Shirasiau Sai’Li: Epilogue

It’s the end of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign… and I had some loose ends to wrap up.  Hope you enjoy!

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Shirasiau Sai’Li sat on the tall chair that was the seat of power of the Jade Merchant.  It was her chair now, by right of combat.  There were some that had said as it was not by right of single combat it was invalid, but they did not speak very loudly after the first to question her position had vanished without a trace.

Of course, the transition of the title of Jade Merchant was publicly acknowledged in a far different manner.  It was the end of a week of celebrations, feasting, dancing and displays of acrobatics of all kinds, barring combat.  As the new Jade Merchant demanded; the martial arts were not to be shown.  To be completely accurate, she had mentioned that displays of grace and beauty were pleasing to her eye.  As she had never been seen to hold anything more substantial than a silken fan or paper parasol, the planners of the event had reacted accordingly.

She had to admit, the performances were quite pleasing and the dancers lovely.  Three in particular had caught her eye and one of them slept exhausted in her chambers.  The other two were kneeling close by, one holding tea, the other her kiseru and tobacco.

Sai’Li put out her left hand and the attendant placed the elegantly carved jade and silver pipe into it.  When she put it between her delicately tinted lips the same attendant held a coal over the bowl, allowing her to draw the scented smoke into her lungs.  Leaning back, she allowed smoke to trickle out her nostrils as she surveyed the room through lidded eyes.

The seventeen women kneeling before her sat motionless, waiting for her to speak.  She dropped the pipe and her attendant plucked it from the air without hesitation.  After taking a sip of her tea, the most powerful woman in Chen Yun snapped her fan in front of her face and leaned forward slightly.

“My dears.”  Her voice was resonant and pitched perfectly to carry but still sounded like a caress. “We are now at the dawning of a new era for the House of the Jade Merchant and for the Shirasiau family.”  At her words, the curtains parted, and the sun shone into the room, bright and cheerful.

Screams erupted from four of the women and they began to writhe as smoke burst from their skin.  They sprang to their feet, trying to escape from the punishing light, but Sai’Li vanished from her seat, stepping from the shadow of the nearest.  Black metal spiders the size of house cats were streaming from her sleeves as she slashed a fan with razor edges across the throat of her first victim.

“We shall not be tolerating the infiltration of the full breeds.  Only a select few of the males will be retained for the purpose of maintaining our strength of numbers.”  The spiders swarmed over the dying vampires as she spoke, holding them in the sunlight until they were burned to ashes.

Sai’Li sighed as the metal arachnids climbed back up her flawless obi and into her sleeves.  “I really do abhor having to resort to violence my dears.  It is a crude, crass way of dealing with problems and death truly is bad for business.  I have plans lovelies.  Won’t you join me for a nice cup of tea?”

The remaining thirteen women looked up.  They hadn’t moved from their positions as the others had died horribly around them.  Sai’Li flicked the blood off her fan before snapping it open before her face to hide her smile.  These women would be the future of the clan.  They had the discipline, the skill and the drive to perform.  Now if they only had the fortitude to survive bearing the next generation.

She needed daughters raised to respect the old ways.  Cunning but worthy of trust, ambitious but respectful, deadly but wise.  Her policy would be to reward rather than punish.  To encourage and nurture, to take the ideas she had learned during her time trading amongst the mortals and use them to create a family that would truly be legendary.

With a swarm of spiders still swarming behind her like a train, Sai’Li strode into the most important room in her house.  The battleground where she had fought and won most of the battles of her life.  In the tea room, she would court the mothers of her daughters.  She would earn their loyalty.

“Great Mistress.”  Keiko was bowing low, her white hair perfectly coiffed in the latest fashion.  The gray, blue and seafoam green of her kimono had koi swimming over the sleeves and across the back.

“Please Keiko.”  Sai’Li said, rising and taking her longtime partner by the hands.  “I have asked you only to address me formally when we are not alone.”

“Mistress of the Jade Chair, Brightly Blooming One, Flower That Opens in the Moonlight, One Who Stands in Daylight; emissaries from The Necropolis are requesting an audience.”  Keiko was still bowed low, “They are waiting in the antechamber.  I apologize Terrible Star, Princess of Spiders, Hand of Shadow Threads.  I do not yet know how they managed to enter unnoticed.”

