Plans to head straight to Russia have been hampered since our narrow escape from the bunker. For such a vast expanse of desert, the sand appears to be walls that are closing in on us. Lilith hasn’t attacked directly again, but then she doesn’t have to. She has numbers. As to why she’s been amassing an army of new vampyrs, I’m not sure, but they have been steadily appearing in droves.
As a result, the past couple of months have been long and bloody, all of our time spent dodging Loyalists and other surprises that Lilith has left for us all over the desert. We’re slowly but steadily making our way towards Cairo, and while the trek should have only taken a day, it’s taken two months thus far, and we’re only about halfway there. We’ve been forced to backtrack many times, hide, and fight to the point of exhaustion.
As for now, while I hate to stop, we need to rest and I’m taking the first watch. I glance over my shoulder to see that this rest is fitful. There’s really no reason to keep watch during the day except for Lilith herself, but it gives me something to do considering that even a fitful rest won’t find me.
A lot has been happening and I’ve barely had time to process it all. Well, I suppose that there’s really not a lot to process in all actuality. It’s more a need to absorb and accept. Tina is dead. I’ve come to acknowledge this simple yet life-altering truth. She’s gone and I’m here. A part of me will always be searching for her and hoping fruitlessly, but that’s the nature of life, love, and death. Call it the human condition. It’s ironic, but it’s true. We always search for that one thing that’s illusive. And for all of the ways that I’m not human, in that respect I unfortunately am.
I make mistakes, big ones. I love with all that I have and I’m forced to live with loss and remorse. I grieve, I believe, I bleed, and I fight when there’s no reason to because hope is something that never really fades. I used to believe that human’s hoped for the impossible because it was the only way to cope with the truths of a cruel world, but now I know differently. Humans hope because hope is what makes the impossible, possible.
It’s a strange to know that this same human notion of hope is what has forced us, vampyrs, to wind a serpentine path through an unforgiving landscape to avoid being ambushed. There’s really no reason for us to be pushing forward on this path. And it would seem that everything is against us.
The terrain affords an easy view from extreme distances, and tracks aren’t easily covered in the sand. The pattern of depressions that’s stretching out in front of me gives testament. And as soon as darkness falls, another horde will hone in on us easily. The shelter of rock is few and far between, but we at least have that advantage this day. We’ve killed roughly fifty since we left the bunker and no matter how many we take down, I don’t think that it will ever be enough. But hope still holds us here.
“You should get some sleep, Bette.”
I look over a Liam and lean against the rock to my right as he stretches. “I’m fine, Liam.”
He shakes his head and drops his arms before staring out into the glaring sun. “You know, in a lot of ways, you really are.”
I glance over at him and he grins rakishly. I shake my head but can’t help the smile that tugs at the corners of my mouth. “Come on, that’s not what I meant.”
He realizes what he’s just said and holds his hands out in a placating gesture. “Not that it isn’t true, of course…”
He leans against the neighboring stone face and yawns. “Yeah.”
He chuckles and a long comfortable silence ensues. It’s strange to feel this relaxed with someone other than Tina, but I suppose that I should take that comfort wherever I can get it, especially considering that I’ll never know true comfort again. And with that thought, I should slap myself. If I didn’t have an audience, I just might. I can’t wallow anymore. Tina’s gone; I’m not. I have work to do and there’s no time for self-recrimination or pity.
“You know, I’ve been alive for four hundred and sixty-four years, and not once in all of that time, have I loved someone the way that you love Tina.” I glance over at him to see him looking at Anna’s sleeping form.
He doesn’t take his eyes off of her as he continues. “Don’t misunderstand, I always believed in it.”
He smiles. “How can I not, when I’ve seen a gentle hand against a cheek mean more to a man than any amount of riches or glory. I’ve seen men die to protect one woman. I’ve seen them kill just to defend her honor or even to avenge her death.”
His eyes meet mine. “I always believed in it, but I never actually felt it…”
He looks back to Anna, his words so soft I barely hear them. “Until now.”
I know. I’ve seen it. He’s gentle with her, as if handling something delicate. All of his cockiness is drained away when he’s with her and I find myself teasing him for it. And while I believe that with Dana’s consistent guidance and Liam’s devotion, Anna can and will come around. But if her heart is anything like mine, I’m not so certain that she’ll want it to, or more importantly, that she will allow it to.
I know that his affection for Anna is real, but I can’t talk about it or think about it right now, so I attempt to change the subject. “Liam…?”
He reluctantly tears his eyes from Anna. “Hm?”
“You’re unbelievably whipped, you know that?”
A knowing grin splits his face as he says, “Isn’t it grand?”
He sighs almost wistfully and I stare at him like he’s grown a second head. “Liam, you’ve known her for two months…”
Neither his smile nor is eyes waver, so I try again. “We’ve been running for our lives.”
His grin seems to grow and his eyes twinkle, so I try yet again. “We’ve been killing in mass at every turn.”
He still doesn’t falter. He just stands there like a fool, his heart bursting and his soul light. And I envy him. I loved Tina immediately, and I know how it works. I also know how you can bask in the sunlight one moment and be shattered on the rocks the next.
I glance over at Anna to notice that her sleep is less troublesome and more peaceful than it used to be. There have been changes in her as well. She smiles more, but she still enjoys the kill, maybe even craves it, and maybe that’s okay. There is the possibility that she won’t be like me. She doesn’t have Lilith; she has Dana. And more importantly, she has Liam. Maybe that road won’t be so long or difficult for her like it was for me. I hope that it’s true. I just hope…
I feel a hand rest gently on my shoulder and glance over at Liam. His eyes speak volumes of compassion and I pull off of the wall to shake his hand loose without shunning him. I can’t face him right now.
“I’m going to try to sleep.”
I hear him sigh behind me as I walk further into the rocks and settle down against my pack, releasing a sigh of my own as I close my eyes and try to shut my mind off.
I open my eyes and lift up, bracing my arms behind me. My fingers sink deep into a bed of warm, lush grass and I gaze out in the open expanse to find the same blanket stretching smoothly over rolling hills against a perfect blue sky. Contentment and peace sweep through me, just like the soft breeze that flutters the low grass and pushes an opaque clump of cotton spun cloud across the bright blue above. The only break in the infinite serenity of the horizon is a single tree. Its trunk is thick and sturdy, and its branches sprawling as they reach for the heavens with infinite strength.
Two little girls play amongst its base, blonde waves pulled up in ponytails and bouncing as the two of them hold hands and skip around the shaded safety of its circumference. Another figure, a goddess with loose golden waves cascading over her shoulders approaches. She crouches and holds her arms out, smiling as she calls to the girls. They run into her arms, toppling her to the ground with love and laughter.
