It hurts to breathe.
Bleick watches in dazed confusion as blood drops to the dirty flagstones underneath his boots. He’s afraid. Scared down to his bones. That he can feel. He’s a veteran, he knows the normal initial rush of fear that accompanies combat. This is different. Something like a pile driver or a piston, strength that can’t be denied, pushes him between his shoulder blades and he stumbles ahead. More fear. The monsters frighten him like he was a child, scared that Shock Headed Peter was going to leap out of the closet and cut off his thumbs. He’s afraid he might start to cry. He hugs himself as he stumbles towards the dungeon cell.
It hurts to breathe.
He hugs himself tighter and welcomes the pain. The pain drives away the fear, drives away the urge to cry. The pain reminds him that he’s a soldier of the Reich, a decorated veteran of the Wehrmacht. The Captain and the Sergeant are still free, they’ll figure a way out of this. He’s a soldier, he has to be ready when they call upon him. He straightens against the pain, wipes his bloody nose with the sleeve of his uniform, and starts to pay attention to his surroundings.
With the rest of survivors from the troop, Bleick is herded into a large dungeon cell. The front of the cell, looking out onto passageway, is made up of large iron bars, with the door cut out from the middle of the bars. Light is provided by a single flickering lightbulb strung from the ceiling. It smells of piss and shit and fear. There’s a narrow drain in the corner. There are no windows. One of the monsters in its black leather greatcoat, gasmask now slung around its neck, slams the door shut and locks it. The monster grins and licks its lips and leaves.
All the Germans stand back from the door, huddled together. Bleick, looking out over the shoulders of some of the other soldiers, sees that there’s the same sort of cage right across the passageway from them. To his surprise, he sees that it’s filled with men. Mainly look like Arabs, probably Tunisians but scattered among them are men in tattered Italian, British, and American uniforms. They don’t react to the Germans, just stand there listlessly. Bleick fights down another surge of fear when he sees the scars, fresh, on the necks and arms of the men.
One of them, an Italian by his uniform, stumbles to the bars at the front of his cell. His German is rough and stumbling, his voice fearful but hopeful. “Rescue? Here to save us? German army finally moving against the monsters?”
The Germans just stare at him, unable to come up with any response, too scared to laugh, too defeated for lies.
The door to the dungeon bangs open and the Italian shrinks back into the group of prisoners as three vampires stride into the area between the cells. One of them gestures to the other two. “Go on, get them out. Get them to the lab.”
The prisoners moan and press back against the far wall of the cell, as far away from the door as they can get. One of the Nazi vampires throws open the door of the cell and follows in behind the other one. The prisoners don’t put up any kind of resistance, just moan and cry, sluggishly try to avoid the grasping hands. One of the prisoners, an American airman by his tattered and dirty uniform, breaks down completely and huddles in the corner of the cell, crying and hiding his face against the wall. Bleick can see the front of his uniform darken as he pisses himself.
The vampire giving the orders stays outside the cell and oversees. “Don’t kill them! Don’t draw any blood at all! Remember what the Sturmfuhrer did to Leiden when he didn’t follow orders.” The two vampires in the cell pull their claws and just push and kick the prisoners out of the cell. The leader steps aside with a disgusted look on his face. A look that flashes into hunger and back to disgust at random intervals. “Go on! Get them to the lab! Herr Doktor is waiting. He says that the project is at a critical stage.”
One of the vampires says to the other, in a complaining undertone, just audible to the Bleick in the other cell. “When isn’t the project at a critical stage? And what is the project? Just a waste of good blood.”
Audible to the leader as well, apparently. In a movement fast as an eye blink, he’s got the complainer by the throat and throws him against the bars in front of the Germans’ cell. The Wehrmacht soldiers all jump back, startled. “Never question, you fool, you piece of garbage! You question the project, you question HER!”
