Von Regensberg takes aim and shoots a German soldier in the head.
This isn’t going well. The vampire pulls back fast behind the table on its side that’s his current cover. He’d gotten a glimpse of the tactical situation in the quick instant it had taken him to kill the Wehrmacht soldier. The Germans weren’t a serious threat, not against vampires, not even armed with those damnably effective weapons. Those living shooting statues. They were what was making this fight turn against him and his forces.
He’d sent five vampires against the statues. Five against two should have been overkill. Those that weren’t shot down rushing to get close were torn apart as they tried to use their claws against stone. It was over very fast. And he’d had no luck in getting any heavy weapons set up. That would be the only thing to use against those damned statues. Anti-tank weapons.
But not here. The quarters are too close. Fuck! He rolls over, further behind the table, and looks at his lieutenants. “Fall back to the laboratory.” He hates giving the order. He hates the thought of bringing the fight so close to the ceremony. He welcomes his anger because it masks his fear. She is going to be very unhappy. “Fall back slowly. By the numbers! Covering fire!” He points at one of them. “Vorland! Go now, take some of the men and set up heavy weapons just inside the doors!”
The vampire nods, taps two others on the shoulder, and the three of them race out the door. The rest of them start to slowly retreat. Professionally. Covering fire. It happens a little faster than von Regensberg would like. The German soldiers sense what’s going on and press their advantage, but take care themselves. Their losses so far have taught them caution and they don’t have the men to spare.
The golems, those damn golems, they’re the fucking problem. No fear, close to unstoppable. The only thing slowing them down is their clear desire to protect some small soldier who is sticking close to them. Some sort of mascot? Von Regensberg doesn’t care. He throws his last two grenades at them and races from the room, one of the last to leave.
Outside, in the hallway leading to the laboratory, he selects two of his vampires. “Hold them here for as long as possible and then retreat to the lab. I have to go inform Her of what is occurring.” They nod and ready grenades.
The golems see the grenades coming. Mirsky dives for what cover he can see, not much, some rubble by the base of a pillar. Binah runs up and kicks one as soon as it lands. It sails way back to far end of the room before it explodes. Geburah grabs the other one out of the air and makes to toss it back. It blows his hand off.
“Not good enough, you bastards! Still got more than enough hands to take care of you all!”
Mirsky blearily looks up at the shouting golem. He can barely hear its voice, that grenade really rang his bells. It’s standing there, still got the heavy machine gun and a pistol in its surviving hands. He wipes a hand across his eyes, but it’s not blood that making everything red. The golem is actually glowing red. And then it charges forward, firing. The machine gun runs dry.
Binah reaches down a hand. Mirsky is effortlessly pulled to his feet. He shakes his head, a major error, the headache and ringing in the ears intensifies. She looks at the human. “Get it in gear, Benny.” She lightly, thank God lightly, pats him on the shoulder. “You wouldn’t want the Nazis to kill all the vampires, would you?”
He looks at her, spits blood from a bashed up mouth. “Sincerely, fuck you very much.” He checks the action on his gun. “Let’s get this done, before three arms there beats them all to death with its stump.”
Von Regensberg comes racing around the corner, into the hallway where Her chamber is. And there she is. At the sight of her, walking down the hallway, stepping around a shattered statue like it doesn’t exist, at the sight of her magnificence, glowing with dark power arrayed in Ancient Egyptian finery, the Prussian Junker Nazi vampire drops to his knees like he’s just been shot.
“Mistress!” His hard learned minimal Ancient Egyptian has been driven right out of his head. “We are being attacked downstairs by more of those statues! I am sorry – I beg your -” A hand reaches out and touches his shoulder. He shuts his stuttering mouth. He looks up and she seems to tower over him.
“Don’t trouble yourself, my warrior.” Her voice is unconcerned. “They have tried their best and now lie defeated and destroyed.”
Her power, her closeness, her beauty, all of those things make very small the voice inside von Regensberg that reminds him that the four armed statue downstairs is neither defeated nor destroyed, but still really dangerous. A very small voice, easily ignored. He gazes up at her in adoration and lust. Her breasts really are perfect.
