94 Can“t Bear the Cold
The wind howls violently as I step through the cold, fluffy snow. Three bear cubs coo beneath a blanket as my hair blends seamlessly with every snowflake that happens to cling to its surface. To shield my eyes from these obvious blizzard-like conditions, I wear one of the white masks. Stopping, I look down at my tattered dress that is still partially coated in impossible to remove gray goo and observe that the goo seems to freeze quickly in the cold temperatures.
Suddenly, the sound of glass shattering nearby causes me to stop. I look to my right, where I observe a Crawler sticking its head from a ruined grocery store. Cracking the scythe, the blood oozes lightly from its casing, indicating that its pressure has dropped significantly from its normal levels.
'Probably need to allow the scythe time to regenerate its blood supply. Come to think of it, I'm not sure how to feed this scythe… Actually, I think it absorbed blood from a soldier once in the past... It feels like everything needs blood. It's only a matter of time until available supply won't be able to keep up with demand.' I sigh, causing a puff of cold hair to appear along the exterior of the mask. 'Blood spike.'
Loose snow is blown into the air, followed by the screeches of the Crawler.
[Level 2 Human Crawler Slain - 18 Essence Acquired]
'The difference between a level 1 and a level 2 is great.' Lowing myself, I squat blending as well as I can into the icy conditions while attempting to muffle the bear cub's coos. 'Should wait a few minutes to make sure more don't show up. It seems like a good time to start contacting the people I need to speak to. I guess I can check up with Apon— No, not her; she'll just be in a foul mood if I do. Besides, I told her to sleep after she ate. Let's just talk to Annie.'
Focusing, I contact Annie, who should be with her dad somewhere in the lower forty-eight states. 'Annie, are you okay? Are you okay, Annie?'
Surprisingly quick Annie answers. 'Eira! Of course, I'm okay! Why do you ask?'
'Uh, force of habit.'
'Oh? Okay, well, do you need something? I want to help!''
'Yeah, first is Terry with you? Ah, and has your dad been acting up?'
'Nope. He went to New Mexico to do something. He said you already know about it, but you didn't answer when I tried to ask you if that was true. Dad is doing what he's supposed to, I think, he has been talking to a lot of people lately.'
'Thanks, Annie, that's helpful. Now, for the second thing.'
'Yeah! Whatever you need!'
'The cell towers here don't work anymore, so I need you to look up bear cub formula online… grizzly bear specifically.'
So after some explaining, Annie eventually reads off an overly complicated list of ingredients.
'That's nine things just to make a formula for bear cubs? I hope the cold cooled the store enough for this stuff not to have gone bad.'
'Are the cubs cute, Eira!? Maybe, you should pray to the Goddess! I'm sure the Goddess will help!'
'Y-yeah, I guess so, and that's a good idea, Annie, you can always pray to the Goddess,' I reply awkwardly, 'Anway, I'm a bit busy so… goodbye.'
'Okay, dad's about to meet with some company that makes medicine or something, so I should also go!'
'A pharmaceutical company? Interesting. Tell your dad to try and get into contact with a company that manufactures medical supplies like syringes, blood bags, and such.'
I cut the connection and raise myself from the snow. 'I wonder how difficult it would be to set up a facility or factory in Anchorage that could continue producing those types of supplies even after the system returns. I'm not sure how we'd keep it running though, but the problem with this area is the lack of animals. In fact, that's been my problem since the beginning. It's all squirrels, birds, rodents, and fish; none of that is enough to satisfy a vampire, and I'm sure it would taste awful.'
Making my way up a snowdrift that has formed near the building's exterior, I hop through a broken window finding myself in a chilly supermarket. I glance at the Crawler's corpse, noticing an unusual looking beetle moving about on its face. However, when I take a step forward to inspect it, the beetle drops into a crack in the tile floor.
'Weird. That beetle seemed strange, to say the least. Still, I have no intention of ripping up concrete and tiles to find it. I'll keep an eye out for more of them.'
Treading lightly, I walk through the mostly intact aisles of shelves. My first stop is an aisle labeled 'International,' where I discover a small section of Japanese snacks. Storing away the small section, I continue to the 'Dairy' aisle.
'Well, now that I've partially topped off my stash time for my next stop where I'll attempt my primary purpose for having come all the way out here, attempting contact with Ego. If it won't work here, either the Mind Magic has gotten way out of hand, or the problem isn't distance. If that is the case, it's presumably something to do with my own cognition. I'd chalk it up to the strain of experiencing memories that I was never intended to experience in real-time. Other than that, all I could do is dispel the Mind Magic and wait for that part of my mind to recover.'
Stopping at the dairy section I sigh and commence inspecting the quarts of goat milk. 'Seems to be frozen, but they aren't spoiled at least. I'll just have to make this work. Need to grab the vitamins, fish oil, and the other stuff now.'
Passing by an aisle of toilet paper and paper towels I hear a low moan, so I stop mid-stride. Glancing down the aisle, I find it especially gory. Pieces of a torn-apart corpse litter the entirety of the aisle along with bloody Crawler prints. In the center sits the largest mass of the corpse, covered with bite marks and a double-barreled shotgun still gripped tightly in its palm. Cautiously, I step down the aisle, careful not to slip on the frozen viscera. Due to the cub's cooing I expect an ambush so I grip the blanket full of cubs like a bag of potatoes and prop the scythe against a nearby shelf.
Readying my claws I advance forward. "I know you're here," I assert plainly, "so come out you dried up bologna skinned hybrid."
