Check out the second Chapter of Protector of Midnight.
The van came into view, idling at the border. Nolan was pacing the tarmac, his head down, hands on hips.
I’d lost my comm link when the Black Wing had scooped me off the road.
“Shit, Nolan. It’s Harker!” Bellamy jumped out of the passenger side of the van adjusting his cap. The guy never went anywhere without it. It was a relic from the outside with a strange symbol none of us recognized. Bellamy claimed he’d found it blowing down the road by the turnaround forest. The damn patch of tree-land was a favorite place for kids to play simply because, no matter how far they ran or what twists and turns they took, it would undoubtedly spit them out back on the road to Arcadia. No one ever left the city, although people did enter. I was living proof of that.
Nolan looked up, his anxious expression smoothing out as I raised my hand in greeting. I crossed the border.
“You made it.” He stared down at me from his lofty height, his piercing gray eyes shrouded and unreadable, and then he yanked me into a hug, almost squeezing the life from me.
Bellamy let out a surprised squeak.
Yeah, Nolan was not the touchy feely type. Eleven years my senior, he’d been my mentor forever. He’d recruited and trained me, and he was my go to guy for pretty much all my work related issues. And, shit, was I getting all teary eyed?
He released me. “You’re okay.” His tone was gruff. “You could have been killed.”
I almost had been, but if I told them that I’d have to tell them about the Black Wing and that was something that needed to stay under wraps, because if they investigated why a Black Wing was doing the Protectorates’ job, my little brush with his arm might come out and that was something that could never, ever happen.
I lifted my chin. “I doubled back and lost him.”
Bellamy sighed. “He went under, didn’t he?”
We stood beneath the forever sunset for a moment longer, watching the midnight sky in the distance, swirling with darkness and highlighted by the rays of a moon we would never bathe under.
Nolan clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Come on. We should get back and write this up. It’s getting late.”
I glanced at my watch. Damn, it was gone five p.m. Jesse would be getting dinner ready soon. But there was no getting out of report writing. Nolan was a stickler for protocol.
Bellamy stepped back to let me ride shotgun. I guess my brush with Midnight was enough for him to give up his throne for me. Aw, boy feel the love.
“Don’t get used to it,” he said as I climbed up.
I shot him a grin. “Really? But, the butt print you’ve left is so warm and comfy.”
He narrowed his eyes in mock annoyance and climbed up back.
The van roared to life and we did a three point turn and headed back into Sunset. Back to base.
The words wriggled around on the paper, refusing to stay where I’d put them. Gah! This sucked. Why did it have to happen now? I’d fed dammit. Ah, but then I’d used the juice to ride the roofs out of Midnight. Exhaling slowly, I closed the unfinished file and headed out of my office, down the corridor to the cells. It wasn’t often we held any scourge, but it just so happened that we’d picked up a stray bloodsucker two days ago. The handover to Protectorate happened once every two weeks and only Nolan ever went, taking the cell van and returning all somber and shit. Made me wonder what the heck happened at these handovers.
So yeah, the bloodsucker was curled up in a corner of his cell, all skeletal, and pale and gross. I could never make up my mind what was worse, the rippers or the bloodsuckers, and rumor had it there was much worse in Midnight.
I closed the door to lock up behind me, heart pounding partly in fear, partly in anticipation. The sucker glanced up, his beady red eyes tracking my movements.
He sniffed the air and moved closer to the bars. That’s it, come closer. I grasped the metal, knuckles white and waiting. He’d lunge soon. Attack and hope to latch on. But he hadn’t fed in days, and I was faster. A mere touch was needed to get what my body craved. Damn, I hated this. Hated that I needed to do this. Nausea mingled with need as I lowered my shields in preparation. The dark craving in my solar plexus wriggled and writhed. I pressed myself against the bars and exhaled. The sucker’s eyes rolled in his head, and a low moan drifted up from his parted, blackened lips.
“You want some?” I held out my hand. “It’s hot and thick and delicious.”
It watched me almost warily. Shit. Why wasn’t it attacking? It shouldn’t be taking this long. One of the other officers could come in to check on the prisoner at any minute.
“Come on.” I wriggled my fingers. “You want a taste.” My tone dropped to something, low, seductive and inviting.
The wary expression fell away and the bloodsucker fell forward onto all fours.
“That’s it. Good boy. Come here. Closer.”
He began to move slowly toward the bars, eyes half closed. My pulse was a jackrabbit in my throat. And then the fucker lunged. I grabbed his chin, and inhaled. Energy poured into me, sips, and slurps, so fucking good, but not enough. Just one more sip. One more draw from this irresistible pool.
The bloodsucker made a strangled sound, part pain, part ecstasy. My eyes snapped open and my heart slammed against my rib cage at the thing I was clasping. Its eyes were red pebbles in its sunken sockets, its cheeks were sallow hollows, and the body, oh god, if the sucker had been thin before he was positively skeletal now. I released it, and it slumped to the floor and lay unmoving.
Shit, shit, shit.
Was it dead? Had I killed it? Oh god. What had I done? Wiping my hand on my jeans, I backed up and then the thing gave a shuddering breath, raised its head and smiled.
The door slammed behind me as I strode back to my office, my stomach a writhing pit of nausea.
