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A Distance There Is

Chapter Text


 “Twelve dreams for the red queen under crown of stone.

Eight voracious beasts born from eight restless nights.

Four nails piercing the flesh of the sinner.

One prayer for the summoned called by this song.”

 

“Thirteen commensals around the holy flesh and blood over the table.

Nine the nights for the darkest dream to turn into despair.

Five the claws of the beast hidden within its lair.

Two the points between a distance crossed through more faith than fable.”

 

The past resembles the future more than one drop of water resembles another, for every minute, the future is becoming the past.

And the past could be very well compared to a house: without its due foundations, the structure is bound to sink and crumble, as if it was never built in the first place.

For without the heritage of the past, we cannot hope for the new blood of the future.


He remembered not having the luxury to think in too deep since he first set foot on France.

The tragedy the newspapers had been proclaimed since the infamous Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand four years ago on Sarajevo paled in comparison of the uncanny horror one man experiences first-hand frontline of fire at the trenches.

And there’s more salt to add to the wound if said man has the minimum military preparation to face the worst, but not the soul of a combatant willing to die for his homeland… and kill in its name.

His day-to-day battle had been consisting on keep men alive at any cost, even if said cost came with a hostile environment that knew nothing about hygiene and care, rudimentary means to mimic the surgical instruments he was deprived of and questionable sources of timed out chemicals that, refined and combined the right way, could produce a very poor substitute of drugs and disinfectants that could keep butchered bodies from dying either by blood loss or sepsis.

His fight had been against death itself when taking life was the common coin to buy survival.

He hadn’t been a killer.

However…

"Jonathan, you okay, pal?"

He had been dreaming again, sleeping the hangover of so many fireworks bombarding his brains for so long he couldn’t remember how silence used to feel.

Rolling on his bunk bed, even with the sudden illness that got his stomach the very second he opened his eyes, he still had the reflexes and deference to make the owner of that voice aside before he violently spilled his guts on the wooden floor of the ship they were traveling at the time.

For they were returning home. Returning after months and months transformed in three whole years of existence in semi-automatic state where trying not to die while keeping nameless and faceless flesh from going still and rot had been the only way to remain with a slight resemblance of sanity.

Returning after having become willingly more machine than man, more body than soul… and more taker of lives instead of the healer he was supposed to be.

A healer that cannot heal the horror his eyes had seen… and the inability to retain whatever scarce supper he had forced himself to eat aboard this cursed ship.

Oh, how he hated sailing, ships, the sea and everything that had to do with staying over a deceiving flat surface that kept on jumping, shaking and generally moving, making his otherwise impeccable sense of equilibrium and orientation get as unbalanced as possible.

After those strange three years he didn’t remember how seasick he had gotten the first time he went to Europe, no matter how supposedly “short” the trip was meant to be.

Panting heavily, he inhaled twice before recovering his usual composure and his voice came out without a hint of the shakiness he felt inside.

"Apologies." – he rumbled smoothly, a true son of the social status that has groomed him so well – "I am afraid I forgot how sailing trips used to feel. It seems that I am not going to get used to it ever."

"It’s okay, man, it’s okay. ‘fter all, a doctor can very well fall ill just as the rest of us, eh?"

That man’s voice… he seemed amicable enough and Jonathan remembered his face among the waves of the wounded and the dead. He had been his roommate since the ship sailed from Calais, and he had been keeping company to him.

An Irishman for sure, for his thick accent and his slang betrayed that much among other things such as his physical shape as well… or the slightly aged face he sported despite being around ten years younger than Jonathan himself for sure… the social status said man had pertained before partaking in the now ceased war as a soldier, was clear as a sunny day.

Yes, Jonathan could deduce that much from him… but, to his shame, he couldn’t remember the man’s name for his life. He had been so proactive back at the battlefield at not willing himself to get attached in any way to any living entity that could die tomorrow… that he, somehow, had forgotten how to look at another person and see them with any other eye but the clinical one.

Willing himself to feign feeling as alright as he could muster in order to clean the mess he had created himself in the first place, once he got the thing decently cleaned, he excused himself and went outside for a walk to calm the dizziness and the unsavory feeling at the pit of his stomach.

The night was clear and cold, without stars twinkling in the vast roof of the sky and nothing but the darkness itself to keep him company in the long hours he willed himself to remain awake until dawn broke and the other passengers, ex-soldiers like him mostly, went outside to enjoy the blinding and cold white sun that unending autumn brought to them.

He returned inside at the very instant he detected the cheerful talk and easy camaraderie between them.

For he knew nobody there and he couldn’t summon the strength to socialize with people that was all the same to him.

For he saw them as the nameless and faceless flesh he had kept patching up while fighting in a war that had got the best of him.

Because to him, deep inside… those men weren’t even worthy of being considered human anymore.


Day after day, as the weeks and months passed, she hated more and more her job.

What was she doing there, in the first place? What was she making of her career in a foreign country, with a foreign language and a foreign currency nobody within the whole fucking European Union understood how it worked but the people that populated this shitty land where the only remarkable thing were the grass and the constant rain that fed the unnatural quick grow of said grass?

Their weather was shitty, their food and gastronomy were insulting, their lifestyle was boring, their taxes and prices, in general, were outrageous, and their opening and closing hours for business were ridiculous.

For fuck’s sake, even their inverted driving lanes made no sense at all!

What the Hell was she doing here?

"Miss Días, a word if you please."

Oh, right. After the daily question she so often asked to herself internally, she always got the same answer: she was working.

"I have noticed that the last batch of blood analysis is suffering from severe delay and you know very well that our hospital isn’t in a situation that can afford a single complaint coming from any of the patients this month."

She was exercising her profession after years of fiasco after fiasco in her own homeland, where sanitary professionals were plenty and the available jobs on the private sector were scarce and underpaid.

"I’m afraid I cannot stress to you the importance of the swift delivering of results as our services are putting at test in front of the Sanitary Inspection that we can undergo any time soon since that last… impeachment regarding you-know-what."

And don’t let me start about the public health service, for that sector in particular was out of question with someone like her. Someone who needed to pay her monthly bills and who couldn’t afford to let the years pass idly without contribute to the Social Security with working time so in the future she could get a semi-decent pension when she got old and she will be forced to retire, as she would prepare some tough and rather competitive oppositions where, without well-placed connections, you had to demonstrate by means of a very extensive and pretty unfair exam that you were the first of your Promotion.

No matter you were the best at the practical field of your specialty, you ought to demonstrate that you were a swot that has the retentive capacity of a parrot, quoting word by word what the Temary says, or you can either hit the road.

She wasn’t a theoretic person, for fuck’s sake! She had the ropes and the needed knowledge to exercise with most excellence!

Knowledge, especially where health was involved, should be demonstrated through a practical test, not through some pretty words copied line by line on several folios that cost you money each try and that nobody would care about once your worth it’s showed on the field.

"I’m well aware that, since the incident, we have lost yet another critical percentage of our staff. The situation is not being an easy one for any of us."

Fed up with working in a ridiculous supermarket with a more ridiculous income despite having a respectable Medicine Degree with an actual Pathology Specialization, high ambitions and a pretty decent C1 English level, three years ago she had made a decision to try her luck in U.K.

The Skype interview, her nice University qualifications, and her enthusiasm had been her passport to a formerly prestigious hospital right in the heart of the country: London.

But life in a foreign country, especially England, had not been as smooth as she had anticipated.

"However, I’m sure you understand that doing your best even if that means working a few extra hours, will worth maintaining your employment and, by extension, the much-needed support this hospital needs in order to make it to the next year. Yes?"

Not even a year after her arrival, in 2016 June British people had voted in favor to the infamous Brexit, a measure that implied and still implies two years and a half later that United Kingdom would withdraw from the European Union and all the consequences that followed suit.

With such a situation shaking the country, many of her colleagues, European outlanders from very different backgrounds like her, had quit to find fortune in France and Germany, the two more potent countries within the European Union that held the promise of well-remunerated work and whose languages were relatively easy to learn.

And she had found herself running the laboratory practically alone, with time limits quite challenging to meet giving the situation, incessantly accosted by the Medical Staff, not to mention overworking and overtiring herself more hours than she can bother to count.

Of course, those extra hours were incredibly well-remunerated, yes, but she practically had no social life or hobbies because she arrived so exhausted at her flat, that she often even forsook to get something consistent into her stomach in favor to obtain some quality sleep.

That had led her to start losing weight until having today a magnificently skinny and cadaver-like shape. But she was always so tired that she couldn’t summon the will to look in the mirror and find herself abnormally pale, ugly and gaunt. She couldn’t afford the luxury of time for such frivolities now.

In fact, she couldn’t afford the time to return the calls from her besties, Cristina and Paula, or texting her sister Pilar to have some quality, girl-talking time with them and catching on the last news.

She usually went a week or so to Spain every six months when her tight schedule allowed her. Otherwise, she would, quite literally, forsake her legal vacation time… even if she had become so workaholic that she truly never disconnected full percent from her job.

Not even when she returned to the sun and the long bright days full of color, to the nostalgic and much-needed Madrid accent and the good tasty stuff to savor on meals with a nice cold, frozen glass of good tinto de verano* with a juicy slice of orange and lemon…

"Miss Días, are you listening to me at all?"

Blinking once, she didn’t bother to hide the bored expression that had settled on her features while hearing the same old rant from the same good ol’ Mrs. Danvers. Administrative advisor of the Medical Council of Pembroke Hospital, one of the oldest buildings in London that still had a public purpose instead of becoming a museum or part of the many old buildings that now pertained to British Cultural Heritage; Mrs. Danvers was the person responsible to make things run smoothly in the Pembroke… and being her very personal Cerberus.

How old was she, anyway? More than sixty, for damn sure. Shouldn’t she be retired, a voluntary to one of those second-hand establishments to help associations or rather sitting on a bench in one of the many parks within the city, feeding the crows?

She herself looked like a raven with that bird-like predatory gaze and that big aquiline nose she liked so much to stick where it didn’t belong…

"Yeah, yeah, whatever…" - she sighed herself, tired of hearing the rigorous same speech the old crone liked a tad too much to remind her from time to time. She already knew about that particular incident she was talking about and her patience was starting to grow very thin considering said incident had truly not been her fault, but the shithead of a nurse that got the sample wrongly tagged so the poor guy got the wrong diagnosis and ended up with the wrong blood transfusion. Now the guy was critical and his wife wanted to frame the hospital and its staff’s bad praxis – "I’ll get the whole batch done today, sorry for the delay, I know the extent of the shit we got into, blah, blah, blah. Got the message, thank you very much." – she spoke almost automatically, swiftly and with that drone monotone voice tone she knew the older woman hated so much - "Good evening to you, Mrs. Danvers. And now, please allow me to continue with my work. Yes?" – she finished rather petulantly, like a bratty child who felt entitled (and knew she could do it without getting fired anyway) to show her displeasure about a situation nobody was to blame for, but rather an unfortunate tense circumstance.

Mrs. Danvers furrowed her neatly trimmed and painted eyebrows with a slight grimace as if she had just smelled something particularly awful. She couldn’t stand the prideful, unmannered Spaniard woman who was half a head shorter than her and looked up at her with such dispassion and an insulting lack of interest that sometimes Mrs. Danvers secretly wished that the infuriating younger woman would fall ill, so she could have some respite from dealing with her on a daily basis.

Since she had arrived three years ago, she had disliked her haughty body language and her atrocious Spanish accent, which sounded crude and harsh to some particular consonants when she rolled them on her tongue.

Now, with those three years behind and being the only living soul capable of running almost on her own the entire laboratory while still observing scrupulously the QoS, she was so high on her horse that nobody had the gall to threaten with firing her. Just to placate that shameful pride of hers, an unfortunately common trait amongst her countrymen.

Spaniards were hot-blooded people prone to laughing, speaking and arguing too loud in public spaces, not having an ounce of shame or respect to the rest of the world around them as if they owned the place.

Following her forty years working at the Pembroke since she was a young woman, Danvers had known enough Spanish men to know better. And their women were not much different.

And this one gathered in one person the worst of her people.

"Very well." – she replied dryly - "Good evening to you, Miss Días." – she added while she parted closing the door after her with slightly more force that was really necessary.

Eyeing the door with a suddenly contemptible black gaze, the aforementioned Spaniard woman hissed.

"Y es Díaz, “Doña” Danvers." – she said in her native language, a language she was proud of – "¡Díaz con zeta, joder, no “Días”! Que, por no tener, no tenéis ni la menor intención de pronunciar las cosas correctamente. Como sois los putos amos teniendo el inglés, el resto de idiomas y culturas os la sudan, ¿no? Jodidos británicos de mierda…"(1) - she growled bitterly, disgusted by her situation, annoyed on a daily basis by people who didn’t give a crap about her and her hard work.

She was exercising her studies and living on her own with some dignity, yes, but she felt trapped in a country that wasn’t being easy on her, an antisocial thirty-one-year-old angry woman who didn’t believe in what she was doing anymore.

She didn’t give a crap about the people whose blood, epidermal tissues, urine, and feces she analyzed every day. She didn’t give a crap about the Pembroke Hospital or its precarious status.

Hell, she didn’t give a crap about any of the hospital staff or their daily struggle to meet the standards.

The only thing she cared about was herself and the money she was earning there.

The rest of the world was blood, piss, shit, and skin. It was easier that way.

It was easier looking at the people and sort them out by their cellular composition than their true worth as individuals. It was easier to look at them and see particles that constructed a whole instead of human beings.

That way she could ignore the fact that she felt depressed and completely isolated from the real world. That way she could ignore that she was human as well.

Stirring a bit, she returned to her work with the music on her smartphone perforating her eardrums, numbing the rest of her senses, allowing her to keep going as if she had submerged in a blissful nothingness… until she caught herself multitasking, with the aforementioned blood batch having being finished almost an hour ago.

"¿Qué hora es…?" – she said lazily to nobody in particular until she checked her phone - "¡¿Las putas nueve y media?! ¡¿En serio, tío?!" – she let escape a heavy sigh from her lips while she pinched the bridge of her nose – "Dios… hoy no voy a dormir una mierda…"(2)

She had done that again. Staying far more than two extra hours from her usual schedule.

It was Tesco shopping for her again. No other supermarket was open this late, and her fridge would start growing cobwebs at this rate…

Tidying up her work environment, taking the samples to the small freezer, picking her plastic gloves and mask and dropping them to the trash and doing pretty much everything that would welcome her within a few hours again as much organized and sorted out as possible (she freely admitted that she was an order freak, so what?), she picked up her stuff on the changers, put on her sneakers and walked the corridors to get herself some fresh air and some nice salmon fillets before going to sleep for three or four hours, if she got lucky.

The usual, really.

That’s why, used to the monotone schedule of her repetitive days, she detected the novelty almost immediately when she saw the odd beam of white light coming from under the Morgue door.

She passed every day in front of that very door, and usually Poppy, the medical examiner who also ran alone that grim tiny part of the Pembroke, wasn’t working at this hour.

Poppy was a bitch, alright, but she was a bitch she could respect. Not many British women with her academic qualifications and competencies would renounce to exercise as physician of Generic Medicine in favor of being designated Forensic Examiner of an unsavory Morgue within a hospital with so many internal issues and scandalous lack of qualified staff that, among other things, called her “Dead Poopy” to her back, and she knew it. The woman wasn’t the nicest company to have around, but she had some guts.

Deciding that checking on her wouldn’t do any ill since it was pretty late, she opened the door without knocking.

