Blood of a Huntsman Page 1

Author: May Sage

Series: After Darkness Falls #2

Genres: Vampire , Fantasy

More from May…

Slayer Blades

Cat remembered the first time she'd held a sword. It had been heavy and awkward in her chubby little hands. She'd cut herself that day, and the day after. A kinder tutor might have given her a light wooden practice blade more suited for a five-year-old. Instead, she wielded a jeweled, curved blade with a silver handle that a woman twenty years older might have found awkward.

Kindness had no place in Stormhall, home of her forefathers, some of whom still roamed the marble corridors.

Twenty-three years after that lesson, her grip was light and effortless on any sword, but this one felt particularly nice. Well-balanced. She circled her wrist and marveled at the perfect, fast swing.

"You like it?"

She reluctantly lifted her gaze from the blade to her host, a dark-haired, dark-eyed ancient as handsome as he was powerful. And terrifying. Leviathan De Villier could destroy her on a whim if he so desired. And when she'd first arrived in Oldcrest, his territory, she'd believed he just might.

She'd been able to tell from the start: he disliked her. No wonder. Catherine Stormhale didn’t possess many likable qualities, and didn’t care. She wasn’t here to win any popularity contests. Cat was in Scotland because, regardless of Levi’s opinion of her, this place was a definite improvement over where she came from.

He seemed a little less intimidating these days. Not friendlier, exactly, but when she looked into his eyes, she no longer saw mistrust or hostility. Just indifference, a change she knew was due to his partner. Girlfriend. Mate. Cat didn't know what to call Chloe Eirikrson. They were downplaying their relationship, living separately, dating like they were mere mortals.

"It’s beautifully crafted. I can't believe it feels so light, despite the size," Cat told Levi, her blade hitting the air as she lunged to test it further.

She was in his armory, waiting for Chloe. They'd arranged to meet here at seven in the evening. Chloe was late, but Cat knew not to take it to heart. She and Levi had been “otherwise engaged” upstairs—Cat would have known that even if her hearing weren't so acute.

"The trick is ensuring the grip is the same weight as the blade to keep it balanced. Not an easy feat with a longsword. But I had it made in Castile. They knew their trade, back in the day."

Shit. The kingdom of Castile had been dissolved almost a thousand years ago. She definitely shouldn’t have just helped herself to a treasure such as this. But the sword hadn’t looked that old. A preserving spell, no doubt. Levi had access to many witches; of course he would have ensured that his possessions endured throughout the ages.

Cat put the sword back down on its display. “Sorry. I should have asked before touching it.”

Levi allowed himself a half smile that wasn’t kind or pleasant; she felt like he was mocking her, somehow.

"Polite as always," he noted. "Don’t fret. It’s nothing special. A dozen such swords exist. I used to arm my slayers with them. Only three of them are alive now, so the nine spare swords are gathering dust."

"Three of your slayers are a thousand years old?”

Cat shouldn’t have been surprised.

A little over two thousand years ago, the goddess Ariadne created their kind, turning seven humans into the first vampires. Those seven humans had, in turn, bitten and turned many mortals. But unlike the turned vampires, the founders were able to reproduce, give birth to creatures made to become immortals.

Cat and Levi were born vampires, though they weren’t in the same league. Ariadne had turned Arthur Davell, Levi’s father. In contrast, Cat’s mother, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all been born into this life, descending straight from the matriarch and founder of her family. She was a watered-down version of Levi.

That wasn’t quite fair. Power didn’t automatically fade with each generation. Cat’s brother Seth was proof of that. But she didn’t hold a candle to Levi, and she knew it.

The founding seven had often been at war—with each other, with witches, with other immortals. Sometime around the ninth century, they started turning and training gifted humans to send them to battle as foot soldiers: their slayers.

The Stormhales had a few, and it was rare for them to survive decades, let alone hundreds of years.

“Yes,” the ancient confirmed.

“I’ve never heard of slayers who lived to that age,” she admitted.

“I believe in taking care of my people.”

His people, he’d said. Not his subjects.

Her family saw anyone who wasn’t a Stormhale as other, lesser. Disposable.

Levi didn’t. Cat couldn’t decide whether he was noble, or playing some kind of game. To appear less threatening, perhaps. If so, it wasn’t working.

“Mikar,” Cat guessed, naming Chloe's bodyguard. She knew he was one of the men Levi trusted above all. Though it was hard to tell the age of a man permanently frozen in his prime from his aura, Cat guessed that he’d been turned into a vampire a long time ago. “He’s one of your ancient slayers.”

