Midnight of the Dead Earth

Chapter Seven

Not all the creatures n the monster's camp were night based, of course. The Witches and many of the Weres could function just as well in the day as the night, and indeed some needed to be out in the day, if only to guard human slaves. The main reason most of them lived a nocturnal lifestyle was to match their vampire masters.

The redheaded were-panther yawned as the afternoon sun shown down on their tent city. Well, more like a armed camp, really. They had already been fortifying under Leopold's rule, the weres covertly stiffening defences and preparing traps. Now that Rachel was here they had improved their defences substantially.

A brown haired slave walked by with the clothes of her fellow slaves, heading to the river to wash them. She was followed by a small were-rat, the woman looking as mousy in human form as she would in her rat form. Still, she was stronger than any human, so it made some sense to use them as guards and such.

Catherine made a mental note to suggest using stronger guards, then she walked through the camp checking the defences. The ghouls and zombies were on the outer edge of the camp, serving both as a warning system and a first line of defence. If a human was fool enough to climb the fence into their pens, they would be dead in moments.

The witches and human sympathizers were in the next area. The witches were powerful enough to protect themselves, with wards, spells and so on. The humans who willingly followed the vampires were there both to be protected by the witches, but also because they were expendable. There were many, many more where they had come from, of course.

The were creatures took up much the rest of the camp, split by type and, to a extent, by power. The wolves and panthers, along with the bears, were near the top of the food chain, while rats and other vermin were treated with little but contempt. They were useful in battle as cannon fodder, possibly, but very little else.

Finishing her patrol Catherine stretched, considering what to get for breakfast. She was tempted to just chase down a outcast were-rat, but their meat was usually stringy and tough. Instead she headed towards the fire pit, where several slaves were roasting pieces of cow.

"Mistress," one of the older men nodded a bit warily as she neared and asked, "would you like raw, rare or cooked?"

"Raw," Catherine said, calmly walking up to one of the dead cows and ripping a portion free. She walked away with it, ripping into the meat as blood dripped down her chin, the humans watching her with a mix of awe and weary shock.

The cow was from farms in the interior of the province, ran by human slaves. Catherine honestly wasn't sure she liked having the meat being just... given to her people. I mean, yes it was efficient but she thought it made the weres weak. They were apex predators, hunters by nature, they had a NEED to chase things down and kill them. Eating domesticated prey just felt wrong.

Several weres nodded to her subserviently as she ate, but Catherine mostly ignored them. Her only rivals right now were the leader or the Wolves, who was frankly a idiot, and Lady Butcher herself. Both were a threat to her too, though in different ways.

Buck was a big man, rippled with muscle and appeared to have muscle between his ears too. It probably wasn't all his fault though. In watching the Wolves Catherine rather thought that, as a breed, they had never really left the dark woods they had hunted for generations. They chose leaders based on pure combat prowess, which meant they had bred generations of incredibly strong, sharp reflexed warriors with the brains of turnips.

Well, that wasn't entirely fair, Catherine conceded. There were clever wolves, they were just pretty rare. Her old enemy Matthew had been pretty sharp, for instance, and had successfully led the weres in this camp under the 'Count.' Of course he had ultimately proven to be a idiot in resisting Butcher, making him lose face to the community. That gave her a chance, and she had seized it.

Now, however, Catherine had to keep an eye on Buck. While he wasn't the brightest light he was ambitious, strong, and would try to challenge her if he thought he could get enough support. Which meant she had to make sure he either wasn't getting that support, or was viewed as a failure. Or ideally, manage both.

Catherine finished her meal, chewing the last tenacious bits of the bone then breaking it in half to suck the jelly like marrow out. Casually she tossed the broken pieces into the ghoul's enclosure, then headed down to the creek to wash up.

The slaves were washing away as Catherine walked to the water. She calmly stripped off the minimal clothes she usually wore and dove into the stream, letting the water wash over her. The cold was enough to make her shiver, but it cleaned the still wet blood away and felt terrific.

As Catherine stalked from the water she felt the eyes on the men and women on her, and lingered as she dressed. The shorts and t-shirt didn't cover much to start with, but it was nice to feel those admiring gazes. She was pleasantly surprised to notice several weres watching her, and noted them in her mind for later.

Returning to the camp, Catherine went looking for a old 'friend' of her's. While Chuck was a werewolf, he was low in the pack order, and worse he wasn't all that tough. Which suited him fine, oddly, because he was a masochist. Yes, he GOT OFF on being punished and disciplined by his back leader and the others ahead of him in the pecking order.

The mangy looking wolf was on guard duty, as she had arranged. Being head of the camp's weres had it's perks. Catherine walked past the zombie pen, skirting the rotten smelling creatures, then went over to where the bored looking man leaned on a tree.

"I see you're doing a bang up job as usual," Catherine drawled dangerously.

