"Raising the Darkness" from UNDEAD FOR A DAY - October 2012
Just Before Midnight
The girl existed in a world of frozen motion, as if she had been fed a numb poison, then shut into a glass coffin that allowed her to see and hear and think her scattered thoughts.
But she could never move anything except for her eyes.
Never, ever move.
For a while now—how long? she kept asking herself over and over—she had been in this state. Anesthetized. Her limbs useless. Her mind asking questions and never quite understanding the twisted answers that seemed to fade away before she could grasp them.
Who am I?
Where am I?
Normally, her home was in a small white room, as blank as her existence. But tonight was different.
Tonight, images and sounds mixed round the girl as she lay on a pallet outside. In her peripheral vision, she could discern two other pallets nearby, with two more bodies. The dead of a starless night stretched above her, a bonfire burning to her right.
Most confusing of all was the group of people who circled the bonfire, all dressed in black robes and long, sleek gold costume masks that obscured their identities.
The girl could see one figure that stood out from the rest of them. It had its back to the fire and was facing the pallets. Its mask was silver, marked by a mouth hole that resembled a scream.
“We have waited three years for this Samhain,” it said, although “it” was clearly a woman, her accent-inflected words reminding the girl of a life she had once lived long ago.
“Three years of looking in to the crystals, seeking answers,” the woman added, apparently addressing the others. “Three years of knowing that we failed in the task that our ancestors had succeeded in so easily over the generations.”
For some reason, the girl on the pallet began to feel something. It boiled in her, bringing back a slice of memory: Another group in another time, gathered round her as she lay in a bed. She’d been hurting, her skin burned, her voice raw. One of them—Father?—was reaching down to her, his face stern. In his hand, he held a device, black and spindly, and he fixed it over her head...
A shudder attacked the girl, deep in her core, and she identified the feeling.
And guilt? Failure?
But certainly rage, because it was that device—a mind tuner? Was that what it was?—that had made her this living corpse.
Then, on the tail of the other feelings, another word floated to the girl, and she was able to hang onto this abstract thought, as well.
As the Samhain moon shone down on her, a moon that she somehow knew held magic that these people were obviously using to some degree, the girl knew that they had retired her. She wasn’t certain what that meant, but she knew it was the reason she was on this pallet, unable to speak, no matter how hard she was trying.
The leader of the masked group peered over her shoulder, looking at every person who stood around the bonfire circle.
“Tonight,” she said, “we will see him rise again.”
Out of the corner of the girl’s eyes, she could see the other two prone bodies on either side of her. Men. Was this leader speaking of raising one of them?
A wave of agreement had traveled the robed and masked ranks, and the leader finally approached the pallets, her silver head tilted.
“Our warriors,” she said. “Our biggest disappointments.”
Then she came to stand by the first pallet-bound man—a frail old chap with no hair, dressed in black with his hands folded over his stomach. The girl realized her hands were in the same position.
“This one—retired over seventy years ago for disobeying a direct security order,” the leader said. “And dormant ever since.”
She gestured to the man on the other side of the girl, another elderly gentleman, this one with long sideburns.
“Fifty years retired,” the leader said. “And also a failure on the job.”
Then the leader stood over the girl. The silver of the woman’s mask reflected the flicker of the bonfire.
Her voice took on an edge and a sort of sadness. “Last of all, Lilly. The greatest disappointment of them all.”
A wave of knowledge balanced inside the girl, and although that, too, threatened to escape her, she gripped it, perhaps thanks to the magical light of the Samhain moon shining down on her.
Her name was Lilly.
More knowledge suffused her, and she repeated it in her head, as if that would cause it to stay.
I am Lilly, the only female in generations to have taken up the responsibilities that were asked of the healthy males of my family. The only female to have failed so spectacularly in my duties to the master.
Along with the answers came shame. Mortification.
And bitterness, as she embraced the sight of her father putting the mind tuner over her head, sending her into...this.
Retirement. A punishment. A way of doing away with failures like Lilly.
Above her, the leader had raised her hands over her hooded head, appealing to the sky, speaking in an ancient language that Lilly couldn’t understand, although she could reach into all the emerging memories and come out with what that language was.
The tongue her family used when they saw the future in their crystals.
