“Stop.” Bathory effortlessly projects her voice to the vampires moving in to kill Mirsky and Wetzel. Mirth echoes in her voice. “Not them. Not yet.” She doesn’t acknowledge their grinning acquiescence but instead turns to look down at Schefflen. “Your ‘machines’, are they damaged? Can they continue?”
Her mad scientist pulls his head from the guts of a bank of dials close to the vat. He blinks owlishly up at her, clearly gathering his thoughts. His fingers never stop coiling around each other, stained worms. “Oh, yes, Mistress! They only took minimal damage, just a few stray bullets. Easily repaired! And, with the readings that I took during the … ceremony…, I even have some ideas to increase their output.”
She waves him to silence, as he attempts to expound on his ideas. It would just be irritating babble. The important thing is that she can continue. She opens her mouth to give orders for the two men to be brought to her and something lands on her wrist. She hisses in pain as it burns her skin. A drop of something. Something hot that fell from the ceiling. She looks up.
Maccabbee melts through the floor.
Every hieroglyph, each carving on the stone circle instantly flares black. A shimmering haze of darkness forms between Bathory and Maccabbee. Quick as thought, quicker, quick as instinct, she drops into a defensive crouch, rage and uncertainty war within her. What is this? What attacks her when she is so close to victory? She squints against the bright glare. Despite the protection of her circle, the protection of her God, the light burns in pulses timed with each sweep of the figure’s wings as it hovers above her. She knows what attacks her in a general sense. This isn’t the first time she’s battled a warrior of the Light. The Persian Magi were especially adept at such summonings. There’s a patch of glass buried underneath the sands of outside the ruins of Irem that mark her last battle with one of them. But how is there one here now? The Magi are all dead. And the Nazarene priests have no such power. Then she recognizes the male features of the figure and she straightens out of her crouch.
“I am impressed, little priest. I did not think you had this knowledge. Tell me, how does it feel to bring your god into your flesh? I imagine that there is a great deal of pain.”
“I am a sword of the All Highest. I am fashioned to do His will.” There’s an echo to his voice, two voices overlaid, just slightly out synch.
She’s both pleased and relieved to hear that there’s still something human in his voice. He’s not yet fully given over to the power of his god. She begins to realize what she might have to do to defeat him. “His will? Why should I fear the will of your god? Don’t forget, little priest, I was already old and my magics powerful when your god destroyed those two villages in Canaan.”
“The dark always fears the light. Why else does it always run from it?” He comes close to the edge of the circle, right up to the barrier of shimmering darkness. “Prepare to burn, monster.”
Light flares, burningly bright. Darkness flares in answer, burningly cold. Maccabbee lays his hands on the barrier, praying through teeth gritted in pain. Bathory stands in the center of the circle, praying, hands outstretched in mudras of warding in Maccabbee’s direction.
The blood boils below them. The generators turn themselves on at full power. Electricity begins to lash the vat below the two figures. The flesh starts to peel from Bathory’s body, like streamers in the wind.
He’s powerful. But so is she. And his timing is good, for she has just expended a great deal of her power in the success of her necromantic ritual. The time has come to reclaim it. She can always create more slaves. But there is only one of her. The cadence of her prayers change.
The remaining vampires who have been gazing at the struggle as well as they can, flinching from the figure of light that is attacking their Mistress, those vampires on the floor of the laboratory who are still feeding off the remains of the German soldiers, those vampires start to scream. Scream and shrivel. Scream and drop to the floor and die. Scream and plead for mercy and wither into dust.
Bathory’s flesh heals. She straightens and her voice firms. The darkness of the barrier increases and now it grabs at Maccabbee’s hands as he strikes the barrier. It burns away into nothingness but never stops trying to spread.
Mirsky grabs up a gun from a pile of dust and ash that used to be the vampire that had been hustling him towards the vat. He looks towards the German Captain and sees that he’s doing the same. “What the fuck should we do? Got any ideas?” Things are moving so fast, so weird, that he doesn’t feel bad about asking a Nazi for help.
