Relentless, p.9Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
“NO!” I SPUN away from him, and this time I didn’t stop when he called my name. I bolted for the waterfront, afraid to hear whatever he started to say next. It wasn’t true – it couldn’t be true. There had to be more than one woman named Madeline Croix, and for Nikolas to make such an assertion after our one encounter was insane.
He appeared in front of me, feet apart, blocking my only means of escape, and I skidded to a stop inches from him. My hands flew up to brace me from slamming into his hard chest.
“How – ?” I panted.
“Demon speed, remember?”
I winced and backed away. “Someone could have seen you.”
He gave a small shrug. “You and I both know that people see only what they want to see and believe what they want to believe.” He took a step toward me, forcing me to take another step back. “But just because a person chooses to not believe something, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
I hugged my arms to my chest. “How can you be so sure?” I asked, hearing the desperation in my voice. “There must be more than one Madeline Croix.”
Nikolas’s sigh sounded almost regretful. “I was sure of what you are before I heard her name. As soon as I saw you the other night, I knew.” He averted his gaze as if he knew I would not like his next words. “My Mori recognized yours.”
The air left my body. “What?”
“Mori can sense each other when they are near. It is how one Mohiri always recognizes another.” He glanced at me, and he must have seen the denial forming on my lips because he added, “They are never wrong.”
“I…” I had no idea how to respond.
Nikolas’s dark eyes swept over my face as if he was searching for something. “You felt it, didn’t you?”
I thought about that night and the weird sense of déjà vu that hit me when I first looked into his eyes. There had been an instant where it felt like I knew him somehow, even though I was sure we had never met. The same feeling I’d had when I saw him waiting for me by the coffee shop.
My nod was almost imperceptible. “This can’t be happening.”
One corner of his mouth lifted. “There are worse fates, you know.”
“You’re telling me I have a demon parasite inside me, and I’m supposed to be okay with that?”
“It’s not as bad as you make it sound.”
“No, it’s worse.” All these years I’d fought with the beast in my head, and now I discovered it was something far worse than I could ever have imagined. Nausea curled in my stomach.
He made no move toward me, but I heard a softening in his voice. “I know this is strange and frightening, but you are not the first orphan we’ve found. You will adjust as they have.”
“It’s just a term we use for young Mohiri who were not born to our way of life. They have no idea who they really are until we find them.”
“Then there are others like me?” The thought that someone else had gone through this gave me a small measure of comfort.
“Not exactly like you.” His brow furrowed. “The others have been much younger.”
“What does that matter?”
He looked away briefly, and his expression was serious when his gaze returned to me. “Our Mori need us to survive as much as we need them, but they are still demons and they have certain impulses and wills of their own. We learn from a very early age to control those urges and to balance our human and demon sides. Otherwise, the Mori will try to become dominant. Orphans who are not found young enough to be trained, grow up with deep mental and emotional problems, tormented by their demon sides. The worst cases become severely schizophrenic and end up in institutions… or they kill themselves.”
I inhaled sharply as I thought about the thing in my head and the dark elation I’d felt as I punched Scott. It had always felt like another consciousness lived in my head, one that would take over my mind if I let it. A shudder passed through me when I thought of where I’d be if I hadn’t learned to control it. I would have ended up just like those kids Nikolas was talking about. Maybe I still would.
“How old was the oldest orphan you ever brought in?”
“The oldest reclaimed was ten, and she was the exception. The others were no more than seven.”
“Ten,” I squeaked. If what he was saying was right, I should be insane or dead by now. Maybe he was wrong about me. Maybe I wasn’t one of his orphans after all.
“I know what you’re thinking; I see it in your face. You are Mohiri. I know that with one hundred percent certainty.” He took another step toward me, his eyes searching mine. “What I don’t know is how you learned to subdue your demon without training. I’ve never seen control like yours. Your Mori is practically dormant.”
Warmth spread through my belly at his nearness, and something fired in my brain. I backed up a step to keep several feet between us. I knew it was that demon inside me reacting to another of its kind, but that didn’t make me feel any better about it.
