Blood Red

Hardcover | June 3, 2014

byMercedes Lackey

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Rosamund is an Earth Master in the Schwarzwald, the ancient Black Forest of Germany. Since the age of ten, she has lived with her teacher, the Hunt Master and Earth Magician of the Schwarzwald Foresters, a man she calls “Papa.” Her adoptive Papa rescued her after her original Earth Master teacher, an old woman who lived alone in a small cottage in the forest, was brutally murdered by werewolves. Rosa herself barely escaped, and this terrifying incident molded the course of her future.
 
For like her fellow Earth Masters of the Schwarzwald Lodge, Rosa is not a healer. Instead, her talents lead her on the more violent path of protection and defense— “cleansing” the Earth and protecting its gentle fae creatures from those evil beings who seek to do them harm.
 
And so Rosa becomes the first woman Hunt Master and the scourge of evil creatures, with a deadly specialty in werewolves and all shape­shifters.
 
While visiting with a Fire Master—a friend of her mentor from the Schwarzwald Lodge— Rosa meets a pair of Elemental Magicians from Hungary who have come looking for help. They suspect that there is a dark power responsible for a string of murders happening in the remote countryside of Transylvania, but they have no proof. Rosa agrees to help them, but there is a catch: one of the two men asking for aid is a hereditary werewolf.
 
Rosa has been taught that there are three kinds of werewolves. There are those, like the one that had murdered her teacher, who transform themselves by use of dark magic, and also those who have been infected by the bite of these magical werewolves—these poor victims have no control over their transforma­tive powers. Yet, there is a third kind: those who have been born with the ability to trans­form at will. Some insist that certain of these hereditary werewolves are benign. But Rosa has never encountered a benign werewolf!
 
Can she trust this Hungarian werewolf? Or is the Hunter destined to become the Hunted?

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From the Publisher

Rosamund is an Earth Master in the Schwarzwald, the ancient Black Forest of Germany. Since the age of ten, she has lived with her teacher, the Hunt Master and Earth Magician of the Schwarzwald Foresters, a man she calls “Papa.” Her adoptive Papa rescued her after her original Earth Master teacher, an old woman who lived alone in a smal...

Mercedes Lackey is a full-time writer and has published numerous novels and works of short fiction, including the best-selling Heralds Of Valdemar series. She is also a professional lyricist and a licensed wild bird rehabilitator. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, artist Larry Dixon, and their flock of parrots. She can be found a...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 9.31 × 6.31 × 1.06 inPublished:June 3, 2014Publisher:DawLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0756408970

ISBN - 13:9780756408978

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available from DAW Books:ARROWS OF THE QUEENARROW’S FLIGHTARROW’S FALLMAGIC’S PAWNMAGIC’S PROMISEMAGIC’S PRICEWINDS OF FATEWINDS OF CHANGEWINDS OF FURYSTORM WARNINGSTORM RISINGSTORM BREAKINGTHE OATHBOUNDOATHBREAKERSOATHBLOODFOUNDATIONINTRIGUESCHANGESREDOUBTBASTIONCLOSER TO HOME*BY THE SWORDBRIGHTLY BURNINGTAKE A THIEFEXILE’S HONOREXILE’S VALORSWORD OF ICE SUN IN GLORYCROSSROADSMOVING TARGETSCHANGING THE WORLDFINDING THE WAYUNDER THE VALEWritten with LARRY DIXON:THE BLACK GRYPHONTHE WHITE GRYPHONTHE SILVER GRYPHONOWLFLIGHTOWLSIGHTOWLKNIGHTGWENHWYFARTHE BLACK SWANJOUSTALTASANCTUARYAERIETHE SERPENT’S SHADOWTHE GATES OF SLEEPPHOENIX AND ASHESTHE WIZARD OF LONDONRESERVED FOR THE CATUNNATURAL ISSUEHOME FROM THE SEASTEADFASTBLOOD REDAnthologies:ELEMENTAL MAGICELEMENTARY*Coming soon from DAW BooksAnd don’t miss THE VALDEMAR COMPANION edited by John Helfers and Denise LittleDAW TRADEMARK REGISTEREDU.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES—MARCA REGISTRADAHECHO EN U.S.A.PrologueMUTTI and Vati were talking again. It wasn’t quite arguing, and Rosa pretended that she couldn’t hear it. Children were not supposed to hear when grownups were talking about them.It wasn’t exactly about her, anyway. It was about the fact that they were living in a cottage in the little village of Holzdorf in the Schwarzwald instead of in Wuppertal, as Mutti wanted. The reason, of course, was Rosa. Living in the city had nearly killed her; she had felt poisoned all the time, and was sick all the time, and it hadn’t been until Onkel Hans and Tante Bertha had come to the house and told them about the magic that Mutti and Vati had understood that being in a city was just not going to be possible for Rosa until she was much older, at the very least. Maybe not ever.Mutti and Vati had only a little of the magic, but they knew it was real, and Vati hadn’t sent his brother and sister-in-law away with taunts of madness. But Earth Magic had never been in their families before; it had been two unbroken lines of Fire Mages until Rosa was born. A Fire Mage had no problem with living in a city. Some even found it pleasant.But for an Earth Mage, well . . . no wonder Rosa had always felt as if she was being poisoned. She was being poisoned. All of the industries spewing filth into the air, the soil and the water, all of the smokes and the soots, all of the nastiness caused by too many people living too closely together—all that made the Earth sick, and that made her sick. So living in Wuppertal was no longer an option, unless they wanted to send Rosa away alone—and that plan had made Mutti even more unhappy than the prospect of leaving the city.“It’s so lonely here,” Mutti said plaintively.Rosa knew what Vati was thinking, that it would be less lonely if Mutti just tried a little harder to fit herself into village life. Her city clothing alone set her apart, and it wasn’t as if Tante Bertha had not supplied her with the right costume and more than enough fabric to make more. Rosa thought that the black skirt and black laced jacket, together with the beautifully embroidered blouse and apron and shawl, looked wonderful on Mutti, but she would not part with her stiffly corseted, voluminous, and highly impractical gowns.And it was not as if the women of the village would not have welcomed her! They felt sorry for the “junge Frau” who always looked so shy and sad. They were eager to share recipes and needlework patterns and gossip. They were always happy to see Rosa, and if she hadn’t by nature had a modest appetite, she would have been as round as a Christmas goose from all the good things they tried to coax her to eat. Everyone here knew of magic, even if they didn’t have any themselves, and they sympathized with the city folk who had exiled themselves here in order that their daughter might thrive and learn.