Huntress

Barcelona, 1576

The young woman stepped out of the back door of the inn and took a deep breath. She was utterly exhausted, but it didn’t look like she’d be going to bed anytime soon. The soldiers had come to the inn earlier that evening, and the drinking and swearing and roughhousing were still going strong. She wanted to kick them out, but money was tight, and the soldiers had plenty of coin. As long as they kept buying drinks, Reynard would let them stay all night.

She heard him call for her through the door. She sighed, and went back inside to face the madness. The vision that greeted her chilled her to the bone. Two of the soldiers were holding Reynard down, his face and chest pinned to the bar. A third was standing behind him, grinning wickedly. “Seize her!” he said, and rough hands grabbed both of her arms. She struggled, but it was no use. The soldiers forced her over to the bar, and pinned her down next to Reynard.

As she watched helplessly, the soldiers ransacked the inn until they found Reynard’s strongbox, and took back every coin they had spent that night. When they shredded the painting over the bar, a gift from his long-dead mother, Reynard flew into a fit of rage. He managed to free himself and break a soldier’s nose before they got him back under control. She sobbed hysterically as she watched them reward his bravery by slicing his throat and stabbing him repeatedly with their bayonets. When they had finished working out some of their frustrations on his dead body, they turned their attention to her.

They cut off her dress, and had their way with her until dawn’s first light started filtering in through the windows. When they were finished, they tossed her aside and set the inn on fire.

Her spirit shattered, her body numb with pain and shame, the woman gathered up her tattered dress and ran out into the streets. With no destination in mind, she ran aimlessly away from the burning inn. She couldn’t feel the cobblestones under her feet, the wind in her hair, or the hot tears that streamed down her face. Everything was a blur. She was unaware of the stares and clucking tongues that followed her as she ran sobbing through the streets. She couldn’t escape the pain that was driving her mad.

Her steps took her to the new cathedral that had just been completed. Seeking solace and sanctuary, she ran inside. It was almost completely dark inside, despite the early morning sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows. It was peaceful, and quiet. In the front pew, a man sat, perhaps praying, perhaps contemplating the mysteries of life, or perhaps admiring the beauty and craftsmanship of the altar, statues, and frescoes. She ran past him, and flung herself down in front of the altar, where she began to sob uncontrollably.

The man came up behind her silently, and placed his hand on her shoulder. Internally, she screamed and recoiled violently from his touch. Externally, against her own instincts and wishes in the matter, she took a deep, ragged breath and stopped crying. He stood there, with his hand on her shoulder, until she had completely calmed down. After a few moments, she finally opened her eyes and looked at him.

“H…how did you do that? Who are you?” she asked.

“I am Christos, and how I calmed you is not important. It is…a gift I possess. Who are you, and what troubles you?”

“I’m Sarita…my friends call me Sari.”

“Sarita is a name much too pretty to be shortened. Your friends do you a disservice.”

“I…I guess so. I have never given it much thought. I don’t have any friends anyway. And now that Reynard is gone, I don’t have any family, either.” Silently, she wondered how she could speak of such a hateful thing that had just happened without feeling anything about it. She knew that it had just happened, but it felt like something that happened to someone else, like a story she had read or a tale overheard in the tavern. A fog in her mind separated her from the emotional turmoil of her ordeal.

“So you have no friends, and no family?” he asked.

“No, I guess not,” she replied.

“You are all alone in this world. What will you do? The world can be a very unforgiving place for a young woman with no friends and no family.”

The tears started welling up in her eyes again, but he touched the side of her face gently, and the fog rolled through her mind again, calming her.

“Ch ch ch…shhh. No, little one. Now is not the time for tears. Tell Christos what has happened to you.”

Through the fog, it still felt like a story she had heard somewhere else, and so that’s how she told it. She felt calm, completely removed from the horror of the events. When she finished, she just sat there on the floor, and stared into space.

Christos listened to her story, and then puller her up gently, and held her close to him. In the silence, Sari felt the fog begin to lift. The emotions began to trickle in, and she felt herself beginning to get upset again. Just when she felt like the fog would lift completely, and the emotions would come flooding in to drown her, she noticed a slight change. Anger replaced her pain and shame, and her tears turned to ashes.

“If you seek revenge, I can give you the power to hurt them,” he said, “You can hurt them, break them, destroy them the way they tried to destroy you.”

“Yes!” she hissed. “I want to hurt them!” Give it to me!”

