Sara's Awakening Ch. 06byHelenofTroy©
Neither Merton nor Sara spoke for a long time as they sped away from the diner. Sara was wrapped up confusing feelings of shame and longing when it came to her new appetites, and Merton was busy keeping the car on the road and pointed in the right direction.
"Can you believe this little thing can do a buck twenty?" Merton pointed excitedly at the speedometer, which was hovering around the 120mph mark. Sara didn't look and he lapsed back into silence.
Ten minutes into the drive, Sara found a water bottle in the car's glove box and used liberal splashes and vigorous wiping to remove the evidence of what she'd done to the catboy from her mouth and chin. She cleaned up with some paper towels a thoughtful driver left in the backseat, then chucked those out the passenger window and settled back into her private funk. While many of the other things Merton told her about her current state, actually doing it was unfamiliar. She had the hang of using her incredible strength, but it didn't ring any bells when she did it. Each time she fed off someone, the experience felt fresh and new and exciting, not like something she'd done before even once.
"How long have I been a vampire?" Finally the question came out. She had so many others, but right now this seemed most important.
"Counting the time you spent unconscious or not counting it?"
"Uhh, maybe 12 hours?"
"I don't know, you spent a lot of time unconscious in the back of the truck, you know?" Merton shrugged, then concentrated on passing a group of bikers who were spread out across the highway. One of them gave him a dirty look, so Merton gave him the finger.
"So, you're saying, I wasn't a vampire before all this started?"
"It's complicated. You were undergoing the procedure to become one when the Hawks got ambushed. Gareth tried to stop your transformation, but the Knights' follow-up attack was too quick." Everything he said sounded familiar, sounded right, but she didn't know why. Who were the Hawks? What attack?
"Let's pretend for a second I've got amnesia, oh wait I do, and that you can actually explain things in a non-cryptic manor." Sara looked over at the bikers who were now keeping pace with Merton, who'd edged the Rabbit up to 130. The man made a lewd gesture at her, so she gave him the finger too.
"So, okay... the Crimson Hawks is the organization which Gareth runs. They're an Underworld mercenary group that mostly employs vampires."
"Well... okay, you forget that too?"
Sara gave him an exasperated look.
"Alright, you forget that too. So, there's the real world. That's the world with Volkswagens and angry biker gangs and blueberry pie. Maybe 70% of the population lives in the real world." Merton slammed on the brakes, causing the Rabbit to screech and fishtail dangerously and scattering the bikers who'd gathered behind it to try and do... something. "The rest of the world we call the Underworld. That's the part with Elves, vampires, magic and all of that. It's called the Underworld because, well, most of it is literally underground. We create caverns and cities underneath real cities so we can tap into key utilities, and so those of us who fit into normal life can easily go shopping."
"You know what I mean. It's a place where we can mingle without hiding reality, but most people don't want to spend all their time in a cave." Merton shrugged. He wasn't pushing the car quite as hard now; the bikers had disappeared into the distance after his little stunt but he wasn't particularly interested in catching them and continuing the fight.
"Alright... got it, I think." Sara put a hand to her forehead and turned to stare out the window. In the darkness, the desert seemed very far away. "So, you were explaining who the Hawks are?"
"Were. As far as I know, you're the last one."
"What?!" Without knowing why, that statement struck Sara like a boulder to the stomach. Tight pain curled around her organs and she felt her breath coming quick and harsh. The last?
"If you'd let me explain... the Crimson Hawks were a mercenary company created by Gareth. Employed vampires, did dirty jobs for Underworld powers. Sometimes even did black ops work for legit governments. The Dragon Knights are similar, but they employ a lot more regular grunts, and they've got a whole lot more reach and power than the Hawks because of it."
Sara was only half listening. Inside, she felt herself shrinking... the last? That meant that she really was alone with Merton: no one else to explain who or what she was, no one else to remember her or even know she was alive...
"Lately they've been into some strange stuff. Mixed up in a lot of rumours about powerful Underworlders going missing. Ha! I guess we know that's true."
The grief that wasn't real when she saw those bodies in the morgue was real now. She still didn't understand it, but it was real nonetheless. It bubbled up inside her, twisted her throat and came out as wracked sobs.
"I... you okay?"
Sara didn't answer. Instead, she doubled over in her seat and let the grief come. She sobbed and shook and wept until her eyes burned and her mouth was sticky inside from crying so much. At some point, Merton became uncomfortable and turned on the radio. The only thing available was country or Top 40, so mournful songs of cheating and losing everything were the soundtrack for Sara's breakdown.
Eventually she recovered herself. She wiped eyes that were red and puffy with the back of her hand, she blew her nose with some convenient Kleenex which someone had stashed in the console, and she brushed stray hair back off her face. When she felt composed, she looked back over at Merton.