“Is that why I’m not fast or strong like you?” I asked to cover my discomfort.
“That and we reach maturity around nineteen or twenty, which is also when our Mori reaches full strength. You should already have noticed some of your abilities starting to show by now, but you’ll have to learn how to use your demon side to enhance your physical abilities.”
My demon side. A shudder went through me. I didn’t want this.
“Are you okay?”
“No,” I told him honestly. “It’s just so much to take in.”
He nodded in understanding. “It will take time.”
My throat was dry when I tried to swallow. “So, what else can you do besides move really fast and catch people falling off buildings? What other powers do you have?”
“You know, can you compel people like vampires do or read minds or heal things? Stuff like that.”
He chuckled. “No special powers or compulsion or anything else. We have the speed and strength to fight vampires. That is all we need.”
“Oh.” Not the answer I expected. If my healing ability did not come from the Mori, where did it come from?
“You sound disappointed.”
“No, I’m just trying to understand it all.” The sun was low in the sky now, and it suddenly bathed his perfect face in golden hues. “How old are you? And I don’t mean how old you look.”
I thought he wasn’t going to answer until he said, “I was born in eighteen twenty.”
My jaw fell open, but I did not care. It wasn’t hard to do the math; he was almost two hundred years old. And he looked twenty, twenty-one at the most. Then the impact of his answer hit me. “Am I…?”
“Yes. Once you reach maturity, aging will stop for you, too.”
“Oh,” I said faintly. People were always searching for the fountain of youth. Even I had wondered what it would be like to live many lifetimes and see how the world changed. But suddenly being faced with the prospect of never aging, while Nate and everyone else I loved grew old and died, filled me with a sense of loss so great it almost sent me to my knees.
“That upsets you?” His voice held a note of surprise, and I guessed most orphans were happy to learn they would live forever.
I nodded mutely. A cool breeze came up, and I rubbed my arms, thinking that fall was just around the corner. I almost laughed hysterically at my thoughts. Here I had just discovered I was immortal, and I was thinking about the weather.
“You’re cold.” He started to remove his jacket, but I waved it away, not sure I could deal with kindness from him.
“I’m fine thanks.” I stared down at the worn boards of the wharf then back at him. “What if I don’t want to join the Mohiri?”
His brow furrowed. “You don’t join. You are Mohiri.”
“What if I don’t want to live with them and I just want to stay here? You said yourself that I can control this demon thing better than anyone you’ve ever seen, s
“You don’t belong here anymore. What will you tell people when you stop aging? What will you do when everyone you know here grows old and dies? You need to be with your own people.”
Nikolas’s words hurt, even though I’d had the same thoughts a few minutes ago. “These are my people.”
“That’s because they are all you’ve ever known. Once you get to know the Mohiri – ”
“No! I knew a Mohiri, remember? All she did was abandon me and my father.” He opened his mouth to speak, but I blazed on. “My loving Mohiri mother deserted us, and my dad was murdered by vampires. Where were my people then?”
His face registered his shock. “Vampires killed your father?”
I laughed bitterly. “Pathetic, isn’t it? You’d think someone like me would be a lot less likely to be taken in by a vampire, considering my past and my genes. Some warrior.”
I pushed past him, and he didn’t try to stop me. Instead he kept pace beside me. “That vampire, Eli, knows what you are now. He’ll be looking for you. Vampires love nothing more than draining Mohiri orphans. We deprived him of that pleasure, and he will not forget it.”
My step faltered, but I kept going. “I thought you said he wouldn’t get away.”
“He was more resourceful than most.”
“Well if he does come back, he’ll think I’m in Portland, right? There’s no way he’d know to look for me here. Besides, this is werewolf territory and the werewolves are doing sweeps of Portland to find the vampires.”
“The werewolves might not catch him either.”
I shot him an angry look. “Are you trying to scare me?”
“No, but I will not lie to you either.” Nikolas sounded sincere, and for some reason that annoyed me even more. I wanted to go home and put him and the Mohiri behind me, to go back to the life I knew and understood.
