Huntress, Black Dawn, Witchlight

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THE NIGHT WORLD…
LOVE HAS NEVER BEEN SO DANGEROUS.

THE NIGHT WORLD isn’t a place. It’s all around us. The creatures of Night World are beautiful and deadly and irresistible to humans. Your best friend could be one—so could your crush.

 

The laws of Night World are very clear: humans must never learn that Night World exists. And members of Night World must never fall in love with a human. Violate the laws and the consequences are terrifying.

 

These are the stories about what happens when the rules get broken.

FOR MORE TALES FROM THE DARKNESS BY L.J. SMITH, DON’T MISS:

Night World 1:
Secret Vampire, Daughters of Darkness, Spellbinder

Night World 2:
Dark Angel, The Chosen, Soulmate

AND COMING SOON, THE DRAMATIC CONCLUSION:

Strange Fate

ALSO LOOK FOR:

Dark Visions:
The Strange Power, The Possessed, The Passion

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

SIMON PULSE
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Huntress
copyright © 1997 by Lisa J. Smith
Black Dawn
copyright © 1997 by Lisa J. Smith
Witchlight
copyright © 1998 by Lisa J. Smith

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

SIMON PULSE and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

NIGHT WORLD is a trademark of Lisa J. Smith.

Library of Congress Control Number 2008925003

ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-6416-7
ISBN-10: 1-4391-6416-9

These titles were previously published individually by Simon Pulse.

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

Huntress
 

For Brian Nelson
and Justin Lauffenburger

CHAPTER 1

“I
t’s simple,” Jez said on the night of the last hunt of her life. “You run. We chase. If we catch you, you die. We’ll give you three minutes head start.”

The skinhead gang leader in front of her didn’t move. He had a pasty face and shark eyes. He was standing tensely, trying to look tough, but Jez could see the little quiver in his leg muscles.

Jez flashed him a smile.

“Pick a weapon,” she said. Her toe nudged the pile at her feet. There was a lot of stuff there—guns, knives, baseball bats, even a few spears. “Hey, take
more
than one. Take as many as you want. My treat.”

There was a stifled giggle from behind her and Jez made a sharp gesture to stop it. Then there was silence. The two gangs stood facing each other, six skinhead thugs on one side and
Jez’s gang on the other. Except that Jez’s people weren’t exactly normal gang members.

The skinhead leader’s eyes shifted to the pile. Then he made a sudden lunge and came up with something in his hand.

A gun, of course. They always picked guns. This particular gun was the kind it was illegal to buy in California these days, a large caliber semiautomatic assault weapon. The skinhead whipped it up and held it pointed straight at Jez.

Jez threw back her head and laughed.

Everyone was staring at her—and that was fine. She looked great and she knew it.

Hands on her hips, red hair tumbling over her shoulders and down her back, fine-boned face tipped to the sky—yeah, she looked good. Tall and proud and fierce…and very beautiful. She was Jez Redfern, the huntress.

She lowered her chin and fixed the gang leader with eyes that were neither silver nor blue but some color in between. A color he never could have seen before, because no human had eyes like that.

He didn’t get the clue. He didn’t seem like the brightest.

“Chase this,” he said, and he fired the gun.

Jez moved at the last instant. Not that metal through the chest would have seriously hurt her, but it might have knocked her backward and she didn’t want that. She’d just taken over the leadership of the gang from Morgead, and she didn’t want to show any weakness.

The bullet passed through her left arm. There was a little explosion of blood and a sharp flash of pain as it fractured the bone before passing on through. Jez narrowed her eyes, but held on to her smile.

Then she glanced down at her arm and lost the smile, hissing. She hadn’t considered the damage to her sleeve. Now there was a bloody hole in it. Why didn’t she ever think about these things?

“Do you know how much leather costs? Do you know how much a North Beach jacket costs?” She advanced on the skinhead leader.

He was blinking and hyperventilating. Trying to figure out how she’d moved so fast and why she wasn’t yelling in agony. He aimed the gun and fired again. And again, each time more wildly.

