The Dark World nightclub was the best club in town. Mozart Chilton owned it, no big surprise there. The club was neutral territory. That made it a perfect place for many business meetings to take place between people who would ordinarily kill each other on sight.
There were three simple rules: No weapons, no violence, no drugs.
Everyone had to abide by those rules, human or otherwise, or else they had to deal with some very intimidating bouncers.
Quin stood by a mirrored wall and sneered at it. He hated mirrors. All vampires did. It wasnít because he didnít cast a reflection, he could see himself quite clearly in the glass. He just hated the way it reflected him. He still looked the way he had for centuries, black hair, near black eyes, pale skin, handsome features, but at the same time, he looked so alien. Like a creature from another place, another time. No matter how good or powerful he was, mirrors seemed to strip away the illusion of being human. It was like that with all vampires, but it always bothered him more than it should. Ah, vanity, one vice he had never truly lost.
He checked his watch. 10:27 PM.
The Hunter was due in three minutes.
Whoever had said Ďthe impatience of youthí was a madman. At nine hundred and sixty one, Quin was an extremely impatient man and got worse every century. Granted, he could wait if he must, but he didnít have to like it. He liked to get things done as swiftly as possible.
The doors to the conference room opened and a woman walked angrily in. He turned to face her and admired her for a moment.
The Hunter was a lovely looking woman, very appealing. She was attractively slender, from fitness rather than starvation, long of leg and arm, curvaceous of hips, waist and breasts, the creamy complexion of red-heads, full, almost pouting pink lips sculpted to perfection, high cheeks and those cool blue-grey eyes, set off rather dramatically with blood red hair with strands of copper, wine and fire. As he knew, appearances can be deceiving and she was no exception. Nobody would truly believe that a five foot six, pretty, business-like woman would be one of the most savage and prolific vampire killers in the world.
She had changed her clothes since they met that afternoon. She had gone from an ice-blue dress suit to a charcoal grey pants suit. It made her fiery red hair, which was loose about her shoulders, seem a little too bright to be natural. She also wore heeled shoes, raising her height by about three inches.
"All right, leech, Iím here. What do you want?" she asked icily.
The vampire fought the urge to grin. She was all riled up for the fight he had promised. Amazing, even knowing sheíd lose, she was still willing to fight. That was one of the few qualities he admired in humans, especially in this woman.
"I want many things, but that doesnít mean Iíll get them." he replied. "You didnít have to come."
She narrowed her blue-grey eyes and glared at him, skilfully avoiding his eyes.
"I came because I was curious. What does a vampire want with the Hunter? It wouldnít be killing me, or else youíd have done it by now. That means I can leave whenever I want." she said carefully.
Quin made his way around the conference table and sat down. The Hunter circled warily and sat opposite him. She moved with the easy grace of a trained fighter, each and every movement ready for violence. Then again, he moved exactly the same way. Both of them were predators.
"What do you want, parasite?" she repeated heatedly.
"You seem to ask that a lot, Hunter." he said smoothly.
"You know so much about me, yet you still call me Hunter. I do have another name, I answer to that one better than Hunter." she said and sat back.
"Are you insisting that I call you Cathrin?" he asked.
"Yeah. Itís the name Iíve always had, so you might as well put it to good use."
"All right then, I will call you Cathrin."
"Vampires address each other by their surnames, but youíre just Quin."
"So you want to know if Quin is my given or surname?"
"Itís only fair if you get to call me Cathrin."
"Iíll tell you if I feel like it and right now I donít, fair enough?"
"Life isnít fair, so tough luck." he told her. "Though that was a nice attempt to weasel information out of me. In the future, you will have to be a tad more subtle at manipulation."
"I donít have to sit through this." she said and stood.
"Donít leave yet, I havenít finished." he said. "We have barely just begun."
"So? I donít want to sit through a high-and-mighty routine with a leech. For Chrissakes, get to the point or I walk." she said impatiently and sat down again. "Why do you need me of all people? Iím not the only hunter in the city. Iím just the one that the vampires hate the most."
