Fate of the Hybrid
Fate of the Hybrid
Copyright 2017 A.K. Koonce
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales are entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
– Mortals and Mystics Alike
– A Grave Mistake
I shouldn’t linger here, but I’ve got nothing but time. When you’ve spent your whole life avoiding the world, you become incredibly aware of the very thing you’re hiding from. I’m constantly conscious of the damaged world that surrounds me; of humans that rule over the dwindling mystics, such as myself; of the scorching climate that threatens to burn us all from existence; and of the genocides that are happening to my own race. And, as always, I’m mindful of the slowly passing hours that fill my lonely days.
Needless to say, with the weight of the world continuously on my mind, I’m not too worried about the creatures that crawl through this part of the woods. The river is a life source for both mystics and mortals. Whether feeding on flesh or fruit, we all need water.
I lie against a jagged boulder, my arms tucked leisurely behind my head. Closing my eyes to the warm sun, I let my thoughts drift away for just a moment. The sound of water streaming over smooth rock fills my thoughts. I start to shove my hand through my short brown hair when the snap of a twig deep in the heart of the woods calls out to me.
Careful and quiet breaths fill my lungs and I extend my senses while appearing unalarmed by the lurking creature. I let the sound of the wild fully enter my mind… Nothing else is heard. The forest is entirely silent, which can mean only one thing.
A predator is prowling somewhere.
Slowly I open my eyes to find a beautiful dark-haired woman leaning over me who I, unfortunately, know too well. The pale morning light filters through her tresses, causing the soft angles of her face to appear even more angelic.
“I was wondering when you might open those pretty silver eyes to me,” the woman says with a faint smile.
Her hair swoops down, curtaining around me. A delicate hand rests close to my bicep, almost touching but not quite. I clench my jaw and push off from the boulder in one swift move, putting as much space between us as possible.
“Annessa, how have you been?” I ask, forcing a friendly tone.
My fingers brush against the hilt of the Crimson Sword casually, letting it stay sheathed at my side but drawing her attention to the weapon at the same time; a reminder of how quickly her death might come to her. A calm spreads through me at the reassuring feel of the ancient weapon.
Her emerald eyes sparkle like the sea as she takes in the sight of the supernatural sword hanging from my belt. She has to know all that it represents to our kind. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to kill anything on this earth, human and unhuman alike, and its presence disgusts every mystic I’ve ever come across.
Everything is a game in her mind. I was a game in her mind. Our relationship was a game.
“Asher, why the serious tone, darling? Did you not miss me?” Her lips puff out in a seductive pout that makes my stomach turn.
Why did I have to run into her today?
She’s beautiful, unnaturally intelligent, and deadly strong, but she’s barely even real.
Infinity witches feed off of love and emotions, two things I’m lacking considering my sheltered and hidden upbringing—I can’t get attached to too many people if I’m avoiding them all. Like the rest of us, Infinity witches have clung to the outskirts of society, where the humans choose not to go.
Sometimes I like to think they’re avoiding us as much as we’re avoiding them.
But our numbers are dwindling because of our lives of hiding and the constant slaughter of our people. If I were smart, I would have stayed with Annessa. I would have lived with my kind rather than stay alone with my grandparents. Instead, I stayed with them because of Annessa. I never knew something so terrible existed until I laid eyes on her. Until I saw her for who she truly is.
She is no one, and she is everyone, changing faces and identities the way most of us change our minds.
So I did just that. I changed my mind. I went back to my life of hiding, away from the mystics and away from the chaos.
“I don’t miss you, Ann. There’s business waiting for me,” I tell her with vague detail, almost afraid to say who I’m meeting. If she ever touches a hair on my brother’s head, I’ll kill her before she can magically form her new beautiful identity to fit his deepest desires.
Because that’s what Infinites do. They appeal to us. They are our wildest dreams and hopes while concealing the nightmare that lingers just beneath the surface—a beautifully wrapped box with a toxic poison inside, just waiting to be opened.
“Thinking about taking a tour of the Compound today?” She purrs in a bittersweet voice, her lips tilting up even higher. She playfully tosses a smooth wishing stone at me—an object that reminds me of her all on its own. It’s a memento of the nights we would spend skipping rocks into the river and putting unrealistic dreams into stones. Those high hopes ended up sinking to the bottom like heavy regret.
I flinch at her words that were so carefully aimed to hurt as I flip the stone in my hand, considering everything it represents for us. Swallowing hard, my fingers close around the sentimental object before crushing it in my palm. The tiny pieces scrape against my skin before disintegrating into powder, and I relish in the way the dust slips through my fingers.
