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Read on, friends! :)


Previously:

No one saw her move, but Michelle was on the ground with Athena's teeth bared at her neck. There was a slow creaking sound of her neck tearing. Ricardo's eyes widened, "Athena." He said calmly as he slowly approached her, "She didn't mean it. You're not stupid. You talked us out of that pickle earlier, remember? No moron could have done that."

Her head whipped around to face him, but still kept her hand on the other girl's neck, "I don't care about that!" She snarled, spewing venom everywhere. She turned back to Michelle, "If you ever call my Sire stupid again I will end you." Athena threatened so softly, Ricardo could barely make it out.

She was still seething when she came back to stand with Ricardo. "It looks like there's no way around it. Ricardo's word is law, remember? Induction is in order." Wilson rationalized, trying to rally the rest of the group. Ricardo nodded in thanks. Induction was just what Athena needed. They'd better be more accepting of her if-when-she survived it.


Ricardo

June 8th-Alabama 1868

Induction:

- the action or process of inducting someone to a position or organization.

- the process or action of bringing about or giving rise to something.

For Ricardo's army, the definitions were one in the same. It was a good way to find one's place among the regime. However, it also served as a reminder to all that standing together was preferable to standing alone. Induction was not required of those who were joined by venom. Vampires who were considered outsiders-those who didn't have anywhere else to go/no special connection with the army-needed to show their loyalty and dedication to the cause. Only when the vampire passed Induction could they fully call themselves a brother or sister of the coven.

There was a mere handful of vampires who came to Ricardo's camp in search of placement and security. None of whom were able to finish Induction. He was confident that Athena would be the exception. Thus earning the army's trust and support.

"What's an Induction?" Athena asked as the army began to gradually disperse into the shadows.

He pursed his lips and thought of a good way to explain it, "Think of it as a test." Ricardo said and started walking. Athena immediately followed, "Induction is split into three different tasks. You'll be judged on Strategy, Interrogation and Combat skills. Needless to say, each phase is designed to challenge you; push your limits and show your weaknesses. Each section will go into more detail once you get there. The Induction also gives us a starting point for training." He ran a hand over his face in frustration, "Unfortunately, that's all I can tell you."

Athena nodded, "I understand. It'd be an unfair advantage if I knew everything."

His smile grew; she was easily one of the most logical newborns he'd ever met. Before he could say anything more, they were interrupted when Michelle walked out of the tent nearest them. She glowered at Athena and stormed off in the direction of the practice field. Ricardo chuckled. Athena was going to have her hands full. She attacked Michelle earlier; one of his biggest hotheads on site. The pair walked in silence until they reached the field.

All thirty members of his army stood in a circle roughly twenty meters in diameter. Ricardo walked Athena into the middle then disappeared into the crowd. He could see her starting to panic. She turned in a slow circle to analyze everyone in case of a surprise attack. Gus took a step inside the circle with her. As his second in command, Augustus had the honors of leading the event. Athena froze, eyes locked on him and waited for his next move, "No one is gonna to hurt you. This is where we'll test your Strategy. There are two parts to this exercise: Mental and Physical. Mental is first. You will be given a scenario by one of us; you'll answer it how you're most likely to react. The questioner will give you an answer of 'pass' or 'fail'. Three 'pass'es and you'll move on. You are allowed one 'fail'. If you pass, you'll move on to the Physical portion. Is that understood?" She gave one sharp nod. "Good. Then we'll begin."

Gus stepped back into the crowd and quickly became lost. "What would you do if you were outnumbered three to one? One vampire is perfectly intact with no skill. The second has one limb missing but an offensive power. The last one is an experienced fighter with no abilities." Idris inquired.

She took a moment to think. "There's really no right or wrong answer to this. I would take out the first one's legs and use him or her as a shield for the second before decapitating them. Finally, I'd wait for the third one to make a move and assess from there."

There was a pregnant pause, "Pass." The first questioner replied.

