THE CRIMSON FLOW

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Chapter 3.0 - INITIATION

Footsteps, slow and steady, resounded within the dilapidated warehouse. Luke Dubois had returned. He was visiting the first of his hives as part of a selection process; he wanted loyal disciples to accompany him when he introduced himself to Cain. He deemed it prudent to show the Master of his ability to recruit and he wanted to win his favour. This hive, however, with its 4 members, was proving disappointing. The ‘environment’ was not in keeping with his instructions neither.

He surveyed the concrete shell. It’s deserted innards consisted of old wooden pallets, clapped-out machinery, cardboard, rubbish and general filth. Empty metal containers stood sentinel at one end of the warehouse, others had toppled at all angles. Ghosts of a once-thriving business, now abandoned, sacked.

His boot nudged some smaller, more insidious items which also lay scattered - hypodermics, crumpled pieces of foil, razor-blades, resealable bags with a few bright-coloured pills. “For fuck sake,” he muttered under his breath.

This had been ‘Down-and-Out Avenue’ - a haven, so-to-speak, for lost souls. But, the decoration had altered for the worse; puddles of spilt blood, crimson, slick, fresh, pooled amid the debris. Bodies, dumped, contorted, rank. The hive had ingested easy pickings; a banquet made of the desolate.

A noise grabbed his attention. He cast his eyes to the far left. From the doorway of an old office came muffled voices; a hint of panic, whispering, an insane, wheezing laugh all floated out from within.

“Barnett!” Luke shouted, his voice echoing throughout the building. He kicked at some bottles and aerosols, sending them skittering across the foul floor.

A man with hollow eyes emerged from the darkened doorway. He hissed a warning to those muttering behind him. He seemed drunk as he approached Luke, his strides sluggish, staggered. With him he brought his victim, gripped by the collar, dragging him mercilessly. He stopped in front of the well-dressed vampire, an arrogant smirk playing on his lips. “Hello, Luke,” he said, dropping the body in front of him.

Luke cast his eyes over the whimpering victim - emaciated, aged beyond his years through substance abuse and God only knew what else. Now he was almost drained of his very life-source. Luke’s voice was thick with disgust. “I see you still have a penchant for fast food.” His eyes rose to meet Barnett’s - hard, critical, disapproving.

“Just keeping the community clean,” Barnett answered drily. With his long face the colour of stone and a maze of blue veins running down over his neck, he epitomised death-warmed-up. But still, this was a man unfazed by his maker and one who considered himself imperishable.

Luke turned, scanning the floor and its covering of bodies. “Call this clean? When will you learn to keep house?” His eyes snapped round to Barnett once more. “And look at you! Whatever poison that sap injected, it’s now coursing through your veins.”

“Matters not,” Barnett scoffed. “We are immortal. If you bothered to take us on your little worldly jaunts, however, I’m sure our palates would be better educated. Instead, you leave us stranded within this God-forsaken hole amongst parasites and hobos.”

Haunted eyes peered out from the office doorway watching the exchange with interest.

The body at the two vampires’ feet twitched, fingers slowly flexing, seeking purchase, a gurgle of breath rattling in its chest. Luke grunted, repulsed. “Finish it!”

Barnett stooped and grabbed the figure by the back of its neck. His jaw clamped over the throat. He drew the last of its blood in a long, sickening slurp, then let the body fall to the ground once more. Standing straight, he turned a bloodied face to Luke. “Happy now?”

The observers in the office shrank back out of sight, their laughter silenced, substituted by fearful gasps. Barnett remained impassive.

Luke moved towards him, his face hard, unforgiving. “I told you to clean up your shit! And I come back to this!”

Barnett stayed his ground as Luke neared. “Why do you bother? They are trash anyway.” He gestured to the corpses, noting the flies already using them as incubators for their larvae. He looked forward again as his maker stopped mere inches from him.

