Ace of Blood

Alice has found a new kind of wonderland.
Jamie Cunning is just an ordinary girl. Sort of. Bearing the scars of a thousand painful memories, old an new, she found a strange set of friends in the abandoned and untended headstones of a nearby cemetery. But this girl who prefers the company of the dead to that of the living finds a shocking new life thrust upon her when she is shoved into a world of danger and death. The worst of all: it lurks just around the corner. The paperboy. The school bully. The neighbor. They may all be a part of it. Watch out, because Ace is always watching, and you never know how the cards will fall.


26. Three Nights of Blood

 For two days Zack planned, for two nights he bathed in blood. Ace, surprisingly, had helped him after that first night. Perhaps the man thought that, if he couldn’t stop Zack, the next best thing was to help him succeed.
 Zack didn’t need help.
 The monster inside him was harder to control now, craving blood day after day, filling his head with fantasies of death and destruction. Zack fought to keep it contained until the sun set, until night swallowed him and gave him the freedom to sate it. Those two nights saw more blood, more death, than he’d dared spill in months.
 For Zack didn’t usually kill for his own sake. He’d been so careful, only preforming the tasks Ace contracted him for, keeping the murders clean and efficient, a model assassin. Now he couldn’t resist the indulgence, the entertainment, the show. Now he couldn’t help but make the fun last a bit longer.
 And it made him sick.
 But there was no choice. The monster had promised death, and it had wrought it.
 On the first night, Andrew Powers had sacrificed his friends to save his own life. For that betrayal, as well as his other sins, Zack had killed him and his mother, leaving a bloody ruin instead of bodies behind.
 On the second night, Peter Greene fought back. He died easiest, a quick blow to his throat, a dagger through the heart. Zack left the body intact, left the house through the window without waking his victim’s baby sister, still sleeping peacefully in the next room. She’d woken soon enough though, when the shriek of Peter’s parents echoed through the whole street through that still-open window.
 On the third night, Jason Mullen had the forethought to set the security system. But he made a mistake: his dog was large enough to need a dog-door, and while it did sting Zack’s pride, he could slip through it easy enough. Jason could have died easy, had he let himself, but he screamed before he fell, and that brought his brothers into the equation. It was easy work, no matter how much muscle the three had. They were slow, and Zack’s monster was very, very fast when it escaped its cage with a gentle sign.
 After it was free, it took its time, and even Zack couldn’t remember when the bodies had looked like by the time he’d finally left. He was pretty sure, though, that he didn’t want to know.
 The police were out in full force, after that, searching for this new serial killer. They knew, of course, by the cards he left at each scene – identical to the one around his neck, drawn to replicate the snake curving around his arm – that he was no new killer at all. It had simply been years since they’d seen bodies like the ones he left behind.
 Zack could barely remember the time before the Savages had taken him and his older sister into their home, before the Ace of Hearts had tamed him, made him into something resembling a human. But he knew without a doubt that the nights had run red, that there were dozens of orphans, or widows, or childless parents, whose sorrow was his fault. There were even more without anyone left to mourn them.
 And now, after ten years, the monster was back. And it was making up that lost time.
 Six bodies in three days. Five mutilated beyond recognition.
 The news reporters were having a field day, erring scenes of the streets, of the houses where he’d killed them. Somehow they even got ahold of one of his cards, though how Zack had no idea. But they thought he was a new murderer.
 Only the police knew that, even in the quiet time, when the beast had been captive to reason, Zack had still been a killer. It was in his blood, in his mind and heart and bones. It was written in his DNA. Those quiet times had been filled with quiet kills, with silent deaths from lethal blades. But they knew it was him, because Zack made sure to leave his calling card at each and every scene.
 On the third night, Bradley Stephens was scheduled to die.
