Check out Chapter 1 of the first book in The Vampires of Velum Mortis series, Beyond the Veil!
“You’re going down,” I exclaimed as I stood poised and ready to strike.
I was so going to kick Harmon’s ass. A smirk graced my lips, as did his, but I knew I was about to wipe the smugness right off his face with quick-as-a-cat reflexes and stunning agility. At least, that’s how it had played out in my mind. Reality, though? That was a whole other story.
With a quick thwack of his boot to my ankle, I landed with a thud right on my backside. The pain tore through me, coaxing out an embarrassing groan. Needless to say, the plan to wipe the smirk off his face had gone awry and it was mine that had been wiped instead. Why had I thought today would be any different than any other day?
I’d gotten the best of him here and there when we sparred, but this time was different. Every other slayer who’d come up with me in training had gone out on their own, ridding the world of all the things that go bump in the night, but not me. Not Delia Adams, daughter of Drew Adams, slayer-extraordinaire. I wondered sometimes if I’d ever live up to the reputation of my father. Would I ever prove I was worthy of being a slayer?
“Eye on the prize, Cordelia,” Mitch Harmon, head trainer for the Mallory Falls Slayers’ Council and my fiancé, said as he snapped his fingers, jolting me out of the depressing headspace I’d found myself wandering down.
I hated when he refused to use my nickname during training. Cordelia was too formal and sounded almost jarring to my ear. Delia was the name I’d chosen to go by, but when we trained, he insisted on using Cordelia. Probably because he knew I hated it.
“If we were in the field, you’d be dead. You want to go out there and kill the son of a bitchin’ bloodsuckers? Get it together.”
“Sorry,” I said, nearly under my breath as I sat up and shook my arm. Hours of training had pain and stiffness setting in. If I had my real sword instead of the training sword, I might not have been so sore. The training sword was cumbersome, heavy, and clunky. It was nothing like the silver-tipped weapon that felt so natural in my hand, almost like it was an extension of my arm. I’d grown accustomed to handling it during solo training and when I practiced at home by myself, but if I used it against Harmon, I might actually hurt him. That was the last thing I wanted. Sure, knocking him on his ass would be wonderful, but really hurting him? Nope. I’d feel terrible.
“You should never have to say you’re sorry when it comes to slaying. Mistakes don’t happen out there because if they do, you’re dead. Turn off your emotions and be your instincts. Become one with your surroundings. Focus on every sound, every movement, and use it to your advantage. Go where your gut takes you. Don’t hesitate. Learn to do that every time, and you’ll be out there slaughtering the fucking beasts before you know it.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, pushing myself to my feet, ignoring that he was my fiancé and how weird it felt to refer to him as sir. But when we trained, we weren’t a couple. Not really. He was my superior and I was a trainee. His job was to teach me the skills I needed to make sure I didn’t get dead the first time I went out on my own.
Some days I felt like giving up, especially when the others I’d started with had passed me by weeks ago. They’d all been given their first missions, many of them moving on to the next in no time flat. And there I was, still training in the courtyard for the whole town to see, like a big old loser.
And their whispers didn’t help any. Yeah, I’d heard it from the others more times than I could count. If Harmon didn’t have such a hard-on for her because of who her dad was, she’d have been out on her ass ages ago…. She’ll never amount to anything… She’ll be sucked dry the first time she has to fight one… Why did he ever want to marry her in the first place?
That last one stung the most, as if I weren’t worthy of such a man as Harmon. As if there was something wrong with me as a woman and nothing wrong with him as a man. Like the very essence of perfection ran through his body and I wasn’t worthy enough to partake… And the part that bothered me the most was that the same sentiment had poisoned my own thoughts more than a time or two. Why had he agreed to marry me? And why had I agreed to marry him? I loved him, that was true, but it wasn’t the kind of love I expected to feel for the man I’d be spending the rest of my life with. There had to be something more out there for me, something breath-takingly epic, like the type of love story I’d read about time and time again in my favorite romance novels, but this was my life. My path had been set out for me years ago, and I was determined to make it work.
No use in chasing fairy tales.
Rolling my neck and shoulders, I took my place in front of Harmon and stared him down, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. He was attractive, easily one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen. Tall with lean muscles building his frame. His blond hair shimmered in the sun, hovering just over the horizon. His hazel eyes could be soft and sweet and deep enough to get lost in, but right now, he was all business. There was nothing personal between us.
“Come at me,” he commanded.
And I obliged. Launching myself forward, I jabbed the training sword out in front of me, aiming for his shoulder, but he blocked it before I could land the blow. Pushing me back with the force of his body, I managed to regain my footing before I could fall. Balling my hand into a fist, I struck, hitting his side and buckling him to his knee.
Capitalizing on the moment, I landed a blow with my foot to his abdomen, knocking him the rest of the way to the ground as I tightened my grip on the wooden sword. In one swift movement, the blunted tip of the weapon rested just above his heart. If he had been a vampire, it would’ve been over for him an instant later.
