Something was off. His senses were screaming at him to run.
He glanced about the darkness, seeing nothing unusual, which in itself shouldn’t make his skin itch and his stomach roll. Only they were. As one of the highest ranking hunters in the Celestial Council, Mondo counted on his instincts. Those that made him different.
“Fuck this,” he muttered under his breath. It was time to get out of dodge. He slowly crept backwards, using all his senses. His hand sliding into the back of his jeans where he kept his Celestial dagger, imbued with enough magic to slay an army if needed.
He had watched the place for several weeks and nothing had made him feel like this, nothing. He’d been sent to figure out who the occupants were following reports of strange activity. The kind that made the council twitchy when the rate of missing persons reported had quadrupled in the area in less than three months. A source Mondo had relied on in the past pointed him in this direction.
From the beginning he’d got the place wasn’t right, despite how they’d masked the house with powerful magic that kept it shielded from prying eyes. Mondo wasn’t magical in any actual sense. What he had was a key set of skills that came with his family heritage as a hunter. And he believed whoever the house belonged to, they either had a powerful witch, or someone inside had paid one to keep whatever they were up to under the radar. Only they were now very much on Mondo’s radar.
Problem was, he’d not been able to get inside as there was always someone hanging around. Tonight he’d seen everyone leave, which was why he’d taken a chance to come and get a closer look.
He’d barely gotten around the side of the house before his system went haywire. The magic wards shimmered around the place, and his heart rate quickened. He evened out his breathing, opening himself further to his surroundings, a skill he’d developed over years of training. Before he could react to the sudden presence he picked up coming at him from behind, a dark, menacing voice whispered right next to his ear, “Now where do you think you’re going, hunter?”
A shudder ran through him as his fingers clenched the dagger, bringing it out towards the voice. Strike first and ask questions later. Mondo lived by the motto, especially as it kept him alive.
Laughter, dark and dangerous, brought more shivers as he hit nothing but air.
Fuck, they’re using magic!
It was his last thought as pain exploded through the back of his head, making his world turn blood red. His body convulsed, his limbs losing the ability to hold him up, and the ground rushed towards him. He braced, or tried to, only he landed on a rock solid body.
“So feisty. I knew you’d be fun, hunter.”
He lost consciousness as large meaty fingers clasped tightly around his throat, cutting off his air supply.
His body protested as he tried to move. Agony spiraled through every fiber of his being.
Not dead then!
He wasn’t sure that was a good thing. He took a shallow breath to control his reactions to what his body was feeling. Training kicking in, he worked to figure out how long he’d been out and what they’d done to him.
His limbs were free. A good start, despite the pain radiating through them. His head appeared to have met a battering ram. The same one he suspected his body had met. His eyelids had swollen shut, and prying them open was difficult. The skin over his face was tight and sticky. With concerted effort, he peeled open one lid and squinted into the darkness. Still night. Was it the same day? That, he couldn’t answer.
The feeling he’d gotten from the building he’d watched told him where he was. He was outside, on the grass. That had to be good for him, as he wasn’t confined. The night air brushed over his skin as he inhaled, working to both identify and locate his assailants via their scent.
The stench of sulfur coming from his left pinpointed both where and what his assailants were.
Why would they leave me out in the open?
The house was in a densely populated neighborhood. Were they that confident in their magic shields? That did not bode well. He had a check-in time. If he missed it, the council would use a witch to find him. Unfortunately, a good magic spell could conceal him.
Left outside was good, but the fact that they’d not restrained him spoke of their confidence and left a pit of unease in his gut. This time, he might not make it out. What he’d been assured was a simple job—go in, stake out the house and report back—had turned into an epic pile of unfathomable shit. One that felt like a setup as he lay there, letting the pieces slot together.
He suspected he was on his own. His mind kept the pain tucked in a corner as he moved the hand he’d had his dagger in. His fingers were broken and empty.
Fuck it all to hell!
The one consolation he could come up with was that no one but him could use the dagger. The council used his ancestral DNA to code the magic to him. That didn’t mean the fuckers who had him couldn’t use him as a conduit if they were aware exactly what the dagger was capable of, though. The level of shit kept rising.
There was the sound of a door opening above him.
“You got him?” asked a deep voice that set off alarm bells in Mondo’s already throbbing skull.
The air shifted, and he worked to keep relaxed when hiked effortlessly off the ground and thrown on the porch. The grunt that came from whoever dropped him, he prayed, masked his groan when bone crunched against bone.
“Course I did. What do you take me for, Grammon?”
“You want me to answer that?” came the growled response. His mind was briefly diverted, sent down a path trying to recall where he’d heard the voice before, and the name.
A boot kicked into his side with such force, his body slid several feet over the smooth wood. The impact had another bone snapping in his rib cage. The air in his lungs remained there. Years of training were the only thing that kept him silent.
Sensations—something wholly different from the pain of his injuries—started in the vicinity of his left shoulder. A burning, as if the fuckers were using a branding iron. Only they weren’t anywhere near him. Unless it was magic?
