The air vibrated as if the nightclub was a living, breathing entity.. Some of the clubbers breathlessly grasped at their dance partners. Others threw their heads back in ecstasy. The night was almost over, but no one was ready to stop.
Claudia sat at a booth, catching her breath. She leaned back and politely averted her eyes from the couple crawling all over each other in the seat across from her. It wasn’t an unusual sight in Arcadia. The nightclub ignited more passion in people than any other club Claudia had visited. A kind of passion that kept her coming back for more.
Lights danced on the walls and on the floor, but there never seem to be a source. Same went for the multi-colored smoke clouding the dance floor and catching on everyone’s clothes. No one ever questioned it. No one ever questioned Arcadia. In fact, the few times that Claudia brought up Arcadia outside of the nightclub, she would be given strange looks and halting answers before a change a subject.
It wasn’t strange, when she really thought about it. The local clubs were notorious for having people pass around acid. The dealers there had to be remarkably discreet, though, since she had never seen any of them.
The music lowered to a less ear-ringing volume. “Ladies and gentleman, last call at the bar. Come on, there’s still time to get a little wilder.” The DJ grinned at the cheers and whoops from the crowd. A few of them broke away from the dance floor. “Hey, come on,” he insisted over the mic. “I don’t want any of you all to come whining to me when Josh turns you away. Get your last drink and get back. We’ll still be here.”
By the time the DJ turned the music back up, the dance floor was half empty, and the bar was crowded.
The DJ scanned past the people on the dance floor and zeroed in on Claudia. His golden eyes could only be work of contacts. His black hair faded into red at the tips and was spiked into a faux hawk. All in all, he wasn’t the most unusual person she had seen since moving to New Jersey, but there was certainly something strange about him.
He quirked his lips in a half smile and raised his drink toward her, displaying one forearm crowded with colorful tattoos that disappeared into the rolled-up sleeve of his black hoodie. She returned the smile and raised her glass back at him. They had only spoken on a few occasions, and she knew his name was Robbie, and that was about it. But it had become a weird sort of tradition between the two of them that he would find her in the regular weekend crowd long enough to make some kind of knowing eye contact.
She wasn’t sure if he was flirting or what, but he never pursued her.
Figuring she could do with one last drink, Claudia set her empty glass down and started across the dance floor, weaving through the clubbers and shaking her head at those who tried to pull her in. Everyone liked each other there. There were no strangers in Arcadia until they walked out the door.
Pa-thump, pa-thump, pa-thump.
Claudia slowed and looked at the shut front doors. The sound came from there, but how could she have heard it over the music? The sound didn’t stop. If anything, it pounded louder. She froze halfway across the dance floor and looked around for someone to share a confused expression with, but no one noticed. How could they not hear it?
Pa-thump, pa-THUMP, PA-THUMP.
The music cut off. Claudia whirled to look at the DJ booth on the stage. Robbie stood there with wide eyes and parted lips, staring at the door even as the weekend crowd protested about being denied their musical elixir. The party lights shut off, replaced with the fluorescents overhead, and the colorful smoke faded into nothing. The DJ stayed rigid as a statue for a second before staggering backward and raising both hands like he wasn’t sure what to do with them.
Claudia saw him mouth the word “no” before an ear-splitting screech drowned out the complaints.
No one reacted except Robbie, who went absolutely pale.
She followed his gaze to the door and regretted looking. Her heart felt as though it decided to pump ice instead of blood.
The thing standing in front of the doors didn’t remain in one place for long. It roared again, and charged. Hoofbeats thundered against the ground. As Claudia shrieked and scrambled to clear herself from its path, she got a better look at it than she would have ever wanted to.
Thick layers of red muscle covered its body instead of skin. It was a man an a horse joined together; the man’s waist merged at the horse’s back, its too-long arms sweeping near to the floor as the horse’s head bobbed with its gallop. Both of the monster’s roaring mouths displayed sets of razor-sharp teeth.
The man part of the monster didn’t take its eyes away from the DJ booth. It threw both of its claw-tipped hands out, barrelling through the crowd. Screams exploded into the air. Blood poured onto the smooth wooden floor. People raced for the door in mass panic, only to become the next victims of the claws that they couldn’t even seem to see.
Claudia squeezed her eyes shut and made it to the edge of the dance floor before pain erupted at her side. Hacking out a cry of pain, she sank down and dragged herself beneath the nearest table, clutching the claw marks over her ribs. Breathless sobs flared the pain until she was sure she would pass out. Her spotty vision still allowed her plenty of view to the terror before her. Those at the bar had been lucky enough to be out of the monster’s path and were pushing past each other to escape the building. Others were bleeding and crawling toward the door. Others weren’t moving at all.
