Grab Your Copy Now!Author Jeff Gunhus Jeff Gunhus is the author of the Amazon bestselling supernatural thriller, Night Chill, and the Middle Grade/YA series, The Templar Chronicles. The first book of the series, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven-year old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born. His book Reaching Your Reluctant Reader has helped hundreds of parents create avid readers. Killer Within is his second novel for adults. As a father of five, he and his wife Nicole spend most of their time chasing kids and taking advantage of living in the great state of Maryland. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the City Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel. If you see him there, sit down and have a cup of coffee with him. You just might end up in his next novel.
Just then, Eva stepped out from the brush directly into the forest path, straddling it with her feet set wide apart like a gunslinger in an old Western. For the life of me, I don’t know how she got that close without me seeing her, but she did.
“Hey,” she called out. “Wolfboy. Where do you think you’re going?”
Even as a vampire, Eva retained her English accent. Usually that took the edge off what she said, but she managed to deliver the challenge to Daniel with so much condescension and mockery that I thought he might charge at her.
Daniel spun around, lips curled back, every tooth showing. What I thought was a snarl before was no more than a tiny growl compared to the vicious sound that now came from his mouth. The skin on my arms and across the back of my neck turned to gooseflesh. I was, after all, a monster hunter. That snarl activated every instinct I had to pull my sword and fight. But I held steady, knowing that if they attacked each other, it was going to be up to me to pull them apart.
“I’m right here,” Eva hissed, barring her teeth to show her vampire fangs. “Come and get me, you dog.”
The words were barely out of her mouth before Daniel launched himself toward her. She crouched low where she was, her face twisting into a terrible mask of hate, her fangs extending out of her mouth past her lower lip, her hands held in front of her like claws.
Daniel took three enormous steps, landing the third immediately beneath the rabbit still desperately kicking to free itself. The second Daniel’s paws touched the ground, the forest floor gave way and he fell out of sight.
The cloth covering the hole we’d dug fell into the trap with him, dragging a layer of dirt and leaves in with it.
Eva lifted her nose in the air, picking up a scent.
“What is it?” I asked.
But it was T-Rex who answered. “That’s rabbit stew, is what that is.”
I sniffed the air. He was right. I smelled food of some kind. The sweet aroma of carrots mixed with earthy potatoes and root vegetables. I couldn’t tell if it was rabbit stew like T-Rex claimed, but I wouldn’t have bet against him.
“Could be a trap,” Daniel said.
“Okay, let’s drop the act,” I said. “Swords.”
All of us pulled our weapons, some of us slower than others. Xavier and T-Rex both got theirs twisted in their shirts but eventually got them out and went on guard.
“We know you’re there,” I called to the woods around us. “Come out and show us that –”
An arrow flew an inch over my head and buried itself into the tree behind me.
“Take cover,” I yelled.
I ran to the trees, pulling Xavier with me. Another arrow slammed into the ground in front of me. I changed direction, but another arrow let loose and again dug into the soil, kicking up dirt and leaves.
I got the point. This wasn’t someone missing. It was someone sending me a very clear message. Stop moving or I’ll shoot you.
A quick glance around showed me the others fared no better. There were arrows sticking from the ground and trees all around us, but none of us were hit.
“Okay,” I called out. “We get it.”
“Weapons down,” came a high-pitched voice in the tree above us.
I looked up and saw a flutter of movement among the leaves, but then it was gone.
“Weapons down, I said,” came the voice again. “Or I’ll put an arrow in the fat one’s tummy.”
“Is he talking about me?” T-Rex asked. “I’ve actually lost a bit of weight, you know.”
I put my sword on the ground in front of me and motioned for everyone to do the same. We all had backup weapons stashed on our bodies – throwing knives, stars, daggers and the like – so I wasn’t too worried about giving up my sword. Daniel caught my eye. He had his hand on the Templar Ring as if he was about to pull it from his finger. I felt a surge of excitement that I could wear it again. But that would also mean we’d have to deal with an out of control werewolf in our midst.
I shook my head. I figured if whoever or whatever was in the trees wanted us dead, then they would have already taken a shot at us.
“Who are you?” came the voice again. “What are you doing here?”
“We’re travelers seeking shelter for the night, maybe a warm meal,” I said, speaking the words every monster hunter knew by heart. It was the way members of the Black Guard identified themselves. “We ask for your hospitality. Have we come to the place where such kindness is freely given?”
There was an excited chattering of voices in the trees, and then a person fell from the sky, hitting the ground with a solid thump. Then another. And another. Finally, I counted an even dozen of them even though I wasn’t sure what they were.
They were half-sized men, the tallest only a little higher than my waist. They all carried bows as big as they were, cradled in rough, thick hands and muscled arms. Their bodies were stout and clad in flexible leather armor studded with small squares of iron in decorative patterns. What made them creepy was that while their bodies looked like they belonged to middle-aged men, their faces bore the smooth features of someone no more than nine or ten years old. While their arms and necks were wrinkled and tanned with time, their faces were pale and their eyes looked too shiny, like they were on the edge of crying. Still, their faces looked blank, so I didn’t think they were emotional about anything. All I knew was that my skin crawled as their moist eyes looked me over.
“So who is it that asks the old question in the old way?” the one nearest us asked. “We’d like to know that very much.”
All twelve of them nodded in unison as they moved closer to us. I fought a sudden impulse to flinch back. I’d suddenly realized what was so odd about them. All of them had the same face.
I didn’t notice at first because some of them wore their hair differently, some wore helmets, and others had scars from some long ago battle. But once I looked for it, there was no mistake. All the faces were the same.
“Just travelers looking for rest,” Eva said. If these strange beings unnerved her, then she was better at hiding it than I was. But the fact that she jumped in to make sure I didn’t tell these strange creatures our names told me she wasn’t comfortable either.
“Can I ask your name, friend?” Daniel asked.
A different one of them stepped forward. “We are the Talib. As for names, you can ask. We can ask. But will the answers and truth be told? Think not, we do.”
“Great, we ran into a herd of Yodas,” Will said under his breath.