The night air was balmy, and fireflies danced among the trees leading up the driveway. I maintained my human form as we approached the Great House. Already annoyed with the humidity, I pulled my hair back into a ponytail to keep it from touching my face. My entire frame was anxious about what to expect, but I was focusing on my anger at Cressida. I let it take over and push me to move forward.
Marcus was scouting overhead and used his abilities to silence the guards outside. He joined me as I reached the front door, and we entered together. The small, angry female vampire I had seen before was waiting for us, but she didn’t attack. Instead, she bowed and gestured a ‘welcome’ to me and to Marcus.
Intrigued, I gave her a subtle head nod and a thumbs up.
* * *
Yoshi came through the window on the far right side of the house. Back in his Tengu form, he crept quietly down the hallway until he was outside the study. There he was greeted by Dmitri, who had been waiting for Jonas. Dmitri ushered him past the doorway as Jonas exited the room.
“Thanks for the tip, Holden. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m in New York City.”
As he closed the door, Dmitri managed to keep Jonas from shouting out, thoroughly surprised to see Yoshi’s red face and black wings.
“What in the hell are you, friend?”
In a low voice that hissed, Yoshi replied, “I am a harbinger of war.”
“Well.” Jonas turned to Dmitri. “Okay then. War it is.”
The three of them headed towards the main hall, where everyone converged and the action began.
* * *
“Dmitri, I need you to show me where Francois is. The rest of you, guard Marcus while he works to get Michael out of here.”
Dmitri began heading to the staircase, so I had to run after him. Shouting over my shoulder, I added, “If Cressida shows up, kill her, okay? Thanks!”
Dmitri headed upstairs, so I took the steps as fast as I could in an attempt to keep up with him. The carpet hushed our footsteps as we headed to the left and down the corridor. Stopping near the end, Dmitri burst through a door, and I followed him inside.
There stood Francois. The same tall, lanky vampire I had encountered in New Orleans, who had chased me, and I had bitten the hand off of. He turned around as we came inside, and as his eyes caught mine, he sneered at me.
Great. This was getting off to a good start.
“Yeah, this bitch.”
Dmitri stepped in between us. “Francois, please. We must go. She’s going to help us get out of here.”
Growling, Francois continued to stare at me, his eyes burning holes into my head. He ignored him. “You took my hand.”
“I could’ve taken a lot more than that. Be grateful.”
Dmitri stepped forward and put his hands on his lover’s shoulders. “Please.” Leaning forward, he kissed him. “This is not the time.”
I stood on my toes to look over Dmitri’s shoulder at Francois. “Listen, pal. I don’t care about you. I only care about Michael. If you love this guy anywhere near as much as I love Michael, then you should understand why I will do anything to free him. If getting you out of here means he gets to come home, then I’m gonna damn sure make it happen. Now let’s go.”
Francois’ glare softened slightly, and he looked at Dmitri. “This had better be the right choice, l’amour.” (love)
Dmitri nodded and gave him another quick kiss. Then, taking Francois by the hand, he pulled him along, and the two of them followed me back down the hall.
Before we could get very far, three vampires showed up at the end of the hallway. One stood in the back, filling the hallway with his frame, while the other two were dwarves by comparison. The two smaller ones rushed at us, and I gave a quick glance to Dmitri. Without hesitating, I called forth the specters of Cressida’s house. A purple ghoul rose up out of the floor in front of them, and they came skidding to a halt, falling over each other. More ghosts came from the walls, wailing and manifesting as deathly visions. Within seconds, the vampires were covered in ectoplasm and screaming in terror.
One of the spirits hovered over the giant vampire before he was possessed by it. A pale blue light enveloped the vampire as it twisted and tried to back away. Suddenly the vampire stood up straight and made eye contact with me, and I saw it mouth the word ‘safe’. It gestured for us to come forward, and I didn’t pause for an instant. I ran towards it and rushed right by with Dmitri and Francois at my heels.
* * *
Michael heard the commotion coming from up above. Unsure what it was, he got up within his cage, standing hunched over due to its low ceiling. He stared at the door and simply waited, prepared for anything.
“Is it freedom you will have?”
Michael nearly jumped out of his skin. He spun around and saw the imp standing there, just behind his cage, wearing a look of utter boredom.
“I say again, freedom we shall mend?”
“Absolutely, little demon.”