But no one would look at the monster.
Peering out as far as she dared, Claudia dug her phone out of her pocket, but her fingers were slick with blood. The monster’s guttural voice came to her over the terrified sounds of the clubbers, but she couldn’t understand the language it spoke in. Robbie stood with his back against the wall, his eyes unmistakably fixed on the monster.
The beast raised one of its long arms over the DJ booth and roared something at the same time that Robbie threw his own hand out and yelled something too.
A flash of blinding light overpowered the fluorescents before faded out just as suddenly. Claudia blinked hard, eyes adjusting.
Robbie was gone. Vanished behind the booth.
As for the beast, it shrieked and reared back on its hind legs, fading like the glow of headlights on a distant car. In a matter of moments, the monster disappeared completely with only the sobs and blood of the writhing victims left as a sign that it had been there at all. Claudia’s head dropped, but she raised it back up, forcing herself to focus while everything else in her wanted to slip away.
She dialed with shaking fingers and laid on her good side, holding the phone up to her ear.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“You sure this is the right place?”
“Arcadia,” Dean read from the cursive sign above the door. “That’s the name that the paper gave us.”
Sam frowned at the almost-empty street through the windshield and the back window from Dean’s shoulder. Dean had no trouble parallel parking right in front of the nightclub doors. “You’re sure?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, Sammy, I’m sure,” Dean said, his voice at a near growl from his exasperation.
Refusing to show Dean the intimidation that threatened to surface, Sam kept his voice even. “Don’t you find it weird that people died here last night and this place isn’t crawling with cops? Doesn’t even look like it’s marked as a crime scene.” Sam peered through the far-side passenger window, keeping a constant eye out for pedestrians. “Even the cops at the station didn’t sound concerned. Like it’s a normal Sunday. Maybe we should have gone to the hospital so you could talk to some survivors.”
Dean was quiet for a second. “It’s not that weird, when you think about it.”
Sam turned incredulously, but it was impossible to get a good look at Dean’s face from his shoulder. “What about any of this isn’t weird? That a dozen people dropped dead and another dozen were injured, or that no one seems care that it happened?”
“I mean sure, it’s a little weird,” Dean said, clearly humoring Sam. “But if the cops aren’t worried, why should we be? Sounds to me like they’ve got it under control if they’re not freaking out over this. Probably just some freak plowing people down with a machete. I say we turn around and find ourselves a different gig.”
Struck silent, Sam didn’t speak up until Dean reached to turn the key in the ignition.
“Are you kidding me?” Sam huffed, unsure what to make of Dean’s nonchalance, but certain it had something to do with everyone else acting indifferent as well. “A few minutes ago you couldn’t get to this place fast enough! Come on, we should at least take a look inside.” If there was one advantage to an unfazed police department, it had to be easy access to a crime scene.
Dean groaned and leaned back in the driver’s seat, the rattling movement nearly knocking Sam from his perch. He dropped to a crouch and gripped handfuls of the thick fabric of Dean’s collar. “Sorry,” Dean muttered, though far less apologetic than usual when it came to jostling his little brother by accident. “You sure you want to go in there? Looks like a waste of time to me.”
A pit of worry opened in Sam’s gut. His brother wasn’t acting like himself at all, but Sam himself was unaffected by whatever made Dean act like that. Now they had to get to the bottom of this.
“Do you have an appointment somewhere I don’t know about?” Sam groused, irritation mingling with his concern. “We’ve got time to waste. It won’t hurt to take a look.”
Sam was almost certain that Dean would argue further, but his big brother just sighed and reluctantly gave in. Minutes later, Sam was hidden within the front pocket of Dean’s jacket in case there was anyone inside the nightclub despite its seemingly abandoned exterior. The world juddered and shook as Dean exited the Impala and slammed the door behind him.
Meanwhile, Sam’s heart and mind raced with uncertainties. Dean’s change of behavior happened so fast, and it was terrifying to think about being in reach of a human whose actions weren’t the ones that Sam had gotten used to. He could only hope there would be some answers inside the building. If not, there were always victims Dean could meet with, through Sam wasn’t sure how he could convince his brother to drive to the neighborhood hospital when he had just put up a fuss about walking into a building mere feet away.
The rocking movement of Dean’s gait paused and then resumed. His footsteps changed from a surface of concrete to hardwood. Given how quickly Dean got inside, the door hadn’t even been locked. Stranger and stranger.
