Friday, March 23, 2012

Fading in Darkness: Empire of Blood Book Two (first 5 chapters)

In this second installment in the Empire of Blood series, Hank Evans is headed back to Necropolis, but this time he won't be running for his life... or will he?

Tensions between the American Empire and the vampires of Necropolis have risen to an all time high. With the Emperor threatening Toby's life, Hank's new position as the mediator has just been unofficially upgraded to Imperial spy. But his internal hunger for revenge and newfound sense of purpose can't stay hidden forever.

Hank must now find a way to release the hold the Emperor has over him in order to fight back. But an unexpected struggle will put him at odds with who he really is and who he has yet to truly become. Especially when his dreams begin to reveal a terrifying future.

And when the city of the dead goes up in flames, and the vampires of Necropolis are forced to flee to the Queen's hive, there is no turning back from civil war.


Download mobi version of first five chapters

Fading in Darkness

Empire of Blood Book Two

Fading in Darkness: Empire of Blood Book Two
Copyright © 2013 Robert S. Wilson
All rights reserved.
Cover artwork by Elena Helfrecht

For Vickie

Part One
To Heed Warning

Chapter 1
The Assistant

The bastards had starved Jack for months. They'd kept him in the isolation of his cell without any blood. It was bad enough before, just the isolation, but the blood had kept him centered. It was good blood. Not quite as innocent as he would prefer, but it still kept him strong. Then, one day, the Imperial sentry just stopped bringing it, stopped coming around at all. It was now July and nothing but silence had accompanied Jack since April.
He focused in on the rough gray concrete and watched as a huge, panicked crowd of hundreds of thousands of microorganisms scattered at random across its surface. He heard the faint reverberated tapping of shoes against concrete somewhere on the floor above him. He followed them in his mind's eye as they entered the elevator. A clump of dirty shoulder-length hair fell from behind his ear as he listened. Whoever it was seemed to be coming down to his floor. The elevator door closed and the smell of human blood almost put him in shock as footsteps slowly became louder and louder. Then, for the first time in almost four months, he heard the peephole screech open.
"Cellmate number 536637?"
Jack looked up at the faint glow of light, his entire eyes black with bloodlust. "It bloody-hell sure won't be anybody else, now will it, you fucking prat?"
The sentry sighed and went silent, save for his heart seemingly jack hammering in Jack's ear.  "The Emperor would like a word with you. You're to be transported to a safe room to be briefed."
So that's why they'd starved him. Jack wouldn't be much of a threat if he didn't have any strength.
"Well, you can sod off and tell the Emperor that he can bloody well fuck himself silly! And while you're at it, get me some goddamn blood." He might not have any strength, but Jack Draper always had plenty of spirit.
The peephole scraped shut and the sound of nervous echoing footsteps faded away. Jack knew when he had the upper hand in a situation, he'd seen it happen enough the past 500 or so years. He could smell it just like he could smell the blood in their veins. He caught himself then, biting his own arm again. He lapped up the two little crimson bubbles beginning to build and run down the small of his elbow. Fucking prats, the lot of them, he'd break even with them soon enough. The next bloody one of them to open that ear-piercing fucking peephole would regret it.
But days went by and no one came. After the fifth day, he started to have doubts about the overpowering smell of bullshit and fear that had come from the last sentry. He went back to counting as he often did at times of lengthy boredom. 1,453,456. 1,453,457. 1,453,458—the sound of the elevator distracted him as it neared his floor. He came to immediate attention as something snapped in his senses.
He could smell her. She couldn't have been any more than six years old. She was with him. He'd smelled that strange mix of aging human and ancestor blood enough times now to recognize it was accompanied by the Emperor. So much for transporting him.  But why the little girl? She was frightened, but trusting. He could smell that too. His sense of smell had always been strong but he was pretty sure it had more than doubled since he'd been stuck in this cell.
The peephole screeched that deathly pitch again and light spilled into the room in a thin, rectangular beam that spread across the floor of the cell and blinded Jack's eyes for a second.
"Ah... Mr. Draper. Nice to see you're still getting along."
"Sod off."
"Now, now, Mr. Draper. Weren't you ever taught it's unwise to bite the hand that feeds?" The Emperor's voice was scratchy, but with a hint of playfulness to it.
"Your bloody torturing me, aren't you? That's why you brought that lamb along, eh? Well, I can take it. I've starved a lot longer in shittier caves than this fucking rat hole."
"Mr. Draper, I have no intention of... torturing you. Quite the opposite. You see, I've come to offer you this young lamb as a gift. A sort of down payment. And if you'll be so kind as to hear what I have to offer, I think you'll find this gift to be quite a small offering indeed. At least, compared to what I'm willing to offer overall. Would you be willing to hear me out now, Mr. Draper?"
Jack was biting his arm again, trying to fight back the thirst. She was so innocent. So precious and innocent. And all he had to do was say yes, and even if the Emperor didn't plan to give her to him, he would take her. All he needed was for that slimy old bastard to open the door. The smell of death on him was almost as strong as the blood of that innocent child. It wasn't a smell Jack had ever noticed from any other living human.
"You see, Mr. Draper, I'm in need of a new assistant. I'm finding it hard to find someone loyal enough to do everything I tell them without letting their own emotions get in the way, but I think—"
"Piss off! You and I both know good and well you're no god. You'll get no bloody loyalty or worship from me."
"Mr. Draper, I never said I was looking for a new acolyte. I have plenty of followers. I need an Assistant. And a loyal one. You needn't believe in my divinity to be loyal. It's very simple, actually; you do what I say to the letter and I provide you with more like her. Many more like her."
Jack had torn a gash out of his arm as he listened to the Emperor’s words. He pulled his teeth from the wound and concentrated on the pain as his flesh began to heal. He was hungry enough to drain them both and thirst for more but something about that dead smell coming from the Emperor held him back. It was revolting. Human blood couldn't always be as precious as the rare, delectable drink of the innocent, but it was barely ever revolting.
He found himself nearly as intrigued as he was hungry.
"And precisely what is it your assistant does, Mr. Emperor, sir?"
"A great many things. Not the least which would be killing. Lots of killing. Would you say you're suited for such a job, Mr. Draper?"
"Bloody hell if I'm not. I suppose you've done some digging, or else you wouldn't be knocking on my sodding door, eh?"
"Yes. I did indeed choose you with a certain criteria in mind. What do you say, Mr. Draper? Do we have a deal? All the innocent blood you can handle in exchange for being my loyal assistant?"
Jack leapt at the door and put his arm through the peephole, stretching the metal opening. But his hand grasped empty air and an even stronger arm grabbed hold of his own and snapped it clean at the elbow. Pain exploded from his dangling limb as he stood stuck against the door.
"Nice try, Mr. Draper. As you can see, I am certainly not in need of a bodyguard. I can protect myself just fine. What I do need is an assistant. And if you value your life, I'd suggest you take my offer before I take the pulse from your throat."
Jack didn't understand. He had moved with the same speed as if he hadn't been starved but still it hadn't been enough. It took all the strength he had left and now he was spent. And still the hunger coursed through him, making him quiver at the smell of the child's blood. The Emperor held his arm in that broken position, preventing it from healing.
"All right, all right, I'll fucking do it, you fucking bastard."
The Emperor released his arm at once and let out a sigh. "You see, Mr. Draper? There wasn't any need for all that show of opposition, now was there?"
For once in his long life, Jack held his tongue. When his arm finished healing, he pulled it back into the cell and rubbed it where the break had been mere seconds before. He heard an array of mechanical workings from within the door. Then, they were abruptly cut short by a single echoing thunder of metal as the door visibly shifted from its locked position.
Although Jack had set aside his ambitions to escape and would actually give this deal a chance, he couldn't help having an impulse to try and take a bite out of the Emperor while he had the chance. The door slid open and the Emperor walked in without a hint of fear or concern. The little girl appeared to be in some sort of trance as she played with a porcelain doll in a red dress and matching sandals.
Jack watched her with black, watering eyes and his mouth went even drier with thirst. The Emperor leaned down and whispered into the girl's ear. She looked up at Jack and smiled. Jack shivered. She was so innocent. She was made even more innocent by the fact that she was oblivious to the danger surrounding her.
Jack knelt down before her and reached his hand out to her. Her smile grew and she laid her tiny hand in his. He gripped it gently and spoke.
"Now, what might your name be, little lass?"
"Samantha," she said then looked at the floor shyly. She began to sway back and forth, still grinning all the while. So much life in her. So precious. It was taking everything he had now to hold back. But that's when he saw it. She looked up at the Emperor as if for approval and Jack could see then that he did have her in a trance.
"Well, it was nice meeting you, Samantha. Do come back and visit some time." He turned away stiffly then and walked toward the corner of the room to show his denial of the Emperor's offering.
"What are you waiting for, Mr. Draper? Isn't she just what you've wanted all these years you've been cooped up in here?" A good deal of impatience was slipping into the Emperor's voice now.
"She is, but I won't have you brainwashing my food, eh?"
There was a loud scream from the little girl and before Jack could react, he heard a snap and the screaming went silent. He turned to see the girl's body lying lifeless in the middle of the floor and the Emperor standing over her and staring at Jack with equally black eyes. His anger at what the man had just done overwhelmed his curiosity as to whether the Emperor really was a man at all.
He leapt at the Emperor, going right for his throat. Before he could come anywhere near him,  he felt two clawed hands grab hold of him and thrust him back into the concrete wall of his cell. The Emperor stood there holding Jack against the wall and staring right into his face.
"I'm not usually a believer in second chances, Mr. Draper. But I'm willing to make an exception with you.
"I'll be back... eventually. Enjoy your little hunger strike while it lasts and I'll bring you another offering when the time is right. For now, remember this: I could have killed you twice and yet I have not. I have great confidence that we'll be able to work together, but I will only bend so far."
He let go of Jack and straightened up his white robe, brushing it off and loosening his stance. "Good day, Mr. Draper." Jack slid down the wall holding his ribs. Caesar turned and walked out of the cell, taking care to step over the young girl's body as he went. The thick metal door closed behind him, returning the cell to its original state of complete darkness. He was sure then. The Emperor was definitely not human.

Chapter 2
The Mediators

Hank knelt down in the mud watching the rain pelting Diana's headstone. His eyes weighed heavy with moisture from a mixture of rain, tears, and lack of sleep. He traced the letters of her name, his index finger, sliding against the wet granite. He felt the grief build up in him again and before he could stop it, he started to weep. A chill in the air momentarily reminded him of the outside world again.
There was a time when he wanted to leave this life behind. But now, he had a new sense of purpose. He would do whatever he could to bring an end to the American Empire. The Emperor, then a powerful leader of the Coalition of Christian Militias, had led a civil war against the United States. He convinced over four million American Christians that the second coming had occurred and he was the son of God.
Hank wasn't sure he could pull it off. But he knew now that the Emperor had a weakness. He'd known it ever since they met. It was the strangest of circumstances. By all rights, Hank should have been dead before that night. Yet, somehow he managed to survive. Along with 12 other men, he'd been sentenced to die in Necropolis. Lucky 13. For 20 years the Empire had been sending anyone caught breaking the criminal or moral laws to the city of vampires.
He stood up, wiping the mixture of tears and rain from his face. Then, he shook out his mop of dark, wet hair, feeling somewhat lighter than when he'd arrived. There was something freeing about doing this from time to time, letting out the longing for a moment or so.
Hank looked back at the Empire-assigned Buick parked at the edge of the grass, waiting for him. Being the only human to ever escape Necropolis alive had landed him a job with better pay and benefits than he could have ever imagined. Too bad it required him to work for the Emperor and go back to that place. The job was Imperial Mediator to Necropolis. The Mediator dealt with vampire/Empire relations. No one in their right mind wanted it.
All of the former mediators were now dead, in one form or another. The most recent, he learned up close and personal, was now a vampire himself. These were not good odds. However, Hank had managed to make a sort of alliance with the head vampire of the city. That, he hoped, would help to smooth things over for him. Besides, even if he didn't want to, he needed to go back. The vampires were the only ones he knew in large numbers who might have the power and desire to help him.
As Hank pulled into the driveway he could see Toby on the porch reading a book. He wondered then, how long would it be before the Empire took even those? A large number of titles from the past had already been taken or censored. New works to be published all had to be approved by the Imperial Communications Commission. He got out of the car, walked up to the porch, and watched his son for a long moment. Toby sat, immersed in his book, seeming not to notice his father.
"Hey," Hank said. Toby jumped then looked up at Hank, his eyes narrow.
"You could've let me know you were there before freaking me out," Toby said.
"What? Didn't you hear the car?"
"Yeah, I thought it was across the street."
"I wish you would've gone with me this morning."
Toby put a slip of orange paper in his place and closed the book. "I wish you would go see what Diana left for you." Toby glared at Hank then walked across the porch and into the house, slamming the front door as he went. Hank wanted to tell him why he couldn't go. But, he really had no choice. Even if the Emperor didn't kill his son, as he promised he would if Hank told anyone, Toby would be in danger if he knew. Hank sighed.
It was a problem he couldn't seem to find a way around. How would he warn Ishan? How would he fight back if his enemy could see and hear his every move? The Emperor implanted a device in his body that wirelessly linked his eyes and ears to the Emperor's personal terminal. Everything Hank did was being recorded. What chance did he have?
He walked into the house, straightening the clutter as he came through the living room. As usual, Toby's door stood shut and probably locked as well. Hank set his keys down in the tray. Then he sat down on the couch and laid his head back, closing his eyes. Something, he thought, something has to give.