"Poppy? Poppy, it’s Carmen." – she wasn’t so dehumanized to not to offer her at least the chance for a fast supper, as she was sure Poppy wouldn’t be so bitchy to not to appreciate the gesture. Both were in the same ship, after all, and some good-natured exchange perhaps would do wonders for both their shitty temperaments. Between “cold bitches” like them, there was some degree of a, on the other hand, much-needed understanding - "Got tangled with work today? You hungry? Want something from Tesc…?" – but soon, her offer turned into a tiny strand of stalled voice – "Motherf…"

She didn’t know what she was saying or thinking anymore, for the amount of red splattering the walls and the floor were all her sight could process right at the moment.

All she could smell. All she could hear, pumping in her ears like a war drum.

Blood. Crimson, fresh and shiny blood.

And the source of the suddenly so scandalous liquid was none other than her colleague Poppy, who was lying on her back, somehow still alive if the nervous twitches on both her eyes and hands were any indication. But not for much.

For, above her, viciously sinking both his hands and face inside her open ribcage, was a hunched man.

Making wet and munching, stomach-wreaking, noises as he devoured the tender flesh of the dying woman with both a horrifying and mesmerizing gluttony that spoke of desperation and enjoyment in equal quantities, the said man resembled in the way he scratched the open wound and fed more beast than human.

The shock from the grotesque image in front of her was so great that Carmen, for a moment, lost completely her ability to speak.

Or to scream.

However, her reflexes returned to her in a most violent way the very second the beastly man got up and, still hunched, turned around to face her.

The moment he smiled and showed his sharp teeth all coated in an uncanny mixture of saliva, blood, and bits of organic remains, she was still paralyzed. Mostly because, if anthropomorphic, that creature smiling to her wasn’t human. Not anymore.

It looked… more like a corpse, if she had to pick an adjective. Its flesh was eroded and slightly rotten, patches of skin absent all over its anatomy.

But its eyes… so ferocious, so yellow, so deranged…

What she had before her eyes wasn’t human, and it was a natural predator.

However, the moment it screeched at Carmen, pearling her with drops of blood as it did, she finally managed to get herself together soon enough to dodge the violent bump it threw at her with a five-digit clawed hand.

The next she knew was herself getting out of the room in a desperate mad daze along the corridor towards the exit… and the growl behind her before the non-human creature materialized itself out of thin air between her and her salvation.

Moving slowly backwards, as if fearing to worsen her already bad situation, she started to teeth grinding while her nape and back collected a drenching cold sweat.

"Esto no está pasando…" - she murmured between her teeth, her eyes almost out of their sockets as they registered the image of the ghoulish thing getting nearer and nearer – "No, esto no está puto pasando…"(3)

Then she found seconds later herself painfully pushed to the ground, and she finally managed to scream when the inhuman thing bite her left arm when she had risen it in a defensive gesture.

Feeling how a seizing burning sensation set the nerves of her arm on fire as if were being torn out, she screamed and screamed, fighting and twisting on the floor where a pool of dark dense blood started to form and engulfed her from head to toe as the weight of the creature drop heavily beside her while a pair of cold arms embraced her.

Carmen didn’t know what was happening as the white-hot pain in her arm started to spread towards her neck and left breast. Whatever the poison or the infection, it was advancing at a fast pace.

"What happened?!" – an unknown voice… so distant…

"She was attacked!" – then another voice… so close she could literally feel it rumble along her sore spine… so smooth… so deep… - "The Skal has bitten her!"

What a beautiful voice…

"Oh my God! A Skal? Here?" – the distant voice sounded incredulous - "How could this have happened?! I was monitoring her, I swear!"

"Call the others, I will take care of this." – oh, the wonderful voice… so clear… such a nice pronunciation… so warm… - "Now!" – then silence, a silence that brought a darkness that started to absorb her – "Carmen. Carmen, listen to me. Do not let it grasp you. Do not die, not now. You heard me?"

That voice was all she could hear… the cold proximity all she could feel… and she thought that dying listening to such a voice couldn’t be so bad after all…

"Carmen!"

She thought all of her body was now pulsating as waves of fire hit her, like a blast of life coursing through her veins. She felt her insides melt as her physical perception turned liquid, hot rich liquid spreading all over her skin, overflowing every pore of her epidermis.

Her bones felt like jelly as if any consistency was never there in the first place. She was the ocean, and the fire inside her a neverending tide, giving her gravity. Her lips were moist, pulsating with the many words she would never speak. The feelings that would never see the surface.

Then her world fell down in total darkness.


He remembered the small settlement of Dover only because its port had been the one from he had sailed from England to Calais when he had presented himself voluntary for the now so-called Great War.

But nothing had been great about this war, about any war, he suspected.

With stable, solid ground under his feet, he had been given indications about where to find a Post Office that had telegraph service.

His first thoughts when he had gotten out of the damnable ship had been to make his family aware of his return.

He likely would direct the telegram to Mary, as her last letter had informed him that their mother was very ill.

He had been too preoccupied with this news that he had failed to notice at first that the port of Dover had been practically deserted, not a soul to be seen except himself and the other ex-soldiers coming from the war.

After posting the telegram to Mary’s name, he went to the railway station to ask for a ticket to the next train that went directly to London to find, desolated, that news from the Capital spoke of the terrifying epidemic that had been spreading along all Europe since the last year and, through the soldiers coming home, had grown some roots in England to stay for a while: the Spanish Flu.

Spanish press, being not subjected to the wide censorship many European Nations have imposed about the war in general and its consequences, had been the first to warn the public about this new epidemic, so it owed its name to that.

Jonathan had treated quite the number of cases of this illness back at the battlefield, and he had been investigating ways to cure the pathogen, but giving the poor instrumental he had there, his investigations had been rendered fruitless.

Sighing heavily, ticket in hand and almost eight hours ahead until the train to London arrived, Jonathan raked his fingers along his hair, his black coal hair fashioned in the military way, and consulted his pocket watch rather absently.

He knew cases like his were not uncommon amongst many ex-soldiers and all he needed was to come terms to himself and what he had done back in France.

But he couldn’t summon the courage to even give it a name, a meaning in his rational mind.

He still had the buzzing of the shooting, the deafening explosions of the bombs and the cries of the men deeply ingrained within his soul, if there was a rational and medical explanation for such a spiritual notion.

He couldn’t forget… how the tent had blown before his very own eyes… how his colleague, within a fraction of a second, had been no more than ashes… and how he had survived.

How he, still disorientated from the explosion and the force that had propelled him backwards and had blinded him for a moment, had regained the reign over his body and had grabbed a fallen rifle…

“Killing is a hell a lot easier than healing.”

No, no! He wouldn’t go down that path, not yet.

He just needed to sleep… to fell into that blissful coma white that had been denied to him for so long that he wondered if he would sleep well again ever.

He would wait for the train, anyway. He wasn’t hungry, and he needed some time alone.

Alone with the cold breeze that smelled of the ocean and announced the proximity of winter.

Alone with this blissful silence that he was starting to remember and enjoying with all his might.

Alone with his denial and his inner monsters, lying dormant in wait under the surface.

Chapter Text


It was a mess, a bloody mess for sure.

Corpses, litter, vermin, and blood were all her five senses could process. As if the world, somehow, had become a huge cesspool full of death and pestilence.

The streets… the streets she had grown to recognize these last three years were oddly shaped; the structure of the buildings was off yet perfectly recognizable, the pavement too rough, the traffic lights and the rest of signals were nowhere in sight, the advertisements gone, the storefronts shaped in all the same old-fashioned crap… the fruits and vegetables on the stands bitten, rotten away as maggots rose from food and dead bodies in equal measurements.

And everything had this red tint as if the world has stopped and she had been physically reversed, with all her fluids and organs in sight.

Or perhaps it was her eyes, that ached so much as if they have gone out of her sockets and some motherfucker had coated them in bleach and put them back on her looking on the inside, right directly to her skull.

“Ah, but that is the way a living creature experiences the transitions between natures, for you were bitten and the venom is speaking for itself while fighting the call of the earth.”

That voice… so foreign and familiar at the same time…

"What the Hell?!" – she exclaimed, rubbing her eyelids frantically as she felt hot burning wetness gathering at her eyelashes, striving for getting out – "What is this?! Who the fuck are you?!"

“I am the weeping earth, for since a century ago I slumber, and in my dreams, I have felt the void and the unshed tears my child has reclaimed to himself since the last time my Queen unleashed her wrath, awoken by the hunger never fed.” – answered the voice, vibrating with its disembodied cadences through the full atmosphere, like the very air she breathed, intertwining with her lungs and the blood that coursed through them.

"The fuck are you talking about?!" – God, her eyes… they hurt so much as they turned liquid, just as the same as her ears, her mouth and her skin – "The pain!" – she gurgled, spitting something metallic and vile, thick and dark as the red world slowly tinted itself in deep carmine darkness – "Make it stop!!"

But the voice continued talking, mixing itself with all her physical being, pulsating all over her, kissing her deepest thoughts.

“Joined by the pact blood demands, I needed a Champion and I created him. She wanted a worthy opponent, and he complied. Soon, you will remember everything. And he will obtain those answers that have eluded him for so long, for he did not leave unscathed the test he went through, and decisions once made for the right, can very well turn into a short-term answer, but not the solution.”

"HELP ME!" – she cried, overflowed by the pestilence and darkness, vomiting, sweating and crying that vile substance that seemed to give shape to everything she perceived, everything she knew… everything she was – "STOP THIS PAIN! PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!! ¡HAZ QUE PARE!" (1)

Suddenly, something liquid yet solid caressed her cheek, easing the burn and sweeping away the tears made of salt, blood, eye vitreous and aqueous humor her nails and fingers had carved out of her skull basins amidst the desperate, burning pain.

“You are no child of this land, not by birth nor by heart.” – said the voice once more with softness, bringing her comfort, like a father would do to a daughter – “But you shall learn to be, to become part of its History, to sway the unswayed will. Either by love and care… or by indifference and disdain. That will remain your only and one choice.”

And with that, the carmine darkness embraced and cradled her with its cold love as the distant singing of a woman led her to sleep surrounded by filth and decay, the first of the many promises her song assured.


Inhaling absently the faint aroma from the rather watered down whiskey he had ordered in the nearest tavern he had found after hours of wandering up and down on his way from the railway station to the Reid Manor, Jonathan observed lazily the many unsmiling patrons that came and went off the establishment, creating a mental sketchy profile of the current situation in London.

On the first impression he had observed an excessive alarming amount of rubbish gathering on the streets blocking avenues and wooden barricades that were painted with messages about quarantine and a ridiculous amount of people from the other side claiming that he better go Southeast, go around the West-End by the Old Whitechapel Road and access to the rich District by means of the eastern entrance.

He had been walking and receiving indications of what documents he should present and which zones were closed for hours and hours, and he, in all honesty, needed a drink.

Taking a gulp and making a grimace as the liquor didn’t burn down his throat the way it should, Jonathan Reid sighed heavily at the unsavory taste he obtained while he observed the same grimaces of utter disgust the other patrons were making at their respective beverages while drinking in silence.

"This is… despicable." – he hissed lowly.

First alcoholic drink he had tasted in three years, and he was already vowing that he wouldn’t take another one for the rest of his life.

The epidemic had made London a dead, unsavory gray place to live for sure. Not only the alcohol tasted wrong, but the quiet ambient and the pale, aged, tired people that came to the establishment so late, looked filthy and ill.

Where was the joy that he was promised to find once he returned to his home? Where was the London that had seen him growing up?

He had returned from the war to find himself in another shady, hostile environment as the only thing people kept talking about were the idiotic power-play going between the old Wet Boot Boys from The Docks and these new guys recruiting young men for nightly vigilantism that called themselves the Guard of Priwen.

As if the Spanish Influenza wasn’t justification enough to be afraid of your own neighbors… The world had gone completely mad.

Leaving the due payment for his drink over the wooden table he had been sitting at, Jonathan got up and abandoned the seedy tavern to just notice that the sun was setting at a fast pace leaving its pale light all over the pavement, shining with the average drizzle that was so common in England. He had forgotten completely in France that the rain was a constant in his birth country, and he was glad that at least one thing had not changed during his long absence. That made the tragedy surrounding him slightly more poignant, slightly less… depressing.

Oh, if Mary could see him right now… even in her sorrow after losing her husband to the war and her only child to the flu, she had remained positive in her letters, letting her older brother know how much she wished he had been there with her and how much she had kept praying for him to return sound and safe. With their mother ill, Mary was now his only refuge, as he intended to be hers from now on forward.

It had been more years than those three he had spent fighting in a war he had not believed in for a second; for before their father had left them and their mother, Jonathan himself had been more and more absent from the family house, in too deep with his investigations with the blood transfusion technique to care about his mother’s daily whereabouts.

Now he felt that, somehow, he had not been a good son at all.

Putting up the lapels of his trench coat the moment the delicate rain evolved into a downpour, the surgeon ran all along overflowed streets, splashing water as his shoes and the low seams of his trousers got muddy.

He had this map of the city he had purchased to a boy a couple of hours ago to look for more ways to get into the West-End District and his patience was starting to wear thin as every last of the possible passages towards his house seemed to be blocked by the quarantine barricades.

By the time he managed to reach the lower entrance near The Docks, his last chance to get inside the West-End, he was exhausted and the discreet life that had been buzzing the whole day by the streets seemed to have completely vanished as the night had engulfed London.

He had his modest suitcase with him and its weight was starting to annoy him since he had been dragging it with him all day.

"My goodness, this wicked thing…" - he expressed tiredly as he changed the weight from his right hand to his left – "To think I only took the indispensable…"

Just his luck he had to wander The Docks at this hour with sore limbs and a weight he was starting to consider throwing to the nearest canal. If he didn’t find a way to enter the West-End soon, he would have to find himself a place to stay by the night, and he dreaded the thought of sleeping in a filthy tavern at The Docks, not that he saw any establishment open this late.

"Where has everyone gone?" – he wondered out loud and, for a brief second, he thought he saw somebody turning the corner of the dirty building he was passing by – "Wait! Excuse me sir, may I steal a minute of your…?" – but as he ran to the direction of the silhouette, it turned to be that nobody was in sight – "But I swear I saw…"

He didn’t end his sentence, as out of nowhere he heard a voice speaking. But as he searched the origin of said voice, the words spoken turned out to be more and more distinguishable, as if he only needed to concentrate his senses hard enough.

“Twelve dreams for the red queen under crown of stone.

That she might linger longer, her eyes as white as bone.”

"Who goes that?" – he asked, desperate seeking to find any sort of human help in his dire circumstance – "Who’s there?"

“A prayer for the summoned by the warring song.

A child born from darkness must take scent of his path.”

"Are you referring to me…?" – he asked out of the blue, suddenly realizing that the presence was just behind him.

Then, within a second, his whole world fell down as a burning pain pierced his throat by the left, leaving behind a warm liquid trail as his body lost consistence while a deathly chill embraced him. The grip over his suitcase lost strength, and he sank on his knees while his entire being begged for rest.

He knew he was dying and, instead of feeling fear or even sadness, a sudden rage and venomous indignation seized him.

No! No… I still have so much to accomplish!

Nobody had the right to take him this way! He couldn’t die just like this! He wasn’t prepared…!

But then, a metallic scent took away all his senses and a welcoming carmine darkness embraced him as Morpheus claimed his mind.

It was time to sleep. To sleep longer than he had ever slept in all his life.


Larry Smith and Jack Gibbons were what they jokingly liked to call “undertakers”.

Since Clay Cox, the official leader of the Wet Boot Boys, took his personal revenge to a new level against that kid by gutting him like a pig, the poor bastard’s family was rather pissed off and rumor said that they wanted revenge as well. So now Clay was playing the stupid game of being hunted and hunting down the kid’s siblings while his wife, Edwina, had taken the reins and she was now the one delivering orders.

Not that Larry or Jack thought that she didn’t know what she was doing, ‘cause Edwina, if equally ruthless as Clay, had more brains and forethought than her hot-blooded husband… but thing was that they happened to respect Clay, and dealing with orders given by some whore that cheated on her husband with his Second-In-Command, Booth Digby, that poor bastard who believed in ghosts and who was so enamored with the slut that he cannot see beyond the whole picture she had painted for him, wasn’t sitting well with the two of them.

That was mainly why they have stopped giving her the percentage of the earnings they had been picking at the Southwark mass grave.

That way they had got a bit greedy and, by extension, bolder than usual given the late hour they were at while searching the corpses.

"Wait!" – Jack said while giving the turnaround to one particularly tall and well-preserved despite the evident blood loss that likely had been the cause of his death rather than the flu – "This one’s dressed up fancy!" – he exclaimed, taking an appreciative look at the fine tailoring of the corpse’s trench coat and his shoes – "Let’s run through his pockets. I’ve still a rent to pay, ‘n he ain’t got more responsibilities."

That was their daily justification against the moral shit that called out against defiling the dead like they were doing right now.

But the situation was desperate, and morality had nothing to do with practicality. Dead had no use for their belongings anymore and the resources to keep one’s belly properly fed were scarce since the epidemic started last summer.

"What’s this?" – Jack spoke again as his hands felt something smooth, small and metallic inside the right pocket of the dead man’s trousers once he had “alleviated” him of his fancy trench coat – "A golden watch!"

"Beautiful it is." – confirmed his partner in crime, Larry – "We fence it and share the takin’s. That pretty lil’ bauble might worth a nice pinch."

"Yeah." – Jack nodded – "But I’m keepin’ the coat, if you don’t mind. Weather’s getting colder, ‘n I think this poor sod got me size just right."

"You sure? I mean, I don’t mind… but the bastard’s got his good six and a half foot tall for sure. Bit long for ye, eh?"

"Nah, me wife can make a pretty decent fix to it. She’ll love to have this fine shit to work with. She ain’t gettin’ any customers since the quarantine started, and she hates not havin’ work to do. Damn fine seamstress me woman is."

Once they were done with the clearly former gentleman, Jack grabbed the corpse by his armpits.

"Now, give ‘im a heave." – he instructed to his partner as both thrown the body with the many others they had ransacked previously to the mass grave recently dig – "Whoa, bastard’s heavy!"

"That’s what ye got bein’ rich ‘n shit. Full belly’s never a problem." – Larry replied nonchalantly while eyeing the next piece of work – "Look, mate!" – he exclaimed turning around the body – "Shameful, what a pretty lass…"

"Careful with this one, Larry, the cunt ain’t English." – he examined the body’s facial features - "Looks like a foreigner to me. Maybe Italian, dunno. Me ol’ man says these brought the flu. They live among the filth, you know."

"She looks pretty clean to me."

"C’mon, Larry, she’s just another Jane Doe, for God’s sake!" – then he started to search through the odd blue backpack she still had attached to her back – "What’s this?" – he asked while showing a little white box with a red cross painted over it – "Medical stuff?"

"Look, Jack!" – Larry added showing his partner a strange rectangular colorful device that was inside her also odd coat’s pockets – "What d’ya think this could b…?"

But he didn’t end his sentence as a cold hand grabbed his wrist, sinking viciously its long nails on his flesh. And Jack and Larry had never let a scream so loud come out of their mouths in unison as a hoarse feminine voice came from the dead woman’s dry lips in a thick, harsh accent.

"That shit’s mine, you motherfucker."


“What is darkness, but lurking sun?”

The first thing he noticed when consciousness returned to him was the pungent stench of filth and rotten organic tissue all around him. A stench he, sadly, had grown to recognize the last three years amidst the shooting and the bombs.

A lament for what had been lost, a whirlwind of decay, a vortex of darkness that had threatened to swallow him then, and now threatened to make him one of the fallen.

“What is wall, but enslaved stone?”

He had vowed to never swell statistics the very moment Alan Elliot, a dear colleague of his that had been during the first seven months in France his only moral support, had been shot down during an evacuation of the hospital St. Marie de Saint-Just on Paris.

That day had been the first of many that had rendered Dr. Jonathan Reid more soldier than physician.

“What is glass, but tortured sand?”

For killing is a hell a lot easier than healing, right?

“What is song, but a call to arms?”

The first time had been a German soldier, one of the many souls that compounded that faceless threatening entity called idly “the enemy”.

A shot in the chest.

“What is hate, but jilted love?”

His first reaction after firing the gun had been to run towards the poor bastard and check his vital constants.

He was dead before he managed to reach him. He had been just a child, not older than perhaps sixteen or seventeen.

“What is death… but life pending?”

He had killed that poor boy… and he still had no tears to shed for that part of his humanity he had lost that day.

But humanity itself received him in all its rotten, dead glory as he finally managed to open his eyes and, after his pupils dilated, a world of gray and crimson shadows welcomed him back.

The instant he got up, the Dantesque image that greeted him made him want to retch; for the decaying, deformed gray faces of too many corpses to count were looking at him through dead eyes and empty sockets as if they were waiting for him to do something. A mute audience awaiting the next act to take place.

And so he complied.

Crawling like a maggot amongst dead flesh, he carved out his way to a higher point, for it seemed he had been thrown to a mass grave. Another John Doe to fill the inhuman statistics about humans themselves.

Using whatever support he could make out of yielding mort flesh and bones, he ignored the persisting and utterly disgusting buzzing of the many flies reunited there and he, after reaching the blessed surface, allowed himself a few seconds of self-indulging deprecation, not knowing what horrified him more: the scandalous lack of hygiene and dignity gathered in that one place that he, merely minutes ago, had been part of it… or the mere thought of not being able to relate with those victims that had been not as fortunate as him.

Panting heavily, his disorientation weighting immensely on his dazed brains, he forced himself to walk a straight line ahead even if crouched and overwhelmed by the stench.

But there was another entirely different kind of scent stronger than the decay surrounding him.

A sweet, metallic kind of scent that made his mouth water.

The thirst… he was so thirsty he could kill for a single drop of…

Then he focused his senses and heard it. The voice of a woman.

It was distant and muffled… and her cadence rang so familiar on his ears…

Oh, but he was so thirsty! He felt like he was dying each step he took towards the sweet smell, for his need was so great…

A chorus of disembodied voices rang within his brains like a cacophony where he couldn’t distinguish the feminine voice of earlier, the beats of what he perceived as his heart a gentle drum pumping liquid… a liquid that reminded him of how thirsty he felt.

Thirsty… so thirsty…

Before he could react or make any sense out of all he was feeling and thinking, his cold hand went ahead and touched what looked like a human silhouette.

The silhouette emanated sweet warmth amidst the cold grayness of this dead world and a beautiful crimson light illuminated and also hid her features.

For the silhouette was female.

A surprised, then delighted feminine cry echoed with the ominous chorus, then a pair of soft, warm arms embraced him.

And he salivated at the scent of…

“… It’s you…!”

Delicate, warm hands cupped his blood-stained, bearded cheeks.

He was so thirsty…

“…!”

The warmth of a nose against his own, the warmth of a sweet breath ghosting over his eyes as warmer lips found his forehead.

But the thirst…

“… I knew it…!”

So soft… so warm… so slender… so fragile… so defenseless…

Her beating heart so tender and tempting… her tears of joy burning through his ruined shirt and cold skin…

The thirst was consuming him… his thoughts, his senses… his memories…

“… I knew that you…!”

There was a point where the thirst had consumed everything, where his reality had been reduced to the beating of her heart and the red fountain so full of promises laying before him.

Then the reality had caught with him within a violent moment when his thirst had been placated… in exchange of something very precious to him.

Or rather someone.

"Oh, Jonathan… my sweet brother… What have you done?"

Someone that meant the world to him.

"Mary!"

His dear sister. His Mary.

Taking her trembling hand between his, Jonathan’s sight became clear again while a whirlwind of colors hurt his sensitive eyes, and he quickly evaluated the damage done as he noticed that Mary’s once bright blue eyes were dull, devoid of the life that once shone in them.

"No, Mary!" – he exclaimed, teeth and tongue still burning with the wicked sweet vital liquid, warmth crossing his cold body, rejuvenating it, reviving it from its unnatural state – "Hold on! Please, hold on!"

His thoughts now were clear, sharper than regularly, his hands moving at an impossible speed as he tore off a piece of his ruined shirt to plug the horrendous trail of blood flowing out of Mary’s pierced internal carotid artery.

But there was nothing to preserve now, for Mary’s dead eyes had been all the diagnosis Jonathan needed.

His only sister… his beloved Mary… was dead.

And he had been the hand that had executed the deed.

"Oh, God…" - he refused to see the truth, he refused to let go Mary! – "Mary…" - suddenly he sounded nothing like the grown man he was, but rather a small boy that had done something terribly wrong – "Mary… no…" - he sounded weak… he had been weak. His mind had been weak. What a price to pay… to get his reasoning back in exchange of his sister’s precious life – "No… no…"

Taking her delicately by her fragile nape, he lifted her up slowly to embrace her, to return the love she had selflessly given him before falling prey to his inhuman, beastly thirst.

He had just drunk his sister’s blood like some… some vile…

The pain within his chest, his now beating, warm chest, was so great that tears couldn’t find him. There were no words… no rational thinking enough to describe the sorrow that washed over him as the rain started to pour over both of them gently, mourning the passing of a soul so beautiful as Mary’s had been.

After a while, his forehead found hers, smooth and cold as marble; his nose found hers and his lips found one corner of hers in a kiss that sealed the farewell he bid to one of the most important people in his life.

His now tainted, blood-stained life.

He wasn’t any different than when he had killed that boy back in France two years ago. He had been a dormant killer all of this time… and sweet Mary had been the one to pay for his sins.

As he laid down her immobile form gently, he gently joined both of her hands over her midsection and closed her eyes, unconsciously seeking to make her look more asleep than dead; Jonathan eyed his sticky, reddened hands with hatred and grief.

"What have I done…?" – he mumbled, still in shock, closing his eyes – "This horror… it’s a nightmare…"

But then, a sharp cry of disgust and anger awoke him violently from his tortuous reverie.

"You done killed her, you beast!"

Then a bullet right through his left shoulder.

He had never welcomed the physical pain more than right now.


Those shitbrained freaks were completely nuts!

Whatever had she done to be persecuted like this, for fuck’s sake?!

First, she woke up in what she had noticed with utter disgust to be a fucking mass grave full of rotten naked bodies… to find two motherfucking rednecks roaming through her stuff like retarded monkeys to start screaming like ninnies the moment she had stated that they better not touch her shit if they weren’t looking for a kick in the balls.

Then Hell broke loose.

Some crazed bastards had entered the scene and, instead of stopping the two crooks that had attempted to steal her smartphone and her backpack, they had started to scream something about leeches to immediately point their guns to her.

She had made it in one piece by a hair's breadth.

And the madness had not stopped just yet.

In fact, the moment she had got inside the ruined house, safely away from prying eyes, her mind had started to run wildly with what she had seen the moment she had woken up.

First was the mass grave itself. Since when had England returned to medieval times?

And what about the way the crooks and the shitbrains had been dressed? And their guns? And the fucking old-fashioned environment she had gotten herself into with the two-story buildings, the shitty pavement and the few cars she had spotted while running down the unfamiliar streets crowded with junk that looked more relics than anything?

Had not been the stench back at the mass grave so pungent and the shooting so goddamned real, she would think herself inside one of those films the BBC recorded about Jane Austen’s books and the like.

Well, not quite like Jane Austen’s Era if she thought carefully about it, but close enough.

And everything was so filthy, so broken… so miserable… It wasn’t a very inspiring environment, and even less with those crazed morons firing out their way as if they owned the streets.

Nothing made sense, at all.

Deciding that, apparently, they had given up their chase towards her, still trembling like a leaf, Carmen slid silently avoiding windows and holes in the wooden walls upstairs after searching thoroughly the lower floor to find nothing more than a few odd coins she had pocketed immediately, just in case the currency she carried wasn’t exactly what this… new environment would require of her if she got hungry or something.

That, providing she survived the nutcases that were after her.

And she wanted to survive the whole ordeal. In fact, her survival instincts were literally screaming red lights at her despite her inhuman composure. If she allowed herself to sink into fear and desperation right now, she would end vomiting and crying alternately. And she hadn’t the luxury of going hysteric at the present moment.

The upper floor held more horror than she could have expected as the rigid figure of a man sat on an old, filthy armchair drenched in dried blood welcomed her.

Holding her breath as she approached the still figure, with a quick look she determined the bastard was long gone if the rather eloquent hole carved with the shape of a bullet in his right temple was any indicative.

Sweeping her eyes all over the man’s right arm, she found out that the corpse still wielded the revolver that had ended his existence.

Not willing to take any risks in an environment so unhygienic, Carmen put her backpack on the floor, opened it and, after rummaging a while over its contents, she found her extra stock of plastic masks and an opened small box of plastic gloves.

Well, yes, she had her own stock of gloves and masks, okay? The gloves were useful to wash the dishes back at her flat and the masks were always useful as well, especially on Winter, when everybody was ill with the classic annual flu. Everything was perfectly reasonable.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough by the moment, for she didn’t want to take the gun without knowing if the man, prior to his successful suicidal attempt, had been ill or something. Giving the poor hygiene of the whole place, which was also in shambles at some parts, she didn’t want to undergo any risks of contagion. Because now that she thought about it, the mass grave thing couldn't be so casual after witnessing the state the streets were in. She had been extremely lucky to not to be thrown at such fertile breeding grown for unpleasant diseases.

Making a slight grimace as she had to disentangle the revolver from the rigor mortis’ affected fingers of the man without firing the gun by accident, she quickly proceeded to put on the safety mechanism and clean the best she could the firearm with a Kleenex she diligently threw to a can she saw next to the corpse.

She took her time to observe the gun, for she had never wielded one. She knew the mechanics and the theory about the strong recoil, but nothing more.

Because, to know how a gun truly works, one has to fire it.

And she soon got her opportunity the moment she heard the gurgle at her back and, turning around slowly, a cold sweat drenching her spine, the image of another one of those ghoulish creatures like the one that had ended Poppy back at the hospital welcomed her with open maws and a corroding hunger blinding its dead pupils.

It had been a woman, that was for sure, and maybe it had been the main cause of the poor bastard sitting on the armchair to resort to suicide. That, or let this monster to eat you alive. To her, the choice was pretty clear.

Smiling with a malevolence that no human being could impersonate, the thing before her screeched loudly, sending to her the same disgusting mixture of blood and saliva she had received from the other one back at the Morgue.

"Oh, no, you won’t." – she said gravelly, taking off the safety mechanism and trying to not allow her trembling hands to govern upon her whole being. For she didn’t want to be frightened, but she was with all her might. These maneater creatures were an entirely different matter from the shitbrains, for all she was concerned. At least those crazed motherfuckers were human and didn’t want to have her for a snack – "You’ve picked the wrong sandwich to take a bite from, pal."

The thing screeched again, taking impulse towards her.

The shooting was deafening.

Chapter Text


Coughing, with blurry sight product both from the tears running down her mask-covered cheeks and the particular spot she had got bruised, a conglomerate of nerves and capillaries, she cursed twice in Spanish before getting up and regard with disgust and contempt the fallen figure before her.

The thing was still moving, if not much given the bullet she had allocated inside its brains.

Putting on the safety mechanism yet again, she carelessly pocketed the gun to go calmly towards the auxiliary small table next to the suicide corpse, pick it up with both hands and systematically proceed to bash the already mistreated piece of furniture against the ghoul’s skull.

