The Immortal Huntress
By Kelly Hall
402 AD Ancient Rome
Rebekah shivered inside the confessional booth, trying not to make a sound. Lightning flashed, sending a wicked glow of multicolored light through the cathedral’s stained-glass windows, as her father paced impatiently between the pews, waiting for his rendezvous.
His private meetings were becoming more frequent. Rebekah had been secretly spying on these meetings for months. Now, with the situation growing more desperate, she had little choice but to intervene.
As she peeked through the slats, a mouse crawled atop her foot, giving her a start. Jerking her foot back, she lost her balance in the confined space and fell against the wall. A loud thud filled the air, and her father lifted his head. She held her breath as he rose, but his attention wasn’t on her. He turned toward the door.
Ethan, the Great Hunter, arrived and Rebekah’s heartbeat quickened as he walked up the aisle to greet her father.
“Cornelius,” Ethan said. He was six-foot-two of solid muscle, with dirty blond hair which was always a mess and a tad longer than any man’s she knew.
She’d seen him coming to the church at least once a moon for as long as she could remember. He had always intrigued her, as he was sheer power in its rawest, primal form. Even with his gritty appearance and mysterious persona, he had an air about him, a regal demeanor, that left her feeling as if she were standing in the presence of something majestic, otherworldly.
Cornelius extended a hand. “It is ready. Ignis will be here shortly. He’s supposed to find a suitable volunteer so we can do the experiment tonight. No more waiting. The time has come.”
Ethan gripped the priest’s hand and gave it a firm shake. Then, he turned his head and looked over her father’s shoulder, right in her direction. She covered her mouth with her hand, certain he would blow her cover. Instead, his attention turned to the left where footsteps sounded. The warrior hadn’t seen her, or had he? Either way, she breathed a sigh of relief. His attention was diverted for the time being.
Rebekah didn’t have to see the source of the approaching footsteps to know it was Ignis. When he stepped into her line of sight, his red hair was disheveled, and his young face was covered with a myriad of emotions. The smirk on the side of his mouth was misplaced, but he was always up to something nefarious.
If she didn’t know him, she would have placed him as a young squire of the church, a priest, or someone looking after church business. He was handsome in an ageless way.
Ignis was a friend to her father but, unfortunately, another blemish on his holy reputation as well. The very idea of befriending a man of magic was only tolerated because her father was held in high regard. No one else knew Ignis was a mage. And they kept it that way.
Ignis was a special companion and ally, one who had not only concealed her mother’s forbidden pregnancy but had kept her parents’ secret in exchange for sanctuary. Being the hidden love child of a Vestal Virgin and a Pontifex Priest made Rebekah’s existence not only blasphemous in the eyes of the Church, but a death sentence in the eyes of Roman law.
The mage wore a black robe that made him look like a member of the priesthood and not the misfit mage who had come to the church seeking asylum two years before she was born.
Ignis passed the confessional and announced, “I’ve had a problem with the volunteer.”
Cornelius let out a breath of frustration and wiped his brow. “What sort of problem?”
Ignis shook his head. “He escaped.”
“Escaped?” Cornelius nudged the mage’s shoulder. “For the love of all that’s holy, you were supposed to find a volunteer, not a hostage.”
“It’s all a matter of perception.” That smirk rose higher. “Besides, he owed me a gambling debt. I thought it was more than a fair trade. For me at least.”
Ethan’s voice boomed as loud as thunder. “I don’t want some scoundrel. I need someone committed to the cause, fully committed.”
“Like thrown in the catacombs committed or something more in the vein of devotion for fighting monsters from hell in the dark of night? Cause we should have drilled down a little more on our understanding of the specifics and probably offered more than a partnership with you. Risk and reward, Ethan. Risk and reward.” Ignis lifted an eyebrow.
Ethan ignored him. “Perhaps I should have taken on this task myself.” He raked his strong hand through his hair as his jaw clenched. While he was considering all the ways he’d like to beat the scrawny mage to a pulp, Rebekah was still hidden in the booth, knowing her opportunity had finally arrived. All she had to do now was wait for Ignis’s cue.
Tonight, her life would change forever.
She had overheard their conversations for months, along with the confessions that Ethan had shared with her father: talk of bloodthirsty monsters and shapeshifting beasts.
