"Natasha!" Again it was the demanding voice.
There wasn't any attempt at being kind. My stomach ached at the thought of his mentalyl abusing me again, but I flipped around a thought in my mind. If I spoke maybe he'd finally stop trying to injure me. I really didn't care much because I was captivated by what Renee was telling Charles back in 1863. It was obvious she hadn't known about the Asian vampire minion that had been used for blood donors for many decades before Beau had his idea. That Beau was grooming Southern towns for his grand scheme unbeknownst to the vampire council had me on the edge of my seat.
"Yes?" I softly hissed. I knew my fangs were out in my mouth wherever I was.
I felt his start of surprise and he bit out, "Tell me what you see!"
Laughing, "Everything." And I jumped for the gray with my fangs first.
1963 South Carolina: basement in a house on the edge of a small town in the fall ...
"Yes, Charles," Renee answered slowly, "Beau decided to create a bloodline that was pure."
Charles felt another twist at what his brother had been designing without his knowledge. That he never had a single notion what had been happening made him feel even more lost. There had always been something hidden in Beau but to find out it was an entire scheme to create a donor bloodline for vampires out in the backwoods of America was truly crazy. He didn't know how to react.
Renee paced in front of where Charles had been sleeping. She seemed to be working out how to say the next tidbit. Sighing she dropped down next to Charles and said, "There's more."
He'd already figured that out, but he kept his mouth shut and waited.
Renee continued slowly, "Beau knew me from before."
Charles wasn't sure what 'from before' denoted. So again he kept his counsel and let the vampire speak in her own time.
"Before he truly knew what a vampire could be," she added. Still wasn't any clearer to Charles than a muddy, brackish pond. His skin crawled with nervous energy and he found the blade was in his hand. He knew that he wouldn't take Renee's head but still the sword filled a void inside him. He wasn't going to like what she was going to disclose; he knew this deep inside his heart.
"Beau's always been obsessed with lineage," Renee continued -- something Charles already knew but he didn't interrupt her. She was nervous enough without his adding into the mix his own thoughts on the matter.
"Before the war started, he'd figured out that the slavers weren't going to last forever. The freed slaves back in the 1820's -- the ones that headed to Africa with the backing of a grand government plan to colonize Liberia? Anyway, Beau figured that was just a foreshadowing for the future. There were laws against slave trading making their way around the world that weren't making it easy for the slavers to continue to plying their brand of human relocation." She sighed and said, "He talked at length about how so many of the slaves were being made obsolete by technology and time. He figured out that a war or some type of conflict was inevitable because there were far too many men trying to rule, and there wasn't a good plan for making the transition between a slave-based agriculture and the newer machines making their way into society. Cotton wasn't doing the same trade it had, and there was more than a bit of worry about what would happen with all the young men now that they had so much free time on their strong hands."
She resumed her pacing while Charles stroked the hilt of the sword. "Naturally, what followed for Beau was concern that with war travel would be restricted. Something you both had experienced before in Europe, he told me." She paused as she let Charles absorb how much Beau had revealed to her.
He was beyond stunned. Beau and Charles barely mentioned what had happened to them in Europe even after all these decades. The horrors they'd gone through as vampires wasn't something either of them took lightly. So to find out that Beau had been discussing all their ordeals with Renee was a blow.
Seeing that Charles was slowly swallowing what she had to tell him, Renee took a deep, unnecessary breath, and said, "So he decided to start culling from the surrounding areas and helping along the breeding stock. We would travel out to the small towns and rural remote areas and help push certain people to mate with others. I didn't truly understand all of what he had planned at first. He'd told me it was to strengthen humanity for the conflicts ahead. And he was correct about those. Various skirmishes and fights were occurring more and more even before the Civil War started. The Indians had been killing out West, and locally when they could, trying to get back some of their lost fortunes. Beau took care to make sure the women chosen were strong and smart. He said motherhood's a fact and fatherhood's an act of faith. That didn't prevent him from pushing a few minds this way and that when he needed to create a bond between certain families."
Still shocked by the news, Charles kept quiet and looked at her with growing dismay. She didn't seem to grasp what Beau actually had been doing at first, but once she knew what was going on she didn't stop from what he saw. He now understood that Wren, Willow's child, was the result of one of the unions that Beau had orchestrated. He wondered if Rose was also part of the experiment. He didn't see a way to ask that without sounding interested in the women. Renee already didn't trust him with them, and he didn't see any need to push that button again.
