Home > After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(16)

After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(16)
Author: May Sage

Remembering that Gwen was waiting for her in the cafeteria, she crossed the entry hall and walked in.

Chloe smiled when she saw Gwen chatting away with some of the hunters they'd hung out with the previous day; she surprised herself by remembering their names—Natalie, Tris, Chris, Bat, and Jack, of course.

She picked up a plate of lasagna and a salad before joining them.

"Here's our Cheetah."

"All right, anyone have another nickname submission? I accept applications, please."

"Doll-face?" Natalie proposed.

"Angel cheeks," said Bat, chewing on a mouthful of his burger.

Chloe sighed as she sat down. "You all suck at this. How about you stick to my actual name?"

"No way," said Chris, shaking his head for good measure. "Huntsmen go by nicknames. It's a thing."

There were nods all around the table, except from Gwen, who was too busy laughing at her.

"Good thing I'm not a huntsman, then. Huntswoman? Is that a thing?"

"It should be," Natalie grumbled. "But no. The order is too old to not have a few sexist attributes. But the head of the entire order is a woman, so there's that."

From the corner of her eye, Chloe saw Jack stiffen.

"Really?" Gwen said, eyes wide. "I mean, witch covens are often matriarchal, because women tend to have stronger magic, but I definitely didn't expect that from huntsmen."

"Throughout our history, we've had three hundred and seventy-four high guard—as we call them. Three hundred and seventy were men. The four exceptions are the most badass human women this world has known. And one of them is his mother." Tris pointed to Jack, who remained entirely stoic and silent.

Ah. There was a story there.

Deciding she'd exceeded her daily quota of nosiness, Chloe stuffed a bite of lasagna in her mouth and chewed slowly to stop herself from asking him an intrusive question.

Gwen didn't.

"How does your ego deal with having a mother like that?"

Jack's glaring game was almost as strong as Levi's. "Just fine, thank you."

Tris snorted. "By ‘fine,’ he means he lives in another continent so he doesn't have to report to her directly."

Jack chucked his knife right at her. She caught it effortlessly and threw it back before returning to sipping her tea. The entire exchange lasted under a minute.

"Do you guys often throw sharp things at each other?" Chloe asked.

If so, perhaps they shouldn't make a habit of eating with them.

"Just those two. It's fine, they're cousins."

Apparently being related gave them leave to attempt murdering each other without cause. Good to know.

"Don't sweat it, Cheetah. Even if Jack shot wrong, Tris will always catch her knife and never miss a shot. She's a fledgling."

Chloe lifted a brow. She'd heard that word three times, the first two to describe her.

"A born vampire?" she asked, remembering Gwen's explanation.

Tris beamed. "My dad's from one of the founding seven, so he can, you know, have kids. My parents aren't putting any pressure on me to turn. I figured I'd wait until I look old enough to have beer in any country before freezing my face."

Fascinated, Chloe asked, "Can I bore you with a thousand questions?"

The girl shrugged. "Shoot."

Holy shit, where did she start? "Do you drink blood?"

Tris shook her head after a moment of hesitation. "Well, I don't need to—yet. But over the last few years, I've definitely preferred my steak blue. And tartare is life. Dad says if I get to a point where blood smells like candy, I need to turn. Or go insane, one of the two."

Holy shit. Could she write a book about this?

"That's pretty awesome, in a rather gruesome way. So, are you different from us in any other way?"

Tris tilted her head, giving the question a moment of thought. "I don't know. People are very different from one individual to the next. I'm faster than most people, but Jack beats me. Some fledglings have magic, or an affinity with animals, or even the ability to charm people, like actual vampires. My thing is weapons."

Her grin had a slightly alarming edge.

"What weapon?" Gwen asked.

Chloe wasn't surprised when Jack replied, "Every weapon. She grabs it, she knows how to use it. It's incredibly frustrating."

"You love me, really."

Jack smiled at his cousin. Chloe hadn't been sure she liked the guy until then, but that smile? It explained why she'd been intrigued enough to go on his race, why his confession about putting her in danger hadn't entirely infuriated her.

Suddenly, she realized something: although he didn't compete, the reason he ran with the rest of the huntsmen was to ensure no one got in trouble.

The guy was marshmallow wrapped in steel. All soft inside. He cared about his cousin; he cared about his men and women.

"Hey, are you guys doing another race? I think I could totally use the cardio," said Gwen.

