Authors: Amy Braun
novel by Amy Braun
© 2016 by Amy Braun. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locations is entirely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the author.
Cover Design: Deranged Doctor Design
For my friends and family.
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The sky used to hold hope for me. Now it only held terror.
My legs ached with every movement, but I didn’t have time for pain. If I stopped to feel it, they would catch me. They would stab their onyx claws into my back and drag me into the ground. They would plunge their needles into my neck to drain all the blood in my body, and no amount of screaming would stop them–
Damn it, Claire! Don’t think about it! Move!
Thinking of my own horrible death was exactly what I needed to run faster.
We’re almost there,
I told myself.
Close, we’re so close–
A piercing scream came from behind me, startling me so badly I nearly tripped on the rocky ground. I shouldn’t have glanced over my shoulder, but I had to know how close the Hellions were, and who they had grabbed.
Gordon had been taken down, one of the Hellions pushing him into the broken concrete, putting its knees in his back and trapping him. The monster didn’t hesitate, crunching its body down and stabbing the pointed needle of its respirator into the back of Gordon’s neck. My partner screamed as the blood was sucked out of him, feeding the Hellion.
Two more of the monsters charged out from beyond a cracked slump of white stone. They didn’t glance at Gordon or the feasting Hellion. They wanted us.
I hated that daylight didn’t slow them down anymore, and wished they hadn’t learned how to cover themselves from the sun. In the beginning, they only came at night, descending from the
in their quick raiding skiffs and taking anyone they could snatch in their claws. It was horrifying– it always would be– but we’d been able to predict them.
Now they were prepared. They dressed in black jumpsuits with blood-red buttons along the left breast. The heavy boots, leather gloves, and round helmet almost made them look like the old Sky Guard, aside from the black gas mask with two black bulging glass goggles that made their eyes resemble an insect’s.
A black respirator with a pointed needle on the end covered the Hellion’s mouth, their tool for drinking blood during the day. I’d never been stabbed with one of those needles, and intended to keep it that way.
Kevin sprinted beside me, but he was panting heavily. He’d drawn his flintlock when the Hellion skiffs appeared and found us, but hadn’t fired a single shot. I wished he’d give me the damn thing. I wasn’t a swashbuckler, but at least I would put up a fight, or distract them so–
No time like the present.
Still running, I reached for my utility belt and took out a glass tube. I quickly unscrewed the caps on the top and bottom. Then I turned, arched my arm, and launched the flashbang. I knew the Hellions heard the clicking of the flashbang as gears and cogs spun rapidly inside the tube, powering the wires I’d connected to the fluorescent light. The Hellions skidded to a stop, covering their faces as the flashbang crashed onto the ground and shattered. White light flashed behind me and the Hellions roared their fury. I kept running, knowing I only had seconds before the artificial light faded.
But we were at the entrance to the underground. I never thought I would be so happy to see a sewer drain my whole life. I skidded to a stop along the dust and rubble, dropping to my knees and pulling the manhole cover. My arms strained with effort, but I moved the cover enough to slip down into the tunnel. Now I could lose myself and get back to–
I jumped at the sound of a pistol being fired. I looked up and saw that Kevin had fallen. He flipped onto his back and shot at the Hellions catching up to him. All three of them, since Gordon was now lying on the dilapidated street in a motionless, bloody heap.
I hadn’t even seen him fall. Hadn’t even heard him. If I had, I would have done something. I didn’t like that he was sent on this mission with me since he constantly looked at me like I was a piece of meat that needed to be devoured, but no one deserved to die the way he was going to die.
But I was out of flashbangs, and my only other weapon was a pocketknife. Completely useless against something as strong as a Hellion.
I looked at the manhole cover in my hands. I could pick it up, use it as some kind of shield, or battering ram. I tried to lift it, but my arms were thin, frail from so little food–
Another shot from the pistol. I tried to lift the manhole cover, finally hefting it off the ground rather than sliding it. I looked up.
Kevin fumbled with the flintlock, trying to get another shot out of it. But the Hellions pounced on him, pinning his arms and legs. Kevin tried to fight, but gave up and screamed when the Hellions began stabbing him with the needles on their masks.
I cringed and looked away, knowing there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even end his suffering. Anything I did would just get me killed, and there was someone in my life that needed me. If I died, Garnet would make her suffer in ways I didn’t dare think about.
Abby. Think about Abby. You couldn’t save Gordon. You can’t save Kevin. You can protect Abby.
