Post Mortem Chapter 19

“What the fuck happened here?” Chief Inspector Micheal Donnovan stuck a piece of nicotine gum into his mouth as he walked into the building, ducking under the police tape that one of his deputies held up for him.
“You still trying to quit Mike?”

“Shut up Dan. Whadda we got?”

“It’s … it’s bad Mike.” Dan’s face twisted as though he’d bitten into spoiled meat. “It’s real bad. We gotta real sick motherfucker here Chief.”

They moved into the tent that was set up over the ruined front door of the building and Micheal fought down bile. The two bodies of the guards had been mutilated horribly. Although he knew it was utterly impossible, it almost looked like someone or … something had punched through their chests and torn their hearts out.

One of them had many broken bones and the other had a pair of gunshot wounds that, according to the initial report he scanned had been inflicted after the body had been dead. He swallowed hard and held out a hand. Dan wordlessly put a pack of cigarettes into it.

“It gets worse Mike.” He held the lighter out. “It gets a lot goddamn worse. Charity’s waiting down there with the circus act that’s the coroner’s report.”

“Yeah, OK. Keep the press out would ya?” He lit the cigarette and walked down into Hell’s charnel house.

“Now what the hell are we supposed to do?” The Fifth demanded, “The First are all dead, our secrets exposed to the cattle and we have no idea what or who is responsible!”

“It is the revolution.” Said the Fourth, “It can be naught else.”

“Those worms do not have the fortitude, the knowledge or the raw power to accomplish something like this.” The Third retorted, “It could not have been them.”

“Who else? The Hunters have been all but eliminated with the death of The Architect and it is not as though the cattle know anything.” The Fifth said.

“It matters not.” Said the Third speaking in a formal meeting for the first time in a decade. “Now we must focus on guarding against the threat that stands before us. We must accept that there is a new enemy. Perhaps a new predator.”

The others quieted, allowing this to sink in. “We all know now that Burnham was designing a disease to kill the cattle.” The Fifth began.

“I have felt it.” The Third said, raising the mask. The others gasped in shock. The face beneath was a mass of half healed wounds, some of which weeped blood. Now that the Third’s voice was no longer reverberating behind the mask, it sounded weak and strained.

“Third!” The Fifth exclaimed, “What are you doing?”

“I… will… show… you…” There were gasps of effort and pain between the words. Or were those gasps of pleasure? The wounds broke open and blood oozed from them, the coppery smell rich, thick and inviting to the other immortals in the room.

All they saw was a brief image. The last moments seen by dying eyes. A mass of ropy muscle and tendon extending like some grotesque serpent following the music of an insane snake charmer. It paused for a moment in front of their collective vision and they could all see an eyelid open from one part of it.

A piercing green eye peered at them, sparkling with hunger and malice. The eyelid blinked and the eye had been replaced by a maw of serrated fangs. It struck, faster than even Immortal eyes could follow and the vision was gone. Something still gripped the seer, although it had released the others in the room.

The Third drew shuddering, hesitant breaths, tears of pure vitae flowing down its cheeks to mix with the blood already there. “It ate his eyes. I could feel it looking at me. It sees me.” Its voice trembled with abject terror and rose in pitch and volume, “IT SEES ME!”

I floated in a wonderful sea of ecstasy, feeling warm and contented. The hunger that had nearly torn me asunder was sated and I was in a state of dreamy bliss. A vague feeling of something being wrong nagged at the corner of my consciousness, but I paid it little mind.

Something intruded upon my relaxed state, a bright light and the sound of human voices. They came and went, and I paid them little heed. There was nothing to fear from them. The voices went away, but the lights stayed opressively bright through my closed lids.

When the sound of footsteps and more human voices came to me again I was forced to take notice. Where was I? Memories filtered to the forefront of my mind. I was in the Tribunal’s formal audience hall. Something had happened… I had…

I tried to open my eyes, tried to sit up, tried to move at all, but nothing happened. I didn’t seem to have arms, legs, or anything that resembled a normal body. Centering myself, I forced calm.

“Jesus H fucking christmas, what the hell is this?” The voice was grating and gravely. I sensed the sharp, acrid scent of burning tobacco and I wanted it.

“Well sir, from what we can tell there are at least five bodies here. The confusing part is that they all seem to be… mixed somehow.” This voice was crisp and professional, but I could hear an undertone of tightly controlled terror. I liked this girl.

“No shit, they look like they’ve been put through a fucking wood chipper!”

“Yes, well… “ She took a breath and exhaled it sharply, “There’s no blood. There’s no viscera. With this many bodies there should be entrails, human waste, and a lot, I mean a lot of blood. But there isn’t any. Forensics collected over a thousand spent shell casings and they’ll have one hell of a time pulling everything out of the walls, but all this flesh looks like it’s been dead for days!”

“Who’s to say it hasn’t been?” He asked, the tobacco smell coming strongly again.

“Well, that’s the thing. The necrosis I’m seeing here indicates varying degrees of decay but it’s not like rotting meat at all. It’s more like frozen or very well refrigerated meat, and even then that doesn’t explain the lack of blood.” She paused as if steeling herself for what she was about to do, “But there’s more, take a look at this.”

“Sweet mother of… What the fuck is that?”

“I have no idea. It’s some kind of organic compund. At first I thought it was gelatin, but it’s nothing I can identify. I really don’t know what it is.”

“Goddamn it Charity, you gotta give me something.”

“Sir. This is way above my paygrade.” The click of her heels was getting closer. “I need some air, mind if I…”

“No, it’s fine, go ahead.” He said, “Is Ramirez here?”

“Not yet sir.” I felt her foot touch me. She had stepped on me. What the hell? I reacted instinctively, reaching up and felt a shock when we met skin on skin. My flesh melded with her flesh.

I could see the room now, the beauty of the destruction my hunger had wrought. This body was new to me, but it seemed fit and until recently it had been full of life and vigor. It wouldn’t last long, but I didn’t need it to. I took a step and faltered slightly, not having full nerve control yet.

“Hey Charity… you holding up all right?” I looked at his face, the rough stubble of beard and the deep shadows under his eyes. A cigarette was burning in his hand and even though he had spoken to me, is eyes were on my chest. It seemed to be as much a habit as the smoking.

I reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and took out his pack of cigarettes. “I think I need one of these.” I said, taking one out and waiting expectantly for him to proffer a lighter.

“I didn’t know you smoked.” He said, looking warily at me.

“I don’t.” I said, feeling the first nicotine buzz I had experienced in a century. With a feeling of giddy excitement, I turned and walked from the room and out the front door of the building.

I wept real, actual tears as the warmth of the sun touched my skin with a benevolent caress. Turning my face up toward the sky I let the sun wash away the despair that I’d felt ever since Svenka died. The sun was shining, I was free, and I knew where my lover’s killers were hiding.  Perhaps there was something to live for after all.

~fin

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Post Mortem Chapter 18

“What is that disturbance?” Demanded the Elder wearing the Mask the First of the Tribunal.  “Balif, you will go now and deal with it.”

A hulking monster of a vampire stepped from the alcove where he had been standing motionless and stalked far too silently out of the room for his prodigious size.  There was a crash and clatter of small things falling to the floor.

No sound came from the hallway.  After a moment, a slow trickle of strange viscous fluid flowed down the three steps and into the meeting room.  A pair of shatteringly beautiful voices sang out of tune with each other in discord that ground against the ear.  The words of the song, if there were words, were in a language that escaped even the learned Elders in this chamber.

A figure in a torn Armani suit tumbled down the stairs, bleeding from a set of claw marks across its face.  The wounds didn’t seem to be closing even though the figure was obviously one of their kind.  What manner of madness was this?

The First gestured sharply and a cadre of heavily armed and armored guards moved forward to make a shield wall between the Elders and the door.  He sat back, fingering the cane next to him.  It contained a yard of knife sharp steel inside its polished ebony shaft.

The sharp click of a woman’s high heeled shoes striking the polished marble floor echoed throughout the silence of the chamber.  The guards raised the muzzles of their assault rifles and waited.  What walked through the door was a twisted parody of beauty.

Her body was long and graceful, her gait a sinuous stride that made her movements seem slower than they really were.  The tatters of an elegant silk robe still clung to her mutilated torso, shreds of flesh hanging with bits of white bone showing beneath.  Her left arm hung limp and useless and broken but what truly drew the eye was her mouth.

Instead of the elegant pair of sharp canine fangs, or even the sometimes the row of needles that appeared when one of their kind was truly starving, hers showed a bristling forest of spikes.  Some were so long that they overhung her lower jaw and many jutted out at obscene angles, punching through her cheeks.  There were rows of them, and her mouth kept opening wider and wider as more formed.

The sound coming from her mouth was a painfully beautiful, yet off key set of tones that made the air seem to quiver in protest.  When they didn’t respond, the creature paused and an expression that could only be described as primal rage crossed its face.

“Please, you have to kill her!”  The suited man said, crawling toward the line of guards.

“Vladimir?”  The First said, recognizing the vampire on the floor, “What is the meaning of this?”

“Shoot her, SHOOT HER!!!” Vladimir screamed.

The First crooked the little finger on his left hand and a single gunshot tore through Vladimir’s head.

