There were forty people in the building still alive. Cor’s men were barricading the doors so we could have some time with the survivors without being interrupted by the occasional Infected. When none of the people in the room seemed as though they were going to step forward and take the lead, I chose one at random.
“What were you all doing in this place with those Infected?” I asked a man with a shocked, beaten expression on his face. With intense concentration, I found learning Spanish hadn’t been nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be.
“They were… keeping us.” He said hesitantly, looking at me and then at the soldiers.
“I’m not blessed with an overabundance of patience in the best circumstances.” I said with an intentionally toothy smile. “Answer the fucking question.”
“They eated some and keeped the others safe from the broken ones.” A regarded me with too-serious eyes. He couldn’t have been older than ten. “That what mommy said. How many are you going to eat to keep us safe now?”
I looked at the man I had originally been speaking to. He didn’t meet my eyes. Whatever the cost had been, they’d paid it to survive. How had things gotten so out of hand for them so quickly? Why hadn’t anyone been fighting back? What could possibly possess anyone to make such a deal? I certainly couldn’t sit around here and babysit, I had things to do.
“I’m looking for someone.” I said, forcing myself not to look at the kid and instead focus on the man. “She has an athletic build, white blonde hair in a braid that hangs to her waist, lots of silver knives, might have been here a day or so ago.”
“She’s gone, with the rest of them.” He said in a dull voice. “The same guys who took the others. They all had guns… what could we do?”
I looked around at the room and realized there was one major discrepancy. The only women here were under ten or over forty. “Was she OK? Look, I know her there’s no way a bunch of thugs with guns would be able to just drag her off.”
“No. She didn’t go quietly.” He said, his face finally showing something other than despair. “She killed seven of them.”
“Only seven?” I asked, “She must have been really hurt.”
“Yeah. There was burns an stuff.” The boy said, “Just standing cracked her skin and made her bleed but she fighted anyway. She was amazing.”
“Burns?” I knew where she had gotten those from. Protecting me from the heat of the sun, putting out the fires that were blossoming on my skin had cost my lover dearly. In spite of knowing I had hurt her terribly, I wanted to sing. She was alive.
“It was the strangest thing I ever saw.” The older man said, “She had such terrible burns… but only on the front of her body… almost looked like it was in the shape of a smaller body.”
“That’s exactly what it was.” I said, “Where the hell is she? Where have they taken her? If I can’t get there in time she’ll have died saving me instead of just being burned.”
“They’ve got a place in Ciudad Obregón. It’s mostly gone to the things… the Broken.” He said, “There’s only two powers there, the Broken and the Breakers.”
“Damn. I guess I have to go there then.”
“But… you can’t.” The boy said, “You taked our protection. We will all get eated if you go away and you will get eated if you go to Ciudad Obregón. You will get eated if you leave here at all!”
A crash against the door echoed his comments. How many of the damn Broken were out there anyway? “I’m going to go check it out.” I said, turning to climb the stairs.
When I got to the second floor and found a window to look out of I was honestly astonished. There must have been nearly a thousand shambling forms outside, drawn by the scent, light and noise coming from the building. Did I dare use my Power? I didn’t know how far reaching The Tribunal’s influence was. Even if I chose someone at random they might have something worse in their veins than their last little ‘present’ David had.
Of course the alternative wasn’t stellar either. I didn’t have anywhere near the firepower I’d need to shoot my way out of here and if I left these people without protection they would certainly die. Things had gotten more out of hand than I’d ever anticipated they could have been but now that I was in the thick of things I could hardly turn my back and walk away.
I went back downstairs and sought out Cor. I wanted his true, unvarnished opinion and for that I didn’t want to use the mindlink. I wanted him to tell me what he thought on his own. Cor was supervising the reinforcement of the most vulnerable portals against the tide of Broken. When he saw me approaching he came over.
“What’s it look like out there?” He asked a slight frown on his face.
“Bad. Upwards of a thousand of them from what I could see.” I said, “We don’t have enough rounds even if we take every one down with a single bullet.”
“So what’s the plan then?” His slight frown deepening was the only sign of his increasing concern.
“I was hoping you might have an idea.” I said, “I can’t use my Gift… I don’t know if I can trust the blood of any of these.”
“Yeah, it’s tough with the Broken all around. You never know who might have some of that contamination in their vitae.” He shook his head, “Damn. Well… I might be able to scrounge up something…”
“Like what?” I asked, curious as to what was going through is head. Before he could answer, we were interrupted by the back door shattering under the pressure of the Infected battering away at it from the outside.
