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Created darkly, p.21
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       Created Darkly, p.21

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  My grandmother shot to her feet, her eyes frantically skipping across the room, searching and assessing any possible danger. She was amazing. She didn’t miss a square inch of space. She crouched low and unsheathed both daggers at her hips, pointing them at the redhead who scrambled from her crouch at the base of the steps.

  Those feral eyes landed on me, then lit up with instant recognition. I wanted to hide from the accusation shining in the depths of those green pools. Her head tilted at the crest-fallen look shattering across my face. Her expression softened, and she gave me a hurried smile. Meanwhile, her eyes never stopped their scrutiny of the room. She saw everything. I was so busy watching my grandmother that I didn’t notice the phantom mistress as she sped from the room. All I saw was the tail end of Wolf’s spectral form as it disappeared behind a door I hadn’t noticed before.

  “You should’ve never brought me back, sweet daughter. But no use crying over spilt milk. Hop your ass over here and get ready for the fight of your life,” Lilly said.

  I didn’t hesitate, just followed her order. My heart swelled at the term of endearment she’d used for me. I was already attached to her and would fight the devil himself if it meant being able to keep her.

  My body slid in a crouch next to hers. I squeezed my own dagger tightly in my grip.

  “Wolf and his mistress fled. What is left to fight?” I asked, slipping straight into full-on combat mode. My blood was pumping with adrenaline, and my fingers tingled in anticipation of an impending battle.

  She looked over at me. It was brief, but she smiled at my response. “I would guess, at least ten ghouls and a few phantom-leeches. I’ve been dead a while, but that was the count last time I checked. Numbers could have increased.”

  “I saw two vampire brides and at least twenty ghouls on my way down here. Oh, there were also three butt-ugly hellhounds.” My face scrunched up with disgust.

  Lilly’s face paled. The muscles that made up most of her arms flexed as she squeezed the hilt of her daggers. “Has the Center adequately trained you in All-species Combat?” The question was quick, clipped.

  “I’ve decided to have nothing to do with the Center. Long story short, I don’t agree with their politics.”

  Her shoulders slumped a little. The movement was slight, but I caught it. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I added, “But don’t worry. I can fight, Lilly. I’m no stranger to violence or having to do what’s necessary in order to protect myself and others, even if it means killing the boogeyman.”

  Her gaze slid in my direction. She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “There are a few things you need to know. Ghouls and hounds can only be killed by chopping off their heads. You can easily drain a vampire if you’re strong enough with your light. And phantoms can’t harm us in their natural state. They can order hellhounds and ghouls to attack, however, so keep an eye out for them, too. Let’s hope between my training and experience, and your instincts to survive, we make it out of here alive.”

  “I’m sorry if I messed things up.”

  With the dagger still gripped firmly in her hand, she reached over and patted my shoulder. “We can talk about that later, dear. Let’s concentrate on getting our asses clear of this place first. And in order for that to happen, I need your anger, not your sympathies.”

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  The steep and crowded stairs we descended ended and opened into a cold, circular space. A door loomed across the small room, and I ran for it, anxious to open it. In my head, Kristina was waiting for me only a few feet away, a single door, the only thing standing between us. But setting daydreams aside, I knew it wouldn’t be that simple. I reached for the knob and started to turn. A low growl broke through the wooden barrier, a warning from the other side. I swallowed and backed up.

  “I think we’re about to run into a bit of trouble,” I said.

  Deidra drifted past everyone and stopped in front of the door to hover next to me.

  “Hellhounds,” she said with a grimace.

  “What is a hellhound, and how do we kill it?” Torra asked.

  “Good question,” Rafe added.

  Everyone was surrounding the door, but not one of us was willing to open it.

  “Well, here’s the rub. Unless you lop off their heads, you can’t,” Deidra explained. She was floating back and forth, a finger tapping on her chin. Then suddenly, her face smoothed out and she gave Rafe a piercing smile.

  “How come all your wonderful ideas involve me?” Rafe asked as Deidra stared him down.