Bleick can hear the capital letters in the vampire’s voice. Capital letters in some heavy Fraktur font, he thinks irrelevantly to himself, distracting himself from the fear. As scared as he is of the enraged vampire just on the other side of the bars, he’s also made uneasy by the passivity of the prisoners from the other cell. There’s maybe 15 of them, only 3 vampires, and two of them are fighting each other, completely distracted. But none of them make a move for the remaining guard, don’t even try to rush out the door of the dungeon. Bleick wonders how long he’s like that, what will be done to him and his comrades to to make them like that.
“Never question HER!” The vampire shakes the other one like a dog with a rat, banging his head against the bars. “Never!”
The other one manages to choke out an acquiescence and a plea for forgiveness. The vampire in charge drops him and he falls into a cowering heap. The standing vampire kicks him. “Get to your feet! Now! Take the prisoners to the lab! Never let me hear you question any orders again!” He leans in close and drops his voice to a hiss but Bleick can still hear him just fine. “Or I’ll tear your heart out.”
The beaten one scurries away and sets to work without another word, herding the prisoners out of the dungeon. The other guard keeps a blank face does his job as well. The vampire in charge shakes his head in disgust and anger, hissing to himself. He follows the prisoners and guards.
Bleick lets out a shaky breath. Stossel edges his way through the group of soldiers standing in the middle of the cell and goes close to the door and the iron bars at the front of the cell. He runs an appraising eye over the bars and bends to look at the lock in the door.
Bleick comes up next to him. “Could be worse, I guess. At least they didn’t kill us right away.”
Stossel spares him a glance, a glance with a volume’s worth of disbelief at Bleick’s optimism. “They’re saving us for something. You heard those monsters, talking about the lab. We’re going to be bled out at their convenience, just like those poor bastards.” He looks back at the lock, reaches through the bars at the side of door, explores with his fingers the front of the lock. “We were stupid out there, overconfident. It should have been harder to take us.”
“They’re fast! You saw how fast they were!” Bleick shuts his mouth on further excuses, hating his whining tone.
Stossel pulls his hands back, straightens, and starts to rummage through the pouches at his belt. “That’s no excuse. They’re fast, but they’re animals. They have no tactics, they just rush in. We should have been better prepared.” He pulls the small screwdriver he uses for adjusting the sights on his rifle out of belt pouch and bends back to the lock.
Bleick shrugs, even though he knows the other man can’t see. “At least the Captain and the Sergeant are still free. You see, they’ll rescue us and then we’ll deal with the monsters. We won’t make the same mistakes.”
“We’ll probably make new ones.” Then Stossel cocks his head. He quickly straightens just as the door of the dungeon is thrown open.
Captain Wetzel and Sergeant Krober are pushed through the doorway, pushed so hard that they end up sprawled on the floor in front of the cell. Bleick stares in disbelief. He could cry at the unfairness of it all.
Stossel whispers in Bleick’s ear. “Look, we’re rescued.”
When a vampire unlocks the cell door, Bleick shrinks back with the other Wehrmacht soldiers. The two men are thrown into the cell by laughing vampires. The cell door is slammed shut and locked. Two vampires remain in the dungeon, the rest leave.
Wetzel and Kroeber stagger, keep to their feet. It doesn’t look like either of them are injured, just beaten up. They stand there, in the cell, looking at the other soldiers. No one says anything. A vampire giggles on the other side of the bars. The fear comes back to Bleick.
Back in the old Crusader hall, everyone, all the SS vampires remaining there are hard at work, putting the tables back in order, repairing the communications station, sweeping up vampire remains. Bathory stands on the dais, von Regensberg hovers in attendance behind her. He keeps his eyes on her face, waiting for any sign of what she might be thinking. His uniform brushes against the hieroglyphs carved in his chest and he has to fight down a rush of sexual pleasure at the pain. He blinks away the memories of her, the Goddess of Blood, above him. As much as he wants to revisit those memories, it’s much too dangerous to be distracted now. Those Wehrmacht bastards came uncomfortably close success. He has to be ready for whatever she decides to do, whatever orders she gives.
