Sorry it’s been so long! My spring semesters are always fuller than my fall or January ones. Especially towards the end.
Anyway, as a reward for everyone being so patient, I’ve decided to release a story set within the same universe as the previous one and with the same characters. That’s right! We’re returning to the world of the Modern Monster Hunters! This time we get to see more of the cultures of this world and the prejudices that arise from living in a world where some monsters can look and speak like humans.
Check out the first Modern Monster Hunter story here: Killing the Dead
As always, please leave constructive commentary, talk about what you like in the comments section, and spread this to all your friends and social media pals! Hopefully I’ll be a bit more active over the summer and as a special treat, I’ll put up some trivia tomorrow. Thank you all and I hope you enjoy the story!
Getting Ahead in the Business
“I’m pleased to have received such a rapid response to my request.”
Mika did not like Mr. Curram. She didn’t like many people but she especially didn’t like the gang leader she and her team had agreed to meet with for a job. Gang leaders commonly employed Hunters to protect their settlements for a time or to eliminate the monster guarding a particular resource spot they wanted.
Ingred, the tall blond “muscle” of the team, always objected to working for the shadier side of the law, but she still lent her pistol-axe and shotgun-shield to the jobs when they took them. Martyn would do any job for enough cash, cutting down monsters, humans, and part-humans equally with his twin rifle-swords. Quinn made sure they never took any job without first considering all factors and ensuring his projectile launcher was fully stocked. Mika usually just went along with whatever the group decided, she trusted Quinn’s judgement and rarely let her feelings get in the way of the job.
However, Mr. Curram was a satyr, and while it might seem racist, Mika didn’t very much care for satyrs or other part-humans. Satyrs especially made her uneasy, with their short stature, hairy goat legs, mischievous smile, and curling horns. Even worse, they originated in Greece, where some of the nastiest monsters come from.
She also didn’t like his office. Lacquered wood furniture, gold and jade ornaments decorating nearly every surface, and too many incense sticks burning left Mika wishing she could teleport to a Hunter’s lodge deep in the woods of the Free Tribes. Why did the Fustang and Chinese high class always feel the need to stuff their rooms with incense?
“Well we happened to be in the area when the job was posted,” one of her teammates, Martyn, said flashing his “winning” smile, “and 60,000 gelders is just too much to not at least hear you out.”
With his bright blue eyes and exuberantly extroverted personality, Martyn was the de facto “talker” of their four-man team.
“Splendid,” Mr. Curram said, a small bleat creeping into the word. “Please take a seat and let’s discuss the specifics.”
He gestured to the four seats set in front of his desk. Mika quickly shared a glance with Quinn and they promptly claimed two chairs right next to each other. Martyn and Ingred took the remaining two. Mika shifted in her seat till she could just see the two serpentine naga standing guard at the only door in or out. Sometimes she felt the west coast was a bit too welcoming.
“As you may or may not know,” Mr. Curram began as soon as they were seated, “my various enterprises have had their efficiency disrupted by attacks from various business rivals. Attempts have, of course, been made in the past, but recent efforts have become disturbingly effective and far too frequent for comfort.”
“Sounds like you’ve got a mole,” Quinn remarked matter-of-factly.
Mika cared little for Fustang gang politics, or politics in general. It was nothing more than a web of lies, backstabbing, and promises faker than fast food. She knew Quinn felt the same way, but he had to put on a façade of caring to appease some clients. Thankfully, as one of the Silent People, Mika was under no such obligation.
“Indeed,” Mr. Curram growled. “Luckily, we’ve been able to identify the filthy traitor.”
“Then why do you need us?” Ingred asked. “Surely you could…eliminate him yourself without the law coming down on you.”
Mr. Curram glared at the guards who shifted nervously on their tails. “We would have, but he learned of our intentions and vacated his apartment. He’s been on the move ever since and has stayed carefully in the most public routes or in my rivals’ territories. Since I’ll pay you in cash, no one will be able to trace you four back to me. Thus, you may slay the dirty shifter wherever you please. I only request you bring me his head as proof.”
