by Crazy Pen
you find out where Julius is from and his training. Please read ch. 1,2,3 before this
|Ch.4 Good morning sunshine! Eat my paint!
Now came the cavalry: local authorities, lights firing away as they came charging up the road and into town. They were in charge of cleanup, securing the town, and helping the civilians caught in the middle of a freak show to return back to their normal lives. Once that was all taken care of it was time for Ravencroft to withdraw.
They didn’t call in a chopper to pick them up. The weather was too bad and getting worse. Instead they sent a bus: a grey hound, sleek in its own massive sort of way, almost like the racing dog painted on the side.
Before the bus was quite a scene: students stripping out of thermal gear and body armor, handing off guns, ammo and explosives to be racked and stored. Then they threw themselves into the warm confines of the bus. In back the party was just beginning.
The seats were shrouded in red wool covering, making them itchy but everyone climbed all over them anyway. Several coolers were making their way around, passed from hand to hand, making the unoccupied surfaces wet as ice bounced out and melted.
Julius grabbed two of the local beers and a Red Snack
A Red Snack was bottled human blood for consumption. It was like an energized Gatorade: it replenished magic, increased stamina, and healed minor wounds. The only down side was you were borrowing from the future, and when the time came to collect, you would crash, not unlike a sugar high. There were stories of great Ravencroft warriors who fought for days on end and ate nothing but blood. When the time came to pay up, they went with the Lord God and found eternal peace. Ravencroft members didn’t need blood to live, but it was considered one of the richer foods of life and was passed around the dinner table like a fine bottle of wine.
Israel took her beer, sipping it slowly. Julius drained the blood drink. Feeling refreshed, he drank his beer and reached for another before it was transported out of reach.
Sky lights showing clouds and snow, changed to open sky populated with mini diamonds once they dropped a few thousand feet.
“Combat” Max held up a Red Snack, “That sure drains the mana levels.” This brought smiles.
“This isn’t Dungeons and Dragon.” shouted Julius over the reverberating noise of a boom box.
“I think I will, but you’ll taste awful. Sorry, I can’t stand any paranormal garbage in my food.”
“Ok you stupid vampire! Come over here and get some.”
Julius bared his fangs, his canines extending an additional half inch. Max put on an act of mock horror that was met with laughter. Julius dropped back into his seat, crooked little grin twitching at the edge of his face.
Just about everyone spilled their drink when the bus hit a large pot hole.
¬¬Once out of the snow zone the bus stopped at a gas station where everyone piled into the cargo container of an 18 wheeler. Inside was a two story set-up with the middle of the second floor taken out so it could look down on the first. The top floor was equipped with rows of bunk beds. Blankets, folded and tucked military style, were stripped from the beds and taken downstairs. The ground floor was saturated with a chaotic collection of couches on top of thick plush carpet. Beanbags scattered haphazardly throughout provided substitute seating and were promptly occupied. The only problem was moving from one place to another without climbing over someone. The mini-fridges were well stocked. Overhead a disco light slowly orbited in place.
The truck accelerated, causing everyone to sway like a drunken sailor until it hit cruising speed.
“Story time” the call sounded. Furniture was rearranged in a rough, undefinitive shape. Plenty of elbows and shoving until everyone found a hole.
“Olga, tell about the ghoul who shot himself” one of her teammates shouted.
“Hey” she protested. “Shh… they almost flunked me for that.”
“Tell it or I will.”
“Ok ok, sheesh. So we charge into this house, 5 ghouls inside. I lead half the team through the front, the rest came in from behind. We wipe out the ones on the ground floor, but the guy up top sees us and grabs a hostage from one of the rooms. He’s got his gun pressed against her temple, shouting for us to throw down our guns. Meanwhile our sharp shooter is outside trying to get a shot on him. We put down our guns and rase our hands like good little obedient peoples,” chuckles around the room. “He looks around at all of us, chooses me and fires. The only problem was that today I forgot my long underwear. I was cold so I extended my PBS beyond my clothes to keep me warmer.
This was met with scorn, ridicule, and a few laughs from those who knew what was coming next.
“Anyway, anyway!” She shouted to regain the attention of her listeners, “so he fires and I see the bullet bounce off my PBS and fly back and hit him.
“You should have seen the look on his face,” one of her team mates was saying through a fit of laughter.
Jeb butted in, “you shouldn’t abuse your PBS like that. This was supposed to be a low to no magic mission.”
“Well tell that to the twins” Olga countered. “They were bouncing bullets back and forth afterwards.” Smiles all around at this. Everyone knew about the twins.
“Ellie” Max called across the room, “I heard you got a kill.”
