Hey everyone! This is my first published chapter here! I'm pretty new at this, so please let me know if I'm doing any formatting wrong, or anything else! I hope you enjoy this story. Please review if you have the time—I'm always striving to be a better writer and I love hearing what people have to say about my work! I hope you enjoy!

Luci Adams stumbled through the barren streets, tripping over the discarded trash that littered the pavement. Crumbling buildings and derelict homes surrounded her. The crisp fall air cut through her jacket and crimson leaves crunched under her boots. She walked hastily, her eyes flickering around watching for signs of other life.

It was deadly silent. While most people would be haunted by the quiet, it calmed Luci. Her stroll home was one of the few times a day she was alone. The silence was music to her ears.

After years of taking this route home to the upper ring, Luci had discovered that this time was best for returning on foot since there were very few people around. Most of the inhabitants of the city were already safely tucked in their homes, locks protecting them from the terrors that roamed the city streets when the inky night descended. However, the sick were not out yet.

Usually.

As Luci turned a corner a particularly cold gust of air hit her, cutting through her black fleece jacket. The draft picked up her hair and whipped it around her head; strands of brown lashed at her face, stinging for a few moments before the pain abated. She pushed her brown hair back and tucked it into her knit hat. As she turned onto the new street her eyes quickly scanned the scene, making sure no one was around. At this point it would be too late for any pedestrians to be out; the only company she'd have would be the Raged.

Luci shivered to think about those who were sick with the Rage—the deadly disease that had ruthlessly attacked the human population, leaving no one in peace. Everyone had a connection to it. Everyone knew someone who had been infected with the devastating disease. Everyone's greatest fear was to get it themselves.

Ahead, the large wall that separated the inner ring of the city loomed. The wealthiest families lived inside the ring, which was one of the safest areas in the province. Luci walked slightly quicker, nervous at the fact that anyone could jump out at any second. She usually wasn't this apprehensive and wary walking home—generally she felt safe enough. In her two years of walking home from the same place, she had yet to have a Raged engage with her. However, things were changing . . .

There had been five Raged attacks in the city in the past week. Twenty-two in the past month. More and more attacks were happening everyday.

Luci couldn't imagine what it'd be like to have the Rage. Once someone was infected it slowly began to eat at their brain. They got slowly driven into insanity and begin to see violence as the only solution for any situation. A full-fledged Raged would see another human as something to be hunted and slowly torn apart piece by piece.

As Luci came to the wall and observed a guard who looked to be in his late twenties slouched against the wall, eating an apple. She was surprised; there was always the same guard posted at this time. Officer Williams had worked this shift for as long as Luci had been returning to the upper ring at this time.

"Miss, it's too late for any second or third class citizens to enter the upper ring. Go home," the guard said, sounding bored.

"I live in the upper ring," replied Luci.

He looked at her and raised an eyebrow, not convinced. Her simple boots, faded jeans and plain black jacket didn't look very first-class, she supposed.

"Where's Officer Williams?" she questioned. "He can vouch for me."

"Sick." He took a bite from his apple. "He'll be back in a few days. You got an ID?"

Frustrated, she swung her backpack over her shoulder and unzipped the second pocket. She handed the guard her ID once she'd dug it out from under an extra hat and a paperback book.

The second the guard's eyes fell on the ID he stood up straight and his eyes were instantly more alert. He ran his finger over the gold stamp on the left hand corner representing her position as one of the city's elite. His eyes found her guardian's name and he took a little breath. "Mace? As in Isabelle Mace?"

Luci nodded slightly, her cheeks heating up. The guard looked mortally embarrassed. "Miss Adams I deeply apologize. I did not know you belonged to such a highly respected and influential family. Isabelle Mace is a very generous woman. She recently gave a large sum of money to the force. In no way did I mean to disrespect any member of the Mace family. Please accept my deepest apology."

Luci grumbled, "Don't worry about it." The guard looked even worse, thinking she was mad at him. "Really, it's fine," Luci reassured, trying for a nicer tone. She truly didn't mean to be rude. "Just please let me in."

After quickly testing her to make sure she had no traces of the Rage in her system and apologizing again the guard allowed her to pass.

The change from the outer ring to the inner was extremely drastic. The buildings in the outer ring were crumbling and poorly constructed. The ground was littered with trash. The roads were gloomily lit with dying bulbs in dirty street lamps. In the inner ring everything was spotless and modern. Skyscrapers towered above Luci and the sidewalks were clear of any trash and scrubbed clean.

