40. How to Be a Hunter
Dimly, I remembered hearing a scream. It was only later that I realized it had come from me.
Then, seeing my little brother gazing at me, wide-eyed, fear shooting out from his every pore, something snapped inside of me. I saw the predator behind him, draining Thomas of his life, not paying the least bit of attention to me. Clearly, it didn’t see me as a threat.
A big mistake on its part.
The stake fit firmly into my hand, the wood pressing comfortingly against my palm as my fingers tightened around it. Raising it high, I made to aim for the vampire’s heart - it was just barely visible behind Thomas’ shoulder.
I rearranged my feet, widening my stance in order to gain as much power behind the throw as I could. But my foot scuffed against the pavement, and the vampire, its augmented senses picking up on the movement, glanced up and saw me preparing to kill.
In one swift movement, it attacked Thomas again with a renewed frenzy. Blood sprayed, and without thinking, the stake left my hand, flying through the air and burrowing itself into the vampire’s chest. With a screech of pain, the vampire jerked away from my brother and began to crumble into dust. All that was left was its skeleton, still in decent shape. The vampire had only been a century or two old, then.
I didn’t bother grabbing the stake, jutting out between the vampire’s rib cage. My attention was fixed solely on Thomas, who had crumbled to the ground the moment the vampire was no longer supporting it.
I slammed to my knees beside him, blood soaking into my jeans. There was so much blood, but I barely noticed it, barely acknowledged where it was coming from.
“Tommy,” I whispered, bringing my hands up to his neck, pressing down gently on the wound to prevent any more blood from escaping. “Tommy, are you all right?”
He didn’t respond. He must have still been in shock since he was staring at me, his eyes wide with fear, his mouth slightly agape.
“It will be okay, Tommy,” I murmured, brushing a hand through his hair. The dark strands shone in the gloomy glow of the streetlight, the blood matting and clumping it together. “Just focus on breathing, okay? When you feel up to it, we’ll go back to the safehouse and bandage you up. We’ll have you on painkillers until the venom leaves your system, okay?”
Vampire venom was an annoying side effect of being bitten. Once it reaches the bloodstream, it causes an intense pain that feels like you’re being burned from the inside out. It dies down after about three days, but three days is a long time to spend writhing in agony, feverish and hallucinating. There was an ointment that could be put over the wound that counteracts the venom, but the ingredients were hard to come by and were often in the hand of magic-wielders.
The wielders were the most neutral of supernatural beings, but it was impossible to know if they would take advantage of human weakness or were actually decent beings. A few weeks ago, when Cedric got bit on patrol, Anya went out to find a witch who had a wide assortment of antidotes for numerous things. She never came back, and Cedric was incapacitated for days. There have been two more bites since then, but nobody was willing to entangle with the wielders, on the slight chance that they’ll become a magical experimental subject.
I had been lucky. I got bit last year and was only in pain for a few hours before Mom brought me the ointment.
“If the pain’s too much for you to manage,” I continued, not noticing the way my left hand, still pressing against Thomas’s neck, was completely coated with his blood. “I’ll go out myself and find a wielder willing to help. But you’re strong, Tommy. You’ll be fine.”
Still no response from him. He hadn’t moved in a while.
Cedric’s voice rang out of the shadows, and I glanced up, straining to see him as he approached.
“Cedric!” I exclaimed, shifting in excitement. “It’s okay, Tommy, Cedric’s here now. We’ll get you back to the safehouse and bandage you up.”
He stepped into the glow of the streetlight, dropping to his knees beside me. “What happened?” he asked, frantically examining Thomas. My baby brother didn’t acknowledge the second presence. He’d never been attacked before - he must still be in shock.
“A vampire,” I explained, anxiety rushing through me. “He bit Tommy. It’s okay, I killed it, but I think Tommy’s in shock. He’s not being very responsive.” I bit my lip and glanced back down at him - and I finally acknowledged the blood. The amount of it. My veins went cold, ice spreading through my skin, my eyes flying back up to Cedric.
His face was white.
“Reese,” he said, his voice soft, calm - too calm. “Reese, he’s...” he cut off, inhaling a long, shaky breath. “He’s not okay.”
