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Darkness falls (darkness.., p.24
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       Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls, Book 1), p.24

           Jessica Sorensen
Chapter 23

  Highers can only be killed by another Higher.

  I quickly grab the keys and unlock the cuffs, the chains hitting the ground with a clack. Taking out the knife, I step back, until I press against the wall. The knife is small but sharp and shimmers in the light.

  “Do you remember me?” The Higher asks, taking a lazy step toward me. He’s dressed in ratty clothes, but the perfection of his existence outshines the minor flaw. “Do you know who I am?”

  “Am I supposed to?” I poise my knife in front of me.

  “Well, I know you.” Another slow step. “An abomination. Just like the rest of us.”

  I sidestep toward the glass. "What does that mean?”

  He doesn’t answer, chanting away in the Higher’s language. Another step and another and I’m right in front of the glass.

  “You know why they put me in here?” He asks.

  “To kill me.” I tap my knife, testing the thickness of the glass. “Because they think I’m like you—they think I’m a Higher.”

  “That’s one reason,” he says. “But there’s more to it than that. There’s more to everything that just simplicity. Everything has an underlining meaning.” He brushes his snow-white hair back, revealing a small tear in his faultless skin. “Not everything is what it seems.” He rolls up his sleeves showing me the same set of numbers like on Cedrix’s skin, only they’re different numbers. “Even I’m not one of them, at least not on the inside.”

  “One of what? A Higher? Because you look just like them.” But my eyes catch the tear in his skin. “Almost.”

  “I didn’t use to.” He rolls down his sleeve. “And I’m still not completely, because that was never supposed to the point. The point was to change me back, but that never happened.”

  “Change you back?”

  He takes a deep breath and I pick up on a sense of fear flowing off him, but can’t quite grasp what it is. “I was an experiment that didn’t work.”

  “An experiment?”

  “I use to be a human, Kayla.” He walks around the room, with his hands tucked behind him. “Honestly, I had no idea what they did to me until I was tossed out here and Dominic started trying to resurface my memories.” He pauses, his pale eyes pained. “It was awful, all the blood spilled, all the needles, and the more I saw the more I wanted to forget it again. And I did, for a while, but then I started to change and it all caught up with me.” He holds up his hands. “Eventually I turned into this and I was locked up in a room lined with silver.”

  “But I thought they said that silver made vampires weak?” I say. “Not Highers.”

  He presses a smile. “Aren’t they almost one and the same?” He’s right in front of me, the tip of my knife grazing against his chest. “You know, I can feel my humanity slipping away from me every day, even though I fight it. Soon, I know I’ll be just like them. And I don’t want it—not at all. But I never really had a choice, did I? None of us do.”

  And that’s when I break through on what it is he fears the most. He fears losing himself, fears becoming one of them completely.

  His face is close to mine, so close I can see the remaining specks of blue deep beneath the pale in his eyes—the last of his humanity. “You’re not what they think,” he whispers, looking into my eyes like he can see my thoughts. “And one day, you’re going to save everyone. Too bad I won’t be here to see it.” He clutches my hand and with his alarming strength forces me to plunge the knife deep into his chest. He lets out a painful scream and then thrusts me through the window. Glass splinters rip at my skin as I fall back and slam against the floor. I jump to my feet, seeking the knife. I find it a few feet away, the blade soaked with blood.

  My boots crunch against broken pieces of glass as I walk to the broken window. The Higher lays on the floor, eyes open, no life, no breath, no fear. A Higher can’t be killed, only by the hand of another Higher. And it was my hand that killed him.

  “What did you do?” Aiden’s voice rises over my shoulder.

  “I didn’t do it,” I lie. “He did it to himself.” I turn, the knife clutched in my hand. “He stabbed himself.”

  He eyes the knife in my hand. “We have to get out of here, now.” Without warning, he snatches my hand and he fears he’ll lose me. He pulls me for the back and I start to go with him, but stop.

  You betrayed me,” I say. “You poisoned me—let them throw me in with a vampire and a Higher.”

  “I didn’t know about the Higher,” he says. “And the vampire, well, I had to know.” He tugs at my hand. “But I’ll explain later. We have to go, now. Before they realize what you’ve done.”

  “I said I didn’t do it.” I jerk my hand away from his and cross my arms. “I don’t trust you. And I’m not going with you.”

  “Kayla, please,” he begs, not angry, but terrified. “Now’s not the time. We can talk about what I did later, and you can give me the biggest lecture on how stupid I am. But after we get the hell out of here.”

  I point the knife at his chest, a threat. “Why shouldn’t I just kill you right now and run off by myself. It seems like the safer option.”

