First to Final Draft: Chapters 1-2 of Vampire Captives


First Draft

Lisette

The Scheng general snarled at me and spittle dripped down his chin. This werewolf was gigantic, his shoulders sitting a couple feet higher than the top of my head. I circled him slowly as he watched my every move with eyes burning moonlight blue. He had killed many this fight; his once-gray coat was matted with rust-colored dried blood and deep-red new blood.

“I’ve never had the honor of taking down a Scheng general on my own,” I said and adjusted my hold on my aassu. Their curved silver blades glinted in the werewolf’s moonlight as he powered up, tendrils of the substance coiling around him. (should probably talk about the werewolf’s heat signature and whatever because it’s dark out and vampires have two kinds of vision)

I darted to the side when he lunged for me. The impact his hind legs left on the already-ruined grassland broke it apart. The sensation, bits of earth moving, registered in the soles of my feet and in my hands when I tapped the ground and slid. The werewolf’s jaws snapped at my cloak, catching my hood as it flew off my head. 

This bastard was fast.

I dropped out of my cloak before he could pummel me into the ground with a mighty shake of his lupine head. He threw my blood-soaked cloak to the wind, and I sheathed one of my aassu to withdraw three vials of condensed blood from my belt. 

One was a lot for a normal vampire to take, but I was a slayer. I had trained endlessly for this, and the mixtures had recently been optimized. Taking three wouldn’t leave me maimed. 

I drank all three vials as the werewolf dug in his claws and lurched forward, jaws snapping. My muscles bunched an grew with my body. My bones screeched a protest while my veins darkened with the power of the highly nutritious blood pumping through my body. This time, I didn’t dodge. I caught the werewolf’s bottom jaw with one hand and pierced the top of his muzzle with my aassu. The curved blade cut all the way down through his moist tongue and tough chin.

A whimpered growl ripped through his throat as I yanked out my blade and shoved him back. He skid across the trampled earth, claws carving out new grooves as he wildly shook his head. Blood splattered at my boots, and I drew my other aassu. I shot forward like a bullet, wind whipping around my face, and I buried my blade into the beast’s heart. The persistent muscle beat its way through to the pommel of my aassu, but the werewolf didn’t fight. I rotated my blade and waited, watching as his stores of moonlight depleted bit by bit. When it was all but used up, I slid my blade out of his massive body.

He shrunk down, bones cracking and rearranging. With the last of his strength, he resumed his base form. Like this, he was nothing more than a large, muscled man—no match for a vampire. 

“Little rat.” He panted. “Soon all of your lunalite will be ours.” He showed his teeth, smeared with blood; the curve of his lips meant he was smiling. Of course he was. Schengs lived for the fight. Power.

Finally, the werewolf’s brown eyes lost their luster as his last breath stalled in his lungs. Dead.

“Stupid dog,” I said. “We have no lunalite. You might try Howling Sky next time.” It was unlikely, though. The Schengs would keep coming until they conquered Silver Hollow regardless of lunalite. Eighty-seven years of this and neither side had gained anything. Neither side had lost much either. The Scheng werewolves, marauders, were notorious for their brutality: they leveled kingdoms. Normally, they did that, took what they wanted, and never stayed in one place for too long—until they met their match with Silver Hollow.

I ignored the ache in my hands and arms and sheathed my blade through their trembling.

My body burned with a fire not unlike roasting in sunlight. My veins threatened to eat their way out of my flesh.

I had used a good amount of the condensed blood I’d swallowed to topple that Scheng general, but not all of it. Now, my body demanded I move, expend it somehow, or it would break itself apart. 

I should have only taken two vials. Maybe one. If it were possible to gauge how much moonlight a werewolf had stored, it would be easier to match him with condensed blood. 

After taking a quick survey of the nearly deserted battlefield, I settled my gaze on the carcass before me. And I rammed my fists into it. I beat the werewolf’s meat until it was fully tenderized, until his blood squirted into my eyes. Left panting, but no longer burning, I reclaimed my cloak and donned it in time for the sun to rise. As an extra precaution, I raised my mask over my mouth and nose. 

