This is the very FIRST collaborative story that has ever been written for the Shack Out Back, and I certainly hope you guys enjoy it! Be sure to check the end of this chapter to find out how you or your favorite online author can submit their very own chapter to this new series! (A spinoff of the "Gone From Daylight" saga!) I'm looking for a lot of new and veteran talent to contribute an episode, so let everyone you now about the project, and let's make this story a CLASSIC! K? Let me know what you think at or stop by my website at (And don't forget to sign the guestbook!)

"Lost In Shadow"

It began with the pounding of a severe headache, throbbing mercilessly behind my eyes. The harsh reality of a pulsating migraine that seemed to come out of nowhere at all. It hurt so badly that I could 'taste' the ache in the back of my throat. I felt like I was spinning wildly in place, but I knew somehow that I was laying still. Maybe it was the whole world that was spinning like this instead. Disorienting. Bewildering. Where am I? How did I get here? What's going on?

I can't make sense of things right away, but as my consciousness begins to return to me, I can hear the sounds of a fierce struggle coming from the other side of the room that I'm in. Grunts and gun shots, hand to hand combat, broken furniture and equipment. It is only then that I become somewhat aware of the cold concrete beneath me, my body stretched out from whatever impact I must have taken to give me this pain in my back and shoulders. I can feel a small pool of drool connecting my mouth to the floor, and while I want to get up, it hurts my brain to send the message to my muscles to move. It sounds like a full blown war is going on all around me, and I'm too worn out to even look up and see what's happeneing.

Opening my eyes is like being reborn into the world from scratch. It stings, burns, and my headache seems to get infinitely worse as the first rays of light pass through my retinas for interpretation. It's dark in the room, but I can clearly see a battle happening not more than 20 feet away from me. A blurry one, but I know conflict when I see it. I see a man, fighting for his very life, and doing a damn good job of it. Attacking him is a woman with long sharp blades fanned out from the end of her fingertips, and a man in a mask and cape...swinging a bo staff with the expertise of a well trained master. They are moving in on him, cornering him, taking multiple swipes at his defenses as he fights back with unbelievable speed. I can't even tell who's side I'm on. Or if I'm involved in this situation at all. As my eyes begin to focus a bit better, I see the dizzying movements of the scuffle before me. So fast! Agile, balanced, and powerful. They strike at one another so fiercely that their motions seem impossible...practically defying the laws of gravity. This isn't right. This isn't human. And it's then that I remember...

They're NOT human. And neither am I...

"EXILE!!! We need you in action!!!" The man in the mask shouts in the middle of battle. Exile? Is he talking to me? Is that who I am? Why does he need me? What can I do? Unngh...why can't I think straight?

The fight continues, and I struggle to get my bearings on where I am. After rolling slightly to my side, my fingertips numb, I'm able to reach a hand up to feel a giant wet spot on the back of my head. A warm liquid flows freely from a gaping wound there, crawling over my fingers and sliding down over the back of my neck. I pull my hand away, and see...blood. My palm completely covered in crimson. My eyes try desperately to focus, and with a push, I feel my hands lift my face slowly from the ground. My knees carefully slide up underneath me, and I stop for a moment, as the sudden elevation from the floor makes my head pound with more severity. I look down at my hands...I'm 'young'. I don't remember being so young. It's a strange sight, a child's hands covered in blood. Ahhh...can't focus. Gotta get to my feet.

"We're WORKING here! Little help, 'team leader'?!?!?!" The masked man addresses me again as their fight rages on. I look to the side as he leans way back to avoid an iron bar that was just swung at his face. His retaliation is swift, but their enemy dodges and blocks so efficiently that it looks almost 'rehearsed'. Choreagraphed and practiced ahead of time. "Dammit, kid! GET IN HERE!!!" He needs MY help? How can I help them? Who are they fighting? What side am I on?

Suddenly, there's a loud CRASH coming from the left of me, and I see a rather large white van come bursting through the wall! Concrete fragments fly everywhere in an explosive intrusion, and I'm showered with debris as I stumble backwards to lean on a stack of boxes for support. As I look back, I can vaguely make out the face of a monsterous looking creature with a bald head and pale white skin, jumping out of the driver's side of the spinning van before it even screeches to a full stop. The creature's arms are almost long enough for its knuckles to scrape the floor, and it easily clears the distance between itself and its comrades in just two and a half leaps. It is now three against one, as the monster joins into battle to assist the other two. The creature was unbelievably strong, brutally so. The masked man had a level of skill and precision that made him nearly impossible to hit. And the woman was a dizzying frenzy of speed and savagery. Together, they slashed and battered their target without pulling a single punch. Whoever it was that they were fighting against...he was no match for their combined might. His arms tired, his breath gave out, and they eventually wore him down until there was no more fight left in him. And as he gave his last few desperate swings at his attackers...I hear a blood curdling scream leap out of his a long silver blade penetrates his heart from behind. The victim howled in agony, accompanied by a loud hiss, his fangs dripping wet with saliva, his eyes open wide in horror at this, now fatal, injury. The masked man had run him completely through, and he twisted the blade sharply to make it hurt even worse. That's it. That's the endgame. The final blow. No vampire could survive that.

All goes quiet, as their target passes out from the pain, and is defeatedly dropped to the floor in a heap. I hear footsteps behind me, as the three warriors approach me. They were all vampires...just like me. But their crossovers must have happened later on in life. They appeared to be in their late teens, or early twenties. Much older than myself from the looks of it. Should I be scared? Should I run? Maybe...maybe they're the ones who did this to me. Injured me and left me to bleed alone on this cold floor. Maybe I'm next.

"Exile?" The woman asks in a somewhat comforting tone. "Exile?" She says again...and I'm unable to answer, lost in a fog of confusion. "Adam?" Adam...the name rings a bell. Adam. That sounds familiar. That's me. I can feel it. I slowly look over at her and meet her eyes. "Are you alright?"

"I...I don't know." I answer, hardly recognizing my own teenaged voice. "Wh-where am I?"

"You took quite a spill back there, kid. Seems our friend, Kristoff, was a bit more prepared for our attack than we thought. He got the jump on you pretty early." The monsterous visage of the pale man in front of me spoke, and I was taken aback by his ghoulish looks. The pupils of his eyes were blood red, and his body seemed to be completely void of any hair at all. Not even eyebrows. His fangs were slightly twisted and stained a combination of yellow and black. His ears were like that of a goblin, and his high pronounced cheekbones pulled his lips back into a demonic sneer. But his speech...seemed as normal as anyone elses. In fact, his intelligent voice was the most soothing of the whole bunch.

"I don't understand. I think...I mean..."

"You're NOT getting a full credit on this one, halflife!" The masked man said angrily.

"Give it a rest, Tariq. Can't you see the boy is hurt?" The lady answered.

"Hurt or not, he's team leader. Get it? Team leader. THAT lead the team. Does it not?" He snarled. "I told you we shouldn't have agreed to this. This kid is gonna get us all killed."

"Don't mind him." The young lady said. "Are you feeling ok?" She reached out to touch my forehead and I jumped away from her.

"Who are you? What are we doing here?" I asked, and they all gave me a strange look.

"What do you mean?" The creature asked me. "Are you saying that you don't remember our mission here?"

"WHAT mission??? I don't remember ANYTHING! What the hell is going on?"

They looked at one another briefly, and I saw the masked man give himself a sarcastic chuckle. "Hehehe, great. This is just fucking great."

It was then that the creature looked at me closely, its eyes examining me with boyish fascination and just a touch of confusion. Then, it tilted its head and simply said...."Intriguing development."

The next thing I knew, we were all packed up into the van and heading back to...wherever it was that sent us out here. How I got there or involved in any of this chaos, I can't say. But as I sat in silence in the back of the van, with the young lady nursing my wound with a cold cloth and some ice, I figured that they could at least be trusted long enough to get myself some answers. I think I must have blacked out a few times, because I had some lapses in time between actually getting into the van, and being on the road. Luckily, the lady made sure to keep me awake as best as she could. I attempted to connect the missing pieces that had obviously been scattered when I was...'attacked'. Trying to somehow trace my steps back far enough to fill in the gaps and find out what I was doing here. But....the more I tried to think, the more my head hurt. I couldn't zero in on any major details no matter how hard I tried. After a half hour, I just wanted to sleep. Just for a little while. I'll struggle to figure things out later.

Everything went black as my eyes sealed themselves shut. I could feel myself being pulled into a slumber beyond my will, and eventually let myself drift off with the current. My body felt at ease, relaxed, free from tension. My mind, however, refused to remain still. It was frantically working out a million equations at once, trying to figure out what had happened. What was real and what wasn't. What it had forgotten, what it could remember clearly, and how they were connected. It was an alien feeling...having a sense of 'self' without knowing exactly who you are. There were huge gaps in areas of my life that had been wiped out completely. And I couldn't be sure if they'd be gone forever or not.

My mind took me to a dream like scenario, where things were hazy, but oh so real. Was this a memory? Or just a dream? My body was too relaxed to struggle its way back to consciousness, so I just let the mental imagery play out however it wanted to. I just wanted to watch. I was stretched out in this large, dimly lit, basement. Apparently...very comfortable. And there were other teens around. me. There were maybe four or five of them, vampires as well, and even though my mind couldn't quite recognize emotions felt a certain connection to them all. It was almost like...having a 'family'. Would they be there waiting for me when this van finally got to its destination? Maybe they could help me find myself again. I vaguely remember them calling me by name. Adam. I've got to remember that. My name is Adam.

There was also somebody else there in my vision. An older couple, actually. A man and a woman, that looked to be....maybe 70 years old. Maybe even older. Not vampires...but humans. Why were they there? Were they food? No. Not food. I know, because the same affection I felt for the other young vampires in the room...I felt for them as well.

Just as the images were beginning to sink in, I saw a sudden flash of a horrible vision pass in front of my eyes. A split second of a scream, and a small splash of blood. It shocked me at first, as it interrupted what I thought was a pleasant memory, but it came and went so fast that it was hard to acknowledge it. Then....I had another terrifying flash. And another. And another. Different vampires, different ages, different locations. Screaming. Howling in pain. Begging for their lives with tears in their eyes. More flashes, now rapidly filling my dream until all of that comfort and affection was drowned out by the murderous illusions before me. Long metal spikes, ripping through flesh, and muscle, and scraping bone as it pierced the hearts of my targets. Wait....'targets'? MY targets? Blood...giant gushing splashes of blood. So warm that wisps of steam rose from my arms and chest as they became decorated with their crimson hopes of survival. They were dead, and they didn't even know it yet. But I did. I appear to be very efficient at my 'job'.

