There were myths handed down over the years, stories of another time when there were no Derkelyng. Only humans ruled the land, and legend said these humans didn't hide from the night. Theylived and loved without fear. Theyhad organized schools, governments, banks, a written word, and theyowned businesses. Theyeven kept time differently, it was said. Those from the past were not afraid to go out at night; theywere not hunted as food...or pleasure.
Theyhad no idea how lucky they were, if that was true. Things were not like that now. The world as known by those humans ended in 2010. That's when the Derkelyng first showed themselves. And soon after that, there was war.
The year now was 20PW, or Post War. There were two groups that existed on Earth now. The Derkelyng—creatures that walked the night and lived off blood—and the humans. The Derkelyng lived in the crumbling cities of the past.
Humans lived away from the cities in whatever places they could find that offered safety. Very little could destroy those walking nightmares. Sunlight could. So could a stake to the heart, or cutting off their heads.
I was a human of the present world. In the times we now lived in, it was survival of the fittest. And I fully intended to survive. I was twenty years old and had been fighting for my life for as long as I could remember. The scars on my body and my face proved that. By the age of ten, I was proficient with a knife and could shoot a gun.
By fifteen, my father had been killed, and I was on my own. I knew how to defend myself, thanks to my father. I only had to kill two of the older men in my clan before they left me alone. Over the next five years, I'd proved my usefulness to the clan and rose in its ranks. I wouldsurvive.
But the truth was, if one of the creatures took an interest in you, you were dead; either really dead, or dead as undead... one of those things that haunted the night. None of us knew for sure how the Derkelyng converted a human. There were rumors the creatures infected humans with their bite. Other rumors said it was from having sex with them. The Derkelyng certainly weren't telling.
Humans were prey, plain and simple.
Being prey was one thing, but being stupid was another. And I had been incredibly stupid. Twilight was coming, and here I was still inside the city limits. Stupid didn't even begin to explain what I was. No, actually, dead was probably what I was.
"Shit, shit, shit."
I found a burned-out shell of a house outside city limits that hadn't been ransacked yet. Maybe being nothing but a hull had fooled others, but I still had to check it out. What I'd found had been amazing. There was a basement under all that trash and burnt wood.
Once I cleared away the junk, broken furniture, and other camouflage, I found a door in the floor. I broke the lock and made my way down a sturdy staircase.
Things were looking up.
But even I wasn't prepared for what I found. There was a light switch at the bottom of the stairs. I flicked the switch, not really expecting much. My mouth fell open when two light bulbs flashed on. The light was weak, but it was enough. There were guns, at least fifteen, and boxes and boxes of ammo to go with those weapons. The walls were packed three feet deep with canned goods and paper products too. Excited by my find, I hadn't really checked out the surroundings.
As I took inventory, a young man came out of the shadows, snarling obscenities and waving a knife. I tried to reason with him, talk him down—I mean, he had to see the rifle slung over my shoulder, right?—but when he threw the knife at me... well, that persuaded me otherwise.
I shot him between the eyes.
He wasn't the first man I'd killed, and he wouldn't be the last. Would I feel bad, feel something for the life I'd taken? Doubtful. I killed because I had to. That was the type of world I lived in now. Kill or be killed. So maybe I would feel bad later. But for right now, I had to deal with a wailing young woman on a pallet in the back that I hadn't seen earlier. Great.
I raised my gun and stepped closer. I had every intention of threatening her into silence. That plan fell by the wayside when I saw her lying in a shaft of light. Fuck. She was sick, deadly sick, and covered in open, seeping sores. The smell was horrible. Or maybe that smell was the dead baby next to her.
Every-fucking-where I looked death stared at me. Story of my very short life. I should shoot her in the head and end her suffering. While I didn't mind killing, I couldn't do it in cold-blood. Knowing I was making a mistake, I stayed and did what I could. I tried to leave water near her, even tried to get her to drink, but I could tell she wasn't long for this world. She sounded like she was breathing through water, and her eyes were glazed. Two hours later, she died.
If only the guy would've let me talk to him, instead of attacking me. Once he threw that knife, he sealed his fate. And he had nicked me. Nothing bad, but bleeding and being out of doors...yeah, not a good combination. I found some bottled water and washed the cut. Then I cut a strip off my shirt and wrapped the wound.