“I know that,” I said. “He needs to go back to the safehouse, where we can - ”
“Reese,” his voice grew urgent. “He’s... gone.”
“What?” I narrowed my eyes, even as I began to shake. “No, he’s not. He just needs - ”
“He’s dead, Reese.” He placed a hand gently over mine, the one coated with blood from Thomas.
“No, he’s not - ” I cut myself off, finally seeing. He was still staring at me - no, not at me, not at anything. His eyes were glazed over and cloudy. Unseeing. Unblinking. His chest wasn’t rising or falling, there was no rasping breath or rush of air flying into his lungs - he wasn’t breathing. And his pulse - where my hand was positioned, I should have been able to feel his pulse through his neck. But there was nothing there. The blood wasn’t pulsing out of his neck - it was oozing, seeping out, beginning to clot.
A sob escaped me, and Cedric’s arms came around me, pulling me close. I felt his own silent tears drip on my neck, running down my collarbone and falling onto my shirt.
The streetlight overhead flickered and went out, casting us into sudden darkness. The new moon offered no light for us to see by, with our ridiculous weak human vision.
Beneath us, Thomas’ eyes flew open, and he stirred.
Christian Roy’s home was up in Bridle Path, an upscale residential neighborhood in North York. Before the Takeover, it was a place where celebrities and the rich would call home, but since then, it’s been taken over by the largest vampire clan in the city.
Vampires like to live in style. They like beautiful, flawless things, such as themselves, and often surround themselves with such items. The older a vampire was, the more material possessions they owned, and the more wealth they had - they fooled humans for many years by faking their deaths countless times and leaving everything they owned to some unknown relative who just so happened to look exactly like them. Christian Roy was the oldest of them all, at nearly a thousand years old. Vampires rarely lived that long, mostly because they get sick of life and feel weary at the idea of eternity stretching before them. Christian’s way to avoid this feeling is to change his lifestyle every few decades or so. I guess his recent rebellions against the werewolves were him trying to spruce up his life a bit.
As we stepped in the front door of his mansion - I’d never been in a mansion before - I couldn’t help but feel very out of place here. I mean, I was dressed up in another horrendous dress that Evangeline had lent me, and my hair was actually cooperating and was cascading down my shoulders in large waves that made me wish for a ponytail. I even had makeup on, my blue eyes shining around the dark eyeliner Rebecca had put on me before we left. But still, despite my temporary glow-up, I knew that I would never have the god-like complex of a vampire or the classic beauty of a werewolf. And I was fine with that. It meant that I was the most human supernatural being in the city.
I tugged the dress down so it brushed against my knees. I was glad I didn’t have to wear one of those exposing dresses I often wore to clubs to go hunting, but I wasn’t even sure you could call those dresses. They were more like abominations.
Elijah was to my left, looking... attractive in his pristine suit and tie. He looked like he knew what he was doing. Hell, if he drew all the attention to himself and away from me, nobody should be able to guess that I had no idea what I was doing.
Rebecca, on his other side, was every bit the majestic werewolf-Barbie I knew she could be. As we strode into the foyer, more than a few of the gazes of lingering vampires landed on her, made their assessment, and nodded their approval.
I was fairly certain nobody did that with me. In fact, it would be more likely that they were watching me to see if I would fall over in the heels I wore.
Sucks for them, no pun intended. I’m Reese Hearne. I hate heels and looking pretty and everything about this situation, but I don’t fall.
Ahead of us, in front of the gallery, was a stunning man, all shades of black and white, from the inky blackness of his hair to the pale shade of his skin to the neatly pressed suit he wore. Does he match his clothing on purpose? If it wasn’t for the intimidating menace with which he held himself, I would have been amused.
The information I knew about him, which I’d memorized years ago, ran through my head. Christian Roy. Nine-hundred and eighty-seven years old. Born in London, England, where he lived for six hundred years. Lived in America for three hundred years. Moved to Canada nearly a century ago. Head of Toronto’s largest vampire clan. One of my targets.
