Truth and Half-Truths

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2/2/13 7:30 pm
Hunter felt much better after having slept for more than fourteen hours. It was the first real sleep he’d had since he was taken so it was not difficult to follow Duke’s order to sleep the entire day. Even so, it wasn’t entirely undisturbed. He still dreamed of home—his six by eight cell number 143. Only he wasn’t a revered inmate of respected status and authority anymore. Now he was seventeen again and the monsters beating the shit out of him had fangs.

He awoke with a start and jumped to his feet, or tried. He was only half way up when the chain snapped tight, halting his momentum with a jerk to his throat and causing him to fall back onto the bed. It took him a moment to remember where he was, which wasn’t his cell. Well, maybe it could be considered his new one. He missed OSP. In all his twenty-six years there, he never once imagined he’d miss it. But he did.

Picking up his phone, he noted the time. Seven-thirty. It would be dark out, so where was Duke? He dialed Karina. He didn’t expect her to answer, but he enjoyed listening to her snide voice mail message. “Call me when you get this,” was all he said, then hung up. Part of him wished he’d never stayed with her—now he was torn between something he missed and something he was putting hope in. Both were dangerous, especially because they were a someOne.

He was hungry again. There was still no sight, sound or smell of anyone around. He debated what to do with his time for a few seconds before settling on calling Jacob and working out. After plugging in his earbuds and dialing Jacob’s cell, he moved to the floor.

Jacob was finishing his last reports on the state of the two exsanguinated bodies. He had decided that he would not link the two in cause of death in his official findings. The death of the elderly woman would be easy to blame a few long-term internal wounds. The death of the young man he had still been working out, but perhaps he could do something with exposure to uncontained microwaves. The second one might catch some press attention, but he had done enough research on the matter to feel confident in his lies.

The phone in his lab coat pocket gave a long buzz. This wasn’t a text, it was ringing. Stepping back over towards the sink, Jacob stripped his gloves and set them in it before extracting his phone and checking the caller. It was Hunter.

He flipped it open. What could you possibly want?

“Please state the nature of your medical emergency.”

This was the second time Hunter had called Jacob, and both times Jacob had answered using that line. Something about it seemed off, or rather, Hunter felt like he was missing some connotation associated with it.

In the seconds it had taken Jacob to pick up and answer, Hunter had begun doing push-ups. It had been a while since his last work out—or at least since his last proper work out—and despite his injuries, it felt good to exercise again. He paused his count briefly to speak.

“What was the second to last text message you received from me?” he asked, then resumed his count. Five, six…

“Is that it? You called because you want to check your text history?”

Hunter’s voice was slightly labored, as if engaged in some strenuous activity. He tried to not think about it. His mind flashed back to the comment he made that caused a room full of vampires to choke with laughter. He’s hot. And delicious smelling.

With a silent blush, he checked his cell phone.

All that blood…

He wasn’t succeeding at not thinking about it.

“It says, ‘I can’t talk noe.’ There, is that what you wanted?” Even pronouncing the typo, his voice was suddenly gruff and irritated.

Hunter almost stopped when he heard Jacob’s reply. Two things were wrong with it, the first being that he had never sent that text. He knew Duke had done something with his phone, which was why he was asking in the first place, but who was ‘Noah’?

“Are you sure that was sent from this number?” he asked, preferring to rule out ex-human-error before jumping to conclusions.

Nine, ten, eleven…

“You asked me for the second-to-last text you sent right? Well, this is it.”

Jacob furrowed his brow. Hunter was clearly doing something in the background, but he couldn’t quite place it. He also thought he could hear metal scraping against stone. The sound shattered the image of Hunter he had in his mind, but did nothing to make sense of the situation.

Worse, the conversation was beginning to loop back on itself. Jacob had precious few minutes on his phone, but it was clear that Hunter wasn’t done talking just yet. He must have had a real reason to call anyhow.

“Is this seriously the reason you called?”

“What the Fuck do you care— am I interrupting a date!?” Hunter snapped angrily.

He immediately regretted it, not out of concern or consideration for Jacob but because he had spoken impulsively. He quickly tried to amend the slip before Jacob could respond.

“I didn’t send that text, someone took my phone,” he said in his normal, even tone. “The last thing I sent was ‘I don’t understand.”

Thirteen, fourteen…

Jacob allowed a few seconds of cold silence after Hunter’s last statement. Being a vampire wasn’t necessarily a solitary life, but the comment about interrupting a date reminded him that he was spending his Saturday evening with a cadre of corpses. It stung more than it should have.

Realistically, this conversation made no sense. He idly wondered if Hunter had been drinking. This resembled some of the drunk dials he’d received in college. The man called him up to satisfy his paranoia and then yell at nothing.

“I’ve answered your question.” Jacob eventually replied, his tone icy. “Did you have something else you wanted to yell at me about, or are we done?”

Eighteen, nineteen…

Hunter ignored Jacob’s tone, responding evenly as if nothing had happened. “No, this is important. What else was sent after I sent ‘I don’t understand’? And who or what is ‘Noah’?”

Twenty-two, twenty-three…

Jacob sighed. He needed to stop burning minutes on his disposable.

“Before I answer those, can I call you on my main line? I try and reserve this for people with actual injuries.”

I’m injured plenty, Hunter wanted to growl. He finished a push up before shifting his weight onto one hand so he could use his phone. “Fine,” he replied flatly, then hung up and continued on one arm while waiting for the incoming call.

After realizing he was already gone, Jacob stepped over to his office. He set his coat on the rack and pulled his personal cell phone from his jacket pocket. While some part of him still warned against giving his personal number to someone he treated, he knew Hunter to be a special case. Despite his eccentricities, Hunter was the closest thing to a friend Jacob still had. He dialed Hunter’s number and waited.

Hunter’s finger was accepting the call before the phone had even stopped vibrating once.
Twenty-six, twenty seven…

“Do I need to repeat my questions?” he asked, keeping all traces of annoyance out of his voice. “I literally don’t have all night, and might have to abruptly hang up on you.”

Jacob bit his tongue. “You know, for a man asking a favor, you sure are awfully demanding.”