The aftereffects of using condensed blood settled deep inside of my bones and muscles. The soreness would get worse before it got better, but it was fine because it was as I said before: I wouldn’t be left maimed.

It would all be worth it. A quick glance at the body count showed more werewolves than vampires had been killed today. The standstill was long over, because this had become the new normal. Silver Hollow would win the war, and the Schengs would be no more. The vampires the Schengs chased out of Jade Spring would return, and then together Silver Hollow and Jade Spring would continue in the biggest war of them all: the Prime War. Every war, every battle, was simply a piece of what made up the ultimate war. Silver Hollow’s long-standing battle with the Schengs was no different.

If you survived, you continued the game. Not all vampires were allies, but it was thought that once a single species eliminated the other two, the Prime War would end. I was taught vampires would prevail. We were the superior species after all. Werewolves and humans were nothing but a nuisance.

Sunlight warmed the grassland. It touched my cloak, but it didn’t penetrate. Along with the tightly woven material, the blackout paste used to treat my cloak blocked out the harmful rays; blackout paste also made it relatively easy to remove bloodstains from white.

 

(maybe cut scene here)

 

I did another quick sweep to make sure there were no injured vampires in need of assistance. Figures moved along the flat plain providing good visibility and bad coverage, but my eyes caught on a little patch of white blowing in the wind. I stepped over bodies to avoid stumbling in my weakened state as I jogged over to the white to get a better look.

It was a cloak like mine, held down by the body wearing it. She was on her stomach, hood covering her head, so I couldn’t tell who she was. I dropped to my knees and rolled her over, careful to keep her covered with the protective fabric as sunlight washed over us. Vacant green eyes stared up at me. Her nearly pigmentless skin has taken on the dark red of the blood rotting inside of her. The pungent smell of her wounds wafted in the air along with all the other corpses’.

How soon into the battle was she killed? If a slayer was killed, perhaps this battle wasn’t as fruitful as I had thought. We were the best of the best from Silver Hollow.

“Tuel,” I whispered. Uttering her name sent a jump to my heart, as if it produced a direct line of electricity. I blamed the aftereffects of condensed blood, and the painful throb in my chest with each beat of my heart worsened along with the rest of my aches, so it was explanation enough.

I pressed my finger into my ear to activate my commsbud. “White Team, do you copy?”

No one answered, meaning I was either out of range of our temporary tech field, or it had been destroyed. 

I closed Tuel’s eyes, pulled up her mask, and tugged her hood down as far as it would go. Then, ignoring the aches sceaming throughout my body, I lifted her into my arms as I stood. Fire raced down my legs, but I pushed the sensation aside. I could ignore each and every ache—except for the one in my chest.

“Lisette.”

I glanced over my shoulder as a red-cloaked vampire joined me. (what do Crimson Caves cloaks look like?) The golden hem of her cloak showed its origin. 

“Gala,” I replied, and I kept walking, toward the figures who turned out to be more warrior for Silver Hollow, wielding metal canisters and tubes to suck up and store whatever good werewolf blood remained after the battle. There were no Schengs, another sign that Silver Hollow had won this battle.

It was a pitiful compensation for our losses.

Several eyes glanced at me as I passed through, and Gala spoke again, Lyris rolling off her tongue. “What are you doing?”

Lyris was a language we didn’t use very often, but I was fluent if not accent free. “I’m going south so I can connect to our tech field again.”

Gala checks her commsbud, but doesn’t say anything, and I don’t hear anything, so we aren’t in range yet. 

“Does our tech field still stand?” I ask the next vampire I see hravesting blood.

“Yes. Keep going south.” Her eyes dip to the vampire in my arms, and I proceed with Gala on my heels.

“Why are you taking her body?” Gala asks. 

I would have told our guest from Crimson Caves that a slayer never left a teammate to rot on the battlefield, but that wasn’t true. Instead I said, “I’m taking her home.”

