampage and kill the little runt and his bitch.’
He’d done it. He had the fish on the line. Now it was time to boat it.
‘Life. Life eternal.’
‘ONE HUNDRED YEARS.’
‘Bullshit. I’ll find another buyer. One thousand.’
‘FIVE HUNDRED. NO AGEING. PERFECTION OF MIND AND BODY.’
‘Make me harder, better, faster and stronger on top and you got it big red. And none of that demon blessed shit. I gotta keep clean for my occupation.’
Silence followed. The demon looked to be contemplating. Then it spoke.
‘AN ADDITIONAL MEAGRE FIVE HUNDRED YEARS. NO AGING. PERFECTION OF MIND AND BODY AND ENHANCEMENT OF ALL PHYSICAL AND PERFORMANCE ATTRIBUTES. IN EXCHANGE FOR THE ESCAPED SOUL OF WILLIAM WILSON AND THE RARE SOUL OF MAXWELL WILSON. DO WE HAVE A DEAL HUMAN.’ The last word it spat out like sour fruit.
Salazar looked down at his hands then held them up to the demon, wiggling his fingers.
‘I’d shake on it but I like my hands.’
‘FOURTY EIGHT HOURS. STEP FORWARD AND RECEIVE MY BLESSING THAT YOU MAY COMPLETE YOUR TASK IN TIME.’
He stepped back waving his hands defensively.
‘Ease up there pal. If I’m part demon, even temporarily, he’ll skirt that moral compass around it and find a way to mess me up real good. Besides.’ Salazar jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. ‘I got my own little tricks. Keep that voodoo shit to yourself and I’ll see you in twenty four hours. And maybe you can throw in a little bonus for a job completed early?’
‘THE PREVIOUS DEAL STANDS. TAKE IT NOW BEFORE I GROW WEARY FROM YOUR FOOLISHNESS.’
‘Can’t blame a guy for trying. Deal.’ A rumbling roar reverberated through his skull but he kept his hands at his sides, despite his head begging to be hugged. He stayed stock still and stared down the demon in the ellipse as it departed. The outsides of the shimmering portal began to vibrate and the room shook in response. The demons roar reached a crescendo and suddenly a soft ‘pop’ sounded out and the ellipse burst into a spraying cloud of shimmering bubbles.
Light filled the basement making a rainbow of colours dance on the glossy surface of the clear spheres as they lazily danced towards the ground. Salazar reached a hand out and caught one in his palm. It stayed there briefly before bursting with a quite scream of pain.
‘Christ those creatures are weird.’ He watched the remaining bubbles wave to and fro, one or two landing on the hog tied corpses laying at the point of each remaining end of the pentagram. What little blood not drained from the ceremony leaked from their sliced throats. ‘Man. I should really clean this up.’ He then looked over, past the state of the art mechanical workshop on the far end of the basement to the huge heavy vault door which housed his weapon of choice. A full body mechanically enhanced suit of armour. ‘Fuck it, I’ll have 500 years to get round too it soon enough.’
He snatched up a bottle of jacks and a pack of pills, both opened and waiting. Popping four into his mouth and taking a long pull on the bottle while walking towards the vault door.
Leaning in and peering through the bullet proof glass window and admired the armoured suit. A heavy duty hose fed a stream of liquidized blessed silver into the intricate wiring that weaved its way just beneath the surface of the armour plating.
‘Hope you’re ready to have some fun Wilson, cause I sure as hell am.’
Quietness. Save for the odd bird chirping away, or maybe a cow a field over mooing.
Quietness was the most attractive feature of a house on a large block of land in the middle of nowhere. The absence of sound was doubly available if you used a that large block of land to simply exist. Just to be there around you rather than using it for growing of farming. And if you were trying to get away from certain people. If you were trying to hide in peace and quiet, this was the second most attractive feature.
The homestead was situated in the centre of the block. Open flat land surrounded it on all sides save for one gravel road to the front door and some trees on the perimeter at the rear. The fence line was visible from the homestead but the neighbouring properties were just as bare. A perfect line of sight on all sides excepting those few trees.
And it was in those trees that Salazar hid.
Small servo motors whirred quietly on the armoured suit as he moved into a more favourable viewing position. A touching of a dial on the side of his goggles bought the entire scene into a purple light despite the complete darkness.
White runes covered the rear door, the windows, even the deck of the house. A slight turn of the dial then revealed even more. They were everywhere. Their white glow peppering the entire property making it look like a Christmas tree specifically designed to piss off demons. Or to keep them in the neighbouring continent at the very least.
