Daria

in

Swan Song

 

 

            “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

  - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

 

 

             The alley behind McGrundy’s Pub was filthy and smelled horrible. It was faintly lit by a couple of light bulbs flanking the bar’s back door. The dim illumination revealed an overflowing dumpster, a line of dented trashcans, and a general drift of detritus mostly made of empty beer cans, newspapers, and broken glass.

            The light bulbs flickered and dimmed, then flared brightly before exploding with a pair of echoing pops. The alley was still illuminated by a ghostly white glow that seemed to seep out of thin air. A bolt of electricity arced from one of the shattered light bulbs, dancing across the dumpster. A second arc began running from the other socket, jumping back and forth across the trash cans.

            The transformer on the corner blew with a resounding boom, plunging the surrounding area into darkness. The dim light in the alley brightened, and the newspaper bits began to smoke and crinkle in the sudden heat. The wildly arcing electricity faded as the garbage in the dumpster burst into flame.

            The entire alley was suddenly and brightly illuminated, the light accompanied by a loud thrumming noise. After a few seconds the light and sound faded, and the alley was dark again. The only light was from the flickering flame in the dumpster and the smoldering papers on the ground.

            A slight, human form stumbled a few steps and leaned against the back wall of McGrundy’s. She jerked her hand away from the hot brick with a hiss of pain and stumbled a few more steps forward, into the illumination of headlights from the parking lot. Dropping to her knees, she leaned drunkenly and held her head with both hands. After a minute she staggered back to her feet, coughed, and spat a wad of blood onto the ground.

            She was a small girl, probably in her early teens. She wore heavy combat boots, black military-style cargo pants, and a black turtleneck sweater underneath an ankle length, black leather coat. Her face was pale, and she had on a pair of heavily framed oval glasses. Her long red hair was pulled back to her temples with a pair of cheerful yellow smiley-face barrettes.

            “Hey, what the hell is going on?” a man said from nearby.

            “Looks like the damn transformer blew out,” another man replied.

            The girl watched the men through narrowed eyes. So far, only two had spoken but she could see that the group was made up of several people. The rumbling engines and spacing of the headlights in the parking lot told her that the men were bikers, and were almost certainly patrons of the bar she’d appeared behind.

            “Hey, who’s that?” one of the men said, pointing at her. The group of men started walking in her direction.

            “Looks like a little girl,” the first man said. “What’s the matter, little girl? Are you lost?”

            The men chuckled, and the girl frowned. She did not have time for this.

            “She’s all dressed up like some bad-ass motherfucker’s kid sister,” one of the men joked.

            “I’m an only child,” the girl said with a smirk, staring at the men over the top of her glasses. “Why don’t you guys back off before somebody gets hurt?”

            “Mouthy little bitch, ain’t she?” the leader said, grinning at his friends.

            “Look,” the girl said, “I’m in a big hurry. You don’t mind if I borrow your bike, right?”

            “What?” the man asked.

            “Your motorcycle,” the girl said, dropping the smirk and looking deadly serious, “Give it to me.”

            “Like hell!” the man shouted, reaching out to grab the girl.

            She twisted, pulling her shoulder out of his reach, and then jumped into the air and landed on his knee. Making a second little jump she planted one foot in his stomach, then shoved away from him. She spun in mid-air, and brought her other foot up and over. The man’s jaw broke with an audible crack.

            She landed in a crouch with her arms flat by her side, and triggered the arm sheathes concealed by the sleeves of her coat. A pair of batons dropped into her hands, and she extended them with flicks of her wrists. She stood and spun the fighting sticks aggressively.

            “Next?”

            With a dull roar, about half of the drunken bikers charged. She ducked and spun like a ballerina, lashing out with baton and boot as needed, until her attackers lay in heaps around her. She collapsed her batons and resheathed them, while smirking at the groans and whimpers. Glancing around the parking lot, she noticed that the rest of the gang had abandoned the field of battle.

            “Better part of valor my ass,” she muttered and rolled her eyes.

            Her boots crunched on the gravel parking lot as she walked over to the line of bikes. She climbed onto one of them, shook her head at the semi-conscious men one last time, and then put the bike in gear and pulled onto the road. The roaring engine faded into the distance, and she was gone.

 

            “That dress is so awesome!” Sandi said. The other Fashion Club members nodded and murmured their agreement. They had gathered at Quinn’s house to watch the Couture Channel, which was broadcasting runway shows of the newest fashions.

            “You’d look so good in that, Sandi.” Quinn said.

            “I know,” Sandi said smugly, “I just hope they have something nice for redheads this year.”

            “Ow!” Stacy said, teetering backwards a little, “Tiffany, brush my hair. Don’t yank it out!”

            Quinn glanced over and saw that Stacy was off balance and struggling not to fall backwards onto Tiffany, who was sitting behind her on the couch. Tiffany had one hand in Stacy’s hair, and the other was swinging around towards Stacy’s throat with a knife. Quinn took a breath to scream, and the front door crashed open as someone kicked it in from outside.

            The eighth grader from hell walked into the Morgendorffer living room, her eyes already tracking for targets. She brought up a pistol in her right hand that looked like it was about two feet long and, from Quinn’s point of view, had a barrel about four inches wide. The girl squeezed off three shots that made no more noise than a polite cough, and then lowered the weapon.

            Slowly, Quinn turned her head to look over her shoulder. Stacy’s eyes were locked on the knife in her lap, and the brunette was clearly building up to a faint due to hyperventilation. Tiffany sat motionless, with three small holes in a perfectly spaced triangle decorating her forehead.

            The girl’s gun disappeared somewhere under the huge coat she wore, and she shoved the door closed with one foot. “We have to talk,” she said.

            “What the hell is your problem you little freak!?” Sandi said, leaping to her feet.

            “Sandi,” Quinn said in a choked whisper. “Sit down and shut up, that girl just killed Tiffany.”

            Sandi spun around to say something cutting to Quinn, and saw Stacy and Tiffany. Stacy cut loose with a wail and jumped from the couch to the love seat, causing Tiffany’s corpse to slide to the floor with a thump. Sandi swallowed loudly and sat back down.

            “I didn’t kill her,” the girl said, walking into the room and stopping a few feet from Quinn and Sandi. “She’s been dead for almost two years now, but none of you noticed.”

            “Please don’t kill me,” Quinn said quietly.

            “I’m not,” the girl said, frowning. “Look at the body, she’s not bleeding. It’s because there’s not any blood in her. Remember how she never ate anything?”

            Quinn nodded, while Sandi just sat and stared at the girl. Stacy curled up on the love seat and cried quietly.

            “Remember how she used to have a bubbly personality and was really quick with catty remarks? Then she started talking really slow all the time and got dumb?”

            “I remember,” Stacy whispered, “something happened to her at that party Brittany had back when we were freshmen. I finally convinced myself it was all in my head, but she just tried . . . tried to . . . .” Stacy started crying again, and covered her face with her hands.

            “What’s going on?” Quinn asked, still calm.

            “I don’t know all the details,” the girl said, “but tonight was the night it all started. Tiffany tried to kill Stacy, and then she kidnapped you and Sandi. You escaped, but Sandi was never seen again and within a couple of weeks they’d taken over the world.”

            “They?” Quinn asked.

            “Vampires,” the girl answered, her voice filled with disgust. “They’re going to rule the world, and keep people like we used to keep herds of cattle.”

            “You’re talking about something that’s going to happen, or something that has already happened?” Quinn asked.

            “Both, in a way,” the girl shook her head. “And neither, too. I wish Victoria was here to explain it, but I’m talking about time travel. I’m from the future, and I’ve been sent back to stop the vampires from taking over.”

            “So,” Quinn said, “you’re from some kind of resistance movement?”

            “No,” the girl said flatly. “Weren’t you listening? They won, we lost. There is no resistance, there are just a few pockets of free humans hiding in the cracks. Every year there’s less of us.” The girl looked away and muttered, “As far as I know, I was the last one.”

            “Stacy dies, Sandi disappears, and I get kidnapped but escape?”

            “Not anymore,” the girl’s expression cleared into smug amusement. “I’ve already changed at least that much. Not that Stacy died anyway, Tiffany didn’t do a good enough job on her.”

            “I lived?” Stacy asked.

            “Yeah,” the girl nodded. “She was going to cut your throat and leave you for dead, but before you could bleed to death . . . ah, crap.”

            “Quinn,” Daria said, pushing open the broken door, “what the hell happened to the door and who in the hell is that girl pointing a gun at me!?”

            “It’s ok, Daria,” Quinn said, “I think she’s a friend.”

            “My friends don’t point guns at me,” Daria replied, equal parts frightened and angry.

            “Please come and sit down,” the girl said, motioning with the pistol. “I have to explain what’s going on. Once you understand, you’ll see why it’s so important that you help me.”

            “Sure,” Daria said shuffling away from the open door. “I’ll be more than happy to listen to everything you have to say.”

            “Good.” The girl nodded. “The first thing I have to say is that Jane needs to come inside and close the door.”

            “I wish,” Daria said, suddenly looking depressed. “I’m impressed with how much you seem to know about me, but unfortunately you don’t seem to be aware of certain recent changes.”

            “Ah, the boyfriend.” The girl shrugged. “Sorry, I wasn’t sure exactly when he left her for you.”

            “What!?” Daria said with a shocked expression, and then shook her head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter, and I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to point that thing somewhere else?”

            “I need help,” the girl said, “desperately. We have to get Quinn and Sandi out of here, before Tiffany’s master figures out that she failed and sends someone else to do the job.”

            “Uh huh,” Daria said, still staring at the pistol.

            The girl growled in frustration, and then flipped the gun around in her hand so she was holding the barrel. She presented the pistol to Daria, who hesitantly reached out and took it from her.

            “It’s a twenty-two,” the girl said, “so if you’re going to kill me with it you’d better be standing close by, and you’d better hit me in the head. The ammo is . . .”

            “Hollow point sub-sonic rounds,” Daria finished. “This is a High Standard HDM, modified to mate with a secondary sound suppressor.” Daria looked up from the gun, scrutinizing the slim girl that had been carrying it. “This is Melody Powers’ gun.”

            The girl nodded and smiled slightly. “I grew up hearing Melody Powers stories. I damn near died getting that gun, but I had to have it.”

            “You grew up hearing Melody stories?” Daria asked, looking confused.

            “I explained it to Quinn, you’re going to have to get her to explain it to you. We have to move, and we have to go somewhere that Quinn and Sandi wouldn’t go.” The girl lost her balance and leaned heavily on the couch arm, looking faint she continued, “We have to hide until dawn. I’m trusting you with my life, please trust me with yours.”

            “What’s wrong with you?” Daria asked, stepping forward.

