A little too busy with stuff!  Let’s see if I can manage to not have to edit this again. 😀  Rutilus contributed that last line by Jaden.  Comments would be welcome!  I see people reading and downloading the chapters. 😀  *Groan*  FOUND THE STUPID ERRORS.

PDF Format – October 18

 October 18th

It took several days to get Jaden and Charise out of the house for the evening. Maria gave them money and encouraged them to go have a date night between the two of them and watch a movie. They tried to talk Maria into making it a double date and bringing Cade along. She made an excuse that he was busy with work, and she also needed to get some things done. It was true.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade sat on his porch staring at the charred sections of his lawn. All the debris had been collected and discarded. The heavy smell of smoke and charred wood still covered his front yard. He had settled onto the porch with a couple of bottles of root beer to pass the time until night fell.

Several times kids came by and waved to him. Some of them came up and expressed their sadness about what had happened. A few even asked if he was okay.

For the kids, he smiled and let them know he would do an even better job next year. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but it would be better. Cade’s thoughts were more focused on Maria and what might happen that evening.

He was worried out of his mind, and there were parts of him screaming at him that there were other choices. He could suggest that Maria move, and he could follow her. It was a ridiculous notion, but at the moment, he wanted to do anything he could to protect Maria. His job was as mobile as hers was. He didn’t even need a job.

Cade didn’t want the only woman he had a chance of having a real relationship with, leaving him because of a moron who couldn’t take no for an answer.

Then again. This was Cade’s home. He had lived here for most of his life. He had memories of his father here, and he wanted to keep close to them. He had spent time with his extended family in Scotland as a child, but this was home. This was a safe place. People depended on him. A slow smile crept onto Cade’s face as he thought about his people. There was another plan if this one fell through. That one would be risky, but if he gave the order, everyone would stand by him. If they failed tonight, he would have no choice.

-=-=-=-=-

Maria waved to Jaden and Charise as they left to go out on their date. She looked through the blinds near the door. She saw Cade sitting on his porch, waving to Jaden and Charise as they walked to their little car. He looked her way, picked up his empty bottles, and went inside. She knew he was going to be sitting in his living room watching her on his laptop. She had helped him set up the account early that day.

Immediately after that, they had staged a fake fight for the benefit of the cameras. Cade had stormed out of the house. No words needed to be exchanged because the cameras did not have microphones. The ‘argument’ looked more heated than it actually was. Cade had suggested this action to counter what they had done that was likely caught on video. It would make the watcher think that Cade wasn’t likely to come back to the house anytime soon.

Maria already missed him. He had looked so sad and alone sitting on his porch. If it weren’t for Bryce, she would have joined him or asked him to join her. They could have gone out with Jaden and Charise on a real date. This was all so weird.

She wanted this over with so she could do normal dating things with Cade. The things she had not wanted anything to do with for over a year. She wanted to do them with him. She wanted to see what kinds of things he would plan. Maria felt like Cade would be so different from Bryce in that area. Cade would most likely plan things that were meant for both of them to enjoy, not just what he wanted to do. She wanted to know what he would do. It was such a simple dumb desire. What kind of things would Cade pick up on from her without her telling him?

Cade paid more attention to the details than he looked like he was. What had given him the notion to give her a sword? Sheer blind luck or an actual intuition into who she was? There were several ornate swords displayed on the wall of her bedroom. She had real useable longswords and armor in her closet. There were a lot of things in that closet that she didn’t display, so there was no way for him to have ever seen them.

Maria picked up her laptop and wandered to the back of the house. She had to look like she was spending an ordinary evening alone. There were some tv shows to watch while Maria waited. Something light and funny to take her mind off the risks she was taking. Cade would be watching, and she had left him a key to the front door.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade didn’t take his eyes off of the laptop once he had settled down into one of the couches in his front living room. It was vital for him to be as alert as possible. He would not waste a moment in getting over to Maria’s house.

The anticipation of something happening was intense. Each passing moment was torture.

-=-=-=-=-

The electricity went out, plunging the neighborhood into darkness.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade froze. This couldn’t be a coincidence. He tossed the laptop aside and got to his feet, heading for Maria’s house.

-=-=-=-=-

Maria felt her chest tighten as the living room was plunged into darkness. “Good evening, Butter Cup.” His smug voice called to her from somewhere in the dark room. Maria froze in place, trying to figure out where he was. He was close. “You and I need to have a little chat. You’ve been cheatin’ on me with that stick next door. I can forgive you for that. I am very forgivin’.”

“Leave me alone, Bryce!” Maria shakily got to her feet and removed a small dagger from a strap just below her pant leg. She had concealed it for this very reason.  She backed up against the wall, her eyes fixed on the shadows.

“Don’t be that way. I love you.”

“You don’t beat people you love!” Maria screamed into the darkness as something moved toward her. She lashed out with the dagger and hit something hard. The blade glanced off of armor plating. Bryce had come prepared.

“Come on, Maria. I am not going to hurt you ever again. I promise.”

“Maria!” There was a thudding sound coming from the front of the house as Cade’s voice rang through the darkness.

“You two didn’t think this through very well, did you?” Bryce laughed, and Maria saw a glimpse of movement. “You gave him a key, but keys don’t work on deadbolts locked from the inside, do they?”

Maria groaned, realizing she had hit the lock out of habit, without thinking. She struck out with the dagger again as hard as she could, uttering a short phrase. A blast of flame engulfed the blade. It blazed, and Maria was rewarded with a glimpse of Bryce’s startled face as the fire flared out at him. He yelped and staggered backward. The ignited blade hit his arm and sliced through his armor.

The sound of breaking glass came from the front of Maria’s house. It was followed by heavy footsteps coming her way. Bryce glanced in the direction of the sound. He had come prepared to grab Maria, not fight. He turned and with a growl, lunged at her.

Maria stumbled over a chair and fell to the floor as Cade entered the room.

Cade charged at Bryce, guided by the light of the fire lingering on his arm. Bryce was distracted by the same flames. For a brief moment, he panicked and found them more important than Cade or Maria. Cade slammed into him with his full weight. Both men smashed into a coffee table, sending wood splintering everywhere. Bryce shouted something, and Cade was thrown across the room by an unseen force. He crashed into the far wall and fell to the ground, momentarily stunned.

Bryce turned away, thinking that Cade was down and walked toward Maria. Cade picked himself up and recovered far faster than Bryce expected.

Cade tackled Bryce from the back and knocked him past Maria, who was trying to scramble out of the way. Bryce began to realize that even with his armor, something was off about the situation, and he needed to get out. There were dents in the plating, and a few of them were digging into his sides. How was this man so strong?

“Get off of me!” Bryce punched Cade in the face, giving him enough room to get to his feet and run. Cade staggered back, shook his head, and looked up in time to see Bryce pass through the wall in a flicker of light. He vanished. He stared after him with a dazed look on his face. That man had walked through a wall without damaging it.

Bryce was a Hunter. Cade’s legs felt weak. He had only seen a Hunter once in his life, and that was the day they had taken his father from him. He began breathing hard as panic set in. The sense of being a small frightened boy hit him.

Maria ran to him and threw her arms around his body, feeling over him to see if he was injured. “Cadeyrn? Cadeyrn?” Maria called his name and sighed. She was going to have to explain what happened and she wasn’t sure if he could handle it. “Are you okay?” She reached up and touched his face. His eyes were locked on the wall.

“How did he do that, Maria?” He swallowed his fears and stared down at Maria. He could barely see her in the darkness. He had to hear it from her.

“I don’t know if you’ll believe me, Cade.” She was caressing his face now, trying to calm him down. She chose her words with care, continuing the gentle motion. “Bryce hunts things for the government. Dangerous things that shouldn’t exist.”

“Like what?” Cade began shaking again. He knew exactly what she was going to say.

“Vampires. Werewolves. Monsters.” Maria kept it simple. She didn’t need to go into detail. “You saw him go through that wall. I knew he could do some things, but I didn’t know he could do that.” She gestured to the wall.

“How do you sleep at night knowing things like that exist?” Cade was still panicking inside. He had to ask questions like he didn’t know any of this already. She wasn’t going into detail, so it was likely she wasn’t one of them. They would keep the details vague when talking to an ordinary human.

“They are rare. I’ve never seen one.” Maria stood in front of Cade, both hands on his face now. She could feel blood on her fingertips.

“Then how do you know they exist, and he isn’t lying?”

“I’ve seen pictures. Want to see them?”

“I don’t know how I feel about this.” Cade wiped a hand over his nose and grumbled. Bryce had punched him in the face and hit the side of his nose. It wasn’t broken, but it was bleeding freely. “I’m getting blood on everything.”

”Let’s see if we can find our way to the bathroom or somewhere I can get something to stop the bleeding. There’s a lantern in there.” Maria took his arm, and they slowly made their way to the bathroom.  “You’re taking this really well.”

 

-=-=-=-=-

Cade was not taking it well. He was holding up a good front and playing the part of a dumb human while his mind whirled with confusion and shock. Maria had helped clean him up by the light of an emergency lantern in the bathroom. He had enjoyed the tender attention to his injuries. They were minor, but there were a lot of them, and he was going to have to let them heal on their own.

There were many small lacerations from breaking the window to get inside. Cade had a huge bruise forming on the left side of his face near the cut Maria had given him. The knuckles on both of his hands were busted open and bleeding.

Cade couldn’t help but be proud and impressed by what he had done. He had punched armor plating and felt it bend within his grasp. He had gotten into a fistfight with an Arcadian Hunter and survived. That was no small feat. He took further gratification that this was his weakest form. Hunter armor wasn’t as tough as rumors said.

The electricity came back on after half an hour. Maria took Cade up to her studio and brought out a small packet of photos. She handed it to him and let him look through them. Cade curiously opened it and started going through the pictures. The first one was the body of a Lycean wolf in hybrid form that had been shot in the head. Cade winced, then flipped to another.

The second photo had that grinning moron lifting the head of a Lycean lion also in hybrid form off the ground. The head was still attached to the body, but the eyes were open and staring. The tongue lolled out lifelessly. Cade’s stomach churned. It was a much smaller female. He could see the light spots on her shoulders that indicated she wasn’t even a teenager. A harmless child. The image of a terrified child trying to get away from a heavily armored hunter broke into Cade’s mind. Lycean children were like any other child. Yes. They could turn into whatever animal their bloodline tied them to, but they were children. Frightened children being gunned down by someone who they had no chance against. He shoved the rest photos back into the envelope and handed them back to Maria.

“I can’t look at those.” He got up, and wobbly headed to the bathroom he knew was next to the studio.

“Yeah. I don’t look at these. Found them in my things. I should burn them.” Maria turned the envelope over in her hands, thoughtfully. She had run across them and tossed them aside, meaning to get rid of them. They weren’t pleasant photos. She winced, hearing Cade throwing up in the bathroom. She had never been particularly fond of the things Bryce did. She did not share the glee he took in taking down creatures that weren’t actually a danger to anyone. Bryce was outright cruel, justifying it because they had to die to save innocent people. Cade’s reaction was more appropriate.

-=-=-=-=-

Bryce scowled as he checked the damaged plating on his arm. This was why he had to be careful about approaching Maria. Her ability to set things on fire was astonishing. His armor should have protected him, but there was a six-inch gouge of melted plating. She had managed to burn his arm as well. He grumbled and began removing the plate. He was sitting in a nearby hotel room where he and a trio of friends were staying. It was an excellent place to hide out while they figured out how to get Maria into Bryce’s clutches.

He needed a better idea. Better cover. It would be a good idea to lay low and let them worry for awhile. Halloween night would offer the best opportunity. The streets would be full of people out with their kids trick or treating. Bryce would be able to work under that cover. He could figure out a way to get a strong sedative into Maria to render her incapable of fighting back. Bryce tugged at one of his armored plates and grumbled. There was a massive dent in it where Cade had hit him. There were smears of blood on the plating.