The noise of gunfire from below swells. Bathory cocks her head at the noise. “Come. It sounds like there is work for you to do as I begin the ceremony.” Von Regensberg picks up his gun from where he’d dropped it and rises. “Is Schefflen ready to begin?”
The Nazi vampire falls in behind the Egyptian Priestess as she moves down the hall, not hurrying, but not moving slowly. He checks the ammo clip of his gun. While he answers her, he starts to load it with bullets from a belt pouch. His fingers move vampire quick. Their steps are silent and the slight clicks of the rounds going in make the slightest echo in the stone hallway. “Just before this attack started, I had sent word to Herr Doktor to start his preparations. I haven’t heard anything since. The fighting hasn’t reached the laboratory, so he’s been working uninterrupted.”
“Good.” The two of them are moving faster now, down the stairs leading to the lab. The sound of gunfire is louder now. “I will be above the vat. You will keep all attackers away from the -” Her mouth purses in distaste at the foreign word. “- machinery.” Her voice changes to an anticipatory croon. “And soon. And soon you will see marvels. ”
“My life is yours and I will not fail.” Von Regensberg slides back the bolt on his gun. “All those who stand against you will die.”
If I succeed, this’ll kill me. The thought makes Tipareth huff a short inaudible laugh. If I don’t succeed, I’m dead. It’s so fucking nice to have choices. The golem lifts his bearded face from the floor and checks how much farther he has to go. At least he’s closer than he was last time he checked. But it’s slow going, dragging his massive weight one handed across the floor to the Rabbi’s corpse. And he couldn’t start until that bitch leech was far enough away that she couldn’t hear the noise he’s making. Another loud rasp as he flexes his arm and pulls himself a little bit closer. Small movements, but implacable and unceasing. He doesn’t pause for breath. He doesn’t pause to rest weary muscles. He is a golem, blessed with his duty of vengeance in the service of the All Highest. The concerns of the flesh are not his concerns.
Finally, he’s within touching distance of the Rabbi’s body. And he pauses for a moment. He doesn’t know if he’ll be successful at what he’s about to try. But he does know what this will do not only to himself but to Geburah and Binah as well. The three of them are all that are left. And this will kill all three of them. He’s about to gamble all their lives. He fails, Bathory will win. That’s a certainty. But he has to try this. He has to do all he can to destroy the evil that is about to spread, red and black all over the world. He offers a brief prayer, asking the forgiveness of his friends whom he’s about to kill.
And then he lays his hand on the Rabbi’s body. His hand starts to glow.
They’re down the hallway now. The two vampires at the door had tried to hold them back, but the two golems had picked up a heavy table and used it as a shield. Rushed the doorway. They’re moving as fast as they can, never stopping for breath, never stopping to ease weary muscles. They both can feel their lives draining away, the energy fading from their souls. Every second counts.
The table came apart in their hands, came apart under the gunfire from the vampires. They beat the vampires to death with the pieces.
Now they’re at the doorway at the end of the hallway. From behind the door comes the sound of sparking electricity, dynamos, and orders being shouted in German. They check ammo, check guns. Binah looks at Geburah, who nods. No need for speech. No time for speech.
Binah backs up the hallway a little bit and then charges right through the door. Goes left in the answering rain of gunfire from the arrayed Nazi vampires. Geburah goes left, firing with two hands, throwing the last grenades with the third hand.
The two golems stumble, pause, look at each other simultaneously. Binah smiles. “Why, that fucker! What a damn good idea!”
Mirsky grabs a German soldier, a sergeant from his insignia, by his sleeve and pulls him through the doorway and into the hallway. Standing in the shattered pieces of a table and vampire remains, he ignores the way his skin crawls when he touches the uniform. For the last few minutes, the two golems have been acting even crazier than usual and have gotten way ahead of everyone else. “C’mon! Move your ass! Get your men up! Keep on the golems! Move! Move!” He also ignores the look that the sergeant gives him, because the guy also yells at his men and gestures for them to head down the hallway.
Mirsky sees Binah break down the door and Geburah follow her through. A storm of gunfire sleets through the open doorway. Mirsky takes off down the hallway and slams to a halt against the wall next to destroyed door. The Nazi gunfire is less as the golems start to return fire. Mirsky risks a peek around the doorframe.
