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Authors: RB Stutz

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BOOK: Masked
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My guess was the girl took those
she abducted to one of the condemned basements that used to serve as a ground
floor, forgotten by those who work and live above it. From what I understood of
the tunnels, if I was going in the right direction and my guess on destination
was correct, I should stroll right up to them. If the point of access was as
delicately made as the one I had just came through, it would be obvious.

It was relatively noisy down in the
empty tunnels. The bustle of mid-morning down town activity could be heard,
somewhat muffled. Every once in a while, some light broke through the mostly
dark colored glass cubes set in the sidewalks above, when they were still clear
enough to let it through.

After walking for about five
minutes, I heard distant voices. They were different than the muffled sounds I heard
from above. The voices seemed to be coming from up ahead of me, echoing back
through the tunnel. Turning off the light, I moved to the right, staying close
to the old building facades. Slowly I moved forward, trying not to make a
sound. Of course, right away I tripped over something. There was a loud crash
of loose brick hitting loose brick and I stopped for a few minutes to see if
anyone heard my blundering. It didn’t seem they had. The sound of the
conversation I couldn’t discern continued, so I proceeded forward again.

The voices grew more loud and
clear as I continued forward. After just a couple minutes, I could see faint
light and it didn’t seem to be coming from above. Now that I could hear the
voices more clearly, it sounded like there were two people talking, a man and a
woman.

“I don’t understand why he still
insists on bringing in others. The more we have to hunt to keep our growing
numbers sustained, the more chance there is someone will slip. There’s a
greater chance we will be found,” said the female voice.

“I don’t know why you worry so
much, Lila. No one is going to find us. Peter knows what he is doing. He is
growing our numbers so one day we will be able to take our rightful place in
the world. You know this.”

It was quiet for a few seconds
and then the rough edged male voice continued.

“But let’s just say we are found.
What are they going to do to us? No one can hurt us. If anyone finds us, we
will feed and then move on through the tunnels. There are other places to go.”

“How do we know we can trust the
new ones? I don’t know them. When it was just you, Angel and me, I knew I could
trust you both. I know I still can, but how do I know that about the others? I
don’t,” said Lila.

“Don’t you trust Peter’s
judgment? Do you really think he would risk our family? All he wants is to
strengthen our family, our species. Please, go speak with him. Let him put your
concerns to rest,” the male voice begged of her.

It was quiet again for probably
half a minute.

“What do you know about the
newest girl, Lauren? How can she already have that kind of power without
feeding? She’s stronger than me. Is Peter going to replace me? Has he told
you?” Lila asked frantically.

“I don’t know any more than that.
I’m not going to question Peter’s judgment. If he is comfortable with her, then
so am I. He’s given us so much and has helped us to realize the power we have.
He’s given us a family and a purpose. Please, just go talk with him. Let him
ease your mind.”

“Ok, I will. Thanks for talking
with me, Darius.”

“Sure. You worry too much Lila. A
goddess shouldn’t worry as much as you do.”

Two figures stepped into the
tunnel. All I could see was their black silhouette in the dim light which came
from the flashlights they were holding. I was upright and tight against the
indent of an old doorway trying not to move. The dark silhouettes didn’t look
back at all and walked forward further into the tunnel.

So it seemed I was dealing with
more than just the blonde girl. Was this some sort of sick cult? Were they
feeding on people? What does that even mean? When they spoke of growing their
family, they described someone who could move objects. Was this a whole cult of
people with abilities? I could only hope not. I wasn’t sure how well I would do
against one person with abilities, let alone several. That didn’t turn out very
well in Idaho. What were they? For that matter, what the hell was I?

I waited for a few seconds before
moving again. After only a few moments, I made it to the place where they’d
been talking. There was another hole in the old building exterior. I stepped through
and turned on my light. The immediate area around me lit up to reveal dust and
debris. I spent some time looking around the space, but soon realized there was
nothing there.

As I turned to head back into the
tunnel, I heard movement further into the dark space. Quickly, I turned off the
light and froze, listening for more sound. I still heard the busy streets up
above coming from the tunnel and water dripping somewhere in the darkness, but
that was it. A sudden faintness came over me and I lost my balance for just a
second. I was able to catch myself before I dropped to the ground and the
feeling was gone as quickly as it came. After waiting for several minutes, I went
back into the tunnel.

I proceeded further through the darkness
and as I did, I tried to work through scenarios of what I might find. The best
course of action for whatever I found was to stay hidden and read as many as I could
in order to get a feel for what I was up against. Hopefully, it would be possible
to pull off.

