Authors: jaymin eve
Copyright © Jaymin Eve 2015
All rights reserved
First published in 2015
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. All characters in this publication other than those clearly in the public domain are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For all of us in the #AddictedtoWalkers club. I love that our numbers grow every day
Home to all of the fifty thousand Drones that remained after the last collapse, Arotia was the last city left standing on the world of Dronish. The long-lived race were energy consumers, vampires in a manner, needing constant renewal of their life-force by taking that of others. Through their own greed and need, they had razed the once strong, thriving world to the ground. Only the dregs of a society remained.
Sapha lived her life in constant fear that she would be consumed by the desperate people … fear that her secret would be discovered … fear that she would always be alone. She had two weapons in her arsenal, and without them she’d be dead ten times over. Her mother had protected her as a babe, but, in the end, she’d succumbed to the urge and tried to kill her. Luckily, the attack had come in Sapha’s ninth year and she’d been strong enough to fight back and escape. She hadn’t seen her mother since.
Sapha had snuck into the market square, cloaking herself in shadows, and in the half-darkness of Dronish, lit only by the sliver of moon that remained. Standing in the long lines of those waiting for their daily replenishment from the sacred mineraline crystals was the tall, slender form of Cletia, her mother.
Her primary gift: Sapha had no need of the crystals. Her energy was replenished with simple nourishment from the fungi that grew around her cave outside Arotia.
She’d only ventured into the square to keep a close eye on her one friend. Marl was a youngling, ten and one year. He shared the caves with her, and made the journey once a week into the city for his nourishment.
Sapha was invisible to all at the moment, although seeing her mother had caused her to almost lose control of her cloaking energy, her second ability. She could use the shadows and camouflage herself. Sapha was grateful that her large source of internal power was somehow hidden from the Drones. They would hunt her down and drain her. She had enough power to nourish the city of Arotia for many half-moons.
She did not remember Dronish when it was filled with the sun’s warmth and five moons. It was long ago that the gluttonous nature of her people had consumed the sun and all but a sliver of one moon’s energy. Those dead rocks still littered their sky, but could not be seen in the darkness. She wouldn’t even start on the cold. Luckily, between their layers of skin and muscle, they had a thin coating of fat dense enough to keep them from freezing to death.
Marl was at the start of the line now. Seven guards surrounded the mineraline stone before him. It was black, glittering in the dim light. Sapha lurked closer as he opened his mouth and his throttle emerged. Unraveling from where it rested inside his throat, the snakelike extension’s end attached to the crystal.
As he absorbed the energy, Sapha was still amazed to see the changes in her friend. His skeletal frame filled out slightly, flesh instead of just skin actually encasing bone. His scaled and cracked hide filled back in, and even glistened with some protective oils again. All drones had lithe frames, but now Marl stopped swaying and stood strong and tall. His large, single eye – which was one of the many differences between Sapha and the rest of the Drones – cleared of yellow and turned back to blood-red. He looked so much healthier. If only they could take this nourishment more than once a week.
According to the market gossip, they were about to extend the waiting period between feedings again. Many wouldn’t survive that. In the end, once a week was only just allowing some to endure. One more day would be their death. Marl would be fine, though; she secretly fed him energy during his trance state – not enough that it was noticeable, but enough that he would always survive.
Suddenly shouts could be heard, more than one voice and more than one language. Sapha drifted away from the crowds, hugging the side of a building where she could observe without anyone accidentally bumping into her. She was cloaked but still corporeal. Marl was off to the side as well, so he should be safe enough from whatever disturbance was coming.
A male burst into view, tall and thin like the rest, but plumped out a bit more. He was one of the high priest’s men. Kan, the priest, was the leader of Arotia, and his contingent always seemed to be a little more nourished than the average inhabitant.
“Sound the alarm, a group approaches our city. Guard the walls and hide the mineralines.”
Just like that, the guards snatched up the precious life-giving crystals and were gone, their dark forms disappearing back into the palatial structure where the priest, his harem, and the guards were holed up praying for redemption, or whatever they were calling it.
Those who had still been in line waiting for their small slice of energy cried out. Their shrieks and wails were testament to the pain and hunger plaguing the world.
Sapha lost sight of her mother in the chaos, which left her with an uneasy churning in her stomach. It was sad that this was what their world had been reduced to.
It was over a thousand years ago that the Dronish civilization realized their growth as a people, and their need for energy, was overtaking their world’s ability to survive. The leaders of the time – for there had been many cities – had tried to reverse that which had been wrought, but it was too late. Millions perished in the fighting and wars which ensued. Everyone wanted to capture for themselves whatever free energy remained, and more importantly one of the mineralines which were able to provide renewable food. They had drained the crystals so many times that the sun and moons eventually succumbed to the loss of energy.
When the dust finally cleared, all that remained were the dregs of a once-thriving, cosmopolitan world. Those who had ventured out to explore told tales of a dusty land filled with the skeletons of cities and civilizations. Arotia had the last stores of crystals, and eventually all of the Dronish survivors had made their way here. But the energy continued to ebb away. The stones required the light of the sun or moons to recharge, and there was only a sliver of moon left.
Sapha knew it was just a matter of time before there was nothing left of Dronish. The world was on a path to destruction and they were all waiting for the final flicker of moon to die out.
The priests had tried their best. They had made it a death sentence if anyone took energy from anything or anyone now, except for their allocation of crystal, and had declared the same fate for anyone who procreated without permission. They allowed for some new life, otherwise the Drones would have died out a long time ago.
