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Darkness falls (darkness.., p.38
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       Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls, Book 1), p.38

           Jessica Sorensen

  Chapter 37

  “No!” Ryder cries, starting to run for their burning home. But Aiden holds her by the shoulder, pulling her back, pinning her against his chest. “Let go of me!” she screams and kicks at him.

  He hugs her against him, trying to calm her down as she hysterically sobs. “It’s okay,” he says. “I’m sure they all made it out.”

  “But what if the vampires got in,” she says, trying to wrench away from him. “The entrance is wide open.”

  “Who did this?” I mumble, almost walking down, forgetting that I’m not as strong as I once was. Or as invincible.

  “Perhaps the Day Takers,” Cedrix steps beside me, hand in his pocket, a solemn face. “Or perhaps someone else.” He points at the fires burning all around the front of the hillside. “Maybe the same someone who controls the fires in the city.”

  “But no one knows who does that.” I reach for my knife, but realize it isn’t there. “Damn it.” I kick a rock, feeling helpless and useless.

  “What wrong?” Cedrix asks, watching the cloud of dirt I kicked up.

  “It’s nothing,” I say, thinking of Maci. Is she still in there? Alive? “Do you have a knife I could borrow?”

  He gives me a funny look as he reaches into his pocket and hands me his knife, a small one, with a grinded blade. “If you’re thinking of being a hero, don’t,” he says. “You’re not as strong as you used to be.”

  Strong or not, I know what I have to do. Because I promised I’d take care of her. I take off, knowing if I don’t move fast enough, he’ll catch me.

  “Kayla,” Aiden yells on cue. I hear his footsteps thundering after me, but I keep going, up the hill and jump into the cave. I shove the rock in front of the entrance and lock him out. He bangs on the other side and I know he’ll make it through very soon, so I hurry.

  My ears go on alert, the knife poised out as I tiptoe my way down the tunnel and down into the main room. It’s dark as death, crates tipped over, food skewed all over the place. It looks like someone was searching for something, but gave up and just broke everything instead.

  I move downstairs, checking underneath the stairwell and in the corners of the room. Then I spot the knife I gave Maci, the silver blade stained red with blood.

  “What happened in here?” I say, picking up the knife. A soft pulse thuds in my ears and boost my hopes that someone has survived. I pad lightly up the stairs, following the sound into the room I was once chained in, only now the chains are empty and most of the lanterns are shattered.

  “Hello,” I call softly. The heart jumps. “Who’s in here?”

  From the blankness of the corner, a small figure crawls out. “Kayla.” Maci blinks and then runs to me, throwing her arms around my waist.

  I pat the red-headed little girl on the head. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

  She tilts her head up to me. “I know it is.”

  Of course she does. “What happened?”

  She rubs her eyes and steps back. “They came for you.”

  “Who came for me?”

  Her eyes widen and her pulse lurches with fear as she utters the words, “The Highers.”

  The severity of the situation unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse. “Are they still here?” I turn, stabbing my knife in front of me.

  “No, they’re gone,” she says. “They left when morning came.”

  I’m starting to panic. “We need to get out of here.”

  With no hesitation, we creep out the room. I glance from my left to my right, making sure it’s clear, then grab Maci’s hand and pull her along as I sprint down the tunnel for the stairs. But a crash, from the bottom room somewhere, sends me to a slamming stop. I move slowly, peeking over the railing. It’s a vampire, digging through the wrecked crates and spilled food.

  And it’s right beside the only way out.

  I quickly push Maci back down the tunnel. “Don’t move,” I whisper. I shut my eyes, counting under my breath. Then I hurl myself over the railing. My feet slam against the floor, knocking the wind out of me. The vampire turns and snarls, sharp teeth stained with blood. I cough as I stumble to my feet. It challenges me, standing up and walking for me like a predator. I start to worry that somehow my immunity has vanished, when it falls back, pressing against the dirt wall. I could just run, up the stairs and out into the greyness of the outside. But something inside me snaps into place, like all my wheels have locked into place.

  The perfect soldier.

  I bound forward, springing on my toes as I jump for the creature that fears me. Its fangs bite out and I flinch back, fearing it might nick my skin. But then it sidesteps, trying to escape up the stairs, moving swiftly toward …


  The little girl stands at the top of the stairs, frozen, but not afraid.

  “Maci, run!” I yell.

  When she doesn’t budge, my feet hammer up the stairs. The vampire speeds up. But so do I and with a dive, I snatch it by the legs. Our bodies ram to the floor, rotting flesh pressing in my face, knees scraping, open wounds. Just because they fear me, doesn’t mean I’m immune to the virus. And I have open wounds. I jump to my feet and it reels, bleeding, lips parted.

