The surface I was on was hard and cold and I failed to choke down panic when extending my arms met a similar surface and trying to sit up earned me a sharp crack to the skull. The pain brought the rational part of my brain back online and I began to explore my tiny prison. A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the metal box ran down my spine… I was not able to force my chest to draw a breath. Kicking hard with my feet slid me down against the wall which gave way slightly.
My vision was assaulted with a brilliant white light that shone through the opening, another pair of hard kicks and the shelf in the morgue where my body lay slid out fully into the harsh metal halide lighting of the room. What happened last night? If my body really is dead then why do I burn with the desire for vengeance, and vengeance against whom? Looking at the stitches crisscrossing my body, and the unwholesome pallor of my skin, I decided that my primary course of action must be covering myself. Then I would find answers if there were any to be found.
There is something decidedly disturbing about taking clothing off a dead body; even when you yourself are dead. I cast about the room for anything else that I could possibly do, however the only other option was to cut holes in a body bag which would have drawn at least as much attention as my pale scarred flesh. The young man whose clothes I was stealing didn’t complain despite the fact that I had to dislocate his shoulders to get his Led Zeppelin t-shirt off without tearing it apart. It shocked me how easily I was able to do it; perhaps he had some sort of muscle weakness or joint problems. My fingers and wrists felt stiff either from rigor mortis or maybe just from laying inside the cold steel embrace of the morgue drawer.
I had never been in a morgue before, the stark cleanliness of the stainless steel drawers and white tiled floors, walls and tables suggested either a new facility or else a very fastidious caretaker. I decided on the latter as I surveyed the neat tidy rows of scalpels, saws, needles and even a tape recorder set out at precise distances from one another on a nearby shelf. I felt a sudden uncomfortable pressure inside my head as though I was in an airplane making a rapid descent, as though there was a bubble behind my nose, eyes and ears pressing against them.
The pressure kept increasing at an alarming rate; I attempted to force air into my estuation tubes only to find that drawing a breath was a physical impossibility. Afraid that my eyes would be forced from their sockets, I grabbed a steel probe from the table top and plunged it into my ear. A burst of air and fluid shot out with enough force to leave a trail of phosphorescent vitriol from the edge of the counter to my shoulder its glow barely visible in the brightly lit room. Before I had the chance to study the strange glowing purplish green substance I suddenly became aware of voices and the sound of footsteps so close I was astounded that I hadn’t heard them before.
“-omething in the water or maybe an infection or some airborne agent. I can’t wait for the next episode, seriously I was so pissed off when it was over.”
“Yeah and Fox will probably cancel it just like they have every other decent show. I wonder what they have against making money.”
A sudden burst of adrenaline startled me, I drew a ragged breath and my heart suddenly thundered in my chest. A pair of middle aged men dressed in white clothes walked into the room. “What the hell are you doing in here? This is a restricted area; you aren’t supposed to be here. Are you one of those weirdoes who gets off on touching dead people?” I backed up against the counter and grabbed the first thing my hand touched; the microcassette recorder.
“Gentlemen, I’m with the World News Daily paper and I’m looking to dig up a story on just such a subject, can either of you comment?” I was shooting from the hip, desperate to distract them long enough to get out the door. I held the small tape recorder in my hand out in front of my body like it was a weapon “I’ve heard there were some instances of necrophilia in this morgue, I promise I won’t mention your names.”
“My wife reads that shit God only knows why… get the fuck out before we throw you out. We could lose our jobs just by you being in here!”
Needing no encouragement, I walked out of the room as fast as I could without, hopefully appearing any stranger of a spectacle than I imagined myself being. I would ponder the sudden flush of life that was rapidly fading from my system later when I felt safe.
I broke into a run the moment I was out of view of the morgue attendants. I had to get out of this place and fast. There was too much I didn’t understand, I needed some time to figure it all out or at least get a handle on my body. What was with me suddenly starting to breathe and my heart beginning to beat again? Why did it stop? I stepped through a door and found myself in a busy hospital emergency room. It was easy to avoid notice in all the commotion even though my lungs no longer functioned and heart had ceased to beat once again. Once outside I ran blindly, taking advantage of not needing to breathe until I reached a park that seemed more or less deserted. As I slowed to a walk an old man approached me
“Spare some change youngster?” I dug in my pockets, surprised to find a couple dollars which I proffered to him. “I’ll take whatever you have in your wallet too.” he said lifting his other hand to show a knife with a wicked looking edge. Considering all that had happened I tried to laugh, all that came out was low groan. Suddenly fear blossomed on his face and he backed away slowly “Just a joke, you understand just a joke! Here take it back, I don’t need it!”
He dropped the money I had given him and the knife, took a few stumbling backward steps then turned and sprinted away. I sat down with my back to a large tree. The look in the old man’s eyes had been one of fear growing into stark terror. What was I becoming and what did he see that frightened him so much? The answer became clear to me as the sun began to set. I could see every vein illuminated from within by a faint glow, mapping out my now defunct cardiovascular system in a beautiful but disturbing trail of interlacing lines. My eyes were bright enough to shine a faint light wherever I looked, and everything I looked at seemed outlined in fairy fire, some green, some blue, some red. I put my hands over my face in disbelief almost dropping the forgotten cassette recorder. Of course, why didn’t I think of it earlier? With a morbid curiosity, I re-wound the tape to listen to the coroner perform my autopsy.
“The time is currently 1900 hours 25 minutes; the subject is a John Doe who was found alongside the road apparently the victim of a shooting. The subject is wearing leather protective clothing and a motorcycle helmet, he was found a few yards away from a motorcycle, there is a hole approximately 3 centimeters in width in the front of the jacket, no exit wound is visible. This will be an attempt to exhume the projectile and ascertain the cause of death.”
I hit the stop button on the player as memories came flooding back. It had been late; I was on my way home after a long day of work and even though the sun had gone down and it was far past rush hour I could see a long line of cars stretching out ahead of me in a traffic jam. At the last minute, I decided to take an exit, driving on the shoulder for a short while and then roaring up the ramp, smiling to myself at the disapproving looks from the officers directing traffic. I knew these back roads well and although they took longer than the freeway it would be a pleasant ride with only a few places where I would have to stop. The long swooping corners were the perfect stress relief; my dark mood from having to work late was lifting as I pushed my big cruiser to her limit.
Suddenly I saw lights in my mirrors, they were approaching at a speed that I considered borderline suicidal on this narrow winding road. Looking for a safe place to pull off and finding none, I increased my speed. I knew there was an overlook just on the other side of a small hill and was sure I would have plenty of time to reach it.
Topping the rise and turning on my signal I suddenly heard the high-pitched scream of a sport bike exhaust. The rider behind me blew by so close the wind nearly unbalanced me, his high intensity headlights illuminating vehicle that resembled a smaller Humvee parked in the overlook parking lot. It was painted flat black except for a white reflective plate that I could clearly see marked “MUETF” I felt a sudden impact to my chest and my last memory is the motorcycle moving away from me in slow motion, my hands unable to keep a grip on the bars. The illumination of a lonely street light behind me showed my bike losing balance, tipping on the right side and knocking over a set of road cones on its way over an embankment.
“After cutting away the outer clothing I am making a vertical incision centered on the entrance wound. It is a precision shot, appearing to enter the exact center of the sternum. There is very little blood which is odd for a wound of this size. Something else that is strange; as I was removing the clothing I note that none of the bones appear to be fractured despite the estimated speed of impact being more than 40 miles per hour.
“Other than being dead, this is a very lucky man. Heh. I am now peeling away the layers of skin and flesh, the hole in the sternum is clean without any splintering; I have never seen a bone puncture that is this perfect, almost as though a high-speed drill was used instead of a projectile. Probing inside I cannot feel the bullet, I am going to spread the chest in order to investigate further.“
Here the recording was interjected with a high-pitched whirring. I fingered the raggedly stitched vertical incision over my breast bone through my shirt and shuddered involuntarily. The sun was now truly below the horizon, and the soft phosphorescence emanating from whatever lay in my veins was much too conspicuous for my liking. I decided to try and make it home regardless of whoever or whatever might be waiting for me there; at least I could stay long enough to get some clothes that fit and covered my arms and hands. And maybe a pair of dark sunglasses. I could listen to the rest of the tape there.
Despite the worry that my apartment would be under surveillance, trashed or otherwise unavailable, I was able to get in without incident using the spare key that I always kept in the cold air return at the end of the hallway. The apartment appeared untouched; out of habit I turned on the TV and grabbed a beer from the fridge before I even thought about it. An interesting thought – did my body need anything to sustain itself? I walked into my bedroom, set the recorder on the dresser and hit play so I could listen while I found some clean clothes to wear.
“I can find no evidence of the projectile used at all; I am beginning to wonder if perhaps this is not a GSW after all. There is also the problem of the blood; in the area surrounding the wound all the subject’s blood is hyper-coagulated. Almost no blood has leaked out of the wound and instead it has solidified into a much more rigid substance. It is difficult to cut with a scalpel; in fact, it is tough enough that I have dulled several blades. The extremities do not seem to be affected this way although I can see evidence that this phenomenon is slowly spreading through the subject’s blood vessels, coating the inside but not completely closing them. This is a very interesting occurrence; I have recorded the current state of the condition and will come back tomorrow to re-evaluate how it has spread. Whatever this substance is, it could be a major breakthrough in medical science. Exactly how the subject met his demise is still unclear but perhaps with a little extra time I will be able to ascertain more about the entrance wound, but first I need to take a sample of the subject’s blood to the lab for analysis.”