“Find out.”  Sai’Li said, straightening her Obi and changing it to a formal affair of beautiful rippling metallic colors with a ripple of magic.  “Send them in.  Bring tea in ten minutes.”  She smiled behind her fan, “The black, flavored with jasmine and saffron.”

Keiko backed out of the circle of obsidian stones that surrounded the dais before straightening and turning to go.  In a few moments three figures dressed in folds of shadow and funerary wrappings entered.  They did not walk, but merely moved along the floor in utter silence.  Sai’Li stood gracefully and returned their slight bows with an inclination of her head.

“I extend greetings honored guests.”  She said, her voice warm as the sunlight that shone in through the high windows on both sides of the room.  “If I had but known of your visit I would have prepared for it.”

“We know.”  The foremost said, very obviously not flinching from the sunlight in a way that said clearly it wished to.  “This is why we have come unannounced.  It has come to our attention that you have been breeding.  We take exception to this.”

“The half dead are but a byproduct.  We do not appreciate your presumptions of superiority.”  The second rasped.

“Your beast has hunted an ancient bloodline nearly to extinction.”  The third whispered, its voice dry as ancient parchment.”

“Nearly to extinction?”  Sai’Li asked, arching a perfect eyebrow.  “I cannot imagine that my dearest Tiger missed any of my father’s spawn?”  She spat the word without honorific.

“You are the last.”  The foremost said.  “Centuries of knowledge and research has been lost and you are merely a half dead.”

“I assure you dear guests, I am not merely an anything.”  Sai’Li said, snapping her fan open to hide her annoyed expression.  “You stand in my chamber.  I require civility lest I become displeased.”

The door opened behind her and the aroma of jasmine blossoms and saffron stamen filled the room.  It was the scent of spring, of life and it cleansed the graveyard scent of her visitors from her nostrils.  Keiko carried a tray with delicate porcelain cups and a centuries old teapot that had belonged to her mother.

Chisara Yi’Tan was the first Empress of Chen’Yun.  Her reign had been a brief one; overthrown by one who had been stricken from the records; every evidence of her burned and all her descendants killed to the last.  Still, Yi’Tan had not been a virgin when she took the throne although her daughter was unknown to all save one.  Sai’Li had devoured the knowledge her father’s extensive diaries had held of her Honored Mother.

The three turned to glare at Keiko and in that moment Sai’Li extended a hand.  Black metal spiders flowed from her sleeves and the hem of her Obi and skittered into the center of the group.  Each one held a tiny sliver of brilliant glimmering light in their mandibles.  Sourcing Sunstones had been rather difficult, but they were most handy tools and her connections with prominent worshipers of Pelor ensured these were legitimate.

“Won’t you join me for some tea?”  She asked sweetly, descending the stairs to her dais with deliberate steps.  “Perhaps we might discuss this in a properly civilized manner.”  Unperturbed by the displays of hostility, rage and fear by the visitors, Keiko unfolded a lacquered table and began pouring the tea.

“Why are there so many cups?  Is your servant joining us?”  One of the emissaries spat, narrowing its eyes against the gleaming beams of bright light.

“No.”  A deeply resonant voice said in Draconic.  “You are not the only undead with an interest here.  I greatly appreciate the gesture dear Keiko.  My sincerest apologies for interrupting you Daughter of the Lost.”

“Coalbraizer, you honor my humble house with your presence.”  Sai’Li said, bowing as a form of swirling smoke stepped into the room, flickers that suggested a skeleton of a dragon that would fill half the room seeming to appear at the edges before vanishing and coalescing into an ethereally featured man dressed in a copper colored Obi.

“You three are not worthy of drinking this tea.”  Another voice, flat as the sound of a coffin nail being driven home.  A woman who would be quite stunning if she had not been so obviously deceased stepped from the shadows thrown by the glimmering Sunstones and they all dimmed to mere moonlight.

“Stileen!”  Sai’Li was barely able to keep the pleasure from tinging her voice, grateful for the fan to cover her smile.  “It is so good to see you again.”  A mental nudge brought her spiders back to their mistress.  She did not want to anger these last two; she knew and respected them.

“You three claim to represent the Necropolis.”  Stileen said, not yet acknowledging Sai’Li.  “Perhaps the three of you could explain which faction?”  Her voice was flat and dangerous.

“We represent the Black Quarter of the city of Argus.”  One of the three said.

