“Why here?” Skyler crouched atop a frozen branch and peered into a window, a window that looked into an ordinary, nondescript home. It looked cozy and well lived in, say for the ice cold touch of death magic I could feel. The branch creaked and groaned under the fledgling’s weight as she shifted. She briefly froze in place before jumping from the tree to land silently beside Aisley who was in her cat form, her claws for the time being, sheathed. Amaris, in her wolf form, crouched next to me, ears pricked forward and alert.
“We’re meeting someone here,” I said and peered into the shadows. Releasing my grip on my blades, I gestured for them to follow.
“A spy,” I said, grunting as I led them deeper into the surrounding trees, a ways away from the house.
“You mean an actual spy?”
“Yes, she is one of Ari’s people. So spy is not just a word, it’s her rank.” Skyler nodded and looked around nervously. Before we broke through the trees and onto the street, a tall figure dressed in all black stepped out, forcing us to a stop. No hint of color could be seen, and I almost groaned out loud as her hunger hit me like a punch to the gut. A whimper escaped Skyler as a growl issued from Aisley, her unsheathed claws digging deep into the frozen ground. Stiffening, I held myself very still as the figure drew closer and closer. It was hard not to reach for one of my blades as a pale hand reached out, cupping my chin and tilting back my head slightly. When she lifted the hood, I found myself staring into hungry black eyes, hungry, unblinking eyes. Before I could jerk away, something tugged at my mind, and I realized that it was too late as I found myself falling into darkness.
When I came to, I bolted upright, and then regretted it as nausea hit me. “Careful, hunter,” a female voice said from nearby. Taking in a deep breath, I opened my eyes and looked around. Skyler, Aisley, and Amaris were all out like a light, and I just stared at the necromancer who was leaning casually against a wall. I blinked and blinked, realizing that we were no longer out in the cold. As my vision became more focused, I looked around again, this time noticing that we were in someone’s living room. “Your companions were…” She paused, and then shrugged. “Quite adamant in keeping you safe.”
“What did you do to them?”
“Don’t worry, they’re fine. They’re just… sleeping.”
“Sleeping?” I asked suspiciously.
“Yes, sleeping, be it deeply. You won’t be able to wake them so don’t bother.”
“You’re a necromancer,” I said as if that wasn’t obvious. I could feel death rolling off of her in waves, and I resisted the urge to shiver. She pulled off her hood and scowled down at me.
“Do you have a problem with that?”
“No,” I muttered. “I just wasn’t expecting it.”
“What were you expecting… exactly?”
“Oh, the usual spy.”
“I am not the usual spy now am I?”
“Apparently not,” I mumbled. This vampire had to be over at least two thousand years old, I thought as I stared at the wall beside her head.
“Be at ease, I won’t hurt you, Jade.”
I glowered at the wall, silently grumbling about intrusive vampires. “Since you know my name,” I muttered. “What’s yours?”
“I am Kindri,” she replied, pulling out her phone and glancing at the screen with a curse. “If you do not want to be found, I suggest you cloak your presence. Take your companions with you. I’ll awaken them once you are all inside,” she finished and nodded down a hall. I slowly stood up, picking up the sleeping form of Amaris. Reaching out, I mentally dragged Aisley and Skyler after me. Once in one of the four bedrooms, all three began to stir. I released Skyler and Aisley and glanced down at Amaris. She blinked open her eyes and yawned, stretching in my arms before jumping to the floor.
“What the hell,” Skyler groaned and slowly sat up. She and Aisley shuddered as they felt the cool sensation of being cloaked.
“Amaris,” I said quietly. The werepup turned from the door and peered up at me questioningly. “Can you cast some kind of a cloaking spell?” She let out a soft woof and bounded into the attached bathroom. A few seconds later I could hear her muttering gibberish under her breath.
“What’s going on?” Skyler asked, glancing at the closed door. “And where the hell are we?”
“No idea and no idea,” I said and I, too, glanced at the door.
“Great,” she said cheerfully. “So what do we do now?”
“We wait,” I said, putting a hand on her shoulder before she could flash from the room. “There are rogues just beyond the door.”
“What are we doing here then? Shouldn’t you like… kill them or something?”
