Angel Of Death: The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, Chapter Eight: Living Through Me

I have never been too fond of my affliction. It has been more of a burden to me than an asset. The only thing it has offered me was a slight advantage over my opponents. By advantage, I mean the ability to fight them as one of their own instead of a human.

Fighting them as a human would be futile. Humans have no power over these demons. Or any of the horrors that wander the land in search of humans to eat. But as an undead, I am able to use their inborn strength against them.

I am not quite sure what Angel is, other than what I have already been told. still, I am not sure that I have been told the whole truth. Something seems a bit different about him. He never ages.

I peer at him over the campfire. He is cooking himself the rabbit I had recently drained for sustenance. He looks up at me and smiles. “Not that I really need it.”

I look over at him in shock. “What d’ya mean?”

He chuckles. “Don’t tell me that Truva and McCall actually neglected to tell you my whole story.”

I shake my head in wonderment. “No. All I was told was that you worked for the government before it collapsed. When the fighting began, you vanished with all the tech stuff you were creating.”

He bursts out laughing. “Not a bad cover story. Not bad at all. But no. While it is true that I worked with the governments of the world before the fall, I was not in their employ. Nor was my gadgets built for them.

“I do admit freely that they would have used my inventions as sources of mass destruction, had I left them for those who filled the vacuum to find, but I didn’t so they are quite safe. No, I was more of a watchdog, watching the vampires’ every move. Their advancements in the government, their holdings, everything. There wasn’t a single shred of intel I didn’t know. Hell. I had vampires giving me information on their own.

“You see, I am much like you. In fact, we are the same. Grigori. At least, we are the “new breeds”, those who are of both human and Grigori mix. Neither, yet both. Vampires, were once like us as well. In fact, I am Scriboi. A scribe of the Grigori.

“The earliest Grigori are called Archis or Angli. The name, despite its resemblance to “Angel”, means First-born. Vampires, or at least the first of their kind, belonged to this group. Shape shifters were second-born and man, last.”

“But man was supposed to be created.” I object without need.

He smiles at me. “Man has always misunderstood the meaning and process of creation. To him, it means being made out of mud or evolution. It is really neither. Birth was creation. Appearing was birth. Or creation. However you want to look at it.

“There were seven races born upon the earth. Six remained without blemish and was given the right to the name Grigori or Angli. One fell with a small number of each of the other six. These became the Vampires, Greys, Greens, and Daemoni. Daemoni does not mean demon, though man mistakes it for such, but rather “Fallen”.

“I belong to Grigori Secondus, sub-class Scriboi. Yes, I am far older than Kalkolides or his henchmen. But he doesn’t know of my existence. And I mean to keep it that way.”

I am still baffled. “Why?”

He shakes his head. “Because he enslaves Scriboi. If they deny him his will, he executed them. I desire to remain free and oppose him. In the end, I mean to free my fellow brethren. But I am bound not to fight. A Scriboi takes an oath to remain neutral in all battles and only record that which they witness. And so far, I have. I have recorded all that has taken place for the past sixty years. Your conception, inception, and rebirth. Every milestone you have reached. Every battle you have won. You are the promised one. Don’t forget that. And I have been attached to you as your scribe.”

I am even more baffled. “And the toys?…”

He smiles. “Oh, they are genuine. And yours. I make them for you alone. No one else. Except my invisibility cloak.Well, really, it’s a sort of cloaking devise. Anyway, it is solely mine. So I can watch you and record. Oh, yes, I am always with you. You are never truly alone. Not for a second.”

I snort, amused. “I know all about your cloaking devise. Remember? You showed it to me before…”

He nods. “Before you were bitten. Yes.”

I am startled. You refer to it as bitten, not changed. Why?”

The thought suddenly hits. He looks over at me. “You mean they didn’t tell you the truth about that either?”

I shake my head, still lost. “About what?”

He sighs. “Oh God. They’ve let you believe that you were changed. Infected.”

I am livid. “I went through the change. I know I was changed. I know about the pain.

He shakes his head. “Rarely does a victim of a vampire ever change, Cris. Almost never. One in one billion. Especially a Grigori, which is absolute zero. What you went through was your body rejecting the venom. Yes, it has triggered the side effect of the ‘unholy’ thirst, but you are not a true vampire. You never were.”

My shock has grown apparent. “But Sundown said…”

He shakes his head again. “No. Sundown never said anything. Delgado mistook what both McCall and Sundown did say. Grady, on the other hand, did not. Grady knew exactly what both men meant.That was why he took you to McCall.

“Of course, we were supposed to get to you before the vampires struck your town…or, at least, Delgado and Grady were. They were supposed to save you and your family. But, we were all-except myself-detained, fighting against another band of vampires to the south of you.”