‘Holy shit, if this is what the back entrance looks like imagine the front. What a paranoid nut job.’ Warding a house against intrusions wasn’t unfamiliar to Salazar, he recognised quite a few of the runes. Duplications of some were on his own skin. But he was spotting ones he’d never even heard of before. And even with his basic knowledge he could tell that they were ancient. Pre witch hunt ancient. ‘Ah well, just makes the job all the more easy.’
Opening a control panel on his suits right forearm, Salazar started preparing his assault. He’d opted for a bait and blitz technique.
Miniature pipe bomb launchers fitted to his back adjusted trajectories thanks to small actuators and with a tap of his finger, two cluster salvos of finely minced demon meat launched to either side of the homestead. Breaking up in the sky and causing the runes visible through his goggles to explode with light.
A split second after deploying the decoy Salazar ramped his suits power consumption up to 100%. A warning signal stating a 5min run time was lost on the bounty hunter as he was too focused on the task at hand. Besides, five minutes meant he would still have two to spare after taking out and locking down that big pussy and his runt.
‘Alright big boy, lets get this over with.’ Servos whined hard hitting a constant thrum. Targeting the backdoor Salazar took two big strides and launched himself into the air on mechanically enhanced legs. The mighty leap had him covering almost half the distance from the perimeter fence to the homestead. He came down fast, hitting the ground sprinting.
If he wasn’t so distracted by all the runes, he would have questioned why garden rakes seemingly peppered the ground before him. And if he wasn’t so over confident in his admittedly superior abilities and accessories he would have registered the ‘click’ of the landmine underfoot.
Luckily his mechanically assisted speed had him clear of the fatal range of the blast. But the combination of a concussion wave, one of the aforementioned rakes just laying in the field and his own record pace of 80km/hr had him experiencing an uncontrollable involuntary airborne moment.
Then, while trying to figure out why he was suddenly flying through the air, Salazars armour fulfilled its primary purpose of saving his life for the second time that night as he came crashing to earth in a frantic horizontal barrel roll coming to a halt 20 meters from the house.
Red warning lights flashed in his eyes from the goggles reporting a myriad of structural damages and missing mounted weapons.
He slowly rolled onto his knees groaning. And only just managed to catch the bleeping of an incoming target warning. Knowing he couldn’t dodge, he hastily activated the suits kinetic shield half a moment before a heavy calibre round blew him onto his back.
‘That tricky fucking BITCH!’ He punched at the ground, throwing himself to the side bodily and landing on his feet. The pneumatics in his legs not yet recovered from the initial leap, he resorted to launching forward with as much power as he could and planned to cover the distance to the homestead in a serpentine fashion. His enhanced speed and agility should be just enough to evade the steady hand and dead eye of Lily Wilson.
And the plan may have worked, if he had the opportunity to reach full stride.
As it were though, a second crack sounded out from the house. Again he was barely fast enough to get the shield up. Again, he was flattened.
He rolled onto his side and made his way onto one knee while clutching at his chest. Warning lights flashed angrily at him, the suits chest plate was at 9%. But Salazar didn’t have to worry about the warning for very long. A third crack took care of the goggles, tearing them unceremoniously from his head along with his right ear.
‘FUCK!’ He clutched at the flowing wound with his right hand. Luckily he still had his left ear, but it was ringing a little in shock so he didn’t really register the fourth crack that acted as prelude to the control panel on his right arm exploding into a shower of sparks which would have blinded his un-protected eyes had his arm not been reefed back so forcefully that his shoulder dislocated.
The fifth shot found a small gap in the armour between his right knee and shin. Puncturing a hole in the membranous Kevlar sheath running beneath the plates and leaving the heavy calibre round lodged halfway into his flesh. No doubt his leg could still move thanks to the servo motors even with a blown knee cap, but Lily appeared to be such a crack shot that she purposly picked that exact position for the bullet to stop. Jamming up the hinge joint and leaving it locked at 90 degree.
‘Alright Lily I give! Could you PLEASE stop shooting me for fucks sake!’
A heavy thud came from the well-lit homestead. Without his goggles all Salazar could see was bright porch lights and the silhouette of Lily carrying that ridiculously huge rifle storming towards him.