“Liebchen, you must try harder,” said her Vati, wearily. He had fitted himself right into the life of the village almost as soon as they had arrived. Now he could not have been told from one of the locals until he opened his mouth, wearing his black suit, the long coat with red lapels and brass buttons, and his little round black hat. The village had lacked a proper schoolmaster; the local priest, a very old man, had served double duty in that regard for decades, and he was more than happy to give over the position to Vati.And oh, yes . . . religion. That was another thing that made Mutti unhappy. The village was Catholic, mostly, and she was staunch Lutheran. Not that such a designation made any difference to the village. How could it, when there were Elemental Masters in their forest? Even the priest, gentle old man that he was, would have happily served Holy Communion to Mutti, as he did to Vati, without so much as a hint that she should convert, even though his bishop would probably have died of a fit if he found out. “We are all Children of the Good God,” he would say. “The bad days that Master Luther railed about are over. We should accept each other in God’s Peace and make no fuss about names and credos.”Well, Rosa had faith in her father. Eventually he would wear Mutti down, as he always did. One day she would put on the pretty black dress and hat bedecked with fat pompoms and go to visit the neighbors. One day she would meet the gentle priest and discover he was not a baby-eating ogre.“Rosa!” Mutti called from the kitchen. “It is time to visit Grossmutter Helga!”That was what Rosa had been waiting—a bit impatiently—for. “Grossmutter Helga” was not really her grandmother. Both of her real grandmothers had lived back in the city, and they were gone now. “Grossmutter Helga” was a very learned and very powerful Earth Master who was teaching Rosa her magic, because one day Rosa was expected to be just as learned and powerful—although no one knew yet what direction her magic might take.Rosa was never happier than when she was sitting beside the old woman, listening so hard her face would ache from it afterward. And sometimes—sometimes she was allowed to do a very little magic herself. Or try. Sometimes it didn’t work. She didn’t seem to be very good at coaxing things to grow under most circumstances, or at healing. Grossmutter said that this was all right, that not every Earth Master was adept at nurturing.And when Rosa was tired, Grossmutter would make her tea and give her a little meal and tell her stories. Many of the stories were about the Bruderschaft der Förster, the Brotherhood of the Foresters, the arcane guardians of the Schwarzwald; there were many dark and dangerous things that lived here, and the paths through the shadowy trees could be perilous. Rosa was very glad, listening to those tales, that the Brotherhood stood guard.As Rosa entered the warm and fragrant kitchen, Vati ruffled her hair and left for the schoolhouse. The kitchen—indeed, the entire cottage—was the one thing that Mutti did like about their new life. Living space in the city was cramped, and Rosa remembered Vati always complaining about how expensive it was. Here, thanks to Vati’s schoolmaster job, the spacious cottage cost them nothing. It had three rooms below, and the loft where Rosa slept above. The kitchen had a red-tiled floor, a spacious hearth with an oven built into it for baking, a sink, cupboards that held all manner of good things, a sturdy wooden table in the center, and real glass windows—it was ever so much nicer than the tiny little kitchen in their city flat. They had a real parlor and a bedroom for Mutti and Vati as well, where in the city flat they’d had to hide their bed behind a curtain, and Rosa had slept in a cupboard bed.“I have your basket for Grossmutter,” said Mutti, folding the top of the napkin that lined the basket over the contents. “Some lovely apple cakes, a nice pat of butter, and that soft cheese she likes so much.” Mutti always sent Rosa with a basket to Grossmutter, as if Grossmutter needed someone else to do her cooking for her, although Rosa knew very well that Grossmutter was as good a cook, or better, than Mutti. But she was too polite to say anything, and Grossmutter always accepted the contents of the basket with grave thanks, so Rosa supposed that this was one of the many things children were supposed to be silent about.Then Mutti tied Rosa’s pride and joy about her neck—a beautiful bright red cape with a matching hood. Rosa always felt like a princess in this cape, which was a miniature copy of the riding capes that fine ladies wore when they went hunting. Mutti had copied the pattern from an illustrated magazine that Vati had brought from the city for her, and Grossmutter had sewed it for her.“Now go and take your lessons with Grossmutter, and don’t dawdle on the way,” Mutti cautioned.“I won’t Mutti,” Rosa promised.“And don’t speak to strangers.”“I won’t, Mutti,” she promised again, although she could not imagine what strangers she could possibly meet on the path to Grossmutter’s cottage. It wasn’t a common route for travelers or people out to see the sights of the Schwarzwald. But Mutti had said the same back in the city every time Rosa went out to play on the doorstep, so she supposed it must be habit from that time.“And if you are kept too late, you may stay with Grossmutter,” Mutti concluded, albeit reluctantly. “I don’t want you wandering in the forest at sundown. There are wolves. And bears.”Rosa stifled a sigh. Of course there were wolves and bears. Everyone knew that. That was why there was a wolf or a bear on practically every piece of Schwarzwald carving. And stags, but her mother never warned her to beware of stags, even though Grossmutter had told her that they could be just as dangerous as a bear. “Yes, Mutti,” she said dutifully.“Now off you go.”Finally Rosa was free to scamper out the door, through the vegetable garden that was Vati’s pride, and out the gate to the path that led to Grossmutter’s house.The first part of her journey was out of the village, and through all of the village fields. She always ran through this part; the farm fields and small pastures held very little interest for her. The land had been tamed, controlled, and confined. Everything was neat, everything was regimented. She always felt a little stifled when in the village or on the farmlands. It was nothing like as bad as it had been when she’d lived in the city, but . . . well, it was akin to being forced to wear your Sunday Best all the time. You couldn’t really be yourself. The land wasn’t itself.She was always glad when she got out of the farmlands and into the water meadow. While the meadow and its pond weren’t exactly wild, not like the forest, they were still much freer than the farmed land. Nothing grew in the meadow, or in the pond, that was deliberately planted. The village ducks and geese grazed here, and the village goats, but that was about the extent of the hand of man. She slowed to a fast walk as soon as the path crossed the boundary of the meadow.Here was where she finally saw the first of the Elementals—other than brownies—that lived around the village. The village was full of brownies, of course, even if no one but Rosa and her parents were aware of them. It was a wholesome, earthy place, and brownies were the Elementals not only of Earth, but of hearth and home. Virtually every household in the village had at least one brownie seeing to it that all was well in the house, and that any accidents were small ones. Rosa’s household had three, because of Rosa’s magic.But here in the water meadow was where she started to see the wild ones. There was a little faun that she thought lived here. Not like the ones in the woods, who were older, somehow more goatlike, and were always looking at her slyly out of their strange eyes. This was a very little fellow, shy, and often found napping in the sun. There