Wetzel stares at the Jew in bewilderment for a second. How should I know? You’re the one with the magic statues. Angels and demons and you’re asking me? But he gets his thoughts under control and looks around, searching for tactical possibilities. “I think all the vampires are dead.” He looks away from Krober’s ripped apart body. “And so are my men.” He shrugs at the smaller man. “But our missions are still the same. We kill that monster!”
Mirsky pulls back the bolt on his gun. “I like the way you think, Fritz.” He moves closer to Wetzel and points to the ceiling above the vat. “We’ve got nothin’ that can match what the Rabbi’s puttin’ out and if he can’t get through to Bathory, I don’t think we can with our guns. But look up there. The chains holding that stone circle above the vat. They all come together at that pulley. We shoot the shit out of that…”
Something off to the side catches Wetzel’s eye. He leans to one side a little and shoots a man wearing blood stained engineer’s coveralls who was sneaking towards them with a wrench in his hand. Wetzel turns back to the Russian who was paying minimal attention only. “Sorry, I got distracted. Yes, your idea is a good one. At the very least, we’ll distract Bathory.”
The two men lift their machine guns and take aim. Mirsky yells as loud as he can. “Move your ass, Rabbi!” They open fire and stone shards start to rain from the ceiling.
With a powerful movement of his wings, Maccabbee leaves off battering the barrier of darkness. He lands on the floor by the vat, which towers above his head. There are levers and dials and switches attached to the side of vat, regulating some sort of energy, he thinks. In response to the light glowing from his body, the machinery begins to fail. Dials crack. Fuses pop. Control panels just fall off the wall. Over the racket of gunfire that Mirsky and some German are putting out, he hears a wail of rage and grief behind him.
The angelic being that used to be Rabbi Maccabbee turns and a crazy guy in a blood stained lab coat is trying to punch him, swinging wildly and yelling at him in German.
“No! My machines! My beautiful machines! You must not! The Mistress must not be harmed! The ritual must continue!”
Most the of the guy’s swings go wide, a few hit Maccabbee on his chest, but with so little force that he just stares bemused at the attack for a few seconds. Anger flares in him renewed as he realizes who this must be, what the man in front of him is responsible for. He reaches out a hand and grabs the man’s head in an implacable grip, holds him at an arm’s length. The man’s shouts choke off to a muffled whine. Again, Maccabbee’s voice is that of two speaking. This time, the divine voice is stronger, pronouncing judgement. “You are a worse abomination than she. I cleanse the earth of you now.”
The man’s ineffectual pawings at Maccabbee’s arm and hand cease as his head catches on fire. His screams don’t go one for long but longer than they should, it seems, as Maccabbee’s hand flares and melts through his face, through his skull. His hair flares up and burns away. His entire head turns to ash. Maccabbee closes his fist and the body with its cauterized neck drops at his feet.
Bathory can’t figure it out. Why did the little priest retreat? The gunfire is remote and she pays it no attention. She quickly finishes the prayer, channels more necromantic energy into the wards. In response, they glow with more of the beautiful darkness. Cautiously, she moves to the edge of the stone circle, to the edge of the wards and looks down to see the priest incinerate Schefflen. She is about to give voice to her rage when the hanging stone platform on which she stands starts to sway. She crouches to catch her balance and looks upward. This time, she does give voice to her rage. Her scream is simultaneous with the sounds of heavy chains snapping.
The splash is tremendous. Blood flies in all directions, coating everything within ten feet of the vat.
Even the huge statue of the jackal headed Egyptian god seems to grin and chuckle at the sight.
The blood sizzles, smokes, and disappears as it touches Maccabbee. His glow increases and he’s surrounded by clean space all around him.
Mirsky lowers his gun, doesn’t look at the man standing next to him. “I’ve seen some fucked up shit in my life, but this…”
Wetzel doesn’t look at the Russian. “I have a bad feeling about this. Did we think this through? Was dropping a Nosferatu into a vat of blood really the best -”
Bathory erupts from the vat. A bloody comet. She lands on the edge of the vat, perfectly balanced. Her gleaming fangs are the only thing of her that are not dripping red. The worst part is that she’s silent. Her rage has gone beyond her ability to express it in any way. She stands there for an instant, on the edge of the vat, looking down at Maccabbee. The blood that coats her begins to disappear, absorbed into her naked skin.