“Stay where you are or be executed.”  The First said, watching in satisfaction as the leader of the Revolution twitched his last, the idea of soaking a rowan wood core in holy water and sheathing it in silver for a bullet had been his.  It was most effective..  “Blessed weapons made of silver and rowan are aimed at your heart, your brain and your gut.”

The creature tilted its head to one side, as if trying to consider something so far beneath or above it.  Like a human trying to understand a dog or a dog trying to understand english.  Then it made an unmusical, croaking sound that resolved into something that resembled words.

“Exe-cute-d?”  It said, “Ble-ss-ed?” It asked, the tangle of its teeth tearing chunks of cheek and lip as it spoke.  Then it turned its gaze to the soldiers in front of it. “Row-wan?”

“What, you don’t understand my words?  You don’t know the danger you are in?”  The First said with a smile.

“Heart brain and gut.” The creature said with startling clarity, “These your weaknesses?  Thank you.”  It smiled and froze the vitae in the First’s heart, as he realized he wasn’t hearing it speak.  This thing was inside his head. “That is where the best flavors will be.”

“Kill her!” He snarled, and the guards opened fire.  The projectiles ripped through the woman, shards of bone and flesh exploding from dreadful exit wounds.  Even the Tribunal Elders who were accustomed to violence and meting out Final Death winced at the carnage.  Those weapons were harsh reminders of how they could suffer if their weaknesses were exploited.

After absorbing dozens of rounds, what was left of the woman stumbled backward against the wall, her head was half demolished and one of her arms had been completely severed.  She swayed for a moment and then slid down the wall to the floor.  Graceful even in death.

“Go finish it.”  The First commanded.  One of the men reloaded his weapon and approached.  Drawing a silver hatchet from his belt, he bent to hack the woman’s head from her shoulders.  The body was obscured by his for for a moment and even as he swung he seemed to flinch away from the thing he was executing.

The flinch was followed by the sound of a whip cracking and he fell with all the grace of a rag doll.  The hatchet rang with a high, pure tone as it struck the marble floor.

“What the hell was that?  Get over there and KILL THE BITCH!” The First stood and leaned forward.

Three men came forward, pulling similar pure silver weapons from their belts.  The beautiful, but jarring sound of the woman’s musical chiming voice reverberated throughout the room and the soldiers closest to her dropped their weapons to clap their hands over tortured ears.

Heedless of their companions being in the way, the rest of the guards opened fire again, the sheer volume of projectiles shattering the marble sheathing on the walls and filling the air with the smell of cordite and burning blood.  The First realized that the chiming sound was laughter.

What rose from the ruined mess of flesh and bone was vaguely humanoid in shape, but gave the impression that it was just a shape made of untold thousands of things working together to accomplish a goal.  Thin threads of ropy muscle strengthened by shards of bone shot from it, impaling each of the guards three times, once in the head, once in the heart and once in the gut.

The chiming laughter made the world seem to tremble.  The First used his Dark Gift, calling upon his blood to grant him power, speed and the most powerful of all, foresight.  He could see possibilities stretch out before him, every movement showing a faint suggestion of what would come.

He blinked, focusing on potential futures, reaching as far ahead as he ever had.  Then the figures on the floor all stood, turning in unison to look at him from eyes that seemed to seethe like spheres of maggots.

“Mine.”  The woman’s voice grated against the inside of his skull as though attempting to bore through the bone.  “All the flesh, old and withered.  All the blood, fresh and vibrant.  All the bone, strong as steel.  All the Powers, bright and fair.  All the curses, black as hell.”

Every future he could see held nothing but the Final Death.

Post Mortem Chapter 17

Riding in a car when blind except for the strange flickers of what I was becoming accustomed to as the flames of the life force of the beings around me was a very unnerving experience.  I could feel the world moving beneath me, even the Earth itself seemed to have a life force of its own.

It was distracting and the thrum of life from below in concert with the flickering flashes of red and gold flying by us at speed made me feel almost dizzy.  Or intoxicated.  I was hungry.

“Focus!” Vladimir had been speaking to me for some time and I’d been ignoring him.  Partially out of principle and partially because I hated the sound of his voice.  “This is important damn you, if you don’t remember-”

“Oh shut up you old windbag!”  I said, “If you wanted me to know anything in advance you should have told me, oh I don’t know IN ADVANCE!”

“It does not really matter in the end does it? Either you will die for my cause and be a martyr or else you will win and kill my enemies.” Vlad said, his annoyance fading into smug satisfaction.

“There’s a third possibility.” I said, my voice a gutteral animal growl.  “I just might decide to eat you and damn the consequences.”

“What did you say?”  He demanded, “What language was that?”

“I have no interest in your petty revolution.  I don’t care about your personal issues, your vendetta or the Tribunal.”  I said, fixing him with what I’m sure was an unsettling stare.  “And what I said was that I might.  Decide.  To.  Eat you.”

The car hummed on in silence for a few moments.  “So you figured it out did you?” He said with a mixture of hesitation and fanatic glee in his voice.

Now it all came together.  The pain.  My Dark Gift fleeing.  Not being able to heal.  The lack of vitae in my veins.  He had infected me with … I shuddered in revulsion and anger.

“You gave me the gods damned virus.”  I said flatly.

“Yes!”  He said with insane fervor, “You will be my triumph where they failed!  I changed it so that the Hunter carrier gene would mutate inside an Undead body instead of a dead body and you, my dear sweet Renyovalia are my crowning achievement.  The ulitmate predator, the perfect weapon!”

“Why shouldn’t I kill you right now?”  I asked, my fingers flashing out to close around his throat.

“Because I alone have the ability to change you back.”  He said, barely able to get the words out as I increased the pressure around his neck.  “You do want the antidote do you not?”

I shook, every animal instinct screaming to kill him and it took every ounce of self-preservation not to.  “If you are lying to me I will stake you out for a sunrise Vladimir.”

He laughed as I forced one finger at a time away from his cold, lifeless flesh.  Was I making a huge mistake?  Probably, but this old fossil didn’t have nearly enough life force for me.  His fire was buried deep and stoked low.  I wanted something more.

“When do we arrive?” I asked, licking a mouthful of razor sharp needles.  “I’m starving.”

Vladimir’s laugh cut off as though it’d been severed by a knife.  Perhaps he was having doubts about his ultimate creation.

The two guards standing outside the doors of the Tilton Corporation’s main headquarters knew to expect extra traffic tonight.  They’d already seen several limousines and a few high end sedans drop off unfamiliar but distinguished guests.  The Bentley Mulsanne was a far cry from the other cars that they’d seen tonight though.

It glided to the curb nearly noiselessly and the driver who exited was wearing an impeccable white suit and chauffeur’s cap.  The large buttons on his jacket gleamed with a color that could only be real gold.  He opened the door with a bow and a man in a flawless grey suit stepped out and offered his hand to someone within.

An arm with all the pigment of a snow drift save for the strange nail polish the color of a day old bruise extended to accept the assistance.  A leg of the same pale color with a small foot clad in a red silk slipper daintily stepped out and a woman emerged with boneless grace.  She wore an embroidered Kimono, obviously modified for comfort, and a pillbox hat on her head with a veil that covered her face.

Unconsciously straightening to an even more rigid ramrod stance, they watched with interest as the pair approached.  Just as his counterpart was extending his hand to ask for their invitation, the guard on the left experienced a slight twinge of pain on his neck.

His Dark Gift flared in response and he moved with unnatural speed, twisting to bring the long knife from his belt so quickly that it appeared as a single arc of steel to the naked eye.  When he turned to see what had touched him, nothing was there.

Turning back with the same blinding speed, he saw only the man and woman.  The man was handing a simple card of embossed paper to his partner and the woman was slithering up to him with that same sinuous grace she had exhibited when exiting the Bentley.

“Excuse me Miss, I’ll have to ask you to wait until your invitation has been verified.” He said, sheathing his knife.

She smiled and looked at him then.  One of her eyes was sewn shut with tidy, even stitches of black thread that contrasted with her pale, bloodless skin.  The other eye had no iris and no pupil but instead was a sphere of unblemished white.  Her smile was a forest of needles.

“Shit!” He yelled, drawing the knife again and slashing at her throat.  Instead of trying to duck or block the strike, she glided forward and his forearm struck her shoulder instead of the blade hitting her neck.  It hard enough to shatter her bones anyway, but she didn’t even flinch.

“Oh yes.”  She said, her voice musically beautiful.  “You are much more to my liking.”  She had grabbed his knife hand with her undamaged arm and now she bit his wrist hard.

He stared at her in shock, his muscles were getting rubbery and unresponsive.  His face even slumped as though the flesh was made of gelatin.  When he tried to speak, it came out as a gurgling, bubbling noise.  Then the pain started.

The woman’s hand punched through his tailor made suit and the reinforced Kevlar vest beneath.  He barely felt the pain on top of the agony that was already making him blind and deaf to everything around him.  The last thing he saw before entering Final Death was his heart vanishing between those spiked teeth.

“Fuck the hell YES!” I said, ecstasy thrilling through my body in a rush of pleasure and, more importantly, Power.  Unlike Hex who had been alive when infected, I had been dead for a very long time.  The only strength I still retained was dedicated to keeping my body functioning and the ‘meals’ I’d had weren’t sufficient to do more than keep me moving.