“Quiet fool!”  The foremost said, “This is the Lady of Coastwood Mausoleum.”

“Coastwood?  That tiny seaside berg?”  The other replied with disdain in its voice.

“Coastwood is the gateway to the Bay of Souls.”  The foremost hissed, swinging its fist in a vicious arc that sent the other sprawling to the perfectly polished marble floor.  “My apologies Lady Stileen.  That one is less educated than it should be.”

“Please take tea with me and we can discuss any and all issues that Argus may have with me and my Family.”  Sai’Li said, gesturing to Keiko with the tip of the little finger on her left hand.  Keiko retreated to kneel on the floor, awaiting her mistress’s summons.

“It is only proper for us to be introduced formally beforehand.”  She said, giving the bow to visiting dignitaries within a hair’s breadth of the proper level.  “I am Shirasiau Sai’Li, known as The Jade Merchant.”

“I am Revnar, I hold the title of Justicar of Argus Below.”  The foremost, “It is the use of the half dead and their elevation to equal status that is at issue here.”

They sat, ignoring the still twitching form of the third emissary and tactfully not noticing that the second emissary remained standing behind Revnar.  Sai’Li folded herself gracefully to her knees, noting in satisfaction that the others couldn’t match her grace, although Stileen was close.

After they had all taken their first sip of tea, Sai’Li delicately wiped her upper lip and fixed Revnar with a significant look over the edge of her fan.  “Honored Justicar of Argus Below, is the issue at hand that you believe the half dead are undeserving of equal status?”

“Of course.”  He said immediately, not appearing to notice.  “Although technically immortal, they are inferior in every other aspect.”

“Do you believe that I am inferior?”  She asked, her voice not betraying one single iota of anger or discomfort.

“Ah, of course it was not my intention to give insult.”  He said, finally noticing that her cheeks had become slightly more sunken and her eyes had begun to fill with black.

“Nonetheless you have offered insult to me and my daughters beneath my own roof.”  She said quietly.  “You may have your choice of opponents and your choice of champion if you do not wish to fight yourself.  But there will be a duel to satisfy honor.”

She continued sipping her tea in contentment, watching the expression on the faces of the others at the table.  Those too ancient and set in their ways were far too simple to manipulate in such situations.  Now he had to fight and choose the opponent who would be considered to be the strongest or else be deemed weak.  It was almost too easy.

“Of course I will satisfy the needs of honor.”  Revnar said stiffly, “I will face any opponent of your choosing at a time and place of your choosing.”

“You shall face me.”  She said, standing with perfect grace.  “Now.  Here.”

No fool, he attacked without warning but there were suddenly five of her seeming to flicker in and out of existence and his deadly bolt of black energy passed harmlessly through one of them.  It blew him a kiss and vanished.  One of the figures behind him struck with a razor-edged fan and decades old blood splattered to the floor.

“You should not be able to cut me.”  He hissed in anger, striking out with a dagger made of the tooth of some long forgotten animal.  The blow struck another image and it flickered out of existence.

“Perhaps you should have brought your scythe if you came to give insult to ME or MINE!”  Sai’Li said, anger bleeding through her normally calm mask.  “If we were not at least equal to those of you trapped in the shadow we would have long since ceased to exist.  After all it is YOUR kind who create us and it seems as though it is YOUR minds that are susceptible to the madness of the world blending.”

She feinted left and cut horizontally across his face, following up with a downward slash that left a ragged tear that cut his chest to the bone from collar bone to bottom rib.

Revnar had been waiting for her next attack so he could identify which of her shadows was real.   With a snarl of triumph, he put a hand on her arm and threads of black shadows ran from his fingers to flow up and toward her face.

“Die half dead scum!” He shouted in triumph as his attack struck, filling Sai’Li’s eyes, nose and mouth.

Her body convulsed with a spasm of pain at the invading power but she didn’t fight it.  Revnar’s eyes widened as a delicate hand tightened on his wrist and the flow of his power increased.  He realized with shock that his opponent was intentionally draining him.

“What are you doing?”  Revnar screamed as he could feel his limbs weakening.  Sai’Li seemed to be taking one long, deep breath and her diminutive hand held his arm with bone crushing force.

Sai’Li tossed the withered corpse aside with contempt.  Flickers of darkness still hovered about her, looking more like black forks of lightning than shadows.  She licked her lips and turned to fix black eyes on the last remaining being from Argus.

