Home > After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(10)

After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(10)
Author: May Sage

Gwen lifted her hand politely.

“Yes, Miss Kanye?”

“When you say up to us…”

“It means just that. A panel of judges will rate your work. You can discuss the subject you choose with your mentors and teachers throughout the year.”

“But if we pick them, how do they translate into getting our degrees?” Chloe asked. “Would I have a Master of Business Administration if I pick the wrong thing?”

“No, Miss Miller,” she replied.

Gwen looked as baffled as Chloe.

“So…”

“So pick the right thing.”

Red Doors

They were handed a map of each floor along with the schedule of every class taught at any time of the day or night. The folder was ten pages long. Chloe noticed that the huntsman didn't receive either.

“You're to familiarize yourself with the building this morning. You will not be unwelcome in any room, save for the northern tower at this hour. Your mentors are expecting you to tell them which courses you have chosen to study by the end of the week. That is all.”

The woman wasn't one to linger in useless talk.

Chloe opened the folded map on top of the laminated manual and grimaced. At least Miss Paxton had warned them. There were a good hundred rooms on every damn floor, five floors, and three freaking towers.

Towers. As an American, she found the very concept of this palace ludicrous.

“Freaking out yet, regular?” Gwen asked her. “I know I am, and I was born into this shit.”

Chloe relaxed a little, glad to know she wasn't the only one out of her depth.

“Hey, you know this place, right?” the fox asked the huntsman. “This map sucks. Can you give us a tour? Maybe show us the fastest way to the cafeteria or something.”

Easton was done smiling now.

"Listen, no offense, but I'm not here to play around. I need a degree to get a promotion, so I'm getting one, but I have a job outside of this. Good luck, rookies."

On that note, he walked away as fast as his feet could carry him, leaving them behind.

Chloe stared at her feet awkwardly.

“What a dick,” said Gwen. “I say we stick together.”

The fox nodded, and they went exploring together, opening each door on the ground floor to find classes on the right and study rooms with computers on the left. The first floor was filled with laboratories: biology on the right wing, chemistry on the left, and something that looked suspiciously like magic in the southern tower.

As they'd been warned not to, they didn't open the door leading to the north tower.

Chloe paused in front of it. The door was painted red, making it stand out in the white stone building. Everything else seemed to be either white or dark wood.

Something in Chloe desperately wanted to open that door, but the red paint also felt like a warning. A "do not enter" sign.

“Hey, regular! Coming?” called Gwen.

She nodded, and after a last glance toward the red door, rejoined the rest of the group.

The second floor was filled with amphitheaters. The lessons seemed to be focused on science on the right-hand side and arts on the left. Chloe would undoubtedly spend the bulk of her time on this floor, she guessed.

Again, there was a red door shutting the north tower away from the rest of the building. As they explored the Institute, Chloe found herself both expecting and looking forward to seeing that closed red door.

The entire last floor was an open-plan library. Standing at the middle of it, Chloe found herself in awe of the sheer number of books in the place. Millions. Hell, there could be billions. Thousands upon thousands of square feet filled with rows of books, and each high wall, up to the ceiling, was covered with them.

“Holy shit. I'm having a Beauty and the Beast moment,” Gwen mused. “Belle would have a damn heart attack.”

“I just need a torch, a tent, and a duvet,” said the boy. “Come find me in a decade.”

Chloe wasn't much of an academic reader. She'd been one to do her homework, but when it came to reading for pleasure, she preferred a good romance over a memoir pondering the meaning of life. She guessed that the library would be full of such boring tomes, but as they walked past a few shelves, she discovered a humongous section dedicated to fiction—sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal romance, some graphic novels, manga.

Okay. She was totally up for camping up here with Adam the fox.

She zeroed in on a shelf with a few recently released books she'd been looking forward to reading, and greedily piled them up in her arms. She'd have to check the library’s terms, but now was as good a time as any to start a membership.

Chloe was lost in her little world, carrying seven books and eyeing an eighth on the wall, when a breath made her turn her head left.

Her mouth fell open and her eyes widened.

There was another red door here, but this one was open.

Her feet moved of their own volition, and before she knew it, she'd crossed the threshold and walked right inside the north tower.

