A most sacred mantle lost to the desecration of those who partake of dying blood.
Keep thyself pure.
—Collected Proverbs, Beatrice of Fourth
Kerrick stood by the bar at the Blood and Bite, looking for a woman, the right woman, the one who would keep his head straight, the one he craved. His thighs twitched, heavy muscles he’d worked hard an hour ago, muscles demanding relief. Hunger lived in him now, deep, begging, fierce. He was a vampire and a warrior. He needed what he needed.
Yet something had changed and now he craved.
What he craved, however, he couldn’t have.
He’d taken vows.
His gaze slid around the south Phoenix club, into the many dark corners, the deep padded booths covered in red velvet, past the flashing strobes meant to disguise the various dark deeds that brought mortal women in droves to the vampire joint. The bar had the only real light, enhanced by a tall mirror behind a landscape of hundreds of gem-like bottles. The rest of the club slid to darkness all around the edges.
Vibrant moans punctuated the noise of the club and made his thighs twitch all over again.
Still, what he needed wasn’t here, wasn’t the fuck anywhere. He’d awakened a few hours ago with a hum in his chest that wouldn’t go away, a need unfulfilled and now screaming. It wasn’t just sex but sex was what called to him as an opener, a place to begin. He hunted with his groin but couldn’t find her. Not here. He wasn’t even looking. He couldn’t look. He’d taken vows, goddammit.
Kerrick shot his gaze to Thorne. “Shit. Sorry. No.”
“What the hell is the matter with you tonight?” Thorne, the leader of the Warriors of the Blood, sat on a stool next to him nursing a tumbler of Ketel One.
Kerrick leaned his hips against the bar and turned to scan the dance floor. Loud sexy music pumped through the dark club. Shadows passed back and forth, women giggling, men chasing as they had from the beginning of time. He shook his head. “You ever had an itch you couldn’t scratch?” He heard Thorne suck in a deep breath then exhale like he’d been breathing water.
“Sure. Every night of my life.”
Kerrick palmed the back of his neck and rubbed. The muscles were tight, but then they’d been tight for a few centuries. How long had he been here? Twelve. Yeah, his muscles had been tight for twelve centuries. What would it be like to have the strain worked out of every muscle?
He turned in the direction of the barkeep then tapped his glass on the counter. Sam Finch, owner of the Blood and Bite, drew close with a bottle of Maker’s and refilled the tumbler with two fingers of liquid gold.
Kerrick nodded his thanks then threw back the whiskey. He was used to the burn as he swallowed. He let the fire eat up his throat. He breathed in the vapors, felt his veins melt a little, yet no relief. Never relief, just a slight unwinding. “Where’s Medichi?”
“I told you,” Thorne said. His voice always sounded like he’d roughed it up with some coarse-grade sandpaper. “I sent him to Awatukee. Everyone’s out already. Again, what the hell is with you?”
Kerrick scowled. “Shit.” The rest of the warriors had received their assignments for the first round of battling, but—like every night for a warrior—anything could happen and usually did. “I’ve got this uneasy sense that all hell is about to break loose. And it isn’t even a full moon.” Kerrick tapped the bar once more. Sam refilled. He always took care of the warriors, staying close. “That will be Endelle.”
“What will be Endelle?” Thorne’s phone buzzed. He flipped Kerrick off then slashed the small flat card to his ear. “Give.” He nodded and let loose a bunch of yes, ma’ams for the next minute.
Kerrick shifted hips and torso, his gaze locked on Thorne. The brother’s hazel eyes were red-rimmed and not from weeping—too much Ketel One and no reason to put the bottle down. Thorne kept his fingers around the tumbler, stroking his thumb up and down the cold glass. He was Endelle’s numero uno, and Endelle answered to no one. She headed the main peacekeeping force in their world, and the warriors were hers to command. She was also a stick of dynamite, lit, ready to go off.
