My fingers pick at my stitches. My wound itches. It’s impossible to scratch it so I’ve been plucking at the loose strings. As a doctor, I chastise myself for touching it but as a person rarely ever injured and particularly horrible with following direction, I don’t listen to myself.
I knock my hand away when I pick too hard and bring instant tears. My wound is healing fast as I knew it would but there is still a hint of pain deep in the nerves. I should take out the thread now. I don’t want them embedded into my skin forever.
I’m anxious. Sleep did not come easy, if at all. My heart beats fast and despite lying in bed for the last few hours, it hasn’t calmed. Something just doesn’t feel right. No matter how much I want us to be safe, I don’t think we are.
Ususally, when I am overly stressed, the only cure is the bar, where I sit in wait for a beautiful woman to bring home. Yet for some reason, the very idea of wasting a moment not thinking about Kyla makes me ill.
After meticulously removing each stitch, I take another shower, if only to ease the terrible tension of pain. By the time I finish dressing and head out the door, I’m nearly running toward the exit. My concentration is entirely on Kyla that I pass the gorgeous women at the front desk with thoughtlessness. That ridiculous name I’ve given my detainees rings out numerous times before I realize they’re calling me. My hands rest on the screen door, a step away from the outside world.
I greet them with a half-smile, “Morning.” The sun shines through and birds chirp in the early morning as if beckoning me.
“You alright, Dave?”
Her voice chimes with familiarity and I take a second to look over the brown curls, the hefty bust line and thick physique before I realize it’s Ellen. I step forward, grinning in surprise, “I’m sorry, have we met? You see I met this brutish officer yesterday who pinned me to the hood of my car. I think I may have hit my head.”
She disapproves with a roll of her eye, looking toward her companion, “You’re right, Denise. He’s too handsome for his own good.”
“Oh you’ve been talking about me?” I lean against the counter, allowing a few strands of gold locks to dangle in my face, “It’s my favorite subject too.”
Denise giggles, blushing behind her hands but Ellen seems to have no taste for my flirtation. She darts away, waving a hand, “Please, spare me. I want to show you something.”
“In private? I wonder what it can be?” Denise snorts and cackles as we leave the room. I look back and wink if only to get a rise out of her.
“You’re completely different from yesterday.”
“I’m full of energy now and willing to spare a bit.” Her jeans are impeccably tight. I wonder how she managed to squeeze those thighs into them. I would love to see her try.
I stumble over my own feet when she stops short in front of a closed door. I smile warmly in apology, meeting her irritated features. “You said you knew Ariel.”
“No, I don’t believe I did.”
Turning a key in the lock, she shoves her shoulder against the wooden slap and reaches for the light, disregarding my need for secrecy. I unwillingly follow behind, certain to keep my silence during this obvious plight to figure out who I am.
“This is our history. It starts here. Ends over there. I thought you’d like to take a look. Since you apparently knew Erelim Elder Ariel.”
Decorating the walls are written manuscripts, aged and worn. Despite the heavy encased glass that keeps dust and grimy hands from reaching it, ink fades from the yellow frayed documents. In see-through display cases, deep-rooted artifacts lay next to little descriptive narrations, placing its owner and its age. There are hundreds of relics, ranging from spears to goblets to a small replica of a teepee lying in the corner.
My hand rests on the leather in memory. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of these.”
“The Hunting Ground used to be an Indian Tribe called the Tenskwatawa. It means ‘Open Door.’ When Yuma first descended Heaven to create our clan, he wanted to integrate into the human populace. At that time, it was--”
“No.” She smiles warmly, “It was undreamed-of. Erelim Elder Ariel tried to convince him to forgo his visions but when he refused, she aided him. For the first time Angels were once again, side by side with humankind. No more on the outside, looking in. I always imagine what it was like to witness it. What it must have felt like for Erelim Elder Ariel after so many years of standing by unable to lend a hand, then to see this man go out and reach them so effortlessly.”
“God forbade intervening. He made that clear when he created Heaven. She couldn’t ignore thousands of years of instruction no matter how much she wanted too.”
I feel her eyes on me but I stare at an arrowhead with conviction, unwilling to admit that I said anything at all.
“There’s a picture.”
