Chapter One -Ryder-Mature

A circle is cast, a candle is lit. Words are recited. I'm not exactly sure what they mean as their in Latin, but I can feel the raw emotion in Vincent's voice as he speaks them. His eyes are closed as he kneels in the circle he cast around himself for protection. The circle creates a barrier between Vincent and the dead. They can't sense his frantic heartbeat, or hear the sharp intake of his uneven breaths, they can't smell the fear in the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. It's me. I'm the one outside the circle, acting as bait tonight. It's my first time. One of many tests I'll have to fulfill as apprentice. I'm the warm blanket of flesh that these soulless shells crave.

Vincent begins to finish the spell. I know it like a song I've heard a million times. Though I'm usually in the circle with him when he chants. The knowledge that I'm not safe within the confines of the circle tonight makes me skittish.

Vincent's eyes fly open. My heart stops. I hear the sound of the ground being split open by the dead, as we've offered up an unnatural amount of strength tonight through our spirit magic; located in a sacred place in the chakra that only few can access.

I sit with my legs tucked under me and a newly sharpened short sword in my fist for protection. Vincent's eyes glide over me, towards the grave I've foolishly turned my back on. “Don't move” He says in a whisper that's barely audible. Of course now I'm tempted to move.

Then I hear it. The gut wrenching moan. It seems louder than usual as if the circle could stuff out the noise and overall horrific experience, outside the circle I'm experiencing this for the first time. I'm closer, my senses heightened. It feels more real. Temptation overwhelms me as the scream draws nearer. I throw a glance over my shoulder. That's my first mistake.

The awakened man is wearing the common, now faded, black suit. It's hard to decipher the man's age as a lot of his flesh is decayed from his skeletal being. The only flesh on his face seems to be around his eyes and his mouth. His nose is completely deteriorated. I realize I've let him see my eyes. It's too late to avert my gaze. I can feel him invading my soul as I've allowed him free access through my eyes. I scream and scramble to my feet. Vincent swears. I trip over a flowered wreath in my haste. I know he's going to reprimand me for wearing my boots with the heels again. He hates them and says there unreliable, as am I, though he won't say that last part out loud. The short sword slips through my grip. The corpse picks it up. Now I am totally screwed.

“Get in the circle!” Vincent calls.

I shake my head. This is my first test. I can't enter the circle lest I want to fail and show Vincent just how much of a screw up I really am.

“Damn it Ryder. Get in the fucking circle!”

I crawl over to our bag of rock salt. “I- I can handle this!”

I feel a hand close over the heel of my boot. I glance down and it's on me. The corpse is crawling on me. I can see Vincent's spell in motion as Mr. somebody Dresdon, beloved something (it's hard to make out the engravings on his headstone from where I am) begins to piece himself back together. Unnaturally, he grows back his organs de-aging before my very eyes. I begin to feel dizzy and swear that this time I'm going to dry heave.

“Ryder!” Vincent screams again.

As a last resort I reach my hand in the open bag of rock salt. I grab a fistful. I feel Mr. Dresdon's hot breath on my neck now. I turn over onto my back and shove the rock salt down his throat. He stands up and backs away as he begins to choke and convulse. I steel my short sword back before kicking the fragile corpse- man in the chest. He staggers and falls back into his grave, dissolving into ashes in midair.

That was my second screw up.

Vincent gets up out of the circle. I hear him sputter a string of curse words on his way over to me.

I try to smile to lighten his mood. “I told you I could protect myself.”

Vincent kicks the bag of rock salt and runs his hands through his dark hair. I swear to God the man could be in a Treseme commercial. I picture him waving his dark longish tresses in slow motion- which so does not help the situation any.

“Ryder focus! Mr. Dresdon was our only eyewitness. I can't reanimate ashes!”

In case you were wondering we don't reanimate the dead for the fun of it. How effed would that be? Vincent and I are part of an elite group known as the citadel. We are the last barrier between the living and the dead. We are hired by private detectives and higher up organizations to extract the truth from the dead. Vincent's the brains behind the operation and I'm the bait. I’ve spent the summer in endurance and physical training. I haven't been allowed any sort of insights on Vincent's cases. He merely instructs me and tells me what to do. Or at least that's how its supposed to be.

Natasha Harrings used to be Vincent's partner before she got promoted to a desk job, lucky her. I've been observing her for months in advance. She was awesome, no, amazing. Never once have I seen her freak out and force rock salt down an eyewitness's throat, though I'm sure these things happen all the time...ugh

 I can feel Vincent's gaze weighing me. He's comparing me to the legendary Natasha in every way and I know the first thing he is going to do when we get back to the guard is beg them to reassign him another partner.

Angrily I march away from him towards the black sedan, a company car. I don't want to hear him curse me out again or cut me with his words. If I'm going to lose my job over this I'd like to do this with my dignity intact. I put some space between myself and Vincent. As I reach the handle of the passenger side door, the heel on my over-stressed, overpriced, stiff leather boot gives out and I trip, catching myself mid- fall on the sedan. I don't dare glance back, but pray like hell that Vincent didn't see that.

The End

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