Awake or Dreaming Chapter 1 Her bed was extremely hard and cold.

Time for a new mattress, she thought. Starr reached around for her blanket, but only felt the surface of something smooth and hard. She opened her eyes and propped up on her elbows. Through narrowed eyes, she looked for her blanket, but, instead, saw that she wasn’t even in bed; she was lying on a cold black table. Thinking she was dreaming, she rubbed her eyes, roughly. When she reopened them, panic enveloped her. She looked around the room, but nothing looked familiar. Except for a single set of red velvet curtains, the room was plain; the walls were bare and white, and the wood floor was dusty.

Then she noticed that the thick ray of moonlight that beamed across the room, from between an opening in the curtains, was disrupted by something at the foot of the table. Propping herself up higher on her elbows, she noticed it looked like an altar. The moonlight was snuffed out, for a few seconds, leaving Starr in complete darkness. Carefully, she got off the table and walked to the window. She pulled back the curtains, looked out, and saw that a small hive of bats had just passed, and were flying off for a night hunt. Looking down, she saw she was on the second story of an unfamiliar stone house. There were a couple acres of mown lawn. A mile or two out was a drop off that was barely visible through a large mass of fog rising upward. She turned back to the dark room.

Using her power of remote viewing, a form of extra sensory perception, she sensed the rest of the house to see if anyone else was there, but there was not. Starr turned her attention to the altar. On it, laid a few burned down candles, a bowl of salt, a dagger and a silver goblet with a rosary draped across it. Starr noticed a charred smoke smell, about the place. Looking down, she realized the smell came from her, as her pajamas were ripped, stained, and ashy. A painful twinge shot down her neck, making her whole body jump. She rubbed her neck and made to get a closer look at the items. Immediately, she took interest in a black leather book that lay in the center of them all.

On the front, etched in gold letters, were the words Necro-Grimoire. Although the pages were written in Latin, Starr could tell that it was a very special book. The Grimoire’s paper was heavier than books of today, and the edges of it were really rough, almost as if they’d been cut. Judging by the smell that came from the book, it was old, too. Starr didn’t know, exactly, what a Necro-Grimoire was, though she’d heard similar words in movies. If she were still alive, her pulse would have quickened; not only was she somewhere she didn’t remember coming to, but to find such items so close to her, upon waking, scared her. She put the book in her pajama pants pocket and made to leave the room. Whoever brought her there must not have realized that simple locks couldn’t keep her in.

Gently, she applied more pressure to turning the doorknob, breaking the lock easily. Even though she sensed that she was alone, there was always the possibility that someone was masking their thoughts or their scent. Slowly, she poked her head out of the door. The hall was large and empty of any decorations as well: no tables, chairs, pictures, or anything, just dust. Quietly, she made her way down the dark stairwell. The bottom floor of the house was just as empty of furniture, or any personal touches, as was the upstairs. When she stepped onto the bottom landing, she was instantly distracted by the moon, which appeared so large and white through the living room’s glass door that it looked as if it were sitting on the grass.

Momentarily entranced, she walked across the Spanish tile floors, and slid back the glass door, breaking the little metal latch, absentmindedly. The sky was blackish, and the fog felt moist and fresh on her skin. She walked across the grass to the drop off, and then peered down into the houses on the lower incline of the hill. She heard thoughts, like little whispers in her ears, coming from below. In one grey stone dwelling, two people argued as they got ready for bed. On the other side of town, a couple made love as their teenage daughter climbed out of a window. Many miles to her right, several bored teenagers horsed around, in a marsh, drinking booze they’d stolen from their parents: two of them weren’t wearing shoes, for some reason. Starr could smell their blood all the way from where she stood.

One of them went to urinate in the marshy water of the river. She sensed the animal, lurking, even before it stirred the surface of the water; it was hungry and knew it needed to put the colorless beast down, fast, or he’d get away. It leapt out with lizard-like reflexes, scaring the kid into a backwards stumble onto the muddy ground. The alligator waddled on top of the kid, quickly. Hearing him scream, the others ran, from out of the trees, to help. Suddenly, she wanted to be there; not so much to help the guy, but to see the animal whose hunger she could feel. Never had she had such a connection with an animal before. How was she to get there? She was so far away? But, then, almost as if her inner demon were answering her, she levitated.

