Sam had always thought she would live out her years trapped within the Reservation with the other mystics. When she finds herself outside the walls, she knows her life has been transformed. She reaches the nearest city, where she finds she’s not alone–Mystics abound throughout the city of Chicago.
The only question is: did she jump from the frying pan into the fire?
With a deep sigh, Sam leaned against the wall. Sweat dotted her forehead and began its slow trail down her spine. Roman’s symbol burned against her back. She still had no idea why he was marking spots throughout the Reservation.
But she had bigger issues than Roman’s marks.
Sam scanned the horizon, unaccustomed to the expanse before her. For the first time in her life she was outside the walls of the Reservation, but she hadn’t dared venture far beyond the opening of the Mommy Tunnel.
Sam squeezed her eyes shut, afraid to think back and yet more afraid to consider her future. She had left so much stuff undone. Her friends didn’t even know she was gone. Hell, she hadn’t even said goodbye to Werner. And how would Roman respond when he visited again to find her vanished?
“How did I get here?” she whispered to herself.
She had faced dragons and fae and vampires, but none of them scared her as much as sitting against the Reservation’s wall while examining the world beyond. She wanted to hate her mother for it all, but it wasn’t her fault. Sam had done everything possible to alienate the occupants of the Res. They already feared her just for being a Void—a fae without power except what she took from others. Her ability to borrow any power scared the other inhabitants; her meddling in every calamity within the Res, often resulting in the deaths of their own, made them hate her.
“It’s not my fault. They’re the ones making a mess of things.”
Sam refused to believe she held part of the blame. It had been Heywood—a vampire now truly dead—who had first gotten her working with the Res’ underground society. And after Heywood, Carl and the fae had come after her. She had just been defending herself. Sam knew the residents feared her more and more each time she used her powers on them, but what was she supposed to do? Let the dragon eat her?
Admittedly, the fight with the dragon had gotten out of hand, resulting in the destruction of half the buildings within the Res. Afterward, the Res looked even more dilapidated, if that were possible. And, of course, Lt. Colonel Scott Gallagher had to make it known to everyone that it had all been because of her. As a human, he hadn’t realized his words would paint a target on her back, but they had all the same.
After that, things had gone downhill. Sam never thought her life could get any worse, being the pariah of her community, but she had been wrong. So wrong. It had started with shoulders bumping into her as she traversed the crowded streets, which grew to occasional shoves. It was not unheard of for Sam to come home with mud on her backside after another pedestrian knocked her off her feet. From there, she began to be targets of spit wads, rotted vegetables, and other projectiles. When her mother, Miranda, had caught her taking a beating—refusing to use her powers on those who were just fearful—she had insisted on a change.
When her mother first began to speak to her on the subject, Sam had never imagined she would suggest such a drastic measure. Sam had thought the Mommy Tunnel was nothing but a myth. Miranda insisted it was real to the point that Sam felt certain she had used it some twenty-odd years ago. Sam already knew the man who had raised her was not her father, and it wasn’t a stretch to assume her mother had ventured out into the world to become pregnant.
Fae women struggled to conceive with fae men. The increase in iron throughout the human world—and the Res—weakened them. As the fae population decreased, the women went to more and more drastic lengths to become pregnant, until they finally found a way to escape the Res and mate with a human, returning home to raise the child.
It was hard to imagine her gentle mother crawling through the agonizing tunnel. Flaps of iron were placed over both ends of the tunnel, which burned her flesh as she opened them. And if that wasn’t enough, iron rods were planted in the thick wall, draining a fae’s power as they clawed their way under the massive structure.
Sam continued to lean against the wall, regaining some of her strength. It wouldn’t all return until she left the safety of the wall. Until she walked away, there was still the option to turn around and go back to everything she had known. But on the other side of the wall, nothing waited for her but more condemnation.
Sam clutched her bag to her chest. She hadn’t managed to return to the Res’ headquarters—where she worked and slept. Instead, she and her mother had stuffed a bag of Miranda’s clothing and what little food there was in her parent’s apartment. It wasn’t much, and yet Sam expected her mother to take a beating from her so-called dad when he came home to a sparse dinner.
The memory of her father figure and the beatings she and her mother received gave her strength to move. If her mother could brave a life trapped with her father for her sake, then she could get off her ass and leave the wall behind.
