Pray for Dawn
The Fourth Dark Days Novel
TO MY FAMILY YOU ARE A SOURCE OF ENDLESS INSPIRATION.
One The bastard was fast. Two I knelt before the fountain and ran my blood-covered hands… Three It was barely after nine in the morning when I… Four The little Themis weasel had his phone turned off, sending… Five My sleep was disturbed again less than four hours later. Six The sun had already set when I finally walked down… Seven James was gone, but my duffel bag had been repacked… Eight Stepping out of the hotel, I was able to finally… Nine We followed the pale concrete ribbon winding north out of… Ten The warped wooden boards creaked and groaned as we stepped… Eleven On Bay Street, Mira pulled into an open parking spot… Twelve Back on the street, I paused beneath the streetlamp next… Thirteen The Savannah morgue was a large, one-story building squatting like… Fourteen Anger radiated off the nightwalker as her hand slid along… Fifteen The Telfair Conservatory was a large structure made almost entirely… Sixteen I clung to the sound of the rushing water as… Seventeen The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon… Eighteen A heavy pounding dragged me from the deep abyss of… Nineteen Less than two hours after Mira’s call, I stretched out… Twenty It was only after the tires finished squealing, launching us… Twenty-One
I hesitated in the entrance to the Dark Room, my… Twenty-Two That could have gone better,” I said after several minutes… Twenty-Three There were still a few more hours before sunrise when… Twenty-Four Stifling a yawn, I rubbed my left eye with the… Twenty-Five My stomach tightened as anxiety pumped in my veins the… Twenty-Six I paced like a caged tiger, my footsteps muffled by… Twenty-Seven The small white two-story house sat out in the middle… Twenty-Eight There are dreams that jump from one garish image to… Twenty-Nine I hesitated outside of the town house, my hand on… Thirty I still don’t see how she’s going to be able… Thirty-One I leaned my shoulder against the stone wall outside of… ? Acknowledgments About the Author Praise Other Books by Jocelynn Drake Credits Copyright About the Publisher
The bastard was fast.
The hard soles of his shoes echoed off the cobble-stones that lined the alleyway, leaving thesound to bounce off the tall brick walls that rose up around us. He wasn’t even trying to bequiet any longer. He was hoping to out-run me, but he didn’t realize that just because he wasfaster didn’t mean I wouldn’t finally catch up to my prey. I could sense him now, smell himout like a hound to a hare. Even if he went to ground, I would find him.
Popping suddenly out of the alley, we darted across a barren street, cutting between parkedcars before shooting through another trash-strewn alley that fed into a network of back waysand dark streets. I took a corner too fast and my feet slid, sending my shoulder crashing intoa building on my right. The steel of the blade in my right hand scraped against the brick as Ipushed off. My prey was gaining distance on me, darting down one dark alley after another untilI had finally lost sight of him. But then I was there again, just over his shoulder, ready toplunge my knife into his chest.
A breath exploded from my lungs in a white puff as I leaped over an overturned trash can, and abead of sweat trickled cold down from my temple along the side of my face. The cold bit at myfingertips and my legs despite the fact that my blood was pumping from the chase. Sliding myleft hand down to my waist, I grabbed one of the small blades that I kept in a holder there andpinched it between my thumb and index finger.
I had caught sight of the vampire as he strolled out of a dark alley on the other side of town.The scent of blood and death hung heavy in the air as I slipped after him to find a young girllying limp among the bloated bags of trash, her breathing labored and her skin an unhealthyshade of white. She had lost too much blood and the vampire had left her for dead among therotting garbage. He hadn’t even tried to hide her. I had spared a quick call on my cell to thelocal authorities, but I didn’t have much hope that the ambulance would reach her in time.From there, the chase was on.
Taking only a moment to aim, I hurled the small blade at the vampire, embedding it rightbetween his shoulder blades, deep into his back. He cried out. His right arm reached back forthe blade, his fast gait slowing as he struggled to maintain his balance. Clenching my teeth, Ifought back a smile as I moved in for the kill.