Looking surprised, Jack glanced at Chloe, who shrugged. She’d just verbally sparred with an ancient vampire. What was a little huntsman race?

"Sure. Next weekend. This week is pretty light; the teachers are just reminding us where we were last year while you newbies get a feel for the classes. After next week, trust me, we'll need to unwind."

"Awesome. Can we tag in?"

"Sure thing. It's going to be at the Coscnoc, mid-day."

"Coscnoc?" Chloe repeated.

"The third hill," said Tris. “It's forbidden without an escort because there are some major hexes and traps, but Jack got the all-clear for a paintball race. It's gonna be sick."

Sick sounded about right. "Hexes and traps?" she echoed, feeling like a parrot.

Tris shrugged. "It's just around the caves. We'll mark the area."

That sounded mildly less threatening than a bunch of angry werewolves.

"All right. Let's do it."

Beyond the Veil

Jack had not been kidding when he'd said the first week on a full schedule was going to be taxing.

In addition to Paranormal Introduction and Advanced Immortal History, Chloe opted to take Law Introduction, Advanced Business, Alchemy 101, and Latin. Blair had advised against taking more than two major subjects and even suggested that AIH, Alchemy, and Latin might end up being too much. Chloe hadn't gotten what she meant, because AIH was only four hours per week, Alchemy, one, and Latin, two. But she soon realized that even the kindest, gentlest, and most encouraging teacher—Miss Penny—gave tons of homework. For every hour spent in class, she had to spend two or three researching stuff just to keep up. Suddenly, she understood the sheer size of the library—and why most students spent all their time there.

It was impossible to research any of the paranormal courses online, and even the generic subjects were rather different when taught by a sup.

She'd been warned about Mr. Silver, but the worst professor was, by far, Alexius, who taught Alchemy 101. The man was a flirt. He flirted with everything—male, female, even with his damn potions—and his students were too busy giggling and batting their eyelashes to really listen to what he said. Then, he gave tests, and when they failed, he sighed dramatically and professed his disappointment.

Chloe watched the whole thing, entirely bewildered. How was everyone falling for it?

But she remembered the first time they'd met, in the staircase behind the red door. She'd fallen for his charms too, then. Why weren’t they working on her anymore?

She didn't quite understand it.

To Chloe’s relief, she did get along with most of the students in her classes. Outside, she often met the little ravens who rarely failed to greet her, one way or the other. Some screamed from the sky when they were busy with their affairs. Others came to fly around her at their leisure. One, in particular, often made a point to sit on her shoulder and peck at her blonde hair.

She took to carrying some peanuts with her so that she could reward them appropriately.

"You know that's not normal, right?" said Viola, an eagle shifter and one of the students in her Latin class.

Chloe shrugged. "What's normal here, really?"

Normal was overrated.

Chloe did well enough, overall. She started three steps behind most of the students here, but she had one advantage: her memory. It had always been above average, and for what it was worth, her annoying habit of replaying her life as soon as she returned to her own room gave her an edge. She could listen to each lesson twice, and memorize it even better.

She didn't see Levi, and that was a great thing. Remembering the way she'd gone crazy the last time she'd seen him, she deliberately stayed away from the red door. She still cringed when replaying the scene in the middle of the night.

One thing disturbed her. She would have sworn she felt eyes on her, particularly when she walked alone outside of the school. But Chloe knew it probably had to do with the people who were looking for her back in the real world. She was projecting, that was all.

Then she remembered things, little things that made her think she maybe wasn't all that paranoid. Like the "wake-up phone call" on her first day. And sure, it had been useful, but who had it been? At the time, she didn’t think the voice had sounded like Levi, and she hadn't met any other man yet. It was all very strange.

All that said, this place was entirely safe from humans. The bounty on her head was irrelevant. Here, she only had to worry about accidentally setting off a hex if she walked too close to the wrong hill. And the angry werewolves, of course.

By Saturday, she was definitely looking forward to a paintball race.

Jack told them to dress in warm, weatherproof gear and meet him at noon. Chloe woke up early and headed out of the dorm with her wallet. She'd been meaning to go shopping all week, but the one true emergency had been buying a coat. As she now had one, she allowed her classes to distract her.

Blair was heading out of Oldcrest for the weekend—she had some family in the Highlands she visited occasionally. Gwen wanted a lie-in, as they'd woken up early every weekday. When she’d mentioned shopping the previous evening while making hot chocolate before bed, Tris offered to tag along. Chloe wasn't one to refuse company.

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