  “Be happy you’re useful,” Torra grunted. “I haven’t gotten the chance to do anything fun yet. If I had a sword, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

  Deidra clucked her tongue at her granddaughter. “You remind me of my daughter, always so eager to jump in the fire, no matter how hot it burns.”

  Torra beamed, taking her grandmother’s words as praise. I had a feeling they were meant to have the opposite effect. “I would’ve loved to have met her,” she said.

  As she turned around to face me, Deidra said, “You may soon get your wish, granddaughter.”

  Rafe reached for the knob, and after a quick turn, it opened. The vampire poked his head out. With a yelp, he slipped back in, slamming the door shut behind him. Twirling like a tornado, he banged his back up against the door, his head shaking back and forth, crazed. “Those hounds are fuckin’ ugly and huge!”

  Torra moved up behind me. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “What could possibly scare a vampire like that?”

  I faced her. Gold hair framed her face. Eyes, the same hue as Kristina’s, only missing that tiny spark that lit up my heart like a blazing inferno, were wide and curious. Even though the young woman had a mouth like a sailor and a beat-down switch that could be triggered at the drop of a hat, she was still vulnerable and a bit frightened at the core. She tried to hide the tremble of her bottom lip, a good chance that to her, fear equated to weakness. But the bravest of warriors who knew better would consider being scared in a dangerous situation a much respected and necessary survival skill.

  The door banged against Rafe’s back, a relentless pounding that bowed the wood. He dug his feet into the ground, pushing back, forcing the door to stay closed with leverage and his incredible supernatural strength.

  “It’s decision time, folks. Are we to make a stand, or shall we run like a bunch of sissies?” Rafe’s words were strangled and his strength was weakening against the hellhounds’ unyielding assault.

  My eyebrows rose. I squeezed the dagger in my hand and bent at the knees, finding my center. Torra took in a deep, calming breath, slipping into the space by my side. Deidra floated up to the ceiling, moving out of our way. She knew that she wouldn’t be any help in the fight.

  “By all means, show our visitors in,” I growled.

  Loud, terrifying, and long roars preceded the monsters’ swift entrance. The sound was, in essence, a manifestation of evil. All I could see were black streaks of fur and fang flying through the air, willing to shred anything in their path. My arm swung out, pushing Torra out of the way, just in time to save her from being bowled over by one of the flesh and bone torpedoes, before I hurdled to the side. I landed hard, rolling into a sideways somersault to cushion the impact, barely escaping the hellhound’s claws. There were three of them, black and sleek monsters with long, dripping fangs and red, glowing eyes that were frozen on us as they leapt through the air. One after the other, they landed to circle around the room. Low and intense growls tumbled from their heaving chests, the terror-inducing rumbles ricocheting off the walls. The devil dogs paced methodically, stalking us like prey.

  My legs moved into action. I held the knife in my grip with certainty, but not too tightly. Body movements were instinctive, hard training lending to muscle memory. Even my thoughts echoed my training. These beasts were clever, wrangling us into a tight group in the middle of the room. We would be sitting ducks if I was to let that happen.

  “Split
up!” I yelled over my own mounting fear.

  The beast closest to me roared. The unholy mongrel didn’t like the fact that I figured out his plan. The group instantly obeyed my order and scattered throughout the room.

  “Rush, behind you!” Deidra screamed from above. I didn’t look, but jumped to the side. I pivoted back around and brought the dagger up, slashing through the space I was just in. The blade hit pay dirt, sliding into fur and flesh. I sliced with all my might, ripping into neck muscles, slashing. Blood poured from the wound, coating my hand; my grip was almost compromised from the slick liquid.

  I pulled back the blade. With no time to wipe my hand clean, I prayed for a firm grip, and stabbed the hellhound repeatedly. The dripping blade slashed down in an arc, stabbing over and over again, until the huge, black mass tumbled into a heap on the floor. The hellhound was down, but not out. I needed to take its head.

