DISCLAIMER: 'A Hunter's Edge' is based on 'Hunter: the Reckoning' by White Wolf Publishing. 'Hunter: the Reckoning' and all related trademarks are copyright White Wolf Publishing, all rights reserved. Please visit http://www.white-wolf.com for more information.
NOTE ON FONTS: The font 'Crackhouse' is used in the work below and in later parts. It's a pretty great font if I do say so myself. :) Grab it at http://recknet.faithweb.com.
A HUNTER'S EDGE
Prologue: Que Sera, Sera (What Will Be, Will Be)
The subway station is a mysterious place. Over time, horror and suspense films have given it its own cultural significance: It is the dark bedroom closet of an adult's world, the modern replacement for a midnight graveyard grown campy and comfortable through simple overuse.
The subterranean nature of the place tickles the base claustrophobia at the heart of every man, while the quiet mystery of just what, exactly, lies beyond the black tunnel entrances to either side instils vague feelings of unease in even the most harried traveller.
The sounds are at once unique and ubiquitous: the third rail's quiet, background hum, the squealing of brakes, the ever-present din echoing down from the world above.
Fortunately, Eric was well accustomed to this modern system of impersonal trains and pitch-black tunnels.
A strong gust of wind rustled the pages of yesterday's paper, quietly informing Eric to the arrival of yet another train. Standing briskly, the newspaper forgotten on the bench beside him, Eric stepped forward. The doors opened with a hiss and a soft chime.
The subway was surprisingly busy for almost two in the morning, a product of every bar and club in the city reaching last call at roughly the same time. A great difference existed between the subway during the day and the subway at night. Then, businessmen and businesswomen too anxious to return home after a long day's work to smile or greet a stranger filled the subway to capacity, forcing the `STANDING ROOM ONLY' sign to activate after but a few stops. Eric preferred the night. Usually, the subway was nearly empty. At two in the morning, however? It was almost packed.
A pair of empty seats greeted his roving eye upon entering the cabin and Eric immediately took them both: one for himself, and one for the black duffel bag he always carried.
The black duffel bag that held every single one of his worldly possessions.
Immediately, Eric's head drooped against the window, an advertising poster just outside conveniently existing as an anchor for his wandering attention:
It was soon gone as the subway accelerated, the glossy, illuminated poster swallowed in blackness as the train was engulfed by the tunnel. Blinking as a lone light swept by, Eric ran his hand through his greasy hair and down over the stubble peppering his cheek and chin.
Eric needed both a shave and a shower.
The revelation was met with a grimace, for there was no way Eric could have either. He was out of money and had nowhere to go. Taking a shower at the homeless shelter he was approaching was out of the question for it required leaving his belongings unguarded. The volunteers were well-meaning, but they couldn't be trusted to remain vigilant over something so important.
Eric blinked again as another roving light gleamed from the tunnel's blackness. Slowly, the hypnotizing jostle of the subway's motion and the flickering, fluorescent light above lulled Eric into the past.
What is it that brings people together?
What tears them apart?
Is love strong enough to weather it all?
Or can even the Purest Love falter under terror, rage and distrust?
Six months ago, Eric knew the answers to these questions.
He knew them.
Everything was so simple. Sure, maybe not perfect, maybe not everything he'd dreamed his life would be at thirty years of age, but it was simple. Maybe he never did earn enough money to drive a Porsche. Maybe the law firm he dreamed of had devolved into a singular unethical practice that, despite all his self-justification, amounted to little more than ambulance chasing. Maybe his comfortable three bedroom house with that white picket fence of success became a two bedroom apartment after all.
Sure, his life wasn't what he had dreamed of.
And maybe Eric didn't know it then, but the simplicity made him happy.
Now, after six months, nothing was simple.
His practice was gone. His wife had left him. He'd sold his apartment and drained his bank accounts. These days he lived in hotel rooms or homeless shelters or, when a mark was particularly wealthy, an apartment for a few weeks.
Until he had to move on. Always moving on.
Ever since he saw the Message.
Six months ago.
When Eric joined the Hunt.
When the simple, obvious answers to those questions were swallowed by uncertainty.
