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 Practical Lessons

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Posts : 821
Join date : 2010-07-29
Location : Texas, USA

PostSubject: Practical Lessons   Sat Oct 23, 2010 5:17 am

Never posted any fan fiction before. I don't even like reading the stuff. But I started this story before White Wolf announced that they were going to end VtM. I thought perhaps an agent could convince them to publish it, as one (or perhaps a trilogy) of the novels in their Old World of Darkness. Then they announced OWoD was ending, and that dream went bust. I would never condemn any of my characters to being in the New World of Darkness. Smile

Here's an excerpt.

As I sprinted across the rooftop, I began to feel the twinges of fatigue, as my body told me I needed to rest and catch my breath.
I merely put on another burst of speed, and told my body, Move it, you lying bitch.
Because I was dead, of course. Well, undead. No fatigue poisons build up in a vampire’s muscles, no ‘oxygen debt’ causes weakness after intense activity; only the psychological effects remain. Just as weight training could no longer build muscle mass, so aerobic exercise could no longer make my body more ‘efficient’ at burning glucose and absorbing oxygen – because it does neither. Muscle fatigue was an illusion, a holdover from mortal limitations. With practice and experience, a determined Kindred can learn to ‘build up her stamina’, ignoring the phantom fatigue caused by exertion.
Granted, a certain physical toughening also seemed to occur, as a Kindred’s so-called ‘stamina’ increased. My body could now shrug off damage that would’ve crippled a human. Pain could be ignored, or at least endured, in the same manner as the phantom fatigue. Being run through with a sword still hurt like a bitch, but my body did not go into shock, as it once would have.
That’s what allowed me to keep running, in spite of the .22 slugs hitting my torso. Fucking bastard! I thought. I grabbed the corner of a chimney and whipped myself behind it with shoulder-wrenching force, then I pushed off and resumed running, trying to keep the chimney between myself and the shooter. I couldn’t really dodge here– not only had I boosted my speed, but the gravel on this roof wasn’t conducive to turning on a dime. Speed and cover would have to serve. Besides, I was running out of time.
I changed course slightly, and headed for the roof’s edge. This wasn’t the most logical spot to cross, but that’s why I had chosen this route. A little tricky, and I’d be hurting if I screwed it up; but it was partly shielded from gunfire, and closer to my destination on the neighboring rooftop. The bullets had stopped ricocheting off the roof, which set off an alarm in my head. I knew why they had stopped. As I reached the edge, I hopped up and pushed off of the parapet with a final burst of energy.
A couple of bullets hit me in mid-air, as I’d expected. The shooter had waited until my jump, and then snapped off several rounds with his speed augmented, to throw off my balance and make me fall. But he’d pulled this trick before. I forced my body to stay level, and not jerk instinctively as the rounds hit. My feet hit the wall of this building, and I shifted my weight and pushed off, aiming for the next one in a move that would make any human parkour athlete green with envy. I landed on the roof and rolled once, then I regained my feet and kept running. “Move it, Rhona,” I muttered to myself. My long brown hair streamed behind me as I ran.
The rest was gravy. I sprinted at full speed across the roof and slapped the button as I passed, and then did a standing slide across the gravel roof into the parapet, only ten feet away. A glance at the clock told me I had done better than expected. I stood up straight, trying not to grin like an idiot, and waited for my sire.
Brandon didn’t take long to arrive. He stepped from behind the structure that housed the stairwell and walked towards me, with a casual air that belied the speed that he must have used to get here so fast, from the rooftop opposite this one. He was about six feet tall – which, for the time period he was born into, was a giant. His dark blond hair was cut in a conservative modern style, and his intense blue eyes made for quite a striking picture. The vaguely European features gave away nothing as he drew close, and examined the timer. A silenced Ruger .22 was held casually in his right hand.
“An acceptable time, young Rhona. Faster than your previous,” he admitted. “Although speed is not everything. You relied too much on the fact that there was a lone gunman, even though you know better than that.” He pointed to an adjacent building opposite the one where he’d been situated, with an excellent field of fire. “If I had chosen to employ a sniper for this exercise, your chosen route would have left you far too open. What path should you have chosen instead?” he asked.
