Danubian Principality of Moldavia,
Her scream, echoing from below through the stairwell, made Santiago stand his ground. There was no time to find another way. The monster before him started to shiver. The corridor he had entered moments before vanished into a blast of violet light. Santiago reached for the torch on the wall and smashed it across the creature’s head. It thrust. He sidestepped and struck again. The monster retreated to the wall and started climbing it, backwards, keeping its eyes fixed on this man that stunk of blood, kin blood. It backed up to the ceiling, out of reach of the burning light and the choking smoke he was wielding. And there, if it could have, it would have smiled. It shivered, and the sound shattered the glass in the windows behind the man.
Pain, in waves of color, flooded his brain and started to drain reality away from him. Before the thing also vanished, Santiago picked up the buffet cabinet against the wall and threw it at the source of his agony. The assault on his senses stopped abruptly. The thing was on the floor, legs up, squirming to right itself. He jumped at its throat, wrapped one arm around the base of its head and pulled with all his might. With a snap the head flew across the room, and smashed against the wall like a ripe watermelon. The corridor reappeared. The rifle and the pistol he had brought were still there on the floor, beyond the door he had knocked down. He took them and raced down the stairwell.
It opened onto the top level of a Library that appeared to be girded along every surface by long wooden cabinets. He stepped out onto the nearest one. The voice of a man echoed throughout the room. “You see, gentlemen, how well they are trained.” The two Russians were cowering against the wall. In the middle of the floor, two of the monsters, their long slender bodies hunched over, were taking turns at Brighton. Santiago almost would have preferred their deafening shiver to the sickening sound their twin-barreled snouts made as they sucked. Bernice was still alive. She had retreated against the side of one of the elongated cabinets. Santiago fired rifle and pistol, and the grisly feast was ended. Seen from above, those hunched bodies with segmented legs splayed far appart, folded wings, and bulbous heads thrust low and deep to drink, were suddenly all too familiar. He had spent months in the tropical jungle. But their sheer size staggered the mind. Santiago started reloading the rifle.
The shots drew Bernice’s eyes upwards. Her scream had broken Rabelaire’s grip on their minds and slowly returned the room to reality. The Spaniard was standing on the topmost wooden channel that ran across the walkway on what had once been the upper level of the Library. He had killed the nightmares.
A sound like the opening of a valve preceded the feeling of a wave pulsing through the channel behind her. The wood panels on the side of the slanted section that connected lower to upper channels rippled upwards with the motion. And the hinged door under the Spaniard’s feet flew open, casting him into the air. Two stories down he fell head first, smashing through the oaken display cabinet and coming to rest on the stone floor at the feet of Brighton.
She ran to him past the ashen contorted figure that had once been Horace Brighton, and over the obscene monstrosities that lay dying at his neck. In appearance they were something like mosquitoes but as seen under a microscope, gigantic. One was larger than a wolf, the other the size of a bobcat. But they were different in bizarre ways: a third compound eye in the middle of the head, two multi-sectioned prosbosces instead of one, useless wings and rear legs merged into a long coat-like carapace of green and black.
The creatures finally stopped twitching. Bernice’s fingers searched desperately for Santiago’s pulse in his thick neck, and her eyes for the heaving of his deep chest, in vain. There was nothing. There couldn’t be. She knew no man could have survived the violence of that fall. But then his deathly stillness was broken by a sudden shudder. He was alive. And from beyond the veil of pain he was forcing his way back to consciousness.
“You… killed our cousin!” The tallest of the Russians shouted at the faceless voice. He was no longer wearing military regalia. The ballroom had fully reverted to the Library, and the voice was no longer soothing.
“I told Brighton,” Rabelaire answered, “to stay indoors at night. The young ones have been getting unpredictable lately.” The pause was brief; the commanding tone returned. “He should have told him.” And then he added in a voice that at first seemed to echo regret, “Poor Brighton, he was hoping for the story of a lifetime. He thought me a vampire.” There was a chuckle of morbid amusement at the end of that. “Alas, poor Brighton.
