Native Dawn Series Part 2/ Rogue Dawn Book 1 Candace and Will's Story
By: J. Lynn Scott
The night was filled with the sounds of battle. The unearthly moans of the dying shattered the peaceful sanctity of the woods. Screams of terror echoed through the darkness. The air was thick with the scent of blood and the cloying, sweet stench of death. Although their opponents were out numbered, defeat hung like a shroud over their heads. Optimism at Her promise of victory was far too quickly replaced by terror.
Bent on conquest and vengeance, Her message was clear. Fight or die. Some followed Her out of fear, some out of loyalty and some, because they had no escape. No other way out but to fight or die. Perhaps, death would have been easier than living under the shadow of Her promised retribution. Death, at least, would be merciful.
And so, the brave, the courageous, those blindsided by their devotion, and the ones willing to take their chances, who saw the hopelessness of the battle and stepped out on the blood soaked field anyway, fought. There were a few, not willing to die and not willing to fight, who bided their time, went into the heat of the battle, and when the time was right, slipped away into the shelter of the woods. Willing to take their chances, they ran and they kept running, and running, and running. Never knowing when their day of reckoning would come. Only that one day, it would.
Candice looked up at the orange glow high up on the horizon. She heard the shouts and cheers of celebration echoing from the walls of the bluffs. These were shouts of joy and triumph. Not the voices of the evil they were taught to fear and ordered to fight. For weeks she'd grappled with the small kernel of guilt buried deep in her soul. Guilt at running. Guilt for not trying harder to save anyone else but herself. Did she have some measure of guilt for not dying with the others? Hell no. She only wished that she'd been able to save more.
Marcus absolved her of any guilt. He was her Father Confessor. And her guilt, the cross he willingly bore. He hauled her out of the woods. Came up with the plan. And kept her feet moving, always moving, when all she wanted to do was stay still and die. He was a good man, and she, the bruised spot, the imperfection on his otherwise perfect flesh. There was one guilt he could never bear in her stead. Her guilt for dragging him back to the place where it all began. And her reasons were selfish, beyond selfish.
Before, she'd been so naïve about the world, an innocent lamb that didn't know any better. She was innocent and naïve. Devout in her belief, that the world was good. That people were good. But, then again, the people who were the darkest and most evil weren't always people at all. And what they'd done to her, to them all, was beyond inhumane.
Nervously, she ran her hand through her chin length brown hair and bit her bottom lip, a leftover habit from before. Marcus encouraged the habit. He thought it made her look more human, more approachable. After all, disguise was the only thing that kept them alive. And after the many weeks of running they'd become masters of the craft.
Her green eyes darted to her companions, flicking between the two faces that had come to mean life to her. To their knowledge, which was limited at best, the three of them were all that managed to find their way out of the woods alive that night. Three out of thirty or forty, so much for Neil's brilliant theories of the odds, because at the time, and as always, they were stacked against them.
The numbers kept changing. Candace was never exactly sure of how many there were. Everything depended on Her mood. She'd kill and replace with equal efficiency. Hers was not the kind of attention one wanted to draw. But somehow, the three of them had managed to stay connected. Actually, it was Marcus who kept her in one piece. It was his idea to run. Neil only tagged along for the ride. And it was a lucky thing for him he did. He was still alive.
Each facial expression was different. Marcus's eyes were shrouded with doubt and had become somewhat resigned to the fact that her insistence that they go back was going to get them killed. Neil's were cautious, never betraying what he really thought. He never said a word when she'd decided it was time to hit the road and come back. He must have thought there was something in it for him. Otherwise, his feet would have never hit the pavement.
Unanswered questions hung in the air around them. Coming back was dangerous, might be suicide. And Candace would have agreed, except for one thing. She had no other choice. Yes, she was selfish. And yes, she felt guilty as hell for dragging them along. Maybe, she should have slipped off. Traveled the long journey back alone. Would have been safer for Marcus to leave him behind. But, after moving heaven and earth, and facing the pits of hell to keep her alive, he wouldn't have let her come back on her own if she'd tried. "Well?" she asked.