Eagerness has me follow her direction and my feet lead my heart. I stand in front of it open mouthed and wide eyed, fascinated and mournful to the extremity that I can’t place either of them on my lips.
Ariel sits as a striking chieftain with a straight back and a strong jaw line. Her cold stare is only ignited by the icy glare of her eyes. Straight hair entwines with beads and bone resting on the furs of a lion’s head that sits upon her shoulder. A giant paw wraps over her bust while the other rests in-between her legs. She holds a staff in one hand and grips the edge of her throne in the other. There is no other woman as powerful as she was and none yet in my prejudiced opinion to compete.
I manage to suppress any form of happiness that formulates upon seeing her face. “I was umm…” I clear my throat, feeling my cheeks heat up. “I was there for this.”
“It’s the last picture that was painted before she disappeared.”
Blinking rapidly, my eyes fall to the floor, “I know.”
“You must have known her well. Were you part of the Icelandic Range? I know many people left when Erelim Isis took it over and converted it to the New York Council.”
I step back, “No, I was never part of any clan.”
“Then how did you know an Erelim?”
Even as I say it, I don’t know why I do. It’s been so long since I spoke to anyone about the days I’ve tried to forget. “I was a student of hers.”
“Are you an apothecary?”
“I’m sure by now I would have been.”
Astonishment billows on her brow, “Why would you do that? To have such honor and deny it?” She notices my reluctance to speak and decides to head in a different direction. “You must be an amazing healer.”
My thumb rubs the stitches of my jaw. It brings a wave of sensation through my nerves. Not so much pain but tangible feeling that dulls the ache in my chest. “I was Ariel’s protégé.”
“But…But you are just over a thousand years of age. At that time, you must have been four hundred years old. I can’t believe that.” She steps backward, distancing herself as she reaches down to her cowboy boot.
It’s too late I notice she has my only exit.
She holds a tiny revolver in her steady hands, peering over the barrel with narrow eyes. “You’ve been lying to me since you opened your mouth.”
Holding my hands up, I smirk, “Not entirely. I am my favorite subject.”
She cocks the handgun as if that’s supposed to threaten me. I’ve been in this predicament multiple times in many different scenarios. I must say it’s the first occasion a righteous Angel is using it against me.
I wonder if it’s because of my recent run-in with Vetalas or perhaps I’m immune altogether to the ‘gun’ act but I find no care for the situation at hand.
“What’s your real name?”
“What does it matter?”
“It matters if I plan on helping you or not.”
Bored, I drop my hands. “Look, Ellen--”
“What is she?”
Every muscle tightens and every thought ceases as I gape in stupefaction. I can’t manage speech, licking my lips, blinking, stepping backward if only to test my ability to move.
“You’re such an idiot. “ She drops her gun, pacing the ground. “You should have kept running!”
“What did you do?”
“It’s not me.” She pleads desperately. “It’s Rezon. He turned you in. The Ruling’s coming. They may already be here.”
Panic jolts my senses and I run for the door but she presses her hand against it, whispering in my ear, “You have to trust me now. Our doctors, they can’t see her Light and it terrifies them. They are calling her a Demon. So tell me. What is she?”
“I don’t know. I’m trying to find out. Please help me.”
Unable to deny a plea for help, especially since she seems privy to helping without being asked, she readily gets moving, “Follow me.”
I’m on her heels as we travel down the halls, turning down the right and out a back door. We are in the grass, crossing the field and down the hill toward the infirmary. My heart pounds and sweat builds quickly on my brow from the rising sun. We press against the sidewall but when she peeks at the front door, she comes away with a curse.
“They posted a guard. Let’s go through the window.”
I hike her up in a high window. It’s a perfect butt shot but I try not to think about it, looking out for any soldiers poking around. She holds her arms out helping me climb through and with little grace; I end up on the floor. I’m not particular good at breaking and entering. I’m much better at escaping.
“Alright, I see her.” She whispers after peering through the exit. “She’s just to the right.”
“Well we can’t haul her through the window.”
“I’ll deal with the guards. You take care of Layla.”
“Kyla.” I correct. “I’m Alex.”
Her smile widens, brightening the dark brown of her eyes and only increasing the red of her cheeks. “You look like an Alex.”