When the Rage had broken out about seventeen years ago lots of cities had built walls around the best parts of the city and taken extreme measures to be sure no Raged would get in, leaving the rest of the city and the suburbs crawling with the sick. The rich lived in the inner ring, the others outside of it.

Luci had started walking towards her home when she heard and gasp and cry from behind her. She spun around to see the door on the humongous wall still open. The guard who had just let her in was slumped against the ground, a knife buried into his chest.

A scream caught in her throat. Her muscles froze in fear, however it was still quiet. Luci heard nothing out of the ordinary. Finally her muscles unlocked as she calmed down and slowed her breathing.

She crossed back towards the door, peeking out to make sure no one was waiting to attack her. Once she saw it was clear she turned back to the guard. She checked for a pulse.

He was dead.

Luci chewed at her lip, and took a closer look at the wound; she saw the knife was fairly simple. It looked like something that could be found in anyone's kitchen. Based on the weapon Luci was fairly certain a Raged had killed him. The Raged tended to use weapons they found, not high-class guns like the Force had. Blood was leaking out on either side of the knife, and she noticed dried blood on the knife. Blood had never bothered Luci much, but she felt sick as she stared at his torn chest.

Exhaling deeply Luci closed her eyes for a moment. Once she had regained herself she looked back at the dead man, wondering if he had a family. If he was married or had children. Maybe he became a guard because he wanted to protect the people he cared about; he wanted to do something about the constant danger.

Finally realizing that she had to call the Force, Luci swung her backpack off her shoulders and rummaged through her books, looking for her pager to alert the Force. She cured herself silently for not keeping it on hand. Once she found it she pulled it out and was about to click the number for the Force when she heard a voice right in front of her. "I'll take that, sugar."

Luci choked a scream as she looked up and saw a Raged. The blond man laughed as she scrambled back. "Don't worry, angel, just give me the watch—no Raged Forces need to come."

Luci extended her hand like she was going to hand him the pager, but jerked it back and pressed the Raged Forces button. "Help—" she cried into the microphone before the Raged ripped it out of her hands and smashed it on the ground.

His eyes turned to her. His icy eyes were filled with rage. "Now, was that really necessary?" he cooed, slowly moving closer to her, backing her up against the wall.

"Things are gonna much easier if you play nice." He reached a hand to touch her. She tried to scamper away, but he grabbed her. His grip was iron strong, no room for movement.

"Do not touch me."

He sighed. "Oh, honey, don't worry. I ain't gonna be the only one touchin' you."

The malevolent glint in his eyes caused more terror to course through her veins. Her expression must have reflected her fear because the man laughed. "We'll be gentle—on the other hand maybe we ain't gonna be. You're an elite, aren't cha? All the elite girls play 'round a bit, don't cha." He ran a white finger across her chin. "Y'all certainly know how to satisfy a man's needs . . ."

Luci swallowed back fear. Her head needed to be clear. She could not let dread distract her. She would not let this man touch her. She needed to escape. She needed—

The Raged roughly grabbed her and pulled her along with him, his grip staying too tight. "Come on, darlin'. Let's go meet my friends."

"No!" she shouted, squirming, trying to break free of his grip.

He roughly shoved her into the wall, kicking her as she collapsed. Groaning in pain, she tried to stand immediately only to me forced back down again. "This'll be much easier if you play nice, baby," he hissed into her ear. His breath smelled horrible and she resisted the urge to gag.

The Raged pulled her away from the building. He shoved her and forced her to walk forward. Noticing he had on flimsy shoes, once his grip had slightly loosened she slammed her boot onto his toes. He cried in pain, releasing her briefly. Luci turned and sprinted down the street, but she only ran for a second before he grabbed her again. His hand gripped her arm so tightly it hurt. "I wouldn't do that again," he said as he struck her. She collapsed to the ground but he pulled her back up. "Let's go."

He led her through the rapidly darkening streets, holding her tightly—one arm around her neck, the other unnecessarily resting on her chest.

He turned her into a dark ally; she saw outlines of two people. One looked very tall, one was reasonably shorter. Both looked to be male.

As they drew closer to the others, Luci saw the other two men were Raged as well. The tall man had dark skin and hair; the shorter man had lighter skin and was bald. Both seemed a bit more gangly than the Raged who held her.

"Look who I found!" called the blond Raged holding Luci. He shoved her forward towards the others.

"Hey, Jones—check it out," the shorter Raged shouted.

"Leave me alone," Luci snapped, trying to sound as intimidating as she could. She would give anything for a weapon right now—why didn't she pull out her pocket knife earlier? Not that it would do much against them . . .

