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Authors: G. R. Fillinger

Iron Inheritance

BOOK: Iron Inheritance
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




G. R. Fillinger


To Wifey


I froze when he hit her. Some inner part of me clawed to get out of the cold room in my chest and punch the life out of him, but the walls were thick, icy, and without windows or doors.

There were so many times when I should have known. The way he said, “Eat. That’s all you’re good for.” The way the other patrons paused mid-bite at their bistro tables when he snarled, “That’s enough” at the sight of her crying. The way he swatted their tiny dog on the head and sent it scampering for an unfamiliar refuge at my feet just two tables over.

The signs were clear. I’d just been kept away from people so long that I couldn’t tell right away.

That’s an excuse. Of course I could tell. I just didn’t want to think like Grandpa every time I went out. I didn’t want to see every person as a threat, every situation as a calculation of odds stacked toward the darker side of humanity.

The man was a sunburned Adonis with a chiseled jaw, white button-up, and jeans. She was a plump doe with soft eyes that never fully met his. The circular fountain behind them, the center of the mall’s high-end food court, rushed water down a mini Mt. Olympus with Greek gods standing all around. Zeus at the top, lightning bolt in his hand, Athena clad in armor, Ares, Aphrodite, Hermes, and the rest in various poses of inaction. The water gushed past their feet and fell into the giant pool with a waterfall of deafening static that blocked out everything else when he hit her.

I gasped, and my joints calcified. Had that just happened? I looked from left to right to see if anyone else had seen it, if they would do anything. Several others caught my eye, but they, like me, remained in their chairs and turned to stone.

Adonis went back to eating, his head down, ignoring everyone around him. His captive doe wiped away stray tears of shame with her left hand, a silver wedding band glinting in the light from the store windows on the level above us. Their table was center stage, and everyone was pretending not to watch.

Gazing at them, I remembered the first day I met my best friend, Ria. I’d been four. Her parents had moved in just a few houses down and the domestic disaster commenced day one. Her dad beat her mom until her face swelled. My grandpa broke it up—nearly broke Ria’s dad, actually—and I took Ria’s hand in mine as she cried. We’d been friends ever since.

My body heated up, the blinding static of the waterfall filling my ears until enough adrenaline jerked my limbs and broke the icy bonds around my bones.

I stood, ears ringing, and stepped over to the woman’s side. I reached out my hand, the knot of guilt from my moments of inaction stretching painfully. “You don’t have to stay here with him. You can come with me.”

She looked up hesitantly, her eyes warning me to step away. I would only make things worse.

He didn’t even look up from his plate. “This a friend of yours, honey?”

It was a threat more than a question.

The woman pushed my hand away and shook her head.

I inhaled sharply as the part of me trapped inside my chest clawed past the walls and reached into my arms to take control. It wasn’t just the years of training; it was an instinct to protect her, to punish him.

I clenched my jaw and inhaled, pushing it back down. I couldn’t just start a fight with him, and of course this woman wouldn’t just come with me. She didn’t even know my name. What could she do? Have lunch with me, only to go home to him again?

I swallowed and tried one more time. “I’m Eve. I know how this sounds, but you don’t have to let him hit you anymore. You can stay at my house for as long as you need. I’ll protect you.”

My eyes started to water when she didn’t get up.

Adonis chuckled and stood, easily a foot taller than me. He stepped to the side of the table and looked down at the top of my head. “You eighteen?”

I brushed my chocolate hair out of my eyes and met his—cold and lecherous.

Thirty-two malevolent pearls flashed as he spoke. “You really should stop bothering us, miss. Unless you’re interested in—” He arched an eyebrow and flexed his arms as his eyes slithered up and down my body, stopping at my chest with a sneer. A long finger stretched out and flicked the loose collar of my blue V-neck shirt so his nail grazed the skin beneath. “But no. You’re not my type, darling.”