Neil merely shrugged and adjusted his position, crouched against the base of a shaggy pine tree. His eyes fixed on the orange glow of the bonfire on the cliffs above. If he was afraid, he didn't show it. To him, life was a gamble. And on the outcome of her decision, he'd anted up the only thing of value he had left, his life. He always said there was nothing as uncertain as life. Candace begged to differ. Even life had one sure outcome. Death. And death, in her opinion, was sure as hell more uncertain as life.
"I guess it's now or never," Marcus said. He lay on his belly on a thick blanket of damp leaves, resting his weight on his elbows, his head extended up, looking at the craggy outcropping of rock overhead. His hand reached for her fingers. Candace gave them to him without hesitation, lacing her fingers through his and locking onto them as if they'd be the last solid thing she'd ever feel on this earth. Who knew? They might be. Wasn't it nice to know that if death, the true death and not this in between Shadowland in which they existed, came for them; they'd face it hand in hand?
Images of her son flashed through her mind. Chance. He was her motivation, her reason for being so selfish. Marcus prided himself for keeping her in one piece. It wasn't him, though. It was Chance. Although, he was an adult, he was still her little boy, always would be. Her Chance. She hadn't run that night because of Marcus or because of herself, but because of him. By this point he probably had given up. He had to believe that she was dead. And Marcus with his street savvy sense of survival had tried to tell her that it was best if he did. But, she just couldn't disappear into the great unknown. Live this life, if that's what it was, without giving him the only gift she could. Closure.
She hoped her absence would keep him safe. The bitch that took her life threatened her, coerced her into obedience, with his. Marcus held her son over her head, like an intangible object, dangling him just out of her reach. 'Do it for Chance,' he'd say. She'd done things she never thought she would do. Horrible things. Evil things. Each and every one of them, she'd done for Chance. Just as Marcus knew she would.
He understood her motivation. If she had only herself to think of, she would have willingly died that night. She wouldn't have let Marcus risk his life for her. She would have been happy do die, welcomed the end with open arms. But, she didn't have that choice. She didn't have any choices. Not when it came to her son. All her options were moot. There was only one, to see her son. Try to explain why she couldn't stay. Tell him goodbye.
"Well, are we going to do this thing or not?" Neil huffed impatiently. Was he really in such a hurry to die? Candace turned her head and scowled over her shoulder, silencing him. Marcus merely squeezed her hand, letting her know where he stood on the subject. They'd move when she was ready. Forwards. Backwards. They'd go wherever she said they'd go. He was simply waiting for her to decide. And her courage, her will to press on, had suddenly abandoned her. She didn't know what to do. Lead them to their deaths or keep running.
There was only one word to describe what it was that she and the others had become. Vampire. Along the way the three of them had come up with their own set of rules. Being taught nothing by the one who turned them into these things, the rules were a combination of what they had read in books, seen in movies, and experienced for themselves first hand. Sunlight wouldn't kill them. Holy water and crosses had no effect. But, blood was an entirely different matter all together. Without it, they'd die. And they'd killed to get it.
What other options were there when it came do to it? Keep running? Always on the move, existing in the shadows while the world they'd once been part of kept on living? She wasn't willing to go on existing like that. The hiding. The lies. Watching, but never taking part. Neither were Marcus and Neil, no matter what had driven them to this point, to the insanity of following her back. One thing was apparent. They were all tired of running.
She hoped there was more to the supposed enemy than death and blood. She hoped somehow she could find her way home again. Get back the life and the son she'd lost. Candace didn't know if she was right. But, something in her gut told her the only way to Chance was with the help of these men. Neil called her a fool. Marcus probably agreed. And it really didn't matter. All three of them were in the same awful predicament, risking their lives because of her love for her son and the blind hope that she'd hold him in her arms once again.
The sky over their heads was lightening with the paleness of the oncoming dawn. Inching out of hiding, she whispered, "Come on." And prayed to God, if God still loved her, that she was right.