Browsing through his disposable’s text history, he found the messages Hunter requested.

“It says: ’Don’t undersand,’ ‘No. Be carful,’ and ‘I can’t talk noe,’ in that order. Noah is the phonetic pronunciation of n-o-e. Another one of your typos.”

Breathing slowly, Jacob realized that he wanted to know what was happening to Hunter. It would be useful information, minimally, and better, it may tell him a thing or two about how vampires work in situations like these.

“Where are they keeping you, anyhow?”

Not my typo, Hunter wanted to remind him. Duke had apparently taken the liberty of intentionally duplicating Hunter’s accidental typos. At least Hunter was now reasonably sure that sending and deleting those two texts was all that Duke had done—he couldn’t have done much more in the time he spent with the phone before pocketing it.

“In the tunnel system under the city. Beneath Hobo’s Restaurant to be precise.”

Thirty-five, thirty six… He switched over to his other arm. Thirty-seven…

Jacob waited for a few seconds longer than he probably needed to. He assumed that Hunter was going to ask him something else, but all he could hear was a soft grunting noise.

“Huh. Okay, was there something else? I mean, for a werewolf trapped in the care of a clan of angry vampires, you seem rather content to just talk.”

Not that he was doing anything better, Jacob reminded himself. Truth be told, this was probably the most excitement he would have all night, or at least until the meeting.

Hunter gave a soft growl, more frustrated at himself than Jacob. “Maybe I was expecting there to be more help to your question than morbid curiosity.”

Hoping, Aaron. You were hoping. It made him seriously reconsider the real reason why he had called. He did want something from Jacob and he was hoping that it wouldn’t be a wasted request. The truth of the matter was that Jacob was one of them and, as far as Hunter could fathom, had no reason to be doing him any kind of favor. Time would tell if his next words would be wasted breath…

“I need something. A two hundred milliliter bottle of nitric acid. If you can get it to me, great. If not, keep it on you at all times in case I’m ever able to turn up.”

Forty-five, forty-six…

Jacob’s mind worked through the possibilities as he processed Hunter’s request. Nitric Acid? What could he be doing with that? Well, depending on the concentration he’s looking for, he could corrode most metals, create a fertilizer base, or formulate even rocket fuel or a high explosive base if he wanted.

“How diluted do you want it? Also, given Nitric Acid’s rather volatile reactions with most organic compounds, I have no intention of just ‘carrying it around’ for a few weeks. We’ll have to work that out somehow.”

It was a very interesting request, but also potentially a very dangerous one. While Jacob wasn’t shy of using chemistry to accomplish his tasks personally, his professional responsibility demanded he know what it was that Hunter was planning.

“However, while I don’t mind getting it to you, I do feel you should tell me what it is you’re up to, just not now. If you didn’t send those texts, then that means someone else used your phone recently. Given your captors, they’re possibly listening to or recording what we’re saying right now.”

Finished with his first set of fifty, Hunter rolled over to lay down on his back and pushed the heavy itchy chain off of his shoulder. He wasn’t out of breath, but he was breathing a little harder than he would have been three weeks ago.

“Keep it safely packaged and it will be fine. Worst case scenario, you get burned—it’s not like it will kill you. As for the concentration, whichever eats through silver fastest with the least amount of help, which is not necessarily the strongest. Just make sure the bottle is completely sealed and small enough to smuggle.”

Needless to say, Hunter didn’t exactly share Jacob’s concerns about his captors listening in on this particular conversation. He knew they very possibly were, but he also knew a high-schooler with a smart phone would be capable of figuring out what a uratha chained in silver wanted with nitric acid. Or presumably Duke could just walk up and command Hunter to tell him. Either way, spelling things out for Jacob wasn’t much of a risk.

Hunter seemed to ignore Jacob’s warning. Maybe he didn’t get it, or maybe he didn’t care. Either way, at least he wasn’t going to blow up a building.

“I can get it to you at 68% concentration, which is enough to corrode silver. There will be some deadly-ass fumes though, so be careful and keep your face covered.”

The fumes were particularly deadly, and given Hunter’s rather unique responses to silver, he didn’t want to take any chances.

“Assume we don’t see each other for while, how else could I get it to you? Are you in a cell? Do you have windows? Ventilation? Are there guards or staff?”

Hunter ignored Jacob’s warning about the fumes. He may be close to indestructible but he didn’t need a doctorate to know not to breathe toxins if it could be avoided.

“I’m not in a cell, just a room underground. No windows, no ventilation that I can see, no security, no guards, I don’t even think the doors are locked. One entrance is hidden in the back of Hobo’s kitchen. Down the stairs, first door on the left will lead to two rooms—I’m in the second.”

He also described the route from the street grate which avoided the restaurant and led to the same hallway.

“I don’t know which way would be safer. I don’t know how often the tunnels are used or how closely they are watched. There are a few human staff working in the restaurant at night. I’ve seen seven different vampires in here over the last few weeks but usually only a few at a time. Since yesterday I’ve only seen one—the one in charge of me. He manages the restaurant and says he sleeps down here during the day. He’s dangerous.”

With the important information out of the way, Hunter began counting slow sit ups. Everything from his ribs and core muscles screamed in painful protest, but he determined to push through it.

Quickly grabbing a pencil, Jacob scratched out Hunter’s directions. The problem at this point was getting the acid to Hunter. He sucked on the eraser for a moment in thought. The street route would be less dangerous for someone who appeared normal like Jacob. However, justifying his need to go downstairs in the middle of a busy restaurant would be problematic. The grate route might be less dangerous unless there were people assigned to watch it, but it would guarantee significantly more options. All it would take is someone sneaky enough to make it through undetected. However, Jacob himself wasn’t particularly adept at hiding himself. He needed another alternative.

Batman.

“Batman,” he said, under his breath.

“So, I think I might have a way to get it to you. Let me make another call, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, let’s talk payment.”

Hunter paused when he thought he heard Jacob say something, but it was too quiet to make out. He resumed his workout and this time kept going even as Jacob finally brought up what Hunter knew was coming.

Price. Nothing was free. If there was one constant in the universe that had yet to be broken, it was that.

“How much do you want?” Hunter asked.

