I VAMPIRE II
by Julien Gregg
My body was on fire and there was a bitter
taste in my mouth when I regained consciousness. The room I was in was so black
that my weakened vampire eyes couldn't see anything. I walked around the room,
putting my hands against the wall to try and locate a door but found none. That
was when fear set in.
Why would Bashire do this to me? How had he survived when we all saw him die? So many questions filled my foggy mind that I couldn't think. I tried to embrace the fire inside of me, but it wouldn't come. I was too weak. I needed blood badly. I tried to reach out with my mind but I couldn't do that either. They really had me. There was no way I would survive in this state. I actually thought that I was going to die. I had four sleeping fledglings that would need me and I was trapped in a stone box the size of a prison cell.
Where was Brendan? Bashire had told the female to take him, but where was he? I moved through my cell hoping to stumble over him but he wasn't with me. What had they done with him? He wasn't a threat to them. Why would they hurt him? I couldn't think right. Every time I tried to form a coherent though all I could think of was the pain my body and my need for blood. Oh, if I hadn't been so bold! If I hadn't tried to turn all three of them in one night, none of this would have happened.
Time seemed to stretch forever. The pain in my body grew more intense and I became weaker and weaker until I couldn't stand. They were starving me to death. That was the only explanation for why I was still trapped in that stone box without food. There was no way for me to escape and they had me right where they wanted me.
Then I could hear them. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but I could hear them outside my cell. The problem was that I was too weak to cry out. I didn't think they would do anything for me even if I could make them hear me. This was hell and I was trapped in it. I was going to be trapped here, waiting to die. The very thought that I would die in that room made me so angry that if I'd had my gifts I'd likely have burned the whole place down around me. I didn't want to die much less this way.
I tried to figure out what I could have possibly done to Bashire to make him hate me enough to kill me. I'd loved him with all of my heart. I mourned for him every single day that I thought he was dead. Even in my sleep I mourned him. If it was the actual turning that had caused him to hate me then why did it take him this long to come for me? We shared a bed in the original House Maxwell. Why didn't he take me then?
The hunger would likely drive me mad before I died. I laughed out loud when that thought occurred to me. I'd be as mad as Tyron before I took my final breath on this world. Maybe I'd actually get to see him when I died. Maybe I'd get my chance to punch him in the face for making all of this happen. If it weren't for him I'd still be a mortal boy in high school. Well I'd be dead already, but that was beside the point.
When my stomach began to spasm I began to scream. How I found my voice I'll never know, but I was screaming just the same. The volume of my screams seemed to make the room shake. For a moment I thought that if I screamed long enough and loud enough I'd crumble the walls and escape. That wasn't actually possible at the time though. Even though my screams were loud and enhanced by what little vampire blood I had within my veins it wasn't loud enough to crumble the stone walls.
I don't know how long I screamed before unconsciousness finally took over me again. It was a horrible sleep filled with dreams of blood and freedom. The only reason I didn't fight the dreams was because they let me know I was still alive. I desperately wanted to live. I wasn't foolish enough to believe that Bashire and I could come to an understanding. No. If I escaped this hell then Bashire would have to die right along with his pet female vampires. They'd all die if I got out of that room.
I don't know how long I was truly sleeping before the screaming woke me up again. I thought at first that I was screaming but once I was fully awake I knew that the screams were coming from outside the room. Had help come? Could it be Bashire screaming? The voice wasn't female. Then I heard what the voice was screaming.
"ERIC!" screamed Brendan's voice, and my heart nearly exploded with pain and remorse. "ERIC, I CAN'T STAND IT! IT BURNS SO BAD! WHERE ARE YOU?"
On and on it went. He screamed for me over and over and I couldn't find the strength to answer his cries. How evil they were to let us both starve this way. Whatever Bashire had against me was one thing, but what had Brendan done to him to warrant this treatment? He didn't even know Brendan. Why was he doing this?
Brendan's screaming continued and as the spasms began again in my stomach my screams joined his. I couldn't form his name however, so he had no idea that it was me screaming. My screams were incoherent and hoarse. I was getting worse. I wondered how long it would take before I was finally dead. I'd never heard of a vampire starving to death. How long would something like that take?
I thought about the fact that Brendan was awake. That meant that the other fledglings were awake as well. It also meant that it had been three days since I'd last had blood. Apparently it took longer than three days to starve a vampire. It also seemed that I'd slept for at least a whole day and night. My mind wouldn't focus properly on all of that. All I could think of was the hunger.
Then I saw moonlight. Part of the ceiling had been removed, and I was looking up at Bashire's altered face. He was smiling at me with an evil fang filled smile as he tossed two rats into the cell. I was so hungry that the first didn't even reach the floor. I snatched it right out of the air. I broke it's little neck as I sank my fangs into it's disgusting body. The blood tasted horrible, but my body didn't care. It washed down my aching throat and into my spasming belly. Then the spasms intensified and I fought to find the other rat. I nearly tore off it's head as I drank from it. The blood from the second rat didn't completely calm the spasms, but it made them bearable.
"Drink up, Eric," said Bashire. Even his voice was different. "That's all you'll get for three more days. I wouldn't want your gifts returning. And don't get any ideas. I have new gifts of my own to use against you."
"Bashire, why?" I wailed up at him. "Why are you doing this?"
"Why?" he screamed. "Because for eighty years I hoped that you would come for me, Eric. You were 'The One'. I thought you loved me, but for eighty years the experiments went on. For eighty years they tried to find different ways to kill me. They were trying to figure out how to kill us all once and for all. It was their mistake that created the ladies. They're stupidity created the most lethal beings in existence. We finally escaped, and twenty years later you come to town. That's why, Eric."
The part of the ceiling slammed back into place after that, and I was left alone with the rat corpses and my burning stomach. I tried once again to embrace the fire within me but nothing happened. I was still trapped. The little amount of blood the rats provided wasn't enough to make a difference. It was only going to keep me alive long enough to go completely insane.