There was a rumbling sound, and the back wall of the basement room split open. Three huge, disgustingly ugly demons pulled themselves through the split and into the room. Each one was acutely disturbing in appearance. Coming through first was a short, skinny, and ridiculously orange-yellow colored demon. It had spikes protruding from its arms, going down the length of them, and three eyes where each normal eye socket should be. The second one had a normal, humanoid appearance, but its belly was rotund and bore a second face. Having two mouths, each one had teeth that had been sharpened into little daggers. Its skin was a burnt red, and its eyes were blue. The last demon was tall and overly muscular, with four arms and a long tail that had the head of a snake at the end. Colored a gray-brown color, it had two nostrils but no discernable nose. A footlong, forked tongue slithered out of its mouth as it hissed, and a series of hollow triangular plates on its back shook and rattled.
Out of seemingly nowhere, a fourth demon stepped forward out of the crack. This one was unlike any Michael had seen before. Standing taller than the others, it was sickly white, with two great horns like a bull and four violet eyes going down each side of its face. Rather than horizontal, its mouth was vertical in the middle of its face, with no sign of a nose, leaving it to pant and breathe heavily.
The humanoid demon came forward and swiped at Michael’s cage locks, undoing them with ease. Michael pushed the cage top up and flipped it over, letting it crash and thunk on the backside of the cage. He climbed out and turned around, bending down towards the little imp.
“I count four, imp.”
“One of these is for another.” The imp smirked. “Vampires have need of us.”
“Never you mind, vampire. We are done.” The imp turned around to walk into the wall portal.
The imp turned around and eyeballed him.
“I need the demons to aid me in getting out of here!”
“Remain, they will. But for only one turn of the clock!”
With that, the imp proceeded forward and jumped into the opening, disappearing from sight. Michael watched as the wall closed shut with a loud creaking thump, and any signs it had been split apart vanished without a trace.
Michael glanced around at his new compatriots. “Let’s get going.”
He turned around and walked towards the door when it suddenly flew off its hinges. Standing there were two vampires: one with black wings and a red face, and the other was his lifelong friend, Marcus.
“My god, man! You brought company!” Marcus was wide-eyed, staring at the demons at Michael’s back.
Laughing out loud, Michael took the handful of steps needed to meet Marcus, and they hugged, clapping each other on the back loudly. “It’s wonderful to see you, my friend.” Michael pulled back and eyed the other vampire. “And who is this?”
“This is Yoshikuru. He’s on loan to us from the Boston colony.”
“You don’t say…” Michael held out his hand to Yoshikuru. “Nice to meet you.”
Yoshi merely put his sword down and nodded, a small grunt issuing from his throat.
Michael lowered his hand. “That’s new.” Turning his attention back to Marcus, he asked, “Where is Celie?”
“Upstairs, gathering some more of our brethren.”
“Cressida has a rebellion on her hands.”
The three of them turned to head up the stairs. Meanwhile, the demons came forward and pulverized the doorway as they pushed through, breaking through plaster and drywall, and crushing the steps to the first floor underneath their demon feet. Once they were all in the hallway, they made haste towards the main hall, with Yoshikuru taking the lead.
* * *
Upstairs, on a third floor of the house, Cressida grew increasingly concerned about the sounds she was hearing. Screams, shouts, and wails were coming from beneath her in droves. Each grew in intensity and frequency, building up like a wave about to crest. No one had been up to see her, not even her precious Dmitri. Surely someone would have made their way to her if there was an issue?
She stood up from her seat at the vanity, having been preparing for a night out. After all, it was Saturday and a perfect night in which to head out…for dinner. She wore only her silk slip dress and a diamond drop necklace, her feet and legs bare. Walking over to her bedroom door, she grasped the doorframe and peered out down the hallway, looking toward the stairs that led down to the second floor. The sounds continued to come toward her.
Cressida took a step backward when she heard a squeaking noise behind her. Whirling around, she saw one lone rat sitting in the middle of her floor. It sat upright, nose twitching, its tiny paws in the air. She stepped towards it and knelt down, letting it crawl into her outstretched palm. She lifted it up and met its eyes.
“What have you come to tell me?”
The rat squeaked and chattered, chirping at her in an increasingly high-pitched frequency. Cressida’s eyes narrowed, and she clenched her jaw. Without any warning at all, she squeezed her hand around the rat and killed it, squashing it in her fist. She opened her fingers and flung the carcass across the room, shaking the debris from her hand, then wiping her palm against her slip.