Her face is blank. She’s thinking very fast, very hard. She’s shocked by how easily her vampires were slain by the two men. The superior speed of the vampires were the only thing that saved this attack from complete disaster. Without any sign appearing on her face, she fights back a surge of rage. She can’t let herself succumb to that now. She has to think, she has to plan. The hated technology. Try as she might, she cannot understand it, she cannot treat it as normal. Everything is changing so fast. Winds of time eroding everything that she once thought was permanent. She fights back the fear just as she fought back the rage. The Eternal Nile is still there. She still feels it. And soon, she will return. Resolve replaces both fear and anger. She knows what to do. Her victory is assured.
Illana and Camilla are over on the other side of the room, supervising the other vampires, putting the maps back in order. She gestures to them to attend her. They cease what they’re doing immediately and come over to the dias. Their obedience and their beauty make her feel much better, warm like a sip of blood. When they get to the dias and stand next to von Regensberg, she addresses the man first. “You were right, Sturmbannfuhrer. The Wehrmacht poses a larger threat than I anticipated.” He straightens and her handmaidens reveal their displeasure only through a slight narrowing of the eyes. An extra dart of pleasure. “I’m moving the ritual up. It will occur as soon as I am ready. Go tell Herr Doktor Schefflen that he must begin the final preparations now. The ceremony will start when the sun goes down. All prisoners must be sacrificed. I want the machinery -” Her mouth twists on the word. No matter in what language she says it, that word will always be foreign to her. “- to be ready when the ceremony starts. Tell him that he is on the threshold of his greatest triumph. And tell him that there will be no excuses.” Von Regensberg opens his mouth to acknowledge his orders and she forestalls him with a raised hand. “After you have given Herr Doktor those orders, I want you and your men to feed, take some of the sacrifices, and then rest. Make no mistake, this night will be dangerous. I want you to be at your best. Now, go and I know that you will not fail me.” She sees him straighten even more and the light of devotion come into his eyes, just like a dog that has been patted.
“It shall be as you order, Gruppenfuhrer!”
The title triggers something in her. Lately, she has been thinking more and more often in the language of her childhood and the harsh noise of German has been coming with more difficulty for her. Soon, soon, she tells herself. “Von Regensberg, one last thing. We are no longer part of the army of that strutting Austrian mediocrity. You are all part of my army now. So it would be best to dispense will all these obsolete ranks and titles”
He pauses and then kneels. “It shall be as you command… Hemet Set”
His accent is atrocious but she smiles at his efforts nonetheless. “Now go and do my work, Menfet Set.”
Von Regensberg scrambles to his feet and walks quickly across the room, ordering soldiers to follow him. Bathory turns to Camilla and Illana. “Such a useful weapon in my hand. I will miss him when he is gone.” Then with a cruel smile that brings forth echoing expressions on the beautiful handmaidens. “Not really. Weapons like him are easily forged. Not like the beauty that I see before me now.” Their smiles turns to looks of adoration. Which as it should be. For she is the High Priestess of Set, the Hemet Set, and they are just slaves. “Now let us go to my quarters. We must start to prepare for the ritual. Camilla, bring along two of the prisoners. We must feed as well.” She makes her expression serious, leans in towards them, making them the honored confidants. She has done this so many times in the past. “I will not lie to you. Tonight will be dangerous. I will be calling on the God in a way I have not done for …” She trails off, honestly unable to remember. “For a very very long time. The Romans ruled the Middle Sea. And I will be using the tools of that creature Schefflen to increase my power. That I have never done. Ever.” She pauses to allow them to realize what that means. She looks closely at the two of them. Neither of them show any fear, just strong resolve and love. Again, as it should be. “So we must feed and rest before beginning the preparations. We must, you especially, my darling daughters, be at our greatest strength.”
“We are yours.” Illana’s erect nipples are visible underneath her cavalryman’s tunic.
“We live to serve you.” Camilla, that delicious slattern, licks her lips.
She looks down at her handmaidens kneeling before her and caresses their upturned faces. “It’s good that the Germans confronted us when they did. If they had come later, they would have disrupted the ceremony and that would have been…” She pauses to allow understatement mask the rage she feels at the mere possibility. “…most unfortunate. But they moved too soon and now we will continue without any further interruptions.”
