"So they caught her again," Harlan stated flatly. Instantly he realized his mistake. His embarrassment was further compounded by the annoyed look he not only got from Wayne, but Raven as well. "Right, only survivor. Sorry."
Raven continued. "I received a phone call telling me I had two days to get to Virginia to claim her. If I didn't show up at a certain place at a certain time, she would be killed."
"I take it the contacting party wasn't vampiric in nature," Wayne asked coolly.
"No," Raven answered, "Inhabitants of the area found her in their territory. She was a . . . curiosity to them."
Sarah woke to something sharp prodding her in the ribs. She feared opening her eyes. She didn't want to discover herself back where she began. She sighed deeply. Upon inhaling, a scent struck her as unusual. Tentatively she opened one eye and surveyed the situation.
To her surprise, she was being nosed by two small cubs. They were intensely curious but showed extraordinary caution. She looked to one, then the other, and then, for laughs, she growled playfully at them. They yipped in astonishment and ran off.
Sarah glanced about her. She sat on the dirt floor of an old log cabin. The musty, moldy smell of the wood indicated it was far from waterproof. She only hoped it was daylight proof. She felt very weak and was afraid this would make her hypersensitive to the effects of sunlight.
Sarah glanced behind. She was bound with her hands around a post in the center of the cabin. Her legs were tied as well, only instead of rope, they were fettered in airline cable. She sighed again. Many thoughts raced through her mind the main one being, "What the Hell are werewolves doing with airline cable?" She prayed they were friendly. After deciding that escaping would be a stupid way to tempt fate, she settled in and waited.
She did not have a long wait. Soon she heard heavy footsteps approach the cabin. Oddly enough, a voice called from the other side of the door asking permission to enter. After a pause he added that he wasn't vampiric, just polite. Sarah readily consented.
An older man came in and sat cross-legged on the floor. He looked to be in his fifties and perhaps a little Native American. His bare feet were pale from lack of circulation but unusually clean.
"You have pack markings," he stated flatly, without bothering with introductions.
"Yes." Sarah understood introductions were not necessary. Neither of them wanted to be on a first name basis.
"The pack is unfamiliar to me. I know of no pack which permits vampire membership." Sarah doubted if this statement was entirely true. He probably knew the markings, but since they were almost three decades old, he probably didn't believe them.
"I'm an exception." She answered coolly
"No doubt." He said with an eyebrow raised in curiosity.
"I saved a couple of subs a few years back." She shifted her weight so the cables didn't cut into her wrists so hard. They had clothed her in a long sleeved, flannel shirt, but it was terribly old and worn.
"From your kind?" A hint of anger touched his voice. Sometimes Sarah forgot how much vampires were loathed by werewolves.
"From hunters. You know what kind I mean." She waited for the message to sink in. He caught on quickly and his stern face lightened a bit. She felt comfortable asking, "You haven't killed me, why?"
"We haven't killed you yet," he corrected. "You have been given a reprieve."
"Because of my pack connections?" She inquired a little confused. He seemed unimpressed by her explanation.
"Hardly," He chuckled.
"Then why?" Sarah felt her nerves tightening again. She had hoped to find herself among friend, but this was not the case.
"Because you are the only one to come out of the tunnels." His statement was blunt yet enigmatical.
"In one piece?"
Sarah looked down at her feet as she absorbed this information. "I see. What do you want?"
"Tell me what you saw." He answered readily then added, " We hear rumors but nothing concrete."
She stared blankly ahead. "I'd rather be destroyed than repeat it."
"No. I don't think you would," he said observantly. He looked deep into her eyes. "Your spirit's too strong. You have survived too many seasons to die in the foothills at the claws of a wolf half your age."
"Maybe." She shrugged.
"You have two days." He added resolutely. "That is the agreement I made with your friend."
"Friend?" She was intrigued more out of fear than curiosity.
A flood of relief came to her when he elaborated. "The one in Chicago. There was a number on a piece of paper in your pocket."
"I thought I lost it." She smiled softly.
"I gave him two days to collect you. If he is late or you refuse to cooperate, you will be destroyed."
Sarah considered the alternative for a moment. "I will answer your questions if you answer mine."
"Very well." He sighed impatiently.
Sarah jumped right in. "Who are they?"
"The Real McCoys."
"Well, they're vampires."
"Among other things." He walked around and unfastened the cable around her wrists, then loosened the one binding her legs. "Tell me what you saw."
Slowly Sarah recounted her terrifying journey. When she had finished he leaned back for several minutes stroking his chin. He was deeply dwelling on something. If he noticed the condition her tale had left her in, he was polite enough not to show it. She was trembling slightly, and her eyes darted at every movement and shadow as if they were coming for her. Finally he said, "You must, indeed, be very unique to survive. I wonder why they did not take from you straight off."
"My scent is strange to them," she answered as she tried to remember the conversation she heard from the three leaders.
"It is strange to us as well," he confirmed, but added, "Yet it is somewhat familiar."
"I have werewolf blood in me," she volunteered knowing it would serve no purpose to deceive him.
"You are kin?" He seemed slightly surprised.