Kerrick drew in another deep breath. His gaze drifted to the dance floor. A wicked beat had the ladies gyrating and the men putting their hands everywhere. A few fangs pierced necks, which forced Kerrick to take another deep breath. He should get out there and get some relief. Blood would help. So would getting inside a woman. Yet how long would the buzz last? These days, not even two minutes, so what was the point?
Besides, what he needed wasn’t swinging her hips on a dance floor and what he needed he’d vowed never to take again. What he needed was a scent meant only for him, a myth, a woman who could fill all the deep gorges of his heart. And even if he found her, he was bound, hands together, ankles lashed, mouth gagged, heart blocked by a steel cage of guilt. So … shit.
He slung back the Maker’s and tapped the bar again. Sam was once more at his elbow.
“Yes, ma’am.” Thorne slugged Kerrick’s thigh and caught his attention. He looked up at Kerrick but kept speaking into the phone. “Sure you don’t want someone else? That particular warrior needs some R and R. In fact, I think he ought to be pulled for the night.” He drew the phone away from his ear and winced. Kerrick could hear the shouting; the words were the same set he used when he was just a little pissed off. He smiled and sipped. Endelle had lost her subtlety a few millennia ago.
Endelle. Bitch-on-wheels, yet he’d die for her. She was what kept their world from sinking beneath the enemy’s boot and Kerrick served her, they all did. The Warriors of the Blood loved her, hated her, goddamn respected her.
“Yes, ma’am.” Thorne’s head bobbed, and more yessums followed. Finally he thumbed his phone and replaced it in an upper slit of his black leather kilt. He wore battle gear and would soon head out like the rest of them. “You’ve got an assignment.”
“Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.” He needed his sword in one hand and his dagger in the other. Battling always helped, always took some of the strain from his neck. He stood upright, ready for action. Thorne just looked at him.
“What?” Kerrick snapped.
“It might be a woman.”
Kerrick shook his head. “She wants me to protect a mortal female? What the fuck? You know the vow I took and so does Endelle. I don’t guard females.”
Thorne met his gaze head-on, no blinking.
“Shit.” Kerrick dug in his heels, lowered his chin. He split his resonance. “Not gonna do it.” He’d taken a vow and the hell he’d overturn it just because Her Supremeness willed it so.
“Endelle requested you on this one, no one else. She never pushes me about assignments so she must have her reasons. Besides, she didn’t have any details. She saw something in her meditations, which as you know do not always pan out.”
“I’m better off battling. With the mood I’m in, I could crush skulls with my bare hands tonight.” His biceps flexed and quivered, a thoroughbred at the gate.
“Sorry. She wants you.”
The song ended abruptly and Kerrick’s voice boomed the length of the building: “Fuck you.”
All conversation, from one end of the club to the other, got knocked off track for about three long seconds. Kerrick glanced around and anyone looking his direction immediately looked away. Warriors weren’t known for their sweet tempers.
Thorne rose from his seat, his hazel eyes hard as steel. He met Kerrick’s gaze dead-on. “You don’t have a choice.”
“The hell I don’t and that would be Jeannie.”
“Jeannie?” Thorne cried. “What the hell are you talking about?” His phone buzzed, and he flipped Kerrick off again as he drew the card to his ear. “Give,” he barked. “Oh. Hey, Jeannie. Sorry. What’s up?”
Jeannie worked at Central Command. All the night’s assignments flowed from Central straight to Thorne. Central mapped the entire metro Phoenix area and knew exactly where the enemy operated and where the warriors needed to be. Kerrick narrowed his eyes, his fingers flexed around his tumbler. He imagined his sword in one hand, dagger in the other. His heart rate increased.
“Got it,” Thorne said. He returned his phone to the same pocket and let another juicy set of obscenities fly. “Okay. You’ve got a reprieve. Four pretty-boys active in a downtown alley. You know the drill.”