With a sigh, I gathered the bodies and buried them. Once finished, I went back to my little treasure trove to take stock. I found a tunnel they used to get out of the basement, and I explored that. Finally, I came to the end of the tunnel. Holy shit, I hadn't realized how much time had passed.
And that wasn't all. Where the tunnel ended was not good. Jesus Christ, I was fucked. I was back inside the city limits, night was coming, and I had a cut which was still seeping.
Blood would draw the Derkelyng to me like a moth to a flame.
What to do, what to do? I could maybe barricade myself in the tunnel—if I could even find anything I could use—and hope the Derkelyng didn't sniff me out. That didn't look very promising, but I'd be belowground. Then again, if they found the tunnel and came at me from both ends, I'd be trapped.
I looked at the crumbling pile of stone, brick, and glass around me. I could move easier here and use the shadows for concealment. Not that it mattered since I was cut, but out here the damn things would have to run me to ground.
I ran toward what was left of the city.
How did it get to be dark so quick? And when did it start to rain? A never-ending rain, falling softly upon my face—drip... drip... drip. The sound echoed in my head, matching my thumping heart. I lifted my face. Rivers of wetness twisted and snaked, working their way down until they finally caressed my vulnerable throat, a ghostly touch.
Shivering slightly, I tried to bring my erratic breathing under control. In... out... in... out. A strangled, desperate laugh threatened to escape as my mind reminded me why I was breathing so hard. There was no calming down. Death would soon stalk the night, closing in on me, its harsh breath cold on my neck. I stopped near a wall. A warm breeze wrapped around my exhausted body as I shook the rain from my hair.
"God, help me."
The laugh that threatened earlier finally escaped as the words floated around me, dead and limp in the misty air. Even if God did exist, He couldn't help me. No one and nothing could. No, prayers wouldn't rescue me from what stalked the night now. This being was much more corporeal, with flashing fangs, red eyes, inhuman speed, and a thirst for blood. Worse, the creatures that owned the night were immortal.
I ducked in and out of the shadows, moving as silently as possible as I searched for a hiding place. The deeper in the city I moved, the more I noticed the buildings had been renovated. Were these creatures trying to bring the cities back? Why? They were animals; all they cared about was blood and fucking. At least, that's what we'd always thought... hat we had been taught.
Finally, darkness covered the land. Slowly the evening's silence awoke with movement. As I searched for a hiding place, I noticed bodies taking to the streets as red eyes searched and voices drifted.
"Mmm, do you smell that?"
"Ah yes, fresh blood. I do believe we have a human among us tonight. Odd, they're usually out of the city limits by nightfall."
"Guess this one didn't make it out in time, huh?"
"Indeed. What fun!"
The hunt was on.
Lander lived in the area that had been rebuilt. His home was the top floor of the largest building in the center of the city. The rest of the building housed his business, all 110 floors. He was the House Lord for the La Nouvelle-Orléans Coven in the Southern District and he'd fought bloody well to claim that title. Before the war had changed everything, he'd been a wealthy businessman with power in this part of the country.
In a finger snap, he'd been changed into what could only be called a vampire. Or, as they were now called, the Derkelyng. The creature who'd changed him was one of the oldest. Through Lander, and others as powerful as Lander, he'd taken control of the southern part of the United States. Of course, after the war the country was no longer called the U.S. of A. The land was divided into sectors ruled by the strongest Derkelyng.
Rider was the Derkelyng who'd changed his life and the only 'man' Lander was answerable to. Rider was the Elder Lord, the undisputed Leader of the coven. Rider was one of the eldest and most powerful among his kind. Thank God Lander didn't have to see Rider but once a year. Frankly, Rider scared the hell out of Lander. Even as vicious as he could be, Rider was that much more. Lander still had human emotions buried under the need for blood... Rider did not.
Rider had never been human.
Lander strolled across the lobby; a doorman was ready and waiting. Outside, a car sat at the curb to take him wherever he wanted. He just didn't know where he wanted to go. From the moment he'd opened his eyes, he was restless. The urge to prowl wouldn't leave him and it was driving him nuts. He nodded at the doorman as he walked outside. The night was alive with sounds and scents. Lander rolled his shoulders, the spot between his shoulder blades itching suddenly.