I stared at the dark walls and remembered the first time I'd seen Bashire. I'd been so ready to incinerate him then. Perhaps I should have. Things would have been so different if I had. I'd have never become "The One" and everything would have remained the way it had been for vampires for centuries. But I'd turned him. That's what started the whole chain of events that had brought me to this cell. It was turning Bashire Par into a vampire. Perhaps he decided to punish me by driving me insane. Maybe he just wanted me to be as insane as his dead nephew. Whatever the reason it was going to work. If I had to sit in that cell and listen to the sounds of my own screams battling for volume with Brendan's I'd go insane. Without blood there was nothing I could do, so yes, I would go mad very soon.
Eighty years, Bashire had said they'd experimented on him while we thought he was dead. Eighty years of torture. Was he insane? Surely he was. Surely eighty years of nothing but experiments to find the most effective way to kill you would drive you completely stark raving mad. Mad men were dangerous. Mad vampires were worse. I wondered if Bashire planned to keep me in this cell for eighty years. That would certainly drive me mad. What other punishments did he have in mind for me?
Time had very little meaning for me while I was in that cell. I knew that it was almost three days again when both Brendan and I started screaming from the stomach spasms again. That went on for a day at least. Then two more rats were thrown into the cell with me and I devoured them. This time they did little to calm the spasms, and I thought they were actually getting worse. It was hard to tell. The only way I knew that time was even passing between the times I went to sleep was because of the screaming and the rats. There was no other way to know.
Sometimes I'd hear the women talking, but it was as if they were a million miles away. I could only catch one word at a time. I heard them say Brock's name a few times, and that worried me greatly. There was nothing I could do for him though. They talked about Bashire a lot. I only knew that because I heard his name more often than not when they were talking. Twice I heard my own name, but that didn't even excite me. There was nothing they could do to me that would be any worse than what was already happening. I couldn't even decide what the worst part was. Most of the time I believed it was hearing Brendan screaming.
I'd promised him that he'd feel different once his sleep ended. He felt different all right. He felt betrayed and tortured. There was nothing else he could feel other than hunger, pain and fear. I wondered if he hated me yet. I would hate me if I were in his position. Why they hadn't killed him was a mystery to me. Without his first kill he would have been very easily dispatched. Why had they kept him alive? I decided that it was probably to help drive me crazy. With the guilt I felt I didn't think it would take long.
I wondered how my other fledglings were doing. Were they getting along with the others? Were they feeding the drones? Had anyone explained that much to them? I longed to be with them almost as badly as I wanted to feed. I so wished that I could sense them. Even that ability was gone without the blood to keep it alive. It seemed that I was completely and utterly powerless.
"Are you ready to die yet, Eric?" Bashire's voice asked, ripping from a sleep I hadn't even realized I was in. "I could use your precious fire gift against you. Would that be fitting?"
"Why don't you just get on with it instead of taunting?" I asked. "Why are you keeping us alive?"
"Because I want you to know what it felt like for me to be in that box you're in right now," he said. "This is how they kept me. I was starving and alone. I had to listen to the screams of the fledglings they forced me to create as they starved them to death. It seems that if you deny the newborn vampire his first kill he dies very quickly. Your Brendan must be very strong willed. You know he still calls out to you?"
"Why are you doing this to Brendan?" I demanded. "What has he done to you?"
"Nothing other than the fact that I was left to die while you moved on to him," he spat. "He'll suffer just like you're suffering, Eric. You'll both suffer until I tire of hearing you scream. Then you'll die. It's a simple as that."
"They'll hunt you down, Bashire," I said. I wasn't trying to change his mind. There was no point in arguing with madness. I was stating a simple fact. "The others will find you, and then you'll weep for your life."
"We watch your little palace, Eric," he said. "There's a lot more security to keep us out, and they've even found a way to keep me away. Very clever. But it won't last. One day they'll let their guard down and I'll have all of you. I want to be the only one left. I want to be the only one the world will fear. With all of you gone that will happen."
"You're as crazy as Tyron," I laughed, and then the ceiling tile slammed shut. I continued to laugh until the spasms began again in earnest. Then I was screaming.
Soon Brendan was screaming as well. Through the screaming a plan came to me. I don't know where it came from, but it was there. I began to practice my levitation. I could only rise a foot off the floor, and that was a far cry from where I needed to be to get out. It was a start. I would build on that. When the rats came maybe it would get a little better. I kept telling myself that, but our screams ended when there was no voices left for us to scream with and still the rats didn't come. Maybe Bashire had decided to starve us to death finally.
It seemed an eternity before the sleep took me over again. There were no dreams to keep me company this time. Nothing broke my sleep to let me know I was alive. There was nothing until the gentle shake from the female vampire with the fiery hair. Illianna had come to kill me. I looked into her green eyes and then I could feel the blood pumping in her veins. Strength I couldn't say I actually had at that time washed over me and she was crushed against me as I sank my fangs into her neck. Her putrid blood soared over my pallet and down my throat. I felt my entire body begin to quake in its quickening. Her blood was like fire coursing through my veins. It tasted vile and I wanted more. I was so happy when she became ash at my feet after I'd stopped drinking her blood. The fire gift was back!
Without even realizing I was going to, I levitated to the ceiling and out of the hole that had been left by the missing piece. I could hear Brendan's heart beating not ten feet from the cell I'd been enclosed in. I went toward that heartbeat until I could feel it thrumming in my bones. Brendan was under my feet. I tore the top off of his cell and was with him in seconds. His face contorted with fear and hunger when he saw me. I looked into his mind and saw why he was afraid. I'd changed yet again. I hadn't felt it happening, but I'd morphed almost like Bashire. My face was fuller, and my eyes were glowing amber embers. He collapsed against me so I wrapped him in my arms and levitated out of the cell. There was still no sign of Bashire. I didn't care though. My gifts had been restored by Ilianna's blood. If he came for me he'd get a fight. I wasn't so weak anymore.