Things like these were nothing like the American movies, where crushing a human skull looked like child’s play. It was messy, clumsy and rather… displeasing once the stomach-wreaking noise of broken bone and tissue took place after several hits.

Right after that, she threw the now splintered small table aside, went calmly again to the nearest pile that had an actual plughole, evidence of a working pipe system, and, after tearing off her mask, she proceeded to throw up violently.

"Dios… Dios…" - she panted after a while once she found a way to calm herself – "Hija de puta, hija de puta, hija de puta…" (1)

Now she could feel the throbbing pain coursing all along the right side of her face, particularly her nose, which was also bleeding profusely.

Motherfucking shitty recoil… she had expected it to be quite strong, but nothing like this.

Inhaling deeply a few times, she unglued herself from the pile and went to the body mirror a few paces away. And she didn’t like what she saw. That would likely get severely swollen after the hematoma ended forming itself.

Not trusting the likely questionable sanitation of the running water from the faucets on the house, she held her breath in front of the quartered mirror once she started, slowly but surely, to efficiently clog her nosebleed with yet another Kleenex.

Okay, she’d just managed to… end one of those inhuman things without losing her nerve… or rather a limb giving the cannibalistic inclinations the fucking monsters had.

Which reminded her…

Rolling up her left sleeve carefully, she searched conscientiously any signs that gave away the horrendous bite she should sport on her bony forearm.

To her much dismay, the thing was still there. But oddly enough, it was only a scar, not an open wound suppurating blood and purulence. A violaceous smooth scar with the shape of a human mandible full of beastly teeth.

Reassuring… and a little disturbing, to say the least.

Suddenly, she heard downstairs a violent rap that had likely opened the main door of the two-story apartment and then, a ragged breath followed by a raspy wooden sound that spoke about some heavy piece of furniture being displaced.

Biting down the cry of frustration she craved to let go after finding that the fucking night had not ended just yet, Carmen took her weapon once again and, after putting the safety mechanism off again (it was starting to feel so natural doing it after a few times…), she went forwards next to the end of the stairs, awaiting her possible assaulter with her neck muscles tense and the slightly metallic taste of blood still on her taste buds.

She still could hear the ragged breath. It pertained to a man, for sure, and the muffled way his steps resounded on the ruined wooden floor spoke volumes about the sneaking looking sort type. He was trying to not to make a sound, just like her.

Holding her breath and the inhuman amount of saliva that gathered on her mouth, she waited, hearing him going through stuff as if he were searching for something.

She found herself so absorbed by the sounds he was making that the sudden shock of having him barely two meters downstairs in front of her got her low-guarded.

They looked into each other’s eyes in utter shock until he raised slowly his hand. He was the size of a fucking basketball player and he was holding a large machete on his other hand.

"Miss, I…"

"Fuck you!" – she cut him mid-sentence without thinking, and her anxiety combined with a high dose of adrenaline were, in the end, the ones who pulled the trigger.

The immediate explosion of blood mixed with the pungent scent of gunpowder got splattered all over her hair and face at such a short distance while a pained grunt followed by a long body rolling downstairs to finally hit the ground heavily informed her that she had hit the mark squarely.

"¡Coño!" – she screamed, letting go all her tension while wiping the blood from her eyes – "Por Dios, qué asco, joder…" - she mumbled hysterically, her pulse trembling as she cleaned herself desperately, tears already gathering on her eyes – "Oh, mierda, mierda…" (2)

She had just… shot a man. A man that had the look of a frigging giant mantis armed with a machete the size of a small sword, yeah, but a goddamned man, for fuck’s sake!

Fucking brilliant, she was having an anxiety attack just right after plunging a hole to the poor s…

The stream of her tears got cut abruptly when she calmed herself enough to tune her ear to discover, both terrified and relieved, that the lookalike-mantis-man she had shot was still breathing downstairs.

Dragging her butt step by step down slowly, gun heavy on both of her trembling hands, she managed to put herself in front of the wounded man without stumbling on his fallen form while still pointing the gun towards him.

"Don’t fucking move if you wanna get some medical attention instead of more bullets, pal." – still trembling, she managed to step over the fallen machete’s blade and kick the weapon far from his reach – "No tricks, no funny shit, okay?"

Answering her with a groan, the man dragged himself slowly towards one of the apartment’s wooden walls leaving a bloodied trail after him while he managed more or less to sit straight with his back on the wall.

Kneeling at a prudent distance from the man, still pointing the gun towards him, Carmen inhaled a couple of times before she gathered the guts to speak again.

"Alright, dude." – she hissed, barely containing her nervousness – "I’m going to pocket my gun, okay? Just don’t play me and I will help you. Are we cool, man?"

Raising slowly his head and eyeing her cautiously with the palest blue eyes she had ever seen, after a tense moment, he mutely consented, nodding.

"Good." – she exhaled, putting yet again the safety mechanism on (she had to remind herself to do it each time, she didn’t need a hole in one of her feet just right now) and pocketing the gun, raising both of her hands in front of the man to show him that she meant no harm – "Okay…" - she exhaled again once she thought she got her pulse under control – "Right, show me where did the bullet hit so I can get you a quick check. I mean… if that’s alright with you?" – damn it, she was so nervous her words came too fast, too questioning, showing her insecurity. She had never had to deal with a person she injured in the first place. Medically speaking, that is.

However, despite the circumstances, the man cooperated without a single word, still eyeing her with caution. He looked like a sensible person, reasonable enough to be a little suspicious but not to resort to violence. He looked nothing like the rednecks and nutcases she had had to deal with the second she got tangled with this… situation.

In fact, his appearance in general, despite the dirtiness, somehow looked more… poised and distinguished than anyone she had ever met.

"Okay, good." – she breathed relieved to see the damage didn’t look so severe as she had feared – "Let’s see… Lucky shot, if you could call that. Clean perforation wound under the left side of the ribs. By the wound’s position, I would venture that there are no pierced vital organs and there’s no apparent splintered bone tissue. And you can use your legs, so I’d basically say that, fortunately, your spine went untouched." – she summarized automatically – "You’ve lost a pretty decent amount of blood, so that would explain your paleness." – inhaling again, she managed to look the man in the eye – "Are you feeling dizzy? Are you cold?"

The man slowly shook his head once, his blue piercing stare still guarded, as if she were a sort of jumpy animal that could turn from rabbit to wolf in no time. Giving her earlier behavior moments ago, she would begrudgingly admit that it was nothing but well-deserved.

"Great." – she said, getting up slowly – "Now I’m going to gather your… uh, weapon, just to make sure we both remain civil, I will not use it against you. Understood?" – when the man nodded again, she relaxed slightly her stiff posture – "After picking it, I’m going upstairs a moment so I can gather my medical supplies. After that, I’m returning here and I’m treating your wound properly. Nice and easy, no tricks. Cool?"

The man silently acquiesced once more, and she proceeded quickly to make good on her word. She had to thank both her poor aiming and her nerves that the man was still alive. A bullet wound was no small thing, and given the filthy environment they were in, she prayed for that no setbacks like septicemia and the like would hunt her conscience later. The guy looked sturdy enough; with any luck, he would make it for the rest of the night so she could get out and search for some help… providing the nutcases that had been chasing her were gone for good, that is.

Once she was gone, he had a brief moment to collect himself and his thoughts before the odd woman got downstairs again.

Since that first bullet that had pierced his left shoulder back at the mass grave with sweet Mary still in his arms, Jonathan had known not a respite moment since he had basically been chased down like a beast while zigzagging around the Southwark District and dodging both the bullets and the searing threat of sunlight boiling down his blood and making his skin and muscular tissue burn like paper.

During those twenty minutes he had spent running away from those angry (and also well-prepared and armed to the teeth) hunters, he hadn’t been thinking in anything in particular, just avoiding physical damage and trying to make sense of his current… situation.

But nobody gave him the answers he needed, no one wanted to listen to him anymore.

They had called him this “leech” epithet and that’s all he had needed to know that humanity would never welcome him back again. He was now an outcast, a beast, a sort of abomination that needed to be eradicated for good.

His world had fallen down, and he was at all loss. He didn’t know who he was anymore or what he had become (though he had a good idea about this particular subject despite his innate rational reservations) or what would be of him from now on forward.

And Mary… dearest Mary, the only woman besides their old mother who had had a place within his heart in all his life… his beautiful little sister, a heart of gold and the kindest soul he had ever met, the one he had promised to care for and protect… murdered.

And by his hand. Murdered amidst a mad, blinding daze of… bloodlust.

He was an animal, he had behaved like an animal, and he deserved to die like an animal. Dead the dog, dead the rabies.

Now he wished this strange, thick-accented woman had just shot him right in the head.

Why she was taking care of him anyway? Who was she? Why did she have medical supplies and a most impeccable accurate sight for quick diagnosis?

Was she a nurse? Did she know who… or what he was?

Did she truly know with what manner of creature she was dealing with?

Once she came downstairs again slowly as if she feared that he would be hiding in a dark corner, ready to ambush her, she returned with an odd, rather fashionable blue backpack and wearing a pair of the oddest, fashionable as well, rectangular spectacles that gave her a mature air despite said spectacles’ metallic frame being painted red with… what surprisingly looked black butterflies.

In fact, now that he looked carefully at her once she knelt in front of him, Jonathan detected lots of tiny fashionable elements that stood out of picture: red shiny hairpins containing a rather disheveled bun of long raven hair, silver dangling earrings in the shape of what looked like crosses and two or three more extra silver hoops for each ear, the chain of an also silver pendant he couldn’t distinguish very well… and then, her clothes, that were the weirder mixture of black tight pants and a long black waistcoat over a flowing, dainty red blouse he had ever seen.

In short: she looked more like a character out of a theatrical play rather than a foreigner, for she clearly was a foreigner, refugee from the war in search of a decent job as her mixed low-class accent suggested.

In fact, despite being openly bold (and rude) both in her manner of speech and body language, she didn’t fit in any category that would suggest low-class birth. But neither she looked like a middle/high-class refined lady.

She was a sort of chimera, just like he felt he himself was at that moment. They were both strange creatures in a stranger, dark world out of a twisted Vaudeville.

Somehow, it made sense that this odd woman personage would be the only one to treat him like the human being he used to be. To be blind at the fact she was facing a monster instead of a man.

"Hum…" - the hesitation in her voice when she decided to speak again brought him slowly back to reality – "Now I’m gonna approach to you and I’m gonna remove part of your shirt so I can address the bullet status and disinfect your injury. Yes?" – she sounded hopeful, expecting a man wounded by her own hand to behave civil towards her. Jonathan didn’t know if he should laugh or cry at that she was describing to him what she planned to do before act like one would do to a particularly angry child, asking permission before enraging him further.

He nodded slowly as he had been doing since she had started to talk. They both were treading through muddy waters, he with his still present thirst for blood, longing for the nervous heart beating he could perceive coming from her ribcage, she with the two only available weapons on her power and a constant shakiness that had been permeating the air around them since they had crossed gazes minutes ago midstairs.

She proceeded very professionally clearly indicating she knew the ropes by unbuttoning part of his dirty shirt and observing as much modesty as the situation allowed when she, taking the usual First Aid Kit box out of her backpack, produced a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide and two curious small cotton gauzes that she used to clean not only the wound, but also the area around.

Next, she proceeded to control with more gauzes and clean bandages the hemorrhage which, if he was completely honest, was much minor than the expected average bleeding due to ballistic trauma by perforation.

After that, she breathed with evident relief once she found that the bullet had got out cleanly.

"Nice."– she said, her eyes still on the now slightly foamy injury, calibrating both orifices – "Now I’m gonna patch both the entrance and exit orifices the bullet has created and inject you 0.5 ml of Amoxicillin, so the risk of infection won’t…"

"Amoxicillin?" – he repeated a bit louder than necessary without thinking, his curiosity picked and his shame and embarrassment getting high numbers as he watched her jump slightly and became paler when she heard his voice – "Forgive me, I am a doctor." – he said as a way of explanation – "And I have never heard of any sort of injectable that fights infection called this Amoxicillin you have spoken of. To which group of drugs or substances it pertains?"

"To the group of antibiotic medicines called penicillins." – she answered automatically, raising a black brow as he furrowed his own in incomprehension – "You know, the Penicillin… Sir Alexander Fleming…"

His pale blue eyes narrowed.

"Since when good Doctor Fleming has been knighted to become a Sir, Miss…?" – he trailed off, clearly expecting her to introduce herself.

"Díaz." – she answered, narrowing her dark eyes as well – "Carmen Díaz Romero. Pleased to meet you, Mister…?"

"Doctor Jonathan Emmet Reid." – he corrected, perhaps a bit petulantly for his own good – "Surgeon, researcher, and ex-soldier as well." – he paused for a second – "Pardon my bluntness, Miss Díaz, but do you happen to be a nurse?"

A quick sequence of emotions ran across the woman’s still frowning features: first, surprise; next, a brief blushing that evolved in a matter of seconds into hurt pride and anger.

"Nurse, my ass, Doctor Jonathan Emmet Reid." – she hissed also a bit petulantly, putting a special emphasis on his whole title and name, something that made Jonathan feel both flustered and a bit hurt in his pride – "I’m a fucking licensed and educated physician, Medicine Degree in Pathology Specialization branch, if you must know. My goddamned six years doing my basic Generic Medicine studies plus my pretty four years of Specialization plus almost three years of official exercise within the public medical sector backs my competences and expertise."

Taken aback for such a spiteful manner of putting him in his place, Jonathan licked his dry lips a moment before daring to open his mouth again.

"A decade of studies in Medicine?!" – he asked wide-eyed, having made quickly his numbers – "Pardon, but I am curious. Where did you undergo your studies, Miss?"

"In my birth country: Spain." – she answered a bit prideful, a bit satisfied to be witness of his sudden demeanor change – "Our Medicine Degrees are the longest and most challenging to obtain, and not many manage to end their studies in one round the way I did." – now she was feeling smug. Disgustingly so. She couldn’t help it, it had been so long since she truly took pride in her studies… - "Back at the University we had this joke about the Holy Trinity of a student’s life: if you want to pass your exams and have some sleep, you cannot have a social life. But if you want to have a social life and pass your exams, you cannot sleep. However, if you want to have a social life and get some sleep… you are bound to fail your exams." – she gave a curt laugh – "Guess I didn’t have many friends or went to many parties when I was at the Faculty of Medicine, health and studies always come first."

In fact, if she would be completely honest with herself, she didn’t keep any University acquaintances to the present day. Her two besties were her playtime buddies from Elementary School.

"I was not aware that Spanish Medicine Studies were so advanced." – Jonathan muttered, clearly impressed – "It is good to see that women, at least in your country, are now allowed to pursue a Medicine Degree. Britain should learn from your example."

That little detail almost made her drop the tight bandage she was applying to him.

"Are you alright, Doctor Díaz?" – he asked, a little worried as he saw the sudden cadaveric paleness that set over the woman’s features – "That bump… it does not look well…" - he nodded towards her now slightly swollen nose, but she didn’t pay any attention to that.

Then, collecting herself in record time, Carmen spoke again while still dealing with the bandage.

"I’m no Doctor, the Master and the Doctor’s Degree are far too expensive and it had been taken another good four years to get them wholly." – she explained, trying dearly to not to allow her treacherous thoughts to wander in a direction that could be completely erroneous. The busier she kept herself, the better - "It’s useful to get the Doctor’s Degree if you are going to teach or to investigate, but I am neither interested in teach medicine to a group of shitheads, nor I am into the Investigation train, so… Just Physician Díaz."