* * *

As the first star of night sparked into life about a thousand miles away, the city of Necropolis was beginning to stir. Like the automatic gates in prisons, long since obsolete, each titanium door in the underground nest made a thunderous sound as it opened. All along the silver hallways of the custom-built underground bunker, human vampires of all shapes and sizes emerged. As with any other city, some had jobs to go to, some had errands to run, and some enjoyed doing nothing at all. But unlike other cities, all of them awoke at precisely the same second.
The same exact second the doors were programmed to open. And they weren't alone. The Ancestors woke at this same time every morning, too. The Ancestors, being natural vampires, had given the human vampires the gift of immortality. Those who saw it as a gift anyway.
For Simon Withers, the matter was still undecided. He sat up at the foot of his bed, rubbing his eyes. He remembered bitterly, as he did every evening upon waking, how much his life had changed. He was still conflicted as to how much of this change was good and how much was bad. He saw familiar faces walk by here and there outside his door. More than a few of them looked in and nodded in the way the human undead do. Incredibly fast and impersonally. For immortal creatures, they sure worried a lot about time management.
Simon knew he was likely the only one still in his quarters. The memory of changes brought a wave of despair again. Ishan had said there would be a grieving period. Simon had experienced Ishan's grieving period himself. That was how he knew that his was different. Of course, Ishan knew now, too. The two were still psychically linked. This was now nearly unbearable to the both of them. Simon wondered if any two people could ever get used to being in each other's head all the time.
For him, Ishan's constant worrying about the city and the Queen made it impossible to think. Yet, Simon knew for Ishan, his regular first reaction to anything vampire, like a child with a bitter taste in its mouth, actually waned the ancient vampire's patience. Not much else could do that. After thousands of years of living, your knack for patience can get pretty big.
Time to snap out of it, Simon. I need you to actually show up to the council meeting tonight. Ishan's voice sounded exhausted inside Simon's head. But of course he knew all too well why. He couldn't escape knowing, even if he wasn't locked inside Ishan's thoughts. Nearly half of the vampires had been working on the project for over a week. Ever since he became a member of the council himself.

* * *

Her eyes were red again. He'd dreamed about her for days and each time her eyes had been the same. Sometimes she was herself, sometimes she was Rachel. Either way, in the dreams, Diana's eyes always looked the same. He didn't understand it. Diana's eyes had been brown, Rachel's green. He had only seen one vampire before with red eyes: Ishan.
Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Hank wondered again how he would pull off telling Ishan anything. He got up from the bed and stepped into the bathroom. He closed the bathroom door behind himself and leaned his back against it, listening. When a moment of silence passed, Hank opened the secret door, his hand trembling on the handle. Light spilled from inside, revealing dozens of small plastic vials full of thick black vampire blood. Hank took one with both hands and held the top to his nose. The smell sent chills of pleasure down his spine.
He was about to take a drink when the bedroom door outside the bathroom creaked. Hank chugged the red liquid. Then he replaced the vial and closed the secret door faster than human eyes could have seen. The moment the blood touched his tongue, all senses heightened to the extreme. Only, now he knew how to tune them to his will. The imperial training helped with that. How the Emperor had even known about the blood when even the vampires of Necropolis hadn't was still a mystery.
If it hadn't been for Hank accidentally drinking the blood of an ancestor in the first place, the vampires would still be in the dark. Hank was too bloodthirsty to find humor in his own pun. He attuned his inhuman hearing to the next room. Toby's heart beat faster than normal. Hank stood still, listening. Keeping his secret addiction and powers from the boy had been proving more and more difficult lately.
Papers shuffled in the next room, followed by the opening and closing of drawers. Footsteps tapped against the hardwood floor of the bedroom toward the bathroom door. Hank locked the door in a silent flash. The knob jiggled for a second and then stopped abruptly. The boy's heartbeat doubled. Then his faint voice came to life through the door.
"D-Dad? Are you in there?"
Hank almost tried to pretend he wasn't there, but didn't have the patience to do so. "Yes, what do you need, Toby?"
"Oh, nothing, Dad. I was just trying to figure out where you were."
His heartbeat told otherwise.
Hank knew all too well what he was looking for. Toby had been trying desperately for days to find something to explain why his father was behaving so differently than normal. Why his father had become more concerned about his job as the Imperial Mediator to Necropolis than receiving the last message from his dead, beloved wife. Why his father had been attending the Imperial Church lately and immersing himself in Caesar's Bible, the official holy book of the Empire, half written by Emperor Caesar himself. Why his father spent long hours studying history books on the subject of empires from the past. It was like he'd become a different person literally overnight. Ever since he went to that ceremony to be "blessed." He came home that day a changed man. Toby probably wondered if the "blessing" had included some sort of brain-washing as well.
"Okay, Toby. I'll be out shortly."
"All right, Dad. Don't fall in." Toby's heartbeat relaxed a little and his voice was back to its old self. He still was the same boy Hank had raised and loved for the past 16 years. Just confused. Hank knew what he was doing was tearing his boy apart, but there was no other way to protect him. Not yet, anyway. When the bedroom door shut and Toby's footsteps faded toward the front of the house, Hank let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
Two days left. Two days to figure out the impossible.

