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Created darkly, p.6
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       Created Darkly, p.6

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  It was also a step forward in finding my sister. I opened the bag. What I uncovered took me by surprise. A knife? I measured the weight of the silver blade, holding it up so Rush and Jude could see it.

  “There’s nothing in here to explain why I need this.” Frustrated, I turned the sack inside out, but it was empty. Rush snatched the knife from my hand and looked it over.

  “This is impossible. There’s no way,” he mumbled.

  “What’s impossible, GQ? Spill it,” Jude said. He reached over and snatched the dagger out of Rush’s hands. Immediately, Rush snagged it back.

  “This is an ancestral dagger,” he said, his voice lowering a few decibels. It was like he was nervous that he would call attention to the blade, or to us. Whatever the reason he was acting so secretively, he certainly had my attention.

  “Why would the kidnapper leave me one of those?”

  Rubbing his chin, Rush was lost for a moment in his thoughts. He continued to inspect the blade. He flipped it over and slid a finger across the hilt and the blunt end of it. “This is a very old piece, maybe even fashioned by the first of our kind. See, take a look. You can tell by the crude markings along the side and bottom of the hilt.” Rush held the knife out, so I could look at it. Sure enough, there were swirled markings imbedded deep into the base of the dagger.

  “The fact that I am holding this priceless artifact in my hands is beyond crazy. But what is even crazier is this,” Rush said, pointing to the swirls located at the side of the hilt. The marking seemed to almost move, come alive, against the dark stone it was carved into. I had to blink a couple times to focus on the double figure eight design he pointed to. “That’s the sign of eternity; it belongs to your family line, Kris. This is one of your family’s sacred daggers.”

  “There’s more than one?” That was all I could think to say.

  “Every practicing Creator has one of his or her own. It’s used in a blood ritual for the corpses that are harder to awaken.”

  “I don’t have one,” I stated matter-of-factly. “And if you use them to raise the dead, then I’m not interested in ever having one.”

  “It looks like it’s yours, whether you want it or not. What you do with it is your business,” Rush said.

  I ran my tongue over my dry lips. If I hadn’t been sure before, I was positive then. The kidnapping had been meticulously planned. Someone needed or wanted something from me very badly—maybe for me to use that dagger. It all reeked of desperation, and from the lengths the person was willing to go to, it looked as if we were playing the game for keeps.

  I wrapped the dagger in the sack and tucked it next to the gun at my lower back. Before anyone could speak another word, I approached the door. It appeared to have been unused for years, covered by a thick coat of dirt and moss. With a sleeved forearm, I leaned forward and swiped part of the grime away from the area where the handle should have been located.

  “There’s no knob. How do you open the thing?” I asked.

  Jude shrugged.

  I looked over at Rush. “Any suggestions? This is your building; you must have some idea on how to get into it.”

  “Fuck,” he blurted.

  “What?” I asked, looking around, frantic. Had we been caught?

  “I mean, yes, I know how to open the door. But ‘fuck,’ because if I do open it, that’s it for me.” Rush leaned down and steadied himself on his knees. He reached over and pushed the side of the wall; the surface caved in against the pressure. For about three seconds, a blinding light surrounded his hand. After it faded away, the door opened. “The system keeps track of which hand print opens the door, so anyone that checks will know who authorized it.”

  A part of me hated the fact that I was putting Rush in that kind of screwed-up position. I was being selfish and single minded. I knew that. But there was an even bigger part of me that only cared about finding my sister, so any attack of conscience or regrets were short lived, overshadowed by everything else.

  Moonlight weaved through the wilted leaves of the canopy above us, bringing out a glint of Rush’s true eye color, the sexy gun-metal grey refusing to be hidden.

  “I’m sorry.” I pushed past him, my shoulder grazing his arm.

  It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness as I entered the Center’s private sanctuary. I blinked a few times, my surroundings coming into focus.

  Jude’s eyes were wide as he took in the room. “This place is kind of spooky, you guys.”

