Taylor did order a drink: vodka, neat. She downed it quickly and pondered a second as her mind raced, not noticing the man who had watched her consume the liquor—impressed. Taylor placed a hand on her purse that sat on the bar in front of her, fingers sliding around until she was sure Julia was still safely tucked away. It was the foolish hunter who didn’t know where her gun was at all times. Any gun could work, but these were specially made for killing the demonic horde. Small silver rounds, low caliber and designed for speed and precision.
She clutched the purse close to her as she attempted to pay for her drink, but the usual bartender wouldn’t let her, knowing she was a close friend to Malcolm. She forced a smile and turned to head back down. Two young men passed her on the steps, but she barely noticed them eyeing her. The music from the downstairs club was filling her ears now, drowning everything else out. One thing Raven had said really stuck out to her, burn off some steam. There would be plenty of time to get shot at and stabbed later.
Her feet were already moving more to the beat than they were walking when she was in the hallway. Bright lights of all colors flooded the room and were reflected off of large mirrors that lined the walls. There were three different raised platforms in the room, one for the bar and two dance floors that lit up on the bottom, similar to an old disco. So many bodies moved in front of her, each up all night to live, to dream, to get lucky, or to forget, like she was. No matter what the reason, she moved into the crowd on the first dance floor and blended into it with no problem. The strap of her purse was placed around her neck, putting her arm through to let it rest against her hip. From that point her hands raised and her body moved with a smile of red lips. Her similarly colored hair moved in waves as she glided from song-to song, forgetting the rest of the world while the music played.
Taylor wasn’t sure how long she had been dancing, how much time had passed since she left Malcolm’s office. She didn’t care. She had dropped her guard a little too much though. Taylor was focused on enjoying herself and letting go of everything else that she hadn’t seen Paige slip in and begin dancing beside her.
Paige smirked playfully when she was sure Taylor saw her. Taylor’s nearly-startled reaction almost cost a guy dancing to her right an accidental elbow, but she pulled back.
“Shit,” Taylor said under her breath.
“Hey!” Paige shouted her hello over the music, “fancy seeing you here.”
Fancy indeed. It wasn’t hard to figure that this is one of the places Taylor would have gone to get out of the apartment, and since she hadn’t returned Paige’s call, here she was. Taylor wasn’t sure if she wanted to congratulate her friend on preservation or chalk this up to creepy stalker skills. Either way, Aspect was suddenly a place she didn’t want to be anymore.
Paige was still dancing, eyes fixed on Taylor as she waited for a response.
“Hey,” she said almost pitifully. “I was just getting ready to leave.”
“Oh? Cool. I’ll come with you. No fun if you aren’t here.”
Both girls winced at the line for different reasons. Taylor decided that no matter what happened, it was best to take this conversation somewhere a little bit quieter. She brushed past Paige gently, continuing to slide between the other dancers in the club as she made her way to the door. Paige was behind her, and for a split second she was sure that she could break into a run and disappear before the other girl could finish exiting the club. That was stupid. This was her friend. Taylor told herself that she was being stupid and now was as good a time as any to go ahead and deal with this. She fought a demon earlier tonight for crying out loud. How hard could a conversation be?
“So, where are we going, back to your place?”
Taylor bit her tongue slightly and turned to face Paige.
“What are you doing here?”
“What, what do you mean?”
“I mean,” Taylor paused, already starting to doubt this idea. “Look, I should have called you back, but something came up.”
“It’s okay. I know you have your own stuff going on. I understand space,” Paige added reassuringly.
Taylor felt something about to fly on the tip of her tongue and quickly reeled it back in.
“Paige, did you come down here because you wanted to talk to me?”
“Of course, we haven’t hung out in forever.”
Taylor watched her friend smile but now she was sure. She shook her head.
“I mean talk. I mean we haven’t talked since what happened last time.”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Taylor.” Paige tried to assure her, “I just wanted to hang out with my bestie.”
Paige’s grin grew in a genuine nature, which for some reason that she couldn’t explain to herself only made Taylor’s anger grow. She was about to say what was really on her mind in a rather loud tone, until she realized just how many people were standing outside the club and around the other bars that could have heard her.
She grabbed Paige’s wrist, perhaps a little harder than she meant to, and pulled her down the alleyway between the club and aged brick of the downtown office building. She placed her hands on Paige’s shoulders and gave her a very serious look before finally spitting it out.
“You shouldn’t have done that. It was way out of line and-and just not what I expected.”
There was a pause. Neither girl moved, but rather just stared at one another. Taylor broke the silence and turned her head first.
“And don’t try to do it again as an answer.”
“I wasn’t,” Paige argued defensively. “You freaked out on me last time, remember? Then you wouldn’t return any of my phone calls left me cr-,” she stopped herself. “I just wanted to hang out with you tonight, spend some time with my friend. You know, like normal?”
Taylor dropped her hands and rolled her eyes.
Paige turned sideways, folding her arms together underneath her chest as she tried to look away, but her gaze fell back on Taylor.