I forgot what it was like to know all the basic information about somebody. How it felt to come across one of my targets and know I had the chance to kill them. That the element of surprise was all I needed.
I’d missed the feeling. While stuck with the pack, though surrounded by my targets, I didn’t have anything to kill them with without my dagger. It was infuriating, but now that I had a target of a different species standing before me, I species I could kill with a bit of sharpened wood, I felt a tension I didn’t know I had leave my body.
“Elijah Randon!” Christian called out, a delighted smile spreading across his perfectly sculpted face. Despite the beauty of vampires, however, I found them too fake for my taste. Werewolves, no matter how much I hated them, were far more... sexy.
I shoved the thought out of my mind as soon as it came to me.
“Christian.” Elijah’s tone was almost bored, his hands shoved into the pockets of his unbuttoned jacket. I watched the casual movement, sensing the power emanating from the stance. While Christian stood in a way that was almost threatening, Elijah’s position, a show of his power, was far more threatening.
Especially if you know about the malice that lurks beneath his skin.
Christian glanced to Elijah’s left, where Rebecca stood. His smile grew, and he winked. “Rebecca, my dear, always a pleasure to see you.”
The smile she flashed him looked more like a grimace. “It’s been far too long, Christian.”
His gaze then fell on me, and he frowned. “And who might you be?”
The smile I flashed him was far more convincing than Rebecca’s. I think it was more seductive, too, since the corner of his lip turned up a bit. “I’m Reese,” I said. “I’ve heard quite a lot about you, Christian Roy.” I then proceeded to rattle off the details I’d learned about him over the years, all mostly general knowledge, but some of it required digging to learn. I could tell which bits of information weren’t widely known, for his frown deepened into confusion and a subtle wariness. When I was done, I folded my hands in front of me and did my best to look serene.
“Where did you find this intelligent woman, Elijah?” Christian took a step toward me. Elijah began to sidestep, an impulse, and I promptly cleared my throat to stop his sudden movement. Surprisingly, he actually listened. Good dog. “She’s quite beautiful, too.” This time, he winked at me, and a flush spread across my face. Damn charming vampire. I needed to be called beautiful more often.
“She’s mine.” Elijah, the possessive prick, growled out a warning. Christian hesitated, eyeing me with a newfound interest. He inhaled sharply.
“Yes, I see that now,” he said, eyes glinting. “She smells of you. Amazing, Elijah, how you’ve finally found your mate. Somebody to lead the pack by your side, helping you to shoulder the burden. But she’s not a werewolf, is she? She doesn’t smell of your kind. She smells...” he inhaled again. “Magical. Are you a witch, beautiful Reese?”
Stupid vampires and their stupid senses. I’d completely forgotten how magic had its own traceable scent. I guess it was a good thing how I’d had it blocked off all these years, or else I would have been found very quickly when I was a Hunter. Anxiously, I looked to Rebecca. She was biting her lip nervously. I guess the thought had never occurred to her.
“She is part-witch,” Elijah said, startling me. He knew? Werewolf senses weren’t as strong as a vampire’s, so I never thought he would have been able to detect me. “And she is part-werewolf.” I wasn’t surprised he knew that, since he knew who my dad was. He lay a hand on my arm, subtly moving me close enough to put a hand around my waist. I wanted to slap it away, but I settled for using my imagination. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as the real thing. “Well, Christian, I’d hate to waste time on pleasantries. I have a great many things to do tonight.” Slyly his arm tightened and I flushed again. Damn it. That was smooth, and it kind of turned me on.
I still hated how attracted I was to him, and I hated how he knew it.
“Very well, Elijah. You wished to speak with me?” He leaned against the banister of the winding staircase, abandoning his failed attempt at intimidation. I had to admit, the casual stance was more effective. Though his threatening poise was now gone, every one of my muscles remained on high alert, ready to erupt into action the moment I saw a threat. The stake I’d brought rubbed uncomfortably against the side of my leg, once against shoved through the waistband of my underwear. I really needed to get a thigh sheath or something - some might consider this unsanitary. However, the weapon was easily accessible through a hole cut out in the bottom of my pocket. That was one of the only things I told Evangeline was required in the dress she chose for me. It needed to have pockets. I never bothered to tell her that I’d be ripping a hole into them. Oops.