I finished up the report on autopilot, my mind whirring. It wasn’t as if the bloodsucker could tell anyone what I’d done. Scourge didn’t speak. At least not any language we understood. There was nothing to worry about. But the whole thing left a bitter taste in my mouth, stirring up memories I’d prefer remain buried. Memories of twinkling blue eyes and dimples, memories of Jonathon—my first crush and first sexual encounter. I’d almost killed him. Turns out shields didn’t work so well when you were in the throes of an orgasm. I’d slammed them down in time, but not before I’d tasted something so pure and delicious it had almost made me lose my mind. If I hadn’t been so fucking infatuated with him, I’d have carried on feeding. But my feelings for him had pushed back the darkness or I’d have killed him. Turned out because humans had no supernatural power, the only thing left for me to siphon was their life force, and, man, that shit was intoxicating.
That was my first and last relationship. Just couldn’t risk losing control like that again. Ever. Ten minutes later, report done, I was headed for the exit. Henry, one of the officers, was chatting up Julie, our receptionist, and Bellamy was busy pulling fliers off the corkboard.
I grabbed a scrunched up sheet of paper. “Join the silvered and be saved.” I snorted. “Fucking tossers.”
“Yeah.” Bellamy shoved the balls of paper into the wastepaper basket. “I keep taking them down and they keep showing up.” He shook his head. “If I catch who’s been pinning these, I’m gonna rip them a new one.”
Bellamy had lost his wife and son to the White Wings less than a year ago. Hannah had fallen prey to the propaganda after their son had been born. Maybe it was a postnatal thing, maybe just a mother thing, but she’d become obsessed with saving her son from all the possible nasty fates that awaited him. What if the magick of Arcadia got to him? What if he went scourge? What if he didn’t and one of the bloodsuckers or rippers got hold of him?
The White Wings provided the perfect answer. A completely safe haven for all humans in the district of Dawn. It wasn’t even expensive, not really. Not like the house prices in Sunset. No. All you needed to do to get into Dawn was hand over your free will and become silvered.
Yeah, a pretty silver chain that made you their puppet. As far as I was concerned, the White Wings were monsters. They had the perfect sanctuary, a place where the scourge couldn’t enter, where the magick of Arcadia couldn’t warp and they kept their gates closed, accepting only humans who’d happily agree to be their slaves.
I screwed up the flyer and lobbed it into the bin. “Have you heard from Hannah?”
“Not in three months.”
The White Wings allowed minimal familial contact. Two or three visits a year, but not out of compassion. It was in an effort to recruit more slaves. Maybe the families left behind in Sunset would miss their loved ones so much they’d sign up to be pearly gate prisoners too. The visits didn’t last once you made your resistance clear. Once that happened, you were unlikely to ever see your loved ones again. Once you were silvered, there was no going back. No one had ever returned to live in Sunset. Sorry White Wing, I changed my mind, being a yes man sucks and I’d like my free will back now, please.
Nope. That didn’t happen, and yet every year, more humans packed up their belongings and left for Dawn.
“This is them, you know,” Bellamy said. He pulled off his cape, smoothed back his hair and then shoved it firmly back onto his head again. “Those bastard White Wings have us trapped here. This is them.”
A popular theory. “We don’t know that for sure.”
His lip curled. “They’re the only ones getting anything out of this.” He dropped the bin and lifted the barrier. “There has to be a way out.”
This was dangerous talk. Crazy talk. Talk that often preceded going scourge. “Bellamy, babe, I know you’re hurting, but you can’t think like that.”
The barrier slammed shut and he turned to me, eyes red rimmed. “If people can get in, then there must be a way out.”
He was talking about me—one of the few people to end up in this town with no memory of a time before. Me with a handful of others, all gone now, taken by the scourge or lured into Dawn by promises of sanctuary and peace. There would be more. There always were, every twenty years or so the stories said. Outsiders would wander into Arcadia and our ranks would swell, a little.
Except this time, the twenty years had come and gone and no outsiders had walked out of the turnaround forest.
The entrance bell beeped, and I turned to find Mrs. Carlson standing on the welcome mat, her eyes behind her Coke bottle spectacles.
“I called and called and the line is engaged. Why is the line engaged for so long?” she asked.
Julie reached for the phone and cursed softly. “Dammit, I had it on busy.”
“Did you see him?” Mrs. Carlson asked. “Did you see my boy? Is he all right? He didn’t mean to hurt those kitties. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Julie and Henry exchanged panicked glances. This was the part every officer hated—telling a parent their child was lost to them. Going scourge was one thing, but it was when you went under that you truly died. To some, it brought comfort. They even held funerals for their lost loved ones. But for Mrs. Carlson, it would only bring grief. It was no secret that Romeo had been hanging around Sunset due to his attachment to his mother. The neighbors had even reported sightings of him in their back yards. He’d found a way back into Sunset each time we’d chased him out. Each time we’d thought the Protectorate would find him. But he’d come back a few weeks later. It had been a year and Romeo had held on, fighting going under. It was a testament to his mental strength, and no one could truly blame Mrs. Carlson for encouraging the visits. But her son was gone for real now.
She looked up at me. “Serenity, dear. Did you speak to him? You know he always adored you.”
Oh, man. I so did not want to be the one to do this. But she was here, and I was here and damn it. “Mrs. Carlson I—”
“Harker, what the heck are you still doing here?” Nolan’s voice boomed down the corridor leading up to reception. He strode down the hall, his long stride eating space. “Get your arse home to your sister and take tomorrow off.”
I looked from Mrs. Carlson to Nolan and he jerked his head toward the exit. This was him giving me an out and, with the fucked up day I’d had, I was grateful for the reprieve.
Nolan lifted the barrier. “Why don’t you come with me Mrs. Carlson?”
With a final confused glance my way, Romeo’s mother followed Nolan into the depths of the SPD.
It was my cue to make a getaway.
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