Chapter Thirteen – Baby Demon Sitting

Sam Chisolm was beginning to think this might be a bad idea.

Faraday had come to him ranting about how none of the men in town knew their right from their left, and the ones that did were like to drop dead at the first loud noise. He had very diplomatically not said anything to the Fae regarding the fact that he looked to have been a bit… nibbled on in spots, by something with sharp teeth, only nodded along sympathetically and hoped that this wouldn’t become a major issue.

Then came Vasquez, mostly to complain that he was still hungry and that he was going to try helping with rebuilding the church. Apparently, he found hard work relaxing or some such thing. Likely not as relaxing as nibbling on certain Fae, but he said nothing about that, either.

Then came Billy, his secret weapon, to beg a favor that nearly left him scratching his head.

Honestly, Sam was going to re-evaluate his life choices sometime soon.

“You want us to do what?” Faraday asked loudly.

“Make sure Goody doesn’t shoot anyone during rifle training,” Billy repeated.

“I did not sign up for baby demon sitting.”

Sam sighed. “I know demons can be a bit,” he paused, searching for a diplomatic way to phrase the thought, “hot-headed. But I strongly doubt he’d intentionally kill someone if they annoy him.”

Billy heaved a weary sigh; Sam could hear his feathers ruffle even though he didn’t see the wings. “Lucifer put a curse on Goody’s weapons,” he blurted out. “Actually, he put the same curse on both Goody’s and Ezekiel’s guns. Whenever they shoot someone, if it’s a kill shot, the victim goes straight to hell.”

Well… that was a little extreme.

Faraday frowned. “I thought hell was just where demons lived,” he said. “Why would Luke want humans in his house?”

Sam randomly wondered just how many beings Faraday could give a nickname to whether he’d ever met them or not.

“Because his kids are spoiled? I don’t know,” the angel replied with a shrug. “Just… don’t let him kill anyone if at all possible. Please?”

Given that he thought it would be an easy task, Sam agreed; Faraday huffed but ultimately agreed as well.

And then they got to the makeshift range to find their resident, literal hellspawn already in high dudgeon.

“Let’s see if y’all’ve learned anything,” Goody drawled, eyes flashing white. “Fire!”

And… God damn but that was pathetic. Not one shot hit any of the six targets, and one man even fell over from the recoil on his rifle.

Faraday muttered… something in a language that wasn’t the Monster Tongue but also wasn’t in anything approaching English.

“Reload,” Goody ordered. “Y’all are startin’ to piss me off.”

Next to Sam, the Fae leaned over and said, “Statistically speaking, monster hunter, they should have hit something.”

Meanwhile, Goody was still talking to the men on the gun line. “How many times have I gotta tell you to keep that knee up under you? Schoolteacher, take that hat off your head.” He added something in the monster language, which caused Faraday to snort in amusement, and Sam honestly didn’t want to know. “Teddy, I expect better from you, son. The recoil is not to be shunned, it’s to be absorbed.”

“I ain’t shunning a damned thing, sir,” Teddy replied, his tone almost a snap. Faraday stood up a bit straighter, eyes widening and a smile crossing his lips; apparently, he enjoyed how the halfling was back-talking the demon.

Goody, on the other hand, did not look terribly amused. “Are you trying to make me mad?” he asked evenly. “Is that what’s—”

Right about that point, one of the men—Sam thought his name was Phillip or something to that effect—fired off his rifle apparently by accident. If nothing else, it served to distract the Antichrist from biting Teddy’s head off.

“That’s the second time for you,” Goody drawled, and Sam saw him reaching for the revolver on his hip.

“Goodnight,” the Fae nearly snapped. The demon responded to the tone by letting his hand fall away from the weapon automatically, and Sam was grateful to not get a demonstration on how, exactly, those cursed weapons worked.

Instead of shooting, Goody took a step back and said, “Go make me some eggs.”

“Sorry, the damned hammer—” Phillip started to say, only to be interrupted.

“No, I don’t wanna hear it. Have a nice afternoon.” Goody waited for the man to get to his feet, eyes fading to blue again in spite of the fact that the business end of the rifle swung around towards him. “You gonna point that thing at me?”

Phillip didn’t try to argue the point, instead ducking his head and heading back towards the town. Faraday called out for him to leave the rifle, even as his gaze remained locked on the training session.

Goody tried to, once again, impart a little bit of wisdom onto the firing line—telling the men to be gentle with their hands, to let the shot surprise them—before ordering them to fire one more time. Unfortunately, the new advice didn’t do much to help, given that once more not a damned bullet made it into a target.

“I am in awe,” the demon said, eyes shifting back to white again, “that this many men can miss that many targets. Twice. I’m looking at a line of dead men.”

Faraday shook his head. “Seriously, monster hunter, how the hell are we gonna pull this off?”

Goody’s shout actually made both Sam himself and the Fae jump: “You have to hate what you are shooting at! Hate it! Get some gravel in your craw! Come on! God damn sons of bitches!”

“Wow,” Faraday whistled. “He’s definitely pissed if’n he’s calling on Yahweh.” With that, he pushed himself off the fence and called out, “Maybe these men need a demonstration.”

Goody looked over. “Really, Faraday?” he asked. “Don’t you think we need the lead?”

“Come on,” the Fae insisted before turning to the men on the line. “This demon has twenty-three confirmed kills at Antietam. The humans dubbed him the Angel of Death. Do what he does. He’s a legend, for the gods’ sake.” Then Faraday turned to the demon and added something in the monster tongue. Whatever it was, it caused Goody’s lip to curl into a snarl, caused him to snatch the rifle.

The demon then turned towards the targets, aimed with ease, and fired six consecutive shots directly into the neck of one of them. The head fell off with the final shot, and Goody turned around to smirk at Faraday before tossing the rifle at him and stalking back towards town.

Sam found himself grinning a bit; apparently the Fae had just been shot at in effigy, and the demon was enough of a little shit that he knew Faraday knew.

“Told you,” the Fae said at last, directing the words towards the farmers. “Why don’t y’all go home and polish your rifles? Maybe the glint will scare them off. Or draw any Fae in close enough that you can actually manage to shoot ‘em.”

The hunter shook his head, still amused at the antics of both older and younger monster. Hopefully this group would start to mesh sooner rather than later, but for the moment, he could let any antagonism slide.

Besides, he had a plan for something that could turn the tides in their favor. He just had to get the lot of them to agree that liberating the mining camp was in their best interest.

Chapter Eleven – Silent Observation

“Did you ever run with the Wild Hunt?”

The question came from the shadow-walker; it was directed to the trickster. Red Harvest remained silent, curious as to the answer.

He had heard of the Hunt; it was something his tribe made certain to know about. But he did not know any who had met one of the monsters that had joined in the Hunt.

The trickster gave the shadow-walker a long look before replying. “A time or two, yeah.”

“Then you may know more’n we do about what happened to one a’ my brothers,” the shadow-walker said, a thread of wistfulness in his voice.

“Only knew three Antichrists before you,” the trickster noted, “and I only actually liked one of ‘em. The other two were dicks, although one was tolerable.”

The air-spirit gave an amused snort. “That sounds just like Belial and Mordecai,” he said; the shadow-walker shoved him even as he chuckled.

“I know Belial died on the Hunt,” the shadow-walker said, “and Mordecai came home minus an arm. I just wanna know ‘bout Ezekiel.”

The trickster seemed to shrink in spite of his greater height, shoulders lowering and head bowing slightly. “Last I heard, he was in pretty bad shape,” he said softly. “It didn’t look like he would make it. I’m sorry, Goodnight.”

“He ain’t dead.” The shadow-walker said it firmly, as if it were fact. “We’d know if he was. Daddy wouldn’t keep that from me.”

The eater of the dead made a faint questioning sound. “If a monster-eater got him—” he began, only to be cut off.

“Belial was eaten,” the shadow-walker snarled, eyes flashing white. “Daddy knew pretty much instantly, and Momma cried for days. We would know if Ezekiel was dead. We just don’t know where he is.”

“But would he not go home if he were wounded?” the eater of the dead questioned, head tilting to one side even as he continued to chew on the bones from their evening meal.

The shadow-walker and the air-spirit exchanged a look, one that spoke of their long shared history, and the fact that these two monsters had stayed together for any length of time fascinated the young shaman-in-training. Then the shadow-walker cleared his throat and spoke again.

“He might, if he and Daddy hadn’t had a falling out.”

The trickster snorted, as if he knew where the shadow-walker was going with his explanation. The eater of the dead, however, simply looked confused.