After a silent moment, Gala spoke again. “Why? Leave her to the sun. Uncover her, and she’ll take to the wind.”

The black-metal sword at Gala’s hip clinked as she walked. It was clunky and long compared to my aassu. She was better use with a gun, but I didn’t pick fights with the Crimson Caves vampire. I knew how important it was to leave a good impression on her. With any luck, she’d report back to Crimson Caves of our successes, of our strength, and their queen would offer us reinforcements. They were powerful allies we sorely needed to put an end to the Schengs once and for all. The eventual end to our war would be too heavy with losses otherwise. The standstill had ended, shifting in our favor thanks to condensed blood, but we remained too equally matched. 

That didn’t mean I had to like the Crimson Caves guest, though. 

Static jumped inside my ear as my commsbud came to life. “Lisette, where are you?”

I shifted my hold on Tuel and pressed my finger to the small device sitting in my ear to transmit my response. “North, White Leader. I killed a Scheng general and Gala is with me.”

“Excellent. We’ll pull the gliders around and pick you both up.”

“She has Tuel, too,” Gala informed. Heat prickled up my neck when she added, “She’s dead.”

I kept walking. Though an aftereffect pain focused in my navel, I didn’t stumble. Likewise, Fyefa didn’t comment on Gala’s report. Insolent Crimson Caves vampire. Fyefa was White Leader, but I was White First. Gala had no business undermining my position.

And yet, it was true I was disobeying protocol. 

I could say nothing. For so many reasons, I could say nothing. But I also couldn’t let go of Tuel. Her limp form was a burden with no purpose, but I wanted to take her home.

The nearly silent engines of incoming gliders signaled White Team’s arrival. A wet crunch followed the glider taking up the rear when it trampled a corpse. Vampire or werewolf, I didn’t know. It didn’t matter.

The gliders came to a stop, one to either side of me. Fyefa stepped out of the right one’s driver door. Then she gave me a once-over, eyes lingering on the bundle in my arms. 

“You’re shaking,” she said.

“I took three vials,” I replied.

“For the Scheng general?”

“Yes, but one would have done it. He was left weak.”

“Sloppy, First, but the aftereffects will be discipline enough.”

I winced as my veins writhed as if in response to what Fyefa said. As soon as I sat down, I knew I wouldn’t be up again until we arrived in Silver Hollow. It would give me half a day to fight through cramps—unless my entire body seized up by being stationary for so long. It was undesirable, but I had my team, and we were going home. I wouldn’t die.

“I expect better,” Fyefa continued.

“Understood. Are all others accounted for?”

“Yes.” Fyefa spared Tuel another glance before returning to the driver’s seat. “Get in.”

Gala got inside the other glider as I took the free space inside Fyefa’s, Tuel curled against my lap, propped up against my chest, so she wouldn’t disturb Scarlet, who wore a scowl as she removed her hood once the  door was shut and all sunrays were kept safely outside of the glider. (check how many seats a typical glider has) Olive sat at the window seat, staring outside the tinted glass; she was as oblivious as usual.

As Fyefa led the way south, no one said a word. Tuel was White Team’s first casualty with Fyefa’s new position as White Leader. Age twenty-five was young to be honored with such a privilege, and I knew she didn’t take it lightly. None of us did. Slayers in any position were Silver Hollow’s highest ranking warriors. Each member of our team had earned her place. This loss was a blot on all of our records.

I stared out the window as we drove through the battlefield. Most everything was rendered black and white by the heavy tint, a scene out of time. Exposed vampire flesh was eaten away by the sun (check if I had any vampires turned to dust by the sun in TLPoHS and how I described that), dusty motes and freed cloaks taken to the sky by a sudden rush of wind blowing across Low Grassland.

Vampires left hardly a trace behind once the sun got a hold of them. Werewolves sullied the war zone, though. Bodies piled on top of each other until the living Schengs gave a damn enough to burn them. Needless to say, the stench coming from the war zone was enough to make even the most hardened warrior’s eyes water.

