Dark Vengeance, the second book in my post apocalyptic urban fantasy series, The Last Ward, is edging ever closer to a release date. Dark Justice is the first book in the series, and is set five hundred years after the cure for the common cold mutated and created freaks intent on killing the uninfected. Jackson Kyle, Captain of the Ward, had been bred to kill freaks, until he himself became infected.
Dark Sacrifice is the prequel short story that details how Jackson becomes one of the monsters he is trained to kill, and you can read it below.
The double-bladed axe cut through the air, flying straight, gaining momentum with each foot it travelled toward its target. The freak was focused on the petite brunette cowering in front of him, her back pressed up against the pitted concrete wall protecting the town’s water reservoir.
Harsh light from the security lighting of a nearby building illuminated the axe for a brief moment as it reached the top of its arc and began to descend, causing the woman’s eyes to shift. The freak turned to see what had taken her attention away from him.
A wet thud sounded as the axe bit home in his throat, severing the balding head, blood gushing from the exposed neck. Toppling backwards, the head landed on the ground at the woman’s feet as the axe wedged itself into the wall beside her. The headless body wobbled, bereft of its direction, taking a slow and macabre step before it tumbled over. The woman scrambled sideways but was not fast enough to avoid being squashed up against the wall by the dead weight of the decapitated freak. Unable to stay upright, she slid to the ground with the chubby body on top of her.
Lieutenant Miranda Wilson moved forward to reclaim her weapon, features hidden behind a polished helmet with a dark tinted visor. She hoisted the bloodstained axe into the air with one hand and studied the two on the ground before using a booted foot to roll the body off the woman.
‘Are you hurt?’
The woman struggled to a sitting position.
Miranda made no effort to help, impatiently waiting for a response, grip tightening on the axe. ‘It’s a simple question. Did he hurt you or not? I’d hate to have to kill you after just saving your life.’
The woman still didn’t answer, sudden fear evident in her heavily made up face as she ran her hands over her body.
Miranda heard the heavy tramp of booted feet behind her, and turned to face five newcomers dressed in tight fitting black body armour identical to her own. She gestured at one of them. ‘Dale, check her for signs of infection. Stupid idiot should never have been out here.’
Propping the axe handle up against one leg, Miranda watched dispassionately as the woman was pulled to her feet and carefully inspected for wounds.
‘She’s clean, Lieutenant.’ Dale kept a firm grip on the woman’s arm as he made his prognosis.
‘What about his blood?’ Miranda indicated the dark smears down the front of the woman’s red dress, the clingy fabric fighting to contain her ample curves. ‘She could be infected if any got in her mouth or nose.’
‘It’s all concentrated around her mid-section. She’ll be okay.’
‘Good.’ Miranda turned to the men standing behind her. ‘Michaelson, take Petersen and get her out of here. Make it quick though. We have a patrol to finish.’
Miranda snorted in disgust when the woman took off down the street as soon as her arm was released. The fleeing woman moved quickly despite the sky high heels she was wearing. ‘I guess she didn’t want an escort home. Still, she could have at least thanked us for saving her life.’
‘Maybe she wouldn’t have been so quick to run away if you hadn’t mentioned killing her.’
Miranda spun around, eyes narrowing at the sight of the Captain of the Brimfield Ward, Jackson Kyle, walking up to her, dressed in the standard off-duty attire of jeans and a formfitting T-shirt.
‘You might consider switching to a gun,’ he said, deep voice pensive. ‘Makes less mess and doesn’t scare the natives quite so much.’ He gave her a quick smile designed to take the sting out of his words.
Miranda stepped back, axe falling to the ground with the sudden movement. ‘I’m supposed to coddle stupid creatures like her? Only an imbecile comes out at night alone. She was asking to die the minute she stepped out her door. Humans like her deserve to be bitten by a freak.’ She indicated the headless body at her feet.
Captain Kyle shook his head, the smile replaced by a frown. ‘No one deserves to be bitten by a freak.’
Miranda’s nostrils flared. Then she sighed. ‘I know. I know. But our job would be a whole lot easier if humans stayed inside at night, instead of wandering the streets.’
‘Sherry… Is that you?’
The whisper came from the alley beside the reservoir. A few seconds later, a bespectacled and slightly rumpled man stepped out of the alley and froze when he saw the group of wardens watching him. He made to scurry back into the alley.
‘Don’t even think about it.’ Miranda strode forward and grabbed him by the arm. ‘What the hell are you doing out here at night? There are freaks about, or haven’t you heard?’ She dragged him over to where the head lay on the ground, the whites of the freak’s eyes already clouding over as he stared sightlessly up at the night sky.
‘What…’ The man recoiled, turning away from the gruesome sight.
