‘I love you, you know.’ He pushes closer into the crook of my arm, his hair tickling the bare skin under my forearm. His bottom lip is slack, purple, blue and red, swollen to the size of my thumb. ‘I mean, you… you saved my life. From that… heehee, that kitty cat.’ He laughs like a dope, the veins in his neck violet against his pale skin. ‘You… you’re hurt, lady.’
‘Yeah.’ I let him drop just a little before pushing him back up into my hold. The ‘kitty’ didn’t half claw, the front of my chest is all but shredded, blood seeping through the bandages I shoddily applied in the heat of the battle. If I didn’t know better, I would say these demons were getting stronger. But no, there are just too many of them for one person to handle.
‘Let’s just get you home in one piece first and then we’ll worry about me.’ I pull him along with strength that cannot be mine. My scythe hangs across my shoulder, its blade cutting a sharp shadow across the frosty ground. The boy groans, though mostly due to the drugs pumping through his veins. He’ll wake up tomorrow morning thinking he just had a bad trip. Just. I’m getting sloppy though, letting the demons break out of the dream world, taking the innocent. Gods, this was what I told myself I wouldn’t let happen. I’m sitting on a hotspot, a ‘hell mouth’. All the demons that converge here come for the power that comes with the crossing of so many lay-lines, but all that does is make my job even harder.
I’m a hunter, one of only six left alive in this world, so it’s my job to keep them safe. Once upon a time, there were more of us, hundreds, thousands blessed with the sight and the power to protect. We overwhelmed the demons, one hundred to one. But then we became sloppy, let our guard down. In the end, they were the ones who outnumbered us. It wasn’t a battle, a war. It was a massacre. All of us, piled up in the dream dimension, row upon row of maimed and bloody corpses. Suddenly, I was all alone. A little girl only just learning how to fight the nightmares; she had to learn fast to stay alive, to protect the family she had left. She didn’t know it at the time, but soon she’d learn that other people didn’t care. They had their own problems, and in that world no one cared that that I was fighting for my life every night to not only protect myself but also all those who ignored me. I withdrew from normal life, locking myself away so I could sleep and train. It’s hard to master something when you have no one to train you or guide you.
It wasn’t always like this though, I had my grandmother once, and for ten years into my short life she guided me and taught me the ways of my trade. She showed me the beauty of my weapon, my power, and gave to me the knowledge that, time and time again, saved my life. There have been hundreds of demons, though it never feels as if I’m getting any stronger. They only serve to remind me that I can only teach myself so much. Some things have to be learnt in the field, but with such an unpredictable enemy as soon as one lesson is concluded a new, tougher, deadlier one comes along. And people wonder why I oversleep.
‘Are we… Are we almost there…’ He slurs, his eyes half open.
‘Hey, cut that out.’ I push his hand away from my crotch, forgiving him only because of the drugs that confuse his entire mind. ‘And yes. We are almost there. See that light?’ I guide his hand to the pinprick of white on the horizon. ‘Yeah? That’s home. That’s where we’re going.’
‘Hold me.’ He clings like a toddler, nervousness in his eyes. ‘You won’t leave me, lady? You won’t leave me alone like… like that bitch back there did. God… fffu-‘
‘That’s enough talk from you.’ I put my hand gently over his mouth, feeling his stagnant breath in its palm.
‘What…What’s your name, pretty lady? I want to… I wanna know the name of the… the girl who, heehee, saved my life…’
‘It’s Ash. One syllable. Not that I expect you to remember it though-‘
Ash. The only part of a fire that is left behind. Fitting, stupidly so. I look to the pinprick again, so tiny, so insignificant yet I have spent my whole life trying to protect it. Why do I care so much for one tiny speck on the horizon? Aren’t there a thousand more like it, floating around up there? What makes the one I call home so special?
Because, like you, it’s the only thing left behind after so much catastrophe.