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Authors: Sarah Fine

Captive

Captive: A Guard’s Tale from Malachi’s Perspective

A Story from Guards of the Shadowlands

By Sarah Fine

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Text copyright © 2013 by Sarah Fine
All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Request for permission should be addressed to:

Skyscape
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV, 89149
www.amazon.com/amazonchildrenspublishing

For more from Malachi, go to
www.GuardsOfTheShadowlands.tumblr.com

Look for FRACTURED, book two in the Guards of the Shadowlands series, releasing October 29, 2013.

Chapter One

The Mazikin was bleeding on his boots.

Malachi shifted in the narrow space, silently stepping away from the creature whose throat he’d cut. More would come. In fact, he was counting on it. It was why he was here. He’d followed this one, a woman with thinning hair and mottled skin, for hours, until he was certain of what she was. He’d slipped into this basement behind her. She hadn’t noticed his presence until it was far too late.

This place was an empty, echoing shell, definitely not a nest. An outpost, more likely — a place where a small group of Mazikin could hide out when they weren’t hunting for new victims. Clarence had been sighted in the area lately, as had Kenzi, and both of them were notoriously prolific recruiters. Ana had said she’d seen Sil recently as well, and he was much more than a recruiter. If he was in the area, this close to the Sanctum — recruiting wasn’t the only thing the Mazikin were up to. But Malachi already knew that.

The Mazikin had been very busy lately.

He had five dead Guards to show for it.

His heart picked up a hard rhythm as he heard the sound he’d been waiting for. Footsteps on the stairs, followed by hooting laughter he knew well. He peered through the crack in the almost-closed door that concealed his hiding place, a utility closet in the far corner of the room, behind a pillar and a random pile of garbage.

The new arrival had brought a lantern, filling the space with gray-green light. Malachi’s view was only a narrow slice of the room, not that he needed more than that. He had the map in his head, had already memorized where all the obstacles were, where all the potential weapons lay, each escape route. All he needed to know now was who he was up against.

A wiry Asian man in a rumpled business suit — with a scimitar stolen from a Guard sheathed in his belt. Sil, one of the Mazikin leaders. He hung the lantern from a hook and stood at the bottom of the stairs, holding the arm of a petite young woman with blonde hair. She rubbed her nose against the lapel of his jacket as he surveyed the room with a frown on his face. He grunted and coughed, speaking the Mazikin language. Malachi had spent the past few decades spying on Mazikin whenever he could, so he easily understood most of what they said.

Frances isn’t back yet
, Sil grunted at the girl in a distinctly irritated and whiny tone. He had always been a disciplined, careful creature, far more so than the other Mazikin, which made him far more dangerous. And more annoying.
She said she’d be here with at least one new recruit
.

Malachi smiled grimly in the darkness. Frances was lying at his feet and had bled out about half an hour ago.

More footsteps on the stairs.
The Guards are patrolling heavily tonight
, huffed a lispy voice. Clarence, his lips folded inward over his nearly toothless gums, lowered himself to all fours and galloped into the room, passing inconveniently close to Malachi’s hiding place. If he smelled the blood, Malachi would be discovered. Which would be fine…
after
he had a chance to gather some intelligence.

Clarence rose to his feet in front of Sil.
I had a recruit. Amazing hair on this girl. And the color in her cheeks…she was perfect. But a Guard ambushed us before I could take her
.

Sil threaded his fingers through the blonde’s hair and pressed her face into his neck, where she made little snuffling sounds as she wrapped her arms around his waist.
They know we’re in the area
, he growled.
We should move on soon. We can grab a few as we head to the north
.

So the nest was in the north. Malachi had suspected that for a while, and his encounter with Ibram in the Harag zone just over a day ago had raised his suspicions further. He’d still be patrolling there if he hadn’t been wounded. Malachi rolled his shoulder, running his fingers along the raised scar that now traversed his upper arm. He could feel it even through the fabric of his shirt. Raphael had done his usual healing as soon as Malachi had staggered back to the Station several hours earlier, but something about the wound was still bothering him. He wondered, not for the first time lately, if he was losing his edge. If he was becoming more frightened of dying, of having to start his time in the dark city all over again, especially now that he sensed he was so close to getting out.

He clenched his fists. This was ridiculous. He shouldn’t even be thinking about this. Especially now.