Maccabbee speaks to Malkuth’s broad back as they move cautiously down a corridor in Bathory’s castle. He keeps his voice low. “We should head up, if we get the chance. Any stairs we find, if they go up, we take them.”
Malkuth doesn’t look back, keeps his machinegun raised as he lumbers down the corridor. “Why’s that?”
“Because I get the feeling that this bitch leech is kind that likes to live up high. You see the tower with the big red banner hanging from it? That’s probably where she looks out and cackles.” He knows he’s talking too much. They’re infiltrating a fucking vampire’s castle! But he can’t stop. Too scared. Too many ways this can go wrong. He tightens sweaty fingers and grips his gun harder.
“Cackles?” He wishes the Rabbi would button his lip. This ain’t no Sabbath stroll. But he can’t fault him for being scared. So he plays along.
“You know.” Maccabbee drops into a bad movie Hungarian accent. “I vill crush you puny leetle insects.”
“Ah. That kinda thing. Right, up the stairs it is.”
When the door opens, Tipareth is completely unsurprised. The two in front of him had been flapping their jaws for so long, something like this was bound to happen. The vampire is faster but Tipareth is stronger. And made of clay.
Tipareth staggers across the hallway and into the opposite wall as the vampire leaps through the door and lands on him. Predictably, the monster doesn’t use a gun and tries to sinks its teeth into Tipareth’s neck. The golem gets a hand on the back of the monster’s neck and peels it off his body. Its claws gouge deep furrows in the clay of Tipareth’s body, shredding his uniform shirt, but the golem only feels those wounds as distant sensations, nothing so elaborate as pain.
The vampire opens its mouth to yell, say something, a species of rationality coming back into its eyes as it realizes what it’s attacking. Tipareth doesn’t allow any sound to escape. He whirls, vampire still held by the neck, and slams the monster face first into the stone wall of the corridor. He leans, presses all his considerable weight, and the vampire’s skull comes apart in his hand, pieces oozing between his fingers.
Once all movement has stopped, he drops the mess on the floor and turns to the other two. “Maybe a little less talking would be a good idea.”
Geburah moves quietly down the stair, all its guns ready, it is so happy. The energy that makes up its soul, it can feel it thrum and shiver in its chest. Anticipation. The guns are steady as the clay that makes its arms. Geburah can’t stop smiling, it can’t wait to start killing monsters. Everything that it looks at has a reddish tinge. It is the Sephiroth of war. And soon, so very soon, the party will start. Maybe behind that door down at the bottom of the stairs.
The four armed golem stops and quickly looks each way down the hall. Empty. It gestures to Binah and Mirsky to follow. The door isn’t fully closed and Geburah puts an eye to the crack. If its smile grow any larger, the top of its head will probably fall off.
Geburah turns back to the other two. Gestures. Two in there. Silence. Geburah and Binah. Mirsky looks balky but nods. Binah nods. Moving slowly silently carefully, Geburah sets the machinegun down, holsters the other two guns. Sets itself by the door. Looks at Binah. Final nod.
Even though he’s gotten the shitty end of the stick again (Oberleutnant Rauscher hates him, always has) and gotten assigned to the day watch, Trooper Gehman is pretty happy. He’s generally cheerful. He was happy when he got accepted into the SS, he was happy when he was turned into a vampire, he was happy killing anybody he was told to. So, while day watch is tiresome, he’s down here in the dungeon, is barely aware of the sun beating down on the castle. And there’s an entire cage of prisoners to play with! He won’t draw blood, order were very clear on that, but he can terrify them. Maybe even make them cry or beg. That would be nice and make the long hours of duty pass faster.
The door to the dungeon slams open and Gehman spins vampire fast. His body is fast, powered by the blood and evil of the vampiric infection. But his mind is a slow as it ever was. He just stares at the four armed shape rushing towards him. He can’t figure out what he’s seeing.
But, by the time he realizes that whatever it is, it’s attacking him and he should probably raise the alarm, Gehman’s finished.
