With a deep gasp, Bill realized that he had been standing in the empty parking lot for nearly the entire day, his mind a turmoil of thoughts. He had said goodbye to his friends and pushed them away, knowing that the only way they would reach their goal was if they worked together, if they were a team. There was no way that that was going to happen as long as he had been around, his presence stirred up feelings of unease and mistrust, and that was exactly what they did not need right now.
When he thought about it, when he truly thought hard about it, he realized that he should have expected it to happen, it always had. No matter how hard he had tried, no matter how sincere he had been, no one had ever completely trusted in him. Oh, there had been friends, and even occasional lovers, but there had never been that one person that trusted him implacably, without question.
But then why should anyone?
He remembered the hurt, the pain that had been brought upon him by every person that he had trusted in. They had always said that they were friends, that they would always be there, but then, when he had truly counted on them…bam. They fucked him over.
"Why not this bunch?" he said aloud. "What the hell am I that they should put up an argument?
"I'm nothing, just a possible threat. They're probably all glad to be rid of me so they don't have to keep looking over their damn shoulder."
Bill grabbed a hold of the handle to the hum-vee and yanked it open, a resounding screech echoing out as the door ripped from the frame of the vehicle. Staggering slightly, from the unexpected weight of the door now in his hand, Bill held it up and glared at it.
"Oh, yeah, this is real freaky," he said to himself. "I really need this."
Turning around slowly, unsure of what to do, Bill decided to just throw the door into the back of the vehicle.
"Just another reminder why I shouldn't be around humans," he muttered, climbing into the hum-vee.
Settling behind the wheel, his hand on the key, Bill froze as he saw seven figures, through the windshield, standing before the hum-vee. The figures were tall, really tall, and were garbed in long, all encompassing brown robes that reminded him of Monks. The hoods of the robes presented a pool of blackness that was unnatural, even in the thinning red light of sunset, and Bill knew that there was a power of evil to them.
An ancient and incredibly strong evil.
Bill turned the key, cursing when the motor failed to even attempt to start, and slumped back into the seat for a moment, glaring at he unmoving figures before the vehicle. Sighing, knowing that some sort of confrontation was inevitable, Bill slid out of the hum-vee and stood glancing from one Monk to the other, trying to peer into the blackness of their hoods.
"You are of our Lord Bartholomew," spoke seven voices at once, all echoing within Bill's head.
"Well, that beats surround sound all to hell," quipped Bill. "Think you guys could pull that effect for a screening of The Matrix?"
"Where is the Holy Man?" asked the seven, their voices once again resounding through his mind.
"I'm pretty sure you guys axed the Pope during your first wave," replied Bill.
The center Monk became a blur, and an incredible pain hammered through Bill's chest. One moment he had been standing next to the hum-vee, the next, he was twenty feet away, on his back, his head reeling with stars from smacking against the concrete of the parking lot.
"I guess you ment some other Holy Man," groaned Bill, holding his arms to his chest, grimacing with pain.
Blinking to clear the stars from his vision, Bill gasped as, in between blinks, the Monks suddenly shifted from their previous location to one encircling him. Twenty feet in the blink of an eye was an incredible show of power, moving faster than even a vampire could, and Bill was suddenly filled with fear as to what these things were.
"Where is the Holy Man?" repeated the seven.
Just a few short weeks ago, Bill would have gladly told them what ever they wanted to know, desperate to avoid a confrontation just so he could live another day. Now, after everything he had been through, after everything that had happened to him, he would rather die defying them than giving in to them. He had seen the darkness that wanted to claim the world, and he'd be damned if he was going to help it.
"On the mountain?" asked Bill.
Grab. Lift. Throw.
It had been the center Monk, of that Bill was certain, but he had never seen him move, he had just felt the affects of the Monk's actions. A powerful force had grabbed him by his collar, hefted him from the ground, and had then tossed him head over heels back towards the hum-vee. Burning pain issued forth from various spots, skin friction-burning away as he slid across the parking lot, and something made a cracking sound as the blackness of unconsciousness threatened to engulf him.
New waves of pain racked his body as he coughed up blood, and Bill just wished that the blackness would overtake him and end this. He tried to rise from where he had finally came to a stop, and cried out as his shoulder felt as if it were ablaze, falling back to the pavement with a loud groan. Whether it was broken, or just dislocated, he didn't know. He just knew that it hurt like hell and, though it didn't really seem to matter, that it was useless.