All she had ever dreamt of was being a warrior, a part of the army like her lifelong friend, Atticus. But women were not allowed to fight. At least, not as a Roman soldier. Her stomach tightened and her eyes leaked thinking about her dear friend, her betrothed.
She gripped her dagger’s handle at her hip where it was tied to her tunic. It was the last thing Atticus had forged, and he had made it for her.
The blade, which he had named Stella, was made as a companion to his own dagger, a pugio he had created for battle—Luna. Luna had been lost in the war, taken by whoever had slain Atticus.
Her life was as good as over, too. Being a woman of twenty, she was supposed to have married Atticus and started a family. Now, she would be expected to marry someone she didn’t know, someone she didn’t even care about like she had loved her lifelong friend. It was either that or give her vows to God. She may as well be locked away in a cell or cold in the catacombs.
That was when she’d gone to Ignis and convinced him there was something more for her in the world; a war that needed her, a cause much greater than anything she had ever imagined and far more important than what Atticus had died for.
Rebekah swallowed the hard lump in her throat, knowing she only had one way out, but first, she had to convince the others.
It was now or never.
She threw the confessional door open, and her father’s eyes bulged out of his head. She took a deep breath and proclaimed, “I will do it!”
The other two men prepared for a fight. Ethan gripped his sword, ready for what he assumed was an attack, and Ignis held his hands in front of him, blue fire crackling at his fingertips.
Cornelius stepped between the two men and his daughter. “Rebekah! What are you doing here?”
“I’ve been eavesdropping for months. I know of your cause. I’ve come to accept the challenge.”
Ethan sheathed his sword. “I thought you said the place was secure from the staff at this time of night.” Ethan wasn’t sure of the girl’s place in the church, and her dress wasn’t that of the servant class. Whoever she was, she was either brave or bat shit crazy.
“It usually is private at this hour.” Cornelius glowered at Rebekah.
She knew she should be ashamed, but the desperation inside of her burned so fiercely that she had no room for useless emotions. She stood her ground, her chin held high.
“Rebekah,” Cornelius said. “Go to your chamber at once. I will be in later to talk to you about this outburst.”
“Cornelius, perhaps you should hear her out.” Ignis blew the flames from his fingers, leaving a trail of smoke swirling from the tips. He’d known she would arrive but had no idea she would pop out of the confessional and scare him half to death.
Ignis took a quick breath. Good thing I didn’t shit my britches. Twas a high possibility.
She turned to Ethan. “The Church has called on you to fight those beasts, the unnatural terrors that keep plaguing the land. I’ve heard your confessions to my father. I know of your plans to create a stronger army; your elite group of hunters. I know what you’ve asked of Ignis. How you need someone to test his spell. It will be my honor to do it.” Ethan shook his head, but she turned to her father. “Please, Papa. Please let me do this.”
With the one endearment, the secret that had been kept from all but her parents and Ignis was out.
Ethan’s eyes shifted to the priest. “Papa? This girl is your blooded daughter?” He grinned as he looked her up and down. He turned back to Cornelius. “You devil, you. I have to say, this is interesting. We all know that priests aren’t allowed to lay with women. To do so is a grave offense and punishable by death. You’re quite the risk taker, Father.”
“I’m more than aware.” Her father’s shoulders stiffened as he glanced at Ethan, his brow pinched, his eyes slightly narrowed. “Some things are worth rebellion.”
The girl stepped forward, keeping her chin raised in determination, her eyes level with the priest’s. “Please, Papa. You know I’ve nothing left, with Atticus dead. I’ve always wanted to be a soldier. This is my only chance!”
Cornelius shook his head as he returned his attention to his daughter. “Your scuffles with Atticus when you were kids do not make you soldier material, Rebekah. You’re a woman, and women do not fight.” He tried to keep his voice down, but the anger burned his insides.
“But I could fight this battle, Papa. I know it’s not like any other war. I’ve heard of the beasts, the monsters this warrior fights.” She nodded toward Ethan. “I’ve been listening to you long enough that I know what I’m stepping up for. I’ve been training my whole life growing up with Atticus. I even bested him a time or two.”
Cornelius groaned. “When he was a scrawny young man, maybe, but this is different.”
She turned to Ignis. Her father would never listen. “Would this spell not make me stronger, more powerful?” She wouldn’t throw Ignis under the bus by revealing him as her accomplice.
