Darcy didn’t begin to suspect that anything was wrong until the third day on the job. Hunting monsters had never exactly been easy money, but she and Jane had been doing it for so long that Darcy forgot what it was like when a job went truly sideways.
From the start, it seemed like an average contract—strange and scary things started happening in a small town, townspeople freaked out, townspeople found a (mostly) innocent person to scapegoat—and the guy who hired them was too genuinely nice to be pulling some kind of con. And while Jane may have been too entranced by the guy’s abs to make an unbiased evaluation of the situation, Darcy’s bullshit detector had no equal. To be fair to Jane, though, even Darcy had to admit that Thor’s abs were extremely impressive.
All that aside, his concern that his little brother might be wrongly accused and driven out of their community was so palpable that Jane and Darcy accepted the contract on the spot and booked a flight to Norway the next day.
The first night was fine. Jane and Darcy were jet lagged as hell but still able to drag themselves to the only inn in town, where they rented two rooms for the duration of the contract (Jane was attempting to hide her desire to get in Thor’s pants as a sudden and unprecedented need for space, but Darcy wasn’t buying it). Darcy barely took the time to unpack her meager toiletries—she left the silver bullets, holy water, and emergency potions securely tucked away in the false bottom of her luggage—before heading out to join Jane and Thor in the pub for dinner.
When she finally collapsed into bed, exhausted, she had horrible, restless dreams all night. She woke up the next morning, drained, with the ghost of a crushing weight on her chest. Rubbing at the spot, feeling as if a bruise was forming, Darcy attributed the strangeness to lingering jet lag and a desperate need for caffeine. She paused only for a moment at the mirror, looking at the deep, dark bruises under her eyes in mild consternation. Should’ve brought more concealer, Darce.
On her way out the door, Darcy’s eyes caught on the items scattered across the vanity. Hmm, that’s strange—she would’ve sworn that they were in a different order when she laid them out the day before. Shaking her head, Darcy wrote it off as a flight of fancy and went on her way.
The second day and night went much like the first; Jane and Darcy split up to subtly investigate suspicious activity in the town, and Darcy became more and more perturbed by what she heard. Apparently, several people had had heart attacks in the middle of the night over the past few months, a few too many to just be coincidence. At least several more had literally disappeared in the middle of the night, with no clue as to where they had gone. The townsfolk were adamant that they hadn’t left voluntarily—cars, clothes, and belongings were all still at home, and entire families had been left behind without warning.
Suspicion and paranoia were percolating, as they often did in situations like these, swelling into a wave of fear and hate that would find some unlucky sod to target. Apparently, in this case that scapegoat was likely to be Thor’s little brother.
Darcy and Jane would have to move quickly, before irreparable damage was done.
As she headed back to the pub to meet Jane and Thor for dinner, Darcy mused that it did indeed sound like some kind of supernatural creature was wreaking havoc on the town. Unfortunately, she was still at a loss for what kind—the vague descriptions she had gathered from the townspeople could fit any number of monsters she and Jane dealt with on a regular basis, not to mention the ones specific to this area of the world. Hopefully Jane had fared better.
Jane had not, in fact, fared any better. That was patently clear from the fact that Darcy’s best friend was currently engaged in a rousing sing-off with her fair-haired beau, which seemed well on its way to…yep, definitely ending in a drunken makeout.
Rolling her eyes fondly at the pair, Darcy moved to claim a table at the edge of the crowd. As she sat, Darcy felt the press of someone’s gaze and sat up to her full (modest) height. Taking her time, she nonchalantly cast her eyes about this room, searching for her unknown spectator.
As soon as her eyes landed on the man lounging in a chair by the fire, Darcy wondered how she ever could have missed him. He certainly wasn’t going out of his way to hide the direction of his gaze, and he smirked at her when their eyes met. With dark hair and a disdainful tilt of his chin, he looked nothing like the rest of the townspeople she had met so far.
Because of the distance and the reflection of the flames dancing in his eyes, she couldn’t tell if they were green or blue. There was no disguising the smug tilt of his mouth, though, especially as it was directed straight at her in a blatant challenge. Darcy allowed herself a smug look in return, and he sat up a bit straighter in his chair in response. She had a moment to wonder if he would abandon the distance between them and approach her, but then Jane was at the table, slightly drunk and glowing.
Swaying as she sat down, Jane leaned too close and shouted, “Thor’s getting us drinks!”
Darcy chuckled and leaned back in her seat, eardrums already aching from Jane’s lack of volume control. “That’s great, Janie, thanks. Did you find out anything good today?”
Jane shakes her head, then nods vigorously, then see-saws her hand in a so-so motion. “Umm—”
Snorting at her best friend, Darcy takes a different approach. Best to keep it simple. “Any word on how Thor’s brother is holding up under all the suspicion?”
Jane looked at her, wide-eyed and puzzled. “You were the one just having intense eye sex with him, Darcy, so you tell me. I thought you’d already ‘met,’ the way you were looking at each other.” She waggled her eyebrows outrageously, drawing a laugh out of Darcy.
“You’re the only one getting any action on this trip, Janie,” Darcy teased. Humming thoughtfully, she added, “I could see why he’d be the one everyone blames around here, though. He doesn’t exactly…fit in.”
Jane nodded sagely in agreement. “It’s always the outsiders who get blamed, isn’t it?” She and Darcy exchanged a glance, empathetic to Loki’s plight; they’d been on the receiving end of townspeople’s misplaced blame more than once in the past, and it was always unpleasant. Darcy turned back to where he was sitting, but Loki was gone.
Thor came back with their mead at that moment and conversation turned to lighter topics. Darcy let go of thoughts about his brother, but every now and then she swore she could feel eyes on her, watching and assessing.
That night passed much like the one before, and Darcy began to suspect that her nightmares possibly had something to do with whatever was haunting the town. She suffered no other effects than lingering exhaustion and a lingering heaviness in her chest, though, so she continued on with her day, planning to look into it later.
In hindsight, perhaps Jane and Darcy should have questioned the details of the supernatural goings-on a bit more extensively before making the trip. That way, Darcy might have been slightly more prepared to wake up to a ghoulish creature perched on her chest in the middle of the night.
As it was, Darcy was not prepared in the least. She woke abruptly, limbs paralyzed and pressed to the bed. Her mouth still worked, though, and she let out an earsplitting shriek, loud enough to bring the inn down around her ears. The vaguely woman-like creature bore down on her, glowing red eyes moving so close they drowned everything else out.
Whatever she was, she wasn’t human. She was old, powerful, and clearly hated Darcy with a fiery passion.
Darcy had just enough time to reflect on the embarrassment of dying in bed in a foreign country, alone, before her ears were filled with a thunderous clanging. The ghoul screamed in pain and frustration and clambered off of her, scrambling to the far corner of the room.
Limbs mobile again, Darcy propped herself up on her elbows just in time to see the creature turn itself to mist. A silver knife flew past, embedding itself directly into the wood where the creature had stood half a second earlier.
Loki stood in the doorway, one hand gripping some kind of bell while the other was still outstretched from throwing the knife.
Darcy blinked, and then he was rushing toward her. He grabbed her hand, dragging her the rest of the way out of bed, and they fled the bedroom at a run.
Well, Darcy thought to herself, this job just got a whole lot more interesting.