“Four,” Kerrick murmured, nodding. He almost smiled. He clapped Thorne on the shoulder. “Thank you,” he said. “But please just get me the hell out of this other bullshit assignment.”
* * *
Alison Wells sat in her office, perched on the edge of her cream-colored wing chair, the therapist’s chair, her BlackBerry clamped to her ear. The last thing she wanted to do was have a conversation with her sister about her love life, but for some reason Joy was pressing her to start dating again.
Taking a deep breath, Alison said, “I think you’re forgetting that the last man who made love to me ended up in the emergency room … bleeding … and unconscious.” She gripped her phone hard, painful memories crowding her head.
“Not so loud,” Joy cried. “I have regular eardrums, remember?”
“And I’m telling you that I don’t want to talk about my ex. I closed this chapter on my life the same night I rode to the hospital and nothing, nothing, will cause me to open it again.”
“Lissy, it’s been three years. Maybe things have changed. Maybe some of those special abilities of yours have calmed down a little. Maybe you could find some huge bodybuilder who could handle all your power. I mean … really. You should try again. Really.”
Alison sighed as a familiar longing filled up her chest until she could hardly breathe. Why couldn’t she have been more like Joy, even a little bit, Joy the younger sister, the normal sister, the sister with the gorgeous husband and nine-month-old adorable baby boy?
They were like night and day. Joy with her curly brown hair and dark eyes who resembled their father, while Alison with her straight blond hair and blue eyes took after Mom. The only thing she shared in common with her sister was her height. At six-foot apiece, they’d both been teased all through middle school and well into high school.
Joy had made the best of it and took up cheerleading.
Alison had known her height for what it was, one more thing that set her apart from everyone else.
Her gaze skated over the empty wall unit opposite as well as the pictureless walls. She had sold the furniture a week ago to the therapist taking over most of her practice. Other than the foot-high unity statue sitting in the center of the coffee table, her office was a desert, as dry as the air outside, as lifeless.
Her gaze shifted to the alabaster carving, and a silent curse worked her tongue. The last remnant of her eight-year stint in private practice was that aggravating statue. She smoothed back hair already pulled into a tight twist. If only her sister hadn’t called to discuss her love life, maybe she wouldn’t feel quite so ready to scream.
“Please, Lissy,” Joy said in a voice that sent a warning chill straight down her spine. “I really, really think you should try again.”
All the breath left Alison’s body as she stared at the alabaster family. She thought of her nephew whom she loved more than she had ever thought possible, one of her links to normalcy as Aunt Lissy.
Her heart fractured then broke into a million pieces.
This couldn’t be happening, this truth, which Joy’s desperate tone had finally unveiled, the reason for her phone call.
At last she drew breath. She took several. “Joy,” she whispered. Her heart thumped through a couple of questionable beats.
“Yes?” Nothing more than a squeak this time.
Dear sister. Dear normal sister. “How far along are you? Six weeks? Eight?”
“Did you just read my mind? You’re not supposed to, remember? You just broke Mom’s rule.”
“I didn’t read your mind. I wouldn’t, not without your permission.” Another breath, another effort to calm her unsteady heart. She needed the truth, but she didn’t want to hear it. “It’s just that you haven’t brought up my love life in, oh, let’s see, three years. Really. So how far along are you?” She didn’t want to know. Joy, please don’t say it.
A heavy sigh followed. “Two months, one week. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
Alison used her free hand to white-knuckle the armrest of the chair. “And you thought I’d be upset?” Dammit, her eyes burned like she’d just rubbed them with chili peppers. Upset didn’t begin to describe what she felt. Upset would have been a lazy walk on the beach.
She squeezed her eyes shut and bent over, folding up like a taco to keep everything inside from spilling out. She had only one wish: that the world would end right now.
A second child. A husband, a home, little T. J., and now another baby on the way.
“Of course you’ll be upset,” Joy said. Her cadence had slowed down. “You think I haven’t noticed how anytime we’re together you pick T. J. up and don’t give him back until we’ve loaded the car? Even then I have to pry him out of your arms.”