We reached his motorcycle, and I stopped and faced him. “I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful for you saving my life because I am, more than I can say. But your way of life, your people – I don’t belong with them.”
He did not look happy. Obviously most orphans were willing to give up everything they knew for the Mohiri. I was not one of them.
He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a white card containing only a phone number. “This is my number. Call me if you need me or when you reconsider your options.”
I took the card and stuck it in my back pocket, knowing that it would end up in a drawer somewhere and I’d never use it. “I won’t reconsider.”
“One more thing.” Nikolas put his hand inside his jacket again and withdrew a sheathed dagger. He turned the knife over in his hand and thrust it toward me handle first. “You may feel safe here now, but as you found out Friday night, danger can find you when you least expect it.”
I tried to refuse the weapon, but he pressed it into my hand and my fingers closed around the handle of their own accord. When I pulled the knife free of its sheath the silver blade gave off an almost ghostly gleam in the fading light. It looked like the one I had stabbed Eli with, only smaller, and the intricately carved handle was made of a dark polished wood. It fit my hand like it was made for me.
He donned his helmet and swung a leg over his motorcycle. “I’ll be seeing you, Sara,” he drawled before the Ducati purred to life.
“No, you won’t,” I replied, but it was drowned out by the roar of the engine as he sped away.
I moved like a sleepwalker as I made dinner. It was a good thing Nate was too busy working on a big scene to eat with me because I was incapable of making normal conversation. After I finished my tasteless meal, I escaped to my room where I watched TV, read a book, even did homework – anything to avoid thinking about the weapon hidden in the back of my closet and the train wreck that was my life. No matter what I did, the truth hovered over me like a wave of misery about to crash down and suffocate me, and there was nowhere to hide and no way to outrun it.
I paced the floor of my room like a lion in a cage, except I could not roar out my anguish with Nate downstairs. How could I tell him what was going on and who or what I really was? I pictured the revulsion on his face if he learned that I was part demon. My skin tightened and my stomach rebelled whenever I dwelled on the fact that a demon parasite was burrowed inside me. I wanted to scream and rip the ugliness from me so I could go back to feeling human again.
But I never was human, was I? My whole life was a lie. Did my dad know what Madeline was? Did he die knowing his daughter had a monster living inside her?
I stared at my face in the bathroom mirror, looking for signs, anything that would give my horrible secret away to the world. But all I saw was a normal, seventeen-year-old girl. I’d always scoffed at the kids at school for not being themselves, for trying to be something else to fit in. Jock, cheerleader, bully – they were all masks that hid the real people. But now I knew that I wore the biggest mask of all. I was a demon wearing a human face.
How could I live like this, to endure this knowledge for the rest of my life – my immortal life? I put a hand over my mouth to smother the sob torn from my throat. Nate, Roland, Peter, even Remy, everyone I loved would die someday, but I would live on. I could never have a normal relationship because everyone around me would eventually grow old and die. The thought of such a dismal existence brought on a swell of loneliness so fierce I almost doubled over from the pain in my chest.
Sleep was impossible, and the next morning I was bleary-eyed and hollow as I got ready for school. I managed to avoid talking with anyone all morning, and instead of going to the cafeteria at lunch, I holed up in the library. I had no appetite, and I couldn’t bear to face Roland and Peter yet. The werewolves had made it clear they did not like the Mohiri. What would my friends do when they found out I was Mohiri? I couldn’t keep something like this from them, but I needed more time to prepare myself. I needed a few more days to pretend my life was not being ripped apart from the inside out.
The week passed in a blur of classes, skipped lunches, and tormented nights. On Thursday after school, Roland caught me before I could slip away and asked me if I was sick because I was pale and even more withdrawn than usual. I mumbled an excuse about the flu and escaped before he could see through my lie.
At home it was easier to hide my turmoil. Nate worked long hours on his book, trying to meet a deadline. When he wasn’t writing, he was on the phone or going out to meet with a group of local environmentalists who were concerned with rumors about some oil company suddenly showing interest in the area. Fishing and tourism were the main industries in New Hastings, and any kind of energy exploration could be damaging to both of them. I liked my town just as it was, and I hoped the oil companies would leave it alone. It was easy to forget my own misery for a little while when I thought about the animals and other creatures that could be hurt or displaced if such a thing came to pass.