Meratoliage, she thought. I am Lilly Meratoliage, and this is Samhain, a night when deep, dark magic is possible.
The leader returned to the Queen’s English as she addressed the rest of the group. “Tonight,” she said, “as the line between our world and the otherworld breaks down, the Meratoliages ask for death and life to lend power to our cause. We ask for dark and light to come together.”
As one of the Meratoliages cast a sacrifice into the fire—the bones of animals?—something jumped inside Lilly, shocking her, and she jerked on her pallet.
The bitterness she had felt earlier doubled as she pictured her father again, plus the rest of the group round her sickbed, fixing that mind tuner on her, then sending her into near oblivion.
“We ask for the veil between the worlds to be lifted for our cause!” the leader yelled.
Another sacrifice landed on the fire, then one more. Sparks rained upward, dancing into the darkness until they disappeared.
The silver-masked leader leaned back her head now, widening her arms to the sky. Meanwhile, the people Lilly knew to be her brothers and sisters and cousins—interbreeding...we all come from the same blood—repeated the leader’s words.
“We ask for the veil between the worlds to be lifted for our cause!”
“Bring the master back!” the leader cried.
With every summons, Lilly’s brain pieced itself together that much more.
Their master. He wasn’t technically dead, but the family must have seen in the crystals that he was near enough to deceased, captured and caged, rendered powerless by a former vampire hunter.
With that thought, Lilly jerked again, violently this time.
Fucking Dawn Madison.
As Lilly’s spastic movements intensified, the leader bent next to her, ripping off her silver mask and then her hood.
Sandy hair, lime-green eyes, a slightly tilted nose. That was what Lilly had looked like, wasn’t it?
And she knew even more yet. In the past, the family had attempted to summon the dead heroes in their bloodline for aid, to no avail. And to resort to this—raising their punished and reviled retirees for the first time in three centuries—they had to have been desperate.
Didn’t they have any warrior prospects who were old enough or trained enough to do what needed to be done to raise the master?
One of the group by the bonfire gave a shout, but Lilly barely heard the word, “Midnight!”
She felt the hour strike in her very bones, ringing, shuddering, jerking.
Everyone kept repeating the leader’s most recent words feverishly. “We ask for the veil between the worlds to be lifted for our cause!”
The leader’s voice had fallen to a whisper near Lilly’s ear as she kept spasming on her pallet.
“Make the darkness come alive. Make our undead rise!”
With one final, brutal jerk, Lilly bolted up on her pallet, screaming with all the rage, bitterness, and shock of being able to move again after staying frozen for so long. Fire was consuming her veins—a terrible, electrifying magic that she had never known as a human Meratoliage.
Not alive, she thought. But not dead, either...?
As she screamed again, it smacked of hatred. How could they bring her back when it hurt so much?
A feverish roar went up from the crowd as the power to move her limbs came back to Lilly, and she groped at her face, then the rest of her body. No more burns from her former injuries, no more bandages.
Healed, except inside, where there was so much fiery anguish.
“Lilly,” the leader said in a commanding voice, steeped in the magic of the night.
When Lilly whipped her gaze over to her, she realized that this woman’s name was Amber. A cousin.
“You will listen to me, Lilly,” Amber said in the ancient Meratoliage tongue.
And Lilly understood every word now.
A new rush of knowledge overwhelmed her: She had caused a catastrophe in London, when her hot-headed actions had led to the master’s downfall...
Lilly began to scream again, but Amber smacked her.
Next to Lilly, the other two retirees had sprung awake on their pallets, too, but they did not have the screaming energy of Lilly. She recalled how the family had retired these two failed warriors long ago for their crimes against the cause. Now, so many years later, they would not be used to their aged bodies—they might even be weak with the passed years.
Her head still ringing from the slap, Lilly tried to speak to Amber, but her mouth could only chew on formless words. Sounds came out of her—helpless, wincing, mindless sounds.
Why? Why couldn’t she tell her to make the burning hurt inside of her stop?
When Amber held up a mind tuner and started to put it over Lilly’s head, Lilly bared her teeth at her.
A tuner—they were going to hurt her again.
But Amber had clearly been expecting this, and she used that commanding tone.
Lilly’s mind fought against the magic in those words and, for a moment, she almost broke through the thick power of it.
“Lilly, you will obey!”
