Chapter 26-Darren Returns
I wasn’t sure about coming up here, but I have to be certain about the portal. I just can’t shake the feeling there’s something awful down there after remembering that terrible dream I had. It felt so real and I think there has to be some reason it’s been haunting me. Nick came to my house after work today and offered to drive me over. I initially thought he came over to tell me he found Stella and Colin, but he was just on rounds and wanted to check in on me.
“How much further?” Nick asks in a serious voice from behind me as I pull a tree branch out of my way.
“It’s just up here.” I answer wondering why he’s acting so antsy when usually he’s more calm and quiet. It’s the fifth time he’s asked me how far away we are and I get the feeling he thinks I don’t know where we’re going, but I do.
After I step over a narrow stream of water flowing across our path, I find the portal right where I remembered. Leaves and sticks cover the rusting white cellar doors. Nick walks ahead of me when I stop a few yards in front of the doors. I’m sure the coven already felt a tremor in the ward since we stepped this close to it. They’ll be here in minutes so we don’t have long to open it.
I use my sight to try and get a read on the current state of the ward. Sure enough, its health is still strong and stable. No one probably has been up here since Will and the coven put up a new ward around it.
I also happen to accidentally see Nick’s aura too. Being a hybrid, he usually conceals his aura to keep from drawing coven members’ attention to himself. However, since they were forced to wear their uniforms I haven’t looked at his aura since. It glows the plain red of a vampire. Usually, hybrids have tainted or multicolored auras. Maybe he’s concealing certain parts of his aura, but that wouldn’t make any sense when he normally just hides his entire aura.
“What’s the matter?” He asks me suddenly using his cop voice on me. A chill creeps down my spine seeing his face darken as if I’ve done something wrong. Does he know I read his aura? He stands up from his kneeling position in front of the cellar. Making me feel very small, he looks down his nose at me and places his hands on his belt loop. I’ve never seen him look so angry at me. He must know.
The sound of police sirens echoes around the mountain and confusion floods into me as he grips my throat. Then, his appearance wavers. Eyes as black as night stare back at me from the shadows of his long black bangs. An unkempt beard traces over his jawline and he no longer is over a foot taller than me, but eye level.
“Give me your powers white witch.” Darren growls in my ear and a split second later razor-sharp teeth dig into my neck. A throaty scream escapes me as I use all my magic I can possibly summon against him. His teeth retract from my skin when my magic throws him away from me. Somehow, Darren manages to dodge the full impact of my attack though and lands on his feet not too far away from me.
A crazed wheezy laugh escapes him. I watch in disgust and horror as my blood drips from his mouth. His laughing escalates as his eyes roll into the back of his head. Abruptly, my ward starts collapsing around him as if to squeeze the life from him. It condenses tighter around his body beyond my control and I start seeing black magic stain the natural blue tone of my craft.
“No!” I yell not wanting my magic to kill him. He needs to be brought in for questioning. Who knows how many other vamps could have been working with him. Somehow, he managed to steal a police vehicle and an officer’s uniform as well. He couldn’t have done that easily by himself. Someone in the coven must have helped him get a spell to disguise himself since he can’t use magic.
Will told me they had him on house arrest in Florida after he confessed to lying about the police and admitted he himself was the one conspiring against the coven. They couldn’t punish him because the supreme of their state has been missing and she would be the one to give their coven the go-ahead to proceed with his punishment.
I hear the sound of leaves being trampled over behind me as the cops arrive. Instead of having to trek up here, the vamps can use their inhuman speed which comes in handy at times like this.
“Put your hands up! Drop your weapon!” Two police officers bark at Darren. They appear between me and him, aiming their guns at him. His elated expression turns into a frown and they force him far away from me in the woods. It looks like he’s vomiting in the grass and for some reason, one of the officers jumps away from him while he’s bent over dry heaving.
Then, Darren takes his chance and clumsily manages to run away.
“Hey! Stop him!” One of the officers yells as Darren boldly runs off with handcuffs on heading back in my direction.
I stagger backward resting against a tree to leverage my weight. My hand isn’t that great of a bandage and blood continues pouring out of my neck. Focusing more on my injury, I summon my magic around it to begin its healing process. Luckily, it’s only a flesh wound. He didn’t bite too deeply.
Darren hops onto the cellar doors of the portal and down onto the other side. A round of shots goes off, deafening loud at such close range. Another police officer emerges from the woods ahead of him with her gun aimed at Darren’s face.
The other officers hurry to Darren and pull him to his feet.
“I demand to see my brother!” Darren screams with rage while being tackled again to the ground. Since he wasn’t staked, the bullet wounds won’t injure him much. He’ll heal fast being a vampire, but not fast enough to have the energy to try running again.
