Category Archives: Book 005

005.005

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Wayne kept his fireball steadily humming in front of the two of them. A warning that he could and would protect himself at any sign of hostility. She, in turn, had one arm linked around his like they were a couple. Her other arm kept Zoe pressed against her chest.

Despite his growing tension, Serena was the picture of relaxation. She leaned her head against his arm, knowing yet uncaring of the flames just inches away. A show of power? Or stupidity.

Either way, she hadn’t attacked him yet. Wayne was willing to entertain her at least until his arm was no longer in immediate danger of being torn off.

“How old?” Wayne asked.

“Fifty-six. I was sixteen when I joined the ranks of the undead.”

Half a century? Wayne thought with a frown.

So long as she wasn’t lying again, that might kill his theory on vampire hair. While it was entirely possible to go fifty years without suffering hair damage–mortals did it all the time minus the regular hair-cuts–vampires tended to lead lives filled with significantly more danger than their human counterparts. She must have regrown some at some point.

Unless she wore some illusion covering up any permanent injuries.

Wayne tried to remember whether or not he had touched her hair and came up blank. It looked real. As she rubbed her cheek against his sleeve, the shoulder-length strands of black hair moved naturally against the fabric.

“You look good for being twice my age,” Wayne prodded.

Serena looked up with a wide grin, visible even behind her mask. “Thank you,” she said. If there was any doubt about her smiling, it vanished when she spoke. Her smile came through audible in her voice. “I do try. I’m glad you appreciate my efforts.”

That answer could go either way. Finding he really didn’t care no matter what she said, Wayne moved his fireball closer as he moved on to a more important question. “This disaster in the city, is it you or yours who caused it?”

“Please,” Serena said, dismissing the notion with a wave of her arm. “There is a phrase. ‘Don’t shit where you eat.’ I believe at least half of it is very literal in these circumstances.”

In moving her arm, she jolted Wayne’s slowly mending bones. Noticing his grimace, Serena stilled as much as possible.

How kind of her, Wayne thought with a bit of mental derision.

“Starting just after Thanksgiving,” she said, tone more somber, “there was a meeting. All the vampires in the city had been called to it, even independents. Not something I usually participate in. The clans leave me alone and I leave them alone.

“I was the only independent who attended. The others, along with about half the Feral vampires and three of the ten August, were dead. Ashes had been found. Ferals thought it was the August and vice versa. Naturally, the meeting devolved into a war with a mere three August coming out alive.”

“Let me guess,” Wayne said, interrupting. “It wasn’t the Feral clan.”

Serena nodded. “I personally found the ash of three August at the meeting place just before Christmas. Humans had started disappearing.”

“You wondered if they were involved.”

“Oddly enough, the area didn’t look like it had been through another fight. More like the sun had risen inside the windowless cellar. At that point, I started making plans to leave the city. I was the last vampire in Lansing and had no intention of suffering the same fate as the clans.”

Wayne nodded. “Traveling isn’t easy for a vampire.”

“Nights only, no steady food supply, no real destination, no safe lairs along the way, no knowing the local politics of anywhere you pass through. I’ve been in Lansing for fifty years and it hasn’t been by choice.

“But as I was preparing to leave, new vampires started popping up. Feral and August for the most part. I did notice one Mekhet.” Serena clapped her hands together, only moving the one that had held Zoe to avoid jostling Wayne’s arm. “Guess what strain the other independents belonged to!”

Wayne didn’t bother to dignify that with a response.

“Anyway,” Serena continued undeterred, “I managed to keep most of them from acting out. None of them had proper sires to show them our ways. The story I gave you originally belonged to the two I had been traveling with. Most shared similar stories. At least until New Year’s Eve, I kept them in line. Forcefully, if I had to.

“On New Year’s Eve, people started waking up as vampires. Too many people. The city quickly devolved into chaos, as you have seen.”

Disturbing, if true. Sarah should have noticed people going missing. Surely it had been in the news. Unlike Serena, she wouldn’t have had the vampiric issues with traveling back before Christmas.

Wayne let a small curse escape his lips. Sarah could have called and mentioned that something was going on, even if the disappearances turned out to be an entirely mundane act of psychopathy. Part of it was his fault, he knew. After their parents’ death, Wayne had been adamant about not continuing the dragon ranch.

Serena rubbed the top of Zoe’s head. “I could have slipped past the military with ease, but I knew for a fact that the nuns were out hunting those who escaped the barricade. I’ve never seen one in person, and still hope I never do. The Lansing clans were terrified of drawing their attention. We all knew how to keep our heads down.”

“Not far enough down. Whoever killed your friends found out about you. And I don’t think it was the Elysium Order.”

“At this point, I don’t care. As you told the other scum, this city is done for. I watched you enter the city and assumed you had a plan to leave. We should execute that plan sooner rather than later.”

Ignoring the fact that he most certainly had no definite plan to leave, Wayne asked, “but you decided to attack me before asking to come with me?”

“If you couldn’t handle a few week-old vampires,” she said without the slightest hint of shame, “how could I trust you with my safety?”

“You’re awfully trusting right now,” Wayne said, flashing the fireball white-hot for a brief instant. “I could end you now and not lose a moment of sleep. I should end you before you attempt any mind tricks on me.”

“You haven’t yet,” she said. “And I won’t.” Behind her mask, Serena’s eyes narrowed to thin slits. “Did you see that repulsive thrall, lapping at the ground? I am a higher class of vampire.”

Wayne gave a short grunt of acknowledgment. Extinguishing the ball of fire in front of him, he replaced his tome under the crook of his arm. The movement was somewhat awkward with only one hand, but he managed.

Extinguishing the fire set off some sort of catalyst in Serena. She lifted up his injured arm, carefully, and slung it over her own shoulders.

He tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let go. At the first touch of pain, Wayne ceased moving and resigned himself to having a vampire under his arm.

For now.

“I am not your servant. Nor am I your lover or,” Wayne sneered behind his mask, “husband.”

“That’s okay,” she said, snuggling closer, “I have what I want.”

“The moment we are out of this city, you’re free to do as you will. Sarah and I won’t be a part of it.” He glanced down at Zoe and, after a moment of thought, added, “Zoe will be coming with us as well.” He could find her a set of proper parents at the very least. Being raised by vampires, even if Serena didn’t turn her into one, couldn’t be good for her mental health.

Upon hearing her name, Zoe glanced up.

Wayne was surprised to see somewhat angry eyes glaring at him from behind her mask’s visor. That surprise only increased when Zoe wrapped one arm around Serena.

Great. Just great.

That gave the vampire a short laugh as she started patting the kid’s head. “Are you sure about that?”

“Being raised by–”

“Not Zoe, cute though she is,” Serena said, giving the kid a final affectionate pat. “Sarah. If it is dangerous for me to move, someone completely ignorant will find it most perilous indeed. What will she do if she runs across a clan of hostile vampires when she is barely a few days old.”

Wayne grimaced. He had read books on vampires, as had most everyone–they were a very popular creature for some odd reason. None of the books he had read were guides on how to survive as a vampire, just information. He doubted any guide-type books would exist in a world where the Elysium Order was so well-regarded.

“Incidentally,” Serena said in a slightly angry tone, nodding towards a masked Sarah slowly making her way back to them, “your girlfriend–”

“Sister.”

“That’s wonderful news!” The anger vanished from her voice as if it had never been. “Your sister is an August. One of the ones who just woke up as a vampire, based on me never having seen her before. I don’t know if or how she is different from regular vampires, but it is something to keep an eye on.”

“Noted,” Wayne said as he watched his sister.

Sarah no longer clutched at her stomach. Her arm wasn’t quite back to normal, but it was visibly on its way. Vampires’ regeneration was something special. Despite her elbow being far more damaged than Wayne’s arm, he was willing to bet that hers would be back to normal first.

“You alright?” Wayne asked.

“Fine. I just…” Sarah shook her head. “Let’s just leave. What’s the plan.”

Wayne shifted his weight to one side.

“Wayne. What is the plan?”

He shifted again.

“Please tell me you didn’t charge into the city with no idea on how to get out.”

“I figured we could wing it. That normally works out for me.”

Sarah tried to rub her forehead only to hit the visor of her mask. “How have you not been caught already?”

“I’ll have you know that I’m very skilled at what I do. My forging skills got me in with no problem.”

“Wayne,” Serena said, aghast, “you’re a criminal?”

Keeping his attention on his sister, Wayne ignored the finger running down his chest. “Three ways,” Wayne said, “find some helicopter. Surely even a town this tiny has a hospital or news station with some flight capabilities.

“Second, we could try going out the way I came in. That relies on the checkpoint not having found out that my papers were forged. Additionally, finding a way to contact them and let them know that it is me without getting my head shot off might be a good idea.

“Lastly,” Wayne frowned at Sarah, “you tunnel us out.”

“Those are all terrible,” Sarah said with a huff. “Especially the last one.”

“Yeah, yeah. I had a fourth plan. Basically amounted to hailing the nuns and hitching a ride with them. A good number of them are trained to teleport.” He glanced between Sarah and Serena. “Probably not useful so much anymore.”

“Quite,” Serena said in a clipped tone, lacking all her previous banter.

“Do you even know how to pilot a helicopter?”

Wayne shrugged. “Can’t be that hard. There’s a stick right? Push it forward and the thing goes forward, back and it goes back.”

He’d seen a few movies involving helicopters. They didn’t look too impressive. Though they did have an unnerving tendency to explode. That shouldn’t be a problem here; during his scoping out of the military, he didn’t notice anything that looked capable of taking out air targets. With enough altitude, all the ground forces should be easily avoided.

“Right,” Sarah said. Her opinion of that plan was plain in every word. “That plan is off the table.”

“Oh? Through the military blockade it is. I hope they’re friendly.”

“Don’t worry Wayne,” Serena said once again in her husky voice, “I can handle anything mere humans can come up with.” After a playful wink, her tone turned serious. “But we should wait until nightfall. Unless the smoke extends well beyond city limits, your sister and I will have trouble in the sun.”

Wayne nodded. “I could use a nap.”

“Me too,” Sarah said with a long yawn.

Did vampires even need to yawn? A leftover trait of humanity or some idiosyncrasy with how she just woke up as one?

A moot point at the moment.

Zoe tugged on Serena’s shirt. Without even a word of communication between the two, Serena hefted Zoe up on her back. Once settled, Zoe rested her head on Serena’s shoulder.

Possibly mental tricks of the Blacksky vampire reading the younger kid’s mind. He suspected manipulation for a moment before remembering the vehemence with which she spoke of the ‘mindless’ thralls.

In retrospect, Wayne had probably left Zoe and Serena to their own devices far too much if he wanted to prevent any sort of attachment forming from the former to the latter. A kid wouldn’t understand the dangers of a vampire. Her mother might have been a mage, but that didn’t mean that she had any lectures on the creatures.

As Serena relinked her and Wayne’s arms, he realized that he might be suffering from a similar problem. He had killed that other vampire without hesitation or remorse, yet Serena hung off of his arm without retaliation. All because he had bought into her earlier sob-story about becoming a vampire. A story she had freely admitted was untrue.

If he didn’t need her for Sarah’s sake, would she still be here?

“I’ll keep on watch for any nuns, I suppose,” Serena said.

“I don’t know how you can stand to be awake,” Sarah said with droopy eyes. Whatever adrenaline had been keeping her alert was rapidly vanishing. “No torpor for you?”

“Being the pinnacle of vampires that I am, I can easily ignore the effects for a day or two. Maybe when you’re older.”

“Alright,” Wayne said. “Let’s find a place to hold up for a few hours.”

Wayne clicked the CB radio off.

“Worthless,” he mumbled as he hopped out of the truck he had been sitting inside of for the last hour.

“No luck?” Sarah asked, yawning despite sunset being within the hour.

Shaking his head, Wayne said, “I didn’t expect much. It’s an unmodified civilian-band radio. Mostly certain that it is illegal to modify it to drop to military frequencies.”

“And you don’t know how to modify it yourself?”

“Can’t say that I’ve ever studied radios. Wouldn’t know where to start.”

A sharp clap in the back of the truck had Wayne turning around.

“We’re going for the break out forcefully plan then, right?”

“Unless Sarah wants to tunnel,” Wayne said, turning to his sister with an eyebrow raised.

“Not unless you want to be buried. While alive. Permanently.”

“No. Not so much.”

Earth magic had never come easy for Sarah, despite it being her primary element. After graduating, she hadn’t even passed her third class exam. Wayne was still sure that she could tunnel them out. He could even help with his own meager skills.

Pushing her to do it wouldn’t help. Wayne knew his sister. She would get either angry or nervous. Both could easily lead to a cave-in.

“We need to find a weak point in their barricade. The roads all have heavy-duty checkpoints. Snipers, several soldiers, flamethrowers.”

“The river? We shouldn’t have a problem finding a boat at one of the houses along the Grand.”

“Not sure. I didn’t thoroughly scope out where their fence met the river. I assume they’re watching it.”

“Better plan than charging through with a car,” Sarah said with a self-affirming nod. “We can ditch the boat shortly after and find a car. Probably switch cars a number of times to hide from any followers.”

Experience had taught him that getaways were rarely so clean. He’d never tried fleeing from the actual mundane military before, but it probably wouldn’t be so simple. It was a better plan than nothing, though, and he had been winging things for long enough that he was sure it wouldn’t be that hard.

Using a bit of heat manipulation, he could probably hide them completely from any night vision equipment they may have. Then it was just a matter of losing them long enough to hunker down at a hotel. Preferably in Detroit. Being a big city–bigger, anyway–it would be easy to get lost inside.

“Alright,” Wayne said. “Jump in the truck.” The river wasn’t far, but they needed to be indoors by sunrise. Even though the sun hadn’t even set yet, every second counted.

Serena jumped to her feet. “Oh, I call–”

“The back of the truck,” Sarah said.

Serena’s glare was muted by her mask, but there was definite hostility behind it.