The recording seemed to have reached the end and I had found the clothes I was looking for in my closet. I grabbed the recorder, stuck it in the pocket of my jacket and headed back into the kitchen.
“…the fire spread quickly, engulfing half the block before firefighters were able to contain it. The entirety of the morgue and its contents were destroyed along with half of the police department next door. It is unclear at this point whether this is an act of arson or if it’s just an accident. We will keep you posted with all the details as they develop. This is Samantha Chadwick reporting for channel 5 action news.” The TV was still on and this was too convenient to be a coincidence. I glanced out the window and color suddenly sprang into my vision. A glowing red outline shone from the alley across from the apartment complex. Before I had a chance to take a closer look there was a knock on my door.
I could clearly hear my landlady’s voice outside as another knock, louder this time, rattled my door on its hinges. “Oh officers, how terrible! I always told him not to ride that machine – MURDERcycles are what I call them.” There was a muffled sound of another voice that I couldn’t quite pick up, but with that murmur I saw tendrils of shadow darker than jet slowly oozing into my vision under the door, past the cracks in the hinges, through the keyhole and even through the vents from the hallway. “I know officer, but our building policy is that we have to knock three times before entering with the master key.” There was a third knock and then the key snapped in the lock. “I’ll leave you gentlemen to your work, pick up the phone and hit pound 0 if you need anything else.”
I realized I had been standing there mesmerized by the flat black shadow that seemed to be pouring through every crack and crevice between my room and the hallway. Now that the door was opening I was jolted back to reality. There were two men in the hallway and they were surrounded by an aura of the same dark substance that now flooded into the room. I couldn’t clearly make out their faces; the shadow was so thick it was nearly obscuring their entire bodies but I could see one was short and slender while the other nearly filled the doorway with his bulk.
“You’re ill, please come with us, we can help you.” The voice from the shorter of the two was calming, sweet and sincere. I tore my eyes away from the swirling currents and bolted for the living room. There was a fire escape out one of those windows; a dubious looking cast iron relic, but better than nothing from four stories up. I dodged as I ran, instinctively diving past the couch which was split nearly in half as a huge crossbow bolt slammed through the space I had occupied moments earlier.
Crossbow? What the fuck? Adrenaline hammered into my system and my heart shuddered into an unsteady beat. The urge for revenge screamed to the forefront of my mind; I KNEW they were guilty. I knew without the slightest doubt. Grabbing the closest half of my couch I hurled it in the direction the bolt had come from. I picked up the other half as easily as if I was lifting one of the cushions and sent it spinning through the windows that stood between me and the fire escape.
A backward glance showed the wall half demolished and the larger of my assailants attempting to free his weapon from a tangle of couch springs. The fire escape held together long enough for me to get down one story. I could hear the bolts shrieking in protest as they gave way and not wanting to get crushed I jumped off as hard as I could without even thinking about it. As the wind whistled past my ears the thought crossed my mind that this was perhaps not the best course of action.
As a child my favorite comic was always The Incredible Hulk. The main reason was that he could jump so far. It just seemed like an awesome thing to be able to do – so much simpler than all that flying around other superheroes did. Much more basic. Much more primal. It was everything I thought it would be. An animal roar of rage and exhilaration burst from my throat as my mind raced trying to think of anything I could do to slow the fall – and that’s when I realized my leap was going to carry me completely across the street.
My veins were glowing like streams of purple flame, the ones in my legs bright enough to shine through the black pair of jeans I was wearing. I moved my body around to land feet first, aiming for an expensive looking sedan parked next to an alley, figuring that a car would at least crumple a little bit and… well I tried not to think about it. I hit the car with enough force to not only blow out all the windows and destroy the roof but also bend the frame. My leg muscles felt like they were tearing from the bone trying to absorb the impact but amazingly my feet felt no pain at all. I rolled off the wreckage stunned from the impact and a voice came from the alley.
“Jesus fucking Christ you know how to make an entrance, I’ll give you that; but let me help you out with the exit.” I looked up into a pale face framed by dark hair streaked with silver surrounded by a warm red glow. She was leaning down from the back of a sport bike that looked familiar… “Hurry up damn you it’s going to wear off in a couple seconds and you won’t be able to stand.”
Too dazed to think of a better option I took her hand, swung my leg over the back of her bike and had to grab her waist as she started the engine and was moving almost before I was seated. Looking up at my apartment I caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure trying to remove the bars of the fire escape from the side of the building as we flew by. I almost lost my grip in amazement; the force of my leap had imbedded the entire thing at least six inches into the bricks.
“Good thinking on the fire escape; that should hold those fuckers off for a couple minutes. Heh, you almost took his arm off. I hate Hunters. How’d you learn to do that so fast, anyway? Never mind, we can talk more once we get to the Warehouse.”
I could hear the capital letters emphasized in her words. What the hell had I gotten myself into? By this time we were on the outskirts of town and her speed had increased alarmingly. Power poles were a blur in the headlights and the center line was one single streak. All I could do was hang on and hope that wherever I ended up I could get some answers.
My guide hopped off her bike and took two quick steps to a small console, pressed a button and said “Mec, lemme in I’ve gotta ‘vert needs fixing. Only another couple minutes by my guess.” I clumsily dismounted from the bike, almost knocking it over; my legs felt like they were made of stone, my joints were tight and I couldn’t even wiggle my toes. I tried to massage my legs with my hands to get the feeling back in them but they were as hard as the concrete walls; maybe they didn’t just feel like stone.
“How you know he’s a ‘vert Ren?” A man’s voice reverberated through the room, smooth and husky; sounding like it belonged to a lounge singer, “We’ve had a rash of fakes last couple weeks.”
“How’s a jump off the third story of a building catch you? He even had a Snake and a Bull on his ass. He’s for real, I’m sure of it. Come on he’s seizing as we speak.” The floor began to drop and I realized this room was actually an elevator.
“Ren? Where the hell are we? What is this place? What is happening to me? Who are you people?” I asked, trying to keep the panic out of my voice with varying degrees of success.
“What’s your name kid?” I looked at her, realizing that the grey streaks in her hair were from age, not from dye or bleach… and yet her face was smooth and her eyes clear as they locked with mine.
“I don’t remember.” I had answered without even thinking about it, my eyes unable to break from her gaze. I really didn’t remember…
“Your age? Where do you live? Your mother’s name?”
“I don’t know.” Now I was really starting to panic. “Why don’t I know? I was just at my apartment.” My eyes burned with the need to blink but I couldn’t make them do it.
“Chill, it’ll come back to you; just let Mec take care of everything. He’s the best there is. Just a bit longer and you can rest OK?” The lift stopped in a fairly large room with several motorcycles as well as a few small cars and Ren helped me off, half dragging me through a couple doors and into a room that could either have been an operating theater or a server farm.
She deposited me in a chair similar to one you would sit in on a visit to the dentist only as soon as I was sitting it began to fold back flat. “We’re here, you can sleep now. Things will be better when you wake up.” I opened my mouth to protest but found that holding on to consciousness was impossible.
“Mec are you sure?” I could hear Ren’s voice but my eyelids wouldn’t lift. “I saw him jump, you saw his legs, and the enzymes are there he HAS to be!”
“He is not one of us.” The man’s voice interjected “He is something different. Something new.”
“But they shot him, I saw them shoot him. I had just passed him when that Hunter truck took him out.”
“Ren, they were shooting at you.” Mec said gently.
“At me? You think they know?” Her voice sounded vulnerable and afraid… it was akin to hearing a panther meow like a Siamese.
“I think he’s a mortal who has been injected with their killzyme. What a fucking mess. I’ll fix him up as best I can but it’s taking a heavy toll on his body and he doesn’t have the ability to regenerate. Without that respirator and monitor he’d be dead as shit right now. I think you’d better pack some EQ and get ready to roll out. Maybe me too, although it’ll be tough to leave all this behind… I can take some of the smaller equipment if I pack it properly in the jeep.”
“Fuck this and fuck them. I say we take a stand. We’ve got the firepower and the skill why can’t we fight back? I know it’s against the rules but who made these goddamn rules in the first place? I get the feeling they were made long before government sponsored genetic experiments were used as Hunters.”
“You’re forgetting what happened last time. Our kind paid dearly for their last attempt to assert themselves. History calls it the Black Plague but we know it as the very first use of germ warfare. Only by fleeing to the Dark Continent were we able to escape its ravages and look at our numbers now. Diminished and scattered to the four winds, hunted by nearly everyone who knows of our existence, no I don’t think a confrontation is an option.”
Suddenly as though an invisible switch had been flipped my eyes flicked open. My body felt lighter than air and the restraints that I assume were there to keep me from falling off the narrow table I was laying on came loose when I tried to sit up. I pulled a long tube from its uncomfortable resting place in my throat and a couple thin electrodes from my chest. Ren and a willow thin man of Arabian descent who I decided must be Mec sat nearby.
The room looked like something out of a bad sci-fi movie, several strange looking devices with attached video monitors on long arms hung above the table, shelves of machinery with blinking lights, some of which were obviously blade servers, some I didn’t recognize. A monitor sat on a wheeled cart next to the table I had been strapped to. When I attempted to speak I found that my lungs had once again ceased functioning… I had to settle for a smile and a wave of welcome.