This young vampire had been healthy, full of vitae and vitality and I felt his strength fill me.  He had clearly been chosen because of his destructive strength and speed; both Powers that were now mine.

To my frustration, I found that I still did not have much in the way of healing.  The bones in my left arm grated and scraped but even though they were broken it didn’t hurt and I still retained some of the motion in it.  Maybe one of the other food inside the building would have what I needed.

Something changed within me with this influx of Power.  My consciousness narrowed to exclude the unimportant details, a process made much easier by my lack of normal sight.  The bits of flame around me were like Willow-the-Wisps.  I wanted to follow them to their source.

I turned to look at the flames next to me.  The smaller one wasn’t interesting but the larger one was beginning to flicker and fade.  I had to consume it quickly or it would be gone.  I removed the guttering flame and ate it with relish.  It was delicious, but already I craved more.

The things between me and my meal shattered beneath my touch.  The tread of my feet would shake this place until all of it broke into pieces.   My hunger would consume it all.

Post Mortem Chapter 16

“So… we’re supposed to be your attendants?” Ian asked me with trepidation in his voice.

“Yes.”  I said, “Now get me a cigarette.”

I had no idea what to do with these two idiots, but I was getting used to being waited on hand and foot, although it’d been a long time since I’d had the luxury..

“Go damn it!” I prodded him with the toe of my slipper.  I had insisted on having proper clothes and was now swathed head to toe in a luxurious silk robe that whispered against my skin like butterfly kisses.

In short order I had a cigarette, and sat smoking idly and trying to figure out what Vlad had in store for me.  Either he was going to sell me out, he planned on making me a marytr, or he was relying on me to somehow regain my Destruction and remove his biggest enemies.

I was hoping he didn’t think I was going to be able to anihilate the factions arrayed against him.  Even though I was getting used to this strange method of ‘seeing’ my regular powers hadn’t returned at all.  I sighed, trailing smoke out of my nose.

A feeling like the first thirst, only not quite as strong tickled at the back of my awareness and it was starting to get annoying.  I didn’t need blood, I needed something else.

“Hey, you morons don’t know anything about what Vald is planning do you?”  I asked, more for a distraction than anything else.

“What?  The professor…” Ian was still having trouble adjusting to reality, “I mean we didn’t even know there was anything going on at the university…”

“I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going on.” Phill said quietly, “I wish I didn’t know.”

“Oh relax, so the world’s full of monsters…” I laughed, “And you’re trapped in the room with one of them.”

“Uh.  Great.”  Ian said, but my moment of levity was gone and I was back to puzzling over my problem.

“Damn it, what’s he thinking anyway?  Why wouldn’t he fill me in on the plan beforehand?” I muttered, crossing my legs and kicking a slippered foot in irritation.

“Maybe he wants your surprise to be a part of it?  Like maybe it’d be more authentic if you were actually shocked by what happens?”  Ian suggested, “Otherwise it wouldn’t make much sense.”

“That’s not a bad idea actually.”  I admitted, “I mean your comment, not his stupidity.  What could he possibly be planning?”

“No idea, but my guess would be it’s not good.”  Ian said, “Not good for you anyway.”

I decided I was starting to like this boy.  “I appreciate your concern.”  I said with a wry grin, “But I’m probably going to be fucked one way or the other.  When a true blue bastard like Vladimir wants you to come to trouble, you tend to come to it no matter what.”

“Well shit.” Phil said, “Is… is there anything we can do?  I mean I’m not hero, but it seems like our lot is thrown in with yours and…”

I would have been touched if I didn’t know that he was just trying to save his own ass.  “Yeah… why don’t you go ask around and see what you can come up with?  Someone must know what the hell is going on.”

“I don’t know anyone here.”  He protested, “I haven’t seen even one single student and everyone seems so…” He trailed off.  I got the impression he was trying to choose his words.  “So unfriendly.”

“Yes, well, most of them are probably bloodsucking fiends like me.” I said, “So you’re probably being prudent.  But that’s not my problem, get out there and see what you can dredge up.”

“I don’t know…” Phil began

“Oh shut up man, we’ve been in and out of this place a hundred times.” Ian said, “There’s no reason someone would try and kill you now if they hadn’t before is there?”

Phil paused, making me wonder what was really passing between them.  Damn but I hated not being able to see expressions.  They were plotting something; I’d stake my … death on it.

“Yeah, fine.”  Phil said, “I’ll probably get killed but what do you care?”

“I’ll be honest.  I don’t give a shit about either of you… but you probably feel the same about me.”  I said, stubbing my cigarette out on a nearby table without bothering to find an ashtray.  “Other than the fact that you know I can eviscerate you in a heartbeat.  I’m probably doing you a favor by sending you away Phillip.  Aren’t I?”

“What?”  The tone of his voice told me I’d hit the mark.  “You’re cracked.”

“Yeah, whatever.”  I said, holding my hand out toward Ian.  He put another lit cigarette into it and I smiled.  I liked an attendent who could anticipate my needs.  “I’m fine with it anyway, you’re free to run away with your tail between your legs.  I wouldn’t mind if you gave me a touch of intel to work with, but you’re a liability if you don’t want to help so get the fuck out.”

The door slammed open and I looked over to see a bright flame moving through the door.  It was Vlad; I’d recognize the signature of his flame anywhere.  How strange that I’d grown this accustomed to seeing beings with this new sight.

“I trust you’re ready for battle Renyovalia?” He asked, and then paused, I assumed looking at my attire in disbelief.

“Battle?”  I asked, “BATTLE?  If you wanted me to be be ready to fight then why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

“What did you think was going to happen?  We are showing up uninvited to a Tribunal inquiry.  A full meeting at that.”  He chuckled, “Then again it won’t really matter.  Your weapons don’t care what you’re wearing do they?”

“I’ve told you.  My Gift is gone.”  I said, shaking my head at him, “If you wanted me to be able to do anything for you maybe you shouldn’t have broken my power.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.” Vlad said with a strange fanatic glee in his voice.  “Where is Gem?  What happened to Dog?”

“I don’t know.”  I hissed, losing my temper in truth now, “Why don’t you tell me?  In case you hadn’t noticed I’m blind, Powerless and it seems my body is coming apart at the seams from cuts that don’t seem to want to heal.”

“As I said, you’re far from Powerless, and as to the healing… if you do what I want, I will look to some of that.” Vlad said with some of the insane pitch bleeding from his voice to be replaced by a scholarly tone. “Rebecca has some interesting ideas about necrotic regeneration that I think you will appreciate.  But first you must prove your usefulness.”

I sighed in resignation.  Either this was only so much noise or else he really could help.  Either way it wouldn’t matter in a few hours, I’d be dead or they would be.  Maybe both.

Post Mortem Chapter 15

The harsh lights of the operating room would likely have been difficult to withstand, however I couldn’t see a damn thing.  I could only distantly feel the needle as it pierced my flesh and the drag of the thread as I was stitched closed was barely more than the stroke of a feather.  Even had I been able to feel the pain I doubt it would have registered; I was in a state of shock.

“What’s with her do you think?”  One of the nurses whispered, “We had orders not to use anesthetic and yet she’s not even flinching.”

“Quiet.  Vladimir told us not to speak.”  Another whispered back, “I don’t know what the fuck is going on and I don’t want to.  She’s not even bleeding.”

“Why are we doing this anyway?  I’m pretty sure she’s not breathing either.”

“Shut up.” I said, shaking off my stupor. “I don’t want to hear any shit from you goddamn mortals.”  I could barely see their tiny candle flame souls burning; they didn’t interest me in the slightest.

“Leave us!” A sharp female voice cut across the room and I heard footsteps retreating.  “Listen to me bitch, I don’t give a shit about who you are but the Boss wants you stitched up and kept quiet.”

I looked around the room and saw a small campfire burning beside me.  I was feeling tired, irritable and hungry.  “Who the hell are you?” I demanded.

“You don’t need to worry about who I am.” She said, moving close enough that I could feel her breath on my face.  “You need to worr-aaaaaa!”

I sprang up toward her neck with bared teeth and was snapped back by the restraints on my wrists I hadn’t noticed before.  My nerves had apparently deadened to the point that I couldn’t even feel shackles against my skin.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” She exclaimed in surprise.

“Not even close.”  I said, straining against the handcuffs.  The chains hummed in protest and the cuffs dug into my wrists but they stayed intact.  “But give me half a chance and I’ll be your own personal Devil.”

“Well, you won’t be so tough in a second.”  She said, sounding much more reserved now.  I heard a click and a low electric hum.

The chains on my wrists dragged me back down link by inexorable link until I was pinned to the cold steel of the table.  Similar shackles on my ankles also tightened, leaving me in a spread eagle position barely even able to move my hips.

“That’s so much better, don’t you think?”  Her calm and smooth voice was infurirating.

“Fuck off.”  I growled and tried to thrash away when a thick leather strap was placed over my forehead.

“Oh we can’t have that.  The Boss wants you to be nice and safe until he needs you.”  After the strap was tightened, more were fastened over my chest, hips and knees.  To my horror, I felt a needle pierce the skin of my face right next to my mouth.

