When sanity returned, it arrived like a lens suddenly snapping everything into focus. Daniel recoiled, stepping back and straightening from where he’d found himself. “What the hell am I…” No. No, there was no question as to what he was doing: the lack of sanity hadn’t included a lack of memory. He remembered all of it.
The alleyway. The bearded man who moved too fast to be real, who’d claimed he had found Daniel near death and then proceeded to try to kill him.
Succeeded, Daniel corrected himself. I’m fairly confident he succeeded. Daniel scrubbed a hand through his hair. He’d always figured he’d go out in a fight. He hadn’t figured on coming back after. I always thought life tested you until you failed. Does that make this the extra credit section? Daniel chuckled darkly to himself. He almost used his hands to rub his face, too, but stopped himself in time. His hands were filthy.
Daniel looked down at them, and then past them at the mess on the ground. Torn open plastic and cloth littered the floor, along with stray tufts of cotton. It looked like someone had torn open a coccoon — or the world’s most macabre baked potato — to get at its contents. Which, in fact, Daniel had.
Daniel could remember fading into darkness while the bearded vampire had drained his blood. After that there wasn’t much: fierce, angry dreams about running rampant; finding the bearded man and ripping his throat out with his teeth. The next thing he remembered was waking up with a pillow pressed over his face and madness running his mind. Or maybe it was just that madness had been running his body. His mind had seemed intact, just locked away, beneath the insanity that sent Daniel leaping at a stranger with the intent to tear him limb from limb and feast on his flesh.
If you could call his awareness at the time a ‘mind,’ anyway: Daniel hadn’t even been able to react to what was happening. Not as himself, at least. He hadn’t been able to think so much as he’d just been observing. And all of his reactions to what he’d observed and what he’d done were just catching up to him now with his sanity’s return.
So, he’d tried to kill someone. Daniel could deal with that: he’d done it often enough with the government’s sanction, in his past. And besides, if the pillow was any indication then the man Daniel had tried to murder had been trying to murder him, first. Daniel could deal with that, too: it wasn’t the first time he’d been on the wrong side of a killing intent. As far as he was concerned that just made it all a matter of fair’s fair. Though eating the stranger’s corpse might have been over the top, if he’d gotten the chance to.
Which he hadn’t. Daniel shook his head, reliving his memories. The bearded man had appeared again and shot him. How many bullets had Daniel taken? He looked down at himself, and although he found holes in his shirt there weren’t any in his skin. He definitely shot me, though. I healed? Daniel wasn’t stupid. He didn’t like what his memories were telling him, but he wasn’t one to go into denial. Denial of the facts just screwed people over. REMFs might be able to afford living in their own little world, but the people at the sharp end of the stick couldn’t.
I’m dead. Undead. Not a vampire, though. Daniel’s sanity hadn’t come back because he’d drank anyone’s blood.
Daniel looked back down at the mess on the floor. “Damn, but it sucks to be you,” he said to the ripped apart remains of the charred corpse he’d torn into in his madness. He’d had to crack through a crust of char and ash in order to get at what flesh remained inside.
It didn’t take much for Daniel to put two and two together. “You must be Salvatore, then?” he said to the remains of his meal. The pieces fit with the story that Abigail had told him: a burnt body wrapped in a quilt wrapped in garbage bags. And that meant that Daniel had ended up in the vampire’s house, where Abigail had been staying. In which case, if Daniel had to guess — which it looked like he did — then that probably meant the bearded vampire who’d killed him had been the Director Abigail had run off to meet. “I’d apologize for turning you into an entrée, but, frankly, according to my personal guardian angel you’re a murdering douchebag,” Daniel said to the corpse. “So: fuck you, sir.”
Daniel grimaced. He wasn’t usually one for casual cursing, despite being a career soldier and having been in plenty of situations where it would have been warranted. He looked at his hands and his grimace deepened. They really were filthy: a combination of soot and the slimy remains of partially rotted flesh clung to them. He wiped them off on his pants and sighed.
So, after getting shot up Daniel had been locked in. He’d spent a while pounding and clawing at the door — because the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. He hadn’t gotten himself out, and eventually he’d heard a snap on the other side of the door. Then silence. And then…
…then that crazy part of him had lost interest in the door and what lay beyond it. Whoever had been on the other side had left, and somehow Daniel’s madness had been able to tell that there was food closer by. That had been when he’d started to wander through the big basement room, following his nose to the door leading into the back room. That door had proven easier to break down, not that Daniel’s insanity had cared.
And then he’d found the corpse in the back and proceeded to eat until his sanity returned.