“I’m sorry,” Taylor said softly. “I shouldn’t have ignored you.”
“You should be,” Paige answered, attempting to be angry.
“I didn’t know what to say,” she said sincerely, “Thanks and all? I appreciate it, a welcomed surprise, but no thanks?”
“Probably would have worked better than freaking out.”
“I didn’t freak out,” Taylor protested, putting air quotes around the last two words. “You just caught me off guard.”
“I realized,” Paige said with a nod. “I could tell by how red your face got.”
Taylor’s face, and its returning redness, was telling Paige more than any number of words could. Her fists clenched and she counted backwards in her mind, attempting to calm herself. After a moment she realized that Paige was smiling at her.
“Alright,” Taylor told her friend. “I was-I am flattered, but that wasn’t cool.”
“Clearly,” Paige laughed. “I thought you were going to break my neck. I know you take self-defense classes but you treated me like a knife-wielding mugger or something.”
Taylor directed the conversation away from her abilities, hoping Paige hadn’t lingered too long on that one.
“Is this going to be a thing? Do we need to sit down and have a conversation about this, or can I just say thank you, but no thank you?”
Paige paused. Her smile faded. It was a moment before she responded.
“Nah, we’re good. As long as you don’t ignore me because of this,” Paige said with her eyes pleading to her friend.
“Of course not,” Taylor outstretched her arms, giving her friend a light hug. “Why did it take you so long to tell me? I didn’t know. It’s not like I was going to look at you as if you had two heads or something. I thought,” Taylor stopped herself, afraid she was about to put her foot in her mouth.
“It’s a long story I guess.” Paige returned the hug.
As the two were speaking they had heard the whistling down the alleyway. The tune was deep and pronounced as it filled the air with something that sounded old and slightly eerie. Both girls had ignored the song at first, continuing their conversation, but as they began to embrace in the hug it had become louder and a shadowy figure could now be seen at the end of the alleyway, the whistling continuing.
Taylor looked, her hug on Paige becoming almost a protective embrace now. The man at the end of the alleyway opposite of them was coming closer, but his face was obscured by shadow and a large wide-brimmed hat. The pale blue lights on the two hanging fixtures in the alleyway were dimming slightly. Taylor couldn’t make out much, but she thought what she could see of the man’s face was a devious smile.
“Paige,” Taylor addressed her sternly. “Go back inside and wait for me.”
“What? Why?” Paige asked before turning to face the man. “You know this guy? He kind of looks like a creep.” Paige whispered the last part, squinting to try and make out the mysterious figures facial features.
“Just trust me, will you,” Taylor asked as her hand released its loose hold on Paige and made a move for her purse.
“You aren’t in some kind of trouble are you?”
Paige didn’t need an answer to her question. She caught sight of Julia’s silver plating out of the corner of her eye, just before darkness enveloped them. Paige opened her mouth to yell something to her friend, but what came out was muffled and hoarse, the feeling of choking on the darkness overpowering her.
Taylor was more resistant and her eyes were quicker. The shadows that had attacked and shrouded around them were their own, leaping off of the brick wall and becoming thicker, drowning them out, bringing them further into the night. With one hand she raised Julia, the other pushing Paige roughly out of the alleyway.
Paige saw several flashes from the gun as bullets flew but the light the muzzle flashes generated were small and subdued, the shots barely making a sound. She stumbled backwards from the opening of the alleyway, seeing the shifting darkness as small strands of it reached towards her, attempting to pull Paige back in. She froze for a moment, feeling her heart pound and a thumping so loud between her ears that she thought it may have been more shots being fired.
She looked left first, then right. She needed to get her friend help from…whoever that was. Paige wasn’t thinking clearly, sure that he was a mugger, or perhaps a rapist. Things clicked for her just a little bit more though as people passed her by. She had opened her mouth to ask them for help, but her own emotions now drowned out her voice rather than the shadows. That was when Paige saw it though, no one else did. The realization that what was going on in the alleyway looked so much like a simply distorted darkness that it caught no one else’s eyes, even those that passed by her.
Paige paused as her heart tried to calm, staring into the blackness. Her face grew closer as she studied it. She couldn’t make out anything in there, but that was where her friend was. She reached a hand up and was ready to push her way through, no matter what.
The wall of darkness pushed and the shadows were torn through as Taylor pushed and ripped at the darkness. Her face was angry and there was scratches on her cheek and shoulder from what Paige thought must have been glass. Taylor quickly shoved Julia underneath her jacket so that no one else could see the weapon other than Paige.
“Walk, let’s go.”
Taylor grabbed her friends arm, just as hard as last time, but higher up and already in motion. Taylor’s pace was quick and her head was on a swivel.
“Just go, you have to trust me.”
“Wait,” Paige said, walking but trying to get her arm back, unsuccessfully. “Who was that? What was going on back there? What was with the stuff back there, I could barely breathe.”
Taylor shook her head as she pulled Paige, turning the corner abruptly as she tried to figure out if there was any chance of explaining away what just happened.