"Hey, dude." A voice come from somewhere beyond his reverie, drawing Eric back to the here-and-now. An indistinguishable shape leaning over him reflected in the subway window, swaying from side to side under the influence of the cabin's movement.
"Dude," the voice repeated. "You okay?"
Eric turned his head, squinting as the brazen fluorescence of the subway interior assaulted his vision. Looking up, his bleary gaze was met by that of a greasy teenager, maybe seventeen years old, staring down at him. The mask of concern he wore was obviously unfamiliar, a momentary lapse in the imposing image his lanky hair, bulky clothes and wallet chain usually succeeded in presenting. One of those roving lights, swinging by rhythmically, streamed in from the subway window and brushed the kid's chin. The subway's brakes squealed audibly and the boy's body sagged under the weight of the sudden deceleration.
Eric was decidedly not okay. He was exhausted. But in typical superficial affirmation, he merely nodded his head.
"Yeah," Eric finally spoke, his voice carrying a little more annoyance than he intended. The teenager immediately bristled, the mask of concern fading. "Yeah," he repeated, his tone softening, straightening in the red bucket seat he'd been occupying for the past few stops. "What do you want?"
"I want to sit down," the teen replied hotly, eyeing the seat next to Eric with distaste. Glancing over, Eric grimaced inwardly. The black duffel bag.
"Ah. Sorry," Eric grunted dismissively in response, motioning vaguely in the direction of the floor. The teenager – Alex, by the look of the A-L-E-X necklace he wore around his neck – bent over and picked up the duffel bag, grunting under its surprising weight. "Shove it underneath," directed Eric.
"Christ, what the fuck's in here?" Fortunately, the clanking of metal within was vague enough - even as the duffel bag hit the floor. Grunting demonstratively, Alex roughly thrust it under the overhanging seat and dropped unceremoniously into the chair.
Eric yawned, reminding himself how tired he really was. He needed sleep.
The subway's slow deceleration ended at the next stop along its route, the automatic doors opening to admit the countless nightly patrons anxious to find their way to their safe, welcome homes. Eric ignored them, even as one latched onto the support bar a few feet above his head. He stared hungrily at the window, yearning to be swallowed once again by memories.
"So, what's your name?" Alex had turned somewhat, propping his head against his arm, the elbow of which rested comfortably on the back of the seat.
Eric allowed a soft hiss of air to escape. He didn't want to talk. He wanted to sleep.
"Eric," he answered absently. It wasn't for a few seconds that he realised he'd given his real name. He never gave his real name. It was Alex, he figured. Something about this kid comforted him. And that was a welcome change.
"I'm Timothy," the kid responded, earning a glance at the necklace from Eric. The kid's head lowered, and he smiled. "Alex is my boyfriend." This earned another tired glance from Eric, this time at the bulky clothing, unkempt hair and silver wallet chain. "Yeah, I suppose I don't look the part. Whatever." Al—Timothy was remarkably adept at gauging Eric's thoughts. "So," Timothy continued, his voice slightly unsteady in the face of Eric's determined silence, "you got a wife?"
The silence continued for a few more moments, threatening to swallow the duo in awkwardness. Finally Eric lazily shook his head. "I did," he responded. "I had a home, too. And a job. And a shower."
Timothy laughed out loud at that, his smile lighting up the cramped subway – at least for Eric. "Yeah. That kinda sucks – for both of us." Timothy wrinkled his nose playfully. Eric couldn't help but smile as well.
He hadn't smiled in a long time. Even so, he remained quiet. Sure, Eric reconciled to himself, the kid was good at lifting spirits. Didn't change the fact that Eric'd been awake for two days straight.
Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.
"So what did you do? How'd you end up like this?"
The kid just wouldn't let up, and Eric decided he didn't want him to.
"I was a lawyer." Eric managed to lift his head away from the window's welcome support, the squinting finally fading from his eyes as he finally grew accustomed to the bright light. He tried to gauge the kid's reaction as well as his had been analyzed before. Fortunately, Timothy wore his heart on his sleeve: He was quite obviously stunned.