He turned her so she was facing him, and looked deep into her eyes.

“I can give you power…real power,” he said. “You’ll never be scared again. You’ll never be a victim again. You will be strong, invincible.”

“Yes…please. I’ll do anything. Just give me this power,” she said.

He shifted his Amagi, his magic, and her anger turned into a burning desire. He brought her face close to his so that their lips were almost touching. Her whole body ached with wanting him.

“Give yourself to me, and I will make you a goddess.”

“Yes…”

He kissed her passionately, and then tilted her head to the side. Without warning, he opened his mouth and plunged his fangs deep into her throat and drank deeply.

xxx

New Orleans, 2015

“Just go talk to her already.”

“Naw, man. I’m good. Let’s just finish these beers, and get out of here.”

“You can’t keep your eyes off of her. You’ve been staring at her all night. Just man up, walk over there, and talk to her.”

“It’s too soon. I’m not ready yet.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. It’s been almost six months. Months! It’s past time you stopped moping around and shit. It’s not like you and Sheila were married. Shit happens. Get over it, and get on with life.”

“Look, man. Just give me a break, will you? Not everyone subscribes to your ‘love is a lie’ philosophy, ok? I love…ed Sheila. No, we weren’t married. Not yet, anyway. I thought we were heading that way, though. I’m still in shock. I’m numb. I feel dead inside…like there’s nothing left. I’m all used up. Sheila left, she took everything I owned. She took everything I had…including my heart. I got nothing left, man. Nothing left of me.”

“Oh Jesus H. Christ. Cry me a fucking river, will you? Boo fucking hoo. Mew, mew, mew. My girlfriend left me and threw all my shit in the river, and now I’m all sad and broken and shit.

“Mew, mew, mew. Get the fuck over it, already. Look, I know it sucks. I’ve been there. But you have got to pull your shit together. Put all that shit in the past, and forget about it. Sheila, Eddie, your ’69 Camaro at the bottom of the goddamned Mississippi river—all that shit—is over and done now. You need to get over it. Pick up the pieces and move on.”

“I know. It’s just…”

“Look, I can’t take any more of this whining bullshit. Unlike some people I know, I actually have to get up and go to work in the morning. You remember work, don’t ya, Benny-boy? Guns? Handcuffs? Lots of sirens and flashing lights? Any of this ringing a bell?

Ben didn’t say anything, but he nodded slightly. Johnny got up, handed some money to the bartender, and walked out. The woman he had been glancing at all night suddenly stood up, and walked over to Ben. He looked at her and gave her a weak smile as she approached him.

She was, he decided, even more beautiful than he had first thought. Her black hair fell in gentle curls around her face, and her deep green eyes flashed with intelligence and hinted at a sexy playfulness. Her skin was ghostly pale, and her curves were…well, he tried not to notice her curves, but they were hard not to notice. Ben stood up as she got close to the table, and pulled out a chair for her.

“So chivalry is decidedly not dead,” she said with a smile. He smiled back at her, but there was sadness in his eyes. They sat down together, and as he looked into her eyes, he decided that honesty was probably the best policy.

“Look. I’m really not interested. It’s not that you’re not beautiful. I mean, you are. Beautiful, that is. Really beautiful. But I just got out of a bad relationship, and I’m not ready for another one. I’d be a lousy one-night stand, and my heart can’t handle anything more than that, so whatever you’re looking for, I just don’t have it. I’m really, really sorry.”

“You could never take the place of my man? Is that what you’re saying?” she asked, with a wry smile.

“Huh?”

“It’s a Prince song. You know, Prince? She began to sing: ‘Baby, don’t waste your time. I know—what’s on your mind. You wouldn’t be satisfied with a one-night stand, and I could never take the place of your man.’ Know that one?”

“I guess I must have missed it. I’m not much of a Prince fan. I like the way you sing, though. And that accent…killer. So where are you from?”

“Ahhh so does that mean that we might actually have a conversation after all?”

Ben looked up, caught the wicked gleam in her eye, and laughed despite himself. “Yeah, I guess so. It’s the accent. I have a…thing…for accents. Foreign languages, too.” He didn’t think it would be very chivalrous to mention that he also had a  “thing” for black hair and green eyes, so he left that part out.