            “Boosters are wearing off,” the girl said in a thick voice. “See you later, night-night.” Her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed to the floor in a heap.

            “What the hell is going on?” Daria asked weakly.

            “She’s not lying, we have to go,” Quinn said. Daria looked over at her sister and saw that Quinn was kneeling over Tiffany, examining her face. “She isn’t bleeding at all.”

            “Should she be?” Daria asked.

            “That girl shot her,” Sandi said numbly, staring at the gun in Daria’s hand. “She shot her with the gun she handed you.”

            “Ack!” Daria said, dropping the gun.

            “Daria,” Quinn said, “let’s take her advice and go somewhere for the rest of the night. When she wakes up she can tell us more.”

            “I think we should call the police.”

            “I don’t think the police can help us.”

            “You could have stopped that sentence after the third word,” Daria said acidly.

            “Yeah?” Quinn said, standing to face her sister, “You could stop being so negative all the time. We need some positive ideas right now, but maybe you aren’t smart enough to think of any.”

            “Well, I’m pretty positive that any idea you endorse is a bad one.”

            “Stop it!” Stacy shouted. Shocked, everyone turned and stared at the petite brunette. She was still trembling and weeping, but was now standing in front of the love seat with a wild look in her eyes. “For God’s sake, you’re sisters. Can’t you stop bickering long enough to keep us from getting killed?”

            “They’re sisters?” Sandi asked.

            “Killed?” Daria asked at the same time.

            “Tiffany was supposed to kill me and kidnap Quinn and Sandi,” Stacy said. “You were supposed to come home and find me bleeding to death or something. That girl came back in time and changed it, so that evil vampires won’t take over the world.”

            Daria stared at Stacy though narrowed eyes. “This is too morbid for your usual type of humor. What’s really going on?”

            “Tiffany was going to cut my throat,” Stacy said, brandishing a knife, “with this. Now she’s a corpse, because that girl saved my life.”

            “Tiffany is dead, I checked,” Quinn said, looking a little nauseous.

            Daria looked from Stacy to Quinn, who wilted slightly under her sister’s glare.

            “Please, Daria.” Quinn gave her sister a pleading look. “I don’t want to be kidnapped.”

            “Dammit,” Daria muttered. “Ok, we have to take this girl with us or we’re not going to get any answers. What about Tiffany?”

            “Tiffany is dead,” Sandi said quietly.

            “I don’t want to leave the body here for Mom and Dad to find,” Daria said. She looked at the corpse and gasped in shock. Tiffany’s body had become withered and dried, more like an ancient mummy than a fresh body. Daria stepped over to her and gently nudged Tiffany’s leg with the toe of her boot. The leg snapped away from the rest of the body, and with a rasping sound began to crumble into dust. Within seconds Tiffany’s entire body had been reduced to a pile of gritty, dirty clothes.

            “I’ll put a fresh bag in the dust buster,” Quinn said. “We’ll bury her later.”

            “Ok,” Daria said, then glanced at Stacy and Sandi. “You two call your parents and tell them you’re spending the night over here. I’ll leave a note for Mom and Dad making some excuse for me and Quinn being gone. Then we’ll go.”

            “Where are we going?” Sandi asked.

            “I don’t know yet,” Daria said, “I have to go make some phone calls.”

            “What about that guy?” Quinn asked.

            “What guy?”

            “The guy that came over here asking to talk to you. He wouldn’t wait in the house, he said he felt safer in his car.”

            “That was Tom,” Daria said darkly. “I’m not sure how helpful Tom is going to be at the moment.”

            “His car is still out there,” Quinn said, pointing out the window, “go see if he’ll give us a ride somewhere without asking questions.”

            “Dammit,” Daria muttered, and walked back outside.

            The other girls moved quickly to finish their errands, leaving the newcomer unconscious on the living room floor.

 

            “We were having a pretty good set until the power went out,” Max grumbled, hefting his base drum into the back of the Tank.

            “Yeah,” Jessie said.

            “It’s cool,” Trent said, “we still got paid, and we only had to do one set.”

            “I think McGrundy paid us off so we’d get Mr. Scared-of-the-Dark out of there before somebody rattled his chimes,” Nick said, toting an amp out the back door of the bar.

            “I’m not afraid of anything,” Max snapped, “I’m a criminale.”

            “We know,” Trent said. “Nick was just kidding, right Nick?”

            “Yeah, yeah.”

            “Hey,” Jessie said, glancing around. “You guys smell that?”

            “I smell burnt garbage,” Nick said.

            “No, under the burnt garbage smell. It smells like a lightning storm.”

            Before anyone could respond, an arc of electricity cut across the dark alley and skittered down the side of the Tank. With a series of loud pops the head lights and tail lights blew out, spraying the area with broken glass and plastic.

            Mystic Spiral ran for it, heading towards the front of the building. After a few minutes the light show faded and they peeked around the corner. The garbage in the dumpster was burning again, and the paint was peeling off the Tank while its tires smoked in the heat. Someone stepped out of the darkness into a pool of moonlight.

            The boy looked like he was in his early teens, and wore an outfit that would have looked very familiar to the Spiral if they’d seen the girl who appeared earlier. He raked his fingers through his short black hair and looked around.

            “Dude, the Tank!” Max yelled and ran forward to his beloved vehicle. He reached out and touched the driver’s side door and then yanked his hand away from the hot metal with a cry of pain.

            “Idiot,” the boy muttered. “Give me your keys, I’m in a big hurry.”

            “No way,” Max said, still flapping his burned hand in the air. “Nobody drives the Tank but me.”

            “This is weird,” Trent said as the rest of the band walked up.

            “Trent Lane?” the boy asked, looking up at the older man.

            “Yeah.”

            “Congratulations, gentlemen. You just got recruited.”

 

            The girl floated in the warm darkness, and pondered the nagging sensation that there was something dreadfully important that she needed to be doing. In the distance she heard a woman shout, “You bastard!” immediately followed with the resounding crack of a good open hand slap. The girl’s eyes snapped open and she rolled up onto her feet in a fighting stance.

            She looked around the large room, noting the clutter of boxes and stacks of newspaper. She had been lying on a sleeping bag, and Stacy was stretched out on another one nearby. The brunette was staring at the ceiling and cradling the girl’s gun on her chest. Across the room, Daria and a girl wearing a red shirt and a grey ball cap were standing with a young man wearing slacks and a blue sweater. The other girl was seething at the man, who was holding the side of his face. Daria had her glasses in one hand and was rubbing her eyes with the other.

            “It’s not all his fault, Jane,” Daria said quietly. “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

            “How could you, Daria?” Jane asked, turning on her friend. “You promised me. You promised!”

            The girl sat back down on the sleeping bag and looked over at Stacy. “What’s going on?”

            “Daria kissed that guy,” Stacy answered quietly. “She and Jane are having a fight about it.”

            “Where are we?”

            “Jane’s basement.”

            “Where are Quinn and Sandi?”

            “They’re upstairs, locked in a bathroom. As soon as we got over here Daria said we were safe, and Quinn went into screaming hysterics.”

            “Oh.”

            “She’s good in a crisis, but really bad after,” Stacy said with a tiny shrug. “Do you want your gun back?”

            “Please.”

            Stacy sat up and handed the girl her gun, and she tucked it away under her coat. Stacy took the chance to look the girl over, deciding that she didn’t look at all well. Her eyes were bloodshot, with dark circles under them. Her skin was pale and drawn, as if she’d just gotten over an illness.

            “You look like hell,” Stacy said.

            “Yeah, I know. Time travel is pretty rough on your system.”

            “Oh.” Stacy nodded as she accepted this odd fact. “What’s your name?”

            “My call sign is Dracula,” the girl said, giving the name its proper Slavic pronunciation.

            “Thanks for saving my life.”

            “You’d have lived,” the girl said with a shrug, “but you wouldn’t have been able to talk anymore.”

            “Oh.” Stacy nodded again. “How do you know all this?”

            “I’m from the future, remember?”

            “Oh, yeah.”

            The girl looked around when she heard approaching footsteps, and saw Jane walking towards her. Daria and Tom still stood in the corner, both looking upset.

            “Hi, I’m Jane. Welcome to my basement, strange girl.” Jane held out one hand. “Would you care to explain exactly what the hell is going on?”

            She reached up and shook Jane’s hand. “You have to forgive her.”

            Jane recoiled, glaring hatefully at her guest.

            “She didn’t do it to hurt you, and she’s tearing herself apart over it now. We need you Jane, and we need you at one hundred percent.” She sighed. “People are going to die if we’re not careful.”

            “Do I get to choose which people?” Jane asked angrily.

            “Maybe, but you’ll wish you hadn’t later.”

            “I’ll go recall the Fashionistas from their crying jag,” Jane said, looking at the girl suspiciously. “You get ready for story time.”

            Jane jogged up the stairs, slamming the door at the top on her way out. Daria walked over and sat on the end of Stacy’s sleeping bag.

            “You know,” Tom said, “it’s late. I should go home.”

            “Probably,” Daria said quietly.

            “I’ll see you later?” he asked.

            “Maybe.”

            Tom sighed sadly and took the stairs up and out of the basement, leaving the three girls to sit and brood quietly on their thoughts. A few minutes later, Jane thumped back down the stairs followed by Sandi.

            “Where’s Quinn?” Daria asked suspiciously.

            “Asleep,” Sandi said. “I put her in one of the bedrooms that looked unused.”

            “She’s in Penny’s room, out like a light,” Jane said, sitting on the steps. Sandi stood next to her, fidgeting. “So talk to us, strange girl.”

            “Is this where we’re going to be staying the night?” she asked.

            “Most likely,” Jane said. “I share all my stuff with my best friend, right Daria?”

            “Jane,” Daria said, looking wounded.

            “I suggest we get comfortable then,” the girl said, cutting off the argument. She shrugged out of her coat and unlaced her boots. After neatly placing everything next to her sleeping bag, she looked up at Jane.

            “Is there food here?” she asked.

            “Story now, then food as a reward.”

            “Fine,” the girl sighed. “I’m just going to hit the high points. I’m from the future, and I was sent back in time to save the human race. According to my history, the whole species will be enslaved by vampires by the end of this month. The first move in that enslavement was supposed to be tonight, when Quinn and Sandi got kidnapped.”

            “This sounds like an episode of Sick, Sad World,” Jane said. “Can you prove any of this?”

            “She knew Tiffany was going to kill me,” Stacy said. “and when she shot her, Tiffany’s body turned into dust.”

            “She killed Tiffany?” Jane asked.

            “No,” the girl answered, “Tiffany has been dead for a couple of years now. They turned her into a zombie.”

            “Not the kind that eats brains, I suppose,” Jane said, smirking at Sandi. Sandi said nothing, but her glare communicated volumes.

