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Author's Chapter Notes:
Dedication: I want to dedicate this to all the people who died, all the people who will die when this goes to war, to all who were injured, who helped, who lost someone, to everyone who's suffered throughout the world. The less abstract dedication goes to Keya, because this helped you deal, and Bat, because our minds were so in tune on this.
"So, so you think you can tell / Heaven from Hell / Blue skies from pain / can you tell a green field / from a cold steel rail / a smile from a veil / do you think you can tell" - Pink Floyd "Wish You Were Here"

"In my dreams I'll always see you soar above the sky / In my heart there will always be a place for you / for all my life / I'll keep a part of you with me / And everywhere I am, there you'll be" - Faith Hill "There You'll Be"


Mortal.

David sees that as a dirty word; he’s contemptuous of humanity, and all that they try to stand for. His previous life colors his perceptions; when his lips twist too tightly or his cerulean eyes film over with murky clouds, I take it upon myself to joke his mood away. I don’t feel like forcing the laughter tonight.

Humans huddled in groups inside Max’s video store when we walked in. We didn’t know what had happened; the cave isn’t exactly wired for television. Sure, we’d noticed that the Boardwalk—Santa Carla as a whole—was quiet, but had thought nothing of it. When you hunt the night, you grow used to stillness.

David stopped in front of the door, just far enough inside that Thorn should have been disturbed. The dog lifted his head and stared at us through his heavy fur, but no angry bark sounded to mar the tension radiating off of the customers.

I had to step around David or shove him forward when he stopped so quickly; as I brushed past on the right, his eyes were obscured by dark shadows, memories of things he had yet to share. The harsh lines of his face weakened, melting from solid stone to warm putty.

Screams of pain drew my attention and I jerked my head around, saliva already daubing over my teeth in anticipation. The sounds of horror were underwritten with a metallic jangle; I knew, before my gaze landed on the televisions, that what I heard wasn’t an opportunity for a free meal.

The images that filled every screen in the store turned my stomach; the atrocities I’d committed in thirty years of vampiredom did nothing to prepare me for the blood, the ash that fell like desecrated snow, the fireball exploding from the tower.

Behind me, David coughed. It was a harsh sound, gritty, as if a lifetime’s worth of images, words stuck between his lungs and his mouth, struggling for escape, unable to be freed even under this torment.

~~**~**~~

Mortal.

Humans forget their own mortality all too easily. They encase themselves in brick and mortar, metal and rubber, oil and gunpowder, and no longer recognize the horrors that stalk the night.

Not every monster bears fangs and ridged faces; not all evil conceals itself in darkness, leaving safety for the light. Sometimes the greatest danger bears a human face, speaks human words, and follows human ideals.

Star cried, rivulets of tears cascading down her face. Her white tank top was splotched with gray marks from her emotional outburst. She clings to her humanity even as we chip away at it night after night, Master Sculptors determined to create something fresh, new, dark.

I wonder if what we do is right; my eyes ache from the images assaulting them, repeated over and over again, stretching to infinity, in the televisions in front of me, a solid wall of color. So little humanity exists even in the humans…who are we to take away whatever chunks Star can maintain?

She pressed slender fingers to her face, digging her nails into her cheeks until drops of blood appeared and mixed with the salt water. Marko went to her, wrapped his arms around her, led her back out of the video store. I heard his bike start up after a moment of utter silence; the sound of her sobs faded into nothing. He took her away from the images, but the truth cannot be escaped like that. Terror follows no matter where you flee, pressing ice-cold nails to your spine.

I doubt she’s stopped crying yet.

~~**~**~~

Mortal.

Across the nation, humans gathered their loved ones to them, physically if it was possible, holding them in warm hugs, trembling arms wrapped tightly around fragile bodies. If distance separated them, phone calls were made, emails sent; phone lines vibrated from the mob of communication forcing itself along.

No matter that they were far from the destruction, from the immediate damage, families wanted to know that their loved ones, their friends, their flesh and blood spread from one corner of the nation to the next, were all alive, still breathing, no matter how much it hurt..

It’s a desire, a need for reassurance, that is not restricted to humanity.

Dwayne stepped up on David’s left and placed one hand on our leader’s shoulder. They both stood still, as still as a snake before it strikes, bodies vibrating with energy but not moving.