He inclined his head in acquiescence. "Yes. The other survivors are Sylvan, who’s working in the Americas for me, and Ruby. She’s around here somewhere.”

Cat shivered. Oh, she knew Ruby was around. All vampires knew about Ruby. She hadn’t realized that the disturbing vampire was one of Levi’s slayers, but it made sense.

The majority of immortals learned to adapt with time. They wore modern clothes, used technology, embraced plumbing. Then there was Ruby.

She wore a white chiton, generally covered in dirt and blood, and wandered Oldcrest at night, running so fast that humans rarely even saw her. Her eyes were wild, her hair tangled and messy. She was responsible for all of Oldcrest’s ghost stories.

Cat had asked around about her in her first week.

“That’s probably Ruby,” Blair had told her. “She’s harmless as long as you leave her alone. More or less. I mean, she’s paranoid and crazy, but stay out of her caves and she won’t bother you.”

Cat had frowned. “But what does she eat?”

“Anything, really. She likes to fish. And she hunts game in the Wolvswoods, too, draining them first, then cooking the meat. Waste not, want not.”

The heathen wandered Oldcrest as she pleased, draining and barbecuing animals to feed herself, and everyone was fine with it.

“They still have their swords,” Levi continued, “though I doubt either use them much these days. They aren’t what one would call fashionable."

Cat rolled her eyes. "A good blade is a good blade. Never mind about fashion."

Levi looked at her feet, clad in red peep toe pumps, and wordlessly lifted a brow.

She laughed. "Shoes are different."

"Women. Glad to see the ages have not changed your sex." He walked to the display case and retrieved the sword she'd just put down. "This one is Lightning. It belonged to Rayna, one of the most bloodthirsty females I've had the pleasure of training. She was an artist with her blade. I lost her to the feral curse before we knew about the cure."

There was but one illness affecting vampire kind, a blood sickness. Once infected, vampires became mindless beasts with no desire other than their next meal. They could be controlled, to an extent, by witches, curses, and binding spells. But by that point, they were things. Senseless things. For thousands of years, there had been no hope for anyone bitten by a feral. Now, they knew of one cure: the blood of Eirikr, the first vampire ever turned by the goddess who created their kind.

And the blood of his descendants. Right now, that meant Chloe and her elusive brother, Tom.

"Lightning," Cat repeated, her eyes zeroing in on a small bolt etched at the base of the blade. The name suited the sword.

"Yes. I thought it appropriate."

He handed her the sword, hilt up.

"It's yours."

Cat narrowed her eyes, mistrustful of any gift freely given by one of their kind. Particularly one as old as the Leviathan. There was always a price.

Before she could say anything, she heard footsteps thumping down the staircase at high speed and then approaching the armory; a moment later, a freshly showered Chloe appeared.

Sweat and Blood

Chloe’s hair seemed darker at the roots when wet, but, as always, it grew silver after an inch. Her eyes were currently brown, but Cat had seen them turn bright blue dozens of times—when Chloe was hungry, thirsty, concentrating, thinking too hard, or not thinking at all. The eyes of any vampire could change when they were using their power. But with Chloe, the change was so very natural, casual. She didn't even realize that everything about her embodied power.

Cat’s eyes hardly ever changed. She was nothing like the newly turned immortal.

A little white cat with bright orange pupils purred in Chloe’s arms. An adorable little monster who didn’t accept scratches from anyone but Chloe and Levi.

"Hey, Catherine!" Chloe said cheerfully, before cooing, "Ooooh! Fancy. Is that the sword?"

Cat looked from Levi to Chloe.

"Yes. I believe Catherine was about to decline it, however. No doubt she shares your belief that presents are somewhat cursed."

Chloe groaned. “You gave me a thousand-dollar coat before we even knew each other’s birthday, my immortal idiot. That’s not okay.” Then, she looked up to Cat, pouting. "Come on, you must take it. I thought so hard about how I could thank you for all the lessons. This is the least we can do."

The present came from Chloe? That was a very different matter.

Chloe was also a vampire, and Cat refused to believe that she didn't have a motive, scheme, or reason behind her actions. But while Cat feared Levi, like anyone in their right mind should, she had grown to view Chloe as a friend.

A novelty. Just six months ago, Levi had accused her of being friendless, and he'd been right.

She had two siblings that she loved, and one of them, she also trusted. She had family, a clan, allies.

And now, she also had…friends. Or something close to it. She couldn’t quite trust them, but they spent time together in peace and harmony for no other reason than to enjoy each other’s company. When she was with them, Cat didn’t feel the need to put up a front.

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