Chapter 3
The Second Offering

The days had gone by one after another and still all Jack could think about was that precious little girl. The way her golden curls framed her face and her warm, vibrant skin. But most of all he remembered the sound of her heart beating and the smell of that rich innocent blood flowing through every vein in her body. He could even remember the look of those veins as the blood pumped through them behind her skin. With every image seared into his brain, every sense she had affected, he felt the hunger tear through him even more.
He'd lost count of how many days had went by since the Emperor had brought her, but he knew they were adding up. As was the case with starvation, his pale skin had sunken into his bones. He could even feel his ribs poking through the flesh of his chest and stretching it slightly. He lay in the darkness thinking of that beautiful child for at least the hundredth time that day. At first they had left the body in his cell to rot. The smell of death didn't quite affect his kind as it did humans, but it certainly wasn't a pretty perfume, either.
After several days went by, a cleanup crew of sentries finally entered the room and removed her, leaving the place as though she'd never even been there. Never even existed. By then Jack had lost the last of his strength and had no choice but to smell their blood as they cleaned up the remains. He could barely lift his own fingers, let alone lunge at the sentries with the strength it would take to kill or even get a taste of them.
After they'd left he found himself weeping, yet no tears would come. If he ever did get the chance, he'd decided, he would take the Emperor's offer without any fuss. He only knew he needed blood and needed it soon. He'd never went this long without any at all, and wasn't sure how long he could last this way. He was wondering when he would get his second chance when that sodding elevator started up again.
Every time it moved up or down that little glimmer of hope lit up within him, and he'd be damned if he'd let it spark into life now. But there it was in the back of his mind. Brilliantly luminescent and shiny. As the elevator neared his floor he cringed weakly with the little bit of muscles still working within his face. Would it stop this time? Or, just like every other time, would it move on and leave him to starve. He'd seen centuries go by quicker than those moments. Time stood still and held him over the edge of a cliff towering over a boiling sea of lava.
When the elevator latched into place, the sound of metal on metal echoing throughout the outer hallway, Jack hardly realized it to be true. He was so used to it moving on at this point that he could hardly rationalize why it would stop. He heard the door open with an excruciating clarity. Then came the smell again.
Innocent blood.
It was him, all right. Sodding bastard. And this time he'd brought an even sweeter prize to offer Jack. The hunger was giving him a second wind he hadn't realized to be possible. He was almost able to sit up.
The peephole screeched open, tearing through Jack's sensitive ears. Light spilled into the room and Jack could see those stale lips within the thin rectangular slot. There was a long pause and then the Emperor began to speak.
"Mr. Draper, how wonderful to see you again. I do hope this time we meet under more mutually beneficial circumstances. I trust you smell the offering of which I have brought and are able to appreciate the value it exhibits. But I think, once you've heard me out, Mr. Draper, you will find this offer to be much more to your liking in more than just one way."
While the Emperor paused for what Draper knew to be dramatic effect, Draper smelled exactly what the Emperor was talking about. He could smell the fear in them. This elicited even greater excitement in him than the precious girl the Emperor had brought before. But there was another who felt no fear and Jack was at a loss to understand the entire bargain the Emperor was about to explain.
"Good, I can hear your brain working with excitement. Good, indeed. Curious are you... as to why I've brought their mother?"
Jack could only let out a small whimper in reply but that was all that was needed.
"Yes, I am most proud of what I have prepared today. You see, Jack, the mother, as I'm sure you can already smell, is under a spell much like the young lamb I brought before. Consider her your daily ration... your main course, if you will. But the true prize, the dessert, I'm sure you know, is her twin daughters."
With that Jack could hear the hearts of both little girls beat madly in their chests. Oh, the precious blood those tiny organs must pump through their sweet, innocent little bodies.
"I'm going to open the door and let the mother in. She has been instructed to come to you and do whatever is necessary so that you may regain your strength. I will be leaving the door open. And to make it more to your liking, Mr. Draper, I've decided to take the girls with me. If you can hunt us down and take them from me, you shall have your first taste of the bigger picture that I truly have to offer you."
Jack nearly choked on the saliva building up in his mouth. He longed for the hunt almost more than he longed for the innocent blood coursing through those precious girls standing behind that door. The gears within the thick metal door turned and a deep thud resonated through the walls and the metal bed beneath Jack. Yellow, blinding light filled the room as multiple footsteps echoed in varying speeds along the walls. One set came calmly toward him as another sped away from the doorway.
Other layers of sound and senses overwhelmed Jack so that he was nearly void of awareness for a moment. Then her delicate skin touched his lips and he felt the vibration of it as she spoke to him.
As she pressed her throat against his open mouth, Jack put all of his being into pressing his fangs into her flesh. It was slow at first but as soon as the skin was punctured and the first drop of blood touched his tongue, his sense of strength renewed with every taste of her. Before long he was gripping the back of her head and the blood flowed evenly. He could feel her body lighten as he drained her more and more. It had been over 15 years since he drank from the source and of course the thirst was now stronger than he'd ever known it to be.
He cast the body aside as he leapt to his feet. His senses were on full alert and every cell in his body was alive. With his thirst abated, now he could savor the hunt. He lunged through the door and pounded his feet against the concrete floor of the hall in the direction he'd heard the Emperor's footsteps lead. Not a second's thought went into opening the elevator door in the traditional manner as he sped toward it. It grew before him as he reared his shoulder forward to ram through it with brute force.
As he crumpled into the thick titanium elevator doors, he remembered just how secure every unit of construction within this place had always been. The collision sent a rupture of pain through his arm and side. He slid down to the floor still moving with the momentum that had thrown him at it.
After a moment of dizziness, he flung himself upward and grabbed at the place where the two doors met in the middle. His claws pressed into the thin crack between them and stretched the opening slightly further. Pressure pushed against his fingers where his claws attached to the flesh. The pressure became pain and his claws were near to breaking from his fingers when he finally managed to gain passage for his fingertips.
Fingertips led to knuckles. Knuckles led slowly and painfully to more of his fingers until finally he had enough of his hands inside to grip. Then, he started to pull with his arms, so that the doors would move away from each other. At first they stood firmly still, but with time and focus they began to budge like glaciers in the sea. The opening exposed more dull gray features from inside the elevator, only these were of a different texture than the rest of what he had seen inside the hallways and his cell.
Seeing inside the doors encouraged his strength and will and he pulled harder with more focus, creating a gap wide enough he could have fit his arm into. After a moment of even more focus and pulling with all of his strength, he had the doors open with enough of a gap to fit in sideways. He let go with his right hand and twisted his body fast enough to catch hold of the door and then wedged himself through. As soon as he was in the elevator the doors slammed back together and an alarm sounded within the tiny space. Red lights flashed all over the control panels.
