Inhale. Exhale. Concentrate. I shift my weight impatience causing me to get jittery. I force myself to concentrate only on my breathing. Looking up I see the moon as large as I have ever seen it, hanging over the desperate city like a watchful eye. The stars are scattered across the inky expanse, there is no light pollution to hide them and they look like someone dusted the sky with shards of light.
Out of pure paranoia I call more shadows to me, cloaking my position so that no one may see me in my perch above the broken city. The buildings that stretch up from the ground are like testaments to the way our life used to be before the quake that destroyed life as we knew it. By then most of the big cities had earthquake resistant buildings but the quake destroyed many buildings and took lives all over, it's said that it shook the whole world, but I haven't traveled enough to know if that's not just rumor.
Flexing my hands I press my palms into the concrete on the top of the building. A movement catches my attention and my eyes train on the source. They are hiding in the dark, but from one like me, there is no protection in the darkest of shadows. I see them as easily as if they were in the full light of the moon, it's a werewolf alright. The wolf is crouched down and pressed against the wall of the closest building. His shoulders move with his heaving breaths and his tongue lolls out of his mouth, bright yellow eyes looking around frantically searching for his pursuer. I smile knowing that no matter how long he looks, he will never see me until I want him to.
His fur looks thicker than in the crappy quality photo from the poster but it's no doubt that it's the same mutt that I'm looking for. In the small rucksack bag that hangs from my shoulders Ezla stirs, no doubt restless from being confined in the bag for so long. I tug on one of the straps of the bag, signaling him to quiet down. He shifts a bit more before settling down, an uncomfortable weight against my back. I ignore this and focus on the shadows that the wolf is hiding in, fixing my vision on the spot right next to him.
I stand up and take a single step, but in that step I travel from one shadow to another, right next to the wolf. In the moment that I shift from shadow to shadow it's like the rest of the world slows down. I see the wolf's eyes widen and his nostrils flare at the smell of my presence. His fur begins to rise up and his lips slowly pull back in the beginning of a snarl. Then as everything snaps back to normal speed I lash out with a shimmering rope of pure silver.
Silver only hurts werewolves if it gets in their blood but it weakens them with just a touch. The rope wraps around his paw-like hand and with a quick jerk of my hand he is on the ground. He snarls and slashes at me with dark claws at the end of padded fingers but I easily dodge these feeble attempts. I've had this dog running from me all night and he's tired out while I am not. It doesn't take long to tie him up and secure the knot. He begins to writhe on the ground spit flying from his muzzle as he shakes his head, snapping at thin air in desperation. He claws scrabble at the pavement in hope of somehow getting away and his large eyes are full of fear. I stand back and wait patiently for him to calm down. Now that I've caught him I have all the time in the world.
After a while the wolf tires and stills, he pants and looks at me with undulated hatred burning behind bright eyes. "Traitorous bitch," He hisses the words in the wolves' language because in this form English is stubborn to leave their canine lips. "What do you want from me?"
"I want nothing from you, only a reward for your capture dog boy," I snarl back in answer. "I have to eat too don't I?" He says nothing to this, too surprised by my knowledge of their language to respond. Early in the business I devoted myself to learning all of the languages of those I would be hunting, it does no good to have multiple captives who can talk to each other in a language you don't understand. My own human lips were hard to train to form the words of the languages of the super natural creatures I hunt but with much persistence I mastered them all.
"Ezla, I need your assistance," I tap the bag as I say this. Ezla creeps out lazily crawling onto my shoulder before jumping neatly to the ground. Ezla is a rarity; he is a rather small creature a little bit larger than a domestic cat. His face is almost feline but his muzzle is a bit longer and his ears are that of a bat and a long bushy tail brushes the ground. He is covered in light brown fur with black speckled through it. Two oversized wings that were much bigger than him protruded from his small shoulders. He looked the werewolf over curiously with his large slate gray eyes. "I need you to carry this wolf to Myth for me, I will meet you there but he's too heavy for me to cart."