"Ma'am," Chuck jerked to attention, looking alarmed as she loomed over him. "All quiet here, ma'am," he added quickly.

"It had better be," Catherine growled, enjoying seeing him quake in fear. Relenting a bit she asked him, "How is the hunt for the human scouts?"

"Not going well," Chuck said with a sly smile. "The humans are being careful to cut their scents and cross terrain that makes it hard for us to track them."

Reading between the lines Catherine knew that Chuck was actually deliberately losing the trails. On her instructions, of course. Or when he went out with the teams of hunters he did what he could to help humans escape. The fool was often beaten by the leaders of the hunting parties for his failures, but for a masochist like him that was probably a bonus.

"You realize I'm going to have to punish you, to explain why I'm talking to you?" Catherine noted calmly.

"Realize?" Chuck actually grinned as he added, "I'm looking forward to it."

"Perv," Catherine snorted with amusement as she punched him in the face.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Rachel Butcher returned the encampment that evening, the vampiress in a foul mood. A were-rat got in her way and she coldly beat him, very nearly to death. The only mercy she showed was not biting or killing him, so he might recover. Maybe.

Taking a steadying breath Catherine knocked on the wooden panel by the tent flap. There was a moment of silence, then Rachel flatly called, "Come in."

Catherine swept the room with her eyes as she entered the command tent. The place was no longer as opulently decorated as under the Count, instead it had a rug, table, a fine chair and wall hangings to dampen noise a bit. Rachel herself sat on her fine chair, her slaves chained up not far away, ready to be fed off of.

"Done kicking dogs yet?" Catherine asked warily, "Because if you like I know several curs that could deserve it..."

Rachel snorted with amusement then shook her head. "No, I'm fine," she said, relaxing a bit, "and don't push it."

"I live but to serve," Catherine said calmly. She was a cat, after all, and attitude came with the whole package. She waited until Rachel seemed as calm as she was going to get before asking, "Do you want to tell me what pissed you off?"

Rachel gave her a thoughtful look, "And why would I want to do that?"

Catherine shrugged. "If it's a security issue you may have to tell me anyway' she said, "and besides, it can help to talk things out."

"And it might give you ammunition against me," Rachel noted.

"That too," Catherine conceded willingly.

Rachel smiled faintly at the honesty. "Over the past week or so I attempted to break into the slave underground," she said calmly, "while I eventually had to reveal myself, the... size of the chain of secret rebels is disturbing."

That piece of news made Catherine's eyes widen a bit. "How bad is it?" she asked.

"In interogating suspects I've determined that the underground railroad stretches across the country," Rachel said grimly, "though I think I severed the local connections, for now."

Clearly the other woman hadn't accomplished as much as she had set out to do, which was why she was annoyed. But that alone wouldn't explain her anger. "What else?" Catherine asked.

Rachel gave her a look that implied she was going to deny anything else was wrong, but she then reconsidered. "Janet Fox, the woman I turned so we could use her to trap the rebels," she said flatly, "she's dead."

Catherine was surprised, again, both by the news and the sound of... pain in Rachel's voice. Vampires regarded humans as food, nothing more, and the idea of a vampire developing an attachment to humans was unthinkable. Well, except for the rare cases they chose to turn a human into a vampire.

Catherine looked at Rachel as she asked, "What happened?"

Rachel looked grim as she said, "She successfully committed suicide traveling between here and our masters down south."

Ah HA. That was why Rachel was annoyed, probably. She might be offended that a mere human could have broken free of her spell enough to end her life. "I'm sorry you lost your thrall," Catherine said meekly, or at least as meekly as she could manage.

Rachel gave her a piercing look, wondering if she was being mocked. Deciding it didn't matter Rachel changed the subject, asking, "Have the wolves had any luck in stopping the foraging parties from the city?"

"The wolves are trying their best," Catherine said diplomatically, "but the humans are being very clever, breaking their trail and passing through areas difficult to track through."

"And you don't want them to succeed, since it will increase the power of the wolves," Rachel noted perceptively. She sighed, "You and your people's rivalries..."

Catherine nearly objected to being lumped in with wolves at all, but decided it would be best not to give Rachel ammunition. "Isn't that much the same between the vampire families that control different parts of the world?" she asked.

"Yes it is," Rachel agreed readily, "but unlike yourself we don't wash our dirty linens in public." Dropping her voice she said, "I do not care about how your factions fight. You are welcome to wipe each other out."

"But?" Catherine prompted her.

She regretted that a moment later as a hand grabbed her around the throat, cutting off her air. Rachel stood, picking up Catherine one handed even as the were-panther struggled uselessly. "But do not let it interfere with the tasks I give you," Rachel hissed, "or I will end you. Understood?"

"Y... yes," Catherine managed to get out.

Rachel dropped her, turning away and sitting down again. "Good," she purred.

To be continued...