Home > After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(4)

After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(4)
Author: May Sage

As the conductor rushed to give Levi’s order, Chloe said, "Don't get me wrong—as a waitress, I'm one to appreciate a good tipper, but a hundred pounds to rush the desserts? That’s, like, a hundred and fifty bucks."

"You haven't had their macaroons," he stated, making her laugh.

The hottie had a sweet tooth.

Who would have guessed?

A pang of sadness hit her. Their destination. They were going to reach the Institute and then part ways. She doubted she’d see him again, not like this. The owner of the land on which the school was built probably didn’t hang out with postgrad students. Chloe tried to cheer herself up. She’d meet other people. She just doubted they’d be half as fascinating as Levi De Villier.

Twenty minutes later, after devouring all of her plate and some of his, Chloe understood the generous tip. She was just wiping her mouth, and wondering if she could order seconds, when the train came to a halt.

Looking out the window, she saw more of the delightful countryside in the darkening light. Low hills to her right and woods on her left, for miles and miles. In the distance, a body of water seemed to have caught fire as the sun set overhead.

"Passengers are advised to remain on the train. This is not a scheduled stop. We will be on our way shortly."

That made sense. Chloe found herself wishing they were stopping for a while. The view was quite magnificent.

"That's us. Do you have your things?"

She blinked. "Here?"

It didn't feel like the sort of place that should be disrupted by…by what, exactly? People?

"Yes, here. Let's go."

The conductor opened the doors for them while the rest of the train remained locked.

"Thank you, Louis."

"Always a pleasure, Mr. De Villier."

And on that note, the man closed the doors and the train was gone, leaving them in the Scottish wilderness. The landscape was so beautiful she almost didn’t care that she was freezing her tits off. Almost.

Eyes in the distance, Chloe couldn't stop looking at these hills, this lake. There was something about them.

"Interesting," said Levi.

"What?"

He extended a gloved hand, inviting her to take it.

"Your eyes."

For a wild moment, she thought he was paying her a compliment. Before she had the sense to blush, he added, "Strangers normally need to be shown the way. You seem to have a good sight."

Oh. He was complimenting her…eyesight?

Strangely, that made more sense than his saying she had pretty eyes. Chloe was cute, but next to him, she looked like a charming fluffy gremlin.

"Yeah," she replied with an awkward chuckle, feeling foolish for thinking he might have been flirting. "Twenty-twenty."

He laughed.

"Come on through."

Levi took one step, and she had to take two to follow him. Midway through her second, a strange sensation made her shiver, as if she'd passed through a waterfall. Chloe closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she saw a paved road and a fancy sports car parked right in front of them. Miles away, those hills were still there, but now houses were on them; large, imposing state houses that all seemed to rival Buckingham Palace.

The most imposing edifices were the castle built at the foot of the hill and the house right on top. The former couldn't be called a house at all; it was a fort with numerous towers and surrounded by high walls. The latter was a tall mansion, black as night and shimmering in the distance.

"Welcome to Oldcrest. Come, I'll give you a ride."

The Institute

Levi dropped her off in front of the castle at the foot of the hill before driving to the summit. She wondered if he owned the black house. That would certainly fit his persona.

Chloe expected to feel somehow inadequate when she entered the stylish, antique castle. Meticulously carved out of white stone, with ornate windows and wooden doors with iron bolts, the Institute looked ancient—a new concept to someone from the States. She was starting to get used to it after a couple of days in England, though.

While she'd been suitably impressed by the Tower of London and Big Ben, the Institute distinguished itself by also being surrounded by strange open lands that suited it to a T. London landmarks were beautiful pieces of history preserved in a vibrant, modern city. From what she'd seen of Oldcrest so far, everything here was antediluvian. She wasn't surprised to find that her phone had zero network bars.

Among a sea of olden fixtures, from an actual moat with a drawbridge around the castle to high city walls and the guard tower, one fortification distinguished itself. It seemed not only old but also unnervingly unnatural. The gates. They weren’t the kind of thing one might have found on a normal fortress—if such a thing existed. The gates at the end of the drawbridge were made of a material Chloe just couldn't identify. It couldn't be glass—it seemed too shiny, too precious—and she sure as hell hoped it wasn't diamond, because if so, the two twenty-foot-high doors could buy an entire planet. The water of the moat was reflected on the shiny surface, but Chloe couldn't see herself through it.

