Darklight 8 by Bella Forrest

1





Lyra





Saving the world had cost me many things in life, but it was a new day. The cold February air in western Utah nipped at my face as I took in the unnatural, foreboding jungle stretched out before us. What better way to celebrate my wedding than by setting off on a dangerous scouting mission into supernatural territory?

Nicholas Bryce—my Occult Bureau captain turned fellow rebel turned Coalition conspirator, and now my partner in crime for our human-vampire consulting company, Callanish—stood a few feet ahead of me, surveying our mission site. After instructing our pilot to stay with the plane, Bryce had slung the weighty gear bag over his broad shoulders, giving him the look of a soldier ready to face the elements for weeks. I hoped this new mission wouldn’t take that long, but we’d packed accordingly. We’d started our company on Bryce’s suggestion, so that we could continue our supernatural work without being under the Bureau’s thumb.

"Welcome to Black Rock Bureau office," Bryce said to our small group, tilting his head to indicate the site. He gave us a gruff scowl. "Or what's left of it." These days, the silver in Bryce’s red hair was more prominent, especially in his beard. Our journey over the last several months had hit us all in different ways, but right now all I could feel was the exhilarating anticipation in my veins.

I gave Bryce a hum of agreement as I scanned the area. This campus used to have four buildings, but now only two remained. The main section was already overgrown with plants in this strange part of the world that we now called the Leftovers, remnants of the Immortal Plane that had been merged with the Mortal Plane while the planes were being disentangled from the meld. Ruk and the other arbiters had repaired the barriers, but they’d completely vanished after that. I still missed the Gate Maker’s wise, mischievous lavender eyes. But then, I still missed many of the people we’d lost.

Callanish was trying to forge our path in this new, changed world. I was nervous, but excited to be back in the field. I stood with my new husband as we officially undertook our first mission, united in wedded and professional bliss. Dorian stared out at the closest building, which was covered with wily immortal plants that seemed bent on consuming everything in their path.

The immortal trees greeted us with their eerie beauty. Vines seemed to crawl out of their crimson bark and circle up their thick trunks. The vines choked the sad remains of the building in front of us. I could make out the faded sign for the Black Rock office, but the metal in the ground was partially ruined, crumpled by some force of nature or giant creature. I turned a wary eye to the dark green leaves climbing the walls. They moved, waving tendrils around. There was no breeze.

"That's... new," Dorian muttered with a note of interest. Everything felt off about the area. The air was thick with a humidity that was heavy to breathe. It reminded me of missions down South. I tried not to focus on the rotten scent in the breeze.

Bryce’s nephew Cam followed our gazes. "The reports stated in their footnotes that all failed rescue teams noted strange flora, inconsistent with any plant life typically seen in this region. They noted the vines moved an average of several feet per day." He paused for a moment and adjusted his tight collar, his face deadly serious as he relayed facts from our briefing. "They also thought the trees were moving." There wasn’t an orange-red hair out of place on his head, whereas my ex-captain, Bryce, looked as if he might be an entrant in some kind of lumberjack competition. It was hard to believe the two were related.

I glanced back at the tree in front of me. It looked firmly rooted to the ground, especially with the vines on it. I peered closer to watch the thin strands of vines swell and shrink. It was as if the vines were breathing, like an external lung.

We needed to work our way through these buildings, creepy vines or not. Our first goal was to find a nearby portal site for Dorian and Sike to use. They would travel through in order to connect to the Immortal Plane. After Ruk and the arbiters closed the tear and separated the planes, they left the portals open, in their original state. Now, humans could use portals with the help of vampires. That way, we could easily move back and forth between the Mortal and Immortal Plane. This would help us to case the place without a lot of travel to faraway gates or trips to resupply. Regular Bureau soldiers had been chased away by the strange environment and fearsome creatures, but we could handle it.

Finally, I could focus on my ultimate goal: finding my parents. They’d wanted to be useful to the Bureau before the mess with the meld happened, but the last phone call I’d had with them during the merging of planes had been disconnected by the unstable dark energy. Last I knew, my father had reported the area as swampy and glowing, but now, if there had been any water here, it had dried out and left these bizarre trees in its wake. Maybe that was responsible for the humidity, unusual for this arid part of the Southwest.