My name is Rachel Clancy.
Forty-seven years ago, life as humanity understood it ended. Armageddon. Well, that’s what we call it, anyway. What other term works as well to describe the day the Vampires and the Werewolves slaughtered nearly everyone?
For me, all the destruction happened so long ago I almost never think about it. I’m much more concerned with what just happened and what will be occurring next.
Six months ago, when I turned sixteen, I changed the way life was conducted in the small portion of the planet I called home. I’m not sure how any of it took place. When I let myself dwell on what I did, which I don’t often, it feels as if it were something someone else did. As if I weren’t there at all.
But I know I was.
I have the scars to prove it. One of them on my cheek—long and jagged—out in the open to show the world I survived a Vampire attack. The other is hidden on the inside of my soul—not visible to anyone but me—and it was placed there by a boy, a Werewolf, who betrayed my innocence and will forever hold the title of the first guy to break my heart.
It’s May—we’ve started keeping track of the months again, as they did before Armageddon Day. The weather is beautiful and warm in our tent city, which sits over the remains of Genesis, the habitat where I lived for the first sixteen years of my life.
I can’t help but feel something is coming. Something bad we can’t stop. I haven’t told anyone about this sense I have. It’s not as if I’m psychic or anything. I’ve never been able to predict the future. I’m not even particularly good at figuring out what’s going to happen to me next. But I can’t let this go—not this time—and I’m wondering whether I’m going to have to let someone know about the dread eating away at my stomach lining.
Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I can feel a black cloud of death on the horizon, and it’s going to swallow us all.
“How much longer is this going to take?” I called out my question for the tenth time and still no one answered.
As I squirmed on the table, I dug my hands into the cushions that had been laid down for my “comfort,” but weren’t working, and groaned as my back ached from the torture I’d willingly agreed to endure. Why had I said yes again? Well, I didn’t really have to wonder. I knew why. I’d told Chad and Micah they could tattoo me. If I hadn’t, they would never stop pestering me.
One medium-sized ink design on my left shoulder blade I earned by surviving my Warrior duties and not dying on my sixteenth birthday. The only problem—I had no idea which design they’d chosen, and I hadn’t been given a say. Technically, I should have been “inked” immediately after arriving back at Genesis after my first mission Upward.
Getting a so-called reward right away wasn’t how it had worked for me. My first successful mission—if you could call it such a turn of phrase, given all I’d done was survive when the people in charge would have preferred my death—had ended with them throwing me into jail. After, the Warriors revolted and brought the Genesis community up from our below-ground existence and back to the surface of the Earth.
At the time, tattoos had been the last thing on any of our minds, which suited me fine. I would have been cool with forgetting it all together. Only my friends hadn’t forgotten, didn’t think it was okay to leave it alone, and I paid the price for succumbing to peer pressure.
“Relax, Rachel,” Micah finally answered.
He being the one to answer ramped up my anxiety, considering he was the one making the permanent markings on my back with his needle, ink, and whatever else he was using to cause so much pain. It was as though a bee stung me over and over again, which really sucked. A one month before, a real bee stung me. If I’d known tattooing would recreate the experience, I would have run and hidden from it.
“What are you doing to her?” Tia. I let out a breath I’d been holding. She’d been training all day and hadn’t been able to come with us for the torment. The fact she was there meant Micah had been poking at me for hours.
“We’re almost done.” Micah didn’t sound at all concerned with his sister’s questioning. Tia might be my best friend, but she was his little sister, and her opinion mattered only slightly more than a dead rodent to him.
I closed my eyes and groaned again.
“Why aren’t the two of you comforting her?”
Yes, hers was a question I had been asking silently for some time. Chad and Deacon insisted on attending this craziness, and neither of them had uttered a word since they’d stepped into the room. I was used to them behaving like juveniles around each other. They both seemed convinced I was seconds away from choosing which one of them would be my boyfriend. They acted as if they gave an inch in the other’s presence, I might pick the other guy. It was nonsense.
I wasn’t picking a boyfriend. I’d been down the love road and left sitting on the ground, abandoned, with my heart broken. I needed heartsick pain again like I needed to get scratched by another Vampire.
I could have screamed with relief. Instead, I sat up and turned around to catch Tia’s attention. “Well? What is it? How does it look?”
She smiled, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It’s a little red, which is to be expected, considering you’re pale-skinned, but I have to say it’s a beautiful design. Micah did a great job.”