"Wakey wakey, handsome! Nap time is over!" Came a voice, jerking me out of my dream and back into reality with a jolt. The door of the van I was riding in noisily slid open, and an ice cold wind seemed to rush in to take a hold of my whole body. I looked up to see the masked man looking down on me. "Come on! MOVE IT! We ain't got all day!"

I struggled a bit to scoot myself off of the back of the van, and the young lady took my hand to help me. I looked into her eyes, her optrix contacts glowing a mix of green and blue. Her short hair was just long enough to blow with a slight gust of wind, and her slim fingers were the first pleasant sensation that I had felt since waking up a while ago. My head was still pounding, but not as badly as before. Still, I was a bit disoriented as I tried to stand on my own two feet. It felt like I was 50 feet tall, swaying back and forth off balance like a stack of dishes in a high wind. The goblin like creature that I had seen before offered me his shoulder to lean on, but I hesitated. His skin was like leather, thick and tough, and his face seemed so chalky white and unnaturally grimaced. His nightmarish appearance was hard to get past, even with the intelligence of his speech and manner. Finally, unable to walk on my own, I leaned across his shoulder, and he helped me all the way out. I looked at my surroundings, and we appeared to be in some kind of suburban forrest preserve of some sort. The van was parked outside behind some kind of small shack, and I assummed that that's where we were going to.

The masked man didn't bother to help me at all. He simply stepped out of the van without saying a word, grabbed a duffel bag of our 'equipment', and began walking forward, leaving us behind. His disposition was a grumpy one, but it might have been my fault. Considering he seems to blame me for whatever it was that happened tonight. I couldn't quite tell why his face was covered up that way, hidden by a thin nylon layer of dark navy blue material, except for his eyes...which were covered by a thick pair of black sun-visor glasses. His athletic form was a proud one, and his walk carried with it an air of arrogance. As my eyes followed him forward, I saw him walk into the small fixture and put the bag on the floor next to him. It hardly looked big enough for us to all fit in. Especially the big creature holding me up on his shoulders. But they dragged me ever closer, and it looked like they were going to try anyway.

"Don't worry, Exile. We'll get you patched up in no time." The lady said. name is Adam. I've got to remember 'Adam'. I feel better when she calls me Adam.

We all squeezed ourselves into the shack, shoulder to shoulder, and I was propped up against the back wall as the masked man closed the door behind us. "What...what are we doing in here?" I asked, now standing face to face with them in the tiny confined area.

" really DID take a pounding back there, didn't you?" She answered, and at that very moment, I saw a few flashes of light come from the ceiling above us, and heard the door lock shut in front of us. I watched in amazement as the floor dettached from the walls of the shack and lowered the four of us down like some kind of secret elevator. My eyes widened with fascination, and I watched anxiously as we took a three minute ride down into an underground facility. It wasn't HUGE, but it was big enough to impress me. About the size of an airplane hangar, maybe a bit bigger. Arrrgh! Why can't I remember this??? What the hell was I DOING here???

A slightly older gentleman came to greet us when the elevator doors opened. He was about 35, I guess, with a moustache and reddish brown hair. He had one of those friendly faces that invited you to think of him as a friend on first sight. He stood a bit taller than me, but not by much. "How did it go?"

"Take a look for yourself." The masked man sneered as he walked out of the elevator first. As his eyes connected with mine, the gentleman looked concerned about the wound on my head.

"Exile? Jesus...what happened?" He asked.

"Our target got the drop on us before we could take him out. It's like he was waiting for us. Exile took some pretty hard blows." The lady told him.

"Has the target been destroyed?"

The creature pulled out a folder with a few photos, some paperwork, and the metalic spike that was driven through the vampire's heart back in the warehouse. It was sealed in a plastic bag, and a small vile was contained inside, containing a small blood sample taken from the spike itself. "Target, Jason Kristoff, terminated on June 19th, at 2:34 AM." He said, handing the evidence over for inspection. "A bit more difficult than we expected, but all in all...a success."

"Hmmmm...." The moustached gentleman moved closer to me, lifting up a few locks of my dark brown hair, now stained and stuck together with blood. Then he felt the even bigger wound in the back of my head, whispering, "Damn, boy..." He lightly traced the wound with his finger before letting my hair flop back down again. "Get him into the infirmary. Let Dr. Colby take a look at him." The man took one last look at me, gently touching the bruises on my cheeks. "And here I thought you were damn near untouchable, kid."

"I'm sorry...but...who are you?" I said quietly.

A look of confusion crossed his face. "It's ME. Dutch." The name didn't really spark anything, and he looked over at the other two. "Explanation?"

"Um, yeeeaahhh...he's having a bit of...difficulty remembering a few things right now. But, I'm sure he's gonna be fine." The lady got an even more serious look from this 'Dutch' guy, and she had to reassure him. "It's probably just an injury induced trauma. It won't last."

"You were supposed to go in as a TEAM. How is it that HE'S injured, and the rest of you are fine?"

"It's NOT our fault! I told you, we were ambushed..." She argued back.

The slight raise in volume of their voices shot through me like a nail, and I just wanted to get away from all this craziness and rest for a bit. " head is killing me. I think I just need to sit down for a little bit. Ok?" I said, bringing an end to their conflict before it even began. Everything was spinning so fast, it hurt just to think. Just to speak. It was like having a vice around my brain, squeezing until it was ready to burst.

Dutch stopped for a moment, then gave a frustrated sigh while taking another look at my wounds. "Definitely get Dr. Colby to see him, pronto. And don't let Katrina know about his memory loss. At least not yet. Let's find out what's wrong with him first. The last thing we need is for her and her 'lackey' to catch wind of this." He said, and watched carefully as they carried me off to another end of the room.

The entire facility was buzzing with the sounds of machinery and bright flourescent lights, everything alive with a mechanical precision. The gleaming white tile beneath my feet became painful to look at, and I was forced to shut my eyes while they guided me to a room in the corner of the area. They sat me down on what looked like a doctors bed, and leaned me up against the wall. "'Freak'...get him some pillows." The lady said, and I saw the pale ugly creature beside me do what he could to make me comfortable.

I stared at him for a second, and then mumbled, "Freak?" Hoping that he would respond.

"Yes?" Sure was a name that he was willing to answer to, and without offense.

"Thanks." I told him, and a wide smile spead across his demonic lips.

"Sure thing, chief. You just get some rest. We'll see to it that Dr. Colby comes to check you out as soon as possible." He patted me on the shoulder, the skin on his hands almost as rough as croccidile skin, and left the room.

"Do you need anything else, Adam?" The lady asked. Just hearing her voice seemed to give me some comfort. And I felt at ease almost instantly.

Adam...she called me Adam. "I'm"

"Widow." She told me. Then, thinking about it a bit more, she ditched the codename entirely. "Rachael." She smiled, a small set of dimples showing on the sides of her cheeks, and I couldn't help but smile back. To see her with a grin made her look so much younger than her 19 years. She had short feather-soft hair, dyed green to match her eyes. And a slim an dainty build to her that would never give you reason to suspect that she was as infinitely dangerous as she really was. How Rachael was able to maintain such a sweetened presence after the murderous fever that I had witnessed earlier tonight, is a mystery. I was just thankful to be on her 'brighter' side. She lightly touched my arm, "I'll dim the lights for you a bit. I'm sure they're wrecking havoc on your headache."

"Thank you, Rachael." I said, and she almost seemed infatuated with the idea of me calling her by her real name. I suppose it gave her the same relief as her calling me Adam did. She turned the lights down a bit, and then left the room as well, giving me a moment of silence at last. There was a lingering affection for her in the back of my mind, my emotions trying to work through a fog of mixed up memories and lost information. But it wasn't love. Not in the normal sense. I couldn't quite tell what it was. I couldn't figure out anything at all.

I leaned my head back against the wall for a moment, and closed my eyes. I felt like so much of myself was in tact, perfectly so. I felt like I knew who I was and what I was doing...but...for some strange reason, everything that I've experienced since I woke up on that cold concrete floor has been a confusing mystery to me. Nothing matched. It was like being uncontrollably submerged in a nightmare against my will. Something so real, so detailed, that I was beginning to wonder if the person I thought I was....ever existed at all.

As my mind flipped through soft images of a forgotten childhood, I struggled to focus more on the teenagers that entered my mind back in the van. Them and the old couple. Even though the images were distorted and backwards at best, it was the most pleasing series of memories that my brain would allow me to have. There was a giant basement for all of us...and laughs...and games where we teased and wrestled with one another. Delightful moments that seemed so oddly parallel to a world of darkness. I could also see a huge theater. A movie house of some sort, with a gigantic screen and huge thick red curtains that opened and closed before each feature film. We were the balcony watching. The old couple was running the projector. And beneath entire crowd of humans, enjoying old black and white movies in the darkness of the theater. It was so real. The images were beginning to clear up, and I mentally began to 'push' through the haze to see if I could recognize something important. ANYTHING to enhance this image and find out what it means. Or if it's even real. But the harder I pushed, the more the memories began to warp and fade away, vanishing like bubbles in a handfull of soapsuds. I couldn't hold on to it. I fought to keep the comforting thoughts in my head...the 'other' images returned. The screams. The tears. And a growing lake of blood beneath my feet as I saw my own hands stabbing downward to pierce the hearts of those that I could only guess were my enemies. But, if they were my enemies...then why didn't I feel anything? Why didn't I care? There was no anger, no satisfaction, no release from emotional previous connection to these other vampires at all. Just a blank expression, and the methodical collection of 'evidence' as proof of what I had done. Was I one of them? Was I one of the people from that van? 'Exile'...'team leader'...'targets'? The fight. I was supposed to help in the fight.

The screams in my head got louder and louder all of the sudden, and I felt a growing pressure on top of my chest. The rapid montage of images got to be so violent, so increasingly disgusting and full of savagery, that I struggled to be free of them. They haunted me, violently crying out in agony as they vengefully showed me what I had done to them. Refusing to let me wake. Refusing to let me ignore. My head began to throb and pound madly, and just when I couldn't take anymore, I felt a tiny thumb pry my right eye open and shine a light into it.

