His name was spoken among the Vampyr in hushed overtones; if you spoke of him at all. He was the boogey-man of boogey-men. His real name was lost to antiquity. He was called the Shepherd. Like a scourge or plague, where the Shepherd came, none survived, so the legends said. All legends have a kernel of truth in them if you dig deep enough.
He could no longer remember his name. He had not used it in so long, no one living, even the oldest of the Old Ones could remember it and their pedigree went back four thousand years, but he, he was one of the First. And as far as he knew he was the Last.
Sun-baked by millennia of crossing the world on foot, on camels, later horses, ships of nearly every size and shape, he knew the sun, from every angle, from every climate, from every biome on Earth. His skin was black as night, nearly so black it shone with a bluish tint. On occasion, his appearance caused men to recoil in fear, back when humans had the proper respect for his… vocation.
A little over five and a half feet tall, he was powerfully built; his body festooned with scars acquired over the ages, should you be fortunate enough to see him without his clothing. As ruggedly as his body had lived, he kept himself impeccably dressed, his custom-made suit hid only the physical manifestations of his power. Anyone standing near him felt his aura of confidence, of supreme will.
His head was clean-shaven, though he did nothing to maintain this state. His hair simply no longer grew upon it. He would occasionally wear a hat, if the fashion of the time required it. Modern times no longer had such requirements, more the pity. He often thought modern times had lost touch with the little things that mattered.
Though the sun was hot, it was nothing compared to the sun of his ancestors, The August sun beat down on New York city like a drum, rhythmic ripples flowed away into the distance, distorting the long avenues, bereft of all but a few people, scurrying along. He wore a pair of dark and beautiful bronze-like sunglasses; their like had not been seen in some time.
Not the sentimental type, these sunglasses were one of the only things he kept from Byzantium before its destruction. He attributed this attachment to their high quality. But they were not for his protection; he could stare directly into the sun for days with no trauma. These were for the humans who would dare to stare into his eyes. His eyes revealed his nature as a Shepherd though few would recognize that today. It was how they knew each other. To know his gaze was to court death.
His mouth and nose were both ample and full, yet did not dominate his face, having nearly perfect proportions with his cheeks and chin. Each element of his face was distinct but together, women considered him breathtaking. Back when he cared about such things, he was vain and proud of his appearance, but the centuries slowly eroded the value of his physical beauty until it became one more tool at his disposal, nothing more.
He walked through the streets of New York with purpose. He remembered these streets from decades ago when they were pulsing with life, people bustling from place to place barely aware of the person next to them. Nights were filled with lights stridently crying out for notice. The scents of the city spanned the globe and each reminded him of another epoch, in time, when those foods were prepared with less flair but more honesty. He hated to admit it but New York was one of his favorite cities of the last two centuries. There was a vitality he thought lost to the modern world.
And now it was lost again. But not just to New York but to everywhere.
He had seen the face of plague before. He had watched millions die in his ten thousand year journey. Before he knew his purpose, he watched in horror as smallpox devastated Mesopotamia, and later spread to nearly every corner of the globe, a more devastating disease had never been seen, then or since. He watched and learned as cholera swept across Africa, with diphtheria in tow, and heralded by malaria. As mankind moved to avoid diseases, and learned technologies to forestall disease, it was simple to mislead them and he watched as Rome fell to madness and lead poisoning. Only a few centuries later the European continent was devastated by the Black Death. By the twentieth century his work had grown easy as the world trembled before the might of the Spanish Flu. An affliction so terrible, historians were the only ones who remembered it willingly.
The diseases of the modern era, AIDS, Morgellans, drug addictions, were no less effective than his previous works, but lacked the sweeping devastation he was used to, until now.
And this, this was the conundrum. This Great Wasting as it was called, resembled the lowly staph infection, a modest creation which had enjoyed a return to prominence early in the twenty first century but now had turned into this new thing; something vile and unpredictable with a speed rarely seen except for flesh-eating bacteria. It would be something he would have been proud to take credit for if it were his.
But it was not.
There were no other Shepherds alive. He knew this. He was there at the passing of the last. And nature, while she can be a beast, would never have developed anything as dangerous as this. The question was who or what could have done this?
It didn’t matter now. What mattered was keeping this from the public eye until he could complete his investigation. He had his suspicions but no one could know the truth until he was sure.
The meddlesome and curious Lord Oak had already discovered what he hadn’t wanted to be known. This was no ordinary disease, nor was it one placed into the ecosystem to control the population of man. This disease had only one purpose, the complete and utter extermination of man.
No Shepherd would do this.
How was it created? Who would create such a thing? Why would they make it so virulent? None of those questions could be answered until the underlying reason for his being here could be dealt with.
It cannot be known this was not a culling. Panic among the People would be the result. He already disapproved of this coming out to Humanity. It would only create more tensions than it solved. The fall of Rome had proven we can never truly coexist. The Dark Ages only reinforced our experiences of the inability to effectively coexist, though we expanded our numbers greatly after the Renaissance so it was not a complete loss.
He considered letting the local powers deal with the Last member of the House of Oak, a once great house, filled with artists, scientists and scholars; a friend to most, a rival to few. Once, even a friend to, a Shepherd. That was a long time ago, a different Shepard and a different Lord Oak.
This was no time for sentimentality. The stakes were the entire world. For without Humanity, the People will perish. I must find the true source of this contagion, without the source, humanity had no chance to defeat it.
Their skills were great enough they were already learning this, but if Maximillian Oak is able to share his knowledge, we will no longer be able to contain the powder keg. Humanity without hope of reprieve would explode into an orgy of violence and despair.
As he approached an inner city checkpoint, the security guards leveled their weapons and ordered him to stop. He did not acknowledge them. He simply removed his sunglasses and stared at them. Like the six checkpoints before this one, the men clutched their chests, their eyes burst and they fell over dead. When they are checked at a forensic lab a day from now, their bodies will be coursing with diseases, numerous ones, unseen for decades.
There would be new bulletins issued, new protocols released, but none of them will matter for the source of the disease defied pathology.
He strides past the checkpoint, unchecked. He returns his shades, their familiar weight comfortable on his face.
I needed more time.
As long as he was aware of this knowledge, the Lord Oak must die.
House of Oak: Red Star, White Sun © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved