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The Warrior Vampire

By:Kate Baxter

ent-up emotion and magical energy that burst from her lips in a scream. She hadn’t even known the woman’s name. But Naya had done what she’d had to do. Magic—malicious magic—corrupted those not born to control it. Magic in the wrong hands created monsters, and Naya’s very existence demanded that she be responsible for damage control.

That woman had come by her power through unnatural means, whereas Naya had come by hers through birthright. Bruja. Shaman. Witch. Sorceress. Whatever her title, it was half a dozen of one or six of the other. The indigenous tribes of South America took their spirituality and magic very seriously, and her ancestors had crawled right out of the goddamned rain forest.

Naya’s tribe, the Bororo, had taken on the responsibility of policing the magic in this world centuries ago. More specifically, they policed those who stole and misused magic in this world. If you didn’t come by your gifts naturally, it was considered a crime against the natural order. A perversion. A break in the sacred circle. And once possessed by magic, those unworthy of wielding it became nothing more than mindless monsters hell-bent on death and destruction. Demons. The vile mapinguari of legend. Naya was an enforcer. Her job was to find the creature and play judge, jury, and executioner. It’s not a job she would’ve wished on her worst enemy. The tribe paid her expenses, but aside from that, she didn’t get many benefits. No insurance, retirement, 401(k). As for unemployment … The only way to get let go from her job was to be paired off in an arranged mating or die in the line of service. Personally, she’d rather die, and a bruja wasn’t exactly easy to kill.

The woman’s death tonight had been an unfortunate necessity. She’d already been too far gone to save and the magic she’d stolen had to be retrieved. She’d been human before she’d come by the magic, but once it had merged with her essence she had become something dangerous. Other. A rabid beast that had to be put down. Naya suppressed a shudder as she recalled the empty expression on the woman’s distorted face, her irises nothing more than solid white orbs in her skull, and the snarl that tore from her lips before Naya drove the dagger into her chest. The woman was no innocent. Only through vile acts of darkness could true magic be stolen. And no matter how many times Naya had done this, she still could not reconcile her soul to the violent lengths people would go to possess true, terrifying power.

With a quick turn of the key the Subie purred into life and she pulled out onto the rain-drenched street. The entire city block was actually a small village and no one was the wiser. Her tribe’s entire culture centered on the village circle. Time flowed in its circumference: the past, present, and future. And right now she wanted the hell out of it.

Panic pounded in her chest as Naya sped through a yellow light. She was always twitchy as shit after a repo, but tonight she felt like crawling out of her skin. A metallic tang burned her mouth, scorched with the evidence of what she’d done to that woman. That creature. Naya had had no choice but to kill the demon, she reminded herself, and what she’d done was no different from any repossession she’d performed in the last eight or so decades. So why did it suddenly feel so shameful?

The familiar tune of “Black Magic Woman” played from the cell phone mounted on her dash. His was one of only a few special ringtones programmed into her contacts. But only because she needed a good thirty seconds warning before she answered any of his calls.

“Where have you been lately, Naya?” Paul’s voice scolded, despite his calm, level tone. He hadn’t gone by “Paulo” for many years. Naya guessed he thought the Americanization of his name helped him blend in. She didn’t have the stones to tell him he wasn’t fooling anyone. “For weeks no one has seen you, and Joaquin says you haven’t been at your apartment. You know you’re supposed to stay close to the circle when you’re not patrolling.”

“I work all night. It stands to reason that I might not open my door during the day because I’m sleeping. Wouldn’t you agree?” She tried to keep her own voice as calm as his. “I haven’t been hiding from anyone. Just busy.” His silence was as good as a string of curses shouted in her ear. “It isn’t necessary for me to check in all the time,” she continued, wondering why she kept the conversation rolling. “Besides, you know I always get the job done. Santi has the box.”

Over the dead air she heard the sound of a low growl, a jaguar, and she suppressed a shudder. Apparently Paul didn’t appreciate her pop and drop system. “It shows lack of faith that you separate yourself from your people,” he said in a strained voice. “Do you forget that you have vowed to serve not only the tribe, but our pod?”

How could she forget? The bastard reminded her daily. “I never forget a vow,” she said as she hung a sharp left. She pulled the phone off the cradle and turned off the speaker function, putting the receiver to her ear. “I do what you ask, damned efficiently I might add. So don’t ever call in to question my loyalty.”

“Others would disagree.” Gods, she hated it when he got all high-and-mighty. “You are bound to serve the elders until the time of your pairing. You should be happy to interact with the members of this pod. Attend tribal functions.”

Fuck you. I’d like to see you try and make me go.

“I’ll make you go if I have to.”

Son of a bitch, she hated when he did that. Just as she opened her mouth to give her thoughts a voice, he ended the call. But not before she heard that warning growl one more time.

Naya drove out of downtown Crescent City ready to put as much distance between her and tribal business as possible. Every member of their pod lived on the same square city block of property, including her. Well, sort of. A few months ago, she’d decided that she’d be damned if she lived every day of her life