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Angel Of Death: The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, Chapter Seven: Hell’s Wrath

Hel appears beside Khali. “Simple, child. We need you to clear the way for us. Only you can retake Savanna, Mobile and the dozen odd cities that have already fallen to the Vampire Nation. You know their weaknesses. Their oversights.”

“Moreover, they won’t be expecting you.” Hades is there in a flash, his deep resonate voice thundering through the nothingness. “You have been absent. They think you dead. Or, at the least, unable to fight.”

“Kalkolides believes you are no longer a threat.” The raven cloaked Morrigan emerges from the shadows. “He has been led to believe that you were lost to the ice of the north.”

“Apparently, the Vampire Nation doesn’t venture too far north.” I smile sarcastically. “Or they would know that where I was, there wasn’t any ice.”

We know that, child.” Anubis has joined the conversation, his jackal form slinking out of the shadows where Morrigan had also emerged. “He has not been allowed such a luxury. Remember. Most vampires cannot handle cooler climes. If they do venture north, it is just above the border. They believe that the ice begins less than a hundred miles above the border. That is the only thing that has kept what was once Canada from being overrun by their kind.”

“That is why the Grigori was able to remain hidden from them for so long.” Enlil appears as a blinding light. “And why you remained safely out of their reach while running Tuva’s errand.”

“Now that you are back, we can return to the business at hand.” Unkulunkulu announces from his seat in the shadows behind me. Khali will lead the council’s armies to your aid when you call upon her or upon Ares. The rest of us will not be far behind.”

“We need you to turn back south.” Morrigan looks over at me. “We need you to let Naeraeus finish leading the refugees. Leave those who are in your company. Begin our battle for us. Retake the cities lost to the vampires.”

I nod. “I guess I really can’t argue. You have already decided my fate.”

Anubis’ ears perk up. “Then you accept?”

I look at him. “I have no choice, do I?”

Khali nods. “Yes, but you would not be following your destiny. The path already predestined for you.”

I snort defiantly. “My path is my own. What I do is done for my friends and my allies. Not for any other reason.”

Enlil chuckles. “Believe what you will, child.”

***

I am shaken awake by Naeraeus. “What the Sam Hill are you doing?”

I look at him, bewildered. “I was talking to–”

“Khali.” He finishes my sentence. “If she has contacted you, then you must go do what she desires.” He nods to me. “Godspeed. do you need any–?”

I shake my head. “No. I am not expected by my new targets. Their master believes me dead.”

He smiles. “All the better to scare them with.”

I smile back and nod. “I am their form of the boogie man. I stalk ’em in their vampire-nightmares.”

“What about the refugees?” His attention is drawn to those who had been in my care.

I look him in the eye. “They are now in your care. All you have to do is get them to the missions. From there, you will be home free.”

He looks away. “Understood.” He looks back up at me. “Good luck. May God be with you.”

I giggle. “Luck has nothing to do with it. Neither does ‘God’. I make my own luck and do not need his help. Whoever, whatever he may be.”

“So be it.” He is disappointed.

He turns away and I watch him walk away. He is the one who’ll need God and luck. He still has the gauntlet to run. And I know that there are pitfalls every step of the way between where we are now and where he is wanting to get to. Ghouls. Zombies. Vampires. Shadow Kin.

“Be careful.” my words bring him to a temporary stop. “There are many obstacles between you and the missions. Don’t be lulled into believing that the calm is real. It is all an illusion.

“They will try everything they can to stop you and your charges. Ghouls. Zombies. whatever they can. Just to stop you from reaching safety.”

Thank you.” He doesn’t even turn back to me. “I will keep that in mind.”

I can’t help thinking that I have offended him with my view of his God. But if God had existed, why did he let me go through the change? Why did he allow mamma and papa to die? Why did he allow the vampires to destroy everything beautiful?

I can’t help but find it near impossible to believe in him. If he does exist. I have a hard time having faith in anything but my own skill. My own abilities.

I watch as Naeraeus slowly disappears. When the small group finally vanishes, I turn south and head for Dixie. I am headed home. What I will find, I don’t know.

I would shape shift, but do not want to lose my weapons. I will need them. Besides. I feel almost as if I will need them every step of the way. I pull my collar up and head into the wind.

Although I have no idea where I will start, I know where I am headed. South. Home. Into hell.

I correct myself. I have no home. That was taken from me over sixty years ago. My refuge was taken from me twenty years ago. Now, I have nothing. Just my sword, My crossbow, my machete, and the revolver I shot mamma and papa with. In my small munitions sack, I carry a small number of silver bullets.
Not that they do much good. But they do inflict major pain, even if they don’t really have enough effect to kill. Unless shot into the heart of a vampire. Or undead.