Ignis rolled his eyes. “You have been listening.” He scratched his short-cropped hair that looked something like burning embers.
He couldn’t appear to have known Rebekah was sneaking around, or that he’d known she would step up to the task. He’d watched her grow, seen her fight, and knew of her strengths. She deserved better than the hand she’d been dealt, and he was going to see to it that she got it.
Cornelius’s blood pumped quickly through his veins, so fast that he thought his heart might explode. Rebekah was his secret miracle, and also his shame, but he loved her more than anything in the world. He could not bear to send her to a certain death. “I will not entertain this madness. If you don’t want to marry, you will give your vows to the church, Rebekah, like your mother. You will live a long, safe, and happy life.”
Rebekah had been pushed to the edge, and it was time to jump. And even though she hadn’t wanted it to come to extremes, desperation overwhelmed her. She pulled the dagger from beneath her tunic and held it to her chest. “I’ll die before I give myself up to that life.”
She couldn’t see herself marrying some ogre soldier, one who would be a perfect cover for her father’s missteps and suitable for a girl who was supposed to be no more than a ward of the church. She sure as hell wasn’t going to grow old and wither away in the same church where she was born.
There’s a great big world out there, and I’m damn sure going to see it.
Cornelius gasped and stepped forward, but she held the dagger steady to her heart. “Child.”
Her voice trembled. “Let me have this one mercy, Father. I will choose my own path, one way or another.”
“The girl has spirit, Cornelius.” Ethan moved around her, prowling like a cat who regarded her as a sizeable treat, and oh boy, could he feast. She was tall for a woman, which Ethan liked. He imagined how nicely they would fit together once horizontal. Under her flowing tunic, which was tied and cinched in all the right places, he could see the swell of her ample breasts and the graceful lines of her long legs. Her features were as sharp as her dagger, her eyes the same color as its steel. Sexier still, they looked like ice in contrast to her long, black hair. “I’d assume she has the heart of a true warrior, as well.”
“Everyone dies, but warriors race after it, Rebecca,” Cornelius said. “I cannot be responsible for sending my daughter to slaughter. You cannot ask this of me.”
Ignis paced the floor. The heavy robe he wore rustled around his feet. “It would seem that death is inevitable, my friend. I think we should allow it. Better she dies for a cause than for spite.”
Cornelius looked to Ethan, who he noticed hadn’t stopped staring at his daughter since she stepped out of the confessional. And he didn’t think it was solely because the girl was holding that damned dagger to her heart with a death grip and a look of determination that he’d never seen before. No, he was lusting after her, so much that the Hunter had even wiped the corner of his mouth.
Cornelius had protected her since the day she took her first breath, keeping her as a ward of the Church, all the while allowing her to know her true self. But perhaps in that task, he hadn’t taken the time to truly know her, to understand her passion and spirit for the fight. He also hadn’t been honest about preferring she mate a man and not God. God couldn’t protect her bloodlines by giving her children.
“I shall allow it on one condition. Would you have her, Ethan?”
Ethan thought of at least six ways he would have her, but none of them were appropriate for her father’s ears. He was sure that wasn’t what the priest had in mind. “I have no problems letting a woman fight, if that’s what you’re asking, but I can’t promise it will be an easy life for her.”
“No, take her to hunt, yes, but I’m asking you to take her as your wife. She is of noble blood, blood that is mentioned in an ancient prophecy.”
Ethan jerked his head around, regarding the priest. “Whoa, you want me to marry her? You are aware that I don’t live under the same laws, nor live the same lifestyle, as men. I was the first. The only. I am the original.” His voice never wavered.
Tied down? To one woman? Fuck.
He was used to roaming the earth from one camp to another, country to country, wherever the battle took him. The idea of settling down made his skin crawl.
“She must bear children and keep her mother’s bloodlines strong,” the priest pleaded sternly.
“What is this prophecy?” Ethan needed to know what he was getting into.
“On her maternal grandfather’s deathbed, he confessed to me that an ancient prophecy, The Prophecy of Hope, states that when the last of his family bloodline is vanquished, it will mark the beginning of the end—the end of all hope as we know it.”
“The silly ramblings of a dying man are not enough to get me to marry any woman. Not even a beautiful one like this.” Ethan turned to Rebekah. “But I have no problems taking her as my concubine, which would keep her honor intact.”