Nearly two millennia had passed at the blink of an eye, most of the time spent hunting downvampires, wiping their evil from the face of the earth. Each time, each kill, seemed to comejust a little bit easier. They were getting younger, less experienced, careless, and I was justhitting my prime. Only one had eluded me so far, but I’d get Mira eventually. I had eternityon my side.
The vampire exited the alleyway and skid to a stop in the middle of the small town circle.Despite the cold of winter, water still bubbled and danced in the center fountain, though thelights had been put out. The area was empty, but then it was after two in the morning. We hadyet to run across any pedestrians or even a stray car during our long chase.
Pulling the knife from out of his back with a grunt of pain, the vampire turned to face me,tossing the blade aside. It made a metallic ping as it bounced off the cold pavement. The cockybastard didn’t realize who he was up against, and thought he could easily dispatch me. Hehissed, baring his bloodstained fangs at me. Tall and lean, he looked as if he were made ofpure muscles and sinew, and yet the power that rolled off him spoke of a vampire that had seenonly a few centuries of nights at best. He was young by most standards, a fledgling, but akiller nonetheless.
“What the hell do you want?” he snarled at me in roughly accented Spanish. He wasn’t anative of the area. “Are you a hunter or something?”
“Something like that,” I said in a low voice.
The vampire took a step backward, clenching his fists at his sides. “You’re out of yourleague here, hunter. This is Sadira’s domain. She won’t take hunting in her domain lightly.If you wish to survive, I would leave here while you still can.”
A soft snort escaped me as I took a step forward, keeping my legs spread wide and my stanceready for any kind of attack from the bloodsucking monster. That explained why there had beenso much activity in this area recently. The mistress was gone, so all the children had decidedto play. I had no problem exacting a little punishment for their carelessness. “Sadira waskilled by the naturi in Peru months ago. Arrow through the heart.”
The vampire’s shoulders slumped slightly at this news and surprise actually flashed across hisnarrow face. He hadn’t known that his mistress had been killed. He was simply enjoying herextended absence.
In a flash of movement, I launched my attack, taking him by surprise. Of course, that didn’tmean that his reflexes weren’t still faster than mine. I slashed the blade in my right handdown, moving from right to left, hoping to catch him across the chest, but he jerked just outof my grasp. I managed to only clip the side of his hand as he moved away from me. As he jumpedbackward, I grabbed another knife.
The vampire swung his hand at me, looking to take advantage of my apparent slowness. The palmwas open, revealing a set of sharp fingernails that could easily shred me with the sheer forcethat was behind them. Twisting awkwardly, I dodged the nails. At the same time, I swung theblade in my left hand, slicing his right arm before he could move away from me. The vampirehowled and jumped backward several feet, clamping his left hand over the wound. His blue eyesglowed in the darkness and I could feel his power filling the night air. Apparently, he wasfinally seeing me for the threat that I truly was.
Yet, at the same time, a second power filled the air. It swirled around us before seeming tosettle just at my back like a heavy cloak hanging from my shoulders. It bore the same icyenergy touch as any vampire I had ever encountered, but this was infinitely more powerful thanI had ever felt before. I reached out with my own powers, but the energy couldn’t be pinneddown to any one place. It seemed to be everywhere and yet focused on me.
I kept my eyes locked on the vampire that stood before me, but he didn’t flinch, didn’t giveanything away to indicate that there was something dark and evil standing just at my back. Infact, he launched himself at me, hands balled into fists. I dodged the first blow aimed at myjaw, but wasn’t fast enough to evade the punch to my stomach that cracked at least two ribs.The impact was enough to send the air from my lungs, but it didn’t stop me. Pushing the painaside, I slammed the short blade in my left hand into his chest, just missing his heart.
