When my eyes opened again, the entire room that I was in was completely dark. Empty. Black. I rubbed my eyes and attempted to get up from the bed, my mind feeling a bit weak from the inside. I had a pretty fierce headache, and it seemed to pierce and stab at me from behind my eyes. My head began to spin a bit as I stood up, and...I don't know....something just suddenly felt....wrong. I struggled to get steady on my feet, but the walls, ceiling, and floor around me seemed a bit 'crooked'. Like they were off balance somehow. Even in the darkness I could tell, and not a single sound could be heard. It was then that I looked down at my feet, and noticed this weird distortion in the floor. It was moving, waving, as though it weren't real, as though my feet were about to sink straight through it. It was then that I began to question myself. Is this real? Am I really awake? But trying to think rationally only made my headache worse. In fact, it felt as though my mind was being squeezed tightly in a vice. Wrapped in layers of barbwire that were constricting ever so slowly to crush my brain from within. Looking around me, I began to see the unstable nature of the walls, the floor, the ceiling. It was trying very hard to be 'real', but the illusion was revealed through its own effort. This was a dream. It had to be.

"Ahhhh!" I winced, almost falling to one knee, as my mind was spiked harshly with a migraine. It burned and twisted inside of me until the walls and floor became clear, and solid. It was the Beast! It was trying to force its way in again...using pain to keep me from focusing on what was going on around me. The harder it pushed, the more I could feel it invading my every thought. Any resistance was met with more pain, until eventually, I let the images solidify and come into full blown color. Everything around me changed, and I found myself in the hospital again. Long darkened halls, with all of the doors closed....except for one.

"Justin......." Came a haunting voice from one of the rooms. I closed my eyes, knowing that this creature was preying on my every fear, my every regret. It would use anything it could to get to me. And it knew how to hit me hard. "Justin....."

"This isn't real. None of this is real." I told myself, and I began to walk down the long corridor to the open door. Knowing what was waiting for me inside. "It's not real, Justin. It's not real." Another vicious spike speared through my mind, and it cleared instantly. As if the creature was using it as some form of 'discipline'. Bullying me into believing whatever it showed me. I allowed the images to come, but tried to keep my head straight anyway. As I walked through the open door, I saw Richie, lying in bed, with tubes in both arms. He was barely able to breathe. His skin was almost transparent, and his body had lost so much weight that it almost looked as though it was losing its hold on existence itself.

I turned away from the image in front of me. I faced one of the imagnary walls in the room, and refused to look. "Justin...please...I need you to help me. I NEED you to care about me again." But I blocked out his voice. "Buds forever....remember?"

"This ISN'T real!" I said it outloud this time, and despite the pain in my head, I kept my eyes facing the wall. "I won't let you in! I WON'T!" I shouted.

"Justin! Pleeeeeeease??? It hurts! God, it hurts!" Richie's cries grew desperate and painful, invading my every emotion. I felt tears stream down my cheeks as I did everything I could to block it out. He began to sob, and then wail, behind me. His tears flowing twice as hard as mine as he pleaded for me to help him. "Don't leave me here to die! I don't wanna die, Justin! Please! Please...it hurts sooo much! Please???"

"SHUT UP!!! Shut up, shut up, shut up!!!" I screamed. Why was it doing this to me? Why won't it leave me alone.

Richie kept crying, and he seemed to get louder as I began to walk towards the door. I didn't want to fall for this again. "WAIT!!! Don't go!" He said.

"I'm...." I started, then turned to see my best friend, in the bed, sick to the point of extinction. "I'm sorry, Richie. I'm sorry." His tears were literally pouring out of his eyes now, his soft cheeks soaked with them, and I had to remind myself again, "This is only a dream. Just a stupid fucking dream." Then I turned back towards the door to leave him behind...for the last time.

By the tme my eyes had focused clearly, a huge black fist had lashed out and hit me square in the chest! Knocking me to my back and sliding across the floor! I knocked over a table before I stopped sliding, and looked up to see the giant hulking form of the Beast standing in the doorway. Not as much in shadow this time, but larger than life, stronger than anything I had ever seen! The arms alone looked as though they had enough strength to rip me in half. Bulging with firm round muscle, covered wth charred black flesh, burned and sizzled, still smoking. And yet it's skin was ice cold, it's glare even colder. The huge saber-like fangs on the tob and bottom teeth could not be contained behind its angrily curled lips, instead poking outward, covered with a shiny gloss of saliva as it waited for me to get up. The eyes were glowing with a hatred that you couldn't imagine, and its flesh was covered with worms, bugs, and maggots. The skin itself crawled with a life of its own. It gave a feeling of motion sickness to anyone who looked directly at it. It had a long tail behind it, just as strong as the rest of it, and a pair of folded wings behind its back. If outstretched, the wingspan would probably reach from wall to wall. This creature, this Beast, was terror in its purest, uncensored form. And it was here.....for ME!

I scooted backwards on my hands, as the behemoth stood over me, a low grumble emanating from its belly. It tilted it's head slightly to the side as long ropes of saliva dripped from its protruding fangs. But it stood still, watching me. I scooted back faster to get some distance between us, and that's when it took its first thunderous step forward. The very weight of it vibrated through the entire floor, and the heat of its breath could be felt on my head and chest from a distance. I pulled one of the hospital room's machines in front of me, the only shield that I had. But it only seemed to enrage the creature, and it swiftly...ANGRILY...struck out with its clawed hand and knocked the machine clear across the room, smashing it into pieces on contact! The beast roared at me and my fear caused me to jump up to my feet instantly! The sheer power behind its eyes was piercing a hole straight through me, and it stepped closer until it had me pinned against a wall.