            “Zombies are people that have been drained of blood, and then given a little taste of vampire blood. It makes the body walk around and do what it’s told, but zombies are pretty stupid. They can’t really do much without direct input from their master,” the girl explained. “I don’t know why Tiffany was allowed to wander around so much without her master’s supervision, it’s usually not allowed.”

            “Maybe the vampires,” Jane said, making air quotes around the word ‘vampires,’ “needed a day time operator. They blow up in sunlight or something, right?”

            “That’s the theory, but I’ve never seen it,” the girl answered, “they have better servants for that, though. See, when a vampire bites you it feels good because they have a narcotic in their saliva. It’s amazingly addictive, most people are completely hooked by their second or third bite.”

            “So why send you?” Daria asked. “Why not send a whole squad of big, beefy guys with machine guns?”

            “Well, first off we didn’t have a squad of guys or any machine guns.” The girl shrugged, “and secondly, they wouldn’t have survived the jump, anyway. Victoria explained it to me with a whole lot of math, but the simple name for the problem is ‘temporal inertia.’ The longer you’ve been alive the more of it you build up, and the harder it is on your system when you get displaced in time.”

            “Which is why you look so sick,” Stacy said, “and why you collapsed earlier.”

            “Yeah, I pretty much got punched in the nose by physics at a cellular level.”

            “There’s an image,” Jane muttered.

            “Who is Victoria?” Daria asked.

            “The leader of our cell. I have to get to her in this time and give her this.” The girl pulled a lanyard out from under her sweater and showed them the flash drive attached to the end of it. “It’s got all the information we’ve been able to assemble about the vampires on it. With this, we can win the war.”

            “Where is she?”

            “McLean, Virginia.”

            “Hey, I have an aunt that lives in McLean. I bet if I called her she’d help us out,” Daria said.

            “That might help,” the girl said with a nod, “but we shouldn’t call her until we get to Virginia. The phones might be monitored.”

            “So,” Jane said, sounding amused, “Biting people and giving them blood makes zombies? According to Buffy the Vampire Slayer that makes more vampires.”

            “Giving them a little blood makes zombies. Replacing their blood a little at a time makes new vampires,” the girl said with a sigh. “Can I get some food now?”

            “In a second,” Jane answered. “What’s your name, little girl?”

            “People call me Dracula.”

            “Ok, points for the correct pronunciation,” Jane smirked. “Isn’t it odd to be a vampire hunter named after the grand-daddy vampire? I mean, shouldn’t you call yourself Helsing or something?”

            “The people that started my cell had an odd sense of humor, they thought it’d be funny if we all gave ourselves names out of old horror movies and such. Victoria comes from Victor Frankenstein, because she was our tech geek.” The girl shook her head and continued, “and I’m not a vampire hunter. People who fight vampires on purpose are looking for death, or worse.”

            “Ok, good story,” Jane said, and reached into her pocket. She pulled out a packet of pop-tarts and tossed them to the girl, who caught them in midair. The girl ripped the packet open and started eating immediately.

            “Jane, I know this seems far-fetched,” Daria said. “But you didn’t watch Tiffany crumble into dust at your feet.”

            “Apparently I missed a lot of excitement tonight,” Jane said dryly. Daria looked at the floor and didn’t reply. “See,” Jane continued, “what I don’t get is why you thought you could just wander in here and ask to hide out in my basement right after you stabbed me in the back like that.”

            “If you’d ever had more than one boyfriend between you this wouldn’t be such a big deal,” Sandi muttered.

            “Keep talking,” Jane growled. “I should throw the lot of you out on your asses and let you deal with the imaginary vampires. I still can’t believe you’re here, Daria. You,” Jane paused and looked shocked, “you actually believe her, don’t you?”

            Without looking up, Daria nodded.

            “Well, hell.” Jane sighed. “Fine, I’m in. I’m not really buying into the story until I see proof, and the Tom issue is going to have to be dealt with, but I’m in.”

            “Thank you,” the girl said quietly.

            “I don’t know why you’re so upset about that guy,” Stacy said to Jane, “I mean, yeah, it was wrong of Daria to kiss him but it’s not like she actually cheated on you with him.”

            Daria and Jane both stared at Stacy with expressions of disbelief. Sandi groaned and stepped around Jane to go up the steps, and the girl slumped over backwards on her sleeping bag and covered her eyes.

            “I’m gonna crash in Quinn’s room while Stacy tries to dig herself out of that hole,” Sandi said, heading upstairs.

            “Stacy,” Jane said slowly, as if talking to a child. “Tom was my boyfriend. I am not gay. Why does everybody think I’m gay!?”

            “There’s nothing wrong with it, if you were,” Stacy muttered, then said in a normal tone, “Whatever, I’m going to get some sleep.”

 

            Jane awoke suddenly with a strong feeling that something was wrong. She glanced around the room and noticed that the clock read three.

            “Why am I awake at three in the goddamn morning?” she groaned.

            “Janey?”

            She looked across the room and saw that her door was standing open, and she could faintly see her brother’s silhouette in the frame.

            “Trent?”

            “Jane, I gotta ask you a really weird question. Did Daria and her sister show up over here tonight?”

            “Yeah, why?”

            “Are they still here?”

            “Daria is in the basement, and Quinn is in Penny’s room with one of her fashion fiends. What’s this all about?”

            “Nothing, just curious. Go back to sleep, Janey.”

            Jane frowned in the dark as Trent headed off towards Penny’s room. She got out of bed and slipped into the hallway, noticing that the rest of Mystic Spiral was also in the hallway.

            Trent opened the door to Penny’s bedroom and walked in, the rest of the guys following along behind. Jane saw the light in the room come on, and waited for the screaming and yelling to start. Thirty seconds later and everything was still silent.

            Jane had gotten about halfway down the hall when Trent came back out of the room and turned towards her. He looked pale, with dark rings under his eyes. Jane’s breath caught when she saw the ragged wound on the inside of his left arm.

            “Trent, what happened to your arm?”

            “Where is she, Jane?” Trent asked, grabbing Jane’s t-shirt and yanking her off balance. “Where’s Quinn’s bimbo friend?”

            Before Jane could try to form an answer, Nick flew out of Penny’s room and slammed into the wall. He slid to the floor and twitched a few times before staggering back to his feet.

            “Bimbo?” Sandi snarled, storming out into the hallway. Nick followed her, moving slowly, as Max and Jesse came back out into the hallway.

            Trent turned with a look of shock, dragging Jane around and putting her between himself and Sandi. He pulled Jane to his chest and tightened his arm around her, drawing a pistol with his other hand and pressing it to the side of her head.

            “Stop, or I’ll kill her.”

            Sandi stopped, a few steps away from Trent and Jane.

            “Would somebody tell me what the hell is going on here?” Jane shouted.

            “You two grab her,” Trent said. Max and Jesse each took one of Sandi’s arms, while Nick leaned against the wall with a blank expression.

            “I don’t know who sent you,” Sandi said, “but whatever they’re paying you I can double it.”

            “I don’t think so,” Trent said, glancing at the wound on his arm.

            “I can pay in that coin, too.” Sandi glanced at the men holding her wrists and then looked back up at Trent. “Call them off, and we can make a deal.”

            Jane stood on her toes, trying very hard to ignore the fact that her big brother was holding a gun to her head. Trent gasped and his grip on Jane tightened.

            “How about this,” Drac said. “You let Jane go and I don’t blow your brains out.” Somewhere behind her, Jane heard the quiet click of a pistol’s safety being turned off. “And then we can all kill the vampire girl together.”

            Trent’s grip on Jane slackened and she twisted away from him, pressing her back against the wall and looking wildly from side to side. To her right was Nick, and Max and Jessie still held Sandi by the arms. To her left, Trent stood quietly with the girl that claimed to be from the future standing behind him, pointing a very long barreled pistol at the back of his head and glaring past him at Sandi.

            A teenage boy stepped into the hallway from the stairwell and stood behind the red haired girl. He was dressed similarly to her, but was still wearing his boots and ankle length duster. He reached under the duster and pulled out a heavy looking, large caliber pistol.

            “S’up, Drac?” he said quietly.

            “Jack?” she asked. She didn’t take her eyes off Sandi, but Jane saw them widen as her face flushed.

            “So half the girls Victoria sent you to save are actually vampires, huh?”

            “Yeah,” she answered. “Does explain a couple of things, though.”

            “See, that’s always been the big problem. Until they get all fangy, you can’t tell a vampire from a human being. Real son of a bitch, ain’t it?” Casually, he pressed his gun against the back of the girl’s head.

            “Jack?”

            “Put the gun down, or there won’t be any more Jack ‘n’ Drac. Understand?”

            “They got you.” The girl’s voice was hollow and uninflected. “They made you one of them.”

            “I love humans!” he exclaimed, grinning widely to show off his fangs. “You’re all so gullible, you’ll believe anything. Which reminds me . . . have I told you recently how much I love you?”

            Jane watched pain flicker across the girl’s face as she closed her eyes and slowly lowered her gun. The boy smirked and tipped a wink at Jane when he noticed her watching him.

            “Vampires aren’t made,” Sandi said quietly. “We’re born, just like humans. We even grow old and die, it just takes a long, long time. Unless we get killed, of course.”

            “Of course,” Jack said agreeably. “But you don’t have anything to worry about, Princess. We’ll just grab your sacrifice and head off to do the Erwachsensein ritual like good little vampires, ok?”

            “No,” Sandi said with an air of great finality. “It’s a barbaric custom, and only the most decadent noble houses practice it anymore. The house of Griffin no longer stains itself with innocent blood. It has been forbidden, and as Herzogin von Grief I will enforce that forbiddance.”

            “Forbidden?” Jack asked snidely, before shouting, “you will follow the custom, you will take your rightful place as Königin and you will lead us to dominance. It’s already happened you stupid bitch!”

            “No it hasn’t,” Drac whispered as she spun in place and put her pistol against Jack’s eye.

            “Drac . . . .”

            “I loved you, you bastard,” she said, and pulled the trigger.

            Jack fell backwards, a blur of motion. He roared with pain as the bullet tore a vertical strip of his face off, and stumbled out of the hallway into one of the bedrooms. As he retreated he fired twice, and Drac staggered and dropped to her knees, a bloody wound slashing across her arm. She got off better than Max, whose bald head exploded, showering Sandi and Jesse with bone shards and brains.

            Sandi closed her eyes and looked slightly ill, while Nick and Jesse just stared blankly. Trent collapsed to the floor and lifted the gun in his hand to his own temple. The sound of breaking glass could be heard from the bedroom Jack retreated into.

            “Trent!” Jane shouted, leaping on her brother and wrestling the gun away from him.

