"But he's my brother!"
"You cannot show compassion or remorse where the leech is concerned, Boy. They are not human, but soulless devils. As soon as you show any measure of mercy, they will exploit you for your weakness. And then, you will be dead. Or worse, you will find yourself among their vile ranks." Carl Eldritch grasped the young boy's chin, his expression one of stern kindness. "Your brother died the night that beast attacked him. I thank God that I was able to spare you from such a fate. You are my kin now, and in time, you will become my greatest student." He put the revolver in the boy's hand, wrapping his fingers around the much smaller ones, encouraging him to grasp the trigger. "That's good, Geoffrey." Eldritch turned his head, eyes narrowing slightly. "Hold it steady, lads," he barked at the two Guard chaplains who had Ian McCullum bound in chains and on his knees, a holy rosary around his neck and large crucifixes keeping him at bay. He moved behind Geoffrey, hands on the boy's shoulders. "Remember what I taught you. Aim for the head or the heart. Go on now; make me proud of you."
"M'sorry," Geoffrey murmured as he pulled the trigger, his eyes squeezing closed as the shot rang out…
Geoffrey McCullum started awake at his desk, the back of his hand coming up to swipe across his forehead. It had been his first kill. His own brother. In the beginning, he'd felt somewhat guilty, thinking himself only marginally better than the vampires as he brought them down night after night. But, over time, the kills had gotten easier, walking that sharp moral line had gradually blurred when it came to human sympathizers, and now, he not only kept his eyes open when he killed, he even enjoyed watching them suffer and die. And he would not rest until he'd eradicated every last vampire from the country.
He glanced at the list of names sitting on his desk blotter, and he frowned as one name in particular stood out:
Doctor Jonathan Reid
The frown deepened as he thought about the fight he'd had with the good doctor in the hospital earlier in the week. Geoffrey would admit to being arrogant in how that had all gone down. Reid was a neonate, and had been a doctor to boot. It should have been an easy kill for someone with his particular skillset. But he'd been beaten. Badly. Though as he'd knelt on the floor, mortified, and somewhat worried about what his immediate future would bring, he'd found himself captivated by those pale blue eyes. They were cold, but they weren't emotionless. Not completely. He knew he'd stared into them for longer than he should have, much as he had the first time they'd met in Edgar Swansea's office. He couldn't help it. As much as he hated himself for it, for being weak, he was entranced by those eyes. He wondered what else about Doctor Reid might mesmerize him…
Geoffrey's eyes widened slightly, and he gave his head a mental shake. He was disgusted with himself for having such inappropriate thoughts about a leech of all things, and he could only imagine how disappointed his adopted father would be with him if he knew. To have any thought beyond how to kill it was an abomination!
…we are not enemies…we both want the same thing…
"Gah! Get out of my damned head, leech!" Geoffrey growled as he roughly stood up, his brow furrowing as he glared across the room at the surprised Guard that had come to fetch him. "What?" he demanded crossly.
"Uh…C-captain Bates sent me for you, Sir. The, uh…the rookies are ready to meet you."
"Thank you, Sergeant Millar." When the guard silently stood there, waiting, Geoffrey rolled his eyes as he got to his feet and followed. As he stepped outside onto the parade ground, he saw Bates watching him like an anxious mother, and setting his jaw, he squared his shoulders, ignoring the tightness that still lingered in the muscles, and strode purposefully towards the small group of officers. "How many tonight, Bates?" he asked, the rich baritone carrying the unmistakable lilt of an Irishman.
"Twenty. But, um...may I have a word with you, first?"
"Go on with it, then."
"Tch." The two moved to the small alcove, out of sight and out of earshot. "This had better be good, Bates."
"It's nothing, really." Bates offered a weak smile when he saw the resultant glare. "It's just that, with everything that's happened-" He cut himself off when the angry blue narrowed further. "We're just...concerned. We know you say you're fine, but when you came home the other night, you looked half dead. By God, Geoffrey, by rights you should be after that. I just-are you certain you want to hunt with the men tonight?" He let his gaze travel over the still bruised face, the split lip, the tired visage.
Geoffrey's upper lip drew back in the beginnings of a sneer. "Are you suggesting that I'm weak?"
"What?" Bates' eyes widened. "No. No! God, never! But Geoffrey, even the Lord Almighty rested! You need time to recover. Let us handle things. Just for one night."
