|Photo courtesy of Amy Quinn|
The crusader bounded from rooftop to rooftop, glancing at the street below. Zombies pawed at the townspeople as they fled, aroused by the commotion. As they pursued, slugs exploded out of the mud, tossing women and children aside, and devouring the witless cadavers.
Essinger peered over the rooftops, and spotted the brigade ahead. Fifty men idled by the docks, staring listlessly as families screamed and fled.
“Hey,” Essinger called out; but before he could jump down, the roof jerked forward. He tripped over the crown, smashing clay tiles as he tumbled, and snagging the edge of the roof with one hand.
“Please, help.” A woman cradled her child.
Essinger gazed at the mortal through an open window as the house soared into the sky. “Do you trust me, my lady?” Essinger dangled, gray strands falling from his hat.
She shook her head, tears streaming down her freckled cheeks.
“Then give her to me now.” He reached forward.
The lady kissed the child. As she held the baby out, the floor collapsed.
“No!” Essinger screamed, releasing the overhang, and plucking the child from the air. He bounced off creature’s side, and slammed into the earth below.
“Bethany?” A man ran up to Essinger.
The vampire held up the infant, shaken, but unharmed.
“Where is her mother?” He took the child. “Sara?” he screamed.
“Up above,” Essinger managed, favoring one side. As he snapped his ribs back into place, the abomination bit down. The crusader rolled aside as it took in a mouthful of dirt, and scurried up its back. The mollusk hissed and flailed wildly.
He slipped inside the house, and burrowed through felled walls and piles of refuse. “My lady?” Essinger called, but only the house moaned back. He squeezed through to the opposite end as the dwelling teetered, still unable to unearth her. The house tilted abruptly, splintered boards and rubble racing towards him. Essinger held fast, braving the wayward debris as a body rolled out. “Sara?” He shook the young lady, but there was no response. Behind, pieces of the wall gave way, exposing the town below.
Knowing they had only moments before the wall crumbled, and deposited them below, Essinger took the lady in his arms, and sprinted through the house as it slid off the demon’s back. As the angle steepened, he exploded through the window, flipping over the jagged end, and landing atop the creature’s back. The structure splintered, kicking up a cloud of dust, and entombing a batch of unsuspecting cadavers.
The behemoth eyed the vampire on its back. As it exposed its fangs, a shadow jumped down, and sliced off its eyestalks.
“Getting soft, old friend,” said Talmot as the creature screeched. “How are you to defeat a mujahideen if you cannot kill a snail?”
“I’ve more up this bag of tricks,” Essinger replied.
“One would only hope,” the Muslim chuckled.
Talmot and Essinger hopped down, and sprinted towards the docks.
“Oh, Sara,” the husband sobbed as the vampire spread her over the boardwalk.
“She has slipped into the great sleep, my friend. Hopefully one day you will stir her from it.” Essinger turned to Talmot. “Lawson has a ship in the harbor; the Chasseur, I believe. Get them aboard immediately.”
Talmot nodded, and scooped up Sara. “Come, brother, I will ensure your exit.” The husband kissed the bawling infant, and hurried after.
Nearby, a group of men downed bottles of vintage, poking fun at the carnage.
“Who is in charge?” Essinger approached.
“No one.” A man scowled, crossing his arms.
“Good, then you have a new master. Take the seawater, and cast it over the slugs. It will extinguish them as it does fire.”
The man shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“That was an order, not a request,” said Essinger.
“Fire is our specialty, not wild game.” He took a swig. “Besides, why don’t you ask that precious vampire hunter of yours?”
The men cackled and prodded one another.
Essinger stepped forward, and lopped off his head. “There is no quarrel.” He wiped his sword on the slumping corpse. “If you wish to stand by and do nothing, then you will entertain my blades.” The vampire unsheathed a second sword. “Come, help your brothers and sisters in this desperate hour.”
The men considered the blades, and then walked away, leaving their comrade’s decapitated corpse on the walk.