With its two lower hands, Geburah grabs each of the vampire’s wrists and lifts, spreading it cruciform in front of it. One upper hand grabs the opening jaw and crushes it, reducing any warning cry to a mangled gurgle. The other upper hand, fingers straight, powers through the vampire’s ribcage. The golem’s fist grasps, tears, and pulls out the vampire’s dried and withered heart. It holds the dessicated organ into front of the vampire’s face, making sure that was the last thing he would see before dying.
“Such a sense of theatre you have. You’ve got quite the career in Broadway or Hollywood after the war.” Binah’s tone is sardonic.
Geburah drops the shriveled husk of the vampire corpse and looks over at her. She’s been much more forthright than the four armed golem. She just grabbed, twisted, and snapped the vampire’s neck. In its last struggles, the vampire’s claws had done similar damage her uniform as had happened to Geburah’s. Uniforms. That was a concept that Geburah had never really figured out. Why put clothes on statues? Yeah, so some of them were statuesque, Geburah couldn’t fault Chava’s sculptural chops, but why clothes? And if it was such a big thing, why not just sculpt the golems with clothes? Humans. If it lived to be 500 years old, it’d probably never understand humans. Mirsky’s voice breaks the golem out of its thoughts. It’s never heard the human speak with such venom, with such violence promised in each word. It stands back from the cell holding a bunch of German soldiers. This should be interesting.
“Well, what have we got here? Nazis in a cage? Could I really be this lucky?” The small walks along the front of the cell, idly knocking the barrel of his gun against the bars. “You Afrika Korps motherfuckers ain’t so tough now, are you?”
The golems’ attack had driven the soldiers back against the far wall in fear, but now one of them stepped forward, walks to the bars to face Mirsky directly. Looked like an officer, an officer that had been knocked around a good bit. But not scared. His eyes were smart and calculating, gaze moving between Mirsky and the golems. Geburah marked him as dangerous.
“American?” A bit of an accent.
“Russian Jew, you Nazi fuck! Whatta ya think about that?”
Geburah sees how Mirsky’s fingers tighten on his gun, sees how the German sees that as well. The four armed golem catches Binah’s gaze and nods towards Mirsky. It leaves the room to pick up its machinegun out in the hall, before some vampire stumbles over it. It keeps an ear on the conversation. It doesn’t really care if Mirsky kills the soldiers, but tactically they might be useful. More guns, more targets, more options. Binah’s probably thinking the same thing, she’ll keep the human leashed.
“Must be a big difference for you, Nazi, you in a cage, Jew with a gun. Shoe is on other leg. Go ahead, laugh!” Mirsky’s accent is getting more Russian and he’s losing his English.
The German officer doesn’t show any fear. Binah’s a bit impressed. “I am not a Nazi. None of my men are. We are soldiers in the Wehrmacht. Just soldiers.”
“Look like Nazi uniforms to me! Same uniforms as those murdering Jews in Europe!”
“No, just the uniforms of German soldiers. You want to see Nazi uniforms, just look at the uniforms that the Nosferatu wear. Those are Nazis. Not my men.”
Mirsky doesn’t look like he’s interested in a debate about the finer points of military organization in the Third Reich. She decides not to mention that the Germans are wearing the patches for the 1st Grenadiers attached to III Korps, not actually Afrika Korps. She steps forward before the Russian can give in to his impulses. She lays a gentle hand on his shoulder. He’s trembling slightly.
She keeps her voice low and never takes her eyes off the German officer. “He’s right, Benny. He’s not SS. Let’s see what he was to say before you put him down, whatta ya say?”
She feels Mirsky take several deep breathes but not say anything. He doesn’t relax. She speaks directly to the officer. “Why are you and your men prisoners? Those your trucks out there in the courtyard?”
At the sound of her voice, the man looks shocked and doesn’t say anything, his eyes wide and a mix of fear and disgust in his gaze. Binah comes very close to letting Mirsky kill all of them but then feels Geburah walk up behind them. Its voice is mocking.