Vampires had it easy this way. It was simple to dispose of bodies, but no one thought about those trapped under their cloaks; they became like the werewolves, left to rot. I did think about them. A part of me wished to scour the entire expanse, to unearth them and let them burn in fires of glory.

Warriors shouldn’t be left to rot. They deserved more honor than that.

Tuel’s body was stiff as I adjusted her in an attempt to find comfort, but there was no relief from the smell. Still, my team said nothing, so I searched the cloudy sky and praised our God.

Let her rest easy, until Yessma’s chosen prevail. Then let her celebrate with us.

Final Draft

Chapter 1
Lisette

Werewolves were vampires’ worst enemy. 

The Scheng general snarled at me and spittle dripped down his soaked muzzle. I circled him slowly, noting the corpses at my feet so I wouldn’t trip, as he watched my every move with eyes glowing blue. The wisps of moonlight dancing around his body were like unpredictable flames, though they didn’t burn. He would be formidable. 

He had killed many this battle, shown by the rust color of dried blood and the deep red of new blood matting his once-gray fur coat. His mouth was so red one could have assumed his jaw had been sliced, but none of that blood was his. The smell of it was borderline rotten with a savory undertone: vampire blood. I had no idea how much moonlight he had, but he was gigantic, meaning he had to have a fair amount to maintain the size; from his withers, he stood a couple of feet higher than the top of my head. 

“I’ve never had the honor of taking down a Scheng general on my own,” I said and adjusted my hold on my aassu. Their curved silver blades glinted in the werewolf’s moonlight as he powered up. Rippling tendrils blazed brighter and coiled around him as if to burst.

I darted to the side when he lunged for me. The impact his hind legs left on the already-ruined grassland broke it apart. The sensation, bits of earth moving, registered in the soles of my feet and in my hands when I tapped the ground with fortified boots and slid onto my hip. The werewolf snapped at my cloak, catching my hood in sharp teeth as it flew off my head. 

This bastard was fast too—not that I had expected anything less. 

I dropped out of my cloak before he could smash me into the ground with a mighty shake of his lupine head. As he threw my blood-soaked cloak to the wind, I darted behind it, using its fluttering shape to hide my form. It worked well enough. He lost sight of where I was, so I leapt onto the werewolf’s back without incident and promptly jammed my aassu into his neck. He flailed wildly and healed what he could with moonlight, but my aassu were buried too deep and my grip was firm. I saw my opening and dove in. My fangs met fur first. Then flesh. I sunk my teeth in as far as they would go and injected my venom.

The werewolf stalled. He gurgled a pathetic yip as I drank his blood, sweet with a citrus pinch. Moonlight-infused blood was the most powerful blood I’d ever tasted—aside from the condensed blood stored inside the vials attached to my combat belt. My body was extremely efficient, so I immediately digested the blood and felt energy ripple through me as my body absorbed its nutrients. My arms bulged, muscles expanding. Then I withdrew my teeth. I ripped my blades through his neck, firm flesh and bone, with some effort, and it wasn’t enough. My blades were too short to sever his head.

Moonlight exploded around me, washing all visible light blue. The werewolf’s neck reattached at a ridiculous speed. I flung myself off his back, but he whipped his head around and caught my leg in his teeth. I grimaced as the lethal weapons cut easily through my armor to my flesh. Then he slammed me into the earth. Crackling filled my ears as I was buried several feet deep. The strength I’d received by drinking the werewolf’s blood vanished in record time as it healed what it could of my broken bones. It left me exhausted, defenseless.

I gasped for air and blinked, expecting the werewolf’s jaws to clamp down around my throat and finish me, but he could barely stand. He wobbled to the side as if suffering from a blow to the head. And he was considerably smaller than before, no larger than an ordinary wolf. 

I couldn’t feel my hands, but I knew I needed to let my aassu go. I succeeded. My brain was still sending signals to my body. I watched my hands and willed them toward my combat belt. I found a vial, fumbled with the metal cork, and brought the condensed blood to my lips. The amount inside equaled one swallow. Feeling returned to my limbs, sharp with pain before it was replaced with healing and enhancements. However, I still couldn’t move.