was a tree-girl here as well, though she held herself aloof from the faun. There were entire swarms of the sorts of little creatures that were in picture books, little grotesques with fat bodies and spindly legs, or made with parts of ordinary animals, birds and insects. She didn’t have names for them and neither did Grossmutter, who just called them “alvar.” No matter how odd they looked, they were playful and friendly, and Rosa wished she had lived here when she was younger, because she could have run down here to play with them.She was not free to do so today, though, so she waved at the ones she saw and plunged into the forest. “Plunged” was the right word; the Schwarzwald was a very old forest, and once you got onto the paths within it, you found yourself in a dark and mysterious place. Tree trunks towered all around, like pillars holding up a green ceiling high, high above. Here and there shafts of sunlight pierced the gloom. The forest floor was thick with old leaves and needles, soft with moss, rippling with roots. And normally, it felt welcoming to Rosa. But today . . .Well, today the forest felt . . . uneasy. Not so much near the village, but the deeper she got into it, the more it felt as if the forest was holding its breath, and that many of the animals and creatures that dwelled here were in hiding from . . . something.Now, Rosa had had that same feeling in here before, now and again. Nothing had ever come of it, but when she asked Grossmutter about it, the elder magician had pulled a long face. “There are dark tales in the forest,” she had said. “And most of them are true. Hurry your steps, and do not tarry when the trees hold their breath and the fauns hide in their caves. And never come there after dark until you are older and much more powerful.” That seemed like good advice to Rosa . . . and she was heeding it now. Instead of sauntering along, stopping to look at something interesting now and again, collecting bird feathers and the mushrooms Grossmutter had taught her were safe, she sped up, gathering her little cloak about her, for suddenly the shadows beneath the trees seemed cold.She was halfway to Grossmutter’s cottage when she rounded a twist in the path, and was stopped dead in her tracks by the sight of a man she did not know ahead of her.Now, the forest was very famous. And her village was well known for wood carving. Strangers were known to trek through the forest for pleasure, especially in the summer, although this was the first time that Rosa had encountered a man she didn’t recognize inside the forest and not in the village, and she couldn’t imagine how he had come to be on this path.But there was something about this man she did not like, and she could not have said why.Whether or not he had been walking before he saw her, he had stopped now, and was waiting; she could not go farther without passing him, and he watched her every move with eyes that gleamed with an expression she couldn’t fathom. Slowly, and with deep reluctance, she approached him.He was dressed like a hunter, leather trousers tucked into leather boots, green wool jacket, green wool hat, and game bag—but he wasn’t carrying either a rifle or a bow. But maybe he was one of those foreigners. A foreigner would think that hunting gear was the sort of thing you should wear to walk in the forest.The hat looked a little odd on his head; he had longish, shaggy hair of mixed brown and gray, although he didn’t look all that old. He was clean-shaven, but his features were—well, she’d have called him ugly if she’d dared. But she was only a little girl, and children were supposed to be respectful of their elders. His eyes glittered beneath his hat-brim, a strange yellow-brown. She really didn’t know what to make of him, except that if she hadn’t been halfway to Grossmutter’s—and if she hadn’t been half-scared he would chase her if she ran—she’d have turned around and pelted all the way back home.“Hello, little girl,” the man said, when she finally stopped on the path, unwilling to get any closer. “What would your name be and where are you from?”“Rosamund Ackermann, sir,” she said politely. “I come from Holzdorf.” He must be a foreigner. The only way the path behind her led was to Holzdorf.He nodded approvingly. “And what is such a little creature like you doing out here in the dark forest all alone?” He didn’t move, yet somehow he seemed to loom over her, and the place where he stood got a little darker.Magic. It must be magic that I feel on him. Maybe he was Air . . . Air and Earth did not get along, at all. She gathered her little power about her and inched a bit sideways, off the path, trying to move without looking as if she was doing so. “I am going to my Grandmother’s house, sir,” she said, still remaining polite. “Mother says that she is old, and it is hard for her to cook anymore.” It was very important that a magician not lie! But this was not a lie. Mutti did say that, even though it was not true.“And what does your Grandmother do, all alone in that cottage in the woods,” the stranger asked, his eyes glittering. “Does she make potions? Does she have any strange animals about?”Oh! Now she knew why she didn’t like him! Grossmutter had warned her about men like this. They were looking for witches, and would hurt them if they found them! Grossmutter had even warned her that such men might have magic themselves, and not know it, or pretend they didn’t, or tell themselves it was some sort of God-given power.“She knits,” Rosa said truthfully. “And sews. She made my red cloak. She has two little hens for her egg in the morning.” She wouldn’t tell him about the goat. “And she mends stockings. Mother has her mend all our stockings.” Also true. Mutti hated mending stockings, and Grossmutter didn’t mind.The man looked vaguely disappointed, which made her think that her guess was right. He was looking for witches. “Why does she live by herself in the forest? Shouldn’t she move to the village where it is safer?”“My Mother says there is no room for her in our cottage, sir,” she replied, which was not strictly true but also was not a lie. Mutti had not said so, but every time that Vati mentioned the idea, she made a face. It wasn’t as if Grossmutter was Rosa’s real grandmother after all, and Mutti always replied with “But what if your father or mine needs to move in with us?”Rosa didn’t think that was likely to happen. Both grandfathers were vigorously pursuing pretty, young widows. She knew that Mutti had gotten used to having her own little house with just her and Vati in it, and didn’t want to share, particularly not with an old lady who might be demanding, interfering, or critical. Rosa might be very young, but there was a great deal she understood quite well.The man made a stern face. “Your father—” he began, then shook his head in disapproval. Rosa began to inch her way around him. “Women should know their place,” he told Rosa sternly. “It is for the man to say what is to happen in his own house.”