“Don’t struggle now or you’ll tear the thread.  It’s made of Kevlar and quite strong in spite of being exceedingly thin.  It would be such a shame to slash your lips to ribbons, especially since you can’t really heal anymore.”

I went absolutely still.  Struggling was useless without the strength of my Gift anyway.  I couldn’t imagine a more humiliating way of being treated.  The rents in my flesh were efficiently stitched up after my mouth was sewn shut and then the table I was on slid forward on smooth bearings to click into place.

This was a morgue shelf.  I was being stored like a lifeless corpse.

An indeterminable amount of time passed, hours blurring into days.  I distantly heard people moving outside my prison and wondered absently what they were doing.  Vlad had called this the ‘lab’ so likely he was performing some kind of experiments but I was just too tired to care anymore.

“Not that one.” A voice said as my drawer was partially pulled out.  “Rebecca said that one’s supposed to stay in storage.”

“Oh fuck Rebecca.”  An annoyed voice responded, “I don’t see her around here and if she’s hiding some secret I want to check it out.  If the Professor didn’t authorize this little pet project I’ll see her expelled for it.”

“OK, but just a quick look Ian.”  The first one said, obviously nervous.

“Hell with that, I’m getting a sample.”  Ian said and the drawer slid all the way out.  Ian let out a low whistle.  “Get a load of this shit.”

“Where do they dig this shit up?  Is her mouth stitched closed?”

“Yeah, and look at these wounds man.  Why bother to sew up the stab wound on the eyeball… and it looks like the body was already dead when these wounds were inflicted.  Look at how the dermis is peeled back from the flesh here; there’s very clear necrosis.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“I’d bet there’s something in the mouth.  You know, like some burial ritual.  She always goes in for that kind of shit as though those ancient rites really have the power to bring something back from the dead.”  Ian said, “Look, if you’re losing your nerve Phil…”

“No, it’s fine.”  Phil said annoyed, “You aren’t the only one who wants to see Bec taken down a notch or six.  Just because these cadavers were donated doesn’t mean the donors or the staff are OK with them being used for her weird shit.”

I felt the snip of scissors cut the Kevlar threads holding my mouth closed.  The men were breathing quickly and unsteadily; their hearts racing.  One tried to pry my mouth open, but I kept it closed.

“Damn Ian, hand me something to pry these teeth apart.” Phil said, “This is just weird.”

“Untie me.” I said, making my voice deliberately low and gruff.

“Holy fuck!” I heard them stumble backward to the accompaniment of a variety of glass and steel implements crashing to the floor.

“Untie me or I will suck the marrow from your bones when I free myself.”  I rasped, “It is only a matter of time before I break free on my own Phillip.  When I do you and your accomplice Ian will either be very high on my list of people to kill or will share an equally exalted position on my list of people to thank.”

“Goddamn.  She really did it.”  Ian whispered, “She brought one back.”

“Rebecca is currently on my bad side.”  I said, turning the eye that wasn’t stitched shut to stare at him.  “Release me or you will join her there.”

It was Phil who approached and unbuckled the strap around my forehead.  He touched my face, “You were so beautiful once.  Who were you?”

“Am I so distasteful now?” I asked, “Well I suppose I am.  No matter.”  My lover was dead.

The mechanical hum announced the release of tension on my restraints and then there was a problem.  “Hey… where’s the keys to these cuffs?”

“I don’t know, but it hardly matters.  Surely you’ve got acid or something here.”  I said, “Don’t make me wait.  I am not a patient person.”  I sensed some hesitation from them, “Or a person really.”

“Uh, I don’t know…”

“Get a fucking hacksaw or a file or ANYTHING, because I swear if I have to break free from these metal bracelets myself you will both be in for a WORLD of pain.”  I said, baring my teeth.

“Oh shit.” Said Ian.

“Ohhhh… fucking hell.” Said Phil at the same time.

I licked my lips and felt the razor sharp points that all of my teeth had grown into.  It was strange that my being a moving corpse didn’t truly frighten them until they saw my teeth.  I guess knowing that I wasn’t a human creation, made the difference.

“Yes.”  I said, keeping my voice calm and quiet. “Those are appropriate reactions.  Another appropriate reaction would be doing as I request.”

“She… Rebecca didn’t make you did she?”

“Very astute Ian.”  I said, “I have been alive for over a hundred years, feeding off the blood of your kind.  If you don’t want to be part of that statistic I suggest you do as I say.”

“Shit Ian, if she was trapped by Becks do you think she poses any challenge to us?” Phil said, “We’re gonna be rich once we-”

“She did not trap me you stupid mortal!” Power coursed through me in a random burst and I raised my right wrist to my mouth and bit through the chain with a snap of my jaws.  “Just because I ask you do accomplish something does not mean I cannot do it myself.”

A hacksaw began rasping against one of my leg shackles.  It took a lot longer than I had thought to cut through the metal that circled my ankle than I thought it would, giving me ample time to puzzle over exactly why I had regained a touch of my Gift?  Or A gift anyway.  That strength of jaw and teeth hadn’t been mine.

My shackles were gone and I stretched my stiff limbs.  Just how long had I been stuck in that gods forsaken drawer?  “Find me some clothes.” I ordered, it was difficult to be commanding or intimidating while naked.

“I don’t have any… uh you can have my lab coat.” Ian offered.

I held out my arm, “Better than nothing.  Then you can take me to whatever you call your home.”

“Uh… you want to go to the dorm?” Ian asked, sounding genuinely confused.

“I want to go somewhere that is not.”  I paused and looked directly at him.  His intake of breath led me to believe that my gaze was perhaps not the least distressing thing in the world.  “A fucking morgue.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, sure.”  He said, sounding frightened to within an inch of his life.

“I will not tolerate these conditions.” I used my haughtiest tone, “Bring me to your home.  I tire of this.”  If one of Vlad’s flunkies came down here I’d be back where I started, only worse.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get you out of here without being discovered.” Phil said, “You don’t know what you look like, but it’s pretty bad.”

Here is where I lost my temper.  “I don’t give a FLYING FUCK about your tender feelings you piece of human filth!”  I shouted, “You will do as I say or I will EAT you!”

“Temper temper Renyovalia.” Vlad’s urbane voice cut through my anger and I felt fear creeping around my carefully constructed walls of indifference.

“Vlad.” I said, my voice dripping venom.  “How wonderful to meet you here.”

“Professor?” Phil said, his voice trembling.

“Oh Renyovalia, you have convinced these cute little puppies to do your bidding?  How adorable.”

“If I thought it would do me any good I would flay the flesh from your bones and drink your bitter marrow.” I said, looking around the room in an attempt to find him. He was nowhere to be found.

“Where-”

“He isn’t actually here.”  I said, interrupting Ian.  “But he’s close.  If you don’t want to die you’d better get me out of here as fast as you can.”

“I am closer than you think little rabbit.” Vladimir said, stepping out of a shadow next to me.

I wanted to scream, to run, to do anything but face a demon from my past without anything I could use to defeat him.  It took all my self-control to turn and face him without flinching.

“Oh Vladimir.  There you are.”  I said, smiling a toothy, hungry smile.  “I think I’m quite done being stored like some common corpse don’t you?  If you want my help I demand you give me clothes, a decent meal and start to treat me with a little more respect.”

“I am glad to see that you have recovered some of your fire Renyovalia.  You are going to need it tomorrow night.”  He purred.

“Why, are we going on a date?”  I asked flippantly.

“Yes.  We’re going to a Tribunal formal inquiry hearing.”  He said.

“I thought you didn’t give a shit about the Tribunal and their summons.”  I said, “What changed?”

“Oh, it is not MY formal inquiry meeting.”  He said with a dangerous laugh, “We are going to be uninvited guests.  I do hope that you can properly … prepare yourself by then.”

Post Mortem Chapter 14

The pain of my many injuries faded slowly away.  It wasn’t the same as the regeneration that my Gift had given me, but it was a damn sight better than nothing.  I could care less about the reality of being injured as long as it didn’t hurt.

I was still blind, but I could see after a fashion.  It was as though I was looking through frosted glass or a waterfall at small fires.  Two before me were dying embers and one very close to me was a roaring bonfire.  A sound like shattering glass interrupted the relative silence of the room and Rakk’s voice thundered in my ears.

“-will rip the flesh from your bones!”  He was shouting.  Ah.  Gem’s barrier must have failed.  Did I kill her?  I’d barely scratched her…

“Oh, by all means.”  I said, my voice echoed with power that I hadn’t ever experienced before.  “Flay me.”

“What did you do to them?”  Rakk sounded astonished, his tirade abruptly stopped.

“The same thing I will do to you.” I bluffed, since I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

A group of small flames and some larger blazes were approaching quickly.  “You’d better hurry if you don’t want to be here when Vlad’s goons get here.” I said

Those fires seemed to be associated with … strength or power, and I was pretty sure that our little exchange earlier had set off some kind of alarm.  These things running our way must be people, I had little doubt of that.

“I will kill you.”  He said, “You will die by my hand.”  Then the flame of his Power vanished down the hallway.

The flickering flames came around a corner that I couldn’t see and shortly a quavering voice asked, “What the hell happened here?”