"I'm going to kill them."
"The Knights... wait, if they are mostly mundane, what was up with that guy in the hat?"
"Grant? Well, there are Knights and then there are Knights. Most of the Knights are just regular mercs who happen to have some knowledge of the Underworld. Sometimes they came upon it before being recruited, other times they just got introduced to it when they join up. Those are the ones we were killing back there." Merton switched the radio back off as they talked. "But, for the others... well, I'll have to give you a quick overview of Thaumaturgy for that to make sense. I assume you've forgotten that too?"
"That's not even a word..."
"Ya, I guess so. So... magic... the easy way to think about it is that the world is permeated with it. Magic's just one word for it. Energy, mana, ki, there are lots of other terms. It's like magnetism or electricity, except that some people can directly affect it with their minds or bodies, like you and I."
"Me?" Sara gave him a skeptical eyebrow. If there was some kind of magic she was supposed to be manipulating, she didn't know what it was.
"As a vampire, that's essentially what's keeping you alive. You draw in the energy from the blood you take in, just like I can draw the energy directly out of a person." Merton wiggled his fingers, as if to demonstrate. "But, unlike me, vampire physiology is uniquely suited to taking that energy and focusing it. You're like... a big magnifying glass. It gets warped and amplified and turned into a lethal force inside of you."
"But you usually can't directly control it like I can. Like this." Merton pointed out in the desert and said "watch", so Sara turned. As they whizzed down the highway, a distant cactus suddenly burst into flames. Sara watched, wide eyed, as the giant plant burned, sending plumes of dark smoke into the starry sky.
"Knights like Grant get their power from dragons."
"Dragons. Really?" Sara turned away from the cactus and looked back at Merton. "That's... kinda corny."
"You should tell them that."
"Oh I will. Right before I shove those swords up their asses."
"Right. So, anyway, the actual Knights have a deal with a few very old dragons. They harvest dragon scales, brew them into a kind of a tea, and drink that. That gives them many of the abilities that you witnessed: power over their chosen dragon's energy, speed, strength, arrogance."
"I thought dragons breathed fire?" Sara thought back to her encounter with this Grant. He hadn't shown any signs of being particularly fond of fire, but definitely enjoyed electricity.
"Some do. Others expel poison gas, electricity or acid."
"Ya, it can be pretty fun. So, Grant likes his electricity."
"Right... hey, how did you know his name?" It had been bothering Sara since they started this topic.
"He used to come by my cell sometimes. You know, to poke fun. He'd taunt me with how I was never getting out, how I was going to die down there with the vampires I was so keen on studying, that kind of nonsense. Trying to rattle me."
"Did it work?"
"Of course not." Merton looked over at her. It seemed like a reflex, to try and see if she believed him.
Sheriff Garetty crouched by the little evidence flags which the crime scene boys had placed around the parking lot before he got here. This particular one was marking the door handle to a blue rabbit which was badly deformed by what looked like a handprint, just before it was ripped off the car. Some kind of body builder had stolen the car? He didn't think so; no one who'd been in the diner just before it happened fit the description of someone with this much upper body strength, and the two most likely culprits were apparently a model in combat fatigues and a skinny guy in a ratty suit.
He brushed his hands off and stood back up, turning his attention to the irate former owner of a blue two-door Rabbit.
"Okay, Sandy, I'm really sorry about your car. We'll find it."
"I... thanks, Bob." Sandy looked like she was about to start yelling again, but deflated instead. She'd known Bob for years now, maybe it was harder to yell at someone you had dinner with twice a week. "If you don't mind me asking, why are you covering this?"
Bob nodded, knowing she'd get around to asking that eventually.
"Well, we've been seeing some strange things out here recently." Strange barely covered it. Explosions in the desert? Dead twenty year-olds that looked like mummies? Missing girls from Seattle dead just outside of Dallas? "They seem connected, so I'm out here to be sure."
"What does that have to do with my car!?" Sandy's voice went up a couple of octaves. He probably shouldn't have said that...
"Look, Sandy, it's okay."
"You'll find my car, you mean."
"Ya, that's what I said." Bob gave her a reassuring smile. Sandy stared at him for a long moment, clearly not buying it and just as clearly not sure what to do about it . "Can you go over the details again? What happened just before your car disappeared?"
"I just talked with Sean about this..." Sandy gave Bob an exasperated look. He smiled comfortingly, so she rolled her eyes and repeated her story yet again. "We were headed into Lamesa to do some shopping, and we stopped for dinner. It was a pretty normal day, except for those two... they didn't look like they were from around here, you know?"