Whatever comfort David took from Dwayne was unnoticeable, even to my sharpened gaze. Something must have passed between them, because Dwayne turned away before anything changed that I could see. He left, too, and his bike soon filled the night with a roar.

I imagine he followed Marko back to wherever he took Star; I imagine he hugged his Childe, pressed his chin to the top of Marko’s head and forced words that wouldn’t come easily to our least-verbose Pack member.

I imagine Marko needed the touch as much as Dwayne.

~~**~**~~

Mortal.

Humanity has fallen far, from the stories I’ve been told. Once upon time, humans would band together to protect themselves and each other from a greater danger. Now petty differences in skin color, eye shape, accent drive wedges where friendships might have once occurred.

For some, a moment of extreme brutality knocks away the layers of differences built up around their heart. Already I could hear murmurs of hope dancing through the gathered crowd; they spoke of blood donations, money donations, help in any size, shape, or form.

Max stood in the doorway leading back to his office, not watching the screens, but instead the people milling around in his store. For once his caring eyes, created to lull his victims into peace, didn’t glint with the steel that appeared whenever he hunted.

He watched them not as prey but as contemporaries, someone to respect and listen to. Max has centuries beneath his belt; time and again he regales us with tales of horror and desperation, times when humanity helped their neighbor without a question.

His eyes mist over, and though I don’t want to believe it, for a moment I wonder if he will cry. When vampires are first created, most detest the mortals they deem as less worthy than themselves. Max has reached the point where feeding is a necessity, and the blood is the pleasure, not the murder or the pain.

I wonder what he sees when he watches such destruction now, when he has seen so many worse and so many better situations. He looks almost proud as he listens and waits, weighing their reactions for some unknown goal.

~~**~**~~

Mortal.

I remember my father. He was alive for World War II and the attack at Pearl Harbor. I can picture him, even now, sitting in his overstuffed chair, one hand wrapped tightly around the handle on his cane—a leftover from the war itself—until his knuckles turned white.

The moment he heard about the bombing was as fresh in his mind the night he died as it was the night after it happened. He could paint a picture, filling in red splotches of pain and gray streaks of terror.

I would kneel at his feet, my young body aching to run beneath the sun, cavorting with my playmates, but my mind demanded that I sit still and listen. Thick velvet curtains blocked out most of the temptation and dry, tepid air flooded my nose.

His voice would roll over me in waves of sound. Even when I was too young to understand everything, I could see the images he created with his words, could feel the horror, the disgust, the agony he had felt.

Echoes of those story times surrounded my senses now. I knew, for perhaps the first time, despite my vampire situation, the fury that welled up inside the pit of his belly, the disbelief that gnawed at his thoughts, eating away until nothing sane was left.

We distance ourselves from humanity, but there is only so far to go when every meal you eat fits inside that category, when you yourself wear a human mask.

~~**~**~~

Mortal.

My fingers tremble as I try to write this; it takes a concentrated effort, attention paid to each muscle in each finger to keep them wrapped around the pen. My head swims with a blur of color and emotion; my insides twist until I expect them to knot and grow hard.

Feral thoughts paint themselves across every solution I examine. I fear for those who cross my path; because of this, I have locked myself in the lake room. The sound of water tapping against stone calms me but little.

Vampires remain out of human business not because we don’t care, but because they don’t want to admit we exist, much less accept help from what they can’t understand. This attack on the very soil we too call home destroys all preconceived vampire and human relations as surely as it toppled buildings that stood for American beliefs.

We will band together with our mortal brothers; together, night or day, we will find those who did this. The humans may not be able to take immediate punishing action, but we can. And what we, vampires, shall provide will be nothing compared to what they deserve. It is, however, the least that we can do.

I knew what I gave up when I became a vampire; I enjoy my life of night. But perhaps we are not as far removed from humanity as we once thought…perhaps our allies lie within those we once counted as enemies, as meals set up for our convenience and ours alone.

Perhaps even vampires can be mortal.

"We walk the narrow path / beneath the smoking skies / sometimes you can barely tell the difference / between darkness and light / do you ever fear / in what we believe / the truest test / is when we cannot / when we cannot see" - Jane Siberry "It Can't Rain All the Time"

End


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