“I really can’t let you out of my sight, can I?”“I know these last two …incidents might make it look that way, but usually I’m fine on my own and quite good at my job. Let’s just call it a streak of bad luck.”“You’ve got bitten by a vampire, twice, within two nights. Let’s call it approaching death. Did someone curse you lately?”“Well, if someone did, they forgot to send me a card to tell me about it.” «
The Hunt is On – Excerpt
Kylian and I continued our way through the dark corridors. Wafts of air floating towards us seemed warmer, less damp, but still scented of bone dust. The trickling sound of water running along the walls broke the otherwise oppressing silence. Soon subdued lighting guided us, and we followed like moths to a flame – where they would burn. Here the walls were not as hidden behind the bizarre arrangements of beige colored, smooth bones and skulls, the stacks only reaching my shoulder now.
The light ahead wavered and as we drew closer I made out small torches that illuminated the maze at regular intervals. We took another slight turn and Kylian stopped, so did I. We both had noticed it at the same time and looked up. A black, leathery bat hung from the ceiling of the passage, motionless. The tiny black eyes glowed with the reflected flames and took us in, assessing, and suddenly it screeched wildly, spread its wings and flew off, probably warning Lilith that we were here.
And the silence from before was replaced by sudden, muffled whisper, the nervous flap of wings and the scurry and scamper of tiny clawed feet. Reminding me of an angry beehive.
The hallways widened. Bats, rats, lesser demons, cloven hoofed or humanlike bipeds, vampires in the flesh – all of them appeared in the tunnels, an endless row forming at each side. A silently cheering and gloating crowd that had gathered to watch the Patroness of Paris and the Chef de la Meute enter their Den. They blocked certain passages, very subtly directing us. They hissed and sniffed, and I felt like walking down the aisle – towards the executioner.
The passage evolved into a great hall. The walls were of gray mortared stone, the ceiling high and vaulted, and a red carpet led the way towards the end of the hall, where a high throne stood upon a stair base. The pedestal and chair were made out of bones, mostly femurs and skulls, and were interwoven with glinting metal, whereas the seating surface was upholstered with plush and dark-red velvet – all of it suited the woman sitting on the throne.
She was slim, probably tall, the silky jet-black hair tumbled down to her waist and soft curls framed an incredible sensual and pale face. She wore a long dress that fit her body like a glove and left one shoulder bare while the other arm was completely covered. The shade deepened from top to bottom, starting with an almost transparent light red and changing into a rich color of wine. Glittering, black embroideries scattered the subtle, flowing train, but the real eye-catcher was the slit that revealed the whole length of her right leg up to her hip.
Lilith, an undead cliché. Now I knew where the other vamps got their I’m-so-mysterious-you-will-fall-flat-on-your-face attitude. She was living and breathing it with every fiber of her being.
After a flick of her hand two armed, demonic guards showed up at either side of us and motioned for us to walk up to Lilith. That seemed a little exaggerated. I mean, come on, it was just the two of us, surrounded by – what? – fifty undead in striking distance, and double that were still in the tunnels. And we had to be chaperoned? I decided to think of it as a back-handed compliment, and with Viviane’s voice still nagging at me I left it at rolling my eyes in my mind. So far I was rather proud of myself, my sword was still tucked away and I hadn’t cracked up yet.
Kylian and I were given a sign to stop a couple of feet in front of Lilith and I really hoped she didn’t expect us to kneel or something like that. It would be the final straw for me, this silly fuss had me almost bursting with laughter. Maybe Kylian had been right. He told me once that I was lacking any instinct of self-preservation and given the situation – totally outnumbered and surrounded by demons and sharp-fanged vampires – I should be worrying about getting out of these tunnels in one, alive piece.
I glanced at Kylian standing beside me. He was relaxed and his face serious but touched with a discreet hint of boredom. He was good. Lilith was watching him too, almost eating him up with her eyes, which made me want to punch her. Of course, the new leader of France’s biggest shapeshifter pack was much more interesting than the puny Patroness who killed her little babies.
A tall, elegant and astonishingly handsome man in a dark suit stepped up and positioned himself to the side of the Queen’s throne, in what seemed an advisory capacity. He had his eyes on me. The laughter inside me vanished. Those cold, gray eyes were hungry, not quite sane and gave me the creeps.
“Well, well, look who’s gone astray, or should I believe you finally dared coming into my little Den? The Chief de la Meute and the Patroness, what a cute couple you make.” Her voice was weird, low but nevertheless reaching every corner of the hall and sweet as if dipped in honey yet menacing at the same time.
“We’re here to talk business, nothing more,” Kylian explained in his logic, matter-of-fact voice that either could annoy the hell out of me or bring me back from dark, faraway places inside my head.
“The shapeshifter community and the Patroness of Paris are working together in an investigation regarding an unusually high number of missing persons. We’d only like to clear up a few things.” See, I could be polite and tactful.
Lilith raised one sublime, devastating eyebrow. “Clear up a few things? Is that code for wanting to know whether I have anything to do with it?”
There went the diplomacy. Dammit, what did I do wrong?
“Look, I’m missing shapeshifters, the Patroness has a bunch of people knocking on her door since other magical creatures are just disappearing, and we both saw more of your scouts topside than is usually the case. So, we thought that maybe we could join forces to find out what the hell is going on in this city.” Not bad, Kylian. He hadn’t exactly denied the suspicion implied earlier but had managed to turn it into a we-are-stupid-and-need-your-help deal.
