Authors: Sarah Fine
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Dystopian
BY SARAH FINE
UARDS OF THE
Captive: A Guard’s Tale from Malachi’s Perspective
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Sarah Fine
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
Inc. or its affiliates.
Cover design by Cliff Nielsen
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014908971
For Lam, who is whip-smart and kind in equal measure
he chauffeur drove them home from the hospital, maneuvering the amphibious limousine smoothly through the waist-deep canals in the Back Bay neighborhood. When he pulled to a stop and popped the roof hatch, the oppressive heat stung Cacy’s tear-streaked face. The driver held out a hand to lift her onto the dock. She ignored it and scrambled out by herself, her sundress fanning out around her skinny, bruised legs. Her father, elegant and lean in his miraculously unwrinkled three-piece, climbed out after her.
She followed him up the polished stone walkway and stood with him in the vaulted foyer of their home, thinking his face looked as gray and sickly as the disease-filled water lapping at the dock outside. His eyes searched hers. Then he nodded slowly and unclasped the heavy silver medallion from the thin chain he always wore around his neck. The Scope. Door to the Veil, window to the Afterlife. His thumb skimmed over the disk’s elaborately etched surface, and the center became shimmery and transparent.
“You’ll come see her off with me,” he said quietly. His fingers closed around the edges of the medallion and pulled, stretching it into an oval with a gauzy film at its center. He yanked it even wider and held it in front of Cacy, the surface swirling like a giant soap bubble. “It’s time you better understood the family business, anyway. Step through.”
His voice was so calm it both shocked and steadied her.
never allowed her to go into the Veil before, no matter how many times
seen her sister and brothers step through the Scope many times, but her father had always told her she was too young. Now she finally had her chance . . . and she was shamefully afraid.
She slid trembling fingers along the glossy skin of the bubble and gasped as her fingertips sank in with a soft slurping sound. “Is this going to hurt?”
The thunder of her father’s laughter was too loud to be comforting. “Not physically. Go on. I’ll be right behind you.”
When she didn’t move, he sighed. “Stay next to me, then.” He stepped up close and held the silver-framed portal over their heads, then brought it down around them, letting it drop all the way to the floor.
A splintery, bone-hard chill instantly enclosed Cacy. She pressed herself to her father’s side and squinted at her surroundings. She was in the same spot, still in the foyer, but everything looked . . . dead. The color had bled from the rich mahogany floors and colorful tapestries that adorned the vaulted corridor in front of them, leaving them a dull gray.
Her father held her shoulders and guided her as she stepped outside the boundary of the shiny metal ring of the Scope. He bent over, picked up the silver-white circle, and pressed at its edges until it was small and solid once again. A moment later, he reclipped the still-glowing disk to the chain around his neck.
Cacy coughed as the icy air of the Veil filled her lungs. Her father’s long, narrow fingers closed around her wrist. “You’ll get used to it. Come.”
He led her along the main corridor of their home, a replica of the nineteenth-century brownstones that used to line the streets of their Boston neighborhood. The originals had all been destroyed fifty years earlier in the Great Flood of 2049.
The plastic heels of Cacy’s patent-leather shoes were silent on the hardwood floors, now strangely spongy beneath her feet, though her heart beat a deafening rhythm in her ears as they approached the door of her mother’s library. Her father’s grip tightened when she began to pull away. He spun around and crouched so that his gaunt gray face was right in front of hers. In the Veil, the shadows under his eyes were deadly deep.
“This is the last time she’ll ever get to see you, so I need you to get that scared look off your face, my darling.” His strained smile made Cacy’s stomach hurt. “Show her your beautiful smile so that she can hold on to it forever. You can cry later.”
Cacy sniffled and nodded as he pulled out a silk handkerchief and wiped the tears from her face. Her father stood back and appraised her, and then abruptly pulled her toward the closed door. She flinched as her face plunged into the carved wood. Its surface gave way gently, like gelatin, and flowed closed behind her as she stumbled through.
When she opened her eyes, her dead mother was standing in front of her. Mara Ferry’s fingers skimmed along the spines of her precious books. Her smile was as sad as her husband’s.
“The Charon himself comes to see me off,” she said lightly. She raised her chin and set her shoulders. “I’m glad it’s you.”
“You know I wouldn’t have allowed anyone else to do it.” He released Cacy’s arm so he could embrace his wife, bowing his head to press his cheek to hers. Her eyes closed, but not in time to stop a tear from rolling down her face, now rounded and full. She was still clothed in her hospital gown and robe, but she wasn’t emaciated and ghoulishly pale, as she had been a few hours ago when Cacy had walked away from her bedside for the last time.
