Home > Shadow Hunter (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #1)

Shadow Hunter (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #1)
Author: B.R. Kingsolver

Chapter 1

I was almost fourteen and had just started my menses when my parents sold me to the Illuminati.

My parents didn’t look at it that way, of course. What they saw was an adolescent girl bursting with power she couldn’t control and they couldn’t understand. The Masters promised they would train me, educate me, and raise me up through their hierarchy. Someday, they said, I might even reach the Council. Wealthy, revered, powerful.

As for me, I was buffeted by magic and emotions and feelings that I didn’t understand. Alternately exultant and terrified, I had no idea from one moment to the next whether I might be wracked with pain as I tried to contain more magic than I could hold, or suddenly find myself able to walk through walls and stop time, or lie helpless and weak in the aftermath of a magic attack that wracked my body and mind.

And so, for the next five years, I studied and trained—twenty hours a day—until my Masters judged me fit and safe to turn loose in the world. I trained in weapons, martial arts and magical arts, and built my body and stamina with athletic training. I also studied the theory of magic, history, art, philosophy, political science, and practical chemistry and physics. As a woman, I also studied the arts of flirting and seduction, for the Illuminati believed that all weapons should be mastered.

I joined the Hunters’ Guild, the organization within the Illuminati that protected us and fought against the evil in the world.

For that is what the Illuminati stood for. The shining Light that stood against encroaching Darkness. We held back the demons and Dark sorcerers. We hunted down the rogue vampires and werewolves and other creatures of the Dark. We sought out the sorcerers in their shadow worlds and purged them from our reality. We protected humankind from the nightmares that without us would crush all that was goodness and Light from the world.

Master Robyn and Mistress Chantelle honed me into a weapon that even the Illuminati had never seen before. They called me Scorpion because of my fast reflexes and deadly strikes. In the dance of death, I tested at the top of all my talents—first among all the Hunters who had ever come before me. And on my nineteenth birthday, they gave me my first assignment.

Two weeks later, five evil men who controlled immense power within the United States government were dead. The catastrophe they steered toward was averted. Humanity survived, never knowing how much of their freedom and happiness was due to the Illuminati watching over them.

I continued to train and hone my skills. I gained in power. The Guild sent me on missions alone that would normally be assigned to teams of five or more. I triumphed over the oldest and most powerful vampire in Austria, destroying his nest and scattering his children who survived. I fought a snow dragon to a standstill and sent it back to its cold northern lair to lick its wounds for another Age. I hunted down sorcerers and evil acolytes of the Dark forces and dispatched them.

Master Benedict, The Illuminator and head of the Council, called me to his office. I had been his apprentice since graduating from my training, and it was he who had raised my awareness and skill with my magic to new heights. He had also seen to my advanced training in the carnal arts, teaching me techniques that could be used for bewitchment, infiltration, and assassination beyond anything I could have imagined. I had no idea why such an exalted leader would reach out to a young, untried woman such as myself, but every day I counted myself fortunate.

“I have a special assignment for you,” Master Benedict said. “A man named William Strickland, an industrialist and a sorcerer deeply immersed in the Dark Arts, has created a powerful weapon. The only purpose for this weapon is to strike against us, for only we stand against him and his goal of world domination.”

My Master provided me with the information I would need to find Strickland and presented me with a plan for gaining access to him.

“Be extremely careful,” he said. “Strickland is powerful and canny. This dance will end with one of your deaths, and you must ensure that death is his. Once you have accomplished that, you must take possession of the weapon he has created and bring it back to me.”

He took a drink from the jeweled cup on his desk and seemed to study me over its rim. “Strickland also has a daughter who is just coming into her power. Bring her to me, also, if you can. But if you can’t, then you must kill her. He has already begun to train her in his Dark craft, and we cannot afford to let her grow to adulthood under any tutelage other than our own.”

Strickland’s financial empire had its headquarters in New York City, his chemical plants operated in Pennsylvania, and the man lived with his daughter in a mansion outside of Washington. I tracked him down and stalked him for weeks, learning his patterns, watching his movements, and searching for weaknesses.

His wife was dead, and other than servants, only his daughter and her nanny lived with him. Outside of his business, his only social contacts seemed to be a private gentlemen’s club, which I quickly discovered was a cabal of like-minded mages. But Strickland was the leader, the strongest sorcerer of them all.

