This type of travel was one I knew Hex had truly enjoyed. Our bodies were more resilient than they had been when we were human and the ability to leap huge distances in a single bound was right out of the pages of comic books. Normally we couldn’t jump around like outsized grasshoppers though; doing so in a city risked exposing us and it was sometimes tricky to time landings.
In a few minutes I had landed at the spot where I almost entered Final Death. Opening my senses I allowed myself to experience the world in a way no human ever could. Even after a day I could smell Svenka here and the momentary emotion connected to that scent caused me not to notice my assailants until they had already trained weapons on me.
“Ground those firearms, that’s Renyovalia.” I recognized the voice, able to put a face to it but not a name.
“You never introduced yourself last time.” I said, pretending I couldn’t now smell the phosphorous in the bullets pointed at me. “Yet you seem to know my name.”
“My apologies.” The man who stepped from the shadows seemed to truly be stepping … from the shadows. “I am called Cormir.”
I had heard of undead whose blessing gave them the ability to travel great distances between shadows but had only seen it happen once. Even then I hadn’t necessarily trusted my senses to interpret what I’d seen.
“Cormir. Mind forcing your men to lower their weapons since they didn’t listen to your command? I don’t relish the thought of the burning holes those rounds could inflict on one of our kind.” The soldiers began to smell of mistrust and fear. So they hadn’t known.
“Please, when we met last you seemed more in control.” Cormir said, taking a step to the side and appearing directly in front of me.
I flinched backward in spite of myself. Shadowstepping was one of the rarest of our Gifts, and as a result was something I was unaccustomed to. “Why didn’t you tell your men that you were a filthy bloodsucker?” I asked, taking refuge in my usual sarcasm.
“Because they didn’t need to know.” He said with a shrug. “What did you tell your group of cavemen up there?”
“Those idiots found me, not the other way around. Why are you here?” I didn’t trust him, but I needed his help. Or someone’s help anyway… and here he was with an armed troupe of soldiers right on queue. It seemed too good to be true.
“Your blood hit the paper. I assumed you needed assistance.” He, shrugging again.
“Have you heard anything from the Tribunal?” I asked, their most recent communication with me had been in the form of an archo-scientific assassin and I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about having another chat with them.
“Haven’t you heard? There’s a price on your head my dear. A rather sizable one too.” He gave me a speculative look. “I don’t know what you did to piss them off but they’re gunning for you pretty hard.”
“Huh. I never thought they’d be this aggressive.” I said, “And here you are leading a posse armed with phosphorus rounds. How convenient.”
“Oh please. If I wanted to collect I’d have done it long ago.” He said with a grin and then looked around with a guarded expression on his face, “Can you tell Svenka to come out from wherever she’s hiding? The thought of one of those silver blades of hers in my eye is less than pleasant. I never did understand how someone with a head of white hair could be so adept at hiding in the darkness.”
“She’s… missing.” I said, forcing the words out. “I was attacked by something that was like the sunrise. I don’t know if she died or if she was captured, but I have to find her.”
“Is there a more hospitable place we could talk?” He asked, looking around with a twist of distaste on his face. Some of us never got used to roughing it… others, like myself, never got used to the life of luxury that immortality could grant.
“Not really; I accidentally deleted the only town within walking distance.” I gestured toward the crater, noting the scent of fear from his men spike.
“Someday you’ll have to show me that Power of yours.” He said, his eyes shining with greed for just a moment.
“It’s not the easiest thing to control.” I said with a syrupy smile, “You probably wouldn’t like the result.”
“I just have an attraction to power.” He said, his expression feral, “I suppose it’s why I hate The Tribunal so much; they’re just so weak.”
Well, that was an interesting take on the situation. I hadn’t known what to expect from him, but certainly hadn’t thought he’d be this straightforward. Well, if he was really being honest that is… but what reason would he have to lie? I could care less about The Tribunal and their politics.
“I don’t give a shit about them.” I said with a dismissive gesture, “I just want to find Svenka and stop this fucking plague from destroying humanity. You know… so we can all keep Final Death at bay?”
“Well they give a shit about you. A million shits actually. What’s this about a plague? I thought that was just a nasty rumor.”
“No. I didn’t destroy that town and all the things before it on a whim.” I said, “The threat is real and my response to it is the only thing that will save the human race. Or our race for that matter.”
“Huh. I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming.” He crossed his arms and gave me an appraising look, “OK, well I guess we can go back to my base of operations. Such as it is.”
I hesitated, unsure as to whether or not I should put myself any more in his power than I already was. “I would hate to have to destroy you Cormir. You had better not try anything nefarious.”
“Nefarious?” He burst out laughing, “I can tell English is not your first language Ren. Nefarious.” He snorted another laugh, “Who even says that in a normal conversation? It’s like you’re a James Bond villain or something.”