Rebekah knew a concubine was not looked down on in her society, but with the agreement, Ethan would be able to warm the bed of any woman he wanted. The man she’d fantasized about for years was never going to commit himself to her alone.
Can I bear that? She looked down at the blade and knew she could. As long as she was allowed to fight, her life would be fulfilled.
Cornelius met his daughter’s eyes and then looked back to Ethan, who was standing a little taller as thunder rolled through the earth. “You will give her children?”
Ethan had spread his seed across every country, so he could not see a good reason to refuse. Besides, bedding the woman, who was no doubt a virgin, would be worth it. Since the night wasn’t getting any younger and the storm was raging, he had no desire to go out in search of another candidate. “It shall be an honor, friend.” He turned his eyes to Rebekah, as if she had a say or an opinion.
“Can I do it, Father?” She readied the blade, holding her breath as she stood on the edge of decision. If he said no, she would plunge the blade into her gut.
Cornelius let out a breath. “So be it. Ignis, please try not to kill my daughter in the process.”
As Rebekah put her dagger away, Ignis smiled. His plan for the girl was for his benefit as well. He needed the hunter to see him as useful. He had never intended on staying in the Church for as long as he had, and now he would have a way to keep on the move and a greater purpose for his own existence.
He had taken certain precautions to make sure Rebekah would survive the metamorphosis. She and the others believed his magic alone was powerful enough to effect the change, but in secret, Ignis had procured shifter blood to heighten her instincts and the purest vampire blood to aid in her transformation. If everything went according to plan, he would not only make Rebekah a strong hunter, but also indestructible enough to keep her safe.
He only hoped it would work as planned. Lucky for him, he had the storm to feed the magic. Its power was a strong conductor.
“We shouldn’t waste another moment.” Ignis took Rebekah’s hand and met her eyes. “I’ve watched you grow from a small babe, you know? I was there the night of your birth, and now, I shall be here for the night of your rebirth.”
Rebekah squeezed his hand. “Thank you, Ignis.” Without the mage’s convincing, her father would never have approved. Ignis had proven himself time and time again as an honorable friend.
Ignis smiled and reached out his hand. “The blade, Rebekah. I need a dagger and something personal of yours, so this seems appropriate. Since you’ve been so hellbent on putting this thing in your heart, I guess the least I can do is grant your wish.”
She took Stella from its scabbard, and after kissing the four-pointed star on its blade, she passed him the weapon. She squared her jaw and lifted her chin. “I’m ready.”
They gathered at the altar, and Rebekah thought it fitting. She was giving herself to Ethan, and although it was no marriage, she knew it was going to join them together and make her his counterpart.
Two hunters, fighting for the same cause. One from the church and the other born at the dawn of time.
If it worked, she would be the first of an entire army of superhuman hunters, and she would be able to live her dream of being a warrior. She would see the world with Ethan by her side. She wasn’t sure if it was love, but she felt a certain pride that words couldn’t describe.
Ignis turned to Ethan. “I need your blood.” He smiled and passed the dagger to Ethan.
Ethan grabbed hold of the blade and quickly sliced it through his palm. Blood dripped down his thick fingers, staining the stone floor. “Take what you need. This isn’t the first time I have bled for humanity, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.” He gave Rebekah a wink as he passed the mage the bloody dagger.
Ignis reached into his robe, revealing a vial. He dipped the blade into a potion he had made containing the other species’ blood. Then he nodded to Father Cornelius, who moved to hold his daughter.
Ignis raised his hands, blue fire crackling from his fingertips as the lightning and thunder intensified outside. He closed his eyes, focusing on the storm’s energy, and called forth the power.
On his command, a bolt of lightning shot down through the glass from the dome of the cathedral and into Stella. The blade glowed as hot as the day it was forged. The etched star brightened like the power of the universe itself was contained within it. The blood sizzled, bubbling with magic.
Rebekah shielded her eyes, wincing at the blinding light, her father’s arms tight around her waist, as Ignis took aim at her breast.
Ignis raised the blade and brought it down quickly, stabbing her through her tunic, through her flesh, nicking the bone as it penetrated her ribs and planted itself into her heart.
Excruciating pain filled her center and stole her breath. From her memory, the voice of her betrothed Atticus seemed to whisper in her ear, I’ll carry your strength with me.