All those nights have as much significance now as this dust. Within moments, it’s gone in the breeze and won’t ever be seen again as the perfectly polished thing it once was.
Her lips twist just slightly, the smile almost losing its place but not quite.
The compound just west of here is the bane of my existence. It’s a prison specially made for hybrid-vampires like myself. The humans slaughtered my ancestors into extinction, but that wasn’t enough for them. It wasn’t enough to annihilate vampires who were as old as the world itself. They had to ensure even the offspring of the creatures of the night were contained. Humans are a struggling mixture of irrational fear and supremacy, going as far as to turn on even the mystics who fought side by side with them against the vampires.
“No, not today. I’ll pass on the tour, thanks.”
She smirks at my reply and slips down off the boulder with movements like water through a river, smooth and fluid. Her eyes never leave mine as she slowly makes her way toward me. My fingers tighten against the hilt of the sword. Her dark dress swishes around her ankles with every step as her bare feet move casually against the jagged rocks, like pain is nonexistent to her. Maybe it is. Maybe, after so much time has passed, you stop feeling the natural pain, as well as the pleasures, of this world.
“Admit it, you came to visit me. Tell me you miss me and we can just forget the past. We can forget how you turned your back on me and all our friends. You should have stayed with us, Asher.” Her voice is teetering between sweet and sadistic.
I do my best to give her a polite smile that strains painfully against my teeth, not because I’m afraid of her but because I’m afraid of what she might do to those I love. Those I cannot always protect, no matter how hard I try.
The truth is I didn’t just turn my back on her. I panicked when her magic slipped. Slipped isn’t the right word—her magic intentionally fell away. My lips were on hers, enjoying the physical attraction that always existed between us, as our hands roamed over each other. I can still hear her cackling laughter as confusion and horror seeped into my eyes when I finally saw her for what she really is. I can still feel her decaying skin flaking off in my palm.
My hand twitches at my side with the strange memory as I take in her beautiful and innocent appearance.
Those lies are her life.
Annessa isn’t a real living thing at all. She’s just centuries of used-up emotions and magic that she no longer has in high supply.
“Annessa, I’m not coming back here. I—” I want to tell her I’m staying with my family, but, in the few months we were together, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about them.
Because I was afraid.
“I have to go. I’m going to be late,” I say, rushing past her.
Her gaze follows my every move even after I’m long out of her sight. I can feel her eyes on me, but I remain impassive to her cryptic ability to become nothing at all while also being every unseen thing that surrounds me.
No matter how much love and emotion Ann gathers in this world, she’ll never be whole, she’ll never be satisfied. Because she’s missing more than just love and emotion. She’s missing her soul that she sold so many years ago.
The thick woods ahead remain my focal point for miles. The heat burns into me and tree limbs scrape against my arms as I travel, but I don’t feel any of it. The dry leaves and twigs crunch beneath my quick footsteps, but I can’t hear them. Her memory consumes me as I travel. A chill crawls down my spine as her voice whispers to me in the breeze like a distant thought in my mind.
You’ll come back, Asher. They always come back.
I take my time walking through the abandoned house I like to pretend is my own. It’s a mock life I live here for just a few hours a week in a society that fears me for only the blood that flows beneath my skin. I’m careful now that I’m outside the forest that shields my existence. Hiding in plain sight in the old rundown house in the middle of the village.
In the bedroom I have made as my own, I relax, taking in the silence of the room. My mind is desperate to find the tranquility I briefly had before Annessa interrupted my day. I lie against the old worn bed with the quilted blanket tucked in beneath me as I think about nothing in particular—just the sounds of the birds chirping outside mixed with the solitude that surrounds me.
The sun drifts down the skyline as nightfall threatens to take over the village. The people in the neighboring house are oblivious to the lethal hybrid-vampire who is currently lying around and snacking on a fierce turkey sandwich his grandma packed for him. They’d probably die of a heart attack if they spotted me. No matter how human my features appear to be, humans can always sense me, and my unnatural silver eyes confirm what their subconscious already knows—that I shouldn’t exist within God’s creation.
Maybe they’re right.
Part of me thinks I’m entirely human because of the few real emotions I can maintain. But another part of me, a dark and dominant part of me, knows the truth. I know I’m the monster society says I am. I know there’s an evil within me that my ancestors placed in my blood without my consent. It’s a living, breathing thing just waiting to unleash itself. It wants me to become the vampire my lineage demands me to be.
And then I think of my family who has always cared for me. I’ll never be accepted in society, but that doesn’t mean I have to be what they say I am. I can’t change what I am, but I know… I’ve never harmed a human in my life.