"Hear that?" the blond barked. "Matthews, she thinks she's in charge!" he said to the shorter Raged as he barked out a laugh.

The tall Raged—Jones—scanned her. "You used to gettin' everything you want? You a little princess?"

Matthews scanned her. Luci realized with shock that she knew him. He had been one of her teachers she had when she started school in the city. "Mr. Matthews?" she asked blankly.

"Ah, it's little Lucilia Adams—you've sure grown," he said, giving her a toothless grin. His voice was colder that how he used to speak and it had an edge of amusement. A shiver ran through Luci's body as she concluded that he was a completely different man. He had been a civilized man—a good teacher, too. Now he was running through the streets like a wild animal.

"You know her?" the blond asked Mr. Matthews.

"Taught her—few years back. Her daddy died or somethin' so she was sent to live with her rich ass family."

Luci racked her brain trying to remember what she could about the Rage. Was it good or bad to meet a Raged that previously knew you? She knew the Rage didn't inflict any memory loss, but she had no idea if Raged responded well to meeting people they knew before they were infected. Would Mr. Matthews be more violent, or show mercy? Somehow she doubted the latter.

"Leave her alone," a voice suddenly said from behind Luci; her body went deadly still. Was this another Raged who wanted her himself—could it be the Raged forces? Could she hope for that? The voice spoke again. "Drop the gun."

Male. Didn't sound like a grown man's voice—probably her age, maybe slightly older. She couldn't detect any trace of a foreign accent.

The three Raged glanced at each other, but held onto their guns firmly. "We outnumber you," Mr. Matthews sneered.

"True," the voice said thoughtfully, "but I outmatch you." He spoke as if it was a fact, without a trace of doubt. The comment made him sound cocky, but his voice had an edge that Luci would describe as confident—not arrogant.

Luci slowly turned around, and her eyes rested on the speaker. The boy looked to be in his late teens. He was tall and lanky with short dark hair and deep russet, reddish-brown skin. He was holding a gun, with two knives stuck into his belt. His right hand held the gun, while the left rested on one of the knives. Luci didn't recognize him, but she didn't know many of the people her age out of the people she went to school with. He could've gone to another school, or maybe he didn't even live around the area. His jeans and simple black jacket didn't scream superhero, but maybe he traveled around stopping Rage attacks.

"Look, kid," the Raged with blond hair said, "drop your gun, or we shoot the girl."

"You really want to shoot, Blondie?" the boy said softly. "You shoot her," he gestured to Luci, "I shoot you." His fingers curled around the knife in his belt. Luci eyed the knives, longing for one of them.

The three men glanced at each other. A memory of a rumor that the Raged could speak telepathically floated through Luci's mind. A boy at her school had gone around telling people that the Raged had telepathic powers; he disappeared a week later. Some people said the Raged heard about the lie and killed him, others said the Raged killed him for sharing their secrets, some even said the government was responsible. Luci thought the telepathic rumor was insane, but the Rage was a mysterious disease—everything from the origin to a cure was shady, and no one was certain about anything.

"What would you do if I shot you?" Jones challenged.

"I'll shoot you," the boy snapped, annoyed.

Luci wondered why the he was helping her: did he know her—or of her? Maybe he knew of her family and thought he could get a reward for helping her. But not many people would sacrifice themselves for others against the Raged. Her thoughts flittered back to the superhero theory.

"I'll take that risk," the blond Raged—"Blondie" as the boy called him—stated and raised his gun. He was about to pull the trigger, but the boy was quicker. His gun went off. Instead of the bullet Luci expected a beam shot out of the boy's gun and hit Blondie right in the chest—it must be a stunner of some sort. He collapsed to the ground in a heap.

Jones and Matthews raised their weapons. In a split second both were rewarded with shots of their own. They fell to the concrete, unmoving.

Luci gaped at the fallen men. She glanced back up to the boy and found him looking at her. He didn't seem particularly threatening and he had saved her from the Raged—but she still didn't know his intentions.

Moving as quickly as she could, Luci grabbed a one of the Raged's guns from off the ground and stood up. She pointed it at him. She knew how to shoot a gun—but she had to admit she didn't have to best aim. If he attacked her she would have to rely on a lucky shot hitting him.

Instead of looking nervous like she'd anticipated, an amused look came across the boy's face and a small smile flickered at his lips. "Now don't do anything stupid."

That wasn't what she had expected he would say. Luci wrapped her hands tighter around the cold metal. "What would be stupid?" she finally said.

"I'd say shooting me would qualify." He took a step forward.

"Guess I'm going to do something stupid if you come any closer."