“Holy fucking shit!” Ren’s outburst startled me, “Mec is that even possible?” Confused I looked down and saw that I had actually torn through the nylon webbing of the restraints, bending the metal bars of the table in the process. At the same time, a calm mechanical female voice came from an unseen source
“Warning, life readings have ceased. Please check input, vital signs not detected. Subject in danger.”
Trying to reassure them that I was OK I swung my legs off the table and stood up. The feeling of near weightlessness remained… I wondered if this was what Neil Armstrong felt like when he was on the moon. This only served to further agitate the two of them.
“If you don’t let us help you you’re going to be too far gone to return you idiot!” said Mec, his voice sounding like a growling dog “Lay back down, I don’t know how you woke up after that sedative but without that respirator you won’t last more than a few minutes. Your body is pretty shredded from the abuse you’ve subjected it to.”
I brushed his hands off my arm and shook my head. In the bright light of the room my veins didn’t appear to be glowing like they had been before but I couldn’t be sure. I made the “OK” sign with my left hand and pointed to my body with the other.
Mec stepped back in surprise “Damn, when I said he was something different I didn’t know how right I was. His lungs appear to be damaged or something… I don’t think he can talk.” When I nodded emphatically he handed me a clipboard with a pencil dangling from it. I frantically scribbled some notes.
“Can only talk when my lungs work. Woke up in a morgue I think I’m dead. WTF were you guys talking about before? Who are you? Not sure what you did for me but I feel great!”
Mec motioned for me to sit. Taking a few instruments he checked my reflexes, pupil dilation, and a few other tests I wasn’t familiar with. As he worked the worry vanished from his face and was replaced by a smile that I can only describe as fiendish.
“Well now, I guess I know why they want to get ahold of you so badly kiddo. Let’s retire to the den so I can grab a cigar and a glass of whiskey and give you a little alternative world history lesson.”
“You guys go ahead, after tonight’s workout I need a shower.” Ren walked out through one door and Mec opened another for me.
We left the stark lighting of the trauma center and walked into a lushly carpeted hallway. Pleasant recessed lighting illuminated the ceiling and a few paintings adorned the walls. Walking to a large door made from carved mahogany, Mec turned the polished brass and ivory handle and showed me inside with a flourish.
I took in my surroundings, trying not to gawk at the opulence the room contained. The wallpaper looked like silk, chairs had velvet cushions and polished brass lamps illuminated framed pieces of art, a baby grand piano and around the corner a full bar. Waving me to a chair, he walked to a cabinet and removed a bottle of dark amber liquid. After pouring us each a generous glass, he handed me one and seated himself in a large overstuffed upholstered chair. It was a non-reclining monster that looked like it was over 100 years old. Maybe it was. Lighting a thin aromatic cigar he leaned forward and began spinning his tale.
“The year is 1340, and over 60 percent of the world’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of less than 300 individual families. Their annual income is by today’s standards impossible to comprehend. These families were largely money lenders and their power was so great that the Florentine bankers who were paying for King Edward III’s war with France demanded the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Stratford as collateral.”
He gestured emphatically with his cigar and sipped carefully from his scotch. His eyes shown with passion; this was obviously a subject he reminisced on often. I sampled some of the alcohol in my glass despite being unsure if I would be able to swallow it or not. It tasted like a shipyard at noon; alive with the flavors of sea salt, tar, smoke, a hint of fishy seaweed and warmed my mouth as though I was laying on my back on the beach with my mouth open to the summer sun. It was glorious; I had never tasted its like.
“One of these great houses was actually not a family but an organization. A gathering of individuals with similar interests, similar lifestyles…” here he looked at me significantly “similar Needs.” He paused to take and relish another sip of his whiskey and puff gently on the long narrow cigar he held delicately in his left hand. The smoke smelled of exotic spices and honey. I was surprised to find my chest gently rising and falling, my heart beating in a slow even rhythm, in a cadence with his words, his breaths, his body. It was intoxicating and I wanted more.
Suddenly I was standing on a cobbled street, horses pulling carriages and riders thundered by, street merchants shouted their wares on the street while women flaunted theirs from second story windows. The stench of humanity prevailed over all, blood and shit and sweat and sex and wood smoke mingling together in a symphony of carnal smells. The pouch at my belt was fat with gold and I knew the dagger next to it was sharp enough to shave with. As I climbed into my lacquered carriage my valet handed me a warm drink and a coded message from my extensive network.
“We ruled with a might the world had never seen and hasn’t seen since. We were more Gods than Kings.”
I was looking out over a busy city from a high balustrade of a stone mansion. There were rings on my fingers and a handsome adoring man on my arm. The pins holding my hair had emeralds adorning them and doubled as poisoned knives if I needed them to. An empire of servants, informants and assassins existed only to carry out my every whim.
“Then one lofty entity took it upon himself to reveal his presence to the world, not as a human, but as an immortal. Existing as the yang to humanities yin, living in the darkness as they lived in the light, feeding off the very vitae that sustained their bodies. I don’t know if he expected awe, worship or something else but what he got was fear… and what humans fear they try to exterminate. We still aren’t sure who started it but it is believed to have been an effort made by powerful people in nearly every walk of life.
“The First World War wasn’t against Germany. It was against Vampires six centuries before Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, and all of the European Continent worked together to make it happen. However it was developed, the Black Death spread very quickly, faster than its creators anticipated but the effect was exactly what they had hoped for. The best way to eliminate a predator is to taint its food source… but it also had an unexpected effect.
“Any of us who came in contact with the tainted blood became virulently contagious; spreading the sickness every time we fed. Infected Immortals eventually died a death of unimaginable agony that culminated in a killing spree of blind animal rage. It is our greatest defeat. We fled any way we could, barely escaping with our lives, leaving everything behind. The mortals paid a terrible price too, more than twenty million casualties resulted from the fallout. Much of the knowledge of our kind perished as the plague annihilated fully one third of the population of Europe.
“Slowly, painfully we began to rebuild our networks. We gathered our members finally in a massive summit of Undead and made a pact; never again would we willingly reveal ourselves to Mortals. Occasionally there would be individuals who discovered us and usually they were given the option to become one of us or die; after all it takes a singular mortal to ferret out our presence.
“The world changed however, and maintaining our secrecy became more and more difficult. Finally a few rich and powerful governments were made aware of us… they don’t know the past but they are re-living it in that they have begun a Hunt with the goal being our elimination. Perhaps Ren is right. Perhaps it is time to take a stand.” Here he paused to look speculatively at me over his glass. “Perhaps we have something more to work with this time around.”
I was taken aback by his sudden scrutiny. Taking advantage of my lungs still functioning I managed to croak out a few sentences. “So what do I have to do with this? I heard you and Ren talking… something about some enzyme? Can you explain some things for me? I guess I have to cope with the idea of there being vampires…” Mec grinned at me as he poured himself another healthy glass of Scotch “after all, I’m certainly dead, or at least most of the time as far as medical science is concerned right?”
“Where you come in is… well I have a theory. At first I thought you were an innocent bystander who got caught in the crossfire. After all, Ren and I have had a couple of close calls with Hunters over the last couple of months… but some thoughts have been ruminating in my mind and have only come to bear fruit over the last half hour or so. Allow me to make a few guesses about you and correct me if I’m wrong.”
He paused to light another cigar, take a sip of whiskey and then started counting off on his fingers “You aren’t originally from this town. You don’t have friends here. Your parents don’t live in this state, maybe not even in this country or are deceased. You moved here for a fresh start, cutting all ties to your former life. You may have recently changed your name. On the night you ‘died’ you took an unintended detour from your normal traveling path and ended up on that deserted back road instead of taking a major highway.”
I was so stunned all I could manage was a nod. If he had been any more accurate I would have been certain he was reading my mind. Whatever treatment he had given me helped with my memories some and I could recall the scorn of my family and the anger of my friends although the reason for their feelings still eluded me. This was supposed to be my clean start; I was a blank slate to this city. Until now at least.
“You see, while you were recovering I did a little research; turns out there have been a few dozen unidentified John Doe’s turning up in that particular morgue in the last 6 months. That’s nearly five times the normal amount any first world nation normally has. Many of them seemed to be bums or illegal immigrants and not in too good of shape to begin with so there wasn’t an autopsy performed on the bodies. What I wouldn’t give to read the corners report on your autopsy.”
I fumbled in my pants pocket and wordlessly handed him the microcassette recorder. He started laughing “No fucking wonder they want to get their hands on you so bad. Smart, resourceful and lucky, not to mention your unique abilities. I have no idea how they work, but I do know that without more of the enzyme they used on you the likelihood of you surviving more than a few days is very poor – especially since you’ve been using extraordinary effort.
“Generally a newly turned Vampire with little control over her power will overexert herself in some way, causing the vitae in her system to overfill the muscle to the point where it becomes rock hard. It’s not fatal but without proper treatment the subject will be unable to move her body within a half hour, and the incredible density which the vitae reaches makes proper treatment extremely difficult. I wish to study you some more; but right now our first priority is to finish analyzing the enzyme in your system so that we know what we are looking for later.”
“Wait, what? Are we going somewhere?” Ren stood in the doorway dressed in a white linen shirt and tan cargo shorts, her hair still wet from a shower.
“As a matter of fact, I was just about to come find you. I need your help with some analysis and then I think we are going to do a little old school B&E. You’re right Ren, the time of running and hiding should be at an end. Let’s kick some Hunter ass!” He stubbed out what was left of his cigar, downed the last of his whiskey and walked briskly out of the room passed a stunned Ren. She glanced at me, grinned ear to ear and gave me a hug tight enough to make my ribs creak in protest.