I jumped up with a sudden jolt, and before I even knew what I was doing, I had taken the small flashlight out of my eyes and thrown it across the room, wrapping my hand around the throat of whoever it was that was in front of me. I could feel my fingers squeeze, almost beyond my control, and then tried to come to my senses. The neck beneath my fingertips was smooth. So smooth. And small. Way too small. My eyes fluttered open all the way and I fought to focus. In front of me, prying my fingers away from his neck, was a young boy. Eight, maybe nine years of age at the most. With short blond hair, a pair of thin wire rimmed glasses, and a small button nose usually reserved for cute and cuddly cartoon characters. "Do you mind?" He said, his tiny voice almost girlish in its youth, with an extremely faint hint of a boyish lisp. I instantly let go of his throat as realized that I was now laying down on my back, and he was straddling my chest. "Thank you." He said calmly, rubbing the sore spot on his neck from where I had manhandled him.

"What the hell are you doing?" I said.

"I'm TRYING to figure out how bad off you are. Which is pretty hard to do with you squirming about and mumbling in your sleep." He said, his brown eyes dull with a seriousness that I'd think was impossible for a boy his age. "Now, if you think you can calm down for a few seconds, I'll just walk waaaaay over there and get my flashlight back so I can finish. Provided that you didn't BREAK it, that is." The boy swung his leg over my chest and stepped down onto a little footstool near the bed. He was wearing a labcoat that looked way too big for him, and the 'tail' of it was dragging on the floor behind him like an oversized bathrobe. He picked up the flashlight, testing it out to make sure it worked, and walked back over to stand on the footstool again.

As soon he put his hand up to my face, I backed away from it. "What are you doing? Knock it off."

"Exile...please, don't make this difficult. Just sit there and be a good boy, and maybe when this is all over I'll give you a freakin' lollipop, ok?" He reached for me again, and I swatted his hand away.

"Don't you have somebody else to play with, junior?" I said. "I'm not really in the mood for this right now."

"Are YOU gonna let me do this, or am I gonna have to tranquilize your ass???" He yelled in frustration. But with the voice of a nine year old, it was about as intimidating as a sack of jellybeans.

Just then, I saw Widow...Rachael...walking in to see what was going on. "What's with all the shouting?"

"Rachael, can you PLEASE get this kid the hell out of here? I just wanna rest and he wants to play doctor."

"'KID'? Did YOU just call me a fucking 'kid'??? Did HE just call me a 'kid'? Call me a 'kid', again, tough guy! Come it! I DARE ya!" The little pup was throwing such a tantrum that I thought he was going to spin himself into a nap.

"Wait, wait...hold on..." She said, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder to relax him a bit. "...There's obviously been some misunderstandng here."

"THANK YOU!" I said. "I wake up, and he's sitting on my chest with a damn flashlight in my eyes."

" Dr. Colby. He's supposed to be taking a look at your injuries. Remember?" She said, and I stopped in mid sentence. I looked over at the little boy again, his small face twisted up in a proud little scowl, and couldn't believe my eyes.

"I CAN'T be expected to work like this. If he's gonna be a problem, then I say we anesthize the shit out of him until he has no CHOICE but to sit still!" The boy pouted. "I've got better things to do, you know?"

"I know, Doctor. I know. Just...make sure there's no permanent damage, ok? Please?" She asked. "Katrina is going to want a full report in an hour and we're going to need something 'positive' to tell her about this whole situation..."

"Well then you better tell your little 'comrade' here to show me some goddamn respect, and let me do my job before sunrise."

"Ok. It's ok. No problems. We're all fine here. Right, Adam?" She looked at me, trying to change the expression on my face from confusion to one of fake normalcy. "Right, Adam?"

"Um...yeah. Sure." I said, but it didn't seem to be good enough. "Sure thing...Doctor." I added, a hint of sarcasm in my voice. With a roll of his big brown eyes, he moved back over to me and stood up on his footstool, taking the flashlight to my eyes again and roughly grabbing the back of my head. "Ahhh! Take it easy!"

"Quiet! Ya big baby." He said.

How in the hell can this midget be my doctor? "OWWW!!! Jesus!" I winced again as he touched the most sensitive spot on my head.

"Hold still! I'm not gonna tell you again!" He said, and examined me closer, as though he wanted to hurt me on purpose. For a pint sized doctor, his bedside manner left a LOT to be desired. A few moments went by in silence, and he then turned off his little light and stepped down. " much do you remember from before the accident?"

I hesitated. I still couldn't believe I was talking to this kid like some kind of an adult. "I don't...I don't remember anything. Nothing at all."

"You don't recognize this place, or any of the faces you've seen here tonight?" He asked, grabbing a clipboard and jotting down a few notes as he adjusted his glasses on his nose.

"No. Not at all."

"Have you experienced dizziness, nausea, loss of balance...?"

"All of the above, yes." I said. He took a few quiet seconds to write down everything on his little worksheet, and then asked me...

"Have you had any dreams, or flashbacks? Anything important that might mean something to you?"

"A couple, yeah. I keep...having visions of this big theater, you know? A theater, and these...other vampires. It's not really clear, it's just..." I stopped as I saw the look on their faces change. Dr. Colby and Rachael exchanged a concerned silence between them, and then looked back at me. They didn't really address it.

"Go on." He said, waiting with pen in hand. "Is there anything else?"

Something about the vibe in that room had changed. Darkened. It was a completely different feeling from what it was when we first started, and the sudden shift warned me not to go too deep into what I was thinking lately. ", that's it." I told them. " I totally screwed up in the head, or what?"

Dr. Colby put down his clipboard and said, "Luckily for you, you were screwed up in the head long before this happened. But your motor skills seem to be in tact. You're walking and talking just fine. And from the way you jumped on me when you woke up, I'd say that your hand eye coordination is pretty functional." He pushed his glasses up again, after constantly having them fall down on his litle snub nose. "After a few sleep cycles, your outer wounds should heal up fine. But I'm going to give you a few antibiotics anyway to prevent any infection in the next few hours before your hibernation period. A nasty virus could put you out of commission for weeks. And we need you back in the field as soon as possible. We've got a quota to keep, and as much as I hate to admit're one of the best weapons we've got out there."

"What about his memory, Doctor?" Rachael asked.

"Sighhh....well, that's a tricky one. Physically he checks out fine. He took a nasty blow to the head, but it's not enough to cause this type of selective memory loss. I'd say he's suffering from some sort of severe emotional trauma. And I don't think he got it from this particular assignment either." The boy said. "It goes back before the accident. So whatever it is he's been suppressing and bottling up during his time with looks like it's trying to take 'center stage' in orer to force him to deal with it. And frankly, I don't know how good, bad, or ugly, that emotional outburst is gonna be when it happens. So hopefully it'll come slowly over time. You might wanna send him to get a psyche evaluation to find out what the malfunction is, just in case."

"Who's my psychiatrist? A six year old girl with a teddy bear?" I smirked.

"Cute. Real cute. Keep it up, 'head case'." He replied.

" I gonna get my memory back or not?" I asked.

"Perhaps. Perhaps not. And even if you do, there's no telling when that'll happen. It could be a couple of could be a couple of months. It could come back little by little, or you could wake up one morning with total recall of everything. It's nearly impossible to say right now. But whatever 'issues' you've got that caused you to wipe out certain parts of your memory like this, you're gonna have to confront them one way or the other before you can even think of getting back to normal." The kid turned to Rachael and said, "I reccommend a few days of reality immersion. Get him familiar with things again, see if it sparks something. Other than that, it's just a matter of getting some rest until those scars heal. There's nothing else I can do for him." And with that, he packed up his little kit of goodies and grabbed his clipboard to leave. But before opening the door, he said, "You be totally honest...I hope you NEVER get your memory back. I always thought of you as somewhat of a prick." He scoffed. "See if you can remember THAT tomorrow."

The door closed behind him, and Rachael came to sit at my side on the hospital bed. "How are you feeling?" She asked.

"Like shit. But believe me, it's a step up from how I felt a few hours ago." I answered.

"Well, relax for a bit, and I'll have Dutch take you to your quarters in a couple of minutes. Ok? Maybe something in there will help to jog your memory."

"Sure. Thanks." I said, laying back to rest my head against the wall for a while longer. I felt Rachael take my hand for a moment, and opened my eyes. She looked at me as though she were waiting for me to protest. As though she were testing me to see if I'd object to her affection. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing." She said, and she let go of my hand as she stood on her feet. "Get well soon, ok? I'll see you tomorrow night." And I watched as she left the room. Strange. What exactly do I mean to her? What does she mean to me? I just wish this made sense. The pieces of the puzzle just aren't fitting together like they're supposed to. At least not yet. All I've got are a jumble of mixed up emotions with no rhyme or reason...and strange visions of a past that, for all I can tell, might not even exist. I just wish I had some kind of 'center' again. Just something to let me know what I'm doing here.

The throbbing ache in my head was comforted by the stable feel of the wall behind me. My feet hung over the side of the bed, and my eyes closed softly to enjoy the silence. I might have lost focus for a moment or two, but I soon heard a light knocking at the door. I don't know if I had been resting for a few minutes, or a few hours. Time seemed so strangely unimportant right now.

"Come in." I said, and I saw Dutch walk in quietly. "Dutch, right?"

"You got it. The doctor check you out?" He asked, his voice a bit gruff and hazy, a nearly vanished Houston accent lacing his every word.

"Yeah. It appears that I'm a-ok....with the exception of the fact that I have no idea who I am right now." I grunted, leaning forward.

"Don't worry, we'll take care of that in time. Right now, I wanna get you out of here and back to your quarters. We're going to keep this little 'illness' of yours quiet for as long as we can. Got it?"

"Is there any particular reason why?"

"Let's just say that we're not exactly a pack of cub scouts in this place. The people we work for aren't too forgiving when it comes to one of their 'products' being temporarily broken." He said. "We do a lot of dirt around here...some of it on record, and some of it below the radar. What we know could do a lot of damage if it got out. There really isn't room for any of us to make a mistake. So if they think for a second that you can't be effective, useful, or trustworthy, they'll have to get rid of you. And I'm NOT talking 'pink slips', kid."