“What did they argue over?”

“Me.”

The trickster laughed aloud, drawing the attention of the other three monsters. The air-spirit looked vaguely amused, while the eater of the dead looked all the more confused, and the shadow-walker looked a bit annoyed.

“Ezra said something about a fight over whether you should be allowed to go off to war if you wanted to. Something about how you were too young according to Lucifer, but he thought you should be allowed if you wanted to.”

“That’s the gist of it,” the shadow-walker agreed, giving a shrug.

The air-spirit shot him an amused look. “In your father’s defense, you did start talking about wanting to kick off an apocalypse halfway through the second war.”

“You see what humans do to each other!” the shadow-walker hissed. “I have a valid point in wantin’ to clean the slate and start over.”

“That sounds kind of fun,” the trickster stated, holding his hands up to placate the air-spirit when he turned a sharp glare towards him. “Just speaking out loud. But that does beg the question of how old you really are.”

Once again, the air-spirit and the shadow-walker exchanged a long look that spoke volumes. “Ah,” the air-spirit finally said, and it was clear to Red Harvest that the monster was a bit hesitant. “Goody’s younger. Let’s leave it at that.”

The shadow-walker, however, glowered at the air-spirit before turning and looking the trickster right in the eye. “I’m six hundred,” he said firmly.

Both the trickster and the eater of the dead blinked; the latter then chuckled and smiled with all his sharp teeth on display while the former cackled gleefully. “You’re a goddamn cradle-robber, Billy Rocks!” he crowed, laughing harder when the air-spirit shot him an annoyed look.

“He’s an adult,” the air-spirit argued; for his part, Red Harvest did not really understand if there was a true problem at hand. The shadow-walker looked to be older than any of the others there, but the monsters were acting as if he were the youngest. Perhaps, he mused, shadow-walkers were able to fool humans into thinking they were much older in years than was true; perhaps they were more closely related to tricksters than his people had realized.

“Whatever you say, Rocks,” the trickster replied, wiping at an eye in his mirth. “It’s getting late, and I think Vas is still hungry.” Here the eater of the dead nodded, his eyes turning towards the desert. “Teddy said something about a herd of deer somewhere to the south; we’re gonna go see about getting this one fed for the night. You coming, baby demon?”

“If you keep calling me that,” the shadow-walker said mildly, “I’m gonna figure out a way to maim you in your sleep.”

“Good thing I don’t sleep.”

“You slept pretty hard in that box canyon,” the air-spirit noted, tone amused and apparently feeling a bit more like interacting now.

As the monsters argued amongst themselves, Red Harvest shook his head and slipped away. They were going off to hunt, and while he was fascinated by what that may entail, it had been a very long day. He would catch up with them all again in the morning; for now, he was going off to rest.

Chapter Ten – The Opening Skirmish

Billy walked into town next to Chisolm’s horse, taking a moment to adjust his gunbelt and resettle his holy blades. He wasn’t fully comfortable with letting the hunter make such a production of entering this town, where Blackstones were acting as security, both man and monster, but that was the plan Chisolm had felt best.

Granted, he likely thought he was keeping the one human he wasn’t fully familiar with safely out of harm’s way, which was kind of sweet. Stupid, but sweet.

Billy let his senses expand, keeping his wings fully in check as he sought out his fellow monsters. His little demon was still on the edge of town, keeping close to the shadows so he could “walk” directly to where he needed to be on Chisolm’s signal; he could clearly hear whatever or whomever he was focused on, and at the moment his Goody was listening for the hunter only. Faraday was strolling blatantly through the back alleys, the good people of Rose Creek paying no mind thanks to Fae influence and a bit of you don’t see me, move along. Vasquez, for his part, had flashed a toothy smile and almost literally vanished from view; Billy had been just able to sense him walking alongside Faraday for a few moments before splitting off.

What troubled the angel, frankly, was how easily Horne slipped into town. He was still more human than wendigo, but the change was far too close for comfort. Billy’d known angels—angels of death like himself, seraphim, even archangels—that had faced off with wendigo and just didn’t come back. The only sign they’d even existed was when they would find angel feathers and holy steel much later, the only things left after the wendigo had eaten the rest of them.

He had no intention of letting Horne touch him or his new companions.

The shaman in training had taken to the rooftops, and Billy caught sight of him from the corner of one eye moving to slip up on a rooftop sniper. Content that the shaman had things in hand, the angel shifted his focus back to the street just in time for the Blackstones to approach.

He took in the measure of the ones standing before him and Chisolm. There was a Fae with them, likely Summer court judging by his healthy weight and the fact that he was armed with a crossbow rather than a gun, and the hedge witch seemed to be in charge of the group; at least, he was the one telling the human sheriff what to do. Billy wasn’t impressed, and he made a mental note to take down the Fae first when the opportunity arose.

Chisolm, bless him, led on the Blackstones by cooperating happily with everything they asked, but even Billy could hear the delight in his voice when he remarked, “I’m more than willing to turn over my guns to you gentlemen, but I can’t say the same for my compadres behind you.”

Billy grinned a bit viciously as Goody literally melted out of the shadows in the alley just behind the Blackstones, rifle resting on his shoulder and eyes that shimmering black he made them when he concentrated on it. Faraday stepped just a bit louder, drawing attention to where he’d been strolling back and forth along the walkway for a good five minutes, and Vasquez appeared across the street from him between one breath and the next, almost shimmering into being. Horne, for his part, just walked idly out of the alley closest to Billy, eating something he’d brought along and that the angel hoped wasn’t human flesh.

That the Blackstones weren’t impressed was unsurprising, honestly. That they then tried to get the drop on them wasn’t either. The surprise came when Red Harvest did get the drop on one of the humans amongst them and the hedge witch tried to throw a stunning charm at Chisolm. The hunter drew his weapon and shot two Blackstones down even as he dodged the charm, and Billy took down the Fae and another human with two quick tosses of his knives.

He lost track of the hedge witch after that, focused on taking out weapons where he saw them and unmindful of the fact that his wings had flared in the shadows as he moved, that a few feathers had shifted into the real world and dropped to the ground in his wake. From off to one side, he could hear Faraday take out the three on the balcony of the hotel and Vasquez let out a roar as he fell upon two more Blackstones. The shaman on the roof let loose a volley of arrows, taking down a few more of their shared enemy, and in between the rest of the gunfire, Chisolm’s included, he could hear the quiet pop of his little demon’s revolver sending at least two of the Blackstones to visit with his father. Those two would leave no bodies behind; the curse on Goody’s weapons was such that a fatal shot sent them body and soul straight to hell, where they could then explain to Lucifer just why, exactly, his son had dispatched them so thoroughly.

In short order, the battle was done and there were twenty-six bodies lying in the street; there would have been twenty-eight except that his demon had covertly dealt with them. Billy glanced around as he tugged a blade free from the body he’d pinned to the saloon’s post, and he ignored the sound it made hitting the ground. He was far more interested in the look Chisolm shot his way, one that said they were going to be having a talk in short order.

The sound of a horse whinnying drew his gaze to the livery, where the damned hedge witch finally reappeared riding out of town. Goody was already raising his rifle, and Billy could see the hesitation. He knew what his demon was thinking: they needed to send Bogue a very clear message, and a frightened human wouldn’t show what they were really capable of doing here. Faraday moved to stand behind the demon, and Billy saw the moment when his beloved’s eyes shifted to hellfire white in the instant before he fired.

Faraday let out a low whistle and said something to Goody that was returned with a vicious grin. The angel walked over in time to hear the last of what they were saying:

“Trust me, mon ami: when the time comes, he’ll wish I’d just shot him dead. For now, he’s our message to Bogue.”

Faraday blinked for a moment, looking almost speculatively at Goody, almost searching for something, before he let out a laugh. “Hell, I almost look forward to whatever comes next,” he said. “Does anyone know how we did individually?”

They had been walking back to join the others as they talked, and Chisolm spotted them easily. He definitely intended to talk to Billy, but the angel noticed that the hunter’s gaze was locked on Goody at the moment.

Goody, whose eyes were still blazing white.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Chisolm said evenly, “but ain’t your eyes usually black?”

His little demon gave a sly grin. “Only when I want ‘em to be,” he replied mildly. “I think it’s time to stop playing for the moment, so our messenger knows just what’s what.”

“And what, exactly, will Bogue be dealing with?”

“Well,” Goody drawled, blinking and letting his eyes go back to blue once more, “in this case, an Antichrist and an angel of death, for starters.”

