"Sorry," said Bill, as the man he was kneeling over opened his eyes. "I didn't think the trip would be so rough on you."
The man blinked a few times, a look of confusion on his face, and his eyes suddenly went wide with fear as the last few moments came rushing back to him. He tried to scramble backwards but Bill placed a firm hand on his shoulder, preventing him from moving.
"I'm not going to hurt you," offered Bill.
"What the hell are you?"
"I'm still working that one out."
The man stared are him, his eyes filled with fear and distrust.
"I thought I knew, but so much has happened lately…" Bill trailed off as he stood up and walked about the small room that they were in. He suddenly halted and spun around to face the man. "I need your help."
"My help?" exclaimed the man, rising from the floor. "From what I saw you do, you don't need anyone's help."
"You know who Bartholomew is, right?" asked Bill.
"Who the hell doesn't? But he's dead. We saw the entire clan of vamps in New York turn to dust. The military's been broadcasting the news reports about what happened in Germany."
"There's more going on and, believe it or not, you're connected," said Bill.
The man started to ask a question, but Bill cut him off.
"I don't have time to explain it right now, but trust me, you're a lot safer here."
"Where the hell is here?" asked the man, causing Bill to let out a soft grunt. "What?"
"This is where my life changed," answered Bill, cryptically.
The man looked about the hallway, noting several offices and bulletin boards, and piles of dust that could only be former vampires. "Looks like a hospital or something."
"An asylum, actually," said Bill, remembering their encounter with Eric, and his eventual pounding of by the Old Guard. His gaze fell to the floor as he thought of Christine and how she had not only saved him, but also set him on the path that had led him to becoming what he was now.
And I don't even know what the hell that is anymore, he thought.
With Bill lost in thought, the man suddenly struck out with a powerful punch, which barely moved Bill's head.
Bill latched a hold of the man and pinned him against the wall, a couple of feet off of the floor, and growled at him. "That wasn't very nice. I'm trying to save your life here."
"You freaking kidnapped me," gasped the man.
"To keep them from finding you!" countered Bill, releasing the man and stepping back, fighting to rein in his anger.
"Them who?" demanded the man. "What in the hell are you talking about?"
"I need you, Paul," said Bill, surprising the man. "I need you for a, uh, test. Sort of."
"H-how do you know my name?"
"The same way that I knew where to find you," Bill rattled off, his gaze as if he were somewhere else entirely. "And just another piece in the puzzle. Things aren't adding up. He did something he shouldn't have been able to. Not if he was just a memory."
"You're losing it, man," said Paul, pointing a shaking finger at Bill and slowly edging down the hall. "I don't know what in the hell you are, but you're crazy. That's for sure."
"There's a town not too far from here," said Bill, focusing on the here and now. "A lot of the stores still have supplies."
"What, are you just leaving me here?" asked Paul.
"If things go okay, I'll come back for you," explained Bill, his form becoming misty.
"And if they don't?" he demanded.
"Then find a map," said Bill, before vanishing.
"I see that you've recovered," said Thomas, as he guided his chair into Roy's room. "Rather amazing that we never realized the affect that silver would have on vampires."
"If only the Lone Ranger had been around when this all started," quipped Roy, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed to set upright.
Thomas frowned and fidgeted with the throw-blanket covering his legs.
"Did you get things ready?"
"Traci is seeing to it," he answered. "Though I must admit, it is only a token effort. I might be willing to put a little faith in you, but Bill is another matter."
"He was very specific on what he wanted done," argued Roy.
"But no a clue as to why," countered Thomas. "We can't simply entrust our best soldiers to him without a reason."
"I think it has something to do with the other Halflings."
"The Halflings that he was so adamant about protecting? Why would he want a squad of soldiers if this concerned them? No. I'm sorry, Roy, but no. I don't trust him, and I will only assemble a few volunteers."
Roy's eyes narrowed as he studied Thomas' aura. It was a tinged white, as was true with most people, but there was a darkening to it just then, as he spoke of what was supposedly happening.
"What?" asked Thomas, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.
"You're lying to me."
"I think it is time that I let you rest," said Thomas, ignoring Roy's accusation and starting to turn himself around.
Roy was at the door in an instant, drawing a gasp of surprise from Thomas, his hand firmly wrapped around the handle. Showing little exertion, Roy twisted the handle with such force that it snapped off, firmly wedging the latch into place.