I wondered how long the tunnel was
as it felt like I’d been moving through the darkness for quite some time.

“Help me!” I heard a small high
voice say from just ahead of me. “Please, help me.”

I stopped and stood still,
listening.

“Please help me,” I heard again.

The voice sounded different from both
the blonde girl and Lila. She sounded like a child. Still, I was hesitant of
what to do. After what had happened the previous night, I wasn’t sure if I could
trust what I saw and heard. Was it another trap?

There was a burst of defeated
sobbing.

“Please, please help me,” the
distressed voice cried.

Ok, I had to at least see where
it is coming from. I moved ahead about twenty yards and didn’t hear anything
more. I stopped to listen. I should have been close to where the voice was
coming from.

There was a slight movement to my
left. It was quiet and then again the same slight movement. I turned on my
light and moved it to where I’d heard the sound and found a young girl sitting
on the ground.

“Are you one of them?” the girl asked
in her frightened voice.

She wasn’t any older than seven
or eight and was a cute little girl with light blonde hair and a pale dirty
face. She had on a dirty dark colored night gown, but the color was hard to
determine in the small amount of light coming from my flashlight.

“No, I’m here to help you,” I
whispered as I moved closer.

I crouched down next to her and
asked “What’s your name?”

She hesitated for a second. “Angela.”

“Hi, Angela, my name is Michael.
How did you get down here?”

“Those scary people brought me
down here,” she said in her small voice.

“How did you get away from them?”

Her
lower lip started to tremble and she let out a couple more frightened little
cries.

“I
ran away,” she said, crying again.

“I know you’re scared and want to
get out of here, but can you tell me if they’re holding anyone else? Is there
anyone else who couldn’t run away?”

She nodded.

“How many do they have?”

“There are two other little
girls, Mary and Sara,” she said.

There was a twinge of pain in my
heart at hearing the second name.

There were other children? So, I
not only had to get the two I had come for, but three children as well?

“Come on Michael, confidence. You
have this. You can do it,” I thought giving myself an internal pep talk.

“Angela, I’m going to get your
friends. Is there somewhere you can hide until I come back?”

She was quiet for a moment as she
seemed to be thinking.

She pointed further ahead in the
tunnel. “Yes, up there.”

“Are the bad people up there
too?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Ok, show me your hiding place.
You can stay there while I get your friends, and then we’ll all get out of here
together.”

I hoped I could keep my promise.

Angela rose and hugged my leg
just slightly and without another word led me further into the tunnel.

CHAPTER
21

 

Angela led me ahead only another
twenty yards.

To our right was another old
brick exterior. Piles of the crumbled brick and debris lay on the ground below
the wall. She pointed to the old structure and I moved in for a closer look. There
was a small opening, too small for me to get through, but it looked just big
enough for Angela to be able to squeeze through.

“Here, let me help you in,” I said
as I took her small soft hand and helped her up onto the crumbled brick pile
and to the opening.

I kept hold of her hand as she climbed
into the opening and squeezed through the tight space.

Before she was in all the way, I
heard a noise from behind us and whirled towards it in reaction. I didn’t see
anything, but I listened carefully as I scanned the dark space for movement.

I felt a sudden sharp pain in the
hand Angela was still holding.

As I snapped my gaze back, I saw the
blonde from the club holding my hand, only half of her body on my side of the
wall. Her hand was covered in a black glove, tipped with shiny silver spikes which
were partially embedded in my hand. The confusion delayed my reaction as she smiled
and pulled me towards the wall.

The force of the pull threw me
off of my feet and I sailed forward, not into the wall, but through it. I passed
through like there was nothing there, no pressure, nothing but air. When I slammed
to the ground, the blackness of the tunnels suddenly turned into a blinding
light.

I struggled to my feet and tried to
focus my eyes, stepping back to take in my surroundings.

The blonde girl was standing,
smiling at me, about ten feet to my right. The smile was both playful and
menacing at the same time. She was wearing the same leather outfit as before. I
didn’t see Angela anywhere.

Once my eyes had a chance to
adjust to the sudden light, I could see it wasn’t as bright as I had initially thought.
The dimly lit room we were in was vast with a high ceiling. The state of the space
was much better than the basement underneath the Cross, with dark heavy
curtains of black and shades of red and gold adorning most of the walls. In the
center of the room was a large chair set up high off of the floor carved from a
dark wood. It had the look of some type of gothic royal court.

The air carried a strong floral scent,
an overwhelming attack of lavender. I’d never really cared much for lavender. I
didn’t see anyone else in the room but the blonde girl still staring at me,
smiling the same smile.

