Chapter 1: In the Shadows


Six candles were hardly enough to illuminate the stuffy cellar. Myra raised a hand and rubbed at her eyes. Her head throbbed mercilessly from trying to write in the darkness, but if she did not do this, she would go insane. Candles were all she had. In the nineteen years of her life she had seen no more than ten hours of natural light and even then the sun had been hidden behind thick clouds.

The sound of hurried bare feet tapping against stone took her out of her thoughts, and she looked up, waiting for the knock. "Come in!" Myra called with as much cheer as she could muster. Thea deserved none of her bad mood.

The wooden door cracked open and the girl shyly peeked inside. "Zack is looking for you," Thea said. "He requested that you come to the Headquarters immediately."

Myra sighed in annoyance. Calling one of the many underground cells 'Headquarters', or calling Zack 'General', did nothing to make their pathetic ragtag team look more like a real army. "If he wishes to talk to me, he can come here himself. You are not his messenger."

"He is busy and this is important," her cousin said, with a serious expression on her youthful face. "We have captured another one."

The news was far from Myra's definition of 'important'. "I never understood why we need to capture any of that filth instead of doing the job on the spot," she said. "It is not like we can learn anything useful from them. We already know what needs to be done."

"Zack says we can learn more about Prince Vladimir – routine, guards, plans, living arrangements. If we ever get the chance to ambush and kill him, it will bring disorder in their ranks and make it easier for us to destroy the WeatherWizard," Thea recited dutifully.

Myra ran a hand thought her hair. "You are right, of course. It is just that the sooner this creature dies, the better."

Thea's blue eyes softened. "Myra, the vampire who killed Aunt Sandra and Uncle Albert is long gone. This one is not the same. Killing him will not bring them back."

"I know," Myra said softly. "I have made my peace. This is not about revenge - it is about practicality." She tucked her leather-bound notebook underneath a moth-eaten blanket and walked to the candles, extinguishing them one by one. "Let us go then. Better not keep The General waiting."

She followed Thea down the narrow corridor. The young girl ran forward excitedly, her short golden ponytails bobbing up and down at every step she took. Myra found it hard to keep up with the pace and enthusiasm, but she tried to remain hopeful for her cousin's sake.

Thea had stopped by the entrance and was looking back at her expectantly. Myra walked to the door and pushed it aside. "Zack, what-"

The man cleared his throat. "Captain Andersen, how good of you to join us."

Myra resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "You called for me, General Wong."

Zack stood up and his gaze swept the room. "Follow me," he said solemnly.

Myra turned towards her cousin. "You should go now, Thea. There is nothing for you to see."

The twelve-year-old pouted. "I am also a part of the Resistance! I want to see the prisoner!"

"Why would you want to see that?" her cousin asked. "There is nothing cool, or exciting, or glorious about fighting a war or interrogating prisoners. Until you learn that, you cannot be one of the Warriors. Go now! I think Grandma Pia is giving a talk in the school. You should attend as many of the lessons as you can."

Thea awarded her with a death glare but complied. Once the girl was gone, Myra sighed in relief and followed Zack and the rest of the Warriors into a small, candle-lit cellar. The air was heavier in this place, but she was certain their guest did not mind.

The prisoner turned around and greeted them with a smug grin. The first thing Myra noticed were his clothes. The bright lilac tuxedo complemented the vampire's dark complexion, but that made it look no less ridiculous. Vamps always dressed in style, or what they perceived to be style, while the Resistance members were forced to wear whatever they could put their hands on. She briefly wondered what would happen once all clothes ever made became too worn out to wear. Vampires had destroyed the humans involved in production, and as far as she knew, they had set no system to replace whatever goods they had used up. No, these creatures could only consume and destroy, and never create anything new.

"So, this is the famous Resistance?" the vampire said all too cheerfully, his sharp white teeth glistening under the candlelight as he gave his hosts a smug grin. "No wonder we have seen so little trouble from you. I am sorry, but you are pathetic. Seriously, if I were forced to live in such quarters, I would have given myself up long ago. Why, some of you are pretty enough, with some luck we could have agreed to turn you."

"You must be quite the fighter yourself to be captured by someone as pathetic as us," said Thomas, and Zack threw the red-haired Warrior an approving look. "If we are pitiful, what does that make of you?"

"We are not here to exchange lame witticisms," Myra interrupted and glared at the vampire. "We are here to give you a choice. You can die quickly, or you death can last days, weeks even, if you refuse to tell us what we want to know."