From below, she could hear the teens shouting. She commanded her body to go, fast. And she did, fast like the wind she flew down to the spot where the largest, of them, was attempting a back grip on the alligator. One of the other kids held a shotgun, pointed at the animal’s head, and screamed at his buddy, telling him to try to get out from under it so he could shoot. Her feet touched down amongst the clump of trees to their right, but they were too busy to notice. She walked out, pushed the large kid away, and yanked the alligator off by the tail. The alligator was angered, and it looked at Starr with complete ferocity. She could feel the animal’s surprise; it felt hunger, fear and rage all at once. It wanted to rip, tear and kill her, right there on the spot. Uncontrollably, a growl issued from her throat, as is what happens,

sometimes, when in danger: a vampire’s demon, within, would take over, and there was no stopping it. She felt her fangs protrude, and they reached down to their full length, lightly touching her lower gums. The alligator looked like it wanted to charge her, but it was entranced by her eyes. Starr felt her power over the animal, and it excited her. Go back to the water, she commanded, into its mind. The alligator obeyed. Fascinated, she watched it walk backwards into the water, and sink below the surface. As she watched, it occurred to her that something was seriously wrong, for she’d never done any of the things she’d just done, before. Yes, she was a strong vampire, but she was young; less than two years

old. For most, it took at least a century for new fledglings to grow into all their new powers. Until her waking, a few moments ago, she’d never been able fly, talk to animals, or sense people from miles away. Combine these things with the fact that she had no recollection of how or where she was, and the situation didn’t look good. Starr needed answers right away, but she had the strangest feeling she needed to be somewhere, at the moment. Her neck twinged again, distracting her from her thoughts. “How in the hell did you do that?” asked one of the young men, in a terribly thick southern accent. But when she turned, he screamed and ran off, shouting, “Demon! Courir!” They ran as quickly as they could.

Starr just stared at the backs of them. Judging by the man’s accent, and use of the word courir, she must be in Louisiana, somewhere, but why and how? She sat on the bank and watched the water, trying to remember anything. The alligator poked its head out of the water. Its large yellow eyes watched her, curiously. The last thing she remembered was saying goodbye to her parents, but that had to have been a few days ago. Slowly, the alligator walked up the bank of the marsh, and then lay down in front of her, watching her with its mouth partly opened. Then she heard someone rustling in the trees, and the cocking of a rifle. Superstitious swamp folk had banded together, and were coming to

kill her; another strange thing, for Starr was not, normally, a telepath. Go, she said into the alligator’s mind. It slithered back down the bank, and sank under the water. She stood up and moved into the trees, away from the clearing. Hearing the small mob’s thoughts, she realized they thought she was one from the new vampire species; the ones that were more like rabid dogs, rather than supernatural humans. “Stop,” she yelled through the trees. “I’m not like them.” An old man shouted, in French, “Diable,” and shot aimlessly in her direction. Starr could have stopped him, but she decided to walk on down the river bank.

~~~ She didn’t make it to another town until sunup. Yes, she could have flown, but she didn’t know where she wanted or needed to be. Walking was just something to do, for the moment, while she tried to figure it all out. The town was a dusty old place where the people all wore dirty overalls. Many of them appeared to have never learned about teeth brushing while others didn’t care for shoes. She must have been a sight to see, too, for they stared, hard, at her. Still unsure of what to do, she continued until she reached the other end of town, where she sat on a dusty bench and watched the river ripples. A dirty blue truck caught her attention as it blew up dust and rattled its way to a red wooden restaurant some hundred feet to her right.

The sun reflected off a silver metal box, next to the entrance door: it was a pay phone. Eagerly, she went to make a phone call, but as she lifted the hand piece, she realized she didn’t know any numbers; she always relied on her cell phone for that. Whenever she got new ones, she’d enter the numbers into her memory card and never think of them again. Damn! she cursed. She looked at the phone’s address which was printed beneath a piece of plastic above the numbers; it said Red River, LA. Just then, the door to the restaurant opened, and out came a man with a cigarette in his hand. “You gonna use the phone?” asked the man. Starr shook her head and moved aside.

Coming from the restaurant, the whispering and thoughts of so many people was a bear. More than anything, she wished she could silence them. When the man sparked a match, the fire caught Starr’s eye, for some reason. She stared at the little orange flame, feeling, again, like she needed to be somewhere, and then like water breaking down a dam, memories flooded her mind. “Oh my!” she gasped, and sank to her knees. She was talking to Bielz when the landing, they stood on, collapsed, and they were buried under the crumbling fiery cabin. Covered in rubble, and her neck reinjured, she couldn’t move. She thought she was going to die, but was rescued by Credenza, who was the leader of a world vampire police organization. Flying into the night was the last lucid thing she remembered.

