The explosion is all over the news, but it would appear that nothing incriminating is left of my indiscretion. I don’t know if I should be relieved or hate myself more for getting away with it.
It’s being ruled a tragedy and an accidental death, somehow fortunate not to have caused a catastrophic oil spill. Fortunate is not what I would call it, but I’m not going to think on it anymore, even as every television and street announcement I pass tries to inundate me with it.
That’s the nature of New York though. People escape to this sprawling city to hide all of the time, and yet the problems seem to follow in one form or another.
It’s a hollow experience – being back here, the stomping grounds of some of my best and worst moments. But as I approach the high-rise apartment building overlooking Time’s Square and gaze up, I get this sinking feeling in my chest that’s also a thrill.
I don’t want to be here but I don’t know where else to start. This was the last place that I saw Tina… and Lilith.
It feels like it’s been an eternity or another life altogether. But while time has little meaning in the ocean, in my mind, it’s been long enough to have erased any trace of the crime that took place here.
I step into the lobby and make my way for the elevator, people shuffling past me without thought or regard. For how little has changed, everything feels so entirely different. The building seems colder, more imposing and the people even more oblivious. It’s been eleven months, twenty-four days, and five hours since I was here last, celebrating the anniversary of the day that I met the love of my eternity.
I was shocked when I learned how much time had passed while I was drowning; not because it seemed like such a long time, but because my time drowning had felt like a millennia.
How I escaped, I don’t know. I can only assume that my attempts at freedom must have worked, and looking back on it, I can almost tell the moment that I got free. I knew that something had changed with that final push; I just had no way of doing anything with that freedom.
I have no idea how long I floated along the current listlessly, and I wish that those people hadn’t found me. But they did, and they paid a tremendous price.
Everything comes with a price.
The elevator dings and snaps me out of my thoughts. I step out into hallway, spotting the door near the end on the left. The walls seem to shrink in on me, the corridor growing in length as I make my way towards the door. I don’t know why I reach for the spare key that we used to keep above the doorframe, or feel a sense of dread when I find that it no longer works on the lock. It’s just muscle memory, and maybe hopefulness, but it’s futile.
I close my eyes and exhale heavily, preparing to knock and compel the new resident into letting me look through the place for anything that might lead me to Tina. But as I reach up to rap on the door, it swings open. Alice face changes from frustration to confusion and then morphs into shock before melting into tears.
I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t wonderful to see a familiar face. Even as much as I hate her, she’s a vast improvement over the last year’s loneliness and pain, although few things could be worse. I don’t even mind that she’s hugging me so tightly that my bones creak.
It’s the crying that I can’t abide.
I can’t cry.
If I do, I won’t stop, and there’s just not time.
I push her back gently.
She checks the hallway and pulls me inside, shutting the door and locking it with paranoia. I’m nearly tackled to the floor, and I sigh in resignation, deciding to just give her a moment. She’s obviously useless until she gets this out of her system… well, more useless than usual.
I pat her back awkwardly and frown as I look around me. No, this is no longer my apartment – Tina’s apartment. I swallow thickly and allow myself a moment to wonder what they did with our books, Tina’s movies, our entire life.
Was it all boxed up and given to Goodwill?
Or was it all just set in the dumpster, maybe cast into the ocean, like common trash, like us…
Alice finally calms down and releases me to wipe her face. I take her by her shoulders to steady her as I meet her eyes. There’s just not time for this.
“What the fuck…?”
I turn to see Dana’s stunned face. She stares at me like she’s seen a ghost, and I guess that she kind of has, but as the time draws on, it becomes uncomfortable. I exhale with relief when she finally approaches me and merely squeezes my shoulder. She’s far more composed than the irritating blonde, and maybe she can answer my question.
Of course that would have been too easy, and Alice is anything but easy… well, at least not in the ways that count.
She shoves me forcefully, her voice accusing as she asks, “Where the fuck have you been?!”
I open my mouth to answer her, but she’s not done yet. “I can’t believe you just let Lilith kill her!”
My knees want to give out and I press against the brick behind me to keep myself standing. She didn’t just say that.
“Where were you?! She needed you!”
Dana steps in to stop Alice, who’s shaking as she stares at me accusingly, and I try to find a way to process all that she’s just said. It’s not computing, and I look to Dana, the question written all over my face and spilling from my heart. It doesn’t take a mind-reader to know what I need.
She sees it; she knows, and the answer written so plainly in her silence is not one that I’m willing to accept. “No.”
“Bette, I’m sorry…”
I feel anger seep up into my guts. “You’re lying.”
“Bette, there was nothing we could do…”
I can’t breathe, and my voice falters. “Bullshit.”
Alice, like the unattended child that she is just now, decides to step in and improve the situation. “We were there; you weren’t.”
There’s that accusation again. And she’s right. I should have been there; I should have stopped it, but I was weak and helpless, all for a few stolen decades of life. I try to swallow my venom, but there’s too much, and it comes right back up. “You wanted to stop hiding; I didn’t.”
That pissed her off, but there’s little she can say to write off her blame in this situation. That doesn’t stop her mouth from gaping like a fish on the shore. “Look, I don’t have time for this. Where’s Tina?”
Dana meets my eyes before closing them and shaking her head. “She’s gone, Bette. I’m sorr-”
My stomach drops into my legs and I feel light-headed, but I’m running on pure adrenaline at this point, and it will sustain me; it has to. I have to find Tina. I have to find her alive, and I won’t hear apologies, or anything that might contradict what I believe to be true, what I know to be true. “Save your apologies. I won’t believe it. Now, where is she?”
Dana steps toward me and looks me in the eyes. I can tell that she’s hurting as she says it again, but with more precision this time. “Bette, Lilith killed her, along with most of the rebels. We saw it.”
That precision almost worked. I can feel it, like one of those bullets scraping along my heartstrings and leaving a sickly distorted tune reverberating throughout my chest. I won’t let it through though. Not now. I refuse to believe it. Tina’s a survivor. She’s strong; she’s capable; she’s beautiful… “She’s alive.”
Alice snaps, “You’re aren’t listening, Bette.”
I cross my arms over my chest to hold myself together and square my shoulders as I laugh sardonically. “Oh, I’m listening. I’m just hearing bullshit. You say she’s dead, and I won’t believe it until I see it for myself. So where the fuck is she?”
Dana’s voice is soft, like she’s trying to placate a child, and it grates on what’s left of my sanity. “Look, Bette, you’re obviously weak and-”
I haven’t wanted to kill Dana before; it’s always been Alice. But she must know that I’m about to. I’m not weak or helpless right now, and I won’t be forced into that position again. I’ve lost too much time and ground as it is.
Dana doesn’t back down from me or the threatening demeanor that I can feel thrilling in my limbs, and I guess that’s something that I’ve always liked about her, even as it infuriates me now. “Bette, there’s nothing left to take you to. I’m sorry…”
I close my eyes tightly and force my stomach to stop rebelling. They don’t understand. She can’t be dead. She’d have found a way. The rebels would have done anything to protect her. I can feel it in my gut, feel her in my gut. If she were dead, I’d know. I just would. There are things that are just innate, and Tina is one of those things for me.