Her mother leaned back and kissed her father. “Where is Moros? He Marked me, didn’t he?”
heard stories about Moros, Lord of the Kere.
Her father nodded and touched his forehead to her mother’s. “After all the suffering you experienced, he wanted it to be painless.”
“I will pay him his commission later. He wishes you a safe journey, but he did not come in person because he didn’t want to frighten Cacia.”
Her mother inclined her head toward Cacy. “Thank you for bringing her.”
He nodded and stepped aside, hovering close.
Cacy’s mother turned to her, arms open. “Baby, don’t be scared.”
“I’m not,” Cacy replied automatically, tensing in an effort to stop shaking.
Her mother smiled, and when she hugged Cacy, her body was warm. Cacy snuggled in, unable to hold back her tears. “Don’t go,” she whimpered.
“I must. But don’t ever forget me, all right?” She took Cacy’s face in her hands. “I wish I could have seen what you’ll become, because I know it’s going to be great. And take care of your father for me.”
“Mara, it’s time,” Cacy’s father said, his voice choked.
Her mother nodded. “I’m ready.” She gave Cacy a lingering kiss on the forehead and let her daughter go.
The tortured look on the Charon’s face said he wasn’t ready to say good-bye, but that didn’t stop him. He pulled the Scope off its chain again, flipped it over, and swiped his thumb across it. This time, the center sparked blinding white. He sagged in relief.
“Heaven,” he whispered.
Cacy’s mother chuckled. “You were worried
awaited my arrival?”
He straightened. “Never.” He gave her a wicked smile. “Well, there was that one time . . .”
She slapped his arm playfully. “Not in front of Cacy.” But her arms wrapped over his shoulders, and she kissed him fiercely. Cacy didn’t understand the loose, rolling feeling in her belly as she watched them.
Patrick Ferry’s hands stroked down his wife’s back. The disk flashed between his fingers as he pinched the edges and stretched it wide behind her. He moaned as he pulled back from her kiss and looked into her eyes. “I promise you, I
, I will make sure Heaven is my future as well. I will find you again.”
Her mother nodded. Finally, she tore her gaze from her husband’s and winked at Cacy. “It is time for my next adventure, my love. Wish me luck.”
“Bye, Mommy,” Cacy whispered. She sank back against a squishy wall of books, her eyes blurred by tears.
Her father’s arms formed a cage around her mother’s slight frame. Her mother turned to face the blinding, pulsing door to Heaven in his hands. His chest expanded once more, and then he stepped back and pulled the ring over her, sliding the glowing light all the way down to her feet, letting it swallow her whole. There was a gasp, the last thing Cacy heard from her mother.
With tears streaming down his solemn face, Cacy’s father lifted the ring and held it in front of him. A glittering gold coin flew from its center and hit his chest before falling to the hardwood. He scooped it up and turned it over in his hand, then shoved it into his pocket. His payment for delivering his wife to the Afterlife.
One gold coin for a lifetime of lost happiness.
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER
li Margolis shouldered his rucksack and edged his way into the aisle of the crowded bus. The passengers around him were slowly getting to their feet, fanning themselves and plucking at their sweat-drenched clothing. But after twenty-four hours on various forms of mass transport, with his legs crammed into seats clearly designed for much smaller people, Eli was in dire need of a stretch.
He took a step back, blocking the human traffic behind him, making a space for his sister to squeeze herself into the aisle in front of him. Galena’s dark-blonde hair was plastered to her temples. The dark circles under her eyes made her look painfully fragile. He laid a protective hand on her shoulder. “Ready?”
She hitched her pack a little higher on her back and looked up at him with a brave smile. “As I’ll ever be.”
They filed off the bus and onto the dock. The lapping swampy brine that scented the air was both new and depressing. He looked over the heads of the other passengers, scanning the busy transit station. Dock after dock. Every one with an amphibious bus magnetically tethered to its mooring. Every bus disgorging wave after wave of exhausted, hopeful refugees from the West.
Eli tried to draw more humid air into his lungs; he felt like he was suffocating. This place would take some getting used to, but it would be good for his sister. That was why he had come.
Galena pulled her smudged phone from her pocket. “I’ve got our new address right here,” she said proudly, waving the thin tablet in front of him as they headed toward the transit station.
been trying to cheer him up ever since they pulled away from the bus station at the outskirts of Pittsburgh. He still couldn’t quite believe
gotten seats on an honest-to-God bus, a prize people would kill for. Some of his fellow passengers probably had. And unlike most other travelers, he and Galena had an apartment waiting for them instead of a refugee shelter. All because of her.