It reached out a hand, almost able to hold my entire head with its palm, and looked me over. I closed my eyes, trying to wish this image away. Trying desperately to wake up. But the Beast wouldn't allow me to think logically, and it twisted my thoughts around my own fears. It was using them against me, all at once, getting stronger. Almost as if it was 'feeding' off of me. "This is just a dream....you're nothing. I won't let you in!" I had to keep saying it to myself in order to keep from panicking. But hearing my chant, the Beast let out an earsplitting scream right in my FACE that caused me to fall limply to the floor! My heart was beating so fast that I thought it would explode! Tears dripped down my cheeks, my fear of it causing my emotions to go wild as it intensified my inner hysteria. It could have torn me to pieces right then and there, but instead...it turned on Richie, moving towards him as he lay helpless on the bed. "Don't....don't you touch him..." I said, still too frightened to get up from the floor. Or to even raise my voice for that matter. But the creature kept moving forward. "STAY AWAY FROM HIM!!!" I shouted. "DO YOU HEAR ME???" My panicked emotions were holding me still, but my concern for Richie began to override the fear in my heart as the Beast stepped closer.

The creature sniffed my friend's frail body while I watched from the corner. The light in its eyes flared up, and another loud roar escaped from its mighty lungs! "NO!!!! STAY AWAY FROM HIM!!!" I screamed. Don't hurt him...please don't hurt my Richie. The monster reached out a powerful claw and lifted Richie from the bed with one hand, his fragile body completely helpless as it dangled in the Beast's brutal grasp. As he lifted Richie from the bed, the tubes in his arms began to stretch and snap, dislodging themselves from him completely. Richie could hardly breathe, and the monster sueezed tighter as it held him like a ragdoll over the floor. And then.......it spoke. "Destiny..." It hissed. It's voice sounded like 100 different voices at once, all speaking in unison. All speaking while in intense pain. Blurred together into a simple word, it was the most haunting sound I had ever heard.

My mind temporarily gave over to the dream that it was locked in, and I stood on my own two feet. "Let...him...go!" I snarled. But the thing did not listen to me, I was no longer its target. The Beast suddenly roared unbelievably loud, loud enough to cause the room to shake and put cracks in the walls. And then I watched in horror as its jaws opened wide in an attempt to swallow Richie whole! The mighty fangs salivated hungrily as the creature's mouth stretched open like a cottonmouth serpent. Richie shut his eyes, unable to even scream. "NOOOO!!!!!" I shouted! I jumped forward and grabbed my friend from the clutch of this merciless demon! Richie hit the ground with an awfully hard thud, but at least he was safe. Then, I stood and turned. "You can't have him." The monster howled in anger, and it's wings spread out to full capacity, shadowing the entire room in its wake! "YOU CAN'T HAVE HIM!!!" It savagely stepped forward, and knocked me against the wall, denting it inwards with the might of its blow. But when I saw it reach for Richie again...my body reacted, and I leapt into action! Almost instantly, I felt my fangs drop, and my vision turn blood red! My fingers arched as though they were tipped with venomous razors, and I could feel my tongue roll back to protect itself from my own bite. My vampire instincts had switched over to attack mode, and I was more than ready to defend.

I pounced on the beast's back and began slashing at it with everything that I had! My arms struck out with such fury that my joints had to strain to keep from breaking with the force of each connected blow. The army of maggots and insects lodged in its skin, swarmed up to protect it, and yet I kept pounding away. The sickening squish of each blow sinking deeper than the one before it. My fingernails left long trails of slash marks on the back of its neck, drawing pools of dark coagulated blood from its flesh! But it refused to let Richie go, even while using its free hand to try and pull me off of him. "LEAVE HIM ALONE!!!!" I shouted, and with a down strike of my head, allowed my fangs to sink deep into the side of the creature's neck! I could feel it's skin crawling between my lips, but held my bite firm!

It unleashed an unearthly shreik that shattered out every last window in the room, and reached behind to grab a hold of me over its shoulder. It caught a hold of me and it pulled me from its back, my teeth ripping out a chunk of its flesh as it yanked me down. It slammed me to the floor with all of its might, knocking the wind out of me completely. And then picked me up by the throat, and threw my small body across the room and through the wall! Placing me back out in the hallway. I rolled up to my feet and moved forward again. My emotions were burning hot, and my instincts had become more defensive than ever. The dream had become my reality now, without question, and I was NOT going down without a fight! As the Beast turned to corner Richie, ready to strike him down, I rushed in through the hole in the wall and began to pound fiercely on the monster from the side. It swung its bulging muscular arm around to knock me back, but I was able to duck under it. It's tail swung towards me next, and I jumped it. Then...finding an opening, I was able to get in a few more harsh shots to its chest. I could only hope that I was doing some damage. Dream or no dream, this was going to STOP!

The wings of the beast spread wide and the sight of it was just enough to keep me from concentrating on its movements. It slashed a gutter deep trail of claw marks across my chest....deep enough to scrape the bone underneath! And it hurt like HELL! But I was still able to fight somehow, still forcing myself to strike out with everything I had. The rage inside kept me strong. My fists dug even deeper into the creature, actually getting my knuckles to break the skin with every punch. The creature was incredibly strong, but slow in comparison to my rapid fire attacks. I moved around its blows so swiftly that it looked more like it was attempting to swat a determined fly. I used my kicks to keep it away from Richie and push it back against the wall where I attacked it with even more of a frenzy. Then, with a strong side kick, I knocked it clear out of the shattered window to the left of me...taking half of the wall with it! Then.....silence.