"The Lord rested when His work was completed. Mine is not." He jabbed the tip of his index finger into the chest of the other man. "Do not speak to me about this again, Bates. The Guard is my responsibility, and I will see this to completion." With an irritated snort, he returned to his post and began to pace slowly along the front rank. His steely gaze assessed the line of fresh-faced new recruits that had eagerly turned up that night to join the Guard. It pleased him to see. More able bodies meant less leeches roaming the streets of London. The problem was this bloody flu epidemic, and the vile creatures it spawned. With so many dead and dying, the monsters seemed to be turning up in greater and greater numbers. And these beasts were monsters in every sense of the word. Violent. Feral. Soulless. Unlike the undead he'd battled in the past. At least those vampires were somewhat predictable. They acted in a grotesque mockery of humanity, feigning politeness and manners before callously tearing out your throat. It was just the nature of the beast. And Geoffrey understood their nature all too well.
I'm trying to put an end to it. Just like you are! Reid's voice echoed in his mind. "Lies," he murmured to himself, and pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation as he stopped his pacing. "So, you're here to fight vampires, are you?" He rounded on the new squad and glared at each one of them. "I hope you've all prepared yourselves for a fight, because by God, you're going to get one," he said, his voice commanding, commanding respect, demanding obedience. "Some of you may fancy yourselves brawlers. Others might think you're pretty hot shit with a gun. But let me tell you, everything you think you know? You know fuck all. When you encounter a leech for the first time, it'll be unlike anything you've experienced. They're strong. They're fast. They're clever. Don't let him sway you with pretty words. They are liars and deceivers, all of them, and when they start to talking, the best way to end the conversation is with a bullet to the head. That, or through their cold, dead hearts. No mercy."
I'll offer you the mercy you never offered me...
Geoffrey's jaw clenched tighter as he remembered the offered hand, the deceptively strong grip that held fast to his arm until he'd managed to get his feet under him again. He remembered the icy blue eyes silently watching him, the concern borne of a doctor's oath, and yet something beyond that. His eyes narrowed as he dismissed the thought. "Anywhere else, and the bastard'll get back up." He let his eyes roll to their corners, and he saw Millar, Bates, and the few other trusted members of his staff trying to discreetly watch him from a distance. He snorted, and drew himself up to his full height. "Tonight we hunt the sewers. Rumour has it there's a nest of them hiding underground. Murdering bastards. No survivors." He turned to his second in command. "Captain Bates, we leave in ten minutes."
Thirty minutes later, Geoffrey was crouched on a steel catwalk, peering through the crosshairs of a rifle. His group of half a dozen men had found a group of thirty skals feeding on bloated corpses down a sewer tunnel. Their shrieks were off-putting, even to him, but the stench of rotting flesh and decay did nothing to improve the atmosphere. The only upside had been his discovery that these particular vampires lacked the ability to jump. Or, if they could, they lacked the intelligence to consider it. It had literally been like shooting fish in a barrel. The creatures would shriek, and make menacing swipes at them, but from their vantage point, they were safe and were systematically picking them off one by one. He fired his shot, a smirk curving his lips upward as he watched the head explode in a gruesome fashion, and then lowered his weapon. "Looks like that's the lot of them, lads. Let's head home."
The squad made its way through the maze of tunnels and shafts, and as they slogged through the ankle deep water, every step twinged a different muscle or bruise. The chronic ache left Geoffrey feeling fatigued, and with no conversation going on around him, the rhythmic sloshing set Geoffrey's mind to wandering again. He played the fight over and over in his mind, wondering what he could have done differently. Arthur's blood had strengthened him, but it hadn't been enough. It should have been enough. More than enough. Reid was powerful. Which meant he was dangerous. Which meant he should be eliminated. Geoffrey frowned. He'd had the chance to on several occasions now, and yet, the nefarious Doctor Reid continued to exist. Maybe you don't want him gone, his mind offered, and he snorted in disgust at the idea. He wanted him gone. Like every other leech. The frown deepened. So, if that was the case, why did he not pursue Reid as aggressively as he did his other targets?
You can't accept the fact that we are not enemies, can you?