Looking up at me with a grin plastered on his face, Harmon slapped the ground, signaling that he had conceded. I moved the sword away, pride coursing through my veins as I stood. If my father could see me now, he’d be so proud.
“That’s what I want to see, babe,” he exclaimed.
Babe. It was a nice enough term of endearment, but I longed to be called something unique, something meant only for me. Not just babe.
Picking himself off the ground, he said, “I’ve never been so happy to have my ass handed to me as I am right now. Who’d have thought you could actually do it, Cordelia? There just might be hope for you yet.”
The smile on my face faded along with my pride. Way to believe in me, I thought to myself.
“You act like it’s the first time I’ve knocked you on your ass,” I said, wiping a thin line of sweat from my hairline. “Maybe it’s been a minute, but it has happened before.”
“Yeah… I’m sorry I put it that way,” he said and planted a kiss on the top of my head. I wanted to swat him away, but he’d left my personal space the moment his lips had disengaged. Every time he said something insensitive to me during training, his go-to move was to kiss my head to try and smooth things over, and then he was gone again. “I know you’re trying your best. I just worry about your first mission and what it’ll be like for you out there alone without me to guide you. I just hope you’re ready to do the right thing.”
Somehow, that didn’t sound much better. Harmon was sweet… most of the time, but during training, he was a whole different beast than the one I’d grown accustomed to during downtime. When we trained, he had a way of making me feel insignificant whether I made a mistake or performed spectacularly well. And every time he did it, it was like maybe all those whispers taunting me about how he was out of my league were right. Like he was a fierce warrior king, and I was nothing more than a peasant with no hope of ever becoming his queen.
“You ready to go again?” he asked.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, I replied, “Yeah. Starting to get a little hungry though.” That was an understatement. I was almost ravenous. Eating before a training session was a tricky thing. Too much, and I’d be doubled over in pain in no time. Too little, and I’d start to get shaky. Neither were conducive to a lengthy session, and I had training quotas to meet every week.
“We’ll go one more round, and if you can take me down again, I’ll come to your place and grill you a steak for dinner. What do you say?”
I could almost smell the meat, tender and juicy, cooking over an open-flame, complemented by a buttery baked potato and a nice salad with lots of fresh veggies from the community garden, maybe even a glass of wine. “I say let’s do this, so we can eat,” I said and lunged at him, catching him off guard.
Crashing into him, the two of us fell to the ground in a fit of laughter. Onlookers eager to see me fail glanced in our direction and looked away once they were satisfied that I was still a loser and that Harmon had no business going so easy on me.
I buried my face into the arm he wrapped around me and gave him a playful nibble to the bicep.
“Ow,” he shouted through laughter. “We’ve got a biter.” Flipping me over onto my back, his finger grazed my top lip, pushing it back to expose my teeth. “Is there something you’re not telling me, Delia? Are you a vampire? Do I need to slay you right here right now for the whole town to see?”
Wiggling my way out from underneath him, he managed to keep ahold of me. I pushed at his shoulders, and said through laughter, “Let me go, you fucker.”
Someone behind us cleared their throat in an obnoxious manner, halting our laughter.
Harmon jumped to his feet and held out a hand to help me up. Malachi, one of the junior members of the slayers’ council, stood before us. He may have been little more than a messenger boy for the other councilmen, but he still outranked the two of us, and he wouldn’t tolerate us forgetting it.
“Your presence is requested in the council chambers.”
“Yes, master. I’ll head there now,” Harmon said.
“Not you. Her,” he said, pointing his finger straight at me, though his eyes never left Harmon’s.
“Me?” I asked and glanced at Harmon who stared at the ground, avoiding eye contact with either of us.
“Yes. We have something to discuss with you. It’s imperative that you make your way to the council right away.”
“Of course,” I said.
Malachi’s face contorted as if he’d gotten a snout full of shit.
“I mean, of course, master.” I’d nearly forgotten to address him properly while I’d been wondering what this something important could be.
“Follow me,” he said, turning his back to us and headed up the hill toward the council chambers where they gathered daily.
“What do you think it’s about?” I whispered to Harmon, hoping Malachi wouldn’t overhear me. I was about to burst at the seams in anticipation.
He shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t know, but the way his mouth had straightened into a hard line and the color had seemingly drained from his face, I suspected he knew more than he let on.
“Do you think it has to do with my first mission?” I asked eagerly. That would be so awesome if it was, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned that it maybe had to do with my lack of progression in comparison to my peers. Maybe the council was done with me and it was time to let me go. I’d wanted to be a slayer for as long as I could remember. Hadn’t even thought what else I would do with my life if I wasn’t. Were there any other jobs out there where you could basically read books, listen to music, kick ass all day, and get paid for it?
“Doubtful,” he whispered back. “I haven’t cleared you for that yet. I don’t think they would send you out without my recommendation, no matter the reason.”
My stomach nearly hit the ground. Not only had I not gotten the chance to really prove myself in the field, but it was Harmon who had stood in my way. The fact that he didn’t believe in me cut deep.