Wayne stepped between the two before a fight could break out. Looking up at Serena, he tried to deflect her attention. “Is Zoe still asleep?”

“Out like a light,” Serena said, her eyes wrinkling in a genuine smile.

Great, Wayne thought even as he returned her smile from behind his own mask. I’ve got a bipolar vampire on my hands who thinks she’s my girlfriend. Or thinks I’m her servant.

“If you could keep her from sliding around,” Wayne said, “I would appreciate it.”

“Alright,” came the instant response. “I can do that.”

Shaking his head, Wayne turned to Sarah. He gave a sharp nod towards the truck’s cab before climbing back into the driver’s seat.

Sarah circled around to the passenger side and got in without a word. She remained silent until they had been driving for a few blocks.

“So,” she said, tentative hesitation plain in her voice, “the girl…”

“The kid or the granny?”

A heavy thump cracked the rear window. Looking through the mirror, Wayne saw a pair of eyes glaring at him.

“Guess she can hear,” he mumbled to himself.

“Zoe,” Sarah said. “Serena told me how you saved her, and that’s great, but what do you plan to do with her?”

“Find some orphanage and drop her off.”

“That’s it? Simple as that?”

“Simple as that. Why?” He took his eyes off the road for a moment to glance in her direction. “You want to adopt her or something?”

“I’m a vampire.”

“So?” He paused, considering his words. Serena, he didn’t like the idea of her raising Zoe. But his sister… “You’re not going to eat her, are you?”

“I’m a monster.”

“No. You’re my sister and you’re being overdramatic.” Wayne gave a long and drawn out sigh through his mask. “Sarah. It’s cliché but worrying about being a monster is a great sign that you’re not. Your message to me was about caring for the stupid dragons of all things. Not exactly the kind of things a monster would worry about.”

Smiling, Wayne said, “then again, those dragons are evil.”

“Wayne,” she snapped, slapping him lightly on the shoulder.

That was the response he had been hoping for. Why she cared about the overgrown lizards was beyond him, but she did.

“Maybe having a kid to care for will help keep you on the straight and narrow.”

Wayne caught a glare out of the corner of his eyes.

“Rich,” she said, crossing her arms, “coming from you.”

“I wish I was rich. Wouldn’t have to,” he coughed, “borrow so much.”

“So you’re just going to foist her off on me?”

Wayne cricked his neck back and forth. “Why not? She’s middle school, maybe elementary school aged. Only a few years before you can ‘foist her off’ to an academy. Her mother was a mage.”

“So I heard.”

“Either that or an orphanage,” Wayne said with a shrug. He turned down another road, bringing the river into full view. “In the mean time, let’s find a boat.”

“There’s a neighborhood,” she said, pointing vaguely, “they literally dug channels from the river into their backyards.”

“Rich people neighborhood?”

“Oh yeah. Unless they all took the boats, we should have plenty of choices.”

A genuine grin spread across Wayne’s face. “Perfect.”

“Two towers,” Wayne said as he passed his binoculars to his cohort. “A sniper and a spotter on top of each along with mounted flame throwers. Several soldiers patrolling along the shoreline fences.”

“And a big net dangling off the bridge to catch anything that tries to swim past,” Serena said, finishing his explanation. “Which shouldn’t be a problem for your flames. And I’m sure you’re proficient enough to take control of their flames.”

“Their bullets worry me the most. Both Sarah and I should be able to erect thaumaturgical shields without much difficulty, but they won’t stand up to the amount of lead that they can pour in our direction.

“The river is flat and free from obstructions. Not even much smoke down here. They’ll see us coming the moment we move the boat around the bend.”

Serena hummed a sing-song tune. “I’ll handle them.”

“I have no doubt that you can kill them or just slip past them, but the rest of us can’t. They’ll call for reinforcements. Those reinforcements will call for reinforcements. Someone will report our boat. Soon enough we’ll have an army trailing after our boat and they won’t stop if we ditch it.”

“You worry far too much, Wayne. Forgetting my strain? Never fear, the boat will be the last thing on their minds.” Serena tapped him on the nose with her finger. “But you’ll need to be fast. Return to the boat and rev it up. Charge full speed through. Both you and your sister should have your shields at maximum strength just in case.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Now now,” she said, chiding. “Can’t reveal all my secrets, even to you. Go, we’re already wasting moonlight.”

Wayne thought to protest, but shrugged. He scooted back carefully and slowly–he had no intention of being spotted by the spotters just yet–leaving Serena behind some bushes on the riverbank.

The boat they had found wasn’t the best in the neighborhood. It did, however, have its keys in an easily accessible lockbox next to the boathouse. Zoe was huddled up under a few blankets and a few life vests just behind the driver’s seat.

Sarah, who had been sitting on the edge, stood up as Wayne approached.

“Where’s the vampire?”

“Distracting the army.”

“Distracting or killing?”

“Didn’t ask,” Wayne said, hopping into the boat. “Come on, we don’t have much time.”

The engine of the boat roared to life. They had to siphon some gas out of the truck they had stolen, but it otherwise appeared fine. Probably hadn’t been used much for a few months.

Wayne was just glad that the river hadn’t frozen over.

“Well?” Wayne said. Sarah hadn’t moved to join him in the boat. “The army would have heard that. We don’t have time to debate. Get in and put up the strongest shield you can.”

“I thought you said that she would distract them.”

“Just in case,” he said, repeating Serena’s words.

After shaking her head, Sarah hopped into the passenger seat.

Before she even had a chance to settle in, Wayne gunned the engines.

At the same time, he heard the crystal clear crack of a rifle’s report. Machine gun fire followed soon after.

“What’s going on?” Sarah asked even as the telltale haze of a powerful shield popped up in front of their boat.

Wayne gripped his tome, adding to the magical effect. “A distraction,” he said with a light grunt.

Accelerator at full speed, Wayne swung the boat around to face the blockade.

Distraction might be an understatement.

Every gun the military had in this section of town was firing. None of them were firing towards the river. Trees and the buildings of a marina were the targets of choice.

Serena stood silhouetted against the white floodlights of the military. One hand held Wayne’s binoculars up to her eyes while she held the other out extended. One finger pointed out with the thumb up in a facsimile of a gun. As she mimed her finger-gun firing with recoil, a black beam shot out of the binoculars, aimed at one of the sniper towers.

Flame started spouting from the mounted turret, all aimed away from the river.

She repeated the action for the other tower, which also started spewing impotent fire, before turning to face the oncoming boat.

After giving a half-salute half-wave, Serena jumped.

“Shield down,” Wayne shouted.

Just in time for her to land on the bow of their boat.

Wayne immediately reapplied his own shield over their boat.

“Thirty-seconds,” Serena shouted over the engine.

Sarah shouted back. “For what?”

“Until they stop thinking that every vampire in the city is charging their outpost.”

“We’ll be clear by then,” Wayne said. Probably too quiet to be heard over the engine and the gunfire, but he didn’t care.

He was too busy dragging the flamethrower’s flame across the net. It was much easier than conjuring flame from scratch, but still required concentration. Doubly so as he was both driving and maintaining a shield at the same time.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t burning fast enough.

“Hold on!”

The front of their boat hit the net, most of it catching on their shield.

Weakened from the flames, it tore.

Wayne let out a sigh of relief as their boat sped through underneath the bridge. The rope hanging off of their shield quickly burned away with a smidgen of extra effort on Wayne’s part.

He had to slow down for another turn of the river, but that turn carried them well out of sight from the sniper towers.

“We have with us today a very special guest.”

Wayne blinked his eyes open, yawning as the last vestiges of sleep left him.

“He wishes to remain entirely anonymous, but felt it was his duty to report what actually happened during the tragedy at Lansing.”

Wayne rolled his eyes as he glanced over at the hotel television set.

This story again.

Lansing was all anyone had talked about for a solid week. No one knew what happened. It was all baseless speculation. Everything had been blamed as the culprit. From Russian satellite weapons test to aliens of all things.

This time, however, was slightly different. Rather than talking over pictures of the crater, the journalist sat in a chair on one side of the screen. The other side had been covered with opaque glass. Only the barest hints of a shadow could be seen on the side of it.

“So,” the anchor said, “what can you tell about Lansing?”

“Thank you for having me.” His voice had been garbled to the point where it was barely intelligible. Luckily for anyone viewing, whatever news station this was had hired a quick transcriber to add subtitles to the screen. “Everywhere else turned me away as crazy.”

“Of course, Mr. Blank.” She actually said the word ‘blank.’ “We’ll let the you speak and the viewers will decide.”

“My detachment had been rounded up for emergency containment of a biological threat. Initially, that’s what it appeared to be. A strange one, to be sure, but nothing unimaginable.”

“Can you tell us the nature of the biological threat? Effects and transmission vectors?”

“Transmission, we didn’t know. None of us had been issued NBC suits–that’s nuclear, biological, chemical suits–and none of the soldiers ever came down with the ‘illness.'” The shadow moved as the man put quotes around his word. “As for the effects,” he coughed, “some seemed to turn into zombies while others turned super-human.”

“Zombies, Mr. Blank?” Despite the way she phrased her inquiry, there was no mocking in her voice.

“Sounds crazy, but when you hear what I have to say later, it’ll be the sanest thing you heard. There are certain chemical cocktails that can turn a person towards a more brain-dead state while still leaving motor functions, so it isn’t too absurd to believe that someone would have weaponized such a thing.

“For three days and three nights, we fought off the zombies and the people who took a few extra bullets to put down–”

“Did these super-humans ever attempt to communicate?”

“Never allowed them to get that close. Our orders were clear. We couldn’t allow the threat to spread.”

“I see.”

He shook his head, ignoring her slightly accusatory tone. “On the third night, things started to change. If some people who took a few extra bullets to put down counted as super-human, these things counted as absolute monsters. They would charge the fences, dodging bullets. They could take entire magazines and still run forward with speed.”

“You called them monsters, but were they human? Or actual monsters.”

“About half and half. Some had limbs like bears while others looked human. Save for a few bodies for the egg-heads, we burned all the corpses. The ones we didn’t burn still had to be restrained with steel because they didn’t always stay dead.”

“Adding to the zombie motif of this attack.”

Again, the man shook his head. “Nope. Crazier than that. That same night, a man showed up at our post. Started spouting off this nonsense about vampires.”

Rather than speak, the anchor just raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I had that expression as well. Then he started a fire in his hand. A gigantic ball of flame the size of my head. He just held it there, casually. I could feel the heat coming off of it. He extinguished the fireball and a forcefield popped up around him.”

“Experimental technology?”

“Not like anything I’ve heard of. No, he wore a sharp, well-fitting suit. The only thing he carried was a thick book. It was honest-to-God magic.”

“Magic?” Unlike her comment about zombies, the disbelief was clear in her tone now.

“Some others saw it as well, but I don’t expect them to come forward. Scary stuff. He claimed he was special forces needing to extract a VIP stuck within the city, though no one I talked to could verify his identity.”

“You don’t believe he was a special forces?”

“Could be. Could be that no one I talked to had the clearance to know. Or the clearance to tell me. Either way, his papers checked out initially. So we let him in. Our orders were to keep things from escaping, mind you, not entering.”

“Did you allow him out of the city once he secured this VIP?”

“Never saw him again. Don’t know if he made it. Though there was a disturbance the next night in which no less than fifteen trained soldiers insisted that they were under attack by about three hundred of the vampires, only for the vampires to vanish into thin air. No body parts, no blood or gore.”

“That would have been the fourth night,” the anchor said. “That just leaves the fifth night?”

“I don’t have much to say about that. It was just a blindingly white light. Flooded over the outpost to the point where no one could see anything. When it faded, the city was gone. I learned more from the recordings that have been playing on various news stations. Our own cameras were too close and only display a white screen.”

As he said that, one of the clearer clips played. It showed the smoke rising from the city from afar. Clouds overhead literally parted to allow a bright white beam of light engulf the city. The time stamp on the video then skipped to the end, roughly thirty minutes later.

The only thing left was a crater.

Wayne shuddered. Roughly twenty-four hours. That was all the spare time he had had, just missing utter annihilation.

The Elysium Order was scary. Scary enough that he was almost considering dropping his current project.

Almost.

As the television snapped back to the interview, Wayne shut it off. The anchor was just thanking Hicks–for who else could it be–for his time.

Looking around the hotel room, Wayne frowned. Zoe slept on in the adjacent bed, but there was no sign of either of the vampires. The bathroom door was open and the light was off, so they weren’t in there.

Wayne noticed the notepad propped up against the side of the room’s telephone as he got out of bed.

Went out for a bite.

Be back soon.

Took sis with me.

The three lines were punctuated with an imprint of lips. Serena had put on lipstick just to kiss the paper. She had to have. At no other point had Wayne noticed lipstick on her.

Wayne shook the thought out of his mind. It didn’t matter either way. She could have her games. He was beyond content in ignoring them.

What did matter was that they had gone out. The Elysium Order would surely be scouring neighboring cities for any vampires that managed to escape their wrath.

At that moment, Wayne made a decision. They couldn’t stay in Detroit any longer. The moment the girls returned, he would head out, find a large van that could have its windows blacked out, and they would drive. They would drive as long as they needed.

Clear to the other side of the country if they had to.

>>Author’s Note 005<<

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005.004

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“Sarah!”

Wayne hammered his fist against the heavy oak door.

“Sarah! Open the door!”

He rattled the handle to no avail. It was locked.

“Maybe no one is home,” Serena said, arms clasped behind her head as she leaned against the wall.

Zoe clung to the vampire’s shirt, pressing her mask up against a curtained window near the two.

Since rescuing Zoe from the thralls, the younger girl had stuck close to Serena. At first it had been mere holding hands. After about ten minutes of walking, Serena put her enhanced strength to good use by giving Zoe a piggy-back ride.

Wayne had kept a close eye on them the entire time. Despite Zoe’s arms being wrapped around Serena, just beneath her sharp fangs, the vampire never once acted like she was about to throw away his trust.

After eating two whole people, maybe that wasn’t so surprising.

