Nineteenth Chapter of the Prequel for:

"Where's the Excitement?"

"Where we've been"

Isabella Hunter:

"Go round up the newborns. I want a status report by the end of the day." Maria's voice echoed in my ears.

I hadn't noticed her presence until I heard her words, but I couldn't move yet.

My hands were still covered in Henry's ashes as I sat in front of the pyre that once held his body parts. But I wasn't being offered the chance to grieve. I was expected to start working immediately. All the time I had spent waiting desperately for him to wake up was all the time I would be given to mourn.

I should have used the time more wisely.

"Yes, Mistress." My voice was low and hoarse, and completely foreign to me. I felt the sound come out of my mouth and my lips move slightly, but I barely registered it.

My mind was blank.

I felt my legs carry me away from the pyre and toward the newborn forest. I tried to pull air into my lungs, but it felt like poison. I felt the urge to cough, but I knew it wouldn't do me any good. These were not human lungs in my chest. These lungs were dead and useless.

I saw the sun slowly dipping below the horizon. I didn't have a lot of time before I had to give my report, so I needed to get moving. I straightened up and wiped the sadness out of my mind and off my face.

As I walked toward the forest at a human pace, I knew they could hear me coming. Their fear and nerves were palpable in the air. I could sense about a dozen newborns in the woods.

There were also a few older than a year that were more controlled, and were keeping to themselves in a tent separate from the others. I would worry about them later.

I came to a stop in what appeared to be the center of camp where the ground was the most flattened by the heavy feet of frenzied newborns.

"Everyone line up. Now." My command was rushed and filled with urgency. Not wanting to wait, I used my influence to force their bodies into two rows before me. The rows were even, two sets of seven in descending order by age. The youngest ones were at the beginning of the line, right in front of me.

I watched their shaking forms, observing them as they strained to hold themselves in line. I may have used my control to get them into line, but I was testing their ability to maintain their composure by giving them access to their faculties.

I moved in front of the youngest, looking down at the natural rabid form of the newborn. It looked barely two weeks old and couldn't control the growls coming from its mouth. I refused to acknowledge any of the newborns as people while they were in this state. Their thoughts and emotions completely controlled by fear and desire. Their personalities far from their minds, they were just shells walking around looking for direction.

They would be numbers to me, that is all, easy to keep track of and easy to get rid of.

Anyone with a gift would be deemed worthy of being called by their name.

If they were useful.

I used my abilities to assess the usefulness of the newborn in front of me, feeling their fear and uncertainly as I stared at them. There was nothing special about this one. While it wasn't keeping its shit together very well, it wasn't losing total control and snapping at me, which I appreciated.

I nodded and moved to the next one, slightly older than the previous one, maybe by another week or so.

It seemed Maria didn't change so many at one time. Maybe one a week, at most.

It was obvious to me that she hadn't been changing larger groups at a time because she lacked the ability to control them, but I could increase those numbers. I could use my gifts to keep them in line, keep them bound and restrained in order to control them. If I did that, it would drain my strength, meaning I would have to hunt more often. Although, I'm sure Maria wouldn't mind if I could increase her numbers.

The newborn in front of me held my gaze for a split-second before quickly lowering its head. I felt nothing special from this one, but I was a bit intrigued that they made eye contact with me. I nodded and thought that was possibly something to explore later on.

I moved through the next five newborns in the front row, one, about two months old caught my attention. Their aura was bright and white, shining all around them. I took a moment to look at the newborn more closely. He was young, probably college age, medium height, average athletic build, with short light blond hair hanging in his eyes.

"Name." His eyes widened in fear. I hadn't said anything to the other six and his mind was filled with worry, fear, and questions.

Why me, why me, why me…what did I do?

The questions continued for a moment before he pulled himself back to the present long enough to answer my question.

"Jason." His voice was barely above a whisper and shrouded in fear. His eyes were unfocused, looking anywhere but at me.

"You have a gift." My statement shocked him and the other newborns around him. It seemed he either didn't know or he was hiding it.

I felt his turmoil, dread, fear, and mostly indecision. He was debating whether or not to lie to me. I waited patiently as he battled with himself. This could get messy, but luckily he chose the right option.

"Umm…y-yes. I can heal people." I felt only honesty and fear when he spoke.