I stayed close to home on Saturday and Sunday, except for a walk down to the wharves. On Saturday afternoon, I spent a few hours on the roof with Harper who strutted around, upset that I’d neglected him lately. Normally, spending time with him relaxed me, but nothing could ease my mind now.
Roland texted me on Friday night and again on Saturday to see if I wanted to do something with him and Peter. Both times I replied that I wasn’t feeling well yet. I knew I was a coward and it wasn’t fair to my friends, but I still didn’t know how to tell them and see our friendship end.
On Monday, Roland and Peter ambushed me in the parking lot after school. “All right, Sara, what’s up with you?” Roland demanded after they pulled me out of earshot of everyone else. “And don’t give me that crap about being sick, because you’ve hardly been sick a day in your life.”
“Is it us?” Peter asked with some hesitation. “Are you freaked out about… you know… what we are? We’re still friends, right?”
“Of course we’re still friends.” I saw doubt on their faces and realized I had been so caught up in my own misery that I hadn’t seen how my sudden reticence affected my friends. While I was trying to gain the courage to tell them the truth, they were worried that I didn’t want to be around them anymore because they were werewolves.
“That doesn’t bother me. It’s…” I bit my lip and looked down to hide the dread in my eyes. How can I tell them?
Peter moved closer. “You alright?”
I started to nod, but I shook my head instead. I couldn’t count how many times someone had asked me if I was okay since last Friday and I always said yes, but the truth was, I was far from okay. In the last week my world had changed so much that I felt like I had stepped into someone else’s life without a script. I didn’t know how to think or act anymore.
“Come on.” Roland touched my arm and pointed to his old red pickup. “Let’s get out of here.”
None of us spoke as we piled into the cab of his small Chevy truck. Roland pulled out of the parking lot and headed north. I didn’t pay much attention to where we were headed. I stared at my hands most of the way and tried to find the words to tell them my awful secret when we got to our destination.
The truck slowed, and I looked up to find that we were at the old Signal Point lighthouse. The lighthouse had been decommissioned years ago, and it used to be a favorite teenage hangout. They still threw the occasional party up here because the police didn’t bother with it for the most part. The sight of the peeling white tower surrounded by the faded white picket fence brought back a lot of good memories but did little to ease the weight on my chest.
Roland opened his door. “You want to go inside?”
The wind was surprisingly calm up here today so I said, “Let’s go sit on the bluff.”
We strolled through the grass until we neared the edge of the bluff. The three of us sat in a circle, obscured from the rest of the world by the tall grass. Overhead the blue sky was dotted with small white clouds, and below us the surf broke against the rocks in a familiar rhythm. In this peaceful setting it was almost hard to believe that bad things could happen.
“Nikolas came to see me last Monday.”
“What the hell did he want?” There was no mistaking the dislike in Peter’s tone, and I cringed inwardly. Would he feel the same way about me soon?
“He told me some things that kind of freaked me out. I’m not sure how to tell you about it.” I looked from Peter to Roland and saw the mingled curiosity and concern on their faces. “This is really hard, so let me finish before you say anything. Okay?”
They both nodded. I took a deep breath and started at the point where I came home and found him waiting in front of the bookstore. I told them how he had tracked Roland’s license plate and how he’d asked about my parents and told me he had known my mother. When I told them that Mohiri can sense each other and Nikolas had recognized me as one as soon as we met, Roland made a small sound but didn’t say anything. He did not speak until I said that Nikolas told me I should be with the Mohiri.
“What did you tell him?” he asked in a tight voice.
I clutched my hands together. “I told him I belong here with you guys and Nate.”
“I thought… that since you guys hate the Mohiri you wouldn’t want anything to do with me when you found out I was one of them.”
“Is that what you were upset about all week?” The hurt in Roland’s eyes made my own sting. “You honestly think that we would do something like that.”