Bathory looks down at bubbling blood. The last of the prisoners have been killed, their blood added to this pool. Schefflen’s technology has kept it from coagulating, kept it fresh. A bubble bursts right at the side of the vat where she stands and flecks of blood land on her face. She brushes her face clean with one finger and licks the finger. Yes. Charged with the best of her necromantic magics, charged with bound and focused death energy of all the sacrifices, this blood is like none that she’s ever tasted in her long long life. She will be able to channel this energy into the bodies of her followers. Make them even more powerful.
The sound of a particularly sustained burst of gunfire draws her attention from her plans, from the vat. She looks over to the far end of her room and sees two of her vampires die in screaming fire. The little priest is dead but these golems of his and the Wehrmacht soldiers are proving to be a nuisance. She must move fast if she is to have any followers left to bring about her Empire of Blood. The statue of her God stares silently down on her and waits with stone patience for her triumph.
She looks up to what is suspended from ceiling, high above the vat. The stone circle had been kept up by the ceiling. Finding that had been the greatest accomplishment of her pet archeologists, those grubby diggers. When they had brought it to her, she had killed them for profaning it with their unbelieving hands. But because they had found it, what she had needed to complete the ritual, she had killed them quickly, without pain. The solid stone circle, hanging flat against the ceiling, a little smaller in diameter than the vat below it, a forearm’s length in thickness, had once been a part of the floor of the inner sanctum of the God’s temple. The hieroglyphs and diagrams carved into its surface had been used in the most secret ceremonies of her faith.
She brings her gaze back down to the vat. Ancient Egyptian, words dating back to her time among the living, issue from her lips. Dropping into concentration, Bathory begins the first prayer. The words are not loud but they are audible nonetheless among the clamor in the laboratory temple. They twist around the other sounds and slide into each listener’s ears. The lights start to flicker and dim. Her arms and hands fold into the proper configurations throughout the prayer.
Now, amidst the clamor of gunfire and sparking machinery, two of Schefflen’s servants operate the machinery that lowers the circle to hang directly over the vat. They make every effort to not look at her directly. One is drooling. The other has vomit stains all down the front of his coveralls.
The clatter of chains and the whine of winches are louder to Bathory than the gunfire from the other end of the laboratory and the words of her prayer are louder to her than any machine noise. The stone circle slowly lowers towards the vat, swinging back and forth slightly in its chains. The impatience she feels is pushed to the far reaches of her consciousness. The blood bubbles below her feet. Electricity arcs from Schefflen’s machinery and further stirs the blood. She unconsciously extends her fangs at the scent.
The chains grate and whine as the circle comes to a stop level with the top of the vat, level to where Bathory is standing. The hieroglyphs on the circle’s surface are flickering and oozing with black light, with shadows. As the circle comes to a halt, and with the words only slightly muffled by her fangs, she finishes the first prayer and performs the first prostration. Sinuously arising, she strides onto the platform, stops in the direct center. She feels the hieroglyphs beneath her feet, feels the power starting to build, a delicious burning. She begins the second prayer. The bloods beneath her naked feet becomes even more agitated.
The glow now extends from Tipareth’s body to cover the Rabbi’s body. Stone flakes off of the golem’s body, turning to dust, diffusing the golden light to amber. He pauses his prayers, and makes the final decision. His voice rises, the glow increases.
And down below, in the laboratory, with its smell of blood and and cordite and the thunder of gunfire, the crack of unbound electricity, down in that temple of blood and darkness and perverted science, down there, the golems Binah and Geburah begin to glow bright gold. The gunfire lessens as the vampires hiss and throw themselves down behind cover. Mirsky shades his eyes, staring at the golems, trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. The golems empty their guns in one final burst. A generator control panel explodes into sparks under the ripping gunfire. A mad scientist is cut down trying to fix things. Smiling, at peace, Geburah and Binah close their eyes and dissolve into the light. Their guns fall to the floor amid a gentle shower of dust, all that remains of the golems.
“What was that?” Mirsky turns to the hand on his arm and a Nazi shouting in his face. It’s the captain and his face is filled with incomprehension and worry. “What just happened?”