I took a few quick breaths to turn back to Richie. "I've got to get you out of here..." But, despite me sending it soaring out of the window to crash down in the hospital parking lot below...the beast never hit the ground. Its wings spread instantly, catching it before impact, and it had circled around to come crashing right back through the window at me before I could get myself together again! It rushed me so fast that I couldn't react, and pressed me against the other wall. Then it lifted me helplessly by the throat with just one hand. Squeezing until I couldn't breathe. My body reacted, and my legs swung up to clench onto the monster's arm, and with a thrust of my hips and a slight twist of my thighs...I broke it! Savagely enough to force its bones to come shooting out through its skin! It dropped me instantly and roared out into the night sky as its blood sprayed the wall and covered the floor. Then, without another sound, I saw it bend slightly at the knees, digging its clawed feet into the floor. And with a sudden titanic PUSH, it SHOT upwards, bursting through the ceiling and many other ceilings on top of it until it got out of the building completely. I watched it flap its monsterous wings and disappear in the distance above as the debris from its exit showered down on me. It....it was gone. And *I* had beaten it! ME! After all the anguish it had put me through...I had actually gotten the chance to fight BACK this time!

I moved over to the corner of the room where Richie was huddled in a corner, hiding his face from me. I prayed that he wasn't hurt, and walked closer, leaning forward to assure him that everything was ok. "It's gone, Richie. It won't bother you anymore. It won't bother either one of us anymore." He didn't respond. "Are you alright?" He didn't answer. "Richie?" I squatted down next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. It was then that he began to giggle to himself with his face covered. I was confused, feeling his shoulders shake as the uncontrollable snickers sounded more insane than joyful. Then he started laugh outloud...as he mumbled a single word under his breath. I couldn't quite make it out though. I asked him what he said, but it only made his laughter more hysterical. "What's wrong, Richie?"

Then...the laughing stopped entirely. Just as sudden as it had began. And Richie jumped up and grabbed me around the throat! His eyes glowing red, his mouth decorated with a pair of fangs. And his skin had transformed somehow. It was covered with metallic splices and chunks of broken steel that looked razor sharp to the touch. With a demonic scowl and a tight squeeze of his fingers, he shouted out......


My eyes shot open, and I found myself back in the sanctuary. My eyes couldn't quite focus for the first few seconds, and my heart was beating so fast that I was afraid that it would suddenly stop. I was sweating profusely, my sheets damp with the moisture, and I was almost out of breath. I swallowed hard, and closed my eyes as I welcomed reality back into my life. I put my hand over my chest, rubbing it in the grooves where those deep gashes from my battle with the creature should have been. My chest was free of any wounds or scars, but it hurt nonetheless. The beast was getting stronger. It was finding a more potent way to invade my dreams, even FORCE me to dream, and attack me whenever it had the chance. It had more power over my mind and emotions than I did. I needed Comicality's help! Dammit! Why won't he HELP me???

"You're awake." I slowly rolled over and saw Dash standing in the doorway. He walked in and happily plopped down like a little kid, sitting Indian style on the floor next to my cot. "How are your feet?" He asked.

I looked down, still not sure of my surroundings, and saw my feet loosely wrapped in towels and fastened with small bands. They DID feel a lot better. Dash's human helpers had done a good job of mending the wounds. "Ok, I guess."

"Let's have a look at you then." He unwrapped both feet and took a peek. Sure enough, they were almost good as new. In just one day. "Yeah, it looks like you've healed up pretty good. By tomorrow, the damage should be completely gone." He took the towels off and folded them neatly before putting them under his arm. "I've got a few extra pair of shoes in the vault. Feel free to drop on by and grab yourself something that fits. We've got lots of stuff left here over the years, so I'm sure you can find your size somewhere."

"Cool.." I said, and looked over at him warmly. "Thank you, Dash. I know...I know that you didn't have to help me last night and all. I really do appreciate this."

"Don't even think about it. I aim to please. Just make yourself at home. You can stay for as long as you need to. Ok?" I nodded, and wondered exactly how long 'I needed to be here' was going to turn out to be. And thoughts of me fighting with Max, Taryn, and Dion flooded my mind again. They must all hate me so much right now. I'm a menace to all of them. They never should have taken me in. There's no WAY Bryson is gonna excuse this outburst. No way. I've endangered the family...he won't stand for that. He can't. The others mean way too much to him. Mre than I ever will.

"That may be a while, Dash." I mumbled.

"No problem. No problem at all, my friend." He patted me cheerfully on the knee with a smile. Then he got up to his knees and said, "I just wanted to see how you were doing. Make sure you were ok."

"I'm doing a lot better. Dash, you saved my life last night."

"I TOLD you, don't worry about it. You just make sure you get back on your feet. That's all the thanks I need." He stood up all the way with a small grin on his face. "You're welcome to grab whatever you need or want from one of the community areas in the compound. I know that our stomachs can't digest food really, but we've got some candy around if you just want the flavor of something sweet. It doesn't bother the stomach too much unless you overdo it. So be careful with it. Jolly ranchers are my favorite. Besides, the kids love them. So help yourself. Ok?"

"Sure. Thanks." I said, still more wrapped up in my guilty thoughts than in the possibility of....starting over from scratch.

"We also have a ritual of evening prayer upstairs every night to if you want to come join us. A little something to..."

"I don't think so." I said, cutting him off. The joyful look on his face changed slightly. I think my comment might have caught him by surprise. I thought I should explain. "I'm not a religious person. Not at ALL. So...don't expect to see me up there anytime soon."

"Can I ask why?" He said it more out of curiousity than anything else. Which was a change from the norm. Most of the super religious people that I had known in my lifetime would have instantly reverted back into their 'training' mode. They'd try to 'recruit' you, get you to see the error of your ways, judge you for being a heathen, and then proudly pat themselves on the back for spreading more of their propaganda to anyone who would listen. That's what they do. That's how they perpetuate their own particular brand of the 'lie'. It's no different from being initiated into a gang, or drafted into being a Nazi. Not as far as I was concerned. Nope...I certainly hope that this isn't a conversation that I have to have with Dash anytime soon.

