Back at the Vampiric Council Headquarter, the Council members and the hunters pulled off their hoods. I blinked, surprised to see that Sven wasn’t one of them. Instead, there was a blond female hunter, her pale hand on Tristan’s shoulder. “Well,” I said, dropping the shadows and uncloaking myself. “That was uneventful.” Sergei tightened his hold around me and muttered something I couldn’t make out. “Where is Sven?” I asked as Ari came around the corner and to Tristan’s side. She whispered thanks to the unknown female hunter, who nodded and stepped back. They shook hands in a nice-to-meet-you sort of way before the hunter slipped into the shadows and was gone.
“I just saw Sven as I came in,” Ari said to me. I nodded as I saw him down the hall, Jordana at his side. Liana gave him a questioning look, and he let out a sigh, stopping next to her. She arched an eyebrow.
“She didn’t eat anymore bunnies,” he muttered. At that, we all turned to stare at Jordana. “I’ll tell you the story later,” Liana muttered. Chuckling, Brynna and Cole broke from the group and strode down the hall in opposite direction from each other.
“Well,” Elijah said dryly. “Where do we start looking for the gate? I wonder.”
“Fuck if I know,” I muttered. Then we all looked at Jailyn, who put up her hands and backed up a step.
“Hey,” she said. “Do I look like I go around spying on unsuspecting people?” She punched Tristan in the jaw as he opened his mouth to speak. “Not a word, jackass.”
“I take offense,” Ari said in mock outrage.
“Sorry, dearest Ari, but he needs a punch or two in the face every now and then.”
“Hey!” she spluttered. I couldn’t help it; I smiled and shook my head at them.
“Cat fight later,” Elijah drawled.
“Speaking of cat,” Tristan said dryly. This time, it was Elijah who punched him… or tried to. Ari’s hand was a blur as she caught his wrist before it could connect. Damn, I thought silently. She could move fucking fast as hell, almost as fast as a Tronis. Tristan sighed, shaking his head and rubbing his temples before taking Ari’s hand in his and pulling her into his arms.
“If you guys want to punch something,” Ari said, exasperated. “There are several punching bags in the sparring room.”
“The thing is,” Skyler said from behind me. “A punching bag doesn’t fight back. I mean it swings around to smack you yeah, but it is so not the same.”
Ari scowled at her. “You know what? I disown you, Skyler.”
“Cool,” she said, stopping in front of her sire.
“Children,” Ari muttered.
“Wait, can you actually un-sire me? Or um, break the bond? I definitely don’t want to, but I’m just curious.”
Jailyn groaned. “Don’t you guys ever read? I know you are told all this when you’re turned, but come on, some sires have short term memory.”
“Like you?” Elijah asked.
“No,” Ari said loudly before Jailyn could react. “The bond cannot be broken.” She paused, and I frowned as Sven, Liana, and Tristan gave her a warning look. She cleared her throat. “The bond can only be broken if I suddenly fall over dead right this second.” Skyler nodded, but she didn’t miss the warning looks Ari got.
“So Ari, will you get mad if I practice magic with Davina? I’m thinking of dragging Ryah, Ashley, Peyton, Corinne, Lily, Jane, and her pain in my fucking ass of a sister Alyssa along.”
“Alyssa is being a pain in the ass?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “That bitch doesn’t even read the fucking labels on the lockers today. You know which locker she opened? She opened the one with fucking explosives in it. I mean, a fucking grenade rolled out. What the hell! She wants to blow up these headquarters and start another wildfire?” I could see steam pouring from her ears by this point, and she wasn’t done. “She says school is over so there is no point to reading at all. Did her mama not read to her when she was a baby? Damn, now I’m sounding like a hillbilly. Anyways, Alyssa is allergic to reading. Kira is addicted to chocolate like a crack head needing a fucking fix every minute or fall over dead. What’s next? Corinne is going to start singing the ABC’s every time she teleports?” She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay, I’m done… for now.” There was a heartbeat of silence, and then there was a round of applause.
“Hot damn, girl,” Evelyn said as Skyler flushed bright red with embarrassment. Jordana, who I completely forgot about, sidled up to Skyler and pulled her into a hug.
“Ranting is healthy,” Jordana said cheerfully. “Very, very healthy.” Ari pulled away from Tristan and wrapped her arms around both Skyler and Jordana, laughing under her breath. She whispered something to Skyler, low enough for only her to hear. A moment later, Skyler nodded and with effort, extracted herself from between her sire and Jordana.
“On a more serious note,” said Jailyn. “I’ll see what my demons can dig up and pass it on.”
“If you allow me to eat necromancer brains,” said Jordana. “I can help,” she finished hopefully.
“I will think about it. How does that sound?” Jailyn asked. Jordana grumbled something but nodded. “Eve, Tay, can I see you both in my office?” Evelyn and Taylor nodded and disappeared into thin air.
“Sergei, Sven, Liana, my office,” said Tristan. Sergei gave me a peck on the cheek and stepped back, dropping his arms from around me. A second later, all four were gone, leaving me with Ari, Jordana, Skyler, Jailyn, and Elijah. I winced as a twinge of pain shot up my right leg, and I resisted the urge to bent down and rub the invisible bullet wound. That area might have been numb earlier, but it sure as hell wasn’t now.
“I will be outside,” Elijah said and was gone.
“Ari, Jordana, Sarisa, Sky, you up for patrolling?”
“Sure,” I said. “Is it kill-on-sight?”
“Rogues, yes. Demons, you call out immediately.” Ari nodded and gestured me to her. I stepped to her side, and she put a hand on my shoulder. “Come up with possible locations for a gate while you’re at it. A gate can be an actual gate, a doorway, a rip in space, a mirror, a fucking reflection in a pool.”
“Great,” Ari said, glowering. “That narrows it down to what, a million possibilities?”
Jailyn smirked. “Exactly.”
“I want this gate sealed, and I want it sealed yesterday.” Ari Nodded, and then everything went dark.
Outside at the huge clearing, Jordana peered at the white, plain building that was the headquarters. “We need to paint it to something else,” she muttered.
“Do I want to know what color?” Skyler asked.
“Pink and the roof blue.” Skyler looked horrified, and I chuckled, stepping back from Ari and looking around. Though I couldn’t see them, I could sense them all around us. The clearing and the forest beyond were filled with hunters, all armed with weapons of every kind. Shit was getting Real, real fast. Natalia skipped into the clearing and straight for us. The vampire child looked around before stopping in front of Ari.
“Alexander says to tell you that the spies are in place. He says about two hundred of them have just arrived,” she said excitedly and again looked around. “Where’s Raina?”
“She will be here soon,” Ari said and crouched so that she was eye level with the little girl.
Natalia nodded. “He also said that the rest of the hunters who are not here are keeping an eye out for demon activities. He says to tell Tristan that the rulers of Chicago, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are sending a few hunters out here to help.” She took in a deep breath and continued. “And a few protectors from ten states are coming here.”
Ari ruffled her hair and laughed softly. “You did great, Natalia. Thank you for telling me.” The little girl nodded her head rapidly. “Now go play with Ketra. I’ll see you soon.” With another nod, she ran off into the trees. Shaking her head, Ari straightened and walked into the forest. Jordana, Skyler and I followed as she led us into deeper darkness.
“What is a ruler?” Skyler asked.
“A ruler is a vampire who is in charge of everything that happens in a city,” said Ari. “This vampire is usually the oldest in the city and has the ability to either teleport or mass compulsion.”
“Who’s the ruler here?”
“Well,” Ari said, frowning. “Since this is the heart of the Council, there’s really isn’t one.”
Skyler nodded. “Are rulers handpicked by the Council?”
“Uh huh, every hundred years or so.” We finally broke onto an empty stretch of road, and I grunted, resisting the urge to grab my leg and rub the pain away. Everything around us was thickly covered with fine white powder of snow, and I let out a sigh at the beauty of it. Yes, my favorite season was winter. In fact, almost all vampires love winter, probably because there were longer nights than day. For me, I had always loved the cold season, even back when I was a human. Jade dropped from the sky, landing in a silent crouch in front of us. We stopped before her as she straightened and looked to Jordana.
