Capsules of Energy

It's a simple plan, and perhaps it might have worked if luck were kindlier. Lure Adelaide out of hiding with a magnifying spell to strengthen the link between her and Conrad. Ask Toni to distract and mislead her while Hanna draws a trap on the floor of the chapel where two people have been found dead with ragged teeth marks in their neck. Capture her. And… figure out what to do from there.
Honestly, you're surprised Hanna has even thought this far.

You're not sure how Hanna convinced Conrad to play bait, but whatever it was, it worked. It's a shame Conrad has to find out tonight that he and hallowed ground no longer mix very well. Yet Hanna seems to have expected this {when did he do all this research?}, and draws runes on his chest and arms that glow a dull bronze and seem to help, though Conrad still shies away from the altar. Toni waits outside with a final, smiling reassurance of "I'm stronger than I look" that makes Conrad rub his jaw {and you wonder what that means, but say nothing}, and the three of you continue on playing makeshift vampire hunters.

It is unfortunate that another, more experienced vampire hunter has followed you tonight.

Hanna is understandably alarmed when Conrad crumples to his knees, clutching the blossoming wound in his stomach. Vampire or not, a shotgun can do a number on anyone at close range. You have already experienced this firsthand tonight, but fortunately you are not as hindered by bullets as others {though it is still quite unpleasant}. You block Hanna from running pell-mell through the pews and making an even bigger mess of what is already a rapidly declining situation.

"Mitchell!" Hanna shouts, trying to wrench free of your grip, which is significantly weaker now that you are down three fingers.

"He'll be alright," you say firmly, though you feel a pang of guilt run down your Y incision, "You won't be, though." You justify this favoritism by reminding Hanna that he is entirely too human {and therefore fragile} to risk fighting a man armed to the teeth with such a remarkable variety of weapons.

"I'll be fine, I always am," he replies shortly {and you think of his chest and find yourself doubting}. His hand burns with yellow light that makes your dry skin hum. "But Conrad hasn't eaten anything fresh yet—"

Conrad screams then, cutting Hanna's argument short. The two of you watch as he falls backwards, fingers scrabbling at the wound, which has begun to sizzle in what you expect is a spectacularly agonizing fashion.

"Fuck," Hanna says, and is rushing to Conrad's side before you even feel him slip away.

The vampire hunter, who has introduced himself merely as "Abner," makes a clicking sound behind his strange blue mask. "Your paltry regenerative abilities won't help you, Mr. Achenleck. Currently embedded in your torso is rock salt soaked in a mixture of garlic and holy water. Non-lethal, but excellent at slowing your kind down. I've been told it's quite an uncomfortable sensation. Would you agree?"

Conrad sort of gurgles in response.

"What the fuck is wrong with you‽" Hanna demands, standing between them, his stance wide. "He didn't even do anything!"

Abner's eyebrows meet over his goggles. "He is a vampire, Mr. Cross. I hunt vampires. Ergo, I hunt him. Though," he lowers his shotgun, and you can hear his condescension even if you can't see it on his face, "I admit I have hunted more dangerous specimens."

"Then why—"

From outside, Toni howls. So Adelaide actually showed up. It's unfortunate that the plan has fallen apart, but you hope Toni will realize something has gone wrong when Hanna's trap {unfinished} never goes off and doesn't do anything reckless {even though you're quite sure she can handle one measly vampire just fine}.

"I see," Abner says, though none of you have spoken, and he raises his weapon from low to contact ready with a familiarity you find disturbing. "I'll ask you to stand aside, sir."

The shotgun clatters to the ground, burned from his hands by Hanna's strike of magical energy. "Like hell," Hanna says stubbornly. "Conrad is my friend."

Abner tears his smoking gloves off and draws a pistol from his hip, aiming it rock-steady at Conrad again. Despite Hanna's show of strength, it seems Abner is still more wary of vampires {you suspect he has good reason} than magic-wielding humans. "You're mistaken. Vampires do not have friends. Stand aside."

"Hanna," you say.

"Forrest," he replies, and he sounds as angry as you've ever heard him. "Look," he says to Abner, still trying to negotiate, "I don't know who you are but seriously, I've got like, three vampires way scarier than you are to deal with and you are just really in the way so could you maybe stop attacking Conrad so we can deal with the bigger problem?"

Abner's eyebrows twitch. "So you're the one who's been stirring the hornet's nest."

"Yes?" Hanna looks vaguely guilty. "I mean, it's not like I meant to or anything, it just sort of happened after—uh, well, after I made him a vampire." He gestures vaguely at Conrad, who you think looks a distinct mixture of nauseous and embarrassed. You don't really blame him.