            Daria appeared at the top of the stairs, panting and out of breath. She took in the carnage and immediately looked ill. Stacy appeared behind her a moment later, brandishing her knife.

            “Where is my sister?” Daria asked, gritting her teeth against the nausea.

            “Still asleep,” Sandi said, kneeling next to Jane and Trent. Trent wept uncontrollably while Jane held him and made quiet shushing noises. “I hypnotized her, she won’t wake up until in the morning. She really needed the sleep.”

            “What happened to Trent?” Jane asked.

            “Your brother has been bitten,” Sandi said, tugging on Jane’s arm. With some effort she managed to turn Trent’s head so he was looking at her. “It’s ok, you can have more. I can give you more. Do you understand me?”

            “I don’t want more,” Trent rasped, pulling away from Sandi. “I almost killed my sister you bitch. What the hell are you people?”

            “They are a plague on humanity,” Drac said, coming back into the hall after checking the bedroom. “He jumped out the window.”

            “You heard what I said,” Sandi said, looking up at the young redhead. “He was always a vampire. We move among you at will. We don’t fear crosses, or burn up in the sun, or any of that stuff. Mostly we just get jobs, pay taxes, and raise our families. We add some medical blood to our diets and try to blend in. We’re not evil.”

            “Then why take over? Why put all the humans in pens and treat us like cattle?”

            “Because we, like you, don’t exist as a monolithic society. There’s an underground faction, the blutpriester, who believe that as God gave humans dominion over animals we were given dominion over humans.”

            Daria edged around the crowd in the hallway, carefully trying not to step in anything messy, and vanished into the room that Quinn was sleeping in. Stacy took a couple of steps back and started fidgeting with her knife nervously.

            “If your story is true then the blutpriester are far more powerful than mainstream vampire society thought they were. I’ve been trying to call my parents and they’re not answering. I’m afraid they might already be dead.”

            “Call them?” Jane asked. “You mean like telepathy?”

            Sandi sighed and pulled her cell phone out of her pocket.

            “Oh.” Jane looked down at Trent, who seemed to have fallen asleep. “What happened to him?”

            “Remember hunter girl’s vampire lesson earlier? She wasn’t completely wrong, our saliva is the most powerful narcotic venom on Earth. The addiction isn’t instant, and it can be overcome, but not often.”

            “He used to be a heroin addict,” Jane whispered.

            “If he kicked that he has a chance to kick this,” Sandi said with a nod. “It’ll be hell, and if he changes his mind I’ll take care of him. I owe all of you at least that much for dragging you into this.”

            “Jack was always a vampire?” Drac asked.

            “Yeah,” Sandi answered. “Little vampires are born just like little humans, although it can be a bit messier.”

            “I knew his mother, I know she was human.”

            “Half breed?” Sandi asked, her voice dripping with disgust.

            “I don’t think she had a choice in the matter,” Drac answered quietly. “Although now I understand a couple of the things she was raving about when she was put down.”

            “I’m sorry,” Sandi said.

            Drac nodded and walked away sadly.

 

            Daria glanced up when Sandi and Stacy entered the room. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding her sister’s hand while she slept.

            “Don’t look at me like that,” Sandi said, flinching from Daria’s gaze.

            “What did you do to her?”

            “Nothing, I swear. I just put her to sleep, she’ll wake up in another couple of hours. She’ll feel a lot better than the rest of us.”

            “Vampire mind tricks?”

            “No, just standard hypnosis. You’d be surprised how easy it is to make somebody forget something they already don’t want to remember.” Sandi sighed and sat on the bed opposite Daria, Quinn resting quietly between them. “She’s my best friend, I wouldn’t hurt her.”

            Daria nodded and glanced over at Stacy, who was still carrying the knife that Tiffany had tried to kill her with. Stacy smiled slightly and shrugged, sitting at the foot of the bed. Sandi took Quinn’s other hand and pulled it to her, looking pensively down at the redhead.

            “She’s in more danger than I am,” Sandi said. “They want me to kill her as part of a ceremony. My family is one of the oldest and most noble houses, but we’ve been going by lesser titles for generations because we refuse the ceremony, and you can’t claim royal title without it.”

            “Mystical hoo-do?” Daria asked.

            “Ancient custom,” Sandi said, rolling her eyes. “I really prefer hanging out with humans, but you guys have some really weird ideas about us. Look, I’m still just Sandi Griffin, I’m the same girl you were friends with a couple of hours ago.”

            “I wasn’t your friend a couple of hours ago,” Daria said, smirking.

            “You know what I mean.”

            Daria sighed and stood. “I’m going to go check on everybody else, ok?”

            “Ok. Where can I get a shower?”

            “Down the hall, first door on the right,” Daria said before leaving the room.

            “Hey, Sandi?” Stacy asked.

            “What?”

            “Did you see Jane’s hair?”

            “Yes, but as guests in her home we have an obligation to over look such travesties in coloration.”

            “Right, ok.” Stacy took a deep breath. “But, it was . . . it was . . . all splotchy.”

            “You may speak to her about it privately later, if there’s time. We can help her, if she’ll let us.”

 

            Jane tucked Trent into bed and then dropped to the floor, her muscles aching with the effort of hauling him down the hall and into his room. She’d asked Nick and Jesse to help and they’d just stood there, staring at her. They were probably freaked about seeing Max get killed, but they still should do something other than just stand in the damn hall.

            “Jane?” Daria asked from the doorway.

            “Hey, amiga.” Jane patted a mostly clear piece of the floor nearby. “Come in, pull up a chair.”

            Daria entered and dropped to the floor next to Jane. “How is he?” she asked.

            “Asleep,” Jane answered with a shrug.

            “I’m sorry about Tom, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

            “You probably weren’t.” Jane sighed heavily. “Welcome to the human race. Hell, part of this probably my fault for being so damn convinced you were out to get him in the first place.”

            “I wasn’t, I swear.”

            “I know, Daria. I know.”

            “Look, I say as soon as all this craziness stops we go get a big bowl of ice cream and cry all over each other. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?”

            Jane looked at Daria quizzically.

            “What?”

            “Ok, now I know you’ve gone mad.”

            Daria smirked and stood. “I’m making the rounds, making sure everybody is dealing. We’ll talk more later, ok?”

            “Yeah,” Jane glanced up and asked, “Shouldn’t we call the police or something?”

            “And tell them what?” Daria said with a shrug. “Max’s body has already turned into a desiccated husk, and it’ll be dust by morning. The boy that shot him is long gone by now, I hope.”

            “Daria?”

            “Yeah?”

            “There’s a dead body in my house, my brother may be addicted to undead spit, and Sandi Griffin is vampire royalty. That really does put the whole boyfriend stealing thing into perspective, doesn’t it?”

            Daria nodded and left the room.

 

            Daria stepped out of the kitchen door and walked across the back yard to the dimly lit gazebo. She could see the red haired girl in the moonlight, standing alone and staring up at the stars.

            “Hey,” Daria said. “I brought the first aid kit from the kitchen.”

            “Thanks.” The girl took the kit and, with Daria’s help, cleaned and bandaged the wound on her arm.

            “So, he was your boyfriend?”

            “Yeah. We’ve been together since we realized there was a difference between boys and girls. Turns out he was playing me the whole time.”

            “You couldn’t have known.”

            “I want to take a bath in raw lye.”

            Daria winced and sat down, patting the empty space on the bench. Drac looked down for a moment and then sat. She was nervously running a leather cord through her hands, flipping the small stone disk suspended from it back and forth.

            “What’s that?”

            “Jack’s necklace. It was pretty much the only thing he got from his mother before she snapped and we had to kill her. It originally belonged to his uncle, but he died a long time before we were born. Jack gave it to me a couple of years ago, he said he wanted me to wear it since I was his girl.”

            “Oh.”

            “I’m trying to decide if I should keep it and lie to myself about the way Jack was, or throw it away and admit that I’m an idiot.”

            “I think you should keep it and remember the way you wanted Jack to be, so you can try to find a decent guy when you’re ready.”

            “You always have the best advice,” the girl said, looping the leather cord around her neck and tucking the stone under her shirt. “Thanks.”

            “So, how did you end up getting called Dracula?”

            “Child of the Dragon,” the girl answered. “My mother was called the Red Dragon, after some serial killer that liked to eat people. She was way, way into pyrotechnics and she taught me a lot before she died.”

            Daria nodded.

            “I could really use a good cry right now,” the girl said, and turned towards Daria. Daria put one arm around the girl and held her as she sobbed.

            “Thanks,” Drac said a few minutes later. She wiped her eyes and smiled slightly. “I don’t really feel any better, but I think I can keep going a little longer now.”

            “Warriors should never be ashamed to share their tears,” Daria said.

            “Sergei Kallikov to Melody Powers, when they teamed up against the terrorists that smuggled a suitcase nuke into Berlin.”

            “Yeah,” Daria said. “So I guess I get published in the future, huh?”

            “Sort of,” the girl answered with a shrug, “it’s really more of an oral tradition.”

            “I don’t think I’m going to like the future, it actually sounds worse than I was afraid it would be.”

            “It’s not all bad, if you don’t mind scavenging for food and living in steam tunnels.”

            “How did you build a time machine in a steam tunnel?”

            “A whole lot of spare time, a whole lot of scavenging, and several geniuses cooperating for years. We thought it was completely secret, but the day we were going to start testing it we got raided.”

            “You went through an untested time machine? What if you’d been vaporized or something?”

            “Well, my choices were certain death and probable death.”

            “How,” Daria paused and swallowed nervously, “how did your mother die?”

            “We got caught,” Drac said, her voice dropping to a little-girl whisper. “I was eight years old. I was beaten and fed on by two or three vampires. They let their servants have Mom, for hours.”

            “I’m so sorry,” Daria whispered.

            “They put us in a cell together, chained to the wall. They tossed all our gear into the corner, close enough to see but not close enough to reach. One of the bars on the window was really loose, and Mom yanked it free. She tried to use it to pry the chain out of the wall, or break the chain, or the shackle around her ankle, but nothing would break. She couldn’t even use it to hook any of our stuff, it wasn’t long enough.”

            Daria nodded. The far away look in the girl’s eyes told her that Drac was back in that cell now, reliving the story as she told it.

            “She . . . she broke her foot with the metal bar. Beat it until it was broken enough that she could slip it through the shackle. She got a tube of thermite out of her bag and cut my chain, and then boosted me up to the window. I barely fit through, but I made it. She told me she was going to cut a couple of the bars loose with the thermite and she’d be right behind me. She told me to go ahead and run, get back to the warren where I’d be safe. She said she loved me.”

            Daria nodded and hugged the girl again.

            “I was eight, I believed her. I was a block and a half away when the building exploded. It was the biggest fireball I’ve ever seen.”

            Drac and Daria wept together, and they were not ashamed.

