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Darkness falls (darkness.., p.32
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       Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls, Book 1), p.32

           Jessica Sorensen
Chapter 31

  I don’t fall asleep. I stay up all night listening to the sounds of screams. At one point, I take the vial and stare at the black liquid, bubbling inside the glass. The only person I know of who could create such a medicine is Monarch. He had to be the one who gave them to The Gathering members—he just had to be. Maybe he did fake his own death for some reason. But then where is he now?

  When Aiden starts to stir, I quickly shove the vial back into the bag.

  He sits up, his eyes blurred over with early morning confusion. He stretches his legs, pops his neck, and glances around. “You let me sleep the whole night?” He yawns.

  “I wasn’t tired.” I stand up and stretch. “Besides, it kept pretty quiet all night,” I lie.

  He stands and kicks out his legs. “You know I can tell when you’re lying.”

  “No, you can’t,” I argue. “And I’m not lying.”

  “Yeah, I can.” He pauses, considering carefully. “You used to tell me things that didn’t seem correct and after a while, I started to think you were a liar. So I began paying attention when you spoke to me—the little things you would do. And I noticed sometimes you scratch at your wrist. It took me a while, but I realized it’s like a nervous itch or something, when you’re not telling the truth.”

  “I don’t do that.” I drop my hands to my side. “And I’m never nervous.”

  His eyes sparkle as he balls his jacket up and stuffs it inside his backpack. “Is that so?”

  “Yes.” I self-consciously tug the sleeves of my shirt over my wrists. “I can promise you I’ve never been nervous.”

  “But you can’t promise me you’ve never lied before.” He swings his bag over his shoulder.

  “You’ve lied too.” I pick up my bag and secure it on my back. “So don’t stand there and be all self-righteous.”

  “I’m not.” He walks over, reaches around me, and grabs the straps of my backpack. “I’m trying to make a point.” He clips the straps together.

  “And what point is that?” I adjust the bag so it’s comfortable.

  “That we’ve lied to each other.” He steps back, dark bangs falling across his forehead. “And I think we should just forgive each other right now and move on. No more lies. Only the truth from now.” He sticks out his hand to shake on it.

  I feel like I’m five years-old as I take his hand. “This is kind of ridiculous, don’t you think?”

  “I promise to tell the truth from now on,” he says, discounting my remark.

  We shake hands and he waits for me to say it back.

  “I promise too,” I say, but like usual, my words are fake and I know it. Because there’s so much I still haven’t told him, and I don’t plan on telling him any time soon.

  He seems satisfied, though, and we drop hands. Then we sneak out the back door and step onto the ashen streets of the city.

  “So these half-breeds or whatever you call them,” I say. “Can they only come out at night?”

  “I try to not call them anything.” He starts down the road. “However, they like to call themselves the Day Takers.”

  My eyes examine the windows and doors of the buildings as we pass them. “So they can come out during day.”

  “No,” he says “They can come out in the shadows of the day.” He gazes up at the smoky sky, spreading his arms out to the side of him. “But standing out here … they’d burn alive, just like the vamps would.”

  “Well, then their nickname is a little misleading,” I say, gaze lifting to the roofs.

  He hooks his hands on the straps of his backpack. “You have to think of them as everything that’s in between. They can walk in the shadows of day, they thirst for blood, but don’t frenzy for it.”

  Blood. Blood everywhere. My mind flashes back to the red door, where the broken child sits in the corner feeding off his own arm.

  “Do they ever eat themselves?” I ask, sidestepping a pothole.

  He shoots me a disgusted look. “Eat themselves?”

  “Yeah, like the vampires do.”

  “No, they’re more human than that.” He pauses, gaze finding mine. “Why?”

  I bite at my lip, my eyes seeing red everywhere I look. “Do you remember a red door in The Colony?” As soon as I say it, I want to take it back—it feels forbidden somehow.

  He gradually slows, like all the energy is draining from his body. “That’s what you saw when you took the minte? You saw what was behind the door?”

  Slowly, I nod. “I saw a child. He was all torn up, like he was part vampire or something.”

  Aiden faces me and all the color has drained from his skin. “And what else?”

  “Monarch caught me snooping,” I say. “And so he erased it from my mind.”

  “And that’s all you remember?”

  “So far, yes.”

  He scratches at his wrist, tugging the sleeve of his shirt down. “That place,” he says, “is something you might not want to remember.”

  “Did Monarch …” I swallow hard, thinking of how Dominic and Gabrielle spoke of experiments. “Did Monarch do that to that child?”

  He turns his back on me and makes a right onto a wider road, packed with more cars. The buildings also stretch higher to the sky, obstructing more light.

  “Don’t start judging things,” he says, “until you remember everything. Some of the things might be bad, but some are good.”

  I don’t say anything, worried about what could be locked up inside my head.