“Are there any other opinions about whether I am your equal?”  She put just enough hunger and anticipation into her voice and saw a quiver of fear travel through its body.  A flick of her wrist closed her fan and cleared the ichor from it.  “Return and tell your Masters that I am not to be trifled with.”

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 3

Sergei turned and saw a man in an impeccable suit, a fedora, dark sunglasses and carrying a cane swaggered through the door.  The locked door.  Around him, shadows gathered and flickered as though there was a campfire burning on every side of him.

“I fear the young lady has misled you.”  His voice was smooth and urbane.  “What she has taken cannot be returned without proper recompense.”

“Excuse me friend, but the bar is closed.”  Sergei asked, feeling somehow less intimidated than he thought he would.

“Yes.  How fortunate for me that there will be nobody to see.  Nobody to stop what must be done.”  Ethad said, his voice still silky smooth and calm.

“You won it in a game correct?”  Sergei asked with a smile.  “Well then I challenge you.”

“What do you wager?”  Ethad asked, pulling out a chair and sitting at one of the tables.  He pulled a long thin cigar from an inner pocket and bit off the tip before lighting it with an old fashioned strike anywhere match.

“My bar.”  Sergei said, “It’s my life’s work.”

“That’s an interesting offer, however I don’t need real estate.”  Ethad said, blowing a smoke ring.  “I’m thinking of something a little more valuable.  After all, what the young lady has stolen is worth more than you can imagine.”

“What did she steal?”  He asked, “I never was clear on that.”

“It does not matter to you.”  Ethad said, “But if you must know, she stole knowledge.”

“What do you want me to bet then?”  Sergei asked, “And what game will we play?”

“To keep it interesting, we will play a game that matches your abilities.  Since you own a bar, we shall play a drinking game.”  Ethad took off his sunglasses and where his eyes should be was nothing but pits of utter darkness.  “You shall bet your immortal soul of course.”

Sergei swallowed hard, but a glance over his shoulder showed Corva’s large frightened eyes and his spine stiffened.  “Is that all?  I’m pretty sure that’s long gone to many a vice or broken promise.”  He moved to the bar and took the half full bottle of Laphroig down along with two glasses.

He sat down across from his opponent and poured them each a shot.  Something settled over him; a power with a force beyond his imagination.  The pact had been made.  The stage was set.  What had he gotten himself into?  Still, his blood boiled with excitement.  He had never felt so alive.

“The game is an old one.   It is called by many different names, but I call it Flip.”  Ethad smiled and withdrew an old belt dagger from a sheath beneath his suit coat.  The weapon was worn, but obviously well cared for.  The edge glittered wickedly.

Sergei raised an eyebrow and waited, amazed that he was feeling so calm and collected.  Perhaps it was the sheer absurdity of the situation.  Maybe it was Corva’s apparent dependence on him.  More likely he’d just lost his mind.

“The game is played by flipping the blade a certain way a certain number of times and having it end by sticking point down into the wood of the table.”  Ethad said.  “If you fail to stick the blade, you must take a drink.  Every five flips you must take a drink.  The game ends when you are incapacitated or bleed to death.”

“Bleed to death?”  Sergei asked, “Why would that be an issue?”

“Some of the flips later in the game require very good aim.”  Ethad said, “Shall we begin?”

The first few flips were simple.  Held in the hand, off the back of the hand, off the thumb, off the wrist.  The blade was very sharp and Sergei did accidentally cut himself more than once, although they were more of an annoyance than anything else.  After five flips, they each drank.

Now the challenges were more difficult, but Sergei found the balance of Ethad’s blade to his liking and the game was a fun and interesting one.  Five more flips and they each took another drink.  Sergei began to sweat as the moves became harder, but he managed to stick another five and they each drank again.

“You are showing more skill than I had anticipated.”  Ethad said, “It appears the bottle is almost empty.  It has been years, decades even since I have enjoyed myself this much.”

Sergei missed the next flip, recovered and made the next three and missed the fifth.  The bottle was empty and the alcohol was beginning to cloud his dexterity.  Ethad seemed to be unaffected and flicked the point of his knife into the tabletop with almost contemptuous ease.

“I’d better get another bottle.”  Sergei said, rising unsteadily.  “We both have to drink after that last move.”