"I just...I don't want to be. It hasn't worked out too well for me in the past. Current situation included."

"It might be working better than you think. You 'did' make it here last night, afterall." Oh great...here we go. The wonderful world of attempted conversion.

I decided to put a stop to it before it even got underway. "Look, I'm not going, ok? I'm sorry if you got suckered in to all of this holy roller bullshit, but I'm not falling for it." I said boldly. "God seemed to 'conveniently' forget about me a long time ago when I needed him most. When I was calling out to Him every night...he was gone. Well, now it's MY turn to forget about Him for a while. As far as I'm concerned, he can stay gone." I stood up from my cot, and put my shirt back on, keeping my back to Dash completely. I straightened up my hair as best as I could with my hands, an started thinking about where I could possibly go from here. What my life could be like...if, by some chance, I could never go home again. But I became aware of an awkward silence in the room behind me, and when I turned back, Dash was looking down at the floor. Not really hurt, but not really happy with what I had just said either. Great first impression, Justin...what do you do for an encore? "My apologies, Dash. I meant no disrespect. Honestly."

He looked up at me, with a weak smile. "It's ok." He got up off of the floor and put an arm on my shoulder. "Everyone has their own perspective, I suppose. It would make me a lesser person to not respect that."

I looked over to where Xairen had been sleeping the night before, and saw the space empty. Not just him, but his mattress, his small duffle bag of clothes, everything. "Where's Xairen? I would have thought that he'd be an even later sleeper than I was." I asked.

Dash's face dropped slightly, and I watched as his gaze returned to the floor again. There was a pause, before he let out a small sigh and lifted his head to timidly look me in the eye again. "Um...I'm...I'm sorry Justin..."

I didn't quite understand at first. "Sorry? Sorry for what? Did he...did he switch rooms or something? I mean...I can't imagine that I snore quite THAT badly..." I started to grin, but Dash interrupted me.

"He didn't make it through the day, Justin. He's...uh....he's gone." Dash's face fell into a serious shape, and his eyes only glanced at me briefly. Sadly. Knowing that I had no grasp on the idea just yet.

"Gone? What do you MEAN he's gone? I was just talking to him last night!"

"His wounds were too severe for him to survive. He knew that. We all did. He had already held out longer than any of us expected him to..."

"He's NOT dead! He can't possibly be dead! Do you hear me? He's just...he's hiding out somewhere or something. Or maybe he left..."

"Justin..." He said, stopping my dance around the horror of what had happened. "It's ok. He went quietly. In his sleep, no pain. My nurses took him out this morning." He said solemnly, and I fell back to sit down on the edge of my cot. My eyes staring in disbelief. Dash put a gentle hand on my leg to comfort me. "I'm sorry, Justin. There was nothing further that we could do for him."

But I angrily pushed his hand away and tried to get a hold on the idea of losing someone who was JUST sitting right next to me not more than a few daylight hours ago! "And this is the thanks he gets?" I said, a stray tear now falling from my eye. "This is his reward for believing? For being so loyal?" It angered me that I couldn't have helped him. All this power, all of these amazing defensive abilities, and I couldn't save him. And yet....there was something that angered me even more. Something that took me right back to those long nights in Richie's room at the hospital. Watching helplessly as this 'God' of Dash's just sat back and let him slip away little by little until he was almost dead. Another addition to my defense against beliving that there could be any caring, loving, being watching over us at all. If anything, I doubt God even knows we're here. "And you want me to go to an evening prayer? LOOK at this! LOOK at what happens to His precious 'believers'!" I said.

"No, Justin. God didn't do this..."

"Well then he LET IT HAPPEN! He didn't do anything to stop it! He NEVER does anything to stop it! Not for Xairen! CERTAINLY not for ME!" I shouted in defeated. Gone...one night, one conversation, and he was gone.

"Maybe this isn't the time to talk about this..."

"All my life, I've had to struggle, Dash. Every single day of it. Through poverty, through inner anguish, through beatings from my asshole father that seemed to last for hours at a time. Pain you can't even IMAGINE. Rejection and heartbreak and lonliness and humiliation. And 'every' night before I went to bed, still bruised and battered, my stomach turning over to the point where I wanted to vomit....I closed my eyes....and I prayed. I prayed for it to STOP! For me to be saved. For just a BREAK from being so hated and so hurt that death would be a MUCH better option than living through ONE more day of it! I tried! I REALLY tried! Don't think that I never had any faith, Dash. Because I DID at one time. HE just chose not to pay any attention to it. And I suffered for it. Day after day. Year after year." I was crying openly now, and Dash remained quietly at my side. "I've SEEN the ones he 'chooses' to be happy, Dash. I've seen the smiles on their faces. The rich get richer, the good looking get even better looking, the popular NEVER seem to lose steam, and their whole damn life is a giant ice cream sundae while the rest of us live through the horrors that they only see on tv." Dash reached out to comfort me again, but I shrugged away from him. "WHY? Huh? Why me? Why Richie? Why Xairen? Why did we have to be given the shittiest existence imaginable, just so the others could skate by without any effort at all? Why should they be so blessed?"

"Everything in your life has meaning, Justin. Everything has purpose. Your life, your experiences, both the good and the bad, made you who you are..." But I stopped him again.

"I hate who I am. And I hate the pain He put me through to get here." I gritted my teeth, and for the first time, in what seemed like my whole life...it felt like the truth had slipped out. As though those very words had been waiting to escape my lips since the day I was born. It was then, that Dash scooted closer to me, and took my head into both of his hands.

