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Darkness Falls by Carla

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Author's Chapter Notes:
To all who supported me throughout this endeavor. The Protector Series has meant a lot to me, as has your words of confidence.

This is the final story of The Protector Series.
The Santa Carla Mountains hunkered down just outside the city, covering the bay and its glittering Boardwalk in long shadows; when fog crept up from the sea-salt, their shapes wavered, quivering in the vaporous nothing, but never withdrawing the protection or the darkness they offered the inhabitants below.

A number of campgrounds nestled amongst the trees and black rocks, more than enough competition for the garish neon beauty of downtown Santa Carla. Few locals visited the hiking trails even during the day, much less remembered they could camp at night, and most of the time, only traveling tourists or transients with no better options would spend any time beneath the canopy of the trees, especially once the sun went down.

Few understood the terror that loomed ever near; fewer still would risk their lives by facing it. But one night, late in the summer, two tents intruded on the privacy nature itself had grown accustomed to. The larger one was pale blue, teetering back and forth on slender sticks of metal. Next to it, smaller, and tucked in against the trunk of a towering pine tree, was a tent made entirely of camouflage material. The only similarities between the two were the crosses dangling in front of the openings, and the sound of conversation from within.

Despite the location, peace settled over the camp. The voices that had started out loud and full of laughter, at least from the large tent, died down, and the soft sounds of sleep and the faint movement of nocturnal animals were the only noises to disturb the peace. Calm filtered throughout the scene, even when a dark figure poked its head from the smaller tent, glanced around as if in search of any unwanted visitors, and then ducked back inside.

It was then, as complacency settled over the campsite, carried by the thick, rolling fog of pre-sunrise morning, that disaster struck. The danger came from above, spewing from the star-filled sky, tearing away thin layers of fabric and flesh; it came from the side, sweeping along the rock-strewn ground, knocking stones and bones alike out of the way with no regard for comfort or life; it came from everywhere but underneath, where the ground clung to the feet of the campers, offering what assistance it could, but the fight was futile.

Two figures rushed out of the smaller tent, brandishing stakes; despite the late hour, they were both half dressed, as if they had either expected an attack of some sort, or had learned to throw on their clothing quickly.

They each picked a target, threw water at the attackers, stumbled over the destroyed ground, and tried to drive the stakes into the chests of the attackers, but their every attempt was batted away, leaving them as helpless as flies.

The larger tent fell, revealing a man struggling with one of the attackers, while a slender woman tried to free her long, dark hair from the grip of another. The one holding her laughed and bent in toward her, gripping her firmly around the neck, and lifting her off the ground until her feet kicked the air.

Blood splattered the pine trees, dark sentinels that watched over all without passing judgment. As screams shattered the stillness, pine needles quivered and dropped to the ground, sinking into sticky pools of hot blood as it spread across the dirt, less than expected from such a massacre, but sinking back into the earth never-the-less.

A slender figure stepped away from the madness, wiping bits of clothing and hair off of pale skin. One by one the others lifted their heads, leaving unmoving bodies on the ground as they drew together, silent, but receiving instruction anyway.

At last they separated, and four of the largest figures moved away from the circle, and gathered up the four campers, tossing each roughly over a shoulder. The campers gave no sign of life, even from that uncomfortable position. The tall, broad man remained apart, faint moonlight highlighting his dark hair; he tilted his head and the group vanished, disappearing into the night.

The bushes stirred at their passing, but soon enough peace filled the campsite once more, twigs falling silent as the wind died and strings of fog drifted upward, propelled by nothing. They twisted along the thin pine trees, reaching higher and higher until they pierced the sky, attacking the stars and settling over Santa Carla, muffling the deaths that marked each passing night.
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