She’s alive. “Look, you don’t understand. I know that she’s alive. I can feel it.”
Alice throws her hands up. “We saw it happen, Bette! You would have too, if you’d have been there.”
I feel my spine lock as I straighten up. My fists are clenched so tightly that they cramp. Dana pulls Alice towards the kitchen and they start to argue. I stand there for a moment tuning them out before I realize that I don’t need them. I came here for answers and I’m going to find them. I stride towards the bedroom, determined to find something, anything, that will give me a clue where to start looking.
A knock at the door stops me in my tracks and finally shuts Alice and Dana up. Dana approaches the door cautiously. “Who is it?”
A muffled voice announces, “Pizza delivery for…” There’s a rustle of papers. “…Stanley Yuskovich.”
Dana opens the door and pulls the boy inside before locking it again. The pizza bag falls to the floor and the boy just barely catches himself on the brick wall as he stumbles. He’s shaking and breathing heavily as he turns and lifts his hands in surrender. “Look, I don’t have much on me. P-please, just… take it and let me go?”
Dana grabs his shirt in her fist and pulls him forward to make sure she has full eye contact. “We’re not going to hurt you. You’re not scared. Just be quiet and wait.”
He drops his hands, staring at her with a dumfounded expression before nodding his head once. He doesn’t move or make a sound as Dana turns to the both of us. She seems to consider me before pointing to Alice and addressing her in a harsh tone. “Call a couple of other pizza places and get us some more blood.”
Alice tries to interrupt but the hardened gaze Dana gives her shuts her up. She huffs as she grabs the phone off of the island and dials directory assistance. With Alice indisposed, I decide to seize my window of opportunity to speak with Dana without interruption.
I walk over to her and meet her eyes, imploring her to stop arguing with me and just give me what I need. “What happened, Dana? Everything.”
She exhales heavily and nods, pulling me over to the couches by the floor-to-ceiling windows that line the large, open room. She sits and scrubs at the back of her neck while I take the seat opposite her. She doesn’t make me wait any longer, and I exhale as she finally starts to give me answers.
“Alice and I had been trying to get ahold of you both for a week but you weren’t answering your phones, so we came here. The house was in shambles and your bedroom…” She trails off, swallowing harshly before her raspy voice pushes forward. “We couldn’t find you and needless to say, we were worried. We tried to get in contact with Shane. None of the usual methods worked, so we tried the rebel outpost at the old Wentworth Plantation. It had been overrun with Loyalists.”
I hear Alice hang up the phone and call directory assistance again to place another order, and urge Dana to continue before any of the new information can cause me to panic. “We then went to every outpost on the West Coast. All of them were repurposed, but the one in Maine had been evacuated prior to the Loyalists arrival. Liam had stayed behind to monitor the situation and intercept any rebels that were due to report back. He found us on the outskirts and told us that Lilith was back and she was wiping us out. The only reason that his coven had survived was because he’d received a panicked phone call from his friend at the outpost in Tel Aviv several hours before the Loyalists attacked. His friend confirmed that Lilith was alive before he was killed. From there, Liam called every outpost to spread the word. Only about thirty of us survived total.”
Alice hangs up the phone and is about to join us, but Dana stops her. “One more, Al.” Alice’s jaw clenches and Dana gestures to my appearance before reiterating, “One more.”
She continues to the seat adjacent to us and plops down, dialing again with angry punches at the keys. Dana refocuses her attention on me. “So, we started to make some calls and found that Lilith was going to be in Peru, at the fortress. She had sent out a mass invitation for all vampyrs, rebel and Loyalist alike, to come witness the downfall of the rebellion. Rebels would be given the option to join the Loyalists or be put to death, along with their leader.”
I feel a deep and abiding emptiness seep in at those words, as if I am being slowly split open and hollowed out with a dull spoon. So I had been right. Lilith would make a spectacle of Tina’s death to prove a point. No… No, it isn’t true. I won’t believe that Tina’s dead. She can’t be.
Dana’s voice cuts through me as she tries again to kill any of the hope that I have left. “We went. We stayed hidden in the trees, but we saw Tina taken out into the open. She was… she was drawn and quartered before they… they burned her remains.”
I feel like I’ve been placed in a vacuum and all of the air is being sucked out of the atmosphere. I can’t help the accusation lacing my words even as I barely register that I’ve spoken them. “Why didn’t you stop it?”
She sighs again. “There was nothing we could do. The Loyalists outnumbered us twenty-to-one as it was, and then we lost about ten more because they decided to rejoin the Loyalists. It would have been suicide.”
Alice places the phone on the side table, nearly cracking the surface and sending a shot of sound into the silent room. “So where were you, Bette?”
I look over at her. I feel dead inside, like all of the fight has been drained out of me. I still can’t seem to wrap my mind around it, and my answer escapes me without thought. “Lilith took us from the apartment. I didn’t see what happened to Tina, but Lilith tortured me and put me in a safe… I think it was a safe. She dropped it in the ocean. That’s where I’ve been.”
The silence in the room is oppressive as long minutes drag by. I still can’t get my head and my heart to stop fighting for supremacy. I know that Dana and Alice wouldn’t lie about what they saw, but I also know that Tina’s alive. I don’t know how or even why I know it, but I do. I can feel it.
Alice’s voice is softer as she says, “Oh.”
I stand and walk over to the windows and stare out at the cityscape, the lowering sun burning my eyes. I feel helpless, but I refuse to give into it. My mind keeps telling me that Tina’s dead over and over again like a death knell, but my heart is still winning the fight. She can’t be.
It’s Dana who finally snaps me out of it. “How did you get out?”
I close my eyes, bright pin-dots of sun staining the inside of my weary lids. “I… I don’t know. I was drowning, over and over…”
“I fought to break free, but…”
“I-I was losing my mind and then I’d die…”
“I was desiccated, but it must have worked. Some people found me, and I don’t remember anything before I woke up, but when I did, I was on an oil rig and they were all dead. I killed them…”
“And then I blew it up, took a boat to Port of Napier, and took a plane straight here.”
I had related all of that information as if it were a clinical study. So it comes as a surprise when a jagged, guttural cry escapes my chest and I turn to pick up anything that I can get my hands on. The small table is sailing across room and breaking against the kitchen island before I can even register what I’m doing. There’s a knock at the door and Alice goes to answer it while Dana just stares at the wood floor.
Alice pulls two more confused pizza boys into the room and compels them just as the third arrives at the open doorway. He hesitates a moment before dropping the pizza bag in his hands and making a run for it. Alice disappears into the hallway and it’s only a few moments before he’s walking into the room with her, complacent and unaware of what’s happening around him.
I slump down against the glass behind me, trying to breath but I can’t. Dana approaches me cautiously. I can see that she’s speaking, but I can’t hear any of it. My head feels crowded and my heart is trying to explode in my chest like a long silent grenade that’s been armed but never found the right moment. This must be the right moment.