Ezla had the mental capacity of a five year old, he understood what you said but you had to be careful not to confuse him. When he matured he would be wiser than any human but that would be long after my hunting days were over. He hoped onto the werewolf's back and tightened his paws around the silver ropes before lifting himself and the werewolf into the air effortlessly with a few strokes of his badly proportioned wings.
As he took off I had to take a different route because while Ezla could simply fly over buildings, I had to walk around them. Not wanting to leave Myth unattended for any longer than I had to I sped up my progress by jumping from shadow to shadow. When I got to the outskirts of the city where I had tied Myth up Ezla was already there with a very air sick wolf. "Who are you and why do you keep the company of a dragon?" He growled the questions at me looking resigned to his fate.
I ignored his question; Ezla was a dragon, a baby but a dragon nonetheless. Already he was much stronger than he looked but he was small for his age and he always had been. The mother had abandoned him as a new hatchling seeing him as too weak and small to survive. I found him when I was hunting and nursed him back to health. I hadn't wanted to keep him around after he got healthy again but he wouldn't leave my side. He did assist me now though and was far from a liability to have around.
With a small flap of his wings he left the werewolf and landed on my shoulder pressing his nose to my face and letting out a small trill. "Good job Ezla," I said to him, scratching him at the base of his ear.
Myth nickered and pranced lifting her head at us in greeting. She was a gorgeous mare and she could run faster than any stallion we had raced yet. Cars had become rather useless after the quake and everyone traveled by horse or train. Her coat was all as black as night which suited me fine and she wasn't skittish around super natural creatures like most horses were so she was perfect for my line of work.
With a little work I fixed a muzzle on the werewolf before slinging him over Myth's back, I couldn't have him biting my horse. I untied her and swung onto the saddle. Ezla slipped back into my bag and curled up at the bottom of it. One of his oversized wings was pressing into my back but I ignored it. It was a short ride to The Station. With a word to Myth we were at a run on the dirt road that led from one half of Beacon to the other. This town or city I suppose was named Beacon because after the quake people came here in search of safety, it was the only place that offered refuge even though it was suffering its own death toll. Half of the city was destroyed and The Station was built on carnage of the city. It's not the only building out there, there is a whole small town built up for people like me, bounty hunters. It's a place for us to stay until we have a new target and rest after we've brought them in.
The werewolf that's slung over Myth's back behind me has gone unconscious but has not returned to his human form. Even in his sleep he is probably too scared and anxious to leave his wolf form. Or maybe he is still hoping for a chance to escape. As The Station creeps into sight under the moonlight, his chances are going from slim to none.
At seventeen I'm not the youngest of the hunters out there but I'm more skilled than most in my age group. I guess that's just because of my own advantage, the werewolf hadn't called me a traitor for nothing. If I had to be a supernatural I would rather be something that was faster and stronger than a normal person, but I wasn't. I was an elemental that had control over darkness. My dark purple eyes were a mark of what I was but there were so few of us left that I was more of a rarity than Ezla and there were few people who could recognize what I was.
I don't know what our world was called before the quake but now it is called Aftermath. It is a fitting name, because that is all that is left of this world anymore. It is what everyone live in, what we all exist as. We are all just aftermath of the multiple natural disasters that disturbed the lives of our ancestors. We are as much a part of the carnage of cities as the broken buildings. We are what is left, the ruins, the leftovers, the survivors. We scrape by to survive, fighting against odds to see the next morning.
I stop at The Station and get off of my horse pulling the werewolf off after me. He grunts, the only sign that he is awake. A gruttal growl comes from the muzzle but I ignore him. He is no threat to me at this point, bound and shackled like a prisoner. Tying my horse up I haul the werewolf inside, it's difficult to get him up the steps. I may be hauling him off to be locked up or killed but I don't want to drag his head up the stairs. I walk in, dropping the werewolf in front of the desk and slamming down a folded copy of the wanted poster. Ralph, the guy sitting behind the desk takes his time in looking at the poster. He spits into a trash can next to his desk before slowly unfolding the paper, his eyes leisurely comparing the low quality photo to the bound wolf at my feet.