All the while, they had kept up a steady conversation. Almost all of it was initiated by Serena. Any time it drifted towards Zoe’s family, Serena skillfully directed it away. It was something that Wayne was beyond grateful for. He was at home in answering Serena’s questions about vampires and magic, but keeping a kid’s mind occupied and off of her parents was far beyond his capabilities.

That Serena kept her from crying only raised Wayne’s opinion of her.

Wayne had abstained from their conversation unless he had been directly addressed. He had not, however, abstained from listening in. Through overhearing their conversation, Wayne had learned that Zoe was a mere ten years old.

Serena herself was sixteen. Older than Wayne had initially suspected, but not so much that he had been expecting her to keep quite such a level head. That was just another thing he had attributed to her vampiric condition.

A less cynical person might say that no one should ever have to experience the things the girls had, especially not at their ages. Wayne was of the opinion that tragedy struck at some point or another, best it come when you can survive it.

For Serena and Zoe, that might just be now if only because of his presence in the city.

And hopefully for Sarah as well.

If she’d open the damn door.

Wayne took a step back. Gripping his tome under the crook of his arm, Wayne held out one hand towards the door. The wood erupted in bright yellow flames. He directed the flames and heat away from the rest of the house, concentrating it all in on itself, focusing on the door.

A metallic clatter made its way out of the silent flames. Wayne extinguished the fire.

The doorway stood open. A handle and a deadbolt lay on the floor, both emitting a faint glow.

“Watch your feet,” he said as he took a ginger step over the threshold.

Serena actually lifted Zoe up and over as they crossed. “I don’t smell any blood,” she said with a sniff of the air. “But there is definitely a smell here. It is a lot closer to Eric and Bart…”

Frowning, Wayne ignited a decent sized ball of flame in his hand. “Stay here,” he said. “And keep the kid safe. Be ready to run.”

“You don’t want backup?”

“Yeah, keep an eye on the door and make sure that we haven’t attracted any attention.”

Words spent, Wayne moved deeper into the house. It wasn’t a large home. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. The latter two were connected and were attached to the entryway. He started with the nearest bedroom.

Bedroom was probably the wrong word to use. Sarah had converted it to an office as soon as she finished school. But, it had once been his bedroom.

Gone were the posters of various new wave bands. His bed had been replaced by a curved desk, looking out of the curtained window. The only thing remaining was his old guitar, propped up in the corner with a thick layer of dust covering it.

Most of the rest of the office had a decent coating of dust as well. A good deal was probably just the particles of smoke in the air finding a place to settle.

Apart from the dust, nothing appeared amiss. The desk hadn’t been turned over. The computer and stationary sitting atop was undisturbed.

Wayne shut the door and moved on.

He wasn’t entirely certain what to expect within the next room. The last time he had been inside his sister’s room was during their parents’ funeral. It could still be her room, but if he still lived at home, he would have moved into the master bedroom if for no other reason than the added size and attached bathroom.

Whatever he was thinking, he wasn’t expecting a full home theater. Two thick leather chairs sat in the center of the room. A projector had been mounted up against one wall with a white screen opposite. Heavy-duty speakers were in each corner while foam padding lined the rest of the walls.

Where did Sarah get the money for this? Wayne thought with a low whistle. Even with the money they received from their parents, Wayne wouldn’t have considered either of them in any sort of well-to-do position.

Shaking his head, Wayne closed the door. He passed through the main living room again, noting that Zoe and Serena were talking softly near the front door. Or front doorway? Either way, nothing looked amiss.

The door to the master bedroom had been locked. Wayne took that as a good sign. It indicated occupancy. And, unlike the front door, a simple coin would be sufficient to unlock it.

Not in the habit of carrying around change, Wayne extinguished his fireball and fished out his car keys instead. The lock gave way with a light click. He pressed in on the door without creating any more noise.

A hand reached out of the darkness, gripping the wrist that held the doorknob.

The moment he felt the lightest brush of something cold against his skin, Wayne pushed the limits of his mental acceleration. Relative time slowed to an almost complete stop.

Wayne’s first instinct was to incinerate everything within the room. The hand had already clasped tight around his wrist; there would be no escape from his assailant through any regular force.

A glimmer of light on the wrist stayed his hand. A small charm bracelet wrapped around the wrist, adorned with various caricatures of dragons. Wayne’s familiarity with the bracelet kept him from attacking, but filled him with a certain measure of despair.

Cutting off the flow of magic through his focus, time resumed its regular speed.

Wayne found himself being yanked into the room. A hand on his back and a leg sweeping upwards flipped him up through the air. His grip on his tome wasn’t tight enough, it went flying as his back landed on a bed.

Even as cold fingers wrapped around his throat, Wayne didn’t struggle. He stared up as two steel-gray eyes looked down at him. The eyes matched his own. The two sharp teeth, however, did not.

“Hello Sarah,” Wayne said. There was no humor in his voice. No good cheer at seeing his sister alive.

Because she wasn’t. While her eyes maintained the same intensity they held the last time Wayne was in her presence, her complexion matched that of Serena. Her cold hand was the first sign of something being wrong. Her teeth only confirmed that suspicion.

Looks like I won’t be needing those spare masks after all.

“Wayne. I would say it is good to see you again.”

“It has been two years.”

“Hell of a time to visit.”

“Could be worse,” Wayne said. “Could be snowing.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes. Shaking her head, she moved back and released her hold on Wayne’s throat. “I take it you didn’t get my message?” she asked as she bent down to pick up the lost tome.

“Oh no. I got it. Loud and clear.”

His thick focus flew back over his shoulder and slammed into the wall.

Wayne winced at hearing papers tear upon it landing. That thing hadn’t been cheap.

“Then why are you here? I explicitly told you not to come. Someone needs to take care–”

“I’ve never cared about the dragons. I care about my sister.”

“Wayne,” Sarah said with a sigh. “Mom and dad loved–”

“I don’t need you lecturing me about them. I grew up with them, same as you. You know that I don’t like your crusade to carry on their ‘legacy.'” Wayne grabbed his tome, smoothed out the pages that needed smoothing, and incinerated the pages that had been torn loose in the throw. “Besides,” he said, “you didn’t get rid of the kin, did you? They can get along without you for a while yet.

“We, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of time. If the government doesn’t nuke the city, the Elysium Order will. Standard operating procedure for lost-town scenarios does include a quick sweep for survivors, but they don’t actually care about people. Those that do get rescued will typically be inducted into their order. I wouldn’t put it past them to skip straight to scorched-earth for Lansing.”

“Since when did you become an expert on Elysium Order tactics?”

Wayne shrugged. “Been researching them lately.”

“Oh?” Sarah narrowed her eyes in his direction. “What priceless artifact do you want to steal this time?”

“You’re the last person I want to hear a lecture from. Don’t think I have forgotten about your hobbies.” Wayne stood from the bed and moved for the door. “We need to find a way out of the city.”

Wayne stilled as he felt a hand rest on his shoulder.

“You’re not going to mention it?” Sarah said, her voice so soft that Wayne had to strain to hear.

For a moment, he made no move. There was so much to do, so much to consider. At the worst, he had expected a deceased sister. Wounded at best. For her to have become a vampire had never entered into his fears.

“How did it happen?”

“Went to bed around eight on New Year’s Eve. Woke up in my bed with pointier teeth at sundown the night before last. Sent out the message a few hours later.”

“Two days?” Wayne turned to look her in the eyes. “And you didn’t willingly–”

“You think I’m stupid? Of course I didn’t.”

Wayne searched her eyes, looking for any hint of deception. He found none. Blinking, Wayne realized something else that was missing. “Your eyes are the same as mine.”

“What?”

“You don’t have the Blacksky eyes.” Wayne took one of her hands in his own, just for confirmation. “And you don’t have claws. What strain are you?”

“I don’t know,” she snapped, slapping his hand away. “It didn’t come with an instruction manual.”

“Have you fed?”

Sarah’s eyes went wide before she turned her gaze to the side.

Understanding, Wayne let the matter drop. He turned back to the door. “Nevermind. It doesn’t matter. You’re still my sister and you didn’t attack me. That’s all that matters. We can discuss your condition more after we’re safe. Or even on the way, for some of it.”

That said, Wayne threw open the door and stepped out.

His frown immediately deepened. “Zoe,” he said to the little girl wringing her hands, “where is Serena?”

The little girl spun to face him, taking a step towards him as she moved. Her step turned into a stumble as she retreated backwards upon seeing Sarah.

Watching his sister out of the corner of his eye, Wayne was pleased to note a hurt expression cross her face. Pleased because it wasn’t hunger or malice.

“She won’t hurt you,” Wayne said as he put on his kindest smile. “This is my sister, Sarah.”

Something–probably my smile–made Zoe take another step back.

“This is a survivor we found,” Wayne said for his sister’s sake.

“‘We?’ You dragged someone else into this?”

“A vampire that wisely decided against trying to kill me. Mostly.”

“Mostly?”

“Well, she started out attacking me…” Wayne shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Where did she go, Zoe?”

“Something smelled good. Serena went to find out what.”

“Something?” Wayne sniffed, but couldn’t smell much of anything behind his mask.

“I smell it too,” Sarah said after taking a few breaths of her own. A dazed look clouded her eyes. “Blood. Fresh and warm. Lots of it too. More than a single person for sure.”

Wayne grit his teeth together. She just ate two people plus some of my blood. How gluttonous is that girl? “Whatever,” he said. “I told her to stay here. We don’t have time to go rescue her from an Elysium Order trap.”

Both of Zoe’s hands clasped around her mask. “It’s a trap?” she said with a gasp.

“That or a big fight going on. Either way, not something we want to get into.”

“But,” Sarah said, taking an unsteady step forwards, “but I need–”

Wayne clamped a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Sister or not, if I have to break your legs to get us out–”

Not having turned on his mental acceleration, Wayne didn’t have time to react. His sister wrenched out of his grip. An elbow found its way into the pit of his stomach.

Collapsing to his knees, Wayne tried to regain control over his breathing.

Zoe screamed as Sarah charged into a full sprint. Luckily for the girl, Sarah, and Wayne’s conscience, Sarah completely ignored Zoe in her rush to the door.

Vampire out of the way, Zoe walked up to Wayne.

“Definitely a trap,” he groaned out. “Both ate recently. I don’t believe that Sarah would go into a frenzy just because of a little blood.”

“You’re going to save Serena, right?”

Wayne rolled his eyes. Using Zoe’s shoulder to steady himself, he pushed himself back to his feet, rubbing his stomach as he went. “If she’s still kicking.”

Putting a hand on Zoe’s head, Wayne considered telling her to stay where she was. With the front door gone, the house wasn’t as safe as could be. He decided to keep her at his side in the end.

“Let’s go see if we can’t find a couple of vampires.”

Finding their wayward vampires turned out to be much simpler than expected. Zoe helpfully noted in which direction both Serena and Sarah had taken off running. From there, it was a simple matter of walking in a straight line.

The music helped as well.

Classical hymns blaring over half the town only reinforced the feeling that this was a trap. The music would attract what the smell of blood did not; thralls, ghouls, and possibly humans.

It certainly gathered a number of thralls and ghouls.

Smoke obscured most of his view, but what he could see spoke wonders. Humans stood around the edges of the park, all looking in, all watching. A ghoul would occasionally slip through and shamble towards the center. They didn’t last long, usually winding up torn apart in seconds.

A wide vat filled to the brim with thick red liquid sat in the center of Washington Park. Lights had been set up all around it alongside speakers and fans. The fans served to push around the soot-filled air more than clear it, but they did clear it enough to offer a slightly better view. Wayne had a feeling that they were to spread the scent around the city more than any sort of environmental control.

And they performed that task admirably.

At least ten vampires swarmed around the vat. Rather than drink from it, they were too busy fighting their competition.

Probably intentional, Wayne mused from his position atop the park’s tallest slide. He didn’t know of any way to poison a vampire, so whipping them up into a frenzy and having them fight each other was a decent way to cull the group to manageable levels. Then again, if anyone could find a way to poison a vampire, it would be the Elysium Order.

The plan would probably be more effective at night. More vampires would be awake and therefore there would be greater chaos around the vat. But daytime was safer for regular humans. Gathering all the vampires, thralls, and what-have-you to specific points gave the Order free rein to do as they please. If Wayne didn’t miss his guess, this would be the time when the nuns would perform their token check for any regular humans.

Which meant that the end of the city was drawing near.

Needless to say, he was beyond pleased that they had actually decided to check for humans. That gave him the time he needed to get everyone out of the city. Unfortunately, everyone currently included at least one of the vampires involved in the brawl near the vat.

Sarah, being a trained earth mage, was wiping the floor with her opponents. Literally, in some cases. She carried no focus but was just as effective at manipulating earth as she had been in life–which was to say: terrible. Still, it was a distinct advantage over the other vampires.

And it did confirm Wayne’s suspicions that vampires were entirely capable of thaumaturgy. Serena ought to be happy about that.

If she survived.

Thanks to her little invisibility trick, Serena was performing quite well. She would blink out of sight before appearing on the back of an attacker.

Wayne didn’t know what effects a vampire drinking vampire blood would cause, but he expected that he would be finding out shortly. So long as she survived.

Thus far, the two had remained on opposite sides of the vat from one another. They weren’t working together. Luck had kept them apart so far.

Testing who was stronger between the mediocre earth vampire-mage and the invisible vampire was not a current desire of his.

Wayne stood, cracking his neck side to side.

He’d just have to get them to stop.

“Nice mask. Yours go crazy too?”

Keeping a firm hand on Zoe’s shoulder, Wayne glanced to his side.

One of the thralls had the gall to walk up to him. A scrawny type with wide-rimmed glasses.

“No.” And that was it. Nothing more needed to be said. Wayne didn’t know how the kid came to be a thrall. Probably another sob story; not a thing Wayne cared to hear about. He already had enough sob stories on his hands between Zoe and Serena.

Zoe pressed close to him, holding on to the hem of his suit jacket. “What are you going to do?”

