Chapter eight, part one – Fate
My apologies for the delay, guys, but here it is! ^^
The days passed by in a blur.
As a result of my squad’s constant success, we were sent out on many new missions. I dived head-first into any hunt that was offered to my squad, just to keep busy. I was just fooling myself, though.
It had all become so indifferent. There was no longer a drive, no longer a purpose to fulfill those missions for. Without a goal to focus on, everything started to look meaningless. The missions from the Colonel. My work as a Captain. The years I’d thrown away to get here.
What had I been working so hard for?
It had all been worthless, hadn’t it?
It wasn’t long before I lost my appetite. My squad members noticed my lack of motivation quickly and whispered among themselves, eventually coming to the conclusion that I needed to be cheered up.
They really went out of their way, even Derek. The things they did would have been heartwarming, if not for the growing feeling of having lost my heart a long time ago. And now that even the anger for revenge that had kept me going was gone, the only thing left was a hollow feeling in my chest.
That’s what I’d turned into. An empty person.
‘M’am,’ I heard behind me one evening. I’d been staring out of the window, looking at nothing, with a partly filled glass of liquor in my hand. Drinking was supposed to be forbidden at the military base, and yet we had quite a big wine cellar. I had already emptied half a bottle today.
‘M’am, we’re worried about you,’ Hao said softly, making me turn around to face him. ‘You’ve been acting strange ever since the mission to Moonlight Falls. What’s bothering you?’
‘We have been doing fine on our recent missions,’ I replied. ‘There is nothing to not be content about.’
‘We don’t mean the missions, Raven,’ Tybalt said, looking just as worried as his squad mate. He let his gaze slide up and down my body quickly, stopping at the glass in my hand.
‘Have you lost weight? You have, haven’t you?’
‘You’re imagining things. And I’ll be addressed as “captain”.’
‘Yes, captain,’ Tybalt nodded to me, although he seemed hurt. ‘I’m sorry, captain. We’re just worried about your wellbeing.’
‘There’s no need to worry. Now, do you have another reason for coming here?’
‘Yes,’ Hao said. He looked just as displeased as Tybalt did. ‘The Colonel sent you a message. He asked if you could come to his office as soon as you have time, m’am.’
I nodded to him and took another sip of my glass, not bothering to pull out the conversation any further. It was probably a call for another mission. That was for the best. I needed to keep myself busy, somehow. Busy or drunk enough not to care anymore, not that I’d been able to do the latter yet. If I had time off, if I’d give myself time to think about my life, then I’d just fall apart again. I needed to move forward…although I had no idea how. Or why I should even bother.
So I slowly put down the glass of liquor and walked out of the room, without even once looking back at Hao and Tybalt. I walked out into the harsh autumn sun, not bothering to shield my eyes from its light. The few trees around the military grounds were quickly losing their leaves. From the looks of things, it was going to be another cold winter.
‘Tybalt… she’s drinking alcohol in the middle of the day.’
‘I know. What the hell is wrong with her, lately?’
‘No idea… but she better get a grip soon, or they’ll take her badge.’
‘Just hide it for now. Throw it in the sink, or something.’
I arrived at the headquarters a few minutes later. The halls were quiet, as most soldiers were outside, enjoying what could be one of the last warm days of the year. The only person still there was the same soldier from before. He appeared to be the regular guard for this block.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, knocking on the Colonel’s door. ‘You’ve called for me, sir?’
‘Come in,’ I heard from inside the room. I obeyed and opened the door, the metal swinging open with a small creak. Besides from the Colonel, there were other people in the room, as well. I recognized the captain of the other Special Forces-squad, together with a man in a white lab coat that I’d only seen a few times before.
That probably meant that this was something serious.
‘Your timing is perfect,’ the Colonel nodded. ‘Do you remember the research I’d ordered to be done on the bodies of the vampires that we’ve caught?’
I nodded shortly. That’s who the lab person had to be. Someone from the research facility- their building was still within Zepyhr Hills, but on the other side of the mountains, sheltered from the curious eyes of the civilians.