He helped me up to my feet, and offered me his shoulder. "That's alright, I can walk on my own."

"Suit yourself. Follow me, I'll get you settled for the night."

Dutch led me outside into the rest of the complex, and it looked even bigger than it did before. There were small trucks moving back and forth, carrying boxes marked with numeric code, and workers of all sorts moving back and forth like elves in a toy shop before the Christmas rush. A few folks turned to look at me, their eyes connecting with mine as though they knew me. But I didn't stare for too long. I merely tried to straighten up and walk as though I belonged there. As though everything were fine. I could only hope that it was working, because deep down, the paraonia I felt in this place was eating me alive. That's when, Dutch's hand reached out and touched my shoulder. Walking toward us were three other vampires, much more well dressed than anyone else in this place, and they were approaching fast with their determined stroll. The first two were in front, but the third...hidden in back a little bit. I felt my emotions tense up immediately, my breath catching in my throat, my back straightening itself like a soldier. But beyond that....there was something else. Something that made me weak in the stomach. A slight jittery sensation washed over me, and despite my obedient posture, I was an unstable mess on the inside. What could possibly cause such a conflict of emotion in such a short period of time?

"Remember kid, as far as they're right as rain. If they ask you how everything went, just tell them that the mission was successful, and the target has been silenced." Dutch whispered to me as we got closer to them. "And always refer to her as 'Mistress'. Got it?"

"I think so." I said nervously.

"Don't think...just relax." He warned me. "Keep it short and sweet. You're not usually one for a lot of talking."

The first two vampires approached me. One was a female vampire, dressed in a long black dress, with black hair down to her shoulders, and dark lashes that gave her eyes a wicked gleam with her first smile in my direction. She was slim, but shapely, about 25 years of age, wearing dark red lipstick and obsidian earrings. Her pale skin was smooth and rich, unblemished and unscarred. But the vibe that I got from her was so cold. Katrina. Mistress Katrina.

The man at her side was maybe a few years younger, but his features were a bit more aged than hers. He was skinny to the point of almost being cartoonish in his emaciated appearance, with a slightly elongated face. It looked as though his hair might have been thinning when he crossed over, but he made it just in time. His arms and legs looked unnaturally long, and his ribs seemed wider than his waistline. He had bags under his eyes, and a deep voice that rattled in his chest when he spoke, a dark English accent evident in his speech. He was wearing, what looked like a black robe. The 'male' version of the attire the lady next to him was sporting. And fingernails painted black, at the end of long skinny fingers that more closely resembled 'talons' than anything else. When they stopped to talk to me, I felt a strange angry sensation roll through me, and fought to keep it from showing on my face.

" finest, up and coming, hunter...I see that you made it back safely." Katrina said.

"Yes." I said stoicly, but thought about what Dutch told me in the awkward pause following my reply. "Yes, Mistress."

"I trust that you didn't run into any...'problems', during your assignment this evening." She asked, and I felt my stomach muscles begin to constrict even worse. Whoever she was, this woman really rubbed me the wrong way.

"No, Mistress. None at all."

The man next to her was looking me over, suspiciously analyzing me without any shame at all. "You seem injured." He said, his deep voice weasel-like in its delivery.

"It's just a nasty bump on the head. He's taken a few lumps before, it's no big deal." Dutch answered. "I'm going to get him to his quarters, and let him get some peace before the big sleep takes him for the night."

"And Kristoff?" She asked, looking deep into my eyes. It was almost as if she could tell that something was wrong. That I wasn't myself.

There was a silence, and I looked over to see Dutch waiting for me to deliver my 'line'. "Kristoff...yes. The uh...the mission was successful. The target has been silenced." I said.

She kept her eye on me for a moment longer, a slow nod following. "Good. Very good." She 'scanned' me for a few seconds before turning her attention to Dutch. "The report?"

Thankfully Dutch took over from there, handing her the folder. "The target was located about a week ago at this location. Information was given to us through our contacts on the street in that area. Kristoff was seen coming and going in many of the underground clubs in that area, but had no identifiable vampires with him. I believe that we were able to stop him before he was able to spread any classified information to the outside." Dutch delivered his report while handing the blood samples and evidence of our attack over to the woman in black. Meanwhile, my attention was suddenly pulled away from the discussion to see the third vampire that had approached us. The other two had dominated their position so immediately that I didn't even have a chance to see him at first. He was different...this third vampire among them. Very different indeed.

His eyes met mine briefly, with an eagerness, mixed with a touch of caution. He couldn't have been more than 14 from the looks of him. Then again, judging by looks, I wouldn't be more han 15 years old either. The difference, however, was in his very scent. New. Fresh. A sapling halflife, just crossed over. could almost taste his humanity. He still had the scent of 'life' all over him, many of his original blood cells were still there, containing that magical essence that made a young vampire so incredibly unique. My senses were drawn to him first, but it was my eyesight that held my gaze. He was BEYOND beautiful, in every sense of the word. He was stunning to behold, almost intimidating. He had the shiniest golden blond hair, that would glimmer with brilliance, even in this darkened corridor. And it hung sweetly down just below his soft blue eyes in thin silky bangs that gently grazed his long eyelashes as he blinked bashfully in my direction. Those few seconds of peeking out from behind the other two vampires, were the most exciting of my life as I could recall.

"Is that to be taken as a 'no', Exile?" The squirrely man on the left asked me, and I realized that I wasn't paying attention.

"I'm sorry?" I asked, hoping he would repeat the question without asking why I was so distracted.

"I said...your wound looks severe. Are we to think that you will be out of 'play' for a while?" He sneered.

"No. No, I'm ok. Dr....Colby, says that I should be healing rather quickly. A few sleep cycles, not much more." I told them.

"You see? The boy is fine. He's a trooper, this kid. I told ya." Dutch assured them, trying to drag me away from them before any more questions were asked.

"I see." Said Katrina. Then she traced my line of sight back to the beautiful boy behind her. "Orion...why don't you go back to our quarters and draw me a bath? I would like to celebrate Exile's victory this evening before bed." She smiled, and the boy answered her.

"Yes, Mistress." His voice was as angelic as the rest of him. I couldn't understand why, but the 'pull' I felt in his direction was stronger than anything I've ever known. It was this emotional 'yank' that kept me fixated on his every move, and thoughts of kissing his delicate lips flooded my mind. Effectively drowning out everything else.

"Mmmmm, that's a good boy." She said, and then leaned over to give him a long wet lick on his cheek. Did he...'belong' to her? Their blood signatures, from the smell of it, were very similar indeed. Was she....his sire? "I trust that you have other things to do, so I'll leave you to it." Katrina told me. "I DO hope you will be taking good care of that bump on the head, Exile. Field work can be very dangerous, even for you. I would hate for something to....happen to you that we couldn't fix." I saw the most mischievous smile spread slowly across her thin lips, and felt my fist clench up secretly behind my back, my teeth gritted together in response. The comment angered and disgusted me. Something about it moved me to the point of wanting to leap forward and rip that smug grin right off of her face! But what was it? Was it because of the boy? No...more than that. Something sinister. She set me up. I can FEEL it. In fact, I was pretty certain that she didn't expect me to come back from tonight's mission at all.

"We'll take good care of him, Mistress. By the weekend, he'll be good as new." Dutch assured her. And patted me on the back, giving me the signal to move forward.

"Bye..." The boy said to me, his adorably charming face still peeking out from the dominant forces in front of him. His beauty was paralyzing, but as Katrina and her right hand servant watched me closely...especially when it came to my interaction with the boy...I kept my emotions invisible.

I nodded at the boy, not showing any real affection, and walked forward with Dutch. "Goodbye, Mistress." I said, and we began to walk our seperate ways.

As I turned to look back, the boy was trailing behind the other two, catching a few infatuated glances back at me. I couldn't keep my eyes forward. I had to keep looking back. Meeting his eyes. Feeling his youthful 'life essence' filling whatever unknown void I had in the center of my heart. He enchanted me without hardly saying anything at all, and I could easily feel the closeness, and the distance, that existed between us. The boy looked back at me, his gorgeous blue eyes containing a hint of sadness, even when the rest of his face didn't, and I almost stopped in midstep to go back for him.

"Orion!" Katrina called out, and she waited for the boy to catch up, taking his arm the moment he stood at her side. I'm really going to have to get a grip on myself at some point beore I make trouble that I don't need.

Dutch and I continued to walk side by side for a while, and a grin broke out on his face. "'s good to see that the little brain wasn't damaged in the fight."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, come on, buddy boy. Who do you think you're fooling? If you ask me, the few things that you NEED to forget about seem to be right there in the front of your brain." He said, but when he saw the confused look on my face, he decided to elabrate. "The BOY, stupid. Orion."

"Him? Oh...I was just..."

"Save it. Ok? I know. Widow knows, Freak knows, we ALL know. What you need to worry about is Katrina knowing. It's no secret that Orion is her prize possession. She turned him herself, and she's not known for her 'patience' in situations that deal with anybody else putting their hands on him."

I straightened up and cleared my throat. "I wasn't doing anything..."

"You were LOOKING. And to somone like her that's an insult of the worst kind." Dutch told me, and then pulled me aside. "Look, I know you're having problems with remembering certain things, but if you need to keep just ONE thing in mind, it's this...the boy is off limits. Got it?" I didn't answer at first, sighing at how ridiculous it sounded for him to even be warning me. It's not like I lacked self control. Still, he persisted. "GOT IT???"

"Ok. Alright. Off limits, I got it. Geez..." I said.

"I'm not playing here, kid. You promised me a long time ago that it would be business only in this place, and that you'd stay away from anything that would get Katrina's claws out concerning the rest of us. But ever since that boy has been here for the past month or so, you've been doing emotional backflips over him, and don't think we haven't noticed." Dutch's voice softened a bit, and he put a hand on my shoulder. "There are other boys out there for you, Exile. Just as cute and sweet as Orion...but 'available'. You get my meaning? If you start anything up with Katrina's golden boy she'll have both you AND him murdered without even blinking an eye. She's a goddamn Mafia PRINCESS for crying out loud! There won't be ANYWHERE for you to hide, even if you run!"

"It was a mistake! That's all. I don't even know who that boy IS!" I replied.