“Thank you… I don’t know what you did but he’s back.” She whispered in my ear “The Lord of the Night is back… and now we have a chance.”
“See how it dies the moment it leaves his body? If it’s bonded to a living cell it … well enhances it for lack of a better term. The cell itself appears to be consumed in the process, that accounts for the slight necrosis but the result is at least a tenfold power increase. I still don’t see what the catalyst is or how the system recharges itself… if it is able to do so anyway.”
She shot me a sympathetic glance, “But either way the treatment you gave his legs worked better than it does on us, so at least we know we can do basic body maintenance.” We had been working for hours, I was sure it was past noon now, and yet nobody seemed the slightest bit tired. An advantage of not being alive I supposed. I was trying hard to count my blessings at this point. Mec studied the monitor for a minute.
“Well I think we have enough to go on now, and further study isn’t going to do us much good without the original enzyme. It changes too much once it has bonded to a cell so I’m not sure what the original makeup was. Luckily it seems to react to his stress frequency by emitting a slight phosphorescent light; all we need to do is modulate that frequency and we should be able to ID the proper enzyme.
“That’s the easy part out of the way; now we need to plan for the Operation. This won’t be easy, we’re talking A-Class security here. If we had another half dozen members it’d be much easier, but judging from the rate of decay here I think it would be imprudent to wait long enough to gather more people. Ren, can you outfit our newest member? He’ll need a name too, I’ll leave that to you since my preparations take quite a bit longer than yours.”
As Mec walked out of the room with a boyish spring in his step Ren was looking at me with pursed lips… “Hmmm… I think Hex.” She said after a couple minutes, “Not just for your apparent ability to cause our enemies bad luck but also because most people don’t know that a Hex usually isn’t bad. Most spells harness positive energy as opposed to negative energy; it’s much safer and has far fewer repercussions.”
Picking up a black sharpie marker she leaned close to me. I couldn’t tell what combination of green and gray her eyes were. “Hold still… do you trust me?” I gave her a confused look and shrugged. “It works better if you trust the person doing the Naming.”
She moved even closer, I could feel her breath on my neck and probably would have gotten goosebumps had my circulatory system still been working. When I didn’t move away she took the marker and wrote directly on the bare skin above my shirt collar. The skin burned as though it was a brand which surprised me but that burning sensation was followed by the gentle pressure from her lips, cooling the skin and soothing the pain away and leaving a lasting chill as though there was an ice cube on my skin.
“There, you’re joined with us. I want to warn you, a Naming like this does have certain implications. Most of them are positive though. You get access to our protections and communications for one.” I decided not to ask about the negatives, if there were any. I’d had enough bad news for one day.
She pricked each of the fingers on her right hand by touching them to her mouth, then grabbed my hand and nipped each one of mine so quickly I didn’t even have time to pull away. Her fang made a razor edge seem like a butter knife. She pressed our fingertips together “Universes tactus oris nidor gusto audio, Mec, Ren, Hex.” The words floated from her mouth gently. Warm breath on a crisp winter morning. I could see the red aura around her pulse brightly with each word and when she spoke the name she had just gifted me with I could feel her and Mec.
I had a general idea of what they were experiencing at the moment. It was akin to watching a movie while your lover was whispering in your ear, distracting but pleasant at the same time. “This should help you with your lack of speech. Just think at me hard enough and I should get the gist of what you’re trying to say. Eventually you’ll probably even be able to share complete sentences. A thrill ran down my spine and I saw her shiver as well.
“That’d be Mec” she said with a lopsided smile, “He’s starting his Prep, let’s get you outfitted for tonight’s fun.” My fingers tingled as though my hand had been asleep. Idly shaking it I followed her from the lab.
I wasn’t sure what to expect “getting outfitted” would entail but I couldn’t help but be anxious about it. Pentagrams? Rituals? Power armor? My imagination was getting a little ahead of me by the time we arrived at a door with three separate locks on it. Instead of getting out a set of keys Ren simply pushed on the hinge side of the door and it swung open silently.
Laughing at my quizzical look she said “Nobody expects it at all, there’s actually a pressure lock on this side, you have to know where to push… the locks don’t do anything. Not that we’ve ever had any intruders.”
Inside the room was a smorgasbord of small arms; everything from braces of throwing knives and a couple venerable looking swords to RPG’s and a Browning 50 caliber machine gun. She wasn’t kidding about having a lot of firepower. Since the only guns I had experience with had Nerf printed on the side, Ren gave me a pump action street grip twelve gauge shotgun.
“Just point it away from me and in the general direction of someone shooting at you and pull the trigger. Hopefully we won’t have to worry about guns though. They don’t know we’re coming, they don’t know what we’re after and with any luck they’ll never know we were even there. Since you aren’t carrying much you get the pack too.” It was a fairly small pack with many quick-release flaps on the sides, back and top. Despite the size it felt like it weighed close to 50 pounds. When I gave her a direct look, hefting the bag she shrugged.
“We like to be prepared for as much as we can. After all, this isn’t just a stroll. We’re infiltrating a secure government facility. Now for clothes… what are you, my guess is a 34 long?” I nodded and she walked to a closet in the back of the room. When she pulled out a full tuxedo I would have burst out laughing had my lungs been functional. I put her enchantment to the test and tried forcing my thoughts into her brain.
“I thought we were breaking into somewhere, not going to a cocktail party… what’s with the tux?”
She winked at me, “Jeez Hex, you’re a quick study. To answer your question we’re doing both. Wanna be my date? The facility itself is built beneath the grounds of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and there’s a reception there tonight. Since Mec has… a little pull with the arts community he was able to snag a pair of tickets last minute. It should be the most happening place in town tonight. I hope you don’t mind rubbing elbows with the high and mighty… you should clean up OK.”
“You’re enjoying this aren’t you?” I accused.
“Immensely. Find some shoes that fit you off the rack and I’ll show you where you can shower, then get dressed and meet me in the garage. You aren’t hungry are you? I need to stop by the kitchen and get a Bite.”
“No, I’m good thanks.” I didn’t want to know even though it made me feel like a squeamish child, especially since I knew our link was conveying my disgust. All things considered I had experienced enough without adding the reality of her really drinking blood to the list. Besides I didn’t want to admit that I was hungry. I felt like an alcoholic who needed a drink… it wasn’t a tangible physical urge as much as a craving for… well I wasn’t sure what, but I was afraid to find out. I snagged a pair of spiffy looking wingtips and followed her out the door.
“Remember what I told you and you should be fine. Thankfully you can’t answer any questions, you won’t be able to blush or really look all that flustered thanks to not having a circulatory system anymore. Just keep your face blank. I’m not going to be anything like myself,” she grinned like a maniac “Try not to be too surprised.”
Surprised? I was still having trouble not staring at her; the amazing black and silver slashed dress she was wearing literally had me gaping when she had walked into the garage. I wondered to myself how old she really was, not for the first time. Her only comment on my astonishment had been to toss me the keys to an Audi R8 and say “You’re gonna catch a fly. You’re driving. Swing through the alley so we can ditch the bag next to the emergency exit. Don’t forget to open my door.”
We had driven to the Museum quickly and quietly, then after we had ditched our goodie bag behind the hulking structure of the Museum warehouse I followed Ren’s instructions and ditched the stealthy aspect of our travel. It was startling to drive recklessly through the crowded valet parking area, burning the tires around a couple corners and coming to a stop with all four wheels screeching in protest in full view of police officers who appeared to be amused by the people they apparently believed to be V.I.P. guests.
“Renyovalia, over here! Any comment on the new exhibit? Who is your latest? Is he an artist?” I had opened Ren’s door and Holy Shit.
I never would have recognized her as she swept from the car, her hair swept in an elaborate twist, the lilt of her voice high, haughty and disinterested “Get out of the way you filthy parasite I have no time for you now. No seriously fuck off.” It was almost as though her change in demeanor had changed her physical appearance.
The reporter had been hanging out near the valet parking area and was trying to stick a microphone in her face. Other more discreet reporters, some snapping photographs; others talking into video cameras surrounded the Red Carpet. I closed Ren’s door while a flurry of camera flashes dazzled my eyes and put my gloved hand on his chest.
Looking him square in the eye I slowly shook my head and gently pushed him out of the way. He took a few stumbling steps backward and tripped over the curb, sitting down hard. Ren had already taken my arm and we were walking inside before he could get back on his feet. I handed our tickets to the imposing looking man at the door and he gave me a respectful nod that I realized had more to do with my handling of the reporter than my company or the way I was dressed. Interesting.
From Mec I was getting a distant feeling of focus, but Ren was a huge ball of nerves. There were already a few people wandering in the lobby but nobody was inside the room where the opening was going to occur yet; most of them seemed to be more interested in being seen by the press than the artwork. Massive crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling and there wasn’t a part of the hall that hadn’t been painted or gilded.
I was impressed and caught myself wondering why I hadn’t come here before. We headed straight for the back end of the main exhibit hall, making for an emergency exit that would allow me to retrieve our little bag of tricks. Halfway there we were accosted by a small group of well dressed middle aged women. The platinum blonde walking out front gave her a cheery wave.
“Renyovalia, we missed you at the last State of Design meeting!” she eyed me speculatively, “Now I guess we know why.”