"Fourteen years to obtain your Doctor’s Degree?!" – there he was, two gunshot wounds, several burns, filthy and smelling like a sewer rat… and he managed to get scandalized by what seemed like overqualified medical training – "You cannot be serious!"

"You would be dearly surprised, Doctor Reid…" - she muttered, more to herself than to him, until her voice rose an octave once she discovered the burns all over his forearms and the hidden gunshot wound, now completely closed, on his left shoulder – "What the Hell, man?! Another gunshot perforation and second-degree burns?! How did you get this?!" – she started to work quickly – "Geez, I don’t know how do you manage to look so unaffected; the other gunshot wound looks raw but it’s starting to scar… however, these burns…" - some greasy ointment and many gauzes and bandages after, she sighed – "Okay, that should do the trick for now, but we need to get you to a hospital… providing those creeps with the torches are gone. If they’re still patrolling out there, you and I are both screwed."

That darkened Jonathan’s spirits suddenly a great deal. The burns had been both a shocking and an awful discovering once the sun had started to rise over the horizon.

But the bullet through his left shoulder…

Mary… oh, forgive me, Mary, please, forgive me…

"Rational thinking only, rational thinking only…" - he hissed painfully, still in denial, until her hands stilled his shaking head and his thoughts and energy came back to the present once more.

"Stop doing that, you also have… varicose tissue surrounding your eyes and your lips." – she finally said, confused and with her gaze intent upon his features – "Open your mouth."

Petrified, Jonathan sealed immediately his lips, terrified of her finding what he suspected she would find.

And then she would run away screaming, and then those hunters would find him… and he would have to run again… alone… with Mary’s blood still fresh on his hands.

They were having such a lovely conversation… he didn’t want it to end. Not yet. He didn’t want to remember what he had become.

He wanted to feel like a person again, to have a civil, interesting conversation with someone like he used to have what seemed like a lifetime ago. He needed a friend.

And this woman, this odd woman, was accomplishing making him feel almost normal again.

She was the first amiable… sort of… face he had found after what happened, what he had done, at the mass grave. He didn’t want to lose that.

"Oh, c’mon, don’t be such a baby, doc."

But she was the stubborn type. He had known very few Spanish people back at France to make an accurate contrast, but he remembered hearing years ago that Spanish people were quite the… peculiar lot.

"I just want to take a look at your tongue’s discoloration, nothing more." – then she took out of her First Aid Kit an odd tongue depressor that looked to be made of… white polymer. God, this woman had amazing, much better and practical medical supplies than many hospitals could hope for – "See? No filthy fingers, clean spatula. Yes?"

"I would rather prefer not to…" - but the moment he had chosen to speak, she had been quick enough to introduce the instrument between his teeth – "Gargh!"

"Now, that’s a good boy." – she smiled with malicious amusement as she watched the bewildered look plastered all over the man’s pale eyes – "Whoa, nice canines there, doc." – she complimented, tapping carefully the pointy ends with the depressor – "Varicose tissue also present all over the tongue, gums and mouth walls." – she started to feel his throat with her free hand – "Does this hurt?"

"I aw alrijjjh…"

He was blushing so furiously due to the absurdity of the situation that he had forgotten about his previous fears upon being… “discovered”. Apparently, his teeth were perfectly reasonable for her.

Perhaps his appearance, with some work on his part, could be presented again in front of human society without standing out so much. Perhaps he could…

Human… - he thought, horrified – You are not even thinking as if you were human any longer. How is that, Jonathan? In which moment of all the madness surrounding this morningly nightmare you have already decided that this is perfectly acceptable? When did I give up my identity and my life so easily? I had so much to accomplish…

No. He wasn’t using the past verbal tense. Not just yet.

He still had an opportunity to accomplish whatever he wished, to discover who had done this to him and to avenge dear Mary’s murder.

He had now a reason to keep going, to not letting the lingering depression he had been harboring since he went to the war get the best of him. Jonathan Reid wasn’t gone just yet.

However, while his mind had been wandering quietly to distant lands, her fingers had detected something on his neck and her eyes had opened wide once she had discovered the marks.

"Holy shit…" - she muttered bewildered in utter disbelief as her gloved fingertips traced the punctures over his skin – "Now everything makes more sense."

Jonathan’s pupils dilated rapidly as his pulse started to slightly tremble as the surrounding environment went gray and static again. He felt a distinctive tingle running through his fingertips towards his nails, blood pumping viciously around flesh and bone.

He instinctively knew that he could tear this woman’s throat to pieces with his bare hands should she reached dangerous conclusions about his new… condition. And, to his great shame and shock, he found the thought very… soothing.

He was thinking about mercilessly killing this woman if she got violent, and he was alright with that.

He could pass for human, but in truth, he was anything but human.

His poor mother would be so horrified if she found out…

"This is why those nutcases had been shooting and screaming nonsense tonight." – her gloved fingers felt so smooth over his skin… and his own fingers felt so ready to land the death strike… - "There’s some sicko playing Dracula out there." – then, his violent impulses went to a sudden stop as she kept talking – "My God… this idiot could have infected you with some serious shit. Are you sure that your mouth and throat doesn’t hurt in any way? Pray that this is just Renfield Syndrome by the sicko’s part and not fucking rabies or cutaneous porphyria…"

After those words left her mouth, a violent regression coursed all along Jonathan’s brains and, after recovering his common sense once more with his regular-colored sight, searing guilt overwhelmed him as he started to sob quietly.

What was he thinking? How could he? After what happened with Mary?! He wasn’t in control over his emotions and instincts anymore! It was so sickening…!

As his thoughts and emotions ran wild, the situation by Carmen’s part quickly became uncomfortable. Her own nervousness combined with this man’s breakdown weren’t doing precisely any wonders to her mood state. She had witnessed far too many calamities and unexplainable things in too a short time.

She had been bitten by some rabid zombie that had eaten away her colleague’s entrails, dreamt about gouging her eyes out while speaking in riddles with someone she didn’t identify, she had awakened in a goddamned mass grave on an unknown place while two idiots were trying to rob her blind, and she had been hunted down by some lunatics who believed in vampires… God, she had used a bloody gun against one of those zombies and a poor frightened man, for fuck’s sake!

She didn’t know how she even managed to remain sane after this entire nightmare.

"Wowowowowow." – she started to say stupidly – "Okay, man, okay… it’s alright…" - she insisted, unsure of what to do or what to say, the primary reason of why she was a Pathologist and not a surgeon: because she didn’t know how to deal with people’s emotions. No way would she get out of the operating room to deliver news to the patients’ families; she preferred to deal with their fluids. Fluids weren’t so bad after all, fluids were quiet, fluids didn’t have feelings – "Okay, we are both pretty exhausted as the night has been a long one…" - what the Hell was she saying? This was becoming so awkward and stupid… - "… And you clearly need to rest… and there’s a comfy bed upstairs, so…" - now she was talking, she had managed to regain the man’s attention, even if he clearly was still shaken - "… I’m helping you to get up and walk upstairs so you will get some well-deserved sleep. Yes?"

She couldn’t deal with this. She was about to going hysterics and this man wasn’t in any ideal mental condition after being attacked by some mad idiot, with the due traumatic sequels any victim like him would sooner or later develop. Neither of them was at their finest moment, it was for the best that he rested so she could have a moment alone and get some answers on her own, without pressure, without dealing with another human being. She worked best alone.

No matter he claimed to be a doctor, he was her patient now. She was taking the reins. Okay, she could do this, she could do this…

With no small effort from her part, she managed to make the tall man support part of his weight on her, and they ascended the stairs painfully slow until they reached the second floor.

Guiding him through the thin corridor and the first room, she forcefully made him walk as farthest as possible, first from the vomit-filled pile, then from the mutilated corpse on the floor.

"Puke and corpse, puke and corpse." – she repeated after the slight gasp the man let go – "You don’t wanna see that, doc. Trust me." – but then, when they reached the bedroom with the sitting suicide man, she forcefully twisted their walk again – "Don’t look, not pleasant."

"Did you…" - he panted, horrified – "Did you do… this?"

"Nope. Guy was already dead when I’d entered the house. The gun’s his."

"And the woman?"

"That thing wasn’t a woman anymore. Tried to take a bite from me, got a bullet instead."

"You mean… that she was a cannibal of sorts?"

"Dunno. Given the circumstances, I preferred to shoot first, then to ask questions. Too bad she died first."

"I have noticed. Along with the broken table."

"Okay smartass, now I’ve got some news for you and your pretty lil’ bum: here’s my friend the syringe with 0.5 ml of Amoxicillin."

"What? No! I am perfectly fine as you can see, Miss Díaz, thank you very much."

"No way, you’ve got two gunshot holes, raw burns, a sicko's vampy smoochie, and odd varicose symptomatology. You ain’t getting out of Penicillin treatment, doc."

"I said I refuse to be treated with a drug I do not know!"

"And I don’t fucking care about your title and your reservations, dude. I’m the boss here and you’re my patient now."

"Who says so?"

"Me and my badass Degree fucking says so, buddy. Now, stop moving, I have to disinfect the area."

"This is immoral and utterly indecorous, Miss! I demand you release me immediate… ARGH!"

"Okay, now hold on until I push all the liquid through your muscular tissue. You don’t wanna have a needle stuck in your butt, do you?"

"This is… humiliating."

"No, this is bloody health prevention, man. Deal with it and you and I will be on good terms."

Once the embarrassing affair was over, Jonathan still could feel his whole face burning as he buckled his pants again and allowed his tired body to rest over the mattress and pillow, his body and face orientated towards the wall, away from that horrible pushy, bossy woman.

But soon his temperament cooled down as she kept moving up and down the room until she gathered two dirty folding screens that she put both sides of the bed and a blanket she bothered to shake vigorously out the dust before putting it over him.

"Thank you, Miss Díaz." – he begrudgingly muttered.

"Don’t mention it." – she said, still fussing around – "Just get your sleep. I will be cleaning this mess a bit until stores open. Then, I will leave to get some food and medical help."

"No!" – then he noticed that his demand came a bit too loud, a bit too forceful – "Not with those hunters outside." – but by the look she gave him, he quickly deduced she primarily thought the same. Her own fear towards those men could be played quite conveniently… without endangering her, of course, but he was quite sure that those hunters were not mere amateurs and could tell the difference between she… and him. She might have been mistaken for some creature of the night… but thing was that he knew deep in his heart that he, if perhaps not this creature they were hunting, was still a dangerous, unnatural thing – "Allow me to rest for some hours, and we can decide later how to proceed. I myself am too confused about the state London is… I do not know what to expect… and I still have so much left that needs doing."

"Such as?" – she asked cautiously, having noticed the change on his tone.

"Questions." – he answered, fussing with something under the blanket – "Questions that beg for answers." – once he had found what he was looking for within his trousers’ pockets, he extended it to her – "Here is a map of the city, should you wish to study the field first before entering it. I have annotated those points where the quarantine barricades block the way. I do not know if it is outdated right now, however…"

"Wait." – she interrupted, raising a gloved hand – "Quarantine? What’s going on in London to need quarantine barricades?"

He stared her a while, all of a sudden immobilized.

"Are you saying that you know nothing about the epidemic?" – he asked, suddenly suspicious – "If I recall correctly, your country’s press was the first to warn the public about it, that is how it owns its name after your people: the Spanish Influenza."

Suddenly she paled so much that he momentarily feared her blacking out.

"Th… the Spanish Flu?" – then she went paler as he sat up on the bed, prepared to catch her should she fainted – "You mean… the one that started back in 1918?"

A tense silence ensued.

"Miss… we still are in 1918." – he said carefully, suddenly understanding that something very wrong had happened to this woman to be so clueless, uninformed and lost.

As her eyes got so big that Jonathan feared for a second they would fall off of their respective sockets, out of the blue she began to laugh.

First, she laughed so low he had to listen carefully to hear her, and then her voice evolved into an almost unacceptable volume, making Jonathan a bit worried about the mental status of the woman in front of him… until her noisy cadence quickly broke like a grated record into shaky sobs.

"Fuuuuuck…" - she squawked as tears blurred both her eyes and spectacles – "Oh, fuuuck… oooh, fuuuck…" - after an indeterminate time cussing and basically making a total fool of herself, she found herself, to her much dismay and astonishment, sat down the mattress beside the so-called doctor with him supporting her while she gathered on her fists bits of his dirty shirt and got her face firmly sank in one of his shoulders – "Fuuuuuck…!" - she kept saying, her way of protesting against the situation, her situation, against being so damn weak to have been finally surrendered to hysteria and desperation, to be in this man’s arms getting his shirt more dirty and disgusting than it already was, to be accepting a stranger’s kindness, to be throwing a tantrum in front of this stranger, to make this stranger that should be her patient a witness of her stupidity, to be comforted by someone that was truly traumatized and in a far worse situation than hers, someone she had shot, someone whose feelings she had refused to deal with – "FUUUUUCK…!"

So she kept going with her train of hot tears and cold profanities, liberating her own tension in waves, hating and thanking at the same time to be held by this not-so-random stranger… and completely oblivious of the dead stare the man was directing towards the filthy walls with boarded windows, feeling the scorching sun behind rotten wood, his world distorted and gray once more, his mouth dry as a sandpaper as his canines were fighting against his willpower, torn between his rational mind and the overwhelming desire to drink from that warm crimson fountain plastered against his chest that stood out of that dead world so temptingly.

Dear Mary, you who knew me so well, you who read the many letters that I sent to you from France these last three years, asking veiled questions that were not meant to be answered by a soul untainted by violence such as yours… Tell me, what I have become?


Geoffrey McCullum, leader of the infamous Guard of Priwen and a proud Irishman, wasn’t today in any mood to have more shit thrown onto his lap.

But shit he got nonetheless.

The deep, filled with rancid residual kinda stuff that gets your guts turned upside down the more you keep stirring it up.

Here he was, confronting two bumpkinheads who had this retarded, sheep-induced look on their eyes as they nervously fidgeted under his steely gaze, one of them even twisting his shitty cap like some street scoundrel after breaking a window while throwing stones for fun.

Dear Lord, gimme patience… for if you gimme strength instead, this is gonna end pretty nasty.

"I don’t have all day, gentlemen." – he spoke, unimpressed – "So, start talkin’ already, for you’re wastin’ my time." – then, he took a step towards the two idiots, who simultaneously cowered like frigging coneys – "And you don’t wanna waste my limited, very precious time, do ya?" – he added dangerously while narrowing his dark blue gaze.

Years ago, he knew this girl who said that he had the prettiest eyes she had ever seen. Looks like these guys didn’t share her appreciation, huh?

For the record, said girl now was dead. And so it was the fucking leech that had feasted on her neck.

Had taken three good attempts to extract the stake he had impaled him with off his fucking leech throat. It hadn’t been pretty, but the Guard of Priwen weren’t a bunch of schoolgirls baking cookies. For if they baked anything, that would be the cursed bloodsucking monsters that had started to take the fucking city of London as their private playground since, if his informants were correct, around middle August or so.

The bloody bastards were coming in waves even from France, Spain and Italy disguised as snob aristocrats flying from the war! Like this was some kind of Resort Park or a goddamned buffet to have their way however they wanted with whomever they wanted!

He had arrived around September and the situation had been escalating to indecent levels since then.

It was so easy for the leeches to mask their preying amidst the plague burning corpses while passing them for infected victims, disfiguring them so nobody would suspect a thing… He had started to resort to drastic measures such as recruiting street rookies with very limited to almost none kind of training to support his men, who were already combing cemeteries and mass graves in search of scavengers and the like.

There’s where this pair of moronic rednecks entered on the picture. His men had reported that these two saw something the previous night.

