And while it was impossible to mistake who was before me – who other than that douche Compton would wear mutton chop sideburns in this day and age – he had undoubtedly changed. But instead of being weakened by the Sino-Virus – the symptoms of which, I had seen for myself within him and should have been even more prevalent now – he appeared not only healthy.
He was larger.
The unfeasibility of such a thing was enough to make me pause. A vampire’s physical state only ever changed in size in the opposite direction. Our bodies, while more durable than our human counterparts, were susceptible to wasting away due to silver poisoning. Months of starvation would eventually take its toll, causing our skin to shrivel up and contract around our bones, with our bodies surviving only on whatever muscle tissue we had.
Or we could change in size when parts of us were cleaved from our bodies. A fact that fuck Lanier had delighted in.
We didn’t – however – grow any larger than we had been when turned. No amount of gorging on blood, lifting weights, or mainlining steroids would bring about the transformation before my eyes and yet there he stood, as large as the Berts.
But was he as deadly?
He’d always been doomed to spend eternity at war with himself. His longing for what was perpetually engaged in battle against what is. But the pitiful mourning he’d carried behind his eyes since his turning was now gone, replaced by something I would not have thought possible before this night.
Every vampire was capable of monstrous deeds. Murder. Mayhem. We excelled and even relished in giving in to our baser instincts. But Compton’s movements were not like any vampire his age should have been capable of, never mind the power behind his blows.
It was only due to my age – centuries of experience – that allowed me to keep my emotions in check. To use logic and reason over instinct and impulse when engaging in battle. I’d seen Compton fight before. Barely more than a tenth of my age, his fighting style was like most others his age. But his experience as a soldier in his human life had always shown itself, making him a bit more regimented and his movements stiff.
Now he fought like a veritable machine. There was no hesitation. No frenzied movements. He effectively blocked every blow I attempted to deliver as though he’d somehow become telepathic himself. The unmistakable scent of sex surrounding us, coupled with Sookie’s presence only a few feet away, should have had him torn between engaging me in a fight and going after her.
But instead he was focused.
Too focused for someone his age.
I seemed to have stepped onto the Island of Misfit Vampires because looking into his eyes while I held him at bay and seeing the familiar unseeing fog there, I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been glamoured.
And speculate how truly fucked we all were if that was true.
If the humans had somehow managed to find a way to turn the tables on us, the scales would undoubtedly be tipped in their favor. Sunlight and silver were our only true vulnerabilities. Our strength, speed, and supernatural abilities gave us our advantage against mortals.
But if they had figured out how to take away our will…
To command us as only our Makers could…
Fucked didn’t even come close to describing what we were.
My internal musings were fleeting. In real time, less than a minute had elapsed since he’d joined us in the barn. But sensing Sookie’s fear and hearing the others closing in on us, I put on a burst of speed to try and get the element of surprise. Bigger or not, I assumed his head was still capable of being detached from his shoulders, but just as I reached for him, Compton was ready for me. He grabbed onto my outstretched arms and used my forward momentum to swing me around, so that I crashed through the wooden half wall behind him.
But it was feeling my feet making contact with something else – or rather, someone else – prior to landing that had me roaring out her name.
Thanks to our blood exchanges I could feel everything she felt as if it was happening to me.
The sensation of falling.
The fear and panic.
The pain rippling through her body when she smacked against the hard floor beneath us.
And then there was nothing.
As though someone had flipped a switch, I felt absolutely nothing from Sookie other than my blood in her body, telling me she was at least still alive.
No longer feeling her fear – much less anything else – my own fear for her wellbeing easily took over. Thought played no part in what happened next.
Not consciously, at least.
Which was perhaps why I spared no thought for the other vampire in the room when I dove towards where I knew Sookie to be. My entire being was pulled in her direction, so it was no wonder my eyes didn’t see what Compton had up his sleeve.
Like I said, I hadn’t been looking at him.
But I felt the needle jab into the back of my thigh, just as I felt his hand grip my calf to keep me from diving over the edge of the loft. And my last view before the dark shroud descended over my eyes was that of an unconscious Sookie, lying in a pool of her own blood, with the furious roar dying in my chest before it could fully form and sounding like nothing more than a whimper when it finally passed my lips.
“There he is…”
Whipping my head towards the sound of the voice I didn’t recognize, I found I couldn’t see its owner.
But then, I couldn’t see anything.
Whipping my head around once more, I fruitlessly attempted to dislodge the mask that covered my eyes, masking my view of everything.
“Ah ah…” the voice chided. “We’ll have none of that.”
Seconds later, I heard the metal hinges squeak in protest, just as I felt the vice-like clamps pressing against the sides of my skull to keep my head in place.