We,” Wayne said, uncaring as to whether the thrall heard him, “are going to destroy all that blood. It was set out by vampire hunters and I’m not interested in sticking around for their trap.

You are going to stay right by my side.” Wayne wasn’t about to trust the thralls not to kidnap the kid. “If I say jump or duck or run, you are going to jump or duck or run. No complaints. No hesitation. Understand?”

The kid nodded.

Wayne was fairly certain that this was the point where someone else would give her a confidence boosting ruffle of her hair. Wayne wasn’t someone else. He was Wayne Lurcher. Affectionate displays were far beyond him.

Besides, she had a mask of her own over her head.

“A trap?” The thrall moved closer. “Do you need help? I’m sure some of the others–”

Wayne silenced him by igniting a fireball. “And you can leave. You’ll wind up as nothing more than mince-meat if you come with me.” Wayne wasn’t about to trust the thrall anyway. It was too beholden to his vampire. If, even in the midst of their frenzy, his vampire shouted out some order or another, Wayne held no doubt that the thrall would die to carry the order through.

The thrall backed away, not taking his eyes off the fireball in Wayne’s hand.

After ensuring that the kid was keeping up with his movements, Wayne started wading out into the center of the park. For several steps, none of the vampires so much as glanced in his direction.

Twenty-five feet from the vat, something changed. Two vampires broke off their fight with each other and charged at him.

Slowing his perception of time to a crawl, Wayne had all the time in the world to step to one side, keeping Zoe with him. He nudged the closer of the two ever so slightly as the vampire ran to his side.

Amazing how a slight redirection of momentum can send a vampire crashing into another one.

With both vampires on the ground, shoving and struggling to disentangle their limbs from one another, Wayne was free to burn another prepared page.

A column of fire erupted around the two like a miniature volcano. It lasted only a few seconds, but by the time Wayne extinguished the flames, nothing but ashes remained. Ashes that the fans kicked up into more dust to fill the air.

Wayne took an instant to appreciate his mask. Breathing in vampire remains couldn’t be good for his health.

He felt a slight tremor at his side. Zoe had started shaking. Reaching a fireball-less hand down to her shoulder, Wayne gave her a reassuring squeeze.

“Don’t worry. Vampires of this caliber are not a threat.”

Unfortunately, more vampires were taking note of his presence. Three-way fights were harder to break away from, to Wayne’s great relief. Day old vampires might not be troublesome, but he wasn’t immune to being overwhelmed.

Wayne started forward again, increasing his speed even with Zoe hanging off of his clothes.

It would have been simple to launch a fireball from afar. Multiple fireballs, even. That ran the risk of destroying the vat and spilling the blood. Not something Wayne wanted. It would be much harder to destroy spread around the park.

Burning two pages, Wayne created walls of flames extending out and around the vat. It was a long shot, but he was hoping that the vampires would maintain some semblance of sanity and stay away from the fire.

Pushing Zoe into the fastest run her tiny legs could manage, they reached the vat.

A vampire burst through the firewall to his side. So much for that idea, Wayne thought with a groan. At least the vampire wasn’t Sarah.

It was, however, on fire. Wayne didn’t need to spend much effort in fanning the flames. Soon enough, the woman was a pile of ash.

Not wasting any more time, Wayne tossed a fireball up onto the center of the vat. As it flew, he burned another page.

Flames exploded outwards, doubling, growing, and heating. By the time the ball reached the top of the vat, he had a miniature sun bearing down on the liquid.

Foul and vile scents penetrated his mask as the blood vaporized under the heat. Zoe audibly gagged, though managed to hold down her lunch.

Then again, who knew when the kid last ate. She might not have anything to throw up.

“Come on,” Wayne said, breathing solely through his mouth, “we should back away until they calm–”

Wayne stumbled forward. His foot got caught in the ground as the earth lost solidity. He sunk into the ground up to his ankles before the dirt hardened.

A figure emerged from the flames. Trails of hot magic licked her clothes as she moved through.

Wayne immediately extinguished the fire. Vampires regenerated from just about anything, but fire damage took the longest by far.

While Sarah would probably forgive him even if the scars lasted a century, it wasn’t a chance he was willing to take.

Sarah opened her mouth in a scream. Her twin fangs protruded from her teeth, dripping with ichor. With blood-addled eyes, Sarah charged.

Unable to move his feet, Wayne was forced to hold his ground. He swung his heavy tome, making contact with her outstretched arm. Something snapped as her elbow bent the wrong way.

Not letting his sympathy get the better of him, Wayne followed through with an elbow-strike to her ribcage.

Again, something snapped.

Pain shot up Wayne’s arm. He accelerated his mental process to the max to take a good ten minutes worth of time just to scream internally.

His arm was broken. No doubt about that.

The only consolation was that he was fairly certain something snapped inside her as well. It wasn’t so much her durability that snapped his arm, it was her sheer speed that broke both their bones.

Working through the pain, Wayne brought his raised tome down on Sarah’s head. She crashed into the ground, face smearing into the dirt.

Wayne was a fire mage. Through and through. He had never cared about dalliances of air magic or the complexities of earth magic, and water magic was sealed away from him due to his affinity for fire. That didn’t mean he hadn’t learned anything from school or his sister.

Using the little earth magic he knew, Wayne freed himself and Zoe–who was in the midst of screaming–from the ground.

Sarah was in the middle of using her arms to push herself up. One arm, mostly. The other didn’t look like it would support much weight anytime soon.

Wayne directed a portion of magic over to his wayward sister. Her arm sank into the ground up to her shoulder.

His sister, though a terrible mage in general, still surpassed him in earth magics. She immediately started to counteract his manipulation of the ground under her arm. In her blood-addled state, she wasn’t that great at it.

“Sarah,” Wayne said, his voice as deep and as authoritative as he could make it. “I am your brother. Wayne. Calm yourself. Do you hear me? You must stop fighting me.”

He could see movement in his peripheral vision. Nothing had burst through his walls of flame since his sister, so their blood-lust may be subsiding. Or they were still too busy fighting each other.

“Sarah,” he said again. “Please.”

His sister’s struggling ceased. She lay flat against the ground with her face in the grass.

Wayne took a step closer. “Sarah?”

“I’m sorry.”

Blinking, Wayne shook his head. “I don’t give a damn about your sorrys.” He released his hold on her arm. “Get up and move. We don’t have time to muck about.”

Only when she finally started to move did Wayne start to feel the second coming of his arm’s pain. He knelt down, gritting his teeth, and tossed his backpack on the ground.

“Could you do me a favor,” he said to Zoe. “Find me a vial of milk-white liquid.”

At the younger girl’s staunch nod, Wayne moved up to his sister.

Before he could say a word, she spoke first. “Are you hurt?”

“Broken bone. Not a bad break at that. I have potions.”

“Of course you do.”

“You’re injured worse.” Wayne said, gesturing at her backwards-facing elbow. “And I’m hesitant to try potions on you.”

“Vampires heal right?”

A voice at his elbow sent Wayne jumping to one side.

“They do,” Serena said as she faded into sight. “There are plenty of thralls that just lost their master if you want a little boost to your regeneration.”

Sarah clutched at her side as she stood. A slightly disgusted look crossed her face. “I think I’ll pass.”

Wayne started to smile at her resolve. That smile disappeared as he watched her shamble forwards a step. “Reconsider,” he said to Sarah. “We need to be in top shape to escape.”

“Besides,” Serena said, “I’m not planning on taking on any thralls. Worthless beings that can’t think beyond their next hit. And if you’re not planning on taking any under your wing, then they aren’t coming with us. I don’t rate their chance of survival very high.”

Wayne narrowed his eyes at Serena, but slowly nodded his head in agreement.

Zoe chose that moment to run up to him, holding a vial in one hand and a backpack in the other.

Breaking the seal on his mask, Wayne downed the potion in a single gulp. The acidic taste left over in his mouth caused an involuntary shudder to wrack his body. Pain in his arm flared up almost immediately as the bone reset itself and started mending.

It would still be a few hours before he could use his arm. A few more before he should use his arm. But it paid to get the process started as soon as possible.

“Thanks kid,” he said, giving Zoe an awkward pat on her head.

While she had his bag open, Wayne reached in and pulled out his last two masks. “I don’t know if these will help against any more traps, but they won’t hurt anything. Put them on,” he said, holding them out to the two vampires.

Making some noise that Wayne assumed most teenagers made when excited, Serena accepted immediately. She slipped it on and proceeded to breathe as loudly as she could.

Sarah took the mask, but only held onto it. At his questioning look, she bared her teeth without smiling.

“Right,” Wayne said, understanding. “You hold off for a few minutes.”

With that, Wayne extinguished the flames around them.

Five vampires–not counting Serena and Sarah–stood around with an accompaniment of thralls. All looked like they had been waiting for him.

None looked to be in a fighting mood. Several were wobbling on their feet with droopy eyes–Sarah included. Many were injured to some degree.

Wayne kept his pages charged and ready as he looked over the crowd just in case.

When they failed to part and allow his passage, Wayne cleared his throat. “Vampires. This,” he thumbed over his shoulder at the vat–or where the vat had been before his sun atomized it, “was a trap set by those who hunt your kind. If you stay within the city, you will die. Again. Permanently.”

One stepped forward. “How are we supposed–”

“Don’t know. Don’t care. Move at once or I will end you now.”

“Come now,” an older vampire said. She drew a sharp fingernail across her wrist. Blood dripped out, landing on the ground.

The thrall standing behind her leapt forward, tongue out. He buried his face in the grass and licked. Several of the other bystander thralls looked ready to join in.

Though he knew it was hidden by his mask, Wayne drew back his lips in disgust.

“Surely you want to serve a real master,” the vampire said, having continued to speak even as her thrall made a fool of himself. “I can provide so much more than that flat–”

Wayne had heard enough. Burning a page, Wayne replaced the vampire and her thrall with fire.

The screams filling the air caused Wayne to wince. The vampire had turned to dust in an instant, but her thrall was still mostly human. There would be a charred carcass left over.

He hadn’t even considered Zoe before igniting the two. Looking down, he was pleased to find Serena pressing her hands over Zoe’s ears while pressing the kid’s face into her chest.

Wayne gave a curt nod of thanks to the vampire.

He could tell that she was smiling even behind her mask.

“Anyone else have something to say?” Wayne called out as the thrall’s scream died off.

The remaining vampires cleared away in a flash, leaving behind a scattered group of masterless thralls looking somewhat dazed.

“Oh, me!”

Whipping his head back to his side. Serena–Zoe still pressed against her–moved right up against Wayne. She looped one arm around his, eliciting a small grunt of pain.

“I don’t want you to be my thrall,” she said with a slight husk in her voice, “but maybe something else?”

“Too young for me, kid.” Wayne said. He almost smiled at the pout visible behind her mask.

“Buut,” she said, drawing out the word, “I’m going to be sixteen forever. I’ll always be too young.”

This time, he actually did smile. Glancing at Sarah to hide it, Wayne gave his sister a slight nod of his head followed by a nod towards the thralls.

She sighed, but took off running without complaint.

Which suited him just fine. He wasn’t too interested in saying anything aloud with Zoe around. Though she probably heard anyway, he considered, she had only been a few steps away when Serena had initially mentioned it.

Shaking his head, Wayne turned back to the kids. Mirth over the previous conversation gone, he narrowed his eyes at the vampire.

“Sarah will return in a minute or two. We will leave as soon as she does. But first,” he slowed his perception of time and ignited a small fireball, “I want to know exactly who I am traveling with.”

To his surprise, she didn’t balk away or grow hostile. Serena leaned into him more than before, smile visible beneath her mask.

“You saved me from the Elysium Order’s trap so I’ll give you a little hint. I’m a few years older than I look.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


005.003

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Walking through the streets of Lansing wasn’t that bad. Because of the smog, Wayne had been forced to drive at extremely slow speeds. As long as he kept up a brisk pace, walking would likely end up being faster in the end anyway.

There were a few drawbacks. Wayne considered himself far from the most athletic of people. Power walking the remaining mile or two to Sarah’s house wasn’t a huge issue, but he was starting to feel the strain in his legs. He had dropped his time dilation down several notches as well, which forced him to keep an even closer watch on his surroundings–doubly so without the protective shell of a car around him. Leaving his mental acceleration on would have made the walk take an agonizingly long time from his perspective.

At least he no longer had the rumble of the Impala’s engine drawing the attention of every vampire in the city.

After a mile and a half, he had yet to see another group of vampires. Something Wayne was immensely thankful for.

Part of that could simply be the time. Dawn shouldn’t be far off. While the thick smoke over the city would protect any vampires caught outdoors from the harmful rays of the sun, there was still a natural inclination to locate a safe area to enter a brief period of torpor. That still left ghouls and thralls wandering around, but they were a non-issue. Wayne had already torched a handful of the zombie-like slaves.

Wayne doubted he would be seeing many thralls out and about. Most vampires in the city would be sleeping until roughly an hour before sunset and their thralls would be watching over their slumber.

Sunset was long after when Wayne hoped to be gone from this place.

How exactly he was going to get out, Wayne still had no idea. Perhaps he could find a radio to call up Hicks and get him to open the gate. Then again, if Wayne were Hicks, he would have called up his superiors already to ask about the mysterious man who spoke of vampires and tossed fire around. Everyone in the upper echelon would deny his existence–those orders had been forged after all.

Maybe Hicks would get orders to detain and interrogate Wayne instead of outright killing him.

Eh, best find another way out. Sarah could just use earth magic to tunnel out, but Wayne wasn’t all that excited about being trapped underground for who knew how long–Sarah wasn’t the best at earth magic. Though, at least they wouldn’t be hounded by vampires while underground.

“So, since I’m really a vampire, that was real magic you were using?”

“Yes,” Wayne grunted, rolling his eyes. There might be one vampire underground.

He smiled behind his mask at the thought of a vampire six feet under.

“That’s so cool. Can you teach me? Please? Please?”

“Aren’t you feeling sleepy? Any instinct to go nap the day away?”