Marcus, Neil, and she anxiously scrambled up the steep, rocky hillside of the bluff as the sky brightened from gray to pale blue above them. Candace hesitated for a minute before she clamored over the jagged top of loose, slate gray, shale. "This is for Chance," she whispered and took the final steps.
She felt rough hands wrap around her shoulders and heavy weight pressing down on her, pushing her face first to the ground. She bucked and wiggled beneath the knee planted in between her shoulder blades, pinning her in place. Uselessly, her fingers grappled with the loose shale and winter stubble beneath her. She could barely catch her breath from the force of the weight holding her down. Her body trembled at the sound of cool steel dragging across a leather sheath and the feel of the blade's sharp edge resting at her throat. Swallowing lightly her Adam's apple bobbed against the blade. So, this is how I die, she thought. Without explanation. Without a second chance. Without seeing her son one last time.
Candace lay perfectly still on her belly. The cold steel pressed against her throat and with the hot breath of her captor skating across the back of her neck. "Please," she rasped. As if her begging would have any effect on the man above her or the blade's position.
In her mind's eye, she saw her son. And imagined herself telling him goodbye. His hazel eyes were a mix between her green and his father's brown, always glittering in curiosity. His hair, a cross between his father's rich black and her ordinary mouse brown, was a luxurious shade of deep walnut. And his full lips, like his father's had been, were always turned up in a smile. She was proud of the man he was becoming. Strong and tall, and so headstrong, and so much like his father it frightened her.
The unplanned pregnancy had taken her by surprise. At nineteen, having a baby had been the farthest thing from her mind. She was going to college. She was going to change the world. Instead, along came Chance. And he'd changed her world. Chance never knew his father. His father had never known he had a son. Chance was going to be all alone in the world. She should have tried harder to find his father. She should have done something, so many things differently. But, at forty, she hadn't expected to die. Somehow, the time she always thought she'd have to make things right, had suddenly run out.
Around her the sound of shouts and feet scrabbling on the loose ground added to her feeling of dread. Horrified, Candace saw Marcus, standing defensively, his feet spread shoulder with apart and his hands balled into fists, his eyes shifting from her, to the man perched above her, and to the warriors closing in on him. "No Marcus, Don't!" she shouted. He paused at the sound of her desperate plea. Just long enough, for the men to sneak up on him, wrestle him to the dirt, and bind his hands behind his back.
"Honey, you just saved his life," the man perched over her hissed in her ear. Candace blinked against her tears. How would they do it? Would it be quick? Would they torture her first? Make her watch them torture Marcus? Or would Neil rat them out in a vie to save his own skin? Another man came up behind her, roughly grabbing her wrists and securing them behind her back with steel cable. Her ankles were similarly bound. And any hope of escape, of running again, gone.
The blade tightened against her throat. "Are there more of you?" the man demanded. She gasped as the cold steel bit into her skin. Pinned on her belly, she couldn't even see his face. Had no idea what her killer looked like. He was big and merciless. She had gathered that much. And he had no love, no compassion, for what she was. "You'd better tell me now. Are. There. More?" he hissed menacingly, pressing his blade tighter against her throat.
"No," Candace croaked weakly. "Just us," she panted. The blood from the healing wound on her throat dried in a sticky rivulet on her skin. With a flick of his wrist, he repositioned the blade, the sharp, wicked, serrated tip digging into the hollow of her throat. If she so much as flinched the point would cut her.
Biting off her scream with sheer determination, she rolled her glance toward Marcus. He knelt with his hands bound behind his back and thick coils of chain wound around his ankles. His neck extended up at an unnatural angle, held in position by the blade resting at the base of his throat. His eyes met hers. His hardened, determined stare gave away nothing. Showing any affection for her might get him killed and her right along with him.
Not daring to so much as breathe, she scanned the bluff. Neil grunted in frustration. Flat on his back with a warrior's boot resting on his chest and a blade pointed at his throat, he kept his eyes pinned on his captor. His hands held palms up, extended away from his body in a position of defenselessness.