Hunter’s response was interesting. He seemed to assume that cash would suffice.

“Well, a vial of acid isn’t worth very much. The acid itself might cost me twenty bucks to acquire.”

Jacob had no intention of simply taking money from him, however.

“But we both know that its value has nothing to do with what I pay for it. I’m going to be frank: I want blood. Your blood. No less than a pint.”

Hunter had expected to have to repeat his question. He knew Jacob wouldn’t want money, which was why he had been asking for a quantity of blood. As it happened, Jacob specified how much he wanted anyway.

He paused and moved to sit with his back to the cot.

“If you arrange for it to be brought to me down here, you’ll get a pint if I successfully get out. If you get it to me with a trail of vampires on your tail or under any other circumstances that make the acquisition useless to me, you’ll get a test tube for your trouble.

“If you keep a bottle on your person or stashed somewhere else until I am able to come get it myself, you’ll get half a pint—and that offer stands for however many attempts it takes.”

Jacob smiled an addict’s smile.

“Don’t worry about a test tube. You can just owe me if my current plan doesn’t work out. I’ll get you the acid.”

Hunter’s blood was going to be useful for more properties than quenching his thirst. He would need to remind himself to segregate a healthy portion for testing. As it was, he was rather giddy with excitement at just the prospect.

“So, that settles that. Did you need anything else before I go then?”

Hunter’s stomach growled the moment he turned his thoughts to the other things he would kill to have right now. “Food, cash, a new phone and a few small ziplocks would be good too,” he said, “You can have another pint for them.”

“The phone and baggies will be easy, the food will be less so. I don’t exactly have a stock of ready-to-eat human flesh on hand.”

As he spoke, Jacob wrote Hunter’s grocery list down next to his directions. Simultaneously, a plan was beginning to form in his mind. He liked where this was going, and he intended to take this to completion.

“Otherwise though, consider it a deal.”

This time, Hunter’s growl was audible, his fingers curling reflexively into a fist. “I don’t eat people you ignorant corpse.” He glared at his phone even though Jacob couldn’t see him through it.

Jacob arched an eyebrow at Hunter’s supposed insult. “Yes you do. I saw it. Poor Joe.”

“I don’t eat people!” Hunter repeated louder, enunciating the ‘I’ very specifically as his anger escalated. “I eat food. Normal. Human. Food. Three meals a day. Do you need me to list off types of human food for you??”

Jacob smiled in spite of himself. As angry as Hunter was getting, his response seemed almost innocent, as if he couldn’t control himself.

Almost as if…

Convenient as it were though, the possibility for schizophrenia or some other split personality disorder had occurred to Jacob, and indeed, it was widely considered another element within lycanthropic lore.

That didn’t mean he had to let Hunter get off easy about it though.

“Alright, so just food then. That doesn’t make it easier. A guy as big as you probably eats a lot already. Given your rate of calorie expenditure when the other guy is around, I expect you probably have to eat even more. That much food will be difficult unless we can condense the calories into a small package. I think that would probably be peanut butter, bacon, or almonds. Do you have any suggestions?”

The thought of mentioning bacon, dipped in peanut butter and rolled in almonds occurred to Jacob, but he decided that Hunter’s sense of humor probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

Hunter had to physically fight his anger down before it could get away from him any more than it already had. Jacob didn’t know how Hunter was being treated by Duke and every other vampire in the city. He didn’t know that Hunter’s last meal was the first he’d been allowed in almost three weeks. He didn’t know what they’d done to him.

Still, it didn’t make his words any less infuriating. Hunter took slow breaths as he glared at the opposite wall and willed his calm to return. The same vampire who was asking for his name three weeks ago so that he wouldn’t be ‘dehumanizing’ him as a patient was perfectly happy to jump on board with the assumption that he was a wild animal—just like Duke had.

Ignorant and a hypocrite—now there’s a surprise.

At least this vampire was educated enough to understand the concept of caloric intake. Then again, it suddenly occurred to Hunter that perhaps Duke was only pretending to be ignorant of his nutritional needs. Two and a half weeks of starvation had made his body desperate for the nutritional value of the blood they forced into him. Predators were at their best when they needed food—senses heightened, instincts driving them to hunt to the best of their ability. Most of all, feeding him just enough but keeping him constantly hungry would give Duke a significant advantage in their battle of psychological warfare.

Sonofabitch…

Hearing Jacob’s individual food items listed off only made Hunter’s stomach complain again, especially the bacon. “Any food in any convenient quantity. I don’t care what it is,” he said, sounding much more controlled now though still quite irritable.

Jacob smiled. Food was something he knew a thing or two about. He couldn’t recall ever preparing a meal for someone he planned to eat, however.

“Okay. I’ll make you some trail mix or something. I like to put bacon bits in it. It’s tremendous.”

Apparently Jacob couldn’t or wouldn’t understand that Hunter didn’t want to discuss food options. He wanted to know that Jacob would bring him something—anything—that was it. Time to change the subject. “Do you still eat food?” Hunter asked out of curiousity. He moved back down to his back and resumed his workout.

Jacob frowned mightily, not caring that his expressions would wasted on his desktop and cell phone.

“I wish. I mean, I can taste food, sort-of, but it really doesn’t have the value it used to. Anything but blood just comes right back up afterwards.”

He chewed on his pencil a bit as he continued. “But I’m a decent enough cook. You don’t have to worry that I’m going to poison you with inexperience or something.”

Hunter rolled his eyes, indulging in the expression because it was wasted on the cell phone. “Do you know how many meals I’ve eaten in OSP? You think I give a shit about what your cooking tastes like?” There was a slight trace of condescension in his tone, but it was gone with his second attempt to change the subject. “What’s going on out there anyway? I take it you were forgiven for pissing off the detective and his sire?”

God this guy can be a douchebag. He goes from raging that he doesn’t eat people (but he does!) to berating me for assuming he might not like the cooking of a man who hasn’t been able to taste for a year. It’s going to take a while to get used to this.

“So you heard about that, huh?” Jacob kicked his feet onto his desk and leaned back, rubbing his forehead.