He studied her for a moment. She also didnít wear any make-up, giving no illusions of how she looked. She was perhaps a little too thin for her frame and there were dark smudges that were fading under her eyes, which made him think that she was or had been ill. When she spoke, she spoke in a cultured, well articulated voice that was very prim and business-like in tone. But there was a lot of anger within her, a lot of hate and a lot of passion. There was also a resolve, a calm and grace about her. Fire and ice.
The longer he studied her, the more she fidgeted under his gaze. She straightened her jacket, then her cuffs, then examined her nails before starting all over again. Jacket, cuffs, nails, jacket, cuffs nails.
"I want to hire you to hunt somebody." he said finally. She blinked and raised both her eyebrows, a small smile twitching on her lips. The smile was gone in a matter of moments.
"Now Iíve heard it all." she muttered to herself and sat back in the chair, drawing in a shaky breath.
"Well? Will you?" he asked.
"Depends. Who do you want dead?" Cathrin asked, her voice wavering ever so slightly.
"Absolutely not, nuh-uh, no way. Iíve heard about your little war, itís all yours, so donít muddle me up in it."
"Why not? Youíre the best at what you do, the best Iíve seen in a few centuries. Take out Andrews and Iíll leave you alone. Iíll disappear."
"Get disappearing, Iím not going to kill for your war. Your war, your problem. You should have sorted it out centuries ago."
"Letís just say, I hold a grudge. A big one."
"Then go bother someone else about it. No sale."
"Why not? You still havenít answered that."
"I, unlike you bloodsuckers, have principles."
"Whatís the difference between killing Andrews for me and killing him for a human?"
"A mountain of paper work, the existing laws, my own set of rules and the fact that I donít want to. Do you want me to continue into specifics?"
"No, I can live without specifics. But under existing laws, any person can hire a hunter as long as the vampire has killed in cold blood. Iím telling you now that Andrews has killed and Iím a person, therefore I can hire you."
"Nope, you canít. Youíre a killer yourself. I can take it upon myself to kill you for the murder of my husband. Under law, I can do that. And I thought you didnít want to get into specifics." she said with a predatory smile. She knew she was right.
"So, we have an old fashioned stalemate. Under my kindís rules I can, and should, kill you, under your human laws, you can, and should, kill me." Quin said and leaned forward in his seat. "I propose we wipe the slate clean and start over. You kill Andrews for me, Iíll leave you alone."
"No deal. You canít wipe away blood that easily. Try another hunter. I have work I could be doing." she said and stood.
"You canít just walk away," he said. Cathrin made her way around the table.
"I can and I am." she told him.
"You do this for me and you can go after Calahan too. He and Andrews are allies." he said and swivelled in the chair to face her. She froze and turned toward him, biting her lower lip.
"Now why would you bring up that little shrimp?" she asked, narrowing her eyes. He smiled at her.
"Everyone knows about your feud with Calahan. Big monster kills off family, leaves one child alive, she grows up with a grudge and, well, here we are." he replied. She studied him intensely for a heartbeat or two.
"Get to the point." she merely said.
"Kill Andrews and Iíll give you Calahan on a silver platter." he told her. She wet her lips. She looked like she considered the notion. Ah, morality versus revenge. He watched the fight within her amusedly. It was almost too easy.
"Now I can see why youíre called the Devil. The idea is tempting, but Iíll say no. Iíd rather kill Calahan my way, not served up to me." she said and continued on her way to the door.
"Then he will kill you, Cathrin. No one person can go up against Calahan and win." he said and watched her walk, trying one last time to appeal to her business-like nature. She shook her head and didnít look back. That was fine by the vampire. This was but one card he could play.
As soon as she reached for the handle, the door flew open, hitting her solidly. She staggered back a couple of paces, gasping, tripped over a chair and smacked her head on the back of another before she crumpled to the floor. Alarmed, Quin sprang to his feet and went to her side. She had been knocked unconscious. His first instinct was to bend down and bury his mouth into her pale throat, to drain her dry as she lay there. He was just crouching down, ready to sink his teeth into her when he caught the unmistakable stench of another vampire. He looked up to see Edward Andrews standing in to empty doorway.