Standing up, she grabbed a nearby pistol and turned around, heading out the door. As she walked, she called upon the numerous rats that lived within the walls, beckoning them to come forth. They rapidly came forward, crawling out of corners and from under doorways, even dropping from openings in the ceiling. As Cressida descended the stairs, the rats followed her like an army behind a general, marching into battle behind their leader.
* * *
I fought my way through the main hall, fending off other vampires alongside Dmitri and his lover, Francois. So many had come out of the woodwork and were attacking us with all manner of abilities. One showered us with hail, pelting us with icy little boulders while we attempted to come down the stairs. Once we got down, another summoned numerous Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, swarming us with wings and antennae, hissing in our ears and trying to crawl down our throats. Yet another vampire transformed into a one-eyed, bat-winged monster, swiftly attacking us from behind and attempting to overpower us.
Most recently, I had shifted into my panther form and was fighting a giant chupacabra.
My partners in crime were both helpful in the fight. Dmitri was able to read minds and responded pretty quickly to each attack, knowing where each blow would land from the enemy. However, his big ability was literally doubling in size and dwarfing his competition. Some of the vampires that stepped forward were met with a swift knockback from a fist the size of their torso. Meanwhile, Francois was a lover, not a fighter. He summoned up a smoke demon that could either suffocate people or provide cover for an escape. He made it very clear he preferred the hands-off approach to engaging in actual physical contact.
Before long, I heard someone call my name, and it was like coming home. I looked up from my downed prey and saw Michael gazing at me from across the room. I roared and bounded over to him, ignorant of anything happening around me. As soon as I reached him, I nuzzled against him, and he dropped to his knees, hugging me and showering my furry face with kisses. I leaned into him so hard he fell over, then he laughed as I picked him up by his shirt with my teeth.
Before I could truly relish the moment, deafening silence hit everywhere and everyone at once.
At the top of the stairs stood Cressida, pale and raging like a daylight storm. Everything had gone cold, quiet. The vampires fighting for her regrouped on one side of the hall, growling and snapping. Those of us fighting the good fight came together: the challengers and the rebellious. Behind us were the three demons that Michael had brought with him, and I felt my jowls lift in a beastly smile.
Then I heard a squeak. Small, nearly imperceptible. Then I heard another, and another.
The rats had come.
Dmitri and Francois dashed out of sight down a hallway to the right. His friends, Jonas and the little angry vampire, who I heard someone call Amunet, braced themselves. Jonas began throwing little daggers at the rats, knocking them back as they surged forward down the stairs. Amunet became a swirl of sand, whirling toward the rats with her khopesh slicing and dicing as she spun through them. Yoshi lurched forward and began wielding his sword, striking the rats as they jumped and scurried. Marcus and Michael were grabbing the rats and throwing them away while I snapped at them with my panther teeth. Before long, though, the rats were overwhelming all of us.
While they were swarming, Cressida had come down the stairs, walking through the fray without any hindrance. Rats were overtaking Jonas, his body overcome by gnawing and biting. During this distraction, Cressida approached him and brought a pistol up to his head. Before Jonas could react, she pulled the trigger at point blank range, and the bullet exploded out the back of his head. Amunet let loose a guttural moan and rushed to his side, but there was nothing she could do. The rats ate through him with ease, consuming him like a shark consuming a seal. A loud wail ushered from Amunet’s throat, and she dropped to her knees next to his body.
Realizing we would all end up like Jonas, I turned toward Marcus and whined. I knew he could project a vision to lull them, and as I watched, he focused his sight on them. Within moments, the rats had stopped, frozen as Marcus flooded them with his projections.
Cressida shrieked at this disruption to her plans for decimation. Swiftly, she transformed into a falcon, and flew off towards the west wing. The rats continued to remain frozen under Marcus’ ability. Amunet growled low in her throat and hopped up from the floor, taking off running towards the direction Cressida had flown in.
A few of Cressida’s vampires were lingering and came toward us, eager to finish the fight; however, Michael’s demons swiftly dispatched them. The snake demon’s tail bit into two of them, paralyzing them. This was just before the demon itself ripped them apart, unhinged its jaw, and swallowed them piece by piece. The other two demons either tore limbs from torsos or set fire to the vampires. Either way, they ceased to be an issue for us.
