Another book; this is one I am particularly proud of. The chapters I have posted as just the beginning of what is actually a seven book series I am wading my way through. The only probable is that I can just never seem to get in the right mood for continuing. Which is sad given that is actually one of my best works. Again, this is a draft, so please don’t take it as the finished product. (If this one isn’t published by the time my future family generations find this then something went terribly wrong!)
The Darken had never just appeared; another misconception that people encouraged, because to the ordinary person the thought that you could become something so disgusting cannot enter their minds. So they make believe that the Darken just appeared. That it was not a process that took thousands of years to come about. That the world had not been deteriorating into ruin since the day it had been created.
The Darken had come about because of humans, because they could not accept that evil within them and expel it. The Darken were a side of human nature that the humans didn’t want to face. So when that evil rose up; twisted those it festered within, changed them from what human’s should be; infused them with nothing but anger and hate, and a lust for destruction, human kind hid from it; Hid from the physical manifestation as they did the one within them.
As the Darken had multiplied and spread far and wide, taking over more and more of the world, driving it to ruin. To protect their fragile image of life they set up barriers, to keep the evil out that could never truly be kept away.
Mars Morrison was the commanding officer of the Shadow Company, those who tread that line between light and darkness, good and evil. One wrong step and any one of them could become that which they fought. One dark thought and they could become the Darken.
Mars was twenty-nine, standing six foot tall, dark brown hair cut into a typical military style and watchful hazel eyes. He had been made an orphan at the age of twelve; his life had been completely destroyed by the Darken; he carried memories, as did the rest of his team, of things no child should ever see. He had joined the forces at eighteen and by twenty he had requested permission to form the Shadow Company; a special task force that dealt one on one with the Darken that he had heard of from other Sealed Cities. Only three had joined with him; Monster, Clarice and Tara. They were the only ones in the whole of the Sealed City willing to go out into the wastelands to take out the Darken before they could reach the walls.
They were a self contained unit; they lived together, ate together and fought together. While part of the armed forces of the city they did not normally have to take orders from those higher on the chain of command, no one really wanted to know or take responsibility for what it was they did when they went out to battle. So when Mars received a summons by the Armed Forces Commander, it was with some confusion, and not a little foreboding that he responded; striding boldly through the corridors, ignoring the looks and whispers. After all, he was the youngest commanding officer that had ever been appointed within the city, and there were those who thought he and his team were crazy to do what they did.
He reached the door, with its frosted glass and black letters letting him know the Commanders name, not that he truly cared or even bothered to look. He knocked once and entered, closing the door with a snap. “You requested my presence sir?” he asked saluting.
“Yes.” The Commander said, looking him over. Though he himself had given permission for the formation of the Shadow Company, he had not expected it to last as long as it had; the group was more resourceful than he had given them credit for in the beginning. It had been wrong of him to ever assume they were too young, he realised as he studied Mars’ serious face, this man, despite his youthful features, was as old as he himself, and had seen just as much as he had in all his years. “We seem to have a young man in our training programme who we feel may be more suited to your team.”
Mars frowned, his posture changed from stand-offish to a more natural, almost angry stance. “Excuse me sir?” he asked, never before had this happened, no one ever wanted anything to do with his team, normally they would be talked out of joining if they showed an interest at all. And now here was the commander trying to push someone onto him. “Who?”
“His name is Astral, beyond that he claims not to know his name, I doubt it is his real name at any rate. However, as I have said, we feel he would be better off in your team.” The Commander said.
“And why is that sir? What has he done that you’re handing him to us? Usually you talk people out of joining.” Mars said, eyes narrowed.
“That is true, because I hate to see needless deaths. And as for the recruit, he has done nothing to warrant being sent to you, but I do believe he should be part of your team. As much as I hate to admit it, I have no way to describe it to you. It would be that much easier for you to see what I mean.” He stood. “Which was why I called you here, instead of merely sending you his file. Training sessions have already begun.”
Mars frowned as the Commander walked round his desk, opening the door and leaving the room, fully expecting him to follow. Annoyed at the cloak and dagger act, he followed, if just to get this irritating meeting over with. He had already decided he would refuse the new recruit, no matter what the Commander tried, he was of the same mind as the Commander on one thing, he hated needless deaths. And unless the recruit actually wanted to become part of the team, which was unlikely or he wouldn’t have been called, he wasn’t going to have him. Because people who didn’t want to go one on one with the Darken ended up dead because they were always second guessing themselves.
Mars frowned at the two men on the mat; the elder of the two was a man he already knew--he had completed his own training under him. The other, no more than a boy really, struck him as oddly familiar in a way he couldn’t quite place. He watched them spar; keeping his eyes trained on the boy, trying to place what was so familiar, so out of place about him, but the constant motion made getting a clear look of his face impossible. The boy spun, and it may have been a trick of the light, but for a moment it seemed that his eyes went red, crimson almost, and his hands, though it could have just been the shadows, seemed to elongate, grow sharper and blacken.