“Yeah, well…” she was suppressing the smile that would inevitably spread across her face.
“Tell us already!”
“Ok, so it was some time after you guys left, here comes this ghoul. He was trying to pull on his clothes and run at the same time to it was pretty comical. We watch him as he runs right at us, to the base of the tower and he starts trying to force his way in, almost yanking the door off its hinges. Anyways Israel says I can have him so I go down-stairs to deal with it. I take a knee and have the townsman open the door. He starts to dash in, only to stop when he sees me. I pop him once in the chest and he falls down, playing dead. He doesn’t realize I know he’s still alive, or at least he didn’t care any longer, after I had hog-tied him and strung him up for the locals to use as a pinata.
Someone butted in, “so that was the guy they hauled away with two broken legs?”
This brought laughs and rather less-than-sympathetic remarks.
Then someone else called for silence and launched into their own account of the nights happenings. They were booed, sharply corrected, and encouraged as he reached the climax of his tale. The ending was met with raucous laugher. Julius listened intensely, laughing along with the others.
Israel snuggled up into his shoulder.
“I’m tired, can I sleep here?” she yawned. It wasn’t so much of a question as a statement. She closed her eyes and soon her breathing slowed as she lulled into peaceful dreams.
Julius stayed up late. He listened to everyone’s stories, followed by much boasting and bragging. Toward the end of the drive he managed a game of poker with only one free hand.
He remembered carrying Israel off the bus, but after that?
The next instant he was trying to brush the sunlight out of his eyes. He groggily stumbled out and over to flip the shades. Too bright.
He walked over to the sink, splashed water on his face. He felt better, but still… more like hell rolled over.
There was a knock at his door.
“Come in,” then he checked his state of dress. He was in the same attire he wore last night.
It was only Max.
“You missed the debriefing.”
“Oh, um” the radio on the wall said it was a little before noon.
“Don’t worry, you weren’t the only one. A few stayed up a while longer.”
“Ok, what did I miss?”
“They were rogue ghouls. The magic from the ghouls was matched to a sample from the dead necromancer. HQ doesn’t know how many are still out there. Apparently this Necro tried to make as many as possible before he was caught.”
“Sounds like fun.” Julius splooted toothpaste onto the brush and attacked his teeth.
“They were hungry, poor, and lacked comfort. They stopped by the village to restock. They might have lasted longer if they split up and ate only one or two people at a time. Most coughed up the same story after they were interrogated last night.”
“Did you do it humanely?”
Julius choked as he tried not to laugh.
“ Anyway, the paintball fight at 5 o’clock over in La Foret is still a go. Afterwards we’re all going out for beers”.
Julius gave him the thumbs up, instead of having foam run down his face from trying to talk.
“See you then” and Max ducked out.
Julius spit. He gathered up an arm-full of clean clothes and headed for the bath.
The “bath” was an underground hot spring turned into a pool located underneath the dorms. Julius hit the shower first, scrubbing at himself with whatever bottle was laying around, until he was no longer greasy. Then he stepped into the pool, letting water heated to a degree below scalding, ease away muscles memories of the night before. Then he dressed and arrived back to his room to find Israel sitting on her bed. In her hands she held her “favorite rifle.” The monster was the Barrett M107 .50.
When Julius entered she set the butt on the ground, the muzzle coming up to her chin.
“Need a spotter?”
“Get set up. I’ll be there after I’ve have some breakfast.”
She hefted all 28 pounds of the rifle, unloaded, and left.
Breakfast was good, but Julius didn’t bother to taste it as it rushed to his mouth with record speed. Israel, bored, with a loaded rifle equaled a bad combination.
As it turned out she was turning a quarter inch steel plate into swiss cheese at a thousand yards. She ejected her spent round, adding it to a growing pile. The spotter scope was standing to her left.
Julius signaled he was ready and, for the next hour, Israel attacked targets at two thousand yards and beyond.
After, Israel finished what she considered her “daily warm-up”, Julius helped clean up.
“See you in a few hours”, Julius waved goodbye.
“Where are you going?”
“To Venice, for shopping, girls, you know.”
Israel studied his face for a long moment. “How are you getting there?”
“Ok” she turned, pivoted on one foot, and marched away with her nose in the air.
Julius focused his magic. The next instant he was flapping in mid-air. He caught a warm afternoon thermal and soared up. It felt good to fly again. This Peregrine bird was one of many animal forms he could take. Everyone in Ravencroft had animal forms, each one slightly different from another. The forms were great but you had to be really careful or complications would occur. But this was so much faster than a car.
