Black Sunshine by Karina Halle




Prologue





Orcas Island, Washington State

Nineteen Years Ago





It’s the snapping of a branch that gives them away.

Elaine Warwick immediately winces as the sound ricochets through the forest—a mix of cedar, Douglas fir, and alders that should have muffled the noise, in theory. But Elaine knows better.

Up ahead, Jim stops running, shooting his wife a harried look over his shoulder. He knows better too. The expression of pure disappointment mixed with fear threads through his eyes, but Elaine can only nod at him to keep going.

They’re so close.

And now they’ve lost their advantage.

The Virtanens will hear them coming.

Even isolating yourself on an island in the Pacific Northwest, withdrawing from society in some sort of penance for your many sins, doesn’t take the amplified senses out of the vampire. Once a vampire, always a vampire, until you die.

Which is why Jim and Elaine are here tonight.

To find Alice and Hakan, the famed Virtanen vampires, who inflicted centuries of pain upon people before they decided to have a change of heart — “retirement” as some in the guild called it — and put them to death.

It’s going to be nasty work, and there’s a chance that neither Jim nor Elaine will survive this, but it’s personal. It’s been personal for years, since Alice killed Elaine’s sister. The guild doesn’t even know that the Warwicks are here on a vengeance trip. They long ago said it was best to concentrate on vampires that were still doing damage, but Elaine hasn’t forgotten, and the damage is never going away. She knows that since the guild didn’t sanction this kill, there’s a chance they could get in trouble for it.

Executed, even.

Then again, what the guild doesn’t know, can’t hurt them.

Besides, they might die here anyway.

That snapping branch didn’t help.

They continue running, as soundless as possible. They’ve trained most of their lives for moments like this. How to be quiet and quick, especially against predators who are faster than they are. Predators who must know they are quickly approaching the property.

Elaine feels her knife burning at her calf, the energy coming off it seeping into her own skin, her own skin feeding back into the knife. The vampires won’t know that knife is there, protected under a cloak of spells, buried by the sigils and fire agate threaded into her black pants. Slayers have evolved to try and trick their prey, just as their prey have evolved to try and trick them.

Jim’s silhouette in front of her gets clearer, the trees tapering off, night sky peeking through. There are so many stars that it steals Elaine’s breath for a moment. The moon is full, shining so brightly that her eyes burn, but even though she worships the moon, lets it influence everything she does, tonight she has the sinking, damning feeling that the glowing orb isn’t on her side.

Focus, Jim’s words come into her head. We need to pull this off.

Elaine swallows hard and nods, coming to a stop beside him, the two of them crouching down as they survey the scene.

There’s a field of high grass between them and the house, the ocean behind it, the moon gleaming on it like light on a steel blade. The house is small, modest, looking like it would belong in Scandinavia rather than here in the Pacific Northwest. Moss completely covers the roof, the paint red and peeling. Elaine was never an empath like her husband, but even she can feel that there’s no malice in this house, only warmth and love.

It makes her hesitate, enough that her husband puts his hand on her shoulder and gives it a squeeze. We don’t have to do this, he says in her head.

She knows this. But she also knows it has to be done. She will find no peace until Alice pays for what she did. They say revenge is poison, but she’ll gladly take it if it helps her sleep easier at night.

They must move fast. Though the house seems silent and the lights give off a warm glow, the smoke from the chimney puffing, she knows they are waiting for them. Although, something about the scene does seem odd.

It’s the fire, Jim says soundlessly. Why have a fire if they never get cold?

Elaine nods. That’s what it is. But vampires can be strangely sentimental about old ways, hanging on to their past. It’s possible that either Alice or Hakan was raised around a hearth, back in the days when a fire was a house’s only source of heat. While their parents wouldn’t have a need for it, a child won’t turn until they’re older. Perhaps they keep the fire out of habit, remembering the good old days.