It was his last words to her before he’d left for his mission, and now, she was carrying his strength with her. Her body spasmed as another burst of lightning shot through the glass ceiling and into Stella’s pommel. A thick warmth permeated every cell in her body, changing her DNA. The temperature escalated quickly until it pulsed under her alabaster skin. It increased until it was so painful, it stole sight from her eyes.
Rebekah’s last memory was falling from her father’s arms and crashing to the floor.
Ignis and Ethan lunged forward as both Cornelius and Rebekah fell, but neither made it in time. The priest’s eyes fluttered, and Ethan tended to him as Ignis pulled the blade from Rebekah’s breast.
“You’ve killed her!” Ethan screamed, his voice filled with horror. He’d seen many things in his life but could never get used to the power mages had. Ethan didn’t trust mages and had never sought to befriend one, but he had trusted Father Cornelius when it concerned Ignis. Now, that trust had killed the poor bastard and his pretty daughter. He felt for her pulse and listened. There was no life in the girl. “She’s dead. Such a waste of beauty.”
Ethan rose to his feet and prepared to slice the mage into a million pieces, but Rebekah jerked to life, her gasp for breath so loud it was nearly a scream.
“Daughter?” Father Cornelius rolled over.
Ethan helped him to his feet, glad that his friend hadn’t perished and angry that he had no reason to kill the mage.
Rebekah raised herself up and loosened her blood-soaked tunic at the shoulder. She had just had a blade in her heart, felt its beat as it slowed to a stop, and now, minutes later, she was sitting up, breathing. Did I die?
Keeping her modesty, she revealed an open wound which was already beginning to heal. The flesh knitted itself back together in front of her eyes as if magic had replaced her biology, changing her entire makeup.
And indeed, it had.
Her hearing sharpened so that she could hear the church mice skittering in the corner of the room. Her eyes, clear and sharp, allowed her to focus on the smallest details of the cathedral around her.
Ignis smiled with pride. His potion had worked, leaving him to feel like a god.
Now he just needed to keep the girl alive and help her not snuff out the Hunter who would walk beside her.
That was a lifelong calling. Everyone wanted to kill the Hunter. Including Ignis.
Present Day, Ireland
After hundreds of years of never-ending battle, Rebekah had high hopes of finally settling down. Her new home, an abandoned castle she’d purchased in the hills of Ireland in the county of Galway, was coming along nicely since the renovation.
She was due to lay down her dagger and take a break from leading the Fellowship of Hunters from their never-ending campaign against the undead and shifters. The word “retirement” sounded far too normal for what she had been up to most of her life, so she simply thought of it as a break.
She adjusted two portraits, one of her mother, the other of her father, and turned to the bouquet of roses besides her that were so blood-red that if she pricked her fingers on the thorns, she would never see the stain on the petals. The color reminded her of one person, and though she perished the thought of him, as well as the conflict in her heart, she brought a fragrant bud to her nose and breathed deeply as Ignis walked briskly into the room.
His eyes narrowed at the bouquet, but he knew better than to ask what had brought on the dopey grin.
“Those paintings turned out nicely.” He walked to the window and gazed out across the rolling hills. “I still don’t understand why you chose Ireland. There are plenty of beautiful places in Rome if you wanted a renovation project.”
“You know damned well I want to be as far away from the Church as possible. Besides, I love the landscape here.” She considered his mood and decided to feel him out. “Did you really want to go back to Rome?”
“No, but there’s nothing to do here, and I spotted fairy rings in the yard. You know how I feel about fairies. Hell, how everyone feels about fairies. Nasty little bastards.” He huffed. “Besides, a city would be nice now and then. Someplace with a nightlife. We could shake off the dust of all of these years.” He wagged his eyebrows before turning and picking a piece of lint off his crisp, white, button-down shirt.
Rebekah had heard these same grumblings from him before, any time they moved to a new place. Then, when it was time to move on, he would act as though he never wanted to leave. She ignored it. No need to get him on a rant.
“Why don’t you go down to the cellar and see if there’s a place to set up your work?” she asked.
“I suppose I could, I’ve already taken the South tower for my private library.” Ignis was a master of potions and loved to dabble in alchemy and magic, but he was also a writer at heart, keeping journals for centuries and always adding to his personal collection.
“Do you really think this retirement will stick?” He couldn’t imagine the world without her hunting and knew she was off her cracker for thinking it could actually happen.