Paper towels and toilet paper begin falling from the shelves rapidly, and unexpectedly, a boy's body rolls out. The boy looks to be sixteen or seventeen and wears an apron with the store's name embroidered on it. His hair is cut short, his eyes hollow, and most noticeable of all most of his skin in black with frostbite.
Casually, I pick the scythe up and step toward the boy. The sounds of my footsteps echo as I move to stand over him. His eyes slowly turn toward me and I remove the mask. A small spark appears within his pupils, but it is quickly swallowed up by the darkness within.
"Are you blind?" I ask him softly.
The boy nods, and stammers, "I-is my manager here? He hid me."
I glance at the mangled corpse noticing a similar shredded apron. "No, there isn't anything here except a dead deer the monsters probably dragged in."
Suddenly, the boy bursts into tears crying hysterically while whispering, "Thank god." over and over again.
His words make me think of something so I kneel down closer. "...Aren't you scared for your own life?" I question.
The boy nods fiercely, choking back his tears. "But at least he didn't die trying to save me."
"Were you born blind?"
"Y-yes, the manager hired me anyway. I helped how I could." He tries to lift his arms to wipe his eyes but seems unable to. "That thing, it broke in and never left. Just kept prowling the store."
I look at the boy's name tag and then wipe the tears from his eyes. "James, can I ask you something?", he nods so I continue, "Do you believe in a god?"
"Mom said I should go to church, but I never did... I wonder if I'll go to Hell."
"Not likely." I slid my hand beneath his upper back and he flinches. "James, you aren't completely blind, are you? You have a unique perception, am I right?"
"H-how did you know?"
"Just a flicker in your eyes when you looked at me. I could tell you were trying to use your sight to check me," he struggles to say something, but I continue instead, "James… I am a messenger of God, and I'd like to give you an opportunity."
He looks at me with his dull eyes. "Opportunity?"
"That's right. You see James I think you already know, but…" I glance over his frostbitten body where the flesh is unmistakably dead. "...you're going to die."
He doesn't react at all, seemingly either numb to the prospect or having already accepted it.
"But if you pledge yourself to God, your soul will go to her. There you can rest until you're ready for your next life." I set down the blanket of cubs, and it unfurls. The cubs start to lick at the bloody floor, but I disregard that and place my other arm under James, lifting him closer. "James, have you ever dreamed about what you'd do if given another chance?"
"I always wanted to come back as a bird. I might have unique eyes, but I still can't see things normally." He coughs dryly. "I'm told birds can see a lot from high up. I want to see a lot too."
"If you can truly believe in her, even for just a few minutes, then you might just get your wish."
Things go quiet for a while as the wind outside howls. Finally, James opens his chapped lips, "I-I'm going to die, either way, so how do I-I pledge myself?"
"Then, all you have to say are these words." His mouth opens slightly as he concentrates intently. "I, James, swear myself to the Goddess Eira Callista, the one True God. Any previous declarations of loyalty are null as I have heard the truth from the depths of my soul. From here forth, the Goddess Eira has dominion over my soul as both the keeper and watcher."
"That seems scary. And Eira? L-like snow?" A cold breeze blows in from the broken windows, he smirks. "I-it's a bit ironic."
Lifting him, I move close to his ear. "Repeat the words, and meet the Goddess yourself. Although thought to be small, the place she resides is said to be incredibly beautiful."
"Beautiful. Will I be able to see it?"
"That's right. It's like standing in the center of the universe. There is nothing more beautiful."
"...Okay. M-maybe I can trick myself... for a minute."
Slowly but surely, James repeats the words with several breaths in between. He pauses between each word as if thinking about the meaning behind each before reaching the final sentence.
"...as both the keeper and watcher."
With his vow complete, I open my mouth, exposing the two fangs within. James's head tilts away as if he expected this, and I sink the fangs into the dry skin of his neck. Blood flows into my fangs, through the roof of my mouth, and into my throat. The sweet taste of blood that isn't from a bag almost makes me cry.
[Level 1 Human Slain - 6 Essence Acquired]
James eventually stops breathing as I strive to draw everything I can from him in order to prepare for the inevitable rescue mission. Feeling something crawling on my back, I release my fangs and lower the body to the floor. With suction lost the drops of blood still in my fangs leak causing a small trail of blood to run to my chin.
"If you truly meant it, James, we'll be seeing each other again soon. It's unfortunate I won't be able to see your expression."
With a smirk, I reach back and seize the furball that is trying to claw its way up my back. Licking the blood from the corner of my mouth, I lift the cub who tilts its head at me curiously.
"You guys probably shouldn't be licking this stuff up. It's frozen, and I don't think you are old enough. Still, it's good that you three seem to have a taste for blood. That or you were all just thirsty." I laugh.
Gathering the three cubs into the blanket and grabbing the scythe, I continue my shopping.
[? Task: ????? Space
Task Reward: ???
'Well, I guess that answers my Ego question. At least it isn't jumbled anymore, but this isn't much better. Still, this is the first task he's given me in a while, though. I'm curious what it's about, but the word that is there makes me think it probably has something to do with my God Space, which I can't get to without Ego. Also, it says failure is "not applicable", so I assume it isn't something pressing.'
A bit of time passes, and I have somehow managed to gather all the ingredients. Nodding with satisfaction, I pick up the goat milk. 'I'm going to need a fire to melt this. Let's go back to Aponi and Eden so I can mix everything while we talk strategy. I'd love to wait longer, but we can't dally any more. Hopefully, Sam is lucid enough to talk.'