Geoffrey had to admit, even if just to himself, that Reid was different. He tried to tell himself that maybe it was because he was newly turned, and he still held some vestiges of his former humanity. In time, the monster would show its true colours. Never trust the beast, he'd been taught. But part of him wanted to - at least in this particular case. He did smirk a little as he walked, thinking about the arrogant bravado he'd shouted as Reid had left him. Promises to kill him. The next time. There was a brief flash of teeth. He was looking forward to the next time. Before he could ruminate much more on that tantalizing thought, a feral shriek echoed off the damp stone, practically on top of them. "Damn it," Geoffrey murmured, cursing his distraction for allowing him to drop his guard. "We need to-"
Before he could finish the thought, two skals came out of an access tunnel, right on top of them, one of them tearing the throat out of a new cadet and killing him instantly. "By God! Randall!" He raised his arm and fired two crossbow bolts, hitting the one in the neck. The resulting shriek was higher pitched and even more spine shattering than usual, and with a bark of, "Pull back!" he reached for two more bolts to reload. In seconds, a melee had erupted. The other new cadet, underexperienced and overeager, charged in with torch and truncheon, only to be killed within seconds. The remaining four, between them, kept the one skal occupied. "The other one's mine!" Geoffrey said as he stepped forward, drawing his sword.
Though he would never tell Bates, his captain had been correct. Geoffrey wasn't in prime condition for a fight. He grunted in pain when he felt claws tear into his forearm, and he staggered back a few paces, finding the sword obnoxiously heavy in his hand. He raised his crossbow and fired, though it took four rounds for him to drop the beast. And when the dust had settled, he was exhausted. "Not far. Let's go."
"What about Randall and Stokes?" one of the men asked.
"Leave them. Too many leeches around. Besides, it's prickish of me to say, but given the conditions in London, chances are the bodies would wind up back here again anyway. Or dumped in the river by the docks." That was something Geoffrey hated. He hated every time he lost one of his own. And he hated that those good men weren't able to have a proper burial. "Come on. They run in packs, and we're almost out of ammunition."
He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the iron gates that would take them back up to the streets. As they drew near, they heard a single skal scrabbling along in the corridor behind them. "Go!" he commanded to the others as he unslung his rifle. "I've got this one. I'll be right behind you." He heard the grating swing closed and he raised the weapon and took aim, a smug smirk passing across his face when he shot it between the eyes and it dropped. Turning around, he found himself face to face with another skal. He'd not heard it approach. He raised his arm to fire, only to groan in pain when he felt clawed hands grab his shoulders and sharp teeth pierce the flesh of his throat. Somehow, he managed to dislodge the creature, and send it back a few steps with his last two bolts. He raised his rifle, cursing lowly when he realized he'd just used his last round, and as a last resort, he went for his sword. He swung it clumsily, it clattering to the ground when the skal swiped at him, sending him reeling into the wall behind him. Geoffrey momentarily saw stars, and he dropped to a knee, barely keeping his eyes open as he contemplated his next move. He could think of just one. Reaching behind him, he pulled the service revolver he carried. With an unsteady hand, he attempted to focus, firing off five of the six rounds. He knew one had struck the wall - he heard the ricochet. How many hit the skal, he had no idea, but he had one shot left, and it was still coming. The way he saw it, he had two options. The first was to wait until it was practically upon him and then point-blank shoot it in the face. The second was to use it on himself.
"Even if you never use it, even if you think you'll never need it, always carry a handgun, my boy," Carl Eldrich taught. "Not necessarily to fight the leeches - even if it'll do in a pinch. No, my son, if it comes to a point where the bloody leech is going to turn you, you take that gun and use it on yourself, so you don't come back like it."
Geoffrey saw his hand shaking badly now, and his eyes shifted to the skal. He couldn't guarantee in that moment he'd hit a moving target, even point-blank. "Your kind are the bloody worst," he murmured as he held the gun up to his temple. "To hell with all of you." For the first time in years, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry..." His finger twitched, though at the last second, he extended his arm, and with a silent prayer to God, pulled the trigger. He heard a bone chilling shriek, heavy eyelids sliding open long enough to see the skal's head explode in a shower of blood. A coughing chuckle escaped him, and he murmured aloud, "Shit thing is, I'm going to die here, and no one'll know about that shot."
The last thing he remembered before he fell to unconsciousness was a pair of icy blue eyes looking at his face with some measure of concern, and a velvet baritone against his ear whispering, "You're not going to die here. And I'll know."