So, I don’t disturb the peace here. I don’t stay long—just a few hours to imagine the normal life my grandparents lived in this home before the world was flipped upside down. Before the government controlled the humans and hunted the mystics. Before mankind pushed and pushed and pushed to make things perfect.
Perfection doesn’t exist, though. It’s just a false reality that resides somewhere between life and imagination—always so close to us but just out of our physical reach.
I breathe a heavy sigh and brush the bread crumbs off my palms as I stand from the old twin bed that squeaks with the slightest shift of my weight. With slow precision, I lift the faded yellow curtain a fraction of an inch. The sun’s finally setting, and it’s time for me to leave.
A child’s laughter filters through the air, and I spot him happily swinging by himself, not a parent in sight to look out for the boy. His laughter only increases the higher and higher he goes as he pushes himself to swing faster.
Where are this kid’s parents?
His boyish smile grows even larger when a young woman with long brown hair comes out. An anxious feeling treads through my veins, and my fingers pull the thin curtain until I can barely see past it. She pulls the little boy into a hug, enveloping his tiny body in her arms, and he giggles even more when she begins to tickle him.
My brows crease as I look down at them. They’re so … normal. At least, I think they’re normal. Happy and normal.
Dropping the curtain, I push aside the thought of the humans’ blissfully normal lives. I’m across the tiny room in an instant, leaving behind my solitude for the task I’ve been dreading all day.
A repetitive beat fills the air as my boots sound against the old boards and I make my way downstairs, my hand trailing over the smooth wooden railing. My pace is slow, allowing me time to note each detail of the empty downstairs rooms. It’s like life never touched this place at all.
Glancing into the kitchen, I see an old farm table that takes up most of the space. Deep lines fill its surface. It’s the only thing left down here. I could have eaten there, but it feels … empty. Eating at a big table alone, in an empty house that was once filled with life and love and promise but now only holds forgotten memories? I can’t do it.
Flinging open the basement door, I take the steps two at a time, enjoying the way my footsteps echo through the house. There’s no light to guide me through the darkness. The house hasn’t had electricity in decades, but I don’t need it. My eyes easily adjust to the shadows. I move through the empty rooms quickly.
A mouse scurries from my sight, and I can’t help but wonder if anything else ever takes shelter in the old cellar. An eeriness crawls down my spine at the thought of how easy it would be for another mystic to hide here. Maybe they live here from time to time, just like I do. I square my shoulders and review the shadows more thoroughly. Nothing is out of place. Everything is as wet and dirty as it always is. My mind is simply fabricating evil where there isn’t any.
I run my fingers against the rough cinder block walls. The tiny space feels like a prison the longer I linger in the damp enclosed room. I pull the Crimson Sword from my belt and slip it carefully through the dusty wooden beams. Spider webs cling to my fingers as I stand there, my hand still holding the sturdy beam. Suddenly, I’m hesitant to walk away. I hate to part with it, but it’s best if humans are never aware of the powerful and cursed material the mystical blade is forged from. I’m not dumb enough to gift them something that could effortlessly destroy us all.
When I turn away from the one thing that brings me peace in this bizarre world, I can’t help but feel like I just gave up another little piece of myself to appease the humans.
Mortals and Mystics Alike
The sun finally concedes to the moon. A light and warm breeze flows through the quiet trees. Heavy orange light falls over the woods as another long day comes to a close.
Within the forest’s edge I wait, concealed from any onlookers. The thick brush and leaves hide the animals that lurk within the forest that man dares not enter. I left the village behind to meet the one person I’ve always dreaded more than any powerful mystic.
The thin doctor makes her way across the clearing for our little yearly checkup. Her long limbs and lack of decent nutrition make her appear more breakable than I remember from our last meeting.
The checkups are the only thing my grandmother insists upon. I just turned eighteen, and this is the last meeting I’ll stomach for either of them. I’d do almost anything to make my grandma happy, but I can’t keep coming here. My grandma wants to make sure I’m as healthy and as normal as possible—not that I’m normal by any means. But for Charlotte, I’m just another project. Another test subject she’s eager see the results of. I’m sure she can’t wait to see if nature versus nurture will decide my aggression and my fate.
I hate her.
She stops at the body of water a few yards away. A clear trickling waterfall pools at the bottom of a cliff where she’s now filling her canteen. I step out to meet her, impatient to get this over with so I can finally join my brother, but I pause just as I’m out of the woods. My feet falter unnaturally against the dry leaves; my normally perfect balance becomes unsure of itself as my eyes take in the beautiful girl at Charlotte’s side.
She’s a couple years younger than myself and petite with long, dark hair pulled back from her heart-shaped face. She wears all black and almost blends into the swarming darkness. To my surprise, light green eyes scowl up at the doctor, making me smirk at her simple, annoyed gesture.