My lungs sucked in air as my body reacted without me. My hand shot up and caught his wrist before he could pull it back. My fingers dug into his skin as my eyes sighted the points next to his elbow and the space just below his right ear where I’d need to hit to make him drop.

His eyes bulged, and he pulled away, but I held on, not wanting to finish it just yet, easily rotating his wrist back and down until his elbow was even with his chin, tendons taut as a bow string.

He screamed in pain and dropped to his knees, the side of his massive neck pulsing rapidly.

My heart was calm, my breathing steady. I pressed my forefinger deeper into the pressure point on his wrist so every nerve in his body would misfire and make him scream louder.

He thrashed and punched my stomach with his other fist.

I took the hit without showing any of the pain, still holding on to him. He punched again and again. I didn’t try to block any of them. My stomach. My arm. My chest. My chin. The sour tinge of warm iron filled my mouth as blood rolled over my tongue.

Keep hitting. Try to hurt me. Then, when you realize you can’t, that if you ever hit a woman again—women like Ria’s mom—next time I won’t go so easy on you.

He stopped trying and doubled over, panting for breath as I twisted his wrist up to the middle of his back and pressed his cheek into the tile floor with one smooth motion.

His wife knelt next to him. “Please. Please, he didn’t mean it. Let him go.”

I parted my bloody lips in disbelief, eyes searching hers. Why was she still trying to protect him?

Adonis’s free hand whipped out and smacked her. “Call off your dog,” he growled as a spurt of blood fell to the tile floor from his wife’s nose.

A wall crumbled inside of me, and my grip loosened. I let him go. My vision blurred, and everything started to turn blue.

Then it all went black.

“Eve!” A sharp, authoritative voice pushed the darkness back down.

I blinked several times, my arms shaking, and the world came back into focus. Nate and Ria were at my side, Nate’s hands pinning my arms.

I swallowed and felt my heart thump wildly against its cage.

“Eve,” Nate said, softer than before, his chest heaving. I’d never seen him breathe so hard.

I looked up at his red hair and freckles. A fresh layer of sweat soaked the collar of his khaki button-up. He stared at my hands.

I looked down and saw why. In between the grooves of my knuckles, blood stained my skin. A little farther down, Adonis’ face loomed into view—broken nose, busted lip, eyes already swollen purple, a gash on his forehead open and washing the right side of his face in red.

I recoiled and clattered into some stray chairs. “What happened?— How—”

I shook my head, each motion an effort to remember, to explain what I’d done. At least a hundred people were gathered around the scene now, their eyes needles pricking my hands. I tried to wipe them on my jeans but it was no use—the blood wouldn’t come off.

Nate grabbed my shoulders and looked right through me, his green eyes like hypnotic wheels spiraling until my body started to relax again. “What happened?” he said, his voice steady, unemotional.

“He was hurting her,” I coughed, words scratching out of my throat like I’d been yelling. “And then I—” My throat clenched before I could admit I’d blacked out. I didn’t even remember the worst of what I’d done.

Nate nodded, the information taken as a fact he filed away behind his eyes even as whispered gossip slithered through the growing crowd encircling us. “Come on. We need to get you out of here.” He extended his hand and pulled me up.

My legs wobbled, but Ria came to my side. “You ok?” she whispered.

“Peachy,” I said, the familiar phrase sour on my tongue as I wrapped my arm around her for support.

Some of the whispers in the crowd stopped as three police officers stepped into the fold. One of them went directly to Adonis. His face had stopped bleeding, and now he lay there wheezing. The knot of guilt that had formed in my stomach when he’d hit her came back. I’d done the same to him now. I was no better.

Nate walked over to the other two officers and started talking with his back to me so I couldn’t read his lips—another skill, besides how to fight, that Grandpa had taught me. I wished he hadn’t.

One of the cops glanced at me as I clutched my necklace: a single, silver wing with a broken blue stone at the base. I could see the headline already: “Skinny Girl Beats Man to Death then Flees. Wanted for Murder.”