It was as if an invisible hand slammed her down.
The magic...too strong.
But the anger remained. So did her enlivened mind, which was gaining more memory and clarity by the minute, even if it couldn’t override her body.
Freedom, Lilly thought. That was all she wanted in this moment. Sweet freedom from this pain.
Next to her, the older retirees had submitted to the tuners quite easily, and Amber fixed her own to Lilly’s head, now that she had been tamed.
As more electricity—hot and sizzling—gnawed through Lilly, Amber whispered, “Remember.”
Just as if she’d been struck by lightning, Lilly’s eyes rolled back in to her head and she stiffened. Then she shook with the force of all the history, all the years of memories that the family had stored in the tuners...and all the information that had been erased from Lilly’s head when she had been retired.
Ancient warriors who protected the master. Two keepers at one time. Bodyguards. Blood. Nights as black as spilled ink as the Mertaloliage keepers crept around the cities, securing each location in which they tried to keep the master hidden.
But there was also a plan that had been shoved into her head along with the memories—a plan that told her how they were going to raise the dragon tonight.
Slowly, her vision refined itself, becoming sharp and colorful, although her eyes felt as if they were still rolled back in her head.
“Do you see?” Amber asked. “Do you see, Lilly, what you cost us and what we’re attempting to recoup tonight?”
The anguish in Lilly boiled. All she had been doing was protecting the master. She had been doing her best.
Amber narrowed her gaze, assessing her, then stood. She spoke to all three of the retired keepers.
“Lilly. Harry. Richard. You will obey my commands. Show me you understand.”
As one, they nodded, and Lilly couldn’t stop herself, just as if she were on strings that could be pulled every which way.
From the tuner, she knew several things: They had until dawn to find the dragon. But first they were to track the vampire hunter who had absorbed his blood when she struck him down.
Amber walked around them, surveying her handiwork as she spoke. “Due to our magic, the master has risen in the vampire hunter you seek—she will be feeling...different...just as surely as you do. Be cautious even as you are ruthless.”
Lilly and her reanimated cohorts swayed back and forth.
The dragon. She was going to do right by her master this time.
He had never hurt her. He had never betrayed her and put this gnawing fire in her veins.
Amber’s helpers armed Lilly, Harry, and Richard with familiar weapons—tools they had been genetically primed to learn and trained to use when they were humans. Implements that could stun, a dark-arts spell box, a button fixed to their cuffs that could spray acid, a chain, nunchucks. A small GPS tracker.
Then Amber gave them one last command.
“You will bring that vampire hunter back here to us, where we will take care of rescuing the dragon from her body and raising him to his proper place. Do not kill the body in which the dragon is residing. We reserve that honor after we perform the extraction on the vampire hunter. Is that clear?”
The other two nodded without pause, but Lilly fought it, merely to show Amber that she could not be controlled.
But, indeed, she could be, and she found herself nodding, as well.
Then, as if she were on those commanding strings, Lilly dropped to all fours, her back hunched, waiting just long enough for her other two partners to join her. She was all but panting to leave now, the magic firing through her.
“Go,” said Amber.
They all burst into a zoom of speed, away from the bonfire, loping over the grassy hill, bloodthirsty cries coming out of Lilly’s throat and cutting through the night as they all shot toward the master.
And toward Dawn Madison, the vampire hunter who carried him as her passenger.
Longer Before Midnight
Dawn didn’t sleep much these days.
Maybe she hadn’t ever gotten much shut-eye, but lately, it was like she was on a drug called NeverEverDoze—an invention karma had created just for her.
As the grandfather clock downstairs in the beach house she shared with Costin struck ten thirty, she leaned back in the desk chair in the ornate study where she’d been going over some notes from a cold case that Kiko Daniels, her former vamp hunting buddy, had given her.
A man looking for a high school sweetheart. Touching, but it wasn’t nearly as save-the-world as she was used to. Kiko, the psychic private dick, and his new wife Natalia, who had the same talents, were only trying to engage Dawn in the more normal life they’d found since their last brush with the paranormal. But why even bother?
Idly, she swung around in the swiveling chair, which was a mistake, because it put her in full view of the long mirror across the room—the one that tilted downward while stretching over the fireplace mantel like a sentinel, always reminding her of who she was....
From the book: Undead for a Day