“Not sure.”  I said, “I heard some sounds of struggle and felt my way over here but I can’t see what happened.  Can you tell me what is here?”  I felt around with my hands as if reaching out for the speaker.  I could see his flame.  It wasn’t worth my trouble.

“There are … things that might have been bodies on the floor.”

A group of small flames and some larger blazes were approaching quickly.  “You’d better hurry if you don’t want to be here when Vlad’s goons get here.”  I said.

Those fires seemed to be associated with … strength or power, and I was pretty sure that our little exchange had set off some kind of alarm.  These things running toward me must be people.  My suspicions were confirmed when shouts of anger preceded the arrival of a pack of idiots.

“What the hell?”

“On the floor!”

“Hands behind your head!”

“No sudden moves!”

The cacophony was deafening.  I managed to summon a trembling lower lip and a quivering voice, “I don’t know what’s happening!” I wailed, “Where’s Vladimir?”

“What the fuck?  I thought this chick was supposed to be some kind of badass.”  A gruff male voice said, “Why don’t she have any clothes on?  The hell’s going on here?”

“Dunno Sanzo, but I wouldn’t mind finding out.”  Another voice said, and a hand ran down my back and cupped my ass.  I managed not to elbow anyone in the face, but I’m sure my face reflected my revulsion.  A chorus of crude laughter followed.

“You moron, get your hands off the girl, what’s wrong with you?”  Sanzo said angrily, “The boss said she’s off limits and only a complete idiot crosses the boss.”

The others stopped their chuckling and shuffled uneasily.  The hand hastily withdrew and I stepped closer to Sanzo.  His voice was the loudest and he seemed to be in charge… and he burned like a campfire instead of a candle.  The snack I’d had when I bit Gem had served to whet my appetite, and he smelled like dessert.

I reached for him, grabbing him easily in spite of the fact that he was stepping backward quickly, trying to avoid my touch.  “Oh please, what’s happening?”  I said, “Please tell me, it’s so terrible being here alone and blind with all these horrible sounds all around me.”

“Well.  I’ll give ya the horrible part.” Sanzo said, making a halfhearted attempt to fend me off.  “Whatever killed these two melted them into piles of sludge.  Just who were they anyway?”

“I don’t know.”  I said breathily, “How can I ever thank you for rescuing me?”  I pressed myself against him, suppressing a shiver of disgust at touching a man.  Damn, I thought I’d ditched those feelings.  My words set off a rumble of amusement through the assembled goons.

“What precisely the fuck is going on here?”  An urbane voice cut through the voices of the men.  “You aren’t trusting this devious cunt are you?”

Sanzo shoved me away, “Of course not boss.  She’s freaking out and I’m not far from it myself.  Look at this shit.  It’s like they melted or something.”

Vladimir was a cloud of blackness amid the bright fires of the others.  That was strange; what was wrong with him?

“Yes.  How odd.”  Vlad didn’t sound overly concerned, “Who were they?”

“We don’t know boss, that’s what I was trying to figure out when this girl started-”

“I don’t care.”  Vlad interrupted, grabbing my wrist.  “You’re coming with me.  Right now.  The rest of you clean up this shit and repair that door.”

He pulled me along and I slipped over whatever was on the floor as we left.  Things that didn’t have any power or life were still invisible to me and my Gift was still conspicuously absent.  I looked directly at Sanzo as we left and gave him a vulpine smile.  He took a step backward from me and my grin grew even more predatory.

I made sure to wipe my face clear of any gleeful or confident expression before turning to look in Vladimir’s direction.  “What is going on?”  I demanded, “You have no idea what it’s like to be blind like this.”

“The others did not notice in the heat of the moment my dear Renyovalia, however the blood on your lips did not escape my notice.  You’ve been quite naughty haven’t you?”  His grip was painful on my arm, but I found that I was able to tolerate it.

Whatever had been done to me was gradually being influenced by what I’d eaten and likely by the strange ability my body still had to preserve itself in spite of being dead.  I wasn’t about to let Vlad know about it though.

“You’re hurting me.” I said, sounding defiant but weak even to my own ears.  I was a little too good at this subservient thing for my own taste.

“Good!”  He shoved me forward and I stumbled with my hands out in front of myself.  I was less worried about actually getting hurt than I was about looking foolish.  Of course I needed to worry about injuries now that healing was an uncertain thing.  I had to find out how things worked before it was too late.

Vlad had reined in his temper and was once more casual and calm.  “Now it is time for you to tell me what happened.”

“It was Rakk, Gem and Dog.  They found me and decided to torture me for some reason”  I said, not seeing any real reason to lie. “Can I have some clothes?”

“Why were they torturing you I wonder.”  Said Vald, “Some people are good at holding grudges I suppose.”

“Well I did kill quite a few of their friends before the Reapers-”

“Why aren’t you injured then?”  He said, moving toward me in a sudden burst of speed.  I only barely managed to keep from flinching away.

“Gem was healing me somehow.  She splattered her blood on my face and then touched me… she said it was a secret she had been keeping.”  I said, “Please can I have some clothes?”

“No, you will remain nude.  It’s the easiest way for me to ensure that everyone who sees you knows precisely who you are.”  He said with a chuckle at his own cleverness.

I started feeling around for a chair, but he grabbed my bruised wrist again, “We aren’t done yet Renyovalia.  What happened to them?”

“Why don’t you tell me?” I retorted, “I’m blind, remember?  I don’t even know what country I’m in, much less state, city or building.  Shit, the only way I knew them is because of their voices.  Dog started to gurgle like he was drowning, Gem started stabbing me and then Rakk ran away and your goon squad showed up.”

He was silent for a few long moments, but then let me go.  I fumbled for a wall and found a chair.  There were small flickers that faintly outlined inanimate objects; I assumed they must be the life force of far away things that were only barely visible to me.

“Damn.” He muttered, pacing the floor as though he’d forgotten I was there.  “I will have to take steps to keep the other disruptive elements don’t come into contact with her before I’m finished.”

I realized that he didn’t think I could hear him at all… and that meant my hearing was becoming even sharper than it had been when I had full control of my Gift.  He continued muttering and I kept listening.

“That room isn’t secure enough.  I’ll bring her to the lab.  Nobody goes there anymore and there’s nothing she can get into as handicapped as she is.”  Vlad paused in his pacing and I assumed, by the outline of his body turned to look at me.

“OK my darling, I am going to bring you to a place where you can’t get into any more trouble.”  He said.

“Do you mean where nobody will find me?”  I said trying not to sound as annoyed as I felt.  “It’s not my fault people want to kill me.”

“Yes… well… not entirely your fault.”  He said, amused.  “I’ll get someone to stitch you up down in the operating room.”

“Stitch me up?” I said, truly puzzled.

“Can’t you feel it?”  He asked, “I thought you would be in agony, although it seems this amount of damage has overcome what your brain can still process.  Honestly, I doubt it will do much good since you can’t really heal but at least you won’t be falling apart… and there’s nothing we can do about the eye.

I touched my leg where Dog had bitten me and still felt the jagged lacerations.  My trembling fingers found the wound in my abdomen and the ruin that had been my eye.  “Oh no.” I whispered, feeling truly terrified, “What did you do to me?”  All I could remember was Hex and how the wounds he had sustained before he had re-awakened stubbornly refused to heal.

“I?”  He said genially, “I merely found you and brought you here.”

It took all I had to not scream myself hoarse.

Post Mortem Chapter 13

I paced the room, my right hand on the wall so I could get some idea of where I was.  My left arm I held cradled close to my chest; Vladimir had left after burning me and true to his prediction I was not healing.  It hurt like hell.

The room seemed to be twenty feet or so square and other than the bed and nightstand had no furniture.  I had sadly broken the bed, it seemed as though the frame had shattered down the middle under the impact of my speed.  Although I felt the outline of a door, there was no handle that I could feel.  I was stuck here, at least for the time being.

I didn’t know what was really going on, but knowing Vlad he had some insane scheme or another.  Most likely the idea was to use her as a puppet to overthrow The Tribunal and then kill her off and assume command.  That seemed simple enough, but without knowing the politics and background of the situation she might as well be … blind.  How fitting.

Sighing in resignation, I sat on the broken bed and lit a cigarette.  What a fucking pain in the ass.  I didn’t even have a way to kill myself.  A sound reached my ears.  It was faint, but it sounded like an argument.  I focused my hearing and the voices became more distinct.

“-seems to think she’s well in hand, but I don’t know.  This is the Angel of Destruction we’re talking about.” A female voice said.

“Well, as to that… if she were going to destroy everything don’t you think she’d have done it already?  There must me something to that serum he claims to have developed.” This was obviously a male voice.

“I suppose you’re right.  Still… I have a hard time trusting Vladimir.  He’s …”

“Unreliable.”

“Yeah.  Unreliable.”

The two moved off and I lost track of their conversation but at least I knew that not everyone agreed with my captor.  That was some consolation, even if I was trapped, blind and powerless in a room without a door I could open at least I had one or two people who might think Vlad was… unreliable.

Well fuck.  At least I had something to go on.  I focused, but everything was silent.

Why did my Gift work to allow me to hear and move quickly but not to heal or to Destroy?  What had he done to me?