“Oh shush Grace” a woman in a shocking blaze orange dress that she managed to make look stylish and sheik. “He’s much too young for her.” She favored me with a smoldering look over her champagne flute.
“I am in need of a martini ladies, please excuse us. We can catch up after I ingest a little truth serum.” I tried hard not to look like she was doing anything out of the ordinary when she grabbed my ass and winked at them. By their outbursts of laughter I could tell I pretty much failed.
Once we were out of earshot she turned to me with an evil giggle “That should keep them busy gossiping long enough for us to get something done. Oh stop looking like you’ve never been ogled before and pay attention to business. Remember, Mec is going to be speaking in a couple minutes and we need to be ready to act as soon as he starts.”
Oh yeah, I had almost forgotten the plan. I could feel my body reacting to my stress levels and sluggishly trying to re-animate itself. Mentally taking a deep breath I tried to remain as calm as possible in order to suppress it; the last thing I needed right now was to have purple flashlights for eyes. Although this crowd would probably think it was a neat party trick. We finally made it back to the far side of the hall, the exit we wanted was in sight. As we neared it a security guard approached from either side. Taking my cues from Ren’s mental impulses I stumbled as if intoxicated.
“Excuse me gentleman, can you direct me to a bathroom, my friend is a bit… indisposed.” She grabbed my arm and rolled her eyes “and he said he wasn’t going to drink tonight.” They relaxed, but the feedback from Ren’s nervousness in my head was too much and I felt my system lurch into action.
My senses were assaulted by sights smells and sounds previously hidden. I could see the stitching on the guard’s uniforms, smell the menthol of the cigarette the one on the left had just smoked, hear the heart murmur the one on the right didn’t know he had and more importantly hear the sound coming from the earbuds they both wore,
“Stand down Alpha team, it’s just a drunk. Nothing to do with the package we recovered from the back. Keep alert the perps are here and we expect them to strike any moment.”
“The rest rooms are that way, do you require assistance?” The guard on the left was gesturing off in the direction we had come from. I thought we were going to get away easy… but then another voice broke through the calm voice of the dispatcher.
“Run a check on the security footage, did those two arrive in the silver Audi?” fuck Fuck FUCK I glanced at Ren, and tried to concentrate on sending her my thoughts. But my body lurched back into life despite my best efforts to keep calm. The link with her and Mec was muted to a dull buzz as the thundering of my irregular heartbeat and wheeze of lungs reluctant to draw breath drowned out the delicate mental connection we shared. I stared at the floor and squinted my eyes nearly shut knowing they were likely starting to glow.
“No thanks, that’s OK I can handle him… have many times in the past.”
“Affirmative, silver Audi R8. Plate reads HDNIST… heh this guy’s got a sense of humor. Alpha team, stand by for Recovery.”
“Excuse me miss, we have a private recovery lounge this way. Perhaps your friend would be better served there?” I tugged on her arm trying to warn her, but by this point there were two more security guards on hand.
“Oh, you’re too kind.” We were escorted through a side door and the lush elegance of the Museum changed to a stark cement block corridor with recessed lighting and old water stains on the walls. Faint as the link was, uncertainty poured over it like a Tsunami and I fought down panic. I reminded myself that mere mortals wouldn’t stand one iota of a chance against me, and probably not against her either. I scanned the hallway we were entering within moments and finding it empty sprang into action with Ren only a half second behind.
I grabbed the first guard and slammed him into the second. They both smashed into the wall with bone crushing force; their heads making sickening crunching sounds as they rebounded off the cement. Ren had punched the third in the throat and my spin carried me into a natural shoulder strike on the fourth and last.
I pinned him against the other wall so hard the cinderblocks cracked and blood gushed from his mouth in a crimson fountain. I realized I had completely crushed his chest and that the other two guard’s heads were smashed beyond recognition. Ren was staring at me in complete shock, an emotion that was washing over our mindlink along with a touch of fear.
“Shit Hex, are you OK? You didn’t have to kill them.”
“Sorry. Guess I don’t know my own strength. Didn’t mean to.” My voice sounded like I’d had pneumonia. For a year. It felt like it too. She looked sidelong at me uncertainly, and I shrugged. “Honest, I just panicked. What do we do now? They know we’re here. I heard them on their radios, they know about the bag and your car. We’re fucked if we stay here, they’ve mobilized the Alpha Team if that means anything to you?”
“Oh shit. They’re the best… if this wasn’t so important I’d say we should bail… but Hex, you are our only ray of light here. We can’t afford to lose you and I’m afraid you are done for if we can’t get what you need out of here. Luckily they already brought us into a restricted area. As much as I’d love to have the contents of our bag of tricks, we probably don’t need most of it. I could have used the shoes that were in there though. Can you unzip me?”
She turned her back to me and I fumbled with the zipper. She stepped out of her dress, wearing cargo shorts and a tank top. “Let’s fuck some shit up Hex.”
Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed fingers of shadow creeping out of the closed elevator doors. I grabbed Ren around the waist, ignoring her startled “Hey!” of protest and jumped from one landing straight down to the next, sailing over the wreckage of the door and noting in passing the heavily armored guard whose body was pinned beneath it. Ren slipped out of my grasp and we jumped two more landings together, the mindlink helping synchronize our movements despite being muffled by my heartbeat.
Finally we burst through another door, into a hallway and ducked sideways into a random room. A quick scan showed it to be some sort of storage, containing boxes of surgical gloves, basic medical supplies and a rack of lab coats. Ren and I reached for the lab coats at the same time. I let her grab a couple and ditched the coat of my tux along with the tie. Also wishing I had the more suitable shoes that I had packed in our bag of tricks I grabbed a clip board, pen and a pair of safety glasses that I hoped would at least partially mask my eyes which were shining bright enough to illuminate the small room by this point.
“Ok Hex, here’s the deal. We are outside of the area we know but this complex is probably symmetrical and I have a general idea of where we need to go. As long as we keep our heads on straight we ought to be able to reach our destination anyway. Just follow my lead and pretend like you belong here, most people don’t notice a person who looks like they know what they’re doing.”
We stepped out of the room at a brisk pace; I let her walk slightly in front since she knew where we were going. The cubicles we passed each seemed to correspond with an adjacent access controlled lab behind a large glass window.
There were several people in the offices and labs we passed, all too engrossed in their work to pay much attention to us. Most of them had the shades drawn and whatever was happening behind them was hidden by white venetian blinds. A calm voice came over the intercom interrupting the silence. “We are experiencing a Level 3 Lockdown alert. Please remain in your offices at all times. Your physical safety cannot be guaranteed if you exit your office. Please have proper identification present and visible at all times. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Abandoning any presence of being employees we broke into a run again. “We’re close, it should be right around this corner here, third door on the left!”
Ren glanced over her shoulder at me as she spoke and therefore completely missed seeing the guard who was waiting for us. Sensing my jolt through the mindlink she dove to one side, but not before he had lowered a wicked looking weapon and discharged it directly into her chest with a thundering explosion.
Ren flew backwards into my arms as though hurled by a giant hand, her chest a mess of blood and bones. I caught her and attempted to gently lower her to the floor when to my astonishment and horror she brushed me off as though I were an annoying tree branch.
Her face distorted with pain, she snarled in rage and leapt at the guard before he could re-load his weapon. One hand crushed the grenade launcher he was frantically trying to load another shell into while the other tore his riot vest off as though it were made of tissue paper. Her aura was so dark red as to nearly be black and it pulsed with flashes of silver as she sank her teeth into his throat.
She dropped his corpse and looked up at me, the guards’ blood running down her chin and yelled “Move your ASS!” As I stood frozen by what I had just seen. When I didn’t budge she spun and grabbed my arm, I could see her chest in the final stages of knitting itself back together, the remains of her tank top plastered to her skin with blood. Necessity forced me to run after her or be dragged so run I did.
The adrenaline and shock combined to soften the blow a little bit but I was still having difficulty coping with reality. We sprinted to the door we needed and she shouldered it open with about the same amount of difficulty an all-star linebacker would have had. Inside were row upon row of refrigerated stainless steel tanks with valves. I could feel… something… coming from one of them.
Moving towards it I unclasped the latch and lifted the lid. With a hiss of compressed refrigerated air a cylinder with a dozen or so vials of pulsing purple liquid in them gently rose out of the tank. Glancing around the room, I saw a couple of hard plastic cases on a shelf.
I grabbed one, opened it and began slipping vials into the compartments inside that apparently were designed for this exact purpose. I filled the box, and finding it only held 10 put the other two in the breast pocket of my tux shirt, ditching the lab coat on the floor. I could feel Ren’s nervousness building nearly as fast as my own.
“This was way too easy.” She said, echoing my thoughts exactly. “You got what you needed right? Good, let’s bail before…” Her voice trailed off. “Shit, too late. You better prepare yourself Hex, it’s about to get ugly.” The door to the room we were in exploded, sending shards of steel and reinforced glass flying through the room.
The force of the shock wave knocked me off my feet, my shoulder denting the open container. As I staggered to my feet I could feel my muscles soften ever so slightly from their rock hard state; apparently some of Mec’s treatment was still active in my system. Almost before I completely regained my feet I saw a slim figure preparing to fire some sort of weapon at me. My reflexes kicked up to maximum, the weapon was some sort of… spike cannon? Shit, obviously an anti-vampire weapon; who were these guys?
I pushed away from the tank next to me, everything happening as though the world had been put into slow motion while I went into fast forward. The force of me propelling myself forward wrenched the tank off its foundation.