Up and up we soared until I was sure I was high enough to see anyone coming. Then we soared through the sky, passing over the city faster than I'd imagined was possible even for a vampire. The world began to spin while I clutched Brendan in my arms. I shook my head violently until the world stopped spinning. I knew it was the intoxication from Illianna's blood running through my veins. If not for her I was sure that I would have died soon.
On and on we flew through the air. The houses and palm trees were a blur. I could feel the beating hearts of the humans in the houses that zipped past us. I was still in the grip of hunger. I had to focus and it was so hard. Brendan was in my arms and that was what I needed to focus on. He needed me to get him back to where were supposed to be so that he could have blood. He needed it so much more than I did. I was over a hundred years old. Brendan was a newborn fledgling who had been denied his first kill. I marveled that he was alive at all.
Suddenly, I heard a maniac laughter from a female vampire. She was flying around and around in the sky, but when she saw me she became enraged. I heard her thoughts and knew that she meant to kill me. I saw House Maxwell, and the dark haired female vampire hovering above it was no match for the fire inside me. Brendan cried out when I embraced the fire, but I couldn't worry about that at that moment. I let the fire swell within me until I was sure it would burn us both alive. Then I focused that fire and willed the female to be cinder. She screamed as she burned, and Brock, Derrick and David came running out of the house.
Their cries were music in my ears. I was so happy to see them that I nearly dropped my sleeping fledgling. I clutched him tighter as I whirled in a circle to make sure that Bashire or either of the other two female vampires weren't in the air with us. Satisfied that we were alone in the sky I looked back down at my drones. My heart soared as the vampires came out of the house. I landed in front of them just as the UV lights began to blare. Brendan screamed in my arms all the way into the house where we were surrounded by the other vampires almost instantly. Everyone was shouting at the same time, but Brendan was the only thing I cared about. It was great to be with them again, but I had to get Brendan taken care of. I raced up to his bedroom and placed him on the bed, telling Nathan to bring five from the livestock. He was off to do as I instructed just as the vampires swarmed the room.
Nathan returned with the five young men I had asked for, and I had to restrain myself long enough to get Brendan on his feet. It was then that I realized that we were both still naked. Of course, we'd never been given clothes. With the hunger and the fear I'd never given a thought to my nakedness. At that time it didn't matter. I snapped out at the five young men with my mind and brought them to their knees. Brendan needed no coaxing. He was on the first of them in a second. When that one dropped at his feet he moved to the second while I took the one on the end. When they were all nothing but piles of dust on the floor I put Brendan back in bed. He'd still said nothing, and I was sure he probably never would.
I feared that the madness Bashire had planned for me had found Brendan instead. Visions of Jessep in his mind trap swam in my head as I looked down at Brendan. His eyes closed and sleep took him, but I feared that he would never be the vampire I'd promised he would be. Damn Bashire and his hatred. He would burn for this. I wouldn't rest until he was ash.
"Eric, clothing for you," said David as he came into the room with one of my favorite silk suites. I dressed in front of all of them as they continued to shout questions at me.
"Bashire did this," I gasped while I was tying my tie. "He's alive, Brock. He's alive and he wants all of us dead."
"We know about Bashire, Eric," he said. "He's tried to get in here several times. We've had to use creative security to keep him out."
"Rose pollen?" I asked, remembering that even though he'd been turned, Bashire was still susceptible to the effects of the roses.
"We've used that quite a bit," said Brock. "The entire estate is lined with rose bushes. There are other ways of keeping him out though. It's funny how it was discovered. Holden figured it out."
"Holden?" I asked, and the boy stood up from Brendan's bedside.
"It wasn't hard, actually," he said. "I just created a little virus of my own using Derrick's blood and rose pollen"
"To what effect?" I asked.
"He's now just as susceptible to the sun as the females are," he replied with a wide grin.
That meant we could hunt him by day. I was thrilled to hear it. I wanted him just as dead as he wanted all of us. My heart didn't even flutter when that thought went through my head. The Bashire I loved was gone. What was in his place was an insane vampire that had tried to kill his maker. He deserved death for that.
"It's good to see that your face is back to normal," said Franklin as he came to hug me. It was in his mind that I saw that my face had indeed returned to normal. I just wondered what effects from drinking Ilianna's blood would be permanent.
"We'll meet in the study," I told them as I embraced my brother. I held him tight as they filed out of the bedroom.
"I was worried," he said when I let go of him.
"So was I," I replied. "So was I."
With one last look at Brendan's sleeping form I left his room and followed Franklin down the hall to the stairs. When we arrived in the study I saw that every vampire of my house was seated in the chairs throughout the room. I would have a bigger meeting with all of the vampires soon. At that moment I just wanted my house to be aware of what was coming. Bashire wouldn't wait long to try and find me again. It wouldn't take him long to understand that I was back in my house. That meant that everyone connected to the house was in serious danger.
I took my seat behind my desk and looked at
them all for a moment. I was so happy to be among them again that I couldn't say
a word at first. I thought about what most of them had sacrificed to be there
that day. The hundred year sleep, aging and suffering from hunger were the ways
that the young men in this room showed me that they supported me. I would make
sure that I did everything in my power to see that they lived to see another
My three new fledglings were thriving. I knew that I had the House to thank for that. Without the others all three of them would be dead or dying. Andrew had changed though. His turning had changed the color of his hair and eyes dramatically. His sandy blond hair was now almost flaxen. It curled and lay on his shoulders, framing his pale face. His blue eyes had become such a fierce shade with the vampiric change. I saw the red rings around his irises that was the tell tale sign that he could use the gift of combustion. What worried me was the hardness of his beautiful eyes. He had the look of hatred in those hard eyes.
I was also troubled to discover that his mind was closed to me. I knew that he felt it when I probed because those hard eyes focused on me. He didn't flinch as he looked at me even though to keep his mind hidden from me was forbidden. If I so chose I could push the issue, but that was not the time. Let him have his private thoughts for the time being. What was important was Bashire and his two pet females.
"There is much we must discuss," I said, breaking the tense silence that had built in the room. "You all know that Bashire is alive. What you don't know is that he is in league with the females. He is their sire. I learned much when I drained Ilianna dry in my escape from the underground vaults he kept us in. There were only four female vampires that survived the government experiment that created them. Two are dead by my own hand. That leaves two with Bashire."
