The Beginning… The sound of her screams reached him as he neared the dorm. Pausing at the threshold, the man stepped inside. Death and the wind were at his back. Dozens of hollow-eyed students turned to observe his presence. Fear had twisted their youthful faces into horrific masks. A few of them wept. Others clung together as another scream echoed into the night. The man flinched. Then he steeled himself against all emotion. His kind was supposed to feel nothing. He made his way through the crowd, students eagerly shuffling aside to let him pass. It was as if somehow they sensed in him the power to end her suffering. When a young man dressed only in boxers and a lettered shirt stepped forward from a cluster of solemn dorm mates, the man stopped. He recognized the boy. “You are William. You are the one who called.” “Yes, sir,” the young man said while nodding. His eyes were wide and frightened as he pointed ahead to a closed door painted prison grey. “She’s in there, sir.” The man looked at the door, and then back at the boy. “Is she alone?” William’s shoulders slumped with embarrassment. “I tried to stay with her but…” his voice trailed, dropping to a hoarse whisper. “She looks bad, sir. She wouldn’t stop screaming for me to get out. I got scared. I’m sorry.” “It’s alright, son. You have done well.” The man laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder with an encouraging smile that reflected none of the sadness he felt. “She’s going to be okay.” But her cries were becoming more tormented by the second. He quickly continued down the hall to the grey door. Behind it, he found her all alone. Her thin, pale body was curled on a beaten sofa in the center of the room. She was drenched in sweat. Dark hair plastered against her face, framing a beautiful canvas contorted with anguish. He placed a hand gently on her forehead. Her eyes fluttered open. “Daddy?” “I’m here, sweetheart. Everything is fine now.” Sobbing in relief even as another surge of agony ransacked her strength, she gritted her teeth. “It hurts.” Squeezing her hand, he spoke in a voice thick with regret. “I know. I’m sorry. Letting you come here was a mistake. I’ve waited too long.” She was lost in the pain and didn’t seem to hear him. “I see horrible things. I did horrible things. There was so much blood.” It hurt him terribly to see her in such distress. No matter what the others said, this girl had truly been his daughter. But right now, his love for her could not matter. He had a job to do. There were things he needed to know. There were questions he had to ask. “What do you see?” “Bodies, hundreds of bodies littering the ground…” The words broke off as she rolled with another wave of misery. “They’re burned…old and young, women and children.” She sobbed again. “I think I burned them.” “I’m going to give you something to stop the pain. It will help you sleep.” “Please hurry, Daddy. Make it stop.” Her body shuddered. “I can’t take any more of this.” She lifted her head, giving him a good look at her face. Surging veins had crept like black spiders from the corners of her eyes, transforming the surrounding skin into dark pools. She was deteriorating rapidly. If the process wasn’t slowed, the human form would soon be lost. He kicked himself for making such a foolish mistake, for letting emotion get in the way of duty. It could have jeopardized everything. He hurried into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later carrying a red mug filled with steaming liquid. “Can you sit up?” She nodded and struggled upright. She took the mug. “Drink all of it,” he said and helped steady her hands. The liquid smelled awful. But after the first sip, her violent trembles began to subside. She downed the rest without hesitation, draining the mug until the last drop was gone. The grey tint that had taken over receded as the color of her skin returned to normal. The girl peered at her hands. They no longer shook. An uncertain smile spread across her face. “It’s over.” He shook his head. “No. We must start over,” he said sadly. “I don’t understand.” He stood from the couch and held out a hand. “Come with me.” “What?” She yawned sleepily. Everything about her was like a normal teenager again. “Dad, I can’t. I have finals tomorrow.” “Come with me,” he repeated. She took his hand and let the empty mug fall to the couch. He led her out into the hall where everyone waited anxiously, some visibly grateful to see the young woman leave. Averting her gaze to the floor, she avoided their eyes. “Everyone’s staring,” she muttered. “They were worried about you.” He reached back and drew the girl forward to his side, planting a kiss atop her hair. As they reached the front door, he saw her try to stifle another yawn. Even the crisp night air couldn’t shake the veil of drowsiness that would lower over her mind. “Dad, I’m really tired.” “You can sleep on the way.” He smiled again. To him, the reassurance felt forced and painful because on the inside, his heart was breaking. He hoped