“Under normal circumstances I would, but we’re here to get information about the gate. Remember?” She grumbled something but nodded. “Ari is currently unable to… receive this particular info and since I’m one of the few hunters here, I’m the only one your sire trust implicitly.” I put up a finger, preventing her from uttering a word. “And,” I continued, glancing down at the very, very confused cat leaning against Skyler’s leg. “I won’t let anything happen to any of you,” I finished with a shudder. When Ari was angry, she was scary. Even Tristan gave her a wide birth when she was in her kill-anything-standing mood. Jade, Riordan drawled in my head, and I straightened, cursing. Sorry, I silently muttered, and then grabbed Aisley as he appeared out of thin air. Riordan caught Amaris as she lunged for him.
“Easy there, little one,” he said in amusement.
“Are they still in hell?” I asked.
“They are, and they will be there for quite a while.”
“Fuck,” I growled and dropped Aisley. “I can’t get in contact with anyone.”
“That is because you can’t. You can sense them if you wanted to, but you can’t speak to them when they’re in hell.”
Skyler’s eyes widened in horror, and she gasped, practically choking. “My sire?” she all but wheezed out.
“Take a deep breath,” Riordan said, touching her lightly on the shoulder. “I assure you that Ari is unaware of what is going on.”
“What do you mean?”
“Freya and I have put her into a deep, deep sleep.”
“Oh,” she said, looking unconvinced.
Riordan ignored the look and glanced around the room as Amaris wriggled out of his arms. “The three rogues just left, and Kindri is on her way.” We waited silently, listening to her cursing the rogues as a sulfurous odor reached us. The door suddenly flew open, and I barely stepped aside in time to avoid a smack upside my head.
“Stupid!” Kindri shouted. “Fucking! God damn! Mother! Fucking! Power hungry! Necromancers!” Snarling, she stepped into the room and slammed the door, causing the house to shake slightly around us. “Zynzaulatris!” she yelled. “Follow them!” There was a flash of fire, and I found myself looking at a demon. She was not in human form, and in her original form, she was all white—her horns, her claws. The only colors I could see were the silver, serrated blades along her tail and her bright glowing green eyes. She straightened from her crouch and launched herself at the window. It opened before she could bust out the glass. As she flew out, her entire body seemed to ripple, turning translucent as she disappeared from sight.
“That is not an Ahzeeki,” I muttered as the window slammed shut.
“No,” Riordan and Kindri said simultaneously. Then there was another flash of fire, and this time, it was Rozalia who appeared in the middle of the room, her wings quivering.
“She says she is ready,” the imp hissed to Riordan. With that, a whirlwind filled the room, and a split second later, a vortex popped into existence. Aisley, Amaris, and Skyler all yelped and flashed to the other side, away from the whirling portal, where screams could be heard. I saw a glimpse of Jailyn before she tossed Freya through the opening. Her bloodcurdling scream drowned out the sounds of battle as the portal took hold and violently pulled her through. As Freya hit the floor with a loud thump, the portal was gone. In the split second before it vanished completely, however, an insect-like demon tried to get through, not seeing the chilling smile of the necromancer who extended a hand wreathed in writhing shadows to strike the slowly diminishing doorway. I shuddered, because I did not want to know what happened if you got stuck in the middle of a portal transport… or in this case, a deliberate portal meltdown. I again shuddered and looked at the bloodied form of Freya. My ears rang as she continued to scream. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head, and silence fell as she passed out. After a long tensed minute, Rozalia scuttled to her side, only to let out a squeal as Freya’s hand shot out and grabbed one of the imp’s wings and pulled. Suddenly Riordan was there, one hand around Freya’s wrist, and the other one on Rozalia’s right wing.
“Stop trying to kill your imp,” he said with a sigh.
Freya opened her eyes and gave a pained smile. “I would like to see you try living with her 24-7 for two thousand years.” Riordan grimaced in pain, and she chuckled. “I thought not,” she whispered and reluctantly released the imp. “As always, you are no fun.”
“Go,” Riordan said to the imp as Freya groaned and moved into a sitting position. Kindri, who remained silent this whole time, walked over to them and held out a hand to Freya. She stared at it, as if she was deciding to take it, or bite it. In the end, she took the offered hand and pulled herself up.
“So,” said Kindri. “You finally decided to leave your ice cave for some adventure.”
“I shall remind you that I quite like my… ice cave as you put it,” Freya said and walked over to the bed and sat.
Kindri snorted and glanced at Amaris, Aisley, and Skyler thoughtfully. “Do you three mind stepping from the room for a moment?” she asked. Skyler shook her head and flashed to the door that led out into the hall. Aisley and Amaris reluctantly followed her out, the door closing behind them with a soft snap. When they were gone, Freya took in a deep breath, and I stiffened as I felt her magic crackling in the air. A moment later, the room was suddenly lit up with a blinding blue light before fading.