"So, what are you two supposed to be?" The prisoner looked between Thomas and Myra, and then back. "The good and the bad cop? If so, you need to work on your lines; you both come off as bad right now."

"What is he talking about?" Zack hissed.

"It is an Old World thing," Myra said impatiently. "I will explain it to you later. Really, Zack, do you never read books? I swear, sometimes vamps can provide more intelligent conversation than you."

"If you value a simulating conversation over not ending up as a snack, go ahead," their leader said and turned towards the prisoner. "You heard your options. You can talk to us on your own free will, or you can wait for us to make you talk."

The vamp laughed. "The fact that you wish to interrogate me suggests no one spoke before. This makes me question your technique. And you are wasting your time anyway. The WeatherWizard is heavily guarded; you can never reach it and live to tell the tale."

"We know everything about the WeatherWizard," Zack said. "We merely wanted to ask you a few questions about Prince Vladimir."

The vampire laughed then, an ugly, mirthless sound. "You cannot seriously think you can plan anything against him? The Dark Prince will swipe you away with his little finger. You kids have no idea what you are getting yourselves into."

"Perhaps you will be willing to tell us," Zack said. "Lidia?"

The woman called stepped forward. "Yes Sir?"

"I will leave you alone with him. Make him sing. If he refuses, Thomas will take the next shift. One of us will be with him at all times, until he agrees to cooperate."

"I think I can make him talk," Lidia said confidently. "I have an idea or two."

"Very well," said Zack. "We will be in the Headquarters if you need us."

Myra tried to ignore the vampire's snigger at the word 'Headquarters'. As she walked out, she hoped beyond hope that the prisoner would speak before her shift came.

#

"Alright, just say it," Myra muttered when she could no longer stand the aura of smugness radiating from her commander.

"You want me to say it?" Zack asked and a mischievous twinkle appeared in his dark, cat-like eyes.

"Most certainly not!" Myra admitted. "But you want to say it, and I cannot stand sitting here and waiting for you to bask in your glory."

"Alright then, I will say it," the General said and made a dramatic pause before continuing. "I told you so!"

"So what?" Lidia challenged suddenly. "You were right, Zack. After capturing and interrogating tens of vamps, one was bound to talk. We have everything we initially wanted to know about Prince Vladimir. What are we going to do about it?"

"We have to act, and fast," Zack said. "The Prince has no idea we have this information. We will surprise him. We will send an assassin after him."

Myra was glad she was not drinking anything as she sure would have spit it out. "Zack, this is a suicide!"

"Not if we are smart about it," the General said. "We will rely on secrecy, rather than numbers. I am planning to send a single Warrior. Lidia, I think you will be suitable for the task."

Lidia seemed taken aback at first, but quickly recovered. "It will be my honor, General Wong."

"Zack, you cannot send Lidia!" Myra protested. "She is too valuable. We cannot afford to lose her."

"We are all valuable," Zack said. "There are too few of us, and even fewer are remotely good fighters."

"This is not about fighting," Myra insisted. "Lidia is the only one among us with university-level knowledge of physics. We need her to teach the kids."

"And how exactly will arming the children with theoretical knowledge help us destroy the WeatherWizard and overthrow the vamps?"

"It will not," the girl admitted. "But we have to think further ahead. Even if we succeed in taking back this world, we would need to rebuild it. There is a millennia-worth of knowledge left by the humans before us, and we will need it all. We must not allow any of it to be lost."

"I agree that educating the children is important," Zack said. "But our first priority must be to regain our freedom. It would be very good if the vampires are overthrown five hundred years from now, and our kids have preserved all the knowledge in the world. But it would be even better if we succeed here and now, even if we lose something in the process. Then five hundred years from today humanity will have had enough time to develop and discover and rediscover what had once been known. And do we even have any time to wait? Our food supplies are dwindling and every time we send someone out on a hunt, we are not sure if they will come back."

"Fine, but must you send Lidia?" Myra's voice had taken a pleading note. "Thomas is also a good fighter."

"Thomas is needed here," Zack said sternly. "I will ask you not to question my decisions. I have reasons for them."

Myra fell silent, knowing fully well her General's 'reasons'. Her mind strayed to all high school textbooks she had been reading recently. So much was unclear and she had so many questions. How many children had the potential to be good in various fields? And how many would never develop this potential, with no one there to guide them? No, knowledge was important, and the few among them who possessed it were more important than all. "If you must send someone," she said softly, "send me."

"Myra, don't be ridiculous!" Lidia snapped and Zack shook his head.

"I think I made it clear that we want to send a good fighter. And you are below average, to say the least. Your strength is strategy. You have little to no experience in field work."