He walked to the bar and took another bottle of Laphroig.  His fingers shook as he was unwrapping the foil.  Reaching into his apron pocket he took out a tissue and wiped the sweat off his forehead and tossed it into the trash.  Picking up the bottle and a new pair of glasses he walked back to the table where Ethad sat calmly.

Sergei poured them each a shot and couldn’t help but savor the whisky as he drank it.  Even if it was bringing him ever closer to being killed.  To being worse than killed.

Ethad had tossed back his drink and picked up his knife for the next move.  A strange look crossed his face and he lost his grip on the aged wooden handle.

“What did you do to me?”  He snarled, his voice a dangerous rasp.

Sergei blinked in surprise, noting that a red flush had begun to spread from the other man’s alabaster white neck.  Ethad began to make a choking sound, each breath becoming more of a struggle.  The realization of what must have happened struck him.

The tissue.  The wood sliver.  Corva had said it was hawthorn and it had hurt her.  She was somehow the same as Ethad.

“You left some of your hawthorn in her wound.”  Sergei said, feeling a sardonic grin slide over his face.  “It must have found its way into your drink somehow.  What a shame.”

Ethad stood, his clothes bleeding and changing into a cloak with a deep cowl.  His dagger lengthened and changed, shaping itself into a wickedly sharp scythe with a handle made of the same dark wood as the knife hilt, the butt end sharpened to a needle point.

“You have forced me to shuffle off that which allows me to tread on mortal earth once again Trickster.”  The moniker rang in Sergei’s head like a silver bell.  “Your accomplice can keep the knowledge of Fire she stole.  For now.”

Death faded from view, the gleaming silver of his scythe with its handle of hawthorn being the last thing to vanish.  Sergei spun to look at Corva, and instead of a wounded girl in layers of jackets a large raven perched on the back of the chair.  She cocked her head at him, one eye deliberately winking.

“You remembered your blood in the end.”  She said, her voice sounding no different for coming from a bird’s beak.

“Just lucky.”  Sergei said, “I didn’t remember anything.”

“Blood doesn’t forget, even if you don’t remember Trickster.”  Corva replied and flew up and out the door as it opened to admit Chelsea.

“Sergei?”  She said, surprise in her voice.  “What was that wind just now?”

“Never mind the wind.”  He said, sitting down hard, but feeling the sardonic smile come back.  “Come and have a drink with me.”

~fin

Halloween Special: The After-Death Chapter One

Hi all!  So as a Halloween Special, I’m re-releasing my first book “The After-Death” which is a horror novel on Smashwords.  Here’s part of the first chapter, I hope you all enjoy reading it.  If you do, head on over to Smashwords and pick yourself up a copy!  As an added Halloween special, today and today only I will let you set the price.  Pay as much or as little as you want and enjoy some horror fiction on me.  Have a safe and scary All Hallows Eve.

                              -Benjamin

I forced my gritty eyelids open, expecting to see the glare of the early morning sun shining through that single crack in the curtains that I can never quite block out and was slightly surprised to find total darkness instead.  A feeling of foreboding crept over me as flashes of nightmares about being buried alive leapt to the front of my mind.

The surface I was on was hard and cold and I failed to choke down panic when extending my arms met a similar surface and trying to sit up earned me a sharp crack to the skull.  The pain brought the rational part of my brain back online and I began to explore my tiny prison.  A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the metal box ran down my spine… I was not able to force my chest to draw a breath.  Kicking hard with my feet slid me down against the wall which gave way slightly.

My vision was assaulted with a brilliant white light that shone through the opening, another pair of hard kicks and the shelf in the morgue where my body lay slid out fully into the harsh metal halide lighting of the room.  What happened last night?  If my body really is dead then why do I burn with the desire for vengeance, and vengeance against whom?  Looking at the stitches crisscrossing my body, and the unwholesome pallor of my skin, I decided that my primary course of action must be covering myself.  Then I would find answers if there were any to be found.

There is something decidedly disturbing about taking clothing off a dead body; even when you yourself are dead.  I cast about the room for anything else that I could possibly do, however the only other option was to cut holes in a body bag which would have drawn at least as much attention as my pale scarred flesh.  The young man whose clothes I was stealing didn’t complain despite the fact that I had to dislocate his shoulders to get his Led Zeppelin t-shirt off without tearing it apart.  It shocked me how easily I was able to do it; perhaps he had some sort of muscle weakness or joint problems.  My fingers and wrists felt stiff either from rigor mortis or maybe just from laying inside the cold steel embrace of the morgue drawer.