“Saw that, did you?”
“Oh, Lissy, I know how you look at Ryan and me. Do you suppose for even one second I don’t get how much your heart’s broken? What kind of sister do you think I am?”
Alison could have sworn she’d been more careful, more circumspect, but maybe that was like a ripe tomato trying not to be red. She should have known her sister would see through her. “I’ll be all right.” She swiped at damp cheeks.
“Like hell. I’m so sorry, Lissy.” A soft sigh, then, “Maybe you could—”
“Please don’t,” she cried. “Not another word. Please.” She squeezed her eyes shut as she pulled herself together. “I have an idea. Why don’t we just forget about me for a moment.” She arched up from her hinged position and forced herself to be a good sister. “I want to hear every single detail about this new life, so tell me everything. When did you find out?” More tears tracked her cheeks.
The tenor of her sister’s voice returned to the usual soft wind-chime treble as she rattled off all her symptoms, travails, and excitement. She had to pee too much already, her hemorrhoids were a bitch—and she wasn’t even three months along, thank you very much—and she had the worst time just staying awake. But oh, God, she could hardly wait until she felt the first movement of life, the fluttering deep inside, the certainty a new baby was on the way.
Alison listened and made every appropriate ooh and aah even though she pressed a hand to her chest the whole time. Her gaze became fixed to the heavy-as-hell alabaster statue, sculpted to show the images of father, mother, and child, a symbol of internal unity, the exact representation of the goal of therapy. She had thought herself so clever at the time buying it.
“I have to wear maternity pants already…,” Joy rattled on, a car on a salt flat gaining speed.
Alison stood up and rounded the coffee table. She positioned herself opposite the window then looked down to stare at the alabaster figures once more. She had loved everything about the sculpture until her sister’s first child had come into the world. Then the meaning had changed, shifted, taken on razor-sharp edges, which kept slicing Alison up.
“We’ve already been talking about names. Ryan really wants a girl…”
Alison’s mind drifted over her own peculiar struggles. She had been born with a bizarre assortment of weird abilities that made it impossible to get close to a man; strange extrasensory “gifts” that didn’t always have a controlled end, especially if she was caught up in a moment of, well, increasing passion.
A vow of celibacy had followed the trip to the emergency room, an absolute requirement given her oh-so-special abilities.
But this, Joy getting to live out her life in the usual manner, had set coals to the bottom of Alison’s feet.
“We’re looking at cribs tomorrow and Ryan wants to get one of those double strollers…”
She leaned over the table and assessed the exact point of balance required to palm the heavy statue in one hand. She’d be able to now since she’d been working out hard for the past six months, running, weight lifting, stair-stepping, Spinning.
How nice in this moment to be so strong.
She wrapped one hand around the statue then lifted. She hefted the family to shoulder height then arched her wrist slowly to support the statue in her hand. She pressed it a couple of times. Up, down. Up, down.
“You’re still coming to Mom and Dad’s, right?” Joy asked.
“Absolutely,” she said, forcing the enthusiasm, but it was like pushing raw potatoes through a sieve. “Mom would kill me if I didn’t show.”
Three days from now. She would need every second between to gain perspective, to remind herself of all the good things of her life, to be able to be around her sister and not be overcome by either jealousy or despair.
“So, Mom said you already have an idea for your dissertation. You must be thrilled about starting school again. You’ve always wanted to go back.”
Alison couldn’t listen anymore, couldn’t respond in a happy voice one more time. Yes, she was going back to school, and yes, part of her was excited, but Joy had the life Alison wanted, the normal life with love, a good man, babies. No, she couldn’t utter one more positive word.
She decided to lie and spoke in a hushed voice. “Listen, Joy, my last client just arrived so I’d better go.”
“Oh, yeah, of course. See you at Mom and Dad’s.”