I can’t breathe; my head is swimming; I’m helpless; I’m not in the water but I may as well be. Nothing has changed, except there I had the comfort of doubt and memory. Here… my guts are groaning and while a part of me believes that it’s just the stress of the information that’s trying to soak in, there is another part of me, the one that Tina painstakingly fostered and loved, the one that loved her more than anything, more than itself – it won’t let it go. It’s clinging to hope, to Tina, with a death grip.
I blink up at Dana, trying to find anything to anchor me through this. “You saw Tina die?”
She crouches down to my level but won’t meet my eyes, her words barely a whisper. “Yes.”
“You’re certain, Dana?”
She falls back on her ass in defeat, lifting a frustrated hand as she finally looks at me. “Who else could it have been, Bette?”
I lean forward. “You’re not answering the question. You’re certain that you saw Tina, specifically, die?”
She frowns as if she’s considering the question and I can’t help but wonder if that’s my answer. Surely she’d known beyond a doubt if she saw Tina die. “We were in the tree-line on the south-facing ridge… some two-hundred feet up. It was dark, but we saw a blonde and brunette drug out in chains. They were both drawn and quartered, and then the remains burned. It looked like Tina and Shane, but at that distance, I didn’t see either of their faces and even if I had, it was obvious that they’d been tortured beyond recognition.”
I can’t help but grin. There’s a loophole, and my hope fills the small space with radiant warmth. Dana eyes me suspiciously. “Bette, you’re being irrational. I know it hurts, but there would be no one else that Lilith would have made such a show over and Tina would have found us by now. I’m sorry, but she’s gone, and so is Shane.”
She’s right. I’m irrational and her theories are foolproof, but the feeling in my guts and my chest can’t be a lie. Tina’s alive. I don’t know how, or why, but I know it. “I understand, Dana, but you’re wrong, and I’m going to prove it to you.”
Alice comes over and sits next to Dana, stroking her back soothingly. “Bette, I’m sorry I-”
I stand abruptly and gaze down on her. “Save it, Alice. You’ve always treated me like I’m beneath you. I don’t know why. Maybe you love Tina and were just jealous, or maybe you just wanted her with someone better, not a slave that had given up on life. Well, Tina’s not here so you can drop the act. I don’t care about your bullshit or your apologies. You don’t like me and never will, and that’s fine. The feeling’s mutual. Maybe I’m not good enough for Tina. I agree with that, but it’s irrelevant. She chose me and I will always choose her. We love each other. You can help me find her or you can stay the fuck out of my way. Either way, get over it and get over yourself. I’m not going anywhere. Where Tina is, that’s where I’ll be… always.”
I can tell that I’ve angered her further as she gazes down into her lap and seethes like a scolded child. She adds her voice to the equation and that only furthers the illusion. “I knew you’d get her killed. That’s why-”
“She’s not dead! And you’re obviously not listening. Get over it, whatever it is.” I laugh sardonically and throw my hands up. “Fuck, you know you’re just like Lilith.”
She jumps to her feet and gets in my face. “Fuck you, Bette. You don’t know the first thing about me. I’m not a monster like her… or like you.”
Dana snaps up, trying to mediate, but neither of us is willing to move. I lean in a little closer. “You certainly hold a grudge like she does. At least I was able to learn to be better. You’re so fucking twisted over Uta that you don’t even see what’s right in front of you.”
I gesture to Dana who steps away like she’s been slapped, and in all honesty, she has. But it isn’t my words; it’s the truth of them. Alice has strung her along while she pines for a ghost. I get it. Alice loved Uta, but Dana deserves better than second best. “Maybe instead of focusing on how much better Tina deserves, you should notice that Dana deserves better than your obsession with your dead ex.”
Alice lunges forward, shoving me hard into the thick glass behind me. It cracks and warps out with the force, pushing the air from my lungs and cracking a few of my ribs, but I can tell that she didn’t put all she had into it. She’s strong. That comes with age. But in all the ways that matter, she’s still a child: unlearning and stagnant.
I push off of the glass and grab her arm, wrenching it from its socket as I attempt to pull her closer so that I can tear out her tongue, but Dana yanks her from my grasp and shoves her away from me while placing a hand on my chest.
I’ve never heard her scream before, but she does. “Stop it, both of you! Tina wouldn’t want this!”
Just that name halts me in my tracks. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that she’s not here and I’m left to piece together everything that her absence has broken. Alice doesn’t do or say anything more, just glances at Dana with a sick expression before leaving the room, snapping her shoulder against a corner to reset it on her way.
Dana staggers over to the couches to sit on the edge of the cushions with her elbows on her knees and her hands gripping the hair at her temples. I don’t like to see her that way, for reasons beyond me, but I won’t regret putting Alice in her place, even as the harsh crunch of my bones realigning themselves pangs through my torso. That was several decades coming, and I’m in no disposition to fuck around with vendettas anymore. I’m desperate and I have a long way to go before I find Tina.
I give Dana a moment to process, but time is not something that I’m willing to waste, so I break the silence. “Dana, look, I don’t need anything from you. I can find her without your help.”
She snaps her head up and her eyes are hard as she says, “No. I’m not giving up either – not with Tina, not with Alice, and not with you.”
I nod, a relief I didn’t even know I needed flooding through me. It’s true that I don’t need anyone but Tina, but it would be easier to have help. “So, Peru?”
She nods and stands, gesturing to the pizza boys that have been placidly watching this exchange from the door completely forgotten. “Two of those are yours. I’m going to go and try to talk to Alice.”
She stalks towards the hallway before stopping and calling out of her shoulder. “And, Bette? I know she’s not perfect and she’s insufferable, but I love her. I would consider it a favor if you’d just ignore her and try not to hurt her.”
She doesn’t wait for me to respond before disappearing into the hallway, and I can’t help but gaze after her slightly awed. I hadn’t said anything that she doesn’t already know. And yet she tries, and she cares, and she doesn’t stop. She’s even stronger than I gave her credit for, and that’s saying something.
I walk over to the boys by the door and realize just how parched and weak I am. After reaching the shores of New Zealand, I didn’t waste any time in coming here. It took a day for me to reach New York from Port Napier and as I pull one of them closer, compelling him into a state of ease while the dull ache of transition pierces through my gums, I take what I need and wonder how long it will take to reach Peru.
We travelled by plane and then began the long trek through the mountains by foot. We can run at speeds in upwards of eighty miles per hour when healthy, but we need to be cautious. This area is now the stronghold for the Loyalists, not that there is anything left of the rebellion at this point. We are also taking other precautions: carrying twelve pints of blood each in our satchels, which is about two months’ worth of rations, as well as a large sum of cash, a change of clothes, and several bricks of C4 with remote detonators.
After Alice had reappeared from the bedroom, we’d finished our meal and sent the pizza boys safely on their way with an exorbitant tip and clean memory. It was an awkward truce between Alice and I, but we both sat and listened as Dana explained that they had looked for me for a long time, but thought that Lilith had already killed me. They’d figured I’d come back to the apartment if I could and so they’d spent three months waiting, using the new tenant as a cover should Lilith think it necessary to reappear there. If I hadn’t shown when I did, I might have missed them. They had agreed to risk it for one more week and then go into hiding.