Julius leveled out, looking down upon the academy. An old 1600th century castle was the center of the school. Various brick buildings were scattered around, the largest being the dorms. The many mountains and hills flourished aflame with changing colors as August approached its end. Slowly it was spreading down below, consuming all on the landscape like a forest fire in reverse.
Julius gazed across the campus fondly, picking out familiar point and secret hideaways. The shooting range was directly below him, a few people still sending rounds down range. On the opposite side of the academy was the airfield. Everyone in the graduating class had logged at least 2000 flight hours on that airfield. They had been taught to fly both airplanes and helicopters: commercial and military alike. The dock yard, located behind the dorms, were perched on the edge of a small lake. Here they had commanded any vessel under 60 ft including sailing ships and midget submarines. Anything larger was floating in the Adriatic Sea, in a port just outside of Venice. The basic idea behind all the training was that they could operate anything that they could fly, sail, or drive.
And to think, he was going to miss all that. All those memories: nights of being woken up at 4 in the morning only to be thrown into drills, hours spent scrounging the local woods, and those long runs into the mountains up and down “The Steps of Hell”. And after that: study study study of weapons old and new, math, history, and everything else that was lumped under the heading “Art of War.” This had been his home for eight years of his life. Tomorrow would be the long flight home.
“I’m not going to miss it,” he thought and banked towards Venice. From this height he could see the ocean. Riding one thermal, then another he soared higher, soon flying right over the sprawling city.
Julius selected his landing location. It was an old Roman Catholic Church with strong ties to Ravencroft. Being this close to the academy the church had rooms set aside for transformation.
Julius flew in through an open window, found the room empty and reformed back to human. He adjusted his hat and stepped out, pasted the stain glass windows and the grand entrance, through the great double doors. Above the great bells sang dang, ding, dong.
He moved out into the streets, a bounce in his step, maneuvering through the crowds of locals and lost American tourists. He wove his way through a network of familiar back alleys, many overlaid with original cobblestone.
He arrived in the main shopping district. Off down a side street he found what he wanted, dust coating the grand window of the old clothing shop. The overhead bell chimed as he stepped in.
An aging clerk, as old as the store if not more so, looked up from an old leather bound volume. The glasses upon his nose made his eyes out to be the size of dinner plates.
“You’re not lost, are you?” His Italian was of the older style, almost unrecognizable compared to the words kids slung back and forth these days.
“No, thank you, I’m just having a look around,” Julius chose the faster, shortcut wording that was the latest craze.
The clerk raised an eyebrow, gave a shrug and went back to reading his book, more like pretending to read while watching Julius out of the corner of his eye.
Julius searched through the racks, the old man’s eyes inspecting the back of his head for whatever might be living there. Julius found what he wanted in the back, right where he had left it. The fine French silk of the sweater glided through his hands, the hand done craftsmanship flawless. He didn’t even bother to look at the price. He’d seen it before, the sweater worth two months wages. Then he picked out a pair of dark blue silk trousers and an oversized lambskin overcoat that was probably be more common place in the late 18th century with its heavy cuffs, collar, and double row of brass buttons. But he liked it and the velvet interlining was to die for.
He brought his choices to the desk. The old man glanced at the stack, seemingly pulling the total out of thin air, ringing it up on an old mechanical register with a crank of the handle and a clank of the gears.
“Fine choices, and how do you plan to pay for them?”
“Cash or Debit?”
“Debit will be fine. But I need to call and check your account.”
“That’s fine,” Julius handed over his card.
The clerk took it and lifted up the receiver to an old iron machine that was widely used in the 1940’s. He dialed the bank, the card issued from a local branch. He talked on the phone for a few minutes before hanging up.
“Here you go, Mr. Cross, sorry for my rudeness.”
“I don’t blame you.”
“ And here you are” the man’s fingers finishing boxing the items with repetitive grace.
“Could you have them shipped” Julius gave him the address of the academy. In flight form he could only carry up to 25 extra pounds.
“You mean the academy?” Now the clerk gave Julius a long stare.
“Yes, please. And thank you. I’ll have to come back here sometime; unfortunately, you may not be around when I do.”
“I don’t know; we vampires tend to live for a long time.”
“Living or Dead?”
“Respectfully dead, thank you.”
“Then maybe we will see each other again. Take care.”
Julius stepped out into the sun, blinking several times to bring his eyes back from the gloom of the shop.
“Late! Late! Late! Late! Late!” the words reverberated inside his skull as he reached the apex of his climax and power-dived. He pulled out just above the ground, throwing out his wings to air break and reformed.