I needed more.

Grabbing another vial, I briefly considered the possibility of aftereffects or rejection, but I needed more or I was dead. I had trained endlessly for this. I could do it. 

I drank the second vial, and the boost consumed me. My body screamed with energy, power. My muscles threatened to burst through the leather of my armor and my veins rose on my skin like overflowing inky-black rivers. I reclaimed my aassu, and launched myself out of the shallow hole just as the werewolf had regained his wits. I stopped at fifteen feet in the air and came crashing back down. The Scheng general leapt for me, jaws snapping. I dropped an aassu, caught the werewolf’s bottom jaw with my free hand, and pierced the top of his muzzle with my other aassu. The curved blade cut all the way down, through his moist tongue and tough chin, with ease, as if he didn’t have bones. Several of those bones shattered when we hit the ground. Dust, grass, and the debris of war blew out from us in an angry cloud.

A whimpered growl squeaked out of the Scheng general’s throat as I yanked free my blade just to stab it through his chest and into his beating heart. The persistent muscle beat so loudly it consumed the pommel of my aassu, but the werewolf didn’t fight. He was out of moonlight and therefore dead. I reclaimed my aassu and flicked the gore away.

The Scheng general began to shift, ruined bones creaking and rearranging. With the last of his strength, he resumed a disfigured version of his base form. A werewolf’s base form was no different from a human, though a werewolf was often much larger and stronger. However, with no moonlight, a werewolf was no match for a vampire. This one’s elbows and knees were bent the wrong way, sinew-draped bones protruding. 

“Little rat.” He panted. “Soon all of your lunalite will be ours.” He showed his teeth, smeared with blood; the curve of his lips meant he was smiling. Of course he was. Schengs lived for war.

Finally, the werewolf’s brown eyes lost their luster as his last breath halted in his concave lungs.

Officially dead. 

“Stupid dog,” I said. “We have no lunalite. You might try Howling Sky next time.”

The Schengs would keep coming until they were exterminated or until they somehow managed to conquer Silver Hollow regardless of lunalite. I wasn’t sure what the rare mineral was or where it came from, but I knew Howling Sky bathed in it and that all werewolves seemed to covet it. The Schengs’ minuscule brains were hooked on some rumor or lie that Silver Hollow was rich with it. We had many resources, minerals and metals. But we didn’t have lunalite. Werewolves were terribly dense, and the Schengs were no exception.

For eighty-seven years Silver Hollow and the Schengs had been at war. This was because eighty-seven years ago the Schengs stormed and claimed Jade Spring, an originally, and rightfully, vampire kingdom and a fond ally of Silver Hollow. Fortunately, most of the Jade Spring vampires were able to find refuge with us in Silver Hollow. Unfortunately, Schengs still ruled Jade Spring. The Schengs, werewolf marauders, were notorious for their brutality; they leveled kingdoms. They took what they wanted and never stayed in one place for too long—until they met their match with Silver Hollow. They couldn’t destroy us, so they were stuck here. As were we. For now.

I ignored the ache in my hands and arms, reclaimed my tossed aassu, and sheathed both swords through my trembling. I missed the first attempt and almost stabbed myself.

My body burned with a fire not unlike roasting in sunlight. My veins threatened to eat their way out of my flesh. I had digested all of the condensed blood I’d swallowed, and now my body demanded I fight or bleed to expend the excess energy or it would tear itself apart before reaching the cooldown. Because my body was so efficient, it didn’t often produce waste. Almost every drop of blood I drank was converted to energy. In an ideal world, that was how all vampire bodies would work, but even I had had to train myself to this point. 

I took a quick survey of the nearly deserted battlefield. Nothing but scraps and the dead were nearby. I was safe. So, I settled my gaze on the werewolf carcass before me. I rammed my fists into it. I beat the werewolf’s meat until it was fully tenderized, until his blood squirted into my eyes, stinging.