"GOOD! And that's how it's going to stay!"

"Fine, whatever. I was just...he's cute...I was taking a peek."

"Don't even do THAT much! Just pretend he's not even there! If he looks at you, you turn away. Do you understand?" He stopped walking and turned me to look him in the eye. "TELL ME you understand!" "OK!!! I said I would ignore him already, what do you want from me?" I replied.

"I want you to stay alive. These aren't 'forgiving' people that we're dealing with. I don't want to have be the one to get the order to put you down if she decides that you're a threat to her 'comfort'. Make no mistake...even though the Elders are looking out for your best interests, she WILL put out an underground licensed contract on you. And once you're dead, she can make up any story she ikes about how it happened. So you leave her loverboy alone and stick to what you do best. You got me?"

"Yeah. I got you." I said the words, but although I couldn't remember that boy at all, it hurt my feelings to agree to such a restriction. Keep myself away from him? I didn't even know where to find him if I WANTED to be close to him. And yet...the emotion was there. It was THERE. I could feel it, like a hollow drum in my chest, waiting to be filled up with something special. A liquid sensation so powerful, that it turned the night into day, and healed my every wound with no further effort than it took to see his smile.

"Good. Now these are your private quarters here. Lay down for the night and rest that noggin' of yours. Tomorrow evening, we'll see if we can expand on what you know....and what you NEED to know." Dutch said, and opened a sliding door for me. Then he came close and gave me a tight hug. "It's good to see that you're still kicking, boy."

"Thanks." I said. And he let me go, giving me a casual salute before leaving me to spend some time alone with my thoughts. What little I had left. I hope that something comes back to me soon. This place is so damn strange without the needed reference to the faces and knowledge I need to know where I am, who to talk to, or even who I could trust. Something feels so wrong here, and I can't tell what it is. It's like every alarm in my body is going off at once, and I can't assosciate the bells and whistles with anything concrete enough to react accordingly. Maybe I just need some sleep. The doctor said that I might have a complete recall of everything tomorrow, right? Maybe I'll get lucky. Maybe tomorrow...this confusion will be forgotten, and I'll be back to myself again. Only time will tell.

I turned to look around at the room I was standing in. My room. You would think that the very sight of my own possessions would spark some kind of connection to the world I had recently lost sight of. But it didn't. In fact, everything looked just as alien in that room as the rest of this place. There was a bed in the corner, just a mattress and a dirty old pillow, along with a ratty looking blanket that appeare to have been kicked off onto the floor. There was a desk covered in papers and old photographs, and I moved closer to investigate. But there was nothing 'personal' about the contents. It was Photographs of vampires that I didn't recognize, old buildings and possible vampire habitats, and pages on top of pages of stats and calculations. Data printouts. where to find them, where to find their friends and family, suspected crimes, possible weaknesses...all wrapped up with this ice cold vampire hunter protocol meant to make their very existence as flat and as unimportant as possible when matched up with the Elder's order. Whatever it was that I could find out about myself here...I'd rather not know.

I continued to look around, and saw a collection of DVDs sitting on a shelf above a flat screen color tv attached to the wall. I looked closer at the titles, and they all appeared to be pornography. Young boys, all of them. Jesus...there had to be, like, 50 of them. With names like 'Little Sailor Boys', 'Little Boy Blew', 'Johnny Appleseed', and 'Locker Room Cock Jockey'. The pics on the outside of the box were about as explicit as they possibly could be, and most of the videos were actual vampire porn. Gorgeous boys my age, with the experience of a veteran porn star. I didn't know I was so into this stuff. Maybe later I''review' a couple of these. Just to see if they bring anything back, of course.

My closet was near empty, with just enough clothes to get through the week, and three pair of shoes. Everything looked to be more functional than stylish, however. I guess I wasn't really one for showing off my sense of fashion either. Sighhh...what does any of this mean? How could I be so damn lost in my own life?

I felt a yawn building in the back of my throat, and stretched my arms up as it left me. The dawn must be approaching, and the big sleep was coming to claim me for the rest of the day. I peeled off my clothes and kicked off my shoes, climbing into bed and pulling the old blanket over on top of me before turning off the light. It was when I lay on my back, my hands behind my head, that I noticed something written in bright red glow-in-the-dark paint on the ceiling. I let my eyes focus on it briefly, and saw that it was a quote. It said...

"I fear if my demons leave me, that my angels may take flight as well."

The idea rattled around in my head for a short time, the concept attempting to take hold as the irrational thoughts of sleep swept in to take me over. And soon, my eyes closed, and my body went cold. I suppose I'll have to think about it more tomorrow.

What I had that night might have just been a dream, but it felt more like a memory. It had become so hard to disguinsh between the two all of the sudden. But I remember standing in a room with twelve other vampires, hunters like myself, and a large man with an eye patch apparently training us. "Exile!" He barked at me. "Step forward!" I did as I was told, and he called out another one of my 'classmates'. "Prime! Front and center!" We stood at opposite ends of the mat, and our eyes connected tightly from across the room. We were both dressed in tight black spandex, with black gloves and boots. But he was bigger than me, older. He looked to have been in his 20's when he crossed over. I can still feel the tremble in my chest. The uncertainty. But not a single one of those doubts were allowed to reach the surface. My face was fixed, my eyes locked, my fists balled up tight and firm, my feet positioned perfectly beneath me. I was ready. Then, the man with the eye patch told us, "The fight is not over until your opponent is unable to continue. Begin!"

With that command, we moved in slowly. Every step, calculated and measured. Every movement giving way to over 100 different strikes, blocks, and dodges, if the need presented itself. And then, in between, our hands touched...and the sparring began. Prime's fist reached out with a flash, and struck me right across the face. If my reflexes weren't fast enough to let it roll off to the side, he could have easily broken my jaw! Without having time to think, I struck out with both fists blazing, attempting to get a shot in somewhere, ANYWHERE! Prime was fast! DAMN fast! Somwhere in my attack, I left my legs unprotected, and he was quick to take advantage of the opening. He spun down low to kick my legs from under me, sending me falling back on my shoulders. He kicked out a leg to hurt me while I was down, but I was quick enough to catch his foot and toss him to the ground. We both popped up onto our feet again and took our stances, our stare locking onto one another again. I could feel the pain in my back, legs, and face already...but tried to ignore it. Mentally trying to numb it until I had completed my objective. That is what they teach us here, afterall.

I saw Prime's feet swivel around in my direction, but by the time I had caught sight of his motion, it was already too late. His swift roundhouse kick connected to my face and sent me spinning back to the floor. I rolled out of the way the second I touched down, and flipped to my feet again. He charged me from the right, and my feet left the floor, jumping high enough step down on his shoulder and flip over him. I then moved in to elbow him in the back and flipped him over my shoulder. But much to my surprise, Prime landed on his feet. He struck out at me again, and our arms and legs twisted and banged against each other with a fury. I took small hits off of him here and there, occassionally hitting an arm, or a shoulder, or a leg. Sometimes I could get a small shot in at his chest, or his neck, but none of it did any real damage. The shots that HE was able to get in, however...were downright brutal. My ribs ached, my stomach muscles cramped, my back, my arms, my was getting hard to ignore the pain. It was taking over. I needed to get out of this deadlock and get some space before I tire out.

I spun inward to avoid one of Prime's kicks and jumped up to land both of my feet square in the center of his chest. The blow knocked him backwards, and it was the first time his feet had left the match the entire time. When he got back up, he was pissed. "Fucking halflife TRASH!!!" Before I knew it, he was attacking me with more strength than I was prepared for. Trying to block one of his kicks was like banging my forearms against the edge of a brick! And I couldn't keep it up for long. The strikes happened so fast and so hard that I found myself nearly turtling up to protect myself from the assault. I caught punches to my back, my side, my collarbone...and just when I was reaching the end of my ability to defend myself, Prime set his foot in the middle of my chest, and flipped up and backwards with his other foot making a crash collision with my chin! My teeth rattled, and a splash of blood came rushing out of my mouth as my neck snapped back and the force of the blow arched my back on my way to the mat. It felt like I'd never stop falling, until at last, I hit the ground with a thud, and Prime landed gracefully on his feet.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, Prime jumped into the air, raising his feet high, and then brought them down on BOTH of my kneecaps! Breaking them instantly! I cried out in horror as my young body was overwhelmed with pain, and I rolled onto my stomach, crying uncontrollably loud into the mat.

"MATCH!" The man with the eye patch said. "Winner...PRIME!" The cheers and applause of the others were drowned out by the sound of my own tears as I used every mental technique that I could think of to try to take away some of the pain. But there was no ignoring the damage done. My legs were cracked and broken, I couldn't even move. It hurt so much that I was trembling beyond control, and I felt my body begin to go into shock. The trainer stood over me for a moment, and said, "Very disappointing for your first sparring match, Exile. I expected more from you, boy." Then he signaled two men with a stretcher to come and get me off of the floor to carry me to the infirmary. The last thing I remembered was Prime's smiling face as my vision blurred with tears of agony. He was so satisfied at having beaten me. The others hardly paid me any attention at all. They already had their hero.

I was slowly waking up from my dream, but as I began to regain consciousness, I sensed another presence in the room around me. I didn't open my eyes yet, and pretended to stay asleep. It was more an instinct than a willing action, but my training had kicked in automatically, and continued to follow the intruder's slow movements towards me. I could hear them, feel them, sense them. And when they got close enough to touch me, whoever it was stopped in his tracks. As though they were watching me. It was then that I decided to speak first before reaching out a hand to choke the life from the person next to me. If it turned out to be Dr. Colby again, I doubt he'd tolerate another misplaced outburst.

"I know you're in here." I said calmly. "Should I be worried?" I heard a light gasp, and the other presence covered his mouth. "I'll take that as a no."

"I'm sorry..." That voice. I remembered that voice. And while it was soothing to the ear, it caused chaos in my heart.