 The monster purred as Zack released it, hurrying over the fence and into the backyard of the house. The patio light was on, but it was well after midnight, and no one was likely to be awake. Zack knew this would be his last kill for a while, knew Ace would make him lie low for a time, until the police were off the scent and his file went back into the pile of cold cases they had no hope of solving.
 Maybe then the others would look at him again. Most avoided his gaze. Blake’s aunt, Vijf, had stopped coming to the house altogether, keeping her son Akera away with her. Bara, Saith and Wyth wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t speak to him.
 Ace and Dix were overly formal, treating him like a different person. Deuce seemed more accepting of him than ever, which frightened Zack more than a cold glare ever could.
 Only Blake and, surprisingly enough, Jamie, treated him with any warmth. Blake was oblivious as always, and their friendship had resumed, the awkwardness gone, after that first day. Jamie, Zack knew, had seen him covered in Drew’s blood. She had certainly pieced together what he was doing. She knew, and yet, shockingly, she didn’t avoid him.
 Jamie Cunning might just be a perfect Tera. After learning the truth of their family, she had taken less than a day to adapt. What he’d thought might break her had only made her stronger. She was, if anything, more welcoming to him than ever after he’d finally answered her question. Jamie had wanted to know what Ace had asked: why he’d done it. Zack had given the same answer, and she’d nodded and walked away. But less than an hour later she’d come back, acting as if nothing were wrong.
 Zack decided that he really did not hate her.
 But such thoughts were not meant to echo in the head of a monster, and so he pushed them away and focused on the task at hand. Doubtless Brad would know he was coming, and even if his parents hadn’t believed, he’d have taken some security measure. But they might have listened, for he’d recently lost three of his best friends.
 And so Zack’s monster was careful, more so than ever before, not to make a sound as he crept toward the house.
 Maybe they didn’t listen, Zack thought as he pushed the back door open without effort. It hadn’t even been locked. Or maybe Brad is stupider than I thought.
 The house was dark as Zack stalked though it, silent and cold and, he might have thought, empty. But it couldn’t possibly be empty, because the occupants were doubtless asleep obliviously in their beds. Zack resolved to allow his monster to play here, to completely satisfy its hunger so that it wouldn’t threaten anyone else. This was, after all, the last bit of fun it would have for at least a few weeks.
 The rooms flashed by, empty one after another, and Zack started to worry. What if they’d listened, and in response gone to stay a night at a hotel? It would ruin everything and, now that the beast was unleashed, it would not be restrained without at least some satisfaction. Someone was dying tonight, and if Brad wasn’t here, it would be an innocent.
 Zack really did hate to kill innocents.
 Finally he reached a room from which sound escaped, the gentle rasping breaths of a deep sleeper. Cracking the door open, Zack slipped inside soundlessly, not bothering to turn on the light.
 It turned on without him, revealing the contents of the room.
 No windows, his monster saw. No other doors. No one inside, the sound of breathing coming from a small stereo on the floor by the back wall. And then, before he could move, the lock clicked from the outside, sealing him in the empty room.
 Moments later the sound of sirens drowned out the fake-breaths, drowned out even the wrathful, raging screams of the monster trapped in a new prison. Zack felt the pain in his hands from far away, from where he’d locked himself in his mind, but when the monster’s eyes passed over them he saw the raw, bloody places and broken nails that beating at the door had earned him.
 Zack buried himself deeper, so deep he couldn’t even tell when the door opened and the cops entered, weapons ready. He felt the bullet though, that pierced his shoulder when his monster jumped snarling at them, felt his arm twitch and drop the dagger.
 And he heard his own scream, suddenly so very loud, as the monster retreated back into his mind, leaving Zack alone to face his fate, unable to hide any longer.
 The pain was incredible, and Zack wondered idly if getting shot and being stabbed felt similar. He would have to ask someone, someday.
 He didn’t fight as his arms were wrenched behind him, as his hands were handcuffed and he was led away, the useless litany of his rights following doggedly.
 Zack wasn’t human, not in his own eyes, nor any of these men’s. Why they should bother reading him the rights of a human, he just could not fathom.

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