Left panting, but no longer burning with the boost, I wiped the offending blood from my eyes. I reclaimed my cloak and donned it in time for the sun to rise. Sunlight hit uncovered vampire carcasses, which sizzled and steamed before settling on ash that scattered with the first breeze. As an extra precaution, I raised my dark gray mask over my mouth and nose. 

The cooldown hit, and the resulting soreness of surpassing my natural blood-consumption limit settled deep inside of my bones and muscles. My body was in a state of chaos thanks to it.

Condensed blood wasn’t easy to digest because drinking past one’s natural limit alone usually resulted in vomiting, but if condensed blood was successfully digested, a vampire’s body gained unrivaled power, a boost. That unrivaled power changed the body in unnatural ways. The hard part then came after the boost was expended, during the cooldown. The body had to reconcile and reclaim its natural state, or it broke. Completely. The soreness I was experiencing would get worse before it got better, but it was fine. I had trained for this.

This will all be worth it.

The body count, including the remaining armor and cloaks of those burned to ash, revealed more werewolves than vampires had been killed today. The standstill was over. For the third time in a row, Silver Hollow was the clear victor. Silver Hollow would win the war, and the Schengs would be no more. The vampires the Schengs chased out of Jade Spring would return, and then together Silver Hollow and Jade Spring would continue in the biggest war of them all: the Prime War. Every war, every battle, was simply a piece of what made up the ultimate war. Silver Hollow’s long-standing battle with the Schengs was no different. 

If you survived, you continued the game. Not all vampires were allies, but it was thought that once a single species of the three—vampires, werewolves, and humans—eliminated the other two, the Prime War would come to an end. I knew vampires would prevail. We were the superior species after all. Werewolves and humans were nothing but a nuisance.

Sunlight warmed my white cloak, but it didn’t penetrate. Along with the tightly woven material, the blackout paste used to treat my cloak blocked out the harmful rays; blackout paste also made it relatively easy to remove bloodstains from white.

I did another quick sweep to make sure there were no injured vampires in need of assistance. Then engines overpowered the quiet. Figures in the distance moved along the flat plain providing good visibility and bad coverage, but my eyes caught on a little patch of white blowing in the wind. I carefully stepped over bodies to avoid stumbling in my weakened state as I ambled over to it.

It was a cloak like mine, held down by the body wearing it. She was on her stomach, hood covering her head, so I couldn’t tell who she was. Though, the cloak meant she was part of my team, White Team. I dropped to my knees, landing so heavily they popped, and rolled her over. I held her hood over her face to protect her from the sunlight and peeked at the shadow cast underneath. Vacant green eyes stared up at me. Her nearly translucent skin had taken on the dark red of the blood rotting inside of her. The pungent smell of her wounds wafted in the air, marinating with all the other corpses’ smells.

“Tuel,” I whispered. Uttering her name made my heart jump, as if it produced a direct line of electricity. I blamed the cooldown. The painful throbbing in my chest increased with each beat of my heart. It worsened my every ache.

When had she been killed? If a slayer was down, perhaps this battle wasn’t as fruitful as I had thought. We were the best of the best from Silver Hollow.

I pressed my finger into my ear to activate audio transmission with my commsbud. “White Team, do you copy?”

No one answered, meaning I was either out of range, or our temporary tech fields had been destroyed. My eyes locked onto the single-coil badge pinned to Tuel’s collar.

If I had taken that little piece of silver and nothing else, this story might not have happened.

I closed Tuel’s eyes, pulled up her mask, and tugged her hood down as far as it would go. Then, ignoring the shots of pain screaming through my body, I lifted her into my arms as I stood. Fire raced down my legs, but I pushed the sensation aside. I could ignore every unpleasant sensation—except for the one in my chest.

“Lisette.”

I glanced over my shoulder as a red-cloaked vampire joined me. The golden hem of her cloak showed its origin, neither Silver Hollow nor Jade Spring. She was a guest from Crimson Caves and White Team’s problem.