"Sweet boy...I think, maybe, you misunderstand." He used his thumbs to wipe away a few excess tears from my cheeks. "Justin...God doesn't represent the pain and suffering in your life. He represents the love and the strength that got you through it. The spirit that is still able to burn so brightly inside of you. There's got to be a part of you that believes at least SOME of that."

I didn't listen. In fact, I physically took Dash's hands down from my face, and slowly moved away from him. I wiped away a few more tears, and sniffled. "I believe you said you had an evening prayer to go to. Am I right?" There was a pause, and Dash rose to his feet again.

"Understood. The choice really is yours to make." He headed towards the door, and then turned back around. "But if faith isn't going to be enough to drive you...find something that will. We all need a guide from time to time. All of us." And with that, he turned around, and walked out. Leaving me to more of my pissed off thoughts about 'everything'.

I spent the next two hours or so sitting on that cot, alone. Not wanting to really interact with much of anybody. Feeling numb, both inside and out. I could still hear those last few words that Xairen had spoken to me. About being accepted into those pearly gates, about knowing that he was going to die and taking it on so bravely. At least on that Pier, on that icy night when I wanted to throw myself into the lake and let the waves swallow me whole...at least then I had a choice. Some kind of control. But Xairen wasn't given that opportunity. Neither was Richie. Neither was the poor man that I preyed upon for my first kill. It was a conflicting pattern of thoughts that made me wonder if there was any sense to this world of ours at all. I began to ask myself answerless questions that rattled around in my head until I was almost dizzy with the effort that it took to realize that I'd never understand it all. By the time Dash had come back into that room...I was lost as to what to feel anymore.

"Sometimes a man's thoughts, enveloped in silence, are far better than the concepts created when compromised by the whole." Dash had re-entered my room after his activities, and was back to see if I had mellowed out a little since he had been here a few hours back. I gave him a confused look, and he said, "Vampire scriptures, DeLoney, verse 22. I take it you haven't learned them all yet?"

"Actually...I haven't learned 'any' of them yet. I'm still...." I wasn't sure if the term still applied to me, but I used it anyway. "I'm still...a newblood."

"Ahhhh...I see. Makes sense, now that you mention it." Dash walked over and reached in his pocket. "Want some candy?" I looked up at him, bewildered at the sudden offer, and when I saw the serious look on his face, a small grin broke out on my own.

"Sighhh....yeah. Thanks."

"The scripture simply means that it's easier to work out your thoughts and feelings in your own mind. Some feelings are 'wordless'. Explaining them to some one else can be like describing a color to someone born blind." He smiled warmly at me. "But don't let yourself drown it, ok? Too much thought can cause your actions to atrophy. Balance is best." I looked up at him, and found myself impressed by his genuine concern. By his aura and life essence alone. It was such a comforting vibe. Different from everything else that I had become accostumed to. Dash didn't say much more, and he walked over to the door to leave. Then, he turned and said, "Why don't we get out of here for a bit, huh? No reason for you to stay here all night alone. I can give you a brief overview of the place if you want."

A part of me didn't want to even stand up. I didn't want to leave my thoughts, or the spot where I was holding on to my own little pissed off reality. It felt as though Xairen would have faded away if I moved. As though he would be forgotten the second I allowed some other reality to enter my mind. But Dash was right, and I'd waste an entire night not talking to anyone if I didn't try to at least move around a bit. It seemed that his words and apparent need for my company compelled me to try. "Um...sure. Ok. I'd like that." I slowly rose from my seat, and walked over to join him in the doorway. Then, with a smile, and a friendly arm tossed over my shoulder, he began to lead me through the maze like series of rooms again in order to give me a better tour of this hidden sanctuary.

"Ok, first things first...we're gonna get you some shoes. I don't want you getting cut up again before you've healed from the first time." He said, and took me to a dark room that looked like one giant 'live in' closet. Kinda dusty, and it was that strange balance between being tidy and being messy, but with all this stuff in here, it must be impossible to keep it clean. Shelves lined the walls, clothes were set up in rows, and there were hats, backpacks, gloves, even a case for jewelry. And sunglasses. TONS of sunglasses.

"Wow, where did all of this stuff come from?" I asked.

"Travellers mostly. Vampires just passing through.After a few decades, I guess we've amassed quite a collection, huh?" Dash stepped over some clothes and old books on the floor to walk over to a wall of shoes. Pulling out boxes one at a time to see what was in them. "We've got a cache of weapons collected too. But we keep those safe in another room. There's a lot of children here, you know?" He looked back at me. "I'm assuming you want gym sneakers, right?"

"Um...yeah. Sure."

"What are you...about a size 10?"

"Ten and a half, actually. Wide, if you've got it."

"Oh please...we've got everything." He said, and reached back to grab me a pair that looked almost brand new. "Here ya go. These should fit."

I looked around for an old crate to sit on, and sure enough, the shoes fit fine. "Great. Thanks." I tied up the laces and walked around a bit to get used to them.

"Here, I've got some socks too. And if want, there's clothes all over. Pick out whatever strikes you, and there are public showers down the right wing of the sanctuary. I know you didn't bring anything with you, so just grab enough stuff to keep you comfortable while you're here. Ok?" I told him I was itching for a shower and some fresh clothes, so he led the way.

The showers were public, and there were only two or three other people in there. There was enough room for about 25 people at once if neccessary, I guess. I undressed and walked naked into the room. Warm water and soap never felt so damn good. It was as if I could feel my muscles untighten and relax as the water washed me clean. Another man in the shower, about 25 years of age, was standing not too far from me. I was trying not to stare, but I could clearly see deep gashes and bite marks all over his back. They were healing up, but still extremely visible. Seeing as how my feet had healed up almost instantly after one night, his cuts must have been near fatal. He just stood there with his eyes closed, letting the water was over the deep grooves without moving a muscle. It must have hurt. So much pain. Soooooo much pain.

