When scouting the area with Julia before the meet, Jerry had been amazed how empty the area had become due to the evacuation notification. Even the guards at the gated community on the west side of the bridge had fled with the approach of the hurricane. The men and women who normally waved traffic through were gone and the gates were closed. Jerry wondered briefly if the humans inside were all gone or stuck inside their hallowed grounds hoping that the wind damage would be brief and not touch them due to their financial state. A smile briefly flashed over Jerry's face at that notion. He well knew that money didn't protect anyone in the long run when it came to nature. She wasn't a cruel mistress, but she didn't play favorites. It wasn't his problem but he was glad that the guards had bailed because it had allowed Julia and him to hide alongside the road without being detected. Much to the vampires' peril, that alone was worthy of a grin by Jerry, but he kept his grins in check because they weren't clear of the area yet and he had two vampires in the car that could prove to be problematic.
What really lingered in Jerry's mind was that the past few major storms that had unexpectedly turned into major hurricanes had left indelible memories nestled inside the survivors, not to mention all the physical damage on buildings that still could be seen. The week plus of no power that followed one such epic hurricane had given way to some new mandatory measures that were supposedly making it safer for everyone, but the collective memories of the suffering and chaos that decimated more than one community wasn't easily erased. That created some very alert humans -- that concerned Jerry. They could and would notice anything unusual that happened while they snuck glances out of their homes. Most of the windows were boarded up but he'd seen more than a few doors open and felt the lingering eyes of humans within watching and waiting.
The car continued on down the road, and Ben was still locked into his own mind, angry and battling Lenny in his nearly-forgotten memories of over a hundred years ago when they were terrorizing the battlefields of the Civil War. Lenny wasn't even conscious and the head of Celina wasn't snapping back to life any time soon so Jerry wasn't overly worried that something would happen to push Ben any further or cause him to resist. Ben's inward mental journey wasn't even noticing the changes in scenery and his lack of control. No, there was nothing to distract Ben from his musings, at least not until Jerry began to work his plot and plans to destroy the Vampire Council and whoever had betrayed him in his clan.
Julia followed Jerry's single word directions while he locked into Ben's twisted mind, trying to find a chink in the armor of his psyche. The Council's dog was strong even with all that he'd lost, from Jerry making Julia into a vampire by pulling from the collective vampire pool within hundreds of miles from him. Jerry recognized that he wouldn't have been able to delve as deeply into Ben's mind had he not performed the forbidden ritual to create Julia as his fledgling. The ancient ritual hadn't been prohibited four hundred years ago because vampires weren't living close to each other. With the rise of population -- over-population in Jerry's opinion -- of humans, there was a natural corresponding explosion within the vampire world. Predator versus prey; the stronger jumped into the foray to quell the number of humans littering the landscape. So when Jerry had created Julia he wasn't poaching on the energy of a few nearby vampires but instead a larger territory that spread out over the Eastern seaboard and down into the Caribbean and Mexico along with parts of Central America.
Jerry had feasted on far more Master Vampires than he'd ever imagined was possible. The resulting pull deadened the senses of all those he had pulled from and their fledglings. The ritual diminished all of their powers and talents, giving Jerry the energy and the skills. The sapped vampires would eventually gain back their strengths, but at fang point and outright slaughter. The vampire talent of glamour was lost by the magic, and any humans that were fed upon wouldn't be comforted with lovely butterfly kisses and thoughts of love, but instead, nightmares and horrific visions of death and blood. Mostly their own.
"Master?" Julia broke into his thoughts.
"Yes?" He wasn't ready to unlink from Ben, but let his fledgling talk.
"What will we do once we get to the warehouse?" She asked softly.
Carefully choosing his words Jerry answered, "We will ask Ben a few questions."
"What about Lenny?" She hesitantly questioned while swerving to avoid a car abandoned in the middle of the lane. The car was still running, but there was a large dumpster wedged into the middle of the grill. Jerry pondered why the human hadn't bothered to shut off the car, but then considering the damage, he didn't see that it would've made any sort of difference -- that car wasn't going to go anywhere.
"Lenny is what we call collateral damage." He offered.
She didn't say anything but jogged around a large tree that had been uprooted and splayed across most of the road.
Another beat of silence then, "So he's not worth our time? We can't change him?"
Her voice was soft but firm. Something pushed into Jerry'd mind.
"What are you seeing that I didn't?" He wasn't proud. He'd pushed so much into his fledgling's mind, that he lost track of that which was her core strength -- she had a natural perception that was strong and sound. So he wasn't going to ignore her. She had seen something that he'd missed in his haste to get Ben under his control.