“What’s the matter, Fritzie? Ain’t never seen a talking statue before?” Its tone changes to that of someone talking to somebody stupid. Slow and clear. “Why are you prisoners?”
The German officer gets his shit together, closes his face off. He speaks directly to Mirsky, doing his best to ignore the two golems. “German command sent myself and my men to tell the Nosferatu, Bathory, that she was to start following orders and to stop going off on her own.”
Binah feels Mirsky relax a little, get himself back under control. His tone is lightly sarcastic, his accent back to American New York. “Well, I see that worked out just dandy. She took her medicine like a good German soldier, didn’t she?”
“No.” Binah has to admit that the officer acknowledges this without embarrassment. “She and the other monsters were less than agreeable.” He comes closer to the bars, still speaking directly to Mirsky. He lowers his voice and makes his tone persuasive. “But don’t you see? This makes us allies, you and I. We both want the same thing. We both want the monster Bathory dead. We can make that happen together. We can fight her, destroy her, together.”
Just like that, Mirsky has the barrel of his Thompson through the bars of the cage, muzzle pressed tight against the German’s forehead. Each word is hissed through clenched teeth. “Just how stupid do you think I am? Work with you? Let you out? I’m gonna decide which is easier, shoot you or let you starve. And then I’m gonna do the opposite. You’re dead, you Nazi fuck. I just haven’t decided how.”
Binah and Geburah exchange glances. Then they pull Mirsky back from the cell, as gently as they can, but their strength doesn’t allow him any choice. He swears at them in Russian for a few seconds, then subsides. The German moves back to his men in the back of the cell, never takes his eyes off them. Binah smiles sweetly at him, likes how he flinches back. The three of them stand on the other side of the dungeon. Mirsky doesn’t look at the two golems, keeps his eyes on the Germans, drums his fingers on the barrel of his Thompson.
Binah keeps her voice low and gentle, her gaze on the man’s face. “I hate to say this, Benny -”
“Then don’t! I know what you’re gonna say anyway, I ain’t stupid.”
“I hate to say this, Benny, but that guy’s got a point. We need all the guns we can get for this operation. And we stick them in front, then maybe we got a chance. Otherwise? Just the few of us? Long odds, Benny, real long odds. You know that. You know how to read the odds.”
There’s no give in Mirsky’s face. “Yeah, I know how to read the odds. And I know that I ain’t never lettin’ them out of that cage. Never. Let them out and give them a gun? You ask this of me?”
“Yes, I ask. I ask because of what we’re fighting in this castle. Those in the cage, Benny, they’re not Nazis, they’re just German soldiers. But those that we’re fighting? The monsters? The leeches? They are the true evil. And we have to use every weapon to destroy them.”
Mirsky closes his fists in frustration, grips his gun so hard that his knuckles creak. It seems like nothing can get through to these statues. Brains of stone like the rest of their bodies. He stares right into Binah’s eyes, so what if he’s smaller than her, he’s been shorter than most people all his life, he don’t care. He keeps his voice even and low with an effort that makes his tongue swell. “You golems think you’re so special. You got your Rabbi, your holy mission. So fuckin’ special that you’ve forgotten what’s going on in Europe. So fuckin’ special that you’ve forgotten that it’s monsters wear those uniforms -” He gestures to the soldiers in the cell, spits on the floor in their direction. “- those uniforms that are taking my people, my family, my sister -” His voice breaks on that word. “- into the camps.” He breathes. “So, no, some weapons I won’t pick up.”
Binah feels those words deep inside her. They resonate with the reason for her being, the duty to protect those Chosen by the All Highest, that urge which burns at her core, that urge which animates her. But deep within her, there is also the urge to destroy, the urge to bring about revelation through destruction. She wants to, she needs to throw every weapon she has against Bathory and her leeches. She wants to, she needs to, she will bring down this entire castle around the monster. And so she needs the agreement and help of the Russian killer standing in front of her, with all his passion, with all his skills. “We have forgotten nothing, Binyamin. We know what we ask. We know what they have done. And we know that they will pay. We will be the instruments of your vengeance.”