No, it felt… his eyes slitted open against his will, drawn by a feeling deep in the center of his chest. A warming… a caress of soul magic. He’d heard enough stories about meeting soul mates. There was no way this was happening with a fucking demon!? That was one hell of a mind fuck.
A ball of panic rose hot and hard in his throat at the very thought Fate would be so cruel. Needing to know, Mondo, careful not to alert those around him of his consciousness, squinted out into the darkness.
Eyes of glowing red stared at him. As their gazes connected, a charge of electricity hit Mondo’s system so hard he struggled to stop his body from jolting.
What the fuck was it? The eyes were low to the ground.
The shadows masked the thing.
Maybe the blow to his head caused some hallucination?
Mondo blinked carefully, keeping his gaze on the eyes. No, he wasn’t hallucinating. They were still there.
If he believed his brain and his body, then the thing was his… mate. Feelings swamped him, none of which were his own. The prime one was terror… for Mondo.
“Did you have to hit him so hard?” someone grumbled. “They aren’t so much fun when they don’t scream for me.”
“He’ll scream plenty when he wakes,” said the same voice that had whispered in his ear. “He was supposed to be the council’s best. Look at him now.”
Distracted by the comment, it took a moment to register that his squirrel snitch had sent him into an ambush. Which was also why four laughing demons surrounded him. Without his dagger, and the severity of the beating he appeared to have taken while he was out for the count, his odds weren’t looking good.
His healing ability was good, something to thank his forebears for. Problem was, with the number of injuries he had sustained, it would take days, not hours, to heal properly. He wasn’t sure these fuckers had patience enough for him to stop pretending he was still out of it.
His family had worked for the council for centuries. He’d always known that there was a possibility he’d die like so many of his relatives. It was something he’d accepted as part of the job. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t fight until his last breath for him and the little red-eyed mate, who continued to project his terror. So he remained still, keeping his breathing shallow and even to prevent suspicion and give himself every possible second he could to knit his insides back together. It also gave him a chance to keep watch on the thing in the darkness as it moved closer to the building.
Not too close. Come on, not too close!
The thud of boots on wood came closer. Rank smelling breath came with a stronger smell of the sulfur that came from the thing’s visit to hell. This meant the magic wards had to have come from a witch and reinforced his suspicion they had one dancing to their tune. A horrible thought slithered through his mind. Were they after him or his dagger? The dagger would fetch a high price on the witches’ shadow market. It would be highly sought after by dark witches.
The council could and would trace the dagger if he died.
If. You aren’t fucking dead yet! Our mate needs us alive.
He stored all the information he could of his situation. If something should happen to him and they found him, there were witches who could gain access to his memories.
More bone chilling laughter came when a demon unceremoniously lifted him up and flung him over a massive shoulder. “How the fuck did this asshole end up a hunter? He barely weighs more than a bag of fucking spuds. Spuds would be more entertainment.”
His head bounced off the demon’s back and he gave a cry of distress when he saw red eyes inch closer and into the light.
His shoulder shrieked with a fierce fire and confirmed what he’d believed in his soul. The skunk was his fated one.
Sharp looking teeth bared, eyes glowing with rage, sent terror running through Mondo at what the demons would do to his mate.
The screams were all in his head as his body shook from the dark laughter and evil intent pouring off the demon.
He willed the skunk away.
A large hand yanked at his hair, lifting his head. “No one’s gonna hear you here, hunter. Scream for me.”
A claw appeared and sliced his cheek open. The screams he rent the air with wasn’t because of the pain, but to warn his mate to stay back. Blood slid down his skin and a sick light came into the demon’s soulless eyes before he licked the sticky substance away. His flesh burned from the acid touch and he shuddered in distaste at the fucker’s groan of pleasure.
He watched in horror as the skunk lifted his tail and hissed loudly. Mondo’s terror increased when a light emanated from the ass of the skunk, illuminating the surrounding garden.
“What the fuck is that?” a demon growled.
Before he could call out, a demon was there, reaching for his mate. Dark drops fell to the ground as sharp teeth dug into flesh. Mondo didn’t have time to congratulate his mate when, a moment later, the skunk flew through the air and thudded to the ground several feet away.
When the demon strolled casually towards the prone skunk, horns appeared on the skull, his true appearance revealed. “What do we have here?”
The skunk’s teeth bared and Mondo gave his mate credit for his courage.
Only that wasn’t going to help against the demon. Its head reared back, and he snorted loudly. “Hey, look at this little guy, thinking he can take me.”
“Grammon, stop messing and bring your new plaything inside.”
A loud squeal got cut off as fingers wrapped around the furry throat.
Mondo’s strangled scream didn’t help his furry mate.
The tongue burning his flesh was irrelevant compared to his mate’s suffering. His eyes watered, getting laughter from the demon playing with him. Only it had fuck all to do with him. The warmth he’d experienced at first acknowledging his mate came again, only this time it was stronger. More powerful. His body’s healing ability went from slow burn to supersonic.
Pain came as bones knitted and fused at such a rate they had no time to heal in the correct position. Hard to see beyond the large fucker in front of him, Mondo searched the night. A sense of something powerful came right as the world imploded around him.