Jack tried typing instructions on the keypad along the right side of the doorway, but nothing happened in return save for the monotonous screaming and flashing of the alarm. In frustration, Jack swung his fist full on into the control panel, shattering it like glass. Silver shrapnel shot out in all directions and sparks flew as electricity hissed from inside the hole that had been the panel.
He reached his hand inside the hole and felt the pressurized jolt of electricity flowing through his body. It barely slowed him as he pulled his hand back from the opening with a handful of wires and metal. The alarm stopped, but still the elevator sat still. Jack looked up at the ceiling and could see the vulnerability he had been looking for.
He flung himself upward with all of his might and slammed through the thin sheet of metal that covered the top of the elevator car. Dozens of thick cords, which usually held the elevator as it went up and down the shaft, reached upward and downward deep into the darkness. He grabbed two of them and immediately pulled himself upward toward the mixed scent of his prize and the Emperor's musky dead odor.
He pressed his feet into the side of the elevator shaft as he continued to pull on the cords, sending himself upward at an incredible rate of speed. Friction had long ago warmed his feet to the point of pain, but he was determined to find his prey. His momentum and the scent of them grew in a cycle; each one pushing the other further on. He glanced back in a flash as he passed another floor. A quick sniff of the air told him to continue upward.
Several more floors up and the smell was overwhelming. A sense of gleeful anticipation grew within him and he held it back so when the time was right he could let it explode. He knew as he climbed beyond it, the next floor was the last one he would have to pass. He looked upward at the elevator doors protecting the entryway to the floor he desperately needed inside. When he was at just the right distance he leapt backwards in an upward somersault. His body moved through the air with an elegance most figure skaters would kill to emulate. This time, although he was sure it would hurt insanely, he knew he was blasting through that door. He envisioned it and his muscles prepared for the shock of the coming collision.
His momentum combined with gravity managed to slam him into the door with enough force to bend the doors inward and give him something to grab hold of. His feet planted on the thin flap of flooring where the doors were bent inward. He pushed forward and leaned his weight into the doors. The doors stretched open more. He swung into the opening feet first.
When his feet were in, he only had to use his hands to pull the rest of his body through. Once inside, he assessed his surroundings. He was in a gray hallway adjacent to the elevator. It was like all the others except that it wasn't lined with cell doors. He let the scent of the children's innocence wash over him.
Something was wrong.
They had been separated. One's scent came from one direction and the other girl's came from another. He found himself at a loss as to which direction to go. The Emperor's deathly odor was in neither direction and the two scents were identical. He decided either one would be the same, so he ran in the first direction his instincts told him to go. Although he ran, his body moved with the stealth and skill of a lion. A ways down the hallway, it intersected with another adjacent to it. The smell came from the new hallway and Jack turned left with immense speed.
He'd come close to slamming into the wall as he swung into the new corridor. It wasn't nearly as long as the hallway he'd just come from but there were still no cell doors lining the walls and he could see it ended in a single doorway. The door stood ajar and a faint glow spilled out from inside. As he charged silently closer to the door, several smells caught his attention. There was a hint of pickle and rye coming from the little girl's breath. Also, saturated sweat and urine marked his prey's fear. It had been the one thing missing from the Emperor's first offering.
That smell mixed with the scent of innocent blood drove him mad and he purposely let his footfalls rise in volume. The increase in her heartbeat combined with the collage of perfumes mixed together made for the ultimate temptation.
As he neared the door, he slowed himself to a human race-walk. Then he steadied his rhythm gradually until he was just outside the door stepping with deliberate intimidation. The girl began to whimper with fright. This was the best part of the kill. Savoring it.
"There, there, little lamb. It's just me... Jack. Mum was nice enough to give a chap a nice topping off."
The girl's whimpering turned to nearly silent screams of terror.
"What's the matter, little lamb?" he stepped into the room where she sat curled up in the corner behind a small wood-finished desk. Jack stopped and stood there, his bare feet slapping against the cool, white linoleum tiles of flooring. He looked down at her, his fangs fully showing behind a cruel grin. The girl curled up tighter trying to back impossibly farther into the corner, her body shaking with trepidation.
Jack leaned down, bending at the knees until he was at eye level with the precious, innocent, sweaty little girl. He looked her in the eyes and she broke his gaze, quickly looking at the floor. He reached his hand out and she screamed, but he didn't flinch as he continued to gently set his hand under her chin. Her flesh quivered at his touch as he lifted her head to reinitiate eye contact. She tried to look away with just her eyes, but he gripped just tightly enough to move her head so no matter where she tried to divert her eyes, they would still be locked in his general direction.
After a moment of this, she gave up rebelling and returned his gaze lamely, her body still shuddering with horror.
"There. Now that wasn't so hard, was it, little lass? Now tell me... what's your pretty little name, girl?"
She opened her mouth to speak and her teeth chattered violently as a faint, hoarse groan uttered from the back of her throat.
Jack released her chin and brought the back of his hand down the side of her face in a soft caress. "Shh. I suppose I've overestimated your ability to keep cool under pressure. I do believe I'm scaring the willies out of you. That just isn't very fair, now is it?"
The girl nodded, a sweat-soaked curl coming loose from behind her ear.
"Yes, I know. How about we even the odds just a little, eh? Give you a fair chance. Whattayasay?"
She nodded again and with that, Jack stood and stretched out his arm in a "right this way" gesture. She looked at him with an expression of surprise and made her way up from the floor, sliding against the corner as she stood shaking.
Jack took several steps back to clear a path to the door. "Go ahead. I promise, I won't bite..."
The girl took a single, cautious step, then another. Then, she took several more in more rapid procession.
"...Just yet."
She stopped abruptly, her body convulsing with fear. Jack smiled and winked at her almost solemnly. She seemed to relax some causing Jack's patience to thin. But he knew if he waited it out, his reward would be a hunt and fear so much more than he was already savoring.  She took several more steps and was merely a few feet away, the smell of her sweat and blood nearly mesmerizing.
The next step she took, before she had a chance to even set her foot down, Jack crept down behind her shoulder and whispered in her ear with a tender inflection in his voice.
"If you want any chance to get away, now's the bit where you'll want to run, lass."
The little girl's shoulder fluttered with every syllable. "Run with all of the fury your little precious feet can stammer out."
There was no hesitation. Her little body erupted into a run straight through the doorway. Her tiny black dress shoes clapped against the flooring as she raced down the hallway. It took a deeply calculated will to keep still as she went. He stood there waiting like a granite statue. But as soon as she got to the corner and turned at the main hallway, he finally let go.
He shot forward after her with the stealth and grace of a lion. Air blew back his hair from his eyes and friction warmed his flesh from the quickness of his sprint.

