vampires mage 02 - witch hunter, page 1
Table of Contents
Also by C. N. Crawford
BOOK TWO OF THE VAMPIRE’S MAGE SERIES
Also by C. N. Crawford
Book 2 of the The Vampire’s Mage Series.
Copyright © 2016 by C. N. Crawford.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
A web of secrets. Bloodthirsty demons. A new nightmare.
Humans are going missing all over the city. Bloodthirsty shadow demons are attacking, and the Brotherhood want to return to the old ways to control the chaos.
Digging deeper into these sinister new threats, Rosalind once again joins forces with Caine. But the sexy incubus has been keeping some major secrets from her—secrets that hold clues to her own history. And as Rosalind uncovers the truth about herself, she realizes she has to risk her sanity if she wants to save humanity.
F or a prison, it was very pretty. Long grass and wildflowers tickled Rosalind’s bare ankles, and the sun setting over the cemetery lawns streaked the steel-blue sky with marigold and pumpkin.
But it was still a damn prison—she had Caine to thank for that.
Rosalind looked down at the skull in her hands. White fungus webbed the bony surface, and her Rouge Dior fingernails stood out against it like fat drops of blood. Gilded by the dying light, it all looked strangely beautiful.
Even from her prison, at least she got to watch the sunset every night. So what if she’d never envisioned her life turning out this way—trapped in a cemetery, clutching part of a human skeleton? At least the golden light made her feel like a normal human again—for fifteen or twenty minutes.
Her fingers trembled, and she tightened her grip on the skull.
Okay, she nearly felt normal. The eight cups of coffee she’d been drinking daily had her a little jazzed up.
But she needed that caffeine rush, like birds needed wings. The fact was, she couldn’t deal with her nightmares anymore. She’d do anything to stay awake as long as she could. Two hours of sleep a night meant only two hours of seeing Caine lying half-dead on the Chambers floor, two hours of witnessing her insane twin sister trying to burn her to death in the Chambers.
The down side, of course, was that she was just about on the wrong side of sane right now. And sometimes, her dreams broke through her waking hours in terrifying flashes.
So she had to find ways to fill her waking hours, too. While Orcus slept all day, she worked through the little tasks the reaper left out for her: rearranging spellbooks, crushing herbs, selling poultices and bones to mages outside the mansion.
She tried not to think about Caine, tried not to let herself stew in resentment. But when she saw him again they were going to have a little talk about the magical wards he’d put up.
She let out a long sigh, crossing the grass. Two days after she’d arrived at Abduxiel Mansion, she’d awoken to find Orcus hunched over a yellowed piece of paper. Turned out it was a note from Caine, reporting two things: one, he’d taken Tammi to another safe house, for reasons he didn’t bother explaining; and two, he’d sealed Rosalind in to Abduxiel Mansion for her own good. He’d thrown a warding spell around the place and swanned off into the night. Apparently, Rosalind was “impulsive” and “couldn’t be trusted.”
So here she was, hawking skull fungus and doing anything she could to avoid her dreams.
She leaned against one of the tombs—an enormous sphinx statue, its surface stippled with sage-green moss. Sighing, she slid down the cool marble. Spring’s rich scent hung in the air, and the breeze caressed her skin.
She let her eyelids drift close. Immediately, another image flickered behind them: Malphus, hanging half-dead in one of the Brotherhood’s prisons.
Her eyes snapped open again. Nope. Don’t think you can ever relax again, Rosalind. Rookie mistake.
The sound of footfalls caught her attention and she rose, peering around the sphinx’s side. The sun had dipped behind the oak trees, the sky darkening to a slate gray. A man was walking toward her, silhouetted by the setting sun—tall, broad shoulders, strong arms. Her heart skipped a beat. Caine? That incubus was her ticket out of this magical prison.
Barefoot, she crossed the grass, a cool wind ruffling her hair. But as the figure stalked closer, her stomach sank. The man didn’t move with Caine’s preternatural grace, and his hair was a dusty blond. By the faint magic flickering around him, she could tell he was a mage, but not quite as powerful as Caine.
He paused just a few feet from her and narrowed his brown eyes. “I was expecting Orcus.”
“Orcus is sleeping.” She ran her painted nails over the skull’s surface. “You’re here for this, I take it?”
He smelled like a mountain wind—granite, snow, and pine. “Complete with the night god’s fungus, unless Orcus is trying to cheat me.”
She forced a smile. “Of course it has fungus. Everyone needs skull fungus.” She hadn’t been expecting someone so young and cute, with a strong jaw and an athletic body. All the other mages who’d come to buy herbs had been withered crones.