I feel like I don’t belong here, like I’m an outsider, a voyeur peering in on this precious moment that doesn’t belong to me. But the gentle hum in my abdomen warms me, the shining sun gives me comfort, and the hazel eyes that catch mine from the tree give me a jolt of joy.
The soft, rhythmic swell of my heart sends a radiating light through me. It beats within my breast, coursing life through living flesh and blood. Somehow, someway, I do belong here, because I am wanted. No, no, I am… needed.
The golden-haired goddess stands, releasing the children to gaze at me, and I stand as well. Her name, her memory, they tumble from my lips and my heart as I breathe her name onto the air.
There is no sound but the rushing of my heart as it feeds a steady stream of strength to my legs, which in turn push me forward. I watch as her lips form a single word and recognition dawns in hopeful eyes. Two delicate hands cover a full mouth as gentle tears escape her lashes. I’m so close now that I can see them, so close that with just a little further and I can wipe them from a smooth cheek and promise that they’ll never return.
I push harder, faster, my lungs burning and my vision swimming until finally, I’m holding her. I gaze into her face with awe, gripping her so tight that I’m scared that I’ll break her, but my hands won’t relent. She’s real, and warm, and alive in my arms.
Trembling fingers touch my cheek before sweeping the curls from my forehead. More tears streak down her porcelain face and I want to banish them. She leans forward, her lips brushing softly, hesitantly, against mine, as if she’s afraid that at any moment I’ll leave, but that will never happen. I would die first, or maybe I already have.
As she pulls back, her fingers link in the hair at my neck and she laughs through her tears, her eyes never leaving mine. For the first time in a long time, I’m home. And it’s incredible to remember what it’s like for my heart to flutter from a single touch.
Against my better judgment, I close my eyes as I claim her lips again in a hungry and desperate embrace that leaves the foundations of my very soul shaking and cracking apart. Her touch, her taste, they destroy my carefully laid barriers as I drink her in and lay waste to the pain that is so far removed from this place that I can’t even remember what it feels like.
I can’t hold it anymore, not my breath nor my desperation, and I break away to bury my face in her neck, gasping and clinging to her as if she’s the only thing that tethers me to life. Her arms are strong in embrace, her lips feather-light as they burn promise into the skin of my face and neck. This place – this is her mind, her dreams and we share them together. I can hear her, feel her, encompassing everything, giving it purpose and meaning. She leans back, resting her forehead against mine, just like she has for more times than I can count. How I’ve missed this, longed for it, yearned for it.
I want to weep as I hear her call to me so lovingly, address me with so much adoration. I gaze at her, memorizing each delicate dip and plane of her face.
Her smile is radiant and my racing heart calms. “I want you to meet them.”
She pulls away but I won’t let go of her. I can’t. Not yet, at least not until my eyes fall to the twin girls smiling shyly from behind their mother’s thighs. I want to crouch, but instead I fall to my knees as I gaze at them. It’s as if I’m looking into the face of my very heart, and in so many ways, I am.
They are her daughters through and through, the very children that I saw out of this world and have instead wished that I’d have brought them into it with Tina.
One comes forward and touches my face, her small voice sweet and delicate as she says, “Don’t cry.”
That only makes the tears come harder. I gaze up at Tina, finding none of the judgment or condemnation that I deserve before taking the small hand from my face and holding it. “I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to. Can you forgive me?”
She’s too young to know that my apology means so much more. She smiles just like her mother before tucking her arms around my neck and kissing my cheek. “Stay here with us?”
She leans back and her eyes imploring me. “If you stay, mama’ll stay.”
She glances back at Tina and I see a furrow forms between her eyes.
The other girl comes forward. “Yeah, please?”
Tina doesn’t know what to say and I feel my heart stop as she turns and looks out at the horizon. I feel it too, the pull of some sort of gravitation force meant to anchor us elsewhere and remove us from this… dream – vision – my deepest heart’s desire. I can’t keep them. I’m not allowed to stay here, and it’s as if the landscape knows this. A dark shadow falls over us as the sky blackens. Heavy drops begin to pelt the earth and Tina lunges forward in desperation, pulling us together and holding us tight.
For a moment, I feel like I’m part of a family, and it’s in that moment that I know that I am, even if it is just a dream, even if it is about to slip from my grasp. And it does. I watch stricken and helpless as they start to wither and fall to sand in my arms, the wind picking them up and carrying them away with a sharp flash of light.
The light is so blinding that I’m forced to release what remains of them and throw my arms over my eyes. When it’s gone, I relax and look around me. Alice, Anna, Dana, and Liam are awake and my moment of peace is gone, replaced with nothingness again. I look down and unclench my fists to watch the sand held there fall through my fingers, just like my memories and my heart. Another flash of light streaks across the sky, followed by a distant boom, and I sigh.
Alice’s voice is incredulous. “Seriously, it rains in Egypt?”
Dark clouds have filled the sky and they hang so low that it seems like I could reach up and touch them. I can’t tell if I’ve slept or not or even if I’m sleeping now. I feel strange and unsettled, unable to tell which reality is a dream and which is wakefulness. Did I really meet Tina’s daughters as they should be, as they could have been? Did I really see Tina and hold her? It all felt so real. She felt so real.
Dana’s voice is playful as she replies. “I guess so, Al.”
I close my eyes and tilt my head back. I can still smell Tina – feel her – like fresh rain against rich earth and a cleansing tide washing away pain only to leave sorrow in its wake. A fat drop lands on my cheek in prelude to the torrent that follows only moments later. And while water holds little meaning for survival, it’s a welcome relief to feel the last three months of grit, wearinesss, and stubborn blood that’s staining every inch of me, even parts of my soul, streak away.
Anna laughs and I open my eyes to see her spread her arms, spin, and revel with renewed innocence. It’s as if the heaviness of responsibility, the cynicism of loss, and the possibility of death are nowhere to be found. Liam joins Anna, laughing and holding his arms out as the deluge pours over us. They spin together, laugh together, and I watch as she takes his hand and shyly kisses his cheek. He’s shocked into stillness before he smiles at her with so much adoration that Tina’s loss pangs deeper within me.
Even Alice and Dana are affected as they join in on this moment. A long lost part of me wants to feel that carefree. I was born into bondage. And while I know what it means to be free and have choice, I’ve still been bound by the consequences of those choices.
Dana and Alice stop to kiss one another. It’s not carnal but I’ve never seen them respond to each other that passionately before, and I feel very out of place. They continue to spin and call out to the sky and all I can think of is Tina and her girls. As much as I’ve suffered, I’ve never had something so real be pulled away and leave me so devoid. That should have been my family and my life. I’m thankful for the rain to hide my tears.