I only hesitated for an instant; but even that was too much. The nearest person to the door was grabbed by horribly strong fingers and pulled into the ravening horde beyond. I never even knew the little boy’s name. It was too much.
I crossed the room in the blink of an eye the pistol appearing in my right hand and the machete in the left. The first three Broken fell with bullets through the forehead, and then I was among them with blade forming a wall of sharpened steel that struck with the strength the Dark Gift granted us all behind it. Skulls split like pumpkins, but they kept coming. In less than a minute there were so many corpses in the doorway that the other Broken had to climb over them.
I gathered myself to use my Gift, to remove them from existence and I felt the Power flare inside me. It was just like when I’d used it and nearly killed Svenka. I pushed it away in terror; I couldn’t risk losing control again. I fought desperately, dropping the pistol and switching the machete to my right hand.
“DOWN!” Cor’s voice broke through the red mist of combat and I dropped like I’d been poleaxed. A burst of gunfire swept across the Broken, all but sealing the entrance and I backed away, shaking.
“We have to leave. We have to go, right now.” I knew I was panicking but I couldn’t stop, “I can’t use it Cor, I don’t trust myself… nothing that big… I can’t… without her it’s too dangerous, I get close to the precipice and there’s nothing holding me back. If I fall from it I’ll take everything with me.”
“Relax. We have time to evacuate.” He said, staring at the corpses blocking the doorway with a look of mild surprise, “I can’t believe that actually worked.”
“There is another building across the alley that I think we could use.” A woman in her late forties approached us, trying not to look at the bodies. “If we’re quiet they might not notice us.”
Was I really going to run away from this? These things were what I’d come to destroy, was I going to let them intimidate me? If I left now, what would become of Hex’s sacrifice? I needed to overcome whatever was standing in my way and this should be a small obstacle.
“No. I will remove them.” I said, squaring my shoulders. “The rest of you should get ready to run. I will deal with the Broken.”
A flash of Destruction removed the front of the building. I was vaguely aware of the people behind me, but was too focused on what I was doing to pay much attention. The raging flood of anger and fear boiling within me lashed out in a column of pure white annihilation and I could feel it breaking free of my control. I fought desperately to rein it in, but all that happened was it burned hotter.
An arm linked with mine and I saw the woman who had tried to convince me to run just moments before. Someone else did the same on the other side and I could feel the rest of the Survivors forming ranks behind me. Their trust was more than I could bear and at the same time pushed me beyond my limits. I dominated the need to destroy by trusting that it would obey. This was my Gift, no matter who had altered it and made it more powerful… it was still a part of me.
I opened my eyes and saw a wide expanse of perfectly clear sky. The buildings ahead were all gone; their foundations gaping like empty graves in the light of the waxing moon. The restless dead were also absent, nothing was moving within my line of sight. I was hungry, but not as ravenous as I feared I would be.
“What… are you?” I expected incredulity from the humans, but this question came from Cor.
“She’s our savior.” The man on my right said, “That’s enough for me.”
“You don’t know what I am.” I said, my voice low and hollow. “You wouldn’t be so accepting if you knew the truth. Not that it matters; I will take what I need when I need it.”
He tried to remove his arm from mine and after a moment I let him. There was fear in his eyes, but after all he’d seen and agreed to what more could I possibly do to him? Certainly I could end his life, but I hadn’t so far and in fact had protected him.
“I’m leaving. Right now. If you want to come with me, you will have to accept that I can’t always keep you safe and the likelihood of you dying will grow with each passing day. I will require you to give me your blood, but not your lives, in exchange for this protection even as unpredictable as it is.” I turned to look at them, knowing my eyes would be shining silver in the moonlight. “If any of you moves to betray me in any way you will die. I have no time for scheming, power struggles or games.”
“You need our … blood?” The woman on my left quavered.
I smiled a feral, toothy smile at her, “Yes. I am a filthy, bedamned bloodsucking monster in spite of whatever misconceptions you might have had based upon my briefly winged appearance and the fact that I saved your lives. I’ll do whatever it takes to do what needs doing and if you stand against me nothing will save you, no matter which of your impotent gods you pray to.”
“Then take mine first.” She said, meeting my eyes with a fearful but determined gaze.
In spite of it all, humans never ceased to amaze me with their strength… and their cowardice. I knew she was overcoming a terrible fear but also that she was giving up at the same time. It had been a long time since I had overcome such an obstacle. All too often I’d been content with giving up lately. That was going to change. Without ceremony, I grabbed her hand, turned the wrist so the inside faced me and bit. And drank.