Tess huffed and blew a strand of red hair out of her eye. She sat in the passenger seat of the big rig, trying to keep a sharp eye on the dark orange rock formations nearby and a few kilometers ahead. Tess could be patient when she tried, but this drive was killing her daily momentum. The scout liked to run every morning just before sunrise. Sitting in the truck for hours at a time with almost no breaks to stretch her legs felt like she was being punished.
The athletic woman grimaced to the side. I really have no right to feel like this. Deborah’s a fucking leech now, and we have her locked in the back just to keep her out of the sun. Yeah, pretty sure she has it worse than me right now.
Jake glanced over from the driver’s seat, “Something wrong? Well, something else?” Jake had been a solid scout for over a decade. He wasn’t one of the best, and he had never claimed to be. His dark brown hair was about finger length, but his facial hair was well groomed and much longer, almost the size of a fist just under his chin.
Tess shrugged as she tied her hair into a pony tail, “Just thinking about Deborah. She always just, you know, she’s one of the scouts you stopped worrying about. If anyone had to go check on the Dust Giants’ migration, she’d be the only one to get the job and act like it was just a routine run. Know what I mean?”
He nodded while watching the surroundings, “She always had a tough reputation.”
“She’s a fucking legend Jake.”
“Jake. She’s still herself. Why else are we still alive and not drained dry for her?”
“Because she just ate. You saw that body back there. Damn kid looked like a raisin.”
“You think she went through the trouble of killing those blue eyed leeches for a snack? Oh yeah, let’s not forget that there’s a new breed of freaking blue eyed vamps to worry about now! Do you think anyone in Anthill knows about them? Did you know about them?”
“Aw hell Tess. Everyone knows about them, we just didn’t tell you. Come on Tess! Ain’t nobody ever heard of these things. It’s bad enough we have the red eyed ones that can’t seem to keep their clothes on. Now we have a goddamn secret society of vamps that dress in SWAT gear, and we’re driving their goddamn truck! I’m telling ya, we should ditch this thing before we get too close to home.”
Tess finished her ponytail, gently running her hands around it from jaw to chest. “Deborah and I were drinking one night, not sure how long ago, but we always said we’d rather kill ourselves than get turned.”
Jake looked like he was more worried about the scenery, slowly crawling by. Tess didn’t blame him. Suicide wasn’t something to think about in the sand, and the uneven path through the valley required some concentration. He didn’t look away from the rough valley floor as he asked, “You think she tried?”
Tess didn’t want to think about it. I knew I shouldn’t have brought that up. The young woman was twenty-five, not far behind Deborah, as far as she knew. “How is she gonna survive back home?”
“Blood, you mean?”
“Yeah. You think anyone would like, donate to her? She’s helped save the town enough, least we can do is feed her.”
Jake scratched the back of his head, and grunted, “Ah, not sure if the councilors will go for that. There hasn’t been a vamp in Anthill in a long time, and that’s something that makes people sleep better at night.”
“What about you? Would you feed her?”
“Hell no! What if she couldn’t stop and turned me? Would you?”
Tess cringed to the side and crossed her arms. Then she nodded, “From what I’ve seen of her these last few nights… Yeah. She saved our lives, and she obviously has enough self-control. We were in comas for crying out loud. Nothing stopped her from eating us but a conscience.”
Jake sighed another grunt, “Hey, I want to believe she’s still her, I do, but you’ve seen the eyes. Sooner or later, she won’t be Deborah anymore. Everyone knows they get rabid when they go without blood for too long.”
“That’s why we have to convince people to help feed her. What better night stalker could you ask for? She doesn’t need the two pairs of night vision goggles in town, and she won’t fall asleep on the job.”
“Yes Tess, having a pet vamp would be nice. Hell, let’s say the two of us offer to feed her. How often can we feed her? Once a month to avoid blood loss sickness?”
“I don’t think that’s a thing.”
“Once a month, you and I can safely feed her. That’s my point. You think we can get two or three more volunteers? I doubt it.”
“Let’s be honest, Deborah doesn’t really have many roots around town. She had Nicolai, Tsara and James. Tsara undoubtedly would’ve helped out, but she’s gone. James? I have a feeling he’d rather not deal with her anymore. And Nicolai will probably kill himself once he hears about Tsara.”
“Jake! Don’t be such an asshole about this.”
He cringed and shook his head, “I’m sorry. I just, I thought I was done with all this rescue mission, scouting shit. I have kids Tess. I haven’t had to risk my life for years, and I was almost taken from them a few days ago. I don’t want to think about them losing me.”
Tess pulled her boots onto her seat and hugged her knees close. She focused on the wide open valley and sun baked boulders scattered atop the blanket of orange sand. “She kept that from happening.”
Jake didn’t respond.
Tess tried to think about anything else.
Deborah sat in complete darkness, leaning her head and shoulders against the front of the trailer. She bounced slightly with some of the bigger bumps Jake had found. The rank smell of the bodies at the other end of the trailer wasn’t nearly far enough away for Deborah. Even without breathing, the odors still floated into her nostrils easily enough.
She had been listening to Jake and Tess since sun rise. One of the goons’ radios was in the cab with the talk button tied down with a small rock and some gauze. Deborah had hid it inside the back of the seat between her friends.
For days, all of Jake’s arguments to kill or exile Deborah sounded like Deborah’s own inner thoughts. Since she had turned, Deborah felt like a monster. Meeting the monsters from Wayne Manor had made her realize she wasn’t enough of a monster.
Megan had told Deborah what happened to unwilling blood donors at the manor. Deborah could read people well enough, and Megan grew up within a tribe that praised brutal honesty. Killing the blue eyes and their human day guards had felt like a mission.
Deborah’s early years of hunting wild vamps had just been practice. The cold, organized company led by Neal Hamilton was a giant cog that needed stopped. Deborah had already committed her mind to the idea that she could die fulfilled if she managed to kill Hamilton.
The young veteran has constantly pushed herself beyond her limits. Finding her way back to the manor and wiping it out of existence was well above the limit of any one person. Deborah knew she had to return to Anthill. She had already dismissed the idea of making a new life there after listening to Jake echo her own doubts and fears.
Tess had been trying hard to defend the benefits and possible happy endings, but neither Jake nor Deborah were being convinced. Deborah was going to return to spread the news of Wayne Manor, and hopefully raise enough support to launch a war. We’ve fought off the Dust Giants, maybe we can take out these bastards too.
Deborah snapped out of her daze when she heard Jake over her earpiece. He sounded like he didn’t want to bring up the topic, but he asked regardless, “Should we have a plan to take her out?”
Tess sounded equally surprised and irritated, “Are you kidding me?”
“We don’t know how much blood she needs. What if she doesn’t have enough to stay sane when it’s her turn to drive next?”
Deborah cringed, I can probably hold out another day. She hadn’t been sure how much blood she could physically drink, but Deborah had made a point to drain Tate’s blood while it was warm. Showing Jake and Tess two days ago had been meant to let them know that Deborah wouldn’t have to drink for a while. As Jake had pointed out, Tate’s corpse looked like a corpse mixed with a raisin. Probably not as uplifting as I had intended.
Tess surprised Deborah with a delayed, yet stern response, “I’ll feed her.”
Deborah flinched when Jake yelled, “Really?”
“We just said we would! Or would you prefer she turns into a mindless prowler?”
“Well… Shit Tess. I thought we were talking hypothetically.”
“Unbelievable. I expected moving to a desk job would make you soft, but now you’re afraid to bleed for a friend?” Tess cut off Jake’s rebuttal, “And I don’t mean soft like the potbelly you’re working on, I mean soft like a wussy.”
Jake paused. Deborah actually smirked, imagining the way he always shook his head when he was dumbfounded. “Tess, you’ve killed people. Why do you think swearing is so much worse? You think I’m soft like a pussy, just say it.”
“Why? You just said it for me.”
“You are such a child.”
“Okay, so this child is more willing to cut a vein to save a friend than you. Got it.”
Jake combined a grunt with a controlled moan. “Fine. If we’re out here for too long, and she gets a crazy look in her eye, I will make sure she doesn’t starve.”
Deborah felt her bottom lip slide out, but only a little. Damn.
Jake broke the moment, “But if we’re too late, we need to have a plan.”
Tess groaned, “No we don’t.”
“You might not think so, but from now on, when we open the trailer, one of us needs to stay at the ready with the shotgun.”
“Just like that?”
“It’s buckshot, not shredder rounds. It’ll just be enough to knock her back, not seriously injure her.”
“And if she doesn’t come to her senses,” Jake cleared his throat, “Then the gunner goes for the legs while the other one gets a machete to finish her.”
“So you want my machete now?”
“Only if you want to be the shotgunner.”
Deborah listened to the silence again. Jake always liked to think ahead. Not a bad plan either. She had been worried one of her friends would plan on killing her on the way to Anthill, so she had kept Wayne Manor’s silver ammunition a secret. I need to make sure they save these rounds for the real threat.
Tess spoke up again, “I’ve killed people closer to me than Deborah. You don’t have to worry about me hesitating.”
“You’re a better shot than me though.”
“With a rifle, yeah. Shotguns are all twitch reaction.” Tess hardened her tone, “I wouldn’t hesitate.”
Jake didn’t respond verbally, but Deborah could picture him nodding. Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about turning them if I lose my mind. She remembered the ultraviolet cell she had been chained in. No blood for days, just the heat of the ceiling in a room without noise.
Without Megan filling in the gaps, Deborah never would’ve guessed how long she had been locked away. Then she heard little Tommy’s voice, ‘Aunt Debbie!’
Deborah smirked at first, but quickly returned to her default expression of weary brooding. What if Tommy hadn’t escaped? Would he be one of the bodies hung on hooks in a meat locker, or thrown into the rape dungeon Megan had described?
Deborah felt her fist shaking. She was going to kill Neal Hamilton.