Something that was fucking alarming.

Meanwhile, Larry Smith and Jack Gibbons were basically shitting their pants as they exchanged nervous glances, mutely deciding who should speak to this giant of a man who was all muscle and more no-nonsense, taking-no-shit-from-you attitude.

Crap, they were so cool and dandy back at the Turquoise Turtle taking their rounds and having fun (not a wise move if they thought it carefully, for there was still Edwina Cox waiting for her part of the share… but, since drinks were far cheaper on the Turtle… so, yeah); when these motherfucking jerks armed to the teeth and donning this odd cross-shaped paraphernalia came in asking about this vampire shit, then about the two of them. Tom Watts, the owner, had been gracious enough to not to let them make a scene, claiming that the Turtle was neutral territory.

But that didn’t deter the guys to wait for them beyond lunchtime. And Jack’s wife was less understanding when he was coming home late smelling of watered-down whiskey.

"W-we’ve already told ya, we saw this corpse…" - oh, if his wife could see him right now, she would be so pissed off, arms on her hips saying “Jackie, ye can be my man, but ye can be sometimes so fuckin’ stupid!” – "‘N she’d got this odd bauble…"

"So, you were robbin’ corpses." – McCullum cut harshly – "Imma right?" – then, faster than any of the two men could react, he extended his hand towards the one who had spoken and grabbed quickly something shiny sticking out of the bastard’s coat pocket that had been catching his attention the minute these two had walked on his office – "And what’s this? Evidence!" – he laughed as he beheld the terrified look they gave him – "Too fancy to be from any of you two and…" - taking a good look at the object, a golden watch, he spun it by its chain - "… Well, what we got here? “J. E. Reid”. Not Gibbons’ or Smith’s propriety, huh? You naughty lil’ pieces of shit." – he was enjoying himself far too much, yes, but screw them. His boys had awakened him from his damn nap to start beating around the bush with these two, who clearly were Cox’s lackeys with less marrow on their bones than a sewer rat and too much tongue for their own good, boasting about “good money earned the old way” amidst a sea of alcohol and drunk fellas giving them the ear - "What have you say in your defense before I turn you to the authorities, gentlemen?"

"C’mon, man, give us a break!" – Larry protested without thinking until the tall man’s glare did wonders in reducing his voice quite a deal – "It’s hard to make it through month’s end…"

"Besides, the whore wasn’t dead." – Jack spoke again – "We weren’t able to take anythin’ from ‘er. She grabbed me pal’s arm. Don’t ya believe us? Show ‘im, Larry."

And so, they did.

And so, McCullum found himself more and more tempted to slap them to death. Bitches didn’t deserve even a decent punch.

"That looks more like a kitty’s scratch than the work of a leech." – he huffed, tiredly pinching his nose’s bridge. Why he was interrogating these airheads was beyond him. Even if his men saw them this evening around the Southwark mass grave when two suspects, a man and a woman, have been literally evading questioning, one of them leaving a bloodless corpse behind with teeth marks – "You’re wastin’ my time…" - then, approaching them as a lion would do with a pair of calves, he snarled – "And that pisses me off. A lot, actually." – he boomed – "Let’s be perfectly clear here: my men saw you lot conductin’ illegal activities back at Southwark this evening, and a rich girl is found dead with friggin’ marks upon her neck first light in the morning. Gimme just one reason of why I shouldn’t beat your sorry arses up ‘till your mothers cannot distinguish you one from another before turnin’ you to the authorities for body desecration and robbery."

Come on, he was just asking for some meat to chew. They knew something, he wanted that something. Could they be so stupid to not to get it?

"She fuckin’ resurrected, man, I swear!" – Larry exclaimed – "If there’s any leech-thingy you guys should be chasin’, that’s ‘er."

"And what about the guy?"

"W-which guy?"

That’s it, Geoffrey McCullum was officially starting to lose it. At a very fast pace. The fewer the hours he slept, the more violent he got.

"The fuckin’ man, you dolt!" – he yelled, picking both of them by their shirt lapels, itching to shake them to death – "Tall, friggin’ pale man with the beard and fancy haircut!"

At least, that had been the description on the report his men had come with. The leech-man had given them quite the ride around Southwark before vanishing into literal smoke. At least a bullet had hit home and the bastard had made it through the whole District without batting a lash.

If that wasn’t vampire red lights, he was a teapot.

"That one?" – God, the moron sounded so surprised that McCullum could just facepalm himself – "He was dead when we threw ‘im with the rest!"

The hunter’s brows shot up, suddenly interested. Now they were talking.

"Go on…" - he encouraged.

"Well, the watch’s ‘is." – Jack blurted out quickly – "Heavy bastard. ‘N rich. Pretty well-fed, if ya ask…"

McCullum took a look again at the pocket watch in his hand. J. E. Reid… a surname wasn’t much, but the Guard could work with this. If he and the other possible leech were newborns, it wouldn’t be so difficult to locate them since new leeches tended to stick to their original names and tried, unsuccessfully of course, to re-enter into their regular routines again.

"You two sure about this?" – he asked, just to confirm.

"Yeah."

"For damn sure, mate."

Sighing heavily, he released the fools while he made a move with his head towards one of his men so they could take these two out. It had been a fruitful talk so far… providing that they were telling the truth, that is.

Because, providing that what they said was true… they had another pair of leeches ready for a fight. And they never went down easily without putting up a fight. Oh, no.

"Wait…" - one of them had the gall to speak aloud when they started to be handled out – "What about the watch?"

That pissed McCullum off. And he already was fairly pissy after this new discovering. His goddamned and much-needed nap had been officially ruined.

"Imma keepin’ it. And be grateful that I don’t turn you to the officers!" – he boomed while pointing them with his index finger – "Now, get out of my face, you filthy crooks. And send my regards to Clay fuckin’ Cox while you tell him that Southwark is now Priwen territory. And if he dares to set foot there again, I’ll make sure he remembers Geoffrey McCullum’s name for the rest of his useless life. Understood?"

The idiots were exchanging a look of pure, unadulterated terror when his men got them out of his office.

If you could call that to an old, run-down fishing warehouse divided into two levels leaving him the upper one as an office.

"Your thoughts, Andrew?"

The young man that had been a mute witness to his boss’ exchange with Smith and Gibbons limited himself to blink. His old man was right: the old Wet Boot Boys were now a bunch of brainless sheep under Clay’s paw, always bickering and plotting against one another. The best example?, Clay’s own closest ones: his own wife and his Right Hand plotting their own way against his rule. So stupidly sad.

"They were probably telling the truth, sir." – he ventured, unsure of how to address his boss properly. It had been a very short time since he had joined the Guard, and out of the blue, their very leader had made him one of his most trusted men. He knew a thing or two about this kind of business, for his old man, Archer Woodbead, had been the previous leader of the once glorious Wet Boot Boys of The Docks, sure… but that didn’t make him the most ideal counselor. McCullum should be having serious internal issues or a scandalous lack of good hunter material to trust some rookie he recruited less than two months ago – "Larry and Jackie have never been the smartest kids back at the school; they’re incapable of making up this whole affair, sir. If they say the woman somehow came back to life, it’s probably a newborn. Maybe the bearded man is her Sire, who knows?"

McCullum pinched his chin thoughtfully.

"That would make them two eggs from the same nest, don’t you think?" – he pondered. He had a good feeling about this. Two for the price of one would end another leech branch from sprouting – "Jim?"

Jim or Jimmy “The Spark” Barlow, with his almost six and a half feet tall and at least two hundred pounds of weight, had actually some brains to answer for he had been a chemist before joining the Guard of Priwen. Him, along with Roger “The Wall”, an ex-boxer champion; the Sheen Brothers, Tobias “Toby” and Vincent, two ex-Circus bodybuilders, and Reverend Kane, a rural priest who was a survivor from the war, compounded Geoffrey McCullum’s “Parliament” regarding important matters concerning the Guard and strategy.

They could be a pain in the ass sometimes, but Geoffrey found it immensely reassuring to share some of the weight of leadership with these men. He would literally trust them with his life, and that was no small thing considering how little faith he had on humankind since he was just a boy.

"That’s a fairly good chance to find them together, yes." – Jimmy agreed - "I would suggest searching the Southwark neighborhood area this night, around where the bomb exploded a few years ago."

"The beast is always deceitful." – Reverend Kane added as he entered the small space, his customary crosier topped with a golden cross an extension of the man himself – "It acts through deceit and moves in the shadows. And these two wicked souls have probably found themselves a hiding place among the dead. Away from prying eyes."

"Inside the abandoned houses." – McCullum realized quickly, knowing where his men were trying to go with this – "Very well. Reverend." – he added, addressing the religious man – "Take Andrew, three shooters and one of the veterans along with a group of rookies. Show him the ropes when dealin’ with a true leech; the boy has only seen Skals and a few beasts so far. You are goin’ to comb the Southwark neighborhood area tonight and secure the mass grave. We don’t wanna more of those bastards spreadin’ their filth and we don’t wanna Cox’s boys stickin’ their noses where they don’t belong." – he warned – "Understood?"

Nodding silently, Reverend Kane put a large hand over young Woodbead’s shoulders as he gently pushed him towards the exit.

"Come, my son." – he said – "For there is much to prepare before you face the true darkness that lurks under this world."

The boy obediently followed the old man without saying a word. If anything, the young man usually behaved far more mature than he really was. A shame for a lad so young, but also a blessing that would keep him alive long enough to pass his thirties with any luck. Vampire hunter wasn’t a profession that had the highest life expectancy, to be fair.

"You sure to send Kane with the boy?" – Jimmy said after a long silence once they had left – "You know how the old man gets when facing true leeches. He’s a fanatic, and you know it, Geoffrey."

"And that’s why Imma sendin’ Andrew with him, Jim." – Geoffrey replied tiredly – "No one’s best to show the ugly face of this world to the boy than Kane. Besides, if they’re gonna face two leeches indeed, Kane will protect the kid."

Jim smiled absently.

"Have a soft spot for the boy, huh?"

But if anything, Geoffrey McCullum wasn’t one for cheap sentimentalisms.

Sentimentalisms were useless in his line of work, and they could kill a man faster than a sharp pair of fangs.

"The boy’s a valuable asset, Jim." – he replied harshly – "Why do you think I recruited him in the first place? He knows how this city works, he knows how the Wet Boot Boys internal structure works thanks to his dad, and he has actual brains inside that head of his, and that’s more of what I can say about most of these poor sods we take off the streets day after day." – crossing his arms again, he huffed – "So don’t gimme that paternalist crap, Jim, and gimme some results instead." – after all, he was here for only one reason: to end this lunacy, to locate the root of these quick infections that got the streets by night swarming of Skals. In all his years working for the Guard, he had never seen something of this scale, and it was worrying – "Which reminds me: how’s the serum development goin’?"

Chapter Text


...

"Two giant rival snakes slither in ageless forest,
coiled to the bones of mortals destined for the grave.
One prayer for the summoned called by this song…”

“Two the points between a distance crossed through more faith than fable…” – she answered calmly, cooed by the sweet lullaby of the darkness surrounding her – “As new questions arise, old answers wither and die.” – she was too keen, too experienced on this game, making up rhymes as her little sister refused to go to bed without listening new stories her big sis would make up just for her – “One prayer whispered for the bittersweet hero as he closes his eyes…”

There was this laugh, warm and earthy, full of echoes and remembrances that could tell wondrous stories she could whisper for the little imp of a girl who demanded each night a different outcome for an old story taken from some child’s silly book her teacher had read that day back at the school.

Red Riding Hood becoming a she-werewolf, being able to speak with forest animals and stuff, thus, being the most popular girl at her school, had been a favorite of hers. The little devil was insatiable.

“A new song to retell an old tale has its charm, beyond doubt, for it is true that some answers have to be reformulated to reach the new spoken languages. Too many subtleties are now hidden in between words, for the evolution of communication it is often linked with masking intentions from the listener.”

A sister for an absent mother, a daughter for the son never born, a healer to mend the wounds of the dying storyteller.

Wounds oozing rot and decay, pulsating all over her boneless arm.


As a sharp intake of rancid air filled her nostrils, her dry mouth protested in retaliation building a harsh chain of coughing that got her fully awake in a matter of seconds.

A sudden sting burned all over her left arm, and she rolled over her belly to roll up her blouse’s left sleeve to contemplate the new state her wound was in: despite not having any inflammation or fluids seeping through the bite marks, the area surrounding the laceration had developed the same odd varicose symptomatology she had observed on…

Her eyes shot open wide when she remembered him, Doctor Blue Eyes with the machete, as she realized that she was lying down on the only available bed while he was nowhere to be seen.

¡Mierda! – she thought, getting up as fast as her still stinging arm allowed her, searching frantically for him with her foggy sleep-induced sight while groping blindly for her also absent glasses - ¡¿Dónde estás, cabrón, dónde demonios est…?! (1)

But he was a few paces away, behind the folding screen she had put between the bed and the rest of the space within the room: he had managed to get rid of the suicidal man’s corpse (that was also laying together with the zombie’s, both neatly covered by a blood-stained sheet at a fair distance) and he was using the dusty, blood-soaked armchair the corpse had been sitting on. He was soundly asleep, his tall frame awkwardly sprawled as his legs were too long for the tiny piece of furniture; his also long neck laying forwards as his bearded chin almost touched his chest.

Blinking a few times as she contemplated what to do next, feeling an awkward heat going up her cheeks the moment she thought about the silly gentlemanish deference he had shown towards her by comforting her, leaving the free bed for her to use while he was wounded, and had taken the filthy armchair instead.

He had even taken off her plastic gloves and her glasses and had put them carefully folded with the crystals upwards so they won’t get scratched over the bed’s side auxiliary table.

Fuck. She had shot a truly nice guy. He didn’t deserve to sleep on that disgusting, uncomfortable armchair. No fucking way.

Inhaling a few times, she reached for her plastic gloves once again (hey, last thing she needed was adding up yet another infection to deal with), put on them, got close enough and tapped tentatively his right shoulder remembering he had been shot on his left.

“Yo, doc.” – she whispered stupidly, trying to be as gentle as possible because she knew how it felt that some asshole wakes you up shouting their lungs out, making you start your day with a slight headache and fairly pissy – “Hey…” - biting her lower lip, she risked getting closer to his ear despite knowing how British people tended to react towards unsolicited physical closeness – “Bed’s available now.” – nothing – “Wake up, man, damnit.” – she hissed, impatience coloring her voice. Again, her antisocial side was getting the best of her… until she risked changing tactics – “Jonathan?”

She wasn’t very fond of calling mere acquaintances by their first name, but she knew that the brain tended to react faster while calling people by their name or something they could identify themselves with.

“Jonathan?” – she insisted once more, this time shaking slightly his shoulder.

He reacted with a sleepy grunt, letting her know he wasn’t happy to be awakened.

She observed him with an odd fascination as he blinked a few times getting slowly his head up while yawning, involuntarily showing his row of sharp teeth with the pointy, elongated canines that gave him the likeness of a lion. Beardy face and all.

He still had the unnatural varicose symptomatology all over his lips and eyes unchanged despite the Amoxicillin injection, so this was a tough infection.

Poor guy.

And poor her since they, apparently, shared symptoms. Owch.

“Come on, man, I’ll help you up.” – she pressed gently as she positioned herself by his good side and slid an arm over his back to catch him by his armpit – “This ain’t the best way to rest properly. To the bed it is.”

He grunted again, but he complied putting an arm around her shoulders as he allowed her to help lift him and guide the painfully slow walk. It was a true test to his self-restraint since he could literally drool giving the overwhelming sweet scent that came from her slender throat where the faintest of pulses kept knocking at her skin as if begging for release.