Chisolm’s gaze swept over to Billy, and he obliged by letting his wings flare into sight for a moment before folding them away again; if he left their shadow on the ground, that was his business.

“Huh,” was all Chisolm had to say, but the sound was pleasantly surprised. “How’d everyone do?” he continued after a second.

“I got six,” Faraday offered with a grin.

“Five,” Billy offered, looking around the town and catching faint hints of humans and halflings watching from the safety of the surrounding buildings.

“Two are explaining themselves to my daddy right about now,” Goody offered mildly, which caused Faraday to cackle as he finally realized that the demon was deathly serious when he said shit like that.

Horne chimed in to say he’d taken care of two as well, and Red noted in verbal monster-speech that he had shot down four of his own.

“How ‘bout you?” Faraday asked Vasquez.

“Six,” the ancient one replied, looking a bit put out that he hadn’t actually gotten to eat any of them; a couple appeared to have had large chunks taken out of them, but no one appeared chewed on.

Faraday’s grin shifted to something slightly devious, and Billy just knew the Fae was about to start playing. “I got seven,” he said instantly, counteracting his previous truthful statement and goading the ancient just a bit. He even helpfully held up seven fingers to show Vasquez, who snorted at him in wry amusement. “You wanna try to even it up, V?”

“Say when, guero,” the ancient one replied, amusement clear in his tone and in the flash of his very sharp teeth. From next to Billy, his little demon scoffed at the pair of them and then made a show of checking his rifle when both elder monsters shot a quick glance his way at the sound.

“Behave,” Billy chided; Goody only shot him a grin and a wink before turning a newly white-eyed glower to the man Chisolm was coaxing out from beneath the saloon’s porch. The angel turned his gaze that way as well, keeping his physical wings tucked away but letting them flare in his shadow, and he spotted both Faraday and Vasquez turning fierce looks towards the cowardly human as well.

Chisolm made his statement — if Bogue wanted Rose Creek, he was gonna have to come take it his own self or be branded a coward — and sent the former sheriff on his way. Although he did stop the man to add one more, somewhat cryptic addition: “Lincoln, Kansas. Like the president. Sam Chisolm. Say it,” only letting him leave when he repeated the new information back verbatim.

Billy glanced over to his demon to see if he knew what that meant, only to see those hellish eyes narrowed speculatively at the hunter. Seemed that Goody did understand the intent and was somewhat concerned for his hunter friend. The angel made a mental note to ask about that later and moved to drape an arm loosely around Goody’s waist; he was feeling oddly protective for some reason, and the contact soothed him, if not the demon as well.

Then he noticed the black blood dripping from Goody’s wrist and realized what had sparked his protective instincts. “Goody,” he whispered. “You’re bleeding, little demon.”

“Hmm?” Goody blinked at him absently before glancing down at his own wrist. “Oh. I didn’t notice.”

“I ain’t even gonna ask how someone don’t notice when he’s been shot,” Faraday chose that moment to chime in. “But maybe clean it up before the good people come on out.”

“Where is everyone?” Horne abruptly asked, either truly curious as to where the town folk had hidden themselves or annoyed with the monsters speaking amongst themselves.

“I think we killed ‘em all,” the Fae responded immediately, smart-ass grin on his face.

“Probably just wanna make sure the candle is lit ‘fore they blow out the match,” Goody mused, drawing an amused look from Faraday and a snort from Vasquez; Billy simply rolled his eyes at his demon’s poetic phrasing and lightly tugged him towards the hardware store to shove him into a chair and make him tend to his injury.

Right about then, the halflings rode into town, young Emma calling out for everyone to stop hiding and Teddy chiding them to come see what the monsters had done for them. The first one out was a boy of probably seven, who rushed up to one of the bodies and asked, loudly, if he was dead. Billy wondered if the boy had a bit of monster in him; he didn’t feel entirely human, but the woman who’d grabbed him to pull back by her side had not one hint of other to her.

Emma cleared her throat to draw her neighbors’ attention before speaking. “I have gathered these men and monsters to aid us,” she began firmly.

One of the men, one who felt completely human but who also felt oily to the angel, demanded, “Who asked you to go out and speak for us?”

“Seems I was the only one with the balls to do so,” the Fae halfling snipped in response; Billy felt his lips curl into a smirk while he heard Goody actually snicker in amusement. Emma stared down the man until he looked away, then continued, “These men are here to offer us assistance against Bogue. Mister Chisolm?”

Billy grinned again as the hunter stammered for a moment, obviously not expecting to be put on the spot. He fell into introducing himself, noting that his main purview had been Kansas, although he did have hunting contracts in several states, and noted that this had just been the beginning.

“This was… an opening skirmish,” Chisolm stated. “Bogue will be back, though, and we need to be ready. Now, we ain’t got a lot of time, but if we all work together then we can likely save your town.”

One woman, holding a baby in her arms, stepped forward. “That’s all well and good,” she said, handing the child to the older woman next to her, “but we don’t have the time. Bogue said he’d be back in three weeks, and that was eight days ago. There’s no way—”

“Seven days,” Chisolm interrupted.

“Seven—? What, no…”

Billy shot a look at the hunter, who seemed certain in his words. From the seat he’d pushed him into, his little demon watched Chisolm with a solemn expression, and from the corner of his eye, he could see Faraday watching closely as well.

“Three days to Sacramento to deliver the bad news,” the hunter began, “one day to gather up guns and monsters of his own, three days’ ride back. Seven days is what we’ve got.”

Everyone began speaking at once, most arguing that there was no time, that they couldn’t fight, a few claiming that they weren’t running but weren’t fighters.

“If you wanna leave,” Emma cut in, voice hard and making Billy feel oddly proud of the young woman, “leave. But only take what you brought with you.”

“I’m staying,” Teddy said firmly. “This is my home, and I ain’t leaving my orchard.”

“Everyone go get a good night’s rest,” Chisolm said to the stunned townsfolk. “It’ll probably be the last sleep you get in a while.”

With that, the hunter turned and headed towards the saloon; Billy pushed off the wall to follow, noting that Goody rose as well and fell into step next to him. Faraday and Vasquez joined them quickly, the shaman right behind them and Horne taking up the rear. The angel wrapped his arm securely around his demon again, feeling prickly with the proto-wendigo right behind him.

“I need a damned drink,” Faraday muttered under his breath. Billy silently agreed and hoped to heaven that there was something strong enough in this little town to get him hammered.

Chapter Nine – No Rest for the Wicked

Given that monsters really didn’t need sleep, most mortals tended to automatically assign them to the night watch so that they could rest.

Billy honestly didn’t blame them for that, but he still resented it a little.

Granted, he didn’t sleep much, even when he had the opportunity. Most times after he and Goody had fucked, the demon would drift off into a light slumber and Billy would just watch him. The decades quite literally slid away when the youngest Antichrist was lost to pleasure and sleep, and Billy enjoyed tracing the soft curves of his face with eyes and gentle fingers. It was his own private pleasure to wrap the younger being in his wings and keep watch as they rested until the next morning arrived.

Tonight, though, he wasn’t thinking on pleasure. There were mortals amongst them, even if a couple of those mortals had monster blood to some minor extent, and monsters he was as yet unfamiliar with, so he would watch over them in the nighttime hours.

Vasquez, whatever ancient hungry beast he may be, seemed to pick up almost immediately that it would be safe to feed and rest. The monster had all but fallen on the food provided for them to share by young Miss Emma then settled himself into the space just below where Billy’d set up as his watch position, slid his hat over his eyes, and fell into a deep sleep. Even from nearly ten feet away, the angel could hear the other’s snoring.

Almost exactly across the way but a few feet lower, Faraday had stretched out with his feet facing the east, his own hat over his face as he rested against his saddle in somewhat lighter sleep. Billy still had no idea what variety of Fae the man was, and he knew that Goody would chew on the mystery for ages until Faraday took pity and told him. All the angel was certain of was, that whatever Faraday was he was likely as old as he himself was at a minimum; after all, the Fae had been roaming the earth long before the Host of Christianity started to populate the heavens and hell.

Goody himself had settled into a nook just below Faraday, obviously feeling some level of security in all the older monsters surrounding him, and fallen into a true slumber. Billy could tell because the age faded from the little demon’s features, leaving him looking closer to what his age in the mortal world would be. Amongst the Host, the youngest of Lucifer’s sons would be closer in age to the young widow Cullen and her companion than to Sam Chisolm, and in sleep he looked it.