He glanced over again, and then I saw the truth. The headline would never be printed. This was another of Grandpa’s crazy prepper friends. Or else a former Marine with a life debt. A year ago it had all been the same—Nate kept me out of jail with Grandpa’s unnatural influence.

I shook my head. This was different. Couldn’t he see that? I’d lost it; I could have killed that guy.

But you don’t even remember doing it, do you?

I inhaled and tried to calm down. How had that even happened? I hadn’t been in a real fight for at least a dozen years—the last one involved a box of animal crackers—but this was unlike anything I’d—

Nate turned backed to me and came close, cupping my elbow in his palm to guide me away. “We can go,” he said, his eyes scanning the crowd as if another threat loomed.

I planted my squeaky sneakers on the cold tile, shivering as a gust of cold air hit me from above. “No, this isn’t right. I deserve to go to jail. I almost….This isn’t right.”

“Eve, please,” he whispered with a longing look at Ria to help him. “We have to go now.”

An older man in a plaid shirt waved his wrinkled, calloused hand in front of my face. “You did a good thing there, girl. Don’t go regrettin’ it now.”

My eyes widened in horror as several in the group of ever-gathering lemmings nodded in unison. The rest were content to stare at me silently.

“He was hurting that poor woman. You did her a favor,” Mr. Plaid added.

I rubbed my hand over the center of my chest and found my necklace again. They didn’t understand; they couldn’t. They hadn’t felt the fire in my chest before I snapped. They hadn’t blacked out and woken to find they’d beat someone bloody. They hadn’t found out they were capable of something like that.

“Closest exit?” Ria said, her arm tucked in mine, pulling me forward with Nate as my legs wobbled again, my stomach churning acid.

“A hundred yards east,” Nate said and led the way, his khaki shirt sleeves rolled up to his forearms, his green eyes darting every direction, looking for another threat. That was Nate for you—so maniacally obsessed with tactics and hostage scenarios that when something actually happened, he was quite useful.

I let them usher me through the main part of the mall and down a hallway that acted as a shortcut to the back door. Ria fished a tissue out of a pink shopping bag dangling on her arm. “Here you go.” She dabbed it on my face. “Does it hurt?”

I caught her hand as the sting of the open cut on my lip crackled. I moved my shoulders and arms around so they’d let me go, and found that other than a few other sore spots on my torso, I was fine.

I breathed in and felt the knot in my stomach tighten. Being fine made it all the worse. I glanced down at my hands again, the knuckles caked with dried blood. “I can’t believe I just did that.”

“Mind telling me what
was exactly?” Ria’s loose caramel curls framed her bronze, oval face. Her soft green eyes glanced at me like she was afraid the ice would crack beneath her with every step.

I would have looked at me differently, too. Grandpa had trained me for this kind of thing—made certain I knew every fighting style and survival technique that he did and then some, but I’d never had to actually use any of it. I’d sparred before, gotten into a few skirmishes that either Grandpa or Nate quickly broke up, but nothing like this, nothing where I could feel the anger course through my veins and consume me…only to make me black out before I did the real damage. How bad would it have been if I’d kept up with Grandpa’s training this year? Would that guy even be alive?

Not that he necessarily deserves to keep breathing
, some inner part of me snarled.

I shook my head. “He hurt her. I hurt him.”

“And he hurt you,” Ria pointed out.

“I let him do that,” I said before I could stop myself.

Ria raised her eyebrows. “You—”

I looked up at the ceiling tiles as we turned left into a larger section of the mall again. There were few storefronts and even fewer people in this wing.

Ria narrowed her eyes with concern. “Maybe you hit your head, too. We should get you to the hospital.”

“No hospitals,” Nate and I said at the same time. Our eyes connected for a moment, unsure why the other had said it, but unwilling to discuss it.

BOOK: Iron Inheritance
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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