It’s quiet, all but the rain and thunder and laughter of joyous souls so far removed from me. I’m beyond pitying myself, but that doesn’t fill the void I feel. I look up to see that everyone has stopped rejoicing and they’re focusing on me.
I swallow hard when Anna steps forward, hesitantly taking my hands in hers and smiling up at me. “You can let it go, just for a moment, Bette.”
Something dark passes over her eyes before she banishes it. “We both can.”
I gaze at her in bewilderment. Her voice is lower, raspier, and stronger than I would have imagined for such a slip of a girl, but she’s found it, however unexpected it may be. That’s the first gift that Tina gave me, and I can’t help but smile at that thought. I feel a small bit of happiness in this moment, even if it is shadowed by darker thoughts, and go with it, throwing my head back and shouting at the sky.
Anna releases me with a smile of her own and we all shout together. It feels oddly amazing. In all honesty, we shouldn’t be making all of this noise. But it doesn’t matter. The Loyalists always find us anyway. It’ll be dark soon, and they’ll come, and we’ll survive just like we always do.
I lower my head to gaze at my friends. We’re all breathing so hard that our chests are heaving. But the unrelenting water and this moment of carelessness is a potent mixture of defiance and life amongst so much that’s been ruined.
I feel my smile fall as my eyes land over Anna’s shoulder. She looks at me curiously, completely unaware of the Loyalists that are rushing up behind her. Liam follows my gaze and tries to pull her out of the way, but he’s too late and a makeshift stake is protruding out of the front of her chest. She stumbles and falls to the ground as more of them pour into the area.
This is the biggest group we’ve seen thus far, and they’re using the unexpected cloud cover to strike early. Liam screams in anger and tears the arm off of Anna’s attacker, striking him back against the rock-face before sending his foot down to split his head against it.
I grip the throat of the Loyalist charging me and brace my foot against his chest. His throat is torn from his neck and he’s sent flying backwards to knock two others over. I feel something solid and heavy land on me from above. It knocks me to the ground and I roll over just in time to see four more drop down from the overhang around me.
My attacker drives her hand towards my chest, seeking my heart, and I roll away, tumbling her to the sand. I get to my feet, jump, and land on the backs of two others who just fell from above, quickly wrapping my arms around their necks, and using the forward momentum to tear both heads off at once.
The woman I fell is up and screaming, rushing toward me from behind. I send the heads in my hands flying at her. They hit hard and send her stumbling back. I run at her, grab her by her throat, lift, and slam her down onto the wood still wedged in Anna’s chest. She explodes into red dust and I pull the wood free from my friend. As the pain of its removal forces a scream from her throat, I hear Liam shout in response.
Three vampyrs are holding him down as a fourth intends to run him through. I feel panic rush through me and thrill down my arm as I rear back and throw the stake into the heart of the vampyr about to stake him. The Loyalist explodes, but I’m already there to catch the stake before it can fall to the sand. I thrust it into the heart of the one holding Liam’s right hand, and the one at Liam’s foot lunges for me, knocking me to the sand. We tumble backwards and with controlled precision, he pins me facedown with his feet on my shoulders, grips my wrists and pulls. I feel my joints snap against my sockets and cry out in pain.
Red sand and rain pelt my face from the side, and instantly the pain is gone. I open my eyes and roll over to see Anna and Liam standing over me. Anna extends her hand and I take it. She pulls me up and for a moment, I see something different in her eyes before she’s gone to help fight the remaining few with Alice and Dana. Liam joins her and I look around me. Alice and Dana have decimated close to fifteen all on their own. Blood, gore, and piles are red dust fill our encampment, and the carefree moment is gone, the consequence of indulgence left behind.
The rain falls harder and movement at my left catches my eye. One is still alive, though barely, but that’s all that I need. I approach the vampyr wriggling in the sand, her arms completely removed from her body, and grab what’s left of her shirt to pull her into a sitting position. She wisely tries to scoot away from me, but gives up when I pull her right back.
I gaze into her black, devoid eyes and am reminded of why we’re even trying to stop this. “Why is Lilith making so many of you?”
She sticks her chin out and locks her jaw. “I can make this quick or slow and painful. Now, tell me why Lilith is amassing an army and where she is.”
Her tone is pained and angry as she spits, “No.”
I sigh, too tired to find any joy in this, especially with the memory of Tina and her girls still so fresh on my heart, but it has to be done. I release her with a shove and go to my satchel to retrieve a small pair of pliers.
I return to the woman who’s now panicking and dangle them in front of her face. “Last chance.”
She kicks her legs and tries to scramble away, but I’ve already pressed my knee into her throat to hold her still as I grip her forehead and push her skull deeper into the sand. She coughs, trying in vain to clear her airway, and I clamp the pliers down on one of her fangs. I can hear and feel the stretching of nerves as they slowly snap apart, even over her choking screams.
The tooth is free and I toss it aside, releasing her to splutter and regain herself. It’s quiet as I wait and she eventually calms down enough for me to ask her again.
I pull her up by her shirt. “Where’s Lilith and what are her plans?”
She spits blood in my face and starts to laugh. “What you do to me is nothing compared to what she would do.”
I wipe the blood from my face and lean in closer to her. They never answer me, no matter what I do to them, and I’m losing patience. “Yes, but she’s not here, is she?”
She stops laughing and I throw her back, tearing the other fang from her gums and leaving her airways free so that I can hear her scream. It’s a hollow sound and I toss the pliers aside before retrieving one of the used stakes littered around. This is the worst pain that I can think of, and I don’t care to draw this out any longer.
I plunge the stake into her chest just until I can feel the tip rest against her heart. She screams again, but has no choice but to hold still as I run the tip of the wood along the top of the muscle.
Only after I’m sure my threat has made an impact do I relent and grab her face to make sure that she’s focused on me. “Tell me, and I’ll make the pain stop.”
She starts to cry and I find this odd. It gets worse when she starts to murmur. “Please, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…”
I rasp the splintered wood along her heart again, pulling more screams out of her raw throat, but she still won’t break and I let out a frustrated cry of my own. Why is everything always so difficult and convoluted and bloody? Why did Lilith have to take Tina instead of me? This thought sends me into a rage and I dig deeper, snapping bones and tearing at flesh until the organ abused organ beneath is exposed to the lightning laced air and falling rain.
Her screams die away into a muted ringing as I carve Tina’s very name on this heart. Now she’ll know how it feels to be branded so deeply with regret for what she has helped to accomplish. This is precisely how it feels to be without Tina: torn open and asunder.