“You’re awfully quiet Michael,”
she said, finally breaking the silence.

I stepped away a few additional
feet. “Yeah, well, I’m usually a man of few words.”

“Where’s the little girl?”

She just laughed a mocking shrill
laugh. You’re a little dense aren’t you? A little slow?” She paced with my
movements, never getting any closer, but not letting me get any farther.

“Maybe, but I think I’m also a
little more sane than you. I’m not the raving lunatic you obviously are,” was my
clever retort. Well, at least I found it to be clever.

“Where are the little girls, officer
Raymond, and the man you took last night?” I demanded with a raised voice.

“Oh, you must mean Wally. Dear
sweet Wally. Well, now that I think about it, I have tasted sweeter,” she said as
she licked my blood from the tips of her glove and then added “he’s dead,” in a
matter of fact manner.

A wave of revulsion and anger raged
through me. In one seamless movement, I had one of my guns un-holstered and in
my right hand, pointed at her.

“Ok, where are the others,” I
demanded with my finger on the trigger.

She just laughed again and said “now
who said you could bring that with you? That’s not playing fair.”

I was about to again demand an
answer when I felt the weapon squirming in my hand, except it didn’t feel like
the cold hard metal of the weapon.

I looked down, saw I was no
longer holding my gun, but one of the large spiders. Its hairy body squirmed and
writhed under my grip with its dark black eyes staring maliciously at me.

“Ahh,” I yelled out and threw the
nasty little thing down.

“What the hell? What’s with the freaking
spiders?”

She laughed again and looked at
the ground. “You are so easy.”

I followed her stare and saw my
gun laying a few feet in front of me, right where I had tossed the spider. I
guess she was right. I was slow, because it was just then I finally figured out
what was going on.

Somehow, she was making me see
things that weren’t there. She was able to get into my mind and alter my
perceptions. It was probably similar to the way I could hear thoughts or how
Sara could make objects move. It explained what had happened at the Cross.
Also, there was no little girl, it had been her. She was like me. That was her
ability.

“I think he has figured you out,
Angel,” said a booming male voice from somewhere in the room.

I didn’t see anyone else at
first, but then, from behind one of the curtains, came a tall man dressed in a
black business suit. He had a pale handsome face with dark long hair that hung neatly
to each side, and a neatly trimmed beard. Underneath the suit he was wearing a
dark grey shirt and a solid black neck tie. The black shoes looked perfectly
polished.

If the whole situation was weird
before, it had just gotten a whole lot weirder. Now who was that guy?

“I’d like to welcome you, Michael,
to our home. Angel told me about you when she returned last night. I knew you
would stop by. We’ve been expecting you.”

“Who are you? What is this
place?” I was more than a little concerned by the idea they had been expecting me.

“You can call me Peter and this
is our home.”

“Okay, I was hoping for a little
more than that.”

“Of course,” replied Peter with a
dry laugh. “This place, a place discarded and forgotten by time, along with
others like it are the only places for us to call home, for now. Soon that will
no longer be true.”

There was a pause, I guessed for
dramatic effect, before he continued.

“We’re different from the people who
live and breathe above us. Like this place; our kind has also been forgotten by
time, remembered only in part in story and legend. What we are and what we can
do is so much greater. We are titans, gods amongst those who live above us. There
are a lot of names for us, but you are probably most familiar with vampire.”

I hadn’t expected that at the end
of his James Earl Jones-esque monologue.

“You think you’re vampires,” I said
mockingly, not able to suppress a laugh, “Just because you’re clearly insane and
have a blood fetish doesn’t mean you’re vampires.”

In an instant, Peter was upon me.
I hadn’t anticipated the speed at which he moved. Before I could react, he grabbed
the front of my shirt and threw me across the room. I landed at the bottom of
the large wooden chair, but quickly recovered back to my feet. He moved fast, a
lot faster than I could have.

Still standing where he had
thrown me he said “as you can see, there is more to it than that.”

“You mean enhanced strength,
speed, etc, etc. Yeah, I have seen it before. Oh yeah and probably enhanced
healing. Not impressed. In fact…” I trailed off and moved towards him to attack.

After covering only half of the
distance I stopped. I hadn’t intended on stopping, but I did. I wanted to knock
the goth theater major from hell on his butt, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t make
myself move from where I stood.

The sensation was strange. It
wasn’t that I couldn’t move at all because I could move and shift where I stood.
It was more that I couldn’t make myself go any further. I wanted to, but I just
couldn’t. Suddenly, I was terrified.

Peter started towards me. His
walk was slow and steady, very casual.

