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Darkness falls (darkness.., p.7
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       Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls, Book 1), p.7

           Jessica Sorensen
Chapter 6

  I hurry to the hospital to talk to Monarch about what happened. I don’t realize how worried I am until I see him. He’s digging around in the medicine cabinet, his back turned, and there’s a tiny red stain on the neck of his white coat.

  “Thank God,” I say. “I was worried that …” I don’t finish, not desiring to say aloud what I’m feeling.

  He quickly turns around, his hand pressed over his heart. “You scared me. I didn’t even hear you come in.” Then he smiles. “You know, you’re getting lighter on your feet. That’s good. The quieter the better.”

  I sit down on an empty bed next to Maci’s. Her chest is rising and falling, but I still can’t detect the murmur of her heartbeat. “So the Highers didn’t punish you yesterday?”

  He shakes his head and smiles, but his grey eyes are burdened. “No. I wasn’t punished.” He presses his fingers to the sides of his nose. “Kayla, I really wish you’d stop asking questions. There are so many risks, more than you understand.”

  I slip off my leather jacket, ready for my shots. “I’m sorry, it’s just that …” Suddenly, I want to tell him everything. About my lies. About my fearlessness. About my ability to sense fear and hear heartbeats. About how I think there’s more to life than The Colony, the Highers, and their rules. I want to, but I can’t. It’s like there’s a wall around me that I just can’t get over. “I’ll try to stop.”

  “I don’t want you to stop.” He rolls up the sleeves of his jacket. “I just want you to wait until the time is right.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “And you don’t need to right now,” he says. “Right now, I need you not to understand.”

  A thousand questions tickle at my tongue, but I bite them back. “Can I ask you a normal question then?”

  He hesitates, but then nods.

  “Have you ever been in love? Really in love?”

  He watches me, his eyes crinkling in pain. Then he turns away to sort through his medicine bottles. “You know, I never wanted children. It wasn’t in my plans. I was too busy trying to change the world with medicine.” He picks up small glass bottle, filled with the purple liquid and sets it on the counter. “My ex-wife did, though. She wanted children so badly. But I was selfish. I didn’t want to sacrifice my own time.” He chokes up, about to cry, and I don’t know what to do. He never cries.

  “Monarch, are you okay?” I ask uncomfortably.

  When he turns back around, his eyes are blood shot. “She would have been proud to have you as a daughter. Anyone would.” He pauses. “It’s me she would have been disappointed in.”

  I’m not sure what he means. “I’m sure that’s not true.”

  He fills a syringe with the purple medicine. “You wouldn’t be saying that if you knew the truth,” he says. I open my mouth, a ton of questions about to spill out, but he cuts me off. “I think we’ll skip your regular shot today,” he says. “We’ll just do this one.”

  I tilt my head to the side, my long black hair falling into my face. “But I have to have my shot or else I’ll die.”

  “I think you’re finally ready to be okay without it.” He looks like he’s tearing up again. “It’s time for you to just be Kayla.” He gives a small smile. “Or Juniper if you prefer.” I try not to flinch at the name as it painfully reminds me of what happened back at the tower with Tristan.

  “This will be the last one.” Then he pushes the needle into my arm, without any forewarning.

  “What is this stuff?” I point to the needle sticking out of my arm.

  “This is what will save you.”

  “Save me from what?”

  “Yourself.” He pulls the needle out and tosses it aside. He removes his gold pocket watch from his jacket. “I want you to have this.”

  There’s something about the way he says it, like it’s a finality. “I don’t want it.”

  “Kayla,” he urges the pocket watch at me. “Take it. It’s important.”

  Holding back the water in my eyes, I take the pocket watch from his hand. “Why does it feel like you’re saying good-bye?”

  “We should always say good-bye, Kayla, whenever we part,” he says, like the wise old man that he is. “Just in case something does happen. No matter what people believe, death is a part of us and we’ll have to endure it one day. Even the Highers.”

  I open my mouth, then clamp it shut. I’m not sure what to say to his forbidden words.

  “You should go.” He directs his attention back to Maci. “I have things I need to get done.”