I sat up and opened both of my eyes. There he was. The boy I had seen with Katrina the night before. This time, he was close, and I was able to let my gaze linger on his perfection for a much more satisfying glance than I had been given before. His skin was like warm buttermilk, creamy and soft, with an almost invisibly natural blush. His lips were full, but small. kissable in a way that tugged at your soul just from looking at them. And his eyes, while curtained on both sides by blond hair that would shine like spun gold, were definitely my favorite feature. They were the purest shade of blue, as close to the real thing as vampire optrix could hope to produce. And even though the specs were of the highest quality, some of his glow would penetrate anyway. Then again, maybe it was just his total aura that made him shine so brightly. He was so young in his crossover, a newblood. I doubt his fangs had even dropped yet, and if they had, it would have only been for a week or two. I doubted he had even had his first hunt. The teen was almost as tall as I was, maybe an inch or two shorter, but his slim frame made his arms and legs appear longer than they were. And his shoulders were broad, but thin, joining in the middle at the nape of a smooth and slender neck. The boy defined an innocent sexuality that radiated from his every pore whether he wanted it to or not, and despite my loss of memory, my emotions knew exactly who he was, and what he meant to me. I know...because it made me weak inside just to be near him.

"What are you doing?" I asked. It was one of the few words that I'd be able to say while having him watch me like that.

"I was....watching you sleep." He said, gently biting his bottom lip. "I hope that doesn't sound creepy."

"No...I mean....what are you doing HERE?"

"I snuck in." He said, with a little crooked smile sliding up his left cheek. "I KNOW you're gonna be mad and all...but don't worry. She doesn't know that I'm here."

I paused, and remembered Dutch's warning. I had to peel my eyes away from him to concentrate clearly. "You shouldn't be here."

But the boy didn't leave. His facial expression wrinkled up for a moment, but he didn't let that scare him off. "I heard you got him. Kristoff, I mean. Did you kick his ass?" He asked excitedly.

"No." I was hoping he would leave. Something about being this close to him really bothered me. I was short of breath, and afraid to look him in the eye. "I'm not supposed to be talking to you."

"You're never supposed to be talking to me. That's never stopped you before." He smiled. God....his smile was enchanting. It brightened up his features and created an almost irresistable doseage of boyish charm. "C'mon, I wanna know! What was it like?"

I looked at him briefly out of the corner of my eye, wondering what kind of relationship it was that I had with this boy. And whether or not I was supposed to remember it well enough to engage him in any kind of detailed conversation. "It was....dark." I answered.

"Fine. You don't have to tell me. I'll just snatch the report and read it for myself later." He grinned. Then he hopped up on the bed to sit next to me. "SO...what's up?"

His exuberance glowed inside him, and having him close to me on the bed made me nervous. So I stood up right away, and walked over to my closet to put on a shirt. "Nothing. What time is it?"

"It's almost eight o'clock. You overslept by a couple of hours." He stood up to walk across the room and lean against the wall next to me. He gazed for a moment, and then gave me a bashful grin.

"What?" I asked.

"Nothing. Geez, you're always so paranoid." He told me. "I know..." He stopped, and then thought about what he wanted to say next. "...I thought that maybe we could sit down again tonight and some more. You know? Like last week. You really helped me work some things out. You know?"

"No. I'm afraid I don't remember." I said, pulling on a pair of pants and lacing them up with a belt. The more I could avoid his beautiful eyes and his pleasant conversation, the better. "Listen...I've got a lot of stuff to take care of tonight. So...."

He was silent for a second or two, and I watched his cute little brow wrinkle up. But he let it go, and his smile returned as he ignored my subtle gesture for him to leave. "So I heard Sneed saying that he's already got another target waiting for ya somewhere on the North side of town. That was pretty fast, huh? They must be working you awfully hard." He walked over to my desk, and picked up one of the pornographic videos that I had pulled off of the shelf the night before.

I walked over and took it from him, putting it back on the shelf. "Sneed, who?"

"Sneed..." He said, a slight confused look on his face. When I didn't respond right away, he added, "Elias Sneed? Mistress Katrina's advisor? Helloooo?"

"Oh....right." I said, vaguely remembering the waifish little weasel at Katrina's right side from the night before.

"Anyway, he says it's gonna be an easy one. And then he might give you a break for a week or two. Won't that be great? Then we can talk more."

"You and I....we talk?"

"Of COURSE! Well...we do now." He giggled. "And I think it does me a lot of good, you know? To get it all out at last. I never told anybody before." But just as I was beginning to think that maybe we were just friends with something in common...he blushed slightly and smiled. "I like talking to you, Adam. You're the only person here who ever really listens to me. You're the only person who ever really cares. You told me that if I took a chance and just said what I was feeling instead of keeping it all to myself all the time and being too afraid to talk to anybody, then I could find some of the joy I was looking for. And you were right! Now...I feel like I can tell you anything."

The sentiment was beginning to invade me from every angle, and my emotions were rushing to the surface. I held it in as best as I could, and then moved further away from him. "Thanks." I was sure that was his name. That's what she called him, right? "I think...I think it would be best if you just...."

But he made sure to interrupt me before I had a chance to kick him out of my quarters. "Hey, I heard that you hurt your head. I brought you some ice." He said, and walked over to where he was standing when I first woke up. He pulled out a bag that was mostly water, and it was dripping all over the floor. "Oops...well, it was ice when I brought it. What can I say? You sleep late."

"Thanks anyway." I said, feeling myself drawn to him with even greater intensity. I was shaking. Literally shaking. And I couldn't stop.

"So are you gonna tell me who it was you used to be in love with now, or is that still a secret?" He asked, and I gave him a funny look. "I like it. It suits you. It's like this big contrast to everything else I've heard about you." And that's when he touched my arm, and as he raised the sleeve a bit, I saw the markings clear as day. An eternity band had been fused into my arm, signifying....a vampie born out of love. How can that be? It HAS to be true. It doesn't work if the vampire isn't born out of love. I....I was in love...and I don't even remember it? "I wish I had one." Orion grinned.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. It startled me, and I jumped, feeling my heartbeat jump from 0 to 60 in a half second. Dutch's voice came from the other side of the door. "You awake in there, Exile?"

"Um...YEAH! I'm getting dressed now." I answered back, hoping the kid would be silent until he left.

"It ain't nothing that I haven't seen before. You mind if I step in for a minute?"

"Uhhh....hold on..." I said, and took the boy by the arm to quickly shove him in the closet and close the door. To me, it was a safety precaution. But to him, it seemed more like a game. He smiled the entire time. "Ok, come in."

Dutch opened the door, and walked into the room, adjusting the lights to a higher brightness. "You alright in here?"

"I'm fine."

"How's the old noggin?"

"Still a bit sore and dysfunctional, but I'll manage."

"Good thing to hear. Because Dixon is here on base tonight. He wants to talk to you. He knows about your condition, and he wants to help get you up to speed on certain things. Alright?" He said.

"Sure. Sure thing. I hope it helps."

"Alright." Dutch said. "Oh, and before you leave, get the kid out of the closet and send him back to Katrina where he belongs before she starts looking for him." He saw the look on my face, and smirked. "I may not be as good as you are with my intuition...but I'm no idiot." Then on his way out, he said, "Hello, Orion."

"Hey, Dutch." Came a voice from behind the closet door. When I opened it up, he stuck out his tongue just as Dutch was closing it behind him. "How does he always know?"

"He's paid to know. We all are." I answered. "You should go."

"Can I come back later?"


This time, the flash of emotion on his face was almost a hurt expression. "I didn't mean to annoy you or anything."

"You're not annoying me."

"If I'm annoying, you can tell me. Just say it, and I'll leave you alone."

"Ok...NOW you're being annoying." I said. It just came out of nowhere, like some kind of mental defense against his glorious smile. "I don't need this right now, ok? Can you just get out of here and leave me the hell alone? Please?" It might have sounded a bit mean, but keeping him at arm's length was the only comfort I had around him. It was the only emotion that didn't confuse me.

The hurt in his heart increased, and I saw his bottom lip poke out ever so slightly, as the sadness in his eyes felt as though it were choking the life out of me. "Why are you always so mean to me?" He said softly.

"I....I have to go."

"You weren't like this the other night." He whined. "You actually talked to me. You said you cared."

"I can't remember. I shouldn't have."

"Well *I* remember, and you DID!" He said, his voice shaking slightly. "I know you're supposed to be this great big badass out in the field...but sometimes.....sometimes you're really nice to me. And sweet. And I just...." It looked like he was fighting back tears, and I couldn't bear to look at him anymore. "...I just don't understand how someone so cool can just vanish into thin air every couple of days, just to come back and treat me like shit again."

Dammit!!! I don't remember ANY of this! What did I say to this boy, anyway? Who was I? And why is my heart beating so fast? I shouldn't be doing this. He shouldn't be here. This is forbidden. He's hands off. COMPLETELY hands off! I've gottaget out of here. "You've got to leave. You are putting me in danger by just being here. Do you understand that?"

"I LIKE being here with you!"

"Katrina won't allow it...."

"I don't CARE about her!" He shouted, and I was sure that someone outside could have heard him if they were listening. Making me even more nervous. "I tried to like her, and make myself...want her....but..." He fidgeted, rocking on his heels, his hands making frustrated gestures as he tried to find the words to say what he felt had to be said. "...All I can think you. And how awesome it felt when you told me you cared about me."

I didn't know what to say, or where to go with my thoughts so screwed up. And with this boy being so close under Katrina's wing, I couldn't necessarily tell him that I had lost my memory. So...I did the only thig that I could do. "I'm sorry, kid. I think you've got me mixed up with somebody else." I lowered my eyes when I said it, and my voice mumbled the words under my breath. But he knew that I was hiding. He could tell. I think that knowledge made it worse, and he stared at me in silence, his eyes watery with tears.

"You're such a liar. And you KNOW you're lying!" When the first few tears began to fall, he violently swung the door open to storm out of my quarters. "Fuck you, Exile!" And he slammed it shut. Did it hurt? God yes, it hurt! But I didn't have a choice. According to Dutch's warning, my LIFE could be on the line here. Maybe...maybe when I get my memory back, I'll be able to back up whatever it is I told him. But for now, the most important thing is to keep myself from getting into any trouble here. Not until I know what I'm doing. Not until I know who I can trust. But...all that aside....yeah, it hurt.

I finished getting dressed and walked out into the middle of the facility and watched as the people around me worked diligently, lost in a world of business and hardly paying me any attention. I didn't know anything about this place at all, including which way to turn to find Dutch again.

"Exile! I heard you took a nasty spill last night!" I heard from behind me, and turned to see a young Irish boy, about 18 years old, with short dark brown hair and light green eyes. His accent was heavy, but easily understandable. "You must be getting slow now, ay?"