‘Their team has come up with something. We’ve also finally booked progress with our little vampire prisoner.’
‘You have?’ I said, my reaction being more of a plain response than an actual question for the Colonel. He didn’t notice my lack of interest, and kept talking.
‘Yes, although we had to resort to drastic measures. I’ve decided to hold an official briefing for the entire commanding rank of the Special Forces, to share the information we’ve obtained with everyone. It will be held tomorrow, at 9 a.m. sharp. Don’t be late, both of you.’
‘Yes, sir,’ the other captain said, saluting. I did the same, while adding:
‘That information… is it bad news?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ the Colonel said, bowing his head slightly. There was a tired expression in his eyes.
The next morning, I attended the briefing as instructed. It had been scheduled to take place in one of the bigger briefing rooms, one that I’d never actually been in before, myself. The large, spotless table in the middle of the room gave this a very serious setup. Then again, that was probably appropriate for a situation like this.
‘Good,’ the Colonel nodded, as soon as I’d taken my place among the others. There was a small, grey file in front of each of our seats.
‘Now we can begin. As you are all aware, I have called you here today to discuss two matters. The first being the state of our research on our hunting targets, and the second about the live vampire that is being held in our prison quarters. I hereby inform you that we’ve made notable progress in both of those areas.’
He fell silent for a few seconds, allowing his words to sink in among his listeners. Then he nodded to the same person I saw yesterday, the man in lab coat. He was still wearing the exact same coat as the day before.
‘Yes. I’d like to elaborate on that,’ he said, fidgeting with his clothes in a way that seemed to be normal for this type of people. I noticed the pile of paperwork lying on the table just behind him. It looked everything but orderly, and hopefully for him, it was just decorative.
‘Over the past years, multiple samples of the creatures we’re trying to exterminate have been given to my team for examination. We’ve compared and examined all of them, and have found something rather… well, I’d better just show you.’
He turned around and, indeed, began to rummage through the giant pile of papers on the table. To add to that picture, the file he needed seemed to be at the very bottom of the pile, causing him to almost drop all of them on the floor when he pulled it out. The Colonel cast him an irritated glance. The lab person gave an apologetic look back and then held the paper up so all of us could see it.
‘Please look at the first paper in your files, ladies and gentlemen.’
I diverted my gaze from the man and looked down at the yellow file. It showed a graph, with multiple black dots and scribblings on the sides which I didn’t really understand.
‘Those dots you see are the amount of neurons in the brains of the vampires we’ve examined. The ones most to the left are the ones from twenty years ago or more. Notice how their contents match those of usual , moderately smart animals, like dogs.’
I frowned. I wasn’t very knowledgeable about brain contents, the only thing I was aware of was that the amount of neurons somehow indicated the brain capacity of things. Why, though, I had no idea. My eyes slowly went over the samples from twenty to ten years ago. They all stayed pretty close to the bottom of the graph, and were very spread out. Then my frown deepened. After a few years, the dots jumped upward on the neuron scale rapidly, way too rapidly for my liking. When I reached the present year, they were already halfway up on the graph.
‘What does this mean?’ the person sitting next to me said, staring at the exact same spot on his paper that I was staring at on mine. ‘Why are the numbers going up like that?’
‘We were not sure about that at first,’ the lab coat said. ‘We thought it could be a coincidence. But together with those ratings, reports came in from hunting squads that the behavior of their targets had changed. We’ve run multiple other tests on our newest subjects, including blood tests. Now please skip to the next page in your files.’
I did as he asked, flipping the page around and away from the pile. Another graph was shown on the second page, but this one I understood. I’d had biology and chemistry at school, before I’d dropped out. What the graph was portraying on its top bit was the components of human blood. Then came a few inches of nothing, followed by something I didn’t recognize. It probably were the components of vampiric blood. Here, too, the dots from the last graph were visible. And, as in the last graph, they stayed on the bottom in the first years, and then jumped upwards rapidly.