I’m glad to see I’m not the only one with such fond feelings for Charlotte.
Today is a strange day indeed, but I welcome this surprise unlike the run-in I had with Annessa. I can still feel her eyes on me.
“Please, just wait on the other side, Fallon? I told you before we left that I had a test to run in the wilderness.” Charlotte’s hushed voice carries to me as if she were speaking directly to me.
The girl looks at Charlotte skeptically, like she can’t decide if she’s being honest or not. After a moment’s hesitation, she obediently walks back the way she came, out of sight from both her mother and me. My stomach dips when she disappears.
Charlotte doesn’t want me to see Fallon. Interesting. Is she her daughter? Does she think I would harm her daughter? Does she think the girl is safer alone in these woods with everything else that’s crawling over this land?
My heart pounds at the thought of something happening to the human girl because her mother doesn’t trust me. The doctor’s irresponsible behavior has me on edge. My eyes flicker wildly through our surroundings for any other predators, my shoulders set in a tense, defensive posture.
I wait at the edge of the clearing for Charlotte to notice me watching her, but she’s oblivious to anything but her daughter. Her blond head turns from me as she stares at the spot where the girl was standing just moments ago.
My annoyance with her judgment is escalating within me, my heartbeat filling my ears, drowning out the surrounding sounds. I decide to have a little fun with the doctor one last time. In an instant, I’m inches from her. She turns, her human instinct probably prickling down her spine from my closeness.
That’s something I’ve always been impressed with. For how mortal humans are, they have this supernatural ability to unconsciously sense the unnatural.
She gasps, clutching her fists against her chest. Her heart that I can hear so clearly races as she looks up at me with wide eyes.
“Asher, I didn’t expect you to be early.”
She does her best not to look back at where the girl is. Good. At least she has the decency to try and protect her.
“You brought … your daughter,” I say. I’m still unsure of the girl’s identity, but Charlotte’s anxious behavior is quickly confirming my assumptions.
Her lips strain into a thin line but she says nothing so I continue. “As eager as I am for our little tests,” I glance down at the black leather bag hanging from her shoulder. I know it contains an ophthalmoscope for my eyes, a blood pressure cuff for my heart, and my patient file, as well as a few other useless mortal tools. “It’s unsafe here. You know it’s unsafe here. I want you to take that girl and run as far away from here as possible. Run back to your little village with its safe little walls and its safe little beliefs and its safe little hate-filled society.”
“We won’t be long. I’ll just do the basics today.”
“No, leave,” I say in a clipped tone, my breathing accelerating as I think about how much she’s risking just to check my pulse and look into my abnormal eyes. My anger is shaking beneath my calm façade. My jaw ticks with impatience and anger.
She swallows hard as she shifts her bag higher on her shoulder. She turns toward the way she came for just an instant before looking back at me.
“I could meet you again next week.” She nods as if it’s already scheduled and she’s already penciled me in on her calendar.
“No, this is the last time you’ll see me. I’m done, Charlotte. Find another hybrid to fill your charts. Take her home.”
She blinks a few times, clearly trying to think of a way to change my mind. She glances over her shoulder again, and I take the opportunity to dismiss myself.
In the blink of an eye, I’m crouched in the woods, watching the confusion spread across the doctor’s face as she looks around for the hybrid she’ll never see again. I want to leave, to get out of here as quickly as possible to meet up with my brother, but I can’t. There are too many vile creatures in this part of the woods for me to just leave them here.
The girl is so small I don’t think she’d be able to fight off an angry cat let alone the long claws of the Veil—a violent mystic I wouldn’t wish on even my most hated enemy.
With an irritated sigh, Charlotte walks back to her daughter, and, as quietly as possible, I follow them.
“What are they like?” the girl, Fallon, finally asks her mother. Neither of them have said a single word since they left the clearing, but I’m what’s on Fallon’s mind. Interesting.
They stomp noisily through the woods, breaking branches and flinging leaves with each step, not caring if they kick up a werewolf or two. I trail at a close distance through the dark, silently clinging to their shadows.
“They’re … different. They’re just different, sweetie,” Charlotte finally replies as evasively as possible.
Hybrids are different. Yeah, we are. So are cockroaches, but that doesn’t make us the same species.
The girl glances up at her mother, her eyes narrowing on the woman once again, but she accepts the answer and moves on.
To the next question.
“Can they compel a person to do something against their will?”
Her mother doesn’t even answer this time, and I’m slightly impressed by the girl’s persistence. Her interest in me and my kind does an odd thing to me. A warm feeling spreads through me from her simple curiosity.
“Are they dangerous?”