"You are standing in front an enemy who is threatening one of your best friends. His hands are placed where he will be able to snap his/her neck easily. What do you do?" Wilson asked.

"I'd charge." She immediately replied.

"Explain why." He followed up.

Athena eye's lit up slightly, "If my friend is a vampire, there's no harm in letting him snap his or her neck unless there's fire around. Since you didn't specify, I'm assuming there is none present. I'd charge at the vampire, tear him to pieces and put my friend back together after burning him."

"Pass." He said as if it were obvious.

Michelle spoke up and said through gritted teeth, "How would you handle one of your brothers or sisters attacking you?"

Her eyes narrowed, "Wish them luck."

"Fail!" She hissed.

"A mate is on a warpath to revenge. You're the intended target. What's your first move?" Keith wondered.

Athena stiffened and furrowed her brow. She stayed like that for a moment before answering, "I'd ask for assistance in tracking him or her down and kill them before they got to me."

There was a short pause before, "Pass."

Augustus walked back into the ring with a look of indifference on his face, "Well done. You've passed half of the first portion. If you'll follow me, we'll head over to the Course."

She tagged along obediently. Nestled in the wooded area close to the practice field was an obstacle course. It was the task most people failed to complete. There were seven cylindrical totems that were a yard tall with barely enough space for someone to stand on. The object of the Course was to hop from one to the next without hitting the ground where strips of fire resided. Hallie had the ability to move things with her mind. To make it more difficult, she raised the totems in the air and moved them in different directions without any rhyme or reason. If that wasn't enough, hanging from the trees were swinging blades that were made from enemy vampire's flesh. One wrong move and someone would go down in pieces.

"Stand on this totem, please," Hallie stated politely, "Here we will see how strategic you are physically. It's rather simple. You have to move from one totem to the next until you reach the end. When you are there, you'll move on to the next phase." She smiled.

Ricardo cleared his throat, "You're forgetting something." He prompted.

She looked confused for a split second before realization dawned on her, "Right! Sorry. The platform totems will be raised until you're about thirty feet above the ground. Watch out for the blades." Hallie grinned as Athena was lifted into the air.

"The blades are the least of her problems if she slips," Michelle snickered to Idris, though she didn't look all that amused.

Gus struck a match and lit the oil on the ground. "Alright," He called, "If you get across the Course then you'll move on. You don't have a time limit, but I'd suggest going sooner rather than later. Begin!"

Athena stood, frozen with what Ricardo could only assume was fear. She looked to the moving totems, the blades, down to the fire and back again. Her first leap was easy; the second totem was slowly moving side to side with only air standing in the way. Ricardo heard her take an unnecessary deep breath. She jumped but over-estimated, and nearly catapulted herself over the totem. The newborn used her quick reflexes and strength to grab a tree branch for support before lightly dropping on the second pole.

The totem beneath Athena moved from one side to the other while a blade swung menacingly in the opposite direction in front of her. The third totem, however, wasn't moving on the opposite side of the blade. Finally, when she was on the far left and the blade was on the far right, she leaped and landed safely on the third totem.

Unfortunately, that's when things started to get tricky. Athena stood on an unmoving totem while the fourth was five feet above her, slowly moving up and down. On the far side of the totem was a swinging blade. If she was off even by a fraction of an inch, she could lose a hand or worse. To his surprise, she jumped right away and settled neatly on the fourth.

The fifth totem was rapidly moving in a circular motion just beyond the blade. Athena jumped on the vine holding the blade in place and swung herself toward her goal. Despite Athena's mistake on her first jump, she overshot and was nearly hit by a swinging blade headed straight for her. The newborn missed by inches and collided with the sixth totem. She slid down the pole until she was dangling at the bottom holding on by one hand. Ricardo could see the wood of the totem beginning to splinter under her fingertips.

She growled and pulled herself to stand on it with little effort. Athena faced the final totem. It was entirely unpredictable. She stood, watched it for a full minute and eventually figured out that there was no pattern to it. She jumped and the totem slowed down enough for her to land harmlessly. Her eyes were wide as she was brought down from the treetops.