The creature lurched away from me. Wrapping one hand around the handle of the blade, heattempted to pull it free as he dodged a series of swipes of my sword aimed at removing hishead from his neck. A low growl rumbled through the circle, rising above the splash of water,as he pulled the blade free. Yet, instead of dropping it like he had the other, he kept thisone tightly clenched in his bloody right hand. He finally had a weapon that he would wieldfaster and harder than I could, but not by much. My half-breed ancestry did give me a leg upwhen it came to fighting vampires. Not only could I sense them, but I was nearly as fast and asstrong as they were, and could heal nearly as fast. Still, without actually becoming anightwalker, I was just a poor cousin. I wasn’t complaining, though. I still had an ace up mysleeve if it came down to it, but I wouldn’t need it to take down this fledgling.
We circled each other, each looking for the perfect opportunity to insert a blade between theopponent’s ribs. My heart hammered in my chest and adrenaline surged through my veins, givingme the only high that I could find after all these years. Hunting vampires was the onlychallenge I had left, the only thrill when the rest of the world seemed to have faded to asickly shade of gray.
Yet, to my surprise, the vampire pulled the blade back, hiding it partially behind his body ashe took a step away from me. “We’re not alone,” he muttered, but this time the words were inEnglish. His brow was furrowed and a frown pulled his mouth into a downward slash across his
pale face. Something about our guests had disturbed the vampire.
And a quick scan with my powers easily revealed the reason. My adversary would normally havebeen happy to continue this fight in full view of the public since he could easily cloak us.Our world was kept apart from the human world at all times, separate and secret. Yet, I knewthat the vampire feared he could not cloak us from our new companions because he could notsense them. But I could. A trio of naturi had descended upon our scuffle and I suddenly foundmyself caught in the middle of two separate battles.
“Naturi,” I murmured. I turned to my left, back toward the alley we had just come out ofmoments ago, so I could see both the vampire and the three naturi that were approaching ourlocation, weapons drawn.
“Naturi?” the vampire demanded in surprise. He took a step backward and for a moment I wassure he was going to run. He had no problem chancing a quick scuffle with a creature he countedas simply human, but the idea of taking on three naturi at once was more than enough to sendhim scurrying for cover. And in truth, I couldn’t blame him.
A second later, the energy that had been hovering just at my back flowed toward my right andthe vampire, who was slowly edging away from the naturi and me. The nightwalker suddenly jerkedto a stop as his face went completely blank, his eyelids falling shut as if consciousness hasbeen ripped from his grasp. To my left, the naturi halted and even looked at each other for asecond in confusion.
A smile grew across the vampire’s face as he lifted his head. A red glow brightened his eyes,replacing the blue that had been there earlier. He tightened his grip on the dagger he had inhis hand and slashed at the air a couple times.
Something was suddenly off here, and I couldn’t begin to guess what had convinced the vampireto stay when running was the smarter option. If he wasn’t killed by the naturi, he still hadto face me, and that fight was bound to end poorly for him.
To confuse matters even more, the vampire said something to the trio of naturi in a language Ihad never heard before, but it was enough to cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand onend. It sounded as if I should recognize it, that it was something my deep subconsciousunderstood but could no longer remember. It didn’t matter, because the naturi understood itand replied with a pair of poison-tipped darts aimed at the vampire.
Jumping backward a step to put more room between myself and the nightwalker, I watched as heeasily deflected both bolts from a wrist crossbow with a couple swipes of the dagger, likeswatting away flies.
Two of the naturi rushed the vampire then, while the third hung back, glaring at me. He raisedone hand above his head and the black, midnight sky began to churn with dark clouds. It wascold enough to snow, but that wasn’t what this wind naturi was summoning up. I had seen thistoo many times before. I had to kill him before lightning bolts began to plummet from thegathering storm clouds.