I stayed seated, taking advantage of not needing to breathe, allowing myself to be perfectly still.  Now I could hear soft footsteps on the carpet in the hallway outside.  There were three of them.

“You sure she’s in there?”

“Yeah, and she’s helpless too.”

“I owe her for the last time we met.”  I recognized that voice, “Cairo, 1948.  She killed the target I was supposed to be protecting and I didn’t even find out until the next morning.  As a result the bombing only killed a couple dozen when it should have killed hundreds.”

Shit.  These were members of The Reapers who I’d messed with before they had recruited me to join their ranks.  I couldn’t remember their names, but that didn’t matter.  They were here to kill me and I was nearly helpless.

I reached out and tried to access any dregs of my Gift, more out of habit than anything else.  To my surprise, I found I could still feel Cor through the Mindlink.  When I attempted to touch him, I felt something radiating from him like heat from a stove.  I pushed it away and focused on the problem at hand.

Rakk was an ancient being, I was surprised he had survived for this many centuries simply by being a brutal, efficient killer.  I supposed he managed to kill his enemies at a rate that equalled how rapidly he created them.  Gem was relatively new, she had only joined The Reapers a year or two before I was recruited.  She earned her name not only because of her power, but also due to her obsession with precious stones.

I wasn’t sure about the third, but I guessed it was most likely Gem’s shadow, a Korean man who she had managed to give the Final Kiss but still maintain an iron clad amount of control over.  Most of us know how to give simple commands to our ‘children’ but Dog did whatever she said without question or hesitation.  This was not going to be easy.

What should I do?  I knew the answer.  I stifled a chuckle and moved next to the wall near where I could feel the nearly invisible door opening.  What I should do was kill all three of them when they assumed I was helpless.  There was a marked difference between ‘helpless’ and ‘nearly helpless’ and this was something these pieces of shit were about to find out.

The door opened with a whisper of technology.  I would have appreciated the machinery under normal circumstances, but now I was focusing on the footsteps and the sound of their breathing.  Wait… why were they breathing?  Either they had lost the control needed to shut their lungs off or they were arrogant enough to believe I wouldn’t hear them.  Judging by my past experience with them… it was probably both.

I swung my right arm in a blurring arc that moved from waist to neck height.  I couldn’t see

them, but I damn well knew they were there somewhere.  I connected solidly with one of them, and felt the crunch of bone as my forearm slammed into something softer than it was.  Now I was thankful for all the training and conditioning Svenka had insisted I keep up with.

“I ain’t always gonna be there to watch your back baby and that Power is gonna fail you one day.  You can make your body something that you can always count on though, and I can help.”

The instant I made contact, I spun low, whipping my leg in a powerful sweep that knocked my target off his feet.  My intention was to jump on whomever this was and bite them, but I was out of time time.  The only advantage I’d had was surprise, and that was long gone, now the fact that they could see and I could not made my defeat all too easy.  Well, that and the fact they still had their Gifts.

I slammed into something impenetrably solid; that would be Gem.  A deep canine growl of anger rumbled and a jaw filled with horrendous teeth closed around my leg announcing that Dog had been the recipient of my first attack.  Something slithered around my waist and brutally strong, abnormally jointed fingers gripped my throat.

“So the parasite’s parasite survived.”  Rakk’s breath smelled of death.  Not the stink of decay though, the scent of old death; long rotted flesh, cast off snake skin and dried bones.  “Well, I will have to fix that little inconsistency.”

The growling increased in volume and Gem snapped her fingers.  The teeth released slightly.  “Dog has a point.  I thought we were just going to hurt her.  Since she cannot heal.”  Gem spoke in a precise accent that I couldn’t place.

“You really hold a grudge.”  I managed to croak before Rakk’s fingers completely cut off my airflow.  I’d forgotten how much it hurt to be injured.  A crunch told me that he’d crushed my windpipe completely.

“Of course we do, but it’s not just that we have hated you for years.  You killed him and he was going to make us Gods again.”  Rakk hissed, “But you ruined everything with your stupid -”

“That is enough.” Gem interrupted, “You are telling her things she does not need to know.”

“I don’t care.” Rakk purred, “I’m going to kill her so it doesn’t matter anyway.”

I twisted slightly and Dog’s teeth clamped down, slicing me to the bone.  My body shook as I attempted to scream in pain.  Dog let go with a whine and began a long howl that trailed off into a bubbling gurgle.  “NO!” Gem screamed.

Rakk let go of me and I fell to the floor, trying to keep the blood from flowing out of my wounded leg by sheer force of will but knowing it was only a matter of minutes before I would enter Final Death.  At last, I was truly getting what I wanted before Vladimir had ‘rescued’ me.

Blood splattered on my face.  I couldn’t stop myself from licking it, my instinctual self-preservation kicking in.  A small, warm hand touched my throat and my leg.  To my intense surprise, the wounds healed.  Not all the way, but the bleeding stopped and my crushed larynx re-formed to the point where I could breathe and speak.

“Now you will tell me what you have done to Dog.”  Her voice was a deadly whisper in my ear.  “I have hidden this Gift for a century and now I must use it to heal one of my most despised enemies.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said, my vocal chords burning from the pain.  “He bit me.

Maybe whatever cocktail of shit Vlad gave me that keeps me from being able to use my Gift is blood born.”

“Vlad may be an idiot, but he wasn’t lying when he told me he hadn’t done anything to you.” She said, “Try again.”  A knife slammed into my abdomen and pain exploded through my mind.  The blade was twisted and withdrawn.  I writhed on the floor for a few agonized minutes before the blood was carelessly splashed on my face again.  I hated myself for not being able to resist its coppery scent.

“I tried to help him but it’s like his blood was turned to mercury and this blade came out of your guts without a single drop of vitae on it.  When he bit you there was no bleeding.”  Gem said, “Now my sweet little puppy is on the floor, whimpering in pain and I can’t do anything about it.”

“Where is Rakk?” I asked, trying to organize my thoughts.  No blood?  But I had felt it oozing out of my lacerated leg… hadn’t I?

“Do not fret about that one.”  She said airily, “He may be flexible and hideously powerful but nothing breaks one of my barriers.  Now let’s try again.”

“Vlad told you I no longer possessed my Gift too didn’t he?  I’m obviously blind and powerless otherwise you’d all be de-aaaaa!”  Her knife had pierced my right eye this time and it was impossible for me to keep from screaming.

“All right, I believe that you’re blind.”  Gem said calmly, “Now convince me that your Gift has truly been taken.”

I couldn’t consider trying to speak, the pain was just too intense.  At this rate I’d just tell her whatever she wanted to hear just to make it stop.  I opened my mouth to beg her to kill me but all that came out of my mouth was a pitiful mewling cry.

The answer hit me in a flash.  It was blood.  Somehow I was surviving without any blood in my system.  Gem’s blood spattered on my face again, but this time I lunged up at her, my mouth gaping.  I didn’t feel hungry but that didn’t mean I wasn’t starving.  My mouth found her wrist and bit.  The sun rose inside me.

Post Mortem Chapter 12

Light bright enough to shine through my eyelids woke me.  I instinctively reached for my Gift, but nothing happened.  Even if I was completely drained I could always feel it there… and I didn’t feel even the slightest bit hungry.  I should have been ravenous.

I squinted against the light, feeling with my other senses while my eyes adjusted.  I was naked, laying on very high thread count sheets and a very soft and sumptuous mattress.  There was a scent of lavender and ocean in the air.  I could also smell Egyptian tobacco, sulfur, and coffee.  Chimes sounded in the wind and someone was sitting in a wicker chair in the room.  That person was not breathing.

I opened my eyes all the way and my vision still didn’t clear.  I sat up, looking directly at where I knew the person was sitting.  “Who are you and where am I and why can’t I see?”

“Ah, you are awake.  This is good.”  The voice had a pleasant Italian accent, “I understand you were involved in a bit of… unpleasantness in Mexico recently.  Do not worry yourself; that is all over now.

“I am Natele.  You’re in my villa.  We are safe from the light and for the moment, safe from The Tribunal.”

“Why did you take me from Cuidad Obegeron?”

“You would have died my dear.”  He said

“I WANTED to die!” I snapped.

“I am not one to leave a lady in distress.” He said smoothly, “I came to your timely assistance.”

“You SHOT me in the HEAD.”  I growled, my hands reaching, feeling for the edge of the bed.  I was unable to feel the sides with either of my hands.

“Well, you seemed to be in a slightly … unstable state, and you had recently shown yourself to be quite effective at eliminating any and all threats arrayed against you.”  I heard a rustle of cellophane and the scratch of a match head, the hiss of it lighting.  “Here, these are Fatimas.  Your favorites I understand.”

I reached out and took the lit cigarette from his hand, although I was certain he moved his hand to where I was reaching which annoyed me even more than I already was.  “You’re a regular Prince goddamn Charming.”  I took a drag.  The familiar taste of the smoke and the ritual was calming, “But you still haven’t told me why you brought me here at all instead of leaving me to die like I wanted to.”

“Because dear lady, the revolution still has need of you.”  He said, “You have created something even if it was not your intention in the first place.  I am afraid I have selfish reasons for bringing you here.  If you died under those circumstances it would have given much support and credence to The Tribunal.”