When the totems hit the ground, Athena stepped off quickly. It was almost like the newborn thought she'd be sent back up if she didn't get off fast enough. Ricardo would have laughed if the situation wasn't so dire. A few of the coven members clapped and Gus approached her, "Good job. Phase one is complete. Congratulations." He said mechanically, "Now, it's time for phase two." Augustus nodded his head over to the side as an indication for her to follow.

Ricardo walked over to Athena, "Well done!" He complimented.

"Thanks," She said with a small smile.

"That was quite possibly one of the most inspiring things I've ever seen. I'm Hallie," Hallie praised with a massive grin. Her hand was stuck out for Athena to shake. Ricardo took the unspoken queue to leave while Hallie talked with Athena, but wasn't entirely out of earshot, "Honestly, I can think of only two Inductees who have made it through my Course."

Athena thanked her, "I have to say, I thought I was going to miss that last one." She said tentatively, "What happened exactly?"

Hallie gave out a light laugh, "Oh that. It was an idea I had after the first Inductee missed it and the second outright gave up. I call it "The Leap of Faith". It's like a trust exercise because, odds are, you won't be doing everything on your own in this life. Sometimes you need help. Since you made it through everything else, I gave you a pass."

There was a small pause, "Isn't that like cheating?"

Ricardo could almost hear Hallie shaking her head, "No. It's my test. I'd like to see them try and do it without me." She laughed, but immediately became serious when the tent Michelle left earlier came into view, "Just a head's up, not everyone is as- how shall I say?- lenient as I am. Next is Michelle's area, and I know for a fact that she doesn't want you within a ten mile radius of this coven." Ricardo made it to the tent first and looked back to see Athena giving Hallie a confused look, "Michelle is the one you attacked when you arrived." She clarified.

The newborn nodded contemplatively, "Thanks. I'll see you later?" Athena asked and Hallie nodded enthusiastically.

The tent was large enough to seat six people comfortably. There was a chair in the middle, reserved for the man or woman of honor, and a small row of seats in front of it. Ricardo, Gus and Wilson sat in the chairs while Athena was asked to take a seat in the spotlight. Michelle walked in and instantly glared at her. Idris, her faithful assistant, stood quietly off to the side. "Welcome to the second phase." Michelle snapped, "This phase is going to tell us how well you'd do keeping your loud mouth shut. I'm going to try and get you to talk. If you buckle and answer any of my questions then you won't move on to the last phase. Got it?" Athena nodded her head, "Good."

Normally, Augustus would be the decision-maker of when they could begin, but he knew that Michelle always was on her own timeline.

"Athena. Is that your real name?" Michelle asked. She remained silent and was simultaneously backhanded. "Tell me your name!" She demanded.

Silence

Michelle nodded over to Idris, "Look over there, do you see her?" Athena didn't turn to look. She didn't give any indication that she even heard her. "My friend has the ability to sense your worst fears. I'll know exactly what buttons to push to make you squirm momentarily. Or you could tell me what I want to know right now."

Silence

Michelle placed her hands on the arms of the chair Athena was sitting in and towered over her, "If don't tell me your name then I'll make your life a living hell." She threatened. The newborn remained silent as Michelle started snapping off her fingers one by one. Athena didn't cry out. She was a stone cold statue. No emotion flickered on her face at all; not even pain.

The interrogator was furious, but no matter how hard she tried; Michelle couldn't break her. Athena finally began to wince as Michelle dug her nails in the wounds she inflicted on her hands.

"Michelle wait." Idris said after half an hour.

Michelle looked to her accomplice and grinned before joining her in the back of the room, "What do you have for me?"

She gulped, "Physical bodily harm and threats won't faze her."

"Well, what the hell will work then?" She snarled.

Idris's brow furrowed as she said tentatively, "The life of another."

Michelle let out a frustrated sigh, "Who? Anyone?" Idris shook her head and shrugged. She walked back to stand in front of Athena. Michelle had the ability to project whatever she wanted someone to see into their minds. Ricardo could only guess what sort of images Athena was seeing, and her features didn't move an inch.

