I hid the case with the sword and revolver in my closet.  I hung up my coat and hat, and grabbed my bathroom stuff.  I looked into a mirror in the shared area, and started to cut off my beard.  I shaved, making my face clean.  If I was being followed, it might be a good idea to look different.  Following that impulse, I started to cut off my hair, snipping the locks.  I cleaned up the mess and took a shower before going to bed.

            The next morning I used hair gel for the first time in ages, trying to make my short hair look “cool.”  I dressed in a nice shirt and khaki pants instead of my usual jeans and sweatshirt, emerging into public a lot more stylish than usual.

            Dan laughed when he saw me in the cafeteria at breakfast.  “See, I told you I was rubbing off on him!  My man’s looking good today.”

            I shrugged and grinned.  “I just got tired of looking like a lumberjack.”

            “Well, I think you look very nice, Ethan.”  Teri smiled.  “I bet Lil is very pleased.”

            “We actually stopped talking a little while ago.”  I admitted.  “We weren’t that good a fit.”

            “That’s too bad,” Evan said, digging in to his bacon and eggs.  “I think all of us liked her inviting us out to fancy places and then ignoring us.”

            Teri and Dan laughed.  I just nodded, wondering how we could live in such different worlds.  They were normal, interested in dating and parties.  Me, I had just survived an attack by malicious demons bent on world domination.

***

My uncle’s funeral was held the next Saturday.  Mourners gathered, hymns were sung.  Reverend Craig spoke.  It was a blur for me, as if all of it were a television show with the volume turned down to a muffled dim roar in the background.  I was surrounded by family and friends from town, and had never felt so alone.  They would all go on about their lives, while I struggled with forces most of them probably didn’t even believe in.

            Only a few of us braved the weather at the gravesite.  Gusts of wind bit at our faces, snow swirling around us in twirling ballets.  My mother gripped my elbow, mourning and at the same time trying to comfort me.  I wondered if she was thinking about how I had almost died here when I was fourteen, abandoned by Dan and some other bullies after a beating.  My grandmother cried as my uncle was laid to rest not far from her husband.  This town was full of bitter memories.

            The family gathered at our farmhouse for a quiet wake, eating sandwiches and drinking tea.  I could hear the soft tones of conversation as I wandered through the house, greeting people quietly, nodding when they spoke.  I took some dishes into the kitchen and put them in the sink.  I looked out the window and saw a man in a coat standing by the barn, outlined by one of the lights on the building.

            I drew a knife from my mother’s wooden holder on the counter.  I grabbed one of my dad’s coats in the mudroom, pulling on an old pair of boots.  I shoved the knife into one of the coat’s deep pockets.  I put on a brown winter hat and opened the back door, plodding through snowdrifts towards the barn.  The man was quickly moving away, circling the yard towards the road.  I hurried to catch up.

            He stopped at the corner of the road, under a streetlight.  Our homestead was on the edge of the town proper, another five minutes of walking and you’d reach more houses, with the cemetery perhaps another block further on.

            “We meet again.”  The burnt man said, his ravaged face outlined in light.  His breath didn’t show in the cold air like a normal person’s would.  There was no warmth to him.

            “What are you doing here?” I asked, my voice tight.

            “If it were up to me, I’d be here to kill you.  But, I have been sent to offer a truce.  Stay out of our matters and we’ll stay out of yours.”

            My fingers tightened on the knife in my pocket.

            “You should have thought of that before killing my uncle and trying to kill me.”

            “And you are trifling with matters you cannot possibly comprehend.”

            “I can comprehend that your bosses or masters or whoever must be pretty scared, to offer a truce now after realizing you can’t kill me that easily.  That tells me a lot more than your stupid message.”

            He glared at me.  “Be thankful I am bound to service and must follow orders, or I would kill you for your insolence.”

            “Good thing I don’t have any orders to follow, then.”

            I snapped my foot towards his knee, causing him to swing his arm out reflexively to block it.  I drew my knife from my pocket in a blur.  I drove my arm down swiftly, plunging the knife into his neck to the hilt.  His eyes bulged as he gurgled, trying to breathe around the blade in his throat.  He couldn’t talk.

            I twisted the knife, tearing at windpipe and oesophagus.  I looked deep into his soulless eyes.

            “Oh, this won’t kill you.  I know the rules.”  His eyes glared at me with those words, showing a glimmer of something like fear.  “You go back to your friends and you tell them I know.  Tell them I’m coming.  And you tell them to be afraid.”

            He almost smiled at that, as if this was a ridiculous idea, even with a knife in his throat.  To educate him, I pulled it out swiftly and just as quickly sliced across his eyes, blinding him.

            “Tell them.  That is, if you can find them.”

            I turned and walked home.

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Ethan

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