“I don’t think forgiven is the right word. They didn’t torture me or force me to make an oath or anything, but they weren’t exactly friendly either. They want me to meet someone tonight at midnight. I guess we’re going to go over ‘The Rules’ in detail.”

He didn’t feel worried about mentioning the meeting to Hunter, he hadn’t been expressly forbidden from mentioning it, as he had other things.

“There’s a motley crewe here in Portland, and I get the impression they’re not all playing for the same team. I still haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m gonna.”

He shook his head with a half-laugh. “I also thought you might want to know that no one mentioned my relationship with you except to ask what I thought of you.”

Hunter kept pushing through his sit-ups, starting to sound more winded now. "That’s because they don’t care about our relationship. They’re evaluating you and they’re curious about me. As for their ‘motley crew’, there are five clans. Daeva, Nosferatu, Mehket, Gangrel, and Ventru. They take their etiquette and protocol almost as seriously as their rules and there’s a chain of command. The Prince is their monarch. Second in command is a bald nigger but I didn’t catch his name. There’s The Sheriff and The Hound who are in charge of security. Each of the clans have a leader with the title of ‘Primogen’. There’s at least one other position for each clan called a ‘Priscus’ but I don’t know its significance. Based on what I’ve seen, I’d estimate there are at least fifty vampires in the Portland area but no more than seventy.

“And in case it needs to be said or makes a difference: you didn’t hear any of that from me.”

“This entire conversation might get us both killed, and you want me to keep that on the down-low?” Jacob laughed.

He began twirling the pencil in his hands, flipping it between his fingers back and forth.

“All joking aside though, I think this whole situation is really weird. I mean, why me? What could they possibly want with me? And why now? These guys have apparently ignored or tolerated my existence here for at least a year. People with their rules, their mindset, and the type of power these guys command don’t just ‘let it slide.’ Look at you! You were in prison how long before? They could have done anything to you then, but they didn’t. The cop and his wife-thing? They’re new too. That’s got to be some kind of pattern. It’s like someone is calling these assets together, like they’re setting the board for a game of chess. There’s something significant about the timing to all of this, but I can’t for the life of me figure it out.”

He sighed, and studied the clock above his wooden desk. The simple, classic design was soothing, but ominous. His meeting was getting closer, but that seemed like an afterthought compared to the motif it represented.

Hunter had similar thoughts and theories, but he wasn’t as inclined as Jacob to share them. Certainly not over a potentially monitored phone call. He still knew more than Jacob at this point. He knew for example that he was currently far more powerful now than he had been a year ago. He was also quite sure that the recent war among the uratha had a lot to do with the timing, because it certainly couldn’t be a coincidence.

There was one question in particular that he still had yet to find an answer to—how long had these vampires been planning to take him? He had practically been in another dimension for three months, then three days later he walks into a well-planned trap. A perfectly planned trap. Either these creatures kept twenty feet of thick solid silver chain and resizable silver restraints laying around for a rainy day and hastily threw together a spur of the moment plan, or they’d been waiting, watching him before he went into the caves possibly while he was in prison. Needless to say, Hunter had his suspicions.

“You’re still thinking like a human researcher,” Hunter stated. “A year is nothing.”

He grimaced slightly and finally gave in to his body’s demands to stop using his injured everything as he lay flat against the stone floor.

“And if you’re going to compare all this to a game of chess, keep in mind that pawns are easily ignored until they become useful or get in the way.”

’You’re still thinking like a human researcher…’ was that an under-the-table compliment?

“I was being dramatic.” Jacob said, half-smiling. “If you want to talk seriously about chess strategies though, let me know. Axiomatically, that statement should be applied to any chess piece. Pawns just tend to be less useful than others.”

Jacob also noted Hunter’s discarding of his thoughts entirely. He seemed to dismiss the idea that there was something greater at play, which concerned him. If it wasn’t obvious to him, then maybe he knew what was happening. Maybe he was a part of it. It was a new thought, but not a pleasant one. He decided to play the diplomat. 

“Besides, who’re you callin’ a pawn? Aren’t you chained up?”

And collared. Jacob couldn’t see Hunter’s glare, but it was there, this time directed at the ceiling.

“You think being chained up makes me weak?” Hunter questioned. “Were you still there when only five of their fourteen were alive after it took them half an hour to beat me unconscious? As much as I’d prefer to be ignored, I’m chained up because I’m valuable and dangerous to them.”

“I think being chained up makes you contained.” Jacob replied, his voice carrying a tone of boredom. He studied his pencil idly.

“Naturally, I have no intention of insulting your abilities, but clearly, the vampires were more than prepared to deal with you. This isn’t a contest of strength. This won’t even be a contest of wits. This is a contest of resources, and the careful acquisition and exploitation of them.”

Hunter was done with this particular conversation.  No matter how many times Hunter tried to steer him away from it, Jacob kept talking about the greater plot among the vampires that was taking place. Hunter had no doubt that there was something going on behind the scenes—there always was in every society no matter who was in power. He just didn’t give a shit about it. Right now his only concern was his freedom, and where that contest was concerned, Jacob was very wrong. It was absolutely a contest of strength. Physical strength, mental strength, intellectual strength, wits, knowledge, endurance… He was going to need everything he had to win this. Figuring out the vampires’ politics would be helpful for making allies and manipulating enemies, but Jacob’s blabbing about it over the phone was not going to accomplish anything.

“You met with the Sheriff yesterday. What’s his name?” Hunter asked.

Hunter seemed intent to ignore the ramifications of the vampire complex arrayed before him. You’ll go right from one cage to another, you arrogant bastard. 

He looked at the clock again. Jacob suspected that there would be little else in terms of information that this conversation could provide. Still though, he felt it would be important to build his relationship with Hunter further. Hunter would be an asset, and a destructive one, if the right influence could be provided. He simply needed the means to provide that influence, and a working relationship was a good start. Perhaps it was time to assuage Hunter’s ego a bit and play the beta for now. 

“Jack Unger, I think?” Jacob said, retrieving the Sheriff’s card from his wallet. “Why do you wish to know?”

“Call it ‘careful acquisition’,” Hunter replied. Sharing theories was a waste of time, but exchanging information certainly wasn’t. “Did he tell you anything useful?”

