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Darkness falls (darkness.., p.17
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       Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls, Book 1), p.17

           Jessica Sorensen
 

  Chapter 16

  We leave the hillside and hike across the desert, dark sky imminent above. When I mention this to Aiden, he promises me we’ll be all right, that where we’re going isn’t too far. But what about the walk back? This he has no answer for and I suddenly wonder if maybe I’m not the only one who vampires fear.

  He walks at my pace, quick and in a hurry to get to where we’re going. And I like that he does. I like a lot of things about him. Like the way his hair hangs in his eyes or how he touches me. I wonder if this was what Nina meant, when she spoke of how Tristan should have made me feel.

  “Where exactly is the city?” I glance around at the horizon.

  He makes a sharp curve to the left, dipping down around the foot a shallow hill that’s lined with boulders. There’s a massive trench full of muddy water and he splashes down into it, the water rising to his knees. I pull my hand away, hesitating, thinking of when I almost drowned.

  “The city’s a little over fifty miles away. This place,” he motions at everything around us, “is The Gathering dumping ground. This is where all The Gathering members end up.” He holds out his hand. “It’s okay. It’s just water.”

  I nod, taking his hand, and step down, the water climbing to the top of my legs. It has a funny smell to it, like metal and rust.

  “But what’s The Gathering for?” I wade further in, not letting go of his hand “I mean, what’s the point? And why put us in body bags?”

  We reach a large rounded pipe that snakes deep into the ground. Water streams down it like a river. “The first thing you need to know,” he ducks inside the pipe, letting go of my hand, “is that we don’t have all the answers.”

  I slide my feet inside the pipe and the muffled beating of hearts floods my ears. “Who’s we exactly?” I call out through the dark. “Aiden. Where’d you go?”

  He finds my hand and we skid down the pipe, the water soaking into the back of my pants. It’s a steep incline and the water makes it slippery. The darkness of the air is thick and I can’t see where we’re going until we reach the bottom where a deep pool of water sits. He jerks me over onto a metal platform, saving us from landing in it. The tips of my hair are dripping and my pants are soaked. My boots are filled with water and they squeak as I follow him over to a barred door that has no handle and no lock.

  He reaches into the pocket of his jacket and takes out a knife. My knife. The knife Monarch gave me. “Take this.” He puts the knife in my hand.

  I trace my thumb along the silver handle. “Who’s behind the door?”

  “No one dangerous,” he says. “I just want you to trust me. That’s all. ”

  I eye him warily and slide the knife into my back pocket.

  He gives a small smile and raps on the door, this weird rhythm. Then a guy, a few years older than me, glides the door open. He has green eyes and hair as red as the rocks outside. There’s this strange sharp thing poking out from the side of his eyebrow.

  “Aiden what’s up?” he says. “I didn’t think you were gonna show up tonight.” They slap hands and pat each other on the back. “So did everything go okay yesterday?” He asks.

  “As okay as it ever does.” Aiden says and both their eyes land on me. “This is Kayla,” Aiden tells him.

  The red-headed guy sticks out his hand. “Kayla, huh?” He looks like he’s trying to figure out something, but then gives up. “I’m Greyson.”

  “Greyson,” I say, holding my breath as I shake his hand. Fear. He fears I’ll discover something downstairs, his heart drumming as though it’s hiding dangerous secrets. Five more seconds and I might have pulled my knife out and forced him to divulge them.

  But Aiden interrupts. “So are you going to let us in? Or make us stand out here all night?”

  Greyson blinks and steps aside. “Yeah, sorry man. Come on in.”

  I’m always prepared for the worst, prepared to attack at any moment, kill with the swing of my blade. But what’s just beyond the door is nothing I can be prepared for, because it’s nothing I’ve known before. A stairway spirals down into to a large room, packed with people—more people than the hillside. Tables, and chairs are dotted around and noisy chatter and music flurries the air, excited and eager and without restraint. I’ve never seen so much disorder. It’s mind blowing. And there’s no fear that someone will show up and bust them for being so free.

