Xander Phillips walked carefully through the woods. He and his partner, Paul Garrison, had been called out to track a suspected supernatural hiding in the area. There had been nine calls in the last three nights and they’d pinpointed it to the southwest corner of the wooded area near the county line.
He sniffed the air. Concubus. This had a more seductive scent than a male would. They hadn’t seen a female in three years. As far as anyone knew, there had only been the seven in the state. He wanted to shift into his half form and hunt, but his scent could obscure hers from his incubus partner. If they found a concubus, the bonus would be huge, especially if they could bring her in alive.
Keeping an eye on the canopy above him, he made his way toward the scent. Last time he’d seen a concubus was when he was in Nevada the previous year. There was a little ‘ranch’ full of succubae, concubi, and incubi ready to please customers. It was a nice vacation.
Since the state limited entry to humans only and started hunting supernaturals five years ago, the supernatural community in the rest of the states, like Nevada, had come out and mainstreamed. The state faced government sanctions for what they were doing, but it didn’t matter, people were flocking there to get away from the creatures they always thought were fiction.
There was a rustling to his left, Phillips crouched low. He sniffed again. She was close. Moving lightly and quickly, he dodged behind trees until he saw a campfire in a clearing. By the fire was a body wrapped in large, mammalian wings and a blanket. Phillips grinned. He pulled out his tranq gun and leveled it at the figure, aiming for the area between the wings.
Pulling the trigger, he gave it a few minutes to get into the concubus’ system then he strode over and pulled back on the wings so he could get the cuffs on. When he got the wings open, though, he found it wasn’t a concubus. It was Paul. His throat was torn out and his eyes stared blankly at nothing. The word ‘traitor’ was scratched into his stomach.
Phillips was suddenly on his guard even more than before. His blue eyes flicked nervously around, looking for any movement. Nothing had prepared him for the sight of Paul bearing the calling card of their only true predator. It wasn’t a concubus.
Specifically, it was the Phantom. The supernatural who was hunting hunters and trackers all over the state. Reports said there were lingering scents of concubus, succubus, werewolf, and high fae, in the areas of attack. They’d made sure it hadn’t been publicized, but all of the agents of the state government knew they were on someone’s hit list and that person had been steadily scratching off names for the last three years.
He wanted to bring his partner’s body home, but, if he carried the incubus in his natural form, it would only slow him down. His best bet was to run for it and bring back a team. Maybe burn the area. No human witness had ever been able to identify the Phantom’s species. No one knew what the Phantom was because he was careful and no victim ever survived an attack. Phillips wanted to be the first more than anything.
“Please, I’m just trying to keep my family out of the camps. I promise, I’ll quit and leave the state. Just don’t kill me, too.” He called out to the woods around him.
Silence answered. He’d lied about having a family. Most of the rogues and creatures that didn’t live in pack structured communities in the U.S. had come running when they heard the government was looking for supernaturals to hunt and track others. It paid a hell of a lot more than wandering around and trying to avoid the numerous shifter communities that would kill him on sight.
There was a shuffling sound in the nearby stand of trees. A small face peeked out from behind the tree trunks. A woman. Her eyes were large and dark and her hair pulled back into a high ponytail. She looked terrified. Phillips sniffed the air. Human.
“Are you okay? What are you doing out here?” He said, approaching her.
“I got attacked by a… a thing. It knocked me out. Where am I? I was at the park on Jefferson, running then… What’s that?” She squeaked and pointed to Garrison’s corpse in horror.
“An incubus. He’s dead, don’t worry. How long have you been awake?” Phillips asked.
“Your yelling woke me. I was in this little grove just a bit from here. Can you help me get home? My parents will be worried.” The girl sniffled.
He was just outside the stand of trees. It could be a trick. He didn’t want to end up dead because he fell for some pretty bait.
“Come out here and let me check you. Are you a supernatural?”
The girl stepped out and shook her head. She was wearing a tight fitting tank top, low riding yoga pants, and jogging shoes. Her hands were folded and tucked under her chin. She had a small waist and full hips that swayed gently as she walked toward him.
“Are you a state hunter? Is there something dangerous out here? Is that what took me? Some monster?” She whimpered.
“Come this way. I’ll get you out of here. You’ll need to give a statement, but we should have you home in a couple hours. I’ll keep you safe.” Phillips promised, holding his hand out to her.
The Phantom never hurt innocent people. Because of that, there were witnesses who had told them the Phantom wore a long cloak no matter the time of year and his face was entirely obscured by one of those full coverage masks. Height and build changed from witness to witness, but he was consistently described as male.