Has Juri found what he was looking for?
Clarence asked, shuffling around out of Malachi’s view.

He thinks so. We won’t know until we break all the way through
.

A bead of sweat trickled down the back of Malachi’s neck, becoming ice cold as he turned Sil’s words over in his mind.
Until we break all the way through…
so near the Sanctum, which was nestled against the eastern wall of the city, connected to all the other realms…

What if the Mazikin were trying to break out?

He leaned forward, straining to translate the mumbled grunts and coughs and gasps, to find out exactly where, exactly when, exactly
how
…then realized that what he was hearing wasn’t words at all. Sil had the blonde up against the wall and was thoroughly entangled. And Clarence was watching, his mouth half-open.

Malachi rolled his eyes. He wasn’t sure he had the patience or the stomach for this. What he needed now, more than ever, was information.

He drew one of his knives from the sheath at his thigh and kicked the closet door open.

Clarence screeched and bolted for the stairs. Malachi sent the knife flying in his direction, but the surprisingly fleet-footed, old Mazikin narrowly dodged the blade because Malachi’s attention was primarily focused on Sil. The Mazikin leader stumbled back from the blonde, his pants gaping open, looking stupid and startled. Malachi drew his scimitar, and then hesitated.

He needed Sil alive.

Sil’s eyes flashed with fear and rage as Clarence galloped up the stairs and disappeared into the night. The blonde screamed. With a snarl, Sil grabbed her by the arm and shoved her toward Malachi, who kicked her out of the way and got to the base of the steps before Sil could, cutting off the escape route. Unfortunately, the diversion had given the Mazikin a chance to grab a scimitar of his own. One Malachi recognized as belonging to Issam, a Guard who had been ambushed and killed a few weeks ago.

The blade whipped toward Malachi’s face. He blocked and stepped in close, resting the blunt edge of the weapon against his forearm as he guided it back and forth against the frantic swings of the overmatched Mazikin. Sil grunted and squealed, unable to get any advantage or distance, since Malachi outweighed him by at least fifty pounds and had about six inches of height on him. The Mazikin’s pants had also slipped down around his hips, further constricting his movement.

Malachi grinned. “Would you like me to allow you to make yourself decent?”

Sil spat at him. Malachi was ready and leaned away, so the venomous droplets flew over his shoulder. With a wrenching twist of his blade, Malachi disarmed Sil, but at that moment the blonde landed on his back. In the second it took him to knock her off, Sil made it up three stairs. Malachi caught him by the ankle and jerked. The Mazikin banged his chin on a cement step and yelped. Still holding on to Sil, Malachi kicked the blonde in the head before she could get up again. She hit the cinder-block wall and slid to the floor, unconscious.

Malachi sheathed his scimitar, and then slipped the muzzle from the clip at the back of his belt. He pressed his knee against Sil’s back, crushing the wiry Mazikin against the stairs.

“That was a dirty trick, Captain,” Sil hissed as his jagged fingernails scrabbled against the thick leather bracers on Malachi’s forearms. “You have no sense of decorum.”

Malachi chuckled as he muzzled the creature and pulled the stiff leather mittens from another clip on his belt. He’d been bitten and scratched enough times to make this his first order of business. “I apologize for interrupting your
romantic
liaison, but there’s a matter of extreme urgency that I wish to discuss with you.”

Sil cursed and tried to jerk away, but he was trapped, and he knew it. “Kill me now. I have nothing to talk to you about.”

“We’ll see.” With his knee still braced against Sil’s back, Malachi leaned over and cut the pretty blonde Mazikin’s throat. He closed his eyes as her blood flowed, fighting the sorrow that always hit him when he killed the young, the fragile. It was worth it, though, especially for the ones who seemed so innocent. In his mind, he imagined this girl’s soul flying up from the hellish Mazikin realm — free, ecstatic, light as air. He whispered his prayer, the only one he could remember, the only way he could put that wish into words:
Adonai hu nachalatam v’yanuchu b’shalom al mish’kabam v’nomar, amen.

Sil was giggling, and something about it sent a steely shock of rage through Malachi’s chest. This creature had probably been the one to tie the girl to the altar. He had probably been the one to summon one of his sisters to rip the girl’s soul from her body. He had been the one to use her body for his own pleasure. Malachi grabbed Sil by the hair and banged his forehead against the step, which stopped the laughing abruptly. He lifted Sil by the scruff of the neck and guided the dazed Mazikin up the steps and out into the endless night of the dark city.