Without so much as a warning, Michelle let out a growl, brought Idris in front of Athena and snapped off her hand. When she noticed no reaction she made to remove her head, "Michelle, that's quite enough!" Ricardo stood. His best interrogator looked at him in shock. He'd never stopped her before when she was doing her job, "This is not a real interrogation, and I will not have you dismantling my entire army to get her to talk! Now, put your assistant back together and pass her on to phase three."

Michelle's lip curled up over her teeth as she turned back to Athena, "Congratulations. You have passed the Interrogation part of this Induction. You may now move on to phase three." She said, involuntarily.

Ricardo glided over to Athena, picked up her fingers and helped her outside. "Thank you." She said quietly while Ricardo set to work on putting her hands back together. "I think I probably could have sat through her hurting people, but I don't know what I would have done if she had brought you over first."

He looked at her in surprise, but then remembered that she was only a couple of days old and knew no one else. "Don't worry. I'm not that fragile. Besides I'm her leader and I wouldn't have let her get that close to me." He laughed. Athena smiled and brought her attention to the ground where they were sitting. When her fingers were placed Ricardo told her to lick the seams. Her venom would heal her faster than his could, "How'd you endure it in silence?"

A smirk formed on her features, "It wasn't easy." She confessed, sealing the last of her injuries. "I knew that was what she wanted. I humiliated her; made her look weak in front of her coven. If someone had done that to me..." Athena trailed off until he prompted her, "If I was made to look like a fool then I'd want to prove myself. I can see where she's coming from." She shrugged.

"Then why didn't you cry out?" Ricardo asked out of sheer curiosity.

She rolled her eyes, "Just because I understand doesn't mean I don't have my own dignity." Athena flexed her fingers to make sure they worked, "That was fast." She observed then turned her attention back to Ricardo, "So Combat's next right? Does that mean a fight to the death?"

Ricardo shook his head, "You're not far off. It's a spar. The first vampire to pin the other wins."

Athena tilted her head to the side, "Best out of three?"

"Nope. One match. One winner. One loser." He stated as he stood. "Come on, we have to be at the practice field soon. Induction is almost over." Ricardo smiled.

When they arrived, everyone was waiting anxiously. No one had ever gotten this far before. Gus held up his hands until only soft murmurs could be heard across the field, "Now that Athena has passed her previous trials, our Sire must choose a candidate she'll spar with on this very field."

Everybody's heads turned to Ricardo, "Augustus." He said with finality.

Eyes widened, jaws dropped and the silence was almost deafening. Eventually Gus plucked up his courage and asked, "Are you sure, Ricardo?" With an affirmative nod, a ring was made with Athena and Gus in the center. "The task is simple, pin me and you win. Begin!"

Athena instantly lunged which caused Gus to slide to the left. Effectively making her miss. She quickly turned back his direction and snarled from her three point stance. The newborn launched herself at Gus again, but managed to grab onto his arm when he tried to dodge her again. She threw him to the ground and pounced on top of him. Augustus kicked her in the stomach and got to his feet.

Ricardo could tell that she was worn and frustrated. Athena stood to her full height and analyzed him carefully. He took her calculation as a distraction and attempted to sweep her legs out from under her. She avoided it easily with a light jump, but came down with force enough to slam her hand on his neck. It was enough to make a Gus-sized dent in the ground. Athena made sure his arms and legs weren't able to move and bared her teeth at his neck. "Yield." She hissed.

Gus stared at her with wide eyes, "Pass." He murmured.

She released him and stood to face Ricardo as he spoke, "Congratulations, Athena. You've passed phase three. Welcome to the army."

The crowd clapped and congratulated her at a distance. No matter how tame she seemed, they knew better than to overwhelm a newborn by crowding around her. Even she had her limits. The sun began to peak over the horizon and the other members left to busy themselves with their daytime activities.