Magic swirled in the air, the kind that came with fury, and unleashed itself over those around him. He felt more than witnessed the disappearance of his furry mate. A shudder ran through the demon on an epic earthquake proportion.
“A fucking witch! Get him,” someone called out as the ass holding him shifted his arm to take hold of his throat.
It was then, as his expression contorted from lack of oxygen, that Mondo glimpsed what his soul spoke to as his other mate.
Why? Why now?
He struggled anew, fighting with every painful breath around the claws digging into his throat.
The howl that followed from the figure standing in the garden was unearthly as his arms flung outward and wind whipped furiously at the demons. Icy shards skimmed past Mondo, cutting, and tearing at clothes and skin, holding back the two demons charging towards his other mate.
Blackness swallowed Mondo whole.
It sucked him deep into the quietness. He fell and didn’t appear to stop. It suspended his limbs, holding him imprisoned in the inky black. He wasn’t sure if his eyes were open or closed. Panic clawed at the back of his throat, only no sound came out.
A cloud of color exploded above him while something burned on his left shoulder, tearing away his awareness.
“No!” he gasped, his memories melting into nothing while something stabbed repeatedly at the left side of his chest.
One year Later
The scar on the left upper side of his chest, where a weird mark sat, flared with a strange sensation. It woke Mondo from a dreamless sleep, one that was common since the… attack.
He had no memory of what happened a year ago, other than what he had been told when they’d sent a search party for him.
He’d been found in an abandoned house, gods know where, and he didn’t care. His body, though healed from whatever he had suffered, had several deformities that required healers to re-break his bones and work to restore them once more.
The mind witches, as they were known, were a lot less successful at piecing his memories back together. They were at a loss as to why they could not unlock or find the memories of the events leading up to and pertaining to the mark he bore or why he had healed in such a manner.
Stretching out his arm when the sensations that woke him increased, he couldn’t avoid them any longer. Reaching for the lamp on the nightstand, he squinted for a moment as his eyes adjusted to the light. He glanced at his naked shoulder, rubbing at the tree which spiraled out into three separate, flowing roots over his shoulder, front and back. The back two had color. One red, the other gold. They shimmered in the mirror’s reflection when he spent time looking at it, searching for answers. Searching for the truth behind it, because it changed him. Made him different. Not knowing was maddeningly frustrating when no one could give him any answers.
He stared at the spiral he could see in front, which was black, except for the ugly purple scar cutting right through it. He sensed it was part of why he had no memories from that time. Nothing concrete he could pinpoint, just a sense of knowing that wouldn’t budge despite the lack of resolution from the mind witches.
His fingers moved to the scar and played over the puckered flesh. He’d traced it repeatedly over the last year. His eyes widened at the texture. His breath came in small, uncomfortable gasps as he pressed on to what should be a half inch lumpy edge.
Was it smoother?
Pulse skittering faster than a cat on hot coals, he thrust back the covers and got out of bed, running to the bathroom. The light he flicked on illuminated the tiled white room. Mondo’s gaze noted none of the sleek bathroom behind him, riveted as he was by his reflection. He stared at the full-length mirror, his mouth opening, closing, then opening again as he watched his scar change color from dark purple to a paler pink and flatten out right before his eyes.
Trembling fingers reached up to touch the mark, his chest rising and falling much like it did when he ran on his treadmill. The second he touched it again, his throat worked hard at the image forming of two shadowy men embracing. Their connection came in red and gold. It encircled them, shutting him out.
A cry tumbled from his lips.
Grief swept through him, leaving him drowning in the misery of it. The kind he had only experienced at the death of his brother. Other feelings came and went, flowing on the tide of his desperation. There was no logic to it, just an innate sense of knowing he belonged there, with them.
Who were they?
Pulse accelerating, Mondo reached out blindly when red eyes, brimming with tears, sent a dart of familiarity through him as they met his gaze. Emotions swamped him. Love sat at the center, pure and breathtaking. Tears ran down his cheeks as he cried out once more when the vision wavered and disappeared.
He dropped to his knees, his shoulder throbbing, yet it was nothing to the ache in the middle of his chest at the rolling grief, cloying as it clung to him like rain-soaked clothes, desperate to stay attached to his body.
All-consuming, he curled into a ball on the bathroom floor, burying his face in his knees as he locked his arms around them, crying for a loss he couldn’t comprehend.
What is happening to me?
There was no answer, only a hole in his memory where he suspected these men might live.
Sometime later, hollow from the tears, Mondo staggered to his feet, cold and stiff, crawling back into his cold, lonely bed.
The tears were cathartic and as he wrapped the surrounding covers closer to his body, trying to remove the chill that claimed his bones, he had a new conviction. He was not one to wallow in self-pity, and he wasn’t going to start now. The crying jag over, he took a shuddery breath and replayed the visual in his mind, wiping his wet cheeks. He committed each detail to memory and ran through them like an online brochure.
His lips curved up at the edges, revealing his dimples as certainty grew deep in the place he used to survive some dark days.
I’ll find them. These strangers had touched his… soul. No matter what the cost, he would find the answers for him… and them!