Hunting in the Darkness (Chapter 1)
Cold, steady rain battered the lone traveler as his black horse stomped along the dirt road that had been traveled over by so many others before him. The horse shook its head irritably, earning a reassuring pat from his rider. It had been raining the whole day, and traveling in it was less than enjoyable for the animal, but it put up with it for his master.
A large crow perched on the traveler's shoulder, feathers far too damp to fly around as he normally did. A large white wolf walked next to the horse and it's passengers, panting lightly from walking all day. All were tired, but there was nowhere dry that they could stop at the moment, so on they trudged.
The wolf's head suddenly jerked up as she began to sniff the air. She gave an excited yip, staring directly in front of them. The traveler squinted his eyes, just barely able to make out the outlines of a small village through the rain. It seems they finally had a place to get out of the rain.
"Good girl, Moonlight," the traveler praised lightly.
The horse began to trot faster, desperate to get out of the rain.
"Easy Zephyr, we want to get there without you slipping in the mud," the hooded figure soothed, pulling back on the reigns.
Zephyr snorted, obviously displeased, but slowed back down to his initial pace.
A while later, they had reached the village. The few villagers that were moving around outside stopped and stared at the newcomer, dumbfounded by his appearance and the company he kept. Any that had been in the road moved back to the side, letting him pass. Their eyes traveled over him, but they all ended on the wolf that walked next to him and the crow that rested on his shoulder. They had never seen anyone that could tame a wolf or a crow, much less have both as companions.
The man looked around under his hood, trying to find a suitable place to rest. A tavern to his left caught his eye and he pushed Zephyr to move towards it. The tavern, named the Silver Steer, was two stories tall, rooms for overnight patrons on the second floor and equipped with stables in the back for their horses.
The traveler finally dismounted Zephyr and walked him over to the stables. He placed his steed in an open stable and removed the saddle, removing the unneeded weight from his horse's back. He patted the horse's nose, smiling gently.
"There you go Zephyr, nice and dry."
He looked over to the crow on his shoulder.
"Go on Renu, go find somewhere to sleep."
Renu hopped from his shoulder to a perch near Zephyr's stable, shaking his feathers. The traveler smiled and walked towards the tavern, indicating that Moonlight should follow him. The wolf obediently walked next to her master, tail wagging slightly.
The traveler saw a stable boy and fished a gold coin from his pocket. He handed it to the young man, pointing to his horse.
"Make sure he gets food and water."
The stable boy nodded quickly, eyes fixed upon the coin.
Walking into the bar, the traveler finally pulled back his hood. He ran his hands through his black hair and looked around, blue eyes flashing. Seeing the owner of the bar, he walked over to order a meal and a room. The man enthusiastically accepted two gold coins from the stranger, asking whom to make the room out to.
The bar owner froze, staring at his new guest. "Azrael? Azrael the Dark Hunter?"
Azrael smirked, "Exactly."
The owner stared at Azrael, stuttering as he handed him a key. Azrael walked away, headed towards an open table. The owner finally saw Moonlight as they walked away.
"Um, Mister Azrael, we don't allow animals..."
Azrael turned back to stare at the man, eyes glinting dangerously.
The owner quieted down immediately.
"Never mind," he squeaked.
Azrael turned back around and continued walking with Moonlight at his side.
The meal had been delivered quickly, along with a few slabs of meat for Moonlight, who ate the meal very quickly, leaving nothing on the plates except for the bones.
Azrael sat back in his chair and sipped his ale slowly, eyes scanning the room. There were few people there, and even those who were there seemed to keep to themselves. There was no fighting, no singing, not even a solitary conversation could be heard.
Azrael waved down a passing barmaid, who looked like she was ready to bolt for the door.
"Tell me miss, is there something going around in this town?"
The woman fiddled with her apron, extremely agitated.
"We've had a large number of killings lately, all focusing around young children. Everyone here thinks its some kind of demon, but we can't seem to catch it. We've had priests, necromancers, and even a few exorcists come around, but none of them did any good!"
Azrael listened to the young woman's story, mulling over the facts. Taking his silence as a sign to leave, the woman walked away very quickly.
Azrael finally stood to go to his rented room and was followed closely by Moonlight.
The room itself was very standard, but the bed was comfortable at least. As he set his bags down, Azrael pulled out a set of loose clothing and set it on the bed.
"Go ahead Moonlight," he sighed as he tuned back to his packs, ensuring he had everything.
A low growl turned into a feminine sigh, indicating that Moonlight had returned to her human form. He waited a few moments before turning back around, giving the female werewolf enough time to put on the supplied clothes.
"Finally, I'm able to stretch fully," Moon sighed.
Azrael turned to look at the young woman who had appeared behind him. Her hair had remained a snowy white and her eyes were the same exotic gold color of a normal wolf's. Her skin was pale and flawless, stretched evenly over her thin yet muscular body. There was no doubt that she was beautiful. Moon slowly walked up to Azrael, running her finger down his chest.
"You could have let me ride with you," she purred.
"You know Zephyr hates having you on his back," he retorted.
Moon pouted her lips, turning away from him. She always liked to play these games with him, acting as if he had wronged her by making her act like a wolf until they were alone. But even she had to admit she liked being a wolf more than she enjoyed being human.
Azrael moved around Moon and lay back on the bed. He stared at the ceiling thoughtfully as Moon continued to pace around.
"Did you smell anything while we were entering town," he inquired.
"Yeah, I smelled a lot of blood had been spilt recently," Moon replied, "Do you think it's because of a demon?"
"A lesser demon, probably an imp or a changeling."
"But if that's true, then why did all of the other attempts to be rid of it fail?"
Azrael laughed, shaking his head mirthlessly.
"The people they hired were nothing more than imposters, not even believing in what they were supposed to be killing. That's how they always fail: they can speak the words but they do not follow them."
Moon sat down next to Azrael, resting her chin on her knees.
"So what are you going to do?"
Azrael turned away, yawning.
"I guess I should offer my services and see if they're willing to hear me out. But that can all wait for tomorrow."
Moon finally lay down and snuggled against Azrael's back.
"Moonlight, you know we've talked about this," he reprimanded tiredly.
Moon didn't move away, but he could hear her whimper lightly. He sighed and turned over until he was facing her. Her eyes were already filled with tears, threatening to break out in another second or so.
"All right, just this once," he conceded.
Moon's eyes light up and she rested her head against him, falling asleep almost immediately. Azrael sighed, knowing this was going to become a nightly event.
"I'm too damned soft," he murmured.
He looked down at the sleeping werewolf, a smile playing at the corners of his lips.
"Oh well," he sighed, finally letting sleep take him.
He was going to need his rest before going on the hunt.