“No – I don’t know. After what Brendan and Maxwell said about them and you two didn’t hide how you felt about Nikolas – what was I supposed to think?”
Roland let out a long breath. “We don’t like the Mohiri, but we don’t consider them our enemy. And you being one of them doesn’t change who you are.”
“I guess I was just so upset that I didn’t think of it that way.”
“So your mom was one of them?” Peter shook his head. “All this time we were friends with a Mohiri and never knew it.”
Roland could not hold back his smirk. “I bet he wasn’t happy when you told him you’d rather stay with a bunch of werewolves.”
I remembered Nikolas’s expression when I told him I didn’t want to go. “He wasn’t.”
“What happens now? Will they leave you alone?” Peter asked.
“I don’t know. Apparently finding orphans is a big deal to them, and I’m a lot older than the other orphans they bring in. They want me to join them, but I won’t let them force me into anything I don’t want.”
Roland swiped at an insect near his ear. “Why are you older than the other orphans?”
I bit my lip. I’d deliberately left out certain details about the Mohiri because I wanted to see how my friends reacted before I laid the whole thing on them. “What do you guys know about the Mohiri – other than that they’re vampire hunters?”
Peter lifted his shoulders. “Not much. Like Dad said the other night, they’re like some kind of secret society. They’re super fast and strong and – ” He grabbed my arm. “Hey, that means you can move like them.”
I shook my head. “Nikolas said I’m suppressing that side of me. In order to be fast like him I’d have to stop holding it back.”
“Then let it out. What’s stopping you?” Roland said.
I tugged at a tuff of grass, unable to look at them. “I can’t do that.”
There was never going to be an easy way to say it, so I blurted it out. “It’s a demon.”
Roland let out a choked laugh. “What?”
“The Mohiri are half demon.” I looked up, waiting for the realization to sink in, waiting to see the same revulsion I’d lived with for a week. The only sound was the crashing of waves against the rocks. I looked away from the shock and disbelief in their faces and waited for the inevitable reactions.
“Half demon? How is that possible?” Roland’s voice sounded dubious instead of repulsed, but I still couldn’t look at him.
“It’s called a Mori demon. The Mohiri were created specifically to kill vampires, and each one of them is born with a Mori inside. They have to learn to live with the demon side and control it, and it makes them able to fight like they do. Orphans have to be found really young so they can learn to control their Mori. If not, the demon drives them insane. Nikolas says my Mori is practically dormant, and he has no idea how I’m doing it. Otherwise, I’d probably be locked up in a mental ward right now.”
Peter let out a long low whistle. “That is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” He immediately ducked his head. “Sorry. I didn’t mean anything bad by that. It’s just that I’ve never heard of a demon living inside a human like that.”
“Actually you have. Did you know that vampires have demon parasites inside them?”
They stared at me with similar expressions of shock. Roland found his voice first. “Nikolas told you all this?”
“That must have been some conversation.”
“You could say that.”
He ran a hand through his hair, causing it to stick out in places. “I can’t believe you’ve been carrying this around since last week. No wonder you seemed so out of it.”
“I was afraid you guys would think I was some kind of freak. You have to admit it’s pretty messed up.”
Roland barked a laugh. “We turn into giant mutant wolves. You don’t think there’s anything strange about that?”
“You can’t compare yourselves to demons.” My voice rose. “Demons are evil. They come from a hell dimension.”
His eyes widened, and his smile faded. “You think you’re evil?”
“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. In my heart I didn’t believe I was a bad person, but
“There is no way you’re evil,” Peter stated unwaveringly.
I wanted so much to believe him. “How can you be so sure?”
“I’m sure because I know you. You’re a good person and you never hurt people – well, except for Scott but some exceptions are okay. You hate bullies, and you always watch out for Jeffrey at school. I seriously doubt an evil person would care about him. I know you love Nate, and it’s easy to see how much you loved your father. I don’t think an evil person can love like that. And you’re so good with animals. Uncle Brendan says animals can sense when someone is bad, so there is no way they’d let you near them if you were evil.”