Billy cast his awareness to the surrounding land, letting his wings truly unfurl as his odd cohort slept around him. Their shadow was wide, and he took a few moments to preen out any damaged feathers before hiding them away again physically yet leaving their shade on the rock behind him. Any wild creatures that gave thought to harassing their camp would be frightened away by his display, and any monsters meaning harm would likely think twice.

After all, humans weren’t the only ones unfamiliar with angels. A wise monster would pass them by once realizing an angel was part of the group.

He let his attention wander through the night, finally opting to slip into a light slumber with the first hint of the sun on the horizon. Goody would likely be rising soon, since he couldn’t stand the thought of the humans guessing how young he truly was and would pull the decades back to his flesh in short order; and Faraday was facing the sun and would probably arise as it drew higher into the morning sky.

What drew him back to full wakefulness, however, was the scent of near-death approaching and the sound of Chisolm’s gun.

Billy was on his feet between one heartbeat and the next, his favorite blade drawn and at the ready. Goody was already crouched in an attack position, looking every inch like a mortal in his mid-forties and holding his rifle in a firm grip; that weapon had dispatched many an enemy directly to the devil himself, and Lucifer was far too fond of his youngest to not accept such gifts happily. Faraday was sitting up, both hands hovering over his guns that, Billy noticed, each had a handle that would prevent him from directly touching the iron. And below him, he could hear Vasquez slowly awakening with a low snarl that sounded like thousands of monsters rather than the one he knew the ancient to be.

Jack Horne was standing just within their little camp, and while the near-death still clung to his flesh like a red flag, he didn’t pay any mind to the monsters. Rather, he used signals that Billy recognized as military to indicate that someone else was approaching from the west, and the angel let his awareness lock onto the future wendigo even as he turned to see who or what was approaching.

He nearly relaxed as he caught sight of the Indian, recognizing the markings on his face as those of a young shaman.

The natives of these lands and the monsters had something of a symbiotic relationship. Those they called shamans were capable of learning the language of the monsters and could speak it aloud even if they could not use the mental version. In point of fact, during the many wars with the white men over these very lands, monsters had taken up arms and fought alongside the Indians. Billy himself had warred with the Kiowa, and he knew Goody had thrown his lot in with the Sioux and Apache tribes at separate times. Given the way that Faraday relaxed as well, it was likely the Fae had rode amongst one of the tribes himself; Vasquez undoubtedly had walked and warred with the natives of Mexico against the Spaniards when they came.

Chisolm called out to the Indian, in the tongue of the Comanche that Billy was passingly familiar with. When the young shaman replied in kind, the angel fully relaxed his stance to turn the bulk of his attention to the proto-wendigo that had somehow not only moved further into their camp but was now standing just in front of his own watch point. A sidelong look revealed that Vasquez had his revolver trained on Horne, teeth still bared and fully prepared to devour the threat. In the meantime, Goody had taken a higher post to train his rifle on Horne while Faraday had his pearl-handled revolver drawn but held loosely; the Fae must feel that the others had things well in-hand but was ready to provide backup if needed.

These were good comrades, Billy realized as a small smile crossed his lips. Even with a threat to them all, the elder monsters were subconsciously moving to keep the youngest in the safest position. And, as the shaman tossed aside the deer he’d hunted down and shared its liver with their mortal leader, their group grew to one more ally. Even if Chisolm had apparently decided Horne following was a good thing—and Billy’d let him live so long as he didn’t turn on his people—the angel would still follow, just to see where this ended.

Besides, he hated witches who thought themselves greater than others more than anyone else in this group. It would be his pleasure to thwart Bogue and his ilk, and he would personally pin the witch down with his blades before his Goody dispatched the man to Lucifer’s domain.

Chapter Eight – Wisdom and Curiosities

The thing about Jack Horne was, he wasn’t a stupid man.

He was a lonely man, yes. And he was a vengeful man when the mood called for it. And for too long a time, he was a broken man.

That happened when one lost his family, wife and children in one fell swoop, and he knew without a doubt who the culprits were.

But rather than stop with the Crow who had attacked his family for the crime of being white and living too near to their lands, Jack had let the vengeful man have the reins and kept killing until he had three hundred scalps to his name and three hundred dead Crow haunting him.

And they did haunt him, even still.

At first, they had all been loud and angry, most especially the five who had attacked his family. They were the reason he had retreated into the mountains when he came back to his senses, when the vengeful man gave way to the broken one. And their voices always called to him, damning and condemning his actions.

But, over time, the voices of the ones who he had taken righteous vengeance upon fell silent, as if they had been crushed by the weight of the remaining two hundred ninety-five. Those voices grew quieter in his head, but the Crow remained with him… only they had stopped damning him and started working with him.

For some reason, those other ghosts haunting him seemed to want him alive.

Jack remained in the mountains, however, where it seemed to be safest and his ghosts were much quieter. But there was something odd that began happening.

Whenever monsters stopped by the supply station where Jack himself often wound up when he needed something, they shied away from him. He had personally heard Fae clam up and sink back against walls when he passed by, and on one occasion a demon had yelped and sank into the shadows; as far as Jack knew, the young man hadn’t returned.

Jack Horne was not a stupid man. He was a lonely and broken man, and on occasion he could be a vengeful one. But he was just a man, and would remain that way so long as he listened to the warnings his ghosts gave him.

He was furious when he had been approached on the trail up to his cabin by Ken and Len Pigeon, the two idiots stopping him to ask him about the stories people told. Jack had told the boys he wasn’t interested in sharing stories, and then…

And then two hundred ninety-five voices began to scream a warning at him just in time for him to duck away. Not enough to avoid the blow to the head or the tumble over the edge of the cliff, but enough for him to remain somewhat lucid and to tuck into the fall so he wouldn’t break anything.

The vengeful man came back out to the forefront, trailing the Pigeon boys for two straight days while listening to the whispers of his ghosts. His constant companions whispered that it had been too close this time, that he’d nearly been lost to the monster soul trying to come to the surface. He wondered, even as he tracked the Pigeon Brothers with the intent of retrieving his property, if that was what the monsters sensed in him, if they could sense that wrongness that his ghosts feared.

And then, well.

Somehow he knew that four of the men with the man calling himself Chisolm—and he did remember the man, vaguely—were monsters even before he looked their way. To a one, they had hands on weapons, and the skinny Mexican one had been baring far too many sharp teeth; the one who was likely an angel of the lord had been hovering by the demon, who had been watching him carefully with fathomless black eyes. The one he couldn’t rightly identify as anything beyond old and powerful had watched him warily, hands on his own weapons but not touching the iron.

He also knew, in that same distant way, that the woman and the youngest man in the party were at least part-monster. And he didn’t want to ponder on how or why he knew that; he feared that it was the same thing that his ghosts feared.

Jack Horne was not a stupid man. He had heard tales of the monster who had been a man first, one with blood on his hands or an evil in his heart when he died. He knew what those men became.

His ghosts whispered it when they thought they were quiet enough, but he lived in silence; it was never too quiet to hear the whisper of wendigo on the wind.

If he was a smarter man, Jack would have retreated back up the mountain with his property and let that be the end of that. He would have returned to his cabin and his traps and waited to see how death would try to come for him. He would have waited to see if he had the fortitude to put a bullet to himself before the monster hiding under his skin could free itself.

Instead, he made it halfway back to his home before stopping, heaving a sigh, and turning his eyes towards the sky.

“I’m going to end up regretting this,” he asked aloud, “aren’t I?”

Destiny fate signs came the whispers. Hope redemption chance.

Jack sighed again. “Y’all ain’t any help, you know this.”

Not all evil, argued one.

Good in all men and monsters, another chimed in.

“All right, okay,” he said, shaking his head and turning back around. “If I die because of this, I’m blaming all of you.”

Companion enemy friend.

Jack Horne was not a stupid man. He was a broken man for the most part, and at times, he was a lonely man. But it was near impossible to be truly alone with so many ghosts following one, and he’d been carrying his for years. Maybe if he did die in whatever was to come, they could finally move on and leave him in peace.

And yet, he doubted that, too.

Ah well. Whatever happened would happen, and maybe he could learn to live with that the same as he had with the ghosts.

Chapter Seven – Other Creatures

“What a merry band we are!” Goodnight declared as they rode towards the next supply station. “Chisolm an elite monster hunter, me a demon born from hell, Billy my dearest friend in the world…”

Billy shot him a sly grin, and Goodnight winked back. Somehow, old Sam Chisolm had missed the fact that the ‘man’ who’d arrived with him was not a mortal, and Faraday’s antics had kept him from discovering this truth. His exact phrasing had been this here’s Billy, he come with Goodnight in so decisive a way that it was clear the Fae intended to keep their resident angel as a secret weapon for as long as possible.