“Yes sir,” Rosa said automatically. She was almost halfway around him, although she had to go a good five feet off the path to do so.Fortunately, he was now so engrossed in his own lecture that he didn’t seem to have noticed what she was doing. “Women and girls do not have strong enough minds to know what is best for them,” he said, looking thunderous. “Women and girls must be obedient to men in all things. They must confine themselves to the tasks that God suited them for. Work in the home, childbearing, and child-rearing. They are too given to emotion to make any good decisions—like your mother, child.”By this point she was all the way around him and back on the path, and this seemed to be the opening she needed to get away from him. She ducked her head. “And my father has said I must take these things to Grandmother, and hurry, and not dawdle on the way, sir. So I must be going. Good day to you! Holzdorf is just ahead of you!” And before he could respond to that, she turned and scampered up the path, putting as much distance as she could between herself and the unpleasant stranger.She was afraid he might call after her, but he did not.The forest, however, remained strangely dark, and unusually quiet, as if something in it was disturbing everything. She didn’t see a single Elemental, which made her unhappy and uneasy. Then again, that stranger had left her very disturbed, and she could easily see him having that effect on the entire forest. He was just nasty—and if he had been going off the path, poking about in the forest a bit, snooping, well . . . if she had been an Elemental, she would have hidden too.As soon as she was sure he wasn’t going to call after her, or worse, chase after her, she slowed to a fast walk. Normally she took her time going through the forest, because she liked it so much, but today, well, she just wanted to get to Grossmutter’s house as quickly as she could.It seemed to take much, much longer than usual, as if the path had somehow doubled in length, although she knew that could not possibly be so.She almost sobbed with relief when she finally saw the little branching path that led to Grossmutter’s cottage. She ran again, ran all the way up the path, through silence that was so thick it felt like fog around her, ran until she reached the door, pulled the latch-string, pulled it open, and shut it tight behind her.The cottage was very dark, darker than twilight. Something was not right.“Grandmama?” she called into the dark.The cottage was a single room, with Grossmutter’s bed in a little nook at the rear, which was now deeply in shadow. Something stirred back there.Something was very wrong. She felt it deep inside her, worse than when she had been in the forest. But how could that be? This was Grossmutter’s cottage, the safest place in the forest!“Rosa?” said a strange voice. “Is that you, child?” There was a cough. “I am not well. Come closer. Did you bring me something from your mother?”Rosa took a cautious step toward the bed. It should be Grossmutter there. She couldn’t imagine how it could be anyone except Grossmutter. “Grandmama? You sound strange.”“I took a chill,” said the hoarse voice. “Come closer, child.”Another step. “Grandmama?” She could see Grossmutter’s nightcap in the shadows around the bed. “Why is it so dark?” She peered anxiously into the shadows, her little heart pounding. A pair of eyes seemed to gleam in the darkness beneath the cap. “Why are your eyes so bright?”“So that I may see you better, my dear,” said the voice.Rosa shivered at the shadows, clutching her basket. It felt as if an icy drop of water was creeping down her spine. “Grandmama? Something is not right . . .”It was a good thing she was poised to flee, because whatever was in Grossmutter’s bed suddenly heaved up and leapt right over the top of her; it might have pounced on her too, if she hadn’t ducked and scuttled out of the way. It landed between her and the door.“Enough!” howled the thing as she backed away from it. “Die, vermin!” It lunged for her.She shrieked in pure terror. And the thing winced back, clapping its paws over its ears, an expression of acute pain twisting its features. That gave her enough time to run for the pantry, wrench the door open, slam it shut behind herself and lock it from the inside.She could lock herself in, even though most pantries were made to lock on the outside, because Grossmutter had had it made that way—one safe place that she, or she and Rosa, could hide in, if something bad happened.Something bad, very bad, like the horrid creature but with the stranger’s eyes, a hoarsened version of the stranger’s voice, the body of a man, and the pelt, paws and claws, and the twisted facial features, of something that was a half-man, and a half-wolf.The door shuddered as the thing flung itself against the wood. She wanted, badly, to just drop onto the floor, pull her cape over her head and hide. But Grossmutter had taught her better than that. Despite her terror, Rosa twisted her fingers in frantic patterns as she made the wood come alive, knit itself into the doorframe, and start to grow at preternatural speed. At least that was what she was trying to do—she couldn’t actually see what she was doing, but a moment after she made the magic, she put her hand on the door and felt the rough bark of a living tree instead of the hewn wood of the door. The wood vibrated under her hand, but no longer shuddered. She was safe for now.But she was also trapped.She felt along the shelves until she put her hand on the wooden box of candles. Beside it was the box of lucifer matches. Carefully, she struck one, and lit the candle.And screamed. For sharing the pantry with her was the mangled body of Grossmutter.She clutched the candle, and screamed, and screamed, and screamed, weeping with terror and loss.She screamed until she ran out of breath, took another breath, and screamed more. From the other side of the door came the shriek of terrible claws rending the wood.The bare tip of a claw gleamed in the candlelight, reawakening her to her danger. Frantically, she put her hand against where the door had been and felt the talons tearing it away. Feeling the power drain from her, she made the wood grow again, and from the other side came a terrible howl of rage and frustration, and the sound of claws shredding wood with renewed fury.She didn’t know what to do! Somewhere out there, there were people who could help her, but Grossmutter had not told her how to call them yet!She didn’t know why she did what she did next. She just did it, out of pure fear and desperation. She dropped the candle, which rolled and went out, leaned into the living door, put both palms against it, and cried out in terror.HELP ME!It was as if a shudder went through everything, and a moment after that . . . an enormous silence. Even the thing outside the door paused. It really did seem as if everything held its breath—Then the monster howled in triumph, and every hair on her head stood straight up. She had thought she was frightened before. She was so terrified now she couldn’t even shriek. She couldn’t even breathe.The creature redoubled its efforts on her door, and she kept trying to renew the wood, her little strength fading more with each try. She began to feel faint each time she made the wood grow. She hardly had the strength to stand upright, and supported herself against the rough bark of the door—Then the cottage shook with a crash and a drumming of hooves.The monster barked in surprise, and stopped clawing at the door.There was another crash, and another, and the bellow of an elk. Rosa knew what it was because she had seen and heard an elk trumpeting one day in the forest. Then another crash, and the entire cottage rocked, the monster shrieked, and chaos erupted on the other side of her wooden barrier.She fainted.She could not have been unconscious for too very long, because the fighting was still going on, although it sounded distinctly as if the elk was losing. She curled her fingers into the bark of the tree and tried to will it strength, tears pouring from her eyes.The elk was going to die. The horrible thing out there was going to kill it. And then it would break through the wood, and it would kill her—And then, out of nowhere, the cottage rocked again; a thunderous roar shook the walls. Rosa screamed. She couldn’t imagine what it was—And then she heard the voices calling her. “Rosa! Rosa!” muffled by the wood.