It shadowed the fugitive's features as two conscripts leant out over the void, dusting her with snow and hauling on the suspending chain. She made no sound even as her wounded hands were dragged beneath her by their brutal effect of her ascent.
Flat-faced boulders parted from the ruin's footings and mottled with tea-green lichen bordered the curve of intervening ground that stretched before the walls, the steps up to the postern door terminating at its south end, the north littered with the leavings of the axe. Slumping where she was shoved, Susan drew her legs into her stomach and leant against the ledge behind her, its low rampart cutting off any view of the monastery. Splintered waste wood squealed and cracked beneath her, water tapping her shoulder from a trickle dripping off the stone. She lifted her hand to the cold flow while Josephine payed out a telescopic mirror and scanned the face of the ruin.
"I want their positions." she told her while Shaw kicked himself a berth into the ground beside her.
"Susan, we got you. We had you when you set foot in that compound... it's done. If you care, then do them right, and if you don't, just give them up." he told her.
The girl had let her head fall back against the stone but glanced toward him, then at the conscripts aligned beside her. In the face of their concerted expectation she turned away and proffered silence. Shaw seized her arm and dragged her forward, crushing her face into the shallow burn of melt and wet snow that undercut the brittle debris. She gasped a breath; he swore and held her down until Josephine looked down, pulled a humming sensor from her pocket and blew the pine dust from its display, Two reaching for his own version of the instrument and squinting at it.
"Decomp." he called, dismissing the reading and tucking it back into his clothing. Beside him, Four muttered at his chest and struggled with his garments as though something live had fallen into them, pulling back his armoured vest to inspect his belt.
"The fuck? My loc's lit up..." he cried, his suspicion confirmed by the dull red light that flashed at his waist and prompted him to look up at the sky in pavlovian alarm. Shaw checked his own, then stared at Josephine, who did not share the sentiments expressed by her companions, as charged as anything that might have emerged from their weapons. They cursed the activation of their locator beacons hotly, kicking stones and earth down the hillside in a embittered and childlike display of pugnacity. Their self-styled leader stroked a hand over his cropped head, shaking it to himself.
"What did she do?" Susan murmured, wondering at the fusion of inertia and violence surrounding her as she righted herself.
"In two fuckin hours there'll be airborne out here lighting all this up with fifties... the only things dodging shit'll be your fuckin tricks. Crazy fuckin bitch." the conscript beside her grunted, careless of whichever woman claimed offence.
"I don't know why you're still here." she admitted, laying her head down onto her knees. "It's not like they can stop you. She's mad, and he's a gutless numpty. I'd have shot them both and gotten it over with." The words cleaved swiftly to the notions already taking shape inside them. "You could have been over the river by now."
Shaw's execration was superseded by another advisory from the corps.
"I ah... shit, yeah....got decomp again." said Four, rubbing a hand across his mouth and lifting a furrowed expression from the instrument in his grasp. He turned his crouch in the direction indicated by the pulsing dial but did not dare to raise his head over the ledge, lifting it instead to mark the sun, a little past its apex in the wool-grey sky. "Fuck... it can't be rolling, we still got a fuckin tonne of lux..."
Shaw demanded the instrument from him and examined the reading himself.
Their mirrors rose again like the stalk eyes of an insect. The glass found a figure seated midway on the steps. It was so much smaller than Josephine's expectation that her eyes at first dismissed it as some disfeature of the shade, until it lifted a face that had taken a bright icy blue from the sheltering umbra, floating almost in isolation over a coat of engulfing fur. She threw down her mirror and tore a lanyard from inside her shirt, stuffing pendant yellow buds into her ears.
Susan hoisted herself up to the edge of the stone where she caught a glimpse of the figure on the steps. The vampyre seemed like something that might be blinked away, the distant sun dismissing her beauty like a vapour and casting her as ruined as the battered leavings of her feasts. As she was dragged back onto the crumbling ground a voice began to flow across the clearing and roll down onto their heads like a spill of cool, heavy gas. She watched the men stab soft buds deep into their ears and sit knotted up while Petrouchka's voice welled all around them, seeping through the cracks in the rock and soaking through the fibre plugging the passages into their heads. Despite their cold-sweating terror it began to stroke and coax their bones and muscle, twisting them as though between two fists and sucking them, one by one, onto their knees, and then onto their deadened feet. The voice pulsed with all the flushing speed of blood along their neural traceries until its invitation became the only course of action. Indemnified by the scars upon her neck, Susan could hear nothing of its lure and watched Josephine shout futile commands while Shaw's hand clutched her tightly against the sucking draw that he himself resisted only with his hold on her.
One by one, the conscripts heaved themselves up over the ledge like pinnipeds striving onto a shelved beach, boots battling the wet stone, eyes bulging in their hollows. The vampyre awaited them, seated in the heart of her smiling insistence while they pounded across the narrow clearing toward her. She rose to meet them with a handgun; it blew sputtering holes into the foremost's chest and face until he fell against the steps, still reaching for her. The second stumbled over him and threw himself at the same cursory fate, staggering along the wall and rolling slowly while the third swallowed her last rounds and crashed into her, crushing her small frame against the stone and wrapping around her in a sightless rapture. Susan watched Petrouchka climb the tall man swiftly and grasp his head in her little hands, tearing at his red-flushed face and disgorging gouts of blood that doused his inarticulate cries. He staggered backward from the steps and toppled down into the smothered daylight.
She fell with him, and the sun struck her through the cloud. The blackness coiling in the heart of her remaining cells burst in gentian flame that garbed her tightly, leaping skyward from the crown of her head; the man's pale hair caught, his face scorched quickly to a mask of soot and yawning blisters while his clothing melted and she savaged the new shapes of his torn face. They sank together onto his side where she let go, rising while he lay kicking, the fire eating his skin and turning his eyes a blank matte white. Blood boiled over her chin and streamed from her gaze in two dark fingers, the stench from her flickering fur redoubling as she threw it off beside the burning man.
The last of her supplicants crawled on the stone between her and his lost redoubt, faltering in his desperate need to satisfy the summons she could no longer sustain. She sank to her knees in the hissing immolation, its flames breathing flesh and air and parting the snow as it began to drift around the ruin. A black stain spread beneath her palms, hands curling inward as her form grew indistinct and lapsed into the shallow pool beneath her until it was no longer possible to discern what fueled the blaze. It sank from the height of a woman's shoulder to that of an infant's sleeping form, and then to nothing, leaving only a darkness upon the rock like the shadow of a bird between the earth and bright midday.
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce