Year 26, Month 10, Night 1
It would figure that I’m late. Whenever I’m expected back, I always seem to be late. Whatever, they can’t complain, since I actually have a valid excuse.
Looking behind me, I find that I still have a few pursuers hanging on my tail, so I jump down from the roof I’d been running on and duck into an abandoned building before sneaking my way into the old sewer system. I stop to check my rucksack, making sure nothing inside is damaged or missing, and listen.
I can hear them shouting at each other, arguing, running around trying to sniff out any signs of where I might have run off too. Those bloody vampires are sure persistent. Slowly, quietly, I creep my way down the damp tunnel until I reach an exit far enough from my trackers that they shouldn’t pick up the scent again.
With a quick look around I scope out the area before taking off down several narrow alleyways. Working my way through all the convoluted twists and turns, and squeezing through a few cracks, I manage to get to what was once the richest area in the entire city. This is the district where our paranoid mayor allegedly lived, and then sold us all out to the vampires, 20 years ago.
I imagine was once a rather grand estate, with a main house at least twice the size of any of he others on the street, and green-space enough to take up half the block. Tall iron fences rim the perimeter of the property, looming dark and ominous as if to serve as a warning to the empty street.
I ignore the architecture and, jumping to grab one of the vertical fence pieces, swing myself over the pointed spikes and into the yard with ease. My feet land among the waist-high grasses and thorny brush that now runs rampant, turning the lawn into a miniature jungle.
Checking around myself again, I glide through the grasses that gradually get taller until I reach the backend of the property. Things are a bit less wild over here as an orchard takes up most of this area, shading the ground and discouraging growth. I suppose the fact that this area is well travelled would also help keep the plants at bay.
My only real interest, and my destination, is the tool shed that lays nestled between a tree and the stone wall that lines the orchard. I knock three times on a hatch that just sticks out of the ground beside the shed. “Blackwater leech,” I recite.
The hatch swings out to allow my entry into a dark passageway that eventually leads to a large, well lit room where a large man paces anxiously. I clear my throat, getting his attention. He looks up for a moment and sees me in the doorway, and his face becomes a mask of anger.
“Nightstalker! What were you doing out there? We’ve been waiting for you to report in for over an hour.”
“Nice to see you too, Tarian,” I remark casually, swinging the pack from my shoulder and letting it drop gently on the ground, loosening the tie around the neck so that it reveals its contents. “And you can cut the riot act, I have an excuse for being late.”
I watch as Tarian’s face goes through its usual gallery of expressions as he tries to decide what he feels most strongly, when his wife, Ariel, runs up and rummages through the bag, pulling out several bottles of medication.
“Where did you find these?” she asks incredulously.
“On the other side of the city, in some shopping district. Be careful going through there, I also picked up a few hunting knives from an outdoor supply shop.”
“So, you were on the other side of the city, that still doesn’t explain why you’re so late.” Tarian seems to have settled on subdued rage for the time being.
I shrug my shoulders. “There happened to be a vampire patrol going through the area just as I was leaving. Don’t worry, I lost them back at the old fire department. They won’t find this place.”
“That’s not what I’m concerned about, Nightstalker. This isn’t the first time you’ve put yourself at risk going on patrol alone. It doesn’t matter if you are the most athletic, you’re still the youngest here, and a girl to boot. One of these days, you’re going to get yourself killed.”
“This world would be better off if I were killed,” I mutter coldly. I don’t care if I die, I’m sure it’s far better than this life I live.
Ignoring anything else Tarian might have to say, I retire to the women’s quarter, and my hammock. It’s an hour from sunrise, and I’m exhausted.
Breakfast is always a lively affair, since that’s really the only chance we get to talk, or boast. I just hunker down in my usual corner and eat alone, watching the men make a big ruckus in the center of the room, where they’ve pushed several tables away to make space. They seem to be flocking around a boy I don’t think I’ve seen before. He’s got a tan, something I thought was only a myth, and looks to be roughly my age, probably a bit older.
I would like to ignore the crowd, since this is the first time in a while that I’m not at the center. Sadly, one of the men notices me and calls me up.
“Hey, Nightstalker, you haven’t met Edmund yet, have you?” asks one of the men, patting the tanned boy hard on the back by way of introduction.
“Nah, she wasn’t with us yet when Ed went off to the forest, Lance,” replies another man in my stead. “This boy here singlehandedly created the route out of the city. If it weren’t for him, we’d be overrun with kids and sick people.”
“Hey, come on, it’s not that big a deal. Anyone else could have found it just as easily,” Edmund protests with a big smile on his face. False modesty, I hate it.
“Good for you,” I snark, “and how many vampires have you killed?” I ask with a raised eyebrow.
“Um, five, I think.”
“Uh huh, and how many slaves have you busted out of the inner city?” I already know the answer to this one.
“Ah, none, I’m afraid. But then again, no one has ever been able to escape the vampires once they have the code on their arm. It’s next to impossible.”
I don’t even say a word. I just roll up my sleeve, showing him the black barcode tattoo marking the whitest part of my arm.
“Hey, come on, Nightstalker, why’re you giving him the third-degree like that, huh? We were the ones bragging for him in the first place anyway,” Lance calls after me. I ignore him, leaving the room to collect my pack and rifle before I climb out the hatch and run off into the night.
“Hey, Nightmare!” Oh, great! Of all the people to come looking for me, it’s gotta be Edmund. How did he know I’d be in the orchard right now anyway?
I turn around to glare at him. “What do you want, Edward?”
“Okay, I know you did that on purpose,” he complains. I just give him a look that says he should just get to the point. “Ah, Tarian says we should go on patrol together tonight. You don’t mind, do you?”
I hold my glare. “Yes, actually, I do mind. I don’t need a partner, much less some wimp who’s been living the easy life outside the city for the past eight years. Do you even know how to use a UV rifle?”
“I know the basic theory behind it, but how hard can it really be? I mean all I really have to do is aim and pull the trigger, right?”
I roll my eyes and ignore him, marching back to the bunker to find Tarian. I’ve got a bone to pick with him, doing this is beyond reckless.
“Tarian!” I shout as soon as I see him. “Is there a reason you’re sticking Sunboy with me? I told you before and I’ll say it again, I don’t need a partner!”
“Someone’s gotta look after you, Nightstalker,” he replies without looking at me. “You keep going out on your own and you’re going to get caught some day. You don’t want to end up back in the inner city, do you?”
I shudder at the thought of going back to that life I had before. “Never again.”
“Then there’s nothing left to say. You’re partnered with Edmund, deal with it.”
“But, Tarian . . . .” I’m cut off by a sharp pain in my chest. It brings me down to my knees, it’s so intense. It’s like my heart is being shredded within me.
All others in the room surround me, concern etched plainly on their faces.
“Get away from her!” Tarian commands before coming over to me himself and lifting me into his arms. He carries me into an empty side room before setting me down. “Why didn’t you tell me it was that time?”
“That’s what I was trying ng . . . trying to do.” I can hardly breathe. This feeling, this horrible intense burning sensation, it creates a need within me. I can feel them, in my mouth, they’re coming in. “J-just kill me already!”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Tarian rebukes me. He walks over to a cupboard, then tosses something into my lap. “You know what to do with this, right?”
I look at the object. I know what it is, but I’d hoped I would never have to see one up close.
“No, I don’t want to become . . . if I do I . . . .” I have no choice. This thirst is driving me insane, I can hardly control myself anymore.
I hate myself.
“Nightstalker? Nightstalker! Where is that girl?”
I can hear them looking for me. I don’t care. I don’t want to be found.
The wind blows with vigor through the trees, their branches clattering against each other in some erie chorus like the fore-bearers of doom. The moon is full and large, mystical, yet the night feels heavy and dark, as if the light is being blocked by some malevolent force.