I had never been in a morgue before, the stark cleanliness of the stainless steel drawers and white tiled floors, walls and tables suggested either a new facility or else a very fastidious caretaker.  I decided on the latter as I surveyed the neat tidy rows of scalpels, saws, needles and even a tape recorder set out at precise distances from one another on a nearby shelf.  I felt a sudden uncomfortable pressure inside my head as though I was in an airplane making a rapid descent, as though there was a bubble behind my nose, eyes and ears pressing against them.

The pressure kept increasing at an alarming rate; I attempted to force air into my estuation tubes only to find that drawing a breath was a physical impossibility.  Afraid that my eyes would be forced from their sockets, I grabbed a steel probe from the table top and plunged it into my ear.  A burst of air and fluid shot out with enough force to leave a trail of phosphorescent vitriol from the edge of the counter to my shoulder its glow barely visible in the brightly lit room.  Before I had the chance to study the strange glowing purplish green substance I suddenly became aware of voices and the sound of footsteps so close I was astounded that I hadn’t heard them before.

“-omething in the water or maybe an infection or some airborne agent.  I can’t wait for the next episode, seriously I was so pissed off when it was over.”

“Yeah and Fox will probably cancel it just like they have every other decent show.  I wonder what they have against making money.”

A sudden burst of adrenaline startled me, I drew a ragged breath and my heart suddenly thundered in my chest.  A pair of middle aged men dressed in white clothes walked into the room.  “What the hell are you doing in here?  This is a restricted area; you aren’t supposed to be here.  Are you one of those weirdoes who gets off on touching dead people?”  I backed up against the counter and grabbed the first thing my hand touched; the microcassette recorder.

“Gentlemen, I’m with the World News Daily paper and I’m looking to dig up a story on just such a subject, can either of you comment?”  I was shooting from the hip, desperate to distract them long enough to get out the door.  I held the small tape recorder in my hand out in front of my body like it was a weapon “I’ve heard there were some instances of necrophilia in this morgue, I promise I won’t mention your names.”

“My wife reads that shit God only knows why… get the fuck out before we throw you out.  We could lose our jobs just by you being in here!”

Needing no encouragement, I walked out of the room as fast as I could without, hopefully appearing any stranger of a spectacle than I imagined myself being.  I would ponder the sudden flush of life that was rapidly fading from my system later when I felt safe.

I broke into a run the moment I was out of view of the morgue attendants. I had to get out of this place and fast. There was too much I didn’t understand, I needed some time to figure it all out or at least get a handle on my body. What was with me suddenly starting to breathe and my heart beginning to beat again? Why did it stop? I stepped through a door and found myself in a busy hospital emergency room. It was easy to avoid notice in all the commotion even though my lungs no longer functioned and heart had ceased to beat once again. Once outside I ran blindly, taking advantage of not needing to breathe until I reached a park that seemed more or less deserted. As I slowed to a walk an old man approached me

“Spare some change youngster?” I dug in my pockets, surprised to find a couple dollars which I proffered to him. “I’ll take whatever you have in your wallet too.” he said lifting his other hand to show a knife with a wicked looking edge. Considering all that had happened I tried to laugh, all that came out was low groan. Suddenly fear blossomed on his face and he backed away slowly “Just a joke, you understand just a joke! Here take it back, I don’t need it!”

He dropped the money I had given him and the knife, took a few stumbling backward steps then turned and sprinted away. I sat down with my back to a large tree. The look in the old man’s eyes had been one of fear growing into stark terror. What was I becoming and what did he see that frightened him so much? The answer became clear to me as the sun began to set. I could see every vein illuminated from within by a faint glow, mapping out my now defunct cardiovascular system in a beautiful but disturbing trail of interlacing lines. My eyes were bright enough to shine a faint light wherever I looked, and everything I looked at seemed outlined in fairy fire, some green, some blue, some red. I put my hands over my face in disbelief almost dropping the forgotten cassette recorder. Of course, why didn’t I think of it earlier? With a morbid curiosity, I re-wound the tape to listen to the coroner perform my autopsy.

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

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.