It was so tantalizing that he had to make an extra effort to not to stare while she helped him down, flexing her muscles and, thus, making her pulse more prominent.

He almost sighed in pain once her arm went off his back. He was so… so thirsty…

“What time is it?” – he asked after she finished making him sit on the mattress, eager to distract his mind from the warm red promises laying under this woman's skin.

No answering immediately, she took a strange rectangular device from her backpack on the floor, fumbled a bit with its screen as it emitted a soft light upon her features.

“A quarter past two in the afternoon.” – she said after a short while – “Not completely sure though. This thing’s oldest calendar is from the seventies, so the time might be slightly belated or ahead by minutes. Dunno.”

“I beg your pardon…?” – he asked, still sleepy, incapable of processing the information the way he should – “Quarter past tw… it is earlier than I thought. Have you managed to get some rest, Miss?”

“More than enough.” – she assured, pocketing her smartphone on her long black vest – “I’m used to sleeping four hours or so per day. This has been a true rest for me, trust me. Now, lie on the bed and get some decent sleep.”

“Four hours… urgh.” – he grunted, still a bit sore from his injuries but oddly without the due pulsating pain he should be experiencing right now as the healing process should swell tissues around wounds – “That cannot be healthy, if you pardon my bluntness.”

“No, it is not.” – she admitted, helping him to lay down as he was moving so slow he could compete with a sloth – “But I’ve got caffeine pills. I’ll survive.”

“C… caffeine pills…?”

“Stop being so nosy and inquisitive and get your goddamned sleep. Now.”

“Apologies, occupational habit.”

“Cute.” – she replied, not exactly knowing why this guy in particular made her behave sassier than was truly average in her. It was too easy though, given the kind of responses he delivered in exchange… - “Now, is there anything you need before I start cleaning this shit? Are you in pain?”

“No, thank you.”

“You sure? I could inject you with some…”

“No!” – his voice betrayed the slightest hint of panic as he raised a hand, maybe in an unconscious attempt of a defensive pose – “No more injections for today, Miss Díaz. I feel well enough, thank you very much.”

“Well… okay then.” – she answered while arching a black eyebrow in mild amusement at his apparent fear towards needles – “Sweet dreams, doc. And no peeking.” – she warned, raising an index finger like a bossy teacher – “No nosy business for a few hours. Let that pretty pink brain of yours get a nice reset, yes? Deal?”

“It is a deal, yes… thank you, Miss Díaz.”

“No prob. Sweet dreams then.”

At long last… he was a truly decent, very polite and nice guy, okay, but he was the questioning type. The kind that tended to question absolutely everything, even the color of your knickers discreetly if you allow him to be nosy enough.

Wouldn’t be surprised if the answer he most hated in the world was “Because I say so”.

Making a low hiss at the uncomfortable stinging sensation under her blouse’s sleeve, she ignored it as much as possible until Doctor Nosy got asleep again in favor of occupying her mind with strategy: how to deal with the filthy environment and how to cope with the dire news she had been delivered just a few hours ago when she had fallen prey to hysterics and despair between the arms of a complete stranger.

She didn’t want to believe him, to believe what she had seen and what she had experienced since she had made the stupid mistake of opening that goddamned Morgue door.

In less than twenty-four hours… or what she had perceived as less than twenty-four hours at least… she had confronted fucking twice two entirely different people who were both also rotting and doted with a gruesome cannibalistic inclination that had earned her a high-probability disease-carrying bite and a new status as a gun-shooter.

Everything with a heavy dose of surreality by means of opening her eyes in a flea-infested, worm-riddled breeding ground for all sorts of infections… but crowded with odd objects, old-fashioned pipe system two-story flats and people dressed funny shouting Cockney nonsense and polite blue-eyed strangers sporting the same odd symptomatic as yours.

No matter from which point of view she wanted to confront it, she was definitely not in the London she knew so well.

She was in another version of London, an older, crumbling, filthier and twisted version of the London she didn’t know so well anymore.

And she didn’t know what the fuck to do next.

Oddly luckily for her, she had another human being at the closest of the same situation as hers a few paces away, and willing enough to trust her and to comply with her demands. At this moment, both depended on each other to survive: she needed someone who knew more or less where they stood, and he needed medical attention.

Not to mention both had been attacked by the so apparently self-proclaimed “vampire hunters”. They could make a nice team if they cooperated to help one another.

And she was sure Doctor Blue Eyes would be most willing to lend a hand. He seemed sensible enough.

It would work. It must work, for both of their sakes.

He wasn’t asleep yet, she could tell… and the stupid bite stung so bloody much…!

Inhaling a few times to calm herself, she automatically started to collect all the current unbroken pottery she could find all over the house (not the cleanest stuff, but whatever…) and, as she ignored the two covered corpses on the floor, she turned on the water tap… faucet… whatever the name for this old shit was and, after looking with a grimace of utter disgust liters and liters of brown water going down the plughole along with her vomit, finally the water got clearer and clearer until it sufficed to start filling the pottery.

Next was using the old cooking place on the first floor and, after getting the gas stove working, she put the water-filled pottery to boil. That way she would be sure that the water wasn’t contaminated with some awful bacteria or fungus.

Next, she proceeded to check her medical supplies as she put on her Bluetooth earplugs, got the volume on her smartphone low, selected the track and got some familiar and soothing “Mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he's dead” by the hand of good ol’ Mercury Man and His Merry Band.

Okay, perhaps given the current situation said lyrics wasn’t among what one could denominate “soothing”, but Queen was something familiar, something tangible in a world that had gone crazy in a very dark way. She needed her music, her most trusted ally in those hours of solitude and isolation back at her old London with her sorta-of hermit old life. A life so boring she could die, but a life she would give just anything to return to.

So she proceeded to submerge the syringe she had previously used with Doc Man upstairs on the water and contemplated, relieved, how things were starting to put on their right places slowly as she found a good fat stash of dry tea leaves on the kitchen shelves and some vegetables that were still in good shape to make a decent broth. She was starving.

She didn’t touch the smoked meat she found carefully wrapped on newspaper on said shelves. After what she had witnessed back on the Morgue, she wouldn’t touch meat again ever.

She cleaned a mug for her own using on the biggest pot with boiling water with the utmost care as she started to make herself a tea while taking out the syringe.

Still with more Queen lulling her from her earplugs, her steaming mug of tea and clean plastic gloves and syringe, she went upstairs to find an immobile, closed-eyed Doctor Reid.

Satisfied with what she saw, having a bit of privacy in front of the only available mirror, she sipped her tea, put the mug aside and, after rearranging her vortex of chaos of a hair into a decent high bun, she proceeded to first disinfect the bite, patching it up nicely and, after that, to take one of the scarce twenty-nine vials of Amoxicillin she had on her First Aid Kit box to plug the boiled needle into the plastic membrane.

It wasn’t like she hadn’t done this before, but it required a mirror and a good pulse.

A damn good pulse.

So, when she managed to clean the area and inject herself with the Penicillin her infected organism needed so much, she didn’t notice the curious gaze the lying down but not-so-asleep Doctor was directing towards her through one of the gapes at the torn folding screen, taking note not only of the uninformed infection she was clearly fighting against of, but also the odd music with the oddest lyrics he could perceive at the distance emanating from her, his senses sharper than any predator walking on this bitter earth.

He would inadvertently listen to that music for hours to come, smelling waves of dust and tea in the air, too weak to move, too tired and afraid of the sun outside to care, but too self-conscious of his growing thirst to put his mind at rest… until it became too late and darkness engulfed his world once again.


Contrary of what many of her boys would think, Edwina Cox had been always a patient woman.

After more than a decade married to that hot-blooded, brains for peas, egotistical man Clay was and always had been, she had developed an unsuspected odd affinity towards her environment to foresee how things could play given the circumstances… but always with the cold logic of the calm.

Maybe she, through all these years, had yelled to Clay more times that she could bother to remember; maybe she had thrown a vase or two to his bumpkin of a head in a row after attempting a kick to his balls… or rip his gullet open with an old, rusty corkscrew.

Yeah, Edwina could be that kind of woman, the type who didn’t get intimidated by some dick calling her “whore” while raising the hand to strike good and fast… but she also could be the puppeteer pulling the strings from the shadows to have men and beasts eating right from her open palm… or receiving a strike from that very palm if they managed to piss her off enough.

Inhaling a couple times her cigarette, holding it like how she had seen, months ago, the way those fancy harlots from the theater always did, classy and seductively with just the right hint of cheapness, Edwina relished on the burning sensation she always got on her mouth and throat - better when also coated with a good importation Yankee bourbon – before raising her feline green eyes towards the door of her house.

She was sitting with her shoes off, her silk tights-covered feet resting over her kitchen table, skirt slightly pulled over the knee, tempting more the eye than it actually revealed.

For Edwina Cox could look externally like any other wife… but she was the fucking Queen of Slums, and queens wore bloody silk on their legs.

The massive black dog that had been resting at her feet, a voluminous, muscled creature product of the mixing of various canine breeds, suddenly raised its petite ears and gave a soft wailing while sweeping the floorboards lazily with its long tail.

“Wha’ is it, boy?” – she asked, still looking intently at the door but getting her free hand at the dog’s reach, so the mutt could receive a soft scratch under its powerful snout.

She had taken the creature, a pitiful skinny pup back then, with her four years ago from the streets to her house when Clay had started to develop more attraction and care towards the knife she had given him as a wedding present many years ago than her.

The pup had ended being a mastodon of all dogs it could have ended being, and Edwina gave it all the meat and the good stuff she wouldn’t give to any man, woman or child. Even now, with supplies coming in dangerously short waves, she still maintained the creature strong and well-fed.

Funny: her husband loved more his knife than his own wife, and she loved a filthy animal more than her own husband. Hell, she could love a fucking sewer rat more than she actually loved Clay.

At least she could develop emotional attachments with goddamned living things.

Thinking about how angry and disgusted she got sometimes with her marriage situation and her life in general, not being a naïve young woman anymore but wearing her scars raw and proud, she wasn’t alarmed in the slightest when somebody irrupted into her home and caught her smoking in a most abandoned, unapologetic way.

And this, this was the very image Booth Digby got burned inside his dark retinas once he got into the miserable building without even bothering to knock the door. He came breathless from the effort of coming running in order to speak to her as soon as possible, but he quickly got breathless for another entirely different reason.

Raising a thin eyebrow towards the man, she took another drag from her cigar languorously.

“So?” – was all she said, her voice always cut with that slight disdainful edge.

Not that she disdained what she had before her eyes, mind you.

Booth licked his dry lips before answering.

“We got ‘em… my sweet queen.” – he exhaled, looking intently at her eyes, fearing his instincts would redirect his sights to a less… honorable point on the woman’s anatomy.

He had had always a soft spot for Clay’s wife, proud and powerful, everything he was not. And, after getting the unbelievable position as her lover, ugly and inadequate as he saw himself towards her, Booth Digby felt that he was somehow entrapped… oh, but what a beautiful entrapment!

He couldn’t care less about how much blood stained his hands… as long as she would be there to allow those very blood-stained hands to protect her from this cursed city.

To protect her from herself.

Taking a last drag from the cigarette before throwing it with experienced practice to a near can, for she liked her floors clean, Edwina got the tip of her tongue under her upper lip in a provocative fashion before smiling with all her teeth.

And hers was a very cold smile.

The mastodon of a dog under her feet whined softly again.

“Good.” – she exhaled with the last remnants of tobacco smoke coming off her lips – “Bring ‘em b’fore me. Ya know where n’ how.”


“Oh, Jonathan… my sweet brother… What have you done?”

“Mary!!”

Yet again, there he was: kneeling amidst an amorphous grayness of disease and decay, clothes dirty and torn, burning metallic taste upon his lips… and tender, sweet Mary lying cold as a marble statue in his arms.

And the proof of her murder staining crimson his lips, rolling slowly down his chin.

What had he done?

“This… is absolute madness…” – he gurgled, sharp fangs puncturing through his high-sensitive tongue as he spoke – “I have lost touch with reality…”

A sudden warm laugh awakened him of his misery, speaking in waves as the crimson tide around him started to rise.

“Madness it is!” – it whispered, a distinct note of merriment, although no malice, coloring its cadences – “As mad as the moon! Who tames blinding sun into a glowing reflection?”

Something… something was growing inside him, sliding down his throat slowly like thick venom, a snake hissing and coiling around the marrow of his very bones.

He felt small and scared, like a child awakening for the first time to the blinding light of this world, screaming as oxygen replaces liquid in his lungs, pleading as sounds become sharper and painful to his ears instead of the gentle beating of his mother’s heart…

His mother… who had brought him to this world, had been the one protecting him against what means to be alive.

But no one can prepare you to what means… to be born again.

“Awake anew, my child.” – the voice… that same voice that seemed to hush even his most intimate thoughts to fill his senses with the most bizarre mixture between soft calmness… and resented bitterness – “Open your eyes and be ready for the first of a many trials that would lie ahead of you, one by one, in the coming days.”

As the red tide rose to his very throat and sweet Mary turned into dissolved wet ash in his arms, he tried to ask what trials the voice was talking about.

But the warm redness engulfed him wholly.

“Do not tarry, my child. For she is calling you.”

She…?


The first sensation he gathered when consciousness returned slowly to him was of a slender pair of hands shaking him violently, almost with desperation.

“Wake up! Shit, Jonathan, shitshitshit… Wake up, now!” – then, a feminine voice with the strongest accent ever made his sensitive ears beep – “Oh, crap! Oh, crappity crap…! Fuck! They’re almost here!” – yet, another frantic shake – “JONATHAN!!”

Opening his eyes fully, eyeing startled and oddly fascinated the darkest pair of eyes he had ever seen in front of him, he was unable to form a coherent sentence before his ears got assaulted with the loud and violent bangs he registered that were coming from downstairs, from the main door of the house.

But he reacted when sharp short nails dig on his ruined shirt and prickled his also sensitive skin.

“GET.THE.FUCK.UP! NOW!” – the owner of those nails punctuated with trembling trepidation as her fingers pull from his shirt lapels to hoist him up with astounding force for such a short woman – “Hurry up! Those motherfuckers who think that they’re chasing Dracula are here! They’re going to take down the door sooner or later! C’mon!”

However, as soon as he reached for one of the sides of the bed to help himself to get up, a sharp pain laced through his whole arm prompting him to retire the hand by reflex and get it close to his chest.

He bit down the hiss of pain that threatened to escape from his throat as he contemplated, although briefly, how fortunate it was that now she, the odd and temperamental Spanish woman who had been taking care of him, was taking her backpack from the floor so she cannot see the trail of blisters that had formed within a second all along his left hand.

More violent bangs and an alarming distant screech of splintered wood informed both the occupants of the house that the main door would not resist much longer.

“We have to get the Hell outta here.” – was the terrified whisper she delivered him once he was on his two feet, the damaged hand conveniently out of her visual range – “I’ve managed to unlock the door at the left of the main door downstairs. There is a hole on the second floor that connects with the lower level. If we hurry and lock that door behind us, we can attempt to help one another to get to the upper level by piling up some of the furniture and climbing up.”

Taking a quick glance towards the left side of the bed, which had been dangerously illuminated by his hip’s height with the remaining sunlight that had managed to seep through the ruined wooden wall from outside, he realized that, until the sun would finish setting, he was trapped inside the building.

Trying to remain as composed as possible despite feeling like panicking right here, right now, Jonathan quickly followed her lead cringing not just when they passed by the weaker and weaker main door, but when she opened the unlocked door at the left and revealed, to his much dismay, that the hole in the upper floor appertained to the roof of the building as well.

