The decision to make hellhounds an endangered species was beyond asinine, but I expected nothing less from a government that had bankrolled not one, but two, endowed chairs in preternatural biology (one of them my father’s) at the University That Shall Not Be Named. The same government that thought you could train a horde of zombies just as easily as Pavlov’s dogs.
When I ring the bell, you will cease tearing the flesh from my bones.
I was fairly certain that the world would have been better off if the vast majority of it—and all politicians, scientists, and talk show hosts—had remained in the dark about hellhounds, zombies, and everything else that went bump in the night. Sadly, however, that ship had sailed about two hundred years before I was even born.
Thanks, Darwin. Thanks a lot.
Taking my ire out on the blade in my hand, I ran it roughly over the edge of my sharpening stone—diamond with a hint of steel.
Tomorrow, I’d probably see things differently. I might even feel bad for sending the poor, endangered pups to a bloody, bloody death. But today wasn’t tomorrow. It was today, and the power was thrumming through my veins, the need to hunt, to kill, to win, building up inside of me, all-consuming and impossible to deny.
I pressed my knife to the stone and leaned forward, waiting for the worst of it to pass. I liked to imagine that in the olden days, before “logic” and “reason” took over, I would have had a trainer to teach me how to keep my head above water, but these days, people didn’t believe in meditation or magic or anything other than s-c-i-e-n-c-e.
They didn’t even believe in me.
That meant that I was on my own with the hunt-lust. I was on my own in every way that mattered.
My father always said my name with a question mark, like he couldn’t remember for sure how to pronounce it and wouldn’t have laid money on whether or not I was actually his. I would have just as soon not been.
“Down here,” I called, sheathing my knife under the leg of my boot-cut jeans and pushing the stone back under the workbench, where it belonged.
“Oh, there you are.”
My father had a tendency to make statements like that as if they were revelations to everyone in the near vicinity, the object of his reference included. If a tree fell in the woods, and Professor Armand D’Angelo wasn’t around to hear it, it most definitely made no sound.
“Here I am,” I confirmed. I managed to keep my tone even and cool, but it cost me, and the desire to make something bleed nearly brought me to my knees.
“Was there something you wanted?” I asked, knowing that he wouldn’t have sought me out if there wasn’t.
“There’s a faculty dinner tonight, a small get-together at Paul and Adelaide Davis’s. It would be nice if you would put in an appearance.”
Since my father was single and had been for years, he made a practice of using me as his “plus one.” Suffice it to say, I wasn’t the kind of person who enjoyed being used. Still, hunt-lust aside, I wasn’t a monster, and I had a policy against being nasty when I didn’t have to be.
Even with him.
“I can’t make it,” I said, completely straight-faced. “There’s a study group, and it’s my turn to do the section outline.”
I’d never been to a study group in my life, and given my grades, my father had to have known that, but he just inclined his head slightly.
“I’ll pass along your regrets.”
This was our language: half-truths, obvious lies, accusations neither one of us would ever make. It was a system every bit as complicated as Morse code or the dancing of bees. Don’t ask, don’t tell, stay civil.
My burning need to hack some hellspawn to pieces surged anew.
Without another word, my father went back the way he came, and I was relegated to maybe-I-existed, maybe-I-didn’t status for another week.
Most of the time, it felt like my father and I were completely different species. Possibly literally, depending on the day and whether or not I actually qualified as human at the time.
“I’m out of here,” I said, more to prove that I had been there and that I did matter than to mark my exit. With a practiced motion, I popped the basement window open, pulled myself off the ground, and wormed my way through the tiny opening. The cool air hit my face first, and by the time my torso, legs, and feet had joined it, I’d already acclimated.
People like me didn’t get cold.
We never lost our balance.
We didn’t even have to eat.
That was, of course, assuming that there were others. Like me. Like my mother. And that was assuming—as I preferred to—that my condition was hereditary. Unfortunately, since good old mom had hit the road when I was three, I couldn’t exactly ask her if she’d ever had the urge to hunt the way I was hunting now.
I couldn’t ask her anything.
Pushing the fuzzy memory of her face—smiling, soft—out of my mind, I took off running, my feet pounding mercilessly and rhythmically into the pavement, again and again and again.
You have to find them. Hunt them. Kill them.
Kill them now.
The need pounded through my temples. It slithered its way through artery and vein, claiming the tips of my fingers, the small of my back.
Canis daemonum might have been the scientific classification for hellhounds, but the human body has over 60,000 miles of capillaries, and every one of mine was telling me that ’hounds were just demons, plain and simple. And hunting demons was what I did.
Who I was.
The purpose for which I’d been born.
Besides which, I hadn’t exactly made friends at my new high school (yet), so it wasn’t like I had anywhere else to be on a Sunday night.
You’re getting closer. You have to find them.
Find them now.
The world blurred around me as I ran. Superspeed was not and had never been a part of the Kali package, so if anyone saw me as I streaked past them, all they would have seen was a normal girl—not quite Indian, not quite white—running at a sprint. What spectators wouldn’t realize was that I could have continued running at this pace indefinitely—or at least until the sun came up the next morning.
People like me didn’t get tired. We didn’t wear out. Once we got a lock on our prey, we just kept coming and coming.
“Here.” The word came out in a whisper, and I could almost see the way it rippled through the air. The closer I got to my quarry, the sharper my senses became.