“Well, gentlemen, will you take my offer to your Tsar? I will give you my pets and the means to control them: the instruments to ravage your enemies. You will give me the supplies I require, and your prisoners, as simple as that.”
“What manner of beast are you that you would –” the Russian’s challenge was interrupted by the unlatching of a hinge across the room, beyond the table. Two wooden panels fell to the floor, exposing a wall of glass. The channels were indeed gigantic glass gutters, filled with flowing water, forming an immense network of fishbowls that gave access to the entire castle to it; it, because what lifted itself above the edge of the glass wall could not be human. But the human eyes sunken into that gray mass of flesh, and the human voice proceeding from one of its folds made it sickeningly clear that this had once been a man.
“I am the future of mankind.” Two giant mosquito larvae wrapped themselves lovingly around the rest of his submerged body. He stroked their heads and then returned his eyes to his guests. The Russians were as pale as the corpse on the floor. “Well, gentlemen, you have my offer. They,” and he glanced down at the creatures sharing the water with him, “grow more intelligent with each generation, and larger.” He smiled a hideous smile. “And all I ask is that you give me your defeated foes. What do you say?”
“We, we will consider your offer.” They retreated. “We must return, talk to the Tsar.” They started to walk across the room towards the door through which they all had entered.
“One of you stays, as guarantee.”
The door was blocked by three of the wolf-sized monsters. Their snouts as long as sabers twitched with visible excitement. The largest one reared itself on its two hind legs rising to the height of a man, its whole body shivering, filling the room with its hallucinogenic song. The doctor’s eyes searched the floor in vain for the rifle and pistol. She knew, rather, she felt that the servant, torch in hand, had slipped out of the shadows unnoticed, and had taken them. But she could not see him. The Spaniard was barely in the room. She forced herself to focus on him and saw him roll over and push himself up. His words came in halting syllables. “What do you want with our kind?”
The doctor followed his lead. Steeling herself to look at the thing that would be god, she asked, “Why do you need us?”
“It’s in the blood.” He answered. A lancet of pain made her jump back. The servant was still in the room, even if they could not see him. The strange droning hypnotic haze that kept them all but paralyzed also clouded reality. He drew some blood from her thumb and delivered it to a dish on the table. He repeated the same operation on every other human body in that room, living and dead. Santiago tried to push him off, but his arm missed him. His vision was still blurred, he could barely stand. After delivering all the blood samples, the servant vanished again into the fringes of the nightmare.
“The template is in the blood, doctor, but it has been diluted by the centuries.” As a man tastes a drop of honey, Rabelaire reached to the table set before him and savored the first sample and went on. “It has been diluted by centuries of intermarriage, but it is still there. I only need to reassemble it. I need the missing parts. And they are out there, somewhere.”
He raised himself as high as he could above the glass wall. Stretching his face to the left he exposed the gray folds of his neck and chest. An exhaled breath riffled a fan of gills. “I can breathe underwater, doctor.” The nauseating contrast of fluttering pink on blubber-like gray sent a sickening twist through the doctor’s stomach. “You don’t see, do you? Doctor, this body will never end. I found the seat of regeneration. I found eternal life! Cut off an arm, and it will grow again. Wound any vital organ and it will rebuild itself again, and again, and again.
“I just cannot stop it. I am missing it, the ingredient, the key that controls it all. But it’s in the blood somewhere. Somewhere out there are remote descendants of the Rephaim, with that trait. It’s not in the New World, I know that now. It is here, in the Old… perhaps among the dwellers at the roof of the world, in Tibet, perhaps in the oldest families of the Persian stock, perhaps in the children of the lost kingdom of the Indus valley. It is somewhere out there, and I will find it. And then, these bones will have the strength to support my body. These muscles will have the strength to hold every part together, and I will rise as the savior of mankind.”
His speech was cut short by something in the sample that he had just tasted. The larvae around him suddenly turned to peer at the humans. That response, that sudden deliberate reaction that belied intelligence, that said they understood what he was thinking, that they knew his will, was more frightening than anything else. Rabelaire noticed her alarm. “I told you they grow in intelligence with every generation.” There was a tinge of admiration in his voice. “We keep exchanging blood; it seems they become more like me.”