I smiled inwardly. I was glad he didn't try to lie to me because that would have ended poorly for everyone.

Regeneration could be useful, depending on in what capacity his gift worked. I would have to test him later.

I momentarily thought about whether Maria knew about this one. It seemed none of the other newborns were aware, so maybe this would be a happy surprise for her. Not that I wanted her to be happy or get good news from me, but this would work in my favor.

I nodded and continued on to the older newborns in the back row. Older was a bit of a misnomer though because none were older than eight months. Maybe Maria had some trouble and had to dispose of a few about eight months ago. There were gaps in her numbers, perhaps from when I raided that newborn bar. I had rounded up a good amount of her soldiers to make a dent, and I killed her old second, Luke.

As I moved around to the next row, I immediately noticed a small problem brewing.

At the beginning of the second row, there were two newborns about four or five months old, and they were both having trouble staying in line. I could feel the animosity and hatred flowing between them. They were doing nothing to hide their distaste for one another.

They were practically foaming at the mouth and growling, but mainly at each other. Their proximity to one another was increasing the tension between them. They hadn't attacked each other yet, but the venom was flowing freely from both of their mouths, their fists were clenched at their sides, and they looked about ready to kill someone or something.

"You two, separate," I ordered them.

The relief washed over them instantly at the sound of my command. The one at the beginning of the row moved to the other end, making them last in line instead of first.

"Good," I paused to address all of the newborns before me. "I will not tolerate fighting, unless it is to train. If you have an issue, work it out, or I will work it out for you." My voice was angry and serious. I hadn't used so many words since this sorting process began, and I didn't plan on doing it again.

Since I had arrived here, I had been choosing my words carefully, keeping my conversations short and to the point. I did not want to give anyone the impression that I was here to be their friend.

I would only speak to them if I needed to instruct them; otherwise, I was planning to keep as much distance between myself and the newborns as possible. I had a feeling Maria wouldn't be too pleased about me trying to keep my distance from her or the newborns, so I'd do what I can now before I'm forced into close quarters with either of them. But, I guess I would prefer the newborns over the company of Maria.

I moved through the last five again, ignoring the two who caused trouble, and stopped in front of a girl with long curly brown hair, about the same height as me, pale skin and a cute button nose. I could tell she was on the older side, maybe about seven months old, almost eight. And she was special.

"Name." Her eyes lifted to look at me, and held my gaze. She was scared like all the rest, but not nearly as shook as the younger ones. This one had control of herself, and that piqued my interest. She was also quite confident and that made me feel twitchy in anticipation.

Why is she so confident? I wondered.

"Lena." Her voice was clear and loud. She made sure all the other newborns heard her when she spoke. Their fear naturally spiked at the sound of her name, the complete opposite to how they had reacted to Jason's name. Maybe it was her age or maybe her gift, but either way, this girl was interesting.

"Your gift?" It was barely a question, but it didn't matter. She answered immediately.

"I have temporal control. I can stop time." Her response was simple without inflection, and it intrigued me.

Well that could definitely be useful in battle. I would need to work with her to learn more, but I could already tell she had some handle on it by the fear her name invoked in the other newborns. Maria probably knew about this one. Either way this was a good development.

I nodded slowly and moved to the last newborn, but inside, I allowed myself to be slightly excited about the prospect of working with Lena. However excited one could be in a newborn war camp.

Depending on how things went, how well she responded to me, I had a feeling that she and I could be a wonderful team. I would have to discuss this with Maria, see what kind of possibilities we could come up with for Lena. I was optimistic for the first time since I got here and I tried not to let it sink in.

Maria could just as easily decide to kill the girl before I got a chance to work with her. Maria was a dumb bitch like that sometimes; she loved to do things on whim, act first and fuck the consequences later. This had clearly caused her some problems along the way, so I would do my best to correct this behavior.

The last newborn was the oldest of the group, but was nothing special.

I came back in front of the group. I looked them over once more and nodded, releasing them of their responsibility to stay.

Jason and Lena didn't move away as the rest of the newborns scattered. They stayed where they were in line and waited patiently, well mostly.

"I'll find you later." I said, remaining as curt as possible. They both looked at each other, a moment of understanding between them, before they went their separate ways.