“Your clan has been very... reckless lately.” Elijah tilted his head. “Abducting humans, binging on their blood, even going as far as to attack my patrols.” I blinked. I didn’t know about the patrols. “I don’t suppose you know anything about this?”
Christian brought a hand to his chin, as if in thought. “You know vampires, Elijah. We’re hardly the type to live a certain way for so long. Eventually, we need... change.” He grinned. “Besides, what’s it to you if we feed on a few more humans than normal? Abduct them and turn them into Blood Bags? It not like your survival rests with them.”
“It’s not about survival.” Elijah’s voice lost its bored quality, hints of his power seeping into it. “It’s about preventing an uprising. The werewolves are in control for a reason, Christian. You know what will happen if you dare to go against me. You may have the stronger senses, but when it comes to power, to strength, to loyalty, you’re far beneath us.”
“Once again, I bring up the subject of change.”
“There’s a natural order to things.” More power fell into his tone. Even I was beginning to feel it, though I was unaffected. “A hierarchy constructed based on the power a species has. One to rule over the weaker. The weakest fall at the bottom, where they should be. It’s universally understood that humans have almost no place in a world of supernatural beings, where they’re nothing more than squirrels to us. But there’s one thing you’re forgetting, Christian: The reason why there’s a capacity on the number of humans your vampires are allowed to take. You say the survival of werewolves doesn’t rely on humans. While that may be true, it’s also true that the survival of your species relies on them. Without the humans to exist, you will cease to exist. What will happen if you kill them all?” He shooked his head with disgust. “Your solution to your boredom is to revolt against me. Me, who kept your survival in mind while building this new world. I would have been happy to wipe the Earth of those disgusting human worms, but I kept them alive. What do you have to say to that?”
While his words left me simmering with a fierce burning hatred for him and everything he stood for, I had to admit, I was impressed. In just one quick speech, he swept the rug out from under Christian’s feet. He had them thinking that the survival of the vampires rested in the hands of the werewolves. I knew how it felt, to be reliant on the generosity of one’s enemy. It’s how I lived for seven years.
Christan was hesitating, his mouth opening and closing, like a fish out of water. As time passed, the more he seemed like he was going to agree with Elijah’s terms - even though he technically hadn’t really lain any terms down. It was a clever plan, one that probably would have worked if he’s found the one remaining kink that lay in the way.
Isla Randon. Christian’s sister, technically my first kiss, and somebody both Elijah and I had attempted to kill in the same night. I think it was safe to say that she didn’t like us very much.
“What is she doing here?” The red-headed vampire sneered, suddenly appearing next to her brother. Christian followed her gaze, noticing that she was glaring at me like she was hoping I’d spontaneously drop dead.
“Who, Reese?” He seemed confused, an eyebrow raised. “She’s Elijah’s mate. You did know that the werewolves were coming over today, right?”
“She’s the Hunter,” Isla snarled.
At her words, Christian’s pleasant exterior melted away, hostility immediately taking its place. “Elijah,” he said, his tone dark. “What is the meaning of this?”
Wow. This was escalating very quickly. I didn’t know I was so scary. It must be the eyeliner.
“She’s my mate,” Elijah shrugged, unconcerned. “Therefore, she must be here.”
“Is this a trick?” Christian spat. “Are you trying to force my hand? Are you going to send the Hunter after us if I refuse to cooperate?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I won’t have to send her to do anything. She’ll kill you of her own free will.”
Well, I guess that was true. I loved to kill vampires. Especially old ones. It was very satisfying the way they crumbled into dust, which was then carried away by the wind, pretty much erasing any trace of their existence.
“I will not agree with your terms!” Christian was practically shouting, and the way his eyes kept flickering toward me told me how much my presence unnerved him. “This is an act of war!”
Okay, his reaction was a little extreme.
It was Rebecca who spoke, stepping forward, out of her brother’s shadow.
“Rebecca,” Elijah muttered. “Now is not the time for dramatics.”