 

***

 

            The sun had barely slipped above the horizon, and it turned the early morning fog into a dazzling, luminescent blanket. A pair of girls trudged through the pearly mist, their hands stuffed into their pockets and their heads down.

            “Tell me again why we’re exposing ourselves like this,” Sandi said petulantly.

            “Because we’re not walking to Virginia, and I don’t trust the Tank or Trent’s car to get us there. That means I need to talk Mom out of her truck, and that means I have to go home and talk to her,” Daria said.

            “But why did you need me along?”

            “Well, I’m hoping that if any of your enemies decide to attack us you can make with the apex predator combat skills and whip some butt. Failing that, there’s a chance they’ll be so focused on kidnapping you that they won’t notice me running away.”

            “No wonder Quinn lied about you being her sister,” Sandi muttered.

            “Excuse me?”

            “You’re a shockingly unpleasant person. I know I’m glad that I’m not your sister, and it makes me feel bad for Quinn that she is.”

            Daria stopped and turned towards the other girl, her expressionless face unreadable.

            “What?”

            “Listen to me, you stuck up bitch,” Daria said. “Allow me to remind you that we are on the run from people who want to kill my sister because of you. Some people I sort of considered friends are dead, or worse, because of you. Someone I definitely considered a friend is now hooked on something worse than heroin, once again: because of you. So next time you decide to open your pretty painted face, take the time to rub your two brain cells together and think about what you’re about to say.”

            Sandi stood on the sidewalk in shock and stared at Daria as she turned and walked away. After a few seconds Sandi shook her head and followed after her, speeding up to a jog in order to close the gap between them. Daria was walking up her driveway by the time Sandi managed to catch up to her and grab her by the arm.

            “What?”

            “Listen, um, Daria, I’m sorry I said that, ok?”

            “Fine,” Daria said, and turned back to the house. She’d barely taken a step before Sandi grabbed her arm again. “Now what?”

            “There’s something wrong,” Sandi said, staring at the house. “I smell blood, a lot of blood.”

            “Mom, Dad.” Daria tried to turn towards her home but Sandi’s steel grip held her in place. “Let go of me!”

            “No. Daria, they’re dead. You can’t help them. That girl’s ex-boyfriend or whatever went to my house and killed my family and then he came here and killed your family. We have to get out of here.”

            “We still need Mom’s truck,” Daria said, staring at the house. “We should probably call the police or something.”

            “I’ll go in and find the keys, you wait here.” Sandi let go of Daria and took a couple of steps forward, then turned back. “The police can’t help us, Daria.”

            “The keys are in a little bowl on the table next to the door,” Daria said dully. “Hurry, ok?”

            Sandi slipped into the house while Daria waited outside, growing more and more nervous as the minutes trickled past. Daria had started walking towards the house when Sandi came back out, the girls meeting next to Helen’s truck.

            “What took you so long?”

            “I had to go to the bathroom,” Sandi said, blushing slightly.

            “You had to what!?”

            “I threw up, ok? Are you happy? The blood drinking creature of the night got sick to her stomach over dead bodies. Do you feel all human and superior now?”

            “Bodies?” Daria said, the blood draining out of her face. “Oh, God. They really are dead, aren’t they?”

            “We already knew that. I’m sorry they’re dead, but right now we need to focus on keeping us alive.”

            “And people say I’m a cold fish.”

            “These people have put me in the position to claim royal title, and they couldn’t have done that without killing my parents, and probably my brothers. They have killed gods only know how many of my family’s friends and allies. They are trying to overthrow my entire culture as a prelude to enslaving yours. I’m not cold, Daria. I’m angry.”

            Daria blinked as Sandi put the truck keys into her hand.

            “I am Alexandra,” Sandi said, standing with her back ramrod straight and lightning flashing in her eyes. “I am Herzogin von Greif, and I will have my revenge. And you, by all the gods, will help me.”

 

            Drac had positioned an armchair where she could have a clear view of the front door, and sat cleaning her pistol. The parts were still spread out on the coffee table when the door opened, admitting Sandi and Daria.

            “Did you get the truck?”

            Daria nodded.

            “I’m sorry about Jake and Helen.”

            “You knew?”

            “No, I suspected. The look on your face when I asked about the truck pretty much confirmed things for me. I didn’t want to say anything before you left in case I was wrong.”

            “Well, you weren’t wrong,” Daria said flatly. “They’re dead.”

            “Who’s dead?” Quinn asked as she walked down the stairs. “Hey, there’s two guys I don’t know hanging around in the hall upstairs. They wouldn’t answer me when I asked who they were.”

            “They’re zombies,” Sandi said. “I’m going to talk to Jane’s brother before I decide what to do with them.”

            “Before you decide?” Quinn asked. “Why do you decide?”

            “It’s a long story,” Sandi said with a sigh.

            “She’s secretly been a vampire all along,” Daria said.

            “Not such a long story after all,” Drac said, smirking as she reassembled her gun.

            “What?” Quinn took a couple of steps back, looking back and forth between Sandi and the windows allowing the bright morning sunlight to stream into the room.

            “I’m going to go talk to Jane’s brother,” Sandi said.

            “Daria,” Quinn said, watching Sandi leave the room. “Please tell me what’s going on.”

            “We got attacked last night while you were asleep, by somebody else from her time,” Daria said, pointing at Drac. “He was a vampire, and he mind controlled Trent and turned the other guys in Trent’s band into zombies. We found out that Sandi is queen of the vampires or something, but she has to kill you in some kind of ritual to claim the title. That’s why they’re after the two of you.”

            “Sandi Griffin, Queen of the Damned,” Quinn said, rolling her eyes. “Somehow I’m not surprised.”

            “Well, what do you think?” Jane asked as she came downstairs. Stacy followed behind her, smiling proudly as Jane fluffed her raven black hair.

            “Much better,” Quinn said.

            “Looks like Stacy repaired the damage I did,” Daria said, looking away.

            “She did a good job, I probably should have taken your advice and called up the fashion fiends in the first place.”

            “I guess so.”

            “Fiends?” Quinn asked, frowning at Jane.

            “Well, it certainly applies to one of you,” Jane said with a smirk. “Or have they not filled you in yet about your buddy, the Dark Lady of Accessorizing?”

            “Daria was about to,” Quinn said, looking at her sister expectantly.

            “We’ve probably got a couple of minutes, Sandi needs to explain to Trent what’s going on with Jesse and Nick,” Daria said sadly.

            “What is going on with Jesse and Nick?” Jane asked. “I got the Reader’s Digest version, but I’d really like to know more. Can we fix them?”

            “Sit down,” Daria said, perching on the arm of the couch.

 

            Trent looked up as the door to his bedroom swung open, admitting the young brunette he’d tried to kidnap a few hours ago. She pushed the door closed and then walked across the room to sit on the edge of his bed. Trent watched with vague interest as she looked around the room, her nose crinkling with disgust at the squalor.

            “Your name is Trent, right?”

            He nodded.

            “How much of this did that guy explain to you?”

            “Jack,” Trent said. “He said his name was Jack.”

            “Whatever, how much of this did Jack explain to you?”

            “He liked to talk, but I think he was a little crazy. When I think of people attacking from the future, I think Arnold Schwarzenegger not . . . you know . . . Bela Lugosi.”

            “Did he tell you about me?”

            “Yeah, crazy plan. You don’t look like a vampire queen to me.”

            “I’m not, and I don’t intend to be. These people are outlaws, religious zealots, and they’re all crazy,” Sandi said. “I want to apologize for what happened to you and your friends, it was because of me.”

            “You’re not the one that did it, so I don’t think you should have to apologize. You seem pretty nice.”

            Sandi laughed bitterly.

            “Look, I think I want to sleep some more. Can you tell Janey that I’m ok?”

            “Trent, we’re leaving soon. That red haired girl has some plan for stopping all this, but we have to drive to Virginia.”

            “You’re not taking the Tank are you? It’ll break down halfway there.”

            “No,” Sandi said, raking her fingers through her hair and glaring down at Trent. “I walked over Quinn’s house with her sister and got their mother’s SUV.”

            Trent’s eyes widened slightly, and he said, “Oh.”

            “Yeah, ‘oh.’ Trent, we you with Jack when he went to their house? Were you with him when he went to my house?”

            Trent rolled over and pulled a pillow over his head. Sandi glared down at the pillow for a moment and then pulled it out of Trent’s grasp and pitched it across the room.

            “I asked you a question.”

            “Yeah, I was with him,” Trent said quietly. “I really want to sleep, ok?”

            “Is my family dead, too?” Sandi asked. She waited a moment for Trent to answer, and then grabbed his shoulder and forced him to roll over and face her. “Are they dead?”

            “Yeah.”

            Sandi stood and crossed her arms, gripping her elbows tightly and blinking rapidly to prevent the tears from falling. She hadn’t cried since elementary school, and she refused to shame herself by weeping now. She walked to the door and stopped, resting one hand on the smooth wooden surface.

            “Are you coming with us? What should we do with your two friends?”

            “Do you think Jack will come back here looking for you again?”

            “Maybe, and if he doesn’t he’ll almost certainly send somebody. He’s probably in touch with the blutpriester by now, and I don’t know how much power they can throw at us.”

            “I’m going to stay here, leave Jesse and Nick with me. Tell Janey that I’ll be ok.”

            “Didn’t you hear me?” Sandi said, turning to glare at the young man stretched out on his bed. “They’re going to attack this house again.”

            Trent sat up and pulled off his necklace, handing the leather cord and small stone disk to Sandi. “Give this to Janey, once you guys are in Virginia. Tell her that I’m going to be ok.”

            “You won’t be forgotten, I promise you.” Sandi put the necklace in her pants pocket and left the room, heading downstairs to where everyone was waiting.

            “We’re packed and ready,” Jane said. “Where’s Trent?”

            “He’s going to stay here, so if the police come by he can throw them off our trail.” Sandi looked over at Drac and briefly shook her head when she saw the red haired girl open her mouth. The two exchanged a short glare, and then Drac looked away with a sad expression.

            “Will he be ok? What if the real bad guys come back?” Jane asked.

            “They’ll know we’ve moved on from here, and they won’t have any reason to attack Trent,” Sandi lied. “He told me to tell you he’d be ok, but he’s trying to sleep right now.”

            “That sounds like Trent,” Daria said.

            “Alright, let’s go,” Drac said.

            Stacy grabbed the bag of spare clothes they’d scrounged up and the group headed outside. Quinn stopped in the Lane driveway, suddenly enough to cause Jane to bump into her, and stared at her mother’s truck.

            “C’mon, Red. Move it or lose it,” Jane said, pressing her fingertips into Quinn’s back between her shoulder blades.