"You are not lending your position much credence," said Thomas, flatly. "If you truly wish to help your friend, then I suggest that you take a more diplomatic approach to the situation."
"Diplomatic approaches are what got us into this mess in the first place," countered Roy. "Miller's teams should have been here by now, where are they? What are you up to, Thomas?"
Someone from outside of the room tried the door, but they were unable to budge it, enticing pounding and muffled shouting.
"It won't take them long to break down the door," said Thomas, with more assurance than he was actually feeling.
Roy could actually see the shades of fear that were a part of the man, and it made him realize that things had drastically changed between them.
"Think about the line that you are crossing, Roy. I was prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt. Don't waste it on someone who is more than likely one of the enemy now."
"I'm not," said Roy, his form becoming translucent and mist-like. "I'm wasting it one someone I still believe in."
The door finally crashed in, Traci and another stumbling into the room, both of them staring at Thomas in bewilderment.
Bill arrived atop the building where so many had died the day before, kneeling next to a splotch of red that was Brian's blood. Brushing his fingertips over the stain, he pulled his hand up to stare at the dried flakes that had attached themselves, and he thought of the child that he had killed.
There was so much more that he did not know, that Bartholomew had blocked, that he felt as if he were a few pieces short of a whole jigsaw. He wanted those missing pieces badly, and he knew that the sentient memory of Bartholomew held them, but at what price?
Even now there was something that he was missing. Some part that Bartholomew did not want him to find.
He touched the bits of dried blood to his tongue and Brian's short life flashed before his eyes. Closing his eyes, Bill let the visions pull him into them, and he became Brian. He was saw every second of the child's short life; experienced everything that he had; felt every unrestrained emotion; knew every truth that he had known.
There should have been no gray, just simple black and white, the way that things should be in the life of a child.
But that was not how he saw it. It was not a life of white, but it was a life of truth, and that truth was blacker than any evil Bill had ever imagined.
Bill collapsed to the roof as his awareness returned to him, and with it, the shocking truth. He sat there, too stunned to move, overwhelmed with what he had just learned.
The presence of Bartholomew brushed at his psyche, compelling him to strengthen his mental shields. He could not let the Vampire Lord connect with him now, not in the state that he was in, not while his mind was still reeling with the truth.
His resolve did not matter to the Vampire Lord.
"Why are you here?" asked Bartholomew, materializing beside Bill and kneeling down next to him.
Bill glared at him, too terrified of what he had just learned to say anything.
"You've not been honest with me," he said, before standing and looking down at Bill with an expression of disdain. "I have strived so very hard to convince you of my sincerity."
"You've done what you've always done," accused Bill, steeling his resolve and rising to face Bartholomew. "Manipulate the truth to fit your needs."
"Am I not in your mind right now?" countered Bartholomew, whirling about and walking away from Bill. "Am I not with you instead of one of the others? Have I not kept my word to share my knowledge with none but you?"
"It's not like you had much of a choice," said Bill, causing Bartholomew to halt, his back still to Bill in a stance of indifference. Then, tapping the side of his head, Bill added, "We both know that you're not up here."
"My child, what are you…"
Bartholomew did got the chance to finish his question; Bill slammed into him from behind with as much force as he could, sending both of them crashing into a massive air-conditioning unit.
The metal frame that supported the a/c unit crumbled against their strike, and crashed to the roof as the two beings continued on, their momentum carrying them to the edge of the roof. They smashed against the short brick wall, knocking a number of the bricks free to go tumbling to the ground many stories below, and they laid there for a moment, staring at each other.
"You're still alive," grunted Bill.
"So I am," snarled Bartholomew, suddenly grabbing Bill and pushing both of them over the edge.
Bartholomew lashed out with a powerful blow that nearly knocked Bill senseless, leaving the Halfling tumbling through the air, dazed, while the Vampire Lord twisted about, and came to a halt, floating in the air.
Bill regained his senses a second too late, his panic not even rising before he smashed into the ground, the concrete side walk shattering with his impact. His bones shattered, his organs burst, and blood sprayed from his ruptured skin, already forming a dark pool around his inert form.
Landing softly next to the smashed body of the Halfling, Bartholomew knelt and chuckled as he said "That would appear to be extremely painful, Halfling." He said the last part with disdain, as if he were degrading Bill for what he was.