  That was an odd thing to hear coming from a ghost, but he was right. The place was a special kind of creepy.

  The spacious room was constructed of stone. The floor was made of dirt, hard and compact. There were compartments built into the walls, the front of each of them square, all labeled with names and dates. I quickly surmised that I was standing smack dab in the middle of a catacomb or mausoleum.

  “We call this the Holding Room.” Rush’s voice trailed off as he strolled across the space, making his way from one black iron sconce to another. The large and ornate light fixtures hung in a macabre manner on the walls, inside shallow alcoves that sectioned off some of the tombs. Rush lit the candles that were cradled inside them.

  “Holding Room?” I asked as I took in all the tombs and eerie lighting. I couldn’t help wondering how a place like that, all drab and dreary, could ever be considered anything other than what it was—a crypt.

  “Yeah, these tombs,” he began waving his arm in a wide arc to encompass the entire room, “are all filled with human corpses, waiting for their awakenings.”

  I gasped. “All these humans paid to become vampires?” I skimmed my eyes across the tombs; there were hundreds of them. “You guys will overrun the earth with blood-suckers.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing or seeing.

  Rush lit the final candle. The soft glow of natural light emphasized the hard lines of his face, casting half of it in shadow.

  “We have very strict rules in place to assure that doesn’t happen, Kris. Come here, and let me show you something.”

  I stomped the distance between us, furious. Rush pointed to a name plate. Kenneth Parker was engraved in the polished marble, along with a date.

  Reaching out, I traced the cool stone with the tip of my finger, lingering over the grooves that made up the date. “This is dated ten years from now.”

  Rush nodded and reached for my hand. The tips of his fingers traced over my knuckles as he dragged his hand, pointing to the tomb next to Kenneth’s.

  “This lady won’t be reanimated until this date.” The date on Mary Ellen Jones’ tomb read, May 1999 to May 2099. One hundred years. “The Center is very strict about how many awakenings are allowed to be performed each year.”

  “How many vamps do you make in a year?” I prayed it wasn’t many, but I wished the answer was ‘none.’ My stomach tumbled at the thought of how many vampires could be living alongside humans. Most of them, perversely killing at will. All that unnecessary agony caused by a corporation built on selfish acts with an unquenchable thirst for power and money. “I’m sure it’s enough to keep all of you extremely wealthy. After all, what is life without mansions and Prada?”

  “Kris, you judge us too harshly. You have no idea what actually goes on here.”

  My whole body pivoted in his direction, my eyes locking on him like slashing daggers. Anger poured from me.

  “Do I? How many humans do you think have died as the result of lining the pockets of you and the Council with blood-laced gold?”

  Rush rubbed the back of his neck, and after releasing a long breath, he said, “You’re right; there have been casualties. Like any other race or species, there are the rare ones that are born evil, but what I’m trying explain is this. Just like humans, not all vampires are predisposed to kill. It’s the luck of the draw. Should human women stop giving birth because there’s a chance they may birth another Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson?”

  “Are you kidding me with that crap?” I kept him pinned with my s
tare. “You’re only fooling yourself, certainly not me, if you believe that humans and vampires are the same in any way. Your vampires have to feed off of humans! They are their prey, treated like livestock in most cases. So your lame attempt at rationalizing your way into feeling okay about using your gifts to create them falls on deaf ears with me. Keep that crap to yourself, buddy.”

  “Even if I believed the same way you do, it wouldn’t matter. Can’t you see? We have been given an extraordinary power, the ability to create life where there is otherwise death and despair. We breathe hope into the depressed and despondent. I refuse to believe that these gifts I…no, we were born with as a species, is bad or not meant to be used.”

  He put his hand on my shoulder and I stepped back away from him. His head dropped forward in defeat, and he shoved both of his hands into his jean pockets. “We are not evil, Kris.”