            “Daria was at home this morning,” Quinn said. “She went to get Mom’s SUV.”

            “Brilliant deduction,” Jane said, rolling her eyes.

            “Jane,” Daria said, walking back to where her friend and sister were standing. “Go get in the truck. Quinn and I will be along in a minute.”

            “Ok, amiga. Try to hurry it up, I want to be gone before more trouble shows up.”

            “You went home,” Quinn said, staring accusingly at her sister.

            “We needed a vehicle.”

            “It was Mom and Dad, wasn’t it? You got back here and you said that somebody was dead. Mom and Dad are dead, aren’t they? Those people that are after me and Sandi killed them. Why didn’t you tell me?”

            “Honestly? I was hoping you wouldn’t figure it out.”

            “I’m not child anymore, Daria. I’m not an idiot either, just because I don’t read big books and use four syllabus words.”

            “Quinn . . . .”

            “Shut up.” Quinn clenched her fists and eyes closed tightly as the tears started to run down her face. “Please, just shut up. You’re all the family I have left, so don’t say something arrogant and make me hate you.”

            “I was wrong.”

            “Gonna mark that on my calendar,” Quinn said, blinking at her sister as a small smile peeked out through the tears.

            “We’ll celebrate it every year.” Daria took her sister’s arm and started walking towards the truck. “Sandi actually said something smart, Quinn: they’re dead, but we’re not. We need to make that mean something. When this is over we can grow up and have kids, and we can name them Jake and Helen.”

            “I’m gonna have a little girl, and I’m gonna name her Veronica Helen Pitt.”

            “Pitt?” Daria asked, quirking an eyebrow. “Brad Pitt?”

            “My fantasy, you have to find your own.”

            Daria shook her head and helped Quinn climb into the back seat with Sandi, and then walked to the front of the truck and pulled herself up into the shotgun seat. She looked over at Jane and shrugged, and the artist put the truck in gear and pulled away from the Lane house.

 

            Daria parked the SUV in the driveway and shut off the engine.

            “I’ll just be a minute,” she muttered before climbing out of the vehicle. Her heart hammered as she approached the front door to her home, still standing partially open where Sandi had been in a hurry to get outside.

            She pushed the door open and immediately recoiled from the thick, coppery stench of spilled blood. Covering her face with a sleeve, she walked into the living room and looked around. The television was on, showing the selection menu for one of her father’s John Wayne DVDs. Her parents were sitting on the couch, both facing the TV screen, cuddling together with Jake’s arm thrown over Helen’s shoulders.

            Daria walked around the couch and stared at the stained popcorn bucket and its contents, the popcorn coated in something maroon and sticky that certainly wasn’t caramel. Slowly, she shifted her gaze to her parents and for a moment believed that they were simply asleep. Her analytical mind ruined the illusion by picking up the discrepancies: sleeping people breathe, they usually aren’t a horrid bluish pale, and generally aren’t covered in blood stains.

            “Does this make me look fat?”

            Daria jerked at the sudden speech, magnified by the silence of the house, and looked towards the kitchen doorway. Tiffany stood there waiting expectantly for an answer in her powder blue dress, a bright steel knife hanging limply from one hand. Daria took a step backwards when she saw the dark brown stains on Tiffany’s hands and around her mouth.

            “What does a smart brain taste like?” Tiffany drawled as she began walking across the living room. Her strides were stiff and jerky, but filled with purpose as she drew nearer to her victim.

            Daria ran for the door, pulling it open and sprinting out into the sunlight. She locked eyes with Jane for an instant before a red and gray mess exploded across the inside of the windshield. Daria barely registered the sound of the gunshot before she started shrieking.

            Tiffany’s bloodstained, claw-like hand landed on Daria’s shoulder with a grip of iron and began shaking her back and forth.

            “Daria,” Tiffany shouted in her ear. “Daria, wake up!”

            Daria jerked forward in the passenger’s seat of the SUV, crying out in pain as shoulder belt bit into her left breast.

            “That’s gonna leave a mark,” Jane said from beside her.

            “You were making this high pitched wheezing noise,” Stacy said, leaning forward between the seats. “I thought you were having a nightmare.”

            “I was,” Daria said, leaning back in her seat and trying to relax. “Thanks for waking me up.”

            “You’re welcome,” Stacy said, smiling brightly.

            “Must have been a bad one. Are you ok, amiga?”

            “I’ll live, I guess.” Daria tried to put the dream out of her mind but something kept nagging at her. She frowned and closed her eyes as she let the images spool across her mind again, trying to figure out what her subconscious was telling her. Abruptly, she turned in her seat and called out, “Hey, Sandi?”

            “What?” the brunette snapped. She and Quinn were sitting in the very rear of the vehicle, something that Sandi had complained about for the first hour of the trip. She’d only stopped when Jane had threatened to pull over and put her out on the side of the road.

            “Did you make Tiffany into a zombie?”

            Everyone in the vehicle grew silent as Sandi, her eyes wide with shock, slowly shook her head.

            “Did you know she was a zombie?”

            “I just thought her parents got her a subscription. Tiffany was very high strung back in middle school, she used to get in trouble for being hyperactive.”

            “Prescription,” Daria said with a small sigh.

            “Whatever.”

            “So if you didn’t make her into a zombie, who did? When did it happen, and why?”

            “I don’t know,” Sandi said in a small voice.

            “My guesses,” Drac said, “is that it was one of your enemies, early in your freshman year, so they could spy on you.”

            “It happened right after that party Brittany threw, right after Daria and Quinn moved to Lawndale. I knew something wasn’t right,” Stacy said. “Nobody believed me.”

            “Yes, Stacy,” Sandi said, glaring at her friend. “You were right all along, ok? Now can we focus on the problem at hand?”

            “Sorry.”

            “Honestly, I’m not so sure it’s a problem anymore,” Drac said with a shrug. “She’s dead now, so they aren’t learning anything new about you. Any old information they got, the damage is done now and no good will come from worrying about it.”

            “Yeah,” Sandi said, slowly slumping back in her seat. “I guess you’re right.”

            “Guys, we have a problem,” Jane said, looking in the rear view mirror. Everyone turned and looked out the back glass at the highway patrol car that had pulled up behind them.

            “Were you speeding?” Daria asked.

            “No. All your tail lights and the license plate good?”

            “Yeah.” Daria’s voice dropped and she continued, “Maybe somebody found my parents, and the police are looking for the SUV.”

            “We have some of influence with the police,” Sandi said. “Maybe somebody sent him to help us.”

            “That’s likely,” Drac said rolling her eyes.

            “You think he’s working for the people trying to kill us?” Stacy asked.

            “That’s how my luck usually goes.”

            “Maybe he’s friendly,” Quinn said. “I mean, who said he has to be working for secret masters full of evil and stuff?”

            “There’s the blue lights,” Jane said. “What do I do, amiga?”

            “I am not letting us get locked up,” Daria said. “I don’t think we’ll survive it.”

            “Go ahead and pull over,” Drac said. “If this is a routine traffic stop no need to raise any red flags. If it’s not, I can put him down.”

            “No killing the cops,” Daria said.

            “I didn’t say I was going to kill him.”

            Everyone in the truck grew silent as Jane pulled over into the emergency lane and slowed to a stop. The police car pulled in behind them, and the state patrol officer stepped out of his car. Jane rolled down her window as he walked towards them and looked out at the officer with the brightest smile she could manage.

            “What seems to be the problem, officer?” she asked.

            “License and registration, please.”

            “Sure.” Jane started fishing around in her shorts pocket for her license and nodded towards the glove compartment. “Daria, could you grab the registration?”

            “Daria Morgendorffer?” the policeman asked.

            “Yeah,” Daria said, pausing with her hand on the knob of the glove compartment. “It’s my mother’s truck.”

            “I know.”

            The policeman’s hand dropped to the butt of his pistol, bringing the gun back up with a blur of motion. Drac opened her door and leaned out, pulling her pistol out from under her coat almost as fast as the officer drew his. With a cry of alarm, Jane lurched forward in her seat and twisted to block the man’s view of her best friend. Daria heard a loud boom, and was spattered with hot fluid. The window beside her cracked as the cop’s bullet hit it and left a small hole.

            Drac stepped out onto the asphalt and kicked the patrolman’s corpse away from the truck. She holstered her pistol and opened the driver’s side door, immediately grabbing Jane’s wrist and checking her pulse.

            “She’s alive.”

            Daria blinked and looked down at herself. Her jacket was covered in Jane’s blood, and she could feel it running down her face. Somehow, miraculously, her glasses were still completely clean.

            “We have to move,” Drac said. “We can’t stay here.”

            “Quinn,” Daria said, “open the back of the truck and throw out the rear bench seat. You and Sandi get to sit up front now, I need you to drive.”

            “Ok,” Quinn answered, turning to follow her sister’s instructions.

            Daria opened her door and quickly moved around to help Drac pull Jane out of the driver’s seat. Carefully, they carried her around to the rear of the vehicle and lifted her inside.

            “Everything up here is covered in blood,” Sandi said, frowning at the passenger’s seat.

            “Deal with it,” Daria snapped. She stripped her jacket off and used it to pillow Jane’s head. “The bullet went clean through, we need to apply pressure to both sides. Stacy, get into the spare clothes bag and hand me a couple of shirts.”

            “Ok.”

            “And give me something to clean up here with,” Quinn said. “I’m not sitting in all this mess, no offense.”

            “Ok.”

            “Looks like it didn’t hit anything vital,” Drac said, cutting away the arm of Jane’s shirt with her knife. “Her shoulder is going to be useless for a while, though.”

            “You know medicine?” Daria asked.

            “I’m a passable field medic. She needs a hospital, she’s lost a lot of blood and she’ll need to get her shoulder put back together,” Drac said, as Stacy passed her the requested shirts.

            “I’m not going to let her die,” Daria murmured, helping pad and bind the bullet holes.

            “Glad to hear it,” Jane said, her voice a harsh whisper. “Did I do good, boss?”

            “No, you did lousy. You should have let me get shot instead.”

            “Listen, Daria . . . .”

            “Yeah?”

            “If I don’t make it, I need you to do something for me.”

            “What?”

            “Kick Tom in the balls.”

            Daria chuckled weakly.

            “I’m serious.”

            “Why don’t you just not die and then you can do it yourself. We still have to sit down and have that ice cream, remember?”

            “Yeah,” Jane said, her voice drifting off as her eyes fluttered and closed. Daria’s eyes got huge as the color drained out of her face.

            “She’s still got a pulse,” Drac said quickly. “It’s weak, but it’s not getting any weaker. She’ll be ok for a little while.”

            “Everybody ready to go?” Quinn called out from the driver’s seat. She didn’t wait for anyone to reply, and immediately began accelerating back to freeway speeds leaving the patrol car and dead officer behind them.