“Here!” she cried out, pounding her little fists on the bark. “Here!”Then she fell into a widening gap as the wood parted; fell into arms that plucked her out of the pantry and pulled her up onto a huge, strong shoulder.The cottage was no longer full of shadows. The door was gone. She got a glimpse of her savior, the elk, with its head hanging but still standing, hide gashed in dozens of places, being tended to by a woman with short-cut hair, dressed like the stranger had been, in well-worn loden-green hunting gear. She got another glimpse of the monster, a hole in its chest, head hacked off, and hid her face in her rescuer’s shoulder.And she cried, and cried and cried, while her rescuer carried her out into the woods, patting her back awkwardly.“There, there,” he murmured. “It’s all right now, Rosa. You’re safe.”Her rescuer carried her over to some horses, and somehow mounted without ever putting her down. She looked up for a moment through eyes streaming with tears, and saw the elk stumbling out of the ruined door, staggering a little, but looking determined.“That’s one fellow that will never become cutlets with mushrooms,” said one of the other green-clad hunters mounting his own horse.“Aye. Gilda will bring him back to the Lodge and he’ll live to be a ripe old age, and die having fathered a hundred more like him,” her rescuer rumbled. “And well-done he. If it had not been for him answering the child’s call, we’d never have got here in time.”Rosa put her head back down on the man’s shoulder, sobbing and clinging to him.“Hans, Fritz,” the man ordered. “Go to the girl’s parents. Tell them we’re taking her. It’s clearly not safe for her to be with them anymore. The next time, the beasts may come into the village, and the Good God only knows what would happen then.”“Aye Hunt Master,” said another fellow, and there was the sound of hooves trotting away.Wait . . . It wasn’t safe for her to live with Mutti and Vati? “Where are you taking me?” she asked, pulling her head off the man’s shoulder, and scrubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. “Who are you?”Again, the man patted her back. “Don’t be afraid, Rosa. I am the Hunt Master of the Schwarzwald Foresters. We have been watching you, and watching over you, ever since you arrived. Your aunt and uncle told us about you. We are going to take you to our Lodge, where you will be safe, and learn about your magic all the time.”Rosa blinked, took a deep breath, about to object—and stopped. Because . . . this felt right. This was what she . . . wanted.“But Vati and Mutti—”“Will come visit you, all the time. Unless they wish to return to the city—and if they do, we know powerful men who will make certain that they are well taken care of.” The man put his horse in motion; the rest of the group followed him. She could see the elk limping along at the end of the group. She put her head down on his shoulder, and thought.Was it wrong that she loved her Mutti and Vati, and yet felt . . . as if they never really understood who she was and what she wanted? Because that was, indeed, how she felt. She could not explain it, but she had felt, instantly, more at home with this man whose name she didn’t even know, than with them.“You are very quiet, little one,” the man murmured. “Are you troubled? Do you not care for what we have planned?”“I—I am troubled because I do,” she almost-wailed, softly, feeling a desperate sort of confusion come over her.“Ah . . . that is because your magic speaks to mine. We are more alike than if you were my daughter and I was your father.” He patted her. “I will gladly be a second father to you, child. If you would care for that.”The moment he said that, she knew it was true. This man, this Hunt Master, was more like her father than her own Vati. He understood the hunger to learn about her magic. And he would be able to protect her as her own Vati could not.She thought about that monster breaking into her own little home, and her blood ran cold. Her parents would have had less chance against that thing than Grossmutter.Even if she hadn’t liked these plans—and she did—she could not endanger them like that.“I would care for that, Hunt Master,” she said with a sigh, laying her head down on his shoulder and closing her eyes. “Please take me home.”1THIS was not the Schwarzwald, but all forests were home to an Earth Master. Rosamund—who no longer called herself “Ackermann,” but “von Schwarzwald”—was just as comfortable here in the depths of Transylvania as she was at home. The earth itself spoke to her, and she could no more have gotten lost on the deep forest trails in these foreign mountains than she could have gotten lost going from the front door of the Bruderschaft Lodge to her rooms.She breathed in the cool air, inhaling all the myriad scents of leaf and moss, bark, a brook nearby. Different scents from home, yet not unalike. As an Earth Master, all places that were not cities were “home” to her, so she didn’t feel any displacement or unease that the scents were not what she was used to. She had been here in Transylvania for a week, which was three days more than she needed to settle into a new place.If she “borrowed” the nose of one of the forest creatures, she’d have an olfactory kaleidoscope to sort through, of course; her own human nose couldn’t tell her nearly so much. That might cause a little disorientation. But I think not, she mused, allowing all her senses to adapt so she could begin her hunting. No, although this is not home, it becomes more familiar to me with every moment.It was just as well she couldn’t get lost, because it was almost midnight, and as black under the trees as the inside of a Guildmaster’s pocket. Not that Rosa needed light. Not when every living thing, from the smallest blade of grass to the tallest tree, emanated its own sort of living light when she looked with the attuned eye, and the part of her that saw magic as shimmers of color. This was, to her mind, the most important gift of Earth Mastery, to see the energy created by every living thing. It was especially important for both her and Hans, because the evil they hunted walked exclusively by night.The Brotherhood hereabouts was small, having suffered much depredation at the hands of witch-hunters, Turks, and zealots of various sorts. That was why they had finally begged help from outside their borders. They could not cope with the thing that had moved into the ruins of some long-ago noble’s great old manor. There were no Masters among them, only mages, and one attempt to track the creature had already ended in the deaths of two of the four local hunters.And now that she was standing here, on the trail her hosts said the creature habitually took to stalk its prey, Rosamund knew why they had been outclassed. She read the tracks that stood out, black with evil, against the moss of the path, where