A fourth demon was also joined in the fight, but it seemed less interested in Michael and more interested in Yoshi. I glanced at him, and he paused long enough to meet my eyes and nod. Ah, so Yoshi can also call demons. How very interesting…
No sooner had they gotten rid of the last few vampires than the demons rapidly turned to ash and fell apart. I looked at Michael, confused, my tail twitching. He shrugged.
“They had to go back.”
Leaving Marcus with the rats, Yoshi, Michael, and I ran quickly to try to catch up to the others. Hurrying down the hallway, I jumped in front of them when a single vampire stood in our path. He was unassuming, with curly brown hair and wearing a butler uniform, standing straight and holding his hands at his back. I couldn’t help but think of Downton Abbey and snarled for him to get out of the way.
Rather than stepping aside, this vampire’s gaze became intense, and I felt a tightness growing within my frame, like pressure building. My eyes felt like they were going to push out of my head, and my chest felt like my lungs were burning. Immediately I realized this was the vampire Dmitri had warned us about, the one who could cause spontaneous implosion. I looked at Michael and could tell he was being impacted as well.
But not Yoshi.
Yoshi was still in his Tengu form, and he smirked at the boldness of this butler vampire. Twirling his nodachi, he danced forward in a series of movements before coming to stop within millimeters of the vampire’s face. At least, that’s what it looked like from where I stood. Before I understood what I had witnessed, the butler split cleanly in half, the left side of his frame sliding down to the floor as the other half remained upright. His right eye blinked once before that side fell, and I jerked as it hit the floor with a ‘thud’. My symptoms instantly disappeared.
Yoshi wiped his sword off with the base of his black tunic and turned back toward us. I chuffed, and he nodded. Together, the three of us continued down the hall, jumping over the remnants of the butler and heading towards Cressida.
* * *
Dmitri and Francois were together in the Winchester room of the house. Feeling comfortable around the historic weapons, they were taking refuge until the fight was over, with Dmitri protecting his lover. Neither of them felt any obligation to help the others; although, Dmitri was sad to sense the passing of Jonas. Amunet was angrier than ever, and he could hear her furious thoughts, knowing she was coming to kill Cressida.
Likewise, he could also hear Cressida’s thoughts, and she was feeling murderous towards him and Francois. He had made eye contact with her in the main hall. She recognized why his hand had been on Francois’ arm, and she had seen them run away together.
Dmitri had gathered the weapons he was most familiar with, prepared to fire on whoever came through the door to the room. He was back to normal size, using his thought-reading ability to protect them. He focused on the others in the house, trying to filter out everyone but Cressida in the hopes he could get ahead of her.
* * *
Francois was huddled in the corner, shivering. He was prepared to call forth his smoke demon, but he was still afraid: afraid of the other vampires, afraid of losing Dmitri, afraid of what Cressida would do to them… He loved Dmitri, and he hoped they would survive this, but this was going exactly as he had feared. Sitting on the floor, he pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, his gaze drifting from Dmitri to the door and back again.
Then he saw Dmitri hunch down slightly, bracing himself, and he knew that Cressida had arrived. The door to the room flung inwards, and she stood there in all her naked glory. Stepping inside, she let loose an unholy scream as Dmitri fired upon her, the ammunition piercing her left lung, liver and spleen. Soon his magazine was emptied, and Dmitri reached for another gun. Before he could, Cressida was on him like a hellcat, scratching and clawing at him with her falcon talons in place of nails.
Francois shouted for Dmitri as he watched the two of them fighting, Dmitri unafraid to throw hard punches that knocked Cressida’s head back. She repeatedly sliced down his face and torso, opening wounds that looked like he had been attacked by a shredder. They continued to throw down upon each other, falling to the ground and wrestling against each other, rolling this way and that.
Then she had him. Cressida was on top of Dmitri, slashing and gouging him with her talons, cackling like an evil villainess from a wicked fairytale. Francois knew he had to do something, knew he had to fight. He unleashed his smoke demon, but the smoke did little to stop her, instead swirling around them and worsening things for Dmitri. She continued to fight through it and attack his love.
That was when something inside Francois snapped. He stood up, fury rising within him unchecked. Grabbing a bayonet blade from the wall next to him, he stalked over to where they were on the floor. Then Francois, the lover, reached back and drove the blade down with all his might, striking Cressida in the back directly over her heart.
Her frame arched, and Dmitri shoved her off of him. Shock rippled across his features as he realized what Francois had done. Shoving himself up off the floor, Dmitri took the two steps needed to reach him and turned around, shielding Francois with his body.