“What do you mean ‘under those circumstances’ exactly?” I asked, sliding myself to the side of the bed and succeeding in bashing my shins on the legs of a side table.  I felt on top of it and found an ashtray.

“Well… dying by suicide would confirm their claims that you are insane, unstable, dangerous and suicidal.”  He said, sounding mildly amused, “Even if it is true, I still need you alive.  I have been spreading rumors that it was all an elaborate trap that went horribly awry when they attempted to spring it on you.”

“Those rumors are true.”  I shuddered, feeling completely empty.  “What did you do to me?”

“I?  All I have done is render you unconscious and transport you here to be bathed and laid in a comfortable bed to recuperate.”  Said Natele, sounding a touch defensive.  “Please understand that although my reasons for saving your live are not altruistic in nature my uses for you are strictly political in nature.”

“Then why the FUCK can’t I see?”  I demanded, fumbling on the table for the pack of cigarettes and lighting a fresh one from the first.  “Why am I not ravenous?  Where is my goddamn GIFT?”

“What?”  Natele’s voice was horrified, “Your gift is gone?  It cannot be, the Dark Gift is forever.  It cannot be used up, it merely must be fueled.”

“You’re babbling Natele.  The fact remains that I am blind, unable to heal it and…” My voice trailed off to a whisper, “I can’t even feel it.”  I put my head in my hands and let out a slow, agonized breath.

“Well.  That changes things a bit, but doesn’t change my overall idea.”  Natele said, “Instead of a military leader, you will become a martyr.”

“I will not let you trot me out in front of the ignorant masses as some goddamn cripple.”  I hissed, “You’d better figure out another plan.”

“Oh no, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” He said, his voice cold and harsh, “I have you here and you’ve admitted to being helpless.”

I stood from the bed so rapidly that the backs of my knees hitting it broke something judging by the splintering sound and covered the distance between us in less time than it would take for a normal person to blink.  My ears were not enough to show me his exact location, but they were enough for me to grab the front of his shirt.

“Do you understand me?”  I said, breathing smoke out of my nose.  “Try and play with fire and you get burned.  I burn hotter than the surface of the sun.”

“No my dear, you used to but not anymore.”  He said.  I could feel his breath on my face when he spoke.  “Your Gift has abandoned you.  You’re alone in a body that cannot heal with a mind that has memories of centuries.”

A cold sweat broke out on my skin, but I did not release him.  “I don’t give a rancid rat’s ass about life or death.  You may recall I was attempting to die when you intervened.”

“That’s as may be, however I am not allowing you to do so.”  He said, “As a result you are under my contro-“

I slammed my left hand into his throat and squeezed, cutting off his ability to speak.  “You don’t get to make decisions.  You don’t get to make demands.  I will do as I please regardless of whatever happens to me.  You cannot keep me from dying if I choose to any more than you can keep me from killing you right now.”

“Well then.” He croaked, barely able to get the words out, “I had better give you a reason beyond threats.”

My hand tightened and it was as though I was attempting to crush a solid steel bar.

“I am not as frail as you presume.”  He said, his voice not betraying even the slightest discomfort.  “I am one of your people, not some mortal weakling.”  A hand like a vice closed on my wrist and I was forced to let go.

“Make an enemy of me and you’ll regret it woman.” He said in Russian, “I know who you are.  You would best remember where you have come from and who allowed you to become what you are.”

Now I recognized his voice.  He had dropped the urbane Italian accent and the music of his native land was clear.  I knew him.  His name was Vladimir, a typical Russian mobster name… also quite the archetypal horrible vampire name, a reminder that sometimes stereotypes existed for a reason.

“Oh Vlad, certainly you’re beyond threats.  Especially with old friends.”  I kept my voice neutral, “Although you aren’t beyond deception which either means you’ve changed or you’re afraid.”

He chuckled, a truly dreadful sound.  “My dearest Renyovalia, you have always been at your most beautiful when you’re defiant, afraid and helpless.  This is just how I remember you.”  He sighed in satisfaction, “I never should have attempted to deceive you, but I needed to know if you had slipped.”

“What have you done to me?” I demanded, not sure if I really wanted to know the answer or not.

“As I said before, I have done nothing to you.” He said, his voice amused. “This affliction of yours is a truly puzzling and I must admit, a most entertaining surprise.”

“If that’s the case, then why did you bother with the accent?”  I said, “I know your face and there is no FUCKING way I would be misled by an accent alone.  You knew I would be blind.”

He was silent for a few moments, I almost thought he’d left.  I finished my cigarette and flicked the butt in the direction I’d last heard his voice.

“Same old Renyovalia.” He purred, “Always perceptive.  Always too free with your words.”

“What’s the game really Vlad?”  I asked, trying to keep my voice light.

“I told you why you are still alive.”  He said, and I felt the cigarette I’d flung in his direction burn my forearm.  “Do not press your luck.”

Post Mortem Chapter 11

The sun was setting, showing angry and red from the smoke of the fires still burning throughout the city.  Ciudad Obregón must have been beautiful once, but now it was painted from the palate of war.  It was about to get worse.

“Renyovalia?”  Cor’s voice intruded on my thoughts. “What exactly the FUCK are you doing?  We’ve been waiting here for you to tell us what was going on, the city is completely overrun with Broken, shit’s burning everywhere and … you seem … you seem dead.”  His voice dropped to a whisper, “I thought you were gone.”

“I’m not gone yet.”  I replied, “I’m just doing what needs to be done.  But you and Miranda are supposed to be miles away.”

“You sound dead.”  He said, ignoring the orders I’d given.  “What happened to you?  Are you … all right?”

“I’m fine.  You all should get out of here before midnight.”  I wasn’t sure why I cared, but for some reason I felt as though my Spawn should survive.

“My Sire, I want to help.  What is happening?” He sounded afraid.

“I’m going to send them all to the Final Death Cor.  They have earned this end.”  I said, “They will pay for what they’ve done and I will mete out justice as I see fit.” I could feel him shiver.

The lines of my Power were extended throughout Cuidad Obregon like invisible wisps of mist.  They wrapped around the buildings, swirled between the legs of the Broken that were milling aimlessly in the streets and threading through the flames and smoke.  I was nearly ready… just a little more.

“Here’s the last one I could find.”  I brought my eyes back into focus and saw Donchivo standing in front of me.  He threw a mewling human boy on the ground in front of me.  The boy looked up at me, his eyes glassy with fear.

“Please.” He whispered in terrified Spanish, “Don’t kill me.”

I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled his neck to my mouth.  With my heightened sense of awareness due to the sheer amount of blood I had consumed in the last few hours I could feel the red blood cells trembling in his veins.  I could also feel the archo-scientific trap waiting for me there.  I cursed under my breath; it was a trap.  Perhaps I could use that hidden trap for my own selfish vendetta, after all before it had made my power too strong to control and that’s what I wanted this time.

“Sorry.” I said, not even hesitating before biting his neck drinking deeply and allowing the tainted garbage that my former friend had designed to infect my Gift.

The stage was set, the players were falling into place and I was ready.  I could feel the Power growing inside me, flaring hotter with every breath.

“What are you doing?”  I turned and saw Miranda coming up the top of the stairs to the rooftop.  Although the sun had set I was glowing like a tiny sun.

“I told you to go away.”  I said, my voice sounding flat and far away in my ears.  “You came anyway and now you will pay for it with your life.  After all I did to keep you alive, what a waste.”

“But why are you-” She began, before the door slammed open behind her and Donchivo stormed onto the roof.

“You LIED to me!”  He raged, every vein in his body glowed bright purple and tendrils of Power snaked through the air around him.

“You knew better, or you should have.”  I said, “I told you I was going to kill you all even if you decided not to listen.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this.”  Miranda said, “You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes.  I do.” I looked into her eyes and she recoiled from whatever she saw there. The torrent of power inside me writhed and thrashed like a living thing.  Miranda backed away further, her face distorting slightly in pain.  “This will end in a blaze of power, in a flash of light.  It’s a better end than they deserve but I am in a generous mood.”

“You will not take ME!” Donchivo advanced on us, but as he drew near, the light froze his questing tendrils of Power and they shattered into glittering fragments.  I could see steam rising from his body and Miranda’s breath misted in the air.

I hesitated, this wasn’t how it was supposed to work.  Something was wrong with my Gift.  Fear skittered across the blank surface of my emotions, but I couldn’t stop the Power now.  The air chilled further, ice crystals formed on Miranda’s skin as she turned to run.  A wave of absolute cold rolled from me in all directions like an arctic tsunami and I stood in the center of a frozen wasteland.  I had never experienced such silence and stillness.  At last I had found peace.

Then my Gift snapped back to normal and the peace was destroyed in a flash of pure Destruction.  Everything in a mile radius flashed to a negative image of itself for a fleeting moment before vanishing without a trace.  I knew I was drained, I knew that in spite of the dozens of humans I’d eaten in preparation that I would likely be easy prey for anyone or anything that came along, but I was beyond caring.

I sank down to the completely smooth perfect surface left behind by the Destruction of my Gift and sat in the Lotus position.  Here I would wait until the sun rose.  Here I would welcome the Final Death.