even the vegetation itself had lost its life energy beneath the press of those feet.Her hosts had been mistaken, something she had suspected from the beginning. There was not one creature, there were two. Master, and servant.She felt her lips curving in a thin smile. They would not be prepared for her. Back home in the Schwarzwald she had a certain . . . reputation. Here, well, it was unlikely they would have heard of her. Or if they had, they would probably dismiss that reputation as being a tall tale. All the better.Now, Rosa. Caution, not overconfidence. Assume the worst. Assume they know you are here and are ready for you. You cannot afford to take anything for granted. She could almost feel her mentor gently cuffing her ear for her momentary hubris. The smile left her lips, and she eased herself down the trail, following those death-colored footprints.As dark as it was, it did not matter what the colors of her clothing might have been, but she was clad in her usual loden-green wool hunting jacket, with dark leather knee breeches and soft leather boots that came over her knee, beneath the red, hooded cloak that was almost as much a part of her as her skin.The cloak—well, in the darkness, it only registered as more darkness, even if by day she stood out like a flower bursting through cobblestones. She wore it always, in memory of Grossmutter Helga.As for the rest of her clothing, it was certainly far more startling to common eyes than that red cloak. But no one was around to be outraged at her wearing a man’s knee breeches instead of a skirt.For one moment she greatly regretted not wearing her special leather gear—leather on the outside, with cloth of silver on the inside, between the leather and the silk lining. But she had not had any notion when she started this Hunt today that she would have need of it. Too late for regrets.As for Hans, he was used to her hunting gear. The women of the Bruderschaft wore men’s breeches often when needful, and the men had gotten used to that hundreds of years ago. The Bruderschaft was practical above all else.She made less noise as she threaded her way along the forest track than a deer would have. Her boots had soft soles, not hard; they were like those of a Red Indian from America. She could feel everything through those soles, and the magic of the Earth was not impeded by thick, hardened leather and hobnails.Around her the forest was silent and frightened, as well it should be, with such evil in it. The trail she followed veered away from a running brook—no surprise there, these creatures often found it difficult to cross running water without a bridge—then up a rise to a wooded ridge. And there . . . the two who had been together parted company.And for just a moment, she hesitated. She wanted, oh, most fervently, to follow the spoor of the beast that took the left-hand way. But that loped off in the direction of the deeper forest. There was no one there who could be in any danger. Well, no humans anyway, and any Elemental creatures would scent or feel the beast coming with plenty of time to hide. The other footprints, however, went to the right, where she knew a small village lay. So the master was, indeed, seeking prey tonight, as was the servant. There had been no movement into or out of that old manor for the full week she had been here. They were being cautious, but that caution had probably made them ravenous. Too ravenous for niceties; both would kill tonight.That decided her. That, and knowing that the wind lay in her favor for now, if she pursued the right-hand quarry, but if she went left, she would be downwind, and might become the hunted, not the hunter. After midnight, the winds would shift; the sylphs of the air had told her little gnomes as much. She could lie in wait for the beast and ambush it when it circled back to its master, sated with the kill, or still hungering and thinking of nothing but hunger.Concentrate on the master. If we have to, Hans and I can hunt the servant together, later. It would be on its guard, but there would be four of them. She and Hans could take Matei and Gheorghe with them. And she and Hans would be doubly protected, for she would not forget her special gear a second time.Knowing now which direction she needed to go, and guessing where the evil creature would probably head, she let the forest tell her the shortest path to the village, and she made all speed. Years of learning to trust her feet to read the trails, years of trusting the magic let her run without thinking of the track itself, only the spoor she followed. Now that the Master had parted from his servant, he was being more cautious, and the tracks were fainter.Don’t think. Don’t feel. Hunt.She paused in the shadow of the trees above the little valley that held the village. Down there, not a single light shone, and a damp, cool breeze with a hint of rain on it made her glad of her cloak. It was late, and these village folk were all abed by now. She sought, and found, a rabbit, quivering beneath a bush nearby, and “borrowed” its nose, smelling what it smelled, and immediately was struck with the scent of the thing that made the rabbit shiver. There was no doubt; what she sought was down in the village itself, its scent mingling with the myriad scents of the humans and their living. The scent of the thing held the effluvia of stale blood and age and evil, and she readied her crossbow, wondering briefly how Hans was faring, back at the ruins.Hans is an Earth Master and experienced. He has been on many, many Hunts, as well you know, she scolded herself. Let Hans tend to his Hunt, and you tend to yours.The scent was everywhere in that little valley now, although those poor villagers down below with their blunted, human senses would not even detect a trace of it, not unless the thing was atop them and breathing coldly into their faces.Now that she was this close, she felt that familiar mix of excitement and fear starting to build. She needed both. Fear, to keep her sharp—excitement, to make her fast.She slipped carefully among the trees, glad the moon was down, but aware that the thing she hunted had means of its own to see by dark. Still . . . it was without allies, now that it had left its servant behind. And she . . . was not.At the edge of the village, she put her hand to the ground. Oh, my friends, my little friends, please give me your wisdom. Where is the hunter, the slayer-by-night? she asked silently. She waited patiently. The creatures of Earth did not move quickly, nor trust easily. But she was fairly certain which of the many sorts would answer her first.Sure enough, after a while, she felt a tugging on her sleeve. She looked down. Glowing a little with a healthy golden energy was one of the little alvar, anxiously pulling on the button at her wrist. She smiled down at it, thought her thanks at it as hard as she could.This one had an acorn-cap for a hat, a round head not unlike an acorn, but a spindly little body and spidery legs and arms, all encased in a garment that seemed to be made of moss. When it saw her looking down at it, it let go of her sleeve, and gestured, then scuttled away. She followed.Here the life-energy faded to almost nothing, what with the streets being pounded earth, the houses being dead wood and stone, and only the outline of the few growing things and the patches of the gardens to give her anything to see by. The village was not very