Tia was gorgeous, like a star from one of the movies I sometimes used to watch when we lived in the habitat. She reminded me of Audrey Hepburn with slightly lighter-colored hair. She’d been my best friend since we were babies. I was six months older, so I guess technically we’d been best friends since her birth.
If she told me it was beautiful, then it must be.
“What is it?” I slid off the table onto shaky legs. Chad and Deacon reached out to grab me. I appreciated the effort, but not the grandstanding. Once I was steady, I made a show of pushing their hands away.
Micah shrugged. “It’s a fairy. A pixie, actually.”
For a second, my heart stuttered. Jason, the Werewolf who had broken my heart only six months before, had nicknamed me using the same term. He’d referred to me as “pixie girl.” I’d never told anyone, not even Tia. How could any of them have known?
My silence must have made Micah nervous, since he started speaking really fast.
“I’ve always thought you reminded me of a fairy, like out of a children’s book.”
Chad finally remarked, “He told me about the idea before you left for your first night out, and I decided it fit you because you’ve always had this kind of ethereal way about you.”
I hadn’t even seen it yet and I was ruining everyone’s happiness. I smiled what I hoped was a bright and cheerful grin and walked to the mirror to examine my new symbol.
“I’m surprised. I’ve never envisioned myself as a fairy or a pixie.” I’d learned to lie to make others more comfortable. It frightened me how adept I’d gotten at it.
I stared at the design in the mirror. Tia was right; I was a little bit red and it burned like I’d had a hot iron pressed to my skin. Even with all of the uncomfortable emotional baggage, I could see Micah had done a beautiful job on the design.
The fairy was multicolored. Redheaded like myself, she was dressed in lilac. Her wings were gold with a splattering of silver dust throughout. Unlike me, the fairy on my back was unscarred. Her blue eyes stared out into the distance, seeing something the rest of us couldn’t.
For a second, I wished she were alive. She’d be useful to have in battle. She could tell me when someone was coming at me from behind. I smiled. If wishes were granted, I’d be living with a bunch of friendly Werewolves, spending the day basking in the glow of my boyfriend’s adoration.
Oh, well. Wishes might come true, just not for me.
I turned around and grinned at Micah. “It’s perfect.” I walked over to him and pulled him into a friendly embrace.
I’d spent years crushing on Micah. But after I’d come back from my time away in the woods, and had my heart utterly trampled on by Jason Ulysses Kenwood, I’d found my feelings for Micah had vanished right along with my unscarred face. We really were like brother and sister, which was how Micah had always treated me.
His older brother, Chad, however, was an entirely different story. After my return, I discovered he’d harbored intense feelings for me for years.
I glanced at Chad and Deacon, the boy he believed a rival for my attention. They were both awfully quiet.
“Don’t like it?”
Deacon jumped off the table he’d been sitting on. “No. I think you’re too badass for fairies.”
Micah whirled. “Don’t hate on the art, man.”
There was no love lost between Deacon and the Lyons family. I feared all the animosity had to do solely with me. It made me ill. Deacon’s family, if they were still alive, resided underground in warehouses operated by the Vampires and Werewolves. At this very second, monsters we fought every day might be consuming them. Deacon needed a family as I had always needed one. Maybe I was supposed to be independent, but I still liked knowing the Lyons were there for me, since my own father was not.
Deacon barely raised an eyebrow. “She asked.”
“Yeah.” Micah nodded. “What would you have given her?”
Deacon smiled, and my heart turned over. I didn’t know what it was about him that left me flustered. Maybe it was the dimple, maybe it was the “I don’t really give a crap” attitude he walked around with, but from the moment I’d first spotted Deacon in a cage in a Vampire cavern, I’d been unable to stay away from him. It was almost as if we were connected somehow. I wasn’t sure I liked it.
“I’d have given Rachel a sword. She’s a Warrior, boys, not a fairy princess.”
He nodded to me and left the room. I felt immediately bereft at the loss of his presence, but I was probably the only one who did.
A few months earlier, I’d tried to set him up with Tia. They were both gorgeous. If they ever got married, their children would have gloriously high cheekbones, but he kept insisting he would wait until I got over my “Wolf fetish.”
Chad exhaled loudly. “Well, now that he’s gone, can I say I think the tattoo is beautiful? If he’s too dense to see you’re both a fairy princess and a warrior, then he doesn’t deserve you.”