  I turned my back on the two other hellhounds in the room, trusting that Torra and Rafe had the threat of those beasts handled. I jumped on the downed beast’s back. My arms wrapped around its massive neck. I sawed through bone, sinews, and muscles like a crazed lumber jack. Tossing the head aside, I cracked my neck and let out a war cry. Adrenaline was pumping fire in my veins. I jumped into the continuing battle between Torra, Rafe and the remaining two beasts. With the three of us fighting together, and after taking the lead hellhound out of the equation, the final two devil dogs’ heads were much easier to obtain.

  All four of us stood at a steep drop-off. The depth was shrouded by fog. Except for the ghost, we all dripped with blood smeared across our faces like war paint. Not one square inch of our bodies was spared from the aftermath of the gruesome battle.

  “It’s a dead end,” I said, infuriated. I kicked at the ash-piled ground, sending a plume of dust over the ledge. We had come too far and gone through too much to end up running into a blasted dead end.

  I had a sudden vision of Kristina. She was holding her arm out to me, palm up, light dancing over her hand. A glint of it sparkled in her eyes. I felt her magic calling to mine, her love seeping into my aching heart. My throat closed over a strangled cry of despair; I had to reach her. She was in danger, I knew it.

  Jump.

  The phantom word slipped between her lips, serenity and assurance clear in her soft expression. Dark hair floated around her, framing her beautiful face.

  I’m waiting for you.

  Was it actually Kristina? Accidentally ghost walking again? Or was it her magic speaking to me without her knowledge? I didn’t know which explanation was true, but I believed in the sentiment behind it. We had to jump into the foggy abyss if we wanted to reach her. Her image slipped away, fading into nothing. But nothing was a far cry from the feelings that the fleeting vision of beauty left in its wake, pounding in my heart.

  “What is it?” Torra asked. She stood next to me, staring over the ledge, searching the scope of my eye line. “Is something down there?”

  “I believe Kris is,” I said, hushed. A smattering of ash slapped against my cheek, dry and itchy. “We have to trust our instincts and find out.”

  Torra’s hand clamped down on my shoulder. “Normally, I fancy a good free fall.” She swallowed hard and looked down. “But this one seems like a doozey.”

  Rafe threw up his hands. “Will you ever have any good news for us?”

  I turned to look him in the eyes just in time to witness Deidra slap the vampire upside his thick skull. She smiled and crossed her arms. “I’ve wanted to do that all night,” she said with a chuckle.

  “Hey!” Rafe said, rubbing the side of his head.

  Big baby. She didn’t hit him that hard.

  “You could always turn around and leave. No one’s stopping you.” I said.

  Rafe shot me a mischievous look. Shaking out his hands, he crouched, kneeling with one foot behind the other. He looked like a runner poised at the starting line, waiting for the gunshot signal to bolt.

  “You’d like that way too much, lover boy,” Rafe said. He shot forward in a flash and disappeared over the cliff.

  “Impressive.” Torra smiled as she watched the vampire clear the ledge. Her bright eyes flared and her cheeks reddened when she noticed me watching. “But whatever. I couldn’t care less what that leech does.” She looked away.

  In a flash of grey feathers and smooth flesh, Rafe sailed back over the ledge of the cliff. Large wings flapped through the ashen air, protruding from Rafe’s back. I lifted my arm to cover my face while clumps of ash and dust kicked up as he moved in closer. I was suddenly aware that I was looking at a fucking flying vampire.

  “How the hell are you doing that?” I yelled from behind the protection of my arm. I ended up with a mouth full of dust. I tried to spit it out, but my tongue was coated even more.

  “I don’t know, man,” he said, raising his voice to be heard from where he was hovering above us like an archangel.

  He suddenly veered to the right, then jacked-knifed left. Shaking his head, he aimed his body and gaze to the surface of the cliff. After a few failed attempts, Rafe finally landed. As soon as his feet touched ground, his wings disappeared. I watched the events unfolding, shocked.

  “So you’re a bird?” Torra asked. “You couldn’t have mentioned that earlier?”

  Rafe looked at her, his face gone pale. “I’m a vampire,” he said, his voice almost a whisper.

  He craned his arm around, trying to feel his back and shoulders. He found nothing. The wings were gone.

  “Turn around,” I said.