“We can now speak freely,” Freya said and rubbed her temples. “We cannot be overheard beyond this room.” She dropped her hands and stared intently at Kindri. “What have you discovered of the gate?”
Kindri let out a heavy sigh, cursing under her breath. “You won’t like it.”
“I have already gathered that much.”
“No, you really won’t like it.” She glanced around and grimaced. “Please, all of you sit.”
“If you insist,” Riordan said and went over to sit on the edge of the bed. “Come, Jade. Let’s hear what she has to say.” Shrugging, I walked over to a desk in the corner and pulled out a chair. Taking in a deep breath, I slowly sat, my hand automatically going to a blade and gripping the hilt. I scowled when all three stared at me.
“What?” I asked defensively.
“Is that necessary?” he asked, gesturing to the blade in question. I shrugged and reluctantly pulled my hand away. He smirked as several bags of blood appeared out of thin air to land in Freya’s lap. She caught them before they could fall to the floor. Without a word, she quickly drained them, one after another. She let out a long groan, draining the last one and tossing more than a dozen empty bags into the trash. When that was done, she glared at Kindri.
“Tell us,” she warned.
The necromancer sighed. “Just don’t blow up my house or my cover will be blown.”
“Kindri,” Freya said through gritted teeth. “Out with it. Now.”
“I know where the gate is,” she mumbled.
“What?” Freya, Riordan and I shouted. In the blink of an eye, Freya had the necromancer pressed up against the wall, hands around her throat.
“What is the gate?” she asked, so soft I had to strain to hear her.
“It’s not what,” Kindri wheezed. “It’s who.”
“What?” I spluttered, knocking my chair over as I got up and flashed over to her.
“Freya,” Riordan said quietly, calmly. “Focus, focus on me.” Blinking, I looked to Freya, who was about to snap Kindri’s neck if she squeezed any harder. Kindri herself stood frozen, not even breathing—not that she could in the first place—as she stared impassively back at Freya.
“Shit,” I muttered.
“Freya,” Riordan repeated. “She has more to tell us, and you do not want to snap her neck now, do you? Save your anger for those who deserve it. Come, release her.” After a long agonizing minute, Freya finally blinked and slowly, oh so slowly released her grip from Kindri’s throat. The necromancer remained very still, as still as the dead, her eyes never leaving Freya. I reached out, taking Freya by the arm and gently tugging.
“Let’s go and sit,” I said and nodded to Riordan.
“Come on,” he drawled. Freya took in several deep breaths and reluctantly allowed me to pull her to the bed. Riordan put a hand on her, gently but firmly pushing her to sit. “Breathe in, breathe out,” he instructed, and he chuckled as she glared at him. “That is more like it,” he said as her white eyes turned pitched black.
“Not another word,” Freya said, calm as ever. I couldn’t decide who was more scary, her or Tristan. “Now where were we?” she asked, as if nothing had happened mere moments ago.
Kindri coughed and cleared her throat. “The gate is who, not a what.”
“Ah, that is right,” she said thoughtfully as I eyed her warily. “Who is the gate?” I shifted nervously as Kindri once again cleared her throat.
“She,” Kindri said slowly. “Is a young vampire. A fledgling.”
“I… see,” Freya said quietly. “And… have you witnessed her in action for yourself?”
“I have not, but from what I have gathered so far, it seems to be valid.”
“So you don’t know if this fledgling was a willing participant in raining down hell on earth then?” I asked, my eyes never leaving Freya, even for a second. Hell, I couldn’t help myself. It was like being stuck in a cage with an untamed animal—the second you stop paying attention to it, it makes its move.
“I’m not sure,” she muttered. “I have seen her around a couple of times or two, and she seemed very… despondent.”
I scowled. “Who’s her sire?”
She shrugged. “Hell if I know. It’s probably one of the rogues with her. They stick to her like she’s a fucking magnet.”
“How many are with her at all times?” Freya asked, and a hint of a growl could be heard in that question.
Kindri frowned as she walked over to the window and peered outside where the sky was slowly brightening. “Two, maybe 3.” A thoughtful expression came over Freya, and I did not want to know what she was thinking about.
“If Ariella was here, she would tell you to find out more about this… fledgling,” she muttered to no one in particular.