A gurgled cough was the only sound Bill could make, his mind not even registering what Bartholomew was saying, focusing his entire psyche on rebuilding his body.
"Pathetic, despicable half-breed. The others thought that we could use you, and I foolishly went along with them. You may have been intuitive enough to figure out our true origin, but you shall not live to do a thing about it."
Bartholomew reached down, grabbed a hold of Bill's head, and twisted it to the side so that he could look into his eyes. The move was accompanied with by a crunching sound, the noise of Bill's broken bones grinding against each, and Bill managed to let out a blood-spraying whimper.
"Let us see how well your body can heal when the pieces are spread across the earth."
Bill glared at Bartholomew with his one eye that was still functioning, and managed to smile.
His brow furrowed in confusion, Bartholomew started to ask, "What are…"
The Vampire Lord detected the presence an instant too late, beginning to whirl around when a blazing pain ignited through his body. Bartholomew thrashed about, trying vainly to reach at the object embedded in his back, when he suddenly locked eyes with the smoldering form of Roy.
"Twice in two days," said Roy, heedless of his imminent demise. "Bet that's a real bitch."
"Roy!" said Bill, telepathically, to his friend. "You have to get out of the sun!"
"When he's dead," answered Roy, aloud.
Bartholomew let out a scream of agony as his form burst into flames that were golden and white in color. The flames suddenly blossomed into a rolling fireball the dissipated into the air, leaving behind a statue of ash.
Glowing, reddish cracks were beginning to appear on Roy, his skin bursting from the affects of the sun's rays, and he vanished, moving to location safely in the shadows.
"I'll send some help," his voice faintly said to Bill, just as the Halfling passed out.
Four Days Later…
It had taken over half a week, and a number of donations of blood, but Bill had finally been able to heal his body enough that he could tell the others of what he had learned. Thomas had been reluctant to hold the meeting, but Captain Miller, having arrived from Atlanta, and Roy, had eventually managed to convince him to hear the man out.
It had proven to be a rather fantastic revelation.
"Clones?" blurted Thomas. "That's entirely preposterous."
"No, it's not," countered Miller, leaning forward. "Bartholomew managed to manipulate the research team into creating a formula that turned humans into Masters almost instantly. Why should cloning be that hard to accept?"
Thomas shook his head in denial. "If that were true, then these clones of Bartholomew would have all of his powers and abilities. Why all this subterfuge on their part?"
"Because they were…born?…before he created his thousand Masters. They weren't linked to rest of the world's vampires," said Bill, trying to explain is as he thought he understood it to be. "Besides, the process wasn't as successful as Bartholomew thought it would be."
"We've destroyed two of them in a week," said Roy. "They aren't as powerful as he was, but they are certainly as deceitful."
"The first one, the one that was Brian, had simply changed his form to appear as he had when he was a child. The second one tried to convince me that he was only a mental image, that he was in my mind, and he almost succeeded."
"But that doesn't answer the question of why," growled Thomas, slamming his fist down on the table.
"They want the Halflings," answered Bill. "What ever's missing in their genetic make-up, what ever went wrong in the process, they think that the Halflings hold the key."
"I still say it sounds too fantastic of a story," quipped Thomas.
"What can we do?" asked Miller, drawing an annoyed look from Thomas.
"I don't know," answered Bill, honestly. "I had thought that we could organize a strike team to attack their lair, but I've been out of it for so long that I'm sure they're gone by now."
"You know where their base is?" asked Miller.
He nodded in the affirmative, then said "I saw it when I, uh, tasted, um, Brian's blood."
Thomas made a harrumph sound.
"They were at the Cutherman Institute," continued Bill. "Right smack dab where all of this began."
"Then that's where we'll begin," said Miller, rising from his chair. "You're probably right. More than likely they vacated the facilities when they realized that you'd learned the truth about them, but we still need to check it out."
"We'd like to go with you," said Roy, finally speaking up.
"You're more than welcome," agreed Miller.
"And now, for the worst part," said Bill, drawing everyone's attention. "Besides the two that we've killed…there are six more of them."
"Then we'd better no waste any time," said Miller.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," said Bill, his form starting to vanish. "I told someone that I'd be back for them."
Roy just shrugged as Miller looked at him questioningly.
Coming soon…well, actually, sometime in the near future…