I sighed, a habit I knew very well I should break (since I no longer breathe), but sometimes it expressed one’s feelings better than words. “Around to the left of the air conditioners, and from there to the next stairwell. But if a sniper hadn’t fired by the time I passed the skylights, chances are there wasn’t one,” I argued. Of course, the main reason I had followed my chosen course was that I wouldn’t have beaten the clock by thirty-four seconds if I’d done it the other way. Brandon was right – I’d been going for speed. Not that I’d ever admit that, of course.
My sire wasn’t buying it. “Unless he was waiting for a better shot, which you obligingly provided. Never mind. You know where your mistake was; you merely let pride rule the day. However, that last jump maneuver was impressive. If nothing else, your skill with that French acrobatic discipline would ensure you a place in the Cirque du Soleil.”
His patronizing little comment set my Brujah blood to boiling.
“Thank you for that biting critique. And it’s called ‘parkour’. Maybe if you actually let me start interacting with the Kindred of Orange County, instead of following your little training regimen, I wouldn’t have to amuse myself with tricks like that.”
My training had been intense, but I was starting to chafe under the monotony. Not that the last two years had been boring– quite the opposite. While Camarilla himself, Brandon had great admiration for the anarchs of the former Anarch Free State; but his opinion of their teaching methods was low. To him, the way I handled myself upon my entry into Kindred society was a direct reflection on his tutelage. Soon after my Embrace, he had told me, “There are already far too many Brujah who have no concept of how far they have fallen. In you, I see the potential to be what the Brujah once were… the famed warrior-scholars, respected and feared the breadth of the civilized world. Many today are no better than wild dogs. I will not throw another ignorant cur into the pack.”
So my tutelage had included topics such as Literature, History, and Philosophy, as well as Finance, Warfare, Etiquette, Kindred Politics, and even Dancing. Previous abilities were improved as well, like computer skills and acting classes, and even Music, once Brandon had found out about my old piano lessons as a child. It was like a high-class prep school for assassins.
However, while my training was very intense and accelerated, all of this had taken place with very little real interaction among other Kindred, except for a few of the anarch barons in Orange County – never in Los Angeles, because Brandon refused to present himself to the ‘petty French childe’ whom the Camarilla had recently installed as Prince. Brandon claimed no domain of his own, yet due to his age and status, he pretty much had free run of the OC domains. From his Spanish Colonial-style estate in the Santa Ana hills, we had taken occasional field trips like the current one, here in an older industrial district. But except for those, and chaperoned outings as I learned how to find prey in the bars and clubs, I had spent most of my time training on Brandon’s property– drinking packaged blood from blood banks, and going through a two-year vampire boot camp. I was getting sick of it.
After my little outburst, my sire merely gave me a thoughtful look, as he appeared to consider my words.
Finally, he nodded and said, “I see. Perhaps if you feel your skills are being wasted here, we can find something a bit more… challenging, to see how much you have learned. Come along, Rhona.”
With that, he turned and headed for the stairs. As I collected the timer and followed, I had sense enough to be worried.

Less than 2 weeks later, Brandon took me on the first of many extended ‘field trips’. The first destination was Yuma, Arizona. Since it was close to L.A., we drove down one night and Brandon dropped me off at a motel. Although it was after 2 a.m., I had a room reserved, and it was totally dark – black plastic had been taped all around the windows. Brandon wouldn’t tell me where he was going; I was ordered to stay put, and get a good day’s rest.
The following night, Brandon called to say he was picking me up, and he told me to dress for a fight… and made a few other suggestions, which annoyed me but I followed them anyway.
He took me to a seedier part of town, and we parked in a dark spot between streetlights while Brandon watched and waited – for what, he would not say. I was getting angrier by the minute at being kept ignorant. About the time I was ready to start bitching, Brandon spoke.
“What?” I asked. I looked in the direction he was facing, and saw only an old warehouse a block away; just one of dozens like it in this part of Yuma. We’d passed over railroad tracks to get here, and the streets were in bad repair from all the 18-wheelers that rolled through during the day – some were merely dirt tracks. At night, there weren’t even enough people around here to make it a ‘bad neighborhood’… just an empty one. This particular warehouse looked vacant; a realtor’s sign was attached to the main gate.
“There, on the right side of the building, inside the fenced-off area,” Brandon replied.
“I don’t–” I broke off, as a slight shadow moved between the buildings. My eyes were normally better than Brandon’s; he must have augmented his eyesight. I lost the shadow briefly, and then there was a larger shadow as the side door opened outward, and closed again. “Who is that?” I asked.