He put his arm around her shaking shoulders and held her close to him. She still smelled human. Phillips started cautiously leading her to where his car was.
“I’m guessing the incubus wasn’t the thing you were hunting.” The girl murmured with a shiver.
“No. He was my partner. The thing killed him. I think it might be gone, though.”
“Are you human?” She asked breathily.
“I’m not. We’re state trackers. Humans are hunters. Trackers are supernaturals who are trying to help control the bad supernaturals.” He explained.
Humans rarely learned about things that didn’t affect them, like the difference between hunters and trackers. He didn’t mind. Explaining things was actually relaxing him. Though he was still on guard, he wasn’t jumpy anymore.
“Are you an incubus like your partner?”
He chuckled. She must be nervous. “No. I’m a shapeshifter.”
“Like a werewolf?”
Phillips scoffed. “They aren’t the only shifters in the world you know. Just the most mainstream.”
“Of course not. There are so many different types. I was just wondering if you only changed into a specific animal or different ones.” She sounded embarrassed.
“Only one. I’m a ratel.” He told her.
“Oh, I know that one! You’re a honey badger!” The girl sounded excited.
“Most humans are afraid when they meet a strange supernatural in the wild. Especially one that changes into a violent, erratic creature.” He said softly.
“I’m trying to not focus on the possibility that something deadly is hunting us. I’m worried about freezing up and not getting to see my family again. Or getting you killed so you don’t see yours either.” She whispered shakily.
“I don’t have a family. I moved here on my own a few years ago. Been too busy to date really.” He sighed.
She snuggled closer to him as they walked to his car. They were close to getting out. He was thrilled he’d managed to escape the Phantom and had found a cute girl who wasn’t scared of him. It sucked that Garrison died, but it was the downfall of their work. Especially since Garrison was a well-known tracker who’d already outlived two other partners. He’d been living on borrowed time.
They finally reached the sedan. Phillips walked ahead so he could unlock it. Garrison had the fob, so he needed to use the second set of keys that he carried. When he turned around, the girl was right in front of him. She pushed him against the car and started unbuttoning his shirt. He moved his hands to her waist and under her shirt.
She moaned lightly as he caressed her breasts. His shirt opened and she began rubbing and kissing his stomach. Her hands worked at his belt buckle and she finally got it opened. He leaned back as she looked up with dark, lustful eyes.
“Don’t tell anyone. This is my thank you for your service, Mr. Honey Badger.” She breathed.
“Oh, goddess.” Phillips whispered.
He closed his eyes as she pulled his pants lower. Suddenly, he felt a burning pain in his abdomen. Then another as he shouted and looked down. She had jumped back a few feet and was holding two wicked looking knives in her hands with an amused smirk.
“You shouldn’t have lied. I hate liars.” She growled.
“I’ll kill you!” He snarled.
“How? Your intestines are on the ground, honey badger. Your pants are around your ankles, and your weapon is under the car. You really should use a shoulder holster instead of an inner pants holster if you’re going to accept blow jobs from strange women in the woods.” The girl smiled as she wiped her knives off with her shirt and slipped them into their sheaths at the small of her back.
He looked down. She was right. He’d felt off, but hadn’t realized the cuts were that bad. Those knives were razor sharp.
“You’re the Phantom? Why?” Phillips asked as he sank to the ground.
“Because that’s what you people started calling me. But I kill because you walk around thinking you can do what you like, tear apart families, abduct people, put them in the supernatural camps where they’re tortured and killed. All of this in the name of human supremacy. You’re traitors to your race. Then you go and lie so I won’t kill you? Fucking coward.” She sneered.
He watched darkness cloud his vision as she came close and started pulling his pants back up and buckling them again. She cleaned her fingerprints from his belt buckle and arranged him to look like he was trying to reach his gun while on his back when he was killed.
Madison returned to where her backpack was in the stand of trees. She pulled out her phone and checked it. There were three missed calls. Two from Serena, one from Dennis Ryan. She dialed Serena.
“Maddie?! Oh my God, Maddie!” Serena sobbed when she picked up.
“Rena. What’s wrong? Sweetie, calm down! Breathe.”
There was a screaming wail on the other end of the line and some fumbling of the phone. A deep male voice came on the line.
“Madison. You need to come home quickly. Something happened.” Dennis told her.
“Denny, where’s Indie? She should be with Serena until I can get there.” She said.
“Mads, you need to get home. Indie can’t be here. She’s… just get home. Serena’s not doing well.” He insisted.
Madison took off her tank top and brought out her wings. She ran and jumped off a little rocky outcropping. Flying was dangerous, but Serena needed her.