‘You’ve got a weird way of greeting old friends Mrs Wilson.’ Salazar had managed to switch legs, his right knee pressing into the ground, left leg planted ready to spring back just in case. His right arm was being held in place by the armour but any movement was agony so he resorted to gently grinding his knee against the ground in the hopes of either loosening the bullet or, worst case scenario, driving it home nice and deep to free up the armour plates.
He was in a world of hurt and couldn’t even activate the combat stim drip thanks to the control panel being shattered.
He squinted through the pain at her as she approached. Something seemed off about her gait. Her normally graceful stride seemed brutish. Was it the weight of the gun, or was she just mega pissed because someone had ousted him and his plot to her. Even if that was the case, he’d duped William and Lily into letting him go before. A trade of information, a plea of mercy, ‘Please, I beg you, for old times sake.’ Sure she was colder than that big pushover William, but he wasn’t called slick for being physically greasy.
Mind you this was going to be his toughest sell yet.
‘You know Lil, I realise we don’t talk that much, but this is hardly the way to treat a friend who’s just trying to make sure your demon security is up to scratch.’ The silhouette threw the huge rifle to the ground and it thumped harshly against the firm soil. Too harshly.
Salazar ‘Slick’ Lorica may rely more on mechanical enhancements these days, but he still recognises the sound of mounted anti-tank cannon hitting the ground.
His blurry eyes were forced to focus through the pain. That wasn’t the lean, lithe form of Lily Wilson approaching, she was strong but no way could she wield that piece of metal one handed.
‘Demon defences are fine. Parasite defences are being tested as we speak.’
If he were still capable of a defensive stance he would have been thrown off guard by the deep rumble of a voice. As it were, his good knee wobbled a little.
‘What the fuck? William? Bullshit, you didn’t shoot me you big puss-‘ The words were wiped clear of his mouth as William took two enormous strides and bought his substantial fist around in a powerful hook punch.
The meaty slap of flesh on flesh echoed out into the dark field.
After his brain reshuffled his consciousness back to the top of the deck, Salazar took a half second to lay back and evaluate his life choices. He also considered installing springs into the back of his suit so he didn’t have to keep standing back up after getting knocked down. Which it appears, was becoming a very regular occurrence.
He groaned in pain and worked on getting his one good arm beneath him in an attempt to stand (because no back springs) but the effort was bought to a standstill by a booted foot stomping down on his chest and knocking the wind from his lungs.
Somewhere, far across the field, Salazars goggles flash frantically, warning a structural integrity of only 1% remaining in his chest plating. But the only warning sign of a possibly inevitable bad time that was immediately available to Salazar, was the groaning of metal and the fact that he couldn’t fully take a breath. His eyes bulged as he looked in shock all the ways up to Williams face.
‘William. Could you please stop crushing my chest?’
William shook his head from side to side slowly.
‘Could you stop crushing my chest any further then?’ The pressure stopped increasing, but it didn’t abate. He took a few shallow but thankful breaths. Gotta take the good with the bad he supposed. He nodded and mouthed a ‘Thank you.’
‘Sal, I know why you’re here.’
Ever the silver tongue, Salazar knew that if you stuck to a story with enough conviction, you could convince the other party of the truth you believed. Especially if the other party was that big push over William.
‘I told you before Will, I’m here to help. Grapevine says you and Lil have been getting lots of heat from demons. I just wanna make sure you’re doing the best for Max.’
‘It’s the truth. Those crafty buggers will find any way in. You have to be sure of your defences. For the pup. I get why you shot me though, and I’m glad I came around to make sure that everything is up to scratch. There’s no way anythings getting into that house or close to Lily and Max with you at the gate.’ He raised his left arm up, ‘Now would you please stop trying to squeeze all the juice outta me and help me up?’ He laughed jovially as much as his shallow breaths would allow. It died off quickly when he noticed that Williams bearded face was still locked in a silent scowl. ‘Look. I know you’ve got this place hidden with all these runes and shit, but even you should realise that the demons will find you eventually. And Lily is top notch at disposing of them now but they won’t mess around next time. They’ll send waves when they find you.’ Still the scowl in response. ‘It’s just a matter of time Will. Hells, even I found your new hidey hole.’
‘You found a trap.’ The calm rumble of Williams voice promised a storm if Salazar kept up his desperate fallacy of an explanation.
His heart started to thump in his chest. The son of a bitch knew the whole time, he’d planned this entire encounter. Salazar had thought it strange that there were garden rakes dotted around the paddock but apparently they were there to point out where all the landmines were planted. He quickly looked over at the several dozen rakes surrounding him in every direction and was amazed that he’d only tripped off one. The entire field was rigged to explode at the drop of a hat! Suddenly, the words of the demon came drifting back to him.