Sam let out a long sigh and hoisted herself up onto her feet. She slung the bag over her shoulder and set out across the wide open plain, ducking and dodging the spotlights circling around the space between the Res and the nearest road.
By the time she reached safety, she was out of breath with fresh sweat rolling down her cheeks, her short, white hair plastered to her temples. Sam’s foot found pavement, and she set out heading toward the nearest city—Chicago.
Miranda slipped away from the Mommy Tunnel. Had she had the time, she would have built a rune into the pack to protect her daughter, but time had been fleeting. Though she had kept it from Sam, Miranda knew her husband was being pressured by the clan leaders to put an end to Sam.
Though her daughter had risked her own life time and again to protect them, the clans viewed her as a threat. They had hated her since the first, horrific day when they realized what she was, and Miranda had been fighting for her daughter ever since. She would always fight for her only daughter.
Miranda sighed. Sam had her suspicions about Miranda and the Mommy Tunnel, but they were so far from the truth. Had Sam known the truth, she would have run a long time ago. There was more waiting for her outside the walls of the Reservation than inside.
Finally, Miranda felt her daughter was ready to face the wild world beyond the Res’ wall. And more importantly, the Res would no longer stand her or her gifts. Though she knew it was the best choice for Samantha, Miranda’s heart ached.
She had fought so hard to have Sam and even harder to keep her.
“What do you mean you can’t find her?” Lieutenant Colonel Gallagher demanded as he rushed to his feet, nearly knocking his chair over in the process.
“I’ve searched everywhere, sir,” replied Corporal Werner. “I can’t find her anywhere. No one has seen her or can say where she is. I’ve asked around, but either they haven’t seen her or they won’t talk about her.”
Gallagher looked down at his desk as though it could somehow provide the answer to the mystery of Sam Gollet’s disappearance. Werner hoped the desk was that magical. He feared the worst. Ever since the fae had summoned a dragon—Werner couldn’t believe a statement like that was normal to him now—nothing had been quite right. It wasn’t just Sam’s disappearance, though, that was on the top of his list of concerns. The normally peaceful people had become restless, volatile.
No one trusted each other anymore. There had always been a certain segregation between the mystical factions. Now, they practically wore gang colors. And Sam, who had dabbled in all the factions, had become public enemy number one.
The lieutenant colonel let out a long sigh. “Get Major Halstead to start a formal investigation. Anyone impeding the investigation will be put in Solitary.”
Werner nodded and did an about face. He knew the order to use solitary confinement as a punishment came as a burden to the leader of the unit sent to restructure the crumbling Res. Gallagher hated the idea of using solitary confinement as a punishment too, but what were they supposed to do to punish the residents? It was becoming almost impossible to keep the masses tame.
Werner stepped out of the commander’s office and headed for Major Halstead’s desk.
“Sir,” he said, interrupting the major’s work.
“Lieutenant Colonel Gallagher has asked you to open a formal investigation into the disappearance of Sam Gollet,” Werner said, keeping it formal.
Halstead glared up at him, no doubt suspecting Werner of feelings toward the lost fae. Werner couldn’t deny there was something like attraction between him and Sam. They had enjoyed more than one make-out session under the guise of healing a dying succubus. Really, it had been necessary, but it quickly became a pleasure to kiss the feisty young woman.
But then the other soldiers got wind of their budding romance, and Werner had ruined it. He chose his comrades over a woman. Part of him stood by his choice, but most of him missed the feel of her silky skin and the touch of her lips.
“Well, get to it then.” Halstead cut off his divisive thoughts. “I’ll fill out the proper paperwork.”
Werner left the cubicle hell of the main office and exited the administration building.
“Did you find her?” a voice asked before he had made it down the concrete steps of the building.
Werner turned to see Breena hiding in the afternoon shadows. Breena was an accident-prone werewolf who had a tendency to shoot her mouth off. Sometime before Werner arrived at the Res, Breena had attached herself to Sam. He didn’t know what had caused such a tight bond between the teenager and Sam, but it had left Breena lost when Sam disappeared.
With a sigh, he shook his head and watched as Breena’s shoulders drooped. “But I did get permission to open a formal investigation.”
“What? What’s the difference between that and what you’ve been doing? Do you even care?” Breena bit down on her lips, aware of her mouth running away without her again.
“Before I was just poking around. Now, if people refuse to answer my questions I can throw them in Solitary.”
“Oh. Who are we questioning first?”
“There is no ‘we’ Breena. You need to go home. I’ll find her. I promise.”