  With a fleeting swipe, I sink the knife into its chest, straight into its unbeating heart. The scream of the dying creature vibrates through the tunnels. Maci flings her hands over her ears as she and I back away from it. We watch as the vampire shrivels up until there is nothing left but bones. My first vampire kill while being human. I should be thrilled, but it feels like something inside me has died.

  Maci’s all eyes, mouth parted, as she stares at the vampire bones.

  “It’s okay,” I tell her, keeping my voice soft. “It’s dead.”

  She looks up at me and smiles. “I know.”

  Her happy state gives me the chills, but I nod my head. “Let’s get out of here.”

  We start for the tunnel, but Aiden and Ryder come rushing inside. Aiden marches straight for me with a scowl on his face. “What the hell was that about?” he asks.

  I point over my shoulder. “I was thinking there might be someone inside who needs my help.”

  He calms a little, but shakes his head. “But there could have been anything in here. You don’t know what did this.”

  “There was only a vampire,” Maci chimes in. “But Kayla killed it with her bare hands.”

  “Not with my bare hands.” I hold up Cedrix’s knife and shrug.

  Aiden brushes by me, gazing downstairs at the ruined room below. Then his eyes move to the pile of bones in the middle of the stairway.

  “You really did,” he says to himself. “You killed one.” Then he heads for the tunnel. “Let’s get out of here.”

  After I finish explaining that Maci told me the Highers had been there, the six of us stand in a circle outside, trying to figure out what our next move is.

  “We can’t just leave,” Ryder says. “This is our home.”

  “Was our home.” He points his knife at the hillside, open, and lined with fires. “But it’s not safe for us to stay here anymore. The Highers know where it is and so do the Day Takers.” His gaze briefly flicks to me. “And they’ll come looking for us.”

  “No, they’ll come looking for her.” Ryder glares and thrusts her finger sharply at me. “They want her. Not us.”

  Despite my dislike for her, I agree. “She’s right. I think maybe I should stay behind.”

  “Don’t be self-sacrificing.” He says it without looking at me, as if he’s angry.

  “Let’s all stay,” Greyson interrupts, popping his knuckles and his neck. “If they come back, then we’ll fight them.”

  “Only a Higher can kill another Higher,” I point out. “And the Day Takers are too strong.”

  Another dirty look from Aiden. “Kayla’s right. There’s too much risk staying here.”

  “Yeah, and we don’t want to be burned like the others,” Maci says and all our eyes move to her.

  “What do you mean, burned?” Ryder asks, stepping toward her.

  “When they came, the Highers and the other guy with the white hair stood out there and talked,” she says, pointing to the section of the ground between the hillside and us. “Then they gathered everyone together and burned them.”

  All our eyes land on the fires encompassing the desert land. The smoke rises to the sky, spilling its ashes into the sand.

  “No, no, no…” Ryder falls to her knees, her head tipping down. Then she throws up.

  The bodies are burned beyond recognition. There’s nothing left but ash. It’s a tragedy that no one understands, but we pull ourselves together and pack what we can salvage, which isn’t much. The Highers trashed almost everything, and what they didn’t destroy, the vampires did.

  “I can’t believe they’re gone.” Ryder picks up an old red sweater off the hillside floor and hugs it against her chest, breathing it in, as water floods her eyes.

  “We’ll get through it.” Aiden pats her shoulder and scoops a bottle of water from off the ground. “We always do.”

  I pick up a can of food and something rolls out from under it. A vial, only it’s cracked and empty. I pick it up, wondering if it once held minte.

  “We’ll find more,” Aiden says from behind me.

  “No we won’t,” Ryder says. “Cedrix already checked over there and the hospital was trashed—everything’s gone or ruined.”

  “We’ll find more,” Aiden promises me, stroking my back gently, but then quickly pulls away. “Even if we have to make it ourselves.”

  But he’s making an empty promise. He knows it. I know it. Everyone knows it. Because none of us are doctors.

  “Where are we even going to go?” Ryder whines, picking up a broken bottle and chucking it across the room, sending glass through the air like raindrops.

  “Do you remember that little cave we stayed in when we were first dumped—before Dominic found us?” He picks up a bag and shakes it out, dust flying. “We’ll go there, at least until we can figure something else out.”

  She doesn’t say anything, balling up the sweater and setting it in her bag.

  “Hey.” He hugs her. “We’ll get through this.”

  She forces a smile.

  Aiden turns around toward me. “You ready to go?”

  I nod, slipping the broken vial into my pocket, not wanting to admit that the memories may never resurface—that I will never find what Monarch locked inside my head.

  Aiden cups his hands around his mouth. “Gregory, Cedrix, you ready to go?”

  From above us, they give him thumbs up and we meet in the middle of the tunnel. Then we head out, across the desert, leaving it all behind.