“Where ya headed, Kid?” Angel’s familiar voice emerges from nowhere. “Better yet, can ya use some company?”

“Sure, Angel.” I smile. “It’ll be nice to have someone to talk to. Don’t know whether you’ll wanna go all the way south with me, though.”

“Nope.” He appears beside me. “But you can accompany me to my lab. I may have a few new playthings you’ll like to try out.”

“You’ve got my attention, old friend. Lead on.” I giggle to myself as he does as I suggest.

“Angel Of Death”, The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, Chapter Six: Steps To Nowhere

The horrors from War Hammer’s memories replay in my thoughts. God, how I hate psi-bonding with anyone. It tends to give me migraines. Plus, I cannot seem to get them out of my head after that.

I can hear the screams of the victims. The maniacal laughter of the vampires. The death rattle of each soldier as they die trying to give civilians enough time to flee. The visions, alone, are more than I bargained for.

I try to rest, but do not. My night is spent tossing and turning with my eyes open and brain running ninety to nothing. Will it ever stop? Probably never. I attempt to shrug it off.

Tonight, I do what I have not done in years. I doze. I slip in and out of awareness. This, I do until I finally drift into a restless sleep. Or is it a trance? I am not sure.

In my dimmed vision, I begin to see more than the memories War Hammer had shown me. I see her. Khali. She is Grigori. One far older than Truva, McCall, or even Kalkolides. She is ancient of days.

In her time, she was worshiped as a goddess. Despite her ardent pleas against the act. She is a warrior without equal. Even the angels quiver at her name.

Tonight, she stands at the base of a set of steps that seemingly lead nowhere. I take it this is her home. Her domain. Her sanctuary.

She sees me and smiles. “Welcome, Child.” her mouth does not move, but her voice whispers in my ear despite her distance from me. I realize that she is a telepath.

I look at her, defiant. “What do you wish of me, Great Khali?”

Her smile broadens into a toothy grin. “The ancient council has called you here to me. Parvati. Brahma. Shiva. Zeus. Poseidon. Hades. all those you were told were myths and legend. Those you were told were heathen gods and heroes. But we were never either. We are the ancient council by which the Grigori always made decisions. Unlike the main body of our population, we did not go into exile. We remained to watch over humankind.

“Like the vampires, we remained among humanity, waiting for the day we were needed. Unlike the vampires, we had no desire to destroy man or any of God’s creation. Despite our desires, man set us up as their gods and heroes. He divided us into Pantheons according to his region. Many of us shared many names. Many faces.”

I stare at her. “Get on with what you desire of me, Warrior Queen.”

“Very well.” She turns away. “We understand that you have called the Grigori out of their exile.” I nod. “I see. And were you successful with Truva’s errand?”

I am suddenly beside myself. “Yes…why?”

She turns back to me. “Good. You will need them. A time is coming. A hard time. Dark times.

“War has been brewing since the disappearance of the Grigori. Vampires have become more cohesive. Unified. They have become a nation of lost souls. Diseased souls. Hateful souls.” She waves me forward. “Come and see.”Despite my trepidation, I move forward to see what she wants me to view. As I arrive at her side, she points below. “You desired to see what took place in Savanna and Mobile. Correct?”

I blink. “Yes, but I thought that War Hammer had already shown me–”

She shakes her head. “Granted, War Hammer was in Savanna when it fell, but no. You haven’t seen the full horrors. My soldiers arrived in enough time to allow the majority of those in those cities to escape, but those who refused to leave…well…” her hand waves my view to the swirling mass of whiteness below us.

It swirls, then clears. Like a mirror, The placid surface that has-until now-remained hidden, becomes reflective, but not to my own reflection. Instead, it begins to transport me into the past. To Savanna.

As I wander the streets, I watch as multitudes of people-shape shifter and human alike-flee. Panic has taken hold. In the distance, screams of agony has arisen. Death is all around me.

“People!” A voice rises above the din and I turn in its direction to find Fenrir waving his arms. “Please remain as calm as possible and follow me! Khali will hold the line until we are safely away!”

I watch the masses surge in his direction. I estimate roughly half the remaining population has heeded his call. The rest stand dumbly, refusing to move. I watch him sweep forward and wrap his cloak about a child, whisking her out of harm’s way. Just barely. His praises will be sung for generations to come. If there are any more generations left after this hell.

There is a flash. The scene changes. Those who’d chosen to flee, are safely beyond the city. It has begun to grow dark save for the glow of numerous fires. As the city burns, I can hear the screams of women as they are raped and slaughtered. I look at my feet only to see the piles of dead children lying to either side. Damn. Such a horrible end.

