"Natasha, are you still with me?" The voice slid into my head, breaking my concentration from watching the vampires in the middle of the Civil War. I now knew positively who the female was and I knew that I never had seen Charles before that I could recall. I also knew that my sword was the one that Charles was using in his fights.
"Naughty, naughty, you figured out a few things and didn't share." His voice was getting angry like it meant nothing that he pulled me back into the Civil War, but that I wasn't saying a word aloud seemed to piss him off. His rage was washing over me like a bad set of waves on a storm-ravaged beach. Good, because I liked to piss off arrogant asses and this creature seemed to qualify from everything I was seeing and hearing.
I felt something fast and hard punch into my stomach but I was still in the gray space of nothingness that was currently defining my experiences. I tried to claw out and swing with the sword I'd just watched kill the unnamed vampire. My hands weren't attached to my body. Hell, my body wasn't attached to my mind. I figured then that the pain was this creature's way of mindfucking me literally. It wasn't real -- it was all inside my brain. Not that my abstract notion of the reality stopped me from feeling what I had just felt had been a major blow to my belly. I shoved down the pain and sighed, still not speaking aloud. Screw the asshole if he couldn't take a little silence. I willed myself to either go back to the fight in Balboa Park or the one in the past. I slipped away from his screams happily.
1863: South Carolina, late fall, in the woods far away from the battlegrounds ...
"You don't get to call me anything but ma'am." The vampire was a firecracker, and she was standing blocking the thin trail she indicated would lead them out of the woods that she'd led Charles into about few hours or so prior. So far they were still in the woods, so he wasn't exactly sure what she thought was 'out' and if it would be before or after dawn. He didn't ask her that but toyed with her aversion to the word vampire.
"Aren't you a vampire? Am I wrong?" Charles knew it was the wrong approach, but instinctively attacked her verbally. He wanted to put her in her place, but when her eyes tightened and she clenched her fists, he knew he'd picked the wrong path.
She swung with vampiric quickness but he leapt backwards avoiding her claws. Automatically he ripped his sword free from the sheath and held it point first at her throat. That turned out to be a bigger misstep.
"You want to kill me, fine." She was utterly furious. Even clad in the clothing of a male she was so obviously a female to Charles that again he found himself distracted. She noticed and closed the space between them literally putting herself on the tip of the sword. Eyes filled with anger, she said, "Just go ahead and slit my throat. I don't care anymore. I came to help."
Sighing deeply, Charles gave in to her and dropped his sword. He noticed that it hadn't glowed or even made his hand tingle. It was like the sword knew that he wasn't going to actually harm the vampire. Dejected, he sheathed his sword and said, "Sorry, it's just infuriating." It was so much more than that but the word would suffice for the moment.
She sniffed and spun on her heel, and without another word headed away from him. It was still too dark to see much more than a few feet from his nose so he quickened his pace and closed the gap between them. They wove and meandered the narrow corridor lined with prickly bushes and sharp rocks. He could hear the river to the right and knew that was the course she was following. As the night lengthened and midnight passed without words, they went deeper into the wilderness as far was Charles could determine. The humans were no longer littering the scenery and there wasn't another vampire to fight, so Charles gave into the female vamp and kept his silence while they journeyed. She was one of the least talkative women that he'd ever met, and he didn't see any reason to start her chattering. Nature had its own ebb and flow and he appreciated the night sounds.
The Civil War had decimated many places not just in battle damage but emotional damage. The core values of humans had been challenged, and for that they'd never be the same, because at some level humanity had lost its innocence and naïveté with regards to the brotherhood of the nation. America had taken its own body blow and wasn't bouncing back. The sleep of those humans Charles could sense was restless at best and filled with nightmares and untold terrors.
Charles knew they were approaching a small village or town by the amount pain rolling towards him from the distance that was lit with the glow of candles and banked fires near barns. The emotions flowing from the people were heart sore and angry. It was all too human. And for Charles it was a feast. His fangs slid out without much thought as he and the vampire neared the humans. The woods were thinning and the animals that had been background noise for their hike were fading as humanity and all of its scents and complexities flooded his senses. It was a bouquet of emotions, lust, hatred, fear and love -- something for every vampire's taste.
"Slow down," it was the first words she'd spoken to him in at least three hours.
"Yes, ma'am," he carefully replied while dropping his brisk pace. He hadn't noticed that they'd been nearly running for the past hour but once he slowed down it was readily apparent. With the awareness came the hunger. The battle with the unknown predator vampire had created a hole in his senses. Whatever pleasure he attained from the vampire blade, as he now thought of his sword, was diminished and he was starving. He was wickedly hungry. He knew that it made it very bad to enter a town with fangs out and mindless need. Especially in light of the female's story about the growing new awareness of vampires in the Civil War, and adding in the fact that someone had told the humans how to kill them. Anyone showing up late in the night would be suspect at best.