his daughter wouldn’t know it. Wrapping her arms about him, she hugged him tightly and buried her head into his shirt like she had when she was little. On this night, he couldn’t hug her back. Afraid that if he did, he wouldn’t be able to let go. What he had to do was cruel. He wished he didn’t have to. To have so much power and still be powerless was a wretched existence. # It was daylight when she awoke. The car wasn’t moving and the girl was alone inside. She recognized nothing of the surroundings, had no idea how far her father had driven. It wasn’t unusual for him to whisk her away on a spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway to the beach. Her father’s spontaneity was one of the things she loved most about him. But this wasn’t the beach. And the girl was positive she’d mentioned to him that she had a final to take—she glanced at her watch—in three hours. Sighing, she opened the door and slid out of the car. The sound of a child’s laughter came drifting through the trees. Joined with it was another voice she easily recognized. With growing curiosity, she started up the hill. Her feet sank into the moist carpet of undergrowth as she walked beneath trees of brightly changing foliage. Fallen heralds of orange, red, and yellow hues blanketed the ground. Not far away, on the other side of a patch of dense forest, the girl found her father. Oddly enough, he was entertaining a small child. The two of them sat in an amply filled sand box, busily constructing a castle with the aid of a small bucket and plastic shovel. The little girl’s hair was like her own, as black and shiny as a raven’s feathers. She was four years old at most. Looking up, her father saw her. No emotion crossed his face. “Hello.” She stopped a few yards short. “Hi.” After the mostly uphill hike, her reply was somewhat breathless. “Hi,” the child greeted her happily. Deep brown eyes and a winning smile made her truly a rare beauty, even at such a young age. The young woman turned to her father, her entire face a question. She waited for some sort of explanation. His golden hair ruffled in the breeze as he nodded toward the child. “I found her for you.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand. Where are we?” “Please come and sit,” he said quietly. Hesitant at first, her feet didn’t move until the little girl echoed the man’s words, “Please come and sit with us.” She accepted the invitation and sat in the sandbox. Her legs automatically folded to mirror the child. “Did you dream last night?” “No.” “Good. I’d hoped the tea would help.” He took her hand. His grasp was both tender and desperate. “I promise you, this will be the last time.” “What’s going on?” Although she trusted her father with her very life, his behavior worried her. As they conversed, the little girl had never paused at play. “And this is the tower for the princess,” she announced proudly, while molding a lopsided chunk of sand. Her father gazed down at the child fondly. “Why does the princess need a tower? Shouldn’t princesses be allowed to be free?” The child paused thoughtfully. Then she shook her head, sending a mass of radiant curls bouncing in the morning sun. “No. The prince can’t find her unless she’s in a tower.” He smiled and turned to his daughter again. “Yes…it is time for the prince to find her.” He took the child’s hand and pressed it into his daughter’s. The young woman stared in bewilderment as a warm glow filled her inside and out. Then, as if someone had flicked a switch, everything went dark. She slumped forward. The man caught her lifeless body, easing it down gently onto the sand. Then he leaned over and kissed the child’s forehead softly. “I will always be close.” Not moving, the child sat wide-eyed, staring blankly at nothing. Hoisting the body of the young woman into his arms, he quietly strode away with tears streaming down his face. The trees hid him from view as the little girl blinked twice and resumed building the tower in the sandbox.
Excerpt from Blood Chained When another presence entered the locker room, Kali halted her pacing. “You’re late,” she said without turning around. He hadn’t made a sound, but somehow she felt him. That was happening a lot lately. “Sorry. But I seem to have my own classes to attend. And they’re across town, at the university.” Callan’s blue eyes seemed happy to see her. His voice was light and teasing, a stark contrast to the sharpness in hers. Scowling, he glanced around the small space that smelled of female hormones and sweat. “Tell me again why you insist on meeting here.” She folded her arms. “You know I can’t sneak away from the boys. It wouldn’t be fair to them. And it could be dangerous.” “Okay. I accept that.” He took a step closer. “But you can at least stop being so uptight.” He fingered a stray curl, only making her heart ache even more for Rhane. “Everyone is working together to keep you safe.” She didn’t move away. “I know.” “It’s always good to see you.” He came even closer, invading her intimate