“Nope!” Serena–the name she had picked after Wayne commented that Patty was a silly name for a vampire–hopped in front of Wayne. She spun around with a smile and clasped her hands behind her back, walking backwards. “I’ve been feeling so good. I used to have an ache in my back, but it’s completely gone.”

“Good for you,” Wayne said, wishing the aches in his legs were gone.

He still didn’t know what to do with the girl. She would definitely be finding herself left behind if they had to find a way past the military. Wayne might wind up interrogated, but he had a feeling that any vampires with him would be taken apart for study.

Even if they got through the military with her in tow, the Elysium Order would find out. Being hunted for the rest of his life didn’t sound like much fun.

On the slim chance that they gave the Order the slip, what then? Let her loose in some unsuspecting town? Keep her like some kind of vampire pet? Neither choice was very appealing to Wayne.

There were no good solutions. The smart choice, obviously, was to end her. It would have been so easy back when she had attacked him. Looking at her stupid grin as she walked backwards made that option all but impossible now.

“You never answered me?”

Wayne gave the girl a questioning hum.

“Can you teach me magic or not?”

“No. Thaumat–”

Wayne paused, considering it a bit further than his gut reaction. Elves, goblins, and a whole slew of other races could learn thaumaturgy. It wasn’t like fae magic that was restricted to fairies. So, why not vampires?

“Maybe,” Wayne said, changing his answer. “Never seen a vampire use thaumaturgy before. But I’m not teaching it to you.”

“Whaat?” she said, drawing out the word. “Why not?”

“No time. It isn’t something you learn in a day or two. Besides, the only thing I’d be good at teaching is pyrokinesis. In case you haven’t noticed, fire doesn’t mesh well with vampires.”

Serena pouted with the strangest set of puppy dog eyes he had ever seen. The endless storm in the back of her eyes ruined the effect. “But you said that Blacksky vampires are the masters of magic.”

“Vampiric magic,” Wayne grunted. “Us mere mortals can’t use it.” Though, he considered, thralls can.

Wayne shook his head. I’ll incinerate myself before I become a thrall.

“I’ll admit,” Wayne continued. “Never met one of your kind before. Only read about you in books.”

“So,” she prompted when Wayne failed to continue, “what did the books say?”

Wayne sighed, not entirely certain that he should be telling her much. Sure, she was an ally at the moment. If she decided to side with other vampires, it could be dangerous to give her too much knowledge.

Of course, being only a day old, she likely wouldn’t be able to put much magic to practical use.

“You know the stories. Turn into mist, or water, or dirt–”

“Why would I ever want to turn to dirt?”

Wayne shrugged. “I’m no vampire. Don’t ask me.”

“I guess mist might be cool. What else?”

“Mental control of animals and…” humans, “other things. Invisibility, illusions, a whole bunch of nonsense with mirrors and other reflective surfaces, you can turn milk chocolatey.” Wayne sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Arcane beams out of your eyes and large-scale illusions are some of your strain’s specialties.

“Really, what can’t you do is the bigger question.”

“Arcane beams? What is that, like, lasers?”

“Like I said, I just read it in books. You’d have to…” Wayne trailed off with a growing frown.

The girl was staring at him. Intently.

Wayne’s book-free arm shot out, gripping her over her mouth. He yanked her head off to one side.

“Ow, ow, ouch!”

“If you’re going to try shooting lasers out of your eyes, don’t look at me. Not if you want to keep living. Or unliving. Whatever.”

Wayne released her face and started walking again, leaving her rubbing her cheeks.

“You wouldn’t be able to anyway. Vampires grow in power the longer they’re alive. You’re a day old.”

“Aww,” she whined as she skipped forwards to his side, “so I can’t do anything then?”

“No.”

She started pouting in the corner of his eye, but was otherwise silent.

Overall, she didn’t appear all that upset. Her temperament since drinking his blood had been jovial for the most part. Considering how upset she was immediately prior to her feeding, Wayne had to wonder if it wasn’t some vampire thing. Feeding on fresh blood released the vampire equivalent of dopamine or something similar.

Perhaps she was merely showing off a happy face as a means of coping with her lost humanity.

Or maybe she was always like that.

Wayne didn’t know and frankly, did not care. He wasn’t about to pry and inadvertently bring up poor memories. She hadn’t once mentioned her sister since he donated a portion of his blood and Wayne intended to keep it that way.

Without parking lots taking up space, the homes in the residential areas were a lot closer to the sidewalk. At the same time, they were spaced much further apart than the more commercial buildings. Walking around the neighborhood had a disturbing peace to it.

It was like taking a stroll on a foggy morning.

Except, there was no sign of life. No home had lights. No people walked around apart from the two of them. There weren’t any signs of cats or dogs. No barking or mewling. No birds tweeting. It was as if Nature herself had decided to leave town.

In that silence and in that smog, as they meandered through the town, a high-pitched whine shook the very air.

Literally. The air vibrated alongside the sound.

Wayne snapped his neck towards Serena so fast that he suffered a bit of whiplash. Jovial countenance gone, her face was dead set in a serious expression.

“Did you feel that?” she asked.

“It wasn’t you?”

“I don’t scream like that,” she said, aghast.

“Scream?” Wayne blinked. “That whining sound?”

One of her hands gripped the opposite elbow, rubbing it lightly. “It was a kid. In trouble, I’d reckon.” After giving a light shudder, she pointed off in the direction they had already been walking. “That way. And I,” she sniffed before dropping her voice to a murmur, “smell blood too.”

Wayne didn’t bother to point out that Serena was a kid as well. “Come on, let’s look into it. Stay behind me.”

“I’m a vampire, I can help too.”

Wayne ignored her, turning his brisk walk into a light run. He scanned every bush, every roof, and every window that he could see for any kind of movement.

It didn’t take long to find the source of the disturbance. A small, single floor home had its doorway kicked in. The tell-tale illuminated circles of a flashlight danced around through the windows.

Wayne pressed himself against one side the door. He almost jumped out of his shoes as Serena pressed up against him. She had followed so silently that he had been certain that she had remained behind.

Serena had the audacity to let out a short giggle.

Narrowing his eyes behind his mask, he pressed one finger over his lips in the universal gesture for silence. At her nod, he leaned around the entryway, peeking into the front living room.

There was a short and rotund man standing over a fireplace that had its covering grate thrown to one side. “Master will be so pleased we found another one.”

“And this one,” a female standing at his side said, “looks so tasty.” Her tongue darted out of her mouth, licking her lips. She was notably missing any sign of elongated canines. Merely a deviant thrall.

“Go away,” squealed a third voice.

As before, the air rumbled. Here it was far more violent than before. It was unmistakably a sign of magic, though likely performed without a focus. The slight rumbling of the air didn’t use nearly enough magic to do anything of any use.

Neither of the thralls seemed very concerned with the possibility of a mage around, likely because of the impotence of said mage’s attacks. They glanced at one another with mocking looks.

“You already killed the hag,” the male said. “If Master finds out you’ve been toying with his food…”

The woman moved fast, though not so fast as to make Wayne reconsider her thraldom. Her arm wrapped around the man’s neck. “Master won’t find out,” she said, pulling her arm tighter. “Will he?”

Gasping for breath, the man kept smacking his hand into the woman’s arm.

“Thralls,” he hissed towards Serena while they were making a good amount of noise.

Serena had moved to look in through the front windows. “I can take them,” she said.

Before Wayne could object, she vanished. For a moment, he thought she had teleported. Feeling her brush past him threw that idea out the window. His eyebrows crept up his forehead. Invisibility?

He didn’t have time to consider the implications. Inside, the woman had released the other thrall.

“Now that we understand each other,” she said, turning back to the fireplace. “Come out, little girl. I won’t hurt you, I just want to play a little.”

“Play with this!” Serena reentered the visible spectrum of light just behind the thrall. Before either could react, she jumped up on the female’s back. Her legs wrapped around the waist while her arms kept the woman’s arms from interfering, much the same way she had initially attacked Wayne.

Unfortunately for the thrall, she lacked the fireball in her hand to keep the short vampire from biting down.

The thrall back-stepped and tipped over the side of a chair, all with Serena’s teeth plunged deep within her neck.

Panic on his face, the male thrall lifted up a gun.

Wayne moved to act. He threw out a shield immediately in front of the gun, catching the bullet before it left the barrel. With no place for the gas to expand to, the barrel split in two, sending shrapnel into the man’s hand.

He sank to his knees, cradling his hand as he cried out in pain.

Wayne strode across the room in three large steps, barely paying attention to the broken-necked corpse of a woman lying on the couch. He kicked the thrall upside the head, knocking him out cold on the floor.

“Serena,” he said, “are you alright?”

The child-like vampire was still beneath the female thrall, teeth sunk deep inside the withering woman’s neck. Their fall had torn open her neck, spraying blood around the room.

Serena appeared to be reveling in it. She gave a thumbs up without removing her mouth from the thrall’s neck.

Going to have to burn it later, he grumbled to himself. Couldn’t have ghouls wandering around, even if they were subject to the whims of his current ally.

He turned his attention to the brown-haired woman lying on the couch. There was no hope for her. Her neck had been quite thoroughly snapped along with several knife injuries on her person.

Wayne gave the thrall at his feet an extra kick before turning to the fireplace. Kneeling down, Wayne found a soot-covered girl with hair matching the older woman on the couch. It was hard to tell what the rest of her looked like; ash obscured most of her features. All save for her deep green eyes.

“Go away,” she said, pressing herself against the back wall of the fireplace.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Wayne said, wincing as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Those were the same words that the thrall had said in a far less convincing tone of voice.

He reached up to his mask and lifted it off his head. The air wasn’t quite as bad inside, but he still felt an uncontrollable cough bubbling up in the back of his throat.

Pushing the feeling down, he gave the girl a small smile. “See,” he said, “regular teeth. I’m not a vampire and I’m not one of their minions.”

It struck him that she likely wouldn’t know about vampires or their teeth. If she had seen a vampire’s teeth up close, she probably wouldn’t be alive anymore. Or she’d be a thrall.

“Like her?” Came the unexpected response. Her finger stretched out, pointing over Wayne’s shoulder.

Glancing over his shoulder, Wayne’s eyes went wide.

Serena stood just behind him, slightly leaning over his shoulder. Her entire front was soaked with blood, especially around her wide smile.

It took a great deal of will to keep from conjuring a fireball then and there. After suppressing his initial instinct to fight, Wayne decided that Serena’s smile was of an encouraging sort. Like she was trying to help coax the small girl out from her hiding place.

Blood put a small damper on that.

Wayne slid between the two girls, blocking their lines of sight. As he moved, he mouthed to the vampire, ‘wipe it off,’ with a gesture around his own face.

Rubbing her wrist across her mouth and glancing at the liquid covering it, Serena had the decency to look shocked. She started furiously rubbing away at her face and neck, but stopped as a thoughtful expression crossed her face. Leaning in, she whispered into Wayne’s ear. “Can I have him first?” Her finger pointing towards the male thrall lacked the discretion of her conspiratorial whisper.

Sighing, Wayne rubbed his forehead. “Do whatever you want. I’m not your mother,” Wayne hissed back. “But do it out of sight.”

Again, Serena put on a bright smile. She skipped over to the thrall and started dragging him through a nearby doorway.

Wayne turned back to the little girl only to jump back at how close she was.

What was with everyone being able to sneak up on him?

“She’s going to eat him?” she asked with a strange mix of horror and curiosity. Immediately after her question, the girl seemed to realize that she was half out of the fireplace. Without delay, she threw herself back against the wall.

A fresh cloud of soot exploded out from around her, sending both the girl and Wayne into a light fit of coughs.

“Look,” Wayne said, pulling a fresh mask out of his backpack. “It will help you breathe easier.”

“Mommy,” she said between coughs, “was keeping the smoke away. She hid me in here, but those people…”

Great, Wayne thought. The girl was starting to cry. Unlike Serena, this kid had working tear ducts. Why does it always have to be kids? Handling kids was not his strong suit.

Wayne backed up, standing once again. Glancing down at the woman lying with a broken neck on the couch, he had a sinking suspicion that she was the mother. Probably shoved her kid into the fireplace and was setting up the grate in front of her when she was ambushed from behind. Without the thralls’ flashlights, the kid might have been overlooked.

Circling around the couch, he frowned. According to the kid, she had been keeping the smoke away. A mage perhaps?

It would explain the shuddering of the air.

But she didn’t have any foci on her that Wayne could see. There was a wedding ring, but touching it revealed that it was perfectly normal.

Stepping over the gaunt corpse of the female thrall, a glint of light caught Wayne’s eye. He reached down underneath a chair. His fingers found the cool touch of metal. Pulling the partially hidden object out, he found a short silver dagger in his hand.

This was definitely a focus. A decent one too. He conjured an experimental fireball at the tip and extinguished it a moment later. It was well crafted despite being somewhat old. Probably an ancestral foci, handed down from a generation or two back. Unless it was extremely well cared for, it wasn’t old enough to come from much further than that.

Wayne had always found daggers to be odd choices for foci. They really didn’t offer much over a wand save for an edge and a price tag. Their users tended to be the violent sort.

Shrugging, Wayne moved back to the fireplace. He flipped the dagger over, offering it out hilt first. “Here,” he said, “I’m–”

The girl reached forward and yanked it out of his hand, just barely managing to avoid cutting him. “That’s mommy’s!”

“I’m sorry. Your mother…”

Wayne trailed off as the kid started wailing.

Movement at the corner of his vision caught his attention. Serena strolled out of the other room, shirt absolutely soaked. With water, this time. She must have found a water bottle or a working sink.

“The kid is still under there?”

Wayne nodded. “Please help. I can’t handle kids.”

“Move aside,” Serena said.

Wayne complied without hesitation. “Careful,” he said, “she has a knife.”

Serena knelt down, brushing a strand of brown hair back behind her ear. “Hey there,” she said. “I heard some of the conversation. Your mom, huh? I lost my mom too.”