“And can I say--”
“No.” She stalks out.
Why are women so against compliments about their ass?
It’s here our rescue falls apart. They lay in wait, hidden and buried but upon our arrival, they reveal themselves with guns drawn. Yells and shouts overcome the hospital wing for horrifying drawn out moments and as I lay against the ground with my hands cuffed behind me, I engulf in failure. How disappointed Tymician will be in me when he realizes how far I’ve gotten.
They stand me up and Kyla lies before me. Dressed in fresh white linen, she is peacefully sleeping on a comfortably cot. She finally is where she should be, in a hospital room that can supply the best care she deserves. Perhaps I hadn’t done quite so bad. Will Tymician accept this life for her? It’s better than being in the back seat of my car.
Footsteps echo on the wooden floor. In the chaos of this forlorn moment, I hear their repetitive beat. It’s so dominant, I tear my eyes away to squint down the hall.
Black glossy oxford style shoes thump with each step. Sleek black pants match a tailored jacket buttoned and fashioned with gold cuffs rests with elegance at his waist. The symbol, however, sets fear into my heart, sits on his breast pocket.
The sigil in silver embroidery is of a winged Angel and of a Fallen, each holding up the world in the palm of their hands. The symbol is a unity of breeds working together for the good of humankind.
The sign of the Ruling.
“I am Warner of the Ruling, Alexander Stamford.” The suit announces, looking me over with droopy eyes, big black eyebrows, eyeing my wound and my clothes. “You are hereby under arrest for the conspiracy and the disappearance of Erelim Elder Ariel.”
Ellen jolts against her clan mates. “What? Alex?”
I hold my head high. “I figured you’d do something like that.” With disregard, he steps away from me.
The Ruling is supposed to help the world but instead they help themselves by covering up stories and aiding those that pay them. They have been corrupted long before I came into existence. They are the reason I became so good at running. The problem is that I am usually running alone. It is surprisingly difficult carrying around a corpse. I should be proud with how far I’ve come. Yet I can’t seem to fake it.
Ellen begs on my account. “Sir, please, there must be a misunderstanding.”
“I’m sorry but we’ve been searching for this one for near five hundred years. He’s had ample help. Your clan has done us a great service. Please inform Elder Rezon that his debt is fully paid. Now to do with this ill Fallen. We shall take her off your hands. There is no reason to lay such a burden onto your selves. We have amble doctors to care for her. And we will alert her clan when she is settled.”
He motions behind him and two followers quickly hasten to do his bidding. I watch with vile bitterness in my mouth as one of them lays his hands on her, wrapping the blankets tight over her form and takes her out of the room. The other comes for me, latching onto my cuffs.
Ellen stomps her heel on her friend’s toe and whips his rifle off his shoulder as he reels in pain. She holds the barrel at eye level, pointing it at my captive’s head. “Release him.”
Her clan mates stand by in confusion. They back up, looking to one another for advice or orders but in the line of rank, she is the one to give them command.
“Ma’am, you are emotional. I will forgive this folly only momentarily. Drop your weapon and stand down.”
“I am anything but emotional. I’d like to fill you in. I’m a Special. One of those Truth seeing ones. You, sir, are a fucking liar. Let him go now.”
Warner taps his fingers over his wrist. “I was unaware that Rezon had a Special in his clan. It is against the law to be undisclosed.” He takes a step closer toward her. “It’s also against the law to threaten an Elder, not to mention to do so while disregarding the Ruling’s mandated edict. Do you understand the law, Newborn? I can have you put away for a hundred and twenty years for what you do.” He delightfully wonders, “Am I lying now?”
Her hands shake. “You got the girl. Isn’t that what you really want?”
His jaw tightens, looking around at her clan mates, sneering. Warner flicks his hand suddenly and stalks from the room as his subordinate jiggles with my cuffs, causing more pain then necessary before he pulls them off taking a chunk of my skin with it.
The moment I’m free I feel a cascade of dread pour its cold malicious waves upon me, waking an instinctual drive I’ve yet experienced in this life or in any other. The Source ignites with a will of its own and even though he’s a powerful Elder, I’m blind in my ambition. I race after Warner, bulldozing into him and we fly off the steps of the infirmary. Rolling in the grass, I twist and struggling with his flailing until I prevail on top, latching a hold of his pretty little suit, “Give her to me!” I bawl up my fist ready to strike his frightened face, “She’s mine!”
