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Darkness falls (darkness.., p.30
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       Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls, Book 1), p.30

           Jessica Sorensen
 
Chapter 29

  When the twisted metal buildings of the city finally peak over the horizon, I feel a small weight lifted from my shoulders. Judging from the distance, we should be able to make it there before darkness completely sets in. The smoke rises, twisting up to the sky and polluting the air with ash and debris.

  “Should we run the rest of the way?” Aiden asks.

  I eye his leg, jeans torn, but the skin as smooth as porcelain. “Do you think you can?”

  “I’m fine,” he assures, tightening the straps of his bag. “Your blood healed me. I’m good.”

  So we run, racing through the sage and cacti, the city getting closer. I keep my pace sluggish, so he doesn’t have to fight to keep up with me, but a part of me wants to take off, run away from everything, if only for a moment.

  “Don’t hold back on my account.” He winks at me and then speeds up, pulling ahead.

  I smile and let go, feeling weightless as I leave him in a trail of dust, boots hammering, breath free. But then I hear something that sends me to a crashing stop.

  “What’s the matter?” Aiden says as he collides into me.

  I brace us from falling and I put a finger to my lips, shushing him. My eyes scan the rocks, which we left a ways back, but other than that there’s no place to hide.

  “I thought I heard—”

  Thump, thump. Thump, thump.

  “Someone’s here,” I whisper, edging my knife out of my pocket as I circle around. Aiden follows my lead, taking out his knife out too. We glance at the hills, the rocks, the brush, the sky. But the thumping stops just as quick as it began. I turn to Aiden. “It’s gone.”

  “What is?” He lifts an eyebrow inquisitively. “The heart beat?”

  My lips do a double-take. “You heard it too?”

  “No…” he says, his voice deciding. “But you’ve told me about it.”

  “No I haven’t. I’ve never told anyone about it.”

  “You’ve told one person,” he says, pointing at his chest. “You just can’t remember.”

  I put my knife away, beginning to question why I can’t remember a single thing about him. It’s not like my memories are completely gone, so why is he missing from all of them.

  “Well, whatever it was—heartbeat or not—it’s gone.” I start walking, but keep my ears on alert. “Do you think it could be Dominic?”

  He shrugs, distracted. “Maybe, I don’t know, though. Most, including Dominic won’t go near the city.”

  “Because of the vampires? Or because it’s so close to The Colony?”

  “Both.”

  He remains distracted for the rest of the walk, eyebrows constantly furrowed, as if something perplexes him deeply. The only thing I can tap into is he’s afraid I might die, that’s it, the same fear over and over again.

  Behind us, the land is relatively exposed, giving a clear view that no one seems to be following us. When we reach the city border, the dangers of what could be following us is mild. With many places to hide and The Colony resting below it all, the city is a dangerous place.

  “Please tell me you have an idea of where Xander is,” I say.

  He shakes his head, eyes locked on the wreckage road in front of us. “But I told you I’m an excellent tracker.”

  “Okay, excellent tracker,” I eyeball the many differently shaped buildings, “Where do we start?”

  His eyes skim the lines of the buildings, the curves of the streets, and he points to our left. “This way.”

  Stepping foot onto the city grounds feels like I’m stepping onto Higher grounds. Being a Bellator, I know how things work. If I had been out on a raid, and stumbled across two humans, I know the rule would be to bring them in. I’m not sure if I would have, being a rule questioner and all, but I know other Bellators might have. I think if it came down to it, and we ended up crossing paths with them, I could probably get away. But Aiden, I’m not so sure.

  Fires crackle from the barrels, pouring out smoke and ash into the streets and sky. The air is deadly silent, but it will all change once night arrives.

  “How can he just live out here?” I whisper. “All by himself. And without anyone knowing?”

  “Because he hides,” he says simply. “Just like we all do.”

  Asphalt crumbles under my boots. “I wonder how it all came to be. You know, how everyone ended up down there and the vamps out here? I mean, I know it was a virus, but why didn’t we try to fight or stop it.”

  “You want to know my theory?” He asks, squeezing between two cars.

  I maneuver between the cars, spotting a shiny ornament hanging from the mirror of the inside. It sparkles, even without light, and I’m mesmerized.

  “I think everyone ended up in The Colony because people were afraid,” he continues, not noticing I’ve stopped. “I think it all terrified them so bad that they were willing to turn over their freedom just to live.”

  I snatch the shining object from the mirror and catch up with him. “Yeah, but if the Highers were part of the virus, then how did they end up with control over The Colony.”

  Aiden stares at the shiny thing in my hand. “What is that?”