Wayne winced. He was fairly certain that he had more tact than that, but Serena’s words got the other girl to slow down in her crying. That Serena’s face looked to be on the verge of tears only made Wayne feel disgusted with himself. Forcing a sixteen year old girl to discuss her own hardships didn’t sit right with him.

“I mean, I’m pretty sure. My house is right in the middle of the fire. Even if they made it away from there… Well, there are bad people in town.”

“You’re a vampire.” The kid’s voice came out as a definite accusation. “Mommy said vampires are monsters.”

Serena just smiled, gliding a finger over her elongated teeth. “I am. But I’m a good vampire. I just made it so that the people who hurt your mom can’t hurt anyone else.”

“You killed them.”

“I ate them. They made a tasty snack.”

From his position next to Serena, Wayne watched as the kid’s eyes turned wide as dinner plates. Wayne immediately let out a sigh. At this rate, the kid would stay in the fireplace out of fear. He didn’t have the time to fish her out. If a mage here could be taken out from behind, Sarah could be in just as much trouble.

“You don’t look fat enough to have eaten two people. Where did it all go?”

Serena opened her mouth. She paused, patting her belly with a glance towards Wayne.

Wayne just shrugged. “Don’t look at me. Bottomless stomachs weren’t covered in any books.”

“Well,” Serena said with a slight huff, “it is true. But, the point is that you can’t stay here. Your mother would have wanted you to get out of this city. She would have wanted you to live.”

Serena held out her hand. “And we can help you.”

“You’re going to eat me too.”

“If she tries,” Wayne said as a fireball blossomed on his hand, “I’ll incinerate her.” He let the fireball linger for just a moment before he crushed it in his hand.

“Y-yeah. See?” Serena’s smile twitched slightly, not quite managing to keep it sincere. “I don’t want to be incinerated.”

Wayne felt somewhat bad about scaring the poor vampire. But as long as she didn’t try anything, they’d get along just fine. A little reminder wasn’t a bad thing. Especially with her little disappearing trick.

He wasn’t entirely sure how she had managed that. Stress induced power incontinence was all that came to mind. A day-old vampire shouldn’t be able to do anything like that. Then again, several things were odd about Serena. Aside from not being tired despite the smog starting to get a little lighter, she had said that she hadn’t ingested any vampire flesh to become a vampire in the first place.

Now he was regretting allowing Serena to eat the other thrall. He might have been able to answer a few questions. Unlikely, but the possibility had been there.

The kid crawling out of the fireplace interrupted his musings. Wayne moved to position himself between the girl and her mother. She didn’t need to see that.

“Okay,” she said. Wiping a huge smudge of soot on her cheek–smearing it with tear-stains–the kid looked to Serena. “I’ll believe you. I–” She broke down into a fit of coughs.

Wayne tossed the fire mask at the kid. “Put that on. It will help.”

Following his own advice, Wayne replaced his own mask on his face.

Serena put her hands on her hips. “You never offered me one of those.”

“You don’t breathe.”

She frowned, but nodded.

“Let’s get out of here. We’re almost to Sarah’s house, then we can get out of this city.”

As they started moving out, Wayne dropped a spark behind. In ten minutes, the house would be nothing more than a smoldering pile of charcoal, taking the two potential ghouls along with it. There was a chance the ghouls would rise before his spark went off–Wayne wasn’t sure on the exact time it took to ghoulify–but he doubted it.

Besides, he couldn’t exactly stick around to ensure the job finished. He’d rather spare the kid the sight of her home burning down.

“What’s your name, kid?” He couldn’t keep calling her ‘kid’ after all.

“Zoe.”

“That’s a nice name. I’m–”

“What?” Serena said with a huff. “Zoe’s nice but not Patty?”

“I never said that,” Wayne grunted. “Just never heard of a vampire calling themselves Patty.”

She huffed again, but didn’t stay that way for long. Zoe let out a small, muffled giggle that forced Serena into a sad smile.

“Call me Serena.”

“Wayne,” was all he said.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


005.002

<– Back | Index | Next –>

The good news was that there were few cars on the freeway heading towards the city, leaving the freeway mostly clear of enemies.

The bad news was that the outgoing lanes were bumper to bumper. The military had cleared away most of the ones near the wall–with a bulldozer, by the looks of things–but the rest were just blocking the road. They looked abandoned, but Wayne wasn’t about to let his guard down.

He kept one hand on his tome as he drove along. A constant trickle of magic left him ready for anything at a moment’s notice; whether that be a shield, a fireball, or something more.

It took ten minutes to reach the city proper. Every minute that passed just built up that much more anxiety in Wayne. He kept waiting for something to happen. For a vampire to jump out of nowhere and try to tear his head off. Perhaps a thrall would flag him down, pretending to be a regular human.

Or even a ghoul.

But nothing happened.

Which made a little sense. The garrison wouldn’t hesitate to put down anything that popped its head up. With the wide freeway and the stretch of cleared cars, they had quite the killing field.

Once he hit the city, Wayne started jumping at every shadow. The smoke filling the air from the half of the city that was on fire reduced visibility to about ten feet in front of his car.

Coughing lightly, Wayne decided he couldn’t delay any longer. He reached into the back of the Impala and pulled out a fire mask. The filter was only rated for three hours but he had brought along several spares along with three extra masks. It was somewhat claustrophobic, and the small window narrowed his view to a fraction of normal.

At least I won’t be getting the black lung, he thought as he slipped the mask over his head. He set a timer on his watch as well. With all the time dilation from enhancing his mind, he would surely lose track otherwise.

Mask secured, Wayne proceeded through the city at a snail’s pace.

Lansing was not an unfamiliar place. How could it be? Most of his childhood memories consisted of nothing but Lansing. Sarah lived in the city as well, and he had remained in-touch well into adulthood.

But driving through the smog-covered streets was something else entirely. The vague familiarness worked against him to create an unnatural sensation. Were there always so many side roads before the next major intersection? Did the street he needed to turn on even connect to this road?

It didn’t help that reading street signs was a near impossibility. And the cars littering the streets forced him to wind and weave around, nearly doubling the effective length of any one road.

And the noise…

Wayne shuddered as an inhuman screech tore apart the relative silence. It was far enough away to not be a threat, but that didn’t provide him with the slightest amount of comfort. The Impala was noisy enough that he would be very surprised if nothing had taken note.

That nothing had thus far charged out at him meant that whatever had noticed him was something smart.

A car wouldn’t just drive around a city like this unless the occupants were confident enough in their ability to handle vampires.

Wayne had confidence in his flames, but he would be feeling much better once Sarah was there to watch his back. Being alone was just asking for trouble.

Speaking of trouble, Wayne thought as he glanced out the side window.

The smoke had curled in the air. Like someone had run through it at speed. Not enough for a car. Perhaps a motorcycle, but those would be noisy.

And Wayne heard nothing but the rumble of his own engine.

Slowing his already tortoise pace down to that of a snail, Wayne ramped up his mental overclocking as he glanced around. A fireball started growing, flames licking the skin of his cupped hand harmlessly, all in the slow motion of his sped perception.

There it was. Wayne whipped his head towards another disturbance in the smoke. It was on the opposite side of the car. Scouting him out? Or more than one…

The human shaped figure disappeared into the smog. Even with time dilation, it vanished far too fast to get a decent look.

It had no elongated claws unlike the one at the fence, but the speed at which it moved was far beyond any regular human capabilities. There was no chance that it was a human. Likely not even a thrall. Not unless it was a very old and powerful thrall.

The lack of claws brought up disturbing implications. There were multiple strains active within the city, possibly working together. An event of this scale wasn’t from just a single cabal.

Seeing that the vampire was circling him, Wayne slammed his foot down on the accelerator. Smog parted before him as his vehicle surged forwards.

The vampire stood in the center of the road. His head turned in slow motion to face the oncoming Impala; a momentary deer-in-headlights look. That moment passed in an instant, even with Wayne’s enhanced perception. The vampire bared his teeth, showing off twin canines that protruded half-way down his lips.

Before Wayne could mow over the vampire, he jumped.

The roof dented inwards as something landed on top.

Wayne wasted no time in hitting the brakes.

A loud screech came from his uninvited passenger as the vampire rolled down his windshield. He stopped with his face pressed against the glass. One hand broke through the roof, arresting his momentum and keeping him from flying off the front.

Wayne lifted the fireball in his hand up to the hole. Flames erupted out the top of his car like a fountain of fire.

The vampire screamed and released his hold on the car’s roof.

A curse escaped Wayne’s lips as the flames spread over the hood of his car. The vampire had catapulted himself away, disappearing into the smoke-filled air. Clenching his fist, the fires extinguished before much damage could be done.

At least, before any burn damage. The hood was covered in person-sized dents, his window had cracked where the vampire rolled down it, and there was a hand sized hole in the center of the roof. He was starting to doubt the wisdom in bringing in his own car.

“Should have got a rental,” Wayne grumbled to himself.

As he looked around for any sign of the vampire, Wayne pressed his hand against the hole on the ceiling. He built up a large fireball and kept it hovering there, directing the heat upwards and away from his hand and his car.

If that vampire dared to come back, it shouldn’t be difficult to lash out with a tongue of flame in any direction.

For a moment, he actually considered setting the entirety of his car on fire. It was, after all, a well-known fact that vampires can’t catch things that are on fire.

But even if he kept the heat away from the engine and himself, losing concentration could result in his magical, heatless fire acting like regular fire, totaling the Impala in a few seconds. Potentially with him still inside. That was aside from the fact that he would have to leave the windows clear to see.

The windows were the biggest vulnerable point to something like a vampire. They had the strength to shatter them with their bare hands and the intelligence to use tools. If that vampire returned with a gun, he’d have to rely on his mental speed to erect a shield in time.

Hopefully, that vampire would decide to go for some softer targets before coming back. Wayne was a mage and had a vehicle separating him from the outside world. There had to be regular humans left in the city. It had only been three days and rounding up a good hundred thousand unwilling people wouldn’t be easy.

And there were some left. Though garbled, the message he had received from Sarah proved as much.

Shaking his head, Wayne continued his sedate trek through the city. Really, it shouldn’t take long. Normally, from the city-limits to Sarah’s house didn’t take longer than fifteen minutes. Lansing was not a large city by any standards.

The smog, the abandoned cars, and the vampires all forced him to take caution.

The fireball was extinguished as he actually had to grab the wheel. A bus sat almost perpendicular in the road, fully crashed into the entryway of a coffee shop.

Not exactly unusual given the state of the city.

More unusual was a second bus crashed into the buildings on the opposite side of the street, completely blocking off the road.

A loud crash from the direction he had come set Wayne’s hackles on end.

Turning his car around, Wayne made it a good twenty feet before he had to slam on his brakes. A car came crashing down from the sky. It skidded along the road, stopping only after giving the Impala a quick love tap.

A second landed next to the first, blocking the road.

Parking lots were still open on either side, but if the vampires were going to keep hunting him down, he would have to deal with them sooner or later. Wayne debated for a moment about the merits of staying in his car. If they were going to be dropping cars, he wasn’t too keen on being crushed.

Wayne shut off his engine, grabbed his backpack and tome, and opened the door. “Couldn’t you just take the hint and leave me alone,” Wayne grumbled as he got out. He wasn’t entirely certain if the vampires would hear him or not. They had enhanced hearing, but he was mostly grumbling to himself.

And they were a ‘they’ as far as he could tell. The two cars landed in quick succession. At least two vampires threw them. Those buses had not parked themselves, so there could be more than two, but he had been driving relatively slow.

His tome split open as Wayne started channeling magic into separate pages, preparing several more powerful attacks for an instantaneous release. He pointed his free hand around the road. Flame burst out of the ground before settling into faintly glowing embers, creating the shape of stylized flame emblems on the ground everywhere he pointed.

Everywhere just happened to be the sidewalks between the crashed cars and the buildings, a few points in the parking lot of a grocers, and at random intervals all along the street leading back towards the buses.

Traps set, Wayne turned all of his attention towards locating targets. He turned slowly, scanning every shadow in the thick smog. One shadow, behind the rooftop facade of the grocers, moved.

Wayne unleashed a stream of fire. It erupted from his hand like a stream of water from a fire hose. A very literal fire hose.

Within seconds, the entirety of the roof was in flames. A loud screech preceded a smoking person leaping from the roof.

Vampires, regardless of strain, tended to have a few distinct advantages over humans. Namely, strength and speed. Technically, one could say longevity as well, but that wasn’t much of a concern in a fight save for the potential experience a long life–or undeath–granted. Though Wayne couldn’t discern whether or not this vampire was the same as the one he had caught a glimpse of earlier, this one was not of the feral claw variety.

Any half-baked fire mage could easily negate the speed advantage of vampires through overclocking of the mind.

That just left strength.

Smoke trailed off the vampire as he ran, joining in with the ambient smoke in the air. He nimbly avoided all the traps in the grocers parking lot, thanks to his position above the grocers, no doubt. Both of his hands were clasped into tight fists.

Once the vampire came within reach, Wayne twisted on his foot. The high-speed punch went past his face, missing him by a hair. Wayne grabbed the arm and pulled downwards, angling all the momentum at the ground.

The vampire tried to catch himself by putting a foot out. Too far out. Wayne had no trouble kicking the vampire’s legs out from under him.

As the vampire fell to the ground, Wayne jumped back, gaining a little momentum by shooting a stream of fire from his fingertips as he sailed through the air.

That had the added benefit of torching the vampire.

Before Wayne’s feet hit the ground, he had already started scanning for another target. He kept the first in his field of view until the screams died off and the vampire lay still.

Two more vaulted over the crashed cars, one male and one younger female. Neither were of the clawed strain.

Wayne took three hops backwards, winding up with one of his preset traps between him and the two vampires.

One held up his hand, halting the other. He made a vague gesture at the ground. Whatever he was trying to say apparently got communicated, as the woman nodded.

Then they split up.

Wayne suppressed a groan. Tactics. If one wound up behind him, their speed would let them move fast enough to hurt.