“The accent is Spanish. Barcelona, to be precise. That’s where I was born and where I spent my childhood. Despite lengthy stays in both England and the United States, I never managed to lose it completely. I can also help you with the foreign languages. Spanish, of course, but also Latin, Italian, and French.”

“Wow. That’s…I’m impressed! And you speak all of them fluently?”

“Yes, more or less. To be completely honest, my French is a bit rusty.”

“But not the Latin? That seems a bit…weird to me.”

“Well, I use Latin almost every day. I am an art historian, and my area of expertise is Medieval Art and Literature. Reading Latin is just part of it. I can speak it, too, but it’s not the sexiest sounding language. I doubt it would entice you very much. Not as much as Spanish, for example, and certainly not as much as modern Italian. Modern Italian is much sexier than its Latin roots.”

“I believe it,” Ben said. “So what brings you to New Orleans?”

“I’ve been hired by The New Orleans Museum of Art to help them identify some pieces they recently acquired.”

“Really? That’s cool. I love NOMA. I’ve spent many, many afternoons over there, just soaking up the culture. In my free time, I love to paint. I find a lot of inspiration at NOMA, and the sculpture garden is a great place to relax. I take a small sketchbook with me sometimes, and practice sketching people as they walk by. It’s very therapeutic.”

“Oh, so you are an artist! How wonderful! Perhaps one day, you will paint my portrait, Monsieur Artiste!”

“Welll….it’s mostly just a hobby. I’m actually a cop. I love painting, but I never could figure out a way to pay the bills with my art, so I gave up and got a day job.”

“A police officer! How very noble of you. So you protect the innocent for a living, create masterpieces of art in your spare time, and charm women with your chivalry. You sound too good to be true, Monsieur Artiste. Do you ride a horse, too? Are you a knight in shining armor?”

Ben laughed out loud. “Well, the chivalry just comes naturally. That’s part of growing up in a rich family here in the South. Being a cop is less about protecting the innocent and more about doing a shit-ton of paperwork. It really isn’t that special. And my art…well, that just keeps me sane. I doubt that I will ever produce anything worthy of being displayed at NOMA.”

“I think Monsieur Artiste is simply being modest. Very well. Have it your way, but I will still think of you as my knight in shining armor, and I am your damsel to rescue, Sir Knight.”

Ben blushed, and smiled broadly. “Thank you for the confidence booster, but really…I’m just a simple man, living a simple life. But you! Spain, England, the US…it seems like you’ve led quite the interesting life yourself. Let’s hear about that now, shall we?”

“Ah yes. España, England, and the U.S. But also Italy, France, Russia, and even Japan for a while. We can talk about all of these and more, but it is getting late, Monsieur Artiste. Perhaps if you tell me your real name, we can meet again to discuss such things.”

“Benjamin, but everyone calls me Ben. And you are….?”

“Katharine, but nobody, and I mean nobody, calls me Kathy,” she said, with another little laugh.

“Katharine it is, then,” said Ben.

She smiled at him, and stood up. He stood up as she did, and she grinned. “Again with the chivalry. Better be careful, Ben. A woman could get used to that.”

“And a guy could definitely get used to that accent, Katharine. Maybe you’re the one who should be careful.”

She winked at him, and turned to walk away. He watched her leave, mesmerized by her curves. He finished his last beer, and asked the bartender to call a cab. He made it all the way home without thinking about Sheila, and he fell asleep with a smile for the first time in months.

xxx

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were glowing. You like him,” said Tobias, as he walked along the ledge of the roof they were sharing.

Katharine shot him an annoyed look. “His heart is pure, Tobias. Don’t you find that fascinating?”

“No. They all taste the same to me. Why do you play with your food?”

“Because I’m bored, Tobias. Every night it’s the same thing. We hunt, we feed, we sleep. Night after night. Year after year. Century after century. Nothing ever changes. There has to be more to life than this.”

“Ugh. Now you’re boring me. Again with this existential crap, Sari? There is no grand purpose. Not for us, and not for them. We live, they die. Why do you insist on looking for answers that don’t exist?”

“It’s Katharine, now. Try and remember that.”

“Fine. Katharine. Whatever. Who can keep up with your ongoing identity crisis? Not me. Anyway, I’m out. There’s a party over at Stefan’s. You wanna come?”

“No. I have to go over to the museum and get some work done.”

“Something else I never understood about you. Why do you work? You have enough money to live in luxury for all eternity. Why do you work?”

“It soothes me, and keeps me from killing fools like you.”