Goodnight continued with, “The strangest member of the Fae I have ever met in my entire life, whatever the hell this fine Mexican fellow may be, a female on a righteous mission, and her halfling companion. We are going to die in a blaze of glory, and it will be wonderful.”

“‘Whatever the hell’ I am, cabrón?” Vasquez asked, sounding amused. “I am older than anyone else here. Your god might come close, maybe not though.”

The demon chuckled, letting his eyes flicker to the black he generally shifted them to when he was doing it on purpose. “Might be you’re right, mon ami,” he offered. “My granddaddy has been around for quite a while, though.”

He noticed that Faraday turned to glance back at him with a sly grin, and he winked at the Fae. It was clear that he was trying to puzzle out just where to classify him on the scale of Antichrists I Have Known, and Goodnight had no doubt that he would be above Mordecai at any rate; much as he loved his siblings, Mordecai was an unrepentant asshole even to his brothers and sisters. Doubtful that he’d been much kinder to other monsters.

“Maybe your grandfather know my sisters and brothers, huh?” Vasquez offered with a far too toothy grin; how the humans kept missing how sharp those teeth were was a mystery for the ages, but perhaps it was similar to how the humans didn’t understand their mind-language when they spoke it aloud.

“What a charming thought,” he drawled dryly before glancing back at a far too amused Billy. “I sense we are bonding.”

In short order, the group arrived at the supply station and set about looking for the tracker Jack Horne. No one could give them a firm answer, and Billy frowned as he looked around.

“What’s wrong, my dear?” Goodnight asked aloud, a frown on his own lips. Faraday and Vasquez both turned his way curiously.

“I don’t think this is a good idea, Goody,” his angel replied. “I have followed Horne’s exploits many times, sent my Reapers for those whose scalps he took.”

“Shit,” Faraday muttered. “Hasn’t he killed, like, three hundred or so of the Crow?”

“That is a good many dead men, my friends,” Vasquez offered. “Many angry souls. That is why my kind eat every part of our enemy: body, mind, soul. Nothing left to become angry.”

Billy gave Vasquez a long look before continuing his thought, even as Chisolm approached a couple of young men who had just returned down the mountain. “Three hundred angry souls is a heavy burden on a man. That way leads to… something I don’t want to think about.”

“A wendigo,” Goodnight said abruptly, feeling his black blood freeze in his veins. “You think Horne is going to go wendigo when he dies, don’t you?”

“I’m hoping you’re wrong,” Faraday said firmly, although even he looked incredibly pale.

“Gentlemen,” Chisolm called over, and the four monsters looked to where their hunter comrade was waiting. “These young fellows claim to have information on Jack Horne.”

“Yeah!” one of the children called out. “We done killed him!”

“Madre de todos los dios,” Vasquez muttered, and Billy grunted in agreement.

“We are talking about Jack Horne?” Goodnight asked almost fearfully, moving to the porch and leaning on the post with one arm. “I mean, the Jack Horne, the legend Jack Horne?”

“Legend? Legend my ass,” the child holding the rifle said. “He may have killed three hundred Crow, but he ain’t never met the Pigeon Brothers before.”

“And you said that’s Jack Horne’s rifle?” Chisolm asked, sounding a bit disappointed and somehow not noticing that his collection of monsters was verging on panic.

The brother holding the rifle flipped it over to show off the JH engraved on the stock. “It was Jack Horne’s rifle,” the one not holding it stated. “There’s an army base offering a thousand dollars for” — and here he stammered as his brother shoved him — “proof of death. Rifle ought’a do.”

Faraday sat up straighter, eyes shifting in the light to something otherworldly. “You don’t have a body?” he asked, voice wavering only enough that his fellow monsters noticed. Goodnight himself felt that same cold fear fall over him, and he subconsciously sniffed at the air. If he even caught a whiff of wendigo, he was drawing his revolver and shooting first without ever asking questions.

The brother with the rifle snickered. “Ol’ Len here hit him over the head with a rock,” he said with something like pride in his tone. “Fell over the cliff when he did it.”

“So you got no body,” the demon stated, eyes shifting to white for half a second before flicking to black.

Len Pigeon turned to shoot a glare at the demon, either bravely or stupidly meeting his gaze. “Just what the hell are you trying—” he began, only to be interrupted by the hatchet that had found itself in his chest.

All eyes turned to see where it had come from, and four monsters all swore in their own tongue as they caught sight of Jack Horne stalking down the mountain. The aura of near-death was so strong that Goodnight nearly growled, and his right hand fell to the weapon on his left hip. From the corner of his eye, he noted that Faraday had a hand on the pistol in his gunslinger’s rig, Billy had one of his longer blessed blades drawn, and Vasquez was responding with both pistols and bared teeth; chances were good that if Horne came their way, the ancient monster was planning to devour the man.

The brother holding the rifle stumbled backwards, trying to fire off a shot and failing in spectacular fashion. Horne stalked up to him and ripped his weapon away before bashing the young fool in the face with the stock. He then lifted one leg and, with a grunt verging on a roar that chilled all present, stomped down on the poor unfortunate’s head. The monsters could hear the skull crunching beneath his foot, and Billy’s wings flared briefly in the shadows as they waited for the man to fall on the corpse and begin to feed.

“Pigeon Brothers weren’t famous for very long,” Goodnight found himself saying, only to flinch as the potential threat moved to face them.

Except Jack Horne merely stared a moment, blinking absently at the assembled men and monsters before speaking in a raspy voice.

“These two unholy creatures bashed me over the head with a rock and stole my property.”

“He’s close to shifting,” Faraday remarked mentally to his fellow monsters. “Not there yet, but too close for my taste.”

“I can eat him, if you like,” Vasquez offered.

“Now I have a right,” Horne continued as he walked closer and retrieved his hatchet and horse, “by the law and by the Lord to take back what is mine. Are we in agreement?”

Billy responded by twitching his blade briefly; Faraday gave a slight nod while Vasquez backed away with both hands raised in a placating manner. Goodnight was the only one to give a verbal, “Yeah,” in reply.

Chisolm spoke up again, “Mister Horne, my name is Sam Chisolm. We met up in Cheyenne about six years back. I was hoping you would be interested in a proposition.”

Horne looked almost through Chisolm, as if he didn’t even see him. Faraday cleared his throat.

“Government doesn’t pay a bounty on redskins no more.” When Horne looked his way, Goodnight moved a half-step closer to the Fae and let out a low hiss at the threat. Faraday continued, “You must be out of work.”

“Well,” Horne said slowly, “that’s a whole ‘nother story.”

“We are out to help some good people face a monstrous foe,” Chisolm said. “I was hoping you… might be interested.”

Horne gave him a long look before heaving a weary sigh and moving to go back up the mountain. In a stunning display of self-preservation, young Teddy Q all but jumped out of the man’s way as he ambled on by.

“I believe,” Faraday said slowly, “that bear was wearing people’s clothes.”

The irreverent remark broke the tension, and the assembled monsters chuckled a bit before moving to their mounts once again. Now that they would be leaving the future wendigo behind, all were breathing a little easier.

Hopefully, Chisolm had no more nasty surprises in store for his supposed allies.

Chapter Five – Chisolm’s Prey

It was not fair, not in the least.

The monster who now called himself Vasquez had been called up by one who still worshiped his kind, a señorita who was having trouble with a white man in what had once been part of his domain. He had come at her call and had quickly dispatched of the mortal. It had been while he was eating his prey that the other mortals had come upon him, calling him monster and insisting that it was illegal — for whatever that was worth — to kill a mortal who was apparently some kind of agent of law and order.

Some law, some order. A bully preying on one of his chosen peoples. That was always grounds for swift execution.

Although, honestly? What made him angry was that he did not get to finish his meal. Had he consumed the mortal in full, he would have turned himself over just to see what these creatures thought they could do to him.

The problem was, however, that now the mortals they called monster hunters were on his trail.

He was farther north than he preferred to be, well into what was now the territory of other creatures but had once been his, and the hunters kept chasing. He easily dispatched many of them, of course, ate the ones he could when he was hungry and left the ones he could not when he was not as hungry as a warning. One that went unheeded, but a warning still.

He was currently holed up with the body of one such hunter, dining on him bit by bit as he pondered his next move. He would prefer to go home, but he dreaded leading these relentless pursuers to his brothers and sisters. His siblings, they would not appreciate that, and they could cause him harm.