Geburah picks up the thread and leans in close, clay glowing red again. “Do not doubt us, Binyamin Mirsky. No one wearing a German uniform gets out of this place alive. We use them, we kill them. Our judgement on them will be final, they will pay for their crimes. And then we go rescue your sister. Don’t look so surprised! To take the war to them, in Europe, of course we’re coming along with you!”
Not taking his eyes off the walking talking statues standing over there talking to the little Jew, Wetzel leans towards Krober and speaks in a low tone. “Look at that. That’s why I’ve never trusted anything coming out of Section H.”
Krober squeezes one nostril shut and blows a wad of blood and snot out of the other. “That and the fact that one of Section H’s monsters is saving us for a midnight snack.”
“Those monster statues think that they’re the equal of that soldier. They’re arguing with him!” Wetzel forces his frustration down and makes sure that his voice stays low. “He should be telling them what to do.”
“Not to disagree with you, sir, as you say, monsters aren’t people and never will be, but the human wants us dead and the statues want to keep us alive, at least for a little. We get out of this cell, we have a chance.”
“I know. You’re right, Sergeant, but I hate being at the mercy of monsters. This entire mission has completely turned to shit. With human soldiers, you know where you stand, you know how to fight them, soldier to soldier. These things? The Nosferatu upstairs? They’ll all turn on us, you mark my words.” Wetzel draws a breath and manages a small smile at Krober’s deliberately blank expression. “Sorry about that, Sergeant, just ignore the old man waving his cane at you youngsters. Pass the word to the men, they let us out, wait for advantages. And yes, right now we do have a mutual enemy, but once the last Nosferatu is dead, this temporary alliance ends.”
“As you say, sir. I’ll have them watch out for any high explosives, grenades. Anything that will turn a walking statue into a pile of rubble.”
Krober fades back into the mass of soldiers in the cell. Whispers start to propagate in the gloom. Wetzel looks out through the bars as the human loses his argument with the statues.
Mirsky relaxes slightly. The emotional roller coaster he’s been on in the last few minutes has been exhausting. He can’t wait to get back to killing something. “Ok. You win. I’m trusting you. I’m trusting you with my sister’s life. So don’t fuck up.” He stares directly at the two golems. “Now let’s get back to work. Those Krauts are gettin’ antsy and we don’t want them to do anything stupid now that you’ve just saved their lives.” The three of them walk back over towards the cell. Mirsky stops, thinking for a minute. “Weapons.” The two golems look at him. He speaks through clenched teeth. “If we’re gonna do this right, if we’re gonna -” He spits. “ – fight… along side these bastards, they’re gonna need weapons. The stuff out in the trucks, you think?”
Binah nods. “Yeah, that makes sense. Should I go out and get them now?”
Geburah shakes its head. “No. One of us leaves, they might start to get stupid. I’ll give them two of my guns, then we all go back to the trucks. And we ask the Captain there what he knows about the layout of this place. He might know where to find Bathory. At least, he’ll have a better idea than us, he’s seen more of the inside.”
“Fine by me.” Mirsky doesn’t say anything else and continues to the cell.
Wetzel steps forward. “So, American, you will execute us now?”
Mirsky doesn’t want to, but he admires the brass balls on this son of a bitch. Wouldn’t stop him from shooting him in the head, but still, that’s a pair. “Naw, cooler heads have, whatta ya call it, prevailed. You can thank these monsters for stoppin’ me from empty a clip into your face.”
Wetzel gives the golems a flicking glance and then looks back at Mirsky. “I think that one of those – “ He nods to withered vampire remains of the vampires that the golems killed. “- has the keys to cells.”
Geburah steps past Mirsky, right up to the cell door. It smiles at the German, bats its eyes, enjoys the involuntary step back. “Keys? We don’t need no stinking keys.” It loves that movie. The golem grabs the bars of the cell door with just two of its arms, the other two holding the machine gun out of the way, and without the slightest display of effort, tears the door off its hinges. It sets the door aside and gestures ironically for the Germans to proceed in an orderly manner out of the cell.