"And how am I supposed to gain any experience in the field if you never send me out? Zack, I want to learn."

The man sighed. "Captain Andersen, you do realize that Prince Vladimir's assassination will be the single most crucial mission the Resistance has ever undertaken? I cannot risk it to fail, and I most certainly will not use it as your training exercise."

"My strength is strategy, you say," Myra argued. "And I believe one will need much more than brute force to assassinate the Prince. In fact, I think brute force will have nothing to do with this."

Zack regarded her silently for a moment. "You do have a point," he admitted. "Most vamps are better fighters than any of us. We cannot expect to defeat any of them in combat. We must rely on stealth. You think you can do this?"

"I think I can do this better than anyone else in this room," Myra stated with confidence she did not feel. The moment she spoke the words, she wondered if she could take them back. What was she doing? This mission was suicide, she had said so herself! She had always dreamed of going up there, of seeing more of the world, but not like this.

With a pang of guilt, Myra realized why she had made the offer. She was completely certain that Zack would refuse. If she thought that there was a sliver of a chance that the General would send her on that mission, she would have never volunteered. She was a coward. That was the safe way to play the hero, so she could later lie to herself that she had done the right thing.

"Very well," Zack said. "Captain Andersen, the task to assassinate Prince Vladimir is appointed to you."

#

Myra walked towards the school as if in a daze. She could not yet believe that this was happening. She could finally see it all clearly – the moment she had volunteered, she had not believed any of this was real. But it was. She was really going Outside, really sneaking into a vampire's lair. She was not certain how she would tell Thea. Her cousin would never understand her reasons, and she was unsure she understood them herself.

Myra stopped by the door and hesitated before knocking and entering. Granma Pia had finished her talk some time ago and was now answering the kids' questions. Myra loved listening to the old woman. Pia was one of the few who had long and extensive memories of the Old World. She had been a little older than Myra the time the Nightfall had started and could always entertain and educate them all with tales from the time before.

"Why did people make the WeatherWizard," a little boy asked. "Did they not know vamps could come out if the sun was gone?"

"The WeatherWizard was created for greater control over how many rainy and sunny days each place would get," Grandma Pia explained patiently. "Most days were made sunny, so people could enjoy their time outside, but there was also rain to allow the crops to grow and to stop the summer days from becoming unbearably hot. Rain was turned on late at night, to avoid inconveniencing people. Sleet and hail were eliminated entirely, as they could damage many plants. You have never experienced rain, children. On a hot day it may be refreshing, but is mostly unpleasant. But this was not the only reason for the Wizard, of course. It also allowed control over greater problems, such as tsunamis and hurricanes."

"Tsunamis sound nasty, but I will choose them over vamps on any day," Myra said, and Pia nodded in agreement.

"It is so, but no one expected what would happen. People in the Old World had no idea vampires truly existed. There were tales, but they were all attributed to legends and turned into fiction. At the time, vampires were much fewer, and were always hiding in crypts or caves, going out only at night. Now that I look back, I can see that all the signs of their existence were there, but at the time we chose to ignore them. And then, this one vampire had the idea that he could use the WeatherWizard to take the world away from humans. He gathered his armies down below, and when all was ready, his accomplices got to the WeatherWizard and covered all landmass where vampires dwelt in permanent clouds.

"And then, the Nightfall began. The conquest was short, as humans were unprepared. Vampires killed by the hundreds and turned the humans they deemed beautiful enough, so their numbers kept growing. Nowadays vampires are many, and we are so few. Even if the WeatherWizard is destroyed, the fight will be long and hard, especially at night, and now these creatures have a taste of ruling the world. They will not give up easily."

"Are there any other humans left, besides us?" Thea asked.

"That I do not know," Pia admitted. "Our cellars are protected by the druid spells, so no vampire can find them unaided. There may be other places like ours in other parts of the world, but to the best of my knowledge, all humans that remained Outside were either killed or turned. It surprises me, to be honest. Vampires can survive on the blood of any animal, but they have always preferred humans. Now that they have practically extinguished our kind, human blood is nearly impossible to find."

"They must be really happy whenever they capture one of us," Myra said bitterly.

"So human blood is their favorite?" a seven-year-old girl, Monica, asked.

"They prefer it to animal blood, yes," Pia explained. "But there is one single thing they like even better. Vampires enjoy drinking small amounts of each other's blood, not as a means to kill each other, but as a part of the games they play."