"With Bashire's ability to withstand the sunlight stripped from him that leaves us plenty of time to locate him," said Franklin.
"It does," agreed Rafiki. "What of the others?"
"We'll tell the others tomorrow night," I replied. "I want us united on this. Bashire must die."
"Is it not possible to..."
"I've seen his eyes, Daniel," I said, cutting my little brother off. "The vampire we all knew and loved is gone. What's in his place is a cold-hearted mad man."
I was silent while I allowed them to digest this information. Bashire had been loved by many in this room. Rafiki and Darren had lived with him since before they'd been turned. Of course they loved him. Franklin and Daniel had come to love him shortly after he'd become my fledgling. Brock was in love with me, but that didn't change the fact that he loved Bashire for the man that he was. Now to know that they would have to help me kill that man was probably one of the hardest things they'd ever had to hear.
"Just looking at Brendan makes me want to kill him," said Holden. "I'm sorry that you all love the vampire that he was, but looking at Brendan lying in that bed upstairs I'd have to say that Bashire is no longer one of us."
"He tried to kill Eric," said Gabriel. "That alone is cause for his execution. The laws that Eric has written say that even an attempt on the life of a fellow vampire is punishable by death. Bashire must die."
"I agree," said Franklin. "I loved Bashire, and I mourned for him when we believed that he was dead. I choose to believe that the Bashire I loved died that day in Washington. I don't even know this Bashire, but he did try to kill his own kind. Bashire must die."
We discussed more about how we were going to hunt Bashire and his pets but everyone was already in agreement that Bashire had to die. I tried hard not to think too much about the Bashire I had fallen in love with. That Bashire was truly gone from me forever. The government had taken him from us. What they'd unleashed was not the man I loved. I just had to keep reminding myself of that. If I couldn't keep that firmly in my mind there would be no way I could put Bashire to death.
There were other things for them to report to me about what had happened during my month-long absence. Holden was now in charge of the computer software company that Jessup was so happy about. Andrew was coming along nicely in his new role as a hunter for the livestock. David told me that Andrew was almost ruthless in his technique, and I found that very easy to see. I remembered what his turning had been like and the fact that he never looked directly into my eyes didn't escape my attention.
Jessup's fledglings were doing well also. Franklin's were now living in the house with us. His house had never been started. They'd all stopped planning for things like that the night that Brendan and I had disappeared. With the hunt for Bashire looming over us there would be no rekindling of those plans any time soon. I had yet to speak with Dalyn from House Kahn, so I knew nothing about his new fledglings. I'd seen them on the jet that had brought us back from the orphanage, but they'd been human then. Now that they were vampires I knew nothing. That would change in the following nights.
As the sun came up we all went up to our rooms. I stopped in to check on Brendan before going to my own room. He was still lying in the same position we'd left him in and I was more worried about him than ever. I sat on the edge of the bed and took his limp hand in my own while I looked down at him. Probing his mind was heartbreaking. There was nothing there. It was as if he were a living breathing void. I knew that if he didn't come out of this soon we would have to end his suffering. That thought really upset me but there was nothing else to do. With the battle coming there would be no one to look after him.
I left him there and went to my own room with a heavy heart. I'd promised Brendan that his life would change. He'd wanted to live so badly that he'd actually chosen to become a vampire. Now it seemed that it didn't matter that he'd chosen life. He was going to die because of Bashire's madness. It was another reason to hunt and kill Bashire and his pets. I entered my room and slipped into the bed. It wasn't long before the rising sun put me into a restless sleep.
Brendan's screaming woke me at sundown, and at first I thought we were back in the vaults. I sat up and looked around my room before my heartbeat settled back into it's normal sluggish rhythm. I jumped out of bed and threw on my robe before sprinting down the hall to Brendan's room. Nothing could have prepared me for what I found there. David had brought a selection from the livestock to Brendan's room that evening just as he was supposed to. What had happened next astonished me.
Brendan was standing next to the bed, looking down at the dying man that would be his fledgling in three nights. I couldn't think. I could only stand there and stare at them. How had this happened? Brendan couldn't have been strong enough to sire a fledgling! Yet the evidence was laid out before me. One sniff of the dying man and I knew he was Brendan's. This wasn't really breaking the rules. I hadn't written that law yet, but it certainly wasn't a good thing.
Brendan turned to look at me, and I was happy to see that at least there was life in his eyes now. Perhaps this was the only way for him to come back to us. However I didn't think it was a good idea to have a fledgling around the house that had come from the livestock! What would the others have to say about this? They would surely want the fledgling killed. What would I say about that?
"You can't kill him, Eric," said Brendan as he turned to face me. There was blood dripping from his lips. It ran down his chin and over his naked chest. "You can't kill Paul. He's mine. It was the only way. When I felt his heart beating in his chest I knew how to come back from where I was. I had to consume that heart. That wasn't enough though. Simply feeding from him wasn't enough. When I gave the blood back to him I started to feel again. My heart began to beat again and I was alive!"
"Brendan, you can't turn whoever you like," I said. "This man is twenty-five years old. He's too old to be a fledgling!"
"I don't care," replied Brendan. "He will love me when he wakes up. I have never known love, Eric. If you won't accept him we will leave. We will become the first of the rogues that are sure to come in your future. I don't want to leave you. I know that you saved me from the vampire with the yellow eyes. I know that if you hadn't I would have died by the next sundown. I love you for that, Eric. But I won't let you kill my fledgling!"
I stood there stunned. I probed Brendan's mind and found that he truly was back. He was also completely serious in his threat to turn rogue. I couldn't have that. I could make sure that Paul and Brendan were left alone. I was their King. If I decided that Paul was to live then he would live. It was that simple. Would I do that just to keep from having to hunt Brendan and kill him? Of course I would. I owed it to him. After what had happened I owed Brendan more than just a fledgling of his own. There was no way for me to pay what I owed him so this was what he would have. Paul would live and thrive.