I finished washing off and left the shower feeling more refreshed than ever. I dried off and put on some decent clothes. Dash met me at the entrance with a grin, and decided to continue his tour of the old place. I guess its time that I see what it had to offer....I might be here a while.

He took me through small rooms and large ones, high ceilings and low ceilings. It was an underground network of tunnels, functional rooms, and living compartments, not all that different from ones you would see in an ant colony. However, despite its open and seemingly defenseless manner...this place was beyond being well secured. It was literally protected just as well as any fortress or mountain stronghold. I felt completely safe from any and all harm there, and yet, it wasn't a military operation. It was warm, friendly...I'd even go so far as to say it was 'cozy'.

"These are some of the human counselors, medics, and watchers, of the sanctuary." Dash said as he led me into another section of the submerged temple. I looked on as a few monks, both male and female, walked past with a slight bow of their heads to acknowledge me with a greeting. "They look after us during the day while we sleep. And at night, they take turns helping to make sure that everything is running smoothly. They've dedicated a major part of their lives to helping us. I couldn't appreciate them more."

I saw some of them spending time with the younger vampire children in the room. Some playing games or giving comfort to the ones in distress. Teaching them basic elementary school curriculum, or maybe passing along a life lesson or two to those who weren't adjusting very well to their crossovers. It was like being in a roomful of Bryson's all at once. I can't imagine what it must be like for them. The mind of a child so young, forced to grow up in a world so dark, challenged with the concepts of life and death so fast. It's hell for me, maybe it's worse for them. Then again, maybe it's better. Maybe they're young enough to accept it as the way things go. Who knows? This vampire life can be such a 'different' experience from person to person, I suppose.

Dash walked walked into the room in front of me, and I saw the kids happily get up in the middle of whatever they were doing and surround him. They smiled so wide that it could blind you from across the room. It was evident that this sanctuary had become their home, and Dash their favorite toy. They loved Dash with all their heart and soul, and it brought about good feelings in me just to see the amount of joy expressed in their faces. "I think you have a few fans." I said.

"Hehehe, yeah. A couple, I guess." Dash replied, as he reached for a bowl and emptied his pocket into it. Tiny jeweled pieces of multi colored candy filled the bowl halfway, and the kids began reaching immediately. "We keep a few snacks in here as often as we can. Candy mostly. The kids love 'em. Jolly Ranchers." Dash smiled as he watched a few of the playful boys and girls rush around him with their hands out. He let them reach into a large wooden bowl and take out whatever they could carry in their small hands. "I know that it's a 'no-no' to do it. But they like it. They suck on it, and it's basically a liquid. So it's not too hard on our stomachs. A little flavor to remind us of some of the good old days, I suppose." He said. I wached for a few seconds, loving the attention that the children were giving Dash as they spun around him for more and more offerings. But it was shortly after that moment that I noticed somethng in the corner. A lone little girl who had not jumped up to enjoy the festivities.

In fact, it was the same little girl that I had seen last night when I had come in out of the approaching dawn. She was sitting on the floor, drawing a picture on the top page of a spiral notebook with her eyes closed. What caught my eye was the feverish pace at which she was drawing it. Hurrying as though she had to get it all out of her mind while it was still fresh. I noticed her obsession and focus, and started to walk over to see what she was drawing. I couldn't imagine what could have been so important that she'd attack it with such determination. As I stepped closer, her breathing became labored, heavy, and her arms seemed to tense up. Small beads of sweat appeared on her forehead, and the book tilted back and forth under her movements. Her pencil got even faster, and faster, and faster still. Her hair was shaking, becoming wild and frazzled out, her eyes clenched shut tightly as her hands increased in their divine mission. It seemed to get more and more frantic, the closer that I got to her. The paper beneath her was being almost worn clear through to the next page by the pressure of her pencil. Then, as I got withing 7 or 8 feet of her, she quickly picked up another without even looking, without even stopping with her other hand, and began to draw even faster with both pencils at once. Ambidextriously scratching and darkening the parchment while the paper crinkled up under her strokes. I stopped, not wanting to get any closer as I seemed to be the cause of her increasing distress. But I got up on my tip toes and leaned forward to see if I could catch a glimpse of her picture. What I saw...chilled me to the bone. It was a dark shape, as black as the pencil would allow it to be, and it was bulging with muscles from every side. And huge fangs...top and bottom. With a large wingspan, and claws as long and sharp as I had dreamed them to be! It was the BEAST! She was drawing it right in front of me! Out of the blue! And all of the sudden, without warning, the sketch became complete and both of her hands came to a sudden jarring stop. She let the book fall from her lap onto the concerete floor beneath us, and didn't say a word. I looked down at the roughly drawn illustration, and saw the terrifying face of the creature that had been haunting my dreams. And where there were two open spots where the beast's eyes should go...I saw two very tiny droplets of blood fall into them. Filling them perfectly with that same red glow that had consumed me just minutes ago while I was asleep. Without so much as a single smear or smudge. I looked up from the page again, and saw the girl crying small twin streams of blood from her eyes, and looking directly at me! Her pupils had turned completely black, and the rest of her eyes were filling up quickly with blood.

"Ohhhhhh, Kyra....what's wrong honey?" Dash came over and lifted her from the ground where she was sitting. Standing her on her feet, and using his robe to wipe the blood from her cheeks. "How are you feeling baby? Hmmm?"

The girl said nothing at first. She merely looked at me, staring right at me as though I was completely exposed to her in every possible way. Her eyes haunted me as Dash continued to wipe the mess away from her gaze as it stayed locked onto me. Then, she slowly pointed a finger in my direction, holding her arm out until Dash too was looking at me. Then his eyes looked down at her drawing...and then cautiously back to me. Dash merely comforted her more and said, "Kyra...you remember what I taught you? I want you to think about the roses, ok? Concentrate on the roses, and count them all until there's no more to count." He said. "Remember?"