That’s what the remainder of the rebels had been doing at this point. They asked a lot of questions about my time drowning, but I wasn’t extremely forthcoming. They already thought I was unstable and I didn’t want to add to that suspicion. It took a lot to convince Alice, but with Dana on my side, she’d finally relented. The first place to start looking was the stronghold.
We figured that while we were looking, we could start decimating the Loyalist’s numbers. If there was no discernable trail to latch onto, then we’d scour every continent, sabotaging each outpost until we flushed Lilith out. If I found Lilith, then I’d find the answers to Tina’s death. Going this route would take time, but it was better than nothing. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be necessary, but I was willing to do anything so long as I found Tina in the end. She’d never left me, not when she could help it, and I wasn’t going to give up on her or her cause, not ever. I’d die first.
So, the next day, we made a stop at the local blood bank, a quick detour to Fort Drum for the explosives, and compelled an airline to fly us privately while overlooking the contents of our carry-ons. We tried to sleep on the eight hour flight, but we were all too keyed up. I was anxious; I still am. I don’t really know what lies ahead or what it’s going to take to find Tina. And while I won’t let go of my hope, part of me is trying to prepare for the devastation that Alice and Dana believe is awaiting me at the end of this journey. But I won’t let it.
They can’t know what I feel deep down in my bones. And what I feel is that Tina is alive. I won’t lose that, and while that vehement stance is strangely inspiring to them, I know that they are concerned for me, and maybe even my mental health. I can tell that they pity me, and while it angers me, I just can’t bring myself to care. They’re wrong, and I intend to prove it. I just need Tina’s help.
I need her, and I miss her, so much that I can feel it with every physical and metaphysical atom in my body and soul. I just wish she was here. I wish I could hold her, and smell her, and feel the reassurance of her thoughts. I feel like half a person, like I’m a machine that can’t stop, and it’s all so quiet and cold and empty. I need to hear her voice, her mind, to find that refuge that I was so abruptly pulled from.
I’ll never forget that day. Of all that Lilith did, for all the pain that the bullets brought, of the sight of Tina being restrained and murdered in front of me, it was the sucking pull of the black void that was left when her mind stopped that will haunt me forever. One minute it was warm and joyful, and the next it was just gone, withered away with a jolting snap that left me in an oppressive darkness.
I nearly run into a tree and the void that is my mind shrinks back to allow me to focus. Dana stops in front of me and I nearly slam into her back, cursing myself for not paying attention. It’s been three days of relentless running uphill, and I just can’t seem to get control of my thoughts and emotions. They are in constant upheaval.
Dana ducks down, and Alice and I join her, crouching low and holding our breath as we listen. There’s the low murmur of voices coming from somewhere down the ravine and we inch closer to the cliff, staying low as we gently peer over the edge.
We’re above the stronghold and there are a few Loyalists at the entrance throwing dice and laughing. One of them stands up and gives a shout of victory before yanking a woman from the grasp of another vampyr by her hair. She’s filthy and too weak to fight. She’s trying, but her hands and whimpers pathetic against his hold.
The vampyr pulls her up and holds her face in his hands to force her to look at him. My guts churn as he spits in her face, says something that I can’t quite make out, and then forces her to her knees. He releases himself from his pants and she cries and gags as he begins to ravage her throat. I’m forced to close my eyes against the fire that ignites in my veins and focus on the plan. Jumping down there and saving her will only get me killed.
“This is where you watched,” I whisper to Dana.
She nods and I peer back over the edge to see him finish in the girl’s mouth before pulling her up and biting into her neck. She screams and cries some more before she passes out. Her heartbeat is faint, but she’s alive as he drops her to the ground and kicks her, though I’m not sure that living is any comfort for her. It’s obvious that they keep her around just for these sorts of activities. She’s safe for the moment, or as safe as the current predicament indicates as the next dice winner comes forward for his prize.
I can’t see her face, or even that of the vampyr, and I try to focus on the area. From this distance, there would be no way to confirm identities, but that doesn’t stop the question of why Lilith wouldn’t kill Tina. She had Tina; I saw that for myself, and she’d not only want her dead, but she’d want everyone to see it. What better way to squash the competition’s hope? That’s what Tina was- is, not just to me, but to so many. My determination starts to shrink and I force myself to focus. She’s alive. I won’t believe otherwise, no matter what.
I push back off of the ledge and Alice and Dana follow. Once we’re a safe distance away, I take off my pack and lie down, using it for a pillow. “We’ll wait for dawn and then we’ll go in. Hopefully we can get any human survivors out while they’re asleep.”
They both nod and try to get comfortable on the thatch of grass across from me. They’re weary too. We’ve slept little, choosing instead to keep moving. We’ll need these few hours to rest and then we’ll need to feed to make sure that we’re fresh for what lie ahead. This is dangerous and crazy, and while I can see the trepidation on their faces as they look at one another, I can’t help but grin.
We’ve already won this, they just don’t know it. Why? Because my faith in Tina is stronger than anything. It’s stronger than pain, torture, and years of violence. It’s stronger than death. We cannot lose because it’s just not possible. We will make it out of this alive, and with Tina, alive. I’ve moved mountains for her before, and this mountain that we’re resting on is no different. It will crumble down around my feet, and the one after it will follow, until nothing is left in my way to Tina.
Tina… I sigh and close my eyes.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold, white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
I close the book and place it on the rug next to us and resist the urge to roll my eyes by gazing into the fireplace. This book is a waste of time and ink, and I wonder if Tina will be terribly upset if I fling into the fire. The hand ruffling through the blonde tresses in my lap doesn’t still, and Tina laughs girlishly when I sigh in exasperation. She rolls over onto her back and looks up at me. ‘I don’t get it, Bette. I thought for sure that you would like this one.’
I gaze down at her, smiling despite myself as I stroke a finger over her brow. She closes her eyes as I trace the delicate hollows beneath them lazily. She loves Hemingway, but I just can’t get past his obsessive dribble about wine and France.
She laughs again at my thoughts and I hasten to tease her. ‘T, he was a misogynistic lush and he was miserable. Why would his writing be any better than the man himself?’
She grins and I love the way it reaches her eyes. ‘I’ll agree that he belabors certain points, but he never fails to describe things so beautifully.’
She sighs almost wistfully, and I just shake my head at her. She’s such a romantic, hopelessly so. But then again, I can be as well, at least when it comes to her. If there is anything beautiful in this world, it’s her, and no words will ever do her justice. ‘I wonder how he’d describe you.’
She takes my questing digit and kisses the palm of my hand before holding it to her cheek and closing her eyes contentedly. ‘He’d probably just compare me to his emasculating mother.’
I can’t help but laugh at that. ‘He probably would, but we’ve already established that he’s an idiot.’