Decades of pent-up rage swam dangerously close to the surface. Luke wasn’t one to anger quickly, but when he peaked, he was unstoppable and Barnett did like to bait him, test his authority. “You are no better than a sewer rat yourself,” Luke hissed. “Have you even stopped to consider that someone, somewhere will start to question the fact that there is yet another pile of bodies, bathed in their own blood and riddled with bite marks?”

Barnett straightened, his arrogance still oozing. “I think the mayor should honour me for having dealt a significant blow upon the blight of society. I’m tidying his town of undesirables.” He laughed, forced.

“No government official is going to openly award you any accreditation for this slaughter. Instead, you incite only panic and open up the threat of us being discovered.”

The stone-faced man clucked his tongue, incredulous at such a consideration. “For fuck sake! This is the 21st century! Murder is ten a penny in this city and no-one believes in vampires. We are only fairy-tales and nightmares to them.”

Luke circled him, his steps slow and steady, measured. “I thought that way, too - once. Then one visited my home and made sushi of my family.”

Barnett snorted, mocking, seeing an advantage to his argument. “It’s not as if you mourn them though, is it? He did you a favour, rich boy! And now, you’re just like me!”

Luke’s eyes narrowed, resentful. He made a mental note to adopt a more judicious method of selection in the future. “You are nothing but a constant reminder I made a huge mistake. And I am nothing like you!”

Barnett was sent flying through the air towards the large roller shutter doors. His body smashed into the metal, it’s timpani filling the warehouse. He roared out, hands grasping, trying to claw himself upright. “What the fuck?” he growled, his eyes blackened, fangs extending.

Metallic clinks from the roller door chains distracted him for a second; they hung, snaking from the impact of his body against the door. Before he managed to correct himself, Luke had grabbed a chain and wrapped it around Barnett’s neck. He yanked it taut, making the links grind against the pulley, lifting Barnett from the ground.

Luke grinned side-stepping Barnett’s wild kicks. “How does it feel to be at my mercy again? Remember the fear?”

Clutching at the links around his throat, the grey-skinned man turned a dirty shade of pink then blue. He tried to talk but the metal restricted his throat, biting into his skin. His eyes bulged, black, angry and fearful at the same time.

Luke pulled the chain again before he secured the links on a hook at the door and stood back, watching his fledgeling kick and flounder a couple of feet off the ground.

An eruption from the office drew his attention. Death was visiting it seemed.

Seconds later, one figure emerged. His shirt was drenched red, cheeks covered in blood spatter. In his hand, a metal rod, dripping crimson. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said. He nodded towards the suspended Barnett, still kicking, twitching, futile. “Well, he’s had me waiting for you, I guess. He said you were coming back.”

Luke studied the man before him, assessing, deciding. “Did he now? And you are?”

The man jerked his head at the carnage inside the office. “They called me ‘Dinner’, but the name’s Riley.”

Luke checked the 3 members in the office. All had been impaled, gaping holes in their chests, innards spilling. He pulled a pack of gum from his pocket and popped a piece in his mouth. After a moment he offered some to the vampire killer.

“You chew gum?” Riley asked, nonplussed.

“Dental hygiene,” Luke replied, with a smirk.

Riley laughed and accepted the offer.

“So, you are expecting to be recruited?” Luke asked.

Riley looked around the warehouse, glancing over the hapless victims and the vampires he’d just killed. ”They kept me alive for a reason. I gather it was for you to decide whether I was worthy or not to join your - ‘family’. They seemed to think I was, otherwise I would be on that heap over there.” He pointed to the bodies in the middle of the floor. “I have to say, I’m sure as hell glad they couldn’t turn me though. They were as wasted as their victims most the time.”

Luke remained silent for a few moments, contemplating. Finally, he took a step back. “You will have to prove yourself,” he said.

“I thought I just did,” Riley replied, holding out the bloodied rod.

“Consider that the first stage of your initiation.”

Riley shrugged. “Fair enough. What do you want me to do now?”

Luke turned and started to move towards the main door. “Torch the bodies,” he said. He glanced at Barnett in the passing and paused. With a wide grin he turned to Riley. ”All of them. Then we’ll talk.”

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