He caressed the head and the base of the immature snout of one of the submerged creatures. It tightened its coils around him in response. “Here is a troubling thought for you, doctor. Look at them. Of late I have begun to wonder if they were not this far developed already at one time, perhaps even more, in the dim past. Perhaps our ancestors knew them well. Perhaps the memory of them has survived in our myths: Sirens, with an irresistible song… beautiful and deadly. Perhaps your Jehovah’s obsession with outlawing the ingestion of blood is merely the residue of a primordial conflict, the last vestige of a code of law imposed by the victor over the vanquished. It makes you wonder, doctor, what this world would have been like if they had been chosen for ascension instead of us primates. What do you think? Maybe we will find out.”
Meticulously he went back to tasting each sample of blood. “They become more like me, I become more like them. Do you know that I can see you in total darkness, doctor? I can see the heat that your body exudes through your clothes.” His eyes drifted slowly over her body as he tasted her blood. “I have tasted your bloodline before, a proud heritage, fiery warriors, fearless leaders. But it does not have the missing key.” He went on to the next. “But this sample, this sample is altogether a different story.
“Signor,” he addressed De Soray. At his words the three monsters at the door sharpened their humming and moved forwards on all fours, ignoring the Russians and converging on the Spaniard. Santiago instinctively moved sideways within the haze, trying to place one of the creatures in the path of the others, scanning the space around himself for a weapon. He could smell a torch somewhere. “Your bloodline traces back to the Iberic peninsula, but there is something else, something I have never tasted before.” The larvae unwound themselves from the thing in the water. They started swimming back and forth across the glass in overt excitement. Once again the largest of the monsters stood up on the stone floor on two hind legs, its head bobbing from side to side as its compound eyes scanned the Spaniard’s neck and chest. One thrust would go right through his neck. No, it wasn’t looking for his neck; it was listening to his heart.
“Don’t!” Bernice Vedeen stepped toward Rabelaire.
“Doctor, you think you, any of you can resist me?” His voice suddenly changed, its rhythm matching the numbing drone. With each syllable he uttered, he changed the room. “I control what you see. I control what you feel. If I say your friends are drowning…” And suddenly they were. The Russians clung to each other as they fell through the surface of a raging sea. Santiago was up to his knees in mire, reaching with all his might for an overhanging branch, sinking into quicksand. “I control it all.”
He became a gentleman, French, no, British, a soldier, a captain, tall, handsome, beautiful. “You see what I say you see.” He leaned towards her. “You feel what I say you feel.” He stroked her face gently. “You want what I say you want. I own your heart.”
She came to him, her body pressing against the glass barrier, her face almost at a level with his. Behind her back, her hands searched through her purse. “Yes. My heart…” she breathed, “belongs… to only one Master.”
He smiled. “Yes, one Master.”
She drew out the pendant and pressed it against the glass. “And He crushed the head of your kind nineteen centuries ago!” Digging the edge of the diamond into the middle of the glass wall she drove it upwards in one screeching stroke, scoring its surface all the way to the top edge. A sudden step back put her beyond the reach of Rabelaire’s arms.
She snatched the candlestick from the table and turned toward the Spaniard. “Santiago! Despierte y defiéndase!” Her command, in perfect Spanish, cut clean through the insanity, turning the mire into stone again, putting Santiago back on solid ground, clearing his senses. He caught the tossed candlestick and severed the standing monster’s head with one blow. A second blow successfully parried a thrust from the next one but the impact knocked that brass weapon out of his hands.
The siren song was silenced for a moment as the two creatures measured his defiance. In that breath, his eyes found the shattered oak frame lying about him. A cross-brace snapped in half became twin oxgoads. He spun out of the way of the first monster’s lance thrust and rammed one of the stakes through the side of its body.