“As long as they’ll let me be.” Her cell phone rang. The dirge it sang out was the sound of doom, which had always made Ignis chuckle.
“Well, that didn’t take long,” he said as she groaned. “I’ll give you a bit of privacy.” She was most likely going to be in a horrible mood. She usually was after a call from the Church.
She had entered into agreements with them hundreds of years ago when Ethan, the Great Hunter, had abandoned her to the cause of protecting mankind from their supernatural enemies. Since then, Ignis had watched her organize her men, build training camps, and manage to keep the vampire and shapeshifter issues to a minimum.
In the year two thousand, the Church wanted to reorganize the training academies across the world, and she had been working hard on the administrative side of things to ensure they had everything they needed.
Rebekah answered the phone as Ignis slipped away. “Good afternoon, Elder John.”
The man wasted no time with formalities. “I’m afraid I call with horrible news and a matter that needs your utmost attention.” The tension in his voice put her on alert, but he’d been known to overreact a time or two over the twenty years she’d known him.
“This isn’t like the time one of the trainees stole your car, is it?” She didn’t want to be called in on every little issue, especially when it was something as frivolous as a bunch of pranksters.
“For the record, that car was my pride and joy, and the insurance wouldn’t cover the new paint it needed.” His tone was snippy.
“I’m very sorry, but I put a commander at each facility for this very reason; to run things in my absence. I know you prefer me to be fifty places at once, but as you’re well aware, it’s an impossibility.” There were academies in or around every major city in the world.
“I’m afraid this matter concerns one of your commanders, Merik Riley.”
The name of the last male in her bloodline caught her attention. “What about Commander Riley?”
“I’m afraid he’s been killed. Along with his second in command, James Roland, and several of the trainees.” Rebekah grew numb as he continued. “They seemed to be on a mission of sorts. At least, that’s what Sister Mary Frances claims, though Merik failed to mention they had one scheduled at the last briefing.”
“Is there anyone left in charge?” Each academy had staff, and surely, there was someone in charge to keep things running.
“No, as I said, the second in command was killed right along with your commander. It happened outside some shady nightclub. The name says it all: Debauchery.” He spat the word like it tasted bad on his tongue. “Sister Mary Frances and the rest of the staff are beside themselves. Me and the other elders of the Church feel that your personal attention would be best in this matter.”
It wasn’t a request.
“Can’t you appoint a new commander until I get there? Send one over from the nearest training camp.” She didn’t mind going but didn’t want to have to rush. Someone could manage things until she got there.
“Shall I remind you that it’s part of your duty to come when the Church calls? Besides, it’s not like we’ve dealt with a situation like this before.”
“And what about the nearest stationary unit? Can’t they come in and help?” The stationary unit, or SU, of hunters had been assigned to each major city across the world to work in accordance with local law enforcement to ensure that things concerning the hunters were dealt with.
“They are grossly understaffed, and considering the nature of the attack, the Church feels it’s best that you handle it.”
She needed to tend to her kin, as well as check on the remaining members of his family. His grandmother, Estelle, was still alive, but Merik had been the one taking care of the old woman since his parents’ death two years before. “Of course, I’ll leave as soon as possible.”
She ended the call before lowering herself to the sofa while her thoughts were on Merik. She and Ignis had been shocked to learn that he had wanted the life of a hunter. She had even interviewed the then-younger man and tried to talk him into another path, but there had been no way to convince him otherwise. He had been a fighter like her and was just as determined and stubborn.
She had kept a close eye on him from the moment he had signed on for training, and she had even gone through the death of his parents with him two years earlier. If she could only put her descendants in a protective bubble. But knowing what it was like to live that kind of sheltered life, she would never commit such an atrocity.
Ignis returned, first peeking around the corner to see if she was still on the phone, and then hurrying to her side. “Are you crying? No. No. No. There’s no crying in retirement. It’s happy boring times for you now. No more blood and guts, monsters and late-night rendezvous with evil. This is a good thing. Right?”
It wasn’t a sight he saw often, but when he did, he would do anything to make her smile again.
The numbness hadn’t allowed her to realize she was crying. “Now isn’t the time.”
Ignis reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. “I know retirement means a lot to you, but—”
She waved her hand but took the offering. “No, that’s not it. There’s been an attack. Merik is dead.”