He tugged his sister’s pack from her, looping it over his own shoulder. “I wish I could go straight there with you. You’re sure you’ll be all right?”
Galena took his hand, tugging him into the soaring lobby of Boston’s South Station. “You worry too much. Someone from the university is meeting me. He’s going to help me get settled, and then he’ll take me to my new lab. I can’t wait to see it!”
Eli smiled. He already knew the lab would be more her home than the apartment, and he was thankful for that. She needed to stay busy.
He held Galena’s hand in a tight grip as he scanned the wide-open space of the station’s lobby, prepared to meet any threat that came. She looked up at him and rolled her eyes. “
, Eli. It’s a lot safer here. Come on, we can catch a taxi. They gave me an expense account.” She tapped the screen of her tablet phone a few times and held it up, showing him a balance that made his eyes widen. She grinned. “See? Not a bad way to start out in a new city, right?”
As their taxi motored through the downtown canals, Eli stared out the window, feeling a bit seasick. This place was so different from the stark, dusty wasteland of his hometown. Flimsy flat-bottomed boats packed the waterways and bobbled in the wakes of amphibious vehicles. The taxi occasionally bumped against the other boats as they wove through the canal. A few people paced the sidewalks next to the low canal walls, using nets to collect garbage floating in the brown-gray water. At first, Eli thought they were public works employees and brightened, amazed that such order still existed. But then he saw a woman pawing through the contents of the net, frantically tucking objects into her own pockets. These people were just scavenging for others’ scraps.
The frame of the taxi jerked as the driver gunned the engine and powered the vehicle up a ramp and onto the dry streets of Chinatown. Eli took in the crowded sidewalks, the darting hands of the elderly women at the street markets, the deep alleys between buildings, and the armed guards in front of the noodle shops and apartment complexes. After a few minutes, the taxi came to a stop in front of what looked like an enormous garage. There was no sign on the outside, but the street number matched the address
been given. The Chinatown EMS station.
His new place of employment.
He turned to Galena, whose fingers were flying across the screen of her tablet.
probably made another brilliant scientific discovery in the last ten minutes. He leaned over and kissed her temple. “I’ll see you in the morning, all right?”
She tore her eyes from the screen and blinked at him, then held her arms out for a hug. “Be careful out there, big guy.”
“No worries. Text me when you get to the apartment. I need to know you got there safely or I won’t be able to focus.”
Galena patted his shoulder. “You don’t need to know where I am every minute.”
Eli pulled back and tipped her chin up with his fingers. “Yes, I do.”
“It’s going to be different here. It’s safe here,” she said softly, sounding more like a little girl than a grown woman.
“I hope you’re right. But until I know that for sure, have pity on your little brother.”
She looked away, probably remembering things he wished
forget. He hugged her close again, wanting to go back in time and protect her better than he had, to give her back what had been taken from her in that single brutal night two years ago.
The taxi driver shifted in his seat. “Meter’s running.”
Eli kissed Galena’s forehead. “Later.”
He watched as the taxi pulled away from the curb, then strode over to a security screen set into a solid metal door. He tapped the screen to activate it. A second later, a man’s face appeared, staring out at him with ice-blue eyes. “That you, Margolis?”
The metal door clicked, and he pulled it open. The blue-eyed man was striding down the corridor toward him, holding out a hand. “Welcome to Boston! I’m Declan Ferry.”
Eli blinked. Declan Ferry was the Chief of the Chinatown EMS station. The one who’d offered Eli this job. And he didn’t look a day over twenty-five. If the Chief himself had only been a paramedic for a few years, Eli wondered what the turnover rate was.
Eli shook the Chief’s hand. “Thanks, sir. Sorry I look sort of rough. We just got in to town.”
Chief Ferry grinned and patted him hard on the back. “Call me Dec. Showers are this way. We have our own filtration system, so running water isn’t a problem.”
Eli followed the Chief down the hall, forcing himself not to ask a million questions. Running water?
never actually seen such a thing. Clean water was like gold in Pittsburgh, and carefully rationed. It was shipped from the East and came in jugs or sealed bags, and every month people were killed in riots, just trying to get hold of a few extra gallons. He hoped he could figure out how to work a shower so the rest of the paramedics wouldn’t think he was a complete hick.
The Chief stopped at the door of a small, neat office. He pointed toward a high-ceilinged room at the end of the hall. “When you’re cleaned up, come on back here and I’ll go over some of our standing orders and protocols. I imagine it’s not too different from Pittsburgh, but the canal zones make things tricky sometimes.”