Jez dodged. She didn’t want any more holes. The flesh of her arm was already healing, closing up and smoothing over. Too bad her jacket couldn’t do the same. She reached the skinhead without getting hit again and grabbed him by the front of his green and black Air Force flight jacket. She lifted him, one-handed, until the steel toes of his Doc Marten boots just cleared the ground.

“You better run, boy,” she said. Then she threw him.

He sailed through the air a remarkable distance and bounced off a tree. He scrambled up, his eyes showing white with terror, his chest heaving. He looked at her, looked at his
gang, then turned and started running through the redwoods.

The other gang members stared after him for a moment before diving for the weapons pile. Jez watched them, frowning. They’d just seen how effective bullets were against people like her, but they still went for the guns, passing by perfectly good split-bamboo knives, yew arrows, and a gorgeous snakewood walking stick.

And then things were noisy for a while as the skinheads came up from the pile and started firing. Jez’s gang dodged easily, but an exasperated voice sounded in Jez’s head.

Can we go after them now? Or do you want to show off some more?

She flicked a glance behind her. Morgead Blackthorn was seventeen, a year older than she, and her worst enemy. He was conceited, hotheaded, stubborn, and power-hungry—and it didn’t help that he was always saying she was all those things, too.

“I told them three minutes,” she said out loud. “You want me to break my word?” And for that instant, while she was snarling at him, she forgot to keep track of bullets.

The next thing she knew Morgead was knocking her backward. He was lying on top of her. Something whizzed over both of them and hit a tree, spraying bark.

Morgead’s gem-green eyes glared down into hers. “But…they’re…not…running,” he said with exaggerated patience. “In case you hadn’t noticed.”

He was too close. His hands were on either side of her head. His weight was on her. Jez kicked him off, furious with him and appalled at herself.

“This is
my
game.
I
thought of it. We play it my way!” she yelled.

The skinheads were scattering anyway. They’d finally realized that shooting was pointless. They were running, crashing through the sword fern.

“Okay, now!” Jez said. “But the leader’s mine.”

There was a chorus of shouts and hunting calls from her gang. Val, the biggest and always the most impatient, dashed off first, yelling something like “Yeeeeeehaw.” Then Thistle and Raven went, the slight blond and the tall dark girl sticking together as always. Pierce hung back, staring with his cold eyes at a tree, waiting to give his prey the illusion of escaping.

Jez didn’t look to see what Morgead was doing. Why should she care?

She started off in the direction the skinhead leader had taken. But she didn’t exactly take his path. She went through the trees, jumping from one redwood to another. The giant sequoias were the best; they had the thickest branches, although the wartlike bulges called burls on the coastal redwoods were good landing places, too. Jez jumped and grabbed and jumped again, occasionally doing acrobatic flips when she caught a branch just for the fun of it.

She loved Muir Woods. Even though all the wood around
her was deadly—or maybe because it was. She liked taking risks. And the place was beautiful: the cathedral silence, the mossy greenness, the resinous smell.

Last week they’d hunted seven gang members through Golden Gate Park. It had been enjoyable, but not really private, and they couldn’t let the humans fight back much. Gunshots in the park would attract attention. Muir Woods had been Jez’s idea—they could kidnap the gang members and bring them here where nobody would disturb them. They would give them weapons. It would be a real hunt, with real danger.

Jez squatted on a branch to catch her breath. There just wasn’t enough real danger in the world, she thought. Not like the old days, when there were still vampire hunters left in the Bay Area. Jez’s parents had been killed by vampire hunters. But now that they’d all been eliminated, there wasn’t anything really scary anymore….

She froze. There was an almost inaudible crunching in the pine needles ahead of her. Instantly she was on the move again, leaping fearlessly off the branch into space, landing on the spongy pine-needle carpet with her knees bent. She turned and stood face-to-face with the skinhead.

“Hey there,” she said.

CHAPTER 2

T
he skinhead’s face was contorted, his eyes huge. He stared at her, breathing hard like a hurt animal.

“I know,” Jez said. “You ran fast. You can’t figure out how I ran faster.”

“You’re—not—human,” the skinhead panted. Except that he threw in a lot of other words, the kind humans liked to use when they were upset.

