Home > Dark Dancer (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #3)(11)

Dark Dancer (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #3)(11)
Author: B.R. Kingsolver

Warring with that impulse was the idea of abandoning Lizzy and Jo and Frankie, indeed, Sam and all my friends. Not just that I would lose the relationships I had established, but that they also would have to face the threat of the Hunters. If I was going to make any steps toward redemption for my past, I needed to take a stand. I could run forever, or I could square my shoulders and confront the demons chasing me.

When I finally gained control again, the sun was coming up. I found myself sitting in a flower bed, my back against the house. I fought my way to my feet and composed myself before going back inside.

One thing I knew was that if I ended up facing one of the Hunters, I needed to be in a lot better shape. I worked out and ran, but I was soft compared to how I used to be.

When Frankie dropped me back at my apartment around noon, I made a phone call to Michaela Gallagher.

“Hi,” I said when she answered. “You said something once about knowing how to use a sword. Is there a fencing club or something like that here in town?”

“Yeah, there’s a fencing club. There’s also a paranormal sword club that’s not in the phone book. The people who started it are all really old, like me, and grew up when swords were still commonly used. Interested?”

“Absolutely. I don’t have a sword, though, and not sure I can afford to buy one.”

She laughed. “Tell you what. I’ll set you up with something. Consider it a return on the favor you did me with Barclay. Do you have the address of our new house?” She gave me the address and directions on how to get there. “Come by tomorrow around ten, if that’s not too early.”

After I finished talking to Michaela, I took a shower and changed clothes, trying to get the stench of Winslow’s house out of my nose. I had the day off, but I wanted to tell Sam about the Hunters, so I walked to Rosie’s along the path by the creek.

I found Sam behind the bar. Rosie’s was unusually quiet and had a lot fewer customers than normal for that time of the day. I crawled up on a barstool and ordered coffee and a salmon-and-cream-cheese sandwich.

While I waited for my food, I told Sam about the massacre at Ronald Winslow’s.

“Ah, I am sorry to hear that,” Sam said when I finished. “I’ve known Ron for a long time. A good man. Did you happen to catch the names of the others?”

I told him and watched his expression grow grimmer.

“Not good,” he said. “Those were some of the most enlightened of the influential mages here in the city.” He shook his head. “None of them were slouches when it came to magecraft, either. Erin, are the Hunters really that powerful?”

“They’re the elite,” I said, “chosen for strength in magic, and for being physically and athletically gifted. Then they go through rigorous training and testing, which starts when they’re children. Only ten percent of those who are tested at puberty go into the training program, and only ten percent of those are accepted into the Hunters’ Guild when they graduate. The rest of the candidates fulfill other roles in the Illuminati’s organization. But only members of the Guild can rise to the top and become members of the Council. So, Nava and Meitzner were never destined to rise higher than their positions here in Westport.”

Sam regarded me, squinting a bit and cocking his head slightly to the side. “Are you saying that you could take out six powerful mages?”

I shook my head. “Not the way you mean. The Hunters’ swords are more than an affectation, more than a symbol. They are spell-forged, almost unbreakable, and never need sharpening. But their great value is the negate-magic spell bound in them. They will deflect magical attacks as well as cut through personal shields. That was what gave the Hunter such an advantage over the mage at Winslow’s who tried to fight back with a rapier. When two Hunters meet, they could spend all day hammering each other’s shields with magic, but their skill with their blades will decide the dance.”

I gave him a small grin. “But to answer your question, I wouldn’t launch a frontal assault like that. I’d be sneakier.”

“And you no longer have one of those swords.”

“No. The long dagger I took from that Hunter last fall is a spell-forged blade, but it is intended for use as a main gauche—a secondary blade for the non-sword hand—and has a decided disadvantage against a full-length sword. Length as well as weight. That weight is what makes it easier to decapitate a vampire.”

“Sorry you left yours behind?”

I only had to think about it for a couple of seconds. “No. It would have been a constant reminder of how much pain and death I caused. I would love to have another sword like it, a clean sword, but that one needed to be destroyed.”

Sam’s brow wrinkled. “But, how would you destroy such a weapon?”

I grinned and winked at him. “Believe it or not, by exposing it to the Truth. Truth, I discovered, is the strongest force on earth.”