“Fuckin’ hands off!” Mirsky shrugs his arm free. “No idea and it doesn’t matter. We don’t keep hittin’ those leeches and hard, we’re all in the shit.” He points with his free hand. “You see down there? You see her? We don’t stop her before she finishes her hoodoo shit, it’s all over, pal!”
Wetzel nods, the little Jew is making sense. He can see that Bathory is in the midst of some ceremony. A ceremony that he knows in his bones, knows from the growing taste of blood in his mouth, knows that it must be stopped. The loss of the two statues is a serious blow but there’s nothing to be gained by hesitation and retreat is not an option. Time to lead from the front. Luckily he’s always preferred that. “Krober, get the men in here! Rapid fire! Stossel, up top!” He points to a catwalk that hangs from the walls, halfway up. “Bleick, with Stossel! All the rest, with me!” At that, he opens fire, moves forward from piece of machinery to piece of machinery.
Tipareth gasps as the energy that once was Binah and Geburah passes through him. There’s not much of him left, in the wrecked room that used to be Bathory’s bed chamber. He is dissolving into the glowing bright light, the clay of his body returning to dust. But he’s undismayed. All is as it should be. Looking without sight, he can see that Maccabbee’s dead flesh is starting to glow as well. The dreadful wound that he took through his chest is starting to fill in. Tipareth smiles and lets himself go.
Bleick is crouched above Stossel who’s laying on the catwalk, positioned behind his rifle. He’s moved into a state beyond fear, beyond terror. His training, his experience as a soldier in the Wehrmact is the only thing keeping him together. There are so few of them left now, the fight in that hall, that map room, whatever it was, was brutal. But now, here in this obscene laboratory where he can smell and taste blood, at least they’ve taught the leeches respect. The Nosferatu that remain are more cautious, keeping themselves concealed as much as possible behind machinery and any other cover they can manage.
Stossel takes a shot and gives one of the Nosferatu a fatal lesson in picking cover that’s thicker than just a thin plank. Another monster looks like it’s thinking of moving from one piece of cover to another, angling for advantage. Bleick fires a short burst to make it realize the error in its thinking. He looks down at Stossel. “What’s the plan?” His voice is shakier and whinier than he’d like. He swallows hard and tries to keep himself together.
The sniper doesn’t take his eye from his scope. “We hold our position until the Captain says otherwise.” A shot but this time the Nosferatu is quicker and makes it to a new position. Stossel hisses in disappointment and chambers another round.
Bleick takes his eyes off the enemy on the floor of the laboratory and looks at what’s really filling him with fear. The monster, the monster woman wearing only some pieces of jewelry, the monster woman chanting over the huge vat amid the arcing electricity. “What about her? Do you have a shot?”
“Negative. Something’s making the air shimmer. And the electricity is flashing too brightly.” To someone who hadn’t fought next to him for the last two years, seen him take shots in all sorts of conditions, Stossel’s voice is flat and emotionless. Bleick hears the frustration and fear. Stossel fires again. A piece of machinery on the floor sparks and starts to smoke.
Wetzel sneaks around generators and other pieces of machinery on the floor of this laboratory. Some of the big machines reek of blood and electricity and he doesn’t speculate about what they might be doing. He’s trying to flank the Nosferatu that Stossel has pinned down in the middle of the room. The tactical situation is evolving in his head and it’s taking shapes that he doesn’t like. Those fucking monsters are so fast. Always out of the corner of his eye, high up on that vat, is the objective. Not close enough to take a shot, throw a grenade. He has two left. He and his men, his few men, have to move fast. There’s a screaming along his nerves that urges him to move faster.
He sneaks a peek around the edge of a machine that has huge industrial capacitors on top of it. It’s quiescent now, no vibration as he rests his cheek against it. He’ just about close enough. Almost behind the three vampires who are exchanging fire with Krober and Stossel. He’s thankful that being turned into bloodsucking monsters has degraded the combat training of these SS bastards. He pulls back out of sight and readies himself. There’s a small scraping sound from the top of the machine he’s hiding behind. He looks up.
He gets a glimpse of a mouth full of fangs before von Regensberg jumps from the top of the machine and knocks him to the ground. He has a second to wonder why he’s not dead before von Regensberg picks him up with one hand by the front of his uniform without effort and slams him against a wall. The vampire’s breath is foul, dead and rotting.