Ricardo was about to tell Athena to pick a tent when Hallie approached her, "Athena! You can come with me. I share with three others, but I'm sure they'd be pleased to get to meet you." She grinned. Athena nodded and followed her to tent number 14.

"Hallie, what happens now?" Athena asked before they were out of earshot.

The sprite little brunette giggled, "We rest, of course, at least until sundown. That's when we train..." Hallie and Athena continued to talk, but Ricardo was convinced she was in good hands and let them be. As expected, she bypassed his standards and gained the army's trust. Well, most of them anyway. It was only a matter of time until the others were swayed.

Jasper

June 20th- Texas 1868

"That speech you gave to the newborns was genius. Sheer genius! I thought they were gonna piss their pants when you told them that how we were punished for doin' our jobs to the best of our abilities!" Peter roared as he praised Jacqueline's innovation.

Jacks rolled her eyes, "I think I liked him better without his tongue. You think there's any way Maria would reconsider?" She murmured to Jasper.

Jasper smirked but said nothing. The trio had just finished another day training the newborns. They were getting better. The four who were changed after the ambush were more difficult than their previous counterparts. It was a good thing Maria decided to show up before the change was complete. When she heard of their success, the Commander was so happy that she gladly gave back the appendages she'd taken. "I heard that! Don't you make me come over there!" Peter hollered from behind them.

She ignored him and turned to Jasper, "Our supply of humans are getting sparse. There are only half a dozen left." He nodded in acknowledgement. It was a Maria and Jasper thing. They normally took a few days to get away and find suitable humans with combat experience. At the moment, he needed to hunt. His wounds weren't quite healed yet. "Happy hunting." She smiled and darted toward the barn.

Peter's voice carried over to him as well, "Have a nice hunt, Major!" The empath could feel the mischievousness coming off of his friend in waves, but didn't take the time to ask him about it.

On his way to town, Jasper ran into someone-or rather-someone ran into him. The impact caused him to stumble. When he looked to see who he'd knocked down, there was no one. The person, who he suspected to be a vampire, fled. The Major intended to track down the sonofabitch, and show them some manners. He found a faint scent and followed it. The trail stopped in front of a homeless person digging through a wastebasket. He was momentarily baffled until instincts took over and he lunged. His teeth pierced through the man's flesh easily as the blood soothed his burning throat.

When his victim laid dead at his feet, Jasper got the distinct feeling he was being watched. He stayed still and reached out with all his senses to see where the intruder was located. His brow furrowed as nothing was found on his radar. Jasper searched again, but there was still nothing. Feeling more than a bit frustrated, the Major disposed of the body and made his way to camp. He couldn't shake the feeling until he was back. So he sought out Peter; he found the know-it-all lounging in his tent, "What do you know?" He snapped.

"Calm down, Major. What are ya talkin' about?" Peter asked with a smirk.

Jasper growled and threw him off of his bed, "You and I both know you can't lie worth a shit. Even without my ability, I'd know. Now tell me."

Peter chuckled from the Major's dirt floor, "I had a feeling that something was going to happen tonight. I didn't know what. Just that'd you'd be pissed when you got back." Honesty shrouded Peter like a cloak, "So, what happened?" His friend asked with open curiosity.

He told Peter everything and shook his head, "It was weird. I couldn't get a read on anyone."

Peter snorted and shrugged, "It was probably your mind playing tricks on you. A side effect of venomloss?"

"That's one possibility," The Major granted and laid back on his cot.

"I'm sure it's nothin' to worry about. Probably just some nomad passing through." He shrugged, "Maria said she wanted to talk to you when you got back. I wouldn't keep her waitin'." Peter informed.

Jasper was out the door before Peter could finish his sentence. He idly wondered what Maria wanted. It wasn't like her to call on him twice in one day. In the grand scheme of things, he didn't care. Maria was everything to him; he'd do anything to please her, "Enter." she called once he was standing just outside her tent.

The empath pulled open the flap and stepped inside. "You asked for me, Ma'am?" He asked, standing at attention.