Chapter 9

I walked home on the same path I took to get to Rosie’s. It was past dark, windy, and cold, with the threat of rain or sleet. I pulled energy from the ley line and used it to shield myself from the wind and to stay warm.

Winters in the City of the Illuminati were so different. Inside the City, the temperature was a steady seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Outside the City in late November, it would be white as far as I could see. By January, there would probably be four or five feet of snow on the ground, not counting drifts, and the only ways to travel involved Snow-Cats, snowmobiles, cross-country skis, or snowshoes.

Up ahead of me, a dark figure stood in the middle of the path. As I got closer, I saw he was wearing a long black cloak with a peaked hood. Probably David Cunningham. The hood of a Hunter’s cloak was rounded.

Since I was already shielded, I didn’t feel the need to react to his presence and simply walked past him. He fell in beside me.

“My master heard there are Hunters in town,” Cunningham said.

Without a question, I used Liam’s method of communication. In other words, none.

“Have you heard about that?” Cunningham asked.

“Yes,” I said. Liam could be absolutely infuriating if you didn’t understand him, but I had learned so much from him about how to deal with idiots, and it was fun as well.

After a few more paces, Cunningham asked, “Aren’t you concerned?”

“Yes.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“Keep my head down and hope they’re here to kill all the vampires instead of me? What do you think I should do? Issue a challenge on television for individual duels on City Plaza at high noon?”

“Uh…”

“Yeah. When you figure it out, let me know. I’m open to suggestions.”

We walked along for a while without saying anything, then he changed the subject and took me by surprise.

“I’m thinking about leaving Laurent. Michaela says I can go live with them.”

I almost stopped dead in my tracks, then caught myself and continued walking. “I’m sure that will be very exciting.” I couldn’t help but flash on the word ‘harem’. That had been Harold Gallagher’s relationship with most of his ‘daughters.’ It wasn’t as incestuous as it sounded since Michaela was the only one actually related to him.

“And how does Gabriel feel about that?” I asked. I could understand David wanting to be with his own kind. But Gabriel Laurent had traveled with dhampir for years. He felt comfortable with them, and I assumed he was used to feeding from them. Human thralls certainly wouldn’t have the same kind of speed, strength, and longevity.

“I haven’t said anything to him,” David said.

“Afraid he might tear your head off?”

I glanced at David, and he seemed to shrink a little under his cloak, but maybe that was just my imagination.

“Can you just do that?” I pressed. “I mean, he’s been feeding off you for years. I assumed you would be enthralled.”

He shook his head. “Dhampir get the same pleasure from a vampire’s feeding as normal humans, but we don’t get addicted. That’s how Laurent could send Stephanie on a mission without her freaking out. But now that she’s gone, I don’t feel any loyalty to him. He just shrugged when I told him she was dead.”

I remembered Michaela telling me that vampires didn’t do love. It was easy to classify them as monsters, but the fact was that I had never seen any true emotions from them other than mirth, lust, and anger. Perhaps being dead had something to do with it.

“When are you planning to make this big move?” I asked.

“As soon as the apartment block is finished,” he said. “It’s a little crowded there at the moment, especially with all the construction going on.”

He walked with me until we reached my apartment building.

“I heard you are going to start working out with Gilles Prudhomme,” David said. “Maybe we could spar sometime.”

I didn’t know who Gilles Prudhomme was but assumed he was someone at Michaela’s club. I turned to face David. “Don’t tempt me. I’ll beat you bloody with a practice sword, and I won’t even feel guilty about it.”

He licked his lips. “Didn’t you ever do something out of duty that you felt sorry about later?”

“Many, many things. I haven’t forgiven myself, why do you think I’d forgive you?”

Michaela and her sisters had just purchased an old estate north of the university, up in the hills overlooking the coast. Once I found the address on a map, I realized I would have to leave home at seven o’clock in the morning to have any prayer of reaching the place by ten. I was discovering that almost everyone assumed that everyone else had a car.

It took two transfers to reach the train station at the university, then I figured an hour to walk the five miles north to the dhampir compound. I got lucky, and a truckload of construction workers gave me a ride the last two miles.

The estate was large, with a high wall around it, and the mansion showed more than a little age and neglect. That was being taken care of, however, by a fairly large contingent of workers who were fixing the place up. Another group was building an addition that looked more than double the size of the original house.

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