Sil made a few pathetic attempts to escape on the way to the Station, but his speed was no advantage when Malachi had such a good grip on him. The belt Sil had stolen from Issam was ideal for this purpose. When Sil went limp, Malachi simply dragged him by the thick leather strap until the Mazikin got too uncomfortable to do anything but walk. “I’ll choose a bigger body next time,” he growled.

Malachi gritted his teeth. It was an unfortunate side effect of killing a Mazikin — it freed them to return and possess a different body. “You did that last time, remember? It didn’t help you very much.” Sil had possessed the body of a man the size of a Sumo wrestler, but he’d been so slow that it had been easy for the Guards to collar him. That defeat was probably why he’d instructed his family to select a speedy, streamlined body for him this time.

Sil cackled. “That’s the beauty of second chances. And third and fourth and fifth ones. I thank you for that,
Malachi
.” He spat the name like it tasted foul sliding off his tongue. Malachi wished they’d never learned it, that they only knew him as a nameless Guard. After so many years, though, his conflict with the Mazikin had become personal to some of them. Juri, especially. If any of them ever defeated him, it would probably be Juri, who seemed to hate him more every time he came back. Malachi couldn’t blame him. Juri was the only being he’d ever enjoyed killing. He wished there were some way to make it permanent.

He marched Sil up the steps to the Station. Rais greeted him at the door, smelling of the streets. He’d probably just returned from a patrol himself. “Captain.” He bowed his head respectfully.

“Please take Sil to a holding cell.” He handed the Mazikin over to the enormous Guard. “I’ll be back to interrogate him shortly. Tell the Guards on duty to watch him closely.”

Rais nodded and led Sil away. Malachi knew he should interrogate him immediately, but he needed to step away. He had to clear his head — it wouldn’t do to kill the Mazikin too quickly, before he had a chance to find out what the creatures were planning. It would get ugly. Sil would refuse to talk. Which meant Malachi would have to hurt him. It always left him with a hollow ache in his gut, staring at the blood on his cold, steady hands.

Before he was aware of it, he was climbing the stairs to the roof. He emerged through the trapdoor, breathing the cool, slightly damp air of the city. He rested his hands on the rusty railing and turned to the east, where the forest was. Someday…
someday
.

Heshel was probably out there. His mother and father, too. For the millionth time, he imagined them together, in the shade of the trees, laughing the way they used to before their world was destroyed. He had been raised in a house full of happiness. His parents…they had loved each other deeply. They’d had to, to be willing to fight the stigma and censure that came with marrying across the boundaries of religion and class. The Jew and the Gypsy, who had stayed together when the universe seemed determined to separate them, who had fit together better than people with far more in common, like they had been made for each other. When he was young, he had taken that for granted. He’d assumed that was the way things were, that he’d find a girl someday who looked at him the way his mother had looked at his father, who said his name like a prayer. And now…well, it was irrelevant now. The only time people said Malachi’s name, it sounded more like a curse, like a hard-edged, bitter thing.

Malachi sighed, letting the air rush from him, imagining the sorrow leaving him in a slow stream, handing it over to a city always hungry for it. He wrapped his arms around his body and loosened the buckles on his vest, an automatic, thoughtless motion. His arm ached. His chest ached, too, but it was a different kind of hurt. Five Guards had been slain by Mazikin in the last month. More than the total killed in the past decade. And it had happened on his watch. Just when he thought he was winning, that he and Ana might finally be able to exterminate the Mazikin completely, they’d turned the tables, launching an offensive that had the Guard reeling. When his Guards looked at him now, in addition to fear and wariness, their expressions contained doubt. He was failing them.

The pain in his hands finally got his attention; he was grasping the railing so hard that the rusty flakes had become embedded in his palms. He brushed them from his skin, looking away as the blood welled from the tiny wounds. There would be enough of that later, enough to fill his nose with its salty iron scent, enough to run sticky between his fingers, enough to turn his stomach. He hoped it would be worth it. And if he could save even one Guard, it would be. If he could prevent the Mazikin from breaching the wall, it would be worth anything he had to do.

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