“Drugs,” she spit out, “crackhead or something I think.”
“Are you serious,” Paige almost yelled as they rounded another corner, she finally managed to get her arm free. “You are way too calm, and pushy. You know what is going on, you know more than I do at least.”
Taylor stopped walking for a moment and looked at her friend. She had known Paige for almost three years now, no matter how much she was rethinking her friend lately, she wasn’t stupid. The real question that Taylor needed to answer though: could she be trusted?
“I’ll explain everything I know,” Taylor said calmly, “once we are somewhere else, somewhere safe.”
“Are we in danger?” Paige’s question left her mouth gaped open slightly.
It was in that moment that Taylor realized why her mother was so strict, what the old man had warned her about, why she had so few friends. She had just put this innocent girl in danger and she had let the man who had seen them together get away.
“I’ll protect you,” was what she said out loud, while in her mind she cursed herself. She should have stayed and finished the job; killed the demon that had seen them together. She was angry at herself, but would it have really done any good? She needed to get Paige somewhere safe and get away from her, for Paige’s own good.
“I need to grab some things from my apartment first though. Come with me and then I’ll take you home, make sure your safe.” She meant what she said, even if she had to hunt down every demon in the city to make sure no one hurt her friend.
“Then you’ll explain what happened?”
“Yes, then we’ll talk. I promise.”
Paige nodded. Taylor took another moment to look around them. She didn’t like how long they had been stationary. She quickly planned a route to her apartment that was a few streets over and up the hill, moving them along as soon as she was sure which way was the best to go. Paige was oddly quiet as they walked, trying to make sense of everything. It worked out. Taylor had her own thinking to do as she realized how much she had messed up already tonight.
What finally did break the silence a block away from Taylor’s apartment surprised her.
“You’ve killed people, haven’t you? You didn’t hesitate to try and shoot that guy.”
Paige was just full of surprises these days.
“Did you make that black stuff appear?”
“Wow,” Taylor said, and couldn’t help but smile, “two hardballs. I thought we were going to wait?”
“How do you expect me to not ask? I’ve been thinking about it since-“
Taylor raised a hand, stopping Paige abruptly in her sentence.
Her building was in view from here, several windows still lit up and Mr. Linden out on the front patio smoking while he checked his phone, which was all normal. It was the SUV in the parking lot behind the building that bothered her. The vehicle was parked in an odd place, setup perfectly to keep an eye on both of the doors that residents used to get into the building. She ushered Paige to back up a little bit. That was when she saw the other one walking out from the alleyway on the far side of the old renovated hotel. Two people she had never seen before, both in all black looking for someone. She motioned Paige to stay buck and duck down behind the tall bushes of old home.
“This isn’t good.”
“What is it,” Paige asked.
“I think they’re here looking for me,” she said as she watched the one on foot, making sure he wouldn’t be able to spot them. “Getting into my apartment may be tougher than I thought.”
“You…want me to try and distract them?”
“Hell no,” Taylor said softly, snapping her head around. “Don’t do anything stupid like that.”
“Hell no,” Taylor said softly, snapping her head around. “Don’t do anything stupid like that.”
Taylor noticed that Paige wasn’t looking at her anymore. She thought that she was about to have to subdue her friend. Good intention lead to getting shot, at least, that was what the old man had told her. She followed Paige’s gaze though to the man that was on foot. He had been sniffing the air, and now he was knelt closer to the ground doing it. His face didn’t look like it had though, more animal like now with two sets of nostrils flaring, consuming air and information around him in what looked like a cross between scales and a snout. His eyes flashed a light gold as he looked up right at the two girls.
“Shit,” Paige uttered. “What do we do?”
Paige listened this time, pushing her feet against the pavement in her crouched position behind the bushes and bursting out into a full stride as she hit the sidewalk. Taylor took one last look at the beast that was staring her down, wondering what the best way to handle this was. She considered giving Paige time to run while she stayed, faced what would come, but a sense of fear or preservation, perhaps both, sent her running after her friend.
Taylor didn’t need to stay and watch to know what was about to happen next. The man with the nose would head to the SUV. With his ability and the advantage of a vehicle it wouldn’t be long before they would overtake her and Paige. She couldn’t risk an all out fight against two hellspawns and guarantee Paige’s safety, or maybe even her own. The devils seemed determined tonight. What if the one who could control shadows wasn’t far behind either? It was a time for tactics.
Paige was quick on her feet, but Taylor was quicker, and used to this.
“Keeping going,” she urged her friend as she caught up.
The two came to the four-way stop, both pausing for the slightest moment until Taylor saw the answer she had been looking for.
“This way,” she said taking off.
“Wait, really? We’re going in here?”
Paige asked her questions between gasps, trying to breathe as she slowed to a fast walk, but Taylor was committed. She sighed and turned her head slightly, just enough to see the headlights of a vehicle bouncing down the hilly roads not far behind her. Paige cussed as she ran through the back entrance of Temple Hill Cemetery.