I let my smile fall away and stroke my thumb over her high cheekbone, losing myself in the hazel mirrors in front of me as they reappear, and absorbing all of the passion-laced devotion that she’s offering me as she caresses the back of my hand.
There are not words to describe her, or the look that she is giving me just now, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. “If I were a poet – if I were talented with words or even just clever – if I were brave enough to show the world how foolishly I’ve surrendered my heart by giving my sentiments words – I would compare you to that moment just as I awaken, when my limbs are still heavy with sleep even as they reflexively draw you closer. And it’s not just because you’re breathtakingly beautiful, or because you give me a reason and the strength to face a new day, it’s because you banish the dark and breathe new life into everything that you touch. I would describe you, simply, as hope.”
She sits up and drops my hand from her cheek, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve done something wrong given the serious expression on her delicate face. Her eyes search mine and leave me feeling naked and exposed. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the need to hide from her or experienced an acute rush of blood that causes my head to swim. I want to look away from her, but I can’t. I feel frozen in this strange moment of random intensity.
She reaches up and smoothes the haphazard curls out of my face on both sides, captivating me so effortlessly that even if I had the courage to look away, it still wouldn’t be possible. After a few moments she shakes her head slowly, her eyes growing wide and glassy. Her thoughts are blurry and my anxiety increases.
I can’t take it anymore and she finally puts me out of my misery, her voice awed and breathy. “How do you do that?”
My brows knit together in confusion, and I’m afraid to ask her what she’s talking about. “You just… you don’t even realize it, do you?”
If my brows draw together any more tightly, a third might be born of their union. She smiles at me and my wayward thoughts, shaking her head yet again before moving forward to straddle my lap and rest her forehead against my own. I relax immediately and let go of the breath I’ve been holding, thankful for the reprieve from her gaze, though feeling its loss at the same time.
My hands find her hips and rest comfortably as she speaks again. “You’ve come so far in the last two decades, and while I’ve always known that you love me, even at your worst, sometimes… even still, you have this way of doing or saying something that just reminds me not to take it for granted.”
She pulls back, her eyes still dark with intensity but somehow I feel emboldened by it this time. “It’s like… it’s like everything that you do and think and say all catch up in a rush and overwhelm me. And it’s not because any of it is so grand in gesture; it’s overwhelming because you don’t even mean to do it, and that makes it even more meaningful, special… incredible.”
She’s right. I had no idea and I didn’t mean to feel any of it, but that was always the issue with me. If I’d have had my way, I’d have never felt anything, let alone my love for her. But it’s unstoppable; nothing can touch it, not anger or pain or fear. It’s so bright that even the heavens can’t fathom it and hell can’t shadow it with a thousand trees. She’s my beloved, and as such, beyond any expectation of my will, I am her own. I didn’t mean for it to be that way, but I mean it all the same.
Her lips are on mine in a caress that leaves my very bones vibrating within me. And when it deepens, those reverberations shake my nerves loose, expanding them to her roaming touch even as every part of me constricts to hold her in. All of my senses swirl together to suck down into my hips and leave me light and breathless, but she’s there to anchor me.
If I know anything of feeling, it’s only because of her. And I feel her more and more as each threaded barrier is removed with purpose and practiced ease, leaving nothing but naked skin and naked hearts open to the static air. Her hands leave worshipful trails of fire blooming over each dip, protrusion, and velvet plane with a touch so soft that it may as well be feathers.
Mouths taste, choked whimpers escape overanxious lungs, and each delicate friction excites and soothes as the flames left in its wake consume. My skin has been turned inside out, fusing us together into a writhing mass of flesh and blood, bone and nerve. I push forward, locking myself above her to silently witness the riot of passion that is coloring her skin in the sharp shadows of firelight that dance over the expanse of her body, one that I know better than my own.
She is inspiring, a wellspring of beauty and the goddess of my sacrament. I build myself an alter in her name in this very moment, and lay myself at her feet in contrition, surrendering myself to the gratification of forgiveness and compassion.
“Bette…” Each swipe of my tongue against her is the consummation of something irrevocable and holy.
“Bette…” Her voice is rough and beckoning, chanting out into the air and urging me southward.
“Bette…” I could never tire of the sound of it, the taste of her, the feel of her fingers in my hair as I reach for the burning heart of her need.
“BETTE!” I snap up, nearly knocking Dana over from her crouched position and swipe at my eyes.
I hear her stand and pull myself to my feet. The forest has begun to glow with the swift emergence of the sun, the dew shimmering on the lush leaves as it begins to evaporate, and the birds darting through the dense canopy of the trees with a tireless song as they seek out unsuspecting insects.
I reach down for my pack and try to remember where I am and why I’m here. Wakefulness or sleep, it always comes back to Tina, and the acute pang of longing throbs within my breast. I prefer sleep. She only comes to me in my dreams and so sleep has become addicting, but I can’t abandon her to my selfishness. I will survive now so that I can find my way to that alter again and throw myself over it. She’s there, and I will find her, with eyes open and aware. I just hope that this holy place I seek is not a long forgotten ruin.
The ache settles into my guts and I feel my resolve harden. I pull out a pint of blood before slinging my pack over my back and glance at Dana and Alice. Dana’s nervous. It’s subtle, only noticeable in the way she shifts her weight and her eyes dart anxiously from Alice to the grass beneath her as she takes shallow pulls from her own pint. Alice is less subtle, choosing instead to wring her hands and keep her head down.
She must feel my eyes on her, because she finally looks up at me. “Are we certain that this is a good idea?”
I stare out at the horizon, the sun hanging bright and orange against the pale blues and pinks of the newborn sky, and contemplate her question. It’s not a good idea, but it’s all I have, and I have to find Tina. And even if there wasn’t a deeply imbedded obligation to save her and free her the way that she did me, I would selfishly do anything, risk anything, risk anyone, to see her again and know that it’s not a dream.
I pull open the seal at the top of the bag and speak before bringing it to my lips. “Alice, if it was Dana, what would you do?”
She looks over at Dana, the expression on the brunette’s face stoic, but I know the look that creeps across her eyes. It’s that of infinite vulnerability. I don’t know when it happened, or how, but as I see her expression and feel an intense need to protect her, I realize that somewhere in the course of my time with her, I’ve grown to care for her in my own right. She’s my friend, and I hate that she’s in love with someone that doesn’t truly appreciate her. Perhaps Alice and I are not so different. Except that I do appreciate Tina, and once I came to realize that, I didn’t fail her.
In all honestly, for all of my dislike for Alice, I know that somewhere, deep down, she does care for Dana that intensely. She’s just too wrapped up in her past, and if there is anything that I can understand, it’s being haunted. The past can shade the future so easily. It takes so much to let it go and move forward, even when you know that forward is where you want to go. As much as I hate to admit it, I understand her. I just can’t abide her.
Fortunately, she gives a favorable answer in the form of a quick nod of the head and a softly spoken word. “Right,” she says.