"Well, the girl was wearing fatigues or something like that. Like she was in the military, but not, you know?"
"Ya." Army folks coming back from deployment were a common sight at the Dallas department. Bob would be able to pick out the difference between someone who shopped at a surplus store and someone who legitimately served, too.
"And the guy looked like he'd just been beaten up outside of a fancy dress party, right? And they were talking about some really strange stuff. Like a video game or something, you know?"
"What do you mean?"
"Talking about magic and all that kind of stuff like it was real... you know kids today, though. Sometimes those digital fantasies are more real to them than their parents..."
"Sure." Bob jotted down notes as she talked. The deputy filled him in on most of it already, but it was good to hear it straight from Sandy. It also seemed to be helping clear her head and calm her down. He left out Sandy's issues with her twenty year old son who still lived in her basement.
"So then they just left. Started up that beat-up truck of theirs like they were going to just leave normally, but they just let it idle in the parking lot. Then I heard some shouting behind the diner, and a moment later my car was starting!" Sandy's voice was rising through the octaves as she spoke, and tears welled at the edge of her eyes. Bob put a concerned hand on her shoulder. "Then they pulled away! Just like that! In my car!"
"Okay... okay... thanks, Sandy." Bob put away his notepad and smiled reassuringly at her. "Look, one of the deputies will take you back into town while we find your car. Okay?"
"Okay..." Sandy looked like she might not leave right away, then decided she wouldn't do much good here and stomped away. Bob felt sorry for whichever deputy was about to get yelled at.
Sighing, Bob went over to the truck that had been left in the diner's parking lot when the car peeled away. It was definitely not local, although the plates said Texas. He'd run the plates on the way over, and they were either forged or stolen. There was no way this was a Viper. In the back was a carefully sorted and labeled camping backpack. It was heavy-duty, made to withstand weather and rain, and had seen a lot of love. No one had found an ID yet, but he would only be surprised if it didn't belong to that poor mummy they'd found earlier.
The lab was going to be all over that body. It looked like all of the body's fluids were just... gone. Not even weeks in the desert could do that.
Grant bashed drunkenly into the medicine cabinet in his bathroom. He groaned and pressed his hand against the broken mirror, trying to steady himself. The room wouldn't stop spinning. Stop spinning!
He lurched forward, tried once to get the cabinet open, then collapsed sideways next to the toilet.
That turned out to be a good thing.
With one bloody hand he pulled himself up and was violently sick into the toilet bowl. Mostly into the toilet bowl... the maids would clean up, right? The Knights could afford some extra cleaning on a crappy hotel room. Next time he'd ask for a room that didn't spin!
When he was finished being sick, he didn't feel better. His stomach clenched painfully around itself and now there was a godawful taste in his mouth. Throwing up was supposed to make you feel better...
Groaning, Grant made his bloody way back to standing in front of the motel's medicine cabinet. With a more focused movement, he grabbed the edge of it and tried to open it. It wouldn't budge and his blood-slicked fingers slipped off.
"Noooo..." His voice was cracked and warbly, barely recognizable as his.
He tried twice more to open the medicine cabinet before realizing that, given this was a motel room, it was just a mirror. Panic cut through his shaking body, giving him a brief shot of clarity which allowed him to remember that the stuff was in his travel bag.
With slow, deliberate steps, intended to keep him from falling off the floor when it tipped upside down, Grant made his way out of the bathroom and across the bedroom. He lost his balance and fell halfway, so he crawled the rest of the distance instead. Eventually his lacerated forehead bumped into the travel bag, sending sharp waves of pain through his head. At least he was here...
Slowly, deliberately, he opened the side pocket of the bag and retrieved one of the metal flasks nestled inside. He tried twice with his bloody right hand to open it before switching to his left hand and screwed the top off.
It was an effort to get his shaking hand to bring the flask to his lips, and he missed twice. Each time an anguished squeak came from between cracked lips, and he lapped at a sparking blue liquid which dripped onto the carpet. The third time was a charm, and he got the flask to his lips. He tipped his whole body backward and sighed in contentment as a thick, syrupy substance which tasted like battery acid washed down his throat.
He coughed and choked on it once, but managed to get all of it down. With a satisfied moan, he tossed the empty flask onto the ground and swiped the back of his arm across his mouth, which he was sure was now stained blue from the foul drink.
He lay where he was for several minutes before rolling back over and getting to his feet. Gone were the shakes, and the room was no longer spinning. His hand was still covered in blood, but it was quickly drying and the wounds from the mirror were already closed. He couldn't see it, but he knew his forehead was the same way. Even his stomach felt better, although it still roiled and complained from the stuff he'd just forced down his throat. It had been close this time... he shouldn't have waited so long.