Tobias laughed. “Suit yourself. Have fun playing with your scribbles and finger paintings.” With a flourish, Tobias launched himself into the air, and was gone in an instant.

Damn I wish I could fly, she thought. She shook her head in an effort to clear the thought away. No sense in dwelling on it, she told herself for the billionth time. She had her gifts, and others had theirs. It was never the same, and it all came down to the luck of the draw. I still wish I could fly though.

Katharine jumped off of the roof, and landed on the street below. It had rained earlier that night, and the street lights reflected in the slick street. She walked towards the museum, enjoying the cool night air. She loved New Orleans, but she was already ready for a change in scenery. She had barely been here a year, but she already knew everything she needed to know: Christos wasn’t here and nobody knew anything about him. That’s what I get for believing Anne Rice novels, she thought as she crossed the street. There was definitely a strong vampire presence here, but it was young and unruly. The truly powerful vampires—the Elders—were holed up somewhere else.

She had almost made it to the museum when a figure stepped out from one of the alleys and stood in her path. It was a man, tall and powerfully built, with a sinister look in his eyes. The man pulled a gun out of his jacket pocket and aimed it at her. “Your purse, please,” he said.

Katharine sighed. She wasn’t exactly “late” for work, being able to choose her own hours, but she really didn’t want to waste any time on this guy. She decided to end it quickly. She’d snap his neck and leave him in the alley. She just hoped she wouldn’t get any blood on her clothes.

She stepped forward, and the man fired. The bullet hit her in the stomach with a solid thud, but didn’t break her skin. It fell harmlessly to the ground, landing with a metallic clink. The man barely had time to register surprise before Katharine was standing behind him, her hands on the sides of his head. He didn’t have time to cry out before she snapped his neck and let him fall to the ground. She picked the corpse up, and carried it over to a dumpster in the alley the man had crawled out of. Holding her breath to avoid the stench, she opened the dumpster with one hand, and threw the man inside with the other. She closed the lid, brushed herself off, and turned to walk out of the alley.

She was suddenly aware of another presence, deeper in the alley. She sighed, and turned to face it. If it was one of the man’s friends, she’d show this next guy the same good time she had showed the first.

Nobody was there. She knew her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her. She had not been a frightened little girl for over five hundred years now. She knew who she was, and she was comfortable in her strength and skill. No human could even hope to harm her, and no vampire would be stupid enough to try. She extended her mind outwards, and into the shadows, but nothing was there. If it had been there before, it was gone now. She didn’t waste any more time on it. She stepped out of the alley, and continued walking towards the museum. The security guard let her in, and she went up to her office and let herself get lost in her work.

Katharine worked through the night and through the next day. Unlike most of her kind, she felt no need to sleep during the daylight hours. Although she was as allergic to sunlight as the rest of them, she could function normally as long as she stayed indoors and away from the windows. The dark interior of the museum was perfect for her.

The museum closed at six, and her date with Ben started at seven, so she changed into one of the new shirts she kept in her office, and headed out the door with the last of the visitors. The sun was setting, but hadn’t gone all the way down yet. She marveled again at her own tolerance for sunlight. None of the other vampires she had ever known would even be awake yet, much less able to walk around outside.

Yellow crime scene tape blocked off the alley from the night before. She figured someone had found the body she had left there. She wondered if Ben had been assigned to the case. On one hand, it would be nice to have insider’s information to make sure she wouldn’t be discovered, but on the other hand, she really didn’t want to have to listen to Ben describe her handiwork in the terms she knew he would use. Really, she hoped he wouldn’t talk about work at all. She had first-hand experience of death and cruelty. She didn’t want to hear about more of it through the lens of criminal investigations.

She got to the restaurant ten minutes before seven, and saw Ben standing by the entrance. She waved to him, and he smiled as he waved back. She greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, and he opened the door for her and guided her inside with his hand at the small of her back. Their table was ready for them, so the hostess seated them immediately.

She was amused by Ben’s wine selection, but was careful not to show it. Part of her wanted to let him know that money wasn’t a problem, that she had plenty to spare, but she didn’t want to hurt his pride. Even after five hundred years, she didn’t understand men, but she knew all about pride. She’d let him pay for the meal, even though it would end up being more than he could really afford. Clearly, he wanted to impress her, so she would allow herself to be impressed. She found it, like so many other things about him, charming.

It had been a really long time since she had found anyone charming.