As if this understanding has given her strength, she shifts into a confident stance and pulls a pint out of her own sack to quickly gulp it down. Her determination is laughable at best, but I’m grateful for it nonetheless. She secures her pack on her back and does a nervous little dance, as if she’s trying to psych herself up by shaking her hands and kicking her legs in tandem. Dana shakes her head and smiles over at me before she joins her partner in finishing her meal and taking a moment to ease the tension.
I watch their antics as I drain the blood bag in my hands and feel the rush of heat bloom beneath my skin. Strength thrills in my limbs, and I close my eyes as a gentle hum sings through my synapses, calming me. This very well could be suicide. The fortress is solid and I know that there are most likely thirty to fifty vampyrs inside, all of them vicious like their master.
I stare at the sun one last time. If this really is it, then at least I know that I tried and I can die with some twisted sense of satisfaction. The glowing orb in the distance has fully revealed itself, and if we wait any longer, we lose its advantages. I glance over at my companions to see them holding each other, lost in each other, and while the sharp sting of jealousy and loss is there, I can’t help but smile for them.
They kiss before pulling apart and look over at me. It’s time. We make a slow, steady, and silent trek down the side of the mountain, working our way towards the entrance with grace. It takes about ten minutes before we reach the tree-line at the bottom and survey the expansive clearing in front of the entrance. It’s deserted and I smile. Lilith is too proud and too power hungry to have taught her forces how to daywalk. No, she’d want to keep an advantage like that to herself for as long as possible.
A perverse smile splits my face. She must really hate herself for entrusting me with one of her most highly-guarded secret. My smile falters as I realize that I’m gazing on the place that is supposedly Tina’s grave.
I turn to my companions, trying to keep my anger in check. “Is this where it happened?”
Dana nods, and I ask her, “Walk me through it again.”
She sighs and I know what she’s thinking: Tina’s dead. She doesn’t voice it though and I’m grateful. I don’t have the patience or the time to fight that argument anymore, and this is neither the time nor the place. She points to the opening of the fortress. “Lilith had a chair, almost like a throne, positioned there in front of the fortress. Loyalists lined the clearing in a circle on all sides.”
I interrupt her. “How many, exactly?”
“Every vampyr was here, Bette. The Loyalists number somewhere in the six hundred range.”
I feel sick. This is worse and better than I thought. If we do this, we’ll have every Loyalist on the planet frantically scouring for any and all remaining rebels to wipe us out. And while that means that Lilith will most definitely take notice, it also means that the chances of making it out of this alive are slim to none.
Dana knows this. Alice knows this. I glance over at them. Why they would do this when they know that it almost certainly means death, especially when they truly believe that Tina is dead?
“I don’t believe that she’s alive, Bette. But you had a connection with her that I can’t explain or understand. I know that, and so does Alice. There’s no denying it. And if you truly believe that she’s alive, not just because you want her to be, then I’m willing to trust you in this.”
For the first time since I’ve been back, I’m forced to doubt myself and truly consider what I want versus the truth. If there’s one thing that I know about truth, it’s that it’s not perspective. People lie to themselves, convince themselves that what they want can bend the truth to their will, but that’s unrealistic and foolhardy. The truth hurts because it can’t be moved and it can’t be shaken; it can only be denied or covered up. Is that what I’m doing? And if I continue, is the cost of that denial worth it?
I feel that she’s alive, but if I’m honest with myself, I don’t truly know it. There’s no way to know for sure until I find her…or her remains. The only thing that I know is that I will do anything for her to be alive, and if she isn’t, I won’t survive it. Of all the things that I’ve endured, losing Tina would break me. Is that what this feeling, this instinct, is born of – pure survival.
Dana has been searching my face this whole time. It’s clear that she knows that she’s finally reached the more reasonable side of me, but I don’t have an answer for her, not yet. “What happened next?”
She squeezes my shoulder and smiles sadly. “The rebels that she’d given amnesty were led out in a chain gang and she explained that they would be earning their place among the Loyalists again, and that hopefully, over time, they’d be rehabilitated so that they could be trustworthy and productive.”
I snorted at that and she bumps my shoulder, shaking her head in agreement. “I know. I could tell that they’d been tortured. Some of them could barely walk, but they were given a front row seat for the execution.”
That word sends a chill through my soul, but she doesn’t let it stop her. “The rest of us still loyal to Tina and the cause stayed up on the cliff as she and Shane were drug out. They were unconscious and barely looked human, especially from our position.”
Long minutes pass as I wait for her to just get through it, but it’s as if she can’t continue. Her next words are said so low and with so much pleading that I can barely hear them. “You have to know that there was nothing that we could do, Bette…”
I swallow and nod. I know that she’s right, but I also know that I’d have run into that circle and died trying to stop it. I can’t expect that of anyone else though. Tina’s their leader and their friend, only to me is she everything and so much more.
Dana’s quiet, and I can tell that she’s berating herself with her own guilt, so I press her forward. “Go on, Dane.”
She exhales heavily and frowns, looking down at her hands. “One of the rebels caused a commotion. I think he was trying to stop the execution, but Lilith killed him instantly, and brutally. Everything was unnaturally quiet after that, and Lilith seemed to seethe with anger, killing one other rebel for good measure before asking the eight remaining if they had anything to say. Of course, none of them did.”
She takes a deep breath and points to the center of the clearing. “She had both of them drawn and quartered and the remains set on fire so fast after that, that I swear that I barely saw any of it happen. It was like she was just in a hurry to get it over with, whereas before, she was taking it slow and enjoying herself. It’s like the rebel outburst ruined her favorite toy. And then she was gone, disappearing into the fortress and leaving an angry, bloody mess in her wake. No one moved for a long while, but when the Loyalists started to snap out of it and scatter, we fled. We escaped to the apartment in New York, putting all of your stuff in storage, securing the cover tenant, and just waiting.”
She shrugs, playing with her fingers nervously. “That’s everything.”
Why would Lilith fly off the handle like that, or not at least stick around to enjoy Tina’s death? Tina’s death… I can’t sit here anymore. I need to make a decision on what’s true and what’s not, to figure this out. I step out of the tree-line and skulk towards the spot that Dana indicated. She and Alice eventually follow, and I start checking the ground for anything that will prove that Tina died here, getting more and more frustrated as nothing presents itself among the sun-bleached and fire-scorched stones that litter the ground.
In desperation, I drop to my hands and knees and start sifting through the dirt and rock, not even sure what I’m looking for. My pace increases, and I know that I’m making too much noise, but I can’t seem to care. Rocks and earth are scattering like a tornado around me as I search for something, anything to that gives me something to know for sure, but I find nothing.
I feel an empty trembling take up cadence in my guts as one piece of debris catches my eye and I pick it out of the dirt, dusting it off as I sit back on my haunches to stare at it dumbly. It’s a flat, warped silver disk, slightly melted and twisted, but the faint marks of a small tree are still recognizably etched into its surface. It’s the symbol of the rebellion, and Tina wore one just like it.
I close my fingers around the item tightly and squeeze my eyes shut so that I don’t have to look at it anymore. I can’t move or think, even though thoughts are clanging around sharply against the inside of my skull. My mind feels so full, as if every available inch of space has been stuffed with cotton.