Lilith seemed to think it over, tapping a neatly manicured finger against the femur that served as an armrest. Lovely, just lovely. I wouldn’t get that picture out of my head so soon.
Then the creepy guy to the side leaned close to whisper something into her ear, it made her smile and me suspecting something bad. Slowly she got up, moving towards Kylian. Hips swaying, sultry bedroom eyes and a suggestive smile curving her lips – yeah, the poor guy had to bear the full brunt. I stopped from grinding my teeth since her advisor was back to watching me. I concentrated on Lilith. Her eyes began to swirl with dots of red, not the blood crazy kind of red but the paralyzing kind, and with a sinking feeling I realized that she wanted to trance Kylian to find out whether he’d told the truth. Shit, I had no idea how he would react to this.
But I shouldn’t have worried, every single trick seemed to bounce off him since he was still relaxed and now cocked his head to the side, mightily amused. “Everything alright? Or just scratchy contacts?”
And they call me suicidal?Seriously?
The Queen stopped short as if slapped, then lethal fury blazed in her eyes. Oh oh. “You worthless abomination!”
I cut in, “Now, that’s the pot calling the kettle black. You’re dead, at least we’re breathing.” Though I had no idea for how long that would actually still be the case.
She spread her arms, her voice gained volume and depth, the sweet honey completely gone. “How dare you come here, making unfounded accusations? Humiliating my people? I won’t take it. This means war!”
And hell was unleashed.
Bats screeched madly and I feared my eardrums would burst, and all around us demons bellowed, their stamping hooves making the ground vibrate with anger.
Kylian roared as he burst into his magnificent blue tiger and I unsheathed Cutter and pulled a silver-coated Trident dagger.
Outnumbered, a maze of tunnels and a lot of enemies blocking the exit. Luckily most of her people were already topside. But still. Why didn’t we come here when it was day? Then tourists would be underground and Lilith would have to put a leash on her pets as soon as we reached the main passageway. And rudely awakened, she might have looked a little less sexy. All of this went through my head in a split second.
Kylian went in a killing frenzy, rendering flesh with his massive paws and jaws, clearing the path to where we entered the hall. I took up the rear, my sword singing. A complete calm, a serenity of mind settled over me. Everything muted down and was utterly clear, movements slowed in my head. My arms and legs were pliant, my blade and dagger lethal extensions. I sliced, someone screamed, something bellowed. The neatly arranged stacks of bones crushed and tumbled, getting in the way and their dust clouding the air. I didn’t mind.
Cutter was a whirl surrounding me, I danced and body parts dropped at my feet. A bulging brown demon came at me, swiftly I cut his left thigh, then his right, not heeding the blood gushing, covering and soaking me. He went down, I skirted him and another took his place. Doomed.
There was no time or place for errors in this fight, and so fast, well-aimed strikes were vital. Arteries, tendons. Strike, slice, block. Bats tried to attack from the air and met the lethal kiss of the blade. We were out of the great hall and back in the small tunnels, which meant tight space and fewer opponents at a time. In a once-in-a-lifetime move I switched Cutter with my Trident daggers that would serve me better in the tunnels. The otherwise agile bats had to ease off, and some turned back into vampires. Nevertheless soon the flow receded, bodies and bones piled up and the few serious pursuers there were had trouble keeping up.
Finally the way was clear and I ran after the blue tiger, completely trusting him to find the exit, and was relieved as a gush of fresh air announced that we were close.
Soon we burst through the door and were back top ground. I was glad and still utterly thrilled thanks to the adrenaline in my blood. We stayed in the black shadows of a building since Kylian changed back into a naked human and the way I was covered in blood and bone dust I really didn’t want anyone to see me.
I took stock. Couple of wounds, but nothing too deep. We had survived. My clothes wouldn’t, though. The lace top and my pants were dirty, bloody and in some places torn. “My shoes! I really liked those.”
A purr from the shadows, “I liked the top better.”
I ignored the shiver the sound elicited. “Yeah, well, now it’s ruined.” A last thread seemed to give away and suddenly I was left with only the silken bustier beneath the lace.
Two blue flames lit up in the dark. “You’re right. Good riddance.”
The Hunt is On by Natalie Herzer
Book 2 in the Patroness Series:
Maiwenn Cadic has her hands full.
The Turn is a few weeks ahead and the world seems to be literally coming apart at the seams – natural disasters and weird phenomena keep everyone on edge. An unusually high number of missing persons is thought to be just another side effect but is making Maiwenn nervous.
When all fingers point to the Queen of the Undead, Maiwenn is once again forced to join forces with Kylian, new leader of the Paris shapeshifter pack.
Sharp-tongued and sharp-fanged conflicts follow…
(some content may not be suitable for younger readers)
About Natalie Herzer
I’m a 26 year old aspiring indie author living in France.
The love for words has always been there, much like my beloved travel bug, but is thankfully a lot easier to satisfy. Though I guess in the end books are just another form of traveling, of wandering worlds, seeing places and finding friends.
website: [button color=”red” size=”small” link=”http://n-herzer.blogspot.com” target=”blank” ]Website[/button][button color=”red” size=”small” link=”http://www.twitter.com/nherzerauthor” target=”blank” ]Twitter[/button]
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