“Define ‘useful.’ He told me much of what it is to be a vampire in Portland. Mostly practical, mundane stuff – the who’s and why’s. I learned that I am somewhat unique among the vampires for my…uh compassion. Yeah.” Jacob replied.

I could have told you that, Hunter thought to himself, though admittedly, he might not have used that specific term. Hunter knew from the first moment he met Jacob that he was different from the others, and his list of all the ways Jacob was unique was still growing. He was tempted to ask more, but decided it probably wasn’t worth it. As he’d already pointed out, Jacob was just a pawn—he wouldn’t have been exposed to very much this soon in the game.

“Do you anticipate being in regular contact with anyone?”

“I can’t say. I’m due to meet someone tonight, and the implication from Mr. Unger was that they would be something of a tutor. Why they need me to meet someone at a place I choose is another question. That means they want me to feel safe, or at least in some control, indicating that this may be a very short relationship indeed. So, it could go either way.”

Jacob didn’t feel like supposing more at this point when he knew so little about the situation. He let the statement hang where it did for a few seconds while he prepared his next ask.

“I want to know what happened to you after the fight at the docks.”

Hunter was a little surprised by Jacob’s sudden change of subject. He had gone this long without asking ‘what happened’ and Hunter had begun to think he either already knew, didn’t want to know or didn’t care.

Hunter’s thoughts immediately began to flash back through vivid memories even as his gaze was reflexively drawn to the door leading to the next room. “Why?” Hunter asked, trying to focus on the conversation rather than the topic.

“There are a lot of reasons. All of these vampires seem to have drank some kind of koolaid, so I want to know who or what to look out for. I want to know how much I can help you, and what sort of risk it would entail.”

There was obviously more to the story than just a dozen vampires tackling Hunter down in an alley and beating him up. Hunter was smart and capable enough to escape on his own, so him asking for help was telling. He had asked for acid to burn silver, which possibly meant that Hunter was (as tradition might indicate) weak to silver and that the vampires were somehow using that against him. So, the vampires didn’t have complete control of Hunter by the fact that they were even having this conversation. Or disturbingly, they did have complete control of Hunter and this conversation was proof. And then there was the possibility that Hunter was simply being used as a blood source. Hunter had seemed quite protective of his blood in his earlier conversations, but now he almost offered it to Jacob in trade. Either way, Jacob wasn’t completely convinced he and Hunter were on the same side, and how much information he gained from Hunter on this matter would be telling of what might really be going on.

It was not a satisfactory answer, not to Hunter. Jacob didn’t know shit about squat. At best, he might be able to help Hunter collect more information about what they had done and be able to do something about it, but why would he?

“We both know that quite a bit of effort went into my capture. You expect me to believe you’re willing to risk the wrath of your own kind to help me because you’re ‘compassionate’? Or maybe you expect me to just keep promising you my blood until I owe more than I can give?”

He was being sarcastic and rhetorical with both questions, but he waited to hear Jacob’s response all the same.

“I’m going to say something harsh, but frankly, you need to hear it. You’re a fucking idiot. Sure, your blood has value to me, both as a vampire who needs blood and also as a currency for a neophyte bloodsucker who needs a bargaining chip. But more importantly, I’m just a researcher who wants to learn more about an anomaly. Hell, I might even be able to help you. But if you think that I can or would take any real advantage of whatever position you think you’re in just shows how fucked up you really are. So, here it is: I empathize with you. I want to see you do well. That, alone, is reason for me to want to help you, despite the fact that you can be a douchebag. I don’t ascribe to the theory that says you can never trust anyone. People trust each other, and while I may drink blood and you may be a wolf-man, at the end of the day, we are still people. As soon as we give in to the monster within us, that’s what we become. I want to be better than that. I want you to be better than that. I want everyone to be better than that. That’s why I want to help you; because in doing so, I help myself, and anyone else who doesn’t want to just be an animal.”

Hunter’s question had inadvertently triggered a sort of optimistic enthusiasm that fully bled into his voice. Jacob felt, here, in this moment, a personal commitment to change the world. Regardless of what the wolf thought of his words, he knew Hunter would at least feel his conviction.

I will never give in to the darkness.

It wasn’t very often that Hunter was faced with not knowing what to say. He wasn’t offended by Jacob’s words, nor was he surprised by Jacob’s conviction. He’d met a few people like Jacob before—the ones who strived to do good in the world because it made them feel better about themselves. Some of those people were all talk, putting up a believable but deceptive facade to further their con. Others were fickle, only sticking to their convictions while the going was easy but quick to abandon and betray.

It wasn’t a theory—there was always reason not to trust anyone because when push came to shove everyone looked after themselves first. It was just a matter of how hard they were pushed.

In Jacob’s case, Hunter got the sense that he wasn’t lying and wasn’t going to abandon his convictions lightly. That made him more trustworthy than most, but it also left Hunter in a conundrum. It left him to face the real reason he had responded to Jacob’s question with pessimistic sarcasm.

He really didn’t want to admit to what they’d done. He could reason in his mind why telling Jacob was logical, beneficial… Yet the silence persisted.

Jacob swallowed audibly. He worried that Hunter didn’t understand, or worse – disagreed. It was possible that his lack of response was an indication that he was busy with something else, or thinking. He waited for several seconds longer, but he couldn’t take not knowing. It was possible Hunter was trying to organize the story, but his patience began wearing thin in the dead silence.

“I don’t think I could make my case any more clearly. So are you going to tell me what happened, or what?”

As always when Hunter’s thoughts were drawn to an event in his life, memories began to replay in his mind. He didn’t want to remember, he wasn’t trying to remember, but he did. Vividly. He saw each of their faces as if they were standing right in front of him. He felt the pain of each blow as if he was still in that room. He could still taste that rich, savory blood, the thought of it making his mouth water and stomach growl again. And inevitably, he remembered the first order Duke had made him obey and the realization that followed…

Finally, he spoke, reciting his reply in his usual even tone with a very clinical description. While he spoke, Jacob would briefly hear soft sounds of movement in the background, specifically Hunter’s chain moving against the floor.