“Dana,” she said and smirked. “Want to go hunting with me?” Jordana gave a creepy smile and nodded. “Ari, you mind?”
“Not at all,” said Ari. “Take your time and have fun.” Jade nodded, and with a hand on Jordana, they launched themselves into the sky.
“Speaking of hunting,” Ari drawled. “You guys want to hunt rogues?” I nodded as she shook her head at Skyler. “You are just going to observe,” she said to her child.
“You suck,” Skyler mumbled but reluctantly nodded.
“No pun intended, of course,” I said and smirked.
“Hmm,” Ari said thoughtfully, putting a hand on my shoulder and Skyler’s. A moment later, everything went dark.
“Didn’t Jailyn say to patrol?” Skyler asked.
“Yes, but she didn’t specifically say where.” I looked around, realizing that we were back with civilization. In the distance, the thumping beat of rap could be heard from many of the passing cars. It was a few hours before dawn, and people walking their pets were still out. Drug dealers and what not were still standing on street corners dealing, and the homeless scrounging about for food or huddled inside their cardboard boxes to keep warm. “Okay,” said Ari. “Skyler, you’re with me. Sarisa, let me know if you need help, and I’m there.” I nodded, unsheathing a blade and fading into the shadows. In case I came across a demon or two, I also unsheathed a halogen blade. It tingled on contact with my palm, and I let the magic wash over me. I frowned, slipping the two blades up my sleeves. Beside the halogen blades, we needed guns with halogen bullets or whatever this demon-killing blade was made from. Hmm, I thought as I strode down a sidewalk. I was going to bring this gun idea up to Jailyn the next time I saw her… or maybe Elijah. Grimacing, I turned into an alley, or rather, limped into the alley. With a silent groan, I crouched, and then launched myself into the air and onto the wall of the alley—my god damn fucking leg protesting, and I nearly fell off of it. I put my hands on the wall and looked down. Dark alleyways were a prime spot for a rogue attack, and I didn’t have to wait long. Two rogues stepped into view, talking softly to each other. They didn’t have a human with them, so I waited, following them from above as they went to wherever they were going. I flew higher into the air, rubbing my cheeks as the icy cold wind slapped them. When I saw where they were headed, I let out a silent curse. Why was it always a college campus?
“Gentlemen,” I called down to them. “Going somewhere?” The two rogues stopped and looked up in my direction. I landed in a silent crouch behind them and slowly straightened. “No one other than the two security guards is out this time of the morning,” I said, and they spun around to face me.
“Who the hell are you?” one of them growled.
“What do I look like to you?” I asked, exasperated.
“You look like a civilian.”
“Do I?” I asked and looked down at my white sweater over a baby blue T-shirt, black sweatpants, and black and white converse. Yeah, I thought, I certainly was not in my hunting clothes, and I apparently didn’t look scary enough to be considered as a hunter on sight. I didn’t know if I should be offended or not.
“Yes, and there is one of you and two of us.”
“And your point is… what exactly?”
“My point is,” he snarled. “You can’t stop us.”
“Oh, really?” I asked, blinking stupidly.
“Really,” he hissed, and I ducked as he threw a steel knife at me. When I straightened I had a blade in my hand. I stepped forward, stabbing him in the chest and sucker punched his companion in the face. They both looked surprised, and the one I stabbed looked at the wound in his chest and blinked in confusion. I sent an uppercut to his friend’s chin, snapping his head back.