Even in the light of the room, my veins glowed like purple rivers, even my bones seemed to shine and there was a shimmer of power in the air around me. My shoes lacked traction to keep me on course, I was forced to turn and half run on the side of the wall; my feet smashing bits of the tile off the cement as I struck towards my assailant with my right hand.
Before I was able to reach him he fired, missing me by several inches due to the speed and angle of my approach. I recognized the skinny man who had been in my apartment the day before, the surprise on his face as my fist pulverized his weapon against his chest and sent him spinning out of the room would have been comical if the situation had been different.
Instead of his fall being broken by the cement wall, threads of shadow sprang from his body, grabbing the doorframe with steel-wrenching force. I managed to keep my feet under my body and come to a stop as most of my kinetic force had been transferred to him. He was chuckling now; a dark guttural sound.
“I see you’ve managed to Unlock part of yourself. Congratulations, you get a demonstration from a professional Hunter prior to your capture and re-conditioning.” Threads of shadow sprang from the floor and walls, binding my arms and legs tightly, “I’m going to show you how we Slay. This is your purpose; what you were designed to do.” His eyes shone with a faint green light as his fingers grew into long straight talons.
The threads wrenched my head around despite me struggling against the bonds and I saw Ren pinned to one of the tanks; a wooden stake punched straight through her heart. Apparently she had been his target from the beginning. Although she could still move her eyes, the rest of her body was completely immobilized.
The Hunter walked towards her slowly, obviously savoring the fear and despair he saw in her eyes. I twisted my body and arms with all the considerable force I could muster and was unable to do more than stretch my bonds slightly. One final effort and I heard a grating crunch; the vials in my pocket had shattered.
Excruciating pain shot through my body, shards of glass were being shoved deep into my chest muscles and the liquid the vials had contained was being injected directly into my blood stream. I felt like my body was bursting into flames, like acid was running through my veins; the sun itself rose in behind eyes, the light gleaming from them was strong enough to raise blisters on Ren’s skin. The shadows that the Hunter had conjured evaporated like morning mist and my last sensation before I was enveloped in the wave of Power was Thirst.
I moved shakily over to where Ren was still pinned to the tank; her eyes were shut tightly as though she were trying to block out a fierce light. She had a line of blistered flesh cutting across part of her chest and her right arm. I grabbed the spike that was holding her to the tank and pulled it out, hearing the shriek of tortured metal as it withdrew.
Ren took a shuddering breath and blood began to well thick and dark from the wound. I grabbed the only thing I could think of to staunch the wound; part of the Hunter’s shirt. I ripped a piece from the back and tried to stop the bleeding to no avail. I knew what I had to do… if I wanted her to live I needed fresh human blood. If I met up with another Hunter right now I wouldn’t stand a chance and besides, I didn’t know where I was or how to get out; Ren was the one who memorized the map.
I kicked the Hunter over to make sure he was dead and stared at the corpse in shock. His throat had been torn out; I could see tooth marks on the spine at the back… but that wasn’t the worst of it. His chest had been ripped open. Not cut, but ripped, the sternum had a ragged line down the center were an impact of intense proportions had caused it to fracture and every single rib was snapped as the two halves of his chest had been savagely spread apart.
There was no blood… only a hint of green phosphorescent liquid, and all his internal organs had atrophied to the point of complete obscurity except for the lungs. The spot where his heart should have been was much larger than a normal human heart, taking up nearly twice the space… but the heart itself was missing, only the tattered ends of veins remained.
I could taste carrion on my tongue… shuddering I thought to myself “OK at least he won’t be getting up.” I walked to the door, and glancing down the hallway turned and ran back towards where I had seen the offices and labs. My only chance of saving Ren was to find a human for her to feed on.
I ran straight to one of the labs we had passed earlier and looked in the large window. There was a middle-aged man wearing a lab coat bent over a microscope and nobody else inside. Bracing for the impact I kicked the door hard. The steel door didn’t bend and the latch held but the hinges turned out to be the weak point; the screws holding them to the door frame stripping out. The man looked up in shock, fear distorting his face.
“What do you want? I have nothing, my research isn’t even complete!”
“You have something I need.” I rasped, my voice sounding like a file on a piece of iron, “Do you have a large syringe? It might save your life.” He stared at me in confusion. “Fucking hurry up, I’m on a time schedule here. I need some of your blood and I’ll get it regardless.”
I grabbed his arm and smashed a graduated cylinder. Taking one of the sharp pieces I slashed his wrist. I felt him slump against me as he lost consciousness. Hoping this would work I drained about a pint of his blood into an Erlenmeyer flask, filling it to the top. I tied a piece of rubber tubing around his wrist for a tourniquet and sprinted back to where Ren still lay bleeding.
Not sure what to do I dribbled a little blood on her lips; holding her like a baby who needed a bottle. Her eyes fluttered and her tongue licked up the drops. Encouraged, I tilted her head back and poured a little more. When she had consumed half the flask of blood her eyes opened and I saw her wound begin to close slowly; the bleeding had stopped at least. She looked at me and then suddenly at the door. Quickly draining the rest of the flask she tried to stand.
“We’ve gotta get out of here Hex.” Her voice was as rough as mine, “They’re coming and neither of us is in any condition to fight.” I helped her up just as I heard booted feet in the hallway. Casting about for any place we could hide and finding none I grabbed a piece of the broken piping and stood on the left side of the door while Ren took the right. If I was going down, it wasn’t going to be without a fight. I’d make these bastards PAY.
She looked at me, the mindlink allowing her to share my anger, my fear and my desperation. Blood was drying on her face and I could see where it had dribbled down her chin to join her blood that was caked on her shirt. Ren looked down at the corpse of the Hunter and how it was torn apart at my feet and then up at me.
“Maybe we aren’t in such bad shape after all. You actually look like you could take on an army right now Hex. I’ve never seen an aura like that before.” A slow mysterious smile formed on her lips. “Go get ‘em!”
With vengeance in mind I deliberately let the rage build, reveling in the power. I could literally feel the air currents around my body, the dust motes colliding with my skin like tiny meteors. The eddying breeze told me our assailants were approaching from the right. I dug into the floor with my toes; vaguely surprised as they punched through my shoes and into the concrete. Maybe I was somehow rejuvenated even though my body felt as though it had been harshly abused.
As the first person approached the door I sprang forward and stabbed with my piece of broken pipe as though it were a spear. The guard never had a chance to even react as it passed through his neck and out through his spine. I was out the door lashing out to my right caving in the helmet of a second before the first even hit the floor. Spinning with the force of the blow I glimpsed Ren flying out the door to engage a third foe who had approached undetected by me from the left.
My feet tore trenches in the floor as I dodged and wove through a mob of opponents, their slow clumsy strikes far too easy for me to dodge until an explosion threw me sideways cartwheeling towards the opposite wall. Momentarily blinded and deafened by the light and sound I reached out trying to find something to hold on to. My left hand came into contact with an armored shoulder which I latched on to, only managing to slightly slow my progress and slam the guard to the floor with bone shattering force. I reached further, harder and felt… something slowing my fall.
The ringing in my ears faded and as my hearing and vision returned the first things I experienced were shouts of confusion and a strange dimming of the light. I shook off the shock of the explosion and saw bodies strewn throughout the room and a very large Hunter stepping through the wreckage of a wall I had been running past; one of his hands wrapped in pulsing orange energies that crackled and sparked.
Those tiny cinders pitted anything they came into contact with sending up puffs of acrid smoke. Lines of shadow extended from my body, anchored in the walls, floor and ceiling; somehow I had managed to utilize the Powers that the other Hunter had used on me to keep myself from being blown through the wall.
“I was told you got lucky fighting against my partner… “His voice hissed like steam escaping from a radiator, “But he was the Guile while I am the Hammer. No amount of cheap tricks will save you from ultimate destruction at my hand. I was told to bring you in if possible and to eliminate you if it wasn’t. I am not going to lower myself by asking you to surrender.”
With that he dropped to one knee and brought his hand down hard against the floor. A crack zig-zagged toward me faster than my eye could follow and the cement underneath me burst into a chaotic torrent of flame. Even though I dodged I could feel the heat blistering my skin and my belt buckle branding me through my pants. Desperate to avoid the blaze from below I didn’t even see the flames coming from above. The world was consumed by a crackling inferno of acidic fire, there was nothing I could do to stop it.
The fire cleared from my vision and I could see Ren had blindsided the Hunter, his flames transferring from my body to hers; wreathing her in fire. At the same time I felt Mec’s adrenaline spike. Something must be happening upstairs as well. The only people who I could trust were either in danger or dying; I burst into action before I could change my mind.
Leaping forward with every ounce of my strength, chunks of the floor flying from my feet, I punched towards the Hunter’s chest as hard as I could. His momentary distraction was gone; Ren was rolling away from him, half of her body blackened, but her surprise attack had given me the upper hand. He brought up his arm to ward off my blow too late, coruscating fire roiled up my arm, searing it to the bone in several places as my fist penetrated his ribcage with thundering force. I continued running, slamming him against the wall and opening my hand at the same time.
I continued running, slamming him against the wall and opening my hand at the same time. I could feel my fingers tearing through the membranes inside his body and wrapped them around whatever I could find twisting and tearing in grim satisfaction. My face was right next to his, and I could see the flames dying behind his surprisingly beautiful eyes.