I feel the edge of the disk in my hand bite into my palm as I sit there dazedly.
Something inside of me claws against this thought and I want to scream. I want to kill them, all of them, Loyalist and rebel alike, one for delighting in this travesty and the other for allowing it to happen. The beast inside of me, the one that I keep locked up is needed. Not just by me, or even by Tina to avenge her, but by the part of me that’s cowering in the corner of my heart sick with loss and grief. I need… I need autopilot. I need to not know or think, but no such solace will find me.
I feel a hand touch my shoulder gently. “Bette…”
Dana’s voice is soft and regretful, but I can’t abide her pity. I stand and meet her gaze, losing myself in my more animalistic side. I hate her, but I need her. “She’s not dead.”
I’m not sure which side of me that came from, or even why I felt compelled to say it, especially as I don’t even know if I believe it. The words have left me either way, and I feel defeated. I am defeated, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t go out fighting.
I walk past Dana and Alice, making my way towards the entrance in the side of the mountain with renewed purpose. I’ve made up my mind and no matter what, I’m not wavering from it now, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t.
“Tina’s alive. I believe it and I know it.” I have no idea who I’m trying to convince, but I soldier on. “And I won’t stop until I find her. If you think I’m crazy or in denial or whatever else you may believe, that’s fine; I don’t expect anything from you. If you want to leave, do it now. If not, if you’re really in this with me, then be in it all the way. Just know that you don’t owe me anything and I won’t abide your pity or second-guessing me. Choose.”
It’s interminably quiet, nothing but the gentle rustle of the wind in the trees, but I’m all I need to get me through this. I continue my trek towards the entrance, skirting to the side to at least attempt to make it out of this alive.
They can call for me all they like. I won’t hear their reasoning or hopelessness. I can’t. I just won’t. I keep walking until I’ve quietly reached the wall next to the cave and lean against it, tucking the small medallion into my pocket as I poke my head around the corner to peer into the dark corridor beyond. There’s nothing, not even lights, which are unnecessary with enhanced vision. They must be infinitely self-assured to not have at least one vampyr guarding the entrance from the inside.
I feel a presence behind me and turn to see Alice and Dana leaning against the wall. Dana smiles and I harden my gaze. This isn’t a joke, or an act of friendship, or anything but a serious, albeit insanely suicidal, endeavor. If both of them are truly in, I want them to realize this now, because I won’t hear protests later.
She smirks in answer to the question on my face and I just nod before turning my attention back into the cave and slinking around the corner. I can feel Dana and Alice following behind me, but they’re so quiet that I can’t even hear their breathing, and I’m thankful just now.
The walls are the same dirt and rough stone that I remember, with wooden supports laid throughout. We pass several small doors, including the one where I had been held, but there is no sound emitting from them. And as we progress further into the tunnel, the smell of blood starts to taint the air. It’s not fresh, and neither are the body parts that scatter the area and encumber the place with the sickly sweet odor of death.
Some of the bodies are so old that the flesh has sagged and started to rot and others look pruned, as if the muscle has shrunk to the bone. There are more and more of them as we continue, like small sentinels giving a chilling reminder as to why one shouldn’t venture this far, but I’m not afraid of death. In fact, if Tina is here, I welcome it. But she’s not. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.
I stop suddenly when I hear a low whimper in the distance accompanied by a weak heartbeat. It’s the only sound in the eerie cavern, and it may as well be rolling thunder. I had almost forgotten that they have at least one human here. And while that part of me that no longer wants to care, that part that’s on autopilot, that part that keeps trying to save me from pain and even just myself – I still know that I can’t. I’ve not given myself over to her yet, not completely. Tina would help without question, and as such so will I.
“Where’d they all go,” I hear whispered so low behind me that I almost feel as if it’s the air itself that’s speaking.
I turn to Dana and shake my head. “I didn’t see much of this place last time,” I say just as lowly. “Other than the cells, are their rooms?”
Her brow furrows in thought. “No, we all had a cell that we called our own when we were here. The rest is winding tunnels and one large chamber that we used to congreagate. Other than that, there’s just the antechamber with the waterfall, but it was too noisy in there to really do much so we used it primarily as storage.”
The woman in the distance whimpers again and I notice that her heart is fluttering. It’s just a manner of time before it stops. I close my eyes and push out around me to listen for any other abductees, but by the looks of things along the main corridor and the fact that nothing else is heard, she must be it.
I look back to Dana and Alice in the darkness, a plan forming in my mind, and decide how we should approach this. I crouch and pull the satchel from my back, opening it and taking out four medium bricks of C4 and some pin detonators. I carefully sink the pins into the ends of the plastic explosives as I explain. “Okay, you two get the girl and get her out of here the that way we came.”
Dana starts to protest, but I cut her off. “She’s dying. One of us has to stay behind, and that’s going to be me.”
She looks like she’s going to argue again, and I stop her… again. “Find the river at the bottom of the mountain waterfall. You remember the one?”
She finally relents and nods in understanding. “Fish me out afterwards, will you?”
She grins at that. “I suppose I owe you, considering that you did it for me once.”
The girl’s heart slows and I press up off the ground. “No one owes me anything, but I certainly have a few debts to repay.”
I pick up the satchel and pull out the small remote controlled detonator switch and tuck it safely into my pocket. I give my satchel to Alice who slips it onto her back before I hand her one of the explosives. “Be careful with that.”
She glares back at me and I appreciate the familiarity of the act given the tense anxiousness that’s settling heavily on my shoulders. She finally looks down and gulps at the brick that she’s holding like, well, a grenade, in her hands. Her voice is small. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
I grin evilly. “On your way out, when you get about halfway up the corridor, just set it down and keep going.”
She blows out an apprehensive breath before nodding once in agreement.
I press one of the bricks into a crevice in the wall nearest to us, and pick the other two up. I look at them, but I’m at a loss as to how I can carry these. I don’t anticipate a fight, but I’d like my hands free nonetheless. Looking down, I quickly tuck them under my leather jacket, zipping it up to hold them against my stomach. It’s tight, but I can still move.
Once we’ve settled, I signal to Alice and Dana and we follow the sound of a failing heart through two different winding paths, each as deserted as the last, until we reach another cell door. The sound emitting from the other side is like the soft, girlish hum of a nursery rhyme. I brace myself for and unknown reaction, and push the door open, finding that it wasn’t even locked.
The girl is lying on the cold dirt, her back to the door. She’s in the fetal position, and she’s rocking slightly as she stammers the words. “Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you?”
I approach her cautiously as she obliviously continues her chant, but the moment that she realizes that I’m here, she fumbles into the corner and starts screaming. I rush up to her, holding a hand over her mouth to shut her up and realize that I’ll suffocate her if I keep this up. I release her and she starts screaming again between choked sobs as she flails about so violently that she’s going to hurt herself. With no other choice, I rear back and hit her, knocking her unconscious.