"Well, well. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. Nice to know youíre back in town, boy." his sire said with a sneer.
"What do you want, old man?" Quin snarled, his upper lip curling back to reveal his fangs.
"Now, now, be nice. I didnít know I had interrupted a private moment." the other vampire said mockingly.
"Why should I be nice when youíre not? Say what you have to and get out." he growled, his rage barely under control. The air around them both crackled with power. Then the world erupted with bloody stars.
Cathrin groaned softly and opened her eyes. She was lying on a leather couch in a stylish office. The last thing she remembered was reaching for the doorÖ
Her hands flew to her neck. Nothing, no marks. She checked her wrists and the bend of each elbow.
Her skin was intact. She let out a sigh of relief and a small moan of pain. She felt like she had been hit by a truck or something like that. But at least no vampires had fed from her, that had to be an upside.
She looked around. She was alone. She sat up and saw the room swim. She was a little dizzy, but she could get over it. The office had a large, solid-looking desk at one end. Two leather upholstered chairs sat on either side of it. A fake fern sat in one lonely corner, near the large tinted window that made up the entire left hand wall.
She wasnít in the Dark World nightclub any more. Her heart leapt up into her throat, beating wildly and screaming for her to panic. With effort, she swallowed it and stood. She swayed unsteadily for a moment or two. When she was feeling better, she began to search for a way out.
The solid oak door was locked and she had no hope of kicking it down. If she had one of her guns, then sheíd have a chance, but unarmed, the door would stay put.
The window was an option, but Cathrin didnít like the idea of a multi-story swan dive. She estimated she was on the ninth floor at least.
She sat down on the couch and began planning a way out. About half an hour later, the door opened and a woman walked in. Cathrin instantly recognised her as Devon Kravinski, one of the bartenders at the Dark World. She smiled faintly.
"Hello Devon. Whatíre you doing here?" she asked. The other woman jumped in surprise and came over to her.
"Youíre awake, thatís good. Youíve been out for three hours. Iíve been checking on you every hour." she said softly.
Devon was one of those shy, unassuming people that seem to blend into the background. She had short tresses of mahogany coloured hair and almost golden eyes. Cathrin had never seen her wear anything different from a three piece suit, specially tailored to fit her. She was painfully thin and her skin was almost deathly white. Devon now wore a sombre black suit. She even had coat-tails on the jacket and a red carnation in the button hole.
She looked like a butler.
"I am a butler, Ms Forbes." she said softly. She also happened to be a very skilled telepath. She blinked her amber eyes from behind gold rimmed glasses and watched Cathrin for a moment.
"How can you be a butler here? Where is here, anyway?" she asked . Devon sighed sadly and took a fob watch out of her waistcoat pocket.
"Itís nearly two in the morning, Iím due at the club in an hour. Iím on my break." she muttered. "Here is the Ballham Tower and I am my Masterís servant." her voice wavered as she said the word master and she could almost hear the capital M in it.
"Why are you here, Devon?" Cathrin asked, firmer than before. The small woman took off her glasses and rubbed her closed eyes before setting her glasses back on her nose and returning the fob watch to her pocket.
"Mr Andrews is my Master. I am his pet telepath. I am his ever faithful servant." she said sadly.
Cathrin stared in shock. Devon didnít look like the type of person who would jump if told jump.
"I donít. Itís the other orders I donít like." she said quietly, interrupting Cathrinís train of thought while she pushed her glassed up her nose. "Mr Andrews wants to talk to you, so come with me, please."
So Cathrin followed her out of the office. They went down a hallway and stopped outside a pair of stained oak doors. Devon took a deep breath, straightened herself and her suit before opening the doors and walking forward with long, practiced steps.
"Ms Forbes is here, Mr Andrews." she announced. This office was much like the one they had come from, only larger. And with someone sitting in the chair farthest away from the door, facing away so the occupant couldnít be seen.