" Just caught me by surprise I guess." I said, trying to keep my conversation as general and vague as possible.

"I thought you said you couldn't be caught by surprise." He grinned.

"Well, this must have been the exception."

"Excuses, excuses. Listen, Dutch is waiting for ya over in holding cell 6 with Dixon. They say it's urgent. So I'd get moving if I were you."

"Um...yeah. You're right. You lead the way."

"Lead the way? What are ya talking about? I'm going out on assignment tonight. You're on your own."

"Right. Ok. So....holding cell 6 you said, right?" I said, and he gave me a strange look, nodding slowly. "Ok. Later." I started to walk forward a few steps when I heard the Irish boy clear his throat. When I turned around, he was giving me another strange look.

"Holding Cell SIX, boy!" He said. Then pointed his finger in the other direction. "Thatta way."

"Yes...SIX. That IS what you said, isn't it? Right. Thanks." I straightened up and began walking in the direction that he pointed out to me.

"An actual thanks? From YOU? You ARE a strange one tonight, Exile. You need rest." He said, and then began to walk away to get his orders for the evening.

I knew that I was going to be lost unless I saw a great big sign on the door that said 'Holding Cell 6' on it, but kept walking anyway, hoping to stumble across it somehow. Luckily, Dutch was standing in the hallway, probably on his way back to retrieve me. "Have fun tonight?" He said with a grin.


"The boy." He reminded me.

"It wasn't like that."

"I'm sure it wasn't, and that's what scares me." He said. "I've seen you watch the videos, and look at the magazines, and I've even seen you occassionally have a fling or two with some of the most beautiful call boys in town in that room of yours. And yet I've never seen you look at anybody the way you look at Orion. Whatever it is that you and that boy have together, it's more than sexual satisfaction, and that's a LOT harder to hide than what you're usually reaching for. Which is a simple 'splash' and a kiss goodnight." Dutch kept walking, and then swiped a key card through the slot at the door in front of us. "In this place, it's best to keep your relationships short and simple. Unemotional, if possible. Keep it sexual, and walk away when it's over, just like I taught you. Otherwise you get caught up in a lot of unecessary shit with the boys you bring home. Including Liam's brother...which is another one you might want to stay away from if you know what's good for you."


"The guy you were just talking to. One of our best spies out there for collecting information. He seems friendly enough, but his younger brother Dotti crossed over at 13, and has only been in darkness a couple of years. Now, I'm not making any judgement calls, but I'm thinking Dotti is a little more stuck on you than you are on him. And considering Liam can, will, and HAS, killed for his little bro in the past, I suggest you tread lightly. He's a mean son of a bitch when he needs to be." The doors opened in front of us, and we walked down a long hallway to the holding room at the end. "Here we are. Dixon is going to give you a brief rundown of what you need to know, and hopefully we'll get you back to a slightly functional status before anyone notices you've gone bonkers."

He opened the door, and I walked into the room. There was only a single light hanging from the ceiling, two chairs, and an iron table in the room. And sitting in one of the chairs....was the man with the eyepatch. The one from my dream. "Exile....have a seat."

The mere sight of him completely brought on a flashback in full color. Instantly transporting me back to a time that began almost right where the dream left off. I could remember it so clearly all of the sudden. I was sitting in the infirmary, my legs set and wrapped so they could heal over the next day or two, my bruises being tended to. And this man, Dixon, came into the room. "Nurse, would you mind giving me and this cadet some privacy?" They agreed, and everyone left the room. I remember Dixon sitting down next to me and saying, "About your sparring match with Prime..."

But I stopped him. "I'm sorry to have failed you, sir. He was...much too strong. But I can work harder..."

This time, it was his turn to interrupt. "Prime...won't be joining us."

"What? What do you mean?"

"Exile...during your match, while Prime's physical skill and strength did its job, your technique was more exact than you may think."

"I'm afraid I don't follow you, sir." I said confused.

He took a pause, and let a sigh escape his lips. "During that match, you managed to hit 142 different pressure points on Prime's body. Some on the chest, in the side, the neck, the arms, the legs. It was a delayed reaction, yes, but a powerful one. Whether you were aware of it or not, you won that match. By a WIDE margin. If you were taught to harness that level of awareness, to develop that special brand of perception, you could be one of the best hunters to ever play this game." He told me, much to my shock. "And that's why I'm choosing you to be our newest recruit. Welcome to the front line, son. I'll come see you when you recover fully."

He got up to leave, and I was still sitting there in surprised silence. But when he reached the door, I had to ask. "Sir?"


"Is Prime alright?"

He paused, his eyes avoiding mine for a split second, and his face hardened slightly as he denied me the truth. "That's not your concern anymore. You're a killer now, Exile. The only thing that matters is that you survived." That was his only answer, and nodded at me as he closed the door.

Yes, the imagery of it all hit me like a lightning bolt, and it was hard to force myself back to reality. "Sit. Please." He said again, and I complied. "Dutch tells me you suffered quite an extensive injury during last night's assignment. Is that correct?"

"Yes." I nodded. He looked down at the folders in front of him for a moment, and then back up at me.

"And you've lost select parts of your memory?"

"Yes sir." Something about his calm made me nervous, but I sat up straight anyway.

"Ok, then. We have a lot to discuss, you and I. Hopefully, by the time you leave this room, you'll have enough of your background memorized to pass for functional. This is only a temporary fix until your memory comes back to you fully. Anyone spending an extended amount of time talking to you will know that you are not who you say you are, and that is going to cause a big problem. Your best bet is to avoid any major social interactions for the time being and try to concentrate on remembering what you can." He told me. "If you are exposed as a fraud...protocol states that the subject is to be terminated immideately, and replaced with another cadet. Do you understand what I am telling you?" The words chilled me slightly, but my instincts wouldn't let that show. No matter how much the idea terrified me inside.

"Yes sir."

"Alright then. Let's begin." He opened the folder, and the session started off with my real name. Adam. Adam Herrick.

As we talked, Dixon gave me detail after detail. But most of it was all business related. Facts, data, an ice cold analysis describing a hunter and his duty to the Elders in this world of darkness. Nothing about it seemed even remotely human. It was just this mechanical rambling about my effectiveness in taking the lives of others for the simple fact that I was ordered to do it. The more he told me, the less I believed that I even had it in me to do those things. I had murdered over thirty nine vampires since my stay there. Thirty nine. And while many were criminals, killers, and spice dealers...some were just innocent people. Vampires living in small habitats who never meant to harm anybody. Some were halflifes, just like me, who risked exposing us to the humans while having fun, or accidently fed upon a human with a safeguard mark. As I looked at my list of so-called successes, I saw the Elders orders as being extremely cold, unforgiving, and occassionally they were downright insane. How did I come to work for this place?

"These are your teammates. They have recently been assigned to you." Dixon pushed forward a few files on the table for me to look at. It was full of photos and personal information on the three characters that picked me up in the van and brought me to this place in the beginning. "The first is Rachael Strickland. Codename: Widow. Very fast, very precise. You've worked with her on a number of occassions with great results. We figured it only right to have you two on the same team." He turned to the next page, where I saw the masked man. "Tariq Fontaine. Codename: Hell Razor. Martial arts skill is unmatched, trained with every handheld bladed weapon known to man, nearly unbeatable with a bo staff." I saw another picture of him with the mask off, and gasped. The skin on his face was badly burned, blackened and twisted, as though it were in the process of turning to ash. "The scars on Hell Razor's face came from a mission about 10 years back. He was exposed to a heavy dose of sunlight before we were able to get someone out there to bring him in."

"Didn't it heal?" I asked.

"Sunburns don't heal for vampires. Not when they're this bad." He said, and then turned to the next pic. "This is Freak. No real name, no codename, just Freak. A nosferatu vamp we enlisted because of his combined strength and intelligence. It's a rare balance for that breed of vampire. He's quick, strategic, a computer genius when he needs to be, and he's stronger than most vampires out there. He's a great asset to the team."

"You know...this...this is all great, but...what about me?" I asked.

"Adam Herrick. Codename: Exile. Enemy profiler, team leader of the attack squad..."

"That's not what I mean." I said, pushing the folders aside. "I don't want to know my 'position' or my body count or what kind of hunter I was." I looked Dixon in the eye, pleading. "Tell me about ME! How did I get here? What am I doing here? Dixon...who am I?"

He paused, unable to speak for a moment, before there was a knock on the door. "Yes?" He answered.

"Sneed has requested Exile's presence in the dark room, sir. He says it's important."

Dixon exchanged a short glance with me, then answered, "He'll be there immediately." He took the pictures back and placed them back in the folder beore closing it shut. "They require your assistance in the white room. I'll escort you over myself if you need help."

"What was I like? What kind of human life did I have? Where did this eternity band come from?" I kept asking questions, but Dixon was very discreet about revealing anything else about me.

"Now is not the time. They are waiting for you."

"What about my life as a vampire? When I first crossed over. Did I start out here? Or was I brought here from somewhere else?" He got up from the table and wlked past me towrds the door. That's when I grbbed him by the arm. "Please, Dixon! Answer me!" I said. "I don't even know whether or not we're the 'good guys'."

He looked down at me, an almost sympathetic shimmer in his eye, and he said, quite simply, "There ARE no good guys. No bad guys either. There are orders, opportunity, success....and failure. Nothing more." And with that, he opened the door and offered for me to go first. What choice did I have?

Dixon didn't speak to me the whole time we were walking, but as we traveled through the middle of the facility, I could feel a pair of eyes watching me. And I automatically knew who they belonged to, just from the feel of it. I looked up to one of the upper levels, and saw a glimpse of a blond head ducking down behind a stack of boxes. I knew Orion was watching me, despite being upset and hurt at what I said. But even though I couldn't understand what that inner conflict concerning him was all about, I knew that it had to be there for a reason. I had enough to worry about. I just need to get him out of my head. That's all.

Dixon took me to the right door and put a hand on my shoulder. "Listen, learn, absorb. Don't speak unless you have to. Whatever it is, take your orders and go. The less you say, the longer you can maintain your cover. Understood."

I nodded, and then he wished me luck. From the looks of things, I might need it.

