Discovery could be deadly. This part of the boundary, aptly called the dumping grounds, was off-limits for those of my kind who didn’t have clearance. I huffed out an anxious breath and tried to calm my runaway heartbeat. No matter how many times I did this, I would never be at ease. With a hand that shook more than I’d like, I wiped away the sweat beading on my forehead.
Anticipation and wariness careened through every nerve of my body. I’d come here at a time when this sector was to be empty—Wednesday afternoon—but that could very well mean there was a random patrol looking for poachers. I knew I wasn’t the only “thief” here. A few others had to be in various areas of the trash heaps. As I gazed around at the stinking piles of garbage, I forced away the worst of my fears. Why would anyone give a damn if I scavenged for food and other stuff they didn’t want?
I cast a wary gaze through the chain-link fence to where tall white walls of stone stood guard. Beyond the glistening rock, the “better” half lived in mansions surrounded by a world of magical creations of which I could only dream. Even the sky over there looked so much clearer, a vibrant blue that put the sickly gray, smog-filled air on my side to shame.
Of course, they put their garbage on our side of the fence, dirtying up land they didn’t have to live on. Yet the tyrants commanded that no human touch their trash unless special dispensation was given. Yeah, right. As if that would keep starving humans away. All it did was make my people stealthier and more careful. Even the threat of beatings, death, and other abuses wouldn’t keep us away.
A silent sigh escaped me as I shivered in the cool air. Better get on with it. My grandparents needed the money that my discoveries could bring. I might even luck out and find something edible. Gross as that may seem, true hunger always won out. That I had learned long ago. The days of the Sidhe giving food rations to us poor humans had faded away to nothingness years before I was even born. Now we did what we must to survive.
After taking a deep breath, I wrinkled my nose. Given the stench, everything was likely rotten, but stranger things had happened. At least it was mid-spring, so the smell wasn’t as horrid as it could be during a hot day. Plus, a brisk wind was blowing the worst of the stink away from me. Thank the heavens for small mercies.
I sifted through the waist-high piles of rubbish, careful not to get my already dirty hands more soiled. I gave a small chuckle at my stupidity. Keeping clean was a futile battle, so I cast away all thoughts of it. With renewed determination, I dug through the trash. Anything sparkly or in good shape snagged my attention, and I pocketed a few of the treasures in a pouch that hung from my waist. The best one was a clear, smooth marble that was slick against my fingertips. Though the glass item was small, it glowed with a luminosity that could only now be wrought by the fae. Gran had said we humans once had the means to do such things through technology, but that sounded like magic to me.
When I caught sight of the mess that was my hands and clothes, a bubble of longing popped through me. Tomorrow was the second Sunday of the month—bath day. Though water was highly prized and regulated in the slums, my grandparents ensured all three of us got a thorough cleaning that one blessed day a month.
The sound of voices on the other side of the fence floated to me. Shit! I froze and then realized if I continued standing, I might as well be lit up with those wondrous neon signs from centuries ago that Gran whispered about during the dark of the night. If the other scavengers in the dumping grounds were smart, they’d do well to take cover.
After I crouched behind a small mountain of potato peels and rotten fruit, I inched over to the small valley between mounds. What I saw squeezed the breath from my lungs. It was him. The one from the raid six years ago. The night when my family had been destroyed and my parents taken, never to be seen again. Anger seared through me, hot and heavy. I hated him and all of his kind. The Sidhe or fae they called themselves, but they might as well be demons under their pretty exteriors.
I removed the hand I’d raised to stifle my gasp, careful not to disturb the debris around me. There were three others with him, but I ignored them in favor of the black-haired one. Rage exploded through my veins. The Sidhe beast strongly resembled an illustration of the fallen angel Lucifer that I’d seen in one of Gran’s contraband books on human religion that the underground movement distributed. To her, Lucifer was the ultimate evil. Though I wasn’t a religious person, I felt the same way about the fae male before me and hated him with every fiber of my being, yet… Yet, nothing! A silent snarl twisted my lips. Too bad someone so physically beautiful and damnably fascinating could be so ugly inside. Even though I wanted to attack him, to tear him apart, I wasn’t suicidal. I had no weapon, and I’d be one against many.
Though they continued to talk, I couldn’t make out a word they said. They spoke too softly and, more than likely, in their own language—one forbidden to all but the most “fortunate” of humans. Ha! They could keep their devil tongue. I had no use for it. My life was about toil and centered on a little shack that held my few belongings and, most importantly, my grandparents’ love. I needed nothing more—well, nothing more than except his death. As that wasn’t going to happen today, I had to wait for them to leave.
I eyed the small group, fear and mistrust swirling in my gut. What were they doing in this section? By their fine dress of embroidered tunic and handsomely tooled boots, they had to be of noble stock. And wherever nobles showed up, trouble followed closely behind. They took what they wanted, whether it was our blood, body, or life. That was why my grandparents had always told me to stay far away from them.
Other than a few semi-serious run-ins with them, I’d come out relatively unscathed, with only a couple of bruises, and still a virgin. But only because the Sidhe in question had been seeking a human target to scare without taking it too far—“too far” being a hard beating, rape, or death. I had friends who hadn’t been so lucky, and some hadn’t lived to tell of the horrors that they’d experienced. Afterward, their bodies had been dumped back on our side like so much trash.
But I shouldn’t have to worry about that right now. As long as they didn’t have dogs, especially fae bloodhounds, they’d probably never know I was there. A shudder worked its way through my body at the thought of those beasts and their red eyes. And their long, pointy teeth and ravenous appetite. Thank God, I’d only ever seen them from a distance and never while scavenging, so they’d been completely under control. If the hounds were after a person, the only way to avoid detection was by swallowing a potion that hid all body scent.
That drink was beyond my means—not to mention illegal. That last part did little to faze me, though. Next to striking or killing a Sidhe, a human who poached from the fae was about as criminal as one could get. Punishment could be anything from a small fine to a swift but painful death, depending upon the capricious mood of the Sidhe.
My gaze remained glued to the Lucifer look-alike. His face would always be seared into my memory, and the last few years had changed him little. If I had any sense, I’d cower until the danger passed. But I seemed in sparse possession of that quality today. In spite of my anger, a maddening curiosity prodded me to watch and satisfy a terrible, unwitting fascination that had taken root the night of that fateful raid.
I gritted my teeth as rage spiked through me, leaving me a quivering mess of nerves. A sick sort of attraction that I couldn’t explain or understand gripped me now. It’d been there since the first time I saw him. How could I possibly feel anything but hate toward the fae who could’ve been the one to send my parents to their deaths? At least I hoped they were dead. The alternative would be much worse. Even now, the thought of prison-like work camps, where torture and grueling work were the norm, racked my body with a shudder. Wanting to bury those images in the deepest recesses of my mind, I focused my attention back on Lucifer.
Though I lurked in the shadows and he in the light, something about him drew me, damn him. His face inhabited both my dreams and nightmares. It was such a pristine countenance, clean and shining in the sun. Even on that long-ago night, he’d been clean and bright. Everything I physically was not. I ran my fingers along the grimy skin of my cheek and knew my brown hair looked no better. Yet I knew I was the better person in every way that mattered. He was a killer, a family destroyer, so why did he haunt me beyond what was expected?
I closed my eyes in an effort to still my turmoil, but my mind refused to listen. Instead, it replayed images and sensations of that night that had taken my parents away. My mind clouded with anger once again until my breath rasped in my ears. Taking a deep gulp of air, I knew I needed to calm down or risk getting caught. So I did what I did best—observed.