I put my foot on his chest and shoved his slumping form off my charred arm. In my hand I held his heart; dripping with thick glowing yellow ichor. Suddenly ravenous my body horrified my mind as it tore into the warm flesh gleefully devouring it mouthful after mouthful.
As I finished my grisly repast my arm began to tingle; the muscle and tendon rebuilding itself before my eyes. Ren stood slowly, stumbling slightly, her clothing in as rough and destroyed of shape as mine and her body also healing; although at a slower rate. She wiped someone else’s blood from her mouth with her good arm and favored me with a shaky smile. “Let’s bail.”
Walking over to the doorway I peered inside. The case was surprisingly intact in the corner I had tossed it. Not bothering to check if its contents were unbroken I grabbed it and turned to Ren, “Lead the way, I’m all about getting the hell out of here.”
She stumbled and caught my hand to steady herself as we walked quickly through a few hallways and up a flight of stairs. Hesitating for a moment, Ren led me through a door and into a long hallway. I could see a window above letting in the illumination from streetlights and the hallway widened to a nexus where 3 hallways met. I realized as we stepped briskly into the center that there were figures standing in each of the hallways in front of us.
Spinning to look back the way we came I saw a third blocking that exit as well. Ren and I stood back to back, rotating slowly trying to keep all three in sight at the same time… not sure what to expect next. The three stepped into the light in perfect unison; each was identical to the others. They extended their hands towards each other and before we could react arcing bolts of electricity leapt between their outstretched fingers.
“HOLD ON TO ME!” I yelled, and I hurled the case through the skylight above, hoping it would survive the abuse. The glass exploded outward and I jumped as hard as I could, stretching out with my hands and willing them to reach the edge.
I barely felt Ren’s weight on my back as I soared toward freedom, watching filaments of shadow reach out to grasp the edges of the window frame and pull us through barely ahead of a scorching bolt of electricity. I landed lightly trying to get my bearings. We were standing by a hedge that bordered the skylight we had just broken through that was in the corner of a flagstone courtyard bordered by trees and a beautifully worked wall of archways.
“Shit Hex, it’s a trap.” Looking around I realized we were surrounded by hundreds of security guards. A second later our torsos were lit up by clusters of red laser sight dots.
“Don’t hesitate, take them out! OPEN FIRE!” Just as I was getting my feet under me to leap again all the lights in the small inner garden we had landed in dimmed, time seemed to slow. A dark mist swept through the trees; sound was muffled as the clearing was cloaked in shadow.
Against the now visible starlight I could see the outline of a figure all clothed in black gently falling from the sky. The sounds of a chain dragging across the ground, chittering creatures of unknown origin, bones being crunched in the mouths of beasts and blood dripping into crimson pools infiltrated my ears and my mind. All I could do was drop to my knees and try to keep the sensations out.
A terrible voice cut through the chaos of my mind, the world spun as my vision flickered and pain seared the back of my skull. “Arise my creatures, my servants, my slaves; arise and serve your Lord.”
Something slithered over my foot, and I forced my eyes open and saw the ground swarming with vermin of every variety. Rats, mice snakes, centipedes, cockroaches, and other small creatures I couldn’t identify. Normally I don’t consider myself to be a squeamish person… but this was too much for me. Scrambling to my feet and brushing myself off reflexively I stumbled backwards into a beaming Ren.
Physical contact with her jolted through me like a strong static shock and suddenly I was free of the illusion that had me in its throes. I was treated to a vision of security guards screaming and clawing at their armor trying to remove non-existent pests; rending skin and clothes alike. I could see Mec standing not far off immaculate in his tuxedo, arms outstretched and radiating Power like I had never felt before.
“I can’t believe it; he still has this kind of power. I haven’t seen Glamour like this in centuries! Come on we’ve gotta get out of here before it wears off.”
Mec strode over to where we stood, “Oh, don’t worry about them my dear. I doubt the majority of them have the fortitude to survive a mental attack of this caliber.” He delicately drew a cigar from the breast pocket of his tux and on impulse I reached out with my left hand, focusing on the index finger and willing it to heat. If he was surprised by this development he easily hid it behind a grin as he leaned forward and lit his cigar from the wavering flame that sprouted from my finger.
“Fantastic, your body chemistry is multi-adaptive. I can’t wait to get back to the Lab and do some more research. Well? Shall we adjourn?” He bowed to Ren with a flourish and his Glamour enveloped the two of us; our battered appearance replaced with our appearance when we had arrived at the event. He then bent to pick up the case from where it had landed a few yards from the hedge. We walked purposefully back into the building; carefully sidestepping the flailing bodies of the guardsmen. As we walked Mec kept talking
“The fire department should be here in about 10 minutes, you tripped some sort of alarm despite the protections this place obviously has. We should make our excuses and get out as fast as possible; the Warehouse is probably not a good idea so how about we rendezvous at your place Ren. I ran into Jam and she is fixing the security footage for us. Lucky thing, her being back in town.” Ren shot him a quick glance, astonishment leaking through the mindlink. Mec shrugged and we were back in the main hall before she could ask any questions.
“Renyovalia, leaving so soon? We chatted for a few minutes but you were artful avoiding giving direct answers.” It was Grace, Ren’s blonde art dealer friend, she must have been interacting with more of Mec’s Glamour I supposed, “When are we going to get together again? How’s tomorrow? Brunch at Valentini’s? We’ll see you there, I suppose I should leave you to your… entertainments.” Her eyes swept over me again with scrutiny that made me very glad of the illusion that hid the state of my body and clothes.
“I’ll drive.” Ren said after we retrieved the car from the valet. “I know where we’re going and you look like shit. No offense.” Amazingly enough Ren looked almost no worse for the wear other than a couple slowly fading scars and the obvious state of what used to be her clothing. The recuperative powers she possessed were quite impressive.
“None taken.” In contrast, I was in rough shape. Some of the crude stitching the coroner had used was gone entirely and a couple of the staples that held my sternum together were broken. Besides that I felt … used up. Not tired but like a tube of toothpaste that only has that annoying little last bit left inside that makes you hesitant to throw it out despite it being mostly useless. I gratefully sank into the passenger’s seat of the Audi. Ren took the wheel and we sped into the night.
Ren and I drove through the nearly empty pre-dawn streets. I wasn’t used to being out at this hour and evidently neither was she. “Where is everyone?” It was a little strange Before long we arrived at a fairly modest brick house with an iron gate and stone walls surrounding it.. As the car approached the gate it silently opened; revealing a cobbled circle drive, a small but immaculate lawn and lush rose gardens.
Ren expertly maneuvered the car into a covered garage and we exited the car. “Shit, the sun’s about to come up…we’d better get inside.” She glanced at me with a guarded expression on her face, “Well at least I need to get inside anyway. I’m not so sure about you Hex.”
“Well I’m not sure about sunlight, but I’m absolutely in need of some rest. Or something…” I felt hung over or maybe something worse. In spite of feeling like I had been hit by a cement truck I was surprised to find I could still speak, although it took conscious effort to draw the air into my lungs. “I need some time to clear my head and maybe some water? I don’t know this is all still new to me.”
I could see she was still tense, “I’ve never seen anything like you Hex. You tore into those Hunters like they were normal mortals… I’m going to be honest with you; I’m questioning Mec’s wisdom in bringing you with us. Whatever you are, I think you are more important to them than we thought initially. You are something different. Something special. I mean you ATE them.”
She shuddered; an action that elicited a thrill down my spine due to the mindlink. “Vampires drink from their hosts but as you seem to understand we don’t kill them unless threatened. If we did there would soon be nobody left to sustain us. Only a suicidal parasite destroys the Host. Hopefully Mec can figure something out. I’m sure he will.”
But she wasn’t sure. And she, a centuries old vampire was afraid of me; a twenty something out of work freelance journalist. Or at least that’s what I had been. “Hey, if you don’t think I should stay here…”
“NO!” she said, more forcefully than she meant to, “Mec said he was going to meet us here, let’s go in, mix a pitcher of martinis and wait for him to show. Look Hex, I’m sorry; even if it was because of you we got into that mess you still saved my life. Twice. It’s just that when you are as old as I am you aren’t used to surprises anymore… and you are like nothing we have experienced.”
She gave me a sheepish grin, “I have no clue how to mix drinks, can you whip us up something? The bar’s through there. I’ll get us some clothes to wear while we wait for Mec, I’m sure I have something in here that will fit you as long as you aren’t opposed to silk.”
I walked through the door she pointed to. There was a full bar; four beers on tap, at least four premium brands of every kind of liquor and even a mini fridge of mixers and garnishes. It was obvious her front as a fashion guru didn’t stop at home; I could see the trademark stamp of the interior designer Harlon Nezcheck on the corner.
I put my six months of bartender school to good use; grabbing a shaker, three glasses, some dry Vermouth and an unopened bottle of vodka that had a label written only in Russian. Filling the glasses with ice, I poured in a healthy measure of Vermouth in each. More ice filled the shaker half way followed by several shots of the vodka.
After a few hard shakes I dumped the ice out of the martini glasses, leaving a thin layer of frozen Vermouth and strained the chilled vodka into them. As I was dropping two olives in each drink, the door behind me opened and Ren walked through wearing a short Japanese style robe with another draped over her arm. She handed me the robe and I gave her a glass.
“The bathroom is through there.” She gestured with her drink, “Take your time it’s a real treat.” She took a sip and gave me an appraising look, “Don’t take too long though, this is an amazing martini and I’m gonna want another.”