Then he laughed. At her. "If you're looking for something to say, you could try 'thank you,'" he suggested.

Luci stared at him in disbelief. "For what? All you've done—"

"I don't know." He twirled his knife in his hand. "Maybe for saving your life."

"I'm not going to thank you after you in—"

"Duck!" He brought his arm back, about to know his knife when a strong arm came around Luci, choking her. A knife was held to her neck.

"If you make one move, boy, I'll kill her." It was Mathews.

The boy paled slightly. His other hand went to the stunner that didn't work.

Out of nowhere Jones leaped towards the boy. He grabbed his stunner and threw it to the side. Jones punched the boy in the head and he fell to the ground.

Luci would have gasped if the man hadn't been holding her so tightly. Fear shot through her body. She instantly regretted not thanking the boy. Now there was no one to try and help her.

Calm down, Luci, she thought to herself. Just get free, then get a knife or gun. You can take them. You can—

Jones turned around, a smirk planted on his face. He opened his mouth to say something, but a knife suddenly came out of his chest from behind. A moment later the knife was pulled out. A look of shock was plastered on his face as he fell. The boy was standing behind him, bloodily knife in his hand. "Now"—his voice icy—"don't do anything stupid," he said, echoing what he had said to Luci earlier.

Mathew's grip tightened on Luci. "Yeah? What would you consider stupid? Killin' her?"

The boy reached for his other knife, ignoring his gun on the ground. "Yes," he said.

"If I kill her, you'll kill me."

"Now you're getting it."

The Raged laughed. It was an awful sound. "You want her alive."

"Let her go, and I may let you live," he responded.

"How 'bout you get her in an hour? Let me have some fun first." The Raged ran a finger across Luci's jaw. Chills shot down her back.

"Let her go." He raised his knife to throw it.

Luci slowly leaned against the Raged and crossed one foot behind the other. The Raged ignored her slight movements. "You throw that," he said, "I—"

Suddenly she turned quickly, breaking free from his grasp.

Fortunately, she was free. Unfortunately, that trick didn't work perfectly when the person holding her was considerably stronger, and when there was a knife involved. The Raged had cut a gash, starting at the top of her ribs going down to her hips. She crumpled.

Luci tried to scramble backwards, sure that the Raged would try and grab her again, but she looked up to see him falling to the ground, a knife jammed near his left shoulder.

The boy hurried to her and knelt down next to her. He swore colorfully as he saw gash. "How much does it hurt?"

"What about the other Raged?" Luci questioned, ignoring his question. "Is he—"

"Knocked out. How deep is the cut?"

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not."

Luci pressed her hand into the cut. "It's not deep. I'll be fine. I have to get home."

Suddenly the reassuring sound a sirens rang and Luci exhaled in relief.

"You—"

She scrambled on to her feet then noticed the blood soaking the bottom of the boy's jeans. "You're hurt." She gestured to his leg. "Are you—"

"I'm fine." Luci rolled her eyes realizing he was impersonating her.

"Let me see it for a second."

He gave her a doubting look, but rolled up his jeans a few inches to reveal a fairly deep gash. "How—"

"One of them knocked me down and I landed on my knife."

Luci bit back a smirk. "Seriously?"

He shrugged. "I can clean it up later. It's not too deep—"

"It's pretty deep."

He shook his head. "I have to get out of here." Luci wasn't too surprised he didn't want to stick around and wait for the Force. There were a lot of illegal people in the city—but if the Force caught anyone without an ID they were sent away. He probably wasn't a legal citizen.

She inspected his wound again as her mind spun. Should she help him or not? The cut wasn't horrible—but if he didn't see to it soon it could easily get infected. Accepting that she owed him for saving her life, she pressed her hand into the gash. "What are you doing? You could—" He broke off when he saw the wound slowly closing. "You're—you're healing it . . ."

The sirens were growing closer.

"One second." A moment later she pulled her hand away. Some blood and a small gash still remained—but she didn't have enough time or energy to heal it all. She hoped she'd done enough for him to be able to walk. "Clean and wrap it as soon as you can. I helped but it could still get infected. Do you have access to supplies?"

"What the hell . . ." the boy murmured, looking at his leg, pointing and flexing his foot. "Yeah. I do," he said, answering her question. A smile crept onto his lips.

"What?" she demanded.

"You've got to be kidding me."

"What?"

"No way."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

The sirens grew louder. Noticing the sound, he just laughed and turned and ran in the other direction. "See you around," he shouted back.

Less than a minute later the Force arrived.

Thanks for reading! Please review if you can!

-Maya