Well, that was all of the newborns below a year, but there were still three others, holed up together in a tent near the north side of the forest close to the edge, facing Maria's house.

As I approached the area, they came out quietly and stood in a small line at the mouth of the tent.

Normally, I would ignore their physical appearances and only judge them as soldiers, but these three hadn't been disposed of after their newborn year. This made me think they either had gifts or were just here to keep things in order for Maria. One of them had to be in charge of this shit-show.

Of the three, two were male, and the middle figure was female. One male was tall and skinny, long arms and legs, with dark skin and a short buzz cut. The other male was short and stocky, looked to be of Mexican descent, and had a poorly cut fade.

The girl in the middle had long dirty blond hair that was pulled into a tight braid; it hung over her shoulder and came down below her chest. She was a bit over five feet with round cheeks and wide hips. She looked like she had been in her early thirties at least when she was changed.

"Names." I demanded just as I had with the newborns, but this time my audience was not as easily intimidated by my presence.

They collectively stood their ground and stared back at me like I hadn't just spoke. I narrowed my eyes and repeated my demand, this time it came out as a hiss with a dose of fear.

"Names. Now."

The Mexican looking male looked at me with wide fearful eyes and gave in to my demand. "I'm Ricardo. This is Jean," he gestured to the woman beside him, and then he pointed toward the other male, "and he's Daniel."

I took a moment and looked them over again.

I didn't need all three of them, maybe two at the most. So, which one would die?

"Gifts?" I asked.

I was just covering my bases; I didn't want to accidentally kill someone useful, I'm sure that wouldn't go over well with my new boss.

Jean looked at me more pointedly and nodded, "I'm a psychic shield." Her response made me smirk. Because so was I, and did we really need two?

I nodded and looked at the guys, but they were shaking their heads.

Well then, I wasn't going to kill the only one with a gift, because that would just be stupid. A gift wasn't something to sneer at, even if it was one I already had. One I had since before this lifetime, but they didn't need to know any of that.

I'd have to figure out which one of the males was going to go later because the day was definitely over by my standards, but I wasn't sure what kind of schedule Maria was working from. Either way, the sun had long since set, and I had a meeting to get to.

"I'll be back." I said and walked the rest of the way out of the forest.

It was time to see Maria again.

As I made my way back up the steps toward her domain, I could smell and hear what was going on inside the house.

She was feeding.

I groaned as I went to knock on the large front double doors...

The knocking was simply a curtesy. I wasn't one to walk into strangers' homes unannounced. I knew it was not my place to just walk into her house, and I wasn't going to be rude just because I was surrounded by depraved newborns.

The right of the two double doors swung open to reveal Maria, clad only in her short black silk robe that she had been wearing over her corset dress earlier. Now, the robe was pulled closed, barely, and it clung to her blood stained skin, leaving nothing to the imagination.

She grinned at me and casually reached out to brush her fingers along my cheek. The path her fingers took left a trace amount of blood behind on my skin, and sent a small amount of rage coursing through me, which I'm sure, had been her intention.

"Mía bella, do come in. You're right on time. For once," She added just to be cruel, to remind me of what happened the last time I was late. The consequences I experienced just hours ago were still fresh on my mind.

I couldn't stop myself from rolling my eyes once she'd turned to walk further into the house, expecting me to follow her like a fucking dog with an invisible leash.

I wiped my cheek quickly before I followed her through the doors and into the house, letting the door close behind me. I noticed a set of stairs off to the right of the main corridor that lead to the second floor. There were also matching living rooms on either side of the main entry way, but my attention stayed on Maria's path.

Toward the back of the main floor, Maria turned right through an open archway into another room, a sitting room.

It was decorated with a total of four humans. The first two were dead, and I would have tripped over their bodies that were sprawled on the floor if I hadn't been a vampire or watching where I was going. Their bodies were slightly off toward the left by the corner of the room by the windows on the back wall of the house.

Another human, who was barely alive with broken limbs, huddled away from the two dead bodies in the opposite corner to the right of the doorway. I heard the crying and whimpering in pain coming from over there, but I did not look over. The last one was alive and looked mostly untouched, but was handcuffed facing the wall passed the windows in the far left corner, waiting for death.