  “Did you hear that?” Aiden suddenly stops, his eyebrows dipping together. He glances up at a tall, skinny building with a rounded top that looks like a bubble.

  I’m so distracted by my thoughts it takes me a second to understand what he said. “What did you hear?”

  “I thought…” His body tenses. “Shit.” He grabs my hand and races for the bubble building. I vaguely remember seeing it from time to time while raiding the streets as Bellator, but I’ve never been inside—I’ve never been inside most buildings.

  He stops in front of the doors, cupping his hands around his eyes and peeking through the glass. “There’s enough light in there, right?”

  I press my nose to the glass. “Enough light for what?”

  “To keep things out.” He glances anxiously over his shoulder, terrified someone’s coming.

  “It’ll keep the vampires away,” I say. “But that’s not what you’re talking about, is it?”

  He shakes his head, kicks the door open, and hurries inside to the vacant lobby. The walls are stained red with blood and pieces of lost papers and ruptured windows litter the floor.

  “It’s the Day Takers, isn’t?”

  He shuts the door.

  We move back from the glass doors, his eyes locked on the front of the building. “Yeah, they’ve been tracking us ever since we left the hillside.”

  “Clear since the hillside,” I say. “Because they want to kill us? Wouldn’t I, I don’t know, repulse them just like with the vampires?”

  His eyes are watered over as he shakes his head. “No, they want you more than anything.”

  “What?” My voice thunders and Aiden quickly flings his hand over my mouth. I shove him back, his hand falling. “The Day Takers want me? To kill me?”

  His breathing is strident, his eyes about to tear up. “Please don’t hate me, okay. I did this to protect you.”

  “You know, I’m beginning to think you might be worse of a liar than I am.” I pull out my knife, intimidating him. “You keep telling me lies, which lead to more lies. Even I’m not that good.”

  “I don’t even know how they found out,” he mutters, not listening to me. “I thought I got to you before they found out.”

  “Found out about what?”

  “That you can walk with the vampires.” His eyes grow begging. “Look, if you’ll just come with me, we can find Xander—he can help you.”

  “Help me with what?” I say, no longer believing that we came here to find Xander becau
se he might know of a cure.

  “With taking it all away,” he says. “All that stuff, the lying, the hearing of the hearts—he can make it all go away. He can make it so you can never change—so they can never have you.”

  “Is that why you really brought me out here?” I ask. “So this Xander can change me and make it impossible for me to turn?”

  “Juniper.” He takes me by the shoulder, fearing for my life. “Do you know how powerful you are? Think about it. You’re the one and only person who can walk with the vampires. Not even the Highers can do that. You’re basically invincible, and do you know what would happen if the wrong people found out about you? I mean, look what Dominic did.”

  “Dominic thought I was a Higher,” I let it slip out and watch how he reacts. “And the Higher he put me in with, didn’t kill himself. I was the one holding the knife.” More fear pours off him, more than all of The Colony members combined. “Still want to save me?”

  His lips start to part, speaking words of hate, I’m sure, but his gaze zips over my shoulder and I hear the crash of the door as it smashes shut. A cold breeze rushes up behind me, blowing my hair like a black veil around us. His hands fall from my shoulders, but he surprises me when his heart hits a steady calm.

  “Well, well, well,” a guy says, his boots tapping against the floor as he struts in. “I thought you’d make it a little harder than this Aiden. I really did.”

  Aiden’s eyes narrow. Honestly, I expected him to run away, like a coward, especially after what I just told him. But he walks past me, towards the Day Takers. When I turn around, I find they’re much different from what I pictured. In fact, they remind me a lot of the vampires from the book, with their beautiful skin and flawless features. I’d compare them to the Highers, but that would be wrong. They have color, liveliness, even if their hearts don’t beat. There are five of them total—four guys and one girl—but I wonder if there are more somewhere else. Maybe these were just the ones sent to track me down.

  “But I guess I really can’t expect that much from you. I mean, you did choose to give it up, brother.” The guy that speaks is tall and lean, with dark hair and eyes as black as ash. And his pulse is as silent as my own.

  I stare at Aiden, shocked. “He’s your brother?”

  Aiden opens his mouth to explain, but then directs his attention back to his brother. “She’s not going to turn,” he says. “She’s going to stay human.”

  His black eyes land on me, and there’s something in them that makes my skin grow all warm and fuzzy. “Are those your words or his?”

  I glance from Aiden, to the others, and then back to him. “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” I say truthfully. “Maybe if you could explain whatever this is,” I gesture at the five of them, “then I could make my decision.”

  He grins, eyes dark as he lets a laughing growl from his chest. “Now that’s the Kayla I remember.”

  “You know me?” I point my knife at my chest.

  “Are you that surprised?” He raises his dark eyebrows.

  “Not really.” I shake my head in all honesty. “But who are you?”

  “Sylas,” he says, watching my reaction. But it’s not ringing a bell at all. And I think he can tell. “You haven’t gotten that far?”