Amber light poured gently through the enormous gap over the ruined floor, leaving just a tiny space between the door and one of the corners of the room to remain covered from the sunlight.

“These nuts want us dead, c’mon!” – she pressed when she saw his momentary hesitation to get inside this new room.

The impact of a bullet mere inches from Jonathan’s head right to the wooden wall he was facing was enough encouragement for Carmen to take a quick step towards him, grab his hand and pull all his height with her inside the room before the zealot hunters managed to reach them.

“Lock the door while I find stuff to climb on!” – she exclaimed, terror evident on her pupils as she started to search frantically around the room – “Don’t let them in!”

Momentarily relieved that he wasn’t required to be the one who would pile furniture under the growing darker and darker sunlight pouring through the hole, Jonathan managed to contain the door while the due banging from the other side started to threaten its stability as he sank a sturdy chair under the doorknob.

“This will not resist much longer!” – he warned her as she threw her blue backpack to the upper level while attempting to jump from a chair she had put over the remnants of the broken staircase that once connected both floors.

She ended with half her body over the second floor while struggling with getting the rest of her weight up as her legs dangled graceless in the air.

It took an enormous amount of nerve force that left her almost drained and several scratches on her beautiful blouse and the sensitive belly under it until Carmen managed to get her butt on the upper story as she rolled on the dusty wooden floor panting like a horse.

Shit, that’s what she got for getting an indecent amount of hours inside a fucking lab examining organic samples from stupid patients instead of eating three meals a day and going daily at least an hour to the closest gym just like any other healthy person her age.

So much for getting an income so high she could choke.

And what that for? Given her current circumstance, now she could count herself as poor as a rat anyway…

¡Deja de pensar en gilipolleces y reacciona, coño! ¡REACCIONA! (2)

The sound of more bullets drilling the walls, creating with it a rain of splinters and dust around the still faithful Jonathan holding up the door with his whole frame were incentive enough for her to grab the revolver hiding inside one of the big pockets of her black vest, take off the safety mechanism and point to the opposite wall at man’s height, far enough from the Doctor to be safe.

Next thing she knew was that shooting while lying on your belly is not a good idea, for the recoil had played her yet again hitting her on the forehead.

She wasn’t allowed to muster an imaginative profanity of her own when someone yelled from the other side.

“Damn it! They’re armed!” – she could swear she heard from one of the nuts – “The leeches have guns!”

“Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of ya!” – she yelled as well with trembling arms, reeling from the shot of adrenaline the pain on her forehead was getting her from Cloud Nine to Hell alternately, not entirely sure why quoting Honey Bunny from “Pulp Fiction” felt so damn good given the circumstances and the seething fear that was hitting her full force right now – “Jonathan!” – she cried, aware of the frozen state that seemed to have taken the man’s body – “Move your British ass!”

But what she couldn’t distinguish in the distance was the concentration his eyes had taken as his retinas were registering the slight changes in the dying light pouring from the hole in the roof.

He couldn’t risk being cooked alive under the sun; he couldn’t risk her seeing…

“JONATHAN!”

Next thing he knew was the knife of a bayonet piercing through wood and flesh.

His flesh.

His mouth watered when the sweet metallic scent flooded his nostrils as his already ruined shirt got wet and heavy on its lower part, close to his hipbone.

Feeling how his gums burned from thirst, next thing he knew was that he had gone through the reddened sunlight of dusk.

And his skin didn’t burn.

He suddenly felt strong, completely awakened as the constant slugginess and general heaviness had lifted their spell from his body in a matter of seconds, rendering him impossibly agile, impossibly fast…

But the moment he turned his head to his right, he found those dark eyes looking at him paralyzed, a primal incomprehension and fear taking possession of its depths.

Then he realized that he, somehow, had managed to get on the upper level on his two feet.

Not having the luxury of time when in the lower level the door hinges yielded under the force of three grown men and many others poured from the doorframe gap to immediately prepare their weapons and start to shoot, neither Jonathan nor Carmen took into too deep thinking what had just transpired as they, literally, threw themselves towards the next door they found on the opposite wall and closed it behind them.

The Doctor’s head was still spinning when, without saying a word, Carmen and he got the same idea and started to collect furniture to block the door just in case the hunters managed to achieve what the woman had achieved with no small effort.

Once they were satisfied with their work, they started to look for possible exits.

The first door on the right did not budge.

“It is locked.” – he sentenced after trying to take it down. Looks like he wasn’t so strong after all – “We would have to take our chances through the stairs on the lef…” - but he didn’t get to end the sentence as a revolver cannon was suddenly pointed towards him and a very frightened woman trembling behind it.

There was a tense moment of silence between them only broken by the distant and muffled cries from the struggling hunters.

“What the fuck did I just saw, doc?” – she was the first to speak, her voice stalled and cracked – “Care to bloody explain?”

Jonathan’s mouth opened slightly as if he would say something… to end with him sighing heavily.

“I… do not know.” – he answered in all honesty – “Right now, I know nothing. I…” - he licked his lips, struggling to find the right words so she saw the truth in them and didn’t go berserker on him. At this moment, she was his only ally and he well damn knew it was in both their interests that their allegiance endured at least until they got out of danger – “I am a victim. I have… been attacked by someone… or something that I am still trying to comprehend. And, believe me…” - he added with a momentous passion – “… There is no one more willing and interested than me in finding out what has happened to me.”

Licking her dry lips as well, she swallowed an amount of saliva she didn’t know she was holding back on her mouth. Her pulse trembled.

“Do you plan… to get rid of me once I’ve served certain purposes?” – and, by the way she phrased that, he immediately knew what she meant – “And don’t bother to give me crap. I know a liar when I have one in front of me.”

However, the unmistakable expression of mixed surprise, hurt and indignation that crossed over the man’s features was more eloquent for her than his measured, tense words.

“I will not…” – he started, but he thought it better as his voice got some grave undertones – “I would never do that.”

A few seconds passed until her still trembling hands lowered the gun and put on again the safety mechanism before pocketing it.

“Okay…” – she breathed, so nervous she knew she was at the very precipice of a huge breakdown if she didn’t fight to get over herself – “Okay, I trust you, yeah. That’s okay, that’s acceptable…” – she mumbled stupidly, more to herself than to him – “I’m fucking giving you my trust, so you better handle it with care, dude.” – then, she crouched a moment, recovered her blue backpack from the dusty floor, opened it and quickly handed him the machete, which looked inappropriate and monstrous on her smaller hands – “Here. I’m not expecting you to defend yourself against those fuckers bare-handed.”

He took the weapon wordlessly, giving her a slight nod in acknowledgment that he understood her chances and what implied to her, given the current situation, to side with him.

A violent bang against the blocked door informed the pair that the hunters had managed to reach the upper level. No words were needed as both understood that the path only opened before them downstairs. It was quite fortunate that they had chosen a working-class neighborhood to hide in so the houses were connected one way or another.

That would buy them time to escape from their chasers blocking their way and having their heads more or less covered against the remaining sunlight and a plausible ambush.

However, the moment they would step outside the connected buildings, they would be likely easy prey on open field. And the houses would only last a few blocks away, both were sure of it.

“Search the room.” – he instructed calmly once they got downstairs into a spacious living room with a gas stove cooking place – “Weapons, currency, medical supplies… anything that would help us now.”

He was thinking again as a soldier, his mind already set into the familiar State of Emergency where survival was the first and foremost priority.

She did as he instructed opening cabinets, fumbling with drawers and basically making out a mess of the already messy room while he attempted, unsuccessfully, to open the next door that, by the looks of it, would only lead outdoors.

And it was the only available exit in the whole two-story flat, either upstairs or downstairs.

“Would you be so kind to hand me over your revolver just a minute, Miss Díaz?” – he asked as calmly as he could while extending his hand towards her – “We would have to resort to blowing up the lock in order to attempt to open this door.”

However, instead of feeling the known weight of a gun on his hand, he felt a metallic, smaller one.

“Check that key out.” – she said while eyeing the tiny rusted tool – “It was in his pockets.” – she added while casually pointing towards a bloodied, very decomposed corpse who had been sitting by a ruined suitcase on the floor – “I’ve also found this.” – she added while showing him a… well… what could be only described as the closest thing resembling a wooden stake… if you forget all the dried blood, dust and grime that covered it plus the uneven shape made by an untrained, rushed hand – “Looks like this vampire fetish is pretty popular these days, eh?”

Jonathan at that moment tried VERY hard to not to let it show his annoyance. Firstly, for the fact that she wouldn’t relinquish the damn revolver for the life of her, preferring to play games giving him a key that they didn’t know if it even would work, and secondly… for displaying a very inappropriate sense of humor at a very inappropriate time.

Amusing, truly.

Frowning deeply, he turned to the door and inserted the key into the lock half-wishing that it wouldn’t work so he could get rightfully angry… to immediately get anxious when the key softly clicked in the right place.

They exchanged a brief look and held their breaths as their hearings tried to discern something from the outside. And Jonathan was the first to notice the pattern.

Silently, he pointed towards her pocketed revolver and she didn’t disappoint him when she got it ready immediately.

Nodding, still looking at her intently, he counted down to three with his fingers, raised his machete and opened violently the door, knocking down the hunter crouched by the other side and too ready to attack the pair.

Without giving the guy time enough to react, he stomped over his armed hand and proceeded to stab him with the machete systematically.

Carmen witnessed the carnage from start to end while pointing the gun towards the dying guy, feeling like spilling her guts out all the time until a missing bullet hit the concrete mere paces away from her feet amidst the thin downpour that had covered the carmine twilight sky in steely gray.

She yelped and crouched briefly inside the house until she saw the boots of several hunters going downstairs.

“The key!” – she cried with desperation – “Jonathan, the key!”

They synchronized perfectly with each other the very moment he threw the key to her, she caught it in midair, closed the door in a hurry and locked it up meanwhile he took swiftly care of a second hunter crouched behind the corner at the right side of the door.

“Clever fucking beasts!” – a voice spat from the inside.

“Your mom, jackass!” – Carmen boomed, not really offended by being called “beast”, but having discovered less than ten minutes ago that screaming profanities at the top of her lungs did actually help with the bone-chilling fear that threatened to paralyze her body.

More bullets landing all around her did wonders silencing her up.

The shootings were coming from a lower level next to the Southern bank of what she deduced had to be the river Thames.

With the whole weight of her backpack over her shoulders, she quickly found a more or less covered spot behind a pile of wooden crates as she proceeded to study at full speed their surroundings: it looked like a concrete upper level around ten meters (no, she fucking refused to think in goddamned feet) tall, no doubt constructed to protect the neighborhood and the loading dock from a possible river overflow. The shooters must have been waiting for them by the river bank just in case they would manage to dodge the first group behind them.

And speaking of the Devil…

“Get a bolt cutter!” – she heard one of the nuts saying by her left side – “The door is chained!”

Poking a little her head to take a better look, she had to get behind the wooden crates again as more bullets aimed at her direction. There was… an iron gate of bars by the left side of the door where Jonathan and she had come from that connected with the destroyed neighborhood, and the shitheads were trying to get to them by means of opening that door.

Their time was running down at a fast pace.

“It’s the leech! The leech!”

As her head turned to the edge of the concrete level she saw… Doctor Blue Eyes standing at the very brink of a ten-fucking-meter fall to solid ground as he looked down with a predatory gaze set on his pale pupils that froze the blood on her veins.

Within a second that it felt like a whole Eternity, Carmen got with nauseous detail burned inside her brains how the thin rain poured down his pale, slightly varicose skin, sticking his ruined shirt to his tall frame, leaving a trail of shining threads all over his short raven hair.

It looked so mesmerizing an unnatural that she reacted with delayed horror when he jumped down the ten-meter fall.

The cry of denial died on her lips as she caught sight of his landing.

And she wished that she had never seen what she saw.

Blood spiraled upwards as a bullet perforated his left bicep before he landed full-force on top of the shooter on his two legs, successfully knocking him down and crushing the ribcage of the other man with the impact of his weight.

It looked frightening close to how one would crush an insect under one’s shoe.

She felt like vomiting again when he stumbled a bit as if he were a bit disoriented but reacted impossibly fast when one particular large hunter tackled him and he managed to resist the force that came with the impulse of the other man by sinking his heel hard on the ground.

And he, with inhuman speed, took his cranium between his long, elegant hands like it was the most delicate thing in the world and… launched his face forwards and bit him right on his throat.

The poor bastard didn’t get the chance to utter a sound as a scandalous red river started to stream down his jacket along with the rain.

Tears of undiluted horror mixed with cold rain soaked her cheeks as the beating of her own heart got deafening on her ears.

“Stand back, beast.” – she almost didn’t hear the deep voice right in front of her as a powerful metallic thump hit the ground a few meters from her feet – “I fear no evil! The Lord is my shepherd!”

Next thing she saw was a bulky old man dressed in purple, his hoary head covered by the customary silken skullcap the clergy still used in religious ceremonies, his steely eyes afire with something dangerously close to madness as he looked at her intently without batting a lash, his creaked lips whispering something while holding with both his gloved hands his long crosier topped with a huge golden cross.

He reminded her so much of the Nazarenos with the due capirotes during the Spanish Holydays of Semana Santa (3), that Carmen couldn’t help but start laughing uncontrollably like a madwoman.

Stunned, the lips of the obvious clergyman stopped moving as he eyed her like she were the most monstrous thing he had ever seen in his life.

“Reverend Kane, she’s… she’s human!” – a young man dressed like one of those idiotic vampire hunters but clearly with an attitude more down-to-earth lowered his rifle as he observed her with indecision – “She’s a civilian, sir. We cannot treat her like our Covenants stipulate.”

However, Carmen was still laughing, more likely due to knowing that she was a dead woman instead of finding the situation funny anymore when the old man spoke again.

“She cannot be saved anymore, my son. Her blood has been tainted already. She wears the Mark of the Beast!” – he boomed the last sentence while pointing at her with an accusing index – “The only way to save her soul is a stake through her heart.”

A tiny movement amidst the shadows ten meters down by the corner of Carmen’s eyes caught her attention.

“But sir!” – the young man protested – “She has no marks upon her neck! We still can…!”

There he was: lips gleaming red, wet tousled hair and ruined soaked shirt signaling to her to run to the brink of the concrete level and jump so he would catch her.

“Fool!” – the clergyman cried – “The neck is not the only place where a Concubine could be marked!”

Can’t any of these idiots see him at all? And they were still arguing over how to deal with her?!

The world had gone completely mad.

“We don’t know if she’s a Concubine or not!”

Okay, time to decide: siding with the young kind man trying to negotiate her life with the old fart or…

… Going directly into Doctor Dracula’s arms.

“Mercy is not an option with the beasts. Mercy for the Fallen is weakness.” – Reverend Kane dude settled the discussion firmly as he produced a wooden stake and started to walk towards her – “Watch and learn, young man.”

The Hell you will!

Kicking a stray empty bottle of what looked that had been cheap gin rolling on the ground; she directed it towards the old man as she quickly proceeded to sprint towards the brink.

“SHOOT HER!”

But the bullets did not even graze her when she fled during the scariest second of her life to promptly fall down.

She squeaked when her lower back and legs collided with a pair of arms that held her tight so the two of them wouldn’t go face-down on the mud.

Opening her eyes wide, she gasped upon finding Doctor Blue Eyes’ nose barely grazing hers; such was the short distance their faces were from one another.

Her arms went instinctively around his neck as he whispered only four words:

“We are leaving now.”

Next thing she knew, he was sprinting towards a near lower entrance to the colossal bridge that led to the other side of the Thames carrying her bridal style.

And she didn’t give a fuck about the fresh blood still present all over his lips.