by AJ Wilkerson
The musty smell of the cavern mingled with the apple pie Nox was licking off of his fingers. His mother insisted on going first, “This my hunt. My rules.”
Nox rolled his eyes as he followed after Leanna Sétanta musing over how much he hated apple pie. His current partner and handler, Michaela, insisted he eat it to play nice. It didn’t sit well with Nox.
Michaela stayed outside, keeping watch. It was his hunt but his mother refused to let it be. It was her inability to catch this rogue beast that landed him here. The werebear had mauled at least three humans in nearby towns. The action violated the Clandestine Providence, the law by which all supernatural creatures existed. And it was the Venatori’s job to upload that law.
The law said Nox had every right to slay the once human. He had no intentions of doing so but he would defend himself. An invisible weave of air settled in front of him and a fireball hung in the air just out of reach.
Leanna scolded him, “None of that magic shit, boy. Use your damn weapon.”
Nox sighed and dropped the shield of air and drew his gun from the holster at his back. The fireball hung in the ether still waiting for his final touch before release. His mother would never know.
Leanna hummed with satisfaction at Nox’s apparent obedience.
They walked deeper into the cavern and the scent of musk grew stronger. A deafening growl echoed in front of them. There was no time to react as the human-in-bear-form lunged at them.
Its muzzle latched on to his mother’s arm and shook her like a rag doll. Teeth sank into flesh. A bone breaking crunch echoed through the cavern. The bear lashed out at Nox behind his mother. Razor-sharp claws raked across his chest leaving three long ragged wounds.
The wounds healed but the poison coursed through his body.
Nox completed his fireball as he fought through the pain.
The ball of fire flew to its target only a few feet away. The bear yowled in pain, backing up several paces.
Nox grabbed his mother by her now free arm and yanked her to safety ignoring the screams of agony.
The bear charged Nox with flaming fur and a too human scream echoing between the rock walls.
A flaming sword appeared in Nox’s hand.
The glowing blade impaled the bear as the momentum carried Nox and the beast into the cave walls. The impact crushed the air from his lungs.
Nox gasped for a breath.
Michaela had rushed in yelling undefinable words as the weight of the beast crushed his chest. The bear’s lifeless form fell to the floor.
Nox fought for air as he thanked his Venatori healing. The tender burns from the beast-on-fire faded and the poison left his system. Nox stood up and felt the ache of broken ribs knitting together. He searched the area and found Michaela helping his all-too-human mother.
Leanna’s cradled her broken arm. Her veins were black with werebear venom as her body shook from the shock to her system.
Nox knelt down next to them and pulled at his power to create a split of air.
The moment it touched his mother’s skin she cursed, “Don’t touch me with that fucking shit!”
Nox ignored his mother and tried again.
This time his mother backhanded him with her good arm. The blow landing square against his jaw.
With a heavy sigh, Nox stood up and left Michaela to tend to his mother. Outside in the cool autumn air Nox’s thoughts drifted to the only times he remembered of his mother. The pain from his abandonment washed over him. And when she finally made the effort to see him again he was 18, a requirement for his graduation. Both of his parents had to be present. He hadn’t even known his father lived in the same building as he did his entire life.
Michaela came out of the cavern mouth carrying his mother over her shoulder. “She passed out,” she said with a humorous lilt to her voice, “Care to help me?”
Nox didn’t hesitate as he made a litter out of air.
His partner laid his mother down with care. Michaela smiled up at him then brushed a blue lock of hair out of his face. “And only one hair out of place,” she teased. Her thumb trailed under his eye as she frowned. “Though it looks like you’ve been crying.”
Nox turned away from her and wiped at his eyes – smearing eyeliner across the backs of his hands. He hadn’t noticed the sting of his tears that the memories of his mother brought on. Nox laughed to hide the pain and poured all the humor he had into his words. “My perfect record. Tarnished.”
Michaela laughed as she picked up the litter. “You’ve only had two hunts. Both were excellent kills.”
Nox heard the pride in her voice. It was good to know she was happy with his progress thus far. He picked up the litter and they walked towards the Jeep parked half a mile north of their current location.
He sighed. “I wasn’t talking about that record. No deaths. No injuries.”
“Your mother knew the price.” She smiled at him. “All hunters know the price.”
“I know,” Nox replied, “But I don’t have to like it.”
The rest of the walk was in silence. Michaela rode in the backseat with his mother and he drove to the Infirmary. They couldn’t take her to a human hospital. They wouldn’t be able to do anything there.
Nox looked in the rear-view mirror.
Michaela caught his eye and asked, “What’s the problem between you two?”
Nox gave an uneasy laugh. “She sent me to New York when I was five because I sparked. She spat at me and called me a monster. I caught the curtains on fire – it was an accident but she didn’t care.”
Michaela frowned back at him. “She was just upset. I’m sure she only sent you away for the best training. She loves you. She even made you pie.”
Nox laughed. “At any point did it sound liked she loves me? She sent me away because I made her afraid. I reminded her of all the weird shit in the world and that monsters murdered her family. I’m a monster in her eyes. Not her son.”
By the time they reached the Infirmary his mother was barely holding on to her life. They rushed her into the Infirmary and medics took over from there. The venom of the werebear bite would either claim his mother, or it would turn her into one of them. At least she wasn’t Venatori; she at least had a chance to live.
They managed to stabilize her and when she was lucid she asked for Michaela.
Nox stood outside watching through the window of the door because she didn’t invited him in. The pain skirted his mother’s face as she spoke with Michaela. His mother only spared him one glance filled with disgust. She spoke to Michaela and waved her hands in a shooing motion meant for Nox.
He took the hint and started walking around the compound. The same crushing feeling he had when he was five overwhelmed his being. He thought he’d worked through this aspect of his childhood. He had been wrong, this hunt only brought the feelings rushing back.
The chaotic din of the cafeteria brought Nox out of his pained thoughts. The smell of bitter coffee wafted his direction. Nox bought a cup before continuing on his aimless walk. The only thing left to do was wait.
When Nox returned to his mother’s room, Michaela was standing outside. A team of medics tended to his mother’s convulsing form.
Nox watched as the werebear venom claimed his mother’s life. It was a pain filled death, and Nox wished she wouldn’t have died this way – the pain and hatred combined.
Her body stilled and the doctors left the room. One asked him, “Do you want to see her?”
Nox shook his head. He had nothing to say to her. She meant nothing to him, but memories of making apple pie with his mother crept into his mind. It was so long ago, he’d almost forgotten. It was a simpler time – a happier time.
Michaela joined him as he walked out the door.
Nox plastered a fake smile on his face and joked to hide the pain. “There will be no more apple pie.”