“That is Henry Mansfield, a former truck driver. Tried and convicted for rape and assault – it wasn’t his first; just the first one the authorities knew about. Probably the first one who lived. His lawyer managed to bargain his sentence down to two years… and within a few days of his release from prison, he was ‘recruited’ by the Sabbat. That was less than a year ago.”
“Crap.” I felt the fire start in the pit of my stomach. “How do you know all of this?”
“I have my sources. Henry is a member of a Sabbat pack that operates out of San Luis Rio Colorado, right across the border. His blood is Toreador. However, they would not claim him now – he is antitribu. The Sabbat has a presence in many of the border towns, although most of them keep to the Mexican side. But our Henry likes to cross the border occasionally for a little solo moonlighting… as the Yuma Slasher.”
“The what? I’ve never heard of the Yuma Slasher.”
“In L.A., the stories never make the front page. But here, everyone knows. The Slasher prefers beautiful young girls, although one has been a teenaged boy. So far, six victims have been found mutilated, with the blood drained from their bodies.”
“If you knew about this, why hasn’t something been done? Or doesn’t this count as a Masquerade violation? Of course, I’m just a ‘fledgling’… maybe my definitions are a little off–!”
Brandon interrupted my rant. “Yuma is too small to have a Prince. The Camarilla is spread quite thin along the Mexican border, and so is the Sabbat. The resources of both sides are focused on preventing, or at least discovering, border crossings made by the enemy. Also, full details in the Slasher case have not been released to the press – for example, the lack of blood. Thus far, the forensics people have assumed that the victims bled to death from their injuries. I merely asked my sources to look for a lone Sabbat presence, and this turned up pretty quickly.” Brandon didn’t say any more… but then, he didn’t have to.
“I see.” I looked from him to the warehouse and asked, “This is where I come in, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” There were no orders, no pep talk, and no threats. He knew I couldn’t leave this guy here. I would bear part of the blame for every future victim. Sometimes, knowledge requires action. An image flashed into my head, and I snorted.
“What do you find amusing?”
“This reminded me of something I saw in a movie. Sorry.” I thought he wouldn’t care; but I was wrong.
“What movie?” he pressed.
Jeremiah Johnson, with Robert Redford.” Brandon wore an expectant look, so I explained. “It’s set in the American West, during the early 1800’s. A young man, Jeremiah, goes into the Rocky Mountains in winter to hunt and trap for furs, but he’s not having much luck. Then he meets this old mountain man. To be brief, they start talking, and the old guy asks him if he knows how to ‘skin griz’ – grizzly bear. Jeremiah answers, ‘As quick as you can find them.’ The old guy thinks that’s funny. He takes the young guy back to his cabin, and tells him to go in and get warm, he’ll be back soon. Then he goes off into the woods.
“After a while, Jeremiah hears some noise outside. He opens the door and there’s the old guy, laughing and running, while being chased by a grizzly bear. The grizzly is floundering through the deep snow, but the mountain man is skimming over the top with his snowshoes, so he’s staying ahead of the bear. The old guy runs into the door, and dives out the back window, while the bear runs into the cabin after him. The bear is roaring, and there are shouts and the sounds of stuff breaking, but the old man yells back through the window, ‘Skin him quick, Pilgrim, and I’ll find you another!’”
Brandon laughed softly. “What happened next?”
“There’s a gunshot from the cabin, and the next scene shows both men sitting inside by the fire. The old man is cleaning a hide, while the young man gives the old one a dirty look.”
Brandon chuckled again. “Very apt.” He said nothing else, though… he just waited.
I nodded, and reached for the door handle. “Be right back.” Then I got out of the car, and headed for the building.
I’d thought about asking Brandon to take this guy out, if I failed. But I didn’t want to seem weak or sentimental in front of him. He probably would anyway… he wouldn’t want it known that his progeny was killed by one of the Sabbat, much less a Toreador.
In my mind, I reviewed what I knew about the Toreador: Typical powers include speed and force of personality, like Brujah, plus a supernatural perception (i.e. Celerity, Presence, and Auspex). He’s probably not as strong as I am, though. He might try to turn out the lights on me to gain an advantage, but I have a few tricks he won’t expect. Of course, he could have tricks up his sleeve, too.