"A lawyer? I didn't know lawyers could become ... uhm ... could lose their homes. There can't be many of you around. Did you lose your license? Or whatever it is you need to ... to be a lawyer?" Timothy had taken to lazily playing with the lettered chain around his neck, idly twirling the `X' between his thumb and index finger.
Eric nodded perfunctorily. "I skipped some court dates," he offered by way of explanation.
"Wow," Timothy exclaimed immediately, reaching out to place a hand on Eric's knee. A hand that felt surprisingly good. "That was five words. We're making progress." He chuckled again. Eric followed suit.
"Sorry. I'm just tired. I've been awake for two days," Eric said. "I'm dropping by a shelter."
"Shacking up in homeless shelters working out for you, then?" The `X' stilled, Timothy's head cocked with interest.
"They can be comfortable. Interesting people, I guess," Eric responded. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a conversation this extensive.
Wait. Yes he could. Six months ago. `The last time' for everything seemed to be six months ago, give or take.
"Yeah. I guess," Timothy parroted. He quieted after that. Tired of doing all the work, Eric supposed. He was surprised at how disappointed the end of the conversation made him.
Once again, Eric wrapped himself in silence. The black window, pierced savagely at regular intervals by the shining lights in the tunnel's darkness, drew him in. He leaned his head against the glass, the soft vibration almost lulling him to sleep.
The subway slowed, the window's blackness took on the artificial, yellow glow of an approaching stop.
The squeal of brakes. The soft hum of the track's third rail.
"Well, Eric, it was great meeting you," Timothy said quietly, as if afraid of disturbing the man further. "This is my stop. Good luck, `kay? I mean it."
The boy smiled warmly, waiting as the train was coaxed to a stop. Eric didn't bother lifting his head.
The subway doors opened and a few impatient drunks hurried inside to the sound of a soft chime, heralding the fact that seats were in short supply. A sign over the door blinked to life simultaneously, echoing the chime's message visually.
Eric's careless glance towards that sign beheld something the others did not see.
Something that should not have been there and yet something Eric had seen time and time again.
Something that caused him to question his sanity every single hour of every single day.
Something that had cost him his job, his wife and his home.
Something that had plunged his life into a never-ending hell of violence and terror.
The letters of the sign had spun, rearranged, given birth and died in the split second it took Eric to digest the Message.
`STANDING ROOM ONLY' to Timothy, to the old lady to Eric's left, to the newly arrived drunks and to every single one of the other passengers.
`STOP THE ONSLAUGHT' to Eric.
The fluorescent light above stopped flickering and swelled, along with the other lights lining the cabin. The increased illumination was subtle, yet a few of the passengers lifted their heads. A smirking know-it-all turned to the woman beside him (girlfriend? sister? stranger?) and offered an explanation he'd clearly concocted on the spot:
"The subway stopped, so there's a better connection to the second rail. You know, the electrified one that supplies power to the subway."
They didn't know the truth. They couldn't accept the truth.
"No," Eric whined like a child, glancing at the sign once more before shutting his eyes. The fact that it now read as it should did nothing to ease the cold terror brewing in the man's heart. He dreaded opening his eyes, for he knew exactly what would come. What always came.
"Eric? What is it? Are you okay?" Timothy's voice was once again concerned. "Listen, you should come home with me tonight. I have a spare room, and my parents are gone for the weekend, and you seem cool, and I'd never do this..."
He kept speaking, but Eric wasn't listening. Every fibre of his being was focussed on keeping his eyes closed.
He couldn't keep them closed forever. Something inside him refused to ignore the Message. Tentatively, with the suspense and the fear and the terror of a woman opening a cellar door late at night to investigate a strange noise, his eyelids rose.
Timothy's mask of concern was back, his hand reaching out comfortingly to calm Eric down.
But Timothy wasn't Timothy anymore.
For Eric's eyes were now open.
He was something else.
Something that did not belong.
It was that simple.
And Eric thought he'd given up simplicity six months ago.
Eric glanced down.
He prayed he could reach the bag in time.
He never knew who started screaming first.
"Lunatic," Ryan began reading, glancing up at Seth with a smile. "Lunatic? They still use `lunatic' these days? I'da thought that'd be poh-lih-tih-cah-lee ihn-cohr-rect," he quipped, accenting his words to further add credence to the mockery.