The little girl put her arm down, and she nodded her head as she closed her eyes again, sitting peacefully back down on the floor. "One....two...three...four..." She counted slowly, her child-like voice overflowing with the sound of innocence. And Dash lightly took me by the arm to guide me ito a corner and away from her.

"Is she...is she ok?" I asked.

"Shhhh...she's fine. Come on." He replied, and ushered me out of the room while she continued counting peacefully to herself.

"I swear, Dash. I didn't mean to hurt her. I was just..."

"I know, Justin. I know." Dash whispered until we got further away from the room. "That's Kyra. She's still very new in her crossover, but her extra manifested almost instantaneously. It's an extreme rarity, I'm talking EXTREME...but it does happen. Every now and then. A freak occurrence that we are trying to help her deal with. She's become a bit of a psychic. Some believe it to be precognition, but we're not quite sure of that yet."

"She can tell the future?"

"Well...yes and no. You see, she doesn't know or fully understand what she's doing. She's not even conscious of it really. Her body has developed an incredibly sensitive mind reading capability that acts involuntarily. It reaches out and picks up on any random thoughts in the room. Anything that sticks out as being out of the ordinary. Then, her extra logically calculates and predicts the next probable outcome. Like some mathematic equation or something." Dash turned to look me in the eye. "So far...she's never been wrong. But she can't 'tell' you what's going to happen or how. She can only draw it. And more times than not...she doesn't even know she's doing it. We're doing our best to help her settle into her extra by getting her to visualize roses and counting them. It helps to organize her thoughts a little better, put things in sequential order, concentrate on shapes and colors...hopefully it will help her learn how to use it before 'it' learns how to use her. Then, with practice, she can interpret the meaning of her drawings. The thing is, she was turned much too young. I don't think she realizes what her powers are or even what she IS for that matter. And we don't have that much 'life history' to go on as far as helping her figure it out. So we're playing it by ear for now."

"Why so young?" I asked. "She..." But, looking back at the corner where she was sitting JUST a second ago, I noticed that the little girl had vanished from sight entirely. "...She can't be more than 7 years old."

"A rather tragic situation, actually. Her and her family were living in a small town on the Southern edge of Texas. It seems that a rather nasty virus had snuck its way across the border, and the entire town was quarantined. Her father knew that the family was going to die. The germ they had contracted was pretty quick, and even if they had survived, the government wasn't about to let them leave town with the possibility of spreading it to other areas. One of our kind did him a favor. Turned him, his wife, and his daughter. The bodies were rejuvenated completely within a matter of weeks after their crossover." Dash continued to walk me forward, away from the room, and continued in his normal voice. "She's young, but it had to be done if she was going to have a chance at survival. It's pretty much a coin toss whether or not certain injjuries and illnesses can be healed through crossing over. But it 'does' happen."

"Yeah....yeah, actually, a friend of mine....he has a dog named Napolean. He fixed up just fine when he bit him."

Dash gave me a strange look. "You're friend bit a dog?" I nodded. "Ok, now that's just sick."

I almost answered with a playfully confused look of my own, but as we walked past one of the larger rooms, I heard the sounds of wooden sticks being knocked together. Rather hard, I might add. My 'guide' continued to speak softly, but my attention was focused on the doorway as we walked past it. I stopped in my tracks as I saw two monks with staffs, dressed in long brown robes, dueling it out with a woman in a black mask. The both of them were using every acrobatic technique at their disposal to try to defeat the young woman in front of them. But she seemed to be doing a damn good job of holding her own, a hard wooden billy club in each of her hands, swinging wildly to protect herself from every blow. There were a few of the sanctuary's residents watching from the corners of the room, pressed up against the wall and trying to stay out of their way. I heard Dash stop walking down the hall and come back as my eyes zoomed in on the action. Even with all of the things I had seen in this world of darkness, this had completely fascinated me.

The first monk began spinning in frenzied circles, his staff reaching out from his human whirlwind at different heights. All that the woman in black didn't block, she was able to easily dodge and avoid through the smooth movements of her body. It was as if she didn't have to put in any effort at all. The second monk jumped in and began spinning his stick so quickly that it became a blur right in front of my eyes. Her two smaller weapons blocked every blow with a matching speed that dazzled everyone watching. The other man charged forward, and she gracefully flipped backward, her back perfectly arching in mid air, to land behind the man and get both monks on the same side of the room. She landed with one knee on the floor, and spun both of her fighting sticks before coming to a complete halt. She was waiting for more.

"Like what you see?" Dash asked as the fight began all over again.

"What....what is this?"

"These are a few of my assitants. Sparring is the only way to truly keep yourself aware."

I took my eyes off of the fight for a second to look over at him. "THESE are your assitants??? Geez!"

"Yeah, and very good ones at that. They're the ones protecting us from anythng that tries to come knocking on that door during daylight hours."

I saw the woman sidestepping with such grace and poise, making every movement an advanced dance maneuver, and she seemed absolutely untouchable. While one monk began tapping the floor at her feet with his staff, she backed up into the other one. And yet, even with the man behind her lashing out his staff at her, she was able to dodge each strike without even looking. She used her sticks to deliver a few lightning fast blows to the man in front of her, and she spun around to knock his legs from under him. The man behind her attacked by twisting his staff under her arm, spinning until it was pinned painfully behind her. But with a shift of her weight, and a forward flip on the top of her head, she had wriggled free of the arm lock. Another kick, POW! One monk went down! A few rapid punches, POW! POW! The second monk went down! Then she began taking them both on at once with the precision of a true master. It was a dizzying amount of movements to keep up with visually. It was almost 'confusing' as to how she could make herself flexible enough to contort herself in such amazing ways.