I look up to find men impaled naked upon pikes, just as I remember reading in the history books about Roman punishment and the habits of Vlad The Impaler. I retch. The smells of death and decomposition are massive. Heavy.

The city’s new dark lords have made their point. They will not tolerate life. All will die. If they advance through any more cities, there won’t be many humans alive.

I force myself to look away. In doing so, I find myself still at Khali’s side. “Who is at fault for this?”

She frowns. “Only one name was whispered by a dying victim. Battle Axe. He had been in the city three days before. For some reason, he was also sent from the city and no report is a good one. Many people say that there were whispers that he had been raping women and had been caught raping the mayor’s wife and daughters.

“The mayor died in the first attacks, so we cannot be for certain. His wife and daughters were dead before the attacks, their lives taken by their own hands. Only something massively traumatic could cause them to do something unthinkable like that.” She turns away. “Those you saw impaled? They refused to leave the city, thinking that the vampires would spare their lives. Instead, they died horribly. Over one million people. Slaughtered. And for what?”

I look at her, tears welling up in my eyes. “And Mobile was much the same?”

She nods. “Yes. Both times, I arrived in time to help the main population flee. Both times, roughly half the population remained in the city. But the mayor of Mobile survived long enough to give us hints as to who and what was at the root of both attacks. But he was unclear in his exact words.”

“And so you sent Hammer to find him.” I state it.

“Yes.” Again, she nods. “And to bring him back.”

I look over at her. “And you want me…Why?”

She smiles.

Angel Of Death: The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, Chapter Five: Tens

The shape shifters appear around us. Almost as if they have teleported themselves from over a mile away. I am going to have to learn that trick too. It’ll come in handy for those times I need to make a fast get-away.

The Shadow Kin vanish as if they hadn’t existed. Naeraeus looks at me. “Friends of yours?”

I shake my head. “Nope. More like friends of my cousin and her benefactor.”

“Witch Doctor is the benefactor of no one.” Naeraeus glares at me. “He only takes in those whose souls are black and those he can use up. When her power is all used up, he will allow her to be destroyed…or worse.”

“Worse?” I blink with surprise.

“If he tires of her, he will feed her to the ghouls or mutates. Or even turn her over to the vampires so they can toy with her.” He doesn’t even blink. He says it all as if he has no real feelings about the whole thing.”

“Seems such a horrible way to go.” I reply dryly.

“Indeed.” He avers without emotion.

“What of The Creeper?” I try to change the subject.

He does not answer. I assume that it is because he doesn’t have an answer. Or is there a bit of reluctance to discuss the ugly little monster? I do not know. And I press him no further.

“Thanks for saving us, but I could have handled them.” I sound so sure of myself.

“I have no doubt.” He shrugs. “But we are already late in resuming our trek west to the missions. Do not forget that you have obligations to the refugees.”

I nod curtly. I hate being reminded of the obvious. Still, I do not say anything. It goes against my better judgment to do so. Besides. I can’t afford to anger my guests.

***

Two days have passed. We are so much closer to our destination. We pause, from time to time, to allow the refugees to rest–even sleep. Feels odd to do so, though. I do not rest. Neither do the Grigori.

But these humans need their rest. They can’t go for days like I can. Vampires would see that as a weakness. I do not.

I envy them. I wish I could be like them. I long to be like them. I simply want to be normal again. A human.

I am angry about my current status. I hate the hunger. I hate the hunt. I hate being dead, for all intents and purposes.

But I have no say in the matter. I was changed. Therefore, I must do what comes as second nature. But I don’t have to like it.

I just have to make sure I do not victimize any humans. I cannot drink their blood. Besides, even the thought makes me physically ill. So I hunt small animals.

I pull myself out of my thoughts. As I climb to the brow of a hill, I see what I dread the most. Vassare has discovered our route. Not a good sign.

He sees me and yells. “Hi, good-a-looking! Nice-a-to see you! Still not-a-willing to join me in marriage?”

I frown. “What do you think you want? I have already told you no. Leave me be.”

“Now-a-I cannot do-a-that. You know-a-that. Besides. I will-a-get a yes out of you yet.” He grins evilly.

“Over my dead body.” I glare at him.

“Now-a-that has already been arranged. See, you are-a-dead already.” He thinks he is being funny.

I shake my head. “You just don’t get it.”

“Get-a-what?” He blinks, surprised.

He has completely ignored my hands, which now hold both swords…drawn. I make a parry and a thrust. Again, I take his arm. “Now you know?”

He howls in pain and vanishes. I turn to see Naeraeus watching. Grinning. I return to the group.