A shifter? That could cause trouble. Shifter clans were notoriously protective of their members and only allowed their people to be killed if they had been excommunicated, if it had been an accident, or if they had gone wendigo.
“We’re gonna need some legal protection if you want us to kill a shifter,” Martyn said, his smile actually slipping just a bit.
“Of course,” Mr. Curram said nonchalantly, pulling out a stack of papers from his desk. “I can pay off the police if they send officers after you, and as you can see, your target was kicked out of the Coyote Clan years ago.”
He tossed the papers onto the desk for them to see. Mika memorized the man’s face. Like all shifters, it was mostly human but misshapen around the mouth, nose, and cheeks. The form was a document of excommunication. The stylized canine stamped in the corner and the scrawling signature of the clan leader was proof enough of that.
Mika stole a glance at Quinn. He was deep in thought, but not about the possible fallout of murdering a shifter. He was formulating a plan, one in which the shifter clans didn’t matter. Quinn had a wide range of thinking faces, but only Mika could distinguish the subtle differences between each one.
“You don’t have to agree to do it or sign some silly contract,” Mr. Curram said flippantly. “You need only bring me this filth’s head before any other Hunters and I’ll pay you. If you don’t, then I swear there will be no consequences.”
“We can’t do this,” Ingred said firmly. “It’s murder, petty murder at that. The only reason he wants this guy dead is to make himself feel important and maintain his tough guy image.”
After getting the shifter’s last known location, Mika and her team had walked out of the pagoda-style skyscraper and straight to the local Hunter’s lodge. They hadn’t spoken of the job until safely within their room.
Mika wasn’t happy. Not because of the job or the quality of the room, soundproof and perfectly maintained to Hunter guild standards. She was disappointed that the only room available at the lodge was this four-person one. She would have greatly preferred to have a room just for herself and Quinn. Maybe they could find one of those “specialty hotels” later. Granted those were more Japanese, but Fustang had become more than just Chinese since it gained independence.
“Yeah, but all that dough!” Martyn countered, sitting on the edge of his bed. “60,000 gelders! That’s more than double what we get from some cities. Besides, this guy isn’t some innocent civilian. It’ll just be a little bit of paid vigilante justice.”
“It’s still murder, and none of our business. Mr. Curram gave us an out and I say we take it.”
Martyn laughed. “You think he’ll actually honor that promise? Not a chance. We won’t be able to come within a mile of the city walls without getting shot at.”
Mika cleared her throat quietly. Everyone went silent and turned to her. She locked eyes with Quinn, who’d been deep in thought since Mr. Curram’s office. The two of them had a quick and silent conversation. They shared a smirk.
“I might have a few contacts up at the local university…” he began.
The target ducked into a back alley. He’d seen the Hunter with their compound weapons walking toward him and didn’t want to take any chances. Luckily, he knew this part of the city like the back of his hand, sometimes the back of his paw.
He sniffed the air before turning another corner. His nose wasn’t nearly as good in this form—all scrunched up against his face—but it was still superior to nearly any full human. Something wasn’t right with the air here today, a little too clean. Didn’t matter, he could shake one Hunter long enough to reach his safehouse, then he’d just take the sewer tunnels for a mile and surface near the airport. Finally, he’d get to leave this city.
Reaching another turn, he sniffed the air again. He froze. Too many smells were coming in. His nose couldn’t identify any of them quick enough. The Hunter must have laid scent traps in the alleys. Hair began growing out along his spinal cord as his heart rate sped up.
The target turned around to go back the way he’d come and his pulse nearly stopped. He was now standing face to face with a Native Vespucian woman, her black hair pulled into a bun and tanned face painted with combat markings.
He leapt back, landing on all fours as the bones in his arms and legs shifted position, turning his bulky human appendages into lean, canine limbs. The woman didn’t even flinch. She stood straight, muscles taut and ready to grab one of the many knives and daggers strapped to her skintight, black leather outfit. No, not black—a very, very dark blue. This wasn’t the same Hunter he’d seen walking toward him on the street. That one had pale skin and was far more muscular. So, either these two were working with each other or against each other. He hoped it was the latter.