As Cressida finally got to a standing position, a figure came through the doorway, launching themselves at her. Francois was stunned to see it was Amunet, her face bearing a rage he hadn’t seen on anyone since World War II. Within seconds, she had ripped the bayonet out of Cressida’s back and tossed it. She grabbed Cressida by the throat and dove into her with her teeth, ripping and tearing her neck to shreds. Her vocal cords and esophagus were beyond mangled. All Cressida could do was exhale, no sound exiting her frame. Amunet chewed her up to the point that she was spitting chunks of Cressida out onto the floor.
The violence was so atrocious that even Dmitri had to look away.
* * *
I heard sounds coming from the room up ahead. Horrible sounds. Sounds like a pack of lions feasting on a gazelle. As I rounded the corner, I prepared myself to see Cressida killing one of our new friends, but the scene was so far beyond what I had expected or ever wanted to see.
Flesh and blood were strewn everywhere. The tiniest of vampires, Amunet had unleashed hell upon Cressida, tearing out every inch of her throat and leaving only her spinal column intact. Cressida was lifeless, hanging limp from Amunet’s arms, while Dmitri guarded Francois in the back corner. A bloody bayonet lay on the floor next to Cressida’s feet.
As soon as I stepped into the room, Amunet looked up, and our eyes met. She looked feral, wild as any animal in the wilderness. She glanced down at Cressida’s form and then dropped it, making a liquid-filled growl in her throat as she did so. Then she stepped away from the body and came over to me. She stopped in front of me, standing tall and unapologetic. I could see in her eyes that this was vengeance, an act of justice for having killed Jonas, and I knew I would have done the same.
Still in my panther form, I bowed my head and then stepped to the side, letting her pass. She turned and nodded to Dmitri and Francois, then left the room. Michael and Yoshi stepped aside, and Amunet walked down the hall, disappearing around a corner.
In the room, we had to be sure Cressida was dead. I padded over to her body and sniffed. Sensing life still within her, I tried calling out to Michael with my mind.
She’s still alive.
Michael jumped, obviously surprised to hear me. It works again! Thank goodness. My words clicked for him, and his smile vanished. If she is still alive, we need to end her.
Yoshi is prepared. Tell him.
I think I should do it. She was my mother, after all. I feel responsible.
No. This is what he came here to do. Let him.
Nodding, Michael turned to the Tengu beside him. “She is ready. Will you do it?”
Moving forward, Yoshi stepped into the room and approached Cressida’s lifeless form. In one fluid movement, he swept his nodachi down and severed her spine, her head rolling slightly to the right and away from the rest of her body. Satisfied that he had completed his duty, Yoshi turned around and bowed to me. I gave him my final chuff, and he, too, left the room, exiting down the hall and hopping out the window at the far end.
Those of us remaining headed outside. Marcus met us after the rats had dispersed, no longer under Cressida’s control. Amunet stood outside, staring at the house that used to be her home. Once we were all on the grassy lawn, she made a hand gesture and smoke began to billow out of the first floor rooms. Startled, I looked at her.
Michael spoke with her in her mind. “She has the ability to start fires, but she prefers hand-to-hand combat.”
My eyes met Amunet’s, and I could see the pain there. I only hoped one day she could recover enough to move forward.
As we watched, flames rose up and engulfed the Great House. I knew this would draw the local fire department, and I turned around to urge everyone to leave. Dmitri stepped forward.
“Thank you. You have honored our agreement.”
Feeling unafraid for the first time in a long time, I transformed back into my human shape. Michael took off his shirt and handed it to me. “I was happy to help,” I said, my voice muffled as I pulled the shirt over my head. “Like I said, I would have done the same thing had I been in your shoes.”
He came closer and held out his hand to Michael. “My apologies for the suffering my sire caused you.”
Taking his hand, Michael smiled softly. “You reunited me with Celie. I should be thanking you.”
“And you have given me my lyubov.” He turned and smiled at Francois, who was standing behind him holding his hand. Dmitri reached up and held Francois’ face in his hands, and they smiled at each other, tears in each of their eyes. Dmitri leaned in and they exchanged a powerful kiss, full of love, affection, and so many emotions that had been stifled by living under Cressida.
I smiled, happy to bear witness to such a love. Then my smile deepened as I thought of my own love finally beside me. I turned to Michael. “Let’s go home, mo shíorghrá.” (My eternal love.)