“A friend of yours?” He sounds amused.

“No.” My tone is icy. “He is the one who turned me.”

“Ah. Vassare The Fool.” He is on the verge of laughter.

“What does that mean?” I know he knows something.

“The only reason Kalkolides keeps Him around is for his amusement. He loves to see Vassare dissected.” He finally shows some form of disgust. “Vassare was an Italian Count. Not a very good one, but still a Count. He was a coward as well, hence his propensity for running from an unfinished battle and his boastful talk. He promised Kalkolides he would change, turn into a valiant warrior, and fight great battles for him. The one thing he was never able to get over was his great lust for women. He has several wives within Kalkolides’ clan, but has never remained loyal to them.

“His fascination with you is due to your ability to continually rebuff him. He has never been refused or kept at bay until you. You should feel honored. He will end up dying at your hand.”

I try not to smile, but do so despite myself. “I see.”

Naeraeus smiles serenely. “A glorious day it will be, too. But you will have to face your cousin and overcome her as well. But do not worry. You will be with the one who can destroy the Witch Doctor.”

I thrill at his words. Yet, I feel as if he has kept something back. something important. Still, I do not press him. He will tell me when the time is right. Now is not that time.

we walk on in silence. I lose myself in thought, watching out for ghouls. I feel a change begin. In time, I will know more about this. But right now, I must remain ever vigilant.

As dark falls, We draw near to the missions. I hold up my hand and the group stops. “We will stop here. Tomorrow, we will reach the missions. But we will not be allowed to enter if we approach tonight. no one enters at night.”

Naeraeus nods and directs the Grigori to set up camp for the humans. Tonight, we will stand guard over them. Tomorrow, we will get them safely to the missions.

Death Angel: The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, Chapter Four: Drag The Waters

“So what do you plan on doing once you find him?” I look away, a tear in my eye.

“I have to play the part of an ally.” He looks at me coldly, but not without compassion. The coldness isn’t directed toward me, but at his intended target. “I have to act as if I am his friend. Eventually, I have to lead him back south. Lure him to his fate.”

“And go against all that you believe in.” I finish his thought.

He nods. “Yes. You’re very perceptive.”

I smile reassuringly. “Thank you. I hope you find him before I do.”

He looks surprised. “Why?”

My face grows serious. “I’ll kill him without a thought.” I change the subject. “Well, we need to head for the missions. We’ve wasted enough time.”

“You’re cold. You know that, don’t you?” He is serious.

“It has kept me alive this long. Keeps me from making mistakes. Love no one, have no one to lose.” My response makes him shiver.

“But yet you care about what happened in Savanna and Mobile.” He nods. He knows his assertion is true. “Odd for someone who claims not to feel.”

“I knew people in those cities.” I glare at him. “I was responsible for their being freed in the first place. I was responsible for their safety. That is all.”

“Say what you will.” he is blunt with me. “You love whether you want to admit it or not. If you didn’t, you would be no better than those you hunt. Caring shows you love.”

Damn him. I know he is right. I can deny all I want. I do love. I love humanity. I loved those who died in Savanna and Mobile. I loved McCall and Truva, even though I knew they were uninterested in women and saw me as a daughter.

“So what am I, then?” I challenge him.

“I don’t know.” At least he admits it.

“Do you know what I was doing when you ran into me?” I am direct.

“Scouting. Maybe hunting.” He presumes too much.

“No. I was feeding.” I look over at him to see his reaction.

He is surprised. “Really.” It is more of a statement.

I nod. “I suffer from their thirst. their hunger.Yet I am not one of them.”

“I figured you were something different by the way you moved. So quick. So nimble. So deadly.” He smiles. “Remind me not to battle you.”

“Why would you want to do so?” I look at the ground.

“I don’t. It was–never mind. I was just trying to get you to smile. We’re allies. I don’t care what you were doing when we ran into each other. All I care about is that we can offer each other our aid. I can help guard the refugees while you scout and you can lead me toward my destination…even if you aren’t headed exactly the same place. When it is time for me to part, I will slip away from the group. Good enough?”

I nod. “Good enough.”

“That’s better.” He grins. “And maybe someday, we will be able to join forces. When I don’t have to do something I really don’t want to do.”

I smile back. “Perhaps.”

***

Dark as fallen. Hammer and I slip away from the group to scout. I kind of like him. He seems…different. He is not put off by my vampirism. Rather, he seems to be interested in why I do what I do. The chalice, the knife, the care taken not to infect the animals I drain.

He has come along in an attempt to find another sentient ghoul. I hope he does. We need to know where Axe is. Moreover, he needs to know. I want to know so that I can avoid him. I just hope Hammer doesn’t breathe a word about my group when he finds the asshole.