"No," she answered, "I was told that I should have gone through the change, but I think I was turned before I could."
"A late bloomer," he offered.
"Something like that," she smiled weakly.
He considered her briefly for a moment, then asked, "Are you hungry?"
"Yes," she answered as she looked longingly at the door.
To her surprise he extended a claw and held it above his wrist. She quickly interceded. "No! I do not consume werewolf blood."
He looked at her in delighted amazement. "Our blood is a delicacy among your kind. Why do you deny it?"
"Because it is akin to cannibalism to me," she looked behind her at the door with an expression of horror on her face. "And I am no cannibal."
He retracted the claw. "Very well. I will find a human for you."
"No," she responded as she slowly got to her feet. She swayed as a sudden bout of light-headedness rushed over her. She clung tightly to the beam that had held her prisoner. "If you can scrounge up a cow or two, I'll be fine."
He watched her with a strange look on his face. "Don't you want human blood?"
"I no longer survive on anything deemed human," she answered, "it is not necessary."
"That depends largely on your definition of necessary, doesn't it?" He asked pointedly.
"As well as your definition of human," she added.
He chuckled. "Despite my better judgement, I am beginning to like you. I can see why you were added to the pack. I will find you something suitable. Pigs all right?"
"Fine." She slid back onto the floor and waited for him to return.
Presently, he guided a huge boar into the cabin. It resisted him every step of the way as though it knew what fate had in store for him once he crossed the threshold. After a mediocre tug-of-war, the old wolf managed to latch the leash around a beam.
Sarah regarded the animal thoughtfully. Empathy flowed through her veins as she sensed its fear. They had a lot in common. She looked up at the wolf and shook her head.
He examined her face carefully. She was almost moved to tears by the beast. Without a word, he untied the leash and led the beast out.
He came and sat across for her. He regarded her strangely for a moment, then said. "I offer my own blood freely and you don't take it. I offer to find you a human, you tell me not to. I get you an animal and you can't bear too look at it let alone feed. Just how do you expect to survive the next two days?"
"I'm stronger than I look," she replied as she fought the faint feeling accompanying those words.
"You will need something to sustain you until your friend arrives." He responded, then thought for a moment before rising. "I will be back shortly."
When he returned he held in his hand a milk bottle filled with steaming blood. He handed this to her. She looked at him suspiciously. He raised a hand and said, "Donít ask, just drink."
After a momentís hesitation, she raised the bottle to her lips and took a long, slow drink. She closed her eyes in ecstasy as the hot liquid coursed through her veins, livening her body. She opened her eyes. A strange look had taken over her face. For the first time in his life, the old man was face to face with the real beast. This expression lasted a minute at the most. She downed the rest of the blood in a matter of seconds, and returned back to her old self.
Suddenly a thought crossed her mind. "My truck . . ."
". . . is lost," he finished before she really began. "They retrieved it from the store."
"They would be seen," she protested. "It should still be there."
He shook his head. "One of their servants would have retrieved it."
"Servants?" She asked. She knew vampires occasionally kept humans as vessels and vassals, but she couldnít see how anyone could survive those creatures.
"They lure victims to their deaths," he reassured her unspoken thoughts, "but they try to keep one to mind the store. For some, the promise of survival is enough to subdue them."
"Surely one would have escaped?" She reasoned.
He shook his head again. "If they tried, they wouldnít get very far. The McCoys keep a tight grip on their servants."
She set the bottle down and rose, this time, much more steadily to her feet. He had given her pigs blood, but she suspected, he slipped a little of his own in the mix. She felt much stronger than she had any right to be. One bottle of blood did not so easily recover so much lost.
She walked around the cabin restlessly. The lightness under the door told her that night was close at hand. She turned to her host. "Shouldnít we make for the meeting place?"
"Your friend will not be there yet," he answered. "Not until tomorrow. Besides I have more questions for you, as I am sure you do for me."
"Fire away." She leaned against the wall, tired of sitting and anxious to speed away from this area. Despite being told she was safe in werewolf territory, she did not trust that would keep the monsters at bay.
"What manner of creature are you?" He asked unexpectedly.
She tilted her head, confused by the question. "I told you. Iím a vampire, though, had I not been turned, I might have been wolf."
"You are not a typical vampire," he observed, "but this is not from your wolf blood."
"Well, I suppose I donít act typical," Sarah conceded.
"You do not like to consume blood."
"Well, a vampire has to, in order to survive."
"You could always stop and end your own existence."
"That would be akin to suicide." She looked away unnerved by the suggestion.
"For a normal vampire that would have no meaning as they are already dead," he reasoned, "but you still have something that binds you to humans."
"Disdain, maybe," she snorted.
"No," he disagreed, "compassion and loneliness. Though you would like people believe it is disdain."
Sarah quickly changed the subject. "I remember a story involving the Hatfields and the McCoys. Would you like to hear it?
He looked up at her with a slightly contemptible look on his face. "The story you know, you should only take with a grain of salt. I already know the truth and it is wholly different."
"Because I am a Hatfield."
