Austin, Texas, 2010

Sifa crouched low on the roof top overhanging the alley where she’d left the hunter with her axe in his shoulder. Her fingers rested lightly against the tiles that still held the faintest touch of warmth from the day before as she used them to keep her balanced. He was younger than she’d expected and less… imposing. Watching the beasts that lingered over him arguing about whether they ought to bring him to the hospital she couldn’t help but feel a spark of pity for the boy. It wasn’t his fault he’d been born to that beast of a woman and forged by the creatures he called brothers. Though, they were all human, in essence, it was there cores that were truly corrupted, she reminded herself.

Waiting until the beasts reluctantly agreed to take him to the emergency ward before she moved, Sifa followed for a short while, creeping from roof to roof until they piled the boy into the back of a pickup, pausing long enough to tear her axe from his shoulder, jerking him into consciousness before they sped off. She shook her head as she watched the tail lights fade around a distant corner. Beasts. Berserkers. That was the only comparable creature she’d encountered. And to think their mother had bred them that way deliberately. She wasn’t sure which was worse, mother or monsters.

Swinging easily over the eaves, Sifa allowed herself to hang for just a moment before dropping to the footpath, feeling the vibrations echo up her legs as she landed. She sighed and began making her way back to her car. Why Kesi had asked she hunt these particular hunters, she couldn’t know, but she found herself with a growing sense of discontent at the act. Until this night she hadn’t seen them up close, and certainly hadn’t expected the pup to be the one to track her first. That, and she’d been bored. Now, now she was just sad. Sad for the boy, for what was done to him and the image of what he’d become in the form of his brothers.

She shuddered at the memory of his glee upon locating her. He would have enjoyed it, had his arrow struck true. She needed to remember he wasn’t the teen he appeared to be, but a monster, one still being forged, but monster none the less.

Though she was certain the hunters would be occupied at the hospital for some hours, undoubtedly having to lie through their teeth about what exactly had happened to the boy, she still took caution on her approach to the local base. Kesi had taken a personal interest in this case after all, and as such has joined Sifa on the journey. If she inadvertently led hunters to their door there would be hell to pay.

Pulling into the driveway, she pressed the remote and watched her headlights shift over the solid panels while they vanished behind the walls of the base. She’d scarcely crossed the threshold when she pressed the remote again to close the gate, slipping out of the car to watch the panels shift back into place. After a final scan of the wall she turned for the base, which was disguised as nothing more than a large, suburban home. A print scanner at the door read her thumbprint and permitted her entry, the door swinging in unaided and she walked in. She ignored the shush as the door glided closed behind her.

The top floor was dark and empty, the perfect image of a sleeping household, and Sifa turned for the basement stairs in the darkness, descending them based on nothing more than feel, and marched on towards the faint glow of a print scanner at the back of the pitch dark basement when her feet met concrete. Again, the door swung open by itself, releasing a shaft of light that momentarily blinded her. She blinked through it and walked into the base in true. It wasn’t a frontdown here, it was a business centre, three floors deep with offices, training centre, medical centre, a few small holding cells and rows of bunks for those stationed here. Scanning the clean white of the offices she’d emerged into, her gaze briefly caught on the Maat logo, a golden ankh with Maat’s red feather within, the only colour in the crisp space. Even the few revenants that lingered to work so late were dull, dressed in black and bored.

Sifa was no different, she realised, grimacing in distaste. The only difference between them was the nature of their attire, theirs designed for office work, hers for hunting. She was a predator, and they were nothing but sheep.

Forcing her expression smooth, she made her way to the one separate office in the entire base, kept specifically in the unlikely event that Kesi may visit. She imagined it had been quite the shock for the administrators of this base when they received word that this office would be used.

She didn’t pause to knock before she entered. Sifa’s awe and fear of Kesi had worn off decades ago.

“How was your hunt?” Kesi asked unsurprised, not looking up from her screen, her fingers moving across keys with expert ease.

“Eventful,” Sifa replied flatly, standing across from Kesi’s desk with her arms folded over her chest. “I caught up with the young one.”

“You did, and?”

Sifa shrugged. “He’s smaller than I was expecting.”

“Is he dead?”

“Not when I last saw him.”

Kesi finally tore her eyes away from her screen, frowning up at Sifa who simply stared back levelly.

“Why not?”

“His brothers got in the way. They’re much larger than he is.”

Kesi rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m well aware. But I’d expect my head of security to be capable of handling such a situation.”

“Don’t worry, Kesi, I’ll handle it. After all, I left my axe in his shoulder. I’m quite attached to the weapon,” she said dryly.

Shaking her head, Kesi sat back in her chair, folding thin arms over her chest. “Did you discover anything of interest?”

Sifa considered the question, remembered the hunters eyes. So blue even the shadows hadn’t been able to steal the colour. She shook her head. “Perhaps he has more restraint than the rest, but he’s still just a hunter.”

The corners of Kesi’s lips curled up and Sifa narrowed her eyes at her.

“What were you expecting me to see, Kesi?”

“Nothing of import.”

“Then why have you left the comfort of headquarters? Why risk your security?”

“My security is your job. Asking questions is not,” she informed her, voice icing over.

Shaking her head, Sifa let her arms drop to her sides, staring down the ancient child before her. “A fact I’m well aware of.”

“Good.” Kesi’s expression smoothed into a cold, polite smile and she sat forward, returning her fingers to her keyboard. “I expect you’ll have the problem dealt with quickly. Maybe give him a chance to heal before you kill him, I’d like to learn more about his hunting abilities and assume your written report will be more enlightening.”

“Yes, Kesi,” Sifa muttered, grinding her teeth as she recognised the dismissal and turned from the room.

Kesi was up to something. Sifa had been in her service for over a century and had come to know her routines, learned to see beyond the sweet, benevolent mask her childish face granted her. Kesi was as much a predator as she, only her weapons came in the form of people and words, and something in Sifa recognised that her mission was just another hunt on Kesi’s behalf. To what end, she could only imagine, and hope the outcome would be for the greater good. That this hadn’t always been true of Kesi’s requests of her, however, sent her stomach into a sickening twist.

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