“Love you more.”
Alison pressed the little red button then tossed her cell sideways onto the cushion of the wing chair. She kept her gaze fixed on the four-by-eight window. Her eyes burned all over again and her throat constricted.
Her last client wouldn’t arrive for a little while yet.
She had time … to get her head straight.
She flexed her powerful right arm. Oh, but she shouldn’t do this. She really shouldn’t. She had been a responsible tenant in the medical building for the past eight years. This could be classified as insane.
Despite her calm reasoning, she pivoted to stand with her left shoulder facing the window. She drew her right arm back. She even lifted her left knee for more stability and strength, like a Diamondback pitcher. Then, without allowing her thoughts to muddle the moment, she aimed the statue at the long plate-glass window above the green chenille sofa and threw with all her might.
The shattering glass sounded like heaven and for a split second, she could actually smile. The moment dragged out in slow motion until reality struck and she realized exactly what she had done. Without thinking, she reached out and snatched a pocket of time, slowing the forward movement of the shattered window until time stopped.
All the glass froze in place. Even the unity statue floated three feet beyond the sill.
She looked down at her hand, palm up, fingers curled in. She felt the pull on her entire arm as though a large rubber band had stretched out and grabbed hold of some distant invisible object then held tight.
She shook her head, astonished.
Alison Wells … human … held time in her hand.
How was this possible?
How were any of her special abilities possible? From the time she was a little girl, she could perform amazing preternatural feats, but to what purpose? Her powers simply made no sense in her world. She had no use for them, no way to exhibit them without being shipped to Area 51 and studied as a science project.
Beyond that, what was the point, ever, of being able to seize a little pocket of time and hold it in your hand?
* * *
Once Kerrick prepared for battle, he called Central and got a fold, a quick dematerialization, to the downtown Phoenix alley. The journey between lasted a rough second, maybe two, a dark ride through nether-space, a blanking-out then sudden hard awareness, a blinding rush of adrenaline followed by a blast of endorphins. To arrive was to be prepared … for anything.
Kerrick was one of the most powerful warriors on Second Earth. However, he had a flaw, which still chapped his hide. He couldn’t fold himself to another location. He had to get an assist every time from either Central or one of his warrior brothers, even Endelle on occasion.
As his feet hit asphalt, he dropped slowly into a crouch because there they were. His gaze followed the pale, blue-tinged creatures as they emerged laughing from the left T of the alley—death vampires.
God, they were beautiful, part of the lure to bring mortals within their grasp, within their thrall. They were the mythical yet very real creatures of darkness that hunted victims at night to hide the faint bluish cast to their skin. The undead. Oh, they breathed, their hearts beat, but the basic belief in right and wrong had long since been shoveled into the ground and eaten by worms. Any remnant of humanity had gotten buried in the addiction to dying blood, a hunger worse than heroin, nicotine, Jack Daniel’s, and meth all put together.
Kerrick stretched his preternatural vision and saw the blood smeared over thickened fangs, lips, cheeks, and chins, a red trophy of the hunt. Three of them. Where was the fourth?
The sun was barely set, still dusk, and these three bastards had no doubt just killed a mortal apiece. They were giddy, twirling in circles, shoving at each other like drunken buddies coming out of a bar at two in the morning. The alley, with chain link on one side and the ass-end of a worn-out strip center on the other, didn’t provide anonymity for the denizens of Second Earth, which meant these bastards didn’t give a fuck if they were seen.
They were also in their most dangerous state. Power flowed through those veins right now, steroid-like, ripe with death. These vampires would be juiced and feeling no pain.
Good thing he was here. Only a handful of warriors were big enough, strong enough, fast enough to deal with these assholes, and he was one of them. Besides, more than any other night he could remember in a long time, he needed this fight. His muscles ached to move, to fly, and yes, to kill.
Something was on the wind. Something big. He could feel it.