She leaps at Maccabbee. A flicker of motion and she is in front of him, reaching for his throat. Now it’s Maccabbee’s turn to be on the defensive. A barrier of light flashes into being between him and Bathory. Her claws gouge across it, raising sparks. He takes a step backwards and sets himself. He begins to glow brighter. The two men, observing from what probably isn’t a safe distance squint and shade their eyes.
Bathory stands motionless in from of Maccabbee. She doesn’t breathe, just stares. Doesn’t flinch from the growing light. Her skin doesn’t flake or show any sort of damage at all. Darkness begins to curdle at her feet. Darkness begins to coil around her legs, coil around the barrier of light that’s sheltering Maccabbee, darkness in the shape of snakes. Without any warning, she is in motion. The force of her blows makes the barrier echo. The sparks that fly from it are absorbed by the snakes of darkness.
Maccabbee takes another step backwards.
He concentrates on pulling the energy from himself and into the shield. He makes the shield broader, into another circle to keep the snakes off of him.
The two figures are silent. Their gaze is locked. The antipathy that they feel for the other is primal, beyond words, beyond human. Their silence draws attention to other smaller sounds. The equipment attached to the vat still crackles and sparks. From inside the vat itself, the sound of the blood sloshing back and forth is glutinous and stomach churning. Chains hanging from the ceiling sway and clink. And where the two figures stand, the floor emits sounds. A hissing and bubbling sound comes from where the naked feet of the being that used to be Rabbi Joseph Maccabbee, late of Yeshiva Beth-El in Brooklyn, where his feet are melting the floor. That sound is met by a brittle cracking sound where the feet of she who was known for a few short centuries as Bathory move across the floor and shatter it with cold and desiccation.
Involuntarily, both Wetzel and Mirsky take a step back. And then another. Neither of them are retreating, not yet, just moving to a better position. Both of them are hardened veterans of the most extreme violence but the fight taking place in front of them is rapidly becoming one between gods and demons. A snake made out of the blackest shadow coils and strikes at the glowing barrier in front of Maccabbee, draws sparks from the barrier, and the snake pulls back, hissing. The two men take another step back. Mirsky’s fingers tighten uselessly on his gun. “Yeah… Ok… You were right, Fritz, that was one really fucking bad idea.”
There is a flare of light. There is a wave of darkness. And this time, the two men abandon any coyness and just haul ass. They end up at the side of the laboratory, crouched behind an overturned metal dissection table. They look back. They can’t see the two figures, but they can see the side effects, the light and darkness rising gouts and waves. The vat rings like a vast dull bell as something impacts its side with great force. The fuel tank of a generator explodes and the black diesel smoke forms into a coiling snake which is poised to attack before the fire flares unnaturally bright and shreds it.
Wetzel looks around for some sort of idea, some tactical option. “We still have to do what we can against her, despite the failure of our last attempt.”
Mirsky glowers but doesn’t say anything. The Kraut isn’t yanking his chain, just thinking out loud. And yeah, he’d fucked up with his idea.
Wetzel points. “There. That portion of the catwalk looks secure. I think we should go up, get a better look, maybe something will occur to us then.”
Mirsky nods. “That’s a better idea than any I’ve had. Let’s go see what we can see.” In the back of his mind, timers are still counting down.
By the time the two men get up onto the catwalk and are crouched on it, looking down at the fight, Maccabbee is clearly on the defensive and is being pushed back. The light is dimmer in the laboratory, the shadows thicker and blacker. His wings are smaller. Her face is still expressionless but now she’s playing with him. One clawed finger slowly draws a hieroglyph in the barrier of light. It’s burned away, but slowly. The dark resists.
Mirsky hefts his gun, even though he knows it would be useless. He wants to do something, help the Rabbi out somehow, instead of sitting around with his thumb up his ass. He looks around, trying to come up with an idea, any idea.