Miranda wasn’t finished with him. ‘You lot never learn. You meddle with a cure for the common cold and look where it left you, knee deep in freaks. Then your scientists had to get creative again, making us wardens to protect you and to blame.’ Miranda shook her head. ‘I don’t get how it’s our fault if you decide to go traipsing around at night and get bitten, when you should have had the sense to stay locked up in your house with all the lights blazing.’
‘I didn’t think… I’m sorry,’ he whispered, his eyes scanning the floor of the alley. ‘Did he… it… get Sherry?’
‘Would Sherry be a pretty little thing, about so high?’ Miranda held up a hand level with her shoulder and was rewarded with a furtive nod.
‘Let me guess, she was supposed to meet up with you but met up with this guy instead.’ Miranda kicked out at the head. ‘Lucky for you and your girlfriend, we got here before anyone got hurt or you’d be dating a freak.’
‘She’s not my girlfriend,’ he said almost inaudibly.
‘Sherry’s my secretary. That’s where we work.’ He used his free hand, the left, to point at the reservoir. ‘We were meeting to… uh… discuss… uh… work.’
Miranda noticed the glint of a gold ring on one finger and bent down to pick up her axe, shoving it in his face. ‘Next time you get the urge to meet with your secretary in a dark alley to discuss work I want you to remember what this axe looks like. While you’re at it, you can remember what this guy looks like too. Because that’s what happens to stupid humans who wander around at night.’ She pulled him down with her as she knelt beside the head, keeping him off balance.
‘They get turned into freaks and I come along and chop off their heads.’ A much more satisfying end for a freak than shooting them with a gun, despite the clean-up required.
Abruptly releasing the Brimfield Water Works employee, Miranda stood and watched him scramble to his feet, noting how careful he was to avoid touching the freak’s head. Once he was upright he straightened his tie and smoothed the front of his suit, clearly trying to regain a semblance of respectability while nodding in Miranda’s direction.
‘Yes, well, I’d best be getting back to work. It’s a big job keeping the town supplied with clean drinking water.’ He pushed his glasses farther up his nose while retreating to the relative security of the alley and shortly afterwards a door slammed shut.
Miranda turned and caught Captain Kyle shaking his head at her. ‘What?’
‘Are you trying to get yourself reported to the Brimfield Council? They’ll take a dim view of you harassing their citizens.’
Miranda grimaced, knowing he was right. Still, ‘That guy won’t say anything, not unless he wants to risk his wife finding out what he and his secretary have been up to.’
She turned away from the disappointment in his dark gaze and faced the members of her patrol. ‘I’ll see if I can catch up with the secretary, make sure she gets indoors before another freak finds her.’ She tightened her grip on her axe and strode off down the street before anyone could say a word.
It was bad form to leave her patrol to clean up her mess, but Miranda needed space. Ever since Kyle had been promoted to Captain, she’d felt pressured to outperform every other warden, to prove her worth to him.
She was a good warden, one of the best at Brimfield Ward. He’d promoted her to Lieutenant and put her in charge of his old patrol once he was made Captain, but she wanted more than that.
She wanted him to look at her as more than just one of his soldiers.
Now, with his rebuke of her methods, she wondered if he would ever be able to see past her armour to the woman underneath.
Miranda increased her speed, darting around the next corner, hoping he would think she hadn’t heard him. Not that he’d believe such a feeble excuse, given their enhanced hearing. She sped up, diving into the first alley on the right, hoping to lose herself in the dark shadows of its depths. Head turned to see if he was following, she retreated farther into the alley.
Harsh breathing sounded nearby.
She spun around, hand going to her axe as a freak launched himself at her from behind a stack of empty crates.
Before she could take aim, another freak slammed into her from the side, knocking her into the opposite wall. Her axe was knocked from her grasp, tumbling to the ground with a clang. Miranda twisted out of the way of both freaks, backing up as she put her hand to her holster, breath freezing in her lungs when she found it empty.
She scanned the area, seeing her stun gun on the ground behind the two freaks. She raised herself to the balls of her feet, ready to spin around and make for the alley entrance. A shower of timber rained down on her a split second before a freak jumped from the roof of the building to her left, knocking her to the ground.
She twisted and spun, as the other two freaks dived into the fray, fighting them off as best she could without any weapons, focusing on getting to either her axe or the gun.
One of the freaks got in a lucky blow, slamming his fist on the edge of her helmet. She reeled, dazed as he snarled, the whites of his eyes shining in the dim light coming in from the street, as he readied himself to pounce.
Miranda clenched her fists, preparing herself to fight until she could fight no more, determined to die rather than be infected.