"We were working on perfecting the strain of healthy children throughout this area when the war broke out. This is the first time I've had a chance to come back and see how everyone is. The house you went to last night and drank from a human -- did you notice anything different in the blood? Tell me everything." She stood over him staring intensely into his face waiting for his answer.
Charles thought about what she was asking. He hadn't over thought the feeding until she asked. He'd been hungry after fighting the mad vampire they'd killed near the battlefield. The long walk to the town hadn't helped his hunger and now he was recalling the human.
"She was in her mid-to-late forties. She had her iron gray hair braided down the middle of her back and had been sitting in the living room feeding her hearth some small pieces of wood. I knocked on the door and stood back from the threshold. She cautiously opened the door and asked what did I want. I told her that I was on my way back to the battlefields having just come from burying my kin, and if she minded if I took a cup of water from her well. She fluttered around for a minute, and then said not to be foolish and come in and warm my bones while she got me a cup of soup. She apologized as she went to her kitchen for the thinness of the soup but it was all she had to offer." Charles stroked the sword again, not even conscious of the fact. Renee nodded and waited. She understood he'd tell the story in his own way.
"Once she came back with the soup and a hunk of bread apologizing for not being able to bring me more. I thanked her for her kindness and then slid into her mind gradually. She ended up eating the food once I was done drinking from her, all the while thinking she'd been doing a good old boy a kindness for the war." Charles was still mulling over the blood now that Renee had called his attention to it.
"The blood tasted older, like a fine bottle of wine, than her appearance. She should have been an old crone bent in half with nearly a century of living behind her. She was complex and filled with fears for the war and that the way of life was changing so rapidly. She mused about her childhood and how quickly time passed," Charles was finished.
"That was probably Jubilee Crenshaw. She just turned ninety-eight last month if I am not mistaken," Renee revealed while watching Charles stagger under the news.
"What have you been doing here?" It was also dawning on him that maybe Rose and Willow weren't as young as they appeared. That was probably why they were so vibrant and deeply filled with sorrow.
"Beau started feeding the humans back as he fed. It created a slowing of everyone's aging process. Together we worked this entire town over the years and then gave them false memories about when and where they'd been born." Renee looked a bit pensive.
"What -- that is now bothering you? Why only now?" Charles was upset with Beau and snarling at Renee. The sword glowed slightly in his palm reminding him that there was more going on than ever and he needed to have support not enemies.
She cringed and said, "I know. But Beau explained to me that it was critical to the proper lineage into the mix."
Charles had heard much about lineage over the years with Beau and knew he was more than a little obsessed on the subject. He hadn't realized that Beau had been acting on it. And he wondered if Fitzhugh, Beau's nasty minion, had been part of the experiment or had been just in the dark as he was.
"Last time we were here, Wren caught a very nasty cold and wasn't responding to any of the local remedies. I could feel how close she was to giving up. Then I woke up one night and knew that she was dying. She wasn't going to make it another sunrise, so I mixed some of my blood into a tea. Her mother had her sip the brew during the night and into the next day. I had to leave so I wasn't sure how effective my treatment had been. Ever since then I have been craving her. Not to drink but like a mother does her child when they are apart." Shaking her head she added, "I knew then that Beau had created something beyond just strong humans to feed from. They were dependent on us as much as we are on them."
It made sense in a sick way, but Charles knew what she was talking about and it chilled him to the bone. Beau had made something truly horrendous out in the middle of nowhere. Because the town was so cut off from everyone it meant that the changes in the people hadn't been noticed by anyone. Rural locations on the back roads of America weren't planned destinations for most people with the war on everyone's minds. Charles wondered how long Renee and Beau had been building the bloodlines. So he asked.
"How many towns, and how long was this going on?" Renee had the grace to look away.
"Quite a few." She gave a non-answer.
"Okay, more than ten towns or less?"
"How many years?"
"A few decades." Something dropped inside his stomach. That was bad news. And another thought occurred to him.
"Were you the only vampire working with him?" Renee sighed.
"I don't think so."
Charles asked, "So why don't you think so? Did he tell you or introduce you to others?"
"No, it was something that he once said. I just got the feeling that there were at least two more vampires working with him." Renee shook her head ruefully. "Beau can be very convincing."
Charles sighed, "Tell me something I don't already know."