I feel a hand on my shoulder and look up into Dana’s face.
She grimaces as she says, “Bette, she’s not going to give any answers. None of them have and none of them will. Let it go.”
I look down on what I’ve done and hate myself for spoiling Tina’s name in such a way. In utter defeat, I take the stake and plunge it through the organ. The woman hardly moves in response before her body trickles away in a thick red sand that mingles with the torrential downpour. As usual, I’m left empty.
I look to everyone. There’s no judgment, there never is, except for Alice. She hates the torture but even she sees the necessity of it in this situation, as fruitless as it may be.
We’re a sight, but we’re alive; the cause is still alive, and while nothing ever feels settled or finished, and our night of fighting and bloodshed is nowhere over, in this moment we have what matters. Dana returns to Alice and they cling to each other, just as Liam and Anna, and I turn away from them to find solitude and collect myself.
I move deeper into the chasm of rocks dazedly. I don’t know what happened back there, but I can’t even face it. I notice that water is gathering in a small depression of one of the nearby boulders, and hasten to splash it on my face. As I brace to catch my breath, I notice my reflection in the rippling surface. I don’t know who I am anymore and my reason to live may only be a ghost, but a shadow is more than nothing, isn’t it?
If there’s one thing that’s different, it’s that I don’t like torturing anymore. I don’t like that way it makes me feel or the guilt that follows. I’m just so weary, and nothing is even near completion. I want that dream, that vision, that life. Where is the hope in this situation?
After a time, I find the will to clean myself up and face my friends. Their faces speak of compassion as they look to me, but I have no use for it. Life has never been easy, and I doubt that it ever will be.
With a sigh, I grab my pack and settle it on my back, determined to make good progress this night, despite the attacks that I know will be coming. My memory, vision, loss, and anger – all of those things that I bury – I will use them to focus and forge ahead.
I don’t look at them as I speak. “Let’s go.”
It took an additional two months to arrive in Cairo. The rains were gone as quickly and unexpectedly as they’d arrived, but the Loyalist forces only grew larger. We’re exhausted and have nothing left in the way of supplies. Aside from fighting, I haven’t spoken to my companions… friends. It feels strange to use the word, even when I know it’s true. Things have shifted, both for me, and for them.
Anna has seemed to let go of her pain and bind her darkness. I can only speculate, but I’m certain that the fight by the rocks is what spurred her change. She almost died, but she didn’t. I know first-hand that sometimes drawing close to death helps you to realize how much you want to live. Mostly though, she saw my darkness take over. It scared me, so I know that it had to have scared the others.
Whatever the reason, she’s no longer my shadow, and I feel that maybe her first real taste of how desolate a place my path leads has helped her to find another for herself. I can’t help but wonder what Tina would think of this development. I have helped the girl as she’d have me do, but as it turns out, I’ve helped her by becoming a cautionary tale.
There is no life left in me, only a single purpose that is bloody and painful. I still crave violence, the crush of bone and Lilith’s blood wet upon my hands. But even as I desire to assuage it with her Loyalists until I have full satisfaction, the result is always the same: it assuages nothing and I realize that I no longer enjoy doing it.
I’m not sure what it means and the feelings are entirely contradictory. I think that maybe the anger has left me, but that was all that I had. Now, the nothingness has swallowed the last of what I looked forward to. I’ve come to accept that Tina’s gone, and I’m just a husk, but I still serve a purpose.
I’m thankful that Anna finally recognizes what I am. Not only has she removed herself from my shadow but the dark void that was swallowing up her heart has begun to fill with something more than blood and anger. I can see it in her eyes and in the way that she smiles at Liam. She’s growing to love him and she’s growing to embrace her maker. More importantly, she’s filling up, not succumbing to the emptiness.
She’s become more open and spends a great deal of time talking with them. She’s learning, growing, and embracing all of those things that only something alive can. And that’s what’s different. She’s alive, less afraid, and far less cold. The darkness is still there inside of her, as I know it will always be, but she has begun to kill with purpose now and focus on better things.
It’s surprising how far she’s come, especially in such a short about of time and amidst such a violent backdrop. But as I think about it now, maybe that’s what makes it so easy and so special, why it worked for me and Tina. When you place your life in someone’s hands and are forced to rely on them day in and day out, there isn’t time for faltering or mistrust. Love and life just happen, and when they happen for someone who’s been forced to live in the dark, it’s like finding a rare flower that only blooms at night. Liam is Anna’s Tina, and Dana is nothing like Lilith. I can’t help but wonder how different things may have been for me if my circumstances had been closer to Anna’s. She’s lucky, perhaps more than she even knows.
Liam is head over heels for her, but other than that, little else has changed. He is the first man that I’ve ever met that I’ve respected and felt comfortable around. There is little joy to be found in our task, but he finds it, makes light of it, and I’m thankful for his presence and his friendship.
Alice and Dana seem to have grown closer, but the major issue between them still remains. Alice, like me, is clinging to a memory, a ghost. As a result, I understand her better now. I couldn’t imagine letting go of Tina completely. I have come to accept my loss and move through it, but Tina will always be there, that part of me that’s missing. What I don’t understand is why Alice seeks to be with Dana if Dana is not foremost in her mind. I will never love nor touch another because that is the price and consequence of devotion. Alice has no such scruples for Uta.
I know that time may have dulled Alice’s memories, or perhaps she’s just victim to the desperation of loneliness and lack of belonging that encompassed so much of her life, but it has to be more than that. I just don’t believe that Uta was the end for Alice like Tina is for me. I’m not sure what I believe or even what to call it, but something instinctual in me knows that there is one person for everyone. Not all are lucky enough to find them or smart enough to embrace them when they do, but it has to be true. There’s no other way to explain what I know of love.
For humans, I don’t believe it is as obvious as it is for vampyrs. Their senses and instincts are dulled by mortality. For vampyrs, everything is more… well, just more. When you find that one, you just know, whether or not you’re aware of it at first. And I know, like Tina is for me and like Liam is for Anna, that Dana is for Alice. But Alice is bound to something that she can’t seem to break. I just hope that she figures it out before all is lost. At least I truly had Tina for a time. If Dana were to die, Alice would have no such comfort; she’d have only regret.
Though I would never admit it out loud, I have grown to love these people – this strange band of misfits that fight and bleed for Tina’s cause and accept me despite that terrible things that I’m prone to and capable of. They loved her and she loved them, and her legacy of loyalty is astounding. There will never be another person like her, and I am proud to be able to say that she was mine and I was hers. Of all the things that life can and will destroy in the soul, that knowledge is something that will endure forever.