As he chewed idly on a finger he had removed from the dead hunter’s hand, he heard horses approaching. Mortal horses, not ones like his demonic mount, which likely meant more monster hunters. He heaved a sigh and slipped out the door, spotting the riders still some ways out. He shifted into the space between flesh and shadow, making himself all but invisible to the mortal eye, and walked around the building even as the man and the woman dismounted and walked into his hideaway.

He allowed them to do so, moving around the building back around to the front again and remaining in the space between. Even so, he readied the rope he had retrieved from Diablo, swinging the lasso idly as he waited for some move.

The woman was the one to make it, a startled cry slipping from her as she stumbled backward onto the porch once again. He flung the rope around the woman, let it fall to her feet before pulling tight and dragging her to the ground. He immediately slipped back into the world, pistol drawn and trained on the man who was standing with hands up to show he meant no harm.

He was not fooled: he had seen the gun on the woman’s hip and demanded it. The woman reluctantly dropped her weapon on the ground, and he kicked it away before she could get any ideas. These were odd monster hunters; it seemed they were not even trying.

“He was already dead,” he lied with a nod to the corpse, “if that’s what you were wondering.”

“Have you been sleeping in here?”

What an odd thing for a monster hunter to care about. Still, he replied, “He doesn’t snore much.”

“You Vasquez?” the man asked, seeming to ignore his irreverent words. He did not believe that, given the man knew the name he was currently using.

“You a monster hunter?” he asked in return, even though he already knew the answer.

“I’m going to tear up a warrant,” the man replied. “Just wanna make sure I have the right monster.”

He kept his weapon on the man, even as he pulled out a paper and opened it to show what was supposed to be his current form.

He smirked. “Poor likeness.” There were not nearly enough teeth, to start with. And he thought he had chosen a rather handsome mortal face. These mortals who made the warrants could not draw well, it appeared.

He then frowned, curious as to the fact that the hunter was unarmed. “Where’s your gun?” he demanded.

“Man carries a gun, he tends to use it.”

He chuckled lightly, amused by the hunter. Honestly, mortals were so very young.

“I’m looking to hire some monsters for a job,” the hunter continued, folding the warrant but not doing otherwise with it. “Was wondering if you’d be interested in some work.”

He was somewhat interested. “Does this work involve her?” he asked, indicating the woman. She did not seem suited to be a monster hunter, but perhaps she was in training. If that was the case, then she would not last long in this life.

“Get this off me!” she abruptly snapped as she moved to claw at the rope on her ankles, and he caught a hint of something in her scent. It was not pure monster, very diluted if there was anything in her bloodline. Her fire was amusing, though, and he started to chuckle at her. “You wipe that smirk off your face!”

He chuckled again, greatly amused by the woman. “And when our business is concluded,” he asked, “what happens then?”

The man gave him a steady look. “There’ll still be a lot of monster hunters looking for you.”

“And this is supposed to bring me comfort?” the ancient being asked, already knowing that he would just eat whomever came after him. He was always hungry, and he would always be ready to devour his enemies.

“It should,” the man replied. “I won’t be one of them.”

He stared at the hunter for a moment before a grin crossed his face. He knew he was showing too many teeth from the way the mortal froze for just a moment, but that did not matter. “You are loco, my friend,” he found himself saying even as he reholstered his weapon.

“Sí,” came the reply, and the creature that called himself Vasquez laughed out loud. This could wind up being fun, especially if he got to meet with the other monsters roaming these northern lands.

Chapter Four – Another Contest, A New Monster

“Alright, everyone. Place your final bets. We’re about to begin.”

Goodnight Robicheaux sat relaxed on the fence, back to a post and legs stretched out on the rails before him. He kept a careful watch on the crowd, seeing mostly humans, although a few monsters were also placing their bets on who would win. Unsurprisingly, the monsters were betting on his Billy, and they would be the only ones to profit today.

In the corral itself, Billy Rocks stood quietly, that angelic calm seeming to unnerve his opponent ever so slightly. Angels were still something of a mystery to the human race, given that only angels of death like Billy walked the world with any kind of frequency. And even his dear one was an oddity, since he enjoyed spending his time with the youngest of Lucifer’s Antichrists.

Goodnight tuned out Eddy’s words; he’d heard them many a time when they stopped by this particular supply station and he could already feel death in the air. This Arcade Jones fellow was going to do something stupid, his Billy was going to pull one of his blessed knives out to quickly dispatch the fool, and his Adelaide was going to get herself some fresh man-flesh to dine on after all.

Another glance over the crowd showed him that a couple new faces had joined the group: a young halfling of some sort, probably no more than early to mid-twenties, and what appeared at first glance to be one of the Fae. A second, somewhat closer look showed that there was something more to this particular Fae, and he would not be disinclined to make the man’s acquaintance to try and discover what it was. For now, though, Goodnight tuned back in just enough to catch Billy draw faster—of course—and begin walking over to join him in collecting their winnings.

“Hold on one moment, my dear,” Goodnight said, using the mind-speak that monsters, demons, angels, and others of their ilk favored. “I have a feeling.”

“I hate your feelings, Goody,” Billy complained, but pausing just long enough to catch Arcade’s taunt and demand to go for real. “I was hoping not to kill anyone today.”

“What, you want Adelaide to go hungry?”

“Seriously. I hate your feelings, and sometimes I hate you, too,” Billy heaved a mental sigh, but there was enough fondness in his ‘voice’ to prove otherwise. He turned on his heel, and Goodnight caught just a hint of feathers as the angel resumed his position and tossed aside first his hat then his gun-and-knife belt.

“Ooh, you’re gonna use my favorite? I knew you loved me.”

“Shut up and let me work.”

Eddy, human as they come but familiar enough with the way of the world to know a monster when he saw one, heaved a sigh and asked if Billy was ready. He shot off his gun and didn’t even blink when Billy’s wings flared briefly in the shadows as he threw his hairpin blade straight to Arcade’s heart.

“Damn,” Goodnight remarked. “That was almost disappointing.”

“At least Addie gets to eat well today,” Billy replied, offering a small smirk as he moved to retrieve his belongings. “Go get our money, little demon.”

“So damn bossy, dear angel.”

Despite his complaint, Goodnight slipped from the fence and resisted the urge to kick the body on the ground. Mainly because Adelaide didn’t like her meat too tenderized, and he doted on that mare to a ridiculous degree. Rather, he set about collecting their winnings.

“I ain’t in the habit of paying cheaters,” one of the human bettors declared, gaze distant but somewhat focused on Arcade’s corpse. “I’ll be keeping my money.”

Goodnight stared at the man, gaze hard as his eyes shifted. No longer were they a shade of blue almost too pale for a human to possess, but the black he purposely shifted them to when he was angry but still in just enough control of himself to keep them from blazing to hellfire white. The human next to the fool noted the rage building and stepped in to diffuse the situation.

“Easy, Goodnight,” the old man said. “He’s drunk. He don’t know what he’s saying.”

The younger man abruptly straightened up, realizing the danger he’d stumbled into as he registered that the ‘man’ he’d talked back to was a demon. “Mister Robicheaux, sir,” he stammered. “If I’d realized that was your man, I wouldn’t have made such a disrespectful comment.”

Goodnight blinked, the black sclera clearing instantly to true blue. “That’s okay, son,” he said. “Just pay me double.”

Once that fool was dealt with and once he could hear Eddy allowing Adelaide into the corral for her treat, the demon moved to continue collecting his winnings. He noted that the Fae was still at the gate waiting, but he stepped past him to the next loser.

“Goodnight Robicheaux? Chisolm’s sent us.”

The demon turned and blinked at the Fae. “Really now?” he asked. “And who might you be, mon ami?”

“Faraday’s the name,” the Fae replied. “And Chisolm’s gathering an army of monsters to face an uppity witch.”

“Oh?” Goodnight blinked, somewhat surprised and a bit intrigued; he’d met Sam Chisolm only one time before, and that was during the final days of the war. He had had the man in his sights, and even to this day he wasn’t entirely sure why he didn’t pull the trigger and send the human straight to his daddy’s rooms. Instead, he’d frozen time for a few moments, long enough to walk up to the Yankee soldier, and restored it just in time to grin as the man jumped at finding black eyes locked with his own.

“You, sir, are interesting,” he had said way back when. “I find that I am disinclined to end your life today.”

“Much obliged,” Sam Chisolm had drawled, a note of amusement and annoyance both in his voice. “So what are we to do now, then, demon?”

“Let’s go have a drink and figure that out.”