“That’s what you get when you use high quality booze.” I replied, “Honestly the alcohol does most of the work when you’re drinking a martini. The bartender just has to keep from muddying the waters.” I insisted when she arched an eyebrow at me.
“Sure it does. If you don’t admit to being good at this I’ll make you drink one of mine and then you’ll see what a hopeless amateur can do with good alcohol.” She said with a laugh.
Ren wasn’t kidding about the shower. It had a dozen or more jets; it surrounded your entire body with a wash of water that seemed to be at the perfect temperature. A pull of a knob and soap entered the stream, eliminating the need for shampoo and body wash bottles. Interestingly enough the alcohol was having an effect on my system; I was just starting to enjoy a mild buzz as I stepped out of the luxurious shower and put on the robe Ren had given me.
It only came to just above my knee and was made of the finest silk. Herons picked out in white Batik on a field of royal blue stood out on the back, and rushes climbed both sleeves. I had never felt cloth this soft before; it felt like a lover’s caress against my skin. Downing the remainder of my drink I stepped smoothly from the shower and headed back into the bar.
Ren was nowhere to be seen; I mixed enough for two martinis and poured myself one. Hearing a sound I turned to find myself to be surrounded by a barrier. It seemed to be made of a shimmering curtain of mist but I knew instinctually not to touch it. I noticed Ren sitting in a chair; her body rigid and more still than any mortal could manage.
“I’m sorry Hex, there was nothing I could do.” Three shapes materialized into the room.
“We are representatives of The Tribunal. You are an unknown agent; we are here to assess your impact on our continued peaceful existence. Any insurrection shall be seen as an act of rebellion and shall be dealt with most harshly.”
The woman addressing me was an imposing figure to be certain. Standing at least six feet tall and dressed in a finely tailored and fitted suit she stepped forward to look at me. Her gait was slightly strange and I realized it was because she was wearing a sword on her right hip. I sat down on the closest bar stool and proffered the half full shaker in my hand.
“Care to join me for a drink?” Fuck it. I was already dead; what did I have to lose?
“I don’t know if you understand the situation you are in here Mr…”
“Hex. Just Hex.” I welcomed the abolishment of my former self, it was fairly obvious there was no going back and I felt more camaraderie with Ren and Mec than I had ever felt with human companions. “And you are?”
The way her lips pressed together in annoyance confirmed that I had obviously broken protocol. I couldn’t have cared less. “I was serious about the drink.” I added, taking a sip of mine, “I’m not about to pretend to be something I’m not or that I know things I don’t just to get this ‘Tribunal’s’ stamp of approval, and I’m pretty sure you’d know right away if I was faking something… right? Sure, I may be in a pretty tight situation; but the only way I know how to do things is straight through.”
Wow where had this come from? I didn’t remember being a cocky little shit… the booze must be getting the better of me. A dizzy spell swept over me… what was… going on?
“Umm… aren’t you pushing that a little hard?” Ren’s voice sounded worried, “I know you are in control of the situation but he’s-“
“That’s enough; you requested to be present for this interrogation and I expect you to remain silent while it is carried out.” She turned back to me, “Now you will answer-“ I broke out laughing, the absurdity of the situation coupled with the alcohol and whatever effect she had been exerting on my mind taking ahold of me.
“You want what’s in my head? Take it! Why the fuck not, I certainly don’t want it!” My voice rasped in my throat, “I’ve even blocked some of it out.” Now I could feel those memories leaking slowly back into my consciousness. The lights in the room flickered, I reached out to Mec and Ren through the mindlink in desperation as my past became our present.
“You think he’s dead?” I could hear someone talking in a voice muffled by my motorcycle helmet.
“No, they don’t die for about a half hour after they are Infected. It’s a fascinating process to watch, this is actually a living organism. It feeds off its host’s life, storing it, saving it, waiting to release it in short controlled bursts. It doesn’t last long, of course, but they can extend themselves slightly by serving our needs. Are you listening to me?”
He bent over my body; a totally average man. Sandy brown hair, slightly angular cheekbones, the only thing that stood out were his eyes. So dark brown as to almost be black; I could feel them piercing my soul. “Do as we demand, fill our needs and you have the potential to live. Your life shall be like a comet streaking across the sky of boring stationary stars, a bonfire amid a field of torches.”
A sudden agony wrenched my chest. I couldn’t move my head to look, but I knew there was a hole in my sternum. I could feel my heart falter, my breathing slowing, becoming desperate and irregular. Just before the death rattle sounded in my ears the man’s face was right in mine. “You’re the one. I can feel it. You are the culmination of my research. We will end them with you.”
“Damn it I said CUT IT OFF!” I saw the bar in Ren’s house as though through a thick fog, “What the FUCK is going on here? How did he get through the barrier?”
I shone like the sun. Light and power infused my every pore and the shadows that my enemy had wrapped me in fled. “What the hell are you?” His voice wavered in true fear, “Stay back, she’ll die in just a few minutes unless I save her!”
Ren stood in a growing pool of her own blood, the crossbow bolt holding her to the steel tank; just my gaze sweeping over her raised blistering burns. My rage grew and the power grew with it. I willed my body to move and suddenly I was in front of him; my jaws reaching for his throat. It was so easy to tear it out and it tasted like Life itself.
I wrapped my arms around his body, my light banishing his shadows. He screamed a gurgling wail as my grip tightened, my fingers digging into his spine, every rib splintering under the force. Spinning I threw him, the Hunter bounced off the wall and fell like a broken toy at my feet. As his eyes watched in horror I pushed my fingers through his cracked chest and flung my arms wide. Reaching into his chest cavity I tore the heart from its resting place; the carrion flavor of his flesh was sweeter than anything I had tasted before. I wanted more.
My eyes turned hungrily towards Ren. I dipped a finger in the vitae pooling on the floor and tasted it. Ambrosia could not have tasted this amazing; my body trembled with the desire to drink. Just as I was reaching for her, I felt something inside change; the power from the Hunter was being absorbed and was fighting for dominance. In that brief moment of struggle I returned to myself.
“-OFF NOW!” The shield around me dissolved and I was back to myself, the martini glass still in one hand, the stem snapped in two and the shaker in the other, deformed by my grip. One of the Three was unconscious; half slumped against the wall, the leader was holding her sword in a white knuckled grip and shouting orders to the other. I carefully set the broken glass down and poured the remaining vodka into a fresh glass. As I took a drink I felt the razor edge of her sword tickle the hollow of my throat.
“Don’t fucking move. I am not sure what the hell you did but try it again. I dare you.”
“I didn’t do anything. You’re the one who wanted what was in my head. Honestly all I did was attempt to give it to you. I guess it worked too well.” I swallowed and felt the sword slicing the skin over my Adam’s apple.
The door swung open and I felt Mec enter the room before he actually stepped inside. “My goodness Kay, jumping the gun again are we?” Predictably, he had a long thin aromatic cigar in his left hand and was still dressed in his tux… although the tie was hanging loosely around his neck, the shirt was unbuttoned, and the jacket was draped over his right arm.
“Come now, if the Tribunal is going to be involved why so late in the game? Why not speak with the Questioned individuals companions? I would be the first to tell you that he is VERY dangerous, EXTREMELY untested and COMPLETELY unpredictable, not to mention ignorant of every single one of our rules and traditions.
“Nonetheless he has not only proven himself in battle he has shown a willingness to compromise his human ethics to stand by and support his friends. I believe that with proper training and a capable mentor he could change the face of our existence. If you would put away your sword long enough to read over some of the data I have gathered on him I think you would be amazed by what you see. Of course if the Tribunal wants to throw away a valuable asset without even scratching the surface of its potential don’t be surprised if our enemies pick up the pieces and use them against us.”
Kay’s hand wavered uncertainly, the tip of her blade digging a small bloody trench in my skin. “It’s like releasing a rabid lion into a nursery. You of all people should know what a rogue agent does Mec.”
“All the more reason to make sure he doesn’t go rouge… right?” Mec walked over to the bar and poured himself a generous glass of scotch. “Why don’t you put that down before you sneeze someone’s head off?” He said with a condescending look at her sword. “I’m sure you remember what the actual problem was last time… there’s nothing like driving someone to the other side when it will almost certainly be their undoing.”
At her surprised look he nodded “I know, that’s not the story you heard is it? Ahhh… put up your blade, pull up a chair, have a drink and listen to the actual story. I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating.”
“There was a time, about 150 years ago, when the Clans were united and a truce was to be forged between humans and our kind. It was all the work of one man; a man of vision and character acting without a thought for his own personal gain, but instead acting out of a drive to preserve his Kin. At that time the main aggressor against our kind was The Church whose religious teachings lent a kind of fervor for our annihilation seldom seen; but this particular person managed to save the life of a high-ranking Bishop’s son.
The boy had been attacked by thieves and as he lay dying from knife wounds he was found by this ancient and powerful Clan leader and given the Kiss of eternal life. Although he tried to explain the situation to the distraught man it took him days of prayer and meditation to accept what had happened. The revelation came to him as he was censing the altar to prepare for a service. He decided this was God’s way of fostering understanding between his children who walked in the light and those who must stay in darkness.
Now although the boy was not quite the same as he had been the Bishop’s heart was softened. He and his son’s benefactor struck up a friendship and over time the Bishop realized what a wealth of knowledge someone who had lived for centuries retained. He began attempting to document the life of the vampire, and was fascinated by his story and the various manuscripts and artifacts he had accumulated over his life span.
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