"What would possess you to make more of them?" Abner seems to struggle very hard not to redirect his aim towards Hanna, and you step between them, just in case.

"Because I kind of got him killed by the vampire we're trying to catch right now speakingofwhich I need to get back on that, so—"

"I will take care of that one as soon as I've finished him off." Abner says something, short and harsh and unintelligible {or perhaps you just miss it}, and quite suddenly there is, of all things, a ferret attacking Hanna's face. He falls down with a shout and a blast of yellow light that strikes the beam above him, and it groans loose and comes hurtling down in a rain of dust and splinters.

Later, when you reflect on it, you have no idea what you were thinking when you tried to stop it, beyond an intense, wordless instinct to keep Hanna's life from ending as a bit of paste under a two-hundred pound piece of rotten wood.

You'll admit that you probably could have gone about it better.

As the dust settles, Hanna's face appears, white and coughing and suitably just shy of terrified {if your heart could still beat you know it would be thundering}. Claw marks cut into his hairline and cheeks and no doubt sting, but he—as usual—doesn't seem to notice. A string of bewildered noise escapes him, his eyes wide. "I—holy fuck all—that was—amazing—how did—so cool—are you—ferret what—shit, are you okay?" he babbles.

You're supporting half the beam on your back, the other end resting entirely too close to Conrad's leg, and your arms tremble alarmingly under the weight. Vaguely, you wonder where your fedora went to. You grunt. "Hanna."


"Move. Please."

He scrambles out of harm's way just as your elbows bend funny and you collapse, feeling oddly alright with not moving again for a good long while. You're dimly amazed that your spine hasn't shattered, though a few ribs certainly feel out of place. Hanna swears again, and you feel a tugging at your armpit that makes your arm twinge uncomfortably. You look and see his foot is caught at an awkward angle beneath you and, subsequently, the beam.

Well, you two are certainly out of the running for this one.

You watch, useless, as Abner circles around the mess and places the pistol to the back of Conrad's head. "Checkmate, Mr. Achenleck," he says, finalizing the words with an ominous cocking of the hammer.

You don't know what made Conrad do what he does next. A curious mixture of vampiric instinct and human flight-or-fight response, perhaps. Even if you ask him after all this, you suspect he won't tell you. But the next thing you do know is that Conrad has somehow scrambled to his feet, still clutching the cooking meat of his abdomen, and Abner's empty hand is buried in his mouth.

"Um," Conrad says around Abner's fingers, and even from your poor vantage point pinned to the floor you can see his eyes redden with bloodlust. You feel Hanna tug more insistently.

Abner empties the clip into Conrad.

Or rather, he tries to. He manages to get three shots in, loud and reverberating and you see Conrad's bones shift on impact, but then the pistol joins the shotgun at their feet, Abner's other arm twisting in Conrad's grip and in the sudden silence you hear only the creaking of wrist bones bent too far and the soft, almost indecent sucking sound of blood draining from veins to mouth.

Simultaneously, Abner and Hanna pull themselves free {and that hurt, you'll admit it to yourself if not to Hanna later, when he comments on the cracking noise}, and it's Hanna who manages the first strike, yellow-green light spinning the weapons out of reach and then knocking the hunter to the ground.

This is perhaps not the smartest idea, as it gives Conrad ample opportunity to attack a second time.

But while luck seems to have forgotten Hanna and his ragtag group, it favors Abner now. Conrad's teeth {much larger now, and far too sharp} clip nothing but air, and then catch on the thick sleeve of Abner's turtleneck, and though there's no new spray of blood, you hope the man has something a bit stronger than wool on under there.

Hanna forgoes magic at this point and simply launches himself at Conrad. They collapse in a tangle of smoking limbs {and even you with your muted senses can feel the magical residue splashing all over the floor, can almost see it in the corners of your eyes like streaks of neon paint} and Abner takes the hint and backs right out of this mess, bumping into you and muttering something about fledglings and piranhas and an impeccable aim for pressure points. But for now, at least, he's no longer a danger to anyone. Abner has lost a good bit of blood and he's only got one good hand, and the way his shoulders tense when he ties off the wound with the other makes you suspect Conrad is stronger than anyone expected. Either way, you ignore him and keep your eyes pinned on Hanna as his fist lands far too close to Conrad's mouth for your liking.