Dash smiled as he leaned closer to me and whispered, "She's human, you know?"

"No WAY!!!" I said in disbelief.

"Yes, way! Isn't she awesome? There's a lot of other vampires that can't even manage to move like that."

"And they're here to protect a bunch of hidden folks here in an underground safehaven in an abandoned church?"

"Hey...I said they were my 'helpers'.....I never said the were helpless." Dash grinned. "Besides, we've gotta protect ourselves down here. There are some pretty nasty forces outside these walls."

My atention shot back to the fight as the woman jumped towards one of the walls, placing a foot on it momentarily as she used it to spring backward and kick one of the men to the ground! She tossed her twin fighting sticks at the first monks face, and he had to let his staff drop in order to catch it in time. The loss of his weapon, mixed with his sudden distraction, gave her enough of an opening to run up and deliver a direct jumpkick to his chest, sending him flying onto his back! The monk quickly recovered, retrieving his staff, and the two of them sprung together into a different stance. She had no problems facing them like this, and began to battle them with her bare hands. It made no difference in her obvious advantage. She grabbed a hold of one of their staffs, and twisted herself in such a way that sent one of the monks spinning to the ground. She took the weapon from him and began using it expertly against her other attacker, spinning and twisting it around her shoulders, waist, and neck with inhuman skill and focus. The motion of the flailing rod was distraction enough to blind the second monk from her footwork, as she brought a vicious roundhouse kick up to connect with his jaw! The monk flew backwards to the ground, lading on his stomach, while the other one attacked her from behind. He took hold of one end of the staff, and the first fighter took a hold of the other, with the woman holding on in the middle. She turned and flipped over the staff repeatedly in an attempt to free it from their grasp. But their determined struggle and combined skill allowed them to hold the weapon strong. Quickly realizing that they weren't letting go, she changed her strategy and jumped upwards, almost as if she were weightless, what had to be at least five feet in the air! The woman spread both of her legs wide in an arial split that was able to reach her attackers on both sides of the staff! Both men flew to separate sides of the circle from the blow. She came down to the floor in the same splits position, and in an instant, had swung her legs around to spin over on her back and jump to her feet again without missing a single beat! Regaining her fighting stance and holding it, perfectly balanced, perfectly still. There was a sudden pause in the action...a moment of silence for things to sink in...and then....the room suddenly ERUPTED with thunderous cheers and applause!!! The demonstration was over, and all three fighters bowed gracefully towards each other in acceptance of the outcome. It was one of the most magnificent things that I had EVER seen! And to think...she was only human!

When she was done, she grabbed a towel from the side of the room and came outside to join Dash and I while wiping the perspiration off of her face. Dash spoke first, to introduce us. "Justin, this is our head of security here. Her name is 'Twilight'." She was definitley a tomboy, with short brown hair and frosted tips. She had a boyish body with just enough femininity to really bring out the truly amazing attractive nature in her. And she had these blue eyes that almost glowed when you looked at them. "Twilight, this is..."

"Do you have a pass to be here?" She asked me, quite rudely, I might add.

"Huh?" I asked.

"Do you have a PASS?" She repeated. "A card? A map? Anything? Is there any reason at all for you to be here?" She was dead serious, and the abrasive line of questioning caused me to step back a bit.

That's when Dash came to my rescue. "It's ok, Twilight. He came looking for shelter this morning as the dawn was approaching. That's all."

"A likely story that ANYBODY could have used if they wanted to breach the security of this facility. Am I right?" She replied, not taking her eyes off of me for more than a second.

"I suppose. But don't worry so much. I have a good feeling about him."

"I wish I could say the same for our girl, Kyra, over here." She said, pretty much knowing everyone who was in the room. The litle girl was peeking around the corner at me. Afraid to come inside. "Faith and strategy aren't as equal as you'd like to believe. And stuff like this is only gonna make my job harder. You HAVE to be more careful Dash..."

"He is our GUEST, Twilight..." That was all Dash needed to say, before she gave me a slight scowl, and walked away while drying her face from the workout she had just been through.

After she stormed off, Dash led me back to my quarters. "I'm going to go upstairs and get myself a swim. You can chill out here in the meantime if you like." He told me as we approached the door.

"I don't know if I want to be alone right now." I said, to which he replied...

"You won't be alone." And as we entered the doorway, I saw a figure sitting on my bed out of the corner of my eye.

"TARYN?" I gasped. There he was, sitting on my cot, worried but hopeful. The reddish brown tint of his hair was hanging down as perfectly as the first day that I had seen him. His green eyes were shining brightly as though they were made of candy. His lips were blushed red and looked more kissable than I had ever seen them. His EYE, however, was now surrounded by a rather visible purple ring. A wound that I had given him just the evening before. We stared at each other for a quick second, not really feeling like the other half of our soul was really there in front of us. But once the surprise was initially over, we ran swiftly into each other's arms. Taryn hugged me tight and I did the same, our hearts reunited at last. "Omigod....Taryn! I am so sorry! I am SOOOOOO sorry!"

"I know, baby. I know." We both had tears in our eyes at that point, and hugging him was one of the only 'home' memories that I had carried with me away from the lot. He made me whole again.

"I love you."

"I love you too, Justin. More than you will ever know." He loosened his hug a bit and kissed me gently on the lips.

"But...but....what are you doing here?" I asked.

Taryn took a deep breath, and sighed as he looked into my eyes. "I believe....you and I made a 'date' for tonight. I plan to keep it." He answered, and with a smile, I again kissed him sweetly on the lips. He's here. My boyfriend is actually here.