She bit her lip. Dammit. That was the only thing they'd been told not to do, and here she was, going against the rules on day one. That wasn't like her. She couldn't afford to piss off the administration here—not when she'd been accepted as a fluke.

Step back. Go now.

She ignored the voice of reason and remained where she stood.

Chloe looked down, and her eyes widened.

There was nothing; just an endless gray curved staircase as far as her eyes could see. Which wasn't very far. There was no light except for the one coming from the library behind her.

Lifting her eyes, she found that the stairs kept going up and up.

Chloe tiptoed forward and looked down. There was no handrail, no banister to prevent people from falling all the way down from the fifth floor.

What the hell? That was super dangerous.

She swallowed hard and stepped back cautiously only to find herself hitting a hard surface sooner than expected.

She couldn't be at the wall yet, right? Chloe turned, then gasped, releasing the lip she'd been nervously chewing during her little walk on the wild side.

Behind her stood a shadow.

Another vampire, the third she'd seen in less than twenty-four hours. She could tell now. Besides, he wasn't exactly hiding it, with those fangs pointing under his lips as he smirked down at her.

He was staring at her with eyes that shone in the darkness. Chloe wouldn't have blinked if he'd worn a cape, but the vampire had on blue jeans and a light silver shirt under a black leather jacket: perfectly normal attire that did nothing but emphasize his incongruity, his non-humanity. He wasn't pale, but his skin seemed to shine internally, as if fitted with its own internal light.

He was also devastatingly handsome, with his light hair and tanned limbs.

“What have we here? A curious little fledgling.”

She might have answered, if she were capable of speaking at all, but all motor function had been halted until further notice.

Unlike Anika and Levi, this person made her uncomfortable.

The vampire was enjoying her helplessness, she could tell. But his visible amusement finally managed to piss her off enough that she found her tongue again.

“I'm Chloe. I started school here today. Sorry, I didn't know I shouldn't be here.”

“Oh, but you knew. And you ignored it. Aren't you a bad girl, Chloe.”

The way he said her name was a fucking flick on her clit. Embarrassed and more pissed off, she glared. “Is that how you get off? Trying to frighten humans.”

For the briefest instant, he lifted an eyebrow in surprise, and then he smiled. “Not quite. I could show you how I get off, though.”

All right, so she'd walked into that one two feet in.

“Didn't Uncle Dracula tell you that cheesy shit like that basically negates all of your intimidating points?”

The vampire's smile was genuine, and so fucking beautiful it wasn't even fair. “He might have. I've always been a terrible disappointment to Uncle Dracula.”

“I can see why.”

Sometime over the last couple of minutes, Chloe had started breathing more or less normally. She found that when the vampire extended his hand to her, she could move without a problem. She shook it.

“Alexius,” a strangely familiar voice called.

Chloe suddenly inhaled hard, as if pulled out of a spell she hadn't realized she'd been under.

Looking up the staircase, she saw Levi stand a few steps above her, eyes set on the other vampire.

“Alexius, meet Chloe. Chloe, meet Alexius. He will not bother you again.”

She half-wanted to say he hadn't bothered her in the first place, but something in Levi's tone, almost threatening, made her stay quiet for once. What Blair had said yesterday was obvious now. Levi was dangerous. Maybe even a little scary around the edges.

“Sorry for trespassing.”

Alexius chuckled. “It's perfectly natural. You're welcome at any time.”

“She isn't,” Levi stated.

The blond rolled his eyes. “All right, you're not. He's the boss.”

Chloe smiled at him.

“Well, it's nice to meet you, Alexius.”

“Likewise, fledgling.”

On that note, he turned on his heels and started walking away, each of his steps impossibly fast. Levi remained where he stood, eyes fixed on her. Chloe wondered if he was going to say something, tell her to stay away from Alexius, or—or what?

It didn't matter. Levi did no such thing. For the second time, he simply dissolved into dark mist.

Which was irritating as hell. After a second, she was alone in the staircase.

“Chloe?”

She turned to find Gwen standing in the library.

Another world away, or so it seemed.

“Are you coming? We're going to set up library cards and then head down to the courtyard. It's almost noon.”

Was she coming?

Part of her ached to walk up those endless stairs.

She shook her head, willing herself to regain her lost senses.

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