Once again Charlotte pauses before finally speaking. She’s always one to think through every word before uttering it.
“Everyone can be dangerous, Fallon. Mortals and mystics alike can cause you harm. Use your trust sparingly, and you’ll always be safe.”
The girl nods in understanding, and I, too, find myself nodding.
For once, the doctor and I agree.
A Grave Mistake
Choosing to steer clear of the compound that takes up the majority of the land, I left Charlotte and the beautiful girl at the edge of their village. Annessa was right to taunt me with the treacherous prison. Even the shadow of its structure set a panic loose under my skin.
The girl entertained me and her mother’s answers were just as interesting, but I’m now late.
I was supposed to be here an hour ago, but, instead, I trailed through the woods at a painfully human pace to ensure the girl’s safety. I’m not even sure why I cared so much. I have no idea why the sight of Charlotte’s daughter in the woods gave me such a protective feeling. I guess … I guess I wanted to keep her safe because I simply felt compelled to help something so small and fragile in this dangerous world.
A man who is my walking mirror stands outside a two-story home on a large farming estate. Miles and miles of government-owned wheat fields surround us. The crickets grow louder and louder in the tall fields, creating a harmony that could almost lull me to sleep.
He’s secluded here, safely tucked away from the mystical forest and society as well. He’s resting against an old tractor as he waits for my arrival. His tall, lean frame takes up the height of the large black tire, and his angular face is tilted up to watch the bright stars above.
I met my twin when we were just boys. We were raised miles apart and kept secret from one another for our own safety. We were fascinated by our identical features. Our friendship is simple and one of the best things I have in my secluded life. Sometimes he travels to meet me, but mostly I come here. It’s safer if he never leaves this place.
I smile, happiness spreading through me from just being in the same area as my brother. The long day has finally come to an end, and I’ll only have a short amount of time with the one person who really understands me. The older we get, the less time we spend together. Soon, he’ll have a family of his own and I’ll still be here, hiding in the forest from the life I should be living.
I begin to walk the distance that separates us, eager to speak to him again. Then, something happens, and I instantly know I screwed up. After being so angry with the doctor for putting her daughter in danger, I did just that.
I put my brother’s life in danger by trying to protect a human girl I don’t even know.
Men in black uniforms with guns surround my brother. Confusion and fear flood his features as the five men circle him. My stomach fills with lead at the sight of the compound guards swarming the farmland. The crickets have become silent as if they are also watching the horror that is unfolding before us.
My brother holds his hands up in compliance, but it doesn’t matter. In their minds, he’s an offender simply because of the monster our father was. He, too, must be a monster. They followed my trail here, and they think he’s me.
For the first time in my life, time passes quickly. In an instant, they’ve surrounded him and have already fired their weapons. Strange red darts sink into my brother’s skin one after another.
He drops to his knees before them, and I race to him. Our eyes meet as his confusion fades to understanding, and then a euphoric calm fills his eyes. His body slackens as the sedation seeps into his bloodstream.
I scream, but my voice doesn’t fill my ears. The armed men turn at the sound of my outrage, firing red darts at me just as they did before, but I don’t fall. Anger rages through my body as the wind whips at my limbs. My long strides bring me closer and closer to the uniformed men who have just made a grave mistake.
The substance in the darts is pumping through my body with every beat of my heart. I can feel it pulling at me physically, but I won’t allow myself to stop.
Two men detain me, grabbing me by my arms. I thrash against them, but my strength is slipping from me by the second.
My brother’s body lies unnaturally against the ground, his knees bent at a strange and uncomfortable angle. I listen intently as my vision becomes hazy, and I try to blink slowly to clear my thoughts. But the sound I’m searching for just isn’t there.
His heart has stopped. His heart that’s so identical to my own.
The only person who’s ever been a real friend to me was just murdered right before my eyes. My breathing slows with the drug that’s coursing through me, but, staring down at his lifeless body, I realize I couldn’t catch my breath even if I was sober.
I glare up into the eyes of a soldier who scoffs down into my angry face. I begin to slacken my posture in the arms of the guards as the will to carry on seeps from my body.
“Guess it’s a two-for-one kind of day,” he says with a sneer, kicking my brother’s leg as their laughter fills the warm air around us.
My mind feels heavy and disoriented. The world around me becomes hard to focus on. His words sickly circle my mind on repeat.
With the last ounce of strength I have, I lunge for him, taking him and the other men by surprise. The men struggle to contain me, but they’re too late. I sink my teeth deeply into the side of the guard’s neck, refusing to pull away until I’ve severed the artery.