He flexed his right arm, heavy with muscle and built up every day to support the weight of his sword. Using his mind, he folded the goddamn fine-looking forged metal into his hand from a secured weapons locker in the basement of his home. God, he loved the feel of it, the grip wrapped with leather to fit his fingers, the wicked weight, the balance. This was his sword, bonded only to him. The edges were as sharp as samurai steel, a double-edged carbon-steel blade meant for destruction.
His wing-locks began to thrum, preparing for battle, a vibration that went into his groin and tightened his balls. He wore flight gear, sturdy black sandals strapped all the way to the knees with shin guards, a thick black leather kilt, and a heavy studded harness, also black leather, buckled down at the waist, running straight up his chest, over his shoulders, and down his spine to allow for his wings. In the front a slot in the harness held a dagger at the exact angle necessary for his left reach. On each wrist he wore a studded black leather guard.
He withdrew the dagger now and started flipping the weapon end-over-end, catching the handle each time, setting the throw in rhythm to the slam of his adrenaline-soaked heart. He’d had his weapons a long time. They were his closest friends and he only traded them in for new ones when there just wasn’t much metal left to polish or sharpen.
A sword in his right hand. A razor-like dagger flipping in his left. Life got no better than this.
With a thought, he swelled the muscles of his back and his wings began to come, flying through the locks, an orgasm of movement that flooded his body with a surge of male strength. Pleasure whipped through his thighs down to his feet then upward through his groin, his abs, his shoulders and arms.
His wings unfurled, easing into their massive height, another reason he could fight these bastards—Warriors of the Blood had god-like wings, fit for battle.
Good. Life was good.
His gaze hadn’t wavered a diamond cut from his prey. He could have lifted into the air, swooped, then severed each head before a second had passed. No, he wanted these night-feeders to pay for the lives they’d robbed, to know at least a moment of terror before their carbon-based DNA returned to Mother Earth, any dimension. As the Creator was his witness, he’d always make them pay.
A fourth death vamp came around the corner zipping his cargoes and grinning, his skin so pale and edged with blue that he looked translucent in the dim alley light.
One of the bastards caught sight of Kerrick and alerted the others. As a group they turned in his direction.
He smiled as wings sprouted from each of the vamps, feathers all in black and none of the spans as large as his. Swords flashed into hands, folded from underground bunkers where the night-feeders lived during the day.
He created a powerful mist, which would keep what needed to happen well away from the eyes or ears of any nearby mortal. Mist, when present, worked on the mind to create confusion. The average mortal, or even ascender for that matter, would simply fail to register anything covered in mist.
He swept his wings in a single brisk downward thrust then shot straight up into the air to float about thirty feet above. He waited, wings wafting, heart calm, strong, steady, certain. He flipped his dagger again. Flip. Flip. Flip. Catch. The gentle touch of his fingers to the dagger hilt a deadly, lethal pressure ready for release. The forefinger of his right hand stroked the crossguard of his sword.
The charge came, two from the left, two from the right, rising into the air, a coordinated squadron complete with battle cries. He moved with his singular gift—speed. He became a blur and sliced in crisscross patterns until he severed a wing and a body fell. He caught one death vamp high on the torso and took the head as well as the shoulder and part of a wing.
Two on the ground.
Two to go.
The latter were more skilled, well trained, but he let loose the dagger and caught the left vamp in the throat. A spiral of wings ensued as the pretty-boy lost control. Meanwhile the remaining vamp, high on power from the drain, clanged steel. Kerrick’s arm reverberated from the shock, yet oh how good it felt. He allowed the vamp to show his skills as he met each flap of his adversary’s wings, thrust of feet, fall of his sword arm.
He drew the battle out, wanting the practice, wanting to sustain the chemicals now racing in his blood and feeding his brain with a whole lot of feel-good.