She felt another twinge in her neck which she rubbed. Lucenzo beheaded her, a few weeks ago, and, up until being rescued by Credenza, she was in recovery, and had only begun to move on her own, when the fire had been set. Credenza must have done something to heal her. But, what? And why bring her to Louisiana? Oh well, she said to herself. It didn’t matter because she needed to find the others and make sure they were okay. Anything else would just have to wait. With that thought, she took off into the air to find them.

Next Door Over Chapter 2 Flying long distance was something that took a little getting used to. Direction, while in the air, was hard to grasp. Somehow, animals always knew which way they wanted to go though. Using the idea that she was, now, more animal than human, she told herself, repeatedly, that she wanted to go northeast, back to the cabin’s sight, and back to the kids. Although she landed in the wrong state, twice, it worked, for she made it onto the bank of Lake George, in New York, by the time the first stars, in the sky, began to shine. Evidence of the fire was still present. The sky had a nasty brown tinge, and the setting sun looked bright cherry red through it. Then she noticed, as she looked around, that the cabin wasn’t the only

thing affected by the fire, but so was the entire side of the bank. For nearly ¼ of a mile, from where she stood, all the trees on the upper part of the bank were burnt up. On the lower half of the bank, the trees that hadn’t been burned were black and charred, and all their leaves lay in piles of ash at their bases. Another thing that seemed to have improved, since she woke in Louisiana, was her sight. As she looked through a barrage of charred trees, a mile down, she saw that another cabin had been burned to the ground; the only thing left was its cement foundation. She went to the pile of blackened junk that was, once, the cabin where she and the homeless kids, from the clinic, stayed. Starr kicked up the dirt and rubble, wondering if her beloved ruby studded sickles had survived the fire, or even the sterling silver and nickel

nunchucks Antony had given her, before he vamped out, forcing her to rip off his head. As she kicked up the rubble, she stopped over a particular spot of ash. She could smell her there; the one who set the fire. Bielz died on that spot. A smoldered scent of flesh, burnt to a crisp, still resonated on the blackened bits of wood and debris. Distracting her from her thoughts came whispering from further along the bank. Listening intently, she tried to hear if it were the kids. The trees rustled, violently, from many yards away. There were many of them coming: the new species of vampires, and they were hungry. Quickly, she looked for something to behead them with. She dug through the rubble, and tossed random chunks of material aside, hoping to find one of the machetes they always kept by the

side of the house, but there was nothing. It was too late; they were nearing. Her inner demon wasted no time; her fangs drew, and she felt her skin grow warm, and her night time vision became even clearer.

Quickly, she ran up to the first vampire and gave it a jumping front kick to the face, sending his head spinning, flying over the trees. For a split second, she stood stock still, in surprise. The kick, and separation of the vamp’s head, seemed too easy; almost like punting a football, there was little resistance. In that moment, she realized that, not only had she acquired new powers, but that her strength had greatly increased. Two vamps came at her, from behind, but she didn’t turn, like she

normally would have, for she could hear and calculate their movements. Together, they put their hands on her shoulders, and opened their mouths to bite her neck. Starr reached up and, like inserting her fingers into a bowling ball, grasped them by their heads, digging her nails into their craniums, feeling the bone break inward, and the softer flesh within; she yanked their heads off their bodies. Four more vampires came at her. In the stance of a perfect port de bras doing a flat footed pirouette, she made a 360 degree turn, using the heads to bat off the skulls of the first two oncoming vampires. She smirked as she looked down and saw how the skin had nearly, entirely, been ripped away from the skulls: her hand was the only thing keeping the heads together.

Before, it would have taken a lot of work for her to kill that many vampires, but now it was so easy. There were still two more left. She dropped the bloody skulls on the ground. One thing she’d always wanted to try, on someone, was a flying kick. Combined with her new power, she expected it to be quite fun. Starr readied herself in a straight stance, a second, then ran and leapt into the air with her leg at an angle, flying her foot into its head, spattering blood everywhere, and all over her pajamas. “Yuck!” she said aloud, and told herself she’d never do that again. Then, suddenly, the last vampire, a big fat beast of about six and a half feet came at her. His body was the shape of a whale, he was unusually strong, and his hands were huge.