“That is what I planned to do. Would you like to tag along?” she asked dryly.
“Yes,” Riordan growled, and she blinked.
“That settles it then, all of you are coming. Just one thing, don’t be seen.”
“I am not a noob,” I said and grumbled. Kindri smirked as Freya lifted her spell from the room. “Guys!” I yelled and flashed to the door, opening it.
“Do you plan on causing me pain, dear girl?” Freya asked conversationally as she rose from the bed.
“Sorry,” I said as Skyler, Aisley, and Amaris appeared in the doorway.
“Took you guys long enough,” Skyler said and glanced at Amaris who had a Philly cheesesteak sandwich in her hands.
“Um… where did you get that?” I asked suspiciously.
“Don’t worry,” she said, huffing. “We didn’t steal it. Aisley bought it for her.” She looked past me into the room, shuddering. “So, what’s going on?”
“Oh, you know… the usual,” I drawled. She snorted and stepped away from the door. Shrugging, I walked from the room and to the front door. “Ask Riordan.” I reached to open the door, but before I could, Freya’s pale hand came to rest on mine.
“Where are you headed?” I shrugged and let my hand dropped back to my side.
“We’re teleporting,” Kindri said, a split second before everything went dark.
I blinked against the bright daylight, half shielding my eyes with a hand as I looked around. Freya, Kindri and I were standing in someone’s backyard of all places. It was enclosed by chain-link fences, and the scent of rogues was fucking everywhere. There were probably around a dozen of them, and it took all I had in me not to rush in and slaughter every vampire inside. From the scent of sweet, sweet blood, I knew there were also witches here. Freya let out a feral hiss that caused every hair on my body to stand on end. Kindri looked nervously at her, shaking her head in a silent warning. Without a word to us, the necromancer slipped silently into the house. We didn’t have to wait long, because about two minutes later, she appeared in the doorway and gestured us inside. Luckily I got the good sense to cloak my presence before coming here. We followed Kindri into the kitchen, stopping just out of view of the living room. I peeked around the wall, taking mental note of who was there before ducking back out of sight. Not only there were eight rogue vampires sitting and talking to each other, there were also six witches with them, and one of them was one I knew by name. I glanced over to Freya, but I couldn’t get a read on her. Since I couldn’t smell the blood on her skin, hair and clothes, I knew she had casted some kind of spell to mask the scent as well as her aura from the others. Kindri sighed, muttering wordlessly to herself before she strode into the living room to join them. I sense the presence of a fledgling from down the hall, Freya whispered into my mind. I nodded, wondering if I should go down there and see her for myself. That would not be wise, she mentally cautioned, and of course, she was right. Wherever the fledgling was being held, I could sense a couple more presences with her. One of them was most likely her sire. “Hey, guys,” Kindri said conversationally. The necromancer plopped down on the couch beside the nearest rogue and elbowed him lightly in his side, as if they were the best of buddies. “Colton, what are we up to for tonight?”
“Why are you so cheerful?” Colton muttered.
She snorted. “Because Teeros is allowing me to watch whatever it is you guys do every night. Excuse me if I happened to be a little excited.”
Colton blinked. “He is?”
“Yes,” Kindri said with an exasperated sigh. “Is someone here going to tell me what I should be expecting?”
“You’ll just have to wait and see,” another rogue drawled.
She shrugged. “I brought a couple of new recruits, if you guys would like to meet them.” At this, everyone came to attention. I almost gasped out loud, and beside me, Freya stiffened.
“Really?” Colton asked. “Who?” Do I look like a hunter? I mentally hissed to Freya. No, you do not, Freya silently replied. But I do, however.
“Two of my friends,” Kindri said and waved in our direction. Taking in a deep breath, I slowly walked into the living room. One of the witches let out a loud gasp, and I knew why. Before she could shout a warning, her face blanked of all emotions. She blinked slowly before nodding.
“Sorry,” the witch muttered. “I thought I saw something,” she finished stupidly and shook her head. It was a pity that she wasn’t wearing her compulsion ring, or maybe it was a good thing, after all. Since the witch in question seemed to recognize us, and knew exactly that we were not one of the new recruits. Too bad for her, because Freya was eyeing her thoughtfully, as if deciding if she should kill her on the spot or kidnap her. It turned out to be kidnapping, as Riordan appeared behind the witch, put a hand on her shoulder, and vanished into thin air, taking her with him.