The others finally pull me back, and his skin tears away in shredded ribbons. The man’s warm blood gushes sporadically down my throat and face; his scream echoes through my mind. My brother’s kind eyes flash in my memory, and, for some odd reason, Fallon Fiercely’s beautiful face fills my confused and cloudy thoughts just as everything goes black.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed Fate of the Hybrid, click the link below for the full-length novel When Fate Aligns, book one of the Mortals and Mystics series.
[+ When Fate Aligns+]
Turn the page for an EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT from book one, When Fate Aligns!
A Monster Among Many
A nervousness thrums through my body under the scrutiny of his mystical silver eyes as my fingers relentlessly twist a lock of my long brown hair. I try to keep a look of contentment in place, despite my racing heart that he can most likely hear thrashing in my chest. My leg bounces beneath our table, and I can’t focus on anything but him.
I sit next to my mother and watch her communicate through sign language with the hybrid-vampire who doesn’t seem to want to be here any more than I do.
The angles of his strong jaw draw my attention, seemingly sharp edges beneath smooth perfect skin. His hair is grown out and threatens to brush against long, dark lashes. Almost appearing more man than monster… Almost.
They’re different up close. Their bodies portray something beautifully human, while their feral instincts are anything but. They’re the direct result of the creatures of the night breeding with our own, the end product being a bizarre mixture of perfection and alluring destruction. I wasn’t prepared for how intrigued I’d be by them, mesmerized by their lethalness.
The numbers etched across the back of his white t-shirt identify this pike as number forty-four. Forty-four sits with perfect posture, hands flat on the table’s smooth surface to show he is compliant. The leading doctor of the pike’s prison, Doctor Shaw, stands ominously behind my mother and myself. A dark shadow bleeds across the clean table, signaling the doctor’s presence. He’s overseeing our meeting today, his beady eyes taking in our every move, shifting and darting over each pike like an inventory is being taken.
My mother works side by side with Shaw, and it hasn’t taken long to see he is more vile than any of the creatures locked within these walls; a monster among many. In the universe of man versus monster, he’s won, and the lines between him and the animals locked away here have become blurred.
Usually, I watch the hybrid-vampires, the pikes, from outside their work chamber, safely separated from the sedated creatures by a reinforced glass window. I’ve always stayed on my side of the glass, waiting for my mother to complete her work with the pikes at Compound 186.
My mother begged Shaw to let me attend her evaluation of Forty-four today. I have no interest in the pikes, but I didn’t tell her that. I’m used to always following her plans without question.
Something my mother neglected to tell Shaw is I have no understanding of sign language, making this meeting pretty useless. A heavy sigh escapes my lips at the thought of sitting here in confusion while they speak in hand gestures.
A vocal restraint rests just beneath their skin, against their jugular, to prevent them from talking to one another, as well as the staff. Their days are silent; they only speak when spoken to in fast and swift hand movements. Many of them don’t respond at all, replying with a simple jutting bob of their heads, primitive-like.
My mother makes a few gestures to Forty-four, but he does not engage, choosing instead to stare into my pale green eyes. I shift in my seat under his gaze. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a pike before. I think they’re used to people being afraid of them, but I am so captivated I can’t find the will to look away from the monster.
With a tense smile my mother introduces me to the numbered creature. “Forty-Four, I’d like you to meet, Fallon Fiercely.”
I don’t dare extend my hand to him, and he doesn’t expect me to. Neither of us moves an inch.
From across the table, he assesses me, and I give a polite but awkward smile, making him smile at my discomfort. Almost a sneer really. Does he hate humans as they do him? Surely he must. He’s been a caged animal for the entirety of his existence. Caged because of us, because of Shaw and Shaw’s predecessors, because of fear. Fear of those who are different and dangerous. Fear of the vampires that once ruled the world so many decades ago.
Their offspring remain even after the extinction of the once powerful race of vampires. A reminder of what the mortals suffered. Humans are vengeful beings, lashing out at those who have harmed us as well as those who once helped us …
He’s smirking, revealing a beautiful but haunting white smile. His dark chocolate hair is messy and laying haphazardly in different directions. Like his sleep comes restlessly to him. An eternal look of bedhead graces his appearance. His white shirt is tight around his arms and torso, emphasizing his broad chest. Lines of hard muscle crease his shirt.
He looks human but unhuman all at once. The muscle is too defined, his teeth too perfect, his movements too fluid. And, of course, his gray-silver eyes are the most beautiful, unhuman characteristic of all.
I try to remember how much I should hate him, but sitting across from him, it’s all I can do to catch my breath and stop my heart from beating though its cage in my chest. With an unsteady breath I look away to see the inside of the chamber in an attempt to focus on anything but him.