Also, I let the fire in my belly grow – that ever-present Brujah anger. This was dangerous, as The Fire was second cousin to the Beast… or maybe they were Siamese twins, I don’t know. Let the anger go too far, and the Beast went walking in your skin, while you paid the consequences. But if you could dance the razor’s edge of control, that anger was a useful tool – kind of like adrenaline was to normal humans. I’m not sure if anyone who wasn’t Brujah would understand. The Fire could focus your thoughts, burn away anxiety or doubt, and ground you firmly in the now. At this moment, I wanted to be mad at Henry Mansfield, this ‘Hannibal Lecter’ wannabe who preyed on pretty young things.
I’ll bet a sociopath like that would welcome the power of the Embrace. Being reborn into the Sabbat, and told that his humanity was a garment to be cast aside in favor of a monster’s mask… it sounded simple. If you’re already a monster, you’re just following your nature when you act like one. No responsibility, no guilt… I’m sure it was so easy to give your soul to the Sabbat.
Some of us just aren’t meant for the easy way, I suppose. Personally, I was resolved to fight the Beast tooth and nail, hanging on to every last scrap of my humanity. Nobody but me would bear the blame for the sins I might commit; not Caine, not God, not even Brandon, for passing this curse on to me. My atonement would be to fight those evils worse than myself, until my Final Death.
After a stealthy trip around the warehouse perimeter to check out the exits, and to wedge loose stones inside the doorframes of most of them, I stood in front of the side door that I’d seen open and close from the car. It was a metal fire door, which opened outwards. No obvious security cameras were visible. An awning above the door made the shadows around it even darker. I could still make out the lock, though; and that was enough. Using some tools that only locksmiths are supposed to have, I went to work on the door. Any self-respecting burglar would be embarrassed to take as long on that lock as I did, but I finally picked it, without too much noise. Mansfield would most likely know when the door opened, though. Well, maybe that was for the best, since I did want to confront him, after all. I pulled on the door handle… and the door stayed closed. Damn it! It must be bolted from the inside. I took hold with both hands, braced my foot against the doorframe, and pulled. There was a squealing noise as the bolt tore free, and pieces of metal fell to the floor. So much for my ninja skills.
“Avon lady,” I quipped, as I walked into the warehouse. The fire door closed automatically behind me, and I looked around.
The warehouse was dark except for a few dim ‘EXIT’ signs, and some light coming from a two-story office area along one wall. The three-story metal racks were empty of pallets and other goods, and dust was heavy in the air. I headed down one aisle in the general direction of the offices, walking normally but ready to dive for cover if bullets started flying my way. If Mansfield used Auspex to heighten his senses, he might be able to see me clearly in spite of the dark leather pants and jacket that I wore.
No shots rang out as I neared the offices. My hands were empty; I could pull a knife quickly enough, and I might need my hands free when it hit the fan. I rounded a corner, and stopped.
Through an open door, I could see her. I think she was female, or had been. Technically, she was seated in a plain wooden chair; but her hands were held up by chains that ran to the pipes overhead, her ankles bound to rings set in the floor. The head lay against her right arm, as if posed. Her eyes were shut, but she faced my direction. She could almost be asleep, except for one detail…
The girl was shredded. Her skin was peeled back in places too numerous to count, merging with the bloody scraps of clothing that still hung from her body. Irregular mounds of flesh that must be internal organs were hanging out of some of the openings, including several feet of intestines that trailed loosely around her feet before snaking back into her abdomen. Blood was everywhere, but it was old blood; judging by the stench, some of it was from previous victims. How long had he taken with her? Days? I couldn’t tell. A table nearby had various shiny tools, now spattered with blood.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” a voice asked, from out of the darkness. I jumped slightly, in spite of myself. However, I didn’t go diving for cover. Not only would it look stupid, but until I had a better idea of where he was, I might actually be making myself a better target. Besides, it seemed that he wanted to talk.
“Hard to tell, with all of the blood and everything. However, I’m pretty sure that she looked better before,” I commented.
“Don’t you know art when you see it? This is true beauty. She’s going through a change, a transubstantiation… do you know what that means?” His voice came from a different direction now; he was moving around as he spoke. I faced forward, but my attention was on tracking him.
“Yes, although I don’t think the church would agree with your definition. You’re saying she’s been transformed, into some kind of sacrament? I doubt it. I just see a body.”
“’There are none so blind, as those who will not see.’ For example, an ignorant little Camarilla slut who can’t see what’s in front of her face. Prissy English bitch… you don’t know what you’re dealing with.”