‘For some reason, the blood components of the more recent vampires are starting to overlap with some of the components of human blood,’ the researcher explained. ‘We don’t know how it is possible, but we’ve developed the theory that it is connected with the increase in neurons.’
‘What are you trying to say?’ the man next to me said, a bit impatiently. ‘I don’t get it. What does this mean?’
‘It means they absorb some of our blood into their body whenever they feed on us. And if they do that long enough, it makes them smarter.’
My comment was met with a shocked silence. The man in lab coat nodded heavily, apparently glad that someone understood him right away. But the expression of the rest of the people gathered couldn’t be more shocked. The realization of just what was on that paper was met with complete disbelief.
‘Do you mean,’ the man next to me finally said, ‘do you mean to say that… that those things… that they… are you serious?!’
‘Yes,’ the Colonel said, taking over. ‘We were hoping it was just a coincidence, but with this much evidence, there cannot be any doubt.’
‘But… why?’ the captain that was in the room with me yesterday said. ‘Why would they do something like that?’
‘I don’t know,’ the Colonel admitted, ‘but it brings our operations into a whole new dimension. Captain Adams’ squad has already run into one of these smarter vampires. I believe you’ve all read the report- but if we do not find a way to get rid of those beasts soon, they might become unstoppable.’
That comment was met with another uncomfortable silence. People seemed to have difficulties grasping everything that had been said in the last ten minutes. The shot each other glances, as if to confirm that their neighbors had heard the same thing as them.
‘And that brings us to our second point of discussion,’ the Colonel said eventually. ‘Our intelligence unit has, after applying multiple interrogation methods, found out that the captured vampire is one of the ones that can speak.’
Another murmur went through the crowd. I’d known that already, though at the time it had been talking gibberish. Or at least, I thought it was gibberish.
‘It has spoken about a weapon, gentlemen. A hidden weapon in Moonlight Falls. We don’t know what it is, but it seems to be of great importance to those beasts. I believe that we can use this information to our advantage. We will seek out this weapon, and destroy it. I will hereby suspend all other military activity. All of our available forces will move to Moonlight Falls, to locate the position of that weapon.
Are there any questions?’
Ten minutes later, the briefing ended. We were to inform everyone of what had been discussed, and prepare our squads to move out at dawn. Exactly what we were looking for, no one knew, but the knowledge that it seemed to be of great importance to our enemies was good enough for the Colonel.
I’d decided to wait until everyone else had left before finally getting out of my seat, myself. But just as I got up and wanted to leave the room, the Colonel stopped me.
‘Captain Adams. May I have a word?’
I nodded and waited, allowing him to walk up to me.
‘What is it, Colonel?’
He looked unusually serious, even more so than he had looked while explaining about the upcoming mission.
‘I’ll cut straight to the chase. Have you been down into the prison area where the vampire is being kept?’
He knew. This was very bad. Not for me, I couldn’t care less if I got in trouble for it at this point… but I’d drag Yurick down with me, as well. The thought of getting him fired made me feel a little bit guilty inside. Quickly, I opened my mouth, to admit to it and shield my squad mate from harm, but the Colonel beat me to it.
‘Ah, of course you haven’t. But… something weird happened during the last interrogation.’
‘What do you mean, sir?’
The Colonel looked at me with a frown.
‘It was just after it told us about that hidden weapon. That thing- it talked about a gate. It said something like- ah, yes. “Raos nyigull, Urün heshkta.” That’s what it said. And then it mentioned your last name. Do you know anything about that, captain?’
It happened again. As the Colonel spoke those words, I felt my insides react. My heart started beating twice as fast and I could feel my blood pulsating, almost resonating with the flow of the words. The next moment, it was over.
‘Captain? Did you hear what I just said?’
‘Ah- yes, sir,’ I said quickly. ‘My apologies. I… I don’t know anything about that.’
‘I see. That’s a shame.’
He was still looking at me with a look on his face that was clearly suspicious. I silently looked back at him, until he shook his head and turned away from me.
‘That was all, captain. Now go inform your squad of the briefing.’