The Long Road Home, Chapter 8: Highway to Hell, or My 80 Years of Darkness (Jasper)

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Peter was the only person in the entire world that I would call "friend" at that time of my life. Maria had never been a friend, even during the best, most harmonious, times. Peter was different.

He'd become one of us a bit over three years before, hand-picked during one of my frequent hunts for new soldiers for Maria's little army, from West Point. I had ranged unusually far north during that foray, enjoying the respite from Maria's company that the scouting allowed; I'd been following the Appalachian Trail north, and ended up in New York, although I obviously had avoided the city itself, and had happened upon the military academy by chance. I'd watched the cadets drilling, and had thought that it was a good spot for a bit of "recruiting" of my own.

Peter had stood out. Tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired, and aristocratic, he looked like he came from a good family, and carried himself proudly, his back ramrod-straight. He reminded me a little of my old friend from my mortal years, Newton Berryman. They both had that almost visible air of respectability and strength.

Peter was also a natural leader: the other cadets followed him without question, and he exuded confidence. Adding in the discipline and skills that the military academy training had provided him, he was ideal.

I'd studied him for several days, then made my move early one Friday evening when he left the academy for a weekend furlough. The sun had set, and the road leading from the school at that time was lined with tall trees, casting it into deep shadow, where I had been waiting for him. I'd leapt out in front of him, startling his horse; it reared and screamed, pawing the empty air, and Peter had been thrown down into the dust.

I had drawn closer, standing over him; I'd been amazed at how little fear he had shown outwardly, at how little I felt from him-mainly, I sensed shock, and irritation at having been unhorsed.

Never letting his eyes leave me, he had gotten to his feet immediately, drawn his saber and pointed it at me defiantly. I was amused at the sword: they never trained with them anymore by then, they were simply ceremonial. It wasn't even sharp...but it was the fact that he was willing to challenge me with the damn useless thing that was endearing.

"I don't give a damn who you are, fellow, but you should think twice about whatever it is you are planning," he said calmly, and his emotions had matched his words. I liked him immediately.

I'd done it so quickly he had no time to even react until it was done. He had stared at me, stunned, then looked down at his hand, where I had bitten him. He hadn't even truly seen me, I had darted in so fast. His blood had flowed freely and dripped down onto the dusty road, where it gleamed dully in the faint light of the new stars overhead.

"What in the name of God..." he muttered, his eyes wide. "Who are you?"

I sighed. They always asked that. I had hoped for a bit more originality from him, but I suppose it is a natural thing to ask, given the occasion. I think I asked something along the same lines, too, at first, when I had realized that Maria and Nettie and Lucy had been...different. Regarding Peter, I had a speech already prepared, which I always recited for the chosen ones. I always gave them a choice.

"Who I am isn't important. What is important is that you have a decision to make now, Peter. A very big decision. But you must do it quickly. You don't have much time." I kept my tone neutral, holding his gaze the entire time. He bit his lip and waited for me to finish, flexing his fingers as they gripped his saber so tightly that the knuckles went white. He didn't even ask how I knew his name.

"You now have venom beginning to spread through your body. I poisoned you when I bit you, Peter, and that poison will kill you-but not in the way you imagine. It will change you. You will cease to be human anymore, but you will live forever, and you will consume human blood as your only sustenance. You will be supernaturally strong and fast, in every way. You will never need to sleep or rest again. You will be a predator, a killing machine.

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