"Get cleaned up, Brendan," I said. "The clothes we bought are still in your closet. I'll have David bring another from the livestock. Do not turn this one."
"I have no need for two fledglings, Eric," he said as he walked away into the bathroom of his suite.
I took one more look at the sleeping fledgling and walked out of the room in search of David. I'd have to tell everyone what Brendan had done soon. The others were going to find out when they went to check on Brendan and found Paul where Brendan should be. Oh how I didn't like this, and I knew the others wouldn't like it. There was no other choice now though. Brendan and Paul were safe.
"Was that Brendan screaming?" Franklin asked when I got downstairs after dressing and feeding.
"Yes, it was," I replied. "He's come out of his catatonia, Franklin. He's also sired a fledgling."
"What?" he asked with wide eyes.
"David brought him a selection from the livestock just as he was supposed to," I replied. "Brendan didn't just feed from Paul. He turned him. That's how he came back."
"But the law..."
"The law doesn't say he can't have a fledgling of his own," I said. "The laws aren't completely written yet. So far the only law he's broken is that Paul is twenty-five years old. Now I've decided to let this continue. I want no one to even look at Brendan or Paul maliciously. This is my decree, Franklin. Brendan and Paul are safe."
"We'll have to announce that at the meeting," he said. "The others will be here shortly. Dalyn and his fledglings are already in the study."
"Thank you, Franklin," I said. "Please make sure that no one goes into Brendan's room."
"I'll alert Brock," he said, walking away from me.
Ten minutes later we were all gathered in the study. Everyone from my own house was shocked to see Brendan enter. I had to admit that I was a little shocked by his appearance. His hair was darker. It was now almost a chestnut brown, and it had grown to his shoulders. There were no waves in his hair now, and his eyes were just like mine. He was dressed in a silk blazer with no shirt underneath. His pants were a bit tight and he'd found a pair of Bashire's old boots. There was a locket hanging from a chain around his neck that I'd never seen before as well.
After everyone's initial shock at seeing Brendan faded I got the meeting going. I told the others all about Bashire and the females. They were shocked to learn that there had only ever been four female vampires. Those that had been attacked by them had believed there had been an army of them. The fact that they had done so much damage with only four of them was evidence that they truly were powerful vampires. They each sighed with a small amount of relief when I told them that two of the females had died at my own hand. They each agreed that hunting the final two along with Bashire was what had to be done. I was shocked to find them all in agreement with my decision that Bashire had to be killed. Then the surprise was revealed.
"What do you mean he's turned one of the livestock?" demanded Jessup as he got to his feet. "He's broken the law, Eric!"
"No he hasn't," I replied. "At least he's not broken the law you're thinking of. There's more, Jessup. If you would please take you seat."
"Eric, there are no sixteen or seventeen year olds in the livestock cells," Perrin pointed out.
"That's what I was getting at," I said slowly. "Paul, the fledgling, is twenty-five years old. Now I understand that the age law was broken, but I have decided to let them both live. Our numbers are still too low to start killing off fledglings."
"What of the others?" asked Rafiki. "What happens when they decide they want a fledgling as well?"
"That isn't possible at this time," I said quickly. "This was an accident. I want no more accidents like this one. I am now issuing a law. That law is that no fledgling may sire his own fledglings until he has been a vampire for one year."
"I want a drone as well," said Brendan, causing the room to erupt in chatter.
"Silence!" I cried, irritated. "Brendan, where do you plan to find a drone?"
"From the livestock," he said quickly.
"Brendan, the men in the cells are evil blood," I said. "They aren't meant to be drones or fledglings. They are meant to be food."
"Then where will I find a drone?" he asked, looking at the others in the room.
"It is law that every Maxwell vampire will take a Forsaken as his first drone," reminded Brock, and I wanted to burn him where he stood.
"Yes, I know that," I replied tightly. "Is there a Forsaken alive who isn't bonded?"
"Juan," he said, putting his head down.
"Well since we can't find Juan I don't think that Holden's first drone will be Forsaken unless you turn another," I said.
"I don't wish to turn another," Brock said quietly.
"I can find Juan," said Tevin. I looked into his dark eyes and remembered that he was Brock's younger brother. He was bonded to Daniel.
"You know where he is?" Brock asked, turning cold eyes on his brother.
"Not were he is tonight," he said. "But I can locate him. That is if I get permission from Eric to hunt him."
"You would hunt a Forsaken as if he were prey?" asked Jeff, looking at him hard.
"I won't hunt him as prey, Jeff," said Tevin. "I will find him and bring him back here, though. I will if that is what Eric wants."
They all turned to look at me. I wasn't so sure that bringing Juan back to be bonded was what I really wanted, but other than forcing them to sire new Forsaken that was the only option. I wasn't happy about it, but I gave Tevin permission to hunt for Juan. He wasted no time. He left that night long before sunrise. I was a little worried that Bashire would find him and kill him, but I had no evidence that he was killing Forsaken. In the end I had no choice but to let him go.
The meeting ended when Tevin left to find Juan, and I knew from looking at Brock that his heart was stormy at best. He didn't talk to me as the others left and then he left with Andrew, Nathan and David to hunt for more livestock. I was left to my own thoughts as they each found things to do. I wondered if any of them had even begun to think of ways to hunt for Bashire. Unlike the search for Juan, we'd be hunting Bashire like prey. I just hoped we'd find him before he struck us again.
Brendan spent his days in the library reading everything he could about vampire law and history. He soaked up text after text as he waited for his beloved fledgling to awaken. I grew more and more worried about what was going on in Brendan's mind as he stayed shut up in the library. Holden tried several times to draw him into conversation, but just as he had been when he was human Brendan was silent. I had hoped that his turning would change him, and it had. It just hadn't changed him in the ways I'd been hoping for.
For three nights the hunters left the estate to hunt for livestock, and we waited for word from Tevin. As the night of Paul's awakening drew closer I was worried that Tevin might never return. Brendan asked about him at every sunset, but he never seemed the least bit disappointed to learn that Tevin had not returned. His silent patience was unnerving on many levels. I don't know what I expected from him though. It wasn't as if he would start screaming again.