When he grabbed her by the shoulder and yanked her toward him, fury and rage boiled in her. She pushed up his wrists, stood back and made to strike, but she merely side kicked her foot into flame. The vampire screamed and fell to the ground as his body combusted. It took a moment for her to realize what she’d done. The only people she knew who could set fire through kinesis, alone, were Credenza and a vampire who worked for her, Alin. What could all these new abilities mean? she wondered. Did Credenza, somehow, transfer powers to her? Did it mean she was in Credenza’s debt? If so, she would have a fight on her hands, because one thing Starr had said, over and over, was that she wanted to be left alone.

Someone called her name, from the trees higher up on the bank: it was Lily. Lily had been bitten, weeks ago, by the new species of vampire. After, she immediately turned into a mindless organ eating, blood drinker, like the others, but, with the help of Lucenzo – the one responsible for the viral outbreak that turned thousands of people into the raging monsters – she had managed to hold onto her humanity. “What are you doing here?” Starr asked surprised. “We never left,” she replied. “How did you do that?” “Set him on fire? I’m not exactly sure,” Starr said, as she took a couple of steps towards her. Lily stepped back with a look of fright in her eyes.

“Why are you afraid of me?” Starr asked, feeling a little surprised by her instinct to retreat. “You’re,” she paused, “different.” “So are you,” said Starr, taking in her appearance. It was almost as if she’d never been bit. Not only was the sickening pheromone smell gone - a cinnamonlike scent the new vampires had - , but her eyes were no longer dilated and her skin was rosy, instead of waxy white. “Well, I should go,” she turned. “Wait,” Starr said, and walked up to stop her. Unaware of her increase in natural speed, such as walking, she appeared in front of Lily, with her hand on her shoulder, within a second. Lily gasped and asked, “How did you move so quickly?”

“I…,” she trailed off, wondering what she should say. After a moment, she repeated, “don’t know.” Starr couldn’t help but be amazed at her healthy appearance. Before, she was constantly drooling with a zoned out look on her face, like a zombie from a movie. “Are you infected, still?” “Yes, but the virus doesn’t have as strong of a hold on me anymore.” “Is Lucenzo still treating you?” “Yeah,” she drawled, and her voiced quavered. Ignoring her discomfort, she asked, “Where is he?” “I won’t tell you. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t even be here, right now. I can’t let you hurt him, because that would be hurting me.” Starr just watched her. She didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t want to hurt…” “I gotta go,” Lily interrupted. Starr watched her walk into the trees. When she’d made it, approximately, ten yards away, Starr went in after her. When Lily turned her head backwards, at the sound of a crunching leaf, Starr levitated and continued after her. She followed her further up the bank to a large three story cabin some miles out. Heavily surrounded by trees, it stood in the nook of a rock hill, next to a large red barn. Starr watched Lily walk up the three wood steps, across the porch and through the front door. She was about to follow her inside, but, then, she felt an insatiable hunger for blood coming from the barn next to the cabin.

Quickly, she probed it with her mind. What she saw filled her with fear and anger. Inside there were a dozen or more naked vampires. Clearly, Lucenzo had experimented on them, as some were missing arms and legs – it was easy to see that they’d been neatly cut off - , and others had needle marks on their skin and faces. They lay on top of each other, like stacked books, with eyes open, thinking and dreaming of blood. There were several rows of the vampires piled in stacks of ten. How did he get them to behave like that? she wondered. Feeling like she could throw up, even though she weren’t alive, she turned her focus to the house. Lucenzo had cooked dinner, and Lily sat at the table and proceeded to tell him that she saw Starr.

Well, you might as well come in, Lucenzo whispered telepathically into her mind. She would have liked to have gone in… gone in and killed him for beheading her, but it was only for Lily that she didn’t. The cabin had enormous ceilings that rose up into the third floor, and the kitchen and living room were one large space. There were cozy looking couches and a large screen television in the living room section. Behind them was a counter, around which Lucenzo and Lily sat with a casserole dish in their midst, and table settings in front of them. “I’m glad to see you are better,” he said, as he stood up to give her a kiss on the cheek. She side stepped around him, and sat at the empty chair. “Well,” he said, surprised by her speed, “You’ve healed fast. Normally, a beheading, if reattached immediately,

can take months and months,” he said happily. To hear him speak of nearly killing her as though he’d only stepped on her foot made her livid. “What kind of sick things are you doing to the vampires in the barn?” she asked, trying to repress her anger. “Well, I’m using them to create vaccines,” he said vibrantly, as he went to the cabinet, picked up a plate, and sat back down. “You’re making a vaccine to help those you’ve infected?” He pulled the casserole over to himself, and piled some onto the plate, and then set it in front of Starr. Lily remained silent and looked from Lucenzo to Starr, repeatedly. “We can’t possibly save everyone, Starr.”