“You guessed,” Jez said cheerfully, ignoring the obscenities. “You’re not as dumb as you look.”

“What—the hell—are you?”

“Death.” Jez smiled at him. “Are you going to fight? I hope so.”

He fumbled the gun up again. His hands were shaking so hard he could scarcely aim it.

“I think you’re out of ammo,” Jez said. “But anyway
a branch would be better. You want me to break one off for you?”

He pulled the trigger. The gun just clicked. He looked at it.

Jez smiled at him, showing her teeth.

She could feel them grow as she went into feeding mode. Her canines lengthening and curving until they were as sharp and delicate and translucent as a cat’s. She liked the feel of them lightly indenting her lower lip as she half-opened her mouth.

That wasn’t the only change. She knew that her eyes were turning to liquid silver and her lips were getting redder and fuller as blood flowed into them in anticipation of feeding. Her whole body was taking on an indefinable charge of energy.

The skinhead watched as she became more and more beautiful, more and more inhuman. And then he seemed to fold in on himself. With his back against a tree, he slid down until he was sitting on the ground in the middle of some pale brown oyster fungus. He was staring straight ahead.

Jez’s gaze was drawn to the double lightning bolt tattooed on his neck. Right…there, she thought. The skin seemed reasonably clean, and the smell of blood was enticing. It was running there, rich with adrenaline, in blue veins just under the surface. She was almost intoxicated just thinking about tapping it.

Fear was good; it added that extra spice to the taste. Like SweeTarts. This was going to be good….

Then she heard a soft broken sound.

The skinhead was crying.

Not loud bawling. Not blubbering and begging. Just crying like a kid, slow tears trickling down his cheeks as he shook.

“I thought better of you,” Jez said. She shook her hair out, tossed it in contempt. But something inside her seemed to tighten.

He didn’t say anything. He just stared at her—no,
through
her—and cried. Jez knew what he was seeing. His own death.

“Oh, come on,” Jez said. “So you don’t want to die. Who does? But you’ve killed people before. Your gang killed that guy Juan last week. You can dish it out, but you can’t take it.”

He still didn’t say anything. He wasn’t pointing the gun at her anymore; he was clutching it with both hands to his chest as if it were a teddy bear or something. Or maybe as if he were going to kill himself to get away from her. The muzzle of the gun was under his chin.

The thing inside Jez tightened more. Tightened and twisted until she couldn’t breathe. What was wrong with her? He was just a human, and a human of the worst kind. He
deserved
to die, and not just because she was hungry.

But the sound of that crying…It seemed to pull at her. She had a feeling almost of déjà vu, as if this had all happened before—but it
hadn’t.
She knew it hadn’t.

The skinhead spoke at last. “Do it quick,” he whispered.

And Jez’s mind was thrown into chaos.

With just those words she was suddenly not in the forest anymore. She was falling into nothingness, whirling and spinning, with nothing to grab hold of. She saw pictures in bright, disjointed flashes. Nothing made sense; she was plunging in darkness with scenes unreeling before her helpless eyes.

“Do it quickly,” somebody whispered. A flash and Jez saw who: a woman with dark red hair and delicate, bony shoulders. She had a face like a medieval princess. “I won’t fight you,” the woman said. “Kill me. But let my daughter live.”

Mother…

These were her memories.

She wanted to see more of her mother—she didn’t have any conscious memory of the woman who’d given birth to her. But instead there was another flash. A little girl was huddled in a corner, shaking. The child had flame-bright hair and eyes that were neither silver nor blue. And she was so frightened…

Another flash. A tall man running to the child. Turning around, standing in front of her. “Leave her alone! It’s not her fault. She doesn’t have to die!”

Daddy.

Her parents, who’d been killed when she was four. Executed by vampire hunters….

Another flash and she saw fighting. Blood. Dark figures struggling with her mother and father. And screaming that wouldn’t quite resolve into words.

And then one of the dark figures picked up the little girl
in the corner and held her up high…and Jez saw that he had fangs. He wasn’t a vampire hunter; he was a vampire.

And the little girl, whose mouth was open in a wail, had none.

All at once, Jez could understand the screaming.