Teeth clenched, eyes closed, withering on the ground in pain, Bill was dimly aware that they were surrounding him again, relentless in their pursuit of an answer. They asked their question yet again, and Bill began laughing crazily in response, growing hysterical. For a brief instant he thought of where he was, in the parking lot of a psychiatric institute, and his laughter grew more intense.
"Where is the Holy Man?" thrummed the voices, again, as Bill was lifted up into the air.
Bill spit a bloody wad into the blackness of the hood.
There was no roar of anger, no cry of outrage, nor any other of the usual responses one would be able to entice from a vampire. The Monk's responsiveness was silent and cold, committed simply in reflex to the undesirable answers, and actions, of the man he was questioning. The Monk spun around, throwing Bill with more force than ever before, and sent the man flying through the air to crash through the front doors of the institute, some fifty feet away.
Hitting the linoleum floor in a shower of glass, wood, and plastic, Bill landed hard, and went half sliding, half tumbling, down the hallway. When he finally stopped, bloodied, bruised, and broken, he lay there groaning, looking up through swollen eyes at two blurry figures.
"Looks like someone's getting their ass kicked," said one of the figures with a voice that Bill thought he would never hear again.
"We should go," said the other figure. "I don't like those men in robes."
Squinting, barely able to focus, Bill could make out Neva and the vampire called Lamkin.
"They…said…you were all…dead," choked out Bill.
"We are," replied Neva, revealing her fangs with a smile.
Bill flinched, expecting Neva to attack, when she suddenly stopped her lunge, and made a choked gurgling sound. The newly risen vampire looked down with blinking eyes, amazed to see the shaft of a crossbow bolt embedded in her chest. She tumbled over to the floor, her empty eyes seeming to lock on Bill, then crumbled away to dust and echor.
Lamkin began backing away from the fallen man, shaking his head in denial and muttering "no" over and over. A second later he turned, and bolted down a side hallway, his retreating footfalls echoing through the still building with a hollow emptiness to them.
A hand wrapped around Bill's arm, and helped him up from the floor, and a firm, feminine voice spoke to him.
"Come with me if you want to live," said the woman, pulling him down the hallway, deeper into the institute, while watching the front entrance.
"What are you thinking?" asked Diane as she stepped up next to Roy, joining him on the roof of the small building they had decided to take refuge in for the night.
"Nothing, really," he replied, not turning from the sunset. "Just watching the nightfall."
The two stood in a silence that was neither awkward nor cumbersome, but actually quite comfortable. The two had been through a lot together, had lost two friends already to the vampires, and had just left behind a third. They had seen death and devastation on a scale unparalleled to anything else in human history, except, possibly, the Holocaust, and depended on each other more than even intimate lovers would.
"What are you thinking?" asked Roy, finally turning to face her.
"Nothing, really," she said, smiling at him. "Okay. I was just wondering about all this…this…what ever you want to call what we've become involved in."
"The fate of the human race?"
"Sounds kind of melodramatic when you phrase it that way," she said, looking down at her feet. "I mean, this started out with us just hoping to survive, and now we're told that we're destined to face off with the Lord of all vampires."
"It does seem a bit much, doesn't it?" he said, leaning against the brick wall that encircled the roof. "You could have stayed behind, you know. With him."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "I couldn't. Hell, I can't believe that he did it. I know he thinks he did the right thing, but I can't help thinking that he did it because…"
"Because he's a coward?" asked Roy, Diane having trailed off to silence.
"Yeah," she replied, sounding ashamed that she felt that way. "I don't know what's happening to him, but damn it, we needed him!"
"Is that your only concern? That we need him to finish this? Or, is there more to what you're feeling?"
"I don't know," she said, not facing the Preacher. "And I really don't feel like talking about it right now."
"Fair enough," said Roy. "It's almost dark, we should get below and dig in for the night."
"Okay," said Diane, turning to walk back down the stairwell that led to the roof. "You are coming, aren't you?"
"In a moment," answered Roy.
Diane shrugged and disappeared down the stairwell, leaving Roy alone on the roof with his thoughts.
A slight pain dug at Roy's chest, and he began coughing, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket. He held the cloth to his mouth as he began coughing, the pain intensifying for a moment, then fading as his coughing subsided. Taking slow, deep breaths, Roy recovered from the fit of coughing, and looked down at the handkerchief, frowning at the specks of blood that were on it.
"He said you got the Black Death in you," had said Gary, back at the institute.