Breathless, Robbie leaned against one leg of the DJ booth, waiting for the human that entered Arcadia to turn around and leave like the others after the bodies, blood, and survivors, had been cleared away.
The space under the DJ booth didn’t give him enough room to stand, but he wasn’t in the mood for standing anyway. The glamour he cast on Arcadia didn’t leave him in the mood to do much of anything. As if being shrunk down to his natural height wasn’t bad enough, it took a toll on his powers.
The night before was by far the most hellish one Robbie had experience in centuries. He always knew that Nuckelavee would come back to get him one day, but not now. Not like this. Robbie though there would be more warning signs, more opportunity to prepare when the time came. He pursed his lips, the memory of the gutted victims all too fresh in his mind. So many familiar faces, either dead or filled with agony because of a monster that had only wanted him. Last night’s attack was the closest thing he would get to a warning sign, he supposed.
A deep voice rumbled from somewhere within the club.
Pushing away from the wall beneath the booth, Robbie dared to move closer to the edge and peer out from under the shadows. Beyond the stage, a massive pair of boots strode across the dance floor to the tables. Robbie swallowed hard and looked down to gather himself. What was he doing, being afraid of a human? It was more troubling that the human was still there at all. He should have turned tail the moment he walked through the door, indifferent to the incident of last night.
Unless Robbie’s glamour was dwindling too much to even manage that anymore.
He shook his head. The glamour, even weaker than normal, was still going strong enough to ward away investigators from sticking their noses where they shouldn’t. They wouldn’t comprehend what was going on here if Robbie let them go on like it was a normal investigation. The only thing they could accomplish was getting killed.
The human’s rumbling voice filled the air again.
“What kind of crime scene is this clean anyway?” He sounded like he was arguing with someone, but he was the only one there. “I say this isn’t our type of thing.”
Robbie leaned out further. The human had both hands down at his sides, so he couldn’t be holding a cellphone. Too curious to be cautious, Robbie poked his head out from under the DJ booth to get a better look at the human, who stood about twenty feet away by the tables. Intimidation squirmed into his nerves, but Robbie stifled it. Maybe it was the fact that Robbie hadn’t stood from that perspective for a few decades, but this human looked especially tall.
“Fine,” the human grumbled, turning his head to face the other line of tables and confirming that he wasn’t wearing a bluetooth in either ear. So he was talking to no one.
Great, Robbie thought with a roll of his eyes. We got a weirdie, folks.
“If you wanna take a look around, be my guest,” the human went on with a defeated sigh. He turned to the door with an air of caution before holding his hand up to his collar.
“Ah,” Robbie breathed in realization when he saw what the human had in his hand when he pulled it away from his shoulder. It was hard to discern the details from the distance, but it was unmistakably a tiny person. By then, Robbie was leaning out more than halfway from under the booth. His first thought was that Nuckelavee had taken another victim, but that made no sense.
All boasting intended, Robbie was the only person who could enter Nuckelavee’s crosshairs and make it out alive.
Robbie knew there were tiny people out there, living in hiding from humans. This one just wasn’t doing a very good job. All of that aside, Robbie supposed that the glamour didn’t affect the smaller person like it did humans--which would explain why the tall guy was so reluctant. I still got it, then, Robbie thought in relief. But he knew he didn’t have the strength to send a specialized wave of glamour to affect the tiny person.
If it was another fae, then the whole situation was royally screwed. Chances were, Nuckelavee put a bounty on Robbie’s ass the moment the beast had come back to life.
The human shook the floor as he moved across to the other tables, the expression on his face making it clear that he’d rather be anywhere else. However, the giant stopped in his tracks suddenly and frowned at his hand.
Robbie’s eyes darted to the tiny person, bristling in alarm when he saw they were facing him. A heartbeat later, the human’s enormous gaze whirled to the DJ booth. Robbie felt the glamour spell on the human shatter the moment those large eyes zeroed in on him.
“Fuck,” Robbie uttered, scrambling back for cover.
The ground rattled with earthquake-like tremors. “Yeah, I saw something,” the human said, all lethargy gone from his voice and replaced with baffled determination.
Heart hammering, Robbie forced himself as far into the corner beneath the booth as he could. The shaking reached its peak and then stopped. Robbie wrinkled his nose and clamped a hand over his mouth when a sharp, vile scent filled the air.
The human carried the scent of pure iron somewhere on him, and it took Robbie only a split second to realize it meant this was no simple investigator with a weird tagalong tiny partner.
This was a hunter.