I barked a laugh, as I amped up the Personality and began responding to his bullshit. While I spoke, I also used the blood to pump myself up physically – Brandon had drilled me repeatedly in ‘multi-tasking’, insisting that the various powers in my blood were no good unless they could be brought to bear at a moment’s notice.
Turning to face his general direction, I scoffed, “Camarilla? They didn’t send me. You’ve been a bad boy, Henry. A higher power than either of us guided me to you.” That was true enough; Brandon was certainly more powerful, although Mansfield would think I meant someone else. My voice was suitably ominous, and I raised an accusing finger. “I am your judgment and your fate.”
“Wh–What? No! Toreador bitch! You’re trying to mess with my head!” Mansfield shouted. A faint double click was all the warning I had; as the gunshots rang out, I was already moving. Of the six shots he fired in that first salvo, three actually grazed me, but they didn’t do enough damage to slow me down. With all the speed at my command, I closed the distance between us. The twin muzzle flashes were like beacons pointing my way. My knife was out, and I slashed at the dim form ahead of me… but I couldn’t see him that well, and the leather jacket he wore deflected my blade just enough that I only nicked him. It was a wicked little Gerber blade, supposedly used by a few Special Forces units, but it still had to connect to do damage.
Mansfield dropped the guns and drew a knife of his own, a huge hunting knife – bigger than mine, of course. But he surprised me by moving, not toward me, but heading for the lighted area. He was faster than I was, even though I moved with supernatural speed. I ran after him, but before I could get to the doorway he was already there and reaching around to the right. Suddenly, it was dark.
I stopped, fast enough that I skidded a bit. I had no desire to run straight into a knife blade, or some trap he had set up at the door. It was almost pitch black… the light from the few exit signs still working didn’t reach to where I was. From outside I’d seen a few windows up near the roof, but they all must be painted over, because I couldn’t even tell where they were now. I backed away and fished my little waterproof Maglite out of my jacket. The flashlight wasn’t even turned on before he rushed me out of the darkness.
His first slice caught me across the ribs. I felt the blade slide between them, although I spun away from his attack before he could stab too deeply. My right hand, the one holding the knife, took a wild slash in his direction… I wasn’t really hoping for a hit, but I felt cloth tearing. I just wanted to make him keep his distance for a moment while I quickly thumbed my flashlight on left-handed.
In this, I was partially successful. The light did turn on; but the lens cap, which you could turn to focus the beam, actually came off… with my accelerated reflexes, I’d given it too much of a spin and it popped off. I did have enough light to see my opponent now, but I was still at a disadvantage… I couldn’t blind him with the light, as I’d intended; and I had to hold the flashlight out of his reach or he might target it, breaking the bare bulb and putting me in the dark again. With the light unfocused, it was like holding a bright candle that wouldn’t blow out. Maybe I would’ve been better off with a candle – at least he would be afraid of the fire. I had a couple of flares, but I’d have to drop either the flashlight or the knife to take them out. That was more of a last resort option.
We slashed and stabbed, dodged and feinted, as my pitiful little light glinted off our blades. He was actually doing more damage to me than I was to him, but I was healing as fast as he cut me, burning through the blood like there was no tomorrow. Mansfield was no longer speaking, but I could see the anger and frustration on his face, even in this dim light. His thoughts were obvious: why isn’t the bitch growing weak, or going into torpor? On a hunch, I decided to play that up.
“You see, Henry? The hand of he who sent me shields me from your wrath. It is only a matter of time—”
Before I could finish, he bolted – whether through fear, or simple discretion, I couldn’t tell. But he ran, the distance between us growing wider since he was the faster. I chased after him, afraid that he would get out in the open. If he did, he would be free to kill again. If I could just get my hands on him…
Mansfield reached one of the fire doors, throwing his weight against the bar that opened it… and bouncing back, the door still closed. He let out a surprised grunt, which turned into a frustrated growl, and he looked at the door as if it had betrayed him. Which it had, in a sense: with the stones I had wedged in around the frame, that door was not going to be opened so easily. Before he could dart off in another direction, I was on him.
My knife plunged into his side, and Mansfield screamed. I released the blade as I plowed into him, grabbing on tightly so that he wouldn’t escape. We bounced off of the doorframe and fell to the floor, struggling. Since he used his fists, I assumed he’d lost the knife somehow.