“Yes, I do mean all of those
things, but there is more and I know you have seen it all before, because you
are one of us,” Peter explained.

“You think I’m a vampire?
Seriously?” What else could I even have said to that? I was still terrified by
the fact I had no control of my body, but the absurdity of his statement made me
laugh.

“You may not have known what you
were, none of us did, but you will soon see you are one of us.”

“Vut? Are you going to put me
under your thrall?” I said in my best attempt at a Transylvanian accent.

He didn’t acknowledge my attempt
at humor. He may not have really been one of the walking undead, but his
personality made that questionable.

“Our kind was put here by some
higher power, for a divine purpose and destiny. You will join us on our path. This
is now where you belong. You, like others before you, will add to our numbers and
someday we will rise up and show the ordinary humans the meaning of their
existence is to serve and sustain us.”

I wondered how long he’d
practiced his speech. Did people really buy the crap he was selling? Did he
really believe it?

I shook my head. “Sorry, can’t do
that. I never had a taste for blood plus, I am not a freaking vampire, and
neither are you.”

Still, I couldn’t make myself
move. The sensation was almost unexplainable. I was paralyzed to move at my own
will.

“Why don’t you have a seat Michael,”
Peter said.

I was just about to refuse. I felt
vocalization of my defiance was necessary. Instead I did what he asked. I sat without
a word. What was wrong with me?

Peter looked at me and smiled
like I was an ignorant child. “I guess you’re wondering why you can’t come at
me like I can see you so want to.”

“The thought did cross my mind.”

I couldn’t convince myself to get
back up. It was almost like my mind and body were separate.

Peter slowly walked around me,
his arms behind his back.

“Those of our kind each possess
certain gifts or talents, and the gift I possess enables me to make you see the
truth. You may not believe in yourself or what you are now, but that will
change. You will see who you are. You will hunger for the taste of human
nourishment and when you finally do taste, you will see your full potential.
Their blood gives us our strength, it gives us what we need to realize the full
scope of our talents.”

“Sorry pal, I’m okay in the whole
self-confidence arena. I believe plenty in myself and I know enough about who I
am. I’ve gotten by just fine without what you call human nourishment. A
cheeseburger and fries work fine for me.”

“Silence,” Peter boomed. Again, I
was reminded of the deep voice of Lord Vader.

I obeyed his command only because
I couldn’t do anything else. He went on.

“I appeared in the world with no
memory or past. I awoke, naked and alone, lying on the cold earth. I tried searching
for the answers to who I was and where I’d come from and it didn’t take long
before I started to notice I was different. There were things I could do no one
else could. Already feeling I didn’t belong anywhere, this realization even
further isolated me from the rest of the world. All I wanted was to be
accepted, a part of society, but I couldn’t be. For some time I wandered from
place to place, nowhere in particular, looking for answers, looking for peace.

He seemed focused on some unseen
target at the far side of the room.

“One night I was out walking
through a wooded city park. I often did that during this time of searching and self-discovery.
There was a faint screaming somewhere beyond the trees. It had sounded like
someone needed help. Being able to move faster than others, I was quickly able
to find the spot where the screaming was coming from.

“In a small clearing, I found a
young woman lying on the ground, struggling against a man in a dark ski mask. He
hit the woman in the face and continued forcing her to stay on the ground.
Neither of them saw me approach. Deciding I needed to intervene, I grabbed a
hold of the man and threw him back. I underestimated the strength of my throw and
the man flew several feet before hitting a tree with a crunch. The impact broke
his neck and immediately killed him.

“The broken woman was lying on
the ground, sobbing. I offered her my hand to help her up. With some hesitancy
she took it. Once on her feet she was able to thank me in her shaky weak voice.
She was a beautiful, dark skinned woman. Her dark hair was disheveled and in the
moonlight I could see swelling starting to form on her face. From her lip, dark
blood flowed down her chin. The deep scarlet ran bright against the monochrome
world around it. It was then, in that instant, I realized what I wanted, what I
needed.

“Seeing the blood, seeing her
lick the wound with her tongue, awoke a hunger in me, an uncontrollable desire.
My heart began to beat quickly. I could feel the adrenaline running through my
veins. Without another thought, like instinct, I grabbed a hold of the woman. I
held tightly to her thrashing panicked body as I moved my mouth over hers and
tasted the blood. The thick warm liquid hit my tongue, and the utter
satisfaction it gave, the emptiness it filled, cannot be explained. It’s
something only to be experienced. I needed more than just that small taste so I
held her closer, more tightly and began to suck on the wound, drawing more of
the liquid warmth into my mouth. This felt natural; this primal act felt like
my true self.

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