  He eased around, showing his back to me. “My shirt was ripped clean off of me,” he mumbled.

  “Wow. Your tattoo is incredible. They look so real,” Torra said.

  “What is she talking about? What looks real? What the fuck, man?” Rafe almost yelled. He seemed lost, bewildered, and even frantic. His eyes were about to pop out of his skull.

  I took a deep breath, not believing what I was seeing right before me with my own two eyes. Vampires couldn’t fly. The idea was ludicrous.

  On Rafe’s back was a set of wings. They spread across the width of his shoulders and inched over the back top of his arms, continuing down to his waist. Each individual plume was drawn out to resemble a perfect feather, overlapping to create the image of eagle wings. They looked real, but in shaded black and flesh tone.

  “You have wings tattooed over your back, Rafe. They’re a carbon copy of the ones on your chest, only bigger,” I explained, not wanting to freak him out even more.

  He spun around with a hand over his left pectoral. “Kris’s mark; it’s gone,” he choked out. Rafe moved his hand away to show us an unmarred chest. The wing mark was missing.

  “So Kris can mark her vampires,” Deidra said. “A few other Creators in our family could do that, too.” She floated over to Rafe and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s a gift, hun. No need to worry. And your mark isn’t gone; it just moved for better ease of use.” Deidra smiled and hovered backwards. “It appears that Kris’s totem is the bird of prey. I’m so proud.”

  “So I’m not morphing into some kind of a vamp-bird, or anything?” Rafe asked, shooting Deidra a pleading look.

  My mind couldn’t help conjuring up a picture of an eagle flying around with big, pointy fangs protruding from its beak. The image was disturbing.

  “No, dear, nothing of the sort. You’re special and have been given an exceptional gift. So unique, in fact, that you may be the only vampire in existence that has the ability to fly,” Deidra explained.

  Rafe’s entire attitude changed after hearing that. “Well, hell. Imagine that. Can’t wait to rub this news into Devil’s face,” he said with a teasing smile. “The arrogant bastard could use it.”

  “If your feathers are sufficiently unruffled, we should really get back on track. Did you happen to see what’s down there?” I asked.

  Rafe shook his head. “I jumped, and two seconds later, these beauties tore clean through my shirt. Next thing I knew, I was flying,
he said, pointing in the direction of his back. “Sorry, man.”

  “No matter. I was already prepared to do what’s necessary.” I looked over at Torra. She was behind Rafe, inspecting his new additions. “Do you mind giving her a lift down, though?”

  Torra’s face poked out from behind Rafe’s back. “That’s a great idea,” she said, looking way too happy.

  He scooped Torra into his arms. She looked over the edge, excitement sparkling in her eyes.

  “I hope I can get these things to work twice,” he said, before stepping off the ledge.

  Torra’s squeal of excitement followed them down.

  I paced the ledge, working up the courage to jump. It was easy for Rafe and Deidra to take the plunge—one was a ghost, and the other could fly. Torra and I were extra durable—I, more than she—but a face plant off a cliff could easily kill one of us.

  Fuck it. There’s no better cause to die for. After a final breath, I took the leap of faith.

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Lilly and I made no sudden movements. Across the room from where we were crouched beside the bed, barely hidden, ghouls were pacing the floor, noses tipped in the air, sniffing. Those monsters were the reason we hadn’t bothered to chase Camille and Wolf as they fled like cowards from the room.

  “We wait until they get closer,” Lilly whispered.

  I nodded, keeping my eyes glued on the ghouls. I should have been watching my back, too. Out of nowhere, I felt a sharp pain in my shoulders; I was lifted from my crouch and thrown like a Frisbee across the room. Storm clouds filled Lilly’s eyes, her face a mask of terror. She jumped after me and my assailant, moving just as fast. Another stab of pain, followed by a trail of warm liquid, hit my neck. My hand was set on fire with light, my eyes glowed red. I was being attacked by a vampire. As fast as I could lift my hand to defend myself, another area of my neck was shredded by the vampire’s snapping fangs. Warmth seeped from my body and small blasts of cold, starting at the base of my neck, crept through my limbs.

 
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