“Toreador bitch!” he shouted. “I’ll eat your soul!” His mouth opened and he snapped at me… and I slammed his head into the cement floor, hearing the crunch of breaking bone. An incoherent growling began in his throat, as he gave in to the frenzy and set loose the Beast. He almost broke free…
But I was still stronger. My legs locked around him, and I held his throat to keep the teeth at bay, while I barked a wicked little laugh at his mistake. “Not Toreador, idiot – Brujah!” Then my teeth tore into his chest and shoulder.
His blood was sweet, although there wasn’t much of it… not enough to replace all I’d used. Mansfield was frantic, his blows doing damage that would have killed a human. But I wasn’t human. After his blood was gone, I beat his head against the cement until he stopped moving. Without the blood to heal his injuries, he slipped into torpor. Then it was a simple matter of retrieving my knife from his body, and cutting off the head. That finished him. Mansfield wasn’t old enough to turn into dust and blow away, but his skin shriveled and he began to stink. As I rolled off of him, I felt an excruciating pain in my thigh. It was his hunting knife, imbedded so deeply that the point was sticking out the other side of my leg. So that’s where he lost it. It hurt like hell, but I pulled the thing out and tossed it aside. I retrieved my flashlight too, from where I’d dropped it.
I sat there in my small island of light and let my blood heal much of the damage, although I stopped before it was finished. The hunger was growing, and I didn’t want to become so thirsty that I lost control and went hunting. But as I pulled my damaged flesh together, I noticed something else… sobbing. It was a soft, keening cry, so faint I hadn’t noticed it at first; but now that I did, it cut through the silence of the empty warehouse. I pulled myself to my feet, and limped back to the office area. When I reached the door where Mansfield had turned out the lights, I reached inside and felt for the light switch. As the lights came on they were almost too bright after my feeble flashlight, but the real shock was what they revealed.
The girl wasn’t dead! How that could be true, after such treatment, I couldn’t imagine. Her head was no longer resting against her arm, but raised up and facing my direction. As the lights came on, she gave a small shriek and screwed her eyes shut.
Her voice was soft and trembling. “no… no more… please–” She began sobbing again, short little sobs that turned into gasps when she moved too much.
“Oh God–” I moved to her side. The damage was even worse than I’d originally thought. How could she be alive?
“No more blood…” she mumbled, followed by something I didn’t catch, and then, “…no more… won’t drink… take all m–mine, but no more… please!” Then she was sobbing again.
Disgust and pity filled me. Henry Mansfield had kept her alive through this mutilation by feeding her his blood. Not enough to heal the damage, but just enough to keep her at death’s door. He’d fed on her too, if I understood what she was saying.
I stared at her, and felt like sobbing myself. If only I’d come a few days sooner! Even if I were full of blood, I’d have to feed her most of it to keep her alive – if it worked at all, which was doubtful. If I did keep her alive, what then? She could never forget this… her mind seems broken. I wouldn’t be doing her any favors by letting her live in this condition – and whether she was mad or sane, she could never be trusted to stay silent. I knew what the Masquerade demanded of me, but I couldn’t move.
The girl’s eyes had adapted to the light; she noticed me and stopped crying. She seemed a bit more lucid now.
“Is… is he dead?” She obviously saw the blood on me, and knew there’d been a fight.
I nodded and answered, “Yes.” My voice was thick with emotion, coming out as more of a croak than anything.
“Good…” Her head drooped for a second, and she asked feebly, “Are you… Death? You here… for me too?”
I didn’t say anything. I felt the blood tears run down my face, but I couldn’t answer. She glanced up at me and actually smiled. The effect of this was both ghastly and heartbreaking, all the more so because most of her bottom lip was gone.
“Oh… s’okay. Don’ cry. ’M ready… been ready f’r days. If he’s gone too…” she gave a little shudder, and cried out in pain at the movement. “He… won’t hurt anyone else?”
I shook my head. “No.” After a moment I added, “I’m sorry.”
Again, the ghastly smile. “S’okay,” she repeated. A tear rolled down her cheek. “Will I… go to heaven? I prayed… Jesus…” The girl’s head lolled a bit, and then steadied up.
“I’m not the judge of that. But if you believe…” I sobbed, and tried to regain my voice. “I think you should.”