space as if it were his to claim. She could tell he was hungry to touch her, to be touched. To be used. She hated it when he got like this. He was a tool, an object of convenience. Nothing more could ever evolve of their situation. But sometimes, it was like Cal had forgotten the terms of their arrangement. Taking a seat on the bench put more distance between them. She hoped the move would help remove some of the heat from Cal’s eyes. Unfortunately, it also meant he now towered over her. The position of dominance only elevated the tension. She needed to change the subject. “Why are you attending classes? Surely, Gabriel the mastermind has better things to do than study English 101. Scheming for world conquest sounds more up his alley.” Cal smiled. “Oh he’s scheming alright.” He took a seat next to her, watching her face earnestly. “I still have a life of my own.” “No.” She closed her eyes. “You forfeited your life to Gabriel.” “I’m here now.” “And so is he. His fate is your fate. You can never be without him.” She didn’t understand how Cal failed to understand that. “We’ll have to agree to disagree, babe.” He reached for her, stopping when she pulled away. His brow wrinkled. “Are we doing this or not?” “You know I have to.” “Then stop being so cold.” “I don’t enjoy this.” “I think you do, sometimes.” A knife of pain stabbed into Kali’s chest and twisted. Was it guilt? Did Cal’s words hold some truth? She bit her lip. The hurt it brought grounded her thoughts to the task at hand. “Let’s get it over with.” Cal rolled his eyes. “That’s better.” She frowned. “This is strictly business.” “Right,” he agreed, but didn’t sound convinced. Kali didn’t care if he agreed. She only needed him for one thing. Still, his hands were eager as they beckoned her closer, held her so tenderly against him. His lips closed around her mouth, cool to the touch. He remembered well and sought to please her, stroking everywhere she liked. Her ears, the back of her neck, the swell of her breast—his gentle caresses found the most sensitive parts of her, coaxing Kali into heightened arousal. She had felt more with him than with any other before Rhane. But with Cal there was always darkness. Feeding from him left her with angry thoughts and violent urges almost too compelling to resist. Daily matches against the kin helped channel those powerful inclinations, giving her rage an outlet. But when Kali reached for his spark…this time things were different. Threads of light had woven into the darker pitch of his aura. Intense purples and royal blues replaced black and gray emptiness. Something had tempered the savage coldness, cultured his humanity. Cal was different. Nearly losing the moment when his hands slipped beneath her blouse, Kali redirected her focus. She had to take the necessary energy hard and fast. The more he touched her, the deeper he fell. The more things got confusing. She needed to get this over quickly for both their sakes. Pressing her hands on either side of his face, Kali drank deeply, urgently. Cal’s lips grew colder. His fingers chilled against her skin. Still, she drank. His spark dimmed and darkened, almost recoiling from her touch. But she pulled it back, sating her thirst. His fingers tightened, dug painfully into her skin. A tremor rippled through his body. Cal shuddered, sagged against her. Then she released him. Cal sat dazed for several long moments. Then his eyes cleared and he jerked as if suddenly emerging from deep sleep. He was panting as he stood up, wobbling unsteadily on his feet. “Shit, Kal.” He moved away from her, to the corner of the room. “Did you have to take so much?” “Sorry. The hunger is getting worse.” “I can’t say I haven’t noticed. What are we up to, twice a week now?” “Sometimes three.” Her reply was absent. She straightened her clothes, busy considering something weighing on her mind for a while now. “I need to figure out how to do this without making out with you. I’ve fed without intimacy once before. I know it’s possible.” “You don’t have to.” Though he still sounded a tad breathless, Cal moved close to her again. “I prefer things this way.” “And you know I don’t.” Hurt written plainly in his expression, she regretted her words. There was no sign of the arrogant and selfish boy she dated a year ago. “He left you, Kali.” “He’s coming back.” His fingers squeezed her wrist, and those piercing blue eyes locked onto hers. “But what if he doesn’t?” “Callan, don’t.” Fearing what holding that gaze would to do him, she pulled away to gather her things. It was time to go. But Cal wasn’t ready to leave yet. “If things were different…we could have a chance.” His face was hopeful, imploring for something Kali couldn’t give. “I can make you happy this time. I know it.” “I appreciate all you’ve done for me…everything you keep doing.” She averted her eyes, unable to look at him. It seemed that she was destined to hurt him. Her very design made it unavoidable. “But Rhane is my soul mate. I will find him. And I will bring him home.”