I ignored the pleas for help from the one healthy human and instead I kept myself facing forward, looking straight ahead at the center of the room where Maria had placed a black faux leather chaise lounge.

I waited patiently as Maria dealt with the barely alive human. She pulled the body off the floor behind me, shushing the cries coming from the limp body, and situated herself behind me and to the right, so I could see what she was doing in my peripheral.

I couldn't stop my eyes from watching her movements. I knew I should have been disgusted and revolted and just stared straight, but something about the menacing display of vampirism kept my focus, which Maria enjoyed immensely.

Maria took her time with the human. She pulled the blood into her mouth, slowly, from the main artery in the crook of the human's neck, casually allowing some of her venom to enter the human multiple times. Maria enjoyed the screams of pain that erupted from the body in her arms as the venom entered the bloodstream, burning like poison, and then she continued to suck the venom back out again.

Maria did this at least three or four times before the enjoyment faded from her eyes, and she quickly disposed of the life in her hands by snapping the neck of the frail pale haired girl. The body slumped loudly to the floor at Maria's feet. Her eyes glowed brightly, happily, and fully fed.

She looked at me, keeping her eyes fastened to mine through her dark thick lashes as she casually licked her fingers clean. The small smile that graced her lips was freshly painted and her dark makeup looked alluring, but I was not going to be tempted by this beast. I knew not to play with my food, so if I was going to be feeding from humans it was going to be quick and efficient, not this dramatic display of cat and mouse.

I wasn't going to say anything about her eating habits, and just because I had higher morals than her did not mean I was trying to turn anyone vegetarian. I didn't give a fuck what she did when it came to her food.

I watched her slink through the room, my eyes following her as she made her way to the chaise lounge across from me.

"Give me your report Isabella. How do my newborns look?" Her voice was rough and sultry, and it sounded fake, almost like she was deliberately trying to sound that way.

"Two of the fourteen show promise. Gifted. The girl, whom I'm sure you know, can stop time. There's also a boy, a healer. I'll work with them, and see what I can get out of them." I kept it short and to the point.

I had a feeling she was fully aware of Lena's ability, but I wasn't sure if she knew about Jason. He was still quite young, and he probably didn't have a strong grip on his gift yet. By the way he acted when I called him out, it seemed he hadn't told anyone yet.

Maria's eyes shined as she listened to my review, and by the way she perked up at the news of the boy, I was right, she did not know about Jason.

"Mía bella, you are already proving your worth I see. Good. I'd like another report on the gifted ones, when they are better trained. And the older ones?" She was proud of me and I felt…not disgusted but slightly shocked by my immediate positive response to her emotions. I would worry about that later.

"I don't need all of them. One of the males will be disposed of. Do you have a preference?" I don't know why the fuck I was even asking, but it felt like the right thing to do.

She is technically in charge around here, and I could tell immediately that she appreciated me asking for her opinion, which was evident by the small smile she gave me as I asked. Also it was blatantly obvious in her emotions, so I tried to milk it. I was showing her that we could work together.

The first step in building trust is finding common ground. And I knew exactly how to give her what she wanted.

"I agree, but I want to see how you choose. Do it tomorrow." She was trying to test me, but I was going to pass with flying colors. She wanted to gauge how I would judge each of them and their usefulness, and she wanted to watch me make this decision.

I knew she wanted me to be her little killer, and this was just the first step. I just had to make sure it looked like I was going willingly.

"As you wish, Mistress." I hated calling her that, but it was a small price to pay in the long run.

She smiled in response and adjusted herself on the chaise lounge before she smoothed out the smile and replaced it with a hard mask.

"Let's discuss the terms of your agreement." Oh I get it now, the blank look she was giving me was her business face.

Well I had one as well.

I copied the look she gave me and straightened my posture as much as I could, keeping my arms crossed behind me and my feet firmly planted together.

"Okay, lets." As I responded shortly, her anger boiled quietly behind her eyes, her nose flaring just a bit, but I caught it.

She didn't like my short responses. She didn't like the distance I was so clearly placing between us, and I could tell by the anger she just showed that she was going to do something about it, right now.

"You will stay in this house. You will feed with me. You will turn humans for me. You will be mine, mía bella." She sneered at me.

