When things blazed away into a pure whiteness, I had expected to be swept up by that same feeling of serenity that I had experienced the last time that I had touched the Holy Artifact. I had expected to find myself in a place of soft whites, made up of billowing clouds, and facing an old friend or family member that had died.
Since all this started, you'd think that by now I would have learned that nothing ever turns out how you expect it to.
Even though, there's no way in hell that I ever would have expected to end up where I did.
I was in the red room. The red room of Bartholomew's psychic. The red room full of odd angles and abstract shapes that were nearly the same crimson color of the room. And at the far end of the room, exactly like the first time that I had encountered him here, stood the black indistinct shape of Bartholomew.
Fast-forward and he was suddenly standing closer, casually examining one of the twisted pieces of artwork. He slowly looked towards me and smiled, a chill running up my spine as he once again became a burst of movement, drawing even closer.
The terror that I had first felt upon finally facing him returned to me ten fold, and it was all I could do not to drop to my knees and quiver in horror.
He was destroyed, in both his human form and his true form, yet here he was, as malevolent as ever.
I broke out in a cold sweat as he appeared before me, his last movement not even registering on my senses, and I took a step backwards only to find myself against a large piece of art.
His smile was chilling, his silence even more so, and I began shaking.
When at last he spoke, his voice was beguiling, and my senses seemed to calm of their own accord.
"Bill," he greeted me. "I had never thought to see another being again, least of all, you."
My mind was trembling, my thoughts tumbling about on themselves, but he was able to pluck them free with no effort.
"You can not kill a God," he explained to my unspoken thought. "You can, however, capture one."
"You're contained within the Artifact," I realized, finally finding my voice.
"For the moment," he conceded.
There were dozens of questions that I wanted to ask, but how could I trust his answers? How could I know that he wasn't going to use me to somehow free him?
He laughed, and I knew that he was still reading my thoughts, that my mind was an open book to him. My fear became anger and I erected my mental shields, blocking him from my mind.
"Do not think yourself so powerful that you can keep me from your mind," he said, his voice echoing within my head, his lips not moving. "In here, I am all that there is. All that there ever will be."
"Then why am I here?" I asked.
Bartholomew only glared at me.
"This isn't your realm. You're a prisoner here. A powerful prisoner, but a prisoner none the less."
"As I said, for the moment," he countered, a smugness to his voice that conveyed far more than he would ever tell me willingly.
"You foresaw this," I realized. "You've figured out how to escape from here."
"Certain arrangements were made. Even if you knew the details, there would be nothing that you could do about it. I will be free of this confinement, and humanity will suffer my wrath."
"No," I said.
"You think that you can prevent it?" he smirked. "You know nothing of the true power that you are facing. You know nothing of my intent, of my preparations, of my…"
"The clones," I whispered, his own mind as open to me as mine was to him.
"Impressive," he said, a hint of pride to his tone.
"They're nothing but tools to you. You're using them just like everyone else that you've ever dealt with."
His smile faltered ever so slightly, and I felt him close his mind to me. It was like being pushed back out of a door and having it slammed in your face, but in the last instant I grasped one final aspect of his plan.
With my blurting of her name, his contemptuous smile faded and he lashed out at me, full of rage. I had expected his clawed hands to slash through me, but the room vanished in a burst of red.
I didn't want to guess where I was going to end up.
* * * * *
"Clear," reported Doug, checking out the main hallway.
Miller moved out to the left, Mai to the right, and the others took up a position between them as Cutherman sealed off his private laboratory. Six heavily armed humans going up against a nest of vampires that were created by clones of the Lord of all vampires didn't seem like too sure of a thing, but they had all agreed that they had no other option.
"Make your shots count, people," said Miller. "I'll take point, Mai the rear. Amber, Traci, you'll switch off with me, in that order, when I'm out of silver. Doug, Rita, follow that on Mai."
The team members nodded in confirmation.
"Cutherman might swear by that sensor," said Miller, indicating the device that Traci was holding in her hands, "but tracking vamps by air displacement doesn't sound all that accurate to me. Keep your eyes and ears open, and stay frosty. The best thing we've got going for us right now is that they don't know that we're free."
"Uh, that might not be for much longer, Captain," said Traci. "If I'm reading this right, then we've got a bloodsucker heading for us right now."
Miller stepped around Amber to look at the scanner. A small blip was moving in their direction from further up the hallway, only a few meters around the bend.
"Like I said," reiterated Miller, readying his MP5, "make your shots count."
* * * * *
The transition was nearly instantaneous, just like any other time that I had willed myself from one location to another, but I hadn't consciously made this jump. It was over in a second, but in that ever so short pause I was able to rationalize every thing that I had learned from Bartholomew, and I knew what his plan was.
The clones had been born of more than science. They were each a piece of a spell, a powerful spell designed to tear apart the boundaries that held Bartholomew captive, and Christine was the key.
Bartholomew had planted the idea within them to use Christine, to join her with them, and that action would complete the spell.
I also knew that there was more to Christine than I had ever imagined, and more than she even knew herself. She was older than she imagined, and many times she had walked along side of her father…Lord Bartholomew…rejoicing in death as much as he.
Marrizzia, her mother, had been a powerful sorceress, and when she learned that Bartholomew had grown tired of her, she had cast a spell on Christine to restore her humanity and erase her memory.
