Chapter 7 - Salvation?

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Max woke up feeling much saner and more human than he had for days, which made him just lie there for a while making sure he wasn't dreaming. His mind tried to give him an image from somewhere in his subconscious, but he couldn't quite catch it. His dreams faded away.

The fire was gone and his body ached, but it was a residual feeling, not something that was constant and perpetual. He opened his eyes and blinked at the ceiling until his vision started working properly. It was such a natural human feeling that he couldn't really believe it; he felt almost normal.

"Welcome back, Max," a familiar voice said and he turned to find Zhanna in a chair not very far away.

"Hi," he replied and found that his voice croaked and all but gave out.

Surprisingly, she picked up a cup from the bedside table, reached over to him, placing a hand beneath his head, and helped him drink a little of what turned out to be water. Considering the fact that he realised his chains were loose, Zhanna's behaviour seemed on the verge of suicidal.

"Just relax," Zhanna told him with a smile, letting him lie back down as she put the cup back on the table; "you've been asleep for a few hours. Yulia has done all sorts of tests and you're coming out as human."

"Human?" he asked, not quite able to make himself accept what he had just heard.

"Almost," Zhanna replied.

When he went to try and sit up she moved to helped him. He definitely felt human as his body complained about the movement. He was reminded of a time or two after training too hard. He looked down at the cross now tattooed on his chest in red and black; it really was kind of beautiful. It was a standard cross, but with ornate scroll work on and around it; he was impressed by the detail.

"It worked?" he could not simply let himself assume.

Zhanna smiled at him.

"One test left," she said, seemingly totally unworried about the fact that he was quite capable of grabbing her if he so chose; his restraints were that loose.

As he watched, she reached over and picked up another container that was just behind the cup; it looked like a metal flask. Max had never seen it before, but when the top was removed the smell hit him like a physical blow. It was blood and he reacted instantly, his feeling of normality vanished and suddenly the room brightened, his senses sharpened and he was breathing hard, trying to resist the urge to reach out. Then he panicked and pushed himself away from Zhanna, looking at the chains as if they were betraying him by being so long, even as he felt the room fading back to normal levels.

"Max," Zhanna said, recapping the flask, "just breathe, it is okay."

"Not human," he said, shying away as she tried to touch him.

It had been an illusion; it hadn't worked; he was still a monster.

"Max," Zhanna repeated in a much sharper tone, making him look up at her; "we expected this, but did it hurt?"

That made him frown; he didn't understand what he was being asked.

"Hurt?" he asked, needing clarification, but then he glanced down again and he realised what Zhanna was asking.

The answer increased his confusion even more.

"I ... I don't think so," he said, putting his hand over the cross.

"I'm going to open the flask again," Zhanna said gently; "we need to be sure."

Max nodded; he needed to be sure as well. When the flask was opened the smell hit him again, but this time he was ready and for a few seconds he resisted it. The moment he let go, however, the room changed again and this time he felt his fangs descend as well. Through a supreme effort of will he didn't panic, and Zhanna resealed the flask. With a few deep breaths he felt normal again. What did stand out now he wasn't panicking was that he no longer seemed to be aching or felt particularly tired.

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