Hunters prayer, p.27
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       Hunter's Prayer, p.27

           Lilith Saintcrow
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  I’d suspected, of course. A Trader known for slaving showing up in the Monde when I’d blown all his other boltholes, Perry trailing me before he should have known I was in serious danger, his warning that his protection might only extend so far—which by itself would have meant nothing, since he liked to pretend he knew everything going on in the city. But with everything else, it added up to a pretty picture.

  A damning picture. Not to mention him finding her with a minimum of fuss, and her only showing up with a black eye and tender ribs.

  Just to make it look good.

  I continued, surer of myself now. My arms and legs stopped shaking. “She crossed you, didn’t she. They moved into town and I was kept busy chasing my tail on other cases, but you didn’t know Inez’s big plan was to have me in the starring role when her lord and master came calling. That’s also why you intervened when it came to Elizondo, he was a bit player but you couldn’t have him talking to me.” I swallowed dryly. “How much, Perry? How much did you lose on the deal?”

  Another shrug. “Money. Only money.” His tone told me he was lying. He’d lost something else too.

  And I had a pretty good idea of what that something else was. “Belisa played me like a fiddle. And she played you, too.”

  “The cat was supposed to be with you,” he informed me, flatly. “When the wendigo was allowed out. You were not the beast’s target.”

  That’s why they were in a holding pattern. Only I sent Saul away; they couldn’t have known I would do that. My skin went cold, flushed hot. “But nobody expected us to be searching for a witness down on Broadway.” We were supposed to be out there canvassing the street scene for clues about missing hookers, not meeting with a witness.

  Oh, Christ. And once Saul was gone, was I supposed to turn to Perry for solace? Fat fucking chance.

  Belisa had probably told him to wait, to bide his time and she’d take care of Saul. She had maybe even set the wendigo free the second and third time—not guessing that the creature, balked and hurt when it came for Saul the first time and Cecilia the second, would fixate on me. Hard to get much coherence out of a thing built only for appetite and destruction.

  Though the silver chain around its neck had been broken. Maybe the wendigo had broken free on its own. I didn’t know. I would probably never know.

  So Perry had been waiting, not just watching over me but waiting for the assassination of my lover to step in and take his cut of the whole rotten deal. And once I had bloodied my hands cleaning up the expendable bits of their operation, Belisa had to have guessed I wouldn’t take kindly to Perry moving on me. That I would, to some extent, identify Perry with the men I’d just killed.

  And with the man I’d killed before I ever became a hunter.

  She had only to wait until the ticking bomb inside my head went off. Belisa had applied the pressure neatly, and if Perry hadn’t been so all-fired eager to use his newfound psychological leverage on me himself I might have been a little less likely to shoot him in the head.

  It was so neat, so perfect, that I began to laugh. I leaned against the door to his little chamber of horrors and chuckled. I damn near guffawed.

  No hellbreed likes to be laughed at. But Perry suffered it, static crawling over the TV screens, while I fought for breath, tears running down my cheeks.

  “You poor bastard,” I finally wheezed, hanging onto the door, wiping at my cheeks with the back of my left hand. “You poor silly bastard.”

  He twitched, and I jerked the gun up out of the holster. His hand clapped around mine, shoving it back in; he leaned into me. The door creaked, Perry pressed his body against mine, and I could feel he was shaking.

  And he had a hard-on. A quite respectable one, as such things went. Shoved right up against me.

  Well, at least now we know he’s generally built like a human. Hellbreed usually are, but reserve judgment, Jill, he could have something else in there entirely. Like his tongue.

  The scar went white-hot. Desire spilled hot through me, my legs turning weak; his breath was hot on my lips. It smelled of dry hot desert winds and spoiled boiling honey. At least it wasn’t the clotted reek of the Nameless.

  The devil I know, at least. Be careful, Jill. Oh, God, be careful—Saul’s right outside.

  “Do not,” he breathed against my skin, “make the mistake of thinking you can treat me like I’m human. You made a bargain with me.”

  He was strong, wiry-strong. I went limp, not even trying to fight, staring unblinking into his blue eyes. They were human, maybe a little too human, except for the hellbreed sheen to them and the spreading indigo stain. And the far points of distant light in the very center of his pupils. A remote, shimmering spark, of no color I could have identified.

  The static twisting behind him came up to twin high points, combing the air.

  My throat wouldn’t let me speak, so I whispered. “You broke the bargain when you sold me out.”

  “Then I will make you a new one. I will leave the cat alive, and you may play with him all you wish. But you will give me your time as always, Kiss.”

  The pinpricks in his pupils revolved, swelled. I stared through them, the scar thundering on my wrist, pulsing in time to my heartbeat. Heat curled through me, down low.

  Whore, I heard in the furthest-back reaches of my memory, from the dead time before I’d been a hunter. You whore. Spread your legs for anyone, won’t you.

  Not anymore, the hunter’s voice of steel replied. I found my physical voice, a raw, cranky whisper. “No deal, Perry.”

  Then I brought my knee up, swift and sharp. He avoided the blow, but I shoved him while he shifted his weight and he let himself be toppled over. He sprawled on the plush carpet, and the gun left the holster in one smooth oiled movement. Slender, silver-coated bullets, and his head would explode just like Inez’s. And I wouldn’t just count on one shot to do it, either. Not now. I would fill him full of silverjacket lead and when he was down I’d hack off his head with one of the knives I carried. Then, just to be sure, I’d smash a few bottles of liquor and set his carcass ablaze; and with enough etheric force spilling through the scar I could burn this whole place down.

  That is, if the scar was still a conduit for a hellbreed’s power after he was dead.

  He leaned back against the carpet on his elbows, looking up at me, one eyebrow slightly raised. “Fun and games, Kiss? Go ahead. Pull the trigger. Show me how far you’ve come.”

  The gun trembled. Judge, jury, executioner. Playing God.

  Downstairs there was a clatter, and a loud swearing. Riverson. The sound brushed my ears, not as acute as they would be if I’d stripped the cuff off. Still, I heard it, and the red haze over my vision cleared. My heart pounded in my ears.

  I reached over with my left hand, unsnapped the cuff. Slid it off, and fresh strength flowed through my veins. My skin turned exquisitely sensitive, brushed with the chill air and my clothes, hot and confining. The leather crumpled in my hot sweating palm, creaking slightly.

  Perry took in a small avid sip of air, tensing.

  My right hand tightened. The hammer rose, clicked into the up position. I stared into those blue, scorching, mad, inhuman hellbreed eyes and temptation dried my mouth, made my hand shake. My pulse roared in my ears. The low grumbling sound of Helletong rattled through the building, the hellbreed on the first floor conversing.

  Mikhail’s voice rose again in my memory, swirling and trembling. It was a good memory, of his gruff voice in English and my own lighter tone repeating each line of the prayer.

  Cover me with Thy shield, and with my sword may Thy righteousness be brought to earth, to keep Thy children safe. Let me be the defense of the weak and the protector of the innocent, the righter of wrongs and the giver of charity. In Thy name and with Thy blessing, I go forth to cleanse the night.

  I stuffed the scrap of leather in my pocket. “I’m going on vacation, Perry. When I come back, I’m not visiting. When I need you, I’ll call. And if you ‘arrange’ for an
ything to happen to Saul, I’ll put a bullet through my own fucking head and spoil all your pretty plans for me. So you’d better take real good care where you drop your quiet words.”

  His face froze. I could almost feel the air pressure shift. “Sooner or later you will come to me.” He said it quietly, as I groped behind me for the doorknob with my sweating, suddenly clumsy left hand.

  I felt the smile sink into my face, my lips pulling back from my teeth. “Hold your breath until I call, hellbreed.” My fingers closed around its slick roundness. My right hand quivered, but I managed to ease the hammer down with my thumb. The big muscles on the front of my thighs were shaking too.

  “You can’t escape it.” His voice rose as I backed out, my foot seeking behind me for the first step, finding it. Lowering me down. I backed up another two steps, swung the door closed. “Come back and kill me or walk away now, it’s all the same.” His shout rattled the door as I pushed it closed. The click of the latch catching seemed very loud. “I will have you, hunter! I will have you!”

  “Not today,” I muttered, and made it down the stairs without having to stop. It helped to be going down.

  I pushed the iron door open, stepped out. Slammed it behind me. Leaned against it for a moment, studying the room.

  Riverson stared at me. The hellbreed, all frozen, stared at me. One of the night bouncers, leaning against the bar for a quick drink before going on duty, stared at me.

  All eyes on you, Jilly.

  I walked across the Monde Nuit with my head high, the heels of my third-best steel-toed boots clicking against the floor. The boots would need hard use before they were as soft and comfy as my favorite pair. I was going to have to figure out a better way to get blood out of boot leather.

  “Kiss. Kismet.” It was Riverson, out from behind the bar. Nobody made a move to help him as he stumbled for me, his hands out. As if he was truly blind, and not more capable of finding his way around—at least in here—than anyone else.

  I didn’t stop, didn’t slow down. But he reached me anyway, and grabbed my coat sleeve. “Kismet.”

  “Fuck off.” I didn’t have breath or energy to waste on him. I had to get out of here.

  He grabbed my hand, shoved something into it. A box, a small cardboard box like they have for jewelry. “Goddamn you.” His fingers bit into my sleeve. “Take it and go, you fucking bitch. Take it and go if you know what’s good for you. Don’t ever fucking come back here.”

  Oh, God, I can kill you now if you push me. Don’t push me. “Fuck off, Riverson.”

  “These are yours,” he insisted. “Fucking take them, or he’ll destroy them. And for the love of God, don’t come back.”

  He let go of my sleeve, and I made myself keep walking. My fingers crumpled the edges of the box, I felt the harshness of some kind of ribbon. What kind of present would Riverson give me?

  These are yours. Take them or he’ll destroy them.

  That was a laugh. How much more could Perry take or destroy?

  Nothing but what you let him, Jill. It’s that goddamn simple.

  I was past the bar and four steps away from the door when I heard shattering glass and a screech of inhuman rage from above. The air turned hot and tight, but I didn’t pause, and nobody moved on me.

  Outside, I stepped past the day bouncer. The parking lot was filling up, and the sun was sinking. The sky was fantastic, crimson and gold, indigo moving in from the east. Night’s dawning, ready to spread over the vault of heaven.

  I stopped, looked down at the box. It was wrapped with a piece of silvery ribbon that slid off because I had crushed it. But I felt a familiar tingle in my fingers, and tore the top of the box off.

  There, sitting on a cushion of white padding, was a silver glimmer. Mikhail’s ring. And tangled around it, the supple silver necklace and the chunk of carved ruby, glowing and pulsing with its own inner light.

  The gem that Mikhail had held as he pulled me out of Hell, and the ring he had given me when he accepted me as an apprentice. Both shining with their own inner light here, at the edge of the brackish pond of hellbreed energy.

  My eyes filled with tears. I fitted the ring on my left third finger, clutched the necklace, and dropped the box. Looked up.

  My orange Impala was parked in the fire lane, like the good girl she was. The engine was running, and Saul had lit a Charvil. I made it to the passenger’s side on unsteady legs and dropped into my seat with a sigh. Slammed the door. Locked it.

  Saul said nothing.

  I rubbed at the top of my right wrist. There was a paler patch of flesh where the cuff had protected and softened the skin, a bracelet of weakness. The marks from the Sorrows’ chains had healed over.

  The ruby glowed up at me. My fingers fumbled with the clasp of the necklace, the ruby settled right in the hollow of my throat. Home again, home again, Jill Kismet.

  Pulled out of Hell.

  Who was holding the line this time?

  Jesus. Jesus Christ.

  If Perry had planned to give them to me, why did Riverson have them? Had he filched them from his master? I always stopped at the bar first; did Perry think it would soften my mood to have the blind man present me with my own jewelry?

  Take them or he’ll destroy them.

  Saul’s profile was even, serene. He watched the door of the Monde, the Charvil dangling from his left-hand fingers, his other hand on the wheel.

  I found my voice. The ruby warmed against my skin, settling into its familiar tingling readiness. “Ready to go, baby?”