The air is diluted in here with a horrible thickness that fills my senses and leaves me craving clean oxygen. The surrounding walls are tall and made of cinder blocks encased by thick titanium bars, with a half-a-foot gap along the top before being enclosed again at the ceiling.
I suppose the gap is to give the pikes a little fresh air, which they desperately need. A beautiful blue bird flutters its wings delicately to land on the gapped stone edge of the fencing. The bird panics, releasing a high-pitched squawk for a mere moment before a red light flickers with an alarming zap, and the bird falls lifelessly to the ground.
A gasp is torn from my lips at the sight of the lifeless bird. Smoke trails up from its little body lying along the concrete wall. Forty-four glances back at the tiny dead animal, and his hand twitches like he’s fighting to move before slowly touching his fingers to the back of my hand. My breath falters from his feather light touch. His hand rests over mine, barely touching my skin. I can feel his eyes on me, almost testing me to respond to his boldness.
The guard in the tower leisurely walks the long stairway to the ground. I notice, attached to his thick black belt, there are no weapons normally seen on officials in our camp. How much sedation are these pikes under to create that kind of safety for their staff?
The guard is chubby, a trait I’m unaccustomed to in our community since food is directly supplied and rationed by the government. He reaches his fat, little gloved hand down and grabs the bird, heaving in a breath when he stands, as if the tiny creature is weighing him down. He waddles to a dark corner of the room and tosses the little bird aside. The bird lands without a sound onto the pile of other animal corpses.
The smell in the air is now apparent to me. The little mound of hawks, squirrels, and even a cat produces a stench that makes my stomach turn. I can only hope that pile isn’t the pike’s dinner.
Forty-four’s hand is still on mine, and I pull it slowly away without looking at him. Perhaps I passed his little test.
My mother leans into me, her warm vanilla scent filling my lungs and calming me with the simple familiar smell. “I wish you would have worn a different shirt today,” she whispers, glancing at my neckline.
There goes the familiar comfort she brings.
Forty-four smiles into the distance, and I wonder if he heard her. I barely heard her. He looks back to me, and I think about what my mother said. I look around, and other pikes are discreetly studying me, probably because I’m on the wrong side of the glass window, but I have yet to see Forty-four look at my neck or the pulsing vein there. In fact, all he has done is stare into my eyes. He hasn’t made me feel like he wants to drain the life from my throat. Not yet anyway …
Sitting so close to him I can see the device in his neck. There’s no scar, but I can see the outline of the vocal restraint under his skin. A perfect square outlined against his jugular.
Shaw steps closer at the sight of me removing my hand from Forty-four’s. He stands between my mother and I and places a palm on my mother’s shoulder and then my own. I flinch at his contact, and when I look up I can see Forty-four’s jaw tick as he removes his hands from the table and looks away from the doctor, choosing to stare blankly at the wall behind us.
“Char, I think this is enough for today. Forty-four doesn’t seem to be in the mood for communicating. We may have to dispose of this one after all.” I can hear the amusement in his repugnant voice. “Fallon, why don’t you wait for your mother inside? Charlotte, tomorrow afternoon we will have to make a final decision on case number forty-four. After all, we can’t keep all our darling little projects.”
Doctor Shaw steeples his long thin fingers, his eyes shining as he appraises my mother from head to toe like she’s one of his many possessions within the compound.
My mother nods in agreement with the doctor’s words and stands from the table to speak with Shaw just behind me. I’ve only been seated for a few minutes, and, surprisingly, I’m not ready to leave yet, especially after the doctor’s subtle threat.
Reluctant to end my meeting with the monster across from me, I linger just a little longer. I’m left to sit awkwardly with this pike who can’t speak.
It’s odd to be seated so close to them now when I’m used to seeing them from a distance, safely behind the lobby viewing window. At the thought of the window, I can’t help but remember how Forty-four reacted last week when Dr. Shaw showed his true disgusting colors that lie just under his meticulously suited surface.
Last week Shaw spoke softly in my mother’s ear near the viewing window within the lobby. He stood close, too close, too encompassing. Her head tilted slightly away from him, her shoulders bowed uncomfortably backward if only an inch. I shifted my weight closer to them, but not enough to draw any attention to myself.
It started so simple. With a smile, he touched her wrist and pressed nearer as he spoke low, a persistent hum of words. Closer he leaned until she attempted to push him gently away, but his tall thin stature didn’t budge. My mother was restraining herself, a source of assured confidence sheathed in a calm, sweet face because we both know our government would not relocate someone with such a poor background if anything were to happen at her job.
The ramifications of her past always linger just over our heads. Too many mistakes result in a less than sympathetic council in our community.
Shaw’s gruff tone grew a bit louder and more threatening. When my hurried strides finally brought me mere inches from them, one of the pike, number forty-four, slammed his fist against the double enforced glass. Directly in front of Shaw’s face.