big, smaller than Holzdorf. Just two main streets, crossing the road. The little creature moved like a leaf blown by the wind, down one of them, its faintly glowing body barely visible in the darkness. She followed, staying close to the buildings, using what protection they offered her, keeping herself as close to the walls as possible, although she always ducked beneath any windows she passed. It might be very dark, but she had not gotten as far as she had as a hunter by being incautious. What good would it do to have tracked her quarry all the way to this village if it was alerted because some wakeful villager struck a light, saw a shadow cross the window and raised an alarm?She caught up with the alvar. It was huddling against the wall of a goat shed, and when she reached it, it pointed with a trembling arm down toward the water mill. There, outside the village proper, there were grass and growing things to give her light to see by again. The creature stood out blackly against the faint glow of Earth energies given off by the grass around the mill . . . in fact, it emanated its own sort of anti-life energy, an aura that pulsed hungrily.She immediately saw why the creature had taken up a post at the mill. The sound of the millrace and the rushing water would cover any noise. It was too hungry to think of anything but draining the prey dry, and all it had to do to escape immediate detection was tip the body into the water when it was done. The victim wouldn’t be found until the body had traveled far from the village—if it was ever found at all.It’s smart, I’ll allow that. This is probably how it’s kept people from knowing it’s prowling their villages until now. If it hadn’t been for the Brotherhood—well, the creature probably could prey at will for months before having to move on.And almost exactly halfway between her and the creature was its intended victim; from here it was little more than a white form stumbling toward the mill, but Rosa knew it was almost certainly one of the village women or girls, dressed only in the shift she went to sleep in, being drawn by the creature’s sinister magic.Poor girl. The creature would have gone sifting through dreams, looking for someone who was vulnerable. And . . . well, expendable. The servant girl who was a bit of a slut. The unwanted, plain daughter who would never find a husband. The widow who was a bit odd. Someone who, when she vanished, would set heads wagging and tongues clacking, but would not send friends and neighbors out on a manhunt.Probably the servant girl who is a bit of a slut. People will assume she ran off on her own when she vanishes. Rosa gritted her teeth. Not tonight, monster. Not this time.Rosa put her hand down to the alvar; in her hand was a bit of cheese from her belt pouch. The alvar took it greedily and scuttled away. That was all the thanks it needed, as most of the Earth Elementals—the small ones anyway—were always eager for a bit of “man-food.” As soon as it had hidden itself, she moved.The creature—the vampir—had all of its attention focused on luring in its prey. It must have been very, very hungry after a week without feeding—or feeding only on the unsatisfying blood of what it could catch in the forest.She took advantage of that preoccupation to slip up the hill, staying in cover by making use of every bit of fence, hedge, and wall. She moved as quickly as she dared, conscious that the clock, so to speak, was ticking away the precious seconds before the girl fell into its clawlike hands. She had to reach the vampir before its victim reached it.She slipped around by the back of the mill, and the noise of the wheel, the falling water, and the river all surrounded her with so much sound that it was impossible to hear what was going on up ahead of her.She didn’t need to hear anything, however. The nearness of the creature was like a feeling of sickness. And she was close enough she could sense its excitement. The prey must be very near.She readied her hand-crossbow, with the special, oversized bolt made entirely of hardened holly wood, with a needle-sharp point in place of an arrowhead. It was one of the weapons she had made sure to have with her when the local Brotherhood had first called for help. Excitement and fear in equal measure boiled up in her, and every nerve was afire with both. With the bolt in the channel, the crossbow cocked and ready, she rounded the corner to confront the creature.Just in time. Its victim was a mere ten feet away, swaying where she stood. The hideous thing had its back to Rosa and had no idea she was there. Its bloodlust and hunger were overpowering at this distance. Even an ordinary human with not a speck of magic would have felt it. It had no eyes, no thought, for anything but the prey in front of it.With a silent prayer to Saint Hubert, she let fly.The bolt flew clean and true, hitting the monster squarely in the heart.Its victim dropped where she stood, unconscious, as the monster’s control over her evaporated.It didn’t die cleanly, of course. The vampir never did. It thrashed and writhed and spouted half-rotten blood from every possible orifice. But at least it did so quietly, and as soon as it was safe Rosa closed in on it and drove the stake all the way through its body with a shove of her boot, pinning it to the earth. That finished it. With a final squirm, it died, mouth open in a soundless gasp.The stench was appalling. She pulled a candle out of her hunting bag and struck a lucifer match to examine the monster.It did not differ substantially from any other vampir she had killed in the past. Bald head, hideous face not unlike a goblin’s mask, strangely wizened body, clawlike hands. Mouth full of nastily pointed teeth. Most vampir, if they didn’t want to kill their victim immediately, would make a cut on the inside of the elbow or some other place it didn’t show, and lap the blood like a dog. But most vampir didn’t bother with niceties. They simply tore the victim’s throat open, messily, and fed, and either left the body to be found later or disposed of it somehow so they would have a few more days or weeks to continue hunting.She had heard from the Bruderschaft tales of very ancient and very cunning vampir indeed, who had secured a place and ruled it with terror and a crushing mental power. She thanked the Good God and Saint Hubert she had never had to come up against one such as those. It would take not just a Hunt Master like herself, but the largest Hunting Party possible to put such an evil down.She reached into her hunting pouch again and removed the glass-lined flask of naphtha. Dispassionately she poured it over the body, then bent down and lit it with the candle, stepping back quickly as the soaked rags flared into instant flame. That was one good thing about vampir, the only good thing, really. They were tinder-dry and burned to ash quickly, even without the use of naphtha to hurry things along.She blew out the candle and restored it to her pouch so as not to waste it, and went to examine the girl. She was still unconscious, but a superficial examination did not reveal any telltale cuts that suggested the beast had fed on her yet. Good, then she had not been given the vampir’s blood in return; he had not been grooming her for his nest. She was vaguely pretty, and clearly poor. Probably a serving wench in the inn or a servant of some sort. Her hands showed she was no stranger to hard work. That