Myra threw her a warning look. This information was not suited for children. "Thank you very much, Grandma Pia. Your tales are exciting as always, and I think all the kids should know everything you have to teach. I have to leave now, and I need to take Thea with me, but I will come by to talk to you later."

"I am always happy to answer your questions, Myra," the old woman said.

Thea stood up. "I have a last question, Grandma Pia, before I go," she said. "You said people in the Old World had legends about vampires? What kind of legends? Were they true?"

Pia laughed. "Well, a few were true I suppose. They did know about stakes, and beheadings, and fire, and sunlight of course. But honestly, most of their so-called knowledge was silly superstitions. Humans believed vampires were repelled by things such as crosses, holy water, or even garlic."

"Garlic!" Thea snorted. "Now that would have been handy!"

"I suppose they needed some sense of false security," Myra mused. "Grandma Pia, you mentioned the vampire who had the idea to conquer the world? The one who gathered the armies and made all this come to pass?"

"Ah, yes," the old woman said. "He was just another vampire once, but ever since the Nightfall, he has been styling himself as their Prince."

Myra held her breath. "Do you know much about him?"

"I have heard tales, but nothing I have not shared with Zack already. Why do you wish to know?"

"It does not matter," the girl said softly. "Come, Thea, we have to go."

Thea said goodbye to the other children and followed her cousin. "Where are we going?" she asked.

"To the library. I have something to show you."

The two girls walked into the library, and Myra lit a few candles. This was the place where she spent most of her time. She was reading textbooks, papers and articles whenever she had the time, but her true love was fiction.

Myra raised the candle and illuminated the thick covers with a soft light. She loved the sight of books, the feel of paper in her hands, the characteristic smell. She often said to herself that she wanted to go Outside and experience adventures just like her favorite characters, but to be honest, she would have been completely happy to spend her life in the library, reading one novel after another. But now that choice was taken away from her.

"Can you believe that in the Old World authors often romanticized vampires?" she murmured thoughtfully as she took in the titles.

"Grandma Pia said people had no idea vamps existed," Thea said. "For them this was only a fantasy."

"A strange fantasy," Myra whispered. "I wonder if any of those authors would willingly exchange their place with mine and come and live it for real. Ah, sorry, Thea! I brought you here to show you something."

She knelt down to reach the bottom shelf and took out a box filled with notebooks. "Last week I finished writing another play for the kids. It is about two little pandas, exploring the world. I thought you and Anastasia can play the main roles."

"Sounds great," Thea said. "When are we performing?"

Myra hesitated. "Thea, I am going Outside on a mission and I do not know how long I will be away. I am showing you the play because I want you to organize the performance in case I am delayed. You have seen me directing before; I know you will do fine."

Thea had blanched. "What kind of a mission is this? And why do you sound like you don't expect to come back?"

"What are you talking about? Of course I will come back!" Myra said, trying to hide the tremors in her voice. "Where else would I go?"

Thea's lower lip had started to tremble and her eyes were quickly filling up with treacherous moisture. "Well, you better come back! If you don't, I will sabotage your play and make a tiger eat the baby pandas!"

Myra laughed at that. And then, she cried. And as she held her distraught cousin, she whispered promises she did not know how to keep.

#

It was worth it. All her fears, worries, all the risk, it was worth all that. To feel the wind in her hair, to hear the cracking of leafless branches, to smell the moist earth – if Myra was to die right now, she would die happy.

Night had fallen and the vampires had allowed the clouds to disperse, revealing twinkling stars and a crescent moon. Myra had read so much about the moon and stars, but had never seen them before. Now she felt like the characters in her books, going on an adventure. No, a Quest! Yes, she was on a quest, and the fate of the world was lying in her hands.

With newfound confidence, Myra reached towards the stake in her purse. It made her feel secure. She could do this. She could save the world.

The wind caressed her face, and she smiled. Spontaneously, she broke into a run through the dead woods, a joyous laughter on her lips. But after a moment she slowed down reluctantly and listened carefully for any signs of movement around her. She was supposed to be stealthy and could not afford to give away her position.

She moved forward slowly, when suddenly something cracked underneath her foot. Before she could even wonder what it was, she felt herself falling, end then hitting the hard ground.

Dazed, Myra rolled around and rubbed her knee. It would be swollen in an hour or two, but that was the least of her problems right now. She blinked a few times, trying to figure out where she was. All around her was darkness, but as she looked up, the stars were still shining merrily through a small, rectangular window.

With a cry of frustration, Myra smashed her fist against the earthy wall. Zack had been right – she had no field experience for this kind of a mission. She had been Outside for only a couple of hours, and she had already fallen into a trap.


TBC

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