“Gala,” I replied, and I kept walking, toward the vehicles and figures who turned out to be more warriors from Silver Hollow. There were Silver Hollow scavengers as well. The scavengers wielded metal canisters and tubes to suck up and store whatever good werewolf blood remained after the battle. There were no Schengs among the living, another sign that Silver Hollow had won this battle. I thought it a paltry compensation for the loss of a slayer.

We needed to end this war.

Chapter 2
Lisette

Several eyes watched me as I passed through the battlefield cleanup; they always landed on the vampire in my arms, then drifted to my white cloak. Blood soaked into the earth, dying most of Low Grassland red. It was the first day of fall. Dryness and greens-turned-yellow were expected, but the red… the red, the trampled grass, and the fetid mud squishing under my boots were our doing. I’d never seen a swamp, but I had heard they smelled terrible. I doubted they rivaled this. This stench was eye-watering.

Eventually, Gala spoke again, Lyris rolling off her tongue. “What are you doing?”

Lyris was a language we didn’t use often, but I was fluent if not accent-free; its tones were soft compared to the harsh consonants of Chezquan.

“I’m going south,” I said. “We should be able to contact the others soon.”

Invisible tech fields floated around us, inevitable with all the Silver Hollow vampires now near us, but my commsbud remained silent. Our line was dead outside of me and Gala. The tech fields weren’t overlapping the distance between us and White Team, so I went south to find them. South was where I had left them.

“Have you seen any slayers?” I asked the nearest scavenger to make sure I wasn’t wasting our time. “I’m looking for White Team.”

The scavenger paused her work and bowed her head. “Yes, White First. Keep going south.”

I nodded my thanks and proceeded with Gala on my heels.

“Where are you taking her body?” Gala asked.

I would have told the Crimson Caves vampire that a slayer never left a teammate to rot or burn to ash on the battlefield, but that wasn’t true. Instead, I said, “I’m taking her home.”

After a moment of nothing but the earth squelching beneath us, Gala spoke again. “Why? Leave her to the sun. Uncover her, and she’ll take to the wind.”

The black-metal sword at Gala’s hip clinked with her every step. It was clunky and long compared to my aassu. She was better use with a firearm, but I didn’t pick fights with the Crimson Caves vampire. I knew how important it was to make a good impression on her. With any luck, she’d report our success to Crimson Caves, our strength too, and their queen would offer us reinforcements. They were powerful allies we sorely needed to put an end to the Schengs once and for all—if we wanted to avoid unacceptable casualties like Tuel. 

That didn’t mean I had to like her, though. 

Static jumped inside my ear as my commsbud came to life with harshly accented Lyris. “Lisette, Gala, where are you?”

I shifted my hold on Tuel and pressed my finger to the small pebble-like device sitting in my ear to transmit my response. “North, White Leader. I killed a Scheng general who was filled with moonlight, and Gala is with me.”

“The two of you killed the bastard?”

A rare ghost of a smile slipped onto my lips. “No, I killed him. Gala joined me later.”

“Are you broken?”

“No, but I am sore. I had to drink two vials.”

“Two? You digested both of them?”

“I was initially injured, so that had something to do with it, but I still surpassed my previous conditioned limit.”

“I’m impressed, First. We have our gliders, and Claire has a lock on your location, so we’ll head north to retrieve you both.”

“Lisette has Tuel, too,” Gala informed. Heat prickled up my neck when she added, “She’s dead.”

I kept walking. Though a cooldown pain focused on my navel, I didn’t stumble. Likewise, Fyefa didn’t comment on Gala’s report. Insolent Crimson Caves vampire. Fyefa was White Leader, but I was White First. Gala had no business undermining my position, tattling on me like a petulant scamp.

And yet, it was true I was doing something unnecessary. Warrior or not, a vampire’s body was empty once her spirit had been reclaimed by Yessma. 

I could say nothing. For so many reasons, I could say nothing. But I also couldn’t let go of Tuel. Her limp form was a burden with no purpose, but I wanted to take her home.