Her mother, of course, had not received their permission. She had always said that a foreign male, one who had much power, had seduced her with energy. She had woken after the overload and she was with young. Knowing Sapha would be different and easily detected, she had left Arotia and settled in an abandoned farmhouse outside of the city.
As a child, Sapha had been left alone while her mother went into town to replenish her energy, but otherwise they had lived a quiet, hidden life – until the day her mother had tried to drain Sapha dry. It was just after they’d extended the feeding period to three days. This time period proved to be too long for Cletia. She’d been overcome by her need for sustenance.
Sapha rubbed at her chest. She could still feel the attached sucker, the panic that had flooded her veins as the well of energy inside her started to drain away. There should be no greater love than that of a mother for her child, but in the end the hunger had proved greater. No wonder the Drones couldn’t stop themselves before they destroyed the world.
Sapha followed the crowds as they moved toward the large barriers that had been erected near the entrance to the city. She kept the shadows wrapped tightly around her. She would be invisible to everyone unless they looked really closely. No one had ever appeared to notice her before.
Except for Marl.
After his mother had died from lack of energy, he’d been abandoned in the market square. Tiny little thing, only four cycles old, he’d noticed Sapha as she skirted the area, having come in for a slice of companionship, even if no one knew they were providing it. She went a little crazy stuck in her cave all the time. He’d had no fear coming straight up to her and asking her what she was. They’d been together ever since.
Marl moved gracefully to her side. The small Drone trailing along beside her, they walked with the crowd.
“Sapha, you need to be careful. I saw your entire body a moment ago.”
His words would have been hard to understand if Sapha hadn’t had so much practice with the Drone’s strange way of phrasing words. The sucker made it difficult for them to pronounce certain sounds.
“You only saw because you were looking for me,” she said, keeping her voice low.
He snorted, his single eye flashing red in the mild light.
“What do you think is coming?” He was worried. Sapha could always tell by the jitter in his voice.
“I have no idea, but surely nothing would have survived outside the city.” Sapha left the rest unspoken.
If something had survived, who knew what type of monster it might be?
When they reached the barriers, everyone paused. The gates were high, but there were handholds all the way up. Then those that had received their weekly energy began to climb. The others would not risk any more of their strength.
Sapha stayed close to Marl, off to the side. Together they scaled the fifteen-foot wall. Sapha got her hand on the top of the hold and paused before she pulled her head up to see over. It was dark outside the gates, just a speckle of moonlight to break the endless night. She squinted, and then as the scene came into focus she almost lost her grip on the fence and plunged to the ground. It was only by sheer will that her fingertips stayed gripped to the fence.
There was a massive group of Drones just outside the city barrier. Those standing in the front held large poles with black mineralines tied to them. This cast enough light to illuminate their fierce expressions.
The Arotia Drones started to mumble amongst themselves. Sapha could hear the fear, the worry, and maybe even the slightest hint of hope.
There were other survivors.
The male who was next to Marl started to chatter. He was wondering if they had stores of energy hidden away somewhere. Were they saviors?
Sapha bit into her lip. She had a bad feeling about this. If these foreign Drones had lots of energy stores, why would they have journeyed to Arotia? They were here for a reason and, judging by their massive numbers and hard features, it wasn’t to form a community and celebrate life. A glance along the fence showed that there were no priests or guards along the perimeter, no one to defend the city. Where were Kan and his guards?
“This is bad,” she muttered.
A commotion had her spinning to the left. Finally Kan had emerged from his home. Surrounded by guards, he was making his way to the watchtower over the main gate. Despite her previous thoughts about his absence, his presence didn’t exactly reassure Sapha. So far the high priest had proved to be more than useless.
“We should go, Marl,” she said. That nudging sensation to flee was not one she ignored; it had saved her life on more than one occasion.
Without hesitation, she scaled back down the fence, and Marl, who trusted her implicitly, followed.
“I want to know what’s going to happen.” He continued, craning his head as they started to backtrack away from the front gate and through the town.
They didn’t speak again until they’d arrived at the piece of metal which hid the hole in the fence they used to leave the city. Luckily, it seemed as if the foreign Drones were only at the front entrance, so they did not have to sneak to their cave.
It took a bit of time to cross the darkened plains. Sapha had marked the route many years before; she could have walked it with her eyes closed. Their faces reflected relief as the thorny bush that hid their cave came into view. It was always a good outing when they made it home without being detected. Scooting around the outer area, they made it inside the large rock cavern. It was a huge single room, with an arterial that exited out the other side. It was perfect because they had two ways to run if it ever came to that.
The moment Sapha was safe inside, she dropped the shadows that cloaked her, revealing her tall, thin frame. She was not as shapeless as the average Drone, but still did not have much extra weight on her bones. Her long, dark purple hair was secured to the nape of her neck with many twines of string. Unlike the Drones, she had two eyes, but they were still red around the pupil, the iris darkening out to gold. Her skin was chameleon-like, changing color according to her surroundings. But generally it was somewhere in a rich brown tone.
Marl strode around the sparse room. There was not much in the dark interior besides a few padded surfaces for his meditation, some bones they used for games, and tomes of information that Sapha had hoarded away. The moss creatures which clung high up on the wall cast shadowy light. Luckily the town didn’t know about these light-givers; otherwise they would have drained their energy long ago. Sapha had never seen them in the city. They seemed to only exist far away from civilization. In fact, she was starting to wonder now how many other organisms might be out there, surviving, learning how to function in the dying world.
The army out the front of Arotia suggested there were quite a lot.