  “I don’t know,” I say, holding it up, watching it spin and sparkle. “But it’s so shiny and … not dark.” Our eyes move to the sky, dark with smoke and ash. “I wonder if it’s what the sun looked like,” I mumble.

  I go to put the sparkly necklace back and catch sight of a pile of bones on the seat—human bones.

  “I hate seeing that.” I set the necklace down on top of them.

  “I think I would have rather died than been infected.” Aiden stares over my shoulders at the bones.

  “Me too.”

  We continue on with our journey, passing by building after building with no sign of life.

  “Maybe I should start checking inside them,” I suggest after a while.

  He considers this, eyes locked on a large triangular building stacked of fractured glass. “It seems kind of dangerous. You know that’s where they hide out during the day.”

  “That’s why I’ll go in.” I step for the building, but he pulls me back. “We’re never going to find him if we just wander up and down the streets.”

  “I told you I can track him down,” he says. “It’s just going to take some time.”

  “By time also means giving people time to find us,” I say. “And darkness is coming quick, so we’re running out of time.” I go to move again, but he draws me back. “Aiden, this is getting us nowhere.”

  He opens his mouth to speak, but then snaps it shut, dropping his hold on me as he pulls out his knife. “We’re being tracked.”

  My ears instantly perk. “I don’t hear anyone.”

  His breathing is loud and erratic and I notice how unsteady his hands are. “That’s because they don’t have a heartbeat.”

  Before I can respond, he’s running up the street, staying in the shadows that the buildings make. I chase after him, drawing out my knife.

  “No vampires are out yet,” I hiss. “Whoever it is has to have a heartbeat.” Unless they’re me.

  “No.” He shakes his head, peering into a store filled with shredded t-shirts and hats. “That’s not true.”

  We pause at the edge of a street, our backs pressed against the brick walls of a building. Aiden’s heart is an anxious mess as he peeks around the corner, out into the next street. His head snaps back hastily and I lean over, wanting to see what he saw, but he elbows me back.

  “Kayla, I haven’t been completely honest with you,” he whispers, his hand on my chest, holding me in place.

  My protective instincts kick into gear and without even thinking, I slide to the side and jump in front of him, putting my knife to his throat and backing him to the wall.

  “What are you doing?” His words rush out, panicked.

  “Protecting myself,” I say steadily. “The last time you weren’t completely honest with me, I almost wound up dead.”

  “No, it’s n
ot like that.” He moves as far away from my knife as he can with his hands up in front of him. “This was to protect you, not hurt you. I swear.” He holds up his hands and carries my gaze, frantic for me to believe him.

  I lower my knife, but don’t put it away. “Start talking.”

  He nods. “Okay, but first we need to get off the streets.”

  I glance through the smashed glass window behind us and then stick my head inside. Chairs are knocked upside down, tables turned over, crushed glass piles the floor. I step through the crunching glass and do a quick hunt for any signs this place might be a nesting area for vampires.

  I stick my head out. “All clear.”

  He hops through the broken window and hauls a table over to it. He flips it up on its side and shoves it against the window, locking away the outside. I latch the front door locked and as an extra precaution, prop a chair against the door knob.

  He lets out a tired breath, sweat dripping from his brow as he turns a chair over and sinks down in it. “I’m really sorry.” He pants. “But this one I kept from you for your own good to protect you.”

  I flip my knife in my hand, letting him know I still have it out. “Protect me from what?”

  “From yourself.” He rests his head back, staring up at the cracks in the ceiling. “If you found out, I knew you’d freak.”

  “I don’t freak about anything.” I move in front of him and dip the blade of my knife for his throat. “I thought you knew me.”

  “I do know you,” he says. “Better than anyone. And that’s why I know that this is going to be the thing that pushes you over the edge.”

  I cross my arms and stare him down. “Try me and let’s see if you’re right.”

  He raises his head, reaching for a chair, and drags it beside him. “Sit down.” He pats the seat and I sit, laying my knife of my lap, just in case.

  “You know how some call the vampires the living dead?”

  “People call them that,” I say. “Because that’s what they are. The virus killed them, took away their pulse, their breath, yet they still walk.”

  He drops his head in his hands. “Right, but they’re not the only ones walking around without a pulse.”

  Does he know about me? “What’d you mean?”

  He raises his head. “I’m talking about the things that are between human and vampire, ones that aren’t quite dead but aren’t quite alive.”

  “I’ve never heard of anything like that,” I say, the silence of my own body almost maddening.

  “That’s because they’re not that common.”

  I shake my head. “I think they might be more common than you think.”

  He cocks an eyebrow. “Have you seen one before?”

  “No,” I say. “But I think I might be one.”