She hesitated. Something told her these weren’t the kind of gates one simply pushed.

"You walk through them."

She turned to find a woman standing right behind her.

She was a knockout. Ebony hair, long limbs, deep eyes, and ochre skin. Chloe couldn't help herself; she checked her out from her high, block heel boots to the tips of her slick hair. She wore fitted brown leather—not skintight, but still clutching at her every curve.

Then, realizing she was probably being rude, she winced. "Sorry. You're just…I mean. That's a badass outfit."

Breaking into a smile that made her seem a thousand times more beautiful, the woman said, “Chill. Newbies stare. That's normal. We don’t bite.” Then, she seemed to reconsider. “Most of us don’t, anyway. Unless you ask. Do you like being bitten?”

Something vaguely resembling a laugh escaped Chloe’s throat. That was probably just normal sup humor, right?

She stepped inside the building and found herself apologizing again. “Sorry. How long is the newbie card valid for?”

The woman laughed. “Case-by-case basis. I'd say, for you, we'll reassess in a year or so. All right, so you can just walk through the gates. They're immaterial. Spells to keep out certain…” She hesitated. "People."

Chloe doubted that “people” was the word she wanted to use. Things, maybe.

"Let me go in first so you know I'm not messing with you."

The woman walked forward, as if there was nothing between the two thirty-inch-thick walls, and disappeared in front of Chloe's bewildered eyes.

Working for a vampire and hanging out with shifters didn't mean that she was used to magic. Sups rarely used magic at all among regulars. She hadn't even seen Chelle and her witches perform any spells other than the stuff they did around the carnival of NOLA to entertain tourists.

Clearing her throat and tightening her backpack straps, Chloe whispered, "Here goes nothing," and walked through the gates. Three steps, and that was it, she was on the other side. As she passed through the barrier, she felt a strange coldness, and the air seemed to resist, trying to push back against her. The sensation didn't last, and then she forgot all about it.

She was in the Institute.

Her eyes widened and stayed peeled for a long time.

To her left was a field of green grass where students dressed like the stunning brunette were attempting to gruesomely murder each other. There was no other way to describe their sparring. They had real weapons—swords, daggers, bows, axes—and they were swinging them hard against their opponents. Chloe knew she wouldn't survive more than a couple of minutes against any of them, even those who looked quite young.

To her left, two dozen witches were fighting too, but with fireballs, mini hurricanes, and other terrifying pieces of nature in the palms of their hands.

Chloe wondered if she'd be safer back in NOLA, even with the killers after her.

“You look so stressed out, blondie,” said the brunette. “Let me tell you something. Whatever you’re going to ask, it’s probably a valid question. Most of us don’t get upset by curiosity. Only ignorance and malice put our teeth on edge.”

Teeth. Chloe zeroed in on the woman's. It could just have been the light, her anxiety, or unfounded fear, but they seemed so very white. Bright.

She wouldn’t have been able to tell one day ago, but after Levi, she just knew she was in front of another vampire. It wasn’t uncommon to come across a shifter or a witch from time to time, but vampires were another story. She knew Charles, and that was it. The rest of the NOLA circle remained in the shadows.

"Are we…are we all supposed to fight like that?"

Hopefully not.

The woman laughed. "You wish. Don't worry, you're not the first regular to come through those gates. The Institute demands the best of us, that's it. No one here will ask you to do anything you're not capable of accomplishing. All right, my students are waiting for me. You know where you're going?"

Her students? She looked twenty, if that.

“Do all vampires look so young?”

The words were out of her mouth before she thought better of it. The brunette smiled kindly, letting Chloe know she’d meant it when she said she wouldn’t be offended.

"No, not all of us, although born vampires tend to stop aging in their early twenties. For those who were turned, well, it just depends on how old they were when they became one of us. All right, I have to go. I don't think you'll be in my class, but if you need help, we're all available—any time. Ask for Anika Beaufort."

Chloe felt a little more at ease. "Thank you. Chloe Miller."

There it was, her name. Normally, she saw faces stiffen and eyes narrow when she said it.

But Anika just waved, friendly as ever.

"Have fun, Chloe."

Then she was on her way, moving so fast Chloe's eyes only caught one out of three steps. In no time, she reached the other side of the court and stood in front of a handful of students, who all saluted, hands over their heart.

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