Harmon’s loyalty to my father persisted even now, nearly five years after he’d died. I’d always suspected my father had pushed us together because he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving me alone in the world. It had even been his dying wish that we get married, and I’d agreed, but now, that feeling that I was missing out on something epic reared its head again. I didn’t require much from a partner. I just wanted someone who believed in me.
I was silent the rest of the short journey to the council chambers.
We entered through a heavy mahogany double-door that took nearly all of Malachi’s strength to open it. Each member of the council sat at a stone semi-circle table situated in the center of the room, their eyes locked on me as I made my way toward them.
Malachi took his seat on the far right and announced my presence, as if they hadn’t seen for themselves that I was there.
“Miss Adams is here at your request.”
There were no women on the council, and I pictured myself sitting up there someday after a long and storied career, guiding the town of Mallory Falls and its slayers into the future. Nothing wrong with dreaming big. Dad had once been on the council after all, so why not me?
Master Lewis, sitting smack-dab in the middle, addressed me as the others sat back in silence. “Come forward.”
I did as I was told, leaving Harmon behind, thankful for the distance.
“As you well know your peers have all progressed to the junior slayer rank. Unfortunately, you have not been cleared yet and remain a trainee.”
“I can explain…” I said, trying my best to defend myself, though I was at a loss for what exactly I should say. Maybe that I was trying as hard as I fucking could… Or maybe, just maybe, I would rock their fucking socks off if they gave me the chance to prove myself.
“No need, my dear,” he said, his smile reassuring. His face softened before continuing. “I’ve been watching you nearly every day, and you have something special. Something that makes you stand out from the others, despite the fact that you haven’t been promoted yet,” he said, shooting an irritated glance toward Harmon.
“What’s that, if you don’t mind me asking?” Eager to hear his response, I straightened my back, pulling my shoulders back as I held my chin high.
“Heart,” he said and stood. Making his way around the table, he came to me and rested his hand on my shoulder. “You have heart, my dear. The same heart your father had. I see the way you give it your best and how you improve every day. As far as I’m concerned, you should have been promoted with your peers weeks ago. You have far surpassed the requirements as far as I can tell, though I would suspect Harmon’s reluctance to clear you is because of the way he feels for you. In any event, I’m relieving him of that duty and clearing you myself. Your twenty-first birthday is tomorrow,” he said and removed his hand from my shoulder. Why my birthday was important enough to mention, I didn’t know. Didn’t really care either. I was too elated at the news I was probably going to get my first mission to think twice about it.
I took a moment to catch my breath after his words had knocked it from my lungs. Someone had been watching. Someone had believed in me. Someone wanted to vouch for me. And it felt fan-fucking-tastic.
“Thank you,” I said, regaining my composure before it spilled out for everyone to see. “Does this mean I have an assignment?”
“Yes, and this assignment will make it or break it for you, though I have faith you will follow your training and prevail. It is of the utmost importance that you focus and make the right decisions on your way. You will travel into the forest to the west. An old cemetery lies there deep within the woods. Near its center, stands a mausoleum,” he said. “Much larger than any of the others. Two dragon statues sit on either side of its entrance. You can’t miss it.”
I was all too familiar with the graveyard and the structure Master Lewis described. A force so strong I couldn’t ignore it, like a terrible heaviness in my heart, had pulled me to that place so many times over the years that I’d lost count.
I was eleven the first time I’d seen it. Cleaning my room while Dad was out on a mission was what I was supposed to be doing that summer afternoon, but I’d found myself wandering in the woods instead, meandering along a faint path and picking flowers until I’d stumbled upon a graveyard. The structure almost at its center had been large and foreboding and called to me in a way I never quite understood. My hands trembled when I looked at it during my youth, but I found it beautifully macabre. Visits back then were few and far between, but it wasn’t long before I wondered about the person or people resting in eternal peace on the other side of the mausoleum’s walls.
Though I’d continued to go there sporadically over the years, something changed just after my eighteenth birthday, like I couldn’t fully catch my breath until I visited the place that haunted my dreams. An ache formed deep within my chest—dull at first, but quickly intensifying to the point where I could hardly stand to exist—and it only seemed to be relieved upon visiting the monument. The feeling had only happened a couple of times at first, but over the last year it had become so strong that I went there nearly every chance I could get. Weekly, for sure, but sometimes daily when I could spare the time.
Each time I visited the place, I felt like I was getting closer to discovering something big about myself, like the secrets of my destiny were buried there, but there was nothing more than crumbling monuments and death greeting me. Forcing myself to enter the place wasn’t something I’d mustered up the courage to do just yet, but it looked like that’s right where I was headed. Ready or not.
“There is a passageway just inside that’ll lead you underground to a tomb where your target lay.”
“I’m ready, Master Lewis. No vampire stands a chance against me,” I said confidently. Thankfully, they couldn’t hear my heart racing at the thought that the vampire resting there had been calling to me all along.
“Make no mistake. This is no ordinary vampire you seek to destroy, and you’ll have to use every bit of strength and training to guide you in your quest to slay him.”
“Who is this vampire?” I asked, getting the sense that this mission was much more dangerous than I’d expected my first to be.
“The vampire king of Velum Mortis.”