His mind was so strange to me when I probed it as well. It was always filled with something from the vampire history. When he'd finished reading all about the vampires he switched to the Forsaken tomes and read all about them. He was a sponge where knowledge was concerned. He craved knowledge the way normal newborn fledglings craved blood. I'd noticed that he never asked for more than one from the livestock every single night. His vampire brothers went through three or four a piece each night. Yes, Brendan was different.
Holden, Gabriel and Andrew spent most of their nights together when Andrew wasn't hunting with the hunting party. They snuck off to the computer room most of the time and not one of them said more than a few words to me each day. Gabriel would smile at me and his eyes would light up when he saw me, but he followed his brothers into Holden's domain every night as soon as Andrew and the hunters returned with fresh livestock. The night before Paul woke from his death sleep, Jessup spent a long portion of the night in the computer room with my fledglings. Just before sunrise he came to me to talk about what Holden was planning.
"What do you know about nanobots, Eric?" he asked when we were seated in the lounge.
"Nanobots?" I asked. "They're tiny computers if I'm not mistaken."
"Microscopic computers," he corrected. "Specifically, computers that measure at .1 micrometers."
"What are we talking about here?" I asked, wondering why he'd come to me with questions about my knowledge of nanobots after leaving the computer room.
"Well we've developed about a billion of these in the last two nights," he said. "We're ready for testing, and that's what this discussion is about."
"Testing?" I asked. "Who would we test them on? Surely you're not talking about the livestock."
"Of course not," he said. "I would never want to genetically enhance the livestock for any reason. If we did they might just become stronger than us and break free."
"Then what are you proposing?" I asked.
"Vampires," he said, watching me closely. "One vampire in particular would like to be the test subject for his creations."
"Holden," I sighed, deducing his desire from the fact that he was the one who would have developed the nanobots to begin with.
"Yes," he confirmed. "Holden would like to test the nanobots himself. He's really quite gifted with computer technology, Eric."
"I'm aware of that," I said. "But what will happen to him once he's injected these nanobots? What are they designed to do?"
"Well the ones he's constructed are designed to enhance certain aspects of the vampire body," he said. "The eyes for example. These nanobots will make it possible to turn the eyes into weapons."
"How is that possible?" I asked.
"Well you know that the vampire brain produces far more electricity than it's human base," he said. "The nanobots would use that electricity and harness it through the pupil of the eye."
"I'm not following this very well," I admitted. "What I really need to know is if there is any chance that it would kill him."
"None," he said. "At worst nothing will happen."
I thought about it for a moment. I knew that if the nanobots did any damage at all his vampire metabolism would heal the damage almost instantaneously. What harm could it do to let him test his nanobot creations on himself? If it worked we could use the effect against Bashire and the females. That was almost reason enough to let him go ahead with his plan.
And that was that. Holden injected the nanobots just before going up to his bed. I worried about what would happen now that he had the microscopic computers swimming through his blood stream, but there was nothing that could be done about it. What would happen would happen no matter what we thought of it. That was the last thing I thought of before my eyes closed and I was asleep.
In my human life, when I was ten years old, I
saw a movie on television with Franklin. It was about cyborgs. In the movie
these cybernetic people had been experimented on by the government. Computers
had been added to their bodies and they were very ugly to look at. They broke
free of the government and took revenge on the scientists that had altered them.
This is what I thought about when sundown opened my eyes the next evening. I
wondered if Holden would be hideous to look at now that he'd injected the
nanobots into his blood. What would it do to him? I worried over that as I fed
and as I bathed that evening. While I was dressing, I started to imagine what he
would look like when the nanobots really got a good hold on his vampire system.
I didn't like what I saw in my mind.
"Tevin has returned with Juan," Brock said when I was tying my tie. I hadn't even noticed that he'd entered the room.
Things were happening all at once it seemed. Tevin had returned with Juan so that Brendan could bond him. Paul would be waking up from his death sleep at any moment, and Holden would show us the effects of the nanobots on his appearance when he came down from his room in a matter of minutes. I just hoped that all of this would work out. I wasn't so sure about Paul as a vampire. I just hoped that Brendan could control him if he decided to pick up with his murderous life.
"How does it feel to see him again?" I asked, looking at his reflection in the mirror before me.
"Strange," he admitted. "I'm angry with him still, but I'm happy to see him again."
"I think I can understand that," I said.
"He's the first I've ever turned, Eric," he said. "I didn't expect to feel so paternal where he's concerned."
"I know what you mean," I replied. "With Bashire and the Roarks' I felt nothing but affection after I'd turned them. With the young fledglings I've adopted I feel more like their parent. I feel more protective with them."
"Well what do you think about Brendan turning his first fledgling?" he asked as I turned to face him.
"I don't know what I think about that," I said. "I don't even know what I think about Juan returning to be bonded by Brendan. Things are happening way to fast in Brendan's life."
"I agree," he said. "But is there anything we can do to stop it now that you've ordered that Paul be left alone?"
"No," I sighed. "I had to give that order, Brock. Brendan would have gone rogue if I hadn't."
"He threatened to go rogue?" he asked with wide eyes.
"Yes," I said. "And I believed him. I don't want to kill Brendan, so I had to order that Paul be accepted."
"I understand," Brock said. "I'll make sure that no one harms Paul."
"Thank you," I replied as I followed him out of my room and down the hall.
We stopped by Brendan's room where Paul was still in his death sleep. The smell was almost too much to stomach, but I knew that the drones would have the room back to normal as soon as Paul was out of it. I did notice that he looked completely different than he did the day he was turned though. What was lying on that bed wasn't the same man. He'd had close cropped blond hair when he'd been turned. Now his hair was the same shade as Brendan's and it was at least shoulder length as well. I wondered how that had happened. Was something new in our blood? Andrew's appearance had changed drastically as well as Brendan's. Brendan didn't change until he turned Paul. Maybe it was Paul's blood that was responsible for the changes in Brendan and himself. That didn't explain Andrew's appearance though.