“Looks,” I growled and jerked my blade out of the first rogue. Hot blood rained down on me as I yanked him closer. “Can be very… misleading,” I finished, unsheathing two deadly silver blades. Before they could recover to retaliate, I slashed the first one in the neck. He screamed, his hands automatically going for the wound and stumbling backward. I followed his movement, driving the blade deeper and deeper until his scream died off with a gurgle, and his head parted from his shoulders. Turning to the second rogue, I smiled, letting him run off. I pulled darkness around me and vanished from his sight as I followed. Dazed and blood dripping from his half-healed split lip and busted nose, he led me down several blocks before spotting a human and heading toward him. I levitated slightly off the ground and floated silently up behind him. I reached out and pressed the cold blade to his throat. He froze, gasping until that, too, was cut off as I viciously slit open his throat. I quickly sheathed both silver blades and caught him before he could fall. “Sweet dreaming,” I whispered to him before tearing his head the rest of the way off with my bare hands. Dropping both head and body, I floated back before letting my feet touch ground. Since I couldn’t start a fireball like some could, I reached into my pocket and took out what looked like one of those gum balls you buy from a gum ball machine, setting two of the light red balls on the ground near the dead rogue. I stepped on them, hearing them crunch and the beginning of a three-seconds timer before flashing several feet away. I watched as they ignited with a whoosh, quickly engulfing the rogue in a blazing wave of orange heat even I could feel from twenty feet away. The human let out a startled sound, and I glanced at him. The second his blue eyes met mine, he was under. “You heard nothing,” I said softly into the night and into his mind. “You saw nothing. You will go home now. It is not safe out here.” I gently turned him around in the direction of his home and released him. The human blinked once, twice, and shook his head before walking off. I watched him for a moment, and then ran back to the first rogue, stopping when I saw the tall female blond hunter that was with Tristan earlier. I slowly released the shadows hiding me and just stared at her thoughtfully.
“I need to get me some of those firebombs,” she said, a fireball cupped in one hand. “I keep telling myself to order a box but…” She shrugged and threw the fireball at the dead rogue. She slowly turned to face me—the orange glow of the fire bathing her, making her a silhouette against a fiery background. I walked toward her and held out my hand. As I closed in on her, my nostrils flared, taking in the scent of eucalyptus and mint. For some reason, I hadn’t noticed the scent earlier. I frowned.
“I’m Sarisa,” I said and swallowed a gasp as her icy cold hand wrapped around mine. A second later, pain shot through my head, as she revealed just how powerful she was. Only her hand on my arm kept me upright. She wasn’t just over three, four thousand years old plus, she had magic and not just one form of magic… she had several. Her eyes briefly flashed white before reverting to pitch black. “Okay,” I gasped and slowly pulled away from her. “Should I even ask who your sire is?” I asked.
She smiled, revealing her fully extended fangs. “No,” she said softly, a hint of a repressed growl in her voice. “To say the least, I was his second turn of his millions to follow.” She took a step away from me, the fire now gone and the rogue nothing but ashes in the wind. “I also got all of the bad that came with being turned by him, and you, dear Sarisa…” She went taut and grunted. “If you did not have a mate, I would be at your throat the moment I came upon you. You have no idea of just how hungry I am.” Still reeling, I took another step away from her. She was also the most powerful witch I’ve met, and I have met several throughout the centuries. The hunter grunted again before relaxing slightly. She glanced around, and the temperature seemed to plummet. “I know you are there, Ari, you and your child.” she said calmly. Ari stepped from the shadows, her hand tight around Skyler’s arm. The hunter’s eyes flickered to Skyler, who let out a squeak. The hunter made a strangled sound, and she shoved her hand into her pocket, pulling out something and tossing it at Skyler. Ari caught it, and a surprised look flashed in her eyes before she handed a silver ring with a bloodstone gem on it to Skyler.
“Put it on,” Ari said quietly. “Please?” Skyler nodded and slipped the ring on, looking at it curiously. A shudder ran through the hunter as she exhaled. I finally gave up and bent to rub my aching leg.
“Bite me,” I said to the hunter as I straightened. Skyler let out a gasp and stepped behind Ari. The hunter sucked in a sharp breath and went very, very still. Then she was on me. She moved so fast that I hadn’t known she had moved until I felt a sharp, stinging pain at my neck—my back pressed into the cold ground, her snarl loud in my ears. I instinctively fought her, trying to get her off of me. It was like struggling against a brick wall for all the good it did me. Growling, she pulled harder on my neck, and I let out a grunt, pain radiating through my body. Damn, she was going to drain me as I all of a sudden went limp under her. Black dots danced before my vision, and as the darkness closed in on me, a name was burned into my mind. Written in red, the color of fresh spilled blood was the name ‘Freya’.