Bill trudged on, ignoring the questions of the man whose life he had just saved, intent on getting to his vehicle and joining the others. The man was growing angry, and though Bill knew that it was more out of grief for the loss of his friends than Bill's silence, it was beginning to annoy him. They didn't have time to waste playing 'one hundred questions' if they were going to free any of the humans that had been under Burke's rule.
There was a thundering crack and a cloud of dirt exploded next to Bill. He whirled about and glared at Nick, who was holding a Magnum loosely in his hand.
"Have you heard anything that I've been saying?" asked Nick.
"No, actually. I've got other things to worry about."
"There aren't any pens in Portsmouth. It's a free range city."
"What?" stammered Bill.
"Free range. The humans that live there do so of their own free will."
"No. We'd know that. New York and L.A. are the only free ranges in the country."
Free ranges were the newest development in the vampire hierarchy; cities where the humans lived a life of luxury, the only price being that they let the vamps feed from them. They worked together, growing their own food and manufacturing what ever they needed, and they had everything that they ever wanted.
It was as if the Master had an entire city of thralls.
"I don't know where you guys get your intel, but Portsmouth switched over about three months ago. We'd monitor the city, try to pick out people that we thought were likely candidates to leave, but it's been weeks since we've recruited anyone."
"Shit," swore Bill, grabbing the radio that hung on his belt. "Green, we've got a problem."
"You're not shittin' we've got problems," responded Green, his voice cut with static, the sounds of a firefight raging in the background. "We've got vamps coming out the woodwork here."
"We're holding them off for now, but they've already got us pinned down. They brought down a whole building just to block us in!"
"But I dusted Burke," informed Bill.
"Somebody needs to tell that to these bastards."
"I'll be there in twenty," said Bill, breaking into a run. He barely noticed that Nick followed after him, surprisingly, keeping up.
"Forget it. Mabry's already got the Little Birds assembled. They'll be here in five, and give us enough cover to fight our way out of this mess."
"I can help," shouted Bill.
"Not enough," said Green. "Not this time. Just get back to the Retriever."
Bill let the conversation die. There was no point arguing, it was just a distraction that Green didn't need right now.
"What's your name?" asked Bill, as they neared a concrete and steel building that was aged and weathered with over two decades of neglect.
"Nick, huh?" said Bill, as they rounded the building and stopped next to the hum-vee that was Bill's ride.
They climbed into the vehicle and Bill started it up, slamming it into drive and flooring it instantly.
"Well, Nick, ever been on a submarine?" asked Bill.
Nick just hung on as the hum-vee rocketed through the darkness.
"I'm getting too old for this shit," muttered Green, unleashing a barrage shots in the direction of a group firing from a third story window across from the caravan.
Two years ago, when the remnants of the military that led the resistance had offered him a promotion from Colonel to General, Green had turned it down. He had thought his experience would serve everyone better if he were still out in the field, leading the strikes against the vamps. Now, he was wishing he had thought it through more.
The gunfire, which had been raining down on the caravan of vehicles, suddenly halted, and an eerie silence settled over the area.
"This can't be good," muttered Green, unclipping his radio. He called to his second in command, at the rear vehicle. "Travis, you see any thing?"
"Negative, Colonel. Bloodsuckers are up to something, that's for sure."
"Let's see if we can take advantage of it. Any vehicle that's able, let's get it rolling. Before they bring another building down."
Soldiers began edging out from whatever cover they had found, warily looking about, ready for the vamps and thralls to begin their assault again.
"Let's move it," Green quietly called. A hand tugged at his shoulder and he turned, demanding "What?", to see a young man staring slack-jawed ahead of them.
"Holy shit," mouthed Green.
An army from hell was advancing towards them.
Things of twisted flesh were marching on their position, things that should have never stepped out of a nightmare.
Gargantuan beings that were humanoid in form, but made of flesh that looked as if it had been blended into the form; turned and twisted, and forced to take the shape of a towering warrior.
Other, worse things, were behind them.
Things that looked like a ball of purplish flesh on legs, with no features other than dozens of eyes and a wide, bloodstained slit that was obviously a mouth. One of the things suddenly made a rapid snapping motion with its mouth, showing rows of tiny, adamant teeth.
Green had to fight down a hysterical laugh that threatened to escape him as he thought of novelty chattering teeth given legs.
The young soldier that had been standing next to Green suddenly screamed and vanished, blood splattering across the Colonel. Turning about in confusion, Green looked up to see the man impaled on the clawed feet of an impossibly large black shadow that gliding away from them.
Screaming, Green brought up his machinegun and spun around, ready to fire on the advancing monstrosities. His scream caught in his throat as he suddenly found himself facing a man.
No. Not a man. A vampire, most likely a Master, stood staring at him, only inches away.
"I recognize your scent," said the creature, leaning in closer. "It is fear."
Green squeezed the trigger, emptying his entire clip into the chest of the Master. The silver, garlic and Holy Water treated slugs ripped through the creature, but he stood his ground, unaffected.
The slugs should have dropped the Master. Hell, Green had seen Bill kill Masters with a headshot, but they absolutely had no impact at all on this one. With a feeling of utter terror sweeping over him, Green knew that this was no Master that he was facing.
"Bartholomew," he said, his voice barely a whisper.
"Let us see who you are," said Bartholomew, tearing into Green's mind with his entire psychic might.
In just a few seconds Green's mind was shattered, everything that he was torn from him and absorbed by Bartholomew, and was left as just a shell; a living breathing body that was empty of being.
"Bill," hissed Bartholomew in delight. "How nice of you to come back to me."
Vanishing in a black mist that collapsed in on its self, Bartholomew sent one last command out to the vampires and creatures surrounding the trapped humans.
Feast. Kill them all.
"Where the hell are we going?" asked Nick, hanging onto the dash for support.
"Norfolk," said Bill.
"Norfolk? The ship yards?"
"You know a better place to dock a submarine?"
"Who the hell are you guys?" demanded Nick. "The military's been gone for years."
"Not gone, just underground," answered Bill. "After Bartholomew attacked Boulder…"
Bill never got to finish his sentence. The hum-vee came to a crashing stop, the front end crumbling as if they had hit an immovable object, and the back end rose into the air by several feet. Both men were thrown through the windshield, tumbling across the ground for a couple of yards before finally coming to a bloodied and bruised halt.
Groaning, racked with pain, Bill looked over to see Nick lying unconscious a few feet away. Awkwardly rolling himself over, fighting the blackness that was threatening to overtake him, Bill stared in confusion at the man that the hum-vee was smashed against.
The man turned, the metal of the hum-vee groaning as it was bent effortlessly away from him, and Bill let out a gasp of horrid surprise.
"Did you not expect to see me again?" asked Bartholomew, smirking. "I wasn't finished having my fun with you."
Bartholomew strode over and wrapped a hand around Bill's neck, heaving him into the air to hold him there, his feet dangling as he grasped at Bartholomew's arm.
Letting out a slow, deep breath, Bartholomew looked down at the motionless form of Nick and smiled.
"And you have brought me another prize," he said, his eyes dancing with excitement. "The last of your Halfling brethren."
To Be Continued…