I scratch at my leg and watch the sparkles rain down from the fabric to coat the floor of the limousine. A floor-length gown is not comfortable garb for hunting vampires, or any activity I could imagine. My hunting partner for this mission, a woman in her thirties, sits across from me in a short, sleek black dress.
“I’ll be coming in separately from you as a chaperone.” She swipes red lipstick across her lips. “Don’t make a move until you see me and make sure you lure him out of the ballroom first.”
I wince. Hunting vampires down dark alleys? I’d done it twice already. Luring boys into dark corners? No experience. “Why?”
“We don’t want to be liable for any civilian casualties. The vampire is faster than you, and if this turns into a fight, you and I won’t be enough to protect the students. So, get him to follow you into a closet or dark corner or something. Should be simple for you, Miss Levitia,” she says as she slips the lipstick back in her boot, right next to her dagger.
I clear my throat. “Um, call me Lily please…I meant, why do this at a dance at all? Why not catch it on its way to school tomorrow?”
“You wanna wait till the night is over? How many times do you think it will eat tonight?”
I don’t reply to that. The memory of my first hunt flashes through my mind again and I stare out the window, willing the passing lights to drown it out. But it’s hard to forget something when you’ve dreamt about it every night for the past year.
She checks her make-up in a compact mirror, then glares at me over its edge. “You couldn’t have bothered to put on some mascara at least?”
I shrug. “I’ve never been required to wear make-up on an assignment.”
She tosses a mascara container at me, along with the mirror. “Well, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb at a high school dance without something. Try not to blow your cover.”
I struggle to remember this lady’s name as I apply the mascara. Something ridiculously simple. Pam? Tori? Sally? The diamond necklace I’m wearing glints at me from the mirror. It does more to conceal me than a bit of mascara would—it holds the illusion charm that hides the twelve-pointed star and moon on my hand. Every mage has such a mark, and if the vampire saw it, it might attack.
As we join the queue of limos waiting to drop off the bedazzled teenagers in front of the hotel, Pam-Tori-Sally chatters about her espresso that morning. She shouldn’t be so nervous—she’s the veteran here, and she’s only back up. When the limo pulls up, I scramble out, my high heels getting tangled in my long dress. I ignore the valet waiting to help me out of the car—I’m too busy checking that my skirt hides my dagger, Contrite. I slip behind another group of teenage girls and hand my ticket to the bouncer at the door. He glances at it.
“Student ID,” he rumbles.
I open my bedazzled handbag and give him the card I received only this morning.
“Enjoy yourself,” he says after a cursory inspection.
I follow the other girls down a chandelier-lit hallway. They stop to snap a group picture at a photo booth, but I continue through the double doors to the ballroom. The torrent of rap blaring through the speakers is unintelligible beneath the roar of partying teenagers. They seem ignorant of the two murders that nearly had this event canceled. I wrinkle my nose at the bodies banging against each other on the dance floor. At least they’re smiling.
I spot the vampire at the edge, mesmerized by the dancers. Its bushy brown hair has grown long over its eyes, probably to hide their red color. According to his file, a boy just a few months older than me was bitten last summer during a family vacation, when the parents report he came down with a “severe flu.” He’s blended in this long, but he didn’t hide the bodies well enough.
Pasting a smile on my face, I move along the dance floor, swaying and shifting with the other kids. Once I get close, I stand wondering what to do. Then the boy catches one of my glances and shuffles over.
“Hi,” he mumbles.
“Um, hey.” He’s talking to me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as he comes within touching distance. I look around for Pam-Tori-Sally, trying to not make it obvious. “I, uh…”
“Oh, are you looking for your date?” He frowns in disappointment.
“No, not exactly, just...a friend.”
“So, you don’t have a date?”
I shake my head. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Pam-Tori-Sally over by the punch bowl, leaning in close to one of the other male chaperones. Irritated, I almost miss my target’s question.
“Cool, would you like to dance?”
I analyze the mass of jumping teenagers. One dance before I lure him away wouldn’t hurt...probably. “Sure.”
The vampire takes my hand. His skin is frigid, but it’s almost refreshing in this stuffy room. We avoid the center of the mosh pit. Smart of him—I can tell the mass of sweaty bodies is already pushing him to a frenzy.
“So, I’m Brett. W-w-what’s your name?” His breathing is shallow and the veins in his neck bulge.
The song changes to hip-hop, with a slower but still bouncy beat. We stand close to each other, he puts his hands on my hips, and I can tell by our unsynchronized attempts to mimic the bouncy-sway we see around us that we’re both socially incompetent. He looks anywhere but at me as we dance in silence. Is he even attracted to me? What could I say to get him to follow me somewhere?
His restraint snaps when another boy bumps into me and I fall closer to him. The vampire’s hands grip my shoulders for one painful second, but then he grabs his hair instead and screams. Some students around us pause, but most are lost in the music. The vampire’s hands reach for my throat, hands strong enough to crush my windpipe.
I kick my skirt up, whip out Contrite, and duck beneath its hands to drive Contrite into its belly. I step back, pulling Contrite with me. Several of the students scream as blood drips onto the floor.
The boy’s shocked face crumbles to ash as the spells woven into the metal of Contrite send the demon inside him to the Pit. In seconds, all that’s left of him is an ashy pile of clothes.
The DJ cuts the music and I can hear what everyone is saying.
“That was Brett, Brett Hayes!”
“He was a vampire!”
“She stabbed him!”
A grown man yells in anguish over the voices of the teenagers and pushes his way through. He falls to his knees at the pile. “Brett…” The man looks up at me. “Why did you kill him?”
The boy’s father. My eyes burn, but this is a part of my job as a Hunter. “He was a vampire. He killed two people.”