A few were still arriving, pulling up in cars or diving in like Julius. Many already had their paintball guns. Julius grabbed one and went to stand next to Israel.
Max was the center of attention, trying to hammer out the rules.
“And NO modified guns,” someone added.
Max nodded at this, “Sure, I’ll go with that.”
Israel looked down at hers: a personal contraption with a triple barrel system, laser sights and extra extended ammo containers. “I’ll go trade this in.”
“Everyone got that? You can have enhanced speed, no cloaking or modified weapons. Full body PBS’s, beyond clothing, no sense in ruining good clothes. Ok? Select Captains and choose teams. Oh, one more thing: dramatics are encouraged,” he said with a smile.
Israel and Julius got placed on the same team. The twins were split. They were trouble together.
Everyone took up positions in the woods. Leafs, orange and dead, littered the forest life a biodegradable land fill. A whistle blown in the distance was the same as a starting gun.
The opposite side came charging in. Someone appeared off to Julius’s left. All Julius had to do was turn and he popped off two shots into his back.
The guy dropped his gun, fell to his knees shouting about this long list of things undone and may his allies revenge his death, before he turning into a bird, flying up high enough to watch the rest of the battle unfold.
Lines dissolved. Everyone opened up on everyone else as it turned into a free-for-all.
Notably dancing through all this were the twins, lobbing paintball grenades at each other with a conspicuous lack of accuracy.
“I think the twins are conspiring against the rest of us.” Ellie plopped down in the leaves next to Julius.
“No duh!” Julius said he scrambled up into a tree for a better shot.
“I’ve got this one” shouted Max as he covered Ellie, blowing away someone trying to sneak up from behind.
A paintball whizzed out of nowhere and struck Julius’s PBS, just above his left shoulder.
“Ah” Julius gave a mock cry and rolled out of the tree. “I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit.”
There was a cry from the direction of the paintball.
Israel was by his side. “I got him” her eyes filling with tears of mirth as Julius acted out his death scene.
He gripped her arm. “I’m changing. I can feel it. Please remember me for who I was and not what I became.” Then he finished transforming and joined the others in the canopy above.
As it was, Max led the attack on the twin supported by Israel and Ellie. They chased the two around the forest until sunset when the match was declared a tie. The guns were rounded up and put away.
“Party back at the dorms” cried someone. The resounding cheer echoed throughout the forest.
For Julius, the rest of the evening blurred together. There was a bonfire, food, a few too many drinks, and some dancing.
Julius managed to get himself up in the morning. His head told him what happened last night; his bladder told him the rest. After he got himself cleaned up and fit for civilization, now came the daunting task of packing.
Clothes were strewn across the floor, heaped in piles, lodged in infeasible locations. Somehow he’d ended up with more than could fit into his two carry-on bags. With help from a spare belt he managed to get most of it packed away. The rest he shoved into a heavy sack and tied it off with a name tag. He hefted his luggage and managed to get all of it outside in one trip, even though it was a little haphazard. He dumped it on the growing pile being loaded into the cargo bay of a twin engine 787 Dreamliner bound for America.
Julius went back up to his room. He did a last check for any lingering items. He found a bar of chocolate turned white with age still in its wrapper. He ate it.
“You’re up and ready?” Israeli was standing at his door.
Julius snatched up his sword leaning against the bed. “Rearing and ready to go. You too?” that was a stupid question. She’d probably been up since dawn, packed, and reading a book for the last few hours.
The “before boarding party” on the airfield was a mess with teary goodbyes, last minute pictures, promises to keep in touch and constantly message via MySpace. Then they boarded their respective aircrafts that would bring them to their chosen outposts.
From the outside the airplane looked like some lost sea creature, its teal, blue and white paint job done in a rolling fashion. The wings sloped up like elongated fins of a giant whale and the tail looked like the dorsal fin of a shark. So it was a mutant sea creature; one that was quite comfortable on the inside. The seats were arranged in first class accommodations, the soft leather make you drowsy. Overhead pale blue lighting gave the lovely illusion of what could not be seen through the airplanes carbon fiber hull.
Julius took a window seat, his sword propped up next to him. Israel sat next to him, her nose glued to the pages of a mystery novel. Julius glanced around at all the smiling faces. He counted off friends and people he had fought with, trained with, and come to call his friends. Max and Ellie weren’t on board. They were on another flight down to the Middle East where they had elected to help out the U.S. government in its fight against terror.
The strange kraken of the air took flight. Julius watched the ground shrink beneath them and replaced altogether by a layer of clouds. He hit the electronic shading for the window. “Wake me when we get there,” he mumbled as he pulled on his headphones, letting Beethoven lull him to sleep.