With a flurry the death vamp came at him, a roar in his throat. Kerrick caught his sword in an upswing, threw his arm in a circle in order to catch his opponent’s arm, then flipped the sword out of the death vamp’s grasp. The force of the blow and the sudden lack of sword weight sent his opponent flipping over twice before his wings caught air.
But it was too late.
Kerrick flew at him, drew his knees up, then planted both feet on the death vamp’s chest, thrusting him backward toward the ground. He drew his wings in close, all the way to half mount, following fast as he locked stares. His adversary’s wings slowed him but gravity pulled Kerrick in tight. He lifted his arms then plunged. His sword pierced his enemy’s abdomen just below the sternum. A cry filled the air.
Half a second before the pretty-boy hit the asphalt Kerrick spread his wings and eased the last few feet back to earth.
Breathing hard, he paused to draw in his wings swiftly through his wing-locks. Once he was settled, his muscles thinning to normal, he retrieved his dagger still stuck in the flesh of the second opponent. He wiped the blade, two swipes on the kilt. He folded the dagger, another quick dematerialization this time of steel, back to his weapons locker.
He finished the job quickly, severing the rest of those beautiful heads. Dying blood altered even the features, enabling every death vamp to lull the next mortal into a sense of awe and therefore safety before the fangs took the jugular. The skin, with its hint of blue, was … exquisite, especially at night—and that was exactly the point, to stun the victim with unnatural beauty.
He scouted the area for more sign of the enemy, but nothing returned to him except the distant rumble of a Harley engine. As he started to regain his breath, he folded his sword back to the locker.
He spread more mist far and wide, drew his phone from his pocket, then thumbed it once. He took another deep breath and stood upright. Sweat poured. He could smell the blood of his adversaries on his skin and on the leather of his weapons harness and kilt. Looking down, blood spattered even his sandals and bare toes.
“Hey, Jeannie,” he said, catching his breath. “Four to pick up. Make it quick.”
“It’s not even a quarter after six, barely dark.”
She sighed. “I guess this is going to be one of those nights and it isn’t even a full moon. Okay. Locked on. Cover your peepers.” Kerrick closed his eyes. A flash of bright light took away the bodies, the debris, even the blood on the ground.
He made his way to the top of the alley and felt his chest tighten. This was the part of his job he loathed. Drained and dead mortals always gave him the shakes. The T of the alley dead-ended about fifty feet to his left. Decrepit apartments sat opposite in a low-slung row, bars across all the first-story windows.
He moved fast until he saw who had been chosen to feed the death vamps’ addiction and what had been done to them. Then his feet slowed as though he slogged through mud.
Only one adult among them. Christ. He’d had a whole lot of years to get used to the carnage, but this was off the rails.
He swallowed bile.
A mother lay at an awkward angle, drained, her back broken. Two young boys to her left, necks ravaged from the feeding. However, the worst was on her right, a young teenage girl with her small skirt pushed up around her waist and her legs split wide, her white thighs covered in blood. He fell to his knees, lifted his face and arms to the darkening sky, then let out a roar.
A familiar agony swamped his chest, a misery that lived in him now, dictating the progress of each night, tearing up his soul. He drew the girl’s legs together and pulled her skirt down. “You have been avenged,” he whispered. “May your journey to the arms of the Creator be swift, and may you know peace.”
What would that be like? He never slept through the night. None of the warriors did. He awoke to terrible images, and these would likely torture him more than once in the coming weeks.
He withdrew his phone again, thumbed, ordered the uptake. He closed his eyes and saw the flash of light.
Once the job was done, he spoke into his phone. “Jeannie, fold me back to the basement. Now.”
“You got it.”
He felt the vibration.
Once in his dwelling, in the dark cavernous room below his house, he dropped prone to the cement floor then stretched his arms straight out. He had no outlet for the pain he felt, for the fury. All he could do was this: take a moment to grieve, then reaffirm his vows of continual vengeance, of living his solitary existence, of devoted service to Endelle as a Guardian of Ascension.
Copyright © 2010 by Caris Roane