"We need to skirt this town and enter from the North." She seemed to know the terrain so he nodded and simply followed her without any challenge. He knew perfectly well that it wasn't a town he'd ever been in, so there weren't any previous blood donors waiting in the wings for his bite. Over the years he'd traveled quite a ways for various reasons and had a few humans that he took sustenance from during the trips. This wasn't one of those places, and even in the distance he could feel the fears and anger rolling off the people in the town. They were in a panic about the War and the loss of their men and boys. Nighttime just brought out all the fears and concerns. The problem was that he was hungry now and didn't know how long he'd be able to wait. The vampire with him didn't seem to have the same problem and he didn't want to appear weak, so he kept his counsel.
The evening air was thick and the sky was still overcast. A light mist was keeping everything wet and sticky. All Charles wanted was just ten or twenty minutes inside one of those pain-filled homes. The anguish and sorrow would fill him better than a five-course meal at a top restaurant. His stomach grumbled and the vampire laughed softly.
"We will be where we should be soon." She seemed overly amused by his discomfort. He ignored her and tried to find Beau. It was like every other time he'd reached out for his older sibling -- fruitless and frustrating. Something of what he was feeling leaked out and he heard her say, "Don't worry, Charles, it'll all work out."
He wasn't so sure, but didn't bother challenging her. What good would it be after all? It wasn't like he could feel Beau in the area and that wasn't making him happy.
They continued on their silent trip and eventually she put up a hand. He automatically stopped and waited to see what was happening. The trail they'd been following was no longer an ass scratching narrow path but actually something resembling a decent track on which many people walked in and out of the woods during the day to gather berries and whatnot that made up their existence. Charles knew that there were many things in the woods that humans gathered that gave them pleasure or basic needs like firewood and fruit. Fitzhugh had often waxed on about the joys of gathering things in the woods. Charles always figured that was just another exaggeration in the long list of things Beau's man had talked about in order to impress Beau. Dismissing that thought, he regarded the scene before him. There were a few houses scattered in the distance, and Charles could hear the heartbeats of each occupant loudly. The siren call of their blood was hypnotic but he resisted.
Whispering nearly inaudibly she said, "We're going to that one." She pointed to the furthest house and he focused on the abode. There were two adults and one child sleeping roughly inside the home. One of the adults was half awake and worried. He didn't like sipping from children. It wasn't in his nature to prey on the youth. Their blood was richer once they'd lived a dozen or so years. He knew vampires who only sipped from the children. It wasn't ever his choice as he found it repugnant. The adults were both females, one was older and the other was the mother of the child. He wasn't sure if it was three generations or just a friend visiting the mother and child. He took a second and delved deeper and discovered it was in fact the mother's best friend. They were both sleeping fitfully. The War was on both of their minds.
Their sorrow was delicious and extremely tempting. He resisted shoving ahead of the vampire to find out why he was being led to them. His heart began thumping in time with the mother. Her anguish was exquisite, and layered with years of failure and hope entwined just enough to make her hold on for the next bump in the road. That was who he wanted to drink from if allowed. He pushed that thought aside. There was no reason that he couldn't simply follow his needs. Then he remembered that the vampire with him knew his name and his brother.
She sighed, "Charles, relax. All will be clear."
In silence they traveled the remaining bit of brush and dirt. In spite, it seemed to Charles, one last bramble reached out and caught him deeply in his left thigh. The scrape went through his clothes and ripped a good two inches of flesh open and the blood dripped down his leg reminding him of his hunger.
Stopping, she turned to him and said, "That's not helping."
Even though it was nice to know she, too, had some needs, it wasn't like he'd intentionally splayed open his body for her. He bit back any reply and simply followed. She took the hint and continued to walk. Their pace had slowed significantly as they approached humanity. She stopped at the gate of the home she'd pointed out to him a few minutes prior.
The gate that went to the woods was latched with a small piece of metal hooked through the bolt and it easily gave way to her fingers. A squeak resonated into the night from the movement of the gate. They walked towards the back door of the house on a narrow dirt path. On both sides there were signs of a half empty garden. With the fall the choices were slim in gardening, but still a tuft of greenery, a stray round shape or small bump or two that indicated there was still something growing in the dirt. Charles figured the vegetables were the root sorts, and maybe some squashes and herbs he concluded from the scents in the wind. The smell of lavender made him smile. He wasn't sure how easily it grew but the aroma was unmistakable. There was something about lavender that always made him smile. The back door opened slowly and a soft voice called out, "Who's there?"