Sarah was taken back by this. She had hoped to lighten the mood with the farce of the family feud. Now he mentioning of this put her host back into a foul mood. He rose and walked to the door. He motioned for her to follow.
"You are right. It is several miles to the rendezvous. Night has fallen and we should start."
Obediently, she followed him.
After walking a good portion of the night, he came to a halt near the edge of a small city. They had crossed the mountains and were now in the foothills on the other side. They arrived on the border of West Virginia a couple of hours before sunrise.
Sarah stumbled to keep up with his fast stride. He knew every rock and tree and easily avoided them. Sarah, on the other hand, was a stranger here and felt as though many of these beings set themselves directly in her path purely from spite. She felt the trees remembered her earlier invasion.
Along the way, the old man asked only one question. He was curious why the trees complained about an assault from beneath the ground on the great oak. He knew the dreaded creatures had no interest in using the life of the tree. He came to the conclusion that she must have had something to do with it. Sarah answered honestly. Instead of prying her on this unique ability, he shrugged and walked along silently.
Now they stood together looking at the lights lining the highway. He pointed west, away from the mountains, down the highway. He gave her very specific instructions.
"Follow this road to Jackson Avenue," he spoke in a gruff voice. "There youíll find a motel. Hereís ten dollars."
He handed her a paper bag that felt heavy with coins. "You should be able to get a room for the day."
She extended her hand. "My name is Sarah Jane Crowe. If you ever need help, Iíll be in Denver."
"Iím Andrew," he took her hand and shook it. "Nice to have met you. Donít come back here again."
She nodded, understanding she was to be extended this courtesy only once. The wolves forgave misfortune, not stupidity. What she didnít realize was that she was now a marked woman. Not by the wolves but by the monsters that held her in that horrible prison. Such villains were not easily put aside and her existence was now on a clock counting down to her destruction rather than up from her creation.
She walked along the highway for about a mile, then came to the intersection of Jackson Avenue. She made her way to the motel and, to her surprise, Raven was already there.
Unlike her, he was ever adapting to the changing times. His black hair had been cut and styled in a trendy pompadour that was offset by neatly trimmed sideburns. He wore jeans, a white T-shirt, boots, and a leather jacket. He leaned casually against a new Harley, nervously watching the cold gray pre-dawn light illuminate the sky. Upon seeing her, he set aside his fear and rushed to gather her in his arms. She happily returned the gesture of happiness.
When heíd hugged her to his heartís content, he looked at the paper bag which rattled incessantly with each subtle movement. He looked at her curiously. "Money for a room," she explained.
"Already taken care of," he answered. He took her by the hand and led her to a room where the door had been left open. "I figured if you came after dawn, I would wait inside."
"Not strong enough to travel at daytime." She said bluntly. Once inside and with the door closed, she collapsed to the floor. Tears of relief at finally feeling safe consumed her. Safe to cry for the terror she had felt and for the horrors she had seen. Raven knelt on the floor beside her and held her. She pressed her face against his shirt and sobbed, unable to explain why she still was so afraid.
Patiently, he stroked her long, silky black hair and held her as tightly as he possibly could. When she finally calmed down enough to speak, the sun was high in the sky. Raven had had the foresight to pull the blinds and drapes ahead of time.
Slowly, she told him of the monks, the visit with Seana, and the message from Sadie. When she got to the store, she found herself unable to continue without breaking into sobs. Raven took her hands and gently persuaded her to share her memories with him. In a whirlwind moment, he received the terror that had consumed her for the past two days. He saw what she saw and felt what she felt. A tear escaped his eye, not for the vampire that perished or the terror she had seen, but for the fact that she had survived that horror and now was sitting with him on the floor of a seedy motel room in West Virginia. His tear was a mix of deep despair and utter joy. Despair that now this beautiful creature of his lost some last bit of innocence she held and would forever be changed, and joy that, no matter how she had changed, she was her with him in one piece.
She leaned heavily against his chest. She had fallen into a deep sleep. He picked her and laid her on the bed. He took a chair and watched her all day and far into the next night. She never stirred.
"You ever go to that area, yourself?" Harlan asked.
"Only by accident with Stitch." Raven answered as he poured the last of the wine into the glass. "I asked Seana for information about them. The most she could come up with were stories and legends from the surrounding areas. I coupled these with some official and unofficial reports and think I have pieced it together."
"Is there any way to get rid of them?" Wayne asked suddenly.
Raven regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "Donít go after them. That is an order from an elder. Accept that, eventually, they will destroy themselves."
"What," Harlan exclaimed, "in another two hundred years? With the rate that the countryís growing, that could take another two hundred years."
"Harlan," Raven said with a warning tone in his voice, "I sure you already have your orders from Seana."
"Yeah," Harlan answered.
"What did she say?" Raven asked knowingly.
"Not to go." He answered. Before he could continue, Raven held up his hand.
"Daylightís in an hour," he said. "Remember your orders. Adios."
Not wanting to aggravated Raven further they thanked him and withdrew. Sometimes there were things that needed to be left alone. Perhaps this was one of them.
(Copyright 2002 Gina M. Wood - Random Quote Productions)
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