Christine had died many times, and returned to the darkness of her heritage, but whenever she learned the full truth about herself, then the spell would be reinstated. That had been Marrizzia's revenge on Bartholomew, to keep his daughter from ever walking by his side again, and to allow her to walk in the daylight, as a near human.
Oh, my God. That was it. The spell that was part of the clones would do more than free Bartholomew. They would all merge. Christine and the clones. They would all become one, a new body for Bartholomew, and with the knowledge that they held becoming a part of her, the spell placed by Marrizzia would return.
Bartholomew would live again…and be able to walk in the day!
The realization hit me in the same instant that I arrived within the ruins of Bartholomew's lair, standing within his ashen remains, the Holy Artifact still within my grasp.
There was no time to waste, no other options to think of. I willed myself back to the institute, ready face Christine and the clones. I had no hope of surviving, not against all of them, but I had to try.
Even the death of one of them would destroy the power of the spell.
I didn't think beyond that, I couldn't. I knew that this would be the last thing that I ever did.
I just hoped that it would be enough.
* * * * *
The Combiner, as the clones called it, reminded Roy of a centrifuge, and as he watched Cobe place Christine into the cylinder in the center he realized that that was exactly what it was. Each of the clones enter a similar cylinder, theirs circling Christine's, and Roy saw that they were connected hers.
"What's wrong, Roy?" asked Diane, stepping between him and his view of what was happening. "Don't you want to catch up on old times?"
Roy couldn't think of anything to say. He had known Diane for so long, had felt responsible for her death, as if he had failed her somehow, and he was having a difficult time accepting that she was now a vampire.
"Don't you even want to know how?"
"I…" he trailed off, thoughtful about things, and simply nodded as he realized that he did want to know.
"I would let Brian feed from me. It wasn't enough to satisfy him, of course, and he still went out and killed, but it was the link that transformed me after my death."
Roy felt his anger raise as he thought of how one of the clones had taken the form of a little boy and infiltrated their group. How he had beguiled Diane and had entered her life; how he had used his innocent appearance to kill Katt--who was also now a vampire--and Roy himself.
"I was so distraught at the time," said Diane, mockingly. "So filled with remorse that I had betrayed you."
Roy's anger was close to becoming rage.
"But now, when I think back on it," continued Diane, smiling at him, "I realize just how amusing the expression of shock was on your dead face."
Roy's vision became red.
"Vile creature of hell!" roared Roy, grabbing Diane's head in both of his hands.
Diane screamed in agony as Roy's hands glowed with the same white energy that she had seen radiate from his crucifix. She clawed at his hands as smoke began to curl from her head, her entire being burning with a Holy power that would destroy her.
Katt leapt at Roy an instant too late. Diane's entire body bust into flame, afire with white flames that burned with an intensity beyond anything earthly, and it crumbled away to ashes, leaving Roy free to turn his new found ability on the attacking Katt.
The energy arced from Roy and struck Katt in midair, burning her away in an instant, her ashes flowing like a cloud across the room.
Filled with a hatred for the creatures that had destroyed everything that he had ever cared about, Roy turned and vented his energy on the Combiner.
* * * * *
"Jesus, Paul," exclaimed Miller, lowering his weapon as the Halfling stepped around the far corner. "We almost…shit."
Paul glared at the group with eyes that were red, his mouth and shirt covered in blood, and he snarled at them.
Miller was able to get off one shot before Paul's clawed hands tore his head from his body, sending it spinning into the group. Blood and flesh filled the hallway like a mist as the Halfling tore into them with an unbridled fury, oblivious to the pain in his leg from the silver slug.
Traci dropped to the floor as Paul ripped half her face away, not even missing a beat as he turned and ripped Amber open, spilling her insides to the floor.
Doug opened fire, but Paul slapped the weapon aside before he could take aim, and the burst of shots that he managed to squeeze off stitched a bloody trail across Rita's chest, killing her.
In the instant before he crashed down on her, Mai was able to pry open the container of nanites and fling them into the air. She was dead before she could see the miniaturized devices begin tearing Paul apart.
Within less than thirty seconds the hallway was littered with bodies covered in an ashen residue from their destroyed killer.
* * * * *
Captain Green closed his eyes as the count down neared zero, praying that they had made the right decision. The voice over the speaker, from the stealth bomber, stated that they had impact, and then the transmission was lost.
It would be a few minutes before they would be able to regain contact with the craft, but there was no doubt as to what the outcome would be. The warhead that they had used was designed specifically to target areas with underground structures. The blast would leave a crater nearly a quarter mile wide, and make the area uninhabitable for decades.
"God help us," whispered Green.
* * * * *
My resolve had never been stronger. I wanted to end this, now, before Bartholomew had even a chance of returning to our realm. I hadn't thought that others might have different plans for ending the war against the vampires…plans that had nothing to do with me or what I had learned.
I had willed myself to be where Christine was, ready to use the Holy Artifact to destroy her just as Roy had her father, but fate seemed to have other ideas.
It was like running full tilt into a wall. I hit something powerful, something that registered blindingly bright even on my incorporeal senses, and I was suddenly being pushed backward.
I was slammed to the ground, tumbling backwards for several yards before I was able to stop myself, a tremendous thundering sound ringing in my ears.
Standing, I saw in the distance, a truly terrifying sight: a mushroom shaped cloud rolling up into the sky.
To Be Concluded in…Nightfall: Retroactive