Whether she nodded, or nearly passed out, I wasn’t certain. But she started whispering, and after a moment, I joined in.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
Lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil;
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

I walked around behind her while we prayed, and when we were done I brushed the hair from her neck, and whispered in her ear.
“There’s–” I choked up, but regained control immediately. “There’s a bright light, just like they say. Go toward it. Okay?”
“Okay,” she whispered back, and bent her head to the side, knowing what was to come. I was crying as I bit into her flesh.

I walked back to the car. As I approached, Brandon reached over and opened the passenger door. A plastic dropcloth was spread over the seat and down to the floor, and the thought ran through my head, He really does think of everything. Without a word, I got in and closed the door. I was a mess: aside from the damage I’d sustained in the fight, there were still blood trails down my face.
“I didn’t know she was there,” Brandon declared. I turned my head to look at him.
“You were watching?”
He nodded. “After a fashion. My source didn’t know either, or he would have mentioned it. My initial reconnaissance last night was not… detailed enough to pick up a victim.” After a pause during which I said nothing, he added, “You had no choice.”
“Of course I did!” I snapped, and then did my best to calm down. The girl wasn’t his fault. “I could have done nothing, and left her there. Then you would’ve had to go in and clean up after me. Or, I could’ve tried to heal her with my blood, although I don’t… think it would have worked. And even if she’d survived, she never would’ve looked normal again. Not after what he did to her.”
“You protected the Masquerade,” he said.
“Ha! Do you think I did that to protect a bunch of withered old–” I bit off what I was going to say and just turned away, angry.
“No. You took her life to end her suffering, in the most humane way available to you. But you also licked the wound closed, and cleaned up after yourself.” After a bit he added, “Do you think there is any more evidence that you were here?”
“Probably.” I looked at him, and his brow was furrowed. “Well, what do you want? I picked up the parts of my flashlight, and wiped off everything I touched, including his stupid knife… but I’m sure I left plenty of footprints in that dust, both inside and outside the warehouse. There is a lot of my blood on the floor, and probably some of my hair, too. Not to mention Mansfield’s blood, or his remains, which will seem like they’ve been rotting there for almost a year. Modern forensics is pretty thorough… short of a good cleaning crew, or a briefcase full of C-4, there’s no way I could’ve done any better.”
Brandon agreed, but we still went back in and made a few adjustments.

It even made the L.A. Times – The headline read, Vigilante Justice! Brandon made a point of showing me. The news media reported that a group of unknown vigilantes tracked down a serial killer in Yuma, Arizona, and killed him. It seems they trailed him to where he was holed up with his latest victim, and caught him red-handed. Then they cut off his head, doused him with gasoline, and burned his body almost to cinders. This set off the fire alarms in the building, of course, which drew the fire department and police onto the scene. But by then, the vigilantes were gone. The exact number of vigilantes was a topic of debate; footprints of at least five different people were found. (Brandon had several pairs of shoes in his trunk, including a pair of my cross-trainers – we both changed shoes and ran around the warehouse, making tracks in the dust.) However, there was no doubt as to the serial killer’s identity. Prison dental records identified the burned body as one Henry Mansfield, a convicted rapist. His fingerprints were all over the place, including the latest victim and the surgical instruments he’d used to flay her. Half of the TV anchormen covering the story didn’t even bother calling him an ‘alleged’ serial killer, the way they normally do when the criminals are alive (and have lawyers).
Television and radio talk shows played up the vigilante angle, of course. The ‘vigilantes’ in Arizona had spray-painted a message inside the wall of the warehouse: THIS IS WHAT YUMA DOES TO MAD DOG KILLERS. Prominent psychologists made the talk show circuit, complaining about prejudice against people with mental illnesses. The Yuma County Sheriff’s Department and even the FBI made statements condemning vigilantism in general. The parents and families of the Slasher’s victims were quoted as saying that ‘they were just glad the nightmare was over’. There was one fact that the news barely touched on… violent criminals and registered sex offenders moved out of Arizona in droves, especially in the southwestern part of the state.
Few people, even the ones who followed the story, remembered the name Carol Anne Munsen… Henry Mansfield’s last victim.
Except for me – I would never forget her.
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PostSubject: Re: Practical Lessons   Sat Oct 23, 2010 9:22 am

A good, thorough story. You really coverd it psychologically, giving reason and internal life to the characters. Too bad you are not going to publish it in the full version. Keep up the good work anyways.
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Practical Lessons
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