sort was the easiest prey for the vampir to lure, with sensuous dreams and erotic magic.Well, she would be all right. Of course, she would probably have hysterics when she woke up from the vampir-induced trance and found herself in nothing but her shift, beside the mill in the open and next to a pile of smoking ashes, but that was no concern of Rosa’s. The local Brotherhood had brought her and Hans here for one reason and one reason only: rid the area of the vampir, its nest, and whatever servants it had acquired. It had not required of her that she do anything other than save the next presumptive victim.Now to get to the next hunt, before morning came and the servant-beast hid itself among humans again.Without any need to conceal herself, she trotted up the road and out of the village, heading for the ridge where the two creatures’ paths had diverged as fast as she could, pondering what her next move should be. Straight hunt, or ambush?I don’t know these mountains, and the creature probably does. I would wager that the vampir recruited it here so that the fiend had someone that could give it local knowledge.Now she felt a mingled thrill of dread, excitement, and anticipation. Vampir were pretty mindless once they had focused in on a victim, and this one had been operating with the same handicaps she had, since it was not a native to the area. But the native creature? It was hunting on its own ground. This was going to be a real fight, and she was at a distinct disadvantage. At home in the Schwarzwald, she would have been able to set up an ambush.I don’t know where to ambush it here.She shivered, and pulled her cape around herself. Not going after it was not an option. Even with its master gone, it was a terrible danger to everyone here. Worse, because evidently the local Brotherhood had not known of its existence. It must have been confining its slaughters to the forest creatures—but that would not last, once it had allied itself with the vampir. Surely by now, as a reward, the master had let it taste human blood. Once that happened—The pit of her stomach went cold.She didn’t dare send out a widespread call for Elemental help either; it was possible for the creature to be an Elemental Magician itself, and it would hear the call. She remembered all too clearly when the one that had attacked Grossmutter had heard her frantic, widespread call for help. To send out something like that right now would be very like painting a glowing target on herself.But . . . there might be a way around that.She knelt and put her bare hand on the soil, and sent out something that was more like a whisper. It was not meant to travel far. If you fear the thing that walks as both beast and man, please come to me now.She waited. She sensed that there were things all around her, the local creatures of Earth, the wild ones, the ones far less inclined to help humans because of what humans meant to them. She had a good idea that they were debating among themselves. Should they come to her? Which represented the most threat to them—the thing that roamed the night, or she, herself?Perhaps another Elemental Master might have tried to coerce one of them, but that was not the way of the Bruderschaft. She waited, patiently, and finally, as time seemed to crawl past (and yet went far too quickly), she heard hesitant hoofsteps behind her, soft thuds on the earth.She turned, and looked into the strange, slantwise, goat eyes of an ancient satyr.She kept her gaze on his eyes, because he was priapic, of course. A satyr could not be alive and in the presence of anything female and not be priapic. If she took notice of it, he would take that notice for an invitation, as satyrs always did, and then there would be a tremendous waste of time while she dealt with that particular complication.He was very, very old; he might even date back to when the Romans were in these mountains. His gray beard and hair fell in tangled masses, full of leaves and twigs, down to his waist. His curled horns were enormous, and she wondered that he could even hold his head up beneath the weight of them. “By your courtesy, Elder One,” she said politely, trying Latin first. “Could you bend your effort to ask of your Master to speak with me?”He looked at her with his head tilted to the side, and she was about to try again in Greek, when he answered.“You are bold, to wish to speak to the Lord of the Hunt,” he replied.“There is another, twisted hunter in his realm, as you know,” she replied calmly. “I think He might wish to be rid of it, for surely it is preying on you, His children. Or if not now, it will soon.”Now the satyr bent his head, a very little, in agreement. “It is,” he said. “The forest is troubled. And you can rid us of this troublesome thing?”“I hope, with the aid of the Lord of the Hunt,” she told him, truthfully. A magician must never, ever lie, for his lies could turn to bring him mischief. “This forest is not my forest, and I need the help of one for whom every leaf is familiar.”“That will be the Lord of the Hunt,” the satyr said, nodding. And grinned. “For the sake of the cheese that I smell in yon bag, I will go to Him.”She was very, very glad that all he asked for was the cheese. Without hesitation, she took the wax-wrapped wedge from her hunting pouch and handed it to him. All of the Earth Elementals had a fondness for human foods; many were partial to baked goods, but it seemed this satyr had a taste for something more robust.He took the cheese and even bowed graciously to her, then turned without another word and walked back into the forest. A moment later, he was gone. Quite gone; he had vanished as only an Elemental on its home ground could.She waited again, concentrating on not being impatient. The Being she sought would not be impressed by impatience.But to her relief, the Being she sought evidently was just as eager to get the beast out of his forest as she was. It could not have been more than a few minutes before the forest all around her fell absolutely silent. But not with the silence of fear—no, this was the silence of awe.The forest before her literally lit up with the golden glow of Earth energies. Every leaf, every twig, every blade of grass or frond of moss was alive with light. And striding out from the heart of the light was the Lord of the Hunt.He glowed like the harvest moon, golden and radiant. Crowned with the many-branched horns of a king stag, clothed in a tunic of hide and fur and breeches of rough-tanned leather, he wore a hunting horn at his side and his every step was marked by a faint trembling in the earth. His eyes fixed on Rosa, implacable, stern. His face was neither old nor young, but had the same watchful stillness about it as an ancient carving.Her impulse was to bend the knee to him, but this was no being to show submission to. Cernunnos to the Celts, Woden in her own home forest, Herne in the isle of Britain, he was the ultimate predator. This was the Lord of the Hunt, and any display of weakness could be taken as a sign that you were prey. He had been a god once. Now, with no or few worshippers, his power was diminished. But by no means gone.Instead, she kept her eyes on his as she nodded slightly, acknowledging that he was much her superior in power, but also displaying her stubborn courage. She waited, however, for him to speak.To her relief, he sounded amused.“So. The little female wishes to rid my forest of The Fell Beast?”