“Oh, hush,” she scolded him, then turned back to the vampires, her expression open and pleasant. “I have a solution to this conflict,” she said. “One that I think you might be open to.”
Christian paused, then nodded. Go on, he seemed to say.
Rebecca took a deep breath. “The problem is that you no longer want to live beneath the werewolves, right? That you wish to build your own kingdom, without having to worry about the werewolves deciding that you’re useless.”
“Rebecca.” Elijah’s tone held a warning. “What are you doing?”
She ignored him. “What if you... split the city? Divide it equally, so you each get a share? Live separate from one another, must respectful of their other’s boundaries? Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?”
The vampire leader nodded slowly. “I am a fair man,” he said. “And I am always open to change. I take it there are conditions for this deal?”
Rebecca nodded. “Yes, I - ”
Elijah’s anger erupted, echoing across the room, the full force of his power behind that one small word.
He turned on Rebecca, snarling. “I will not give up one inch of my city to these... these parasites. How dare you try to take what is mine?”
“Eli,” she said softly, though I caught a faint tremor in her left hand. “I’m trying to prevent a war. Just think - ”
“I will not lay down my arms to the likes of them.” He jerked his head violently at the vampires.
Rebecca paused. Glanced at me anxiously. A throat cleared meaningfully from somewhere behind me. Evangeline.
It was time for plan A.
“It’s a rational idea,” I said softly, in a tone much nicer than what I would have preferred to use. Pull yourself together, dog! Think beyond your own ego! Your attempt to display your power has your dick shrinking by the second, which is not something I want to happen!
Kindly ignore that last thought.
Slowly, he turned to me, his face contorted with fury. A burning rage, stronger than anything I’d seen in him before. It was then that I knew for sure: Elijah Randon was scared. Scared of his family turning against him. Scared that his mate would hate him forever. Scared that his pack would side with his sister. But most of all, Elijah Randon was terrified of losing his power.
How different he was from the eighteen-year-old boy who killed my father. Who felt remorse over it. Who let my brother and I go instead of killing us too. Who only went through with the Takeover because it was what his father wanted. What his brother wanted.
Power is temptation. The more you have, the more you want.
It was true for me, too. For years I grew drunk on the glory of killing supernatural beings, growing bolder and taking more risks, believing myself to be invincible. Until I faltered. I made a mistake. I went too far, and I was paying the consequences now.
It was Elijah’s turn. He had the choice before him. He could either make the smart choice or the risky choice. And while I knew which one he was more likely to choose, a small part of me hoped he would surprise me once again.
Perhaps there was hope of redemption for Elijah Randon yet. He had the potential. He just had to get his head out of his ass to see it.
“Think about it carefully,” I said slowly. “Why hurt innocent people over something so pointless? Why send your own family into a fight where some of them will die? Why risk it when there’s a perfectly fine solution right before your eyes?”
He paused. Opened his mouth. Closed it again. He seemed to be considering my words. While it was nothing like the speech I’d given in Opal’s room earlier today, it was still meaningful. Simple, yet full of power.
“Reese...” He paused again and closed his eyes. Took a deep breath. When he opened them, his emerald eyes had turned completely black. He looked demonic. Terrifying. Evil. “I would have thought that you, of all people, would understand.” Turning away from me, he faced his pack. “Atta - ”
His words abruptly cut off. His eyes widened as he glanced down at the chest. Let in a ragged breath. Turned back to me. Laughed.
“You think a wooden stake can kill me?” He laughed again, pulling the stake out. Blood dripped from the point. He didn’t seem to notice. “My dear mate, you should know better by now. I’m disappointed in you, Little Hunter. Stabbing somebody in the back? It’s too cowardly, even for you.”
I took in a deep breath, a cold detachment spreading over me as I stepped toward him. “I agree,” I said, placing a hand on his chest. Like the physical act of stabbing him turned me on. Leaning forward, I whispered in his ear, “Why stab somebody in the back, when you can look in their eyes as they die?”
He pulled back, frowning, but it was too late.
A flash of metal gleamed in the air as I slammed the silver dagger through his heart.