Roland reached over to take my hand. “You can’t possibly be evil, no matter what you are. I think evil is a choice, and you choose to be good. In fact, your demon is probably dormant because you’re too good for it.”
I sniffed. “You mean that?”
“Yes,” Roland replied with conviction. “Do you think Nikolas is evil?”
“No.” Evil was the last word I’d use to describe Nikolas. Hard and direct, maybe a little overbearing. But also strong and courageous. He had put his own life at risk to save mine, and he’d displayed kindness on the wharf.
“Me either,” he said to my surprise. “The Mohiri are arrogant bastards and I don’t like them, but they do kill vampires. That Mori demon might be bad news on its own, but they keep it under control and use it to make them better hunters.” He pointed at himself and then at Peter. “We had to learn to control our wolf sides so they didn’t take over. There’s a reason for the scary werewolf stories. Not all weres are good, and sometimes even good ones lose control.”
It felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off my chest, and I was able to take a deep breath for the first time in a week. I let out a shaky laugh. “When did you get all wise and philosophical?”
Roland gave me a lopsided grin. “Hey, I’m not just all good looks, you know.”
I fell back in the grass, giddy with relief. “I can’t believe how much I let this screw with my head.”
“Maybe next time you’ll come to us before you freak yourself out,” Roland chided. “Don’t ever be afraid to confide in us. No more secrets, okay?”
I didn’t answer him. My Mohiri lineage was only one of my many secrets. What would my friends think of me if they learned that I’d peddled troll bile on the black market? How would they react to my healing power or my friendship with Remy? And what would they say if they knew why I really went to the Attic that night?
We were interrupted by a cell phone ringing. “Oh crap!” Roland muttered, reaching for his phone. “I forgot I was supposed to pick up Mom. She dropped her car off to get the brakes done.”
We hurried to his truck and headed back to town. The mood on the return trip was a lot lighter. Roland and Peter compared werewolves and Mohiri, and they wondered if I’d be stronger or faster than them if I used my demon side. I told them to keep guessing because there was no way I was unleashing that thing.
Nate made beef stew for dinner, and I could smell it simmering in the slow cooker as soon as I entered the apartment. I set the table then spent an hour doing homework before he came out of his office.
“Smells great,” I said as he popped some take-and-bake rolls into the oven.
He gave me a sideways look. “You seem to be in a better mood today.”
I grinned. “I am, and I’m starving, too.”
After dinner I cleaned the kitchen and finished my homework. I felt so light and happy that I sat down to draw for the first time in two weeks. I was almost done before I saw that I’d sketched Nikolas emerging from the shadows with sword drawn, his face hard and angry like an avenging angel. I stared at the face on the paper for a long moment, not sure why I’d drawn him. He’d saved my life, but he was also a reminder of everything that had gone wrong with my life lately. I closed the sketchbook and threw it on the desk. I didn’t want to ruin my good mood by thinking about Nikolas or any of that negative stuff tonight.
I opened my laptop to check email before I went to bed. There was one from Roland with a funny cartoon of a werewolf at the dentist that made me laugh. I was still smiling when I logged into my regular message board.
Five minutes later my smile dissipated along with my good humor. A new thread had been started earlier today. LOOKING FOR FOY. A cold knot started to form in my stomach as I read the dozens of replies in the thread. Most of the replies were jokes and snarky comments telling the poster that they had a better chance of winning the lottery than finding FOY. Some users dismissed it as a legend with no merit. No one seemed to take it seriously.
FOY is the little known acronym used for troll bile. It stands for “fountain of youth.” No one mentioned New Hastings, me, or Malloy, but the posting gave me goose bumps. Someone was digging around.
Don’t panic. Even if there was something to it, there was nothing to trace it back to me. In any case, there was nothing I could do about it tonight. I opened a new email and sent a quick message off to Malloy. He had just as much at stake as I did if someone was nosing around. And he had a lot more contacts than I did. He’d get to the bottom of it. I hoped.
I shut the laptop and rubbed my face. How had my life gotten so damn complicated so fast?
“If it’s not one thing, it’s something else,” I groaned, turning out the light.
Relentless by Karen Lynch / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes