Hullo Legions of Fans, your Imperatur in Extremis is pleased to make the following announcements:
- My little vampire story is progressing nicely. Slowly, but nicely. I’m going for a sort of Twilight Zone feel with this one. Since it’s a short spooky story, one can’t really do better than Rod Serling for inspiration.
- The temple priests have requested that all initiates in the cult of G’thog remember to return their questionnaires by this Friday. Please don’t forget to include the required samples of blood, hair, and fingernails in the designated packets.
- Finally, I’m happy to share yet another installment of my short story (in the process of revision).
If you haven’t been reading along so far. You can catch up here:
Their view of the action was limited, but from what they could see Zoltan was locked in single combat with someone in a red cloak. Zoltan still had his mop handle and was using what looked like a metal trash can like a shield. He was using the mop handle like short spear, jabbing and thrusting at his opponent as they circled each other. The man in red was unarmed but had a significant advantage in reach over Zoltan. His arms were long and rangy like an ape. Winslow heard a small whimper and turned away from the scene. Straight ahead were Alisha and the Altar. They crept further into the circular room. All the masked congregants were fixated on Zoltan and their red hooded champion.
Zoltan’s opponent moved strangely. His advances and retreats simply didn’t look right. Winslow didn’t understand at first. Then he saw the tail. Thick and scaly, it whipped back and forth on the ground. Winslow realized now that the lizard thing’s arms ended not in hands but vicious claws. Zoltan landed a jab with the mop handle directly in his opponent’s face. The red hood fell back, and the creature bellowed in inhuman rage.
Even from a distance, Winslow could see the the scaled ferocity of its features. Bright saurian eyes and savage teeth glistened in the candlelight. It’s inhuman movements betrayed reserves of immense power and speed beneath the robe. Faced with the monstrosity, Zoltan was not unnerved and, if Winslow didn’t know better, appeared to be enjoying the exercise. Winslow hurried to join Frankel at the altar.
The white marble slab was about six feet long and cut in an irregular shape. It lay two feet above the ground on a wrought iron stand that looked as though it had been made especially for this purpose. Smoothed with many years of use, the white stone was punctuated with thick black veins.
Alisha was clad in a white garment identical to those worn by Winslow and Frankel. She lay atop the altar in a semi-conscious state. Her hands and feet were bound with rope to iron rings at either end of the stone table. Winslow patted himself down for the pocket knife Zoltan had given him, but found nothing. Must’ve lost it in the scuffle outside, he thought.
They began untying her bonds. As he worked the knots at her feet, Winslow cursed himself for losing the knife. The bonds were tight. He cast an eye toward the crowd. They were still focused on Zoltan and his opponent.
“Don’t take my baby, don’t take my baby.” The words tumbled out of Alisha in a frantic stream of semi-consciousness. She was too loud; someone would notice the noise soon enough. Frankel attempted to calm her as they worked.
Winslow kept his eyes glued to Zoltan and the crowd. The Hungarian was losing, slowly. His compact form was adept at evading the monster’s slashing claws, but he seemed unable to do any damage in retaliation. The lizard’s hide was too thick for Zoltan’s blows to be anything more than an annoyance. Winslow’s eyes returned to the knots at Alisha’s feet.
Alisha’s tortured ramblings had subsided at Frankel’s gentle pleading. The two men were still fumbling with the stubborn knots, and Winslow was wishing he had paid more attention when they were covering knots in Boy Scouts. Winslow could feel the rope around Alisha’s feet loosening. His hands moved frantically as adrenaline surged through his body. Frankel untied his knot and Alisha brought her arms down from above her head. The altar was warm against Winslow’s knees.
The feet came next and the two men helped her sit up on the stone. She was drenched in sweat; the marble altar was radiating heat like asphalt in July.
“Get me the hell off this thing, please.” Her voice was no longer trembling.
Winslow and Frankel gently supported her weight and helped her stand. As the trio headed toward the exit. Winslow chanced another look at Zoltan and his reptilian adversary. Things were much the same, but the Hungarian was a little slower in his movements. Fatigue was taking its toll. Then, everything changed in an instant.
First, the stone table spoke. It wasn’t audible, but they all felt it. STOP THEM! The words came in a powerful female voice. Winslow and his companions stumbled as the words blazed through their heads. The congregants in black hoods made noises of shock and confusion. One tall figure was not disturbed and turned quickly towards the trio making their escape.
The tall figure glided like black fog across the stone floor. It was inhumanly fast. As it came upon them, Winslow saw the mask was different from all the other plain white ones. It had distinct drops of silver and gold that looked like stars. At the forehead of the mask, there was a silver sickle moon. In its hand was a bright, strange knife. Two other congregants peeled off from the crowd around Zoltan and joined the Starry Mask. Their exit was blocked; Winslow tightened his grip on the baton.
“I’m afraid I can’t allow this little expedition to go on any longer.” Glinden’s fluid voice oozed out of the Starry Mask. “You’ve all been so much more fun than all those derelicts we harvested before. I can’t blame you, of course. The will to survive is the strongest human instinct. It’s why I’m here now, in fact.”
Since glittering Carthage met its end, I have served my Mother in secret and She has rewarded me tenfold with eternal youth. I won’t deny Her tonight’s oblation. Once Mago finishes off your little friend, we’ll begin again.”
As she spoke those final words, a body hit the floor with a mighty thump. All eyes locked once again on the two combatants. Zoltan had managed to sweep the monster’s feet from under it. The creature struggled on its back; it lashed out with its talons, breaking off the blunt tip of Zoltan’s mop handle. The unlikely weapon was shorter now and sharper.
Zoltan moved with deadly precision, placing his boot on the creature’s neck, he drove the mop handle into one of its glaring yellow eyes. There was an abominable shriek, like metal twisting and warping, then silence. Zoltan dropped his trash can lid shield next to the lizard’s limp form and began walking toward the Glinden. Her starry mask was expressionless, but Winslow could see she had clenched her fists and was trembling in a mixture of rage and fear.
“Don’t just stand there you idiots!” she bellowed. “KILL HIM!”
The other congregants were giving Zoltan a wide berth. At their leader’s exhortation, they closed in on him. Many congregants drew large knives from their robes. Not good, Winslow thought.
But Zoltan was, once again, better prepared for the situation than anyone had reason to suspect. He stepped back, reached between his shoulder blades and produced a short, heavy sword. He gave it a single flourish and dropped into what Winslow assumed was a fencing stance of some sort. What followed left an indelible mark on the young detective’s memory.
Zoltan moved with supernatural grace, slashing and striking at will. He passed through the cultists like water. They attacked him with furious intensity, but few were able to land more than glancing blows. He anticipated, deflected, and countered many a savage blow. His footwork was effortless, a thousand tiny adjustments. The stone floor was stained with blood as Zoltan worked.
Glinden turned back to face Winslow, Alisha, and Frankel. She tore her starry mask away to reveal her face, frozen in hatred.
“You stupid little insects, you have no idea what you’ve done.” she spoke through gritted teeth. “Tanit will drink your blood soon enough.”
She ran back to the stone altar and cried out. Her voice was amplified beyond normal human vocal range.
“GOODBYE, ZOLTAN! WE’LL MEET AGAIN!”
She placed her hand on the altar, and then both vanished without sound or any other trace. Everyone was awestruck at this development.
“Mistress?” the shorter congregant had a feminine voice. “MISTRESS! Don’t leave me.”
She stepped toward the empty space where the altar had stood. Her hand reached out like a child searching for its mother. Without word or warning, Alisha snatched the baton from Winslow’s hand, took three long strides, and brought it down on the other woman’s head.
“Stay away from my BABY, you fucking bitch!” she spat.
The robed woman fell in a heap, knocking her mask askew. Charlotte’s pale, unconscious face looked up at them.
“Goodbye, Detectives.” Winslow recognized Mr. Jefferies’ curious voice coming from behind the second mask. Before they could stop him, the robed man scurried toward the passage by which Winslow and Frankel had entered. Zoltan shouted something unintelligable and made haste to intercept Jefferies.