I rest my arms on the railing of my balcony overlooking the Nile, and I’m thankful for the reprieve of civilization and modern convenience. A hot shower, clean clothes, fresh supplies, and a safe place to rest in privacy are priceless commodities. I know that it won’t last long though. We leave the city in the morning, and once we do, it will be a gamut once again. We plan to fly straight from Cairo to Moscow. From there, we’ll be taking commercial transport to Yugoslavia in case the Loyalists are as thick there as they are here.
There’s a knock on my door and I answer it reluctantly. I don’t wish to have company right now. I need this stolen moment to myself to regroup, but as I open the door to see Liam and Anna are standing on the other side, both obviously unsettled, I realize that this isn’t a call that I can disregard.
I usher them in quickly and close the door behind them. “Liam, is something wrong? Is it Loyalists?”
He runs a hand through his hair, and I wonder for a moment if that’s how I look when I do it. “I have information. We need to head for Tel Aviv tomorrow instead of Russia.”
I feel my spine straighten and the hair on my neck stand at attention. “Lilith?”
I swear the fresh flowers on the nightstand wilt at the sound of her cursed name. “Well, I’m not sure if she’s there, but something is, and I believe that it will give us some answers.”
I sigh and gesture for both of them to take a seat at the table, and I sit across from them. A long silence draws out as I wait for one of them to speak. Several long, frustrating moments later, neither has, so I push. “Is one of you going to explain?”
Liam nods, but doesn’t seem to know how to start. He opens his mouth only to shut it several times. Finally, Anna says something. “Have you heard of the vampyr Zihao?”
I furrow my brow and shake my head, and Liam blows out an anxious breath. “Okay, Zihao’s an old… acquaintance of mine. He’s helped me out before, and since the Loyalists aren’t spilling their guts before they’re spilling their guts, I gave him a call.”
He gestures to the mini bar and I nod. He walks over and pulls out a travel bottle of whiskey, cursing at its size before he continues. “He knows what’s going on, but he can’t tell me directly.”
Anna speaks up. “You mean he won’t.”
Liam gives her a frustrated expression, downs the contents of the tiny bottle in his hands, and grabs another. “He can’t. If he does, he goes back on his word and that will get him killed.”
Anna crosses her arms over her chest. “You mean that he won’t because he hasn’t been compensated.”
Liam downs the new bottle and throws both empty containers in the trash with frustration. “Look, he’s neither rebel nor Loyalist. He keeps his nose out of trouble, but one hand in the happenings on each side. Both sides need him, so both sides leave him alone, but if he goes back on a promise of secrecy he’s sunk.”
Anna leans back in her chair and meets my eyes. “I don’t trust him. People who can be bought will be bought.”
Liam grabs two more travel containers before retaking his seat. “His word is his bond. If he goes back on that, he’s no good as an information broker. I don’t necessarily trust him, but I know that his word is good.”
He pauses to direct this last remark to Anna and I find it curious. “And he has information that we need.”
Anna doesn’t argue but I interject as a troubling notion occurs to me. “Wait, did you tell him where we are?”
Liam seems shocked for a moment before he nods in the affirmative. I snatch one of his whiskey bottles from the table in front of him, and let the searing liquid settle sourly in my stomach before asking, “What the fuck were you thinking?”
“Bette, the Loyalists and Lilith already know where we are. Besides, Zihao’s meeting us at the Tel Aviv outpost tomorrow.”
I glare at him, snatching his last whiskey from his lips and dumping it in his lap. He lifts his hands and stares at the dark stain before finally meeting my gaze with a defeated sigh. “You’re angry.”
I laugh mirthlessly. “You’re damn right, I’m angry. You waltz in here and tell me that you called someone who’s not trustworthy, gave him our location, and scheduled to meet him at a Loyalist outpost tomorrow. And for what? What information did he offer that was so fucking important, Liam?”
Liam plays with the empty whiskey bottle in front of him and even Anna looks away. “What is it?”
Liam looks up as if he’s confused about whether I’m speaking to him. I feel my anger pique and he’s quick to answer. “Oh, um, he couldn’t tell me exactly what’s happening, but that’s why we’re meeting him. He’s going to show us tomorrow. He’s not breaking his code if he just tells us where to go.”
“Why would he meet us there?”
Liam’s face seems to pale. “Oh, um, he wants to be compensated immediately.”
I stand as slowly and with as much control as I can to put distance between us. “What did you offer by way of compensation?”
Liam clears his throat. “Look, Bette, don’t worry about that. I’ve got it covered.”
I scoff at him. “Yeah, you’ve covered everything.”
I glare at him and pace a few times before continuing. “Well, you can forget it, Liam. We’re not going to Tel Aviv tomorrow. I won’t allow you to get us killed.”
He stands and his voice turns pleading. “Bette, if what he says is true, this war isn’t what it used to be, and…”
He pauses and frowns before taking a step closer. “Look, you know that something’s up. He says that the answers are in Tel Aviv. You just need to trust me. If anyone knows where to find answers, it’s him.”
I frown at him. Trust him and trust this man on nothing more than the possibility of something unknown and most likely a trap. There are other possibilities to be considered. “And what if he sells us out?”
Liam shakes his head. “No, he’s not an honorable man, but as I said, he does honor his agreements. That’s the only way he would survive working with both sides, and he’s survived for a long time. He doesn’t double cross. Besides, I have him by the short hairs with this. Please, Bette…”
His eyes are imploring as he approaches me and wraps a hand around my arm. “Just… trust me.”
“You’ve given me no reason to.”
He drops his hand, anger flashing in his eyes. “I’ve fought at your side for months. I’m here because I want to be. If you can’t trust me because I’ve earned it, then you can trust that I wouldn’t do anything that would put Anna in danger.”
“What aren’t you telling me, Liam?”
“Bette, you don’t understand.”
“Then educate me.”
“Not until I’m certain, Bette. That would be… too cruel.”
Liam’s face is pained and I’m taken aback. What could this man possibly know that would make Liam look so grieved?
There’s only one thing that I know of, but that’s impossible. “Tina?”
Liam snaps his head up, his eyes boring into mine. “Bette, this isn’t about Tina. I thought you’d come to accept that she’s gone…”
I just stare at him. I have, haven’t I? Something in me still clings to the hopeless dream, though I have no reason to. And he’s right, something is going on.
He’s calmer as he continues. “You know that we need help. It’s taken us four months to cross the desert alone. This campaign will take forever at this rate. We have to find out what’s going on. We need help, and he says that this place holds the answers.”
I study him for a moment. There’s something in the way that he can’t look me in the eyes, in the way that he’s more passive than usual. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”
He exhales heavily. “I don’t know much of anything yet. That’s why we have to go there tomorrow, to find out.”