But when her gaze flicked to his strong arms, her Hunter training kicked in. Would I be able to take him in a fight if it came down to it? Against most humans, her training gave her pretty good odds, but he had muscle and heft on his side. Part of her actually wanted to see how those odds would turn out—to feel the thrill of a fight again, to feel alive. If he attacked, she could grab him by the hair and bash his head against—
“Something wrong?” he asked, his
She sucked in a sharp breath. Definitely too much caffeine. And that’s how screwed up I’ve become. I meet a cute guy, and within thirty seconds, I’m envisioning smashing his skull against a gravestone. “Nothing wrong. Sorry. It’s just—I’ve been trapped here, and my nerves are a little frazzled. Way too much coffee. And honestly, two weeks in a cemetery with only a reaper for company makes a person restless, you know?”
“Did you say you’re trapped here?”
“Pretty much. There’s a warding spell around us. Luckily for you, it’s only designed to trap me.”
“Ah. I thought I noticed the rush of an aura.”
“You’re a mage, I take it?”
“Yes, I’m a philosopher.” He pulled out a silver coin, ready to exchange it for the skull. “Which is why I need that skull.”
She cocked her head, her curiosity piqued. “A philosopher?”
“It’s what we call mages where I’m from—Maremount.”
Her stomach swooped at the reference to her homeland, and she tightened her grip on the skull. She wasn’t letting him leave without answering a few questions first. Not only did she want to know what was going on in Boston, but this could be her chance to learn a bit about Maremount. This guy’s visit was the most interesting thing to happen for weeks. “Maremount,” she repeated.
“Right.” He held out a hand expectantly. “And I’ll be using that skull fungus for a powerful protection spell. There are dangerous forces out there now. I’m not sure what they are, but something sinister is floating on the wind.”
She inhaled deeply. “Before I give you the skull, what can you tell me about what’s going on in Cambridge and Boston? Any news with the Brotherhood, or any rogue mages?”
Sighing, he rolled the silver coin between his fingers, the movements rhythmic, almost hypnotic. “You’ll have to be more specific.”
What she really wanted to know was what the hell had happened to Miranda. “Okay. Have you heard anything about a crazy mage running around the streets of Cambridge? A girl who looks exactly like me?”
“A crazy mage who looks just like you?” He cocked his head. “Are you talking about yourself, by any chance? Can I just buy the skull? I have—”
Irritation flared, and she grabbed his arm, nearly dropping the skull. “No. I’m not crazy. I have a twin sister, but she ran off with the Brotherhood.” Calm down, Rosalind. You’re going to freak him out. She loosened her grip on his arm. If she was hoping to dispel his impression that she was nuts, clutching his arm like a maniac wouldn’t help.
He frowned. “Why on earth would a mage run away with the Brotherhood?”
Good question. “I don’t know. I guess… She was in one of their prisons, which was my fault, and then it seemed like they’d converted her or something. Like they’d tortured all the sanity out of her.”
She caught his subtle shift away from her. “What do you mean, it was your fault she was imprisoned?”
Seven hells. We’re going to delve into all my dysfunction here. At least it was good to have another human to talk to for once. “I used to be a Hunter with the Brotherhood. I used to hunt mages like you, but then it turned out I have magical abilities, and now the Brotherhood want to light me on fire.” If there was a better way to phrase that, her brain was too fried to think of it right now. “I didn’t know she was my sister when I turned her in to the Brotherhood. I just sensed her aura—the salty taste, the blue color. And then a couple of weeks ago, I think I sensed her aura around here, but I couldn’t get to her. Not with the ward up.”
He shook his head apologetically. “I haven’t heard anything about your sister. I’m sorry. I’ll come back to let you know if the Brotherhood announce anything. There’s so much chaos going on out there. It’s hard to figure out what’s going on.”
Her throat tightened. I’m so out of the loop. “What do you mean?”
“Humans have been going missing all over Boston and Cambridge. People are panicking.”
“I hadn’t heard that. No one knows what’s happening to them?”
“Total mystery.” He studied her closely. “Has someone trapped you here as punishment for your time as a Hunter?”
She flicked a stray strand of hair from her eyes. “According to a demon I know, I’m locked up for my own good. Apparently, I’m impulsive and likely run to my own death.” She bit her lip. “I don’t suppose you know how to unlock wards, do you?”
He glanced away, scratching his cheek. “Well… I’m not sure…”
Okay, he clearly doesn’t trust me. Why would he? She’d just confessed to being an ex-Hunter with impulse control problems, one who’d thrown her own sister in jail. Let’s back up a little bit. She held out a hand. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should introduce myself properly. I’m Rosalind.”