With sword in hand, I rushed the naturi, forcing him to stop his spell and pull his own shortsword in hopes of defending himself. The blond-haired naturi was fast and skilled, blockingeach one of my attacks while managing to sneak in a few blows of his own that I narrowlyavoided. Blocking one blow and holding his sword trapped above his head, I slammed my fist intohis face. The impact shattered his nose and forced him to stumble backward a couple of steps. Ijerked my sword free of his and slashed downward, cutting through his neck, leaving his headhanging on by a thin flap of skin. The wind naturi fell dead at my feet, leaving the stormbrewing overhead to slowly dissipate.
Turning on my heel, I found the nightwalker dueling with both of the remaining naturi at once.The air was thick with energy, almost crackling around them. By their broad shoulders and thickbuild, I was willing to bet that the vampire faced a pair from the animal clan. They seemed tobe the foot soldiers of the naturi race. The first into any battle and generally the mostbrutal.
I was about to insert my sword into the fray when I hesitated. I didn’t need to. The vampirehad this fight completely within his control. In fact, by the devilish smile playing on hislips, I was willing to bet that he was only toying with them, drawing out the fight in order tocrush their hopes. But it didn’t make any sense. Moments earlier, the vampire had seemed luckyto know which end of the knife to be holding. Now, watching the vampire move was like watchingan intimate dance of light and shadow intertwine. The blades flashed red in the lamplight, ashe had scored more than one hit on his opponents. And then, to my complete consternation, thevampire turned to look at me as he sliced the throat of one naturi and then, in a flash,plunged the dagger through the heart of the second. The vampire’s wide-eyed, red gaze neverwavered from me as the naturi fell to the cold pavement, struggling to heal from theirindividual wounds before death finally stole them away.
My hand tightened on my own blade as I watched the two naturi writhing on the ground. “Finishit,” I commanded.
“You’ve always been too compassionate,” the vampire said in a voice that barely rose above agrowl. However, the vampire heeded my wishes. Kneeling down, he cut the heads off the twonaturi, killing them. At the moment of their deaths, he sucked in a deep breath, his eyesrolling up into his head as if he was savoring the exact moment of their demise. He then lookeddown at the blood covering his hands and smiled to himself.
“We’re not finished, vampire,” I reminded him, lifting my sword slightly.
The vampire turned on the balls of his feet to face me and easily rose, leaving the dagger onthe ground next to the dead bodies. He took a step toward me with his arms out and hands open,revealing that he was completely unarmed. But no vampire was ever unarmed. They were deadlyfast and amazingly strong whenever the sun was down. I would not be drawn in by whatever rusehe was trying to pull on me.
“It doesn’t have to be like this, Danaus,” the vampire said in a low, soothing voice.“You’ve been fighting a good fight for many years, my son, but you’ve been fighting thewrong side.”
“You may have helped with the naturi, but it doesn’t matter. They would have killed us bothregardless. You can’t save your hide from me,” I replied. Unwilling to let him stall anylonger, I lunged at him, but he dodged as easily as if I were moving in slow motion.
The vampire chuckled at me and shook his head. “You think you can kill me now. Did you notwitness how I so easily destroyed the naturi? What is one mere man against a creature such asme?”
“You’re a vampire. A young one. You can be destroyed.” Again, I came at him with a barrageof moves, faster than I had moved the last time, and still he dodged me. It was like he wasinside of my head and knew exactly how I was going to move, and yet no nightwalker could readmy thoughts without my knowledge. I would sense their presence.
Panic began to take hold as sweat trickled down my brow and ran along the edge of my jaw. Myheart thundered in my chest and I tightened my grip on the sword. He was too fast for me tokill by conventional means. Hell, I couldn’t even touch him. Something had changed in thatmoment when the naturi arrived and his eyes switched from a sky blue to a ruby red. I didn’tunderstand it, but somehow the vampire has come into possession of the energy that had beenswirling about me just before the naturi arrived.