This was interesting. Bryce smiled and went to retrieve a blood collection kit from his gear. Maria’s neighbor was not what he looked like. A normal man wouldn’t be able to scratch his armor. However, a Lycean, even in human form, could do damage like this. There was plenty of blood smeared on his armor to test.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade was quiet and kept his mouth shut. He and Maria were sitting at the kitchen table. He was going to need to talk to his mother, but he couldn’t leave Maria alone. She had brought a hunter into their midst. No. HE had brought a hunter into their midst when he let her buy her house. He could not have known. She checked out in the system as a normal human with an unaltered birth certificate and records. She had a complete and full history without any gaps. It wasn’t her fault a hunter decided he wanted her for a wife. None of this was her fault.

Now, what could be done about him? Cade had never killed anyone in his life. He had no desire to take another man’s life, even one as awful as Bryce. He needed to speak to his mother! She would be able to help. There had to be a way that he was overlooking. He tilted his head to look at Maria. She was sitting quietly across from him, staring at her hands. He wanted to tell her that everything would be okay. He fought back those words as others came to mind. He loved her. He would never leave her. He wanted to protect her and be there for her. The words repeated, but he couldn’t say them.

“Maria. What are ye going to do against a man who can walk through walls and kills monsters for a living?”

“This is why I have to leave.” Maria continued staring at her hands. Tears began streaming down her face as she lost all control. “You were right.” Maria couldn’t look up at him. She was angry and embarrassed. She had been foolish to try to stay. Their plan had been stupid. They had not considered that Bryce would out-think them and cut the power, so there would be no proof. Now Cade had cuts all over his body because of her. What would happen the next time Bryce came back? He was going to come armed.

Cade got up and stood behind Maria. He wrapped her in a tight hug, resting his chin on her shoulder. He had made a decision, and he chose his words carefully. “Give me several days, Maria. I know some people.” He muttered. “People who know alchemy.” Maria tensed up at the word.
“You.” Maria turned, giving him a baffled look. “You know? You were pretending to not know?”

“I know people.” Cade didn’t want to look her in the eye. “Not me. Do not ask me any questions about it. Let’s keep those involved safer than we’ve managed to keep ourselves.” He kept things as vague as he could and hoped she would not dig. “I want ye to be able to stay here. He found ye once. He can do it again, and I doubt he’s going to give ye warning the next time.”

Maria nodded. Wow. Cade was full of surprises. He had tested her to see what she knew before revealing his own cards. The thought was a little unsettling, but this whole other world was not a nice one. Saying the wrong things could get a person killed. Being vague was always the best approach.

“I’ll get yer window replaced tomorrow. We better go clean up that glass before Jaden and Charise get home.” Cade sighed. “What are we going to tell them happened?”

“I don’t want to worry them.” Maria got up to find something to help Cade.

“Pretty sure they’re going to notice that hole is Cade sized.” He chuckled, finding that a little humorous.

“I got it. Sword accident. They’ll believe that!” Maria laughed, and the two exchanged conspiratorial grins.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade made a few phone calls to friends to discreetly watch Maria’s house and his own. They were to pass on a message to everyone else in the neighborhood that a Hunter had been sighted. He gave them Bryce’s description. This was a community-wide concern, and everyone needed to be vigilant. He would talk to his mother in the morning.

He helped Maria board up the broken window. Then they settled into one of the comfortable couches in the living room to wait for Jaden and Charise to get home. They were too uncomfortable to talk and sat in silence. Eventually, Cade got tired of the quiet and reached out for Maria. The moment he touched her, she made a sniffling sound and turned to curl up next to him. She had been waiting for him to invite her closer.

That was how Jaden and Charise found them when they got home hours later. Cade left soon after they arrived. The couple had stared at Cade. He had numerous cuts and bandages on his face along with the bruise. Maria excused herself to go to bed and headed up the stairs. She didn’t reach the top.

“What happened in here?!” Charise shrieked from the den. “Maria?! What did you and Cade DO tonight?!”

“Interesting relationship you two have!” Jaden’s voice joined Charise’s.

Maria groaned and turned around. They had forgotten about cleaning up the second living area. She was either going to have to tell Charise and Jaden the truth or let their imaginations run wild. She wasn’t sure which one was more horrifying.