Chapter 60: The Quiet Dark
She stared at him with anger, shock, and betrayal in her eyes. “How… could… you?” she demanded.
The stick had been so small and unobtrusive that even the vampire that had searched him earlier hadn’t noticed it. Eli had even forgotten about it until just before she had led him away.
“Our world… it would have been fair. It would have been… perfect,” she said, and then coughed up small bits of blood. The black bile ran over her lip and down her chin.
“Maybe,” Eli said. “Maybe not. Like I said, you’re not so different. And like they say, the devil you know. Right?”
She moved her mouth as though wanting to reply, but no sound came out. The light, what little there was, was fading from her eyes.
Eli turned, and pushed her from the ledge. He stood there a moment, watching her body fall down the cliff side. He felt the slightest bit victorious, but mostly he just felt heartbroken. Her logic would forever ring inside of him, he knew, and he would never be sure if he had made the right choice in this moment.
Eli turned to see the two guards suddenly lurch into action. Their hands were like claws, stretching out for him. Their fangs flickered evilly in the moonlight. He had no weapons left, no means whatsoever to defend himself, and he knew it. He was ready. Ready for it all to finally, finally be over. He stretched out his arms, closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and waited for the end.
They never made it.
A gagging sound brought Eli’s head back down. His eyes snapped open to see the two creatures down on their hands and knees. Their bodies were writhing and convulsing as they vomited up a thick, black bile. Their faces were drawn taught in a frightening rictus of pain.
After a moment, it was all over. They knelt there, chests heaving, bodies rocking from the forceful exertion of the excretions. For a long moment, nobody moved, and then almost as one the two guards sat back on their heels.
Eli’s mouth fell open. He raised a shaky, unsteady hand and pointed to one of the guards.
“You… your face…” he said.
The guard froze, meeting Eli’s gaze. Slowly, he willed his body into motion, raising his hands up before his face.
They looked like normal, human hands.
He turned and looked at the other guard, who met his gaze.
They couldn’t believe it. Eli couldn’t believe. This was the entire theory behind everything for him. This was why he had come all the way out here, why he had risked life and limb, why he had betrayed his closest friends. Yet, even seeing it with his own two eyes he couldn’t believe it.
It had worked. They were human again.
One of the guards starting laughing. It began as just a weak, throaty chuckle, and then developed into a full guffaw. Within moments, the other guard had caught the infection, and seconds later all three of them were laughing hysterically.
The first guard’s laughter suddenly caught in his throat. His eyes bulged out of out his skull and his face grew taught. Veins popped up on the skin, showing visibly even to Eli. He made some choking noises and grabbed at his throat. His face turned red, and the redness seemed to be spreading down and across his entire body.
Almost immediately the other guard started reacting the same, and Eli stood there, horrified as he watched the process unfold before him. Their skin was darkening and wrinkling. Their hair was growing rapidly, turning white, and thinning. Their hands shriveled up until they were again like claws. But not the dangerous, wicked fingernail tipped claws they had as vampires. These claws looked weak, fragile.
They were aging, he realized, at an extremely accelerated rate. This had to be the greatest danger of breaking the vampire curse. Once human, their years would catch up to them. Or at least, he hoped it was their years catching up with them, and that this wasn’t the fate awaiting all those freed from the disease.
It took less than a minute. One moment, Eli had been standing there with two fellow humans. The next, it was just him and two dried up, emaciated, mummified remains as the only reminders that there had ever been anyone else on the ledge with him. His legs grew weak, and without wanting to he fell to his knees.
It took him a long moment to get the shaking under control. He felt like his nerves were about to give out on him. He spent several minutes just taking long, deep breaths and closed his eyes, trying to shut out the horrible image in front of him. When his heart finally settled in his chest and his body stopped quivering, he rose.
Doing his best to ignore the gruesome reminders of his enemies lying at his feet, Eli stepped back inside the cave.