Chapter 4
Submit Unto Caesar

Hank pulled into the vast parking lot of the local Imperial Church and parked in a secluded area. He killed the engine and sat there staring into the steering wheel of the car. He'd spent more time in his own head lately than ever before in his life. The most important things he had to say and do, for now, had to be kept to himself. Otherwise, the Emperor would know them too.
The sun was setting over the horizon beyond the parking lot. He'd been having to adjust his sleeping schedule in order to prepare for his first visit back to the city of the dead. He pulled the keys from the ignition and got out of the car. He walked toward the huge church, the bottoms of his shoes slapping against the blacktop and echoing across the parking lot.
Two sentries greeted him at the door as he went to enter. One had a long scar across his right cheek. The other had a high forehead resembling that of a Neanderthal. Both had short, trimmed black hair.
"The Emperor is waiting in his private chambers," the scarred sentry said.
They opened the doors for him as though he were a guest of honor. He'd been able to tell from his interactions with them that more than a few highly coveted his position. They could have it for all he cared. If it weren't for his need to contact Ishan, he might've made a run for it over a week ago. No, he knew better than that. There was still the matter of the implant to overcome.
And there was still the blood.
He stepped inside the seemingly empty church and walked between the pews down the same aisle he had the day he was "blessed" into his position. Without all the mindless, screaming worshipers the room seemed dead. The throne sat empty at the top of the stage. Without the Emperor sitting there, Hank could see that the back wall was lined with the same stained glass image of Caesar that covered each huge window of the church.
Hank passed the stage and opened the side door that he knew led to the Emperor's chambers. He knew it wasn't Caesar's real chambers though. He'd been in those chambers before. This church, like many others, only served as a place for him to indulge in being the center of adulation.
Two more sentries stood guard at the door to the Emperor's chambers. They both stood aside as Hank came close but neither of them attempted to open the door for him. Probably out of fear of the Emperor.
Hank looked them each in the eyes one at a time and then knocked on the door with three short knocks.
"You may enter," came the Emperor's scratchy voice from behind the door.
Hank opened it and walked inside. It was a small featureless room with wood-stained walls. The Emperor sat in a huge luxurious chair almost the size of his throne. Hank had to fight back the familiar hatred that bubbled in his throat whenever he saw the man. Caesar motioned to a simple wooden chair sitting in front of him. Hank took the chair and sat facing the Emperor with the best composed face he could stand to make.
"You've been practicing tuning your senses like we've been working on?"
"Yes. I'm making great progress, especially with my hearing."
"Good. I had been monitoring your progress from time to time, but I've been rather busy this past few days." A sly smile came to the Emperor's face and made Hank's stomach turn. "Besides... The last I checked, your progress was more than satisfactory. Tonight, we have other business to attend to."
Hank felt a slight dizziness come over him. What now?
"I have made a decision that will affect a great many lives, be them human or not. And with you in a position to be my eyes and ears within Necropolis," the word came out metallic and bitter, "I'll need you to follow some more particular instructions while you're there. You will receive these instructions directly from me." The Emperor let out a long sigh that came off almost cheerful and then he bore his eyes into Hank's and smiled.
"I haven't been completely honest with you, although I haven't really lied either. There is one more thing your implant can do that I didn't feel the need to relay to you before making this decision. The implant can also relay messages to you in an auditory fashion."
Hank let out his held breath. He was sure for a moment there that the Emperor would say it could read his mind.
"Given that I will need to make use of this method of communication, I wanted to give you advanced notice, so it wouldn't alarm you or cause you to do something stupid." The Emperor stood up and started to pace around the room. "I also wanted to remind you, Mr. Evans, that I intend beyond a doubt to stay true to the deal we made. Most especially with my expectations for you to gather information within the city, I will need you to do nothing and I mean nothing at all to alert Ishan or the other vampires to your intentions." He sighed again, this time in mock pity. "If one of them were to have the slightest notion of what you were doing, it would be most sorrowful for little Toby, now wouldn't it, Mr. Evans?"
The Emperor's cold clammy hands clamped down on Hank's shoulders from behind. Hank centered himself as best he could to keep from lashing out or saying something he would regret.
As if on cue, there was a knock at the door and the Emperor released his grip on Hank's shoulders.
"You may enter, Mr. Draper."
Hank turned around as the door opened and a pale man of medium height and build with dirty blond hair framing his face entered the room and closed the door behind him.
"Mr. Draper, I'd like you to meet Mr. Evans."
The man named Draper locked eyes with Hank and a chill ran down Hank's back.
"I recognize 'im from the photo in his file, Mr. Caesar," the man said in a thick British accent. Hank stood staring at him in awe. Not only had he not addressed the Emperor as lord, but something immediately caught Hank's attention when Draper spoke. Those two sharp, pointy teeth.
"Hank Evans meet Jack Draper."
Draper made his way toward Hank and reached out his hand as if to be shaken. Hank reached in return and before he had a chance to stop what was happening, Draper grabbed Hank's hand and pulled his arm behind his back, turning him round and pushing his face into the wooden chair he'd been sitting in.
"You see, Mr. Evans, Mr. Draper will be responsible for taking care of things if you step even one hair out of line. And I don't mean just you. If you should do anything rash or even slip up and have yourself caught while following my instructions, Mr. Draper here will be sent for your son. And I'll have you know, he happens to have a rather strong liking for innocent blood."
Draper snickered as he pressed Hank's face harder against the chair that was now lifting from the gray carpeted floor. This vampire was strong. Hank was fully tuned to his senses and strength and much stronger than he'd been when in Necropolis with having had a regular supply of blood build up in his body. Yet this vampire held him with ease against his will.
"Release him, Mr. Draper."
The vampire released Hank from the excruciating hold he'd had him in. Hank stood up and shook his arm to try and loosen the muscles. He looked at Draper and Draper returned a devilish grin.
"What do you plan on doing that you need me to spy on them?" he asked, continuing to stare at Draper.
"Mr. Evans, what makes you think I have any intention of telling you?"
Draper winked at Hank, still giving him that amused look.
Hank swallowed, turned, and locked eyes with the Emperor, keeping his mouth shut. He'd already crossed a line and he knew it.
"That will be all, Mr. Evans. Mr. Draper, would you be kind enough to walk Mr. Evans to his car?"
"It would be my pleasure, sir," Draper said with that thick British accent. Then he turned and opened the door and motioned for Hank to go first. Hank walked through to find both sentries gone. He stopped just outside the door. Draper came out and walked past him, heading for the main worship room. Hank followed briskly, his body still shaking from their exchange.
When Hank came into the main worship room, he was surprised to find Draper staring bitterly at the Emperor's throne. When he noticed Hank, Draper's face became smooth and void of emotion. He turned on his heel and started for the main doors. When the two were outside and walking toward the car in the cool night air, Draper stopped abruptly and turned to Hank.
Hank stopped and waited anxiously for whatever might come. Draper reached into his jacket and pulled out something small, thin, and white Hank couldn't make out at first. Draper turned it over and Hank understood instantly. It was a picture of Toby taken recently. From the looks of the surroundings in the photo, it had been taken while he sat on their porch and without him knowing it.
"I've already been to your home, Mr. Evans. Already smelled the little bugger's blood for myself. Don't make me go back, understand?"
Every muscle in Hank's body had stiffened as his throat went dry and his vision became blurry. This monster had been watching Toby, maybe worse. Hank nodded, trying to keep the hatred from showing on his face.
"You don't have to hide your anger with me, eh, Hank. I can smell it. It comes off of you like the sweat on a man's brow." That devilish smile had returned. "Besides, it's no bloody fun to threaten a chap who doesn't react accordingly, eh?" He laughed and pushed Hank's shoulder as if they were old friends and he'd just told a funny joke. Hank didn't change his expression. After a moment, Draper's smile melted into a sneer of anger.
"Whatever you choose, mate. I don't have to see it to know you want nothing more than to stab my bloody eyes out right here in this parking lot. That's satisfaction enough for me." He walked past Hank back toward the church. "Goodnight, Mr. Evans. Enjoy your first day—I mean night—on the job tomorrow," he said and laughed without turning around. Hank stood there a long time trying to hold back his temper and the urge to run after the man and show him just how strong he really was. Instead, he took a deep breath, turned, and walked back to the blue Empire-assigned Buick sitting in the middle of the now empty parking lot.
All the lights were on in the house again when Hank came in through the front door. Toby's door was shut, and loud but muffled music came from the room as if it were playing under water.
Hank set his keys and cell phone down on the end table as he walked by and headed for Toby's door. He knocked once and waited, but the boy didn't answer. From almost the moment they moved into the house, Toby had been spending more and more hours in his room like this. Bass vibrated through the door at Hank. He knocked harder and louder.
The music cut completely. The door flung open and Toby stood there staring at Hank as if his father had punched him in the face.
"I just wanted to say hi before you have to go to bed and that I'll miss you while I'm gone. Dustin texted me earlier and he'll be waiting here when you get home from school."
"Great. Have fun in Fuckropolis!"
The door slammed in Hank's face. He was equally shocked and unable to keep from snickering at his son's remark. Yet, the sting in the boy's voice still crept under his skin and left a twinge of emotion beneath it all. He sighed and stared at the door a while longer before heading back to his own room. He had a lot of thinking to do before the sun came back up. Best to get started as soon as humanly possible. Not that his brain was that slow now. The blood had already made some fairly drastic changes to his body that didn't seem to go away even when he was late to keep up on his "daily dose."
Still, he worried about the boy. He couldn't tell Dustin about Draper any more than he could tell him about the blood or his new assignment. He was about to start packing his clothes when the Emperor's voice spoke inside his ears for the first time.