Thinking about her didn’t take the guilty sting from my heart, or the disgust I felt as I saved myself. It wouldn’t take their painful screams out of my head. Wouldn’t save me from the nightmares.
With a heavy, pounding heart, I concentrated on sliding into the sewers, dragging the manhole cover with me. Before I closed the cover above my head, I caught a glimpse of one of the Hellions as it looked up.
This one was bigger than the other two, broader and taller. It paused from its feeding to look at me. Which meant it was smarter, too.
I snapped the manhole cover closed and climbed into the sewer. I fumbled my way down the ladder rungs, unable to see in the pitch blackness now surrounding me. My boot slipped through empty air, telling me I’d reached the bottom. I dropped into the tunnel, sending a jolt through my sore legs, and started running blindly. I had to keep moving in case that large Hellion decided to act on impulse and hunt me down.
I didn’t have a Hellion’s night vision, so I reached for my belt again. My fingers floundered until they nudged across another glass tube, slimmer than the flashbang. When it was closed, my handheld torch fit soundly on my belt. When the ends were pulled apart, it was a clear tube no longer than my forearm, though half as wide. As it was pulled, the gears inside spun together and snapped around a conductor that created a dim light. It was almost like a flashbang, but far less explosive.
A dull yellow glow filled the tunnel as I pulled the torch apart. The runoff from the sewers was dry now, but the sour smell of human excrement clung to the walls. The torch’s light illuminated almost the entire tunnel, but it took me a few minutes to figure out where I had to go.
The underground stretched all throughout Westraven, and was our only safe place since the Hellions took control of the sky and our lives a decade ago. I had been eight years old when they appeared, shrouded by smoky clouds and illuminated by angry lightning. Even ten years later, I couldn’t forget the thunder that exploded through the sky, signaling them to descend in their hellish skiffs to steal anyone they set their eyes on. Those who resisted were slaughtered, torn to shreds by demons with black, razor teeth, onyx claws, and blood-red eyes.
The Sky Guard had been no match for them. Neither had the freebooting marauders. The Hellions came too fast and too quickly, raining fire and death over us, forcing us into the tunnels to escape.
But there was no escaping, because while we’d been struggling to survive in the dark, they had been creating barricades around the city, making it impossible to leave to other parts of Aon. We hadn’t heard anything from other parts of the country, so we had to assume that they were under attack as well. It was impossible to know if anyone had survived, or if we were the last city with living residents. Ten years was a lot of time for genocide.
We were trapped like mice, starving in the dark until we became desperate enough to risk higher ground, where the hungry cats waited to pick us off.
I looked over my shoulder, checking to see if the Hellions were following me. But there was nothing visible at my back. No sounds other than my own footsteps. I slowed down, asking myself the same question I’d asked so many times before:
Why didn’t they finish us off?
The Hellions knew that most of us were underground. They knew we were easy to hunt, attack, and kill. They never tired of taking us. If they were so intent on our destruction, why hold back?
I shuddered. I didn’t want to know what the Hellions final plan was. I simply wanted to avoid it as much as I could.
I continued to walk in the dark. The tunnels of the underground were pitch black until you came by one of the small colonies, which were lit with torches and weak fires. Our locations were obvious if the Hellions ever decided to launch an attack in the tunnels.
But they never came down. They waited until we were on the surface to kill us.
I shook the thought from my head. There was no point in figuring out why the Hellions acted the way they did. They were monsters that saw us as one thing, and one thing only:
Reasons didn’t matter anymore. Survival did.
Though it didn’t mean that mistakes couldn’t be made.
He heard me before I heard him. I barely passed the turnoff that would lead me to Garnet’s colony when the wide barrel of a blunderbuss swung into my face.
I stopped and held up my hands, though I knew the guard wouldn’t shoot me. At least I hoped not. Given how hard he was scowling, he might allow his finger to “slip” on the trigger and give me a dozen-grapeshot-welcome.
“Shut that damn light off,” he growled. He had a glass lantern dangling from his hip that gave off less light than my own torch did. I might as well have been shining the sun down here. He was incredibly dirty, even for a scavenger that lived in the sewer.
Sighing heavily, I pushed my torch closed, collapsing it inward and hearing the gears
as they worked to shut the yellow light off. I hooked the torch back onto my belt and waited.
“Where are Kevin and Gordon?”
Their pain-filled screams rang through my mind. I shook my head. I closed my eyes, and tried not to remember their agonized faces. The way they screamed for help that I couldn’t give without dying myself. I told myself that wherever they were now, they were free of pain. Ghosts couldn’t be hurt.