Chapter Three

The needs of his inhuman body satisfied the Hunter withdrew from his dead prey, closing the telltale wounds on Fisher's throat with no more than a fleeting thought. The judge's visceral dread at being mauled alive should have stilled his craving for human suffering more than adequately, but while feeding on his terror the old hunger had awakened inside him with a vengeance, and for once he'd succumbed to the temptation, drowning in the familiar red mist of naked blood thirst when the racing heartbeart of the dying man pumped the blood into his mouth in exhilarating spurts.

Unfortunately, the lifeblood of the old miser had a bitter aftertaste, not the dizzying, unique sweetness saturated with crushing guilt and deep caring Gerald would associate with the priest for the rest of his existence. Aided by the stringent discipline acquired in more than nine hundred years Tarrant suppressed a sigh and rinsed the taste of Fishers essence off his tongue with another helping of the delicious red wine. Then he left the library and went on his way to the basement. He still had Work to do before the dawn broke.

Silent as a shadow the Hunter opened the door to Janet's bedroom where the elderly housekeeper was sleeping peacefully. Not so long ago Tarrant wouldn't have had any qualms about terminating her life, killing her casually with no more regret than a human being felt when swatting a jarring insect, and for a brief moment he struggled with the temptation. He could do it quickly: a cut through her carotid artery, and she'd glide painlessly from the arms of death's little brother into eternity without so much as a flinch.

Listen to yourself, Gerald thought exasperatedly. What has become of evil incarnate, the Darkest Prince of Hell, worrying about an old hag snoozing the night away in her bed?

Suddenly the housekeeper sighed in her sleep and turned her head, baring her frail, wrinkled throat. Even a mortal would have been able to see the bluish veins shining through the pale, translucent skin, and Tarrant's adept sight went so much deeper, revealing the veritable rivers of life coursing through her body.

His predatory senses suddenly on full alert the Hunter noticed the delicious odour of rich, living blood wafting towards him, and his nostrils flared with an instinctive hunger so overwhelming that he had to fight a sense of vertigo. She was so helpless in her slumber, so pliant, her soul and body laid bare for him, ready for the kill.

Leaning over the woman like a deadly bird of prey Gerald's hand crept towards the slender knife fastened at his belt, but he stopped dead in his tracks when a distant memory arose from the fathomless depths of his mind all at once, a memory that had been buried under the loss of his humanity and the weight of centuries, but still carried a bittersweet note.

It wasn't so much the features but the chapped, worn hands that reminded him of another grey-haired woman, the feisty head cook at his father's fortress. Mes Anna had never feared the despised 'changeling', but had offered him the sanctuary of her bed for many a night, cradling the abused young child protectively in her strong arms while she told him stories about fairies and dragons to distract him from his pain and terror.

Gerald stifled a sigh along with those unnerving recollections and headed for the door, but stopped again to push a small, but fairly heavy purse filled with gold coins under the pillow of the snoring woman. Altering Fisher's will in Janet's favour wouldn't cost him more than a bit of concentration, and imagining the deceased judge's impotent wrath and the warrior knight's delight at this small grain of human compassion the adept allowed himself an amused, self-deprecating smile.

Tarrant might have many faults, and undeniably his nemesis Vryce wouldn't hesitate to enumerate them in the dozen, but the tendency for self-deception wasn't one of them. If he had truly intended to kill the housekeeper he could have spared himself the effort of creating the illusion of her eviscerated corpse for Fisher's benefit. He could only hope that Vryce never found out about this sentimental moment of weakness

That damned priest with his stubbornness, his infinite kindness and his idiotic notions of grace and redemption had spread the taint of his infuriating humanity like a lethal virus, corrupting what had been the ultimate, pure evil, had shaken his perfect existence to the core until he'd broken his pact with the Unnamed, setting his immortality at stake. Now his time was running out at lightning speed, but in one regard Vryce was doubtlessly correct.

For the first time in almost a thousand years Gerald was a free agent again, undead, yes, but master of his own fate, not longer cut off from any possibility to show at least a small amount of mercy. A few weeks ago he wouldn't have thought that he still possessed a shred of it, but the slackening of the Nameless One's hold over his thought processes might very well have triggered an unexpected development. At the very least he faintly remembered that he'd never been a friend of pointless killing in his mortal life, and that there'd been a time he hadn't rejoiced in the suffering of helpless humans.

The Hunter was still smiling when he opened the backdoor and let himself out into the waning night, carrying two bundles of Fisher's most precious, rare volumes. In those darkest hours before dawn the temperature had fallen considerably, but the Neocount of Merentha felt neither the cold nor the biting wind when tendrils of dark fae gathered at his feet, caressing his undead flesh and whispering their sweet, seductive promises. The night in all her beauty and magic wrapped around himself like a warm cloak as the Hunter Worked an Obscuring and merged with the darkness.