  “Because you’re not a killer,” he says with certainty. “And because… because, God dammit, Juniper, you’re so stubborn sometimes.” He kicks a piece of glass and it ricochets through the air. Then he takes me by the shoulders and crushes his lips into mine. It’s like I’ve swallowed him whole, suffocating with everything that is him. It’s more than sensing his fears; it’s like seeing into his soul.

  When he pulls away, he’s gasping, eyes glazed over, blinking wildly.

  “What the hell was that?” I breathe heavily.

  “A kiss.” He licks his lips “And assurance that you can trust me.”

  “How did you know that would—”

  “Later,” he says and reaches for my hand. I let him take it, trusting him, and letting him lead me away.

  “Do you know a way out?” I whisper as we hop over a row of tipped chairs and storm for the back wall of the room where there’s a door.

  He kicks the door open, splitting the wood, splinters flying. “We run and kill anyone that gets in our way.”

  I like his plan, until I really think about it. “Where would we even go?” I pause. “It’s better for me to go on my own.”

  He looks me straight in the eye. “No it’s not.” His voice cracks. “I didn’t know they were going to do that, throwing you in with a Higher just because the vampires fear you. We all have our little things. He should have been more accepting of yours.”

  He doesn’t know what really happened and I’m afraid to tell him. I keep silent as we tiptoe through the darkness, round a corner, and step out onto wobbly platform. He puts his fingers to his lips and points down at our feet. The platform is made of linked metal thin enough to see straight into the crowded room below us. People sit at tables, eating dinner, chattering away as if nothing is wrong, as if death isn't lurking in the air.

  “Is Dominic down there?” I hiss. “Please tell me he’s not.”

  Aiden shakes his head and walks cautiously across the platform, taking each step gradually as it rocks underneath his movement. I follow, keeping my footsteps weightless and my body balanced against the sway.

  “He eats his dinner in his room,” he says. “But soon the guards are going to report what happened. And we need to make sure we’re long gone before he does.”

  We gradually speed up, the floor shuddering, trails of dust trickling down on the peoples’ heads below. A girl glances up, blinking against the dirt. But thankfully, she doesn’t see us and returns her gaze to her food.

  At the end of the platform, there’s a very narrow tunnel digging into the wall. Aiden gets down on his hands and knees, puts his knife between his teeth, and crawls inside. I follow, dragging my knees through the dirt. My head scrapes the ceiling and twigs snag my hair. I try to twist free, but it’s dark and I can’t see. Desperate, I take my knife and hack a chunk of my hair off, freeing
my head, and I keep crawling, knowing how precious my time is.

  At the end of the tunnel, there’s a large boulder. Aiden shoves at it, panting and grunting until finally I give him a hand. Within seconds, it’s rolling forward down the hill and we’re blasted by the grey of the outside world. He dives out head first, slumping onto the rocks. Then sticks his hand in and helps me climb out. We’re standing in a ditch that rests between two hills.

  “Where are we?” I ask as we start to climb up the side of the hill.

  “An emergency escape route.” His hand slips, but he promptly catches himself. “They are all over the place.”

  We heave onto the top of the rocky hill. Aiden’s out of breath, heart knocking against his chest, while mine still stays silent.

  “You know, you were always pretty good at staying calm,” he pants. “But this is just ridiculous. You’re not even out of breath.”

  I stare up at the smoky sky, not wanting to talk about me, afraid of what he’ll discover. “What do we do now?”

  “I don’t know.” He clutches his side. “I was hoping maybe you had an idea.”

  “Fix the world Kayla,” he says. “You’re the only one who can.”

  I sit up, dusting the dirt off my arms and face. “What’d you do with my stuff? My knife, the vials, the pocket watch—all the stuff that was in my jacket pocket.”

  His eyebrow arches. “Why?”

  “Because I need it.” I stand, dusting my hair and arms off. “I need the pocket watch. Where is it?”

  He points over his shoulder. “Over at the hillside, in my room.”

  I start down the hill, but he grabs my arm. “We can’t go there. That’s the first place they’ll look for us. We have to find somewhere else to hide out.”

  “We have to,” I say, pausing to turn and look in his eyes. “I need that pocket watch. It’s important.”

  He tugs me back toward him. “Why? What’s so important about it?”

  “Because,” I say, holding back the truth like I do. “It is.”

  “Why,” he repeats, refusing to let me go. “Or are you after something else and you just don’t want to tell me?

  I frown, perplexed. “What else would I want?”

  He sighs. “Nothing. Look, let’s just go. We can hide out in a cave until this all cools down.”

  I stand firm. “I’m not leaving without that watch.”

  He lets out a frustrated breath. “Why? What’s so important about the damn watch?”

  “Because it might fix the world to what it was,” I shout.

  Everything, including his heart, freezes.