Crimson eyes suddenly met his own and the boy stopped, the colour receding as suddenly as it had come, to a rich brown, and the face crinkled into a frown. And Mars knew, with the utmost certainty, why the boy was so familiar and he knew that he could not refuse to take him, even if he had wanted to. Checking a sound that would have been something between a groan and a sigh he addressed himself to the commander.
“Fine.” he bit out, never taking his eyes from the boys. “Fine, I’ll take him.”
The Commander smiled, somewhat relieved. “Good, good. Astral, this is your new commanding officer, Captain Mars Morrison. You will be joining his team immediately.”
The boys’ eyes shifted to the Commander, frown deepening. “Sir?” he questioned.
Mars didn’t want to stay and hear all the formalities, he just didn’t have the time, nor the patience, all he wanted to do was take the boy, shake him very roughly and tell him he was a stupid idiot for even thinking of joining the Armed Forces. Didn’t he realise he would be caught out? That he was setting himself up to be killed? “Sir, I have duties to get back to, Send the papers down to me and I’ll sort them. You,” he said, looking pointedly at Astral. “Come with me now.”
Astral looked between him and the Commander for a few moments, he practically oozed confusion, before finally he snapped to attention and saluted. “Yes sir.”
Mars turned without waiting for the Commanders response and strode away, knowing Astral was following him. He pushed the doors of the training halls, not caring if the trainees where watching him in astonishment for speaking so callously to the Commander, not saluting and generally not behaving in a manner that was supposed to befit a subordinate. He didn’t care what they thought, all he wanted to do was get the idiot boy away from prying eyes and strangle him. How could anyone be so stupid? How was it possible?
He stopped abruptly when he reached the maze of empty corridors that separated the rest of the Armed Forces from his group and turned to face the boy. Astral stopped also, blinking in confusion, he was still trying to process why he had so suddenly been transferred, and when he was going to get the chance to pick up his things, the few that he had.
“You.” Mars said, breaking into the others thoughts.
Astral frowned slightly. “Yes sir?” he asked, apprehensively, not really knowing what to expect, despite that strange jolt of familiarity he had gotten when he locked eyes with the older man.
“Are you completely stupid? You’re going to give yourself away in training--not even on the field, but in training--and end up dead before you even get to fight. Explain that to me… Astral.” Mars said, hesitating a little over the name. His tone was one of icy anger, if it had of been anyone else, just another solider, he wouldn’t have cared, wouldn’t have even taken him. But this wasn’t some nameless man he had never seen before. Oh no, he had never been that lucky.
“Sir?” Astral said a quaver obvious in his voice. He knew what he was, what he could become, but he had never changed before, never. Sure, his eyes turned that weird shade of red, but that was it. Nothing else had happened. No one else had realised. Oh, they knew there was something different about him, most of them wouldn’t fight him, because his trainers said he had the ‘bloodlust’, which he played upon, just so they didn’t realise what he really was. But somehow this man, Mars Morrison, knew.
“Don’t play dumb. You know I know what you are; all I want to know is why you would join an organisation that intends to kill your kind. It seems suicidal to me.” Mars said, hoping he was not giving too much away, the one thing he didn’t want to do, didn’t know how to do in all actuality, was let the boy know who he was, and how he knew him.
Astral swallowed, his mouth going dry, what exactly was he supposed to say now? Finally he shrugged; the man didn’t seem to stand on ceremony, so it seemed as safe a response as any. “I just did sir. It’s a personal reason I would rather not discuss. And until you, sir, no one else had noticed.”
Mars drew in a sigh, studying the boy. How was he supposed to keep this from the rest of the team? They would wonder if he never trained with them, wonder why he was being singled out. “You should have just gotten a desk job. Or do you really want to end up dead? Because if you do you can go straight back to that training room. I’m not having suicidal idiots on my team. Got that?” he said, angry, at himself for acting this… this concerned, he shouldn’t care, he really shouldn’t care.
“I don’t want to wind up dead, sir. That was never my intention in joining. Besides,” a smile began to tug at his lips, he figured he had nothing more to lose by doing this, “I’m hardly smart enough to get a desk job, fighting’s all I’ve ever really been good at.”
Mars studied him again, God if he could just shake him, tell him to get the hell out before he gave himself away and brought everything crashing down. He took a second to make sure he wouldn’t just yell at the boy. “Just try to control yourself then. You may not have ever changed before, but in the middle of a fight you’re going to, remember that and control it. The last thing I need is shit because you couldn’t keep it together.”