Roy looked upwards, the purple sky giving way to hundreds of thousands of stars, and fought down the fears that were threatening to over whelm him.
"Give me the strength to finish this, Lord," he whispered.
Jeanette was seething with rage at the fact that Jim had turned on her, after everything that they had shared, and she wanted nothing more than to rip his throat out and drink of his blood. She was still a Master, albeit a weakened one, but she had no doubt that she could take him. And take him she would, drinking her essence that he had stolen, and returning him to the ashes that Bartholomew had resurrected him from.
In the purple twilight she stood, walking slowly towards the window that she had crashed through earlier to escape from the sunlight, and she glared across the street at the Sheriff's Office. She could sense his new found power, though it was no where near her level, and she knew that he was close. He might not still be in the building across from her, but he was very, very close.
Shifting, letting her skin ripple and change, Jeanette took on her nightmarish Master form, and began stepping out through the broken window. Tucking her wings in to clear the window frame, eager to take to the night sky and search for Jim, she suddenly realized that he was closer than she had thought.
Jim had been laying on the walkway outside of the window, paitently waiting for her to emerge, and when she did, he acted. The shaft of wood was easily three feet long, more than enough length to carry out his plan, and he shoved it straight up, through her ribs and into her heart.
Rising straight up, Jim pushed with all of his might, driving Jeanette backward, and, finally, to the floor as he continued to apply pressure on the shaft of wood. He twisted the giant stake back and forth, delving it deeper into her, and screamed his anger at her as he did.
In a few moments it was over, Jeanette's still form spread on the floor with the shaft sticking up right. Being a Master, her body would not disintegrate right away, the dark energies of her being still fighting the death that had claimed her, and Jim took advantage of that by tearing into her neck and drinking.
Jim could feel her power flooding into him, changing his being from that of a mere vampire to that of a Master, and thought it the greatest sensation that he had ever experienced.
Then the burning began.
Reeling back from the corpse of the Master, Jim doubled over as his body was racked with pain, his entire being feeling as if it were on fire. Screaming in agony, thrashing about, Jim rolled about the floor as death threatened to claim him, the drinking of dead blood having dire affects.
If he could have formed a thought, if he could have done anything but fight the pain that was assaulting him, Jim would have pondered if he were going to survive the night. As it was, he could do nothing but roll around the floor in misery, battling the death that threatened to claim him.
John Winger stood before the door to the main garage of Solution, going over his plan once more, and wondering if he were doing the right thing or just going crazy. Less than an hour ago he had been talking with his cousin, stationed at Robins AFB in Georgia, and he had gotten the news that help would not becoming in time to stop General Brightton from carrying out his planned nuclear detonation.
Knowing that he stood no chance of stopping the General on his own, John had decided that he could at least do the next best thing; get to Denver and get those people out of there before the scheduled test. It would mean becoming a military fugitive, being labeled a deserter, but he knew that it was something that he had to do, he couldn't just leave those people there.
Shift rotation would be in less than five minutes, and it would be his best opportunity to carry out his plan. He had already programmed the security system to open the main doors one minute after rotation began, he would just have to be ready when they did. He went over the plan one more time, seeing it all clearly in his mind.
Get to a vehicle and get out, that would be the simple part. The hard part would be getting to the near-by air strip, prepping the Apache that was supposedly stored there, and getting away before any pursuing forces tracked him down. Not that it was likely that Brightton would send a squad after him at night, but why take the chance?
It would be a short flight to Denver, and, hopefully, he would be able to find the people from the photos before it was too late.
Yeah, he thought, what could possibly go wrong?
Winger's indecision faded as the klaxon went off, signaling shift rotation, and he bolted into action. Slipping his security card through the reader to the access door, Winger sealed his fate and chose his destiny, running into the huge garage and making for the jeep closest to the outside doors.
Risking a glance towards the control booth, Winger felt a rush of hope as he saw that the room was empty, the next shift not arriving as fast as the last shift had left, and he felt his confidence grow. The massive garage doors began rumbling open as he jumped into the jeep, alarms going off in response to its unauthorized opening, and he fired the vehicle up.
Shouts and gunfire trailed after him as he roared out of the garage and into the black night, and John hunched down, desperate to avoid getting shot and killed. The night air was cold against his sweating frame, and John hoped that there would be some supplies at the hangar—he hadn't thought to grab anything before he left—that would see him through what ever his fate would be.
TO BE CONTINUED…