Maria smiled and came to stand in front of him. She was gorgeous with her black hair and bright red eyes, "Yes, I did." She purred as she brushed his cheek with her knuckles, "Jacqueline should be here soon. I wanted you to be a part of this meeting."

Jasper blinked away his lust-filled haze, "I beg your pardon?"

His Commander smiled and backed away from him to sit at her desk. She began to scan through various pieces of parchment, "Miss Jacqueline requested an audience with me. I told her she would have it, but under my own terms." Maria's gaze flicked up to Jasper, "I'm not as naive as I once was. You should know, better than most, that looks can be deceiving."

"You think that she would betray you? Your trust? She's one of your most loyal soldiers." The Major said, genuinely perplexed.

She smirked, "One can never be too cautious." Maria stopped talking when she heard the sound of footsteps, "Come in, Jacqueline." She ordered, looking back to her desk.

Jasper moved himself to the side of the room so the other vampire could enter. Jacks glanced at him then turned her full attention to Maria. Her relief was palpable, but she was still nervous to be talking directly to Maria, "Thank you for seeing me, Commander." Maria nodded and waved for her to continue without looking up from the sheets on her desk. Jacqueline took a deep breath, "I had an idea of how to better ourselves at keeping our territories."

She stopped talking when her leader didn't acknowledge her in the slightest. Jasper stepped in, "Just keep talking. She's listenin'." He encouraged.

Jacks swallowed thickly,"Well, instead of running to our territories once every couple of weeks, we could entrust the big cities to allies. They'd keep an eye on them and take care of them. You'd always have a safe place to rest from scouting trip to scouting trip. And your main hub, here, could keep focusing on bettering the newborns before shipping them out to other sites." Jacqueline rushed.

Maria looked up slowly to the blonde girl in front of her. She felt intrigued. "When did you come up with this?"

Jacqueline shifted her weight slightly, "When Jasper and Peter came back from destroying Claude and his army."

The Commander felt various emotions of pride and amazement. None of which were shown on her face, "You are dismissed." She said quietly. Even when she was out of earshot, Maria gazed away in thoughtful contemplation. Jasper nearly jumped when she finally spoke, "How long has she been with us, Jasper?"

"A little over six months." He supplied, meeting her beautiful crimson eyes.

Maria smiled slightly, "She's smart. Perhaps it is time for Peter to have a second of his own. Do you not think?"

The empath checked her feelings to make sure she was being serious. She was. "Yes. I think she'd make an excellent addition to our ranks."

She sighed heavily as her resolve covered her from head to toe, "It seems that I have work to do. Good night, mi soldado."

After bidding her goodnight, Jasper left for his tent once more. He couldn't believe what had just happened. Maria was thinking about keeping another full-time member. The news made Jasper happy. No. Happy wasn't a big enough word to describe what he was feeling. He was joyous. The empath couldn't understand why he was feeling so ecstatic. When he first heard that Peter was staying on, he couldn't have cared less, but the parasite slowly began to grow on him.

Jasper had always kept Jacqueline at a distance. She usually kept to herself and the humans, once her control was decent enough. He suspected that was why. Being around vampire's bloodlust only intensified his own. So being around humans was pretty uncomfortable, unless he was feeding. His mental ramblings ceased when he walked into his tent to find Peter sitting at his desk, "Hey Major, you okay?" Jasper sensed worry from his friend and nodded, "Then why are there tears in your eyes?"

The empath took a moment to pull himself together and faced Peter with a clear mind, "What are you still doing here? You have your own tent. Use it." He snapped, in an attempt to squash down his feeling of weakness.

"Meant no disrespect. G'night, Major." Peter said as he left the room. When he was completely out of range, Jasper flopped gracelessly on his cot. His mind abuzz with everything that occurred in a short amount of time. Training with the newborns went uneventfully. Hunting was as satisfying as usual. Peter helped him to see the logic behind his paranoia. To top it all off, Jacks was most likely staying. The thought brought a small smile to his lips. It had been a good day.


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