  I slide off the bed. “I’ll see you again, though? Right?”

  “Of course,” he says.

  Even though I’m an expert liar, I can’t tell whether he’s telling the truth.

  I clasp my hand around the pocket watch, grab my jacket and head out, but pause at the door. “Bye Monarch.”

  “Oh and Kayla, one more thing.”

  I turn to face him and whispers of words surround me. I try to grasp on to each and every one, but I am fading away.

  I wake up, later that day, in my bed. My head hurts and instantly I want to go visit Monarch. But I have Lessons this morning, so my visit will have to wait until afterwards.

  The Gathering is in one day and there’s nervous energy buzzing in the air. I can smell it, feel it, taste it, yet just glancing around, everything seems normal. People walk the halls, smiling, chatting, happy. Being a Bellator, I’m always in the running to be chosen for The Gathering.

  Monarch told me once that Bellator meant warrior, which seems fitting. My excellent fighting skills, swift speed, and quick reflexes are why I was selected into the Bellator world. The exact details of The Gathering are a mystery. Those who are chosen find out afterward, during the final meeting with the Highers. The rest of The Colony remains in the dark and the memories of the chosen quickly get lost in the dust.

  Lessons take place in the only room that doesn’t feel like plastic. It smells of sweat and realness. It’s the only place where I feel like I can be free. I take a seat by the chipped brick wall and stretch my legs out on the mat. Bellators pour in, dressed in their black warrior clothes, ready to throw down their lives if they have to.

  Our instructor, Garrett, enters the room, his dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and he avoids looking at me, just like always. He’s afraid of me, because I’m stronger than him and he fears that one day I’ll take over his job. I hope not. The last thing I want is to be trapped in this room, teaching other people something that comes naturally to me.

  Everyone sits in a circle, waiting for Lessons to begin. It’ll be the last one with all the same people. There are two empty spots today, one belonging to Maci and one to Bernard. No one acknowledges the absence, but their spots stay vacant.

  Garrett stands in the center of the circle, on the mat, arms behind his back, ready to give his speech about the responsibility of being a Bellator, like he always does. But today he’s interrupted by two Watchers who come barging in, boots marching, noisily breathing through their masks.

  “Hold on everyone,” Garrett says and meets the Watchers at the edge of the mat. They exchange whispers and nods, and then Garrett returns to the middle of the mat, seeming extremely cheerful about something.

  He clears his throat. “Everyone, our plans have changed for the day.” He glances around at the circle of Bellators. “One of the Highers would like to join us.”

  It grows so silent that all I can hear is a handful of rapid heartbeats. A Higher walks in, white robe dragging on the floor as he walks onto the mat. Garrett bows his head and the rest of us follow.

  “All of you can look up,” the Higher says, his pale eyes skimming us over. I recognize his eyes because they’ve stared at me a couple of times. Gabrielle.

  He latches his hands behind his back and paces the mat. “I know it’s not normal for Highers to interact with the Bellators, but today is an exception.” He pauses, letting his words linger with the importance he thinks they
hold. “Someone has been keeping secrets from the Highers and needs to be punished.”

  He doesn’t have to say my name. I know he’s talking about me. Just like I know, in a few minutes, I’m going to die.

  “Now, I’m sure some of you might have, at one time or another, thought you might be stronger than the Highers,” Gabrielle says. “But, I can assure you, that’s not the case. And I’m here to prove this to you and remind you all of what the consequences are if the rules are broken.” His gaze travels to me, just like I knew it would. “Kayla, come to the center of the mat.”

  Everyone’s eyes widen, but I remain tranquil, rising to my feet and stepping to the middle of the mat. Something dances in Gabrielle’s eyes. He’s afraid of me; he’s afraid of what I am. And what I’m not.

  “Vei muri în curând,” he whispers, moving in on me like a preadator.

  I raise my hand, preparing to protect myself. I hear a pop. A cry, but not my own. Blood. Blood everywhere, coating my skin, the mat, my eyes. Then an angelic voice rises through it all, telling me to hold on a little bit longer.