Prologue to Daughters of Darkness

Prologue

Artemis spat out the mouthful of dirt and rolled, clawing after the knife in her boot. Her assailant, still laughing, reached down and grabbed her by the hair. He lifted her to her knees, lifting a gnarled fist and raising it slam back down into her face.

And abruptly froze as thirty centimeters of gleaming steel slid silently across his inner thigh. Artemis drew it slowly up, resting the knifepoint on the man’s crotch. “You migh’ want to think twice, mister. ‘Less you wanna be a missus.” The words slipped out in street cant, the language of her childhood. It had a certain malevolent quality of its own, especially to anyone who’d had a gang of street kids corner them in an alley some dark night.

His tongue flicked out, tracing suddenly parched lips. His fingers loosed her hair and he lifted his arms away. “I’m done.”

“Yeah you are,” she said, the blade flipping around in a single practiced motion as she drove it up under his sternum and into his heart. Blood gushed down around her hand and arm as she twisted the blade deeper. Even as the spark fled from his eyes, she leaned forward and whispered in his ear. “Fuck you to death.”

The blade came free in her hand as she shoved the corpse away. Her gaze swept the battlefield, noting one blazing truck and a heavy pall of acrid smoke staining the air. An angry roar rose from the other side of the vehicles, signaled the were’s position. Not that Artemis was worried about Dru. The cougar could take care of herself. A man’s scream from somewhere around the same area justified her faith. As if there could be any doubt.

A woman’s shout, full of desperate panic, snapped her head around. Lydia? A gout of flame enveloping the other truck, the one that hadn’t been burning, felt like a kick in the gut. Artemis broke into a run, summoning her bow and quiver.

She dodged a blow from a defender she hadn’t seen, close enough that the baton snatched a lock of hair from her skull as it passed. She dove forward, rolling up in a twist and sending an arrow back at him. He went down choking, swallowed by the shadows from which he’d appeared.

A sudden squall rushed down on them, blasting her with wind and rain as she resumed her run.
It had been a trap. Inevitable, but that didn’t make it sting any less. If any of the girls died, she’d loathe herself.

She sprinted around the cab of the mostly intact vehicle, glad that the sudden storm had staunched the fire, though it filled the air with a mix of oily smoke and searing steam, obscuring her sight. Lydia was there, still on her feet, dodging and weaving her way around three attackers. At first Artemis couldn’t figure it out. She should’ve been able to handle three guys with no problem.

These weren’t ordinary guys. Enhanced somehow. Faster, stronger. Meaner. One on one they’d pose little threat, but together they’d managed to hold the vampire off. Time to even the odds. The first one didn’t have a chance, dropping with an arrow in his neck before they’d even noticed her. The second guy was turning, lifting a hand to defend. Too slow. Her arrow took him in the center of the chest, punching him backward into and over the guardrail. Hasta, buddy, she thought.

The third guy didn’t wait for the shot. He turned and sprinted into the smoke, neatly sidestepping the arrow winging after him. “Shit.”

“I’ve got him,” Lydia spat, wiping a bloody mouth on a torn sleeve. Her blood, Artemis assumed. She didn’t look as though she’d had time to stop for a snack. The wound would heal quickly enough. That’s what vampires did.

She’d expected Lydia to give predatory chase, drawn by the ultimate hunter’s instinct. Apparently her human side won out. In a way. She snatched up one of the discarded rifles and, rather than shooting it, she simply hurled it after him. It made a whooshing sound as it hurtled through the air, vanishing into the black fog after the fleeing soldier.

The sound that followed made Artemis think of a bat hitting a watermelon. Then a body hit the ground.
That had been the last of them. “Sound off!” she screamed, waiting to hear the shortened version of their battle cry. The quick version of the title of the first song on the playlist of the car they’d stolen to flee Cali. Daughters of Darkness by Halestorm. The song had resonated. It claimed their independence, their freedom, and their intention to fuck things up if they had to. The icy bastards had fucked up by not following their own rules, and she was going to make them pay for it in every way she could.

“DOD!” Lydia screamed by her side. Artemis stuck a finger in her suddenly buzzing ear. “Inside voice,” she told the vampire, who chuckled warmly.

The same call echoed back three more times and the knot between her shoulder blades suddenly eased. They’d all made it. Again.

“At least I managed to disarm them,” Lydia observed, at the same moment Artemis asked “Got the jump on you, didn’t they?”

The vampire shrugged. “One of them did,” she admitted, voice suddenly little more than a growl. “Fucker was fast.”

“Freakishly fast,” said Dru, coming around the blazing truck and shedding mass as she did so. By the time she reached them she was human again, and naked. No one would consider the woman beautiful, but her lithe, powerful figure seemed built to impress.

Lydia tossed her a poncho they kept on hand. “Smelled human enough, though.”

Lydia nodded. “Yup. Smelled human. Which means it’s probably in your territory,” she said, with a pointed look at Artemis. “Might be handy if we could, say, steal whatever it is to give us a few more team members. Now that they’re onto us, we’re going to be facing tougher fights.”

“Now’s not the time to be chatting about it, girls,” Artemis said, having grown accustomed to and utterly tired of the refrain. “We need to clean out that truck before someone else comes along. Do us no good if we can’t actually get away with the booty.”

“Of course,” said Jessie, leaping down from the bed of the burning truck. She shed flames as she went, reduced finally to a fire aura that flickered around her naked form. The hazards, as she put it, of being a ‘fire-bitch’ was that clothing wasn’t always an option. Even if she wore clothing, the minute she went inferno she’d char them to ash.

Jessie was the youngest of them, at 16. But some might say she was the most powerful. Certainly the most volatile. In more ways than one.

These four women. These self-described ‘Daughters of Darkness,’ had made their home in the hills of Oregon, descending only to strike at the occasional convoy. They were bandits. They didn’t lie to themselves about it. They knew what they were. And the fact that they shared what they stole with the locals didn’t make them Robin Hood. It did, however, make them all but impossible to find.

This time, she was pretty certain, they’d send someone after them. Someone with the power to pull it off, to finally end them. Or at least give it their best shot. Let them, she thought to herself. Let them try.

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