“I want to arrive around noon.”
Wetzel looks up from the map that he’s examining by flashlight. He’s in the passenger seat of his jeep. Krober leans over the back of his seat and looks at the map and where Wetzel is indicating. “We’re about here now and here’s the castle. A couple of hours. We should probably stop soon, then. Let the men rest until sunrise, then get on the way, arrive and catch the bloodsuckers napping.”
Mueller, the driver, swears and jerks the wheel. The other two men look up and see a fighter plane come screaming out of the sky, on fire, and slam into the desert not far away from the road that they’re on. There’s the sound of a hammer hitting metal and a large dent appears in the hood of the jeep. A spent fighter plane round neatly rests in the middle of the dent.
The two men look up and see the distant flashes and explosions of an air battle over head. Kroeber swiftly looks around. “Shit! We’ve got to get you under cover, sir! Nothing around here, though. Into the back of the truck, then.” He looks at the driver. “Pull it over, Joachim! Do it now!”
Wetzel lifts his eyebrows. “Sometimes, Sergeant, you have a problem remembering just who’s in charge, don’t you?”
Over the squeal of brakes and the grind of the tires, Krober’s voice is level and his gaze unrepentant. “Oh, you’re in charge, sir. That’s why you need to get under cover. We’re heading into a nest of Nosferatu and if we do that with our commanding officer dead from a piece of plane to the head, then we’re all fucked. Therefore, sir, it’s my completely respectful suggestion that you get out of this fucking jeep and into the back of the fucking truck before a plane lands on your head. Sir.”
“Your nursery attitude almost makes me believe in that stupid Gestapo mumbo jumbo, Sergeant.” Wetzel folds up the map and gets out of the stopped jeep. “In a past life, you were definitely a nursery maid.”
Muller, the driver, grabs his gun, hops out, and rolls under the jeep.
“As you say, sir.” Krober sticks to Wetzel’s side as the two men hurry to the truck that’s pulled to stop behind the jeep. He shakes his head at the driver who’s starting to get out of the truck and the man gets back inside. He bangs on the truck’s tailgate. “Open up, you bastards. The Captain and me were getting lonely up there in the jeep, so we decided to join you. Shift up, and give us some room.”
The tailgate clangs down and hands reach out to help the two men into the back of the truck. Wetzel keeps his voice lightly mocking. “You boys can probably see that it’s raining a bit hard out there, so Muti Krober didn’t want me to catch cold, seeing as how I’m out in the metal rain without my overshoes.”
The men chuckle and move to give Wetzel and Krober some space. Once Wetzel’s seated, he unfolds the map again and looks at it. “How about here?” He points to a spot on the map. “If, and I’m aware that it’s a big if, if the map’s accurate, this looks like a good place to stop for a few hours. A gully tucked away in a hillside. Nobody’s coming down on us from behind and we can set out a watch for anything coming towards us across the plain.”
Krober cranes his head to see where Wetzel’s pointing and nods. “Looks good, sir. Once all the shit in the air moves away, we should be able to get there soon. If you give me the map, I can take it to the other drivers and let them know our destination.”
Wetzel folds up the map and hands it to Krober. “Carry on, Sergeant.”
Krober takes it, takes a peek outside, confirms that no immediate flaming death is falling out of the sky, and jumps out of the truck.
“Death is always beautiful, but sometimes, there is death which is more beautiful.” Bathory speaks while keeping her gaze on the carnage exploding in the sky. “I hate many things about this time, about this technology -” Her tone is acid as she pronounces the word that is foreign in her mouth. “- but, looking at this spectacle, I have to admit that it can produce a beautiful death.”
An exploding bomber provides punctuation to Bathory’s remark.
Those standing around her on the balcony outside her war room murmur in agreement as they gaze upwards. None of the them have any fear of the metal falling out of the sky. Well, perhaps Schefflen does, but since when do vampires care for the feelings of their slaves?
“If you listen close, you can sometimes hear their screams, above the noise of the machines.”
Von Regensberg tilts his head to listen, then smiles a fanged smile. “It is indeed as you say, Countess. A most glorious accompaniment to the beauty of the night.” He turns to regard her and offers her a small bow, all Prussian courtesy. “And to your beauty as well.”