“NOOO!” Rabelaire lunged forward, reaching for the doctor. The glass bowed loudly under the pressure, and he understood instantly what she had done. Instinctively, he pushed himself away from the weakened surface, only to precipitate its failure. The glass wall exploded. Water, writhing larvae, and a ponderous mass of misshapen flesh poured out onto the room in a thunderous flood. Somehow the Spaniard snatched her out of the way of the flying shards of glass and blubber as the siren song started again in fury.
The impact on solid stone burst open the thing that had once been a man. But Rabelaire did not cry out in agony. Instead, after a moment of stunned silence, he pushed his massive torso up from the floor and gloated in defiance. “Behold the power of immortality. I cannot die!” In seconds, the spilled organs were growing muscle sheets around themselves; distended flesh was stretching itself and recombining with whatever living thing came into contact with it. One of the larvae stopped twisting and allowed itself to be incorporated into the body of its master. The hideous transformation would have proceeded unchecked if it had not been for the trail of blood it had spread throughout the room.
The one monster left in the library responded first. The rest came following the curling red rivulets that the water, now gushing past a broken baffle, carried beyond the doors. They came, following the trail inwards as the radiating spokes of a wheel lead to the hub. They came in response to their most basic instinct. In moments the scent had drawn every monster in the castle down to that room, and they all converged on Rabelaire… to feast and sing bedlam.
Santiago felt a woman’s hands pressing warmth into his ears, warmth and silence. She then did the same to her own ears. She had kept a candle, and the wax stilled the swirling kaleidoscope. They were free from the siren song. The doctor led the stunned Russians out, walking through the pressing masses of giant insects, ignored, insignificant before the lust for blood.
Santiago followed the vibrations along the wood channels deep into the castle to their source. The water pump occupied an entire room toward the back of the castle, next to the riverside loading dock where the pirates’ ships were tied. The pale bodies of their former owners were strewn across the full length of the dock. Dashed on deck and floating overboard were the remains of the doctor’s cargo. Inside the room three barrels of oil sat beside the pump as future fuel. He emptied one of them into the coughing flow and let it spread. Then he lit the surface with one of the torches.
The flames raced across the water, gliding into every room, spreading to the wooden covers and sides of the channels everywhere. With torch in hand he returned to the library, setting every piece of wood, furniture, and drapery on the way on fire. He climbed along the scaffolding to the door at the top. The monsters never even noticed him. Only a flight of stairs remained between him and the window he had used to enter. But he glanced back.
The sight and the sounds were hideous beyond description. Several of the monsters had burst themselves in their gluttony and still they drank. Even as the flames blistered their sides they continued to drink, inebriated, gorging themselves on an inexhaustible fountain. The air was quickly becoming unbreathable, and yet Santiago went no farther. If they still drank, he still lived. Would it ever end?
The memory of Prometheus chained to the mountain, and the eagle forever consuming his liver shook him to the core. Mercy? For such an enemy? The feeling was alien to Santiago. But he did not fight it. A momentary break in the pool of fire around the tangled mass in the center moved him to action. He leaped down and started striking right and left with torch and oaken spear. And then he realized that all he was clearing off were pieces of monsters. The rest of their bodies remained in place, bonded, fused under the surface into a mass that slowly stirred itself up out of the water. Two carapaces with thrashing legs moved aside to allow Rabelaire’s face to come through. He was them and they were him. He was fountain and pit, consuming himself on one side and regrowing himself on the other.
“Brother,” the thing that had been Rabelaire rasped in a hoarse voice that hovered between a groan of agony and a shout of triumph. “We are brothers.” Its human eyes focused on the Spaniard with an insane gleam of realization. “They said you’d come if I waited.” Arms once human, now leathery amalgams of larvae and skin, swept up out of the water to embrace him. “Come, be… me… The life is in the – ”
Santiago De Soray drove the oak stake right through the heart at the center of that nameless mass, stilling its beat; and ending the flow once and for all. The fire brought the room down. Somehow he found another way out, onto the river, and eventually around to the grassy field in front of the castle. The carriage was there, and the Doctor, and two Russians too stupefied to even move without her bidding.
[This first chapter Template of the Rephaim appears in the Crossover Alliance’s Second Anthology. If you like this story, you may want to read the Anthology for stories by other authors too.]