It’s so easy to leave this compound, all I have to do is jump over the fence. Very soon, I’m running across the rooftops, leaping between them with ease. I’m not patrolling, not tonight.
I need to relieve this pain in my chest, to chase away these thoughts. I’m so focused on my running, going faster and faster, that I don’t realize when there is no building to jump to until I begin to fall.
As chance would have it, I just so happen to land on Edmund. Wonderful.
“Gah, what was that for?” he flusters, gasping for breath and checking himself for broken bones. “You could have killed me!”
“Hmph, a little bump would hardly kill you, not even with that light armor you’ve got. Besides, what are you doing out here alone?”
“I could ask you the same question. Haven’t you been confined to quarters? The whole bunker’s probably going mad looking for you.”
“Like I care. I need to be outside.” I try to leave, but Edmund grabs my wrist. “What do you want?”
“How did you get out of the inner city on your own, when you were just a child?”
“That’s none of your business! I found a way around the code, that’s all. It was a fluke.” My mouth just won’t stop moving. I don’t want to talk to Edmund, but the pain is coming back, and I’m afraid of what I’ll do if I stop. “Just let go of me already, will you? I have things to do and they don’t involve you!”
“I’m not letting go until you agree to go back to the bunker. Everyone’s been worrying about you since last week and you running off like this is only going to make things worse.”
“I just need to get away, okay?!” I explode. Edmund is so shocked that he actually drops my arm, allowing me to run away into the shadows. Did he see? I really hope he didn’t see.
It’s almost dawn now. I suppose I really should be getting back. Very few vampires would still be hanging around at this time, or if they are, they’re probably making ready to get back to the inner city.
I know what time it is, yet here I am wandering aimlessly through the streets like a kid with a death wish. I know I should get to shelter, but I prefer it here in the solitude away from others. The buildings seem so hollow and lifeless with all their windows smashed or dark; they’re like ghosts, always there, always watching.
“Hey, Nightstalker!” That voice again. I just can’t seem to escape it can I? “Hey, you’re still out here?! Come on, we’ve got to get back soon or else Tarian’s going to go ballistic for sure!”
“Leave me alone, Edmund. I don’t want to go back. Tarian’ll just tell me that I can’t leave, and if that happens I’ll definitely go crazy.”
“Yeah, yeah, I don’t really care about that, but if I report that I found you and don’t bring you back then I’ll be the one in trouble.”
I could probably fight him off, normally it would be a synch, but I have neither the energy nor the force of will to resist. I let him drag me back to the mansion by my arm. His guard is down, he never looks behind or anywhere that he’s not going. If a vampire came across him, he’d be dead in no time flat. Why is he even here if he’s obviously so useless?
The sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon by the time we reach the estate. Everything is slowly becoming brighter, more alive, as the light creeps ahead of its source, turning the grounds into a buttery-orange-tinted festival of colors.
I stop on the back porch right where a rather expansive view of the Eastern side of the city is available. Edmund makes no attempt to pull me away; I suppose he doesn’t realize it after all. I’ve never seen the sun before. My check-in times were always well before dawn, so even if I was late it was a while before things would get light.
I had heard stories from some of the older rebels, stories of the warmth of the sun, but it’s no longer safe to sleep at night, so seeing it these days is rare. I gaze in awe and wonder at the honey-golden sphere rising before me. This is what is said to be the source and reason for all the life on Earth. This is what I have been told to live in fear of all my life. It’s so warm, I feel so warm. It burns.
“Nightstalker?! Nightstalker!” Agh, who’s calling me? I want to sleep. “Nightstalker, WAKE UP!” Stop shaking me already. Leave me alone!
“Alright, who did it? Who wants to die?!” I sit up with such a jolt that I make myself dizzy. Being slapped was never something I took kindly to, and I wasn’t about to let whoever did it this time off the hook either.