Bathory smiles back at him and strokes his face with her nails, just lightly enough for their razor tips to draw thin lines of blood. She sees him shiver slightly with pleasure from the fleeting pain and is pleased. The episode in the bedroom has left him completely broken to her service. She’d not doubted that it would, these new borns are so very easy to enslave. His pleasure and desire will allow him no more doubts about serving a ruler with brown skin. And if he does allow himself those doubts, they will only occur because he seeks the pleasure of being punished. She reminds herself to tell Camilla to make sure that there is a whip in the bedroom from this time forward. “Why, thank you, Sturmbannfuhrer. It would be even glorious to be up there, among the dying as they scream in helpless pain.” She decides to reward him for causing her to think such delicious thoughts.
Von Regensberg blinks, trying to focus on her words past the burning desire that grips his entire body. And then her hand is gone from his face. Faster than even his vampire eyes can see, Bathory sweeps out a hand. It looks as if one moment she has an empty palm and in the next instant her palm is filled with an unidentifiable piece of machined metal. “Here, I give you a gift. A memento of your service to me.”
He stammers as he reaches out and takes the piece of metal from her hand. He glances over her shoulder to see how those bitches, Illana and Camilla, are reacting to the clear sign that their mistress favors him. They smile serenely back at him.
Oh, how she loves to see her pets fight!
She turns to Schefflen, who is lurking in the background. “What is your opinion, Herr Doktor Professor? Will we someday be able to fly on wings through the night and create such beautiful death ourselves?”
He moves forward at her words, pleased and fearful at her attention. “It is very likely, Countess. The ritual will make you very powerful and you should be able to shape your form as you desire.” His voice becomes shrill. Spittle flies. His fingers never cease writhing and twisting over themselves. “You shall be the Flying Death!” An unidentifiable piece of machinery falls from the sky and makes a crater as it impacts in the desert beyond the castle walls. An effective piece of punctuation to his screeched words.
Even a wretched messenger can deliver good news. Bathory stares triumphantly into the sky. “The Blood Reich will rule the skies as well as the land! Nowhere will be safe from us!” She begins to imagine possible terrible forms that she might take when her ritual makes such a red future possible.
Her fantasies are interrupted by a polite cough from von Regensberg. “But, if I may be so bold, Countess, we are not there yet. And there are those who would seek to stop us, stop you and your glorious plan. Already they approach your door.” He looks away from her glare and points down off the balcony, across the hills and the winding road leading to the castle.
She looks in the direction of his pointing finger and sees a group of vehicles pulled over by the side of the road that leads to her castle. Even though they are some distance away, and it’s dark with no moon, they are visible to her. She can tell that the vehicle engines are still running. She shrugs, unimpressed. She has no fear of human soldiers. “Down there, they look like the scurrying insects that they are! Fit only to be crushed beneath my boot!” She stamps on the balcony floor, grinding the sole of her very nice and shiny leather boot in a pantomime of insectile destruction.
“It is as you say, of course.” She begins to become annoyed at von Regensberg’s voice. But millenia have taught her to at least consider advice from those who know what they’re talking about. She gestures for him continue. “But precautions should be taken, nonetheless, I feel. Wehrmacht High Command should not be underestimated.”
But her patience is not limitless. “And what is the OKW to me? A bunch of old frightened HUMAN men, in thrall to that prancing clown Hitler! None of their pathetic plans can touch my glory.” She looks away from him, back down at the humans and their vehicles on the plain. She sighs deeply and her fingernails draw lines in the stone balcony as she clenches her fist. She remembers the time that she’d ignored the advice of a human servant and had to flee the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols and all that she’d lost in that flight. She retracts her fangs and turns to look at von Regensberg. “But if you insist, my dear. Take what precautions you deem necessary. But remember. Keep as many of them alive as possible. We will need all the bodies we can get for the ritual.”
Von Regensberg clicks his heels and salutes, clearly relieved that his advice will be followed and that she hadn’t dismembered him in a fit of rage. “It shall be as you command, Gruppenfuhrer! We shall receive them according to all military rules and protocol for a meeting between the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht. For are we not all humble soldiers of the glorious Third Reich?”
When Bert Costello was a kid, living in Cedar Rapids, a barnstormer had landed his plane over in Old Man Bergen’s fields. Ever since then, Bert had wanted to be a flier. When the war came along, he volunteered for Army Air Corps and it was the happiest day of his life when he’d been accepted.
Now he’s burning to death, trapped in the cockpit of his fighter plane. The pain is so great that he can’t even hear himself scream. But, in the last few agonizing seconds of his life, as his plane passes like a comet over some old castle, he thinks that he can hear evil screeching laughter. Then, blessedly, his plane crashes into the side of a hill and the pain stops.