Mirsky moves back and never takes his eyes off the Germans. Binah steps in and pulls the Captain aside as he leaves the cell. “Those trucks in the courtyard, they yours?” At his nod. He still doesn’t look her in the eye. She doesn’t care. He’s just a useful tool. And soon dead. The fury of destruction that is in her core flares at the thought. She takes pleasure in addressing him respectfully, courteously in German. “We took some of the weapons we found there, but there are many left. Why don’t we all go back there, arm ourselves, and then formulate a plan of attack? How does that sound, Captain…?”
That makes him look at her at last. His tone is flat, his gaze appraising. “Wetzel. I am Captain Wetzel. And that plan sounds fine with me.” He sticks with German. “And your name is?”
“Binah. No rank. The American Army doesn’t really work that way.”
Geburah hisses at the two of them. He keeps his voice in American. “Let’s get going! Less talk, more movement!” He tosses a gun to Wetzel and another one to the Captain’s Sergeant. They both scoop the guys out of the air smoothly, cock them. Binah can feel Mirsky balance on the knife edge. She never loses her gentle smile, the enigmatic welcome of a statue of Astarte clad in modern weapons of war.
Wetzel addresses his men. “Quickly! Out to the trucks. Gather all weapons. Get ready to move into the castle.” He waves towards the door leading out of the dungeon. “Go! Move out!”
Geburah goes first, moving fast, machine gun at the ready. The German soldiers follow it, moving fast, keeping right on its heels. Krober leads the Germans, his gun also ready. Wetzel is the last soldier out of the dungeon, acting as rearguard.
Mirsky looks at Binah. The two of them watch the Germans leave the dungeon. “This had better work, us trusting them with weapons.”
The golem looks affectionately at the man. “Who said anything about trust? They are disposable weapons. A weapon jams, breaks, you throw it away.” The statue shrugs, shadows from the flickering electrical light emphasize her otherworldly nature. “They act up, you kill them.” She moves after the Germans. “Now, let’s get going. We’ve got our mission.”
Mirsky grimaces, spits, and follows her without saying anything more.
Out in the courtyard, the scudding clouds still cast shadows as they pass in front of the sun, the red banner hanging from the high tower still flaps in the wind. The German’s are moving fasting, quiet as possible, scooping up weapons and ammo. As each one gets armed, he takes cover behind one of the trucks, gun pointed at the windows. The windows stare emptily back.
Wetzel quickly strides over to Geburah, points to the big doors leading into the castle. He keeps his voice low, just above a whisper. “Behind those doors is an antechamber, then a set of smaller doors leading to their command center.” He speaks without looking at the golem and keeps his tone impersonal. “You go first. Take the doors moving fast and don’t stop until you get to the command center.”
Geburah doesn’t say anything. Looks at the doors and then down at the Wehrmacht Captain. Stares at him for just longer than is comfortable. Caught by the golem’s silence, Wetzel looks at it, right in the face. Just as Wetzel opens his mouth to say something, Geburah speaks right over him, quietly and emotionless. “Good intel. Good plan. Binah and I will clear the way. Then you and your men right behind us. Mirsky will take up the rear.” Geburah looks back at the trucks and smiles inside as Wetzel’s minute relaxing when its gaze is taken off him. “Your men ready to go?” It waves to get Binah’s attention.
Hand signals lay out the course of action. Binah nods, whispers in Mirsky’s ear, then moves quickly across the courtyard to join Geburah. She passes Wetzel going the other way to pass orders to Krober and get his men in position.
Everyone moves fast and with a purpose. Geburah goes right up to the big double doors and looks close at their hinges, runs its hands over the wood. Comes back down the steps, stands next to Binah and nods. The two golems set themselves. Geburah looks at Wetzel, who nods, his men gathered around him, ready for action.
Without a word, Geburah and Binah explode into motion. Race up the stairs. Steps crumble beneath their hammering feet. The doors disintegrate into splinters and bent pieces of metal at the golems’ impact. The two don’t even slow down.
After a split second of disbelief and ducking, the soldiers follow fast into Castle Blood.