Chapter 5
A Heavy Burden

Ishan sat at the head of the table waiting for Simon to arrive. Internally, he could experience input from any of Simon's senses at will, but he'd been trying to give Simon his privacy as lately there seemed to be a lot of friction growing between the two of them. After 2000 years of various different life experiences, this linking of minds between he and Simon was far different than anything he'd ever been through before.
Stanislov sat to Ishan's right, tapping his finger on the table as a warm breeze gently stirred the thick brown hair on his face. The lights of the city cast a light neon glow on the somewhat reflective surface of the table. Edgar cleared his throat from the other end of the table.
"Should we carry on without him, Master?"
"No, give him another moment. In the meantime go ahead and tell me about what the scouting party found."
Edgar gave Ishan a nervous glance, looking as though he had just impossibly aged another decade.
"Boris and Rachel's remains were found."
Ishan tensed, unsurprised and yet shocked. Emotionally shocked.
"Our analysis of the ashes were inconclusive as to whether they died before the sun rose, but there is very little trace evidence of blood, so it's at least conclusive there was some major blood loss. Just like the others."
"Are you telling me they might have been drained?"
Edgar sat in silence.
A coldness passed over Ishan as the loss fully registered. Although he wasn't sure if she had kept loyal to him or not, he still couldn't hold back his feelings for Rachel. If it weren't for the Queen, things would have been different. But that was a thought best left behind. Especially now that he knew she was dead.
Simon rushed through the glass door then. He walked to the table, pulled out a chair, and sat down.
"Sorry I'm late. What else did the scouting party find?" Ishan needed a moment to soak in Rachel's death and Simon knew it would be best to move on with important matters.
"Very little. Trace evidence of Mr. Evans and his escort mostly," Edgar said, his throat tightening around that last word.
"Mostly?" Ishan's voice whispered, his eyes glaring into Edgar’s.
"Well, sir, we did find signs of a struggle."
"What signs?" Simon asked as Ishan's jaw clenched.
“Several dried pools of Mr. Evan's blood were found near Rachel's ashes. And no evidence of a third party." Edgar coughed to punctuate his sentence.
Ishan stiffened and Simon knew it was time to move on to other things.
"I think it's time to shift gears. There's the issue of this girl that keeps getting put off."
Stanislov seemed to harden in his seat as his fist came down to strike the table. His other hand came up with a large sausage-like finger pointing at Simon's face.
"And just what have you contributed the past few council meetings to do anything about that?"
Simon opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, Ishan spoke up for him.
"I'll be the first to admit disappointment in Simon's lack of participation, but Simon is doing something to keep this council meeting moving and I see that as a welcome change." At that Stanislov sat back in his seat, his body still tight as a drum. But he made no attempt to argue nonetheless.
"Well, personally, I don't understand why you haven't already sent her on her way out into the desert, master. She's a useless child and an insufferable brat. She's managed to waste her time as a fledgling only groveling and whining. She has done little to attempt adjusting to the new life she's been given," Edgar said and sighed.
Simon's face turned a sharp red.
"The ancestors have made their choice. And whatever the Queen may have behind it, she must have a reason," Ishan said. "If the fledgling will not choose to do something with her life then the choice will be taken from her."
"What do you suggest, master?"
"Put her to work. A few weeks on the restoration team should give her a sense of discipline."
Edgar smiled. "Indeed, sir. It would be my pleasure."
Ishan was getting back into a rhythm now. "Isingoma's latest results have yielded no new breakthroughs. All 12 subjects died within minutes of ingesting the ancestor blood. Each one represented a different biological history, including samples from various regions, races, and blood types. All with the same result. Almost instant death. It is my opinion that we must do all we can in our power to peacefully encourage Mr. Evans to submit to some testing to help us single out what has made him so unique, what it is in his body that allowed him to survive. I refuse to believe he is the only human being who can survive let alone reap the rewards of drinking the blood."
The three other vampires only nodded. But Simon spoke to Ishan with their connected minds. I think it would be wise to keep the Queen's “information" about Evans to ourselves for now. It might affect our meeting with him negatively. Ishan's agreement went unspoken externally and internally, but Simon knew it was there. Often, Ishan had shown himself to be even more expressive by expressing nothing at all.
"Does anyone else have anything to add to this session?" Ishan asked.
The others shook their heads in that detached, lightning, efficient way.
"No questions? Okay. This meeting is adjourned."
And with that Ishan was gone. Only Simon saw his movements.