And even now, Goodnight still thought rather fondly of Chisolm. Billy had reserved his judgment, having actually been present and directing his Reapers whilst that conversation took place, but ultimately figured that if Goody was fond of the man then he could let him keep on keeping on.

“Well, then, my friend,” the demon said, smiling sunnily at the Fae and his halfling companion, “let’s step into my office so we can discuss business.”

“You got an office?” Faraday asked, looking unimpressed.

“He means the saloon,” Billy replied quietly, and the demon nearly grinned at the small jump from the halfling.

Faraday smiled broadly. “My kind of office.”

The four of them went inside, Goodnight and Billy gravitating automatically to the corner near the barber station. On most days when they were passing through Volcano Springs, the demon would take advantage of the services provided and get a shave. Truth of the matter was, he could coax his appearance to any matter he wished, and fortunately today he’d opted to appear well-groomed before they set foot into the supply station’s borders. Meaning he and his angelic companion could simply seat themselves, backs to the wall, and observe the room while they talked.

“Should we go someplace quieter?” the halfling, Teddy Q if Faraday was to be believed—and Goodnight tended to trust that monsters were somewhat honest with other monsters—asked as he glanced about nervously.

It was a bit rowdy, true, but that was what made Goodnight so comfortable there. Hell, he’d grown up with his daddy, his momma, and nine-hundred ninety-eight older brothers and sisters; he and quiet were not fond acquaintances, and the louder a room was, the more at ease he could be.

“Nah,” the demon said evenly, “I like it here. You like it here, Billy?”

“You know I like it well enough wherever you feel safest, little demon,” Billy replied mentally. Aloud he simply said, “Here, Goody,” before passing him the flask he’d just taken a drink from.

Teddy looked a little annoyed, but that could be because he was uncomfortable with the noise level. “Where’d y’all meet, anyway?”

“I was serving a warrant on him from the Northern Pacific Railroad,” Goodnight immediately snarked, and Billy bit back a laugh.

Faraday did laugh. “No, but for real,” he asked. “How does a demon nicknamed the Angel of Death find an actual angel to hang about with?”

Billy shot the Fae a stern look, and Goodnight noted that the halfling gave a surprised blink. Ah, so one of their new companions hadn’t missed the flare of his angel’s wings earlier.

The demon grinned, letting his eyes flicker black for just a heartbeat before speaking. “We crossed paths ‘bout halfway through the War. I was bored and pretty randomly shooting anyone what annoyed me.”

“Even his fellow soldiers,” Billy chimed in, rolling his eyes lightly and leaning back against the wall again; Goodnight could sense him ruffling his feathers before letting them settle back into the spaces between once again.

“Is what it is,” Goody offered with a shrug. “At any rate, I was doing that, and this petite son of a bitch just comes storming up on me outta nowhere to tell me to, and I quote, knock it the fuck off, you are not making my life easier with this bullshit.” He chuckled at the eyeroll that got from his angel and grinned at Faraday’s appreciative snickering. “Decided that this was not a monster to aggravate much more, but rather one that it’d be wise to befriend.”

That wasn’t… entirely the truth. That was when they’d decided to stick together, true enough, but over the centuries they had met a time or two. Goodnight had started short jaunts to the humans’ domains when he was around four hundred fifty, and Billy’d long since been on the job by then. But a month or two here or there compared with the years of the War was nothing at all, and it had been nice to have someone of his own ilk around to keep him in line… or at least attempt that daunting task.

“Well…” Teddy sounded hesitant, and he gave the demon an apologetic look. “Mister Chisolm said to come get you, but I don’t think he knew about your friend. Didn’t say nothing about him.”

“Wherever I go,” the demon said, tone even, “Billy goes.”

Faraday turned to look at the halfling, who honestly didn’t look like he wanted to argue the point. Instead of pushing or folding under the pressure, Teddy simply shrugged and knocked back his own drink.

Goodnight felt a smile cross his face. “We understand each other,” he remarked.

“So, since we have a day and a half’s ride to Junction City,” the Fae remarked, “but two days to kill, I say we spend a half day sharing drinks and trading tales.”

“And what manner of tales do you suggest, Mister Faraday?” Goodnight asked, leaning forward to lean on the table.

Faraday likewise leaned forward. “Oh, I dunno. Tales about the War, tales about things you saw in the world before the War, tales about deals you’ve made with humans, that sort of thing.”

The demon snorted indelicately. “I ain’t no crossroads demon, mon ami,” he retorted. “Ain’t really spent much time out in the world, neither. My life was somewhat… sheltered.”

“Are you telling me,” the Fae said, sitting up straight, “that you’ve only been above ground for a total of twenty years?”

“I spent a month or two here and there,” Goodnight replied, “but nothing of matter until the onset of the War.”

Faraday blinked then started laughing brightly. “Whatever you say, baby demon.”

That made Goodnight bristle, annoyance flowing over him. He was the youngest of the family, yes, and his favorite brother had feuded with Daddy over allowing him to fight, but he was a full-grown demon in his own right now. He had been when Ezekiel and Daddy had fallen out, and he had been when he and Ezekiel parted ways upon arriving on the surface. He didn’t even know what form his brother had chosen; they’d not even shifted from their true forms until separating on the surface.

But he was six hundred years old, for the gods’ sake. He was not a child.

“And what are you, exactly, Mister Faraday?” he asked icily; given the way the Fae stopped laughing to stare at him wide-eyed, his annoyance was coming through loud and clear.

“Oh,” Faraday said smoothly, “a little of this, a little of that. But what kind of demon are you if you ain’t one of them soul traders?”

“Something a mite different,” was all he would offer.

Next to him, Billy gave his you are being a little shit sigh. Goodnight ignored it. He was willing to go with this Fae to meet up with Sam, see what was what, but there was little chance of him actually trusting the older monster any time soon.

Baby demon. What a crock of shit.

Chapter Two – Apples

Teddy Q had grown up in an orchard.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. His mother had had an orchard, and she was outside amongst her apple trees every day of the week. Rain or shine, she spent at least three hours a day in the orchard, whispering to the trees and collecting fruit when it was ripe. And most of that time, Teddy was right beside her, listening to her words and absorbing the lessons.

“Halflings have to stick together,” she told him time and again. “Like calls to like, and although monsters will recognize you for what you are, not all of them are going to treat you as an equal.”

“That sounds a lot like how the humans act,” Teddy had said one time, a pout in his tone, and Momma had laughed that bell-like laugh she had.

“Oh, my sapling,” she’d replied. “Yes, many humans are that way. Your daddy is one of the exceptions. And you’ll find friends who like you for who you are, regardless of your blood.”

He hadn’t been entirely certain that her words were true, but he still went to school and attended to his lessons. And when the day was done, he rushed back home and tossed aside his books and made his way to the big apple tree in the center of Momma’s orchard.

That one, well… It was just special.

The big apple tree grew the sweetest fruits, no matter the season. It never suffered during times of drought or times when it was too wet, always just growing and thriving. The neighbors had asked time and again for Momma to give them a cutting, but she always just smiled and shook her head.

“It takes something special to make this sort of apple tree thrive,” she told them, and because she was an earth elemental, a dryad to to be more precise, they accepted that as the gospel truth.

When Teddy turned twenty, he decided he’d had enough of Missouri life and figured he’d go west. Momma and Daddy had just smiled, Momma’s a bit teary-eyed, and told him to go where his heart led him. Daddy had helped him buy up the supplies he’d need to go out into the world, and he made plans to join up with a wagon train in Independence that was headed out that-a-ways.

Momma, though…

Teddy could only stare at the small pot she’d handed him, filled with a bit of freshly-watered soil and a cutting from the big apple tree in their orchard.

“Momma,” he said finally, “I can’t take this.”

She had given him a firm look with her verdant eyes and said evenly, “Yes, my sapling, you can. You’re the only one I will ever trust with a cutting.” She had then smiled and said almost wistfully, “Watch it grow.”

He hadn’t seen his parents since, although he still wrote home often. Teddy had crossed the entire country with the same group, tending to the cutting the whole while and letting his instincts tell him just what it needed when. It took nearly five months to get to California, to the little newly established town of Rose Creek and the land that he’d purchased prior to leaving his family home.

And within the first week he was there, with just the bare bones of his house built up and honestly too late in the year to actually begin planting, Teddy took the cutting his mother had sent with him, the cutting that had survived five months of travel when he’d seen plants others had brought with them wither and die, and planted it just behind his new home.

He finished building his house with the help of his new friends in town within a week and was content with the one room. The cutting grew rapidly into first a sapling then into a tree in less time than it honestly should have taken; typically, it should have been about six years for the tree to grow enough and begin to produce, but Teddy’s tree was fully grown and producing within his first year in Rose Creek.