They were so fucked. And it was her fault for going with her gut and seeking out these men. They weren't going to help them. Hands grappled at the base of her scalp, harshly locking on her hair and yanking her head back. Candace couldn't help the squeak of pain that escaped her lips as the blade across her throat dug into her skin. Already, in her mind, she'd said goodbye to Marcus and Neil and to the rest of the world. She was letting go of Chance, telling him how sorry she was, wordlessly telling him she loved him. "God help you if you're lying," the man growled in aggression. In a lightening fast move, he withdrew the blade and slammed her face into the dirt.
With the toe of his boot, he nudged her onto her back to face him. He wasn't at all what she expected. He was young, perhaps a year or two older than Chance. At least, he looked young. With vampires it was hard to tell. Youth was the biggest deception they had in their favor. Towering above her, he scowled down at her. His lips drawn into a hard line of distrust and his eyes hard, black as obsidian and so cold, his stare chilled her to the bone. He wore his hair loose, flowing in a sleek black curtain around his shoulders. Dressed in Native American buckskin and not the black leather battle gear she'd seen the night of the battle, he was no less intimidating. "What are you doing here?" he asked. The blade gripped in his fist dug into her chest, as if he planned to carve the answer out of her with its tip.
Through the haze of her tears, hot on her cheeks in the chill from his gaze, Candace focused her eyes on his. There was something rippling beneath the surface of his hard exterior, maybe a wavering hint of doubt, of compassion, of feeling, or regret. He didn't want to kill her, at least not right away. He would, of that she had no doubt. But, it was a small consolation to know that he wouldn't enjoy it. "We were looking for help," she answered.
John Mark blinked at the rogue's answer. Help? He towered over the woman helplessly bound on the ground. She was harmless, incapacitated, now. She and the two men had snuck up on them. Who knew what their intentions were. Captives had a way of bending the truth to suit them. The woman could be lying to save her own skin or the hides of her companions. He lowered his blade and dug the tip into the hard, frost packed dirt. Leaning on it heavily, he crouched on one knee and stared her down the way Lucien had taught him. Eye to eye. Sniffing for a lie. "Help from whom?" he asked.
She looked more like a soccer mom than a killer. From the highlighted tips of her conservative hair cut to the toes of the battered Keds on her feet, she practically screamed Suburbanite. He bet, before whatever happened to her to land her in this mess, she drove a mini-van and was a charter member of the book of the month club. He could see the beauty she was as a younger version of herself. Laugh lines spider webbed out from the corners of her eyes and mouth. Her face was devoid of makeup, smudged by mud. Dried autumn leaves littered her hair and worn clothing. Nervously, she blinked back tears and tugged at her bottom lip with her top front teeth. The gestures made her look all the more harmless and demure. Too bad, he didn't buy it for a second.
That night on the battlefield, there'd been gray haired old ladies and wrinkled up old men fighting like tigers on the enemy's side. Kiros and Kore chose their army well. They hand picked anonymous people, grandmothers and grandfathers, wives, husbands, and coeds, normal looking people who wouldn't stand out in a crowd. Ordinary people who might be missed, but whose families had no other means of searching for them beyond what meager assistance the police could provide. People who looked harmless and that anyone with a bit of conscious might hesitate to kill. The brothers had hesitated that night on the bluffs, and it had cost them plenty of lives.
"From you," Candace answered. She was unable to control her fear or hold back the torrent of her tears any longer. They broke free falling in a downpour, spilling over her cheeks. If they were going to kill her, they should just do it. Anything beat laying here helpless. Just do it and get it over with. Bordering on the edge of hysterics, she cried shamelessly, choking on her sobs. Poor Marcus and Neil they didn't deserve to die like this. They wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. She hoped she'd die first so she wouldn't have to watch them suffer for her stupidity.
John Mark dragged the woman to her knees. He held her upright by the shoulder to keep her from losing her balance and toppling over. Damned women. They knew his only weakness and they exploited it every time. Tears. He could not stand to see a woman cry. Even if she was a rogue, he balked at the sight of her tears and the choking sounds of her sobs. She claimed they came here for help. Help? The fact that they'd arrived unarmed and apparently alone, was the only reason he hadn't killed her first and asked questions later.