"He looks different," Brock said as we stood in the doorway.
"I've noticed," I replied. "Something strange is happening, Brock. First Andrew and now Brendan and Paul."
"I'd noticed that as well," he said. "About Andrew."
"Yes?" I replied, turning to face him.
"You haven't been back long, but have you noticed how he is?" he asked. "I mean you haven't been out hunting with him, but Andrew is cold and almost ruthless in his hunting. Twice he's killed at least two of the would-be livestock."
"I hadn't heard about him killing them," I said slowly. "I had heard that he was a bit cold. Maybe it was the forceful way he was turned that did it to him. It could also be that he's angry about being a vampire."
"I just wanted to bring it to your attention," he said.
"Thank you, Brock," I replied. "Keep an eye on him for me."
"I'll do that," he said as we walked away from Brendan's door.
We went downstairs to join the others. I got my first real look at Juan when I entered the lounge. He was even more muscular than he was when I'd seen him through Brock's eyes in my slumber. He smiled when he saw Brock, and I noticed that Brock did not smile back. We took seats on the sofa next to each other just as Brendan entered the room.
"So this is the vampire I'm to bond with?" Juan asked in his deep voice as he looked Brendan up and down with a smirk. His mind told me that he thought that the idea of being bonded to a vampire was not appealing.
"You don't have to bond with him, Juan," I said. "If you choose not to you will be breaking the Forsaken law however."
"Since when do we have laws?" he asked. "There were no Forsaken laws when vampires were sleeping under our houses."
"There have always been laws, Juan," said Brock before I had a chance to reply. "If you'd only taken the time to listen when we tried to instruct you about our way of life..."
"Boring drivel about taking care of vampires," interrupted Juan. "There were no vampires to take care of then."
"There are now," I said coldly. "It wasn't vampires that decided that bonding Forsaken was law. It was Forsaken, but I assure you that you are not bonding material."
"No," I said, cutting Brock off. "Brendan will have a Forsaken drone, but it most likely will not be his first drone. I want this person out of my house."
"I didn't mean to offend you, Mr. Maxwell," Juan said. "I just don't see the reason why I should be bonded to a vampire for life."
"And I've told you that you needn't worry about that," I said. "Now go."
"You should know that you are now an outcast among the Forsaken," said Brock. "If we see you on the streets we'll kill you."
"You can try," he said with a cold smile until I suddenly appeared in front of him with fire in my eyes and my hand around his throat.
"I could snap your neck right now," I said through clenched teeth. "Or perhaps it would be better if I drain you dry and let the animals on the estate have what's left of your body."
"Take you hand off of me, vampire," he said, and I could feel the rippling under my hand. He was going to morph!
"I'd be very careful what you say to him, Juan," Brock said, and I noticed that he was at my side.
"Let him go," said Brendan from behind us. "I wouldn't want his blood in my mouth for anything."
"Tevin, take this man back to where you found him," I said, letting go of his throat.
"We're not going to play?" Juan asked with another smirk.
"Believe me," I said, showing my fangs, "our playtime wouldn't last long."
"Juan, you'd better come with me," said Tevin, eyeing me wearily. He'd never known a vampire to fight with a Forsaken. He'd been turned by Marco while we slept.
I let go of the fire as they walked out of the room and took a deep breath. I was more on edge about what was happening with my fledglings than I thought. I still didn't know where to find a Forsaken without a bond. We'd deal with that later though. One thing was for certain, Brendan wouldn't be allowed to bond anyone from the livestock. It was going to be bad enough having one of them running around as a vampire.
"Eric, I thought that you and Brendan would like to know that Paul is awake," said David as he came into the room.
"Thank you, David," I said, looking at Brendan who was looking right back at me with a small smile on his face. This was what he'd been waiting for.
He followed behind me as I followed David back up the stairs and to his room. Paul was standing in the middle of the room still covered in his bodily waste. I expected nothing less from him having only just awaken. He was looking at the room around him as if he'd never seen anything before in his life. This too was what I expected. The world looks different to a vampire. He was simply trying to get used to it. His mind told me that he was both confused and elated.
"Paul, if you'll follow Brendan he will help you bathe," I said when we were inside the room. "The drones will come and clean the room as soon as he's fed and dressed."
"Thank you," said David as he left the room.
I went to my own room to find clothing for Paul to wear until Brendan took him shopping for clothes of his own. I wondered just what Paul was going to be like now that he'd been turned. I knew that his human life was spent killing and raping. It sickened me to know we shared a bloodline but there was nothing to be done about it. I'd promised. When I returned to the room with my least favorite suit, Brendan was already in the bath with him.
"I've brought something for him to wear until you take him shopping, Brendan," I said, entering the bathroom. "See that you watch out for him."
"Of course I'll watch out for him, Eric," Brendan said without looking at me. "He's my fledgling after all."
"You did this to me?" Paul asked in a voice filled with wonder. "You made me what I am now?"
"Of course I did," said Brendan in a tone that suggested that Paul was daft.
"Thank you," he said with a smile on his face. Then he looked at me. "I know you."
"Yes," I said, remembering the day he'd been brought to the house. I'd nearly killed him on sight instead of letting David lead him to the cells.
"Why did you put me in prison with those people if you were just going to let him make me what I am?" he asked.
"At the time, you weren't supposed to be anything more than what you were," I said slowly. "I'll leave you two alone. Brendan, make sure you explain the rules to him."
"I will," he replied as I walked out of the room.
I went straight down the hall to Holden's room. I'd decided that it was time to check on him. I knew he was awake, but he hadn't come out of his room. David hadn't said anything about bringing him a selection of the livestock, so I didn't even know if he'd fed. I didn't know what to expect when I got to his room, but he looked just like he had the night before. His beautiful green eyes stared back at me when I walked into the room. He was gloriously naked and sitting on the side of his bed.
"How are you this evening?" I asked as I came fully into the room.