“You traitor. You pathetic piece of meat”
Wetzel tries to bring his gun up and when the vampire punches him in the chest, several ribs break. The pain freezes his body, he can barely breathe. He gets ready to die.
Von Regensberg starts to say something but before he can continue his harangue, Mirsky sticks a pistol in his ear. Without pausing, without ceremony, without expression, the Russian hitman pulls the trigger twice. The vampire’s body falls at Wetzel’s feet, flames guttering from the stump of his neck. Mirsky doesn’t wait for thanks, he just steps past Wetzel, who’s leaning against the machinery, trying find a way to breathe that doesn’t involve a lot of pain. He’s not very successful, but he shoves the pain away as best he can. Bending down to pick up his sub-machine gun is a trail and his voice breaks a little when he addresses Mirsky. “Thank you for that.”
Mirsky doesn’t look at him, keeps looking around the corner of the machinery. “Save it. You able to keep going?”
“Then let’s get to it.”
Without further words, the two men come out from around the machinery, guns blazing. The three vampires don’t have a chance to react. Before they’ve had a chance to burn down to ash, Mirsky is already moving on to the next target, waving for Wetzel to follow him. Wetzel spits blood onto the floor and crowds in close to the smaller man behind a conveyor belt. Mirsky swaps an empty clip for a full one. “We’re close. Just about close enough to take a shot at Bathory. Get your boys ready.”
Wetzel finds it hard to take his gaze from Bathory at the top of the vat. His voice is tight with pain and fear. “We might be too late.”
“What the fuck are you-” Then Mirsky sees what Wetzel sees and falls silent.
She is full. Full to bursting. She’s never been pregnant but she imagines this must be what those swollen cows feel like at term. The power swells within her. She is deep into the cadences of the Third Prayer. The final prayer. And the syllables issue from her lips in flawless rhythmic procession. The hieroglyphs are shapes of the blackest light, a glowing darkness. The blood below her is a bubbling frenzy. The electricity arcs into it ceaselessly, the buzzing snaps that the sparks make are louder now than the gunfire. And still the power builds within her. She spreads her arm and releases it. Into the bodies of her followers.
Mirsky tries the shot anyway. Bathory is surrounded by whips of electricity. The air wavers around her, making her hard to see. The flashes of electricity cast hard shadows against that big Egyptian statue, shadows that seem to last longer than the flashes of light, shadows that seem to move. He steadies his aim and fires. He can’t even tell where the bullet goes. Nowhere near her, he knows that for sure.
The shadows scatter away from her. Moving independent of light, independent of sanity, moving snake fast, shards of shadow race from Bathory and sink into the vampires that remain. She stops chanting. The electricity stops arcing. All sounds stop for an instant. Everybody freezes.
The vampires scream as one. Screams of pleasure. Screams of triumph. Screams of attack. Faster than before, more savage than before, more fearless than before, they are among the German soldiers in the time it takes an eye to blink.
Krober dies firing his gun at a blurred shape that opens his throat. He drowns on his blood while trying to get his finger to squeeze the trigger one last time. Stossel tries to take his last shot but his rifle is no longer in his hands. He dies when the butt of his rifle is driven through his head; chunks of bone and brain fall through the catwalk. Bleick dies so fast, he doesn’t feel fear. He dies vaguely thankful for that.
Mirsky stares at the circling vampire. Leah, I’m sorry. I tried. You’re on your own, baby sister.
Wetzel is fatalistic. He never really expected to survive the war. Admittedly, this is a weirder way to die than he’d anticipated, but then, this was turning into a weird war, was it not?
Bathory stands there, in the middle of stone circle, triumphant. Suffused with the power of death, with the power of darkness. The ceremony was a success beyond her darkest dreams. She had transferred power into all of her get and there is still so much power left. Below her feet, the blood still churns. The generators hum as they power down. Bathory laughs and laughs, her joy rising through the ceiling to her bedchamber.
Almost as if in response to the noise coming through the floor, Maccabbee opens his eyes. He stands. Dust cascades from his whole, perfect skin. The light glowing from his skin drives all of the shadows from the room. The glowing wings on his back flutter and spread, sending waves of light to batter against the walls of the room. The stone floor below his feet begins to bubble and melt.