The vibrating window hummed through the lobby. The sound of cracking glass crunched under the fist of the pike, lines within the window splintering out before our eyes.
Sedated. The word echoed around my mind. The reinforced glass cracked under the weight of sedated strength.
A twisting hairline crack in the thick glass was all that remained of the incident. I never asked my mother what the incident was really about. It’s an unspoken agreement I have with her; I don’t ask serious questions. Because deep down, I know it’s safer not knowing. I could easily guess, but as open as my mother and I are, there are things we don’t speak of: the creepy Mr. Shaw, why our government wastes her medical degree at the compound rather than the clinic down the street, my nearing unity date, my father …
The memory of Forty-four standing up for my mother warms me.
“Thank you.” My voice almost strains. The gratitude toward a lowly pike feels unnatural in my mouth. A look of surprise and confusion crosses his face. I suddenly wonder if he speaks English at all. “For the other day,” I add, nodding to my mother.
Feeling slightly stupid, I start to stand from the hard and uncomfortable chair, but he mouths something to me and it catches me off guard. I slowly sit back down as I glance at my mother and Shaw just a few feet behind me. They have turned away from us, talking about the progress she’s made with this one.
After I’m sure they’re not paying us any attention, I look back at Forty-four, and mouth back to him. What?
He smiles at me, happy with our little game, and I’m immensely relieved he does speak English. He watches my mouth a few seconds longer before silently replying.
His mouth moves, and I focus all my attention on trying to communicate with him, but I still don’t catch what he’s saying. He stares in frustration at me for a long moment, and I shake my head slowly. Gently, he closes his eyes like my inability to read lips is painful for him.
“What?” I whisper harshly.
His eyes shift quickly to Shaw again before tensing up, and he speaks so quietly I barely hear him.
“I said,” he flinches as the chip in his throat shocks him, “be sure.” His eyes are still closed, and his whole body is on edge from the pain.
My mouth opens slightly. I’m surprised to hear him speak, and I can’t think of a thing to say after hearing his voice. Why would he speak when it’s clearly so excruciating? Especially when it wasn’t exactly an urgent message he needed to relay.
What does that mean? Confusing, but unurgent. His voice was like thick warm gravel. I feel bad for him. The other pike have stopped working, and are now blatantly watching us. Near our table, a pike with short red hair takes a few steps toward us, watching Forty-four with intensity.
He’s drawn attention to us.
A guard from across the chamber demands the pikes to continue working, and to my relief they do. The redheaded pike gives Forty-four one last chastising look before turning back to his task.
My heart hammers in my chest again. I don’t know what the guards would do to a pike for speaking, but I’m worried about how much attention he just drew to us. I do the only thing I can think of; I stand to leave.
As I walk by, Forty-four touches my arm lightly, his hand snaking out so fast I barely see the movement. It sends a strange warm feeling straight through my heart and fluttering into my stomach. I take careful breaths as I stare down at him, studying in his chiseled features. My skin tingles from his touch, a shiver slipping down my spine. His beautiful eyes search my face, and I have the most uncanny urge to crawl into his lap, to meld into him like a shielding layer of protection and become a permanent part of his terrible life here.
I shake my head and look away, wondering if he captivated me. Quickly I pull my arm from him and try my best to casually walk to the exit. Stiff legs manage to carry me away from him, away from here. I bump shoulders with the tall redheaded pike on my way out and force myself to keep my attention on the ground even as I feel his silver eyes on my back like a target.
I leave the building as fast as my feet will take me and head home without my mother. I need to put as much space between me and that pike as possible.
Because the urge to release him—to save him—is so strong I can’t breathe.
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Also by A.K. Koonce
Mortals and Mystics Series
When Fate Aligns
When Fate Unravels
When Fate Prevails
Resurrection Island, Book one
A Crown of Shadows, Book one of the Fae Fire Series
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A.K. Koonce is a mom by day and a fantasy and paranormal romance author by night. She keeps the fantastical stories in her mind on an endless loop, while she tries her best to focus on her actual life and not that of the spectacular but demanding fictional characters who always fill her thoughts.
In a flawed dystopian society, it’s humans versus mystics. And the humans are winning. When the Infinity Witch warns Asher to return to his own kind, he doesn’t listen. Asher Xavier, a hybrid vampire, chooses instead to live a lonely neutral life, withdrawn from both mystics and mortals. A life alone is better than a life of imprisonment at the hands of the humans. The solitude doesn’t bother him… Until he meets a fragile human girl who changes everything. Now Asher will risk his safety to protect her, altering the course of his life forever.