For a long time he wandered around the insides of the mountain. He looked for any trace of life or death or otherwise, but found nothing. The complex had truly been abandoned. Nothing remained to prove his theory beyond the gruesome scene with the two vampire guards that had played out just moments earlier.
Finally he came back to the room where he had met the vampire queen. The room where, he knew, Amber had been tied up and still had managed to kill a vampire, dozens of zombies, and make it out of the room. The carnage was all still there. They hadn’t bothered to even pick up after themselves. The corpses all looked the same, still clearly the remains of the infected, but it may have already been too late for the fully dead. He had no way of knowing for sure.
He stood at the doorway for what seemed to him like days. Down the hall before him was where he had last seen Amber. His heart felt like it had stopped, and even his lungs seemed to be fighting against the idea of taking in breath.
This was it. If Amber wasn’t better, then he had no idea what he would do with himself. First he would probably kill her, like she had wanted. And then…
A shiver ran through his entire body. He couldn’t think about it. Drawing in a deep breath, he stepped into the corridor.
He had dropped the gun just outside the room, and it still lay there on the floor. Stooping, he picked it up, and then continued on his way. Again he followed the trail of zombie corpses until they came to an end. Here he stopped, taking one more moment to steel his nerves from the possibilities that lay ahead of him.
He continued on.
He came into sight of the boulder that she had been leaning against, but she wasn’t there. There was a pool of blood on the floor, but no other sign of where she was or where she could have gone.
He collapsed to his knees.
Maybe she had become a zombie, and had left the cave, going off to join all the others wherever the vampires had directed them to go. Or maybe the vampires had run one last search through the caves and had taken her with Jay, Aliyah, and Gabriel to this “camp” the vampire queen had mentioned. Or maybe, more likely since she had been bitten, just killed her and disposed of her body or even brought her to the other zombies to join their ranks or even be…
…Be devoured by them.
Eli’s body wretched with the thought of it, and he nearly threw up. He dropped to his hands, breathing heavily, fighting back tears. Then a thought occurred to him, and his heart skipped a beat.
What if it had worked?
What if his theory had been right, and killing the vampire queen had cured everyone, even the zombies? What if Amber had found herself cured, and in that stretch of time while he had been too frightened to confront her, she had simply gotten to her feet and wandered off looking for the others?
Maybe even looking for him?
He rose to his feet and hurried further down the hallway.
It led him this way and that, down a winding, seemingly endless path, before finally opening up to the outside again. He was on the east side of the mountain now, the side on which they had seen all of the zombies. But the area was empty. Nothing but trees stretched out before him as far as he could see through the darkness.
And there was no sign of Amber.
Exhausted, Eli sat down on a nearby rock and placed his head in his hands. He realized it had been a long, long time since he had last slept.
Something jolted him awake, and he was surprised to discover he had slept. The world was beginning to brighten around him, the sun coming up just visibly over the edge of the trees far in the distance. He moved a little, trying to stretch his stiffened, unresponsive muscles. What had it been that had woken him?
There was the sound of something scuffling on gravel, and some pebbles bounded down the side of the incline past his right side. He spun around, but there was nothing there.
Slowly, cautiously, he started back up the mountain side, attempting to locate the source of the noise. There were only a couple places for anything to hide, but as he came upon these locations, he found nothing.
He let out a sigh of frustration. What was he going to do now? Without Amber anywhere, he supposed his next move would involve searching for his friends. Wherever the vampires had taken them. He would have to try and follow the path that the trucks had taken, as best as he had been able to make it out the night before.
Suddenly, something crashed down behind him. He spun around, only to find the sun in his eyes. His vision flared up with pure, white light. He lifted a hand, trying to blot out the brightness. His vision danced with a hundred little spots.
Something shadowy and incoherent was moving toward him.
“Amber?” He called out, voice both hesitant and hopeful.
The figure let out a cry, leaping out at him and tackling him to the ground. He tried to fight it, but its strength was too much for his tired body and his broken bones. He still couldn’t see, but he could feel its hot breath as it moved closer, and closer, to his neck.
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