"What the hell...?" Lander growled as the pressure increased.
On the evening breeze was something... a scent. The smell wrapped around him, teasing his senses. Fluttery sensations invaded his belly and his knees threatened to buckle. Taking a deep breath, he drew the smell in, and smelled blood. Human blood. The smell tangled in his head and shot to his groin, making him harder than he'd ever been. Male. Young... and strong.
Rider had told him he'd find one human who would call his blood—the human who would tame the beast within him, who would help anchor his raging soul. Lander didn't believe Rider. He didn't believe it was possible for Derkelyng to see humans as anything other than prey. They were weaker species, were they not? Some were strong, he knew that, but still...
He certainly never dreamed he'd have such strong feelings... and so swiftly.
Growling more loudly, he jerked his head in the direction that wonderful scent came from. Blood always smelled good, tangy and sharp, but this—this was something different, something more. His entire body vibrated with want. While he hungered for the source of that blood, he also yearned for the human it came from.
He wanted to... Heaven help him, he wanted to hold that human close, protect him from the dangers around him, and give him anything his heart desired. Mate. That was his mate out there, alone in the city... and unprotected.
The sweetness of that scent suddenly spiked with the taint of fear. Lander's body reacted while rational thought flew out the window. Only one thing could make a human stink of fear like that, and that was being hunted.
Lander sniffed again, picking through the scents, following his human's smell... and the roar that left him had several immortals around him shaking in terror. Not only was his mate out there, but two Derkelyng were hunting him.
Moving faster than a human eye could track, Lander followed that scent.
If they touch what's mine, I'll yank out their heart with my bare hands and feed it to them.
Weaving around piles of rubble and old, broken down cars in the street, Lander rushed on, moving even quicker. The other Derkelyng wouldn't know this human was his, of course. They had no way of knowing. Lander hadn't marked the human as his yet, much less converted him.
Desperate, Lander sent out his thoughts, warning any Derkelyng around the Central Business District that the human there was his. He even offered a blood reward—just hold the human, unharmed, until he arrived. Of course, doing this also left him open to others who wanted his position under Rider. They could take the human prisoner and force Lander to—
Derkelyng, be it known that my child, Lander, has found his mate. The human near Lafayette Square has my protection. Harm that human and death won't come fast enough. In fact, death won't come at all under my mercy.
Lander cringed as the inhuman voice of Rider cut across his, and every other Derkelyng, mind. Jesus, he tended to forget just how strong Rider was, until he was reminded with presents like this.
Thank you, Sire.
You are very welcome, Lander. I'm pleased you've found the one, child. I can feel your excitement. I... envy you that.
Maybe one day—
Maybe. Worry not about me, child. Instead, hurry to that special human who will complete you. He waits for you and... huh. Well, I'll be damned. Impressive. The little shit just shot a Derkelyng who detained him right between the eyes. Won't kill the male, of course, but he'll sure feel that for a few days. Your human is a fighter, Lander. I do believe I'm going to like him.
Lander poured on the speed. They had his human. The Derkelyng had been warned not to hurt him, but his kind wasn't used to humans who fought back, either. How very odd... and exciting. The last thing he wanted was another 'yes man' to follow him around. He had that in his old life, and even now.
Most converted Derkelyng feared him to some degree since he was a child of Rider's. They also walked carefully around him because he was powerful in his own right. This human... Maybe this being would stand up to him unlike the others. Lander raced up St. Charles Avenue, one of the streets that bordered Lafayette Square.
Images sped past until finally, there, by the bronze statue of Henry Clay, a Derkelyng held a struggling human. Another Derkelyng sat close by, a bullet slowly working its way out of his forehead.
And the struggling human? He was cussing a blue streak. His gun had been taken, but apparently this human wore weapons on his body like the female Derkelyng wore jewelry. His mate had a long, wicked knife now... and was doing his best to gut anything that got close enough. Rider was right, this human was impressive.
"Stop!" Lander bellowed.