Her words were meant to claim me, and to anger me, but I wasn't going to agree that easily.

"I believe it would be best if I stayed in the camp. To keep an eye on things." I kept my hard mask on my face and waited, gauging her reaction to my words. She did not like them. She stiffened and raised her voice when she responded.

"No! You will do as I say, and stay here. The older ones can handle the newborns for now." She thought her response was final, but I could easily undermine her.

"They won't be able to handle all fourteen when I kill one of them tomorrow. From what I saw, you have two unstable newborns who want to kill each other. That alone could cause an issue. Only two older ones won't be able to keep them and everyone else apart if things get out of hand. And it's possible that the other older ones will protest when I come to execute one of them tomorrow." My argument was sound and made perfect sense.

I watched as she heard my words, the obvious logic there made her mad, but I saw her resolve. Good, she was going to listen to me. That made me want to smirk at her, but I resisted the urge. She was still miffed that I'd made a plausible defense and I had to make sure she didn't hold this against me.

"Fine. Clean up the mess with the older ones, and if you must, get rid of the two newborns that are causing trouble. I hate to lose numbers, but I know you will be able to help with that mía bella." She had agreed to my terms, and now she was smiling again.

I held back my sigh and nodded, words were unnecessary. I knew she wanted to keep talking about the terms and changing humans was one of the terms I had agreed to. I continued to look at her expectantly, waiting for her to continue the discussion.

Her eyes stayed locked with mine as she delivered her orders. "I want five newborns changed in the next month. If we have to eliminate two, I want extra in return. You will take Jean with you when you hunt, and I want a full report after every change has begun."

I had no issues with the number she requested. What I did have issue with was having Jean come with me when I hunt. Maria didn't trust me on my own, and that instinctively annoyed me. But it wasn't like she had any reason to trust me, I did just get here. I also did not want a babysitter to watch me kill people, it felt wrong.

However, I could see I was not going to win this argument before it even started, so I did my best to let it go without appearing that I was displeased. If Maria wanted me to get close to Jean and make her my hunting buddy, then so be it. Maybe I could get Jean on my side.

"That can be accomplished. However, if both of the older males end up having to be disposed of, we will need someone to watch the newborns while I'm gone." I stated in a very subtle voice. I didn't want her to get agitated by my comments. I was just trying to show her all of the possibilities. Hopefully she would get what I meant and say Lena should train to take some control of the other newborns.

Something told me the reason her newborns had to be disposed of so often was because she left them alone to organize themselves more often the not, instead of appointing someone capable of handling them. Or maybe the people she had chosen to be in charge, like Luke, were just not experienced enough to control a large group of newborns

I guess things have changed a lot since Jasper was in charge…or maybe she just never found another person capable of his control.

Until me.

Either way, I would not allow that mistake to continue. The newborns needed to be watched at all times, and I would do whatever it took to avoid having to kill and change more humans. I wanted to maintain the numbers she did have before I added to them.

"Train the gifted girl. She should be able to control the newborns at least in part until she is more proficient with her gift."

I had hoped to discuss the possibilities of Lena with Maria, and luckily, I didn't have to say a word. Maria did all the deciding for me. I simply acted like I was considering the idea, when I already knew it was the best course of action.

That girl had sparked an interest in me, and I was getting excited again thinking about the opportunity to train her. But I quickly shut that down and simply smiled slightly and nodded.

"That will be sufficient." Her eyes stayed locked with mine, as I responded, observing my reactions.

I didn't want her to know I was excited, so I used my words to convey a lack of interest instead. I hoped nothing was evident on my face. I didn't want her to take away this opportunity before I even got a change to explore Lena's gift, or Jason's for that matter.

The gifted ones weren't just important to Maria…they could also be useful to me. If I could get them on my side along with Jean, I would have a good standing, my faction would at least have a foot in the door.

Maria seemed pleased with my response and didn't question me afterwards. Our discussion had been mostly civil so far and I was surprised how well she was listening to me. Aside from wanting me to stay in her house, none of her other requests seemed unfair or ridiculous. But then again, this was just the first day.

I was feeling slightly optimistic again, which worried me. It wasn't a good idea to have positive emotions clouding my judgement while I was working for Maria. I needed to stay focused on her instructions and accomplish her requests as quickly as possible, while doing everything I can to avoid her vicious punishments.

