Gone are all misconceptions. I no longer desire absolution for any sins. I no longer have faith in mama’s rosary. I am beginning to see what papa was trying to show me.
His people were right. Nature is the only true belief. The spirits and that realm are a part of nature. All except the shadow kin. They are unnatural.
So are these ungodly ghouls Luci and I are now fighting. Who let these monsters loose? They had appeared without warning. Almost as if they had been set there under some sort of cloak or spell.
No matter. We’ll take care of them. Breathing curses, I weave a destructive path through the horde. Their fetid black, clotted blood gets all over everything. I wrinkle my nose.
I have never liked fighting these creatures. Still, I must. Our path leads right straight through the horde. Our safe house is somewhere on the other side. Somewhere.
A horn-blast breaks the silence. Luci looks at me with a gleam in his eye. “My men are here!” His smile tells me all. He knew we would have help. But how? I saw no messenger. I saw no clues.
Did he lead us on this path because he knew he had an escort waiting? Or was this all set up for my benefit? I look at him. “Was this a setup?”
He shakes his head. “No.”
I am livid. “But how’d you know they were here?”
He scratches his head in bewilderment. “I didn’t. Novoro was supposed to be patrolling several hundred miles south of here, beyond Baltimore. That was where I was supposed to reconnect with him.
I look at him, doubtful. “And the Ghouls?”
He smiles, understandingly. “They were not here when I was through the last time. It is as if someone has been watching us, or at least me, and was anticipating where we would go. Ghouls don’t usually travel this road.”
I relax. “Alright.” I decide he is telling the truth.
“I despise these rats.” His words are true. “They only appear when a high ranking vampire is near. Kalkolides. Vassare. Turuch. Valchance. Moroni.”
I look over at his again. “Who are Turuch, Valchance, and Moroni?”
He smiles. “They, like Vassare, are Kalkolides’ errand boys. they lead small wolf-packs of vampires who ravage, rape and pillage. They are sent in, like Vassare, to soften an area. Depopulate. Destroy.”
“Wery Goot.” A voice comes to us out of the shadows. “Now. Hant her ower to me.”
“Valchance!” Luci breathes the name with contempt. “Never. If you haven’t already heard, My troops are getting close. You are about to be outnumbered.”
“Luci, Luci, Luci. Ven are you going to learn? You do not giff me orders. Nor do you scare me.” Valchance waves his hand and a small group of vampires and familiars begin a careful approach. “Get her. Kill the traitor.”
I have had enough of his creepy German accent and his arrogance. “You’re just as cowardly as Vassare. He always had to send his underlings to do his work as well. He ran out of willing subjects, though, and had to fight me. More than once.” I sigh, winking at Lucifer. “You vampire lords are all the same. All words and no actions. You never could lead through example. You just take for granted that you will always have more underlings to do your bidding. You never think past giving orders.
“Just once, I would love for one of you to try and catch me yourselves. Hell. I would love you all to begin fighting your own battles and quit hiding behind others. Is that so hard?”
I nod. On cue, Luci begins cutting down the closest of Valchance’s minions. I do my dance through the rest that he cannot reach. soon, the vampire is without an army. I smile. “Kalkolides won’t be happy. You’ve lost more of his soldiers. How do you propose to fix that?”
He growls and decides that he has nothing to lose. “You bitch. I vas sent to capture you, but you make it so hart. You can’t seem to just come easy vith me. You make it difficult. Nein, nein, nein! Dis is all wrong!” He rushes me.
he doesn’t realize the trouble he is in until my sword slices through his ribs without any problem. He looks blankly at me in disbelief.. I slide the sword out of his chest and swing. His head falls free.
Luci catches one of the remaining familiars. I grab the dead vampire’s head and throw it to him. He puts it in a bag and hands the bag to the familiar. “Take this to Kalkolides. Tell him that anyone else sent to collect Miss Juarez will suffer the same fate.”
We watch as the familiar flees. I notice that Luci has been wounded. “Luci. You’re bleeding.”
He nods. “I know. One of heir blades was laced. Some sort of poison dangerous to vampires. I may not survive, but at least you will.” He looks at me, the poison starting to affect him. “I was sent to guide you to Baltimore.” He shakes off my objection. “No. As I told you. I was deemed expendable. After all, I am a vampire fighting against vampires. I am seen as a possible danger to the mortals in our alliance. They fear me.
“You, on the other hand, are important to the cause. To most, you are a promise to an end. But be careful. There are a few who see you as a potential martyr for the cause. It is hard to tell who is who. Listen to their words. You’ll be able to tell who is lying and who is being truthful.
“There are even some of the bounty hunters who will sell their services to both sides if the price is right. Be careful of who you choose as your companions. Remember Savanna and Mobile. They were betrayed by someone they thought was an ally. Axe betrayed them for gold and immunity from their courts. I know. I was there. I was sent as a spy to follow the bastard. Kalkolides caught him and was about to kill him for ‘murder’ when he made the unholy bargain. He was paid in full, I mean the gold, up front. Kalkolides allowed him to slip away from the cities after he opened the gates.
“But Axe is only one of the few who switch sides when the need is great, instead of dying a hero’s death. They choose to be cowards, selling their own out for money or pardons. Like I told you, though, My men and I won’t. We are outsiders to both sides, watched suspiciously by the Partisan, hated by the Vampire Nation, and hunted relentlessly by the Human Alliance.”
I look away. “You said that you are commander of Battalion 35. That means that there are at least thirty-four more battalions of vampires on the Partisan’s side. Right?”
He nods. “Yes.” If need be, I can have Novoro escort you to one of them should things prove too treacherous in Baltimore.”
I nod in return. “It might be best. I will need safe escort on south from Baltimore.”