Yet his lips quirked into a smile. The two were fighting a pyrokinetic. Only earth mages could contend with the sheer battlefield control that a fire mage could impose.

Wayne burned one of his pages.

He wouldn’t be able to catch both of them, so Wayne aimed towards the male. Best to take out the leader first.

A cone of hot coals spread out in front of Wayne. They started at his feet and extended out a good twenty feet, well behind the crashed cars.

The vampire slowed to a stop, looking down at the glowing ground. His eyes widened in slow motion as the glow increased in intensity.

All at once, the embers along the ground blazed to their full potential. A column of fire erupted, encompassing a good portion of the street.

The smile hidden by Wayne’s mask vanished as he watched the vampire leap out to one side. Flames licked the vampire’s jacket, burning it in places, but he seemed unharmed otherwise.

Unharmed and angry.

He twisted his head towards Wayne, spittle flying free as his lips contorted in a snarl.

His body blurred as he took off, leaving his companion behind in an attempt to close the distance.

An attempt he succeeded at.

Frantically backpedaling, Wayne burned another page to put a powerful shield between the two of them.

The vampire slammed into it, stopping, but shattering the shield in a single blow.

But it stopped him long enough.

The embers of Wayne’s trap flared to life, forming a miniature version of the cone of fire. This time, the vampire was in the dead center and stunned from his momentary collision with the shield.

Being stunned did not stop his screams.

Nor did it stop him.

Clothes completely on fire, the vampire jumped out of the flames. Wayne ducked under and stepped to one side.

Now there was a vampire on either side of him.

Wayne faced the closer target, the male, first. He burned another page to send off a wall of fire behind him. The other vampire could probably jump through unscathed, but would she?

No time to consider. The already on fire vampire was getting his bearings back.

Wayne stepped forward as the vampire turned around, a fireball bursting to life in his hand as he moved.

This time, the vampire backpedaled with fear in his eyes.

Maintaining the flames in one hand, Wayne burnt another page. That small fireball expanded to the size of a beach ball and it wasn’t stopping there.

Hot as the surface of the sun, Wayne launched the fireball straight ahead.

It didn’t go fast and it didn’t go far, but it didn’t matter.

The vampire tried to dodge. Even with his speed, there was no escape.

Tar on the street bubbled. A metal pole belonging to a street lamp warped and bent, falling to one side before collapsing completely to the ground in a puddle of molten metal. A wooden bench from a bus stop spontaneously burst into flames despite the miniature sun being nowhere nearby.

And the vampire…

What vampire? Wayne thought with a smile.

When the sun extinguished itself, not even ashes remained.

The only one granted protection from the intense heat of his sun was himself.

Wayne stumbled forward as something hit is back. Legs wrapped around his waist as a pair of arms encircled his shoulders. He ramped up his overclocking to its limits to give himself a moment to think.

To start with, Wayne decided to move a foot forwards. The impact had been at speed, and he wasn’t interested in falling into a puddle of molten tar. He might be protected from the heat of his own fires, and the residual heat, but jumping into a vat of boiling liquid was a separate matter entirely.

But really, what was the vampire thinking? Her arms weren’t in a position to break his neck. More like a position to bite down on his neck and feed. Even if it wanted to crush him, Wayne was willing to bet that he could get a fireball off over his shoulder before she broke too many bones.

So he did.

He aimed a ball of fire right where he felt a few fangs tickling his neck.

Unfortunately, the vampire saw it coming. She kicked off of his back, sending him stumbling forwards as much as it sent her backwards.

Neither of Wayne’s boots would be surviving the night. At least they kept his bare feet from the tar.

He whipped around to face his assailant, very glad that while ruined, his shoes weren’t stuck to the ground.

The vampire hadn’t relented. Had he pivoted around the other foot, he would have a fist in his stomach. Instead of that grisly demise, Wayne found himself to the side of an opponent with an outstretched arm.

Snapping his book shut, Wayne caught her arm and threw it straight up. He thrust the corner of his heavy tome straight into the center of her chest. A normal human would have air forced out of their lungs at the very least.

Vampires didn’t need to breathe.

But they were still slaves to basic laws of physics.

Stepping forward, Wayne put one leg behind hers.

And down she went.

One hand reached out, flailing in the air. She tried to grab his arm, but wound up grasping nothing. His enhanced mind gave him plenty of opportunity to dodge.

Once her back hit the ground, he picked up his foot and slammed it down on her chest. Something cracked inside, but Wayne didn’t care.

Dropping his foot within easy reach of her hands was a dangerous move, but Wayne was counting on the fireball aimed at her face to keep her docile.

“Your comrades are dead. A smart vampire would have run.”

She snarled again and reached towards his leg.

A portion of his fireball dropped, exploding right next to her ear with a rush of air.

The vampire shrieked, throwing her head to one side to put some distance between it and her.

Other than some hair singing, she wasn’t hurt, and that would grow back.

Actually, Wayne thought, would it grow back? Vampires regenerated from all kinds of debilitating injuries, but most of the older and more powerful vampires were bald. Hair not growing back would explain that.

Which meant that the vampires that still had hair were either incredibly new or extremely powerful and intelligent. Or lucky.

Tangent line completed in an instant of time dilation, Wayne focused back on the vampire before him.

“Answer my questions and you may live to see another day. Or night.”

She bared her teeth, glaring at him but making no move to attack.

A dark sky lay behind her eyes. Wayne looked beyond the surface to the raging thunderstorm beyond.

The sight gave him cause to frown. The Blacksky vampires weren’t a strain to be trifled with. The good news was that she had likely only been awake for a few hours at this point. Not nearly enough time to be a threat. Not enough time to realize her abilities.

And her next words proved that without a doubt.

“How,” she said, teeth gnashing. “How do you make fire?”

“Magic,” Wayne said with a smile. Not that she could see it. His voice came out oddly as it echoed behind his mask. “But I believe we were answering my questions.” Wayne let the fireball drop slightly for punctuation. “Who sired you?”

True, he was here solely for Sarah. That didn’t mean he wasn’t curious about the city.

“Sire?”

Very new then, Wayne thought, rolling his eyes. “Who made you, girl? Who turned you into a vampire? Who destroyed this city? Who is behind all this?”

“I…” She pinched her eyes shut, clenching her teeth together hard enough to make a noise. “My sister and I sneaked out to go to Chad’s party. Mom didn’t want us to go.”

Wayne frowned. Looking at her now, looking past her teeth and hungry stare, Wayne could see a young teenager in the light of his fireball. Maybe even preteen.

“We were on our way home. Something… an explosion, I think. It scared Nancy. She started running, leaving me alone. A man came up behind me. Asked if I needed help. I said no and tried to leave–his smile scared me. And then… I woke up strapped to a chair.”

Wayne nodded along, filling in the blanks with his own knowledge and imagination. “And then that guy drank your blood for three days before feeding you something?”

“N-no. I was scared and struggled. And I was strong. I felt good, like I had woken up from a refreshing nap. Except… I was hungry. So hungry. So I struggled and broke the restraints. Eric and Bart were strapped up too. I helped them and we left.”

That brought a deep frown to Wayne’s face. She could have been fed on for three days while unconscious, but she would have needed to be awake to complete the vampire transformation. There was magic in intent and feeding on the vampire’s flesh was one of those things that had to be done willingly. Not necessarily knowingly, but willingly. Handing a kid a chunk of meat and saying it was pork worked, but shoving that same chunk down their throat did not.

Unless all the books were wrong. Wayne freely admitted to himself that he was not an expert in vampires beyond what he had been taught in school.

“So,” Wayne said, “you get out and decide that attacking a car is a good way to start off your new life?”

“I’m hungry. Still hungry.” She started to reach up. Her eyes flicked to the fireball glowing in Wayne’s hand and she let her arms flop to her side. “I tried to eat food. Bread and water tasted like vomit. Raw meat worked, but it wasn’t enough. I ate so much but it never was enough.”

Great, Wayne thought, now she is crying. Not literally; as far as Wayne knew, vampires couldn’t produce tears. Her face was sure going through the motions.

“Eric was the one who said we were vampires. The speed, the strength, the senses. And the teeth.” Her hands lifted up again.

For a moment, Wayne was about to drop another portion of the fire, maybe on her this time. But her hands went to her face, rubbing away imaginary tears.

“Then we found you, and now they’re dead and you’re going to kill me too.”

Wayne stood there, fireball in hand and monster underfoot. He stood there, stuck in indecision.

He hated life stories. Everyone had one. Everyone had some sob-story about how the world was cruel and they deserved sympathy for their woes. Some might actually deserve it. The kid on the ground was probably one of those that did.

Dropping the fireball would have been so much easier had she just said that she didn’t know what happened. He would have incinerated her without a second thought and not lost any sleep over it.

“Vampires live forever, kid. Trust me when I say that I will put every moment of your eternity through hell if you make me regret this.”

He leaned down, watching the girl for any sign of attack. He undid the buttons on his suit cuff after extinguishing the fireball. Pulling his sleeve all the way up to his elbow, he exposed his bare arm to the girl.

“You will lean forward. You will bite down a shallow bite. You will stop when I say stop or…” His fireball reignited in his hand with a woosh of air. “Or this will be going through your skull. Understand?”

Held as it was in the hand he was offering her, the fireball ended up next to her face. It didn’t burn a single hair on her head. Wayne was far too good for that to happen.

Eying the fireball warily, the girl nodded.

Using the book in his hand, Wayne kept her from rising too quickly.

Not that he needed to do so. She made no sudden movements.

Wayne was surprised. He didn’t let it show, but it was true nonetheless. There were always stories about how irresistible a vampire’s first feeding was. How they often killed entirely on accident their first time because they couldn’t control themselves.

But the girl touched her long fangs to his arm gingerly. Feeling them on his skin tickled to a degree. Even when she finally punctured, they barely went in at all. When she started drinking, she pressed in more, but it was still far from what Wayne had expected.

Guess a fireball next to your head is a pretty good incentive to maintain your senses. Good to know.

“Stop,” Wayne called out after about five minutes of her lapping up blood.

She unhooked her fangs immediately. Her tongue ran across his arm only once before she pulled away. Licking her lips, she quickly cleared off any traces of her meal from her face.

Wayne turned the fireball on himself, cauterizing the wound. He had potions in his backpack, but that would have required rummaging through it, potentially leaving himself vulnerable to her. Cauterizing it left a brief moment of pain and an ugly mark. Nothing he couldn’t fix later with the proper potions.

“Now,” he said, standing. “You can’t leave the city. The military has the entire place fenced off and they’re killing any vampires that try to escape. I don’t know what the plan is for the city. Maybe they leave it fenced off, maybe they nuke it.”

That is, if the Elysium Order doesn’t nuke it first, he thought with a frown.

He really needed to hurry.

She started to open her mouth, but Wayne cut her off.

“Whatever. Not my problem. If you survive, don’t let your hunger dominate you.”

“I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re–”

“You might as well just kill me now then. I can’t go home, I can’t see my sister. Not like this. And if they’re going to destroy the city, you might as well get it over with now.”

Wayne tried to pinch the bridge of his nose. His hand smacked against the mask. Sighing instead, Wayne shook his head. “Fine. Do whatever you want. But cross me and you’ll wish I would just kill you.”

He didn’t bother to mention that her sister was probably dead or turned as well.

Instead, Wayne ignored whatever the little vampire had started to say to find his car.

He found it right in the center of the second cone of fire he had ignited.

There wasn’t much left of it.

Wayne pinched his eyes shut, counted backwards from ten, before grumbling out, “I should have got a rental.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


005.001

Author’s Note: For those who missed Author’s Note 004, Book 005 is a short (five chapter) ‘prequel’ of sorts focusing on the Lansing Incident and Wayne Lurcher.

<– Back | Index | Next –>

The year two-thousand. A bunch of people thought it was going to be the end of the world. Idiots, mostly.

Some quit their jobs, packed their bags, and went on vacation. Entire life savings blown in a week. Some ran around screaming like chickens with their heads cut off. Others paraded around with signs hanging off their chest stating that the ‘End is Nigh’ or some other such nonsense. As if telling people about the apocalypse would stop the coming end.

Then there were the profiteers. The ones who capitalized on the idiocy of others. They sought money, sex, and favors while hyping up the idea of the end.

By and large, both groups were in the vast minority. To everyone else, the world would keep on turning. ‘Doomsdays’ cropped up once or twice every decade. They became easy to ignore after seeing a few pass by without consequence.

Of course the year two-thousand would attract more idiots than normal. The media had been making a huge deal out of it for the whole year. A lot of the focus was given to computers more than any sort of supernatural apocalypse handed down by God. A somewhat legitimate concern, but even if those new-fangled computers had a slight hiccup, life would go on. The mundanes in charge of technology would figure out solutions before the month was out.

And yet, looking down at the smoke-covered ruins of Lansing, Michigan, Wayne couldn’t help but wonder if the idiots were right.

The idiots in Lansing were right, at the very least.

Fires still engulfed a good quarter of the city even three days after the incident first started. The screams could still be heard, even from far outside the city. Of course, most of those came from the much nearer wall.

Wayne turned his binoculars away from the burning capitol building, refocusing on the hastily erected wall.

There was some sort of command center made up of prefabricated buildings around the freeway. Guards patrolled on top with heavy machine guns while a sniper and spotter sat on an elevated watchtower. For a good dozen yards in either direction, a fortified wall had been built up. Guardsmen patrolled along the top.

The barrier continued beyond the fortified wall. Most of it was still chain-link topped cement barriers. How they had managed to encircle the city in a mere three days was beyond Wayne’s imagination. The mundane government must have had plans. Contingencies for a biological hazard released in a city-center.

Some of the creatures undoubtedly escaped before the walls went up, but if the Elysium Order hadn’t dropped everything to focus on Lansing, Wayne would eat his hat.