Thinking about Maria's request for five new additions, I knew I could go out right now and get five new humans to change. However, Maria had made a good point; I did need to handle the older ones and the troublesome newborns before I left the camp. One day here, and I was already itching to get out. But I wouldn't be leaving the camp alone.

I would have to befriend Jean, and hopefully she wouldn't be too upset with me after I executed one or both of her friends. If I were in her shoes, I would not let the death of a fellow soldier stop me from accomplishing my duties, but that was just me. Jean was still young, not much older than a year, her rational thinking may have returned to normal, but she was still enslaved in a newborn war camp.

I would have to remain aware of her situation, whatever that turns out to be, which we would find out, tomorrow. I didn't want to upset her or piss her off any more than she might already be. I didn't know a lot about her now, but I was hoping to change that.

My mind went back to Maria's desire to have me stay in her house…obviously that idea made me cringe.

I did not want to have to be in such close quarters with her or the newborns. I mean, I didn't exactly want to have to live outside in the camp, but staying in this house with all the odors and bodies would eventually drive me crazy. Somehow, I would have to come up with a happy medium. For now, I would stay outside and watch the newborns.

Worst case scenario, I could always use her request as leverage later on. I'd just have to wait and bide my time, watch her and the newborns and learn everything I could about this camp and whatever other camps she had.

I couldn't think of anything else we needed to discuss at the moment, so I decided it was appropriate for me to leave. However, Maria did not agree.

Before I could get all the way to the exit, the sound of Maria clicking her tongue stopped me…again like a damn dog. I stopped myself from growling at her and remained calm, turning back toward her slowly.

A dark smirk adorned her face as she rose and came toward me, stopping barely a foot away from my face. Her words were low, whispered to me, with her floral scent fanning my face as she spoke.

"I didn't say you could leave mía bella."

I righted myself as she continued to invade my personal space. I tried to ignore her attention, but it was pretty difficult with her right up in my face. Her dark eyes roamed over me as she smirked and licked her lips.

"You've had such a long day. You need to feed." She stated plainly while her eyes flickered over to the last human in the room, "and I saved you a snack." A small laugh escaped her lips as she looked back at my face. I wasn't sure what it showed, but she seemed to take amusement in what she saw there.

I involuntarily swallowed the venom that flooded my mouth when she mentioned the human in the room. I allowed her to turn my body and bring me toward the corner where the petrified human was cuffed on their knees facing the wall. We stood over the defenseless human, looking down at the body, me in anxiety and Maria in anticipation.

I knew this would happen and now I had to give in.

The burn I never used to let myself feel was threatening to break through my iron clad control.

Maria sighed in my ear, impatiently. She wasn't going to wait forever while I debated how I was going to do this. Apparently a few seconds of hesitation was too long for Maria, something I would have to remember for later.

She wasted no time, crouching down and yanking the human back by their cuffs, pulling them against her body. The cracking sound from one of the human's shoulders sounded loudly through the room as she pushed their neck aside, and jammed her teeth into the soft flesh over the human's throbbing fearful pulse.

She sucked lightly for a moment, pulled back, and let go of the human. I watched as the blood gushed from the open neck wound faster than I thought possible.

"Now Isabella."

Once the command had left her lips, I had no choice.

It felt like time was moving slowly, like it does in movies when you're watching a car crash. This was just like that, but in reality, the whole event only took a matter of seconds.

Before I could register what was happening, before I could even blink, and before Maria could tell me again, I grabbed the human by the neck. My mouth attached to their clammy bloodied skin where the wound was open and gushing, and I sucked every last drop of life force from their body faster than I'd ever drained an animal.

As the broken limp body slipped from grip, I fell backward on the floor, and stared up at Maria's evil grin.

"Such a good girl," She purred at me as she lightly patted my head, feeling prideful.

Her actions were meant to comfort me, congratulating me after a job well done, but I couldn't move from my spot on the floor.

I looked away from her toward the empty vessel in front of me. I couldn't tear my eyes away from the drained body.

I should have felt repulsed or angry or even toward Maria, but instead, I hummed in agreement with her.

Looking back up at her, I tried my best to smile.

But the truth was seared into my head.

I'm a monster.