His laughter was infectious; I hadn’t heard laughter or laughed myself in ages. Soon even his men were smiling. I finally recovered and looked him in the eye. “I am not joking Cormir. I’ll kill you without the slightest bit of remorse if you betray me. I don’t have time for games.”
His men stopped smiling and trained firearms on me; their faces grim. I pointed to a large boulder about fifty yards away and allowed the Power of destruction to course through me. The flare of energy caused a halo of light to surround my body and for just a moment I appeared to have wings made of pure white light. Then the boulder I was pointing at was engulfed by a flash that made the sun look like a flash light.
When the after image had cleared from their eyes I knew they saw what I did. The stone was gone, sliced off mere millimeters from the ground. Cormir walked to where the rock had been and bent to pick up the tiny remnant. A low whistle escaped his lips.
“Look at that shit… boys she’s the real deal. I’d avoid pointing guns at her unless you want to be…” He looked at me with a cautious smile on his face, “Deleted?”
“Damn straight.” I grinned in spite of myself, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time to go to your secret base. Maybe you can show me your tree fort after this is all over. For right now, I have to focus on finding my… on finding Svenka and on destroying this infection before it destroys us. I would welcome your help though, if you’re willing to give it.”
“A bargain then?” He asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“Bargaining means equal exchange.” I said, “What do you get out of the deal?”
“How about you give me a seat in your new Tribunal?” He said with a rouge’s rakish grin.
“My new… do you honestly still think I’m some goddamn revolutionary?” I asked, incredulous. “Look Cormir, I just know that I made a mistake about six months ago. As a result some of my best friends died and a … well for lack of better term a disease was unleashed upon humanity. I aim to fix things, no matter what. If anyone has something to say about that I’ll fucking end them, whether they’re the President of the United States or the ruling council of The Tribunal.”
I had unwittingly infused my tirade with a touch of Power; something that Mec had taught me what seemed like an age ago. The mortals had taken a few steps backward, involuntarily letting their assault rifles fall from numb fingers.
“I won’t stand in your way.” Cormir said with a smile on his face, “Take what you want.”
“You don’t have what I want.” I said, bitterly. “What I truly want is gone forever.”
“If I can’t help you, then perhaps you can help me.” Said Cormir, now looking at me with serious eyes. “There is something I need desperately. Please come with me.” He held out his hand but I shied away. I couldn’t bear to touch him.
“What do you want?” My voice sounded cold, even to me. “Why do you think I can give it to you?”
“Because, you gave it to me once before my Sire.” Cormir knelt before me in the dirt, reaching for me with trembling hands. “You gave me hope when all was lost, you took my life and gave me more. You… Renyovalia, you cannot leave me now.”
As a general rule, our race are terrible parents. Most of the children we make are accidental before we know better or poorly conceived mistakes based on some former emotional attachment. Once entering Second Life, most of us undergo a complete alteration of self as the Dark Gift renders its blessings and curses upon us. As with an apple seed, you never know what the result will be until the tree bears fruit.
I didn’t recognize Cormir, but that didn’t mean I didn’t know him. I had been so young when I was brought into the world of the Undead; both in years and in attitude. Barely twenty one, I had grown up living on the streets in the slums of Moscow. I was part of a gang of between a dozen and a score of kids. We looked out for each other to enough of a degree that we didn’t have to worry about freezing or starving.
The older we became, the more complicated our needs were. It didn’t take long for us to get into more trouble than we could handle. Kids like us were as common and as disposable as toilet paper and all too many people were willing to treat us as such.
I’d seen a lot of kids come and go, as well as more than my fair share of death by the time I had been bitten. I still don’t know who my Sire was, or what made him or her choose to turn me instead of just killing me. Perhaps it was a backwards attempt at revenge on one of my companions.
I say this because I awakened in the abandoned warehouse where my crew, such as they were spent most of its free time. We’d never really evolved past pack mentality, the strongest, fastest and smartest lead and the rest of us followed until we thought we could do better. When consciousness returned to me I exploded into a ravenous rampage; tearing apart nearly all of the people I had once called family and feasting upon their blood.
My old human self would have been horrified, but the newly born Nosferatu only knew hunger. By the time I recovered from the blood frenzy my surviving friends had fled. Very little of what I had been before remained and, like many of my kind, I began to build a small empire based around my newfound power. Humans did what I told them to and I was allowed to run rampant through my little corner of the Moscow underworld for a short time.
Instinctively, I knew how to create more of my kind and I was beginning to build an army by the time The Tribunal sent the Reapers to ‘deal with’ us. That is when my Power of Destruction first manifested itself. That is when I was offered a choice between Final Death and fifty years of service. None of my undead progeny were offered the same choice. I had thought them all sent to Final Death.
Now, a lifetime later here was a survivor of that first genesis. I could… smell his blood. He smelled like me.