“They drove me from the ship here to these chambers beneath Hobo’s where they kept me in silver restraints chained to the floor. Seventeen days. They beat me thirty-three times, usually to the point of unconsciousness—probably a twice-a-day routine but it was a little difficult to keep track of time.”

Here Hunter paused briefly and there was a light flick-flick of a lighter followed a couple of seconds later by a long exhale. When he continued, there were occasional words that sounded half-mumbled around the cigarette in his mouth. His tone remained perfectly conversational, almost eerily so, as if he was discussing something as mundane as the weather.

“They gave me no food or water—unless you count the occasional spray down with the pressure hose for lack of anything by way of plumbing. The first two times they tried to force me to drink blood they failed. The following eight times they succeeded once they discovered my mouth was easier to pry open while my jaw was broken. Yesterday they let me out to attend part of one of their meetings. Fed me, gave me back my bag. They want me to help them track down a rogue vampire killing your kind. Early this morning I was drug back here—the room next door—where I’ve been left alone since.”

By now, a good portion of Hunter’s concentration was focused on his slow steady breathing, but even still, it was impossible to shut out the finer details of what he was talking about.

“Learned a few things though. I learned that more than half-a-dozen broken bones doesn’t slow down my transformation. I’m only capable of remaining unconscious for about fifteen minutes at a time regardless of injury or pain level. Silver against my skin feels something like stinging nettle, although I’m not sure how much of the raw chafing and nerve damage was from the silver itself or from the restraints. And considering I’m still carrying around several of said broken bones and deep tissue bruising almost twenty-four hours after their last visit, I’ve deduced that even normal crowbars and lead pipes are capable of dealing me severe injuries after the first dozen or so blows.”

There was another long exhale before Hunter decided to see if Jacob had caught on to why the last part of his lecture had sounded completely and ridiculously naive almost to the point of insult. He also hoped that it would distract Jacob from any questions he might have. His tone remained calmly conversational right up until the last four words that came out with a trace of cold sarcasm laced in bitterness. 

“So. Now that you have a better idea of why I was ready to tear your throat open when we met in Joe’s apartment, tell me more about your ideas to ‘help everyone be better’.”

Hunter’s story was horrible. The beatings, the torture, even the imprisonment was a punishment that had been brutally inflicted. It was a cruelty that Jacob could only just barely comprehend. Like Hunter, Jacob had been tortured before as well – but not like this, not to this level depravity. Yet, as Hunter described his situation, his injuries, the doctor’s analytical mind in him began piecing together a story that somehow still didn’t quite add up. 

There was a long pause while Jacob considered everything. 

Why did they made him drink blood? Why was it necessary, to the point of breaking his jaw? How did that affect him? Why did he just now call me to ask for help? Why would he willingly help them with this rogue vampire, especially after what they’ve done? Why did they seem to let him out of the dungeon to attend meetings and so on? Why does he want to escape now? Most chillingly, why does Hunter sound so emotionally unaffected by the situation?

Then there’s the time-frame. How did his transformation several weeks ago factor into this? I met Hunter roughly a month ago, and yet he indicated that this torture had played into his assessment of me when we first met. How could he have made such a correlation before it occurred? Has this happened before?

“I have a few questions.” Jacob said, finally. “Why don’t you just break out? Why do you need my help? It doesn’t sound like they always have you chained up or collared or whatever, and you must have healed most of the major wounds by now. The beast I saw shredded bone like tissue paper. I can’t imagine a vampire or two with some crowbars could keep him down too long. In fact, I know they can’t. I’ve seen what happens when they try.”

Of course you do, Hunter thought angrily in response to Jacob’s statement about having questions. Hunter didn’t blame him; he knew there was a significant gap in his story. He would have much preferred if Jacob hadn’t ignored his last-second change of subject though; now he would have to get creative if he didn’t want Jacob to know.

What if he can help? He pushed the thought aside and took another draw from his cigarette.

“First off, I already told you that I’m still carrying several severe injuries—the broken bones and bruised muscle are what I feel the most although I’m sure I have several organs still on the mend too. It’s been almost twenty-four hours since my last beating and I’m still almost as wounded as the night we met. As far as I can tell, they didn’t use anything supernatural to beat me with—they just kept beating me, which is apparently sufficient to cause the same level of slow-healing injury as silver or vampire claws. As far as I can tell, I take damage the same as a human would, I can just take a lot more of it because it doesn’t kill me.

“As for why I need your help, I tried to break out and can’t. Duke Richardson, The Hound, is my keeper. I tried killing him but he’s too powerful. If I could get this chain off while he’s not around, I should be able to get out, but for whatever screwed up reason, I can’t break silver or cut through it. Neither can the Beast. The first time I took a swing at the stuff, it damn near broke my hand and burst my ear drum. Hence the request for the acid.”

As Hunter spoke, Jacob continued piecing together the story. 

Silver really does seem to hurt these guys. They didn’t beat him with silver though, just mundane items of steel or lead. He might not have noticed, but it also seems to limit his regenerative properties. I saw him healed to almost full after receiving life-threatening wounds in a matter of days – some in a matter of minutes. There is probably more to this story that he isn’t telling me, but I can’t attribute to malice what is more easily explained by ignorance. He might not be aware of whatever else the silver might be doing. 

“So, constant beatings and silver bonds are all it takes to keep a big guy like you contained, eh?” Jacob jested, light-heartedly. “Do you know what property of silver it is that robs you of your strength? What does it feel like?” 

Silver is a soft metal, non-magnetic. Extremely conductive, of both heat and electricity. It’s fairly reactive, also, but I can’t think of why it would react with in his musculature. It might be some sort of unknown electromagnetic property. I’ll have to look into that.

Hunter found no humor in Jacob’s joke whatsoever. Sure, just an unexplained supernatural power combined with a level of beating that would have killed anyone else several dozen times over; that’s all it takes. Lucky me.

Where the silver was concerned, Jacob’s scientific mind was apparently going down the same path Hunter had thought through several times already. As tempting as it was to flat out tell him he was wasting his time, Hunter decided to indulge him. At the very least, he needed to know he was making a wrong assumption.