I walked into the room, and saw my three 'teammates' sitting at a table in front of a wide screen video wall. Playing on it was a vampire that looked unkept, a bit dirty, and crying. He was strapped into a chair, being interrogated, and then the image started over again from the beginning. Elias Sneed, the tall emaciated man, sneered as I entered the room. "So nice for you to join us....late." He groaned.

I didn't answer, I just sat down next to Rachael at the table and saw the others look at me to see if I was ok. Shortly after, Sneed continued. "This is our target. Daniel Gray. He has been located somewhere in Wrigleyville, hiding out in the basement of an abandoned bar in that area. It seems that our friend here has a fetish for young human boys, high school age, sometimes younger." Sneed pressed a button on his control, and the video switched to display a grisly scene of young bodies stacked on top of each other. Blood stained the floor in a large puddle on all sides of the heap. And the bodies themselves...looked fresh. Still wearing all of their possessions. Shoes, jackets, watches, necklaces. Strange. "After he lures them into his habitat and has his way with them, he bleeds them almost immediately after. No motive. We suspect that Gray has accumulated a body count of at least 22 boys since we first began surveillance. The Elders have determined, from the evidence given, that he is a definite threat to our survival. Exposure of this magnitude will come down hard on all of us if this problem is not taken care of quickly."

The video switched back to the video of Gray beig interrogated again. He looked so helpless, with wrinkles on his face and bags under his eyes. He was maybe in his late thirties when he crossed over, but looked as though he had experienced a rough human life before that. I listened to the man beg for help, saying that he was innocent, crying for them to stop. They showed him a picture of the bodies, and he turned away, shutting his eyes tightly. I heard Freak ask a question after looking at the crime sheet in front of him. "It says here that the mission is urgent and should be taken care of by tomorrow night. Why the rush?"

Sneed answered, "Our friend, Mr. Gray, has a few hiding places in town that we cannot gain access to, and has been known to wear disguises in order to get past our lookouts. He's known for practically disappearing into thin air. After this interrogation video was made, he slipped right out of our hands. We assume he was 'rescued' by some of his associates out on the street. Of that we are unsure. But during that struggle, one of our hunters made a rather large gash on his right arm. A mark that we are sure will take a minimum of three sleep cycles to erase. It has already been one evening, tonight makes two. The Elders want him found before the scar disappears and we lose him again."

I kept looking at that video, and something just didn't feel right. In fact, everything felt all wrong about it. I kept looking at the video of his confession, and something inside me began to flare up. Some hidden instinct that told me where to look and what to look for. This story and this just didn't match.

"You are to go out, find Daniel Gray, and execute him before he can do any more damage. Your papers and mission details are in front of you, and we will meet back here tomorrow evening to assemble a task force capable of..."

"Wait!" I said outloud, that feeling inside of me not allowing me to just give myself over to the story Sneed was giving me. The team looked over at me, and even though I felt a bit paranoid about speaking up, this gut feeling of mine wouldn't allow me to stay silent. "Something's wrong here."

"I beg your pardon?" Sneed let his face scowl up, his large angled eyebrows giving him an evil appearance.

"This doesn't sit right. This man...he's not your killer. You've got the wrong guy."

Sneed groaned. "The Elders were very specific about this. Mistress Katrina wanted you to head up this mission personally. There were no errors made."

"I'm telling you...this is NOT the guy." I demanded.

"The bodies were found in his fucking basement." Tariq sneered. "The guy's got a history of liking young boys, he's known for moving from state to state, what more evidence could you possibly need?"

" this doesn't fit. Go back to the shot of the bodies." I said. Sneed gave me a dirty look at first, and then clicked the remote to show the bodies again. My mind seemed to zero in on every detail automatically, and just like I had suspected, none of it made any sense. "Who did this profile originally?" I asked.

"Mistress Katrina herself. And I made sure to double check all the facts before handing them over to the Elders. Who in turn agreed with our analysis wholeheartedly." He said with a snotty tone.

"What are you thinking, Exile?" Rachael asked, the first to pay my thoughts any real attention at all.

"Look at the bodies closely. Look at their wrists. Look at their ankles." I said.

Tariq replied, "I don't see anything, kid."

"EXACTLY! No restraints were used. Not even a single mark. No rope, no chain, no handcuffs, nothing. And look here...the bodies are piled up in the corner, but the rest of the basement is squeaky clean. No turned over furniture, no broken glass. No signs of struggle at all. These kids came down here willingly. Into a room with an accumulating collection of bodies in the corner. They weren't kidnapped, they weren't restrained, they weren't forced into this basement." I said. "Look at what the bodies are wearing. Right there, a platinum necklace. And there, this one is wearing a high school football jacket. Everywhere you look, namebrand clothes, namebrand shoes. Popular hair styles too."

"Is any of this supposed to mean something?" Sneed asked.

"Go back to Gray's interrogation video." He did as I asked, and the same teary pleas for help played on the screen again. "Look at him. Just take a good look." I said, as the others looked on. "This guy isn't 'hip'. He isn't 'cool'. He's wearing a BOWTIE for crying outloud. He's dirty, he's unnattractive, he's as plain as he can possibly be. He stutters when he gets nervous, he's crying his eyes out....he's about as average and uninteresting as it gets. And when they show him the photo of the bodies in his basement, look at his reaction. He's not turned on by that. He's disgusted. Who takes the time to select the pick of the litter and can't bare to look at them again? I don't think he's the type to just bleed teenagers for no reason. The boys in that basement looked like they were getting through high school just fine."

"So?" Tariq asked.

"SO...exactly how does a guy like Gray get a beautiful high school football jock to follow him back to his house without restraints?" I asked.

"Perhaps he offered them money." Freak offered.

"No...these kids don't need money. When these boys need money, they ask mommy and daddy for it, and they probably get it, no questions asked. But this guy? He's no psycopath. Look at him. He's a VAMPIRE! He's gonna live forever and yet he has all the confidence and courage of a church mouse! I'm telling you, he's not your man. Whatever it was that lured them into that basement and knocked them off one by wasn't a stuttering older man with bags under his eyes and wearing a bowtie. No, someone else did this. Maybe even more than one person, because these bodies are fresh. I don't imagine Daniel Gray could burn through 22 popular high school kids in just a few days and still have enough energy to go out looking for more. That just doesn't make sense."

There was a long silence in the room, and everyone finally let some of what I said sink in. As I looked back at Elias Sneed, I got the coldest stare imaginable from him. Then Freak said, "In light of these new observations, I think this info should be passed on to the Elders as soon as possible before any movements are made. Don't you think?"

Sneed shut off the video feed immediately. "I'll be sure to add it to the report." He said abruptly. "I'm sure Miss Katrina will appreciate your insight. And just as he snatched some of his papers away and stormed off, the rest of the team turned to face me at the table.

Tariq said, "Way to go, boy wonder." His sarcasm flooding the sentence even more than usual. "What made you think of that?"

"Look, he didn't do it. He couldn't have done it. There's just no reason for an innocent vampire to die if he didn't commit the crime, right?" I asked.

"Well, what do ya know? The kid saved up his 'blood money', then went out and bough himself a conscience. Go figure." Hell Razor stood up and grabbed his papers to leave. Freak gave me an honorable nod and then did the same. Then, before getting up to join them, Rachael turned to me.

"I believe you, Adam. I'm glad you stopped us from making a mistake. At least for now." She said.

"So we're not going after him, right?"

"That depends on the Elders. And Katrina. But for've given them enough doubt to think twice about the assault. I guess that's all we can hope for."

"Doesn't seem like a whole lot." I said. But she pated me on the shoulder and gave me a weak smile anyway.

"It's more than usual. Trust me." Then she left.

As I gathered my crime file, I walked out of the room to see Dutch waiting for me to guide me back to my quarters. He anxiously asked me, "How'd it go, kid?"

"Fine, I suppose. But....something is wrong. You know?"

"Wrong? Wrong like how?"

"Well..." My mind started working, and I asked him, "You said that the Elders were looking out for me right? Why is that?"

"Honestly? Your record is amazing. Your skills in the field are undoutedly some of the best we've ever seen. I'm guessing that they want you to work for them someday."

"So...Katrina and Sneed...they're not allowed to touch me. Is that right?"

"Well, in a manner of speaking, no. Not unless you've done something to purposely jeopordize what we're doing here."

I thought for a second. "But...if I die in the field, on an assignment...?"

"Incidental casualty. It can't be helped. Why? What is your brain telling you?" Dutch asked.

"Listen, Katrina sent down this profile of Daniel Gray herself. And it's way off base. Her and Sneed seem adamant amount getting me to go out on this assignment. And I wanna know why. If you get a chance, find out what connections this Daniel Gray has to the higher ups in the vampire order. Can you do that for me?"

Dutch smiled. "You know what? For a second there, you sounded just like your old self, boy. I'm on it."

"Good. Thanks Dutch." I watched as he walked away, and wondered where my thoughts were going. What they were trying to tell me. Whatever it was...I hope it was enough to protect me from harm. Because something tells me that I'm not nearly as 'welcome' here as I had first expected to be. Something is going on, and I'm going to find out what it is.

THANKS SO MUCH for reading this first chapter of "Lost In Shadow"!!! I certainly hope that you guys enjoyed it! Now comes the fun part! This new series is the first Round Robin collaborative series that we've ever had on the Shack Out Back, and I'm looking forward to having different authors from all over the net contribute a chapter! That's right, the rest of the story and how it turns out depends on YOU! So if you'd like to add a chapter, or have a favorite author on Nifty (or anywhere else) that you think might like to add an episode, then let me know! Tell all of your favorite writers, and all of your friends, about the project! Then just send me an email at with "submission" in the title, and I'll definitely add you to the list! There are a billion different paths for this story and our hero to take, so get those creative wheels spinning and let's see where this goes! :) All authors and aspiring authors are welcome to join, and a list of rules as well as a section for vampire vocabulary is also available to help you out with your story! Cool? Stop by the website at for details and to sign up! We're looking to make this one a classic, so don't wait! Drop me a line! A couple of authors have already put their bids in on future chapters!

And if you're looking for MORE vampire fun, "Lost In Shadow" is direct spinoff of the vampire world created for the story "Gone From Daylight"! So feel free to check out the story that started it all, either on the Shack Out back, or right here on the Nifty Archive! Seezya soon! :)