The blood drained from his face. “Damn.” Considering what it could mean with the Prophecy of Hope, there wasn’t a more fitting response. “I’m so sorry, Bex.”
With a deep breath, she stood and wiped away the tears which she had no time for. “Aside from being my blooded kin, he was a good man. I need to get to the bottom of this attack. If he was on a mission, there has to be a reason he went along and didn’t just send his men. Having the commander and his second in one battle just doesn’t make sense. There’s got to be more to it.”
Ignis walked over and gave his oldest friend a hug. “It is true that I wanted a break from this place but not like this.”
“Promise me you’ll stay out of Vegas.”
He had a gleam in his eyes, which were as large as poker chips. “Oh yeah, I’d forgotten Merik was at the Nevada training camp.”
“Ignis, I mean it. Don’t make trouble for me by pulling one of your stunts. I can’t figure out what is going on if I’m babysitting an immature mage with no self-control.”
“I have perfect self-control, and as for immature, I’ll remind you that even though I might look your age, I’m old enough to be your father.”
“You’re old enough to be my grandfather a few times over, and as you’ve proven over the past thousand years, age has nothing to do with maturity.”
“Fine, because of the nature of the trip, I’ll behave, but only for you, Bexy dear.”
She growled, and he smiled, knowing the name bugged her. She didn’t mind Bex, but Bexy or any other cutesy name wouldn’t do.
Ignis chuckled. “Did you know that you used to growl like that when you were fighting Atticus? The two of you would be sparring in the churchyard, and you sounded just like a wild dog.” The mention of Atticus made her smile. She reached to her side and stroked Stella’s handle as he continued. “You’d best him nearly every time back then, and no matter how many times the other children would tease him, he never stopped letting you.”
“He didn’t let me.” Rebekah huffed, and Ignis belted a laugh. She thought it was funny that Ignis had mentioned Atticus. In the time she spent getting to know Merik, that was who he reminded her of most. Atticus had been braver than she’d known, and the night he’d given her Stella, her infamous dagger, he must have known the enemy he would face the next day might take him away from her. His last goodbye had felt so final.
After she was made into the Immortal Huntress, she had no idea her first mission would be one of vengeance; one of justice for her betrothed.
No matter how many centuries passed, she would never forget that day. She and Ethan had hidden out in the trees until the wolves had gathered back at their den after the hunt. They watched as the shifters had all changed back to human form, appearing to be nothing more than a pack of wandering travelers.
Rebekah could still taste the earth and mud she and Ethan had smeared themselves with, still smell the blood from that first kill. They had come out of hiding and slaughtered every one of the beasts.
Ethan’s power had done more than excite her. It had turned her on. He had seemed as equally impressed with her. They had kissed passionately, the feverish gesture landing them on the ground where their bodies entwined. Ethan had taken her virginity, the last part of the girl she once was that remained. And as they walked away, hand in hand, she saw something shine like silver amongst the casualties. Luna. As soon as her eyes saw the reflection, Stella began to vibrate against her side. It was as if the two were calling for one another. Rebekah retrieved it without question.
Atticus had been so brave, giving himself to the fight. She remembered his eagerness and all the years he spent preparing for battle. No one could have talked him out of it, not even if she had known the kind of enemy he would face. Ethan had been trying in vain to form armies, but what they faced would take more than mere human soldiers. By the time they figured that out, it had been too late for Atticus.
Ignis placed his hand on her shoulder, his gesture that of a concerned father or a protective brother. His physical age was more like a twenty-seven-year-old for as long as she had known him, and it had taken him five hundred years to finally explain to Rebekah why. Even though Ignis was not immortal like she was, he had a long life and extended youth thanks to a bond he’d formed with his girlfriend Talia. This was also the reason Ignis couldn’t stay in Rome with her father and why he had followed her away before anyone became too suspicious of why he wasn’t aging.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. I just can’t help thinking that Atticus and Merik would have been great friends.”
He nodded. “I agree. Now, no more tears.”
“Right. There are no tears in retirement or the lack there of.”
A snort resounded from him. “And definitely no tears in a city like Vegas.”
She ignored the excitement in his voice and walked from her sitting room. Before the day was over, they would be in America. And though he promised to behave, it was highly unlikely.
He never could around shiny objects.
Not that she blamed him.