Chelsea slumped against the porch, staying out of the crowd. She still felt like she would puke. She wasn’t really watching monster hunters gather excitedly to learn how to use polearms. Instead, all she could see, over and over, like some sick commercial on a loop in her head, was Amber bolting from the car while the words “I love you” stuck in Chelsea’s throat.
Amber herself had disappeared. She’d run for the house and vanished in the rambling, multi-level cabin in the woods. Of course, there were ample places to disappear, including the forest. It was likely for the best, anyway. Chelsea had no idea what to do or say, or even what she had done wrong.
We’ve been so happy. We share an apartment. How was “I love you” the wrong move?
Somehow it had been. Chelsea felt her face falling. Amber had brought up Jackson Hawk, again. And tried to pin it on Chelsea.
Chelsea closed her eyes, forcing away the anger. Whatever baggage Amber was hauling around about Jackson, Chelsea knew how she felt about both of them. Jackson Hawk could fuck off forever, and she was madly in love with the grumpy bitch who never pulled punches, ever.
Who says she’s in love with you?
A cold shiver radiated out of her chest. It wasn’t something she had considered. Amber had been so torn up before they started dating.
Who says she was torn up because of you? Maybe she was upset because she’s still hung up on Jackson and you’re convenient. Maybe she’s feeling guilty about being with you when she doesn’t really want to be.
Chelsea swallowed bile and her doubts. She’d let her anxiety ruin her relationship with Jackson. She’d let her mixed emotions for Jackson keep her distance from Alex. She refused to ruin things with Amber.
She’d get to the bottom of this and prove to Amber how much she loved her. No matter how much a huge, grumpy bitch the woman was being at the moment.
Feeling a little better for having a goal, Chelsea slouched over to the group of hunters. Some of them were vaguely familiar from Boney’s haunt. She’d seen them drinking there after a night of demon hunting.
Most were utter strangers though, brought here by the promise of money that someone was putting up a bounty for the oni that wandered into their woods.
Chelsea often wondered about these bounties. Amber took care of that side of hunting for her, as Jackson had before her.
Stop thinking about Jackson Hawk.
Any further mental recriminations were cut short by Sonja stepping onto the covered porch. The hunter had been brought in to teach them how to use polearms. However, Amber distrusted the woman after Sonja has bailed on a hunt.
It didn’t help that Sonja seemed a war goddess made living flesh. Chelsea tried to stop examining the near-perfect symmetry of the towering woman’s face, but an eye trained to capture such images, to notice the small details that nature created, wouldn’t let her. She also couldn’t help but note the unblemished skin or the bluish shine to the woman’s long braid.
Maybe that’s why nobody believes she’s shady. People tend to favor pretty people, and dear Lord is that woman gorgeous.
Her fingers itched for her phone to capture a few reference photos. She wanted to sketch that face, no matter how distasteful she found the actual woman.
The hunters fell quiet as Sonja approached, smiling. Between one step and the next, she pulled something from behind her back. It appeared to be a metal tube.
No sooner had Chelsea noted the object then it expanded by about a foot. A low, buzzy humming sounded as Sonja spun the tube. Within moments, Chelsea realized that the woman wielded a metal staff. Seconds after that, a six-inch blade slid into place at the top of the staff.
The butt end of the staff hit the wooden porch with a thunk. Sonja laughed as the crowd jumped. “Okay people set your minds at ease a little. Nobody is expecting you to actually fight with a polearm. Any weapon takes years to master.” She leaned on her staff. “But when dealing with anything larger than you, something sharp on a pole is a great option, because it keeps the monster several feet away.”
Her staff hummed again before the blade retracted, and the staff shrank back into a tube of metal. “Your weapons will be a little different. Weighted on the ends, so you can plant them on the ground easier. We need you to be a wall against that damn oni running away. Most of today is going to be dedicated to working in unison, which is far more important than fighting. So, let’s head to the yard and pick out weapons.”
Talk bubbled up as the hunters streamed down the stairs. Chelsea hung back, looking for Amber. The woman remained elusive, however. Chelsea sighed and turned away from the house, only to nearly collide with Sonja.
An easy smile spread across Sonja’s face. “There’s a bathroom in there, and you can use it.”
Chelsea laughed, uncomfortable at their proximity. “No, I’m looking for my girlfriend.”
“Oh.” Sonja shrugged. “I’m not sure I know anybody but Judy and Scott. And only Scott, really. Want a beer?” She herded Chelsea into the house.
The mostly pinewood kitchen stood empty. Sonja sauntered over to the fridge and pulled out a six-pack. “Scott and Judy will take care of getting everybody a weapon. Gods, I hate teaching.” She tossed a cold can to Chelsea before flopping into a chair. “I can’t even stay for the actual fight.”
“Why not?” Chelsea tried to stay calm, but Amber would be relieved that they didn’t have to rely on Sonja.
Sonja rolled her eyes. “My hunting partner has another job for me. I took this one because Scott really pushed. The money is nice, but…” She shrugged again. “This sounds like a lot more fun than what Troy wants.”
“So why not stay?” Chelsea opened her beer and took a seat.
Half a grin ticked up one side Sonja’s full lips. “Because that’s not how it works.” She took a long drink of beer. “I mean, what if your girlfriend wanted to do a different job? Would you stick around or go with her?”
Sonja shrugged. “Hunters are hunters are hunters. Fight, travel, drink, fuck, and do it again tomorrow. The rest is details.” She raised her can towards Chelsea with an expectant look.
Against her better judgment and despite Amber’s worried warnings, Chelsea found herself liking this woman. She tapped her can against Sonja’s. “Here’s to the details.”
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