“I thought Darcy was going to keep you another night,” Axe says as he lets himself into my room. “And why aren’t you asleep? It’s almost three o’clock.”
I should ask you that, I think to myself.
I push my old notes aside and roll onto my back. I rub the uninjured side of my head. Luckily for me, I’m still somewhat high on moonshine chips. My head would usually be killing me right now. Darcy released me back to base when she realized I was bored and that’s why I kept sleeping so much. I’m stuck doing light duties, as in, no patrols for a week and no heavy exercising for a few more days.
I had been reading up on moonshine’s properties before Axe came in. Our wounds start healing right away after a patrol, thanks to the lingering adrenaline in our systems settling into the moonshine as the rush wears off. Our one healing mark, known as Compassion, and moonshine chips can expedite the healing, but we still feel the effects of our injuries up to a week after the fact. Both the Compassion mark, the chips, and moonshine itself will numb the pain and release dopamine and endorphins, which is why I feel so good. So, adrenaline mixing with moonshine can heal a Keeper, but not the moonshine by itself.
Broken bones heal, but they don’t feel like they’ve healed for at least a month, and we wear a sling for two weeks, if not for the entire time. Gunshot wounds hurt for a good two months and Axe can testify to this.
“She wanted to, but I convinced her I was feeling better,” I say, looking over at Axe, hoping he wouldn’t catch the blush settling in my burning cheeks.
I reel in my thoughts with a single command, Don’t go there, Zach.
Axe’s lightly tanned cheeks are tinged with pink and he crosses his arms. He leans against my closed bedroom door, jade green eyes narrowed. He’s naturally a brunet, but he dyes his hair a dark apple red every few weeks. He’s perfected whatever technique he uses to a T. Each strand of hair is the exact same shade of dark red.
Before Axe speaks, he tugs off his trademark black hoodie and drapes it over his shoulder. I think Axe considers his hoodies to be a second skin. I think he had a few of his hoodies remade with werewolf skin so he can wear them on patrols. Axe presses his lips together, forming a thin line, and sighs.
“Demetrius Paine was trying to cause trouble in the Mess Hall today.” Axe rolls his eyes, his teeth nibbling on the side of his bottom lip. “Paine makes me want to punch him.”
“What’d he do?” I ask, looking back at my notebook to flip the cover and close it.
“Just making a scene over his missing group members.” Axe’s voice softens and he sits on the bed beside me. “He thinks they’re laying injured in Middle Grounds somewhere, out of moonshine, at the very least. I’m sure he’s tried teleporting to them a few times. If they were injured like he thinks, his Stone would be going off and he would have found them by now, moonshine or not.”
Middle Grounds is the middle dimension between Lunar Territory and Common World. Myths and retired Keepers reside in Middle Grounds. In most cases, active Keepers live in Lunar Territory.
Axe flops onto his back with a groan and sets his hoodie aside. “Let’s talk about something else.” He says. “I’m not sure what Cynthia plans to do with Lucy, but Isaac and I calculated the last time Cynthia had Lucy’s marks redone and it’s been long enough for them to fade. Isaac thinks Cynthia might be letting the marks fade on purpose.”
I glance over at him to see a small, wistful smile on his face. “Have you seen her lately?” Axe shakes his head and I ask, “What would they look like to you? You’re a Spawn. You can see through Common World’s tricks.”
Axe is quiet for a moment before he speaks. “I think they would look like ordinary marks.”
Marks are drawn on with moonshine, which is clear by default, but once the moonshine settles into our skin, the moonshine turns black and resembles tattoo ink. After a moment or two, the mark will turn its true color while it does its job and turn black again afterwards before eventually fading away.
“At this rate, I’d say they would be nearly gone now.” Axe says. “She should be remembering things in her sleep, if not through visions.”
I nod, my thoughts drifting to the few abilities I know Spawns have. Alexia had been a Spawn as well, but as far as I know, she didn’t teach Axe much. She didn’t get a chance to.
“Do you think she might be a shifter?” I ask, looking over at him.
Axe shakes his head, his eyebrows lowering. He sighs. “No idea. I know Emery is one, but he could be the only one, so . . . It’d make sense for her to be one.”
A soft silence settles in my room.
“You know something?” Axe sits up. “I thought I saw Thomas with Paine today, but I didn’t have a good feeling about him.”
“Why?” The moonshine chips are starting to wear off. I bow my head to rub at my temples.
Axe shrugs, his jade green eyes drifting to the ceiling. “Every time I looked at him, his eyes turned red. It was so weird, like he had on contacts . . .” Axe’s voice trails off.
“Axe,” I sit up, alarm making me stiffen. “Keepers are forbidden to wear colored contacts, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, of course.” Axe says, making a face at me. “I’m just saying Thomas’s eyes looked red, that’s all. I didn’t get too close to him either.” He sighs. “I hardly recognized him. He’s lost a ton of weight. He looks a bit like Isaac now from a distance.”
“What happened on Paine’s last patrol anyway?” I ask, sliding off my bed as the pieces fall into place. “Weren’t they dealing with vampires?”
“Yeah, I think.” Axe says, still confused. “They were fresh vampires, at the wrong place at the wrong time when they got changed. They were fighting over a bar or something, establishing territory like all fresh myths do, and someone called for Paine when things got heated. You know fresh vamps have short fuses.”
“You don’t see it yet?” I blurt out, crouching down to grab my shoes from under my bed.
“See what?” Axe asks, cross. He goes silent for a moment. “Oh.”
I pull my combat boots on and pull myself onto my feet, using the bed for support. “Thomas must have been bitten on that patrol.” I say. “How red were his eyes?”
Axe slides off my bed, grabs his hoodie, and tugs my bedroom door open in one fluid motion.
“Strawberry, almost crimson,” is all he says as he leaves.
Crimson red eyes. The color of a mad vampire.
“Go wake up Ty!” I call after Axe, darting to my closet for my Skin jacket.