- 44 -

24.8K 1.9K 135

I blacked out.

In one instance, I saw the pavement coming on much too fast, felt the air cold against my cheeks and the Sin's heat at my chest, and in the next—I was slouched on Darius' shoulder, his breathing harsh in my ear, my arms slack. He ran through a different alley, his arms locked around my legs to keep my upright on his back.

"What—?" My nose throbbed and my vision warbled. I touched my nose and brought my fingers away bloodied. Crimson stained the Sin's jacket as well. "What happened?!"

"You slammed your head into mine!" Darius snarled as he twisted his neck, fixing me with a harsh stare. "Idiot!"

My nose throbbed. Darius' impact with the ground must have snapped my head forward right into his. My teeth had cut my lip and I could taste the blood in the back of my throat. "Warn me before you jump out a window!" I retorted, turning my attention to the chase. Darius stopped running, his shoes striking puddles of fetid water as he slowed somewhere deeper in the projects, the duplex lost far behind us. The streetlights were broken, their bare fuses fizzling ineffectually, and some appeared to have been rammed by cars and now teetered on bent fulcrums over the streets and boarded-up houses. No one lingered out of doors.

"Where is the vampire?" I asked, unable to see the fleeing creature anywhere. Darius released my legs and I landed on my backside in the gritty puddle. "Ow!"

The Sin paced a few feet away with his head lowered and his fists hovering at his hips. "I am not faster than a vampire on foot. This was not supposed to be a chase," Darius said as his eyes closed. He tilted his head to pitch one ear toward a garbage-strewn byway. It was eerily quiet; the pulsating heart of civilization lay further to the north, where the artificial lights clung to a halo of pollution and smog, and here, in the crumbling ruin of a modern utopia, the world and its people seemed countries away.

"They're surrounding us," Darius muttered as his upper lip curled. "They hunt like pack animals and the residents of this cesspool have learned to ignore their gang." He inhaled, the sound like scree coursing through a metal screen, it occurred to me that I'd heard that particular noise several times now, and not just from Darius. Amoroth did it as well, and so did Envy.

The Sin's description of the vampires painted them as inept, half-built petri-dish rejects incapable of ingenuity or thought, but the vampires were anything but thoughtless. They were swift, like phantom snatches of light visible only in the corner of one's eye, gone in an instant, and they had intimate knowledge of Verweald's scarred underbelly. They flanked us on all fronts, mocking yips and howls echoing from every available avenue as the vampires hid our quarry's tracks and corralled us in.

Darius swore in a guttural language that cracked bricks with its rigid syllables, and I flinched. He hurried in a random direction and, following, I kept one hand on my panicked heart while the other skirted the handle of the .45 still tucked into my waistband. Isn't that a miracle.

The stench of disuse radiated from the mortar of the walls we crept between. These buildings were larger, used commercially or industrially, and weeds clawed their way through the disintegrating concrete, the skeletal remains of dead ivy carving intricate veins on the alley walls. Like the main streets, the lights wired along the building fronts had been busted out or ripped off. Glass crunched underfoot.

Darius's eyes alighted upon a hunched, defaced warehouse. "He's there—."

We nearly reached the entrance when the first vampire parted the shadows. It coalesced into existence from one breath to the next and landed on the Sin, knocking him over—and went straight for his exposed throat. Darius yelled when its fangs sank through his flesh. I grabbed two handfuls of the creature's filthy hair and yanked, trying to pry it off the Sin—when a hand snatched my elbow and flung me to the side. My back struck the wall and stole my breath.

BereftWhere stories live. Discover now