* * *

Ishan stood within the shadow of the giant welcome sign that bordered the eastern edge of the city. Tears streamed down his face as he looked out into the desert, longing to run free of the place. If he went no one could stop him of course. He could even return most likely unnoticed. But he had battled with this impulse before. The risk was still too great. Only when the time was right would he make his move. He longed for the touch of his queen and the reassurance that came with it. He wondered how long it would take for Simon to realize that he had learned how to block Simon's side of the connection. So far, he'd been careful to keep these moments of relief few and far between and as short as possible. But this time he needed more. He would risk having to explain and possibly argue with Simon for this one time. Even if that meant he would have to teach Simon how to do it himself.
No, the Queen's voice spoke in his head. It's too soon. He is not ready to have privacy yet. You know the doubt that still lingers within him. He doesn't yet know his place.
The sound of her voice in Ishan's head made the longing grow. He lifted his foot to take that final step that would take him over the boundary of the city. A feeling of weightlessness hit him before he could even set his foot down. He landed about a hundred feet back from where he had been, his body lying in the crater of grass and concrete its impact had made.
You have much more self control than this, young one. Show it. I didn't call upon you to have you mourn and make foolish decisions.
Then why have you called on me?
I’ve called on you to heed warning. The one who was Penitent and become Mediator will come bearing a heavy burden. Until the time is right, do not show him your trust.
But you've told me his future. You've told me his importance. How could I see him as anything but an ally?
An ally he remains, young one. But his hands are bound by the Emperor. I sense something weighing on his heart as he changes his mind many times each day.
If his loyalty is questionable, we don't have a chance.
The Queen's laughter filled Ishan's head. Since when do you put so little faith in your mother? In your lover?
Ishan was stricken then. He knew beyond reason that the Queen would never lie to him. But he couldn't help feeling unsure at just how much truth she would tell him, either. A terrible pressure squeezed his temples.
You would be wise to remember that while you may be able to hide your thoughts from Simon, you are unable to hide them from me. Remember, my love. I need no arm to reach you. I need no means to find you. I need no mouth to drain every last drop of blood from your body. You are my chosen and I can un-choose.
A deep bitterness and despair overtook every bone in Ishan's body. No. Please, my love, forgive me. Drain me if you must, but please, please do not un-choose me.
Goodnight, my love.
Ishan lay there a long time holding himself; metaphorically trying to keep himself warm from the Queen's icy threats. Without her, each century would be an empty shell of time. He couldn't go back to that place again. Wouldn't. He closed his eyes as wind began to gust and blow a wall of sand above him and into the city. He let his thoughts stray to what she had told him of Hank. He hadn't respected another human being so much since his father had left the earth so many centuries ago. And the Queen had told him Hank's future. She knew what he would go on to do. What he would choose. She had shown him from her very own vision the day in the future when he would decide to lead them. All of them. Vampire and human. When he would lead them against the Empire. When he would make the decision himself to go after the Emperor, personally.
Ishan felt another awareness then.
What the hell happened? Are you okay, Ishan? Ishan didn't answer. He could feel Simon searching his senses then searching his mind. What the hell happened to you? I've been unable to sense you for hours now. Why are you so close to the city limits. And what the fuck happened to the connection? Ishan continued to sulk as he lay there. He no longer had the energy to block Simon and now he no longer cared.
Fine. Don't say anything. Leave me in the dark. But when you've had your little hissy fit, you'd better start explaining. I don't have any other reason to be here but you. You take that away and why should I bother staying in this city? Or even staying alive? Ishan could see the image in his head then of Simon standing in the desert waiting as the first light of dawn spilled out over the horizon and scorched every inch of Simon's flesh.
Don't threaten me with such things, Simon. Give me some time. Then we can talk. But for now I need to be left to myself.

Fine, take your goddamn privacy and shove it.


  1. Very good ... but you seem to have forgotten the leverage the Emperor has over Jack with his son.

  2. My bad ... confused Jack for Hank. ;-)

  3. not reading this until I wrap up Book 1!! 88% done now!

  4. When will this book Fading in Darkness: Empire of Blood Book two, be available in book stores and in Amazon for Kindle?

  5. When will it be available at Amazon? Can't wait!
    DeAnna Schultz