I had been sitting for nearly an hour when a sharp pain struck the back of my neck and I felt myself slumping sideways.  The soft report of the rifle reached my ears a heartbeat later.  It was an impossible shot; after all for the impact and the shot to have been so separated the shooter must have been a mile or more away.

As consciousness gradually dwindled I felt a tear leak from the corner of my left eye I heard the sound of an approaching helicopter.  No rest for the wicked I supposed.  In that case it was fitting that I was immortal.

Post Mortem Chapter 10

My body was weak and I was starving.  I heard the rapid heartbeat and shuddering breathing of a panicking human next to me.  I smelled the fear as it rolled off her in waves.  Ignoring the screams of fear and the ineffectual blows from her fists and feet I dragged myself to her, unable to rise from my hands and knees.  I bit and drank and her vitae was absorbed by my body as the land absorbs rain after a drought.

When I could process thought beyond hunger I took stock of my situation.  I seemed to be in a small cell with a barred steel door, the dry corpse of a woman I thankfully didn’t recognize and nothing else.  I was still wearing Cor’s flak jacket and the much abused pair of scrub pants.  The room was completely dark and I didn’t hear the hum of the generator.  I wasn’t sure if I was even still in the same building.

I reached for my Gift and found it to still be fractious, but otherwise unaffected.  I stiffly walked toward the door, idly noting the scrapes on the floor and trails of blood along the edges next to the latch.  It had been a very long time since I had been disturbed by the thing I had become, but seeing the bloody scratches and broken pieces of fingernails stuck in the metal door frame made my skin crawl.

Although I had killed many people before, the vast majority had brought ruin down upon themselves.  This woman had sat for hours in the darkness next to something that she knew was a blood drinking demon from her nightmares.  She had torn her fingers apart trying to open the door and died in agony.  Had she screamed?  I shuddered.  I couldn’t remember.

“Are you calm now?”  A vaguely familiar voice came through the steel of the door.  I could also see other marks on the door.  I put my fist into a dent and found that my knuckles fit perfectly.

“Yes.”  I said, “But I won’t be for long.  Who are you and where am I?”

The latch outside creaked and the door opened.  The man standing on the other side was wearing nondescript civilian clothes, his faded jeans and threadbare t-shirt seeming strange and out of place in the dark hallway.  His eyes glowed a faint purple though, and that fact seemed to fit the scene perfectly.

“You let us go before.” He rasped, his voice sounding like a file running over iron, “Now you led us to our best meal in … our best meal ever.”

“I’m sorry; you will have to excuse me for being a little out of sorts.  I demand you bring me to the remaining survivors at once.”  I said, “I need proper clothing, a decent weapon and… you wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette would you?”

He gave me a surprised look, “What?”

“One of my … friends was in the room where you found me.  Strapped to an operating table?  Burns on her torso?  How the hell long have I been here?   What’s going on out there?”  I stepped out of the door my face intent, “Are we even still in the same building?”

“Uh, I don’t think that girl is still alive.  She was burned almost beyond recognition… she’s probably still there.”  He said, “We’re in the basement of the building in the holding cells where the rest of the humans were.”

I pushed past him at a run, “Where are the stairs?  How many floors down are we?  Damn it take me to her right NOW!”

“Wait, it’s daylight out there!”  He shouted.

I paused with my hand on the door.  “It can’t be daylight everywhere.”

“We… might have destroyed most of the building when we took it.”  He said, “I’m sorry, but… there’s just no way one of your kind would still be alive out there.”

“She isn’t one of my kind.” I said, “If she’s out there still and there’s even a chance of her being alive I have to get to her.”

“Stay here.” He said, “I will have some of my followers go and get her, even if it’s her corpse I’ll have her brought to you.”

I looked at my hand still on the doorknob, and then back at him.  “What’s your name?”

His eyes grew distant for a moment, “Donchivo.”

I cracked the door and flinched involuntarily at the sunlight that streamed in even though it wasn’t close to touching me.  “Well Donchivo, is there a place other than the cell you locked me in last night where I can wait for you?”

“There’s some kind of research lab down the hallway.”  Donchivo said, “I guess you could wait for us there.  The rest of the complex is unstable or else exposed to the sun.  As I said, we were not gentle to this place when we took it.  We took the strength from those we devoured and turned it on the others.”

I narrowed my eyes, “If you have been even a little untruthful, I will destroy you.  I’m a bit short on trust.”  Hell, I really should kill him anyway, but I didn’t need to tell him that.

“What reason would I have to lie?”  He asked, seeming truly offended.

“What reason would I have to trust you without question?” I shot back.

“The fact that you awoke in a room with blood and not in a sunbeam should be plenty.”  He said.

“Prove you aren’t just playing some game and I might let you live.” I said, my anger flaring.

He shrugged, “I don’t care.”

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”  I ran my fingers through my hair, “I’m not in the goddamn mood for this shit!  Give me a straight answer or I’ll fucking kill you now and to HELL with the consequences.”

“We’re going to die off.” He shrugged, “There are so few of the Hunters left, and our Fallen brothers and sisters … well all they can eat is humans, and humans aren’t enough.  Human flesh will never be enough, not for us.”

“Oh.”  What else could I say?  I remembered Hex and how he had fed upon the Hunters we had met, tearing their beating hearts from their chest with his bare hands.  Devouring them and stealing their powers for a short time in the process.  I don’t know if it was that I wanted to believe him or that he really convinced me.

“I’ll go get your friend personally.”  He said, “I’ll try and find some smokes for you too, and then we can discuss payment for my kindness.”

Donchivo walked out, and I was unable to follow into the sunlit world beyond.  All I could do was wait.

It only took perhaps a quarter hour for my host to return, he carried a limp form in his arms and had a pair of other Broken behind him, one with a heavy army rucksack and one with a variety of firearms.  He gingerly set the body in my lap and stepped back.

“Sorry.” He said, and offered me a fresh pack of cigarettes.  When I ignored him he set them on a nearby table and left me to my inspection of Svenka.

She had no pulse and her body was stiffening from what I could only assume was rigor mortis.  I forced myself to be calm and exerted my Gift slightly to ensure I was seeing what was really here.  The chance that I was being fooled once again by a Glamor was fairly remote, but I didn’t want to risk it.  I couldn’t afford to be fooled again and it would be nearly impossible for that trick to work if I focused my Power properly.  It was her without a shadow of a doubt.

I bit my wrist as I had the night before to whoever the imposter had been and allowed a trickle of my blood to run into her mouth.  There was no way to tell if she had truly died or if I might still be able to rouse her blood to my call but I had to try.  She didn’t stir, and I felt something inside of me change.  The part of me that still cared for others turned its face to the wall.

To my surprise and bemused relief, I realized that I did not feel as though I should end my existence because she was gone forever.  Instead, I felt liberated as I hadn’t felt in a very long time.  I was hungry for power and revenge.  Far from wanting to enter Final Death, I discovered that I instead wanted to bend the world to my will more than I ever had in the past.

“Donchivo, how many of you are there?” I asked, snatching the pack of cigarettes off the table.  I lit one and stalked away from the body on the floor, allowing any emotional attachment I might have felt at one point to stay there dead on the floor with it.  “I have some things I’d like to accomplish.  I believe I might have a use for you and your fallen people.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even find some more Hunters for you to eat.”

“I have thirty survivors and perhaps a thousand Fallen.”  He said, “We are always hungry, even right after we eat.  Even as we eat.”

“You control them.”  I said, blowing a cloud of smoke.  “How?”

“They listen when we speak.”  He said with a shrug.  “Why do you ask?”

“How far away can you call them from?”  I asked, opening the haversack and selecting a clean set of clothes from the variety of sizes inside.

“They all listen if we speak loud enough.” Said Donchivo, watching intently as I took off Cor’s torn jacket.

I ignored his scrutiny and pulled a shirt over my naked torso.  “Then shout.” I said grimly.  This struggle had gone on long enough.  It was time to end it.

“It will likely take them some time to get here, perhaps as much as a day.”  He closed his eyes, and then frowned.  “There… don’t seem to be as many as there were.”

I shrugged, “Yeah.”  I took off the shredded scrubs and tossed them on the floor, sorting through the clothes until I found a pair of cargo pants that looked like they’d fit and pulled them on.

“What’s your plan?”  He asked, still staring at me as I found a pair of socks and boots.”

“We will lure the ones who need to die here and then I will destroy them.”  I said, my expression hard.

“What of us?”  He looked at me with dead eyes.

“Those of you who survive can do as you please.” I said, turning a baleful eye on him.  “I will stop slaughtering you pathetic, weak, worthless pieces of shit and will let you leave.”

Donchivo stared at me for a moment, his eyes still flat and unemotional but his left eyebrow twitched with the effort of keeping himself still.  “Why?”

“Because I just don’t give a shit anymore.”  I said, “You can kill every Hunter in existence, your fallen kin can eat everything in sight or you can all burn.”

He stumbled backward, tripping over Svenka’s body and falling on his back.  I realized I had been advancing on him, my fingernails extending into six inch razor sharp talons while my teeth had extended far enough that my jaw had unhinged to accommodate them.  I stopped and composed myself with effort.

“Gather your brethren.  I want them here by midnight.”