Around the outside perimeter, guardsmen patrolled in full battle dress uniform with their weapons held for action at a moment’s notice. High-intensity floodlights illuminated a wide field of land, giving ample opportunity for reaction time. The field itself was scorched. Burned and scarred. Nothing remained within forty feet of the fence save ashes.

The military was thorough, if nothing else.

A flicker of movement at the edge of the light caught Wayne’s attention. He swung his binoculars over to focus on the movement.

Standing in the shadow of a charred tree was a person. At least, a person shaped thing. The blood-soaked claws at the ends of his arm spoke of his inhuman status. His blank white eyes narrowed as one of the long-range spotlights swept past the tree. Not that he got caught. The slow sweep of the spotlight gave ample time for him to reposition fully behind the trunk.

The moment the light cleared the tree, the man moved. It was fast enough that Wayne thought it was teleportation for a moment. He had to dial black on his magnification just to keep him in scope.

Fortunately for the guards, one of them noticed before he could sprint more than three steps.

Bullets poured downrange without any regard for any collateral damage behind the man. A split second after the guardsman’s rifle belched out its payload, two more guardsmen joined in from nearby.

Supersonic bullets couldn’t be dodged once they were fired. Not at the distances they were fighting at. Not by a human.

The man down on the killing field was anything but human. He snapped side to side with that same near-teleportation speed. It looked like he could only use it in short bursts, and now he had started using it to go side to side rather than straight towards the fence.

Three more guardsmen rushed over and joined in the firing. Wayne wasn’t sure which one broke the camel’s back, but their combined force meant there was just too much lead in the air to be dodged.

The first bullet struck the man in the shoulder. Thick red blood exploded outwards. Even with that, Wayne knew it wouldn’t amount to more than a bruise in terms of actual effect upon his ability.

But the sheer kinetic force was enough to interrupt his movements long enough for a second bullet to hit him in the stomach. A third and a fourth followed. Before long, the man filled with enough lead to sink a ship.

Still he did not fall. Not until his head snapped to one side, brain matter exploding out both the entry wound and exit wound.

The sharp crack of a high-caliber sniper rifle’s report split the air as his body slumped to the ground.

Wayne frowned as he continued to watch the situation, wondering just what their plan was. The man might be on the ground, but sunrise was several hours away and bullets wouldn’t keep him down.

The guardsmen ceased firing, but kept their weapons trained on his body while reloading in shifts. One of them reached over to a radio attached to his shoulder.

Less than two minutes later, Wayne saw it. A jeep rolled up alongside the fence. All the guardsmen backed off, weapons still on the downed man, as a man with a gas mask jumped out the back of the vehicle. He carried three tanks on his back, all connected to a hose.

Once up to the fence, he jammed the nozzle partway through the chain fence.

A stream of fire erupted from the end, flew the twenty feet gap, and buried the man in napalm.

Already in torpor, the vampire didn’t even scream as he turned to ash.

As the flames ate the corpse, the guardsmen exchanged their spent magazines for fresh ones at the jeep and promptly resumed their patrols.

No one bothered to extinguish the flames.

That explained the charred woods at least.

“I wonder what the brass told the grunts?” Wayne grumbled to himself. The year two-thousand idiots were right about one thing, it was the end. Not of the world perhaps, but there was no chance of covering up this disaster.

“Ah well,” Wayne said as he replaced the caps on his binoculars, “had to happen sometime.”

Really, it was surprising that the supernatural world hadn’t been outed long ago. With the way technology moved, someone had to be out there recording something they shouldn’t.

Well, they were. Wayne had seen plenty of the supernatural in mundane news reports.

It helped that such things were typically dismissed as hoaxes without much investigation. Some, like the Cottingley Fairies, fell under much harsher scrutiny. In the end, even those had been dismissed as fakes.

Wayne had no idea what those fae were thinking when they allowed themselves to be captured on camera.

But this was a bit bigger than a few girls in the woods and a grainy camera. This was a city. A capital city at that. It wasn’t the most populated city, but it was big enough to demand answers. Real answers.

Shaking his head, Wayne jumped back into his Impala and slammed the door. Such concerns were for people in power. The scope of his goal was far smaller.

“Sarah, you better be alright.”

One of the grunts at a checkpoint built up in the middle of the highway a short distance from the prefab command center waved Wayne down.

Though he kept a hand on his tome for any emergencies, Wayne wasn’t really up to testing his reaction time against the eight guns trained on him. And those were just the ones he could see. Even with the few seconds of time dilation provided by his pyrokinesis enhancing his mind, it was far too easy to get hit by a bullet from somewhere he couldn’t see.

So Wayne pulled over at the checkpoint, keeping his motions as innocent as possible.

A young grunt, a private by the single chevron he sported on his uniform, stepped out of the small guardhouse and right up to the driver-side window.

“City is under quarantine,” he said as he waved his flashlight over the passenger seat and rear seats before stopping at the book on Wayne’s lap. “I’m going to have to ask you to turn around.”

Without a word, Wayne held up an identification badge and a set of papers.

The private took the forged documents and glanced over them. He spent a good two minutes looking between the identification and Wayne. “Major Lurcher?” At Wayne’s nod, he turned his attention to the papers.

Wayne had to fight to keep the smile off of his face as the private’s eyes went wide.

“I-I think I need to call this in.”

“Then get to it, Private Mhenlo,” Wayne snapped, taking his name from the tape above his left breast. “I don’t have all–”

A crackle of distant gunshots cut Wayne off.

Wayne made a vague gesture off towards the direction it came from. “Make the call, private. And make it quick.”

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” The private gave a sloppy salute as he half ran into his little guardhouse.

Before the door could slam shut, Wayne extended a small thaumaturgical shield out, catching the door and keeping it from closing fully. He then watched through the window as the private picked up a phone.

“Sir,” his voice came through the crack in the door, “I have a Major out here requesting entrance.”

There was a slight pause as the other end of the line replied.

“No, sir. Entrance to the city itself. He’s–”

“Yes, sir.”

“No, sir. No armor or even a uniform. No insignia either. He’s wearing a sold black suit with a flat-topped hat.”

“No, sir. He’s alone. Had a thick book though. I think,” he paused, glancing out the window. As soon as he noticed Wayne watching him, his back went straight and he looked away. “I think he’s black-ops. Men-in-black or something, you know?”

“Crazier than what’s been trying to escape from the city?”

“Sorry, sir. Won’t happen again. I’ll wave him through.”

With that, the private hung up and rushed back outside. The soldiers around the guard post apparently got a few orders over radio by the time the private made it to the Impala. They promptly pulled their weapons off of Wayne, though they kept ready and alert.

Hard to blame them for being paranoid with the disaster in the city behind them.

“Alright, sir. Captain said he wanted to meet with you. He’s up at the larger building at the left. Said he’d meet you at the entrance.”

“Thank you, Private Mhenlo.” Wayne retrieved his papers from the kid.

Stepping away from the Impala, the private touched his fingers to the brim of his hat.

Wayne gave a half-hearted return salute as he pulled forwards. Not too fast, he didn’t want to spook the guards into shooting him. Thankfully, he made it without incident.

It was good that the military had created a large and movable gate over the highway as opposed to a solid wall. The city itself was still far enough away that walking would have taken far too long. He had already delayed enough through simply not hearing about the situation for a day and a half. Hopefully the roads wouldn’t be jam-packed with other cars.

Still, the gate didn’t open. Grumbling at having to meet with some officer, Wayne shut off the engine and got out of his car. He kept his focus tucked in the crook of his arm.

Outside the larger building, one of the two guards opened the door. Neither saluted as Wayne walked past, but he didn’t expect them to. While not a part of the army, Wayne was still fairly certain that saluting out of uniform wasn’t a thing.

A thing that the captain–based off of his insignia of double silver bars–who was standing at attention within the building apparently hadn’t heard about.

Wayne had to give the same half-hearted salute just to get him to relax.

“Once the road is clear of any hostiles,” Wayne said, half throwing his papers at the captain, “you’re to open your gate and allow my vehicle through.”

“I can’t–”

“You can and you will. Your orders are to keep anyone, or anything, from leaving the city. Unless something has changed, you have no orders against allowing entry.”

It was a bluff. A huge gamble. But even if the man’s orders had been phrased as ‘not letting anything in or out,’ Wayne was getting into the city one way or another. If that meant fighting through a small contingent of armed forces, so be it.

After a tense moment of staring at the middle-aged captain, he finally sighed. “These papers say that you’re attempting a VIP extraction. I can’t let you back out.”

“That isn’t something you need to concern yourself with.” Unfortunately. Wayne didn’t quite plan that far ahead. Something would work out, even if it did end up with Sarah using her earth magic to burrow out of the city. There was also the river running through the city. It would probably be less defended than roads. “We received word of the individual being still alive and must attempt the extraction.”

“With all due respect, sir, you’re going to get eaten alive out there. Literally. Before we finished setting up the wall, two of my men…”

He shook his head, glancing down at the floor. “We probably didn’t need to burn the bodies, though we did anyway of course. Orders are orders.”

“It was good that you did,” Wayne said honestly. “Those killed by vampires have a habit of not staying dead. But don’t concern yourself with my safety. I am what you might call a specialist in these sorts of matters.”

Despite continuing to speak, Wayne was relatively certain that Captain Hicks hadn’t heard much after a certain word.

“Vampires, sir?”

Wayne grimaced at the captain’s tone. He should have just kept his mouth shut.

“Things have been crazy here, but there is no need for jokes in such poor taste.”

“I am entirely serious,” Wayne said, voice dropping a few notches. “Though you likely haven’t been fighting many. Ghouls and thralls for the most part. The smarter vampires would send such minions to your walls to probe for weaknesses.”

“Ghouls? Thralls? Sir, I-I hate to ask. Are you feeling alright?”

Wayne sighed. This conversation was going on far too long already. He needed to get into that city. If the captain decided to shut him out on the chance of him being crazy…

Magic channeled through his tome, forming a spark in the air between the two. Above Wayne’s open palm, a cool fireball formed. No real heat emitted save for a pleasant warmth, like moving from shade into the sunlight on a chilly day.

Captain Hicks took a step back, hand going to his side for his pistol.

Wayne extinguished the flame before the captain could draw it. Just in case, he erected a very visible thaumaturgical shield between the two.

“Ghouls,” Wayne said, raising his voice. “Created by death through exsanguination of a human by a vampire. They’ll follow the vampire’s orders through a mental link, but aren’t much better than zombies. You’ve seen the movies, right?”

Wide-eyed, the captain nodded. His pistol was out of his holster, but it was still aimed at the floor with its safety on and his finger on the trigger guard.

The two guards that had been standing outside burst into the room along with another soldier from behind the captain. All started with their weapons trained on Wayne, though lowered them as the captain waved them off.

“Thralls are humans given enhanced durability and limited regeneration, plus a few other bits and bobs, through the ingestion of a vampire’s blood. They retain their mental faculties, but it is addictive to the point where only those with great mental fortitude will actually disobey a vampire’s orders.”

“And the vampires themselves. Inhuman strength, speed, and stamina. They’re magic capable without exception and undying save through complete destruction of their bodies, typically through flames. They create more through a small ritual involving drinking a human’s blood on three separate nights followed by eating of the vampire’s flesh. Though any fresh ones are likely ignorant of their more supernatural abilities, or simply not powerful enough to make use of them yet.”

“That makes sense,” the captain started, slowly. He reached out and brushed his fingers across the bubble surrounding Wayne as if checking that it was actually there. “We’ve had several close calls tonight with infected reaching the fence. I’ve had to double up patrols.”

Wayne nodded. “And it is the third night.”

An uneasy silence settled over the captain and his guards.

Feeling that he wasn’t in immediate danger of being shot, Wayne toned down his shield to a low shimmer. Just enough to stop a few bullets and still have time to power it up with his mental acceleration active.

“Now,” Wayne said, snatching his forged papers out of the captain’s hands, “if you will be so kind as to open the gate. I have a VIP to collect.”

“Of course, sir. I’ll… If you don’t mind my asking, how did this happen? If these creatures were known, shouldn’t there have been plans in place? Someone should have said something. Stopped all this from happening.”

Wayne suppressed a sigh. The captain’s anger wasn’t exactly unfounded. Maybe he knew someone inside the city as well. Shaking his head, Wayne answered, “Normally, vampires are mostly harmless. They don’t like to make waves for fear of being hunted down. A meal here or there will usually leave someone feeling anemic at most with few memories of what happened the night before. Mostly harmless.

“As for how this blew up into a city-wide disaster, I don’t know. People at higher pay-grades can figure that out. I’m just a soldier.”

There, increase camaraderie by likening myself to them. Blame failures on the higher-ups.

Captain Hicks shook his head. “This whole situation is fubar.”

“No arguments there, Captain.”

“Right.” The captain gripped his radio and pressed down on the button. “Attention, this is Captain Hicks. We’re opening the gate.” He glanced around Wayne’s shoulder to look out the window. “One Chevrolet Impala will be driving towards the city. The vehicle is not a target.”

Releasing his radio, the captain looked up to Wayne. “I hope you know what you’re doing, sir.”

“So do I.” Wayne extinguished his shield as he turned to the door. “So do I.”

Jumping back into the Impala, Wayne revved the engine as he waited for the gate to open.

A series of gunshots echoed out very near. Likely right on top of the wall. The loud rushing wind noise of a flamethrower sounded soon after, illuminating much of the wall at the same time.

The captain walked up to his open window and leaned over. “You’re clear, sir. Good luck. I hope you get out safely. It’d be a shame to lose more good men to this nightmare.”

Wayne nodded. “Best you just forget about me, captain. I’m sure you’ll sleep better not wondering what happened to me.”

“I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep for a long while. Even if they are zombies or vampires or whatever, they’re still American citizens. Or they were.”

Soldiers with flamethrowers moved up to the gate, leaving just enough space for a car to slip through. Something akin to an air horn went off three times and the gate started moving at the end of the third.

“Welp,” Wayne said, “good luck with your job, Captain Hicks. Give ’em hell.”

Captain Hicks stepped back and saluted Wayne as he peeled off towards the city.

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