I had to kill him before he finally decided to kill me. Taking a step backward, I lowered mysword slightly and raised my empty left hand toward the vampire. To my surprise, his grin greweven wider as I summoned up the power that bubbled within me. My body came alive with a freshsurge of energy and within me something roared with delight. The power left me in a rush andslammed into the vampire. His head fell back and he laughed maniacally for only a moment.
And then the red glow left his eyes. Whatever power that had possessed him for a brief periodof time had left him. The nightwalker clawed at his arms and chest, stumbling backward awayfrom me, but it was too late. His skin undulated and started to blacken. I had already begun to
boil his blood within his lithe frame and there was no escaping it now. The vampire let out ahigh-pitched scream as he fell to his knees. His nails scratched at his face, tearing awaychunks of flesh before he finally collapsed into a darkened husk that flaked away in thebreeze.
Gritting my teeth, I pulled the power back inside of my body, struggling to cage the energy allover again. Once it was set free, I could relax for the first time in so many long centuries,but I couldn’t let the power remain unleashed. The desire to kill grew as my body relaxeduntil it felt as if I would lash out at the first creature that crossed my path, nightwalkerand innocent human alike.
I drew in a deep, cleansing breath while I tapped the power back down around my soul like asnake coiling around its prey, pushing away fear as well. The fear that I would lose control ofthe insidious power and kill everyone.
Shoving one trembling hand through my hair, I slipped the sword back into its scabbard on myback. My mind had just started to turn to disposing the body when a white glow began to growout of the cold mist surrounding the fountain. I took a couple steps toward it, keeping myright hand lightly wrapped around the hilt of my sword. I couldn’t imagine what I was seeing.A light clan naturi? But I couldn’t sense any naturi in the area.
The energy pulsing through the air felt like every night walker I had ever encountered, and yetit wasn’t a nightwalker. Slowly, a man became encased in the light, standing more than sixfeet tall with pale blond hair and shining clear blue eyes. Then in a brilliant flash that leftme struggling to shield my eyes, a pair of white wings expanded from his back, spanning morethan twelve feet across.
I jerked my sword from my back and stepped away as my heart skipped a beat. It felt like avampire, but it had wings like a wind clan naturi. Neither was a friend of mine and neitherwanted me alive.
“Hold, Danaus,” the figure said in a deep, booming voice. “I am no threat to you.” He heldup one hand and I took a step backward, a frown tugging at the corners of my mouth.
“Who are you?” I demanded, still poised to attack.
A beatific smile spread across his face, a look of peace and joy. “I am your guardian angel,”he claimed. “Gaizka.”
A fine trembling started in my arms, causing the tip of my sword to waver. Was I truly facedwith an angel? I had spent centuries studying and meditating with monks, priests, and otherholy men, searching for some divine direction to save my soul from the demonic bori thatdarkened it, demanding violence. And now standing before me after more than eighteen hundredyears was a creature claiming to be my guardian angel and I could not make myself put my swordaway.
“Why have you come to me now?” I asked, tightening my grip on my sword. Something felt wrong.
“Because now is the time that you need me the most,” he replied. His smile never wavered ashe ignored my sword and took a step forward. He wasn’t solid, but a figure comprised entirelyof light and shadow. “We must join together to defeat that naturi that infest the earth onceagain. If left unchecked, they will destroy all of mankind. They must be stopped.”
I stared at the creature before me, slowly lowering my sword. “You possessed that vampire. Youfought the naturi.”
“Yes, I can take possession of lesser creatures to accomplish certain tasks when necessary.”
“And yet you let me kill the nightwalker,” I pressed, more confused by the second.
The angel shrugged his shoulders. “He had his own sins to atone for.”
“I’ve spent a lifetime hunting nightwalkers. They are an abomination feeding off thelifeblood of humans and tossing them aside like used livestock. Have I been wrong in mymission?” I asked. A shiver swept through me and my gut twisted. How could I be wrong? My souldepended upon it. But after centuries, could I finally find the salvation I prayed for now,