Jamieson Cantrell swung around in his chair, his contemplation of the San Francisco skyline interrupted by the light tap at his office door.
“Sir?” His secretary poked her head into the room but kept the door firmly blocked with her body. “Your…ah…appointment is here.”
Cantrell hid his smile. If she knew just how futile her attempt was to bar the door from the creature at her back, she would run screaming into a custom-fitted straight jacket. Subconsciously though, he knew the primitive animal part of her brain was feeling the dread, the fear.
“Thank you, Miranda, and why don’t you take an early lunch.”
She stepped forward, her back to the door as it opened wide, a white-knuckled hand gripping the knob like a lifeline. When the man crossed the threshold, his head swiveled toward her, a low, feral growl rising. Miranda’s free hand shot to her throat, her eyes widening as he gave her a long, hungry look.
“That will be all, Miranda!” Cantrell snapped. Startled, she jerked her eyes to him as if coming out of a trance. Murmuring an apology, she darted from the room, nearly slamming the door in her haste to escape.
“Goddamn it, how many times do I have to beat it into you?”
“Forgive me, Master.” The creature bowed deeply, almost groveling. “She smelled so…” His voice rough and guttural, he hesitated for a moment as if his tongue couldn’t manage to form words. “It’s been long since I’ve eaten.”
Cantrell narrowed his eyes, glaring at the fiend standing before him. At the moment, if one didn’t look too closely, he appeared to be unremarkable, nothing more than an average man of medium build, with brown hair, brown eyes. Under the façade however, was a vicious, ravenous Hound, a bloodthirsty being of immense strength, with an uncanny ability to track anything alive. An aberration of the demonic Hellhound, trackers were able to change their appearance, allowing them to blend into whatever environment their tracking skills led them. With a sharp intelligence, they were even capable of rudimentary speech. They might have been the perfect weapon if not for the difficulty they had in thinking for themselves; if not controlled mercilessly, trackers quickly degenerated into the mindless savagery of their forebears.
“Humans,” Cantrell snarled, “are not part of your diet just yet. Do you understand me, Hound, or do I have to make a finer point here?” The tracker dropped to his hands and knees, head hanging in submission. He didn’t speak or move. Cantrell sighed. The day he’d fled the Ethereal, he’d been in the process of training the Hound and though he’d inadvertently brought him to this place, he’d rarely regretted doing so. Lately however, it was getting harder to keep the beast in line. Their diet in the Abyss consisted of blood and madness as they fed on the flesh of the damned. Cantrell was beginning to wonder if domestic animals and wildlife weren't enough, that maybe over the years the wrong diet was starting to deteriorate his Hound. He didn’t want to lose this asset, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d been forced to destroy what had tried to escape his control.
“Stand,” he barked. He wrote two addresses on a piece of paper and handed them across his desk to the tracker. “Go to the first address and pick up the scent of the man who lives there. I believe it will likely take you north, to the second address.” He leaned forward, his eyes glowing a deep, blood red as he coldly hissed, “You will stop at the ranch and feed before you leave town. You will harm no humans. When you have something to report, use this.” He handed over a cell phone. “Any questions?”
The Hound tucked the phone into the front pocket of his jacket, then looked at the two addresses for a moment before putting the paper in his mouth, chewing briefly before swallowing. “No, Master.”
“Do not fail me in this, Hound. You will not like the consequences, I can promise you.” As he turned in his chair to look out the window, he added, “Oh, and Hound? If you catch a whiff of my son, call me immediately.”
Six Hours Later…
Taurin stood in the living room of Daniel Valentine’s house. Standing, though he didn’t know it, in the exact spot where a few days earlier, Daniel himself had looked across the Bay pondering his next move.
The last time Taurin had felt the earth under his feet, he’d been in the Praetorian Guard, Rome had ruled the world, and he was tired unto death of fighting and warring, blood and loss. So, when the Celtic spear punched through his chest plate, pierced his heart and drove halfway out his back, he welcomed the darkness.
Except, it hadn’t been dark. It was myriad colors and shifting golden light and rainbow threads of life. Syrus had found him almost immediately, as if he’d been waiting for him. The two men had much in common and spent many long hours together, talking, laughing, becoming friends. In the end, with no hesitation, Taurin eagerly agreed to stay in the Ethereal and join the Wardens.
As he watched the sun begin to color the sky as it set, he marveled at how beautiful this world was, so raw and untamed. Opening the window, he took a deep breath, savoring the chilly, damp air, redolent with the salty tang of the Bay, the acrid hint of car exhaust from the street below, the faint medicinal hint of eucalyptus wafting in with the fog.
He thought for a minute about his last conversation with Syrus. His schedule cleared, his men aware of his departure, Taurin had returned to speak with his boss, hoping for a clue how to activate the medallion. He was also slightly uneasy at leaving the Ethereal for the first time in two millennia. There was no concern about being two thousand years behind the times, unable to blend with the earthly world—the Ethereal was the center of all human experience after all. No, it was more that he didn’t really want to return, didn’t want to remember the weight of life, revive old memories of loss and love.
When he walked into the office, he cleared the thoughts from his mind. Daniel Valentine took precedence over his meaningless concerns.
Syrus told him he’d done a quick bit of research on the medallion. All he had to do was put it around his neck and visualize where he wanted to go. The two men had looked at each other for a moment, then started to laugh. “Yeah, I know. Anything that easy, there must be a catch,” Sy said, “though I don’t see what it might be.”
“I’m more interested in getting my hands on Valentine and the book, and dragging his butt back here as soon as possible.” He smiled ruefully. “It would be really nice if this was easy.”
“I called in a favor with one of my old friends. He’s agreed to help out. In fact, he insisted.”
Taurin raised a brow. “Someone is going with me?”
“No. Someone already there.”
Syrus waved a hand. “Complicated story, no time, just know that there’s someone on his way to lend a hand if you need it.” Changing the subject, he asked, “How do you proceed from here?”
Taurin felt there was much being left unsaid, but he wanted to get moving. The sooner he apprehended the thief, the sooner he could return. “I want to go to Daniel’s house first and make certain he’s not there. I’ll look for clues, maybe find some reason for this madness, then follow his trail wherever it leads.” He shrugged. “I’ve known him since he was a small child, I’ll find him.”
They shook in the ancient way, grasping forearms, then Taurin dropped the medallion over his head, smiled at Syrus, and imagined himself in Daniel Valentine’s house.
Shaking his head, Taurin closed the window and stepped away to survey the room one more time. When he’d arrived, right smack in the middle of the living room, he had been disoriented at first, mainly because there had been no feeling of movement, no transitional sense of…anything. One moment in the office with Syrus, the next standing on a plush Oriental carpet in a house in the middle of San Francisco.
Searching the house from top to bottom, he’d found the secret room. When he looked around that secure space, he couldn’t help remembering the scared little boy he had found, the sweet child he had comforted, told to find a safe place before he went flying again. Clenching his jaws, Taurin scowled. That boy was gone. It was the man he was after now.
Clutching the medallion in a tight fist, Taurin again caught a whiff of the bitter, caustic stench of brimstone. He had a moment before he disappeared to wonder what Daniel could possibly have gotten involved in to have a Hound on his tail.