Astral nodded, he wasn’t exactly sure what the man meant, how was he supposed to control something he had never done before? He pushed the thought aside as Mars began to walk again, leaving him behind. As he followed he tried to think of why the man seemed so familiar, it made no sense; he couldn’t think of anywhere he could have even seen him. Heard of him, yes. The youngest commanding officer in the Armed Forces, part of the only Shadow Company set up in this Sealed City. Oh yes, he had heard of him. But there was something else, something he couldn’t place for the life of him. He sighed to himself and let it drop. It was all he could do until he knew more.
Astral stepped in, unsure, and a little put out. He had heard all about the Shadow Company, of how they didn’t stick to the rules of the Armed Forces, the basic hierarchy, their lack of discipline. Of course, he hadn’t believed it, after all, there was no way they could all still be alive after nine years had they not been well disciplined and worked well together. But in the whole two months he had been here he had not heard anyone greet a commanding officer so familiarly.
“Who’s the kid Captain?” A small, short-haired blonde woman asked; her accent reminiscent of the old southern Americans. She was sitting at the table to the side, taking apart a gun for cleaning. She was studying Astral with piercing green eyes.
The black man and woman who had been leaning across the small kitchenette surface looking at something looked over, but added nothing more, waiting for Mars to explain.
Mars bit back a sigh and said; in as much of a no-nonsense, don’t ask me anymore questions after this, tone of voice. “This is Astral, the Commander called me up to tell me he’s joining the team, whether we like it or not, so deal with it.” To better ensure that they didn’t ask him anymore questions he turned and headed for his office, shutting the door with a loud, and final, snap. He had to think about what he was going to do with the kid. He sat at his desk and stared blankly at his closed door. He sighed heavily; he supposed he wouldn’t have to make that trip into the city to check up on him anymore.
Stupid, stupid kid.
Back in the main room Astral was left standing ill at ease after Mars had stalked off. He looked at each of the other members of the Shadow Company, an unsure smile playing on his lips. He had never really felt entirely comfortable with people, he had joined the Armed Forces to get away from the people at school, who either bullied him, and got him in trouble when he fought back, or just plain ignored him. It seemed he had the same general effect of the people here; no one had struck up a friendship with him at all. He wasn’t surprised; he had given up letting it surprise him when he was young. But if he was going to be working with these people he couldn’t afford to get on their bad side right from the start.
Finally the black woman straightened, her dark hair stroked through with the barest hints of natural red was French braided down her back, her brown eyes were warm and welcoming and she returned Astral’s smile with her own wry one. “That’s Mars for you, stalking off without proper introductions.” She walked round the counter and over to Astral. “I’m Tara, that’s all you need to know to get my attention. The big brute over there;” she waved a hand to the black man, who was built like a bull, with a broad and jovial face, hair shaved close to his head, grunted, unable to give a verbal response because he had just bitten into a sandwich roll, waving said roll at him, “is Monster. Don’t ask about that name, the debate could go on for years.” She smiled. “And little Miss Sunshine over there is Clarice,” Tara lowered her voice slightly. “Don’t piss her off, trust me, it’s really not worth it.”
Clarice glared at Tara, though she hadn’t heard the words she could guess. “Shove it Tara.” She said, turning her gaze to Astral. “So who are you and why did the commander have you sent down here, you piss someone off?” she asked, snapping a piece of the gun into place.
Astral blinked. “I’m Astral, and I don’t know why I‘m here, I was just pulled out of training ten minutes ago and told I was joining you.” He shrugged.
“Weird.” The man, Monster said, “They usually talk people out of joining us, not drop them in our laps. Do you wanna be in th’ Shadow Company?”
Astral shrugged again. “Don’t know anything about you except that you go out and fight the Darken, that’s it.”
Clarice snapped the last piece of her gun into place and stood. “That isn’t normal, they sent us someone who hasn’t got an idea in his head what we’re about and what we do. Great.”
The door to Mars’ office slammed open again and he stalked out, in no less of a foul mood than he went in. “That is what Training is for, get your asses in gear and get down to the shooting range. You,” he said, pointing at Astral. “Go pick up your stuff and bring it back down here and dump it in a room, I don’t care which, just do it, and get to the training room in half an hour.” He snapped. It wasn’t unlike him to snap, as all his team knew, but never with such ferocity, and especially not to a rookie. In fact, he never got like this except when he went out on that yearly excursion; he always took three days and disappeared, only to turn up at the end in the foulest mood known to man.
However, there had been no such excursion recently; the last had been over a year ago now. Everyone frowned, with the exception of Astral, who just nodded, suitably confused and even the smallest bit frightened of this man.