A pale hand waved the telepath away.
She stood for a moment, wringing her hands nervously. There was a short silence.
"Are you still here, Devon?" a man snapped angrily. Devon made a few strangled noises before nodding, her shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Yes, sir." she mumbled.
"Why are you still here?" the man asked.
"Can I go to work? If I leave now, I wonít be late. Iíll be gone and you and Ms Forbes can talk." she said quickly, in a small voice.
"No." came the reply. She bit her trembling lower lip.
"Please, Mr Andrews," she tried again.
"No. I said no and I mean no. Come here, Devon." the man purred. She hesitated for a moment before walking over to the chair. The pale hand reached up and cupped her chin.
"You donít have to be at work for another hour and a half, so stay for this." the owner of the hand told her. She trembled. The hand let go of her chin and settled on the armrest. The chair swivelled so its occupant could face Cathrin.
The man that sat in the chair almost looked albino. His skin was marble white, his hair a shock of silver-blond that fell around his shoulders and she caught a glimpse of midnight blue eyes.
His eyes were the only thing about him that werenít pale or ghostly. Like Devon, he wore a black suit, which made him look even paler.
Cathrin knew little of Edward Andrews, more than she did of Quin, but considerably less than others of his kind.
She knew that he was a Celt, was arrogant, vicious and self centred. Past that, she knew nothing.
"Please, Ms Forbes, sit." he told her. He wasnít asking her to sit, like Quin had done earlier, he was ordering her to do it. She now has a small idea of what the other woman had to put up with. Cathrin sat in the chair opposite the vampire, squirming under the sheer weight of his gaze, a thin thread a fear entwining itself around her spine. She was glad to have the desk between them.
"Do you know why you are here?" Andrews asked blandly. She shrugged.
"Should I?" she replied. His gaze remained steady on her, unwavering, unblinking, though his smile did fade.
"Then I will tell you why you are here." he said calmly. "You are good, almost too good at what you do. When someone like you comes along, it is our duty to help them choose a Ö healthier career or give them a different lifestyle. Are you following what Iím saying?"
"Indulge me." she told him. He pursed his lips.
"Let me put it this way, you can be useful. Iím sure I will have no trouble finding someone who would like the Hunter herself as a servant. They would certainly get an enhanced reputation if they managed to keep you under control. I would have you, but I already have a servant that Iím happy with. Woods has expressed some interest. Iím sure heíll appreciate your face if nothing else." the way he said this made Cathrinís stomach churn with dread. She didnít say anything, she was too dumbstruck by the fact that he wanted to pass her off as goods. She wanted to shout that she belonged to nobody, that she wasnít going to be anyoneís servant, that he could just go and shove itÖ
"Now, do you understand?" the vampire asked sharply. It took most of Cathrinís will power not to explode with anger.
"I suppose." she growled.
"Youíre lying Ms Forbes." Devon cut in. She now lent on the right side of the chair, her thigh resting on the arm. He laid his hand on her thigh and squeezed.
"Thankyou, Devon." he said. Her mouth tightened and she looked like she was going to flinch away.
"So what? I donít belong to anyone!" Cathrin snapped.
"But you will. In this day and age or any other, you are far too dangerous to have running around. At least this way, you get to remain human. I had the impression that you did not like our kind, therefore your becoming one of us is out of the question. And I think it would be rather foolish to have you one of us. Who knows what you would do with the power that comes with it? Now Devon, please show Ms. Forbes back to her room and fetch our other guest to me." Andrews said coolly. Devon stood, looking relieved to be away from his touch, bowed slightly and walked from the room. Cathrin followed without hesitation, glad to be away from the vampire.
"How do you put up with him?" she asked as she fell in step with the other woman. Devon pushed her glasses up her nose and clenched her jaw.
"I manage." she replied quietly.
"How long have you been his servant?" Cathrin asked as they stopped outside a large oak door.
"Too long." Devon said softly and opened the door, herding Cathrin inside. Then the door shut.