I would have protested. I had a thousand and one questions that all began with ‘Sookie?’ and ended with ‘How many do I need to kill to get her back?’
I couldn’t feel anything of her through our incomplete bond, other than that she still lived.
And that she was close by.
But my questions would have to go unanswered for now – thanks to the reinforced steel bit strapped to my jaw and through my teeth – so that even my menacing snarl only sounded like a grunted snort.
She was, just as their deaths would be.
But in order to slay the world, I would need to be free of the restraints. So I settled myself and used one of the other senses I had left at my disposal – sound – to try to listen to whatever I could hear beyond the space I was in. To ascertain how many moved about around us.
To count my not yet dead chickens before they hatched.
But it was useless. I heard nothing other than the sound of the single heartbeat in the room.
The expansion of their lungs, followed by the expulsion of air.
The blood rushing through their veins.
The acids in their gut, digesting their last meal.
And if I had my way, it would be their last meal.
But unlike Lanier, this captor remained silent. And yet the compulsory functions of their body mocked me just the same. Taunted me with the sounds, giving proof of the life I’d had yet to end.
Their scent mocked me as well because it told me they were human.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
Nothing like my Sookie.
Foreign and unwelcome fingers trailed down my straining biceps, reminding me that sense remained as well, and continued their exploration across my chest and abs, all the way down my legs. Clinical in their approach, I felt like a cow at auction.
My entire body was strapped down into some sort of reclining chair, which groaned in protest when I put a little more effort into snapping it in two.
“Ah ah…” the voice repeated. “We’ll have none of that.”
The sensation of a foreign substance entering my body alerted me to the needle I hadn’t felt already inserted into the vein at the crook of my arm.
An I.V., I supposed.
It made no difference.
There was nothing I could do to stop the intrusion.
Just like there was nothing I could do to stop the blackness from shrouding my mind once more.
“What is your name, soldier?”
Confused, I shook my head, hoping the answer would shake its way free, but there was nothing.
Nothing but a rapidly fading dream I couldn’t grasp onto.
But I wished that I could.
It left me feeling warm, both inside and out. It smelled incredibly sweet.
I somehow knew it tasted sweet as well.
But like my name, I didn’t know what to call my dream either. However it was there, every time I opened my eyes.
Fleeting, though it may have been.
I found I had no concept of time. I didn’t recognize the room I was in, but it felt familiar to me just the same. And feeling a compulsion to provide an answer to their question, I finally gave them one in the form of the only thing I was certain of.
The only truth that I knew in that moment.
“I am Death.”
Their responding sigh was followed by a warmth rushing into my veins. The fire quickly spread from there throughout my body and just as the blackness pulled me under, I heard a voice so faint, I couldn’t be sure it was real.
“It should be working by now, but he’s older than the others. Delta Six was already weakened by the Sino-Virus by the time we got him, however this one is healthy and much stronger than the rest. Double his dosage and we’ll try again tomorrow.”
“What is your name, soldier?”
I am Death.
But that was not the truth they were seeking in this moment, so I looked to my Master and gave the answer required of me.
“I am Designation Number Seven, Delta Company.”
It felt strange.
Not just the name, but my own body felt unfamiliar. The flex of my muscles told me something was off, but I couldn’t discern what. I only knew that when I moved, it felt foreign.
I felt foreign.
Off-balance, as though my very core had been altered.
My mind – just as off-balance as the rest of me – was of no use to me either.
But both my mind and body were back at attention when Master stepped into my line of sight, smiling and nodding in approval with, “Very good.”
Knowing what would be required of me next, I automatically held my arms out from my sides and spread my legs, so that I could be measured. Each part of me catalogued and assessed.
Why, I did not know.
I did not need to.
“How do you feel, Delta Seven?”
I did not know why that question always followed, but again I felt compelled to answer.
I knew I would be fed when they were through, so I said nothing more and waited for them to finish.
But instead of allowing me to feed, Master waited until the measuring tapes were being pulled from my body to step into my line of sight once more and ordered, “Search your blood and tell me what you feel besides your strength. Do you feel a connection to anything? A pull towards something?”
Forcing myself to not blink, I did as Master ordered and sifted through my blood, trying to locate the connection or pull they spoke of.
I felt a hum of something.
Maybe more than one something.
But focusing on the brightest one, and feeling a pleasant – although distant – warmth along with it, I thought it was nothing more than my own life force.
Distant thanks to the disconnect I felt with my own body and mind.
But I felt no pull towards it.
Instead I felt the need to pull it towards me.
To blanket myself with it, feeling as though it would somehow be able to fill the dark void in my soul.
However, Master’s question had been clear, so I answered truthfully with, “No.”
“Very good, Delta Seven,” Master smiled and nodded again in approval.
“Very good, indeed.”