The grown man hid his red, tear-stained face in his hands. “He was trying, he was trying…”
Everyone in the room stares at me, but none meet my eyes. I grip my bloodied dagger tighter as I sweep the room for the nearest exit. Pam-Tori-Sally is trying to push her way through to me, but I’m not willing to wait for her. I spin on my heels and run. The crowd parts like water before me, no one wanting to get too close.
I won’t be sleeping again tonight.
I slip into my room around five in the morning. The dorm room is a typical mirror image, with twin beds and chests of drawers at the foot, and desks on either side of the door. The doors to the closets are on my roommate Laura’s side, the door to the bathroom on mine. Ashes glint in a crystal flask on my dresser, the traditional memoir from my first hunt. Every night I dream about his final words. The vampire had just stood there, begging me to stab him. I had, and he’d whispered “thank you” as he disintegrated. Perhaps the face of Brett Hayes will join the nightmare now.
Laura snores at her desk, her glasses knocked sideways by the textbook her head rests on. Her laptop’s low battery notification is on. I remove Laura’s glasses so they don’t get bent out of shape and close her laptop.
My bed is tempting, but I slept on the ride back and don’t feel like revisiting my old nightmare. I rescue my school uniform from the floor and go into the bathroom to change out of the glittery dress. My uniform is a gray and black-toned jacket over a white button up with a pleated skirt. On my left shoulder, I affix a silver pin with a rose in the middle. The color marks me as an upperclassman; the rose shows I’ve had my Hunter’s Ceremony. Dressed, I leave my room.
Down the hall, an old statue of some famous Hunter guards a secret staircase to the roof. I remove her stone dagger, put the blade in a hole in the wall, and the stones slide apart.
On the roof, I hug my jacket closer to me against the winter wind. A waxing gibbous moon hangs low on the horizon, illuminating the campus of the Hunter’s academy. The buildings for the school are all clustered together around a pentagonal courtyard, with the Arx, the ten-story headquarters for the New York Division, looming in the east. Even before the sun has risen, cars fill the parking lot and Hunters are bustling.
Are there fewer Hunters this morning than yesterday? Casualty rates have been record breaking this year. Vampires may show some humanity as they die, but when they live, all they do is kill. And sympathy for them borders on treason.
I stew in my memories of bloody vampire hunts until the bell tolls seven, then head back to my dorm. Laura is awake, standing in front of her closet. “Good morning,” I chime.
Laura squeals and whips around. “Oh, Miss Levitia. You scared me. Did you just get back?”
“No, I got back a while ago—can’t you call me Lily?” The remnants of old-fashioned clan hierarchy place my family near the top, and Laura’s family are traditionalist.
She reddens. “Sorry, I keep forgetting. Your phone has been buzzing, by the way.”
“Oh.” I pick up the little flip phone my parents finally got me this year. I have five texts from my best friend Angela.
“Have you seen my pin?” Laura asks.
“On the desk,” I say without looking up from the phone. All the texts are some variation of are you back yet?
“Oh, thanks.” She takes her pin—blue with a rose—and the rest of her uniform into the bathroom.
I sit down on my bed and clear my bag of the trash from the semester, aware of each bang and clack as Laura drops her shampoo, toothbrush, and probably her razor. How that girl ever managed to kill her first vampire is a mystery to me.
“So Lily, when are you planning on getting ready for tonight?” she asks through the door.
“I don’t know. It won’t take me long.”
There’s a beat of silence before she asks, “Will you let me do your hair and make-up?”
Ugh, make-up. It makes me think of last night. “Well…”
“Oh please? It’ll be so much fun. We hardly ever hang out.”
The guilt works in me. I sigh. “I guess.”
Another loud bang sends me running to the door. “Laura, are you all right?”
She opens the door, smiling. “Yeah, that was just the hairdryer. So, you’ll meet me after lunch?”
“Will we need that long?”
Laura shrugs. “Probably—I’ve never done this before. But don’t worry, I’ve watched a ton of videos online.”
I try not to grimace. “Sounds great.”
Laura beams as she skips to the door.
“Um, Laura, your pin? It’s on the counter.”
She turns back. “Oh, oops.” She pins it on. “Now I’m ready.”
We part in the hallway when a group of other blue-pinned students wave her over. The ranks of Hunters—even while in school—determine your social status. I go to meet my best friend, Angela, in the atrium of our dorm building. I’ve known Angela since we were little—her family’s estate borders mine—and even when I wasn’t ranked as high as her she stayed my best friend.
“Hey,” she says, “how was the mission?”
“Um…well, it was a high school dance. I stabbed the vampire and went home.”
She eyes me, sensing my nervousness. “I see. When did you get back?”
“Just after five.”
“Have you slept at all?”
“In the car.”
“Those nightmares are still bothering you, aren’t they?”
“How did you know?”
“Oh, let’s just say I thought I heard someone up on the roof this morning.” Angela throws a comforting arm around me.
“More like you heard me walk down the hall.”
Angela and I head across the courtyard for breakfast as I fill her in on more details. The social hierarchy is plain in the cafeteria, with colors and roses divided among the round tables. Once Angela and I get our trays of bacon, eggs, and toast, we sit at a table in the far back with the other silver-rank students. She sits beside her boyfriend Ayden, who entwines hands with her. I sit on Angela’s other side, right next to a tall, bronze-haired senior named Kain.
“Glad to see you’re back, Lily. Did it go well?” he asks.
“I took out the target, anyway. I’ve decided public high schools are as terrible as this academy.”
Kain laughs. “Didn’t you find any cute boys to dance with?”
I make a face. “Really, Kain?”
He winks at me, but I roll my eyes at him.
Rose, Kain’s girlfriend, eyes me from his other side and says, “You won’t be able to get away with that behavior at the dance tonight. Why did you turn down James?”