No matter. Between feedings, I find we have a more immediate danger approaching. Shadow Kin. Damn.

I look over at War Hammer. “Have you ever dealt with Shadow Kin?”

He looks over at me, worried. “No. What are they?”

“Living shadows. Demons. Takers of souls.” I look over at him. “They obey my cousin and her benefactor.”

“Manifestations of every fear of man.” he nods. “Who is your cousin? Who is her benefactor?”

“She is called Lilith. She is the consort of the one they call Witch Doctor.” I see fear overtake him. “Do not worry. Shadow Kin are not all that powerful. They are only a means in measuring how strong an opponent is. If you are weak, they destroy you. If you are strong, you defeat them easily.”

“That makes me feel so much better.” His sarcasm is not lost on me.

“You afraid you aren’t strong enough?” I try not to giggle.

“No.” He is adamant. “But you still haven’t told me how to kill them.”

“You don’t.” Like shadows, they are without real substance. They are simply spells cast to make shadows live, if you can call black magic life. You simply face them and use your inner light.”

“Inner light?” He is unsure.

“Positive energy. The power of truth. Whatever you want to call it.” I am struggling now to keep from bursting into laughter. If you remember that they are just shadows and find ways to cast light upon them, they tend to vanish. cut them with a sword and they divide into more than one. Light, no matter what form, is the only way to defeat them.”

He puts down his haversack and searches through it. Suddenly, he pulls out a couple industrial flashlights. Something similar to handheld flood lamps. “You mean something like this?”

I smile and nod. “Now you get the picture. A little something I learned as a child.”

He grins. “Bring ’em on!” he flips the switch on one and hands it to me. The other, he turns on but keeps for himself.

in mere seconds, we are surrounded by their darkness. It is almost too much for the lamps to compensate for. Lilith is getting stronger. More daring. Or are these from Witch Doctor?

“Alakthos Molodo Kolbidos Remna Crithacht Minori.” The strange words almost seem as if the wind carries them forth from nowhere. Yet, out of the darkness, my shape shifting companions appear. The Shadow Kin vanish as the words surround us.

Angel Of Death: The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, Chapter Three: War Nerve

We have taken to traveling at night as well as day. we make good time. I marvel at the Grigoris’ lack of need to eat. It is unsettling. Not at all easy to get used to.

I guess that is a side effect of being immortal. You don’t need to eat. If I could find their secret, I could use it to control this unbearable thirst. This uncontrollable hunger.

I hate having the disease of vampirism in my blood. It makes me need to feed. At some point. Sometimes weeks, sometimes mere days. Or hours. It just depends. The older I get, the more I need to feed.

So I have decided to act as scout. It gives me opportunity to feed. As often as I need.

Rabbits and squirrels are easy enough to catch. So are strays. Dogs. Cats. I stay away from the small rodents. Not enough to slake my thirst.

I carry a cup and a knife for this purpose alone. Once I catch the animal, I slit its throat and bleed it dry. This way, I can safely dispose of the carcass.

I make quick work of the blood, drinking it as fast as possible. After I am done, I return to the group. I am sure, though, that my doings have not gone unnoticed by at least a couple of my companions. Yet they say nothing.

I believe they tolerate it because I am a necessary evil. They believe me to be some promised child. A prophecy come true. I never liked prophecies. Or religious junk. Always got in the way.

I’m not saying it isn’t important. I’m just saying that it has its place. Just not in my life.

I have a mission. And that is to find and destroy the Sabbath Stones. But first, I need to get these shape shifters to the missions. Along with the refugees.

A noise in the bushes rouses me from my thoughts. A rustling. I turn to look and find a ghoul running straight at me. Almost as if it doesn’t really see me.

“What the?!?–” The words escape my lips before I have time to stop them. A reflex. A reaction to being startled.

“Come back here, ya bloody ghoul!” a voice yells somewhere to the right. A male voice.

Instinctively, my blade leaves its scabbard, cleaving the unfortunate ghoul in half. Another swipe and its head goes bouncing merrily away. I stand in awe of my reaction. My motions had been fluid. Reactionary. Defensive.

I look in the direction from whence the ghoul had appeared. And from whence the voice had also come. Who was pursuing this ghoul and why? Most ghouls aren’t afraid of anything, let alone a hunter. So why was this one so afraid?

A man with a giant hammer appears out of the dark. “Seen a sentient ghoul around here anywheres?” He eyes me suspiciously. I look down at the dead body near my feet. His gaze follows my own. “Oh. Well, too bad.”

“Why?” I look at him. “What do you mean?”