He shook her hand, his grip firm. “My name is Drew. And I’m relieved you’re no longer likely to hunt me to my death. I’m not sure I’d want to take you in a fight.”
Her smile this time was genuine.
He nodded at the skull. “Isn’t your friend going to introduce himself?”
“He’s bone-weary.” She nearly groaned at her own terrible pun, but her smile widened. “This is the first normal conversation I’ve had in weeks.”
“Is this what passes for normal in your world?” He crinkled his nose. “That’s a little bit sad.”
Finally, she held out the skull to Drew. “At least you’re human. And alive. That automatically makes you quality company in my book.”
He took the skull from her, handing her the large silver coin in return. “Human and alive. Those are two of my finest qualities.” His smile faded. “And, in regards to your question about destroying the ward, as much as I’d like to help free you, I don’t want to anger a reaper like Orcus.”
Her throat bobbed with disappointment. “All right. I guess I understand.”
Pity softened his eyes. “I’m not sure how much you know about demons, but you don’t want to provoke their wrath. I’ve got a coven to look after. We’re involved in something big right now, and I can’t risk it. I’ll trade with a demon, but they’re dangerous to have as friends. You understand, right? They may seem human at times, but their basic nature is to view us as prey.”
She tensed. It was the same thing Josiah had told her, and he’d turned out to be a lying asshole. Don’t trust anyone, Rosalind. “Some demons are different, surely.”
“I suppose. But they don’t value honesty the way we do, and it’s in their nature to try to enslave us.”
Her brow crinkled. Caine had made it sound like it was the other way around. “My friend said demons were enslaved in Maremount. Incubi especially.”
He shook his head. “Not anymore. The city’s leading philosophers found ways to keep us separated from demons. Before we gained control of the city, a monstrous demon nearly destroyed us. He viciously slaughtered the king and queen, tried to take over the city. His memory still haunts the kingdom. Parents scare their children with stories of the Ravener to keep them in line.”
“The Ravener…” Goosebumps rose on her skin. “He sounds terrifying, but Orcus doesn’t seem so bad.”
“A Hunter living among the demons.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Seems very strange.”
“And what are you now, if you’re no longer a Hunter?”
She twisted her iron ring around her finger, shivering in the chilly breeze. “For now, I’m simply hepped up on too much coffee.”
A smile ghosted across his lips. “I don’t think there’s anything simple about you, Rosalind.” He held up the skull. “But, intriguing as you are, I need to get my new friend home. There are dark forces at work around us, and the winds are thick with menace.”
The hair rose on the back of Rosalind’s neck, but she couldn’t let him go just yet. He was from Maremount, after all. “Before you leave—can you tell me if you knew the Atherton family?”
She heard his s
“They’re my family. Or so I’m told. I don’t remember them. I left Maremount when I was little, and I can’t remember a thing that happened there.”
The corner of his mouth twitched, and Rosalind almost thought she felt a sudden shift in the air, a thickening of the shadows. But Drew only shook his head. “I didn’t really know them. Only the name. Sorry. I can’t help you.”
“If you come back, can you help me learn about magic? I don’t need a lot of help…” She trailed off. How do I explain this? “I already have all the knowledge inside me. I just need to access it. I need someone to help me not go crazy while I learn.”
“Of course. I’ll come back.” A few of his blond curls danced in the wind, and he turned to leave before gazing back at her. “Rosalind. Here’s your first magical lesson: To create a ward, you must use a sigil. It’s a type of symbol, something in a circle that your jailer would have marked somewhere. Perhaps a piece of paper… Once you destroy that, you’ll be free.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Drew.”
He looked around him furtively. “Be careful. Demons don’t belong with humans. Not even magical humans like you.” He turned, walking off into the darkening cemetery.
A t the wooden table in the mansion’s kitchen, Orcus hunched over a bowl of bacon bits, scooping them into his mouth. Only a dim, guttering candle lit the room. Shadow demons weren’t fond of bright lights.
Rosalind sipped her coffee, frowning at his breakfast. “I don’t think you’re supposed to eat bacon bits that way.”
“I’m four hundred eighty-seven years old. I can eat them however I like.”
Four hundred eighty-seven? She sipped the strong coffee, studying him—his shiny bald dome and hairless face. Large, black eyes and thin lips. Come to think of it, she didn’t actually know what a grim reaper was, or how long they lived. “I had no idea you were so old. Are you immortal?”
“No. I was human, once. And now I collect souls for Nyxobas.”
“And what do you get out of that deal?”
“Once I’ve collected all the souls in my ledger, I’m free from my bargain.”