“You realize the Fleet has gone on a mass mission to exterminate all the vampires?” “Well, they shall not succeed,” he smirked, and looked straight at her with his crystal blue eyes. Starr picked up the fork he set in front of her, and contemplated her chances of killing him with it. Feeling him watching her, she made to take a bite in an attempt to mask her thoughts, but paused and asked, “Why did you release the virus?” “For the same reason as before: to change the world.” “Before…” said Starr thoughtfully, remembering back to her time with Chanler in the Transcarpathian Mountains. He mentioned that it was one person who was responsible for all the vampire outbreaks in the last thirty years, but that they always failed to track him down.

Lucenzo pushed his long red hair back, and took a bite of his casserole. “Lily, Sweetie, eat,” he said. Starr continued to watch him, and then he said, “I did it so we don’t have to live in the shadows; so we don’t have to hide anymore; so we can start a new world. Just think of all the things we, vampires, could do: eliminate the need for government, no more hungry people, even homelessness would no longer be an issue. If we could turn the brilliant minds of today, and have them always, we could have some major technological advancement, even space travel would be more attainable. I want to see man progress faster. Perhaps man could never survive the atmosphere of Mars, but just maybe a vampire could.” Starr didn’t know what to say. His argument seemed fascinating to her, but she still thought his actions were wrong.

After a moment of silence, she asked, “Where are your friends? Nico, Kris, and Mick? Have they been working with you all along?” “They’re fine,” he said, as he took another bite of casserole. “And your brother, Fernand?” “Fine,” he repeated. “Where’s Amir?” Amir was the vampire in league with Lucenzo. He set down his fork and sighed, loudly. “These questions are pointless. I’m not going to tell you anything,” he said. “Lily’s missed you, so why not eat and let’s talk like we used to.” “After what you did to me, I cannot,” she said angrily, as she stood up to leave. “The only reason we don’t fight is for Lily’s sake.”

She left the cabin, and walked down the steps. Then, as she walked into the trees, she got a familiar tickle in her ear. She rubbed it but it turned into a buzzing. A moment later, she was down on her knees. Starr was getting a vision: Chanler was in a room, calling for her. Next thing she knew, she was flying through the air. She didn’t know where she was going, but her inner demon seemed to know that she needed to reach Chanler.

War Time Chapter 3 She landed on a grass field, before a clean and narrow street. Across from where she stood was a row of cement buildings, with thick bullet proof glass panes that went on for a couple of miles. Starr scanned their insides, trying to see if anyone were in them. At the furthest end to her left, she heard a discussion taking place. Looking in, she saw a dim lit room where a dozen men in suits sat at a table discussing. Some of the Fleet members were there, listening. The Fleet was an organization of enforcers, put together by Credenza to make vampires oblige human law, and, when they didn’t, see to their extermination. She walked the mile or so to the furthest end of the drive. When she approached the large glass door, she

leaned her head against the glass and looked in. Inside, there was an empty check-in counter and a door right behind it; to her left, a set of doors; to her right, two elevators. She pressed the bar of the door and found that it was locked. Gently, she applied more pressure, but it didn’t respond. Annoyed, Starr looked down at the metal panel with the green flashing light, below the bar. Using her mind, she looked inside the metal and focused her kinesis on burning out the wired board inside. After a moment, it hissed and sparked, and the light went out, but the door still wouldn’t open. She stood back and braced herself, and then, using all her strength, she kicked in the door, breaking the bullet proof glass into several parts, sending a large chunk of it flying back, and tripping an alarm.

Lights blinded her eyes with flashing red and white as a most annoying siren raided her ears, making her recoil. Although her ears and eyes had increased in strength, it seemed they had become more sensitive, too. Pressing her hands onto the sides of her head, she forced open her eyes and saw two military men with rifles come from a door behind the desk. They came at her, shouting for her to get on the ground. Starr knew she should have complied, but didn’t like the guys waiving guns in her face, and trying to be tough with her. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m here to see the Black Fleet, from the Council.” “I’ll shoot you, Miss,” said the man to her right. Quickly, Starr grabbed his gun and broke it in half, and then threw it on the ground.