He shrugs. “That ghoul was going to tell me what I wanted to know. He knew something I needed to know. Now, thanks to you, I will never know.”

I smile. “You don’t know that.”

He sighs. “And where am I going to find another sentient ghoul?” He puts his hands on his hips. “Suppose you tell me that?”

I shrug. “There are others. You just gotta know where to look for them.”

He eyes me again. “You sound as if you know something.”

I smile. “I have fought ghouls before. I also know that you have to be careful. Shadow Kin like to possess ghouls and zombies and make them impossible to kill. They also like to make them talk.”

He lets his hands fall. “You a hunter?”

I nod. “Yes.”

He smiles. “Got a name?”

I look away. “Cris.”

He presses. “Got a last name?”

I shake my head. “No. I am just Cris.”

“He nods. “Ever cross paths with a hunter called Battle Axe?”

I shake my head again. “No. Been north.”

He is clearly shocked. “North? What was there?”

I glance at him. “The Grigori.”

He is even more shocked. “You mean they still live? I thought they were a myth! Did you find them?”

I nod. “Yes.” I change the subject. “Why are you looking for this–Battle Axe character?”

He smiles. “Seems he disappeared suspiciously before the fall of Savanna and Mobile. Want to ask him what part he played in the fall of those cities…if any.”

I turn away again. “Oh.”

“Where you headed?” He is insistent.

I remain with my back to him. “I’m taking a small unit of soldiers and some refugees to the missions.”

“Can I tag along? I need to talk to the brothers.” He pauses. “Besides. you could use another pair of eyes on the way.”

“Sure. Why not?” I smile despite myself. “Just try to keep up. am in a hurry to return to the group. can’t afford to be away too long. especially with ghouls in the area.”

“Fair enough.” He chuckles to himself.

***

I find the group where I had left it. Naeraeus gives me an odd look as he sees my tag-along. “Bringing in strays?”

I smile. “He’s OK. He’s a hunter.”

“Oh, I see. And are you truly sure he is safe? How do you know he’s not a plant?”

It takes me a minute to realize what he is asking. “Because he was chasing a sentient ghoul.”

Naeraeus smiles. “I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the idea that he could be a plant, but it is your call.”

His words will haunt me the rest of the night. I just know I will continuously look over at our new member until dawn.

He comes over to where I am. “The name’s War Hammer. At least, that is what most people call me. Khali sent me to hunt down a man, a rogue hunter, known only as Battle Axe. He is wanted for assaulting women in Savanna and Mobile. Khali thought he might even be responsible for the fall of those cities.” he looks over at me. “Hey. You don’t have to believe me. And I don’t blame you if you don’t. Just know that we are on the same side.”

I look over at him. “So what happened in Savanna and Mobile?”

He shakes his head in sorrow. “It was horrible. four million people, human and changelings, massacred. Slaughtered without remorse. Without mercy.”

I look him in the eye. “Can I do something?”

He eyes me warily. “I-I guess. What is it, Kid?”

I gently touch his forehead. “I want to read your memories. Just a little trick I learned a while back. Don’t worry.”

He nods, still unsure, but allows me to touch his forehead. In a flash, I am transported into his head. Around me flashes different memories. Yesterday. Last week. A month ago. I let them go by until I find what I am looking for.

What I find is horrible. I watch him enter the town as the massacre is taking place. He is fighting against the vampire hordes, but with meager success. For some reason, the vampires flee from him. But not before they have killed almost everyone in the city. There is blood everywhere. The inhabitants didn’t stand a chance. The army was obliterated.

The scene changes. Now he stands in Mobile. This time, he is too late. A dark figure approaches him. “Hammer.” The voice is a hissing whisper. The eyes glow from beneath a hood of black. Khali. She is legendary. Both as a hunter and as a warrior.

His reply is quick. Almost frightened. “Khali.”

“Battle Axe must be found. He must be brought back to answer for what he has done.” She continues in her raspy whisper. “Even if he was not responsible for these massacres, he is guilty of several assaults.”

“Assaults?” Hammer seems confused.

“Rape, Hammer, he raped several women here!” Khali almost screams the response.

I feel his mental shudder. “Damn.” He breathes his disbelief. “And you believe he betrayed the cities to bury his indiscretions. And I am tempted to agree. Both cities had to be betrayed by someone pretending to be an ally. And anyone who would rape women in cities they were supposed to be protecting would also be the type to betray those cities. But was he acting alone? That is the question.”

“Yes, indeed.” Khali agreed.

I shudder and suddenly am back outside his mind. “Oh God!”