            “This is going to end badly, isn’t it?” Stacy asked.

            “It did last time,” Drac answered.

            “Sandi, give me your phone,” Daria said.

            Sandi pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and handed it to Stacy, who passed it to Daria. Daria flipped the phone open and dialed a number from memory.

            “This is Daria,” she said when the other end was picked up. “We’re coming to visit you. I don’t want to talk about it over a cell phone, but have your first aid kit ready when we get there. I don’t have time to explain, Amy . . . I have to keep applying pressure. No, we can’t go to the hospital and I think there’s a reason we’re coming to you. See you in about ten minutes.”

            Daria punched the call end button and tossed the phone back to Sandi.

            “There’s a lot you haven’t told us, isn’t there?” Daria asked, pitching her voice low enough that only Drac could hear.

            “Yes, but I’m following someone else’s advice on what not to talk about.”

            “Good advice?”

            “She always gave me the best.”

            In the front of the truck, Sandi was taking the opportunity to make a phone call of her own. “Charles, this is Sandi. I need to you call the Rat der Älterer, tell them to convene as soon as possible, I need to address them.”

            Sandi’s eyes narrowed as the other person responded.

            “I don’t care if they’re not going to like it, I have the right to call them as Herzogin von Greif and they will answer if they respect the traditions . . . no, the title is mine, my mother is dead. We’re under attack, Charles. The blutpriester are trying to take over, and you know what that’s going to mean for the humans.”

            Sandi sighed and closed her eyes.

            “I know, at least you have some sway with the council. Maybe together we can . . . no, I’m not claiming Königin . . . I’m not going to be murderess for political expediency. Ok, call me back when you know something.”

            Sandi closed her phone and stared out at the road thoughtfully.

            “Was that Upchuck?” Quinn asked.

            “Hmm? Oh, yeah.”

            “He’s a vampire, too?”

            “Yeah, he’s the Graf Rotenjäger. His family and mine were the only vampires in Lawndale. I hope he can get the elders to listen to reason, they’re usually a bunch of crotchety old bats.”

            “Why would they listen to him?”

            “He does a lot of footwork for the elders, so they like him. Besides, Charles is like eighty years old, he just really likes the modern youth culture.”

            “So the whole ‘rawr, feisty’ thing is just an act?”

            “No,” Sandi said with a small frown. “He’s pretty much a pervy freak.”

            “He’s eighty and he hits on teenage girls. I’m going to be sick.” Quinn frowned and glanced over at her best friend. “Um . . . Sandi?”

            “Seventeen, just like I said at my party last month.”

            “But if Charles is that much older than you . . . .”
            “I’m going to look exactly like this for quite a while, Quinn.”

            “I hate you,” Quinn said, scowling at the road.

            Sandi smiled smugly to herself and settled back in her seat.

 

            Quinn parked the SUV in her aunt’s driveway, pulling to a stop right behind Amy’s little red convertible. As soon as she turned the engine off the doors opened and the girls climbed out of the truck. Daria popped the back hatch and dropped to the ground, and then walked around to where everyone else had gathered.

            “Sandi, can you stay with Jane?” Daria asked. “Make sure nothing happens to her.”

            “Ok.”

            “Oh, and Sandi,” Daria said as the other girl started to turn away.

            “What?”

            “No snacking.”

            Sandi rolled her eyes and walked around to the back of the truck, climbing in to sit next to the unconscious artist.

            “Why aren’t we bringing her in with us?” Quinn asked.

            “I like to look before I leap,” Daria said as she started walking towards the front of the house. The others fell in behind her and they approached the front door as a group.

            “The door is busted,” Drac said, pulling her pistol. After a moment’s hesitation she handed the gun to Daria and twitched her wrists, her fighting batons dropping out of her sleeves and into her hands. Stacy held up the knife she’d been carrying around like a talisman, and Quinn hefted a huge automatic pistol in a two-handed grip.

            “Where did you get a gun?” Daria asked with a frown.

            “I took it off the dead policeman,” Quinn said with a shrug. “I didn’t think he’d need it anymore.”

            “Do you know how to use one of those?” Stacy asked, her eyes huge as she stared at the pistol.

            “I’m from Texas,” Quinn said with a smirk, drawling her words for effect.

            “We had safety courses as kids,” Daria said. “Now can we please go find out if Amy is dead or not?”

            “Sorry,” Stacy said, shifting away slightly.

            “Quinn, you go right and I’ll go left. Drac, Stacy: don’t get in front of us. Let’s go.” Daria nudged the door with the toe of her boot and moved in as it swung open, quickly moving out of her sister’s way.

            Back in the SUV, Sandi’s phone started to ring. She flipped it open and didn’t recognize the number, and pushed the answer button with a frown.

            “Hello?”

            “My name is Amy Barksdale,” a woman said in a rushed and slightly out of breath voice. “Is Daria Morgendorffer there?”

            “No, she just went into your house.”

            “Shit. I’m calling from the safe room, because my house is currently crawling with armed intruders. I was hoping to catch you all before you got here.”

            Sandi’s eyes narrowed. “Is there a young guy with them? Dark hair, bad cut on his face, black sweater, leather trench coat?”

            “Yeah,” Amy said, sounding confused. “What kind of trouble are you girls in, anyway?”

            Sandi snapped her phone shut and jumped down to the ground, pausing only to turn and make sure the back hatch was closed and locked. With a determined expression she walked towards the house.

            Inside, Daria and Quinn glanced at each other nervously and then back at the men they’d surprised in their aunt’s living room. The half dozen men stared back at them stoically, four of them holding large knives identical to the one Stacy carried and the other two wielding pump-action shotguns. Strangely, they were all dressed in identical brown robes.

            “I know you guys aren’t Jedi,” Daria said, quirking an eyebrow.

            “Silence, cow.”

            Quinn scowled at the man who’d spoken and started to raise her gun in his direction. She stopped when one of the men holding a shotgun rotated and pointed his weapon at her.

            “Now, now,” Jack said, entering the room from the hallway. “Let’s not start shooting up the place, hmm?”

            “You killed our parents,” Daria said flatly. “Why shouldn’t we start shooting?”

            “Mainly because we’ll survive getting shot,” Jack said with a smirk. “As I recall, humans leak all over the place when you go punching holes in them.”

            “Not a bad proposition for you, I suppose.”

            “Do I look like somebody that eats off the floor? Please, I have some standards.” Jack looked at Drac and smirked broadly. “At least, I have standards when it comes to what I eat.”

            “I’m going to cut out your tongue and feed it to a dog,” Drac said, glaring hatefully at her ex-boyfriend.

            “We can get into your fantasy life later,” Jack said. “In the mean time, you have two things that I want. Give them to me and all of you will live a little longer.”

            “What two things?”

            “First, I want that data drive you’ve got around your neck. Second, I want you to tell the woman that lives here to come out of her vault. If she doesn’t, I’m going to start killing girls while she watches on her security monitors. Assuming she has security monitors, because if she doesn’t then she probably doesn’t know I’m threatening you.” Jack smirked again. “That would be unfortunate, of course.”

            “Oh, we are so done,” Quinn said. She quickly took a step to her right and dropped to one knee behind a recliner. As she moved, she stared squeezing off shots from her pistol, the thunderous noise reverberating in the air as huge holes exploded in the wall behind the robed men.

            The men scattered, while the two armed with shotguns returned fire. Daria and Drac dove behind the couch while Stacy screamed incoherently and dropped to the floor in a heap. Jack pulled his own gun and started blowing holes in the couch, his aim being ruined by the constant need to dodge all the bullets Quinn was sending towards his end of the room.

            Two of the knife wielding cultists charged around the couch only to meet Drac’s batons and feral grin. The men began a deadly dance with the slim redhead, escrima and blades whirring through the air while flesh and blood evaded attack as best it could.

            Daria peered over the back of the couch and fired off a few shots of her own, missing more than hitting but still doing better than Quinn. Her heart leapt when she saw Amy lurking in the shadows of the hallway, occasionally leaning out to add a few more bullets to the storm.

            The front door swung partially open, stopping when it hit Stacy, and Sandi came into the house. She dropped to one knee and rolled Stacy over onto her back, then pressed her fingers to Stacy’s throat checking for a pulse.

            Stacy’s hands were clutched over her blood soaked blouse, and her eyes fluttered open at Sandi’s touch. “Guess . . . I died . . . after all . . . huh?”

            “Shh,” Sandi said, trying not to look at the wound. “You’re gonna be ok. I need to borrow your knife for a minute, ok?”

            Stacy nodded, and reached out with one bloody hand to lift the blade from the floor and pass it to Sandi. “I . . . want it . . . back . . . ok?”

            “I promise,” Sandi said. “You rest, I’ll be right back.”

            Her eyes stinging, Sandi stood and walked calmly through the hail of bullets. She stepped over one robbed man as he lay on the floor clutching at his legs and screaming. Another lunged at her with a knife, but before he could strike he was shot by Quinn and the force of the bullet knocked him to the ground. Sandi closed in on her quarry, Jack, as he slumped against the wall grimacing in pain from the several bullets Daria had put into him. He looked shocked when Sandi plunged the knife into his stomach.

            “Mein Reich ist überall wohin das Feuer nicht sieht,” Sandi said calmly, and then jerked the knife upwards to his sternum. “Meine Krone wurde geschmiedet aus dem Eisen des Weltbergs und gehärtet im Blute eines Tier.” She yanked the knife free and blinked to clear her eyes of the bright red spray that followed the blade. “Ich bin Alexandra von Greif, die Königin der Lüfte und der Finsternis.” With one sharp motion she drew the blade across Jack’s throat, bathing herself in another jet of red arterial blood.

            The room was silent. The two remaining robed men dropped their knives and fell to their knees, staring at Sandi with wide and frightened eyes. Quinn and Daria stood quietly while Drac walked over to look down at Jack’s dead body.

            “Was sollen wir mit den Gefangenen machen, eure Majestät?” Amy asked, keeping her pistol aimed at the kneeling men.

            “Hold them for now,” Sandi said mechanically. “They’ll be tried and punished later.”

            “This is for you,” Drac said, pulling the flash drive from underneath her sweater and handing it to Amy. “You sent me back in time to deliver this to you. You said it had all the information you needed to stop the vampires from taking over.”

            “We aren’t taking over,” Sandi said. “I’ll be meeting with the elders later to chart the best course, but we’re going public. We shouldn’t have to hide in the shadows any more.”

            “Amy, what’s going on?” Daria asked. “Who are you . . . really?”

            “That’s complicated,” Amy said with a sigh.

            Sandi walked over and knelt down next to Stacy, carefully placing the bloody knife in her hand. Before anyone could say anything the windows exploded, showering broken glass and heavily armed men into the room.