And from that one cutting, another dozen seemed to appear from nothing; one day it was the one tree that should not be mature, and the next there were even more saplings growing far quicker than they should have. And from that dozen came another ten or so, until Teddy Q had an orchard of twenty trees before his twenty-third birthday.

The people of Rose Creek knew that Teddy was part monster; the trees alone proved that. But they accepted him, because he always shared his apples without having to be asked. When newcomers arrived in town, he was one of the first to greet them, arriving to where they were building their homes with a bushel of apples or some apple tarts or, on one occasion, a handful of pennies and a smile for the newlywed Cullens.

And Teddy was happy in Rose Creek, with his small orchard and his connection to his primary apple tree and the secret knowledge that Emma Cullen was like him and that Matthew Cullen was well aware that Teddy wasn’t entirely human but was still his dearest friend in spite of—or because of—it.

And then the warlock Bogue arrived, searching for gold and demanding their land. He came with the hedge witch and the skin-walker and no respect for the land, the land which was all but screaming at Teddy to do something.

And then Bogue shot his best friend Matthew dead in the street, shot him down like a dog and told the sheriff to let the bodies rot in the sun.

The damned hedge witch McCann must have known that Teddy was planning to make a move of some sort, given than he slammed the stock of his gun into the back of his head, knocking him to the ground and nearly knocking him out. He managed to stay aware, however, watching as the church burned and as Emma’s eyes went from sorrowful to vengeful.

Teddy did not hesitate to help her bury her husband, his best friend in Rose Creek. He watched her dust off her hands and walk back towards her home even as he set up the cross and used his penknife to carve Matthew’s name into the wood. And then…

And then he walked back to his own home and began to gather up anything bright and shiny that would appeal to a monster, making sure to walk outside and ask his apple tree for one of its juiciest fruits, which it dipped its boughs and offered him three beautiful specimens to choose from. He plucked one, thanked his tree for its offerings, and dropped it into the bag before going back inside.

It took no time to change, and he was outside Emma’s door when she threw it open to stalk outside.

“Teddy?” she asked, confusion in her voice but that vengeful glimmer still in her eyes.

“He was my best friend. If you’re going for an army,” he said, before correcting himself to, “if you’re planning to find monsters to bring down on Bogue, then I ain’t letting you do it alone.” Teddy paused for a moment, remembering Momma’s words, and added, “Halflings have to stick together. That’s what my momma always said.”

He could see the gratitude in her eyes, but she didn’t ask what he was. He did her the same courtesy, knowing that someday she would share with him. But until then, Teddy would support the woman he thought of as a sister in her quest for vengeance.

And maybe, just maybe, whatever monster they found would appreciate the apple he had tucked in his rucksack. After all, it was good for the soul.

Chapter One – Lessons from Gran

She had been a young girl the first time Gran told her about the Fae, about how they would aid her if she had need of it.

“They have an affinity,” Gran said, “for shiny things. Do not offer them money, Emma my love, but offer trinkets. Gold and silver coins, buttons that shine in the light, a pocket watch that don’t keep time but that has the love of a lifetime embedded in the metal.”

“But you said don’t offer money, Gran,” young Emma protested with a frown, and Gran laughed.

“Don’t matter if the coins have value, darling. Just that they shine in the light.” Gran snorted and added, “Hell, a penny with just enough shine to the copper would make for a happy Fae. But there’s another thing to know.”

Emma blinked and waited, and Gran rewarded her with a smile and tucked a strand of red hair behind the girl’s ear.

“Whatever you do,” she said seriously, “do not accept a gift from the Fae. Gold is a tricky thing, usually from a leprechaun that may not have offered it willingly. And even if it wasn’t a leprechaun’s, it may turn to stone or sand when touched by the light. Trinkets from the Fae, especially those with fantastic traits, may come with a price tag. And in the same line, do not offer anything to the Fae which you aren’t willing to pay. Do not offer a child, firstborn or otherwise. Do not agree to dine with them unless you prepare the meal with your own hands. Do not go with them unless you know the destination.” Gran smiled then, a brilliant thing with white teeth that somehow unnerved others but left her family feeling loved. “Remember these things, my love, and you will never have need to fear the Fair Folk.”

“You know a lot about Fae, Gran,” Emma said admiringly. “Daddy says we have monster blood in our veins. Do we?”

And Gran only smiled and kissed her cheek and sent her outside to play.

It was only when Emma was sixteen and Gran was dying that she was given any clear answer.

“My daddy made a deal,” Gran whispered, and a glance at Daddy told the girl that he knew this tale already. “Wanted to have money to come to this country and went to a Faery mound to ask for aid. He offered up his firstborn child, boy or girl, as he didn’t intend to have a family until he made it here. Thought he’d found a loophole, he did.

“They made it so he could come here, and he met my momma in Virginia. They fell in love, and they had a baby girl.” Gran’s smile widened, showing those white teeth as she added, “And that very night, the Fae he’d made a deal with came to take my sister away and left me in her place. I was born in the Faery, my lamb, but your daddy and you carry my Changeling blood. You’ll see the monsters and know ‘em on sight—and they’ll know you ain’t all human—but you’ll be safe with them.”

There hadn’t been a body to bury; Gran’s relations from Faery came to collect her, and Emma caught a brief glimpse of a woman who could have been her daddy’s twin sister but was likely the child taken when Gran was left before they all vanished back into the mists. It wasn’t long after, maybe a year or two, that she met Matthew Cullen, and she was smitten. Daddy just laughed and told her that she was forever a wild thing when twenty-three year old Emma told him she was marrying that man, that they were going to go into the west and find a home there.

She never saw Daddy again; there was a fire on the farm just a few months after the wedding and they’d already started to their new home. Emma was certain that there wasn’t a body, given Daddy had more Fae in his blood, that their relations had come again to fetch him to Faery and whatever afterlife awaited those with monster blood.

But she was happy, with the secrets in her blood and her beautiful all-too-human Matthew. They had tried for a child, but the babe was born blue and not breathing, and it had nearly broken them both. Emma gave only the briefest of thoughts to finding a Faery ring, to making a deal like her great-grandfather’s, but Matthew had stopped her.

“We can try again,” he said, “but not like that. The price may be too high to pay.”

And god, but she knew it. So she prayed, to God and the gods and the Fae themselves, for a child. When a second child had come from her still and cold, she knew that it was probably her fault. Maybe the Fae blood was too diluted now, or maybe there was still too much. She’d never really known her momma, the woman who’d died when she was a small girl, or she’d wonder if there was a different kind of monster hiding in her blood that twisted the Fae just enough to keep her from delivering a living child.

But she and Matthew, they lived. They made their home in Rose Creek, and they agreed that they would try again when the farm began to prosper a bit.

Then someone found gold in the hills. Then the warlock had come with his human and monster workers, with the hedge witch and skin-walker and demands to buy their land.

Then the warlock came in to make a final offer of twenty dollars per parcel of “dust” and had shot her Matthew dead in the street as the church burned.

That was when Emma decided it was time to do something. She ignored Sheriff Harp’s order to leave the bodies in the street, had dragged Matthew’s body into the cemetery with Teddy Q’s aid, and buried her husband with her own two hands. Once her friend had erected the cross, Emma clapped the dirt from her hands and walked into the house she had shared with Matthew and began gathering trinkets.

Gold and silver disks she’d played with as a young girl that still sparkled in the light. Her daddy’s old pocket watch that no longer kept time but that he’d pressed into her hand the day she and Matthew set off for Rose Creek. A small rock that seemed to shine with the light of a crystal, one that Matthew had turned up in the dirt. Some pennies that Teddy had brought for them as a housewarming and a welcome to town gift, given with a grin and a wink that made Emma think her new friend may have some monster hiding in his family line as well.

She dumped all this into a bag, changed her clothes, and opened the door to fetch her horse. She found Teddy on the other side, also dressed for the trail and holding a bag that likely also contained shiny things.

“He was my best friend,” the young man declared, eyes narrowing. “If you’re going for an army, if you’re planning to find monsters to bring down Bogue, then I ain’t letting you do it alone. Halflings have to stick together. That’s what my momma always said.”

She didn’t ask what Teddy had in his blood; it didn’t matter. He knew that she wasn’t completely human and had shared his secret with her. That made them kin in her eyes, and she rode out of Rose Creek with her new brother in search of what she hoped was righteousness.

But she knew she would settle happily for revenge.