“Kill her! Kill the human! Kill the freak!”

They were screaming it about
her.

 

Jez came back to herself. She was in Muir Woods, kneeling in the ferns and moss, with the skinhead cowering in front of her. Everything was the same…but everything was different. She felt dazed and terrified.

What did it
mean
?

It was just some bizarre hallucination. It had to be. She knew how her parents had died. Her mother had been murdered outright by the vampire hunters. Her father had been mortally wounded, but he’d managed to carry the four-year-old Jez to his brother’s house before he died. Uncle Bracken had raised her, and he’d told her the story over and over.

But that screaming…

It didn’t mean anything. It
couldn’t.
She was Jez Redfern, more of a vampire than anyone, even Morgead. Of all the lamia, the vampires who could have children, her family was the most important. Her uncle Bracken was a vampire, and so was his father, and his father’s father, all the way back to Hunter Redfern.

But her mother…

What did she know about her mother’s family? Nothing. Uncle Bracken always just said that they’d come from the East Coast.

Something inside Jez was trembling. She didn’t want to frame the next question, but the words came into her mind anyway, blunt and inescapable.

What if her mother had been human?

That would make Jez…

No. It wasn’t possible. It wasn’t just that Night World law forbade vampires to fall in love with humans. It was that there was no such thing as a vampire-human hybrid. It couldn’t be
done
; it had never been done in twenty thousand years. Anybody like that would be a freak….

The trembling inside her was getting worse.

She stood up slowly and only vaguely noticed when the skinhead made a sound of fear. She couldn’t focus on him. She was staring between the redwood trees.

If it were true…it
couldn’t
be true, but if it were true…she would have to leave everything. Uncle Bracken. The gang.

And Morgead. She’d have to leave Morgead. For some reason that made her throat close convulsively.

And she would go…where? What kind of a place was there for a half-human half-vampire freak?

Nowhere in the Night World. That was certain. The Night People would have to kill any creature like that.

The skinhead made another sound, a little whimper. Jez blinked and looked at him.

It couldn’t be true, but all of a sudden she didn’t care about killing him anymore. In fact, she had a feeling like slow horror creeping over her, as if something in her brain was tallying up all the humans she’d hurt and killed over the years. Something was taking over her legs, making her knees rubbery. Something was crushing her chest, making her feel as if she were going to be sick.

“Get out of here,” she whispered to the skinhead.

He shut his eyes. When he spoke it was in a kind of moan. “You’ll just chase me.”

“No.” But she understood his fear. She was a huntress. She’d chased so many people. So many humans…

Jez shuddered violently and shut her eyes. It was as if she had suddenly seen herself in a mirror and the image was unbearable. It wasn’t Jez the proud and fierce and beautiful. It was Jez the murderer.

I have to stop the others.

The telepathic call she sent out was almost a scream.
Everybody! This is Jez. Come to me, right now! Drop what you’re doing and come!

She knew they’d obey—they were her gang, after all. But none of them except Morgead had enough telepathic power to answer across the distance.

What’s wrong?
he said.

Jez stood very still. She couldn’t tell him the truth. Morgead hated humans. If he even knew what she suspected…the way he would look at her…

He would be sickened. Not to mention that he’d undoubtedly have to kill her.

I’ll explain later,
she told him, feeling numb.
I just found out—that it’s not safe to feed here.

Then she cut the telepathic link short. She was afraid he’d sense too much of what was going on inside her.

She stood with her arms wrapped around herself, staring between the trees. Then she glanced at the skinhead, who was still huddled in the sword fern.

There was one last thing she had to do with him.

Ignoring his wild flinching, she stretched out her hand. Touched him, once, on the forehead with an extended finger. A gentle, precise contact.

“Remember…nothing,” she said. “Now go.”

She felt the power flow out of her, wrapping itself around the skinhead’s brain, changing its chemistry, rearranging his thoughts. It was something she was very good at.

The skinhead’s eyes went blank. Jez didn’t watch him as he began to crawl away.

All she could think of now was getting to Uncle Bracken. He would answer her questions; he would explain. He would prove to her that none of it was true.

He’d make everything all right.

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