  “What are you thinking?” Aiden whispers in my ear.

  I flinch, surprised by his sudden closeness—surprised by how my body reacts. “That it’s amazing,” I finally say, as truthful as I’ve ever been. “But I don’t get it. Who are all these people? And why do they live separately from you?”

  Aiden moves back and meets my eyes. “These are more of the previous Gathering members,” he says.

  “But there’s so many of them,” I say, still mind blown.

  “That’s because The Gathering happens more than you realize,” he explains. “Which is part of the reason why we live separately—there’s not enough space for everyone. Plus, these guys like things a little more noisy than we do over on the hillside.”

  I shake my head, my lips parted. “But I don’t remember any of them getting chosen.” My gaze scans the crowd searching for any sort of familiarity to any of their faces. But I come up blank.

  “Do you remember anyone getting chosen?” Aiden starts down the stairs, the steps shaking under his movement.

  “No.” I follow, hand trailing down the railing, knowing I’ve thought this before.

  “Do you want to know why?” he asks, reaching the bottom. “And I want you to consider your answer very carefully because once you say yes there’s no turning back, even if you want to.”

  “Once you give in Kayla, there’s no going back,” Monarch says. “You have to make sure you really want it.”

  “Want what?” I ask.

  “The truth,” he says and something clanks in the distance.

  “But you told me never to ask for the truth,” I reply, feeling the nervous energy bubble around us.

  “Always ask for the truth, Kayla.” His words are soft, distant. “Just make sure the time is right.”

  I blink away the forgotten memory. “Yes. I want to know, whatever it is.”

  He nods, not happy with my answer, nor sad. He takes my hand again and pushes us through the crowd. Some of their fears sneak up on me, but they’re mild, compared to what I’m used to. Fears of snakes, vampires, of being alone.

  “Are you okay?” Aiden hollers over the noise and I catch a few people eyeballing us, fixated with me.

  I nod, my shoulder knocking into a large guy, holding a cup. He shoots me a glare, but then, once taking me in, smiles. “Is there something I’m missing?” I ask Aiden as we reach the end of the crowd.

  “There are a lot of things you’re missing.” He winks at me, like we’re sharing a private joke.

  But I don’t get the joke and when he sees that, he frowns. “Sorry,” he mutters.

  When we reach a doorway, guarded by two men, dressed in black with knives strapped to their belts, Aiden stops. Even though I can see their faces, my mind flashes back to The Colony—to the guards. To the bright red door.

  “They’re not Watchers,” Aiden quickly assures me, noticing my hand drifting toward my pocket, where my knife rests.

  I drop my hand to my side, but carry skepticism, which only expands as we descend down the hall, passing shut door after shut door that have people inside them—I know because I can hear their hearts. We halt in front of the very last door. Behind this one, there isn’t a heart beating. There are no sounds or signs of human life.

  He turns to me, blocking the door. “How much do you trust me?”

  “I barely know you,” I say.

  He brushes the hair from his honey eyes, frustration tensing in his jawline. “I get that, but I’m asking you,” he squeeze my hand gently, his heart pumping, “Do you trust me?”

  Trust. “I guess so,” I say, giving
him the best answer I can.

  He’s saddened with it, and turns his back to me, giving three firm knocks on the door. “Just try to stay calm, okay.”

  “I always am,” I let it slip out. My secret.

  But he doesn’t seem to care. A window slides open and another guard stands on the inside, with cautious eyes.

  “I got a new one.” Aiden nods at me.

  This seems to be the right words for the guard. He slams the window shut and the door swings open.

  “Prepare yourself,” Aiden warns and steps back, letting me walk in first.

  But nothing could prepare me for what’s behind that door. It’s a cemented room, but the walls shine silver. A single chair is all that occupies it. In the chair, sits a tall white figure, with its head hung, snow-white hair spilling over.

  My boot scrapes the floor and it raises its head, staring at me with pale eyes.

  A Higher.