Werner grimaced at his own words. He knew it was impossible to promise anything in such a volatile world. For all they knew, Sam was dead and buried in a shallow grave somewhere. Nausea threatened the corporal at the thought of her rotting corpse—not because he was squeamish, but rather because he hated the idea of the world existing without her. The realization that he had grown accustomed to the idea of Sam always being in his life hit him like a two-by-four to the gut. Until then, he had refused to think about the possibility that he would never see her again. Now, with Breena watching the emotions flit across his features, he had to admit that Sam was most likely dead. He couldn’t stand the idea of their last words being so harsh. Worse yet, he couldn’t stand the idea of there ever being “last words.”
“Go home, Breena,” he repeated before marching away, toward the Gollet residence.
A few minutes later, Werner stood outside the door of Sam’s parents. He had only visited once before, but it had not gone well. In the end, Werner had trained his weapon on the head of Sam’s father, and she had threatened him with her powers after revealing the true extent of what she could do. It had been tense, to say the least.
Slowly, Werner raised his hand and thumped his fist against the door. A second later, the door creaked open to reveal Mrs. Gollet, a healing bruise still visible near her hairline. It wasn’t a surprise that Sam’s father smacked his wife around. Werner already knew the man was a dick, but spousal violence was beyond the National Guard’s jurisdiction. Their only job was to put an end to the visible violence.
“Can I come in, Mrs. Gollet?”
She hesitated for a second, glancing over her shoulder, before releasing a frightened sigh and opening the door. Werner followed her into the apartment. It looked just as it had the last time he had visited with Sam.
Mrs. Gollet guided him to the sagging loveseat, while she took a seat at the table. She folded her hands in her lap and stared at him, waiting for him to say why he had come.
“Mrs. Gollet, are you aware that Sam has been missing for two days?”
She considered her words, her eyes never flicking away. Werner held his breath, waiting for her to answer.
“No. I had not realized. We don’t see her much around here these days.”
A flash of memory passed Werner’s eyes—Sam’s father choking the life out of her. He didn’t blame Sam for avoiding her parents. Still, something about the woman’s demeanor triggered his suspicion.
“Does the news that she’s missing worry you at all?”
The seemingly calm woman turned a dark glare onto him. “Of course I’m worried. Sam lives a dangerous life. But I’ve come to terms with that.”
Before Werner could reply to the woman’s strange answer, the front door opened and loud steps thumped down the narrow hall. Mr. Gollet appeared, his already angry face turned darker upon seeing Werner sitting on his couch.
“What’s this?” he demanded. “I take it that the louse is somewhere around here.”
Werner returned the glare, working hard to refrain from punching the man square in the jaw. Though Sam’s dad looked greatly improved after being poisoned, there was still an air of ailment around him. One punch from Werner’s trained fist and the man would be flat on his back, likely unconscious. A small grin pulled at Werner’s lips.
“No. Sam is not here,” his wife replied.
“She’s gone missing. When is the last time you’ve seen her?”
He glared at Werner. “Ha. So she’s gone and gotten herself into real trouble. The brat is probably buried in a shallow grave.”
Werner knew there was no love between Sam and her father, or rather the man who had raised her. Still, his response surprised the soldier.
“Dave,” his wife hissed. “Don’t say that.”
“It’s true. That girl was constantly sticking her nose where it don’t belong.”
“When is the last time you’ve seen her?” Werner asked, trying to keep Dave from saying anything else that might set him off.
“When the two of you visited,” her mother blurted out.
Werner kept his face neutral, though he now had no doubt Sam’s mom was lying. “You haven’t seen her in the street, perhaps?”
“No, why would I?”
Werner shrugged. “It’s not exactly a big Reservation.”
“Well, I haven’t.”
The soldier stared at her for a moment, hoping she would fill the silence in her nervousness, and thereby answer his question. She stared at him patiently, looking like the essence of peace had it not been for the twitch in her left pinky.
Finally, he gave in and spoke. “Is Sam’s brother here?”
“He’s at the hospital. Working full time now. Ever since Sam made that mess with the dragon.”
Werner kept his mouth shut, though he desperately wanted to remind her father that she hadn’t been the one to summon the dragon. The fae clan leaders—of which he was an active member—had summoned the dragon in an attempt to kill Sam.
“Thank you for your time,” Werner said as he rose to his feet, ready to leave them to their own lies.