Sticks snap behind me and I turn around to see a crowd of coven members with Will racing up to me. Two witches are low to the ground, keeping their summoning portal spell open in case of emergency. The other coven members listen to Will as he orders them to help the police with Darren. A few of the other witches are sent to check the doors of the portal. I watch silently as they temporarily undo the ward to open it up.
“I thought he was Nick, h-he pretended to be Nick.” I say shakily, but Will is quiet as he heals the rest of my wound using his own magic. Another coven member approaches us and hands him a big square bandage.
“Thanks.” I mumble after he places the bandage on my neck.
We both watch as the coven pulls open the doors to the portal. Will and I stand by the edge of the steps leading down. I feel like I just got slapped in the face with reality seeing no one and nothing done there. How stupid could I have been to follow Darren blindly up here?!
“Come see this!” One of the officers hollers from down in the cellar while looking upward.
Will helps me down the steps to see for ourselves. The room may be empty, but it smells like dead animal down here and we’re forced to cover our noses to keep from emptying our stomachs all over the scraped up cement floor. I feel like my feet are frozen to the ground and it’s as if I’m reliving my nightmare.
Will narrows his eyes looking up at the red lettering. On the ceiling written in something red are the words, “police lying”. It looks like red spray paint and anyone could have written it, probably a coven member trying to create another riot.
“Come on, let’s go back up.” Will announces quickly looking queasy.
We make it to the top of the steps to find the police chief waiting there. The memory of Darren appearing exactly like him and gripping my throat makes me slow in my pace up the stairs.
“What the hell took you so long to get here?” Will questions Nick and I walk around the two of them in a daze.
Will hurries after me and lightly takes my hand. Slowly, I turn to face the two of them. I know Will is worried, but he can’t expect me to be ready to talk about what happened before he arrived here. He looks like he’s waiting for me to speak and if I don’t the coven members circled around us now will probably force it out of me seeing traces of black magic lingering in the air.
They all watch me like I’m some kind of animal that needs put down and any amount of respect they may have had for me before is evaporating each second I remain quiet. They probably think I just simply came up here to activate the portal, instead of just opening it like I intended. No one activated it, so they have no reason to accuse me of that. Yet, I know it’s exactly what they will claim now that they can view the evidence of the devil’s magic around me.
“I can see it, her magic is tainted by the devil!” A warlock yells at Will and my lip trembles feeling the dangerous amount of their anger stir up their magic like a sea of hate that will soon be headed in my direction to snuff me out for good.
Will proceeds to calm down their accusations by explaining how it’s a mere side effect of someone performing necromancy on me. I doubt any of them will buy it, but the black spots tainting my magic are nearly all faded away now so perhaps that will be enough to keep them silent.
“Your lies are deceiving no one, none of you can see her aura. The magic is mine, which I am lawfully permitted to use to protect those in danger. The next witch who claims otherwise can come with us to the station. We have plenty of empty warm cells waiting for you.” Nick defends me and the witches grumble amongst themselves.
“Return to your homes! It is natural his magic be tainted, he is a hybrid. We have this under control.” Will assures them.
One by one, the coven finally steps back into their glowing summoning portal they used to get here. Before leaving together, they silently wait for Will.
“Go without me!” Will yells at them and looking annoyed, they do.
“I’m fine.” Val says weakly while holding the bandage against her neck looking scared. It’s stained in blood now and probably needs to be replaced.
“I’ll take you home. Your wound needs to be watched, he didn’t give you his blood did he?” I ask her.
“No.” Valerie replies quietly and I’m still wondering what Nicholas is doing standing here. He should be driving back to the station with the rest of his unit by now. I’m sure they’ve already got Darren there. Val heads down the mountain following the police team, not waiting for either of us. When she’s out of hearing distance I look over at the vampire.
“You should not have lied!” I say furiously, but he watches me looking indifferent.
“Mayor McCaster, I will be taking Ms. Parway into the station for questioning. I do believe she knows more about Darren than I do at this point seeing as neither you nor I were present during their interaction.” He jests, but his stare is humorless. That cold, calculating gaze watching my every move as if I were the one who brought Valerie up here to use her for the devil’s desire.
“You do not get to make that decision!” I vent back and he looks skyward as if to ignore me.
“My community will be looking for closure on your end as well. Your slip up in court with the supreme is still on their minds. You vamps are useless! I could have you removed at any moment and no one would bat an eye. So don’t pretend you know nothing about this. You will tell me what you know.” I demand him, but his attention is elsewhere.
Down the mountain where Valerie and some of his officers will soon be waiting.
“Your own people are beginning to get to you, mayor.” The vampire remarks impassively. He doesn’t seem put off by anything I say and it ticks me off even more. Then he walks ahead of me as if to start heading down the mountain himself.
“It hurts, doesn’t it? Not getting everything you want.” I tell him.
“I’m not sure I understand.” He replies evenly.
“You know exactly what I mean!” I retort loudly.