I first attacked that cabal, eliminating them one by one. My sword took the head of one, and poison in a favorite drink silenced another. A third had a weakness for young women, and in bed one night, I stopped his heart. The last two were riding together the night their car suffered an unfortunate accident.

By the time Strickland turned on the light in his study one night and found me waiting for him, he was alone and isolated.

“Who the devil are you?” he asked, throwing a spell at me that my ward easily deflected.

“Your time is done,” I said. “The Illuminati have decreed an end to your Dark plans.”

He blinked at me, then threw back his head and laughed. “My Dark plans? Oh, that is rich. The foremost arcane organization plotting world domination is going to stop me?” He sneered at me. “You Hunters have assassinated thousands of legitimate world leaders in government, the churches, and industry. You target any mage or witch working with the Light. The Illuminati have amassed incredible wealth that serves no purpose but to increase the power of its leaders.”

Without warning, he hurled a bolt of energy at me. My ward absorbed it but was weakened. I leaped over the desk and swung my spelled sword. My adversary was much older than I was, and slower. He partially blocked the blow, but my backswing disemboweled him. He grimaced and clutched at his abdomen.

“The weapon,” I said. “You built a weapon to attack us. Tell me where it is, and I will spare your daughter.”

His eyes grew round, and he staggered back against the wall. “Leave her alone,” he said between clinched teeth.

“The weapon.”

He gave me a pained smile and shook his head. “Only the Illuminati would consider it a weapon.” He motioned with his chin toward a ball of crystal the size of my fist sitting on a small pillow on a shelf. “It shows truth. Look through it when a man speaks, and it shows his lies. Look at a spell or a book or a work of art to see how true it is. Watch an Illuminati ritual and see the blood and the Darkness hidden beneath the surface. Yes, take that to your masters, and they will destroy it. But in the process, it will destroy them.”

Strickland laughed then and slid down the wall to sit on the floor. I walked over to the shelf and picked up the crystal, then turned back toward him. When I held the ball up in front of me and looked through it at him, I saw that he was dying. I also saw that he was a wizard of the Light, and felt, though I couldn’t tell how, that everything he had told me was truth. Shaken, I tucked the ball in my pocket and turned to leave.

As I walked down the hallway, a young girl stepped out in front of me. Her long red hair looked as though it was blowing in a breeze, but I felt no wind. Her green eyes seemed to blaze.

“Are you the Scorpion?” she challenged me.

“Yes.”

She bit her lip, and when she spoke again, her voice trembled. “Have you already killed him? He said you would come, and you would kill him.”

“He may yet still live,” I said, “but he is dying.”

“And you have the crystal?”

“Yes.”

“Then you need this as well,” she said, holding out a book. Old and leather-bound, at least three or four inches thick, it must have been heavy from the way she struggled to hold it.

“What is it?”

“A book,” she said, with a brave grin. “You do know how to read, don’t you?”

I closed the distance between us. She faced me bravely, her eyes darting only once to my blade dripping her father’s life blood. I took the book in my other hand and discovered it was even heavier than it looked. I glanced down at it and almost dropped it.

The book was black leather trimmed in gold. The title, in the secret language of the Illuminati, said, “The History of the Illuminati.”

“Read it,” she said. “He said—my father said—that you must read it.” She gave me a grin that was so malevolent I took a step back. “They will kill you when you take it to them, whether you read it or not. I hope you’re stupid enough to believe their lies.”

She whirled and walked through the wall. I leaped after her, but the wall was solid, and I could find no hidden latch or door, and following blindly would be folly.

Completely unsettled, I took the book and the crystal to my hotel. I opened the book to find it was written by hand in the language of the Illuminati. The first entry was dated in 1308 AD. It told of the formation of a secret Order, attracting many mages in various countries. They used the Order to connect and communicate with each other, to share knowledge and to provide strength for mutual protection.

Above all, the Order was formed to protect its members against the Church and European royalty. Phillip the Fair of France had recently destroyed the Knights Templar, arresting its members and seizing its treasure. In particular, the Order’s members were concerned about the Inquisition, which had executed many witches and mages.

Turning to the back of the book, to the last entry, I recognized the familiar neat handwriting of Master Benedict, the Illuminator. The date was three years before I acquired the book. Satisfied as to its authenticity, I sat back and began to read it from the beginning. Within the first twenty-five pages, a sense of dread began to form in my mind.

   
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