“Like I said, it feels almost like stinging nettle. It itches to the point of feeling like it’s burning, but simple contact doesn’t cause any harm. It only hurts me when I would normally take damage from something or when I try to use my strength directly against it—and in both cases the damage is more severe than it should be. It doesn’t rob me of my physical strength. I am just as strong now as I am when I’m not chained. But when I try to use my strength against the silver, not only does it not have any affect, it also hurts me. I have no idea what property of silver causes any of that. The itching could theoretically be as simple as a mundane allergy, but nothing else can be explained by science as we know it.”

“That’s just because you have incorrect assumptions about the point of science,” Jacob snapped.   
Hunter wasn’t entirely opposed to the discussion, but he certainly wasn’t helping it. Jacob was honestly angry at Hunter’s irrationality.

“Science is not about panicking or closing your eyes when you encounter religious-looking bullshit. Science is about the study of universal truth. I don’t know about you, but I intend to learn how this all works. I have already discovered facts about my own condition that are incredibly logical. Everything I’ve seen so far can be explained without resorting to mysticism. More importantly, I want to know what the other vampires can do without them knowing that I know – if that makes any sense. So I’m going to run some tests with your blood first chance I get. Maybe I can observe the reaction, and from there, do something about it.” 

Of all the things Hunter had said, all of the unnecessary insults, the contradictions, and the arrogance, this single hypocrisy was the most irritating. Yet, as Jacob spoke, he calmed down. There was another unanswered question that held his attention.

“So, why did they make you drink blood? What animal did it come from? How much did you drink? Do you think it influenced your reaction to silver?”

Hunter let Jacob have his rant. There was plenty that Hunter had seen that very much could not be explained by the science that humanity defined reality by. Science could not explain how a two-twenty pound, six-three man could change into a three- to four-hundred pound eight-foot monster in less than three seconds with nothing more than a thought. It was a blatant defiance of every known law of mass and energy. The fact that Jacob had witnessed Hunter’s transformation first-hand and was still clinging to science spoke volumes of the man’s level of denial. And that was only one example of hundreds that Hunter could list—Jacob hadn’t seen much of anything yet.

In some ways, it was comforting to have someone else share Hunter’s perspective of how screwed up reality was. On the other hand, Jacob wasn’t exactly the company Hunter wanted to be associated with intellectually—the guy still didn’t know shit about squat. It didn’t do much for Hunter’s already tentative faith in Jacob’s ability to ‘help’, especially with where the conversation was headed…

“No, I don’t. Because it didn’t,” he answered, his tone had turned cold and curt. “The blood was Duke’s. Hard to say how much I swallowed. At least a couple liters in total. I didn’t ask them why.”

It wasn’t like people getting off on forcing someone to drink their body fluids was uncommon. If Jacob needed to be told that he was more ignorant and naive to the world than Hunter gave him credit for. He hoped Jacob would accept the implication that he didn’t know why he was forced to drink the blood and that he would try to draw his own incorrect conclusions.

The change in Hunter’s tone completely evaded Jacob as he parsed the wolf’s statement. 

“A couple of liters? Of his blood? How on earth did he survive? You said he was dangerous and powerful, but I missed the part where he was invincible!” 

Hunter rolled his eyes with an exasperated growl. “In total,” he repeated angrily. Why did he always have to repeat himself? Why the hell couldn’t people just Think?? He began a heated, rapid-fire rant.

“They had me here for seventeen days. They forced me to drink on eight different occasions spread out during that time. In case you need me to do the math for you, two liters divided by eight averages to a little over one cup every two days. You’re going to tell me you’re okay with the science of blood-drinking undead creatures walking around but a powerful one capable of giving a cup of his own blood every other day is suddenly some kind of shock to you? What the hell kind of scientist do you think you are??”

Why are you angry, Aaron? Because the guy is a moron. They all all are, always have been, always will be—you know that—so why suddenly angry about it now? The persisting question was quickly followed by the realization that Jacob was not even close to the reason for his anger.

Jacob felt a little silly having realized his full meaning. However, Hunter’s erratic anger resurfacing did nothing to dissuade Jacob from the line of thought he was on. The sudden whirlwind of realizations he was barraged with was making him question a number of things, such as some of the rules he had learned from the Sheriff. 

It’s a crime to drink the blood of another vampire, or at least, take enough to cause them harm. Why would this be permitted? Is this situation different somehow? Also, exactly how much blood do we vampires need to survive, anyhow? Do we even make our own blood, or is what we ingest simply assimilated? Our anatomy can’t be that different, can it?

“It doesn’t make sense. Why would he make you drink his blood anyhow? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Wait, so you mean to say that they haven’t taken any of your blood at all?” He shook his head as he spoke.

Is there something dangerous about Hunter’s blood? He closely guarded it before, but now he is willing to negotiate. Did he learn something about his body that I couldn’t possibly anticipate? Jacob, you’ll need to be very careful here.

Hunter was still grappling with his livid anger. Eight cups. Eight cups of fuckin’ vampire blood. How the hell does that add up to not being able to kill someone? How the hell does that add up to MY will being enslaved??

Hunter’s interest in the conversation was non-existent. He barely even heard Jacob’s last set of questions. For several long seconds, all that could be heard from Hunter was his deep, irate breathing.

“I think you’ve made it perfectly clear that you’re not going to be of any use where this is concerned,” he eventually said. He sounded much more controlled but his anger was still audible. “Just try to get me the acid.”

Jacob’s mind was still tangled with the implications of Hunter’s previous statements. He heard the words Hunter said, but it took a few seconds for the meaning to find him.

He’s throwing another temper tantrum. I can’t believe I ever doubted he was a murderer. This guy’s as volatile as rocket fuel. Okay. How am I going to approach this? He seemed to completely close up the moment I got into the blood bit. Is this a personal thing for him? Why is this such a sore point? Wolves like blood, right? The conversation topic doesn’t seem to disgust him as much as… enrage him. What is going on here?

“You know, despite what you think, I can probably help you; perhaps even with your sensitivity to silver. I’ve already divined a few tests I could run to figure out what’s happening there. I need you to let me be on your team though. You have said a multitude of times that you doubt my intelligence, but I don’t think you can doubt my resources. I have equipment, facilities, and staff you don’t have access to here. So, here it is:  Let me help you. What do you have to lose?” 