Seth, currently occupied in his own literary adventures with the morning news, chuckled breathily without lifting his head. Shifting in his seat, eyeing his cup of coffee (keep reading or sip?), Ryan lowered his eyes to the page once more.
"'Lunatic Killed On Subway: Self-Defense Claimed'. It seems, uhm..." And Ryan did take a sip now, the coffee always winning out in the end, "that some guy attacked some kid. Christ. Tried to shoot him with `military grade weaponry'. What the fuck?" He scoffed, dropping the paper on the table and standing. Bacon needed tending to.
"Since when do they give military grade weaponry to the insane? Is this a new type of therapy? You know anything about this?" Ryan had reached the frying pan, shaking it briskly. Seth chuckled again, still absorbed in the Entertainment section. "And what was military grade weaponry doing on the subway? And isn't military grade weaponry supposed to be big? Like tanks and grenade launchers and shit?"
"No," Seth answered immediately, proof positive that he had been listening, "not always. I mean, obviously not, because they said he pulled it from a duffel bag."
Ryan turned back, a quizzical smile playing across his soft features.
"I read it this morning. While you were still sleeping." The last carried the weight of a reprimand, contrasted and diluted by a playful grin. "Yep. The kid fought back, managed to strangle the guy. I don't know. Strangulation in self-defense?" Seth shook his head, immediately returning to his own newspaper. "Well, onlookers did say the kid was kind of shaken. I don't know if they're even still looking for him. He bolted, and the guy did attack him without warning. Know what's funny? The lunatic was a lawyer that'd gone missing six months ago. Just got up, drained his accounts and left without a word."
"Yeah, that's odd, but a homeless guy with military grade weaponry? Even if he used to be a lawyer? Didn't anyone at the newspaper find that a little weird? I didn't get the impression tha-– Ah, fuck!" Recoiling from the stove, Ryan glanced down at his bare chest where three spots of sizzling grease had leapt from the pan. "Christ, I'm under attack!"
Seth laughed and set the newspaper down, walking towards the stove and removing the pan. That done, he picked up a cloth from the sink and ran it gently over his boyfriend's toned, hairless chest. He clucked his tongue motherly. "Ryan Christian Waight, I've told you time and time again not to cook bacon in the nude." He glanced down pointedly. "Or, well, in the half-nude. I don't want anything happening to this chest." Seth glanced up and, smiling, met Ryan's eyes. "I like this chest."
"I ... well, I thought that ..." Ryan wrinkled his nose and leaned forward, pecking Seth softly on the lips. "I'm sorry. I promise never to walk around shirtless again."
"Oh no," Seth immediately reprimanded, dropping the cloth in the sink and returning the bacon to the element – a flannel shirt protecting him from the bacon's renewed assault. "You go shirtless unless under immediate, life-threatening attack by greasy foodstuffs."
Coming up from behind, Ryan wrapped his arms around his lover's waist, pressing tightly against him from behind. He nuzzled playfully against his ear. "Yes, sir."
"Mmm," Seth hummed contentedly, leaning back fractionally as he carefully flipped the bacon. "As comfortable as this is, Ry," and he paused, cocking his head to add suspense, "the bacon is done."
Lifting the pan from the stove, Seth turned and nudged two slices each onto two plates where they cuddled, still sizzling, against scrambled eggs that had gone cold long before. "Hmm," the boy grunted, nudging the luke-warm eggs dejectedly. "Must time things better next time."
"Yeah, we must. `Cause we have class in about fifteen minutes," Ryan informed Seth, glancing pointedly at the clock above the stove. Sure enough, very little time remained to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
"Well I think we can miss the first few minutes, don't you?" Seth had turned to face Ryan and, smiling coyly, held a plate in each hand. He leaned forward, and Ryan met him halfway in a kiss that normally would have brought them each sighing lovingly.
As it was, this kiss lasted only a few seconds.
They pulled back, each trying to conceal an unpleasant grimace.
"Morning breath?" Seth asked.
"Morning breath." Ryan nodded.
. . . To Be Continued Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for your correspondence. - Witness1
Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for your correspondence.