Ellen latches on the rail of the building, appalled but she directs me and I spot the man holding my ward.
I pant as the adrenaline leaves my body a trembling wreak. A quick analysis of my heart rate, my quaking hands, the bubbling anxiety, alerts me that I’ve scared myself by my atrocious actions.
Darting my gaze around, I find I’m not the only one I’ve managed to frighten.
I stumble rising and manage to get to Kyla’s side, removing her from the stranger’s. I fall to my knees, holding her close, relieved to have her in my arms. I brush her silk hair out of her face, admire the way the sunlight touches her pale skin, and adjust the blankets to a more comfortable rest. I reach for her hand, watching the bracelet slide against her thin wrist and it’s only then do I feel my nerves pacify.
The pressure of a barrel pushes against the back of my head.
“You should’ve kept running.” Warner chuckles.
I turn slightly. A dark shadow floats on the grass blocking the sun for a single moment. “You should start.”
He whips sideways and I witness the horrified drop of his jaw. He swings his gun but it’s too late. The Vetalas swipes him off his feet and buries its enormous claws into his chest and neck as it rests on top of him. His screams are heard for only a moment before the creature leans his monstrous weight on one foot, cracking every bone in Warner’s neck and slicing skin from body. Blood gurgles and drowns him, soaking the green grass.
I hold Kyla close to the ground, watching from in between my arms as Warner’s Soul attempts to escape. He grips onto the floor, detaching from the body with much difficulty. Without the aid from Heaven, escaping a husk is painful and tears at your Light as a nail rips at skin.
With the very watchful Vetalas hanging above him, he doesn’t get a mere inch before it latches its lethal mouth onto his Soul.
Screams and shouts begin the wave of chaos and it directs my own attention to find safety. I haul Kyla up and rush for the infirmary, shoving Ellen in the door as I go. I drop down against the wall, hiding out with a handful of the Hunting Ground’s clan members that are just as terrified as I am. Ellen, clenching a rifle, peeks out the window. “What is that?”
I look over my ward for reassurance, dusting specks of dirt off her white pajamas. “It will be over soon.”
Inch-by-inch, Ellen’s hold on the window falters as she stares at me, “You’re lying. You’ve lied about everything, it’s impossible to understand you.” She crawls along the ground to one of her comrades and radios to others to report a monster on campus. So swiftly she manages to calm the shivering clan mates huddle against the wall and their eager to listen to instruction.
She climbs back over to me. “You know what they are?”
She slaps her hand against the wall, “You’re lying!”
“I can’t do this on my own.”
“Do what?” She grasps my hand, stalling my preening, “Alex, I will help you. Please let me.”
Her desperation is because she’s a virtuous person. She wants to save her clan mates but her clan mates will turn Kyla and I into the Ruling. I can’t trust her because I can’t trust them. Tymician was right. I should have stayed away.
Kyla is the only one I trust and she has only me to rely on.
I hold Kyla’s hand, fingering her bracelet and watching the bear twirl with each passing. “I’ll take care of you.” I murmur softly against her temple.
The side wall caves in as a Vetalas barrels through. The gurneys and machines roll and twist with shards of wood and glass. I hear its high-pitched wail scream over the alarm of the clan members as they grab their guns. A brave man takes the lead, pushing his comrade up from his trembling state and together they rush down the hall to reign fire on the beast.
It’s only moments before their bodies crash down, broken and unconscious, bleeding from deep poisonous wounds.
I hear its clawed foot pound on the floor. I haul us up and shove out the door. I’m unprepared to how dark the sky appears. The Vetalas circle, hunting, calling upon their siblings to gather for the feast I’ve laid before their feet.
It will be a massacre.
Ellen hollers my name but I don’t look back. I release my connection to the Source in the hopes of disappearing through the hundreds that run about in random disorder. Gunfire rings out, screams and cries, and terrible screeches echo across the once serene land. I put my back to it.
My job is to save one woman and I plan on succeeding.