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July 15, 2024

The Complex 24

By Lydia Manx

"Sire, I can't keep Ben under control for much longer. He's really starting to resist." His fledgling's voice was very stressed and Jerry Cooper knew that she wasn't kidding. Even while sucking down Lenny's blood Jerry knew what Julia, his fledgling, was talking about because he'd been there. In his dappled past he'd struggled with a stronger vampire more than once. He was happy to see that Julia was pushing back well and trying to conquer the older vampire. Hell, she was only a day old and she was deep inside the mind of a much older vampire.

With Lenny's blood flowing into Jerry's fangs he couldn't verbally reply so he slipped into her mind and thought, Give me a few more minutes.

Julia sighed and said aloud, "Okay, Master." She continued her struggle with the older vampire and allowed Jerry to feed off Lenny unbothered.

A few minutes later he slid Lenny's unconscious body into the open trunk while the winds swept the palm fronds down the street along with bits of paper and other debris that hadn't been slammed earlier into the cracks and crevices in the area. Julia looked relieved when Jerry joined her in the car behind her seat. She'd stuffed Ben into the back seat as they'd discussed, and he was busy mumbling about the wrongs and various persecutions that the Vampire Council had delivered on his doorstep. Jerry found it telling that Ben didn't take any responsibility for anything that he'd done in the past. Lenny's memories and thoughts were still crawling inside in Jerry's mind and he knew that Ben was good at shoving reality away while recreating his own history. Ben was excellent at recreating his memories to suit his fake reality.

Lightning fast, Jerry was yanked into a bit of Lenny's past with Ben. He didn't plan to watch but the blood he'd just taken spilled into his thoughts when he got closer to Ben. His body froze as he watched a shared slice of Leonard and Benjamin's world slide into his thoughts.

In the 1860s somewhere off the beaten track

Leonardo was dressed in the Union Army uniform of the Northern States. He wasn't happy standing in a random farmer's field holding a gun. He hadn't been given a choice. The Council had commanded him to head down South to see how the 'War' was progressing. Like vampires gave a damn about the humans and their petty squabbles, but he wasn't going to challenge the Council just yet. The vampires who'd chanced such things ended up missing -- permanently. So he'd come with his Council partner, Benjamin Richland, but the smoke from the cannons had covered the fields, distorting distances and hiding attackers. Benji had been lost in the last clash with the Southern boys and Leonardo couldn't sense him anywhere nearby the most recent fight. The scent of death hung heavily in the air, clouding his link to Ben.

Being a vampire amidst a sea of fresh, young succulent men fighting for their core beliefs was extremely awkward. He knew he couldn't slip into the boys and drain them of a pint or two of their tormented blood. They were too frail with loss of food and companions. The 'War' had tapped all the readily available food sources for the humans and with the irregular rail gauges that made up the railroad tracks that were scattered across the land there wasn't much in the way of the delivery of supplies. The humans were starving to death in the battlefields. Their spirits were too weak and they'd easily succumb to his vampire talents. He had to be careful since they would be missed. But he still was able to enjoy the anger and fears riding each of the boys play-acting at fighting in a war that couldn't be won. He well knew from America's history that the 'War' wasn't something that could ever be balanced. The recent history between them all was too layered and their fears too deeply seeded inside their souls. The dynamics of the South weren't the same as they'd been ten years ago. Humans were reluctant to admit that anything had changed even while machines were replacing humans. The slaves that had built much of the South weren't necessary, but luxuries with all the industrial changes taking place. The humans weren't willing to give up the cheap labor and that was fueling the flames.

Time wasn't in any of their favors. The world was spinning out of control and Leonard drank the sorrow and the pain but recognized that it was a poisoned well. Bittersweet and filled with sadness, it was nectar to the vampire, but the well would soon run dry. The 'War' was not going to be good for either side -- win or lose.

Quickly Jerry had found that he was being mentally yanked into a combination of both Lenny's past with Ben Richland -- his arch nemesis as far as he was concerned -- he hadn't been expecting such a visual tale of their shared past; he was being nearly overwhelmed with the images. Since he'd also just finished drinking enough vampire blood from good old Lenny to put him into a comatose state that would require Lenny to drink from a fresh victim before he'd be able to move, he knew that it was partially his fault. He didn't mean a polite little pint or two; Lenny would pretty much have to drain the human dry, hell maybe two, in order to think, much less move with what he'd taken from the Council's vampire. And Jerry didn't plan on offering up any tasty treats for the drained vampire, so that wouldn't be happening any time soon.

The odd thing was that after Jerry had pushed his fangs into Lenny he had naturally found out some of Lenny's history, which wasn't unheard of when draining human victims, but could be overwhelming with a vampire memory flooding his mind. Afterwards he'd slid Lenny into the trunk of the car, then he'd taken over the mental control of Ben from Julia. His fledgling, Julia, was far more talented than he could have ever hoped for, but she still was fresh. He'd created her only a day before and the forbidden turning ritual he'd used was stronger than he'd remembered, but she still was young. Her state of newness meant she wasn't able to immediately do everything; she had to learn. The oddness came as he hadn't planned to watch the history of both Lenny and Ben: the blood he'd just taken spilled into his thoughts, so that when he got close to Ben, slipping into Ben's mind in order to keep him under control, things got complicated. He would have preferred to waltz through their shared past when he wasn't under the gun to keep Ben controlled and Julia still functioning. Instead his body froze as inside his mind he watched a major slice of Leonard and Benjamin's world slide into his thoughts. Their combined history layered upon each other's memories and it was a vignette that played unbidden in Jerry's mind.

"Hey, Mister. Can you come here?" a small whispery voice called out and Leonardo spun around to see who was hailing him. There wasn't anyone that he could see. It wasn't yet morning so the visibility wasn't hig,h even with his vampiric enhanced senses.

Leonardo looked around carefully to try to find where the voice was coming from as the smoke from the morning campfires added to the ground fog and dawn had yet to even begin to brighten the gray and black chiaroscuro world. He didn't immediately see anyone talking. But then the fog was thick along the ground ebbing and flowing with the breezes shoving dawn ever so closer. As he figured dawn was another half hour off but that didn't stop the army from moving their pawns into the firing range. The cautiously banked fires were adding more scents to the pre-dawn morning rituals of food and clean up while masking any weaker scents.

It wasn't a voice Leonardo easily recognized from the camp he'd been loosely associated with for the 'War'. He'd yet to find Ben but he didn't feel any distress from his vampire companion so he pushed down that concern. The voice hissed out again, "Mister, can't you hear me? The cannons make you deaf?"

The voice wasn't as young as the words first sounded and there was a taunting tone to the questions. Leonardo could hear a trace of a southern drawl with some teeth behind the pseudo innocence. He'd be more than happy to show the upstart real teeth. First he needed to find out where the human was hiding. The thickets that nestled near the woods were sharp and not easily negotiated without giving up skin at times. Knowing this, Leonardo followed the very light scent of flesh torn open by the brambles. The scent was there, faintly, letting him know that whoever was hailing him had not been that way recently. Possibly the man had found a warmer spot in the woods to hole up and sleep. The chilly weather and cutting winds made more than one soldier sick and at times they even died. No fault of his or Ben's either -- not those deaths -- but he did figure a few of the corpses scattering the battlefields weren't always from lead poisoning.

"Mister, you are almost there." There was a definite sharper more predatory tone in the human's voice as Leonardo saw the brush near was thinning and a small clearing was visible just a few feet further inside the woods by the trail that he'd been following. He hadn't intentionally meandered in that direction but he simply followed the blood scent. There were a few nocturnal animals trying to clear out of his way as he increased his stride, suddenly impatient with the mystery. The trees had wisps of fog clinging to the branches like cotton candy on sticks. The smoke from a recently-extinguished fire added surrealism to the scene. Because it truly was a well-staged trap for the unknowing, Leonardo could smell the treachery on the man huddled in a threadbare blanket with his back up against a tree. For all appearances, the man was injured and needing of assistance.

But then as Leonardo well knew -- appearances could be deceptive -- very deceptive when the need arose. A hunger from within him rose to meet the challenge. For the man was cunning and hungry in another predatory way. One that Leonardo recognized, but also was respectful of at times. This just wasn't one of those particular times for Leonardo, since he could smell another man just a bit further inside the woods. The trap was designed to disarm the naïve and still help the wary not feel vulnerable before the jaws could snap shut on the potential victim. Leonardo couldn't smell any other humans within shouting distance, but he did catch a glimpse of Ben's mind just the other side of the hidden scoundrel. It looked like both vampires would soon be having a delightfully hot meal for a change.

Taking a second to meet up with Ben's mind he found his companion had come upon the same conclusion. The well-laid trap was to be sprung on Leonardo then Ben would help Leonardo liberate the blood from both of the men's bodies. Ben and Leonardo both slipped into the minds of the two scoundrels and easily discovered that neither of the men were actually soldiers for either side. They each had stolen uniforms from the corpses of dead men from both sides of the war. It depended on where they were who wore which bloody, torn uniform. They staged mock fights with each other in opposing uniforms and when the victim came to help they would rob the dupe. They had used this ruse quite successfully for months. At first they were just stealing from soldiers, but as that grew boring, they began taking an interest in seeing how much pain they could inflict on the young men and boys fighting for their honor and their families. They were partners in crime, enjoying the cruelty they easily dished to those trying to help.

Ben's thoughts dovetailed with Leonardo's that it was time to show them what pain really felt like, because in the past few weeks the two villains had kicked up their little game and begun killing their victims just to savor the feeling. They were utterly mad with power and stupid about the coming reality. The one resting near the tree moaned as Leonardo drew closer.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-05-21
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