But Conrad gags and you know {even if you can't smell it} that Hanna's used too much magic again, and though you know there will be consequences later, at least he won't be eaten by a vampire tonight. He shoves Hanna off and snarls behind his fingers, trying to smother the stench of inedible blood. His eyes dart around the chapel, lurching from crosses to colored windows to candles to bibles, from Hanna to Abner to you to Toni as she stoops through the side door, blue and ethereal and barely passing as humanoid. You see blood in her teeth and on her claws, and it takes you a second to realize the baring of so many teeth isn't in anger, but in outright smugness.

You knew she'd be just fine on her own.

"What are you doing?" Toni asks Conrad, and her voice is fast and gnarled and scarcely recognizable and actually a little unsettling. You're glad she's on Hanna's side, because as she had said earlier, she was stronger than she looked, and you're pretty sure it would take more than a zombie with a good left hook to knock her down.

Conrad can't seem to stop grinning, or maybe it's the size of his teeth—all of them now, and red with Abner's blood—keeping his lips stretched like that. His eyes blaze and pale smoke curls upwards from the bullet holes as he holds out his hands—too sharp and long-fingered to really be hands now—and he throws his head back and laughs. You should be worried, you should be frightened {not for you, no, there's nothing left in your veins worth drinking}, you should be doing something besides lying here pinned down and useless, but for a moment all you can do is watch. Things have gone bad, gone terrible, gone dangerous, but for a moment you see Conrad happier than you've ever seen him, and perhaps, just perhaps, this won't end as badly as it's gotten.

Later, as Worth chews Hanna out {again} in the front room, you and Conrad sit in the operating room, waiting to be attended to. The only sound between you is the crinkling of plastic as he finishes a blood bag, and he looks around for a moment before sighing and dropping the bag to the gritty floor. He seems very tired. You wonder if speed-healing bullet wounds would do that, or if it's something a little less visceral.

"Are you alright?" you ask.

He immediately looks embarrassed again and stutters. "I—I guess so. It's just kind of—weird."

"What is?"

"I—it's all kind of… fuzzy. I don't remember much after, um. Until we were almost here."

"You didn't kill him."

He flinches, yet looks relieved as he rubs his neck. You wonder if he's always had that habit or picked it up after Adelaide killed him. You of all people know how strange a painless open wound can be.
"Well there's that, I guess. Though it's still not very reassuring."

"I suppose not."

"What about you? Are you—er, will you be… alright?" He gestures at you—or rather, your broken elbows, your poorly realigned shoulder, your crooked ribcage, your missing fingers {in your pocket, waiting to be sewn back on}, and you shrug.

"I've had worse," you say.

"Well," he replies, and doesn't get much farther. You know without looking that his eyes are on the scar around your neck. He isn't the first to wonder what happened {that would be you}, nor will he be the last. You've learned to take it in stride.

A silence passes between the two of you, disrupted by Worth's slurred curses and the sound of something breaking near the door. You're not worried however; the doctor is a strange man, but he's always had Hanna's best interests in mind and you can't find any fault with that. Conrad looks at his watch and curses, taps his nails against the table, kicks his feet, and goes back to rubbing his neck. He's certainly animated, for a dead man. Probably a vampire thing, or something. You make a note to look into that later, while Hanna sleeps.


"What is it?"

He looks at his hand and touches his neck again, as if doubting the nerves in his fingers. "Gone," he says, quietly amazed. "The holes—they're gone."

"Well, Hanna said that would happen if you ate something fresh."

He winces, and you belatedly realize that you could have phrased that with a little more tact. You've had your fair share of impolite conversations with others about undead eating habits, and know exactly how Conrad must feel. You apologize, but he waves it off. "It's alright. Well it's not," he amends after a beat, "but it could be worse."

You feel your face move into a smile Hanna isn't here to tally, and Conrad mimics it after a moment's hesitation. Your eyes catch the new fang in his mouth, and you decide to let him discover that little surprise on his own.

"My sentiments exactly."

Hahaha look at me justifying more Conrad ficcing by putting it in Zombie's point of view. First attempt at second person narrative, as well as Zombie. I'll find out how successful I was soon enough, I guess.

Got this idea after a doodle session in a waiting room, and I expect all of you noticed me shamelessly steal the checkmate thing from Tessa which definitely helped things along. It'd be cool if Abner's introduction into the comic goes anything like this (perhaps with less zombie crushing though), mostly because Conrad is the butt of way too many jokes in this fandom and really, if any of us were in his position would we act any less like he does?

Or something. There's got to be a good reason why I can't stop writing Conrad though.

And I promised myself I wouldn't write Abner until he actually appeared in the comic too. OH WELL.

Title from Fever Ray's "Dry and Dusty" (good song). All characters copyright Tessa Stone.