The rumbling engines of incoming combat gliders signaled White Team’s arrival. The sleek black vehicles blazed gold in the morning sunrays. The fat wheels screeched, but the vehicles’ power ensured they didn’t get stuck. A wet crunch followed the glider taking up the rear when it trampled a corpse. Vampire or werewolf, I didn’t know. I knew it shouldn’t matter.

The gliders slowed to a stop when they reached us, sparing us from a mud spray. The bottom half of the vehicles were covered in gore. The heavily tinted windows were no exception, but the windshield wipers maintained adequate visibility.

Fyefa stepped out of the driver’s-side door of the first vehicle. Wind howled past us, and the silver-wreath insignia glinted off the back of her white cloak. Fyefa held her hood steady, pulled up her mask, and gave me a once-over. Her eyes lingered on the bundle in my arms. 

“You’re shaking,” she said.

“I took two vials,” I reminded and winced as my veins writhed like parasitic worms.

Fyefa folded her arms and nodded as our teammates poked their hooded heads out of the gliders. “But you’re still standing. This is why she’s your first, White Team.”

“I don’t know what happened to Tuel. I found her body after I’d finished my fight with the Scheng general. Are all others accounted for?” I peeked at the faces observing me—observing Tuel.

“Yes.” Fyefa spared Tuel another glance before returning to the driver’s seat. “Get in.”

As soon as I sat down, I knew I wouldn’t be up again until we arrived at Silver Hollow. At least it would give me half a day to fight through cramps—unless my entire body seized up by being stationary for so long. It was undesirable, but I had my team, and we were going home. I wouldn’t die, and I was confident I would fully recover.

Gala climbed into the backseat of Demsneh’s glider as I took the free space in the backseat of Fyefa’s. Tuel’s body was becoming stiff, but I held her close and propped her up against my chest so she wouldn’t disturb Scarlet, who wore a scowl. Scarlet removed her hood and pushed her short black hair out of her eyes once the door was shut and all sunrays were kept safely outside of the glider; she needed a haircut. Olive sat on the window seat opposite of me, staring at the tinted glass; she was as oblivious as usual. Claire sat up front next to Fyefa, snoring.

As Fyefa turned the glider around to continue on our way south, no one said a word. The terrain was bumpy, but we’d reach a dirt road soon enough. Perhaps we should have been celebrating, but Tuel was White Team’s first casualty with Fyefa as White Leader. Age twenty-five was young to be honored with such a privilege, and I knew she didn’t take it lightly. I was a year younger. I had grown up with her and didn’t take my position lightly either. None of us did. Slayers in any position were Silver Hollow’s highest-ranking warriors. Each member of our team had earned her place. This loss was a blot on all of our records, regardless of age and experience.

I stared out the window as we drove through the battlefield. Most everything was rendered black and white by the nearly opaque tint, a scene out of time. More ashy motes and freed cloaks drifted into the sky by a sudden rush of wind whistling across Low Grassland. They could have been carrion birds.

Werewolf remains usually lingered longest. Bodies piled on top of each other until the living Schengs gave a damn enough to return on a night when the moon showed face to burn them. Supposedly, it was the only way their dead could return to their God, Lureine—or moonlight. I didn’t pretend to understand werewolves, but I thought about honoring the dead.

Sometimes I thought about the deceased vampire warriors trapped under their cloaks and left to rot like the werewolves. A part of me wished to scour the entire battlefield, to unearth them and let the sun turn them to ash. I knew Yessma had their souls. I knew their bodies held nothing after death, but I thought warriors shouldn’t be left to rot. They deserved more than that.

I adjusted Tuel’s stiff body to find a more comfortable position, but there was no relief from the smell of decaying blood. As vampires, we were extremely sensitive to that smell. Preserving blood was no small feat. Still, my team said nothing, so I held Tuel and searched the cloudy sky to praise our God.

Let Tuel rest easy until Yessma’s chosen prevail. Then let her celebrate with us.

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