The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, Chapter Two: the Great Southern Trend Kill

We head south. Our destination at the moment is Minneapolis. Zoesus explained that they would begin their campaign in Europe, sweeping through Asia, then move to the Americas. It is the mission of my new companions to give my allies the decision of the Grigori.

I look at the commander of my companion soldiers. “What is your name?”

“Naeraeus.” He smiled. “That is what I go by now. You could never say my ancient name. Nor is there a reason for any to say it. That language has not been used for ages.”

“And the others?” I cock an eyebrow.

“All you need to know are the names of my lieutenants.” His smile vanishes. “Crassius and Oreus have been with me since the beginning. the rest, as you so deftly referred to them as, are second, third, fourth, and fifth gen…and younger.”

“From the beginning?…” I am curious.

He gives me a look that would make anyone else fall apart. I shrug. I suddenly understand his meaning. He is even more ancient than I had believed. All of the Grigori are.

We continue on in silence for a while. I lose myself in my thoughts. What has transpired since I left the lower forty-eight? What will we find when we reach Minneapolis? What will we find on south?

The questions run through my mind. I have been gone too long. But what I did had to be done. The elder race needed to be awakened and brought back into the real world. We needed their help.

Minneapolis was once a great city. St. Paul sits right across the river from it, acting as its twin. I remember going there once with mama and papa. But that was so long ago. I sometimes feel as if my past is nothing more than a fairy tale, something I think of to escape this hell.

I find it odd that I do not age past twenty, but it is a side effect of either the vampirism or a trait of my being Grigori, as Naeraeus claims me to be. I do not know which.

Strange. The water of the lakes look so clear. So calm. Unspoiled.

And there are so many. Maybe too many. I do not know. Or care.

Naeraeus looks at me. “Go ahead and feed. You need sustenance. As long as you do not take human life, you are not as they are. Your desire to preserve humanity separates you from them.”

I nod. Feeding will give me time to scout the area. Besides. I move faster on my own.

As I vanish, I let Naeraeus know that I will return through a glance. I hate feeding in front of strangers. It makes me feel as if I am being judged, even when I am not.

***

I have returned to find messengers within our camp. Or are they captives? I do not know. I look to Naeraeus for answers.

He sees my bewilderment and smiles. “Not to worry, Cris. They are messengers. Refugees from the south. Seems Dixie has fallen to the vampires. The only word so far is from Savanna and Mobile. I surmise that the rest of the south has fallen as well.”

I look away. “Or soon will.”

He catches my tone. “Uh, yes. Indeed.” He clears his throat.

He knows well my connection to the south. He has heard of my exploits. My victories. He knows that I had cleared the south of vampires once.

I shrug. “No matter. I will clear the south of the vile creatures once more.”

He chuckles. “Of that, I have no doubt…though I have not seen you in action personally.”

“As long as you deliver me and my unit to our destination, I do not care either way whether or not I do, Cris. Still, I believe that I will before this journey is over.”

I fake a smile. “More than likely. But I hope not.”

I look at the refugees. “Head for the missions. You’ll be safe there. We would take you, but we do not have the time and are not headed that direction.” I point toward the west. “Perhaps Isabel and the Sisters are out hunting. If so, they will gladly guide you.”

Naeraeus glares at me. “Isabel? The Sisters?”

I nod. “Isabel was my cousin. Before I was…changed. She is with the Sisterhood. I have hunted with her before.”

I hear a sigh of relief. “Oh. Perhaps it would be wise for us to go ahead and help these poor refugees find Isabel. Or, at least, their way to the missions. Perhaps we can find out where to go from there.”

I nod again. “Alright. We’ll go to the missions. Maybe we can find Grady there. Or Truva. But after I get you to your destination, I must turn east, then south and go back to Savanna and Mobile. I need to see just how deep the vampires have dug in.”

he says no more, but knows where I will be heading. He knows I want to check on the old haven. I want to know that it is still unnoticed and abandoned. Doesn’t matter that revisiting it is an unspoken taboo. Never go back to your beginnings. A rule McCall and Truva pounded into my head.

Still, I don’t care. I miss the compound. I miss McCall. I miss Truva.

Besides. That swamp had ears. Any news beyond reached the guardians before it reached us. I need to know what they know. I need to know if my hard work has been retaken. Savanna and Mobile won’t be hard to retake. Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans…they are a different story.

“Beware, Cris.” he looks at me. “What you are thinking about doing is going to put you in danger. If you are captured, we lose.”

I look back at him, defiant. “I won’t be captured.”

He shakes his head. “I hope you’re right.”

I get up and move a little ways from him. “They have sent their best after me. I have met them and killed them. They do not have anyone good enough to catch me.”

“Take care not to become too overconfident or sure of yourself.” His warning rings in my ear.