A hard blow to her chin sent her flying backwards, smashing onto the crates and knocking them everywhere. A fourth freak barrelled in from the end of the alley and launched himself at her even as the others raced to join in.
Blow after blow rained down on her and her vision blurred. One of the freaks grabbed her ankles and began to drag her, her head bounced painfully on the hard ground. Then there was a sensation like free-fall and full darkness descended. They’d taken her underground.
This was it.
She was going to die.
Head pounding she gave in to unconsciousness as she felt their hands tearing at her body armour, fingers trying to peel off her helmet.
Sometime later, consciousness returned slowly. She knew she was being carried, cradled to a hard chest, and weakly fought to free herself.
‘Wilson, it’s okay. I’ve got you.’
The sound of Captain Kyle’s voice brought relief, and she sagged in his arms. Then she stiffened. ‘Am I infected?’ Her body hurt all over, too many aches and pains to enable her to distinguish whether any of the freaks had been able to penetrate her body armour.
‘No. You’re going to be okay.’
The words should have reassured her, but the tension she heard in his voice, and the stiff way he held her, set her on edge.
‘Captain, what happened?’
‘They took you underground. I had to enter the tunnels to get you back.’
Miranda’s breath stilled. The Brimfield Council denied the wardens access to the underground tunnels. If they found out Captain Kyle had disobeyed the Ward Charter which governed their dealings with humans, he could be severely punished. Reason enough for some tension, but the ball of dread in the pit of her stomach did not go away.
She lifted her head, dismayed by how much effort it took, and scanned her surroundings.
They were in the rabbit warren of streets that comprised the merchant district in the centre of town, heading toward Ward Headquarters. Streetlights blazed on most corners while even more lights beamed from the buildings themselves. Freaks couldn’t stand anything brighter than moonlight, so lights were the best deterrent.
The captain stumbled and then righted himself, his arms tightening around Miranda. Painfully so.
‘Put me down,’ she said. ‘I can walk from here.’
His arms tightened even more and she squirmed, only to freeze when he started to growl, his deep voice low and filled with menace.
Miranda struggled in earnest, wrenching herself out of his arms and tumbling to the ground at his feet. He loomed over her, hands curled into fists, and she scrambled backwards, horror robbing her of speech when she saw the faint shine in his eyes.
He couldn’t be infected.
It wasn’t possible.
He was the best warden in Brimfield, maybe even in the country. But there, on his left forearm, was a bloody tear in his flesh. More blood covered his black T-shirt and jeans, and a dark bruise was spreading across his jaw. Unlike her, he hadn’t been wearing body armour or a helmet, leaving him vulnerable.
She got to her feet and took a step toward him, the hair on the back of her neck rising when he went into a crouch, eyes filled with menace as he watched her.
‘Don’t come any closer,’ he said, teeth gritted. ‘I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on. You need to kill me, now.’ He reached behind him and pulled out a stun gun, her stun gun, and tossed it at her feet.
‘Captain, no, we can fix this.’ She gulped down her fear. ‘We get you to the medics and they can cut away the infection.’ They would need to take his entire arm to have any chance of saving him.
He shook his head, eyes never leaving hers. ‘It’s too late. The infection has already taken hold, or I’d have killed myself already. You have to do it. Please, Wilson. I can’t live like this. You must kill me.’
Pain threaded his words, body rigid as he waited for her to end his misery.
Miranda leaned over and scooped up the stun gun, checking what setting it was on before taking aim.
The first shot took him in the chest, driving him to his knees.
His eyes went wide, shining even more brightly now.
She ignored his plea, stunning him a second time and watching his unconscious body fall to the ground, conscious of the tramp of boots coming closer.
No warden shall suffer a freak to live.
The Ward Charter, created over five hundred years ago to govern their kind, demanded the death of all freaks, regardless of who they had been prior to infection.
But this was Jackson Kyle.
She couldn’t kill him, any more than she could stop herself from loving him.
As her patrol raced forward, calling out her name, Miranda calmly holstered her stun gun.
‘Careful, he’s infected,’ she called out to Dale and Michaelson. ‘Get him to the holding cell and make sure he is secured. I’m going to find Zarb.’
Dr Daniel Zarb, former Captain of the Brimfield Ward, had been working on a cure his entire career. He would find a way to bring Kyle back to her.
He had to.
As she strode through the streets of Brimfield, Miranda refused to let her welling tears fall. She could not appear weak. With Kyle out of action, someone needed to take charge. To keep him alive, against Ward law, she had to be named the next Captain.
It was the only way to ensure his sacrifice didn’t claim his life.
Freak or not, she would make sure he lived long enough to be cured.
If you enjoyed this story, find out what happens next in Dark Justice, The Last Ward Book 1.