I run a hand through my hair and gaze hard at Liam. He doesn’t falter and that’s just it, he hasn’t yet. I’ve had to trust him since the day that he arrived, and while I think he’s insane to have made this deal, the damage is already done.
With or without meeting Zihao, we’ll be going to Tel Aviv one way or the other now. “Liam, if-”
He nods, smiles, and pats me on the arm to cut me off. “I know; I know; you’ll have my wretched head.”
He grabs Anna’s hand and nearly runs from the room, the door snapping shut behind them. And I collapse onto the foot of my bed to gaze out the balcony doors. I know that the Loyalists are waiting at the city perimeter like dogs at the gates of hell, and that may be where I go tomorrow if Liam’s arrangements prove to be as foolhardy as I believe them to be.
Taking to the air from Cairo had a cleansing effect on my spirit. I don’t think I ever want to see Egypt again as long as I live, which, depending on how all of this turns out, could be a very long time. We took the redeye so that we’d arrive in Tel Aviv just before sunrise, and upon departure from the plane my spirit seemed to plummet for no apparent reason. Something was off. I was already dreading what lie ahead, but this feeling was more than that.
The airport wasn’t nearly as busy as I would have thought, and what few people were milling about weren’t very animated. Something was unsettling, and while I was more than happy to get our rental car and get on the road to Milli Millu, my trepidation seemed to only grow. We abandoned the car on a long stretch of abandoned road and from there it’s turned out to be a relatively short trek on foot to the ridge of plateaus that house the Tel Aviv outpost.
It’s still dark as we creep up onto one of the Eastern facing ridges to watch the activity near the opening of the outpost. While travelling in Egypt, we’d encountered and killed more than one hundred Loyalists, and as I get my first look at the place, I realize that we’ll be facing at least that many today alone. Zihao’s information may be right. This place is swarming, but I still can’t shake the feeling that something is terribly wrong. There’s little to be done about it now but press through. I just don’t relish the idea.
We’re severely outnumbered. There are only five of us, and I turn in my crouched position to glance at my companions. Dana and Alice have frustrated looks on their faces as they realize how difficult this is going to be; and Anna and Liam look ready to fight.
I hear shouting and look back to the opening to watch as a group of Loyalists roughly ushers a mass of bound humans inside.
Dana’s words mirror my thoughts. “What the fuck is going on?”
I watch shocked. This isn’t just a few humans. There are at least thirty of them and I feel frustrated. Something in Lilith’s plans has shifted, and I can’t figure it out. There would be no reason to amass an army. She’s destroyed the rebellion with Tina, and we’re only five people. And yet, there’s an every expanding army that’s rounding up humans in equally huge numbers to what, just eat them or turn them? There’s no way this number would go unnoticed by humanity and her war is based on anonymity and control, isn’t it?
It’s frustrating how everything lacks a definitive answer. My only hope is that I will have understanding once I’m inside. It’s not long before the sun will crest the horizon and that’s when we enter. Well, after Zihao arrives. From what I understand, he’s not a daywalker, so he should be here any time now. And he better be. After all, it’s at his insistence that we are even here and not storming the gates of the Russian outpost.
Whatever information Liam and Anna are withholding, I worry that it’s not worth what could happen here today. It could very well get us killed. I don’t trust Zihao, and I’m against the idea of meeting him here where we’re exposed, especially with the number of Loyalists that are saturating the area. We don’t need any other enemies if we are to have any chance to see this to an end that doesn’t forfeit the cause or our lives.
I look over to Liam to see him push back off of the edge of the dune so that he can stand. There is a figure amongst the line of rocks behind us, and we follow as Liam greets him fondly. I listen to their exchange, looking for any indication that he may have sold us out.
“Zihao, it’s been too long, my friend.” The information broker is small in stature and unassuming, but there is an overconfident air about him. I can tell immediately that even while Liam calls him friend, this man has no loyalties beyond his own ends, whatever those may be.
“This is Bette.” Liam gestures to me and Zihao seems to size me up.
“Ah, yes. Bette.” The small man bows slightly.
His designer clothes are impeccably pressed and clean, far removing him from the surroundings and our purpose here. This combined with his obviously manicured fingernails and the way he holds out his hand – as if I should kiss the gaudy ring of an emperor – makes me clench my jaw. I dislike him immediately, and choose instead to cross my arms over my chest.
He snorts. “You dishonor me.”
He’s small, but I can tell that he’s old. But despite his age and strength, I wouldn’t honor a man who clearly has no sense of it. “From what I understand, you aren’t here to help us and you haven’t exactly been forthcoming with information.”
His smile is predatory. “I have given you more than you have given me.”
Liam interrupts us. “The sun will be up shortly, and we have work to do. Zihao, after we’re inside, just wait in the opening of the cave and we’ll come for you when it’s clear.”
My voice is cold and low as I snap, “Like hell we will. He helps or he leaves.”
Liam exhales heavily and pulls me aside, but I don’t take my eyes off of the smirk that Zihao is giving me.
Liam’s voice is low as he says, “Bette, he’s neutral. He can’t fight, and he’s given good faith by directing us here.”
I tear my eyes away from the petulant little shit to gaze hard at Liam. “He’s brought us into a place crawling with the enemy, he’s not going to help, and he can’t be trusted. What more do we need to know, Liam?”
Liam runs a hand through his hair before meeting my eyes. “Bette, I understand why you don’t trust him, but you’re going to have to trust me. Please…”
“You still haven’t told me everything, Liam.”
He steps closer, his jaw set. “I don’t know enough of anything to tell you more, Bette. That’s why we’re here.”
The gray light of sunrise starts to fall over the arid landscape and I release a breath. Either way, we’re out of time. I nod and Liam’s quick to take lead with Anna and Zihao. Alice, Dana, and I fall in line behind them, and I can tell that Alice and Dana are just as speculative of this arrangement if the expressions on their faces are any indication.
We follow along the wall and enter the cave cautiously and silently. Liam and Anna dispatch two Loyalists still chatting in the entrance so quickly that the only sounds are two sharp snaps, the squelching of tearing flesh, and the muted thud of two heavy heads hitting packed earth.
Liam addresses Zihao from over his kill. “Stay here and remember our agreement.”
Zihao grins and nods. “Very well.”
We leave him staring out from the shadows at the rising sun, and wind our way carefully into the depths of the cave. There is an open, round room in the middle, with a large tapestry on the back wall and empty tables and chairs scattered throughout. The outer wall circles around this room with six doorways dotted along its circumference, three on each side.