  “Tell that to the ghosts that come to me. Do you know what they have in common? They were all brutally killed by vampires. That’s what. Oh, and here’s a fun fact for you. The female spirits and some of the males, too, tell a tale of torture and rape, sometimes one or the other, but most times, both. But no worries. The next time I’m listening to how a leech shoved his cock into one of his victims while ripping out her throat, I’ll be sure to tell her it’s okay, because Rush fucking Davis said that vampires are like cuddly little kittens, and we should just accept what happened to her, because that damn leech is the product of our brethren’s precious gifts!”

  I felt a gentle hand come down to rest on my shoulder, and then I felt a squeeze. I could barely make out Jude’s words through my anger as he spoke into my ear, “Freaking out won’t accomplish anything. Let’s keep our focus and energy on Torra.”

  I sucked up my rage. I didn’t think Rush was evil. His actions weren’t bred from malice. We just believed in two very different things.

  I reached up and gave Jude’s hand a reassuring pat and took a few calming breaths. I’d just blown up on Rush, totally insulting him and his work. No matter what my beliefs were, it wasn’t my place to preach at him. He was entitled to his own opinions; he was of his own mind.

  Obviously, he didn’t have the same kind of ghosts visiting him that I did, so how could I expect him to understand? After a slight nod, I looked up at Rush. He seemed furious, but also confused and hurt. I waited for him to say something, yell at me…anything. But he remained mute. Somehow, that stung more than any confrontation or verbal lashing could have.

  “For now, let’s agree to disagree,” I suggested, deciding to squash the argument. I held my breath, waiting for him to tell me to go screw myself. In a way, I deserved it for my outburst.

  A weak grin ticked up at the corner of his mouth, and the deep furrows between his brows smoothed. “I’m okay with that, I guess…like you said, for now. But there is one thing I’d like to say before we table this. At some point, we need to discuss those feelings of yours. I would also like to know more about the ghosts you say visit you.”

  I smiled back at him and nodded once, agreeing to the terms of our temporary truce. “Consider it a date.” I turned around and began to walk deeper into the building, and after a few steps, I realized what I said. “Wait, I didn’t mean a ‘date’ date.”

  Rush walked by me, his weak smile gone, replaced with a big grin. “Too late. You’ve committed to going out with me…at least once.”

  “You’re actually going to hold me to a slip up?” My mouth dropped open. The idea wasn’t altogether bad. He was extremely nice to look at, but there was the small remaining fact that he was a Council member.

  Rush chuckled and kept moving, the sound sending a hot jolt of need straight down to a place that traitorously disagreed with my marking him off my to-do list.

  “Good going, Kris. You scored yourself a date with the enemy,” Jude said, walking past.

  “You’re enjoying this a bit much for someone who can’t stand the guy,” I said, squirming.

  “Sure am.”

  “Just so you know, you’re a pretty sucky best friend,” I called after him.

  Chapter Ten

  We marched stoically forward. I marveled at how the scenery began to change, the farther we progressed down the hall, making the room we’d just left seem archaic in comparison.

  The newer part of the building was equipped with all the modern-day conveniences you could think of, and was much more in tune with my idea of the Center’s need for extravagances. My cell phone rang, ripping harshly through the absolute quiet. I took the phone from my front pocket and answered.

  “Hello.”

  A gravelly voice came over the line. It dominated the receiver. It was deep; the words he spoke came out slow and precise. “Necromancer, such a pleasure to finally speak with you. Are you in the right frame of mind to make a deal? No rebellious thoughts that could result in the precious cargo currently in my possession getting hurt…or worse?”

  I swallowed a lump in my throat and my fingers contracted, squeezing the cell phone tightly. I drew in a breath and measured my next words carefully. “Yes.” Sweet, simple, and to the point. No need for pretenses. I was at the man’s mercy.

  I looked over at the guys and lifted my index finger to my lips, indicating for them to keep quiet. Rush zeroed in on my lips, his eyes shifting back and forth over the gesture, and nodded. Jude gave me a thumbs-up.