All three froze on the spot... until the bullet finally worked its way out from the Derkelyng skin and dropped on the ground. Ping, ping, ping it went, bouncing across the ground. All eyes shot to it and just... stared. No one said a word; they all just staredat it. Another time he might have laughed at the situation.
The Derkelyng still on his feet motioned to the human near him. "This is the one we were warned about?"
Lander nodded. "He's mine, yes. Move away from him."
"Gladly," said the other Derkelyng as he stood and shuffled to a bench.
Lander smothered a chuckle. Yes, maybe years from now this would be funny. But for now... Lander turned to his human. "Human. I am Lander Garçon, the House Lord for the La Nouvelle-Orléans Coven in the Southern District. Rider is the Elder Lord of this Coven. You are under his protection. None of the Derkelyng will harm you. By what name may I address you by?"
By what name may I address you by? Well now, isn't he just so sophisticated, educated, and everything I'm not.
"Blade. My name is Blade."
Sweat dripped down my face, the tickling sensation making me itch. Damn, that was annoying, as was my soaked shirt, stuck tight to my skin. That mind-numbing run down dark alleyways, knowing those things were hot on my heels, had led me here—to the inner most bowels of the city.
At first, I'd had the impression they were truly hunting me. Snarls and growls still lingered in my ears; they'd played with me like a cat does a mouse. As I ran, I searched for some place suitable for making a stand. If they were going to take me, I wasn't going to make it easy on them.
"Ah. Okay. Do you happen to have a last name, Blade?"
Then, abruptly, things changed. Instead of taunting me, they stopped talking. Instead of stalking me, they seemed to be herding me. Only these two followed me too. I'd assumed, like most large predators, the Derkelyng hunted in groups.
I stared at the one who appeared to be in charge. "Just Blade."
It seemed I was wrong. Next thing I knew, I was in this park-type place, my gun had been taken, and suddenly there was this tall guy telling me I was protected and asking my name. And that smell! It was sweet, clean, and... Well hell, it just smelled good. I didn't get a chance to smell things that smelled good often. The scent made me ache.
"May I ask how you came by such a unique name?"
I shrugged at the one who called himself Lander. "I like knives."
Those pale lips twitched. "I see. Something to keep in mind, I believe." A hand was held out, the fingers long and slim. "Please come with me."
"Your name is Lander, right?" I fingered the knife I still held, surprised it hadn't been taken from me. "Tell me, why would I want to do that?
"Because I asked you to. You have my word no one will harm you. Please, will you come?"
I snorted. This had to be the weirdest conversation I'd ever had. Not only were they not ripping me limb from limb, fighting over my blood... They were acting like they had manners, and brains that could think rational thoughts, and... shit, feelings. That tall one, Lander, seemed the most concerned about me.
And holy God, whatwas that smell? A tingle raced through my body as I breathed deeply. My cock twitched. Now, if that wasn't an inappropriate reaction, I didn't know what was. I blew my bangs out of my eyes and notice Lander grinning at me.
Huh. He's really not bad looking. Tall, dark hair, lean build... and shit, two sets of fangs and blood red eyes. Okay, I've lost my fucking mind.
"Where are we going? And how?" I asked.
Lander stepped closer, his hand still out. "Back to my private unit, and we will walk. No one will bother you, I promise."
"I'm not dinner?"
Lander threw his head back and laughter roared out of him. When it died down, he wiped his eyes with the hand he'd held out to me. "You, my lovely human, are not dinner. Blade, you are far too important to me to be slaughtered
I noticed the teardrop of blood on his finger and crossed my arms over my chest. "Before I go anywhere with you, tell me whyI'm important."
Lander held out his hand again. "Take my hand and you will see."
"This isn't a trick?"
Why I trusted him, I had no idea. But my gut said I could and my gut was never wrong. I uncrossed my arms, holstered my knife, and gingerly laid my hand in his... and felt like a bull elephant just rammed me in the chest. My lungs froze, my head spun, and my cock stood up.
I had to close my eyes. Everything was suddenly too... just too much, too huge. Desire flashed through my body, spiraling out of control, and a firestorm of need burned through my head. I needed, oh God, I needed... had to have... My fingers clutched, tightening against his... Oh God, I wanted him to throw me down, rip my clothes off and—