My cheeks heated at Chad’s words. If Deacon’s presence made me stammer, Chad’s made me heat up inside. Poets, if there were any left living, would envy his ability to use words. The weird thing was, he meant everything he said, which made no sense to me, because I didn’t understand how he saw beauty in me. Not anymore.
Maybe not ever again.
I was so scarred little children pointed and stared at me. I’d never been beautiful, and now, six months before my seventeenth birthday, I was barely recognizable. Yet these crazy boys wouldn’t leave me alone. Maybe they all needed glasses.
Wow, I needed to change the subject. I was uncomfortable in a way only Chad could make me, and my back burned from my newly acquired ink.
“Tia, are you ready?”
The long-awaited event of Tia’s entrance into full-fledged Warriorhood should happen tonight. She’d been waiting for this moment for so long. I was sure I could get her talking about it and some of the attention off me.
Tia shrugged. “Yeah, it’s not like any of you are going to let me fight.”
Micah rolled his eyes and walked away from her. “I promise you, there are plenty of monsters to go around.”
He was right. Lately, the Vampires had steadily increased their attacks. We were holding the line, but we weren’t winning; maybe “maintaining” would be more accurate. The “grownups” were worried, even if they weren’t telling the younger Warriors about it. Yet. They might as well have told us, considering we already knew.
I’d never paid attention to politics until Dr. Isaac Icahn—the man credited with saving humanity from the monsters—repeatedly tried to have me killed. He’d also been exposed as the person responsible for destroying everything forty-seven years before. It was only thanks to my father’s irresponsible act of leaving a fight when he himself was a Warrior while I was a baby, which had gotten Icahn’s daughter killed. I didn’t like being left in the dark. If the things happening were going to affect our lives or blow up in our faces, we should be told about them. Either we were old enough to handle adult responsibilities or we weren’t.
Tia continued, “I know how it’s going to go. I’m going to get out there and you’re all going to protect me. I won’t get to use any of my skills.”
Chad walked to her. He was tall and dark, like his father. Where Patrick’s eyes were cold with years of worry, Chad’s dark brown depths were intense, almost all-seeing when he regarded me. Right now, he turned that power on Tia.
“Do you think it’s actually possible to protect someone out there? If it were, we wouldn’t keep non-Warriors locked down all night. Once you’re out there with us, in the woods, and it’s us versus them, everything changes. With the whole fate of every non-Warrior on your small shoulders, you’ll see—it’s different. You either make it or you don’t. None of us will be able to help you much.”
I held my breath, waiting for Tia, to see if she was taking in what he’d said to her, to see if she really got it. Tia sighed and glanced away as she walked to the window overlooking the Genesis promenade. Only Warriors were allowed into Genesis these days. Even though I believed it highly unlikely, everyone believed there was still a possibility Genesis could go boom at any time. It was considered too high a risk for the general population.
Finally, I spoke. “What’s really wrong, Tia?”
She turned and smiled at me. “I’m thinking about a guy.”
Chad and Micah gasped as if they’d been struck. Micah held up his hands. “Don’t say any more. I don’t want to think about you and any guy. I’m leaving before the two of you have this conversation.”
Turning on his heel, he stalked from the room faster than I’d ever seen him move, except during a Vampire assault.
Chad smiled as he shook his head. “I think I’ll take his lead on this one. See you tonight, Rachel.”
I nodded and tried not to grin. When they’d finally left the room, I burst into laughter. “Your brothers are terrified of the idea of you dating.”
“Yeah, well, as of tomorrow there isn’t a thing they can do about it.”
I raised my eyebrows to show my disbelief. “You don’t think so? They could make whoever this guy is miserable. In case you didn’t notice, your family is pretty darn powerful around here.”
She walked over to me. “Don’t you want to know who it is?”
“Of course.” I nodded. “If you want to tell me.”
“It’s Glen.” Her face took on a dreamy quality when she said his name.
I nearly threw up in my mouth. “Glen?”
The same Glen who’d made my life miserable with his snide remarks and difficult behavior every day I’d been in school with him? She had to be kidding.
She shrugged. “I know you don’t like him. I know he was mean to you. It was because he was insecure. He’s been nicer lately, don’t you think? I’ve been talking to him about his behavior.”
Now that she mentioned it, the few times I’d seen him lately, he had been more pleasant. “You’ve been talking to him about his behavior? So this is actually something that’s going on—you and Glen? It’s not something you’re thinking about.”