He has sparse greasy brown hair and beady eyes, a puckered scar runs down the length of his face and I don't trust him as far as I can throw him. However, as long as he's in charge of The Station, he's the person who pays me for my "contributions". Pursing his lips and scratching at his scraggly beard he puts the poster down, "Looks about like him." His voice is scratchy because he smokes more cigarettes than anyone I've ever met and he is always going into coughing fits.
Planting his large meaty hands on the desk he pushes himself up. He has a pre-quake cereal box sheriff star attached to his shirt. The child's prize looks phony and silly hanging on a full grown man but no one ever says anything about it. Despite his faults Ralph is the closest thing to a sheriff that Beacon has, and the bounty hunters are the closest you'll find to law enforcers, though we aren't a very civil group ourselves.
He walks over to the wolf who looks up at the man with hate and fear dominate in the animalistic eyes. His lips are pulled back in a snarl so that you can see every pearly white canine tooth through the slits in the muzzle. His dark brown fur is on end and he looks much more freaked out around Ralph than me. I can't say I blame him; even Ezla can't stand Ralph and refuses to venture out of my bag inside of The Station.
The guy is a sleaze, everyone knows it but no one wants to replace him. He looks down at the poster again and puts his meaty hand on it, beginning to drag it away. "I'll give you five hundred for 'im."
I slam my hand down on the edge of the poster, stopping him from pulling it out of sight. I pointed to the numbers beneath the information, "He's worth fifteen hundred alive, and that's what I intent to collect." I make sure there is enough steel in my voice that he will know I'm not going to be pushed around, but not enough open challenge for him to take it as disrespect.
He makes a face but he can't cheat me now that I've cornered him. "Fine," he spits the word at me in frustration, "I'll go get your money."
He shuffles off to the back and comes back with a wad of cash. I watch him count it out because if I'm not careful he'll still cheat me. Amazingly he gives me the right amount the first time. He probably just wants to get me out of here as soon as possible. Handing over the money he takes hold of the werewolf's restraints and hefts him up. He grunts from the strain. Ralph is big but it's not muscle it's just mass, his face is red from exertion and he only get's a few steps before letting the were drop back to the floor like a sack of potatoes. "What did he do?" I ask, my own question surprises me.
He turns slowly and fixes his beady eyes on me for a moment before speaking in his scratchy rasp. "What did you say?"
I almost don't ask the question again but there's no point in denying it, besides I still want to know. "Why is he wanted, what did he do?"
Ralph's tongue flicks out wetting his thin cracked lips and he turns his gaze back on the wolf on the floor before answering. "I dunno, I just hang the signs, I ain't told what for."
I narrow my eyes, it's no feat to tell that he's lying to me, he shuffles his boots on the wooden floor for a while before scowling up at me, "Don't you have somewhere else to be? Go chase down some other good for nothin' criminal." With that he bends down and grabs hold of the rope again but instead of trying to pick him up this time he just drags the wolf into the back. I have never been past that door and I have never really wanted to. There is no interest in this job for me, it is just easy for me to do and it is the only way I can earn good money to stay alive.
I know that I would never hear mention of that wolf again, it's not a bounty hunters job to know what happens to their prey after it's caught. I know that next time I come in here Ralph will give me back my silver rope and muzzle, with no comment as to what they had seen since I left them with him. But now I want nothing more than to follow him through that door and see what will become of the werewolf I had caught.
I take a few cautious steps towards the door and place my palm on the rough wood, I listen carefully hoping to hear something but there is no noise from the other side of the door. I start to go in but I am suddenly pulled back as wings beat frantically on either side of me slamming me into the opposite wall. Ezla get's up from the ground and grabs hold of my sleeve, tugging toward the door out of The Station. I look down at him in confusion; he has never acted like this before. Ezla lets out a nervous whine; his gaze fixed on the door across the room pure terror fills his eyes.
I stand up, picking Ezla up with me. "Okay, we're leaving," I say to the terrified dragon and walk outside untying Myth and leading her to the stable that's a few buildings away. Ezla sits on my shoulder shaking in fear but his reaction only makes my curiosity more urgent, I will wait for a while. I can be patient, but I WILL find out what is behind that door.