Wetzel hates this, this magic shit, this Weird War. He’s a soldier in the German Army and a damned good one. He knows weapons, he knows commanding men, he knows tactics, he knows… His gaze stops on a large arc light on a stand that’s been knocked over. He traces the power cables to a generator. It looks intact. What a stupid idea. He turns to the Jew to get his opinion, the little bastard knows more about this shit than he does. “Ok, I have an idea. More of a hope than a plan.”
Mirsky looks over at the German next to him and shrugs. “So, spill. Me, I’m blanker than dogshit right now. I ain’t even got hope.”
“Bathory, she is darkness. Her power comes from darkness and blood. She hates light, light in any form. And she’s ancient. So much more ancient than we thought.”
Mirsky doesn’t bother to hide his impatience. “Yeah, yeah, what about it?” There’s a crash as Bathory changes her approach and hurls a large piece of electrical equipment at Maccabbee. He dodges and the equipment shatters on the far wall behind him. Mirsky shifts his gaze back to the fight. “I ain’t hearin’ much of a plan yet.”
“My point is that she doesn’t know technology. She can use it, in a way, but she probably doesn’t understand it, definitely doesn’t know what it can do.” He reaches for the smaller man’s arm, but stops, remembering his reaction last time Wetzel touched him. He changes the gesture to pointing at the arc light he’d spotted. “Look, down there, next to the skeletons. The light.”
Mirsky drags his attention back to the German and looks where he’s pointing. “Yeah, ok, I see it. Whatta ya think you can do…” Mirsky darts a look back at the German. “Wait, are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
“Yes. The light. We turn it on and shine it directly on her. She’s used to torches, weak electrical lights. I have no idea why this light’s here, probably brought in by that shit stain of a mad scientist. We hit her with that light, bright as we can make it. At the very least, it’ll weaken her, give the other one a chance.”
“Damn.” Mirsky’s tone is reluctantly admiring. “That just might work. And it’s a shit load better than any idea I could come up with.” He stands and slings his gun. “What the fuck are we waitin’ for?”
Bathory spreads her arms and advances on Maccabbee. There should be something laughable about this small, naked, brown skinned woman behaving like such a ferocious animal. But Maccabbee doesn’t find anything laughable about her at all. There’s the way that the shadows behind her don’t mimic her form, but gather and spread and grow behind her as if something much larger than she is casting them. The shadows that she casts don’t match her movements.
The soul and personality of Rabbi Joseph Maccabbee are being eroded by the energy cascading down the Tree of Life and into his body. But enough remains, enough memories and emotions remain to make him feel afraid. As part of the process, his senses are unfolding and they recoil in pain when they touch the figure in front of him. She is writhing darkness and she burns and she gives off the stench of blood and rotting death and she makes his head ache with the pressure of her presence. No, she is much more than a small, brown skinned naked woman. And he takes a step back from her advance. He knows that he can’t retreat much further, the wall of the laboratory is close to his back. Which is as it should be. The angelic being that was once Judah Maccabbee prepares to go down fighting.
She speaks and her accent is very strong now, a foreign rhythm to her words. “The Darkness was here before the Light. The Darkness will be here when the Light is gone. Your god is young and weak, little priest. Merely a storm god from the Land Between the Rivers with a new name. My God is from the roots of Time. My God is the eternal Darkness.”
Something behind her, some stealthy movement catches his eye and there’s enough of him left to revert back to the Brooklyn of his youth. “Whatta ya gonna do, talk me to death? C’mon lady, either shit or get off the pot. I ain’t got all day.”
Baffled incomprehension, it’s like he’s talking a foreign language. And he is, in a way, it’s what he was counting on. He’s speaking the language of the new, of the contemporary, and she’s a creature of the deep past, almost fossilized, she’s so old. But she’s not stupid, whatever else she might be. The incomprehension disappears from her face in an instant as she realizes that she’s being mocked. Replaced with the familiar rage. The shadows gather at her back, gather and grow and writhe. The lights dim even further and the smell of rotted blood becomes even stronger.
She begins to chant in Ancient Egyptian. It hurts to hear the words.
Maccabbee prepares himself to die. Again.