‘YOU UNDERESTIMATE THE FEROCITY OF A FATHER IN THE GUARDING OF ITS CUB.’
William had actually lost the plot. It seemed the time had come to make an exit in any way possible.
‘William, are you still allergic to silver?’ With a roll of his wrist a long slender blade sprang from beneath Salazars palm followed by a light mist of liquid silver.
He quickly drove the spike into Williams calf muscle, the blade bursting out the other side in a spray of blood and silver, the excess liquids running down the leg of the big mans pants. Salazar grinned with menace as he waited for the symptoms of silver poisoning to overtake the Lycan.
He waited. And waited. And waited. His smile faded, William hadn’t even flinched at the stabbing.
With a twist of his heel and a hammer fisted strike, William simultaneously shattered the blade from the bounty hunters suit, and irreparably damaged the gauntlet to the point that Salazars left hand was now useless. Portions of the armour plating jagged into the flesh of his hand and forearm making him shout out in pain.
To his relief, the large booted foot had been removed from his chest making breathing, and screaming, a little easier. However he was a little too distracted to notice this fact immediately.
William used this time to calmly reach down and slide the detached blade from his leg.
Then, slowly and methodically, he knelt beside Salazar, holding him down firmly with one arm, he griped the broken hand by the wrist and gradually bought it around to rest on the bounty hunters abdomen. Salazar shouted in protest the entire time, almost as loudly as the servo motors on his armour whined. The raw strength of the big man overpowered his own substantial mechanically enhanced strength.
Once the hand was laid firmly onto his midsection, William drove the blade through Salazars wrist, through the armour, into his stomach and into his spine.
A sickly warm pain erupted from his midsection and bubbled into a coppery acidic tang in the back of his throat.
Back at the goggles, a blue light flickered. Indicating a cutting of the CNS feed to a portion of the suit. Which causes it to lock down and re-compress into its potable portions. A crunching of bone and tearing of sinew and muscle joined with the wet gasps of the bounty hunter as all flesh and bone from the waist down was minced and ejected from the crevices in the compressing armour. A spray of blood and bile wetted the grass bellow his crotch where his legs once were.
The blade had severed Salazars spine, turning him paraplegic. Then his suit added insult to injury and turned him into an amputee. He was having a little trouble processing all of this to say the least.
William was beside him, on one knee, looking down into his eyes. Blood pooled in the back of his throat, he swallowed it back down and groaned out.
‘William, help me.’
‘I’ll pay you.’
‘I can tell you who sent me, tell you how to hide from them for good.’
‘I don’t care.’
Salazar blinked away some tears as he looked up at the night sky. This couldn’t be it. Of all the years and all the creatures and demons he’d faced, how was it that he was finally beaten by William? Hells, he didn’t even need to call out the Hound to do it, he just overpowered him as a plain human. This whole thing didn’t make any sense.
He swallowed back more blood. It wasn’t like he was getting out alive, he might as well get some answers.
‘Why didn’t the silver make you sick, aren’t you Lycan anymore?’
‘The hound is still within, but it rests deeper.’
‘Deeper? Then how are you so fucking strong?’ Blood bubbled through clenched teeth as Salazar almost spat the question.
William leaned in close, his breath hot on Salazars face.
‘Hell, changes a man. You came for my son didn’t you Sal?’
Salazar nodded, swallowing hard, if his stomach wasn’t already bleeding out he’d feel it turning in fear.
‘Please William, you can’t do this. This isn’t you. You don’t kill humans.’
Williams face was perfectly calm but if anyone could have seen into his eyes right then they would have seen a storm of fury raging within. Slowly and deliberately, he un-latched the neck guard on Salazars suit, and wrapped his big hand around the bounty hunters neck.
He never took his eyes off Sals the entire time. And Salazar never stopped looking up at the sky.
Right before he moved on, he heard the rumble of the big mans voice, far off in the distance.
‘You’re right. I don’t kill humans.’
William scooped up the lifeless half body of the bounty hunter and loaded it onto his shoulder. Making his way back towards the homestead. He stopped to pick up the anti-tank rifle on the way and noticed that it had landed just shy of the end of a rake. He laughed as he gently nudged the firearm slightly away from the buried landmine before crouching to collect it.
‘Shit! That was bloody lucky.’