What indeed. It certainly felt like he couldn’t lose more, but the terrifying reality was every time he thought things couldn’t get worse, they always did. The terrifying reality was that anything was possible in this upside-down world. The terrifying reality was that he was completely at the mercy of a soulless creature who would not hesitate to take a lot more than he already had.

When Hunter replied, there was no anger, no accusation, no condescension. His words were ominous and soft-spoken almost as if speaking them any louder would somehow shatter something wholly irreparable.

“You ask that like you know what they’re capable of.”

Jacob couldn’t help but feel a chill at Hunter’s response. He had grown used to the rage, but this was something else. There was something different in his words now, like a mask was beginning to crumble. 

Is that fear I hear?

He was quiet for another few moments while he chose his next few words with care. One idle word could ruin everything. 

“You’re right. I don’t know what they’re capable of -but I do know what I’m capable of. I can’t promise I’ll be able to change anything. I can’t promise I can make anything better. But if I am able to help you, I will. I can promise that much.”

Inwardly, it occurred to Jacob that Hunter’s situation, his responses, his reactions and overreactions were all beginning to coalesce into something else. Hunter was at the edge. He wasn’t a man in control. He was a beast of barely contained rage wrapped by thin veil of humanity. As horrible as it was to think of what monstrosities he had been through, even more terrifying was the thought of the monster he might yet become. 

Hunter felt like he had to physically push Duke out of his mind to break from the infinite loop of anger, fear and confusion surrounding his enslavement. Thinking about it was going to drive him crazy. His thoughts lingered on Jacob’s promise for only a brief moment before he pulled back from that too and reigned in his perspective. As noble as they sounded, they were just words—words that came with a price tag. Moreover, this conversation was going no where. He’d lost control of it, he’d let it wander and had said far too much.

Hunter turned himself over on the floor and began another set of push ups. One, two…

“I wouldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t want your help,” he stated, his dispassionate tone back as calm, collected and confident as ever. “If you get me what I asked for, you’ll get your blood. If you come back with conclusive test results, we can discuss payment for that too. Anything else?”

Five, six, seven…

Jacob sighed subtly as Hunter effectively ended the conversation. This whole time, they had been back and forth, he somehow thought he could get Hunter to open up about this blood thing. He was so stubborn, so unwilling to show any weakness. 

I want to know what happened with the blood. I want to know how you plan on staying free. I want to know where you feel you can go after this. I want to know if you plan on seeing a good shrink any time soon. Or a pharmacist.

“No, I guess not.” He said, his voice carrying only the barest hint of resignation. He rubbed his temples as he checked the time on the wall. “Call me back if you need anything else. I’ll text you if I come up with something to get you the acid.”

Jacob decided he wouldn’t hold the deception against Hunter. Whatever it was, it was enough that it changed his behavior and was possibly even inspiring fear. If that were the case, it would be unlikely that he would ever hear it from Hunter’s lips, whatever happened. The deception might cost him, somewhere down the line. Jacob hoped he wouldn’t be the one to pay for it.  

Hunter was already feeling better. He had a plan. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was enough to give him something to focus on, something to think through that didn’t make him feel the need to rip something apart.

Eleven, twelve…

“No texting anything more than casual checking in. We can hope they haven’t been listening to this, but even if they haven’t and I’m allowed to keep my phone, he will check my messages and will see that we’ve had a ten-minute conversation. If you have to tell me something important, call me and hang up after one ring, and I’ll call you back when I can. If it’s urgent—and I mean really urgent—let it keep ringing and I’ll answer immediately if I’m able. But you’d better speak damn quick if that’s the case because we may only have seconds.

“Remember to keep a bottle on you. In fact, give me your address and keep a bottle there too.”

Eighteen, nineteen, twenty…

The phone code made sense, but unfortunately, it was being communicated over the same line that was possibly monitored. Hunter knew they could be listening, so why did he insist on this code? Jacob decided they were trusting in the vampire’s laziness more than their paranoia. More interestingly, Hunter’s voice was starting to sound more like Hunter as the conversation wrapped up. 

The less exposed he is, the more rational he is. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising.

Whatever was motivating him now was completely different. He decided to let it ride. Maybe getting some of that emotion out earlier was enough to make him feel a bit better. It was unfortunate that they had to end things where they were.

“Understood. My address is 255 southwest Harrison street, number 9H. Here in Portland, 97201. Anything else?”

Twenty-four, twenty five…

Hunter was glad that Jacob had finally given up his previous line of questioning. He definitely thought he had heard disappointment in the vampire’s voice with the words ‘I guess not’ but Hunter didn’t care. If Jacob was determined to find out the truth about what they’d done, there were probably several dozen vampires in the area who would be happy to explain.

“Yeah, one more thing. Try to find out what areas of the city the different clans control,” Hunter said. It would be useful information for both of them.

Twenty-eight, twenty-nine…

Jacob doubted that there were clear-cut boundaries. He understood the concept of territory as it pertained to the different vampire clans, but he doubted there would be some color-coded map to indicate where the lines lay. Still, playing beta meant not questioning the alpha, and Hunter seemed like he at least knew something about the territories. It was something he could ask about tonight at the meeting, regardless. 

“Okay, will do. Alright, well, unless there’s anything else, goodnight man. Stay safe, okay?” 

This has been a decent conversation, at least. I’ve learned a lot – both about how vampires operate in general, and also about how Hunter operates individually. For me at least, this has been a useful, if not entirely pleasant exchange. Honestly though, I wonder when the next time we’ll be able to have a conversation like this will be?

The precarious nature of their communication was not lost on Hunter either. For all he knew, this was the last time he would speak to Jacob or to anyone that would consider him a person much less an ally. Not for the first time, Hunter wondered where he’d be if he hadn’t left the others… Probably trapped in another dimension talking to spirit bears for all eternity. Still…

Hunter listened to Jacob’s farewell. It ended in a sentiment that was almost laughable.

“Unlikely. Just don’t die,” Hunter replied pragmatically, then hung up.

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