            “Nobody move!”

            “The situation is under control,” Amy said. “Captain, I need these two men in the dock immediately, and handle them like they’re on PCP. I need a medical evac for the girl on the floor, and then call me a clean up team.”

            “Yes, ma’am. You heard the lady, people . . . get to work.”

            Daria and Quinn exchanged a confused look as the men, dressed in all black with their faces covered and wearing heavy body armor, slung their short rifles and started hustling around the living room.

            “My friend Jane is outside in the truck,” Daria said. “She’s hurt.”

            “Captain, make that a medevac for two.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            “Girls, I need you to come with me,” Amy said. “These gentlemen work better without us getting in the way.”

            “Quinn,” Sandi said. “Can you go with Stacy? I . . . I have to make a lot of phone calls. Let me know if she . . . if she . . . .”

            “I’ll call as soon as I know something,” Quinn said, putting one hand on Sandi’s shoulder. “You do what you have to do. Same for you Daria, as soon as I know something about Jane I’ll call.”

            Amy walked back down the hallway, leading Daria, Sandi, and Drac through the master bedroom and into a small room with a door that looked like it came off a bank vault.

            “This is my safe room,” Amy said. “I came in here and called the strike team when those guys kicked in my front door. Then I tried to call you and warn you not to come into the house. I guess I should have made my calls in the other order, huh?”

            “Please explain all this,” Daria said.

            “You already know too much,” Amy said with a sigh. “But, as they say: in for a penny, in for a pound. Have a seat on the futon and pay attention, and you’ll figure out what’s going on.”

            Amy sat down in front of a computer and plugged in the data drive. She spent a couple of minutes looking over the information while Daria and Drac sat quietly and waited. Sandi spent the time on her phone, holding a succession of short but intense conversations in German. After she was satisfied with the data, Amy brought up another program on the desktop and adjusted her microphone and webcam.

            “Computer, activate communication protocol twenty-three,” she said, leaning forward a little to speak into the microphone. “Voice authorization: Barksdale, Amy Elizabeth, code name: Victoria Frankenstein, clearance: majestic-one-two.”

            After a second the computer beeped and a friendly sounding male voice replied, “Voice authorization accepted, communication being established. Cheer up, Amy . . . things could always be worse, you could be on fire.”

            “Everybody’s a comedian,” Amy muttered.

            “Did you say Majestic Twelve?” Daria asked numbly.

            “I’ll explain later, promise.” Amy quickly turned back to the computer as the screen filled with the image of an unamused looking black man wearing a brown t-shirt. “Kyle, it’s so nice to see you. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

            “The cadets needed a break anyway,” he replied. “I heard you had to call in a strike team, is everything squared away or do you need some real soldiers to come in and clean up another Company mess?”

            “Well, things are mostly quadrilateral at the moment and no doubt the boys are squaring things off as we speak. I called because I just had a whole other problem dropped in my lap and I wanted a psychologist’s opinion before I call up the Chairman.”

            “What? Not a military opinion?”

            “You know what you can do with your military opinion,” Amy said with a small smirk.

            “Alright, alright. I don’t mind sharing my expertise, but I’d like to know who those three girls sitting behind you are before we get into this.”

            “I’m not breaking operational security,” Amy said, reaching under her glasses to rub her eyes. “Those three know more about the situation than we do at the moment. In fact, you could say that they are the situation.”

            “Very well, please proceed.”

            “You remember my report that we’d discovered evidence of a multi-generational, international secret society that had been operating at least since the beginning of the second millennium?”

            “Yes, I recall your high speed rant when Dr. Ravenhurst started making Illuminatus references.”

            “Creepy old coot,” Amy muttered. “Well, it turns out the evidence was interpreted correctly, but it’s weirder than I thought. Surprise, the secret society is actually a species of hemophagic anthromorphs able to pass themselves off as humans. At this point I’m expecting some sort of evolutionary link between us and them, but we’re really going to have to get some geneticists in on this.”

            “Wait, wait,” Kyle said, holding up one hand. “Are you trying to say the human race has been infiltrated by vampires? That’s crazy, Barksdale.”

            Sandi rose and walked across the room to stand behind Amy, peering down at the computer screen with a frown. “I’ll expect to see you along with all the other Älterer tomorrow,” she said. “I left you a voice mail message since you weren’t answering your phone. I’ve ascended to the throne, and I’m leading us out of hiding and into the twenty-first century.”

            Amy’s jaw dropped as the man on the screen blinked in surprise and then grinned widely.

            “It’s about time we got rid of that stupid policy,” Armalin said. “Just don’t let that crown swell your head, kid.”

            “I have no intention of wearing a literal crown,” Sandi said, rolling her eyes. “Those things are so hard to accessorize around.”

            “You,” Amy said, pointing at the screen and glaring.

            “I have to go corral some public relations experts and figure out a way to prevent this from creating a panic or a backlash. You ladies have a nice day, I’ll be in touch later this evening or tomorrow morning.” The man tapped an off screen control panel and the video cut out.

            Daria glanced around and realized Drac had vanished at some point during the shocking conversation. She stuck one hand into the pocket of her jacket and discovered that the redhead’s pistol was also missing. With a frown Daria stood and slipped out of the room, leaving Sandi and Amy in deep conversation.

            She walked into the living room and glanced around at the devastation. Glass from the broken windows sparkled on the floor, the dark stains from the blood that had splashed everywhere, the walls were perforated with bullet holes large and small, and the air was filled with a white haze of stuffing from the blown apart cushions on the couch and chairs. Daria wrinkled her nose at the smell of gunpowder, blood, and death that permeated the room.

            The kitchen gleamed spotlessly by comparison, and as she passed through it Daria wondered if her aunt did any cooking here. The back door was unlocked, and she walked out onto the porch and found the girl she’d been seeking. The little redhead stood quietly at the far side of the porch, holding her pistol in one hand and lightly stroking it with the other.

            “What are you doing, Veronica?”

            The girl jerked upright and turned, staring at Daria with a shocked expression. “How do you know my real name?”

            “Your mother told me, just before we left Jane’s house,” Daria said. “Quinn is your mother, isn’t she?”

            “Yes . . . no . . . maybe,” Veronica looked down at the porch’s wooden floor. “I don’t know, is she?”

            “That’s for the two of you to decide.”

            “My whole life has been terror, and pain, and loss, and now it doesn’t matter because none of it ever happened.” Veronica looked up and Daria saw the unshed tears sparkling in her eyes. “Am I even a person anymore?”

            “A wise cartoon character once said that time travel is a cornucopia of disturbing concepts, and he wasn’t wrong. What you remember happening, happened for you. It’s your life and nothing can take it away from you.”

            “I wouldn’t say nothing.”

            “You listen to me, young lady,” Daria said, her voice suddenly stern and authoritive. “Your mother died so you could live, and I don’t think she’d be happy if you threw that away just because things got a little hard.”

            “A little hard?” Veronica asked, her voice choking between a sob and a chuckle. “Everyone and everything I ever knew is gone, and I’m all alone. What do you expect me to do?”

            “I always give good advice, right?”

            Veronica nodded.

            Daria closed the distance between them, walking slowly but steadily. She carefully pulled the gun out of the redhead’s hand and set it aside, and then pulled the younger girl into a hug.

            “If you are going through hell,” Daria whispered, “Keep going. A great man said that a long time before you were born, and his entire country was nearly wiped off the face of the Earth. They kept going, and they survived, and they became prosperous . . . and so can you.”

            “Do you think I can?”

            “No, I know you can.”

 

***

 

            “Wow, Daria. That sounded incredible, and I’m really sorry about your parents,” Jodie said, leaning back in her office chair. She held the phone to her head, the text books spread out across her desk forgotten.

            “I know, I wish I could tell you more about what happened but parts of it are . . . well, let’s just say that I know stuff that can get me shot now.”

            “I saw Sandi’s press conference,” Jodie said. “At first I thought it was some kind of weird joke, but then the government took it all completely seriously. Of course, the very next day Ms. Li held an assembly to talk about the glory and honor Sandi was bringing to Lawndale High as a world leader.”

            “Why am I not surprised,” Daria said in her old, flat voice. “How are things going for you?”

            “Oh, well . . . you know me. I’ve always got to be the leader of the pack, and that’s actually a lot easier now that you’re not here. No offense.”

            “None taken. We probably won’t be back, Jodie. Quinn and I are staying with our aunt now, so we’ll be going to school down here in Virginia. Can you give everyone my regards?”

            “No, I’m not that rude. I will tell them you said hello, though.”

            Daria chuckled quietly.

            “Daria . . . how’s Jane?”

            “She’s having a rough time getting over her brother’s death. Plus, she lost a lot of use of her right arm because it was tourniquetted too long, but the doctors say that she should recover almost full use with therapy.”

            “At least she’s not dead.”

            “That’s pretty much what she said, plus she’s been flirting up a storm with one of my aunt’s coworkers, a guy named Armalin. She’s hoping for some kind of top secret military cyber limb or something, but he’s pretty much ignoring the bait she keeps trawling in front of him.”

            “That sounds like Jane. How’s your sister’s friend?”

            “Stacy? She’s still in the hospital, but they say she’ll live to curse the physical therapist as well.”

            “That’s good. Hey, if you talk to Sandi can you ask her to call me? There’s some stuff I’d really like to talk about with her.”

            “I’ll pass on the message next time I see the Lady Bathory.”

            “Thanks, Daria. Well, it was great talking to you but I’ve got a ton of homework staring at me.”

            “Take care, Jodie.”

            Jodie hung up her phone and stared at it pensively for a moment, until her reverie was broken by a light knock at her door.

            “Come in.”

            “Hey, Jodie.” Her father leaned in through the door and smiled down at her. “I apologize for intruding, but was that your gloomy friend with the glasses?”

            “Yes, it was. I asked her to put me in touch with Griffin just like you asked me to, I’m sure she’ll do her best.”

            “Good, good. It’s been generations since there was a Blood Queen, but our patience has been rewarded. Soon, we’ll have the revenge we’ve been waiting for so long.” Andrew’s smile widened, perhaps a little more than should be possible without suffering discomfort. His dark eyes flickered, and slowly lightened to a bright liquid gold color.

            Jodie returned her father’s smile with interest as her teeth seemed to extend slightly and sharpen, and her eyes brightened to the same color.

 

 

            Disclaimers: Stereo Hifi font is ©1997 by Cathy Davies. This story based on characters and situations created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis. The Daria TV show is a trademark of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc. and is referenced here without permission, and without profit. Original characters and situations created by the author are under (K) – all rights reversed. Hail Eris.

 

            Author’s Note: English/ German translation assistance provided by BlackHole, many thanks.

 

            Author: The NightGoblyn