  “Good, then feel free to celebrate. So far, you’ve managed to keep me happy, and when I’m appeased, your sister remains safe.”

  The firm grip I had on my phone tightened further, and I bit down on the screw you, asshole that tried to creep out of my mouth. “I will do whatever you ask of me. Just please, don’t hurt her.”

  “Her continued comfort is entirely up to you, of course…a true statement and simple fact.”

  Goosebumps formed along my arms and continued to creepy-crawl their way down my spine. That man’s voice was a slow and terrible burn.

  “Like I said before, I’m fully prepared to cooperate,” I gritted out.

  “Fair enough.” After a short pause, he continued. “There is a room down the hall from where you should have entered the building. The door is clearly marked with the same symbol that is engraved on the dagger that I gave you.” His voice quieted, as if he was waiting for me to say something.

  He would be waiting a long time, because my gut told me to keep what Rush told me about the dagger to myself. The freak seemed to know too much about me as it was, so I had to assume he was also privy to my ignorance in regard to my family’s history. I didn’t want him wondering when and from whom I could have gotten that kind of information, as Rush wasn’t supposed to be with me.

  “You do have the dagger, don’t you? The one I left for you?” He whispered the question, reigniting a sick feeling in my stomach.

  “Yes, I have it, along with everything else.”

  “Good, then we can proceed.”

  “Finally.” The word slipped from my lips, impatience and indignation finding a way out on its own.

  He chuckled. I apparently amused him. “After you enter the chamber, do what you were born to do, nothing more or less. I will call you back shortly. Don’t disappoint. Your sister is very beautiful; her skin glows at me, teasing to be touched. I need only the slightest cause to take my indulgences from her tender body. Time starts now.”

  My hand shook as I swiped the end button on the cell phone. It blinked, jumping back to the main screen where there was a picture of my sister and me goofing off in the kitchen. Our smiling faces were smudged with all-purpose flour. We both held wooden spoons up to our mouths like we were singing into to them. I can’t remember what we’d baked that day, but I would never forget how happy we were then. My heart tightened like a tense fist; I had to find her.

  “Is Torra okay?” Jude asked, interrupting the flickering stream of maudlin thoughts.

  After a final look at the picture, I slipped the phone back into my pocket. “We don’t have much time.”

&nb
sp; “Time for what?” Rush asked.

  “I wish I knew,” I said, blowing out a breath. “Just follow me.”

  They said nothing more as they followed me farther down the corridor.

  It didn’t take long to find the door. I removed the skeleton key from my pocket. The lock under the door knob matched the emblem on top of the mysterious key, so after I put two and two together, the door unlocked and swung open effortlessly.

  Without hesitation, I entered the room, which was spacious, with built-in shelves on the back and left-hand side walls. All of them were filled with unfamiliar objects. Jars, bowls, and various baskets overflowed with fragrant herbs. The heady scent of sage, menthol, and lavender overtook the space. Other than the storage shelves and a metal table, the room was sparse. The table was backed up against the right-hand side wall, and instead of baring shelf space, like the other two walls had, that one had a large crest bolted to it. It was in the shape of intertwined figure eights, the same design as the dagger. Unlike both those items, however, that symbol was emblazed in fire.

  “This is your family’s reanimation chamber,” Rush explained as he watched me take in the room. “Each one of the three most powerful families has its own.”

  “What makes the three families more powerful than any of the others?”

  “The power structure is based on how many Creators a family produces over the centuries. Your line has had the most. Then mine.”

  “And who’s the third?” Jude asked.

  I looked at Jude. He lingered by the open doorway. “That’s a good question. Who is the third most powerful family?” I asked.

  Rush sighed. “That’s not my information to share, but I can tell you that their patriarch holds a seat on the Council. It is written that all the three families should rule our kind.”

  “So what you’re saying is that Kris is your boss,” Jude said.

  It took me a second to realize what Jude already had. Three families ruled the Council, and mine was the most powerful among them. There was no way….

 
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