After I make sure that Myth has plenty of food and water in her stall I head across the narrow street to the inn. There aren't many travelers that come here other than bounty hunters. Most people are scared of this little town outside of Beacon. It stands silent in the middle of the wreckage of the other half of the city. There is a stretch between the two halves of empty expanse that used to be a wide river. The fallen bridge was made into a road. The first rule of surviving in Aftermath is that you can't waste anything.
The fallen debris of buildings stands around the town like a wall, no one would dare cross over it, it's full of shards of glass and skeletal frames of partially standing skyscrapers. The only way to get into the town is a narrow cleared passage barely two horses wide. It's a hunter's den masquerading as a town and everyone knows it.
I enter the downstairs of the inn, it's full of bounty hunters telling tales of their latest captures and showing off new scars. I don't have very many noteworthy scars. With my "abilities" I can sneak up on my target easily without being noticed and attacked.
A few of them call me over to their tables but I ignore them. I walk over to the bar and smile at the bartender, Wesley. He is in his mid forties and a retired bounty hunter. He is completely deaf in one ear and it's nearly shorn off, deep scars running down the side of his face from where one of his bounties took a swipe at him. With his ear hanging off and his face pouring blood he still caught whatever it was that attacked him. I had always wanted to ask him how it was he managed that but I understood a sore subject when I saw one.
Wesley barely glances up at me but a smile splits his face. "Come to visit us again Alani? We are not worthy of the presence of such a fine hunter, what prey did you drag in this time?" His voice is light and humorous but the light never reaches his eyes as if he can't pull his mind from whatever dark subject it has fixed itself on.
I shrug, "Nothing big, just a werewolf, I guess it was a renegade, probably attacked someone but Ralph wouldn't tell me what he did."
Wesley just grunts, "Yes well Ralph never has been the talkative type, nor has he been the type to ask questions." His eyes stray to Ezla who is still perched on my shoulder, his tail wrapped loosely around my other shoulder. It seems he has finally recovered from his earlier shock. "I see that dragon hatchling still won't leave your side."
Knowing he is being discussed, Ezla trills at Wesley, his wings flutter a bit. Wesley laughs at this and pours a glass of Silt, placing it on the table. Silt is the alcoholic beverage most everyone drinks in the town or in the city when they want to get drunk. They call it Silt because it has grains in the bottom of it like tea grounds or the last bit of coffee, you couldn't drink the last few inches of the drink or you would get a mouthful of bitter grit.
Ezla abandons my shoulder and begins lapping up the alcoholic beverage. I frown, "You know I won't be able to get him to fly straight until tomorrow night now." I always give Ezla water or occasionally milk but I try to keep him away from Silt because the little dragon is quite a drunkard. He loves the stuff and dragons take a bit longer to sober up than humans do.
Wesley waves it off, "Your normal room is unoccupied, and you can rest there tonight. Besides, I'm sure there won't be new bounty posters up by tomorrow night. You'll have to wait a few days to get a new target, you know that."
I scowl, knowing that he is right. My mind wanders back to the door at the back of The Station and I get serious. "Wesley do you know what happens to the criminals we bring in after they go through that door at the back of The Station?"
Wesley stiffens and his face goes stone still for a moment. When he looks back up at me there is a glimmer of fear in his eyes as well. "Of course not, what business is it of mine? For that matter it's no business of yours either."
I cross my arms, "Don't lie to me, what goes on behind that door? What do you know that I don't?" My voice is close to a whisper but with all of the shouting going on around us I know no one is paying our conversation any heed.
He gives me a sharp look and shakes his head. "Go get some rest Alani and do not think of this matter anymore." I start to rebuke but he stops me. "Do not pursue this Alani, drop it." The aggression in his tone surprises me and I let the matter go for now. Putting enough money for the drink and the room on the bar I pick up Ezla who protests with a squawk reaching for the glass with outstretched paws as I carry him back to our room. For now I will play the obedient child and go to sleep, but I promise to myself that I will find out what that door hides no matter what.
A/n: So I accidently came up with Alani's character when I was zoning out and I've been unable to get this out of my head so I wrote the first chapter. I wasn't planning on posting it but it turned out a lot better than I thought it would so here it is. Should I continue??? Review please.