“Don’t mind him, just get your stuff, I’ll show the ropes when you get to the training room.” Tara said quietly, giving him a reassuring smile before she made her way across the room, shooing Clarice and Monster on ahead of her, each was trying to come up with any reason Mars should be so angry, it wasn’t like him.
Mars knew he was acting very out of character, he was naturally a brooder, and that’s what he spent most of his time doing. It was only after he took those three days from his life and returned there, to check up on him, that everything came to a head, and he realised everything about himself that he rationalised and ignored most of the time. Yes, then he usually vented his anger on his team, but it rarely lasted more than a week. But now… He sighed and looked at Astral, who hadn’t moved yet, standing as if waiting for something. Mars turned away from that too familiar face. “What are you waiting for? Go. You only have half an hour.”
The sound of the door shutting signalled the boy had left. Mars let out a sigh. This was going to be hard. After so long… how many years was it now since he had even spent time with him? It had to have been nearly fifteen years, if not more. And even then he had never truly spent time with him. It was no wonder he didn’t even recognise him. Which he was glad for. Closing his eyes briefly, he tried to remember what he had been like as child, not what he looked like, but how he had acted, sounded, but he came up blank. He had ignored him those first years of his life, striving towards something that could let him take his revenge on the Darken. And he had left him, without a word to fulfil that idea, without any second thoughts.
Mars started towards the training room. If it hadn’t been for the promise his mother had elicited from him during the evenings they spent watching the stars, he would never have gone back. He would never have known that Astral was his brother, would never have recognised him. Wouldn’t feel this jolt of pain as he realised he had never truly fulfilled his promise to his mother. He came to stop outside the training room and shook himself before opening the door and being assaulted by the sharp blasts and explosions as his teams practiced their shooting. He pulled his own gun from his belt as he made his way across the room towards the targets. He proceeded to take all his frustrations out on the targets for the following twenty-eight minutes he had before he would be faced once again with the one thing that could knock his whole world for a loop.
Astral made his way quickly back to his bunk, in a room he shared with three other recruits, getting lost only once in the maze of empty corridors. The base had been built maze-like as a defence in case the Darken breached the walls again. The last time had been before he had been born as he recalled. His three roommates were in the room as he entered, their conversation stopped and they watched him move quickly to his bunk and start pulling out his duffle bag, he hadn’t bothered to unpack much, so repacking it would take less than five minutes, giving him plenty of time to get back, even if he got lost again.
“Hear you been transferred to the Shadow Company, that true?” one of them asked, he was a likable enough man, two or three years older than himself, and made it a point to at least be friendly to him, unlike the others.
Astral nodded. “Yeah.”
“You musta done something to piss somebody off, nobody ever gets sent to the Shadow Company. Its sure death.” another, less likable, one said.
Astral checked a sigh. “If that’s true then why are all the original members still alive?” he asked rhetorically, throwing the last thing in his bag, an old tattered picture he had found after his stepfather died and he had been asked if he wanted to keep anything. It wasn’t a picture of him, he wasn’t even sure if it was a picture of anyone he knew, it was of a woman and a boy, mother and son. He liked to pretend it was his mother. He shared the same chestnut hair, brown eyes and looks as the women. He had never met her, she had died the night he was born; his stepfather (so called because that was all he had ever been allowed to refer to the man as) had never forgiven him for taking her from him; had always said that nothing that had come from him, or anything human, could have taken away the life of such a beautiful woman.
His older brother had never forgiven him either, but he barely thought of him, couldn’t even remember what he looked like, only that he was much older than him and had ignored him for all the time they had lived together. He had disappeared when Astral was about six. He shoved the picture and frame in to duffle bag, deep down.
“Maybe, but anybody else who joined got killed.” His third roommate pointed out.
Astral shook his head. “Whatever guys. See you.” he said with a wave and he started back out the door. He heard a muttered ‘Freak’ as he left, but let it slide. He was a freak, he knew he was. He wasn’t human like everyone else, but he wasn’t Darken by any means, well, not fully. He knew what he was. He’d found out the night his stepfather died.
He pushed that memory aside; that was one night he didn’t want to revisit. He made his way back to the Shadow Company’s quarters; he pushed open the door to the living space and stopped, looking around, where exactly could he put his stuff? Anywhere, the Captain had said, but just where was anywhere? He spotted a door set in the wall behind the chairs of the living room area, so he went to it and pulled it open, if this didn’t lead to the sleeping rooms then he could always try the door on the wall that housed the entrance to the Captains office. A dimly lit hall with ten doors lay beyond the door, he walked up it a little way, trying doors as he went until he found an open one. He opened it slowly and peered inside, there was a bed, a footlocker at the end of it and a desk and chair. It was small, but it hardly mattered. He threw his duffle onto the bed and closed the door behind him.
Now to find the training room.