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Hunt: Exiles of the Realm by Adrienne Bell (1)

A New Arrival

The goblin straightened his spine before stepping out of the swirling portal and into the purgatory world.

He hadn’t wanted to come to this primitive rock. To Earth. No one did.

But what he wanted didn’t matter. He had his orders.

Billowing winds streamed from the open vortex behind him, whipping at his hair and clothes. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sealing relic. Without so much as a backwards glance, he tossed the enchanted clay token over his shoulder. A loud pop sounded, followed by a blinding blue flash.

The goblin let out a slow breath as the portal closed.

Now he was stuck in this forsaken world…at least, until he finished the job he’d been sent to do.

He stretched his long arms up and straightened the crimson-colored cap atop his head as he took in his surroundings. The king’s most trusted magician had picked this landing place. The ancient mage had assured him that the spot was uninhabited, and that much was true. He was alone. Still, the goblin was far from impressed.

He seemed to have been heaved into the corner of a lonely alleyway. Cold steel walls surrounded him, reaching all the way up to the blue sky above. The ground beneath his feet was hard, and grey…and filthy.

And then there was that smell.

The stench of decay hung heavy in the air. He glanced to his side and found the source—a large metal box overflowing with discarded food and drink. A puddle of brown liquid seeped from underneath.

Disgusting.

Sure, there were those back in the Realm who believed his kind were nothing more than greedy, vicious predators, but not even goblins were so barbaric as to let mounds of perfectly good food rot in the sun. These mortals were even worse than the stories told.

There was no sense staying here any longer than necessary.

He turned the corner and strode down the narrow corridor toward the edge of the alley. The monstrous view that met him once he reached the street wasn’t any better. His gaze slid along an unbroken expanse of metal and glass buildings, crammed side by side without even a whisper of space between them.

So, this was how these filthy mortals lived.

If they could call this living…packed together, sucking in foul air, toiling their days away inside colorless boxes until death finally came.

For the first time since setting foot in this forsaken place, a smile cracked the corners of the goblin’s wide mouth.

Little did they know that death had come. For one of them, at least.

And any others that had the misfortune of getting in his way.

He’d been sent here for one purpose. A royal purpose.

To kill Bron Douglas.

The order had come straight from the mouth of the king himself. Oberon didn’t care the method. He didn’t care about the damage left behind. All he wanted was the head of his wife’s former lover.

And if the goblin failed to bring it, the king would take his head instead.

The goblin had accepted the mission without hesitation…and not just because no one ever disobeyed a royal order, but because death was his calling. Tracking and killing made his blood sing, gave his life meaning. His natural talents as an assassin gave him the ability to pursue the invisible, and defeat the invincible, but it was his results that had raised him through the ranks of the Royal Army.

The goblin raised a bony finger and flicked at the amber-colored crystal dangling from the chain around his neck. The phoenix cage sizzled against his bare skin, but he pushed back the pain. The burn was a small price to pay for the power trapped inside.

Power that had made him one of the most feared creatures in the Realm—an immortal assassin. An unstoppable killer. A Redcap.

And not just any Redcap.

He had risen to the top of the king’s own brigade. It was no surprise. His power was the strongest. His crystal burned the brightest.

And that was why the king had personally chosen him for this delicate assignment. Here in this magic-less land, he was more god than soldier. He could rip any of these pitiful mortals in half with his bare hands. He could bathe in their blood and dine on their flesh, and no one could stop him.

No one.

Not even Bron Douglas.

Queen Titania’s former huntsman was still something of a legend back in the Realm of Light—a mere man who became not only a hunter but one of the best in all the fae kingdom. But exile had changed him, sapped his strength, dulled his instincts. No doubt, Bron’s time here on Earth had him longing for death. It was a cowardly craving even the Redcap could understand. After all, no one who had tasted the sweet allure of magic’s power could ever be content living in this barren hellhole. It was the only reasonable explanation as to why his world’s most celebrated hunter had given up even trying to hide.

While the rest of the exiles that had been imprisoned here a little less than a year ago still did their best to shield themselves from the court magicians’ prying eyes, Bron walked out in the open. Not only that but he kept to the same routine, day in and day out. Always appearing at the storefront across the street at the same time every morning.

There was only one reason a man with Bron’s hunting and tracking skills would make such a simple mistake—he wanted to be found.

Found…and put out of his misery.

Such an uncomplicated mission should have made him happy, but the Redcap didn’t bother hiding the withering disappointment growing inside him. Even though he despised the thought of staying on this forsaken rock even a moment longer than he had to, he loathed an easy hunt even more. The very idea of a charitable one made his skin crawl.

He was no instrument of mercy. He was an unstoppable killing machine.

A creature of his talents should have been sent to take out any of Bron’s fellow exiles—the ones who were still real threats to the crown. He’d relish the chance to go after Fenrir, the wolf prophesied to usurp the king’s throne, or the disgraced magician, Merlin, who had spun the prophecy. The goblin would’ve even been honored to have the task of bringing down Shay Madrid, the infamous jinn. He’d never brought one of that kind down before.

But no, Oberon had reserved the glory of those kills for more distinguished soldiers. For the lowly hunter who had shamefully stolen into the queen’s bed, the king had sent his secret assassin.

But the goblin couldn’t complain. He knew his role. And he was very good at it.

The best.

He would clean up the king’s mess, quickly and quietly…and try to take satisfaction in a job well done.

That and the promise of a quick return home.

The Redcap recoiled as a light suspended over the center of the street changed color and a line of metal coaches spewing foul-smelling smoke roared past. The bright morning sun glinted off their windows, momentarily blinding him.

The pedestrians hurrying past him on the side of the street didn’t seem to mind the noise and light. They did seem to mind him though.

A few of the mortals turned their heads his way, their eyes widening as their gazes met his. Some sped their steps; others scurried to give him a wider berth. Apparently, their mortal instincts were keen enough to sense the danger he presented despite his benign appearance.

The corners of his lips curled up. He would’ve loved to bask in their sweet fear a little longer, but extra attention was the last thing he needed right now. There wasn’t much cover at the mouth of this open alleyway, but fortunately he’d come prepared.

The Redcap reached into the leather satchel hanging over his left hip and pulled out a small grey orb. He tossed the relic high above his head, and a moment later the sunny sky was draped in dark clouds. A second after that, raindrops started to fall. In less than a minute, thick sheets of rain blanketed the street. No longer interested in him, people ran for cover from the sudden storm.

Perfect, he thought, pulling up the collar of his coat and leaning against the slick metal wall beside him.

Now all he had to do was wait.

Wait until Bron Douglas realized what was happening and came out of the storefront across the street. The one with the white mug painted on the window and the hanging wooden sign above the door that read “Cafe Citta.”