“Well, hell,” Daniel muttered. “Isn’t this a right mess?”
And yet, disturbing though his last meal had been, he felt…
In fact, Daniel hadn’t felt like this since…
Not since I was eighteen, he realized. The last time he’d felt alive had been earlier that day, when he’d kicked a troll in its head and sent a message to Archarel. But he hadn’t felt this good in far, far longer — not since he’d been a kid with a rifle in his hands and a country behind him, and no doubts as to who was good or who was bad or whether or not he and his buddies would make it home alive.
It was like the rush of adrenaline he usually only got in a fight wouldn’t shut off. He didn’t hurt, he didn’t ache; he felt incredible. Strong. Energetic. Ready to take on the damn world all over again.
But first he had to deal with that bearded vampire.
Daniel wasn’t dumb. He knew how misleading the rush of adrenaline could be. He knew that however good he felt, he was in trouble: whoever that vampire had been, he’d been trying to frame Abigail for Daniel’s murder. Coming back from the dead had probably put a crimp in that plan for the moment, but Daniel doubted it would be enough to derail it entirely. In his experience, no one casually murdered someone else. Not in person, anyway. Anyone who was willing to see someone else dead would also be willing to put in the effort to make sure it stuck. And that kind of dedicated motivation probably went into framing someone for murder, too.
So. Daniel was in trouble, and so was Abigail. That was actually sort of comforting. Daniel was a lot better at dealing with trouble than he was with letting someone else save his ass: that was the better part of the reason he’d kept reenlisting, after all. And he was much better at it when he was dealing with trouble on behalf of someone else. Daniel had always considered himself a guardian at heart. Even in the thick of things in foreign countries he’d been fighting to protect his own. And, on those occasions when he’d thought his nation was in the wrong, he’d fought anyway: to protect the enlisted kids who’d suddenly found themselves in a distant land and dealing with bullets and bombs and missing limbs and dead friends and survivor’s guilt and all the other shit they shouldn’t have had to.
In a way, that was probably a fair part of the reason Daniel had been so quick to throw in with Abigail’s cause, too, even though she hadn’t asked him to and didn’t know he had. The army might have decided it didn’t need him any more, but it hadn’t taken a genius to realize that Abigail was just a kid who’d wound up in shit way over her head and needed someone who could help give advice and run interference while she got her feet back under herself. And while Daniel had started out his career with nothing more than an uncanny aptitude for running brutally efficient ‘interference,’ he’d picked up the ability to give advice by living as long as he had, through as much as he had. And really, he would much rather be his guardian angel’s guardian angel than spend the rest of his dotage trying to cope with being the person who needed a guardian angel in the first place.
Archarel thought he could start a war with Abigail while I was around, and I told him otherwise, Daniel thought grimly. And now this vampire yahoo wants to pull the same stunt? Ha! Daniel couldn’t help smirking. We’ll just see how that works out for him, now won’t we?
Daniel looked around the junk room he was in. On one of the nearby shelves was a toolbox. He fished through it for a screwdriver and hammer, thinking dark thoughts and trying to remember anything he could from Abigail’s story that he might be able to use against his new enemy.
Then Daniel stepped past the mess of Mr. Salvatore’s corpse. He still didn’t have a plan, exactly, but with a few quick strikes he managed to hammer the screwdriver under the latch on the cabinet in front of him. It actually pried off pretty easily — he didn’t just feel strong, he was strong. Stronger than he had any right to be. Perk of being undead, I suppose.
Daniel tossed aside the tools he’d appropriated and opened the doors in front of him. Then he smiled. He almost laughed. Holy mother and father, whoever said God doesn’t love zombies too? If he got out of this mess un-alive, he was going to have to tell his cousin that ‘turn undead’ was the most bullshit default cleric ability ever. The gun cabinet didn’t just hold the rifles, pistols, and headgear Daniel could see through the glass: it also had ammo, specialty ammo, boxed combat knives, flashbangs, grenades, blocks of explosives, detcord, suppressors… even a couple of claymore landmines. And two whole bags of salt.
Daniel tried to rein in his grin, but it was hopeless. He started loading up. Life tests you until you fail. Daniel had believed that for longer than he could remember — but maybe he’d been wrong. After all, here he was: still moving around after the fact. Does that mean I passed? Probably not. It probably just meant that he’d graduated to even harder tests. But if that was the case, Daniel was fine with it. He had his health, his sanity, someone to protect, an obvious enemy — and more firepower than he could actually carry.
With a plan or without, one thing was clear: It was time to go earn some extra credit.