  He tossed the cigarette, touched the wheel with both hands, his fingertips gentle as if he was stroking my back. “Born ready, kitten. You?”

  “Get us the fuck out of town, catkin.” I swallowed roughly, closed my eyes. Felt Saul shift into first. “Let’s not stop for a few hundred miles.”

  “You got it.” The Impala slid forward, he cut the wheel, and as we pulled out of the Monde’s wide broad lot, he slammed on the gas and left a respectable streak of smoking rubber. I slumped in the passenger seat, and didn’t open my eyes until we hit the freeway.


  Arkeus: A roaming corruptor escaped from Hell.

  Banefire: A cleansing sorcerous flame.

  Black Mist: A roaming psychic contagion; a symbiotic parasite inhabiting the host’s nervous system and bloodstream.

  Chutsharak: Chaldean obscenity, loosely translated as “oh, fuck.”

  Demon: Term loosely used to designate any nonhuman predator with sorcerous ability or a connection to Hell.

  Exorcism: Tearing loose a psychic parasite from its host.

  Hellbreed: Blanket term for a wide array of demons, half-demons, or other species escaped or sent from Hell.

  Hellfire: The spectrum of sorcerous flame employed by hellbreed for a variety of uses.

  Hunter: A trained human who keeps the balance between the nightside and regular humans; extrahuman law enforcement.

  Imdarak: Shadowy former race who drove the Elder Gods from the physical plane, also called the Lords of the Trees.

  Martindale Squad: The FBI division responsible for tracking nightside crime across state lines and at the federal level, mostly staffed with hunters and Weres.

  Middle Way: Worshippers of Chaos, Middle Way adepts are usually sociopathic and sorcerous loners. Occasionally covens of Middle Way adepts will come together to control a territory or for a specific purpose.

  Neophym: A Sorrow between an Acolyte and a Terephym/Mother in rank. Females go on from Neophym to become Mothers and Grand Mothers; males never reach higher than Terephym (soldier-drone) rank.

  OtherSight/Sight: Second sight, the ability to see sorcerous energy. Can also mean precognition.

  Possessor: An insubstantial, low-class demon specializing in occupying and controlling humans; the prime reason for exorcists.

  Scurf: Also called nosferatim, a semi-psychic viral infection responsible for legends of blood-hungry corpses, vampires, or nosferatu. Also, someone infected by the s
curf virus.

  Sorrow: A worshipper of the Chaldean Elder Gods.

  Sorrows House: A House inhabited by Sorrows, with a vault for invocation or evocation of Elder Gods.

  Sorrows Mother: A high-ranking female of a Sorrows House.

  Talyn: A hellbreed, higher in rank than an arkeus or Possessor, usually insubstantial due to the nature of the physical world.

  Trader: A human who makes a “deal” with a hellbreed, usually for worldly gain or power.

  Utt’huruk: A bird-headed demon.

  Were: Blanket term for several species who shapeshift into animal (for example, cougar, wolf, or spider) or half-animal (wererat or khentauri) form.


  meet the author

  LILITH SAINTCROW was born in New Mexico, bounced around the world as an Air Force brat, and fell in love with writing when she was ten years old. She currently lives in Vancouver, Washington with three children and a houseful of cats. Find her on the Internet at


  If you enjoyed HUNTER’S PRAYER,

  look out for


  Book 3 of the Jill Kismet series

  by Lilith Saintcrow

  Right before dawn a hush falls over Santa Luz. The things that live and prey in the dark are either searching for a burrow to spend the day in, or for one last little snack. The closer to dawn, the harder the fight, hunters say. Predators get desperate as the sun, that great enemy of all darkness, walks closer to the rim of dawn.

  Which explains why I was flat on my back, again, with hellbreed-strong fingers cutting off my air and my head ringing like someone had set off dynamite inside it. Sparks spat from silver charms tied in my hair, blessed moon’s metal reacting to something inimical. The Trader hissed as he squeezed, fingers sinking into my throat and the flat shine of the dusted lying over his eyes as they narrowed, forked tongue flickering past the broken yellowed stubs of his teeth.

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