“Call me Dec!” hollered the Chief as Eli headed into the locker room. It was shift-change time, and the room was filled with his new colleagues, some in street clothes, some wearing their uniforms. Instead of rushing to leave or get to their rigs, they were all gathered around a videowall at the front of the room. Eli stood at the edge of the crowd and turned to see what they were watching, expecting to see images of the latest bombing or food riot.
On the screen, a tall salt-and-pepper-haired man in a suit stood at a podium. Dozens of reporters were crowded in front of him, all holding up their tablets to record the event. Behind the older man stood three people: a fit, broad-shouldered man; a
platinum-blonde beauty; and a petite black-haired young woman with huge turquoise-blue eyes. She was staring at the man at the podium, her attention fixed entirely on him.
It was obviously some kind of press conference, but the volume was low and Eli couldn’t make out what was being said over the buzz of conversation among the paramedics. A short barrel-chested man beside Eli elbowed him and inclined his head toward the dark-haired woman on the screen. “Mmm, I’d like to spend a night prying
gorgeous legs apart.”
Eli looked down at his new colleague and forced a tight smile. “I’d prefer to spend time with a woman who actually
me between her legs,” he said, barely suppressing his desire to punch the guy right in his homely face.
That homely face split into a wide grin. “
, a gentleman. That’s cute. I didn’t mean anything by it, new boy. I’m Captain Len Ramsey, by the way. Night shift supervisor.” He held out his hand.
Before Eli could take it, a wide dark-skinned hand closed hard over Len’s shoulder. Towering behind Len was possibly the biggest guy Eli had ever seen, and he wasn’t surprised at the flash of fear and pain in Len’s eyes. The man smiled at Eli, canines gleaming. “I know you’re just working off some frustration, Len,” the big man said, “but make sure the Chief doesn’t hear you talking about his little sister that way.”
Len’s jaw went rigid. “Piss off, Trevor,” he muttered, shrugging out of the man’s grip and stalking toward a row of lockers across the room.
Eli decided he liked Trevor, if only for making Len go away. After introducing himself and shaking Trevor’s hand, Eli nodded at the screen. “The Chief’s sister?”
Trevor turned to the videowall and barked, “Volume level high.”
The voice of a news anchor immediately filled the room:
. . . was packed today as Patrick Ferry, a prominent local philanthropist, and the CEO and owner of Psychopomps Incorporated, announced his retirement, effective immediately . . .
“Ferry? As in, Chief Ferry?” Eli asked.
“Yeah, the Ferrys are a powerful family here in Boston. That’s Dec’s father.” Trevor pointed to the older man at the podium, then waved his hand at the people behind the guy. “And those are the Chief’s brother and sisters.”
He pointed at the broad-shouldered man, who was now shaking Patrick Ferry’s hand and stepping up to the podium. “That’s Rylan. As of today, he’s the new CEO of the company.”
Trevor pointed at the platinum blonde, who was staring at Rylan Ferry with a cold, pinched expression on her pale face. “That’s Aislin. She’s moving into Rylan’s position as chief operating officer.”
Eli raised an eyebrow. “A real family business, huh? What does the company do?”
“Exports,” Trevor said in a bland voice. He pointed at the petite woman with the haunting eyes. “And as I said, that’s the Chief’s little sister.”
Eli stared at the woman, whose gaze remained on her father. It was such a protective expression, which was funny because she looked too soft and sweet to do much damage. Still, there was something ferocious in her eyes, a warning, a promise. She shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, drawing Eli’s eyes down her body, which was wrapped in a steel-gray sheath dress that hugged every curve. But as gorgeous as she looked, she also seemed uncomfortable as hell. He wondered why. He wondered if she lived in the city. If she was close to Dec and ever stopped by the EMS station to visit. If she dated anyone but execs and playboys. If she wore underwear under that little dress. If she—
Eli pulled his gaze from the screen. “Does she work at the company, too?” he asked, trying for an offhanded tone.
Trevor chuckled as they watched the young woman hug her father and smile sweetly up at him. “Nah, no way. Cacy works here. She’s one of the best paramedics we have. And one of the toughest.”
?” Eli tried to imagine that tiny, beautiful woman up to her elbows in blood and gore.
Trevor slapped him on the back. “Yup. Now, pop those eyes back in your head and go take a shower. You stink, man.”
Eli wasn’t about to disagree. He hitched his pack up and turned for the showers.
made it about ten steps when Trevor called out, “Oh, and Eli?”
Trevor looked like he was trying to keep from laughing. “I hear you’ve been assigned as Cacy’s new partner. Good luck.”