We move silently into the first room on the right. Three vampyrs are sleeping on the floor, and I leave Anna and Liam to take care of them as the rest of us move to the next room. There are four in here, and the two against the left-hand wall are still awake.
Both of them are on their hands and knees and one is bent over the other as he thrusts into the man beneath from behind. The look on their faces is comical as Alice appears next to them and plunges a chunk of wood through both of them, impaling them together at an angle that hits each heart in tandem. They explode into red dust, sending the other two sloppily to their feet.
One attempts to scream, but I’ve already torn his tongue and jaw from his head. He collapses to his knees gurgling as the other lunges for me. Dana catches his arm, twists, and tears it roughly from his body, using the appendage to stifle his shriek of pain by slamming it into his face and send him tumbling backwards toward Alice. His head is torn from his body and quick to join that of the one I’ve just finished at my feet.
Anna and Liam have skipped to the next room and a quick peak inside shows that they’re successful in dispatching its inhabitants. So we move onto the next and continue this way until we’ve reached the last room. The remaining four are asleep and I frown as I realize that all of these rooms are dead ends. We’ve only found twenty-six vampyrs, and I saw dozens more with humans come in barely an hour ago. I sigh. Nothing is ever easy. They’re somewhere, and we’ll find them soon enough.
I pull the one nearest the door out by his arm while his companions are quickly torn apart, and toss him into the central room where he lands hard against one of the tables, collapsing it into a pile of splintered wood. He’s quick to get to his feet and run for the tapestry, but Liam is blocking his path in a blur of movement and the rest of us create a circle around him.
He’s breathing heavily and his teeth are bared as I step forward, his eyes darting from my face to the tapestry behind Liam. I follow his gaze and study its color scheme and simple graphic, oddly reminiscent of Nazi Germany. It’s huge, even for this cavernous space. It stands as an enormous bright red sentinel for obedience, a white circle with a bold, black outline and ‘V’ at its center.
I grip the medallion around my neck and realize that this is Lilith’s response to the tree in my palm. Where the lines of what unite the rebellion are smooth and rounded, a symbol that represents life and growth, hers are harsh and sharp, representing blood, severity, and cruelty.
I look back to the vampyr to see him smirking. “You were foolish to come here, but then she knew that you would.”
Just as I’m about to ask him what he means, he lets out a guttural shriek. Shouts erupt from behind the tapestry and there are a few moments of thundering feet before the tapestry is thrown aside. Vampyrs come rushing out in a steady stream around us and I’m only just able to kill the fucker who started this by tearing his heart from his chest before I’m forced to start ripping into the horde that’s slamming into us from all sides.
A hand grips my throat and I turn before sending my arm up and snapping the elbow the opposite direction. He lets out a cry and I throw him over my back and knock the others off of me. I snap the neck of the woman nearest me before throwing her into her companions to knock the rest down and give myself some room. I see Alice pick up a chair and impale two more with the legs before breaking it over the head of the one attacking Dana and using her age and strength to quickly tear three more heads from shoulders.
Another has grabbed Anna only for Liam to shove one of the pieces of Alice’s broken chair through his throat, pull it out, and ram it into his heart. He bursts into red ash as several more force Liam to the ground on top of Anna and start pelting them. I return to my task, trying to free my friends, but no matter how many heads I take or necks I snap or limbs I tear from bodies, more and more keep coming.
Four Loyalists grab Dana and start to pull on her extremities, and I can hear the tell-tale crunch of dislocating bone. I leap from the middle of my horde and land hard on them, toppling them to the ground and rolling with the motion. I turn on my knees to stand only to be run through from behind, the hunk of wood grazing along my heart with scraping pain and dropping me again.
Alice is overwhelmed in her attempt to save Dana, and I realize that we’re going to die here. This was a trap, and Zihao led us here. Just as the wood is pulled from my chest, leaving me breathless, I hear another shout from the opening behind me. I look up just in time to see my attacker’s heart clenched in a fist that’s run through his chest. He’s staring at it with a slacked jaw as more vampyrs rush into the already brimming room along my peripheral vision. I can’t take my eyes off of the heart above my head.
The hand and heart retreat back through his torso, and he’s tossed aside to reveal a woman with long, flowing chestnut hair, and clear, sky-blue eyes. She has a proud jaw and she smiles at me before joining in on the chaos raging around us.
I watch as the small group of what must be rebels start decimating the Loyalists, and breathe a sigh of relief when I see my friends rescued. The hole in my chest has closed and I’m able to catch my breath again. I lunge back in to help finish this. Between the twenty of us, it takes some time, and there are a few more close calls, but we finally take down the remaining mass.
I confirm that my friends are okay and we take a moment to regroup. The mystery woman that saved me orders her people to start taking bodies outside to be stricken away by the sun. Some of them are still alive and begging, but it falls on deaf ears. The woman that saved me approaches and smiles while holding her hand out. I receive the gesture to find her grip firm.
“I’m Duffy,” she says. “We watched from the edge of the plateau as your group moved in. That was… suicidal of you.”
I release her hand. “I’m Bette.”
Turning to my group in tandem, I introduce each of them. “And this is Dana, Alice, Liam, and Anna.”
I meet her gaze. “Insurmountable odds aren’t new to us, but I’ll admit that this time we were just too overwhelmed. We hadn’t meant to alert them to our presence. Thank you for assisting.”
She grins. “We only just showed up before you entered. I’m glad that we stumbled across your group. Even with fifteen of us, this would have been difficult.”
I frown at her. “I don’t mean to be ungrateful or rude, but can you explain what’s going on here?”
She grins. “I’ll explain as we finish securing the area?”
She gestures to the tapestry and I nod. We take off at a leisurely pace, and make our way into the tunnel beyond to see several flights of steps winding down. My friends follow, along with a few of Duffy’s own contingent.
Duffy’s voice is low as we proceed. “I’m a new vampyr, only about a year old. I was a policewoman in Colorado in a small area called Hinsdale County. It’s up in the mountains and remote. Four rebels had fled there after the execution of their leader to hide and start rebuilding from the seclusion of the area.”
Her voice takes on a sharp edge. “A band of Loyalists had followed them, and my family was killed – my wife and my daughter.”
I grit my teeth as we turn to make it down another flight of steps, the smell of blood thickening on the air as the hum of several heartbeats grows louder. “They would have killed me too, but Kate, one of the rebels, found me and stopped them. From there, she gave me a choice: I could live and never speak of what happened, I could die and join my family, or I could join them and help stop this from happening to anyone else.”
Her smile is sad as she glances over at me. “I chose to help. I became Kate’s progeny. She explained things to me, and given my police training, I was quickly assigned to lead and help grow our numbers by tracking Loyalists, killing them, and cleaning up after them.”
We round another corner. “That’s how I learned that someone was attacking former rebellion strongholds.”
She glances at me with a crooked grin. “Peru and Egypt – I assume those were you?”
I nod and her tone becomes amused. “Nice work.”
I smirk and she continues. “Anyway, Kate and Laurel sent us here to check it out and we arrived today.”
She smiles again as we reach the bottom to find a large, open area with a huge portion at the back sectioned off by a row of wrought-iron bars. There are lanterns lit and scattered along the walls and the thirty humans that we’d seen earlier were obviously not the first group as dozens more are crammed into the space beyond the bars. They’re filthy and the smell is revolting, but for some reason they’re alive.
The humans start to back away in terror and Dana breathes out, “Holy shit.”
I glance at her and she frowns at me. “What?”
I shake my head. “You always say that at the worst possible time.”
She shrugs and gestures to the humans. “Well…”
I can’t help but grin at her before I hear Duffy shout, “Calm down, please! We’re here to let you out, not hurt you!”
The panic increases until a woman’s voice cuts through the den, silencing them in a different language. They stop moving, but I can smell the fear rolling from their collective pores in an anxious sweat. An Arab girl steps forward from the crowd to face Duffy. Her mocha skin is mottled with bruises and dried blood, her dark hair thick but lack luster, and her warm, brown eyes sunken from lack of sleep.
Duffy addresses her. “Thank you. Will you translate for me?”
She looks at Duffy defiantly but nods in agreement, and Duffy smiles as she speaks. “You know that the people who took you are different?”
The girl doesn’t move or translate yet, choosing instead to ask, “They’re vampires?”
Duffy smiles sadly. “Vampyrs, but yes.”
She nods a little dazedly at having her suspicions confirmed but seems to snap out of it as she translates. No one says a word, but their shock is evident.
Duffy continues. “Tell them that it’s okay. They’re all free to return home, but they have to promise not to speak of what happened here, not even to each other. Do you understand?”
This time, she turns and speaks to the group behind her. The conversation is long, the girl seemingly arguing with them, but once it’s over, the atmosphere seems to have shifted slightly.
She finally turns back to us and Duffy pushes forward. “Alright, I’m going to let you out now, but you’ll need to be calm so that no one gets hurt.”
Duffy grabs two of the bars and pulls hard. The iron groans as she spreads them into tight but passable opening. She steps out of the way and we brace for the rush of a panicked mob, but it doesn’t come. None of the humans move to leave and long moments pass as I gaze at them in bewilderment. They all have their heads high as if in defiance. I almost want to laugh at their audacity or stupidity or some combination of the two. I’m fairly certain that if I was human and in their position, I’d be running.
The girl speaks again. “There’s nothing to go back to. There is no home anymore.”
Duffy steps forward. “What do you mean?”
The girl’s heart and limbs flutter with angry control. “Most all of us are from Tel Aviv or somewhere on its outskirts. They attacked and no one saw it coming; the old were killed and the young rounded up and taken. What was left was… brainwashed and left to maintain the city, and us… we were to be made like them.”
Duffy crosses her arms. “How do you know this?”
She sighs. “I heard them talking to a woman. I think she was their leader. She’s ordered them move against strategic cities on each continent. By turning government officials and brainwashing others, the city will function like normal and no one will notice anything until it’s too late. Tel Aviv was a trial run and it’s successful. Within six months, they plan to overrun each continent from the inside out, and round what remains of humanity up like livestock.”
A long, heavy silence falls over the room as we process this. Lilith’s plans have indeed changed. She has no use for anonymity anymore. She’s going to destroy the rebellion by removing the cause, and in the process make herself a queen. That also explains the airport. Those people were compelled and it was mostly empty because everyone’s been rounded up.
Duffy releases a heavy sigh. “Okay, come out. We’ll find a place for you to go.”
There’s no movement again, and the girl speaks. “No. Turn us and we’ll join you against them.”
Duffy furrows her brows and asks, “You understand what this means?”
The girl juts her chin out and straightens her back. “Yes, we understand.”
Duffy smiles winningly and I stare at her dumbfounded when she says, “Very well.”
I pull her aside before she can do anything else that’s insane. “You can’t be serious. Someone would have to sire them, and I can’t imagine hearing that number of thoughts at once.”
She sighs. “It doesn’t hurt and the background noise isn’t as frustrating as you would think once you learn to tune it out. The hardest part is when you can hear each of your progeny’s thoughts who are in turn hearing each of their progeny’s thoughts.”
I frown at her. “How many have you sired?”
She exhales heavily. “Probably fifty.”
I run a hand through my hair, glancing at Alice, Dana, and Liam accusingly. How did they not know about the rebellion? From the expressions on their faces, I can tell that they just didn’t.
Duffy breaks through my thoughts. “It takes focus but it’s actually very useful. Those considering disloyalty are caught before they can do any real damage and you have a wealth of knowledge and experience at your fingertips. We have no choice but to respond to numbers with numbers or all will be lost to us and the humans.”
I consider her words and determine that she’s right. We have no chance of fighting without help, not given what the girl’s said. But how did we not know?
Duffy grins at the look on my face. “We haven’t yet officially come out of hiding, though I suppose that hiding won’t last long now. The rebellion is roughly a thousand strong, but we’re spread thin and it’s nowhere near enough. Kate, Laurel, myself, and other appointed leaders have been trying to grow our forces, but we don’t force people like the Loyalists do.”
I blow out an anxious breath and look to the humans who still haven’t moved. “These are willing and you need them.”
I meet her gaze. “I still don’t see how you can sire that many people and keep your sanity.”
She laughs. “Trust me. It’ll be fine. We’ll split them up evenly amongst our number. With this many, we can each take five.”
I look to Dana, Alice, Liam, and Anna to see that they’ve heard the exchange. All are amenable but Alice, who reluctantly agrees at Dana’s glare. I turn back to Duffy and grin before offering my hand. “We’re with you.”
She accepts it with a grin of her own and we approach the humans again. Duffy looks at this girl and holds her hand through the opening. The girl takes it hesitantly, and Duffy helps her out through the bars.
“What’s your name,” Duffy asks.
“Carmen,” the girl replies.
Duffy nods. “Carmen, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Duffy and this is Bette. Help your people up the stairs and we’ll make preparations.”
The girl swallows thickly before nodding and turning to her people. The harsh sound of their language is oddly beautiful as she coaxes each from through the bars and up the stairs. She meets my eyes before she follows and I look to my own companions. We have a lot to discuss, especially with Zihao, and even more to do, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I might actually be able to do this for Tina.