“Curram send you?” the target asked, his mouth still humanoid and able to speak. “Whatever he’s paying you, it isn’t worth it. I guarantee.”
The woman remained silent, looking at him with an almost bored expression. Her only movement was a few quick taps of the fingertips on one hand to her thumb. The target’s blood ran cold and more hair sprouted from his pores. That wasn’t a typical Hunter hand signal, only the Silent People used sign language that subtle.
He turned and bolted, going full canine. Messing with one of the Silent People was scary enough, but that hand signal meant she had friends. Hopefully, only the one Hunter he’d seen earlier.
The scent trap burned his now fully canine nose, but he ignored it. He just had to get to the safehouse. After this cross-junction, he’d take the next right and be one step closer to free.
Suddenly, a figure dropped from a fire escape and landed in the alley the target was aiming for. This Hunter had two rifle-swords strapped to his belt.
Skidding to a stop, the target turned left at the cross-junction to detour into the main road. Surely, they wouldn’t murder him in full public view.
Before he even made it into the alley however, another Hunter stepped from the shadows to block his path. This one carried a large, gun-like contraption connected to a hefty backpack through an ammo tube.
The target spun around to flee down the only remaining alley of the cross-section and found that it too was blocked. This time, it was the Hunter from the street that he’d gone into the alleys to avoid.
He was surrounded. Could he turn the Hunters against each other? No, they’d obviously planned this as a team. The Silent One hadn’t listened to his bartering, but maybe the others would.
“Don’t even try haggling us,” the one with two swords teased. “We’re gonna get much more money than your old boss thinks we will.”
“Martyn,” the woman with the axe snapped, “Shush.”
“Why?” Martyn countered. “No one’s around to hear.”
The one with the gun and backpack cleared his throat to get their attention. Then he spoke to the target. “Are you going to come quietly? Or are we gonna have to do this the hard way?”
The target growled. The time for negotiating was over. He would rather die fighting than die by whatever torture Mr. Curram had cooked up. He leapt at the one they called Martyn, teeth bared. There was no way he could win a fight, but if he stunned the Hunter for long enough he might be able to get away.
The flats of Martyn’s blades sandwiched the target’s head hard. He dropped to the ground and lay there in a daze, trying to stop the ringing in his skull. He yelped as something small and sharp stabbed his thigh, but he couldn’t get up.
Drowsiness overtook him in seconds. The last thing he saw before blacking out was the pale, female Hunter’s axe raised high.
“Splendidly done, my friends!” Mr. Curram bleated, gazing at the severed head as if it were a Solstice present. “This looks good enough to mount. In fact, I think I’ll do just that! You’ve more than earned the reward money.”
“Thank you, sir,” Quinn said. Only Mika could tell he felt queasy about seeing someone gush like this about a severed head. Martyn was hiding his disgust by looking at paintings, and Ingred was very plainly green and frowning.
While she had seen worse, Mika was also glad once they all finally left the pagoda-skyscraper with their money.
“Can we gloat now?” Martyn asked after a block or two.
Quinn smirked and pulled out two more bundles of cash, bringing their total profit to 185,000 gelders. “With gusto.”
“A police bounty, critical info on a crime lord, and a mission,” Ingred summed up. “And not a single death.”
“Indeed,” Quinn said, head high. “It’s good to have friends with an organ printer.”
“I’m still impressed you can actually print a whole head with one of those.”
“It takes some serious coding, but it can be done.”
Police cruisers sped past them on the road, followed by SWAT vans and ambulances, all with their sirens blaring. The sound hurt Mika’s sensitive eardrums and she rubbed at them till the pain stopped.
“And there go our friends to arrest our other friends,” Martyn said. “So worth the backstabbing.”
“For once we agree about treachery,” Ingred mumbled, Mika was pretty sure only she heard the remark.
“Where to next?” Quinn asked, meeting Mika’s eyes. The silent conversation confirmed that wherever they went, she’d be having lots of fun with him. Great Spirit above, his cunning was sexy.
“Viva Las Vegas, baby!” Martyn cried.
“Only as long as you don’t end up blackout drunk in Azteca again,” Ingred said.
“That was one time!”