It's a Short Life

January 3, 2012
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I pulled my stake out of the Strigoi’s back and whipped around to face the next one. I’d subdued it earlier with a deep scratch down the side of its leg, but now it came charging at me. Fast. I ducked as it swung its fist towards my head and dodged to the side to avoid the kick aimed squarely at my stomach. This one had been a dhampir before he was turned but looked as if he’d only just got out of school. Same as me, I suppose. He was rusty though, and this time my stake grazed his arm, causing him to flinch back. I took this opportunity, and whipped my foot behind his leg. He fell to the ground and I jumped on top of him and pulled my stake down the side of his face.
Then, I plunged my stake into his heart.
The light left his eyes and he stared up at me in terror. Dead.
I’d drawn that out longer than I’d needed to, but I didn’t care. I was angry. Very angry.
I looked up, expecting more Strigoi to come charging at me. But no. Nothing came and I sagged in defeat. With anger also came sadness.
“It’s okay,” said a voice from behind me. “Everything will be okay.” Sam put his hands on my shoulders and squeezed them. I brought my own hand up and placed it over his, grateful for the feel of another alive person. I’d seen too much death for the day. “They won’t come back again. They know they’re outnumbered.”
“You said that last time,” I told him.
He didn’t say anything.
I looked around then turned to face Sam. “Where’s your sis?”
“Dead. And so is my mom.”
I tried to catch his eye but he didn’t let me. “Oh, Sam,” I said and wrapped my arms around his waist, pulling him in for a hug. When I drew back his face was wet.
“I saw them get killed,” he said. “I was dealing with this Strigoi in the living room and when I’d finished it was just too quiet in the house. I ran to the kitchen, but it was too late and . . . I saw the Strigoi snap my sister’s neck before doing the same to my mother’s. I even saw him rip her throat out. That b******.” He took a deep breath, then he looked around as I had earlier. “Where’s your?”
I put a finger on his lips to stop him and a silent tear of my own slid slowly down my face.
“We have to go,” I said after a moment, brushing the tear away and looking down the street. “There are people who will need help. We’ve got to find them?”
“I know where they went. Over to the warehouse on the other side of town. Most of those who just got back from school went to guard there.”
I nodded. “That’s where we’ll go then.”
As we ran through the streets of Baia, I looked around at the deserted shops and houses, while the wind blew rubbish in circles around lampposts and bins. It wasn’t clear there had been an attack. Nothing was out of place, everything was as it had been at the beginning of the day, but there was a wrong kind of feeling in the air. I breathed in and out, and although it was exactly the same as it always had been, it just felt different.
“Were you at the warehouse?” I asked as we ran.
“At the beginning,” replied Sam. “But then I saw my family weren’t there and went to look for them. How about you? Were you going solo that whole time?”
“No. I was on my way back from town with the groceries when it started. I made all the humans get inside one of the shops and then fought the Strigoi with a couple of other novices. There weren’t many though and we saw a whole load head over in the direction of the warehouse. Some others were running in the opposite direction so Mathew and I went to take them down. Those were the ones I was killing before you joined me.”
Sam swallowed. “And where’s Mathew?”
“Don’t worry. He got knocked out so I threw him in a house somewhere. The Strigoi had already been through that part so he’s safe. Wherever he is.”
Sam laughed. “He is going to be so embarrassed. Knocked out cold.” He laughed again. “He’s never going forget this.”
“Please don’t be too hard on him,” I said, but was laughing really.
The warehouse stood out, towering above the houses and shops of the village. It was as silent here as it had been in town but it was clear fighting had taken place. Blood stained every piece of the tarmac and bodies lay everywhere. Mostly dhampir. The doors were closed but when I pushed, they swung open with ease. Sam and I peered inside, but no one was to be seen. There were several bodies, but not as much as outside. Our footsteps echoed as we walked across huge room.
“It’s empty,” I whispered.
Sam shook his head. “No. They went underground.”
“Underground? Since when was there an underground in here?”
He beckoned me forwards and to behind a pile of old bookcases in the far corner of the room. He lifted up a lid underneath a small carpet and began to climb down a ladder. I took a final glance around the room before following him down. It was almost pitch black, save for the small amount of light coming from where the ladder ended and met the floor.
“C’mon,” said Sam as I jumped down the last few rungs, “it’s this way.”
“What’s this way?”
“You’ll see.”
We walked down a small tunnel dimly lit by flaming torches attached to the walls. And then, without any warning, the room opened up into a cavern almost as big as the warehouse. Torches lined the walls here too, casting light down onto the many beds that lined the walls. The place was big enough to fit the whole of Baia into it and maybe even more. On the beds lay the injured and children, while all adults helped patients or made food. There were several humans down here and one or two Moroi, but the majority were dhampirs. Heads turned as we entered and Sam nodded to them as we made our way to the back of the cavern.
“Sam,” said a woman who seemed to be in charge of what was going down here, “we thought we’d lost you out there.”
“You won’t get rid of me that easily,” he said and laughed.
She shook her head. “We’ve been lucky. None of those sick creatures set foot in the warehouse. Didn’t come anywhere near. We’ve got people up there guarding the perimeter to tell us if there’s any coming, but we haven’t heard anything so we think they’ll be coming to get us soon.”
My mind started whirring. They’d had no Strigoi. But I’d seen that huge group head over that way, and we hadn’t seen any sign of fighting until we got to the warehouse, so that must have been where they’d gone. But if they hadn’t seen any then?
Sam and I looked at each other.
“They’re still here,” he said, his thoughts having gone in the same direction mine had.
“They’re waiting somewhere for us,” I murmured, terror spiking in my gut. “For when we come out.”
Sam turned to the woman who was looking at us like we’d gone mad. “Filippa, don’t let anyone out. There are still Strigoi here. Do not let anyone out.”
“But we would have heard from the guards we sent out,” she said.
“They’re dead. We just came in through the front entrance. Every one of them. Dead.”
“We need to go back up there,” I said. “With a team.”
“Go,” Filippa ordered. “Go and I’ll send a team. Wait by the ladder.”
We began running out as fast as we could. I grabbed a torch off the wall as we ran to light the way.
We were almost at the end of the tunnel when I heard a thud up ahead. I stopped and put an arm out to halt Sam. I heard footsteps coming closer and readied myself with the flame to torch a Strigoi. Sam got ready and when they were almost on us?
Mathew stepped out of the darkness with grin on his face. “Hey! You will not believe what happened to me?”
Then a Strigoi jumped out from behind him and snapped his neck. His eyes rolled behind his head and the Strigoi let him drop to the floor.
“Well, well, well. What have we here?” he said and laughed. Sam attempted to strike out while I stood there in shock, but in the shadows we heard guns cock and he froze.
The Strigoi laughed again. “Don’t even try it. But enough talk.” I didn’t like to mention we hadn’t talked at all. “My boys were getting hungry again and thanks to that young one, we found just where to look.” He clicked his fingers and we heard some shuffling. “Go on then, boys. Here’s the starter.”
I dropped my torch just as I saw Sam get bitten and felt my head slam against the wall.

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