  “You mean with remembering,” I say. “No, I haven’t gotten past the red door.”

  “Is that so?” Sylas exchanges glances with the girl whose hair is as red as blood. “Emmy what do you think about all this? You think you can help Kayla remember me?”

  Emmy and her blood-red hair step forward, her dark eyes lighting up as she hisses through her teeth. “Absolutely.”

  “No way.” Aiden steps in front of me, hands spreading out, trying to shield be away. “She’s not touching her.”

  Sylas fakes a pout, sticking out his bottom lip. “My poor little brother. He always wanted to protect Kayla, yet you were never very good at it.” He pauses. “Why bring her all the way out here, to one of the most dangerous places there is? To keep her away from us? Because I don’t think you’re that stupid.”

  “I was looking for Xander,” Aiden says, his voice stable. “He’s the only one I could think of who could make it so she could never turn, even with medicine.”

  Sylas laughs, the sound ringing against the cathedral ceiling like a bell. “You were looking for Xander.” He stops, his laugh dying down. “Xander threw himself off a building quite a while ago—being stuck as human finally caught up with him and he just couldn’t take it.”

  Aiden’s breath catches. “You’re lying.”

  “No, I’ve never been the liar,” he says. “That’s always been your thing. I’m more of a truth kind of guy, no matter how harsh it is.” He strides a path in front of us, tapping his finger on his lips. “It’ll catch up with you too, you know,” he says to Aiden. “If you keep deciding not to turn.”

  “You can still turn?” I say to Aiden. “You never mentioned that.”

  “Because it’s not important,” he shrugs me off. “I won’t ever do it—damn myself to that life.”

  Before he can react, Sylas sprints forward and crashes Aiden to the floor. His legs are fast—faster than mine. Aiden’s head smacks against the marble ground, the cracking a sickening sound to endure.

  My eyes widen and I back away.

  “Take it easy,” Sylas says, holding up his hands. “You don’t need to be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to talk to you.”

  “I’m not afraid,” I say, looking for an escape route. “And I’m not stupid enough to believe you.” The hallway is close, but how can I leave Aiden behind?

  “He’s okay,” Sylas says, stepping after me. “He’s just taking a nap.”

  “I know he’s okay.” Because I can hear his heart. “But I don’t know if he’s going to remain okay.”

  Sylas presses his hand to his heart, his teeth shining as he grins. “You have my word. No one will harm you or him.”

  “I’m not believing anything you say, until I have an idea of what this all is.”

  Sylas stops, exchanging a glance with the red-headed girl again. The other three Day Takers spread across the front section of the building, so there’s a wall of bodies and Aiden’s lying unconscious on the floor in front of them. They’re trapping me, but for what purpose I’m not sure.

  It’s enough for me to run, though.

  I slip down the hall, hearing the commotion rising behind me like a wave. Sylas is calling orders out to them, not in English, but in the language of the Highers. There’s a glass door at the end of the hall and the obvious thing would be to run out. But I’m not a fan of the obvious or with leaving Aiden behind.

  I dive into a nearby room and shut the door behind me. It’s black as death and I can hear the echo of their footsteps trampling down the hall; one, two, three sets of footsteps and then nothing. Two more are out there somewhere. It feels like I’m being chased by vampires, with no pulse to guide me. And I’m going in more blindly with the Day Takers. Do they bite? Feed? What’s their thing? Aiden said they were killers, but in what sense?

  Another set of footsteps pad down the hall. These are lazy and careless and they pause in front of the door. I press my lips together, scooting to the side of the door. It clicks open, bringing a shudder with it. I poise my knife out in front of me as someone steps in. I close my eyes, take a breath, and lunge out, slamming my body into theirs. It’s like hitting a rock wall, and we both tumble out the door and to the floor. There’s a rustle and then I’m on top of him. Sylas. He seems to think this is funny and lets me straddle him and presses my knife to his throat, refusing to fight back.

  “Done?” he asks with a raise of his eyebrow.

  I don’t know what to do with this, so I crack my knuckles into his cheek.

  “Ow,” he chuckles, clutching his jaw. “What’d you do that for?”

  I hold my knife to his throat. “I don’t know.”

  He laughs again and I get the feeling
that this is all one big joke to him and that really he could take things over whenever he wanted. “Go head.” He takes my hand, pushing it against his neck.

  I look into his black eyes, wondering what it would be like if I did; if I just took his life. That’s when I realize I can’t—I don’t have it in me. I think that’s when I realize that the odds of me turning out to be a Higher are low because I don’t have killer instincts, at least without good cause.

  I start to pull back and that’s when he takes over. Flipping us over, so I’m the one trapped below him. Glass cuts into the back of my head as I try to slide out from under him. He uses force to knock my knife out of my hand and pin my arms above my head.

  “I’m not going to hurt you,” he says. “I just need you calm.”

  Then he sinks his teeth into my neck.