Frankly, I was as hurt as hell she hadn’t confided any of this before. How could Tia have a boyfriend I knew nothing about?
“Look, I know this is shocking to you. Glen and I are not together. We can’t be until tomorrow, when I’m legal. You know my parents are strict about dating stuff. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but it’s not like you’ve been around much for the last six months. I did have to find something to do while you saved the world and I was left at home twiddling my thumbs.”
Tia’s snide tone told me she was angry. Tia’s hostility often meant only one thing—she felt guilty about something. I tried to hear past the rudeness to what she was saying to me.
I crossed my arms in a defensive gesture. Tia and I rarely fought. Whenever we did—the few occurrences—I always felt ill, as though my whole world was going to end.
“I didn’t know you felt left out. I never wanted you to be alone. Why didn’t you say something?”
She threw her hands into the air. “When should I have? Any time you’re not kicking monsters back to their lairs, my brother and Deacon surround you. They never leave you alone for a second.”
I agreed with her about the guys. “I didn’t ask them to. In fact, I’ve asked them not to.”
She nodded. “I know. I’m not really mad at you, Rachel. I don’t like explaining myself. You weren’t there—not your fault. Glen was, and we connected. He didn’t get to fight until last week. He’s only a week older than I am. Tomorrow he’s going to start publicly courting me.”
Tia’s family was old-fashioned about how they pursued love and romance, but the same was true of many Genesis families. With such a small, localized community, the dating couple had to state their intentions up front if they wanted to be considered respectable. Apparently, Glen was willing to and, in retrospect, it was what Chad had done for me.
Not that I’d encouraged Chad’s intentions. I bit my lip. Well, sometimes I had. I did like the way he flirted with me. Did his parents believe I wasn’t being respectable with him? The idea made my stomach hurt. I’d hate to have the Lyons family think badly of me. With my own father drunk more often than not, they were the only family I had in the world.
“If he makes you happy, then I’m happy for you. He did really well his first day out.”
As well as could be expected, anyway. Probably best not to tell Tia he’d vomited behind a tree after his first encounter with a Vampire. It was a Warrior code. Everyone freaked out sometimes, but whatever happened out there stayed out there. You never discussed it again. Your first night out fighting was an appropriate time to have a freak-out.
Tia’s face lit. “I’ve really felt bad not talking to you about this stuff. You’re closer than a sister to me.”
I pulled her into a tight hug, ignoring the pain rippling from my tattoo. “I feel the same way.”
It was really important I do a better job of taking care of my friendship with Tia. I couldn’t take it for granted or I might lose her.
Withdrawing slightly, I studied her. “So, tell me about Glen.”
I never heard her answer. Overcome with the cold, sick feeling that always hit my body before a Vampire attacked, I nearly hit the floor in agony. I could tell when Vampires and Werewolves were coming much sooner than anyone else. Having survived almost being killed, I had been left exceptionally attuned to the presence of monsters. The severity of each instance was linked directly to how many I sensed.
This was a bad one. The cold seemed to be rending my body in half. I tried to breathe through the pain as I attempted to identify the source, or at least the direction they were coming from.
Tia screamed and grabbed me. “Something coming?”
She’d never seen me have an attack before, since she’d always been shielded and away from the fray. It went against protocol that she’d even come down to Genesis instead of waiting upstairs with the other non-Warriors. Her family status meant the others often looked the other way when she broke a rule.
I could barely speak, but I got my reply out through clenched teeth. “Yes. Lots. Of. Vampires.”
“But we’re in Genesis. Have they busted through the elevators?”
No. They were closer than the elevators. I shook my head as I squirmed out of her arms. I was long since over being afraid of my abilities. At first, I’d believed I was insane, the way I felt monsters other couldn’t. Now that I knew what I could do, I could help everyone by staying calm and identifying what I felt.
I moved, letting the intensity of the pain guide me in the direction I needed to go. I reached out with my arm. It felt as if the monsters were right in front of me. Yes, I could almost touch them. My hand hit concrete and I jolted backward.
Tia watched me, her mouth hanging open. She pointed at the wall. “There? The Vampires are past the wall?”
I nodded as I moved toward the door to the room. I needed distance from my pain to sort out what was happening. If I was right—and so far I always had been—the Vampires had brought their underground lairs right up against Genesis’ outer wall.
We are in so much trouble.