The man next to him shot, but Starr’s reflexes really had grown, for she saw the bullet come at her, out of the corner of her eye. She moved her head to the side, grabbed the gun by the barrel, and pushed it back, whacking him in the face with the butt. The man fell flat onto the ground. Starr heard the footfalls of other soldiers, coming from behind the door. Quickly, she went through one of the doors to her left, and found herself in a stairwell. She followed the scent of the Fleet members up to the seventh floor. Once she exited the stairwell, another alarm went off. Starr ignored it and continued right, down the hall, turned the corner, and found herself facing the remaining members of the Fleet: Chanler, Alin, Sari, James, Emil and, their pilot, Saul.

With them were about a dozen men in suits. “Nice job,” said Alin sarcastically. “You could have just knocked.” Men flooded the floor from the elevators and the stairwell. “It’s okay,” said Chanler. “This is Starr; the one we were telling you about. She can help us.” The military men looked at the men in suits who nodded to them, indicating that they could leave. The Fleet members looked her up and down, taking in her appearance. They walked up to her. “What, in the hell, happened to you?” asked Emil, with a little smile in his eyes. “I was in a fire.” “So you just came straight here?” asked Alin.

“No, Alin, it’s a long story. I don’t want to get into details right now.” “What have you been doing?” he asked more accusingly. Alin was always a sharp tongued serpent with a cut throat attitude. “What do you mean?” she said, knowing that he was onto her. “You seem different.” She said nothing. “Why are you in your pajamas?” asked Chanler. “Hello? Did I not say that I was in a fire? The cabin burned down!” “Isn’t there something we can do, Bob?” he turned and asked a man in a white shirt and tie. “There are spare clothes, downstairs, in the military supplies room.”

“I’ll take you,” said Alin. “They won’t know you, and we need to talk.” He motioned that she follow him. They walked back to the stairwell, and he held the door open for her to enter. “How did the cabin catch fire?” “Uh… well, remember Bielz?” she asked as she looked down the stairwell. “Yeah.” “Well, she kind of had it in for me. I killed a friend of hers; he had a habit of vamping out.” “His name was Antony; I heard about him.” “Yeah, well, Bielz was angry about it and set the cabin on fire to get back at me.” “Where are the kids? Are they okay?” “I don’t know,” she said, looking down as they stepped. “I got them out

of the house, alright, but then Bielz was still there. She refused to leave, though I tried to talk her out of it. It’s almost as if she wanted to die, and I don’t understand why; things weren’t that bad for her. I wanted to save her, and I could have, but then the landing collapsed, reinjuring my neck and I couldn’t move.” “Who did it?” “I told you, Bielz did it.” “Not who set the fire, but who healed you? You’re prancing about as though you’ve never had your head cut off, which is an injury that you should still be recovering from. I know someone healed you, and that is a big deal. Who was it?” he asked, turning his face toward her. She was sure that Alin was trustworthy, but Starr couldn’t help but feel that, at the moment, she should keep her mouth shut. As they reached the last step, she said, as she looked back at him,

“Look, Alin, I don’t want to be rude but, for the moment, I think I’d rather not talk about what happened to me.” “Starr, there is a reason that I asked. When you’re healed by another of our kind, you become bound to that person by a supernatural rope, if you will, bound by blood forever.” “What does that mean?” she asked in a small voice. “It means that you can see into each other’s minds, and when one of you hurts, or is in danger, you can sense the other’s urgency; you can even sense happiness at times. The person who heals you will always be able to find you, and you, them. Like following a trail ablaze, your blood will stand out against the world to that person.” As he spoke these words, her forehead became extremely warm; suddenly, it felt like an invisible rope were around her neck, and getting tighter and tighter.

Alin walked through the door, and held it open for her. Credenza healed her on purpose, and she knew it had nothing to do with wanting to save her. It was her way of keeping tabs on her. He led her into a dark grey hall, to a door with a broken padlock. Next to the door was a desk, behind which sat a soldier. Alin nodded to the man, and they walked past him, through the door. Inside was a large closet, in which there were guns and ammo, and other gear in the front. Further to the back, there were military clothes, with the familiar U.S. Army camouflage brownish-green. Starr picked out a pair of the sturdy cotton pants, a white shirt, socks and shoes. After, Alin led her to the showers, on the opposite end of the hall, and told her to meet him on the seventh floor when she was done.