“Nightstalker, can you hear me?” It’s Tarian. I must be back in the bunker.
“Yeah, I hear you, a dead man could hear you. Whadda ya want?”
“You idiot, what were you thinking?! How do you plan on explaining yourself?” Oh, boy, does he sound mad. I guess I’ve really done it this time. I am such an idiot sometimes.
“Dunno. Maybe I have a death wish or something.” I reach up to remove whatever’s blocking my vision, but feel nothing. “Can someone turn the lights on? I can’t see a thing.”
“Nightstalker,” I can hear Edmund off in some corner of the room, “the lights are on, and there isn’t anything over your eyes. Are . . . are you blind?”
“Of course she’s not blind!” Tarian just can’t seem to stop shouting today. “Her eyes are just still recovering from the light is all. Now get out of here and let her rest.”
I can hear Edmund shuffling out and the door closing behind him.
“What on earth were you thinking, Nightstalker?” Tarian asks again.
I sigh. “For a minute, I thought it might just be better if I wasn’t around, if I just disappeared.”
“Don’t you dare talk like that! Much as I hate to admit it, you are an important part of this resistance. Most of us can’t do half of what you’ve accomplished, and very few of us can do what I need you to do in the next few nights.”
“What are you talking about, Tarian. I can’t even see right now, and you’re signing me up for an important mission? I thought I was supposed to be the unstable one here.”
“The fact of the matter is that this is a mission we can’t do without you. Besides, your eyes are an easy fix.”
“I already told you, I’m not drinking that stuff unless I absolutely have to. I hate myself enough as it is and you know that’s only going to make things worse.”
“I’m afraid you have no choice in this matter, Nightstalker. We need you and that’s the end of it.” He tosses something on my lap. “Now drink!”
Tonight’s the night. The “big” mission’s going down tonight, though I don’t see why I’m such a key role in all this, since it’s all so simple. Whatever.
“Alright, everyone, you know the plan. Get all the devices planted on your designated buildings before midnight and get away as fast as you can. This could end it all, so let’s get it done with minimal casualties on our side. Move out!”
I’ve been assigned to the farthest end of the city, naturally. I’m the fastest one here, and I know all the shortcuts. The moon’s hardly shifted by the time I reach my first location.
The tricky part about this mission is scaling the buildings, but even that’s not too difficult for me. I have the first building completed in a matter of minutes, and all of them done in under an hour.
Five blocks away, I sit atop the roof with the best view gazing across the central city, watching for the signals.
There’s one signal straight across from me, a colorless flare sailing over the rooftops, and another about a mile to the East. Three more fire off within the next five minutes, that’s five total. There should be seven.
Suddenly, a red flare lights up the sky where a flare had already gone off. Something’s wrong. I stand up to go investigate, when I hear footsteps behind me. Everything fades into a blur of motion and knives.
When everything finally stops, one vampire hangs off the edge of the roof, black blood flowing out of him, while another has me thrown over his shoulder and trussed up in a cocoon of rope. Struggling would be useless, even if I could do more than simply wriggle.
Through the throngs of vampires milling about the city and into a police building they take me and throw me into a cell with Tarian, Edmund, and Lance after untying my ropes.
“Heh, so this is all that’s left of us, huh? Rather pitiful if you ask me.”
“Some of us got away,” Edmund whispers.
“All the devices have been planted,” says Lance, “should we just abandon the mission? I mean, this building is on the chain.”
“That’s up to Nightstalker. She’s got the detonator.” Tarian looks at me. I can’t read his expression.
I think for a minute. Three more lives are now in my hands.
“Hey, Ed, do you believe in heaven?” He nods. “Better make your peace now boys,” I say, pulling out a remote and activating the devices. We can all hear as the first of the devices explodes, and the following crumbling of buildings along with further explosions and the shouting of the city’s vampiric citizens.
I guess now I can die happy.