“Mr. McCaster, I cannot blame you for looking out for her, but I will remind you once again there is nothing going on between Ms. Parway and myself. In fact, she is quite repulsed by my kind, especially after tonight. I’m sure it will take her a long time to recover. Time over which I hope one of us will find the missing witch and human. Don’t you agree?” He asks me calmly with his back turned to me still.
“Yes, I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything. However, I will put you through trial if I must to satisfy my people.” I threaten while following him down the mountain. He remains silent and I take it as him finally coming to terms with the reality of his situation.
He pretends to be perfectly content and in charge, but he really is powerless and only a figurehead. I doubt he even patrols. Probably sits in his office all day unaware of what’s really going on. While in reality, over the past month, several witches and warlocks have gone missing. I asked him to assign a special team to set out and search. That was way before Stella Gild and Colin Wallace disappeared.
He has made little progress and told me they don’t have the time to devote to such a complex search. He suggested my people would be better fit to find them. At least the high council is making progress, but even they are struggling to find the missing. Maybe Nicholas is right, but he should still help more on their end. It’s almost as though he’s dragging his feet and trying to slow down the search process. My opinion of him aside, it doesn’t make the police department look good or him when he chooses to act like this.
At last, we reach the bottom of Slate Mountain where a few police cars still linger. It’s now I realize he could have transported both of us down the mountain and gotten here much faster, bastard.
Valerie is seated on the back of an ambulance listening to something a police officer is saying. I’m not sure which officer it is. I only know a handful. Begrudgingly, I follow the police chief as he guides Val and I over to his vehicle parked right outside the abandoned looking ski lodge.
“Mr. McCaster, you’re welcome to ride along.” Nicholas tells me. He opens the driver side door and gets in his car not waiting for my answer.
“What took you two so long to come down here? You were arguing, weren’t you?” Valerie whispers to me as we scoot into the back seat of the car.
The black iron lattice wall divides us from the front of the car. I’ve never ridden in the back of a police car before, but only one of us could have sat in the front with him. I’m perfectly satisfied we can both sit back here together.
“I was just making sure we were on the same page.” I justify and my phone rings. When I answer it, Val leans her head against the window and closes her eyes.
“You’re coming with me to the station, right?” Valerie asks me with a hopeful expression after I finish my call.
“Beth called. My sister is in town and we may need to bring her into the police station. Crystal’s at my apartment waiting for me there. She’s too young to be caught up in this. She’s been hurt, guess Darren decided to attack her too. Can you drop me off?” I ask the hybrid.
Val returns to staring out the window and faces her body completely away from me. She’s closing me off and ignoring me now. Can’t she understand my concern? From the way Beth was speaking, it seemed like an emergency. I just hope my sister doesn’t have anything to do with making the spell Darren used to hide his real identity from Valerie. My guess is she didn’t since he decided to hurt her.
“Certainly, Mr. McCaster. Just tell me where to turn off.” The vampire hybrid says while messing with the radio station on the dashboard.
The windshield wipers wave back and forth rapidly as rain begins to pour down. Feeling deflated, I try to hug Valerie, but she remains stiff. Lost somewhere in her own thoughts, probably muddled in fear now too that I have to leave her with her boss. I’m not sure what else happened between Darren and her before we got there, but it looks like she’s nervous to talk about it.
“I’ll come right over once I find out what’s going on.” I promise her while kissing her cheek and she closes her eyes again.
“Okay.” She replies quietly, but her voice trembles.
Soon, she falls asleep against me and I peek at the wound on her neck seeing it’s completely healed as if she were never bitten. After watching the ski lodge fade away in the distance, I start giving the officer directions to my home as we drive further down the highway back toward downtown.
Even if he does genuinely care about the community and actually takes his job seriously I can’t shake the feeling he’s hiding something. The first time I suspected him to be hiding something I was right and it turned out he was a hybrid. This brother of his we just caught after the legend himself and someone managed to get into the portal and write that warning.
It smelled like dead bodies down there, but I didn’t want to scare Valerie. All I know for sure is someone risked going down there and went to the trouble of writing that. When I saw Nicholas himself standing at the top of the cellar, he just had this look on his face. I could have sworn I saw him smile a little too. I was half expecting him to close the cellar doors on us because for a minute there it was like everything came together.
I could picture in my mind him as evil as his father. I could picture in my mind him murdering and killing the entire coven out of spite. I could picture in my mind him capable of being some crazed lunatic out to kill us all and walk away from the scene like nothing happened. There’s just something off about him, but it can’t be to that extreme.
He just had on this haunted look, like a soldier returning home from war. He was shaking a little too like he was spooked or something and he was breathing heavy like he was out of breath. Maybe he was having some kind of mental breakdown remembering something traumatic from his past. I’m not sure what was going through his mind, but it could have been anything really.
Whatever it was, I’ll never know.