The lady’s shower and locker room was just as dreary as the rest of the building. It had plain grey walls with no decorations. She walked over to a bench and undressed. Then she pulled the NecroGrimoire from her pajama pocket and carefully stuffed it in the cargo pocket of the army pants. Never, in her life, had she enjoyed the feel of hot water on her skin. Her kind didn’t sweat anymore, but their skin could get clammy, as dew and other environmental factors settled into their skin. At the moment, it was the smell of char that clung to her pores. After she was refreshed, she dropped her pajamas in the trash and took the stairs back up to the seventh floor. She made her way to the room in which the Fleet members were working with three of the men in suits. Together, they looked down at maps, and picked out the routes they’d take to each state capitol, and rid them of vampires.

Starr stood at the door, a moment, and, silently, watched them. Listening to and watching the man Chanler called Bob, it was easy to tell that it was no pleasure for him to be in their company. The corners of his mouth were forced into a downturn, and his eyes were expressionless. His scent was something foul, a clear sign that he was beyond hating them, but loathed them. Starr moved to the seat closest to the door; Bob flinched as she sat. A look of surprise appeared on all their faces. “How did you do that?” asked Chanler. “Do what?” “Nevermind,” Alin cut in. He looked, knowingly, at Starr, and then turned back to Bob and the other men. After a few more words, Alin said, “So, Starr,” in his light Romanian

accent. “There is no time to go into major details, so here’s what’s happening: We’re gonna start our cleanup efforts in D.C. It is important to secure the capital, before Lucenzo and Amir release a new batch of virus, or organize their vampires to attack.” When she said nothing, he continued, “Now we’re just gonna go through and kill all the vamps, and then the military is gonna come through and take over. We’ll move on to New York City, where the immediate concern is securing the United Nations.” Chanler added, “After we’ve secured the Nation’s Capital and the U.N., we’re gonna split up: me, Michelle, and James will visit the governors, in their states, and lend a hand where we’re needed; you, Alin, Emil, and Saul will hunt down Lucenzo and kill him, as we’re pretty sure he’s still on the East Coast somewhere. This way, you’ll be close to home, you can find Lily, and, after he’s dead, you can take her back to the clinic with you, if you should decide not to kill her, that is. After, Emil

and Alin will continue on, with Saul, to Romania, where they’ll hunt down Amir and his followers.” “And you’re welcome to come, of course,” said Emil sounding hopeful. Starr flushed with a combination of frustration and guilt. “Why do you need me to hunt down Lucenzo? I’d rather go home, if I may.” “Lucenzo shares the blood of an elder, so he’s strong. We need our strongest people on him,” Alin answered. He must have seen the heat she felt in her face, for he asked, “Is something wrong, Starr?” “No,” she said, pursing her lips as she looked sideways and shook her head. “I’ve finished, downstairs,” came a familiar voice.

She turned her head and saw the unmistakable round face of the short tempered Michelle. “It’s getting late; I need to eat,” Bob said, and his cohorts, whose names she didn’t catch, murmured in agreement. Alin, who seemed unable to stop watching her, asked “Starr, how about I show you where we’re sleeping tonight?” Then, without waiting for an answer, he motioned with his hand for her to follow him. Feeling a familiar burning sensation, in her stomach and esophagus, at the sight of Michelle whispering into Chanler’s ear, she stood up and followed. “How long have you, all, been here?” “Not long,” Alin replied. “After we left Lake George, we returned to Boston.”

“Why?” “To search Lucenzo’s house again, and then his office. Ever since we heard he’d been treating Lily, we’ve tried to track down any information on the antidote he’s been giving her.” “Did you find anything?” she asked, hoping that Lily would be okay if Lucenzo died. “No.” “Why do we always take the stairs?” she asked, as he held the door open for her. “If power should die, then we could be trapped inside. Vampire strength or no, it could be a real hassled getting out of there. ”

They made it up several flights and exited the stairwell when Starr had a sudden clouding of vision: a feeling of sudden happiness overwhelmed her, making her feel heady.

“Are you okay?” It took a moment for her vision to clear. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. One thing Starr hated about many vampires, like Alin, was a good number of them grew into telepathic abilities. She had yet to meet one as intrusive as her best friend, Shane, but it was still aggravating. Although she had fits of telepathy, here and there, it was likely that Starr would never grow into abilities like theirs, and, for that, she was thankful. She was glad to be a poor telepath, but, unfortunately, that meant she was also poor at blocking mental intrusion. “The flashes are sometimes symptoms of the blood you share with another; you’re feeling her emotion. Don’t worry,” he said. “You will get used to it, and learn to shut them out. The first time is always a surprise.” She did a double take and stopped.

