Death crawled through the air, circled the trees, disturbed the living creatures that trembled in response. Their instinct for survival drove them to frantically search for a safe haven from the blackness that crept its way freely into areas it didn’t belong. Death’s energy was a cool blanket that comforted her. Nightfall brought the souls of the dead carried on the chilled night air and rising up around her. The mortals had been butchering each other in the forests for twenty-three years. A time of peace had quieted the din of battle, but death remained. Trees were broken and sliced. The air was ripe with the stench of maggots that had come to gorge themselves on the rotting corpses. The once living bodies were now nothing more than a buffet of putrid flesh.
Reynard had never minded the decay, watching it being fed upon, torn from bones with tooth and claw. She fed upon life as well; as did every creature in some form or another. She considered her feast an elevated one. It was not the mortals she craved, but her own. Still, the scent of blood was one she appreciated be it mortal or immortal. She lifted her head to relish in the familiar, metallic scent of blood. It was as sweet on her tongue as it was to the immortal energy that pulsed through her body. The mix of sensations so delicious, so enjoyable, a smile of euphoria spread across her face.
She sunk to her knees beside the headless corpse of her latest kill. She had known at first glance that this immortal was one to be savored. To her delight, his death had been hard won. He’d fought with fluid grace and skill. Knowing she could overpower and defeat him left her salivating for the sight of his blood staining the earth. His power, skills, knowledge, and memories would be prized assets from which her own power would be strengthened.
Her hand still closed possessively around the hilt of her katana, she let her head fall back, her eyes close. Her heart raced in anticipation for the rush of energy that would fill her eagerly awaiting body. In moments, it began to seep through dead flesh, surrounded and clung as though its reluctance to separate from its host was voluntary. However, she was stronger, hungrier, possessing a greed for the powerful immortal life force so deep-seated in her vicious soul, she couldn’t bear to live without the utter rapture she experienced each time her immortality was fed by another.
The energy finally gave up its struggle, separated from the body and pushed into the air with a violent shudder. Her grin spread. Her soul reached out, ensnared the stolen life force with sharpened claws. A pleasured gasp fell loudly from her chest as the energy poured into her.
In a torrent as violent and forceful as a tornado, the energy was forcefully overtaken by her, mixed with her own. Claimed. Hers. Now absorbed into her body, she let out a long sigh of gratification.
She turned a wicked glance towards the familiar voice that had suddenly cut through the air. The Hunters had found her once again. No matter. They would never be able to stop her. She cared nothing for the Doctrine of Immortal Law that forbade the willful killing of their own kind. Her own immortal life depended on staying stronger than those who had and would seek to control her.
She eyed each of the horsemen. Years of conflict burdened the history she shared with them.
Marcus was a mere two inches taller than she. He lacked the height of his ‘brothers’. His quiet nature, dark hair and piercing green eyes made him the favorite of immortal females. Even the deep scar that marred his upper lip could not dissuade female attention. However, it was his abilities Reynard was concerned with. Following in the tradition of his Greek ancestry, he preferred to watch violence rather than involve himself in it directly. In close battle he was aggressive but clumsy. He fought more out of emotion than skill. Having nearly been lost during a time of war before his first death, his left shoulder and arm were his weakness.
Leuric, his vivid blue eyes in contrast to the flame red hair common to his Celtic heritage, was a warrior of precision. The second in command, his talent for quiet observation was nearly flawless. Reynard doubted he had missed even the most miniscule of detail of every battle fought throughout his three hundred years. Many of Reynard’s choices in battle tactics were purposefully chosen to prevent Leuric from anticipating her actions.
It was Jorin, their leader, she was most wary of. Long black hair cascaded over narrow shoulders. His exterior, she knew, was meant to mislead. The thick, but neatly trimmed beard hid a face composed of sharp, angular features. In moonlight, his cobalt eyes were so stunning in color to easily hypnotize anyone who dared look into them directly. Layers of dense clothing gave his form a bulky, relaxed appearance. His overall presence was one of a leader too comfortable in his position to soil his hands with combat unless necessary. An effective ruse to the unsuspecting immortal who lacked awareness. Beneath Jorin’s façade was the chiseled, sinewy muscular form of a warrior who could kill more swiftly than most men could blink an eye.
Christophe, the brute of the group, was both a worry and an amusement for Reynard. Wild blonde hair matched the unruly scruff on his face. His broad and heavily muscled body was a true representation of his Viking ancestors. A skilled and aggressive warrior, he could be brutal…if he were to catch her. His actions were often sudden and unexpected, fueled by emotion and fury, and several steps ahead of rational thought. In pursuit of Reynard, he’d often acted without weighing her next, calculated move and she would again slip from his grasp. Though she had his mistakes to attribute many of her escapes, Reynard held the concern that Christophe would eventually succeed in his furied attempts out of his sheer brute will.
Her freshly empowered energy crackled into the air around her as she slowly stood. Her gaze remained on them. Determined violet eyes peered at them through the long curtain of dark hair that blew around her face.
Watching her hand close tighter around her katana, the Hunters cautioned a step closer. Their weapons raised and intent on capturing the rogue. An end had to come to her rampant killing. Christophe inched further again, his body tense with fury and determination. She had killed often, including one immortal closest and most important to him. Viktor, the mentor he trusted, depended upon for wisdom and guidance, was no longer. All that remained was his immortal energy…which she now possessed. Christophe could sense Viktor’s powerful energy forever trapped behind her eyes. The insult was intolerable.
Jorin did not have to spare a glance in Christophe’s direction to know the Viking was on edge. Rarely could he adhere to the timing Jorin felt important to battle when advancing on an enemy.
Ignoring his leader’s words of caution, Christophe slowly led his war horse down the muddy hill to the gnarled, ancient oak.
Reynard shifted her eye’s to Christophe’s. With every step, the welcoming glint in her eyes challenged him to move closer. He had attempted so often to capture her. Each time a failure and an insufferable assault on his ego.
She was taunting him. Again. His narrowed eyes flared with fury. She had escaped capture. Until now, he thought as a feral growl rose from his chest. His grip tightened around the hilt of his sword. The leather straps bound around it creaked helplessly under his massive hand.
Reynard’s grin spread as she watched Christophe closing in on her. Though her heart raced with the adrenaline and a touch of fear, she held her ground for mere seconds that seemed to last an eternity. She felt the earth beneath her feet shudder violently. Casting a quick glance over Christophe’s shoulder, she saw that the other Hunters had followed in behind the impatient viking.
She waited them out, toying with them, testing herself until the last moment. When it was upon her, her heart pounding as hard as the earth, Reynard clucked her tongue suddenly and turned to run. Out of the dark thicket trees to her left, a large Rottaler stallion charged forth towards her. Reynard caught the reigns and held fast as she mounted. She fired the horse forward then cast a glance over her shoulder for Christophe.
He caught the taunting grin and growled as he drove his horse harder. Though his stallion had grown weary from the days of travel before, Christophe refused to let Reynard escape again.