Softly his fledgling said, "There's something in him I am not sure about and I think you need to see what I mean before he's destroyed." She wasn't telling Jerry not to kill the vampire, but check out whatever it was she'd noticed that he'd overlooked somehow.
Julia looked pensive while trying to avoid yet another stranded car in the middle of the road. She was talking about the vampire named Leonardo, whom Ben referred to with a snide snarl as Lenny. The Vampire Council had sent Lenny to explain to Ben the trouble he was in at the moment. Not just the fact that Jerry had drained the entire vampire pool dry for hundreds of miles, but that Ben's territory also had rogue vampires destroying the very fiber of the Council's rule. That alone should have been enough trouble, but once it was added in that the two vampires had a shared history, all sorts of things could happen. They probably had gathered that Jerry wasn't exactly the run of the mill vampire. If they even had given much thought to him. He didn't exactly look like he had when Ben had him snatched off the streets and his own territory dismantled like a house of cards. But he hadn't folded, simply took the time to figure out how he could defeat those that had harmed him.
So the beginning of the return to power had netted Jerry some interesting bits and pieces, part of which helped when Jerry'd discovered both Ben and Lenny knew each other far too well in the past. He'd found out while pushing through their minds, trying to find a key to breaking Ben; it was an opportunity too good to pass up without a bit of fun. They'd both been subdued by Jerry and Julia and then tossed into the car. Ben was next to him in the back seat and he was directly behind Julia to protect his fledgling from any harm if the vampires found their backbone or any sort of strength, which wasn't likely, but Jerry liked to be prepared. Good old Lenny was currently residing in the trunk with the severed hand and head of the currently not-so-lovely Celina Holston. That vampire wasn't coming back to fuck with Jerry ever again. But from what Julia was saying, Lenny could possibly be skipping a visit to the troll pond over by his work for at least another night or two.
Jerry Cooper couldn't detach his hold from Ben Richland to immediately check her story, but he heard his fledgling. Slowly he began to sift through some of the history he'd read between the two vampires and nodded. She was a perceptive vampire, he'd been slowly discovering. The impulse that drove him to create his first fledgling unassisted in over a century seemed to have been a damned good move.
"Julia, we will talk once we are at the warehouse. I think you may have something." He wasn't sure exactly what, but he knew that he'd made the mistake in the past of being too arrogant and presumptuous in his life for him to dismiss her thoughts and innate intuition without first examining the facts.
There were still a few hours until dawn, so Jerry wasn't in any rush. The hurricane that had blown through wasn't done with the area. The pit of his stomach was still tumbling and it wasn't because of bad blood. It was the dipping and flipping of the barometric pressure and the scent in the wind. He'd walked the earth long enough to realize that nature had her own way of taking back real estate. It sure seemed like this current series of storms were one of her tools.
He continued to direct his vampire through the streets until they arrived at the warehouse. It didn't take very long to get inside undetected. She got out of the car slowly and looked around the space, marveling at the set up.
"Sire, this is truly amazing. I smell something." She literally raised her nose and inhaled deeply. From the way she wrinkled her nose Jerry was pretty sure what she'd smelled. Giggling she said, "Cleaning fluids and dead vampire. The one who was in your trunk, right?"
She spun to him with an eager expression. Jerry enjoyed her enthusiasm but didn't want her getting ahead of herself.
"Fledgling, enough." He used his command voice.
She dipped her head and nodded slightly. Ben was still battling past wars in his mind from the backseat of the car, and Jerry made no move to let him free. He had to figure out how to handle two vampires now from what his fledgling had revealed. He bit back a sigh.
Some of Ben and Lenny's shared history began leaking back into his mind unbidden. Both of them were latched onto a situation at the same time, flooding his mind with their views of the memory. What he saw nearly rocked Jerry back on his heels. There was so much depth and information that Jerry was pulled into their memories nearly unbidden.
Along side a rising river
"Leonardo, come on! We need to get across before the water level makes it impossible to pass." Benjamin waved a hand in a rolling forward motion to his companion.
"Benji, my friend, if the water gets too high here we'll simply return to the road and find another place to hop across." Lenny didn't quicken his pace any. The moonlight was illuminating the riverbed along with the large flat rocks that spanned in skips and drops from one shore to the other. The night was just beginning to take form and the snowfall had temporarily abated, creating a fresh scene with little signs of humanity.
An owl swooped past them where they were standing on the southern shore and snatched a field mouse skittering across the snow. The dark fur was easily seen with the snowy landscape and the owl took advantage of the prey's ill-timed dash. The owl continued its silent flight with the mouse firmly gripped in its talons. In the moonlight the dripping blood appeared nearly black and the rodent's squeals were strangled quickly from the force of the owl's grasp. Nature at her finest.