"I feel strange," he replied. "I'm not sure what it is yet, but something is starting to happen."
"Have you fed?" I asked, looking around the room for the tell tale pile of ash.
"Not yet," he said. "I've not even got out of bed."
"You feel well enough?" I asked, worrying already.
"Yeah," he said, smiling up at me and letting me see his fangs. "I just feel different."
"You have to feed though," I told him as I sat next to him on the bed.
"You love me, don't you," he said, surprising me. "I can see it in your mind."
"Yes, Holden," I said, turning so that I could run my fingers through his dark hair. "I love you very much, and I'm worried."
"You don't have to worry," he said, leaning his head into my hand. "I'll be fine. I know roughly what the nanobots are going to do to me. I designed them."
"I still need you to eat," I said, smiling back at him. "I'll have David bring you someone."
"Thank you," he said as I got up and walked to the door.
"Come find me when you've dressed," I said as I reached the door.
"I love you, too," he said as I walked out of the room, making me smile again.
"Been to check on Holden?" Gabriel asked as I met him near the stairs.
"Yes," I said. "He seems to be fine."
"I know," he said, smiling at me. "I checked after I fed."
"And how are you doing?" I asked as we walked down the stairs together.
"I'm doing pretty good," he said. "I want to find this Bashire and kill him for what he did to you and Brendan though."
"Oh believe me, Bashire will be dealt with as soon as we can get our hands on him," I said.
"We all love you, you know?" he asked when we'd reached the bottom of the stairs.
"I love all of you, too, Gabriel," I said, smiling at him.
* * *
The hunt for Bashire began at sunrise. Franklin and I took our fledglings and searched all of San Juan. Neither of us found a trace. We met again in the field where Brendan and I had been held captive. The cells were still in the ground, and I could see the ash in mine that had once been Illianna. Where had Bashire gone?
"We found no trace," said Franklin as he looked into the cell with a pained look on his face. "He'll pay for this, Eric. I promise you."
"I know he will, Franklin," I said, touched by the protective thoughts in his head. "We found no trace either."
"This doesn't mean he isn't still in the city," said Brock as he walked over to us. I hadn't realized that he had joined the hunt until that moment. Brock and I hadn't really talked a lot since I'd returned.
"Yes, I'm sure he's still here," I said. "How many Forsaken are looking?"
"All of them," he replied. "David and Nathan are quite capable of keeping everything under control at the house. Dalyn and his fledglings are out here somewhere as well."
"I knew about that," I said. "I just didn't know the Forsaken had joined the hunt."
"You're our king, too, Eric," he said, and for a moment I saw pain cross his face. I wondered if that's why we weren't talking like we used to. Was he hurting over my not returning his love?
"I realize that," I said. "I didn't mean to imply..."
"We'd better get out of here," Franklin interrupted. "People are coming. I can smell them."
We left the area quickly so that we wouldn't have to even pretend to explain what we were all doing on private property. We all met back at the house an hour later and Dalyn and his boys arrived shortly after we did. I thanked him for helping with the search. San Juan was one of the largest cities in the country. I could see that the sun was having it's draining effect on them, so I sent them back to House Kahn to get some sleep. There would be plenty of sun the next day. We wouldn't stop searching until we found what we were looking for.
"Eric, Holden has been asking for you," said David when we came into the house. "He said to send you up as soon as you got here."
"Thank you, David," I said as I hurried up the stairs and to his room.
He was still sitting on the bed, but he was clothed. There were four piles of ash on the floor, so I knew that he'd fed. What I didn't understand was why he was holding his hand over his right eye. He looked like he was ready to panic, and when I got closer to him I thought I knew why. It looked like there was red light spilling between his fingers as he held them over his eye. There were also other changes to his appearance. His hair was longer, and he looked almost like a mannequin. His skin was perfect and almost glossy.
"Something has happened that I didn't expect," he said when I came into the room.
"What?" I asked quickly.
"I can't remove my hand from my eye or I'll burn something else," he said. "I only fed on one human, Eric. Notice anything missing in here?"
I looked around and saw that the dressing cabinet was gone. In it's place was a pile of ash. The hutch that used to sit against the wall opposite the bed was gone and replaced by ash as well. Finally I saw that the door to the bathroom was gone. It was also a pile of ash on the floor. He'd said that if he moved his hand away from his eye he would burn something. I was really starting to worry.
"It started after I fed," he explained. "I felt it happening, but I couldn't stop it. I didn't know what was coming until the cabinet and all of my clothes were gone."
"There has to be something we can do," I said as I stared at him.
"There is," said Nathan as he came into the room. He was carrying an eye patch in his hand. "It'll work, Holden. I promise. Gabriel and Andrew have tried to burn it already."
He helped Holden put the patch on, and they quickly placed it under his hand before he dropped his arm. I could see flames for a quick moment and then there was a scorch mark on the wall across from him. The nanobots had transferred his combustion gift to his right eye! I didn't know what to think of that. His skin was another thing entirely.
"It's hard, too," he said as soon as that thought entered my head. "I can't get my fangs to pierce it."
"But it doesn't seem to restrict your movement," I said as my mind worked feverishly.
"No," he affirmed. "But I don't think anything will ever be able to pierce it again."
"That could be a good thing," said Nathan. "It would make things a lot easier for you when the battle finally happens."
"I've thought about that," he said, smiling.
"Does the patch hurt?" I asked when I noticed that he kept fingering it.
"It's very warm," he said. "It doesn't hurt though. I'll just have to get used to it."
As I probed his mind I learned that he was more concerned with how I would react to the changes in him than the actual changes themselves. He was completely comfortable with what had happened to him and hoped that I would accept him. I nearly grabbed him and wrapped my arms around him when I found that in his mind. Of course I would still accept him. He was my child, my fledgling. I loved him. When he got up and wrapped his arms around me I told him so.
"Thank you for loving me, Eric," he said as he held on to me. "I've never really known what it was like to have a father that loved me. You are my father, and I will love you for the rest of my life."
TO BE CONTINUED . . .