“Yes, I know, it was Credenza,” he paused too. “Given her protectiveness over you, it’s not hard to figure out who would have saved you. Plus, your reluctance to speak of it also gave it away, for if you were to admit, then it would be like admitting you’re indebted to her. You only want to return to a normal teenage life, not be indebted to an ancient vampire.” “How do you know about sharing blood?” she asked, wanting to change the conversation. “Were you ever healed?” “Once, by my brother, but he is dead now.”

They exited the stairwell and walked through a brightly lit hall to a room at the end. “We’re all in our own rooms,” he said. “Here is how you set the lock.” He opened the door and held in the zero button, of the number panel

below the door handle, until the light blinked red several times. “Okay, punch in your code.” Inside was a basic cement room that looked like a jail cell, with a silver sink and tiny bed that was bolted to the wall. Tired of the leather book swinging about, in her pocket, Starr pulled it out and tossed it on the bed. “What was that?” Alin walked up to the bed and picked it up. “Where did you get this?” he asked, pushing his eyebrows even closer together than usual. When she said nothing, he added, “It looks very old. I can smell age coming from the pages, though the leather binding is not quite as old as the interior: someone had it rebound.” “Can you read it?”

“I don’t read Latin.” “But isn’t Romanian the language that’s closest to Latin?” “Yeah, it’s pretty close, but it’s kind of like what old English is to Modern; completely different. Maybe you can spot a word here and there, but it’s mostly gibberish.” Starr felt disappointed. “I can tell you this, though: A grimoire is a book of spells. Necro, from the Greek word Nekros, means dead.” As he said this, Starr felt her skin grow warm. He seemed not to notice, as he flipped through the pages once more, and then tossed it on the bed.

Dinner was a stiff necked affair. The fleet sat on one side of the room while a blend of military and suits sat on the other.

Saul and Emil sat whispering to each other while Michelle and Chanler bickered at their end of the table. Sari, James, and Alin listened, intently, to the guys across the room. Periodically, they’d look each other in the eyes, and Starr knew they were communicating telepathically. Every so often, the Fleet members would look each other in the eyes, and grimace about the conversations they overheard. The military men and their suited cohorts didn’t seem to realize that vampires had exceptional hearing; they didn’t notice that every time they’d called them monsters, abominations, and unnatural, they’d heard. When a man, named Steve, suggested they get some torches and barbeque them all, Bob agreed with such seriousness that Starr got worried. When a guy replied to Steve, “… I’d like to get a hose, hook it up to some holy water and shove it up their asses…” James rose out of his seat,

demon eyes alight, and ready to trash them all, but Chanler ordered that he sit back down. “We all know how they feel about us. Let them act as though we’re oblivious to them,” he commanded. “This is good,” Starr added, “because if they’re planning to double cross us, and I think they are, we’ll be ready for them.” “Oh, so you’re one of us, now,” said Alin, raising his eyebrows comically.

Later that night on her way up to bed, she caught up with Chanler in the hall. “How long do you think this cleanup is gonna take?” “Years, unfortunately. Every governor is responsible for cleaning up their own state, but we’re just gonna visit with them and help out with any

difficult areas, or mass accumulations, so our part – the Fleet’s roll – should only last a year or two at most. Most civilians are gonna be faced with the responsibility of taking vampires out, too, and especially if they want to move back into their homes and return to work, and a normal functioning society. We can only hope that innocents don’t get killed, and that people handle this responsibility well.” Starr was getting impatient. She couldn’t care less about their tour of duty. “Yeah, but how long to clean up D.C. and the United Nations?” “All you want is to go home. Starr, how can you be so selfish?” Suddenly, it felt like hot coals were in the pit of her stomach. “I just missed my seventeenth birthday because I was in a fire; I haven’t been to school in over a year; I’ve been burned, decapitated, shot more times than I can count. People, my age, are supposed to be worrying about

college and friends, and clothes and makeup, but, instead, I’m here with you!” Cutting their conversation short, Michelle walked toward them with a look that said ‘get away from my man.’ Starr said nothing more, went inside her room and closed the door.

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