I pick her up and shove her into Dana’s arms as I hiss, “Get her out of here, now!”
Dana turns and speeds off, Alice hot on her heels, and I follow them to the main tunnel. They round the corner and I watch them go for a moment before turning around just in time to run into a groggy vampyr. He seems shocked at first, but then he sizes me up with his eyes, and he must find me lacking because he lunges for me.
I dodge his sloppy attempt and grab him by the back of the neck, using his momentum to send him face first into the stone corner of the wall. I hear the crunching snap of his nose and smell fresh blood as he tumbles to the dirt with a grunt. He thrashes as he tries to get up, only managing to roll over and stare at me.
His voice is loud as he spits out. “You fucking cunt!”
He pushes up to his feet, and I can tell that he takes me a little more seriously now as he wipes the blood from his nose and looks at it incredulously. “I was just going to kill you before, but now I’m going to make it more fun.”
He grabs his crotch suggestively as he sneers, and I catch him off guard when I send my foot flying up to meet his hand. This crunch is more satisfying than the last, at least for me, and he sputters as he falls to his knees, his breathing coming so fast and anger burning so bright that there’s spittle flying from his teeth with each ragged exhale.
Before he can do anything more, I hit him hard enough to break his jaw and daze him, and he slumps over moaning. I tear off both of his shirt sleeves, placing on between his teeth and tying it behind his head. I stomp onto his forearms, cracking the bones against the ground, and using the other sleeve to tie them together at an unnatural angle and prevent them from healing. Just for good measure, I quickly slip his shoulders from their sockets with two well-placed tugs. I know that even that’s not strong enough to hold him if has the fortitude to operate past the pain, but I don’t plan to let him regain much of his mind.
I shove him with my foot so that’s he’s on his side and reach for the zipper on his jeans, tugging it down quickly. He starts to come to, and I grab his head, lifting it so that he can see into my eyes. “You’ll be quiet and maybe I’ll let you live.”
I can tell that he doesn’t believe me so I try again. “Okay, you’ll be quiet and I’ll try to make what time you have left less excruciating.”
I reach back to his fumbling hands and break several of his fingers. He cries out against the gag, and I give him a few moments to regain himself. He finally looks up at me again seething with anger, but he nods his head and I pull the gag down.
He stares at me, trying to burn a hole through me with his eyes, and it’s all I can do not to laugh in his face. “Were you there the night the leader of the rebellion was executed?”
His answer is low, ragged, and clipped. “Yes.”
“Tina, did you know her?” He clenches his jaw and I back hand him for refusing to speak. “Answer me.”
He looks back, his teeth bared and his eyes black, and I don’t hesitate to slam his face into the packed earth beneath us. It dazes him for a bit, but he’s still capable. “Answer me.”
He chokes on some of his own blood before swallowing it and focusing on me. “Yes.”
I lean in close to him, pressing his head into the ground as I brace myself against it. “You watched her die?”
He tenses in defiance, but meets my gaze as if trying to convince me. “Yes.”
My head spins as I try to find a way out of believing that. My voice is a choked whisper. “You’re certain?”
His terror seems to triple and he’s quick to answer, “Yes.”
I feel anger and frustration flood through me and pool in my legs as I stand and start to lay into his stomach with each heavy swing of my leg. “You lie!”
I keep saying it as my foot collides with his torso over and over until he’s gagging on his own blood and bubbles are forming on his lips. I slump down against the wall next to him in defeat and just sit there staring out at nothing.
The thought festers in my heart, even as it keeps trying to find any way to dismiss what he says he saw, but it won’t give up hope, no matter how hopeless it truly may be.
He starts to laugh and I glance over at him. “Something funny, dickhead?”
He chokes but laughs again. “You’re a dumb bitch; You all are.”
I crawl over to him and pull his head up. “What do you mean by that?” He laughs again. ”Where’s Lilith?”
He looks up at me defiantly. “Fuck you, whore! I’m not telling you shit!”
I shake him. “Is she here?! Tell me!”
He spits in my face and I wipe it off before reaching in through his open fly to squeeze his dick so hard that I hear it snap. He cries out and tries to curl in on himself, which is more gratifying than I remember, but after the pain is gone, he just laughs in my face again.
I crack his head into the wall behind him to shut him up. My mind is whirring but I’m losing time. I glance down at him, knowing that he’s spent and there’s nothing more that I can get from him. And I’m not sure that anything that he’s already offered is worth much anyway. At this point, he’s good for one thing and one thing only. I make quick work of retrieving one of the explosives from my jacket and stuff it into his pants before zipping up his fly and resetting his gag.
“Upsy daisy…” I grunt as I pull him from the ground.
He’s only barely able to stand, but I get him walking with me. I need to find the main chamber fast, so I set off in the direction that my new companion came from. I realize how natural this all feels for me: pain, fighting, and torturing. And while I know that I hate it, or at least that I should, I just… don’t. If I find… when I find Tina, what will she think of me?
I glance over at the man stumbling next to me to see that he’s coming around again. Just as I’m about to hit him to subdue him, I hear voices coming from one of the hallways I just passed and stop, backing up a step and pulling my charge with me. He’s struggling a little bit now, but I know that his arms must hurt. I’m using the protruding bone at his elbow as a handle to pull him with me, and both of his shoulders are unnaturally elongated.
I look into the room the sound came from, and sure enough, it’s large and cavernous. There are tables and chairs scattered haphazardly throughout the immense space. It reeks of alcohol and death, and at least sixty Loyalists are passed out in all sort of random positions, some on pallets and some slumped against walls. What’s happening? Lilith wouldn’t abide this.
She’s not here…
The man at my right is struggling harder despite his obvious pain and I shove him forward, using my foot on his ass to propel him further. He lands with a crash on a few of those sleeping, only after tumbling over others. Two vampyrs in the back corner who had been talking, finally take notice off us. And as several pairs of eyes wake and open at the commotion, they all finally land on me. I decide to wave before casually strolling from the room. Of course, once out of sight, I break out into a sprint and head straight for the sound of water.
Several of them are right behind me, but I’m fast and most of them are young. Lilith must have been desperate. Creating careless drones helped her to capture me and Tina, but this evens the odds a little more. Twenty to one now looks more like ten to one because we have age, experience, and self-control. These punks are bordering on useless, especially if they can’t even catch me.
I round the corner and unzip my jacket as I enter the antechamber, smiling as I see the waterfall. The heavy thuds of footsteps rush in behind me, but they’re too late. I’ve already dropped the last brick and I’m leaping from the ledge into the water.
I don’t hesitate to let the current take me and suck me into a free-fall through the mountain. I straighten my body and fumble in my pocket for the remote, clutching it to my chest with both hands as I continue to pick up momentum with the water rushing down around me to propel me down the smooth slide.
Finally the bottom drops out from beneath me, the air hits my face, and I’m jettisoned into another free-fall. I see the rock-laden water below getting closer and closer at an increasingly high velocity and flip up the catch on the remote to click the button. I hear the loud crash of an intense explosion and close my eyes just before I hit the water and everything goes black.