Living Dead Girl
by J. Darksong* * *
“So, are you guys ready to go?” I asked.
“Yeah, all dressed and everything,” Splash replied, walking out of the bedroom, Sunbeam following behind her. “Except for our boots, that is,” she added, gesturing idly with a bare foot. One of my rules was no outside shoes in the house. Although, technically, it was my old Master’s rule. He’d traveled abroad and had really adapted to the Japanese living style, and some of it had really clicked with me. Besides, it really did make keeping this place clean a bit easier.
“Okay, here’s the plan,” Sunbeam stated as we all gathered outside my apartment. “We take the stone back to the museum and hand it over to the curator—”
“Wait, what? Why?” Splash interjected. “We just found out that the Anket stone is really dangerous, and that the mysterious villain that sent Steelskin and Dead Eye to steal it will probably keep coming after it!”
“Exactly!” Sunbeam agreed with a nod. “And since we know nothing about the one who hired them, the best way to find and stop them for good is to draw them out. So when we turn the stone over to the curator, we let him know what’s going on. Then we stake out the exhibit and wait for them to go after it again, and catch them in the act.”
I sighed deeply, shaking my head. “Yeah, well, it’s a good plan, I suppose. But it seems to me that you’re taking a really big risk. What if your plan doesn’t work? What if the villain you guys are after gets the drop on you somehow? What if he gets the stone? You’re putting a lot of faith in your ability to take out whatever he or she might have in mind, which at this point, is a complete unknown.” I sighed again. “Wouldn’t a better plan be to simply bury the stone somewhere far away, or toss it into the ocean, and substitute a regular rock, and give THAT to the curator instead?”
Both heroines scowled at me. “First of all, thanks for the vote of confidence,” Sunbeam replied archly. “It’s not like we’re a couple of rookies, you know. This is what we do. And secondly, we can’t just steal the stone ourselves, even if it IS to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. That would make us no better than the villain trying to steal it himself.” I grunted at that. The fact that they had no plans to use its power to hurt people made them MUCH better than the guy that was after it in my book! “And hiding it at best only a temporary solution. Even if we tossed it into the ocean, it would eventually be found again by someone.”
I conceded that point at least. Even if it took hundreds, even thousands of years, it was only a matter of time before someone else came across it. Mystical magical artifacts were like that. They had a way of popping up now and again, making their presence known to those sensitive to them... as if they WANTED to be found. I was fairly sure that even dropping the thing into the Marianas Trench wouldn’t be enough to keep it from finding its way back into human hands again.
“And don’t forget,” Splash added, “we might not know what the villain pulling the strings has planned, but likewise, he doesn’t know about US. After what you did to Steely and Eye earlier, neither of them remember anything about the ones that beat them and took the stone. Even if their boss contacts them there is no way he or she will know we’re involved. We’ll have the element of surprise just as much as they do. It levels the playing field.”
I shook my head. They were both making good points. I wasn’t a heroine or anything like them and had no experience in this kind of thing. They were probably right. But... it all seemed too simplistic to me. There were a lot of other considerations, other factors that could affect this little trap they were setting up that they hadn’t considered. So many things that could go wrong. Two quotes I remembered from TV that had always stuck with me as being insightful and true.
The first was from the Boondocks, a freaking hilarious series, by the way, and one of my favorite characters, Gin Rummy, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson once stated: ‘There are known knowns, and there are known unknowns. But there are also unknown unknowns, things we don’t know that we don’t know.’ And then there’s Leonard Snart from the Flash TV show, and his best-known motto: ‘Make the Plan. Execute the Plan. Expect the Plan to go off the rails. Throw away the Plan.’ Both of them are different ways of saying the same thing—that no matter how well prepared or thought out a game plan might be, you simply can’t account for every possible outcome, every possible thing that might go wrong. The very best you can do is to expect the unexpected to happen, and hope you can deal with it on the fly.
As my two new friends headed off towards the museum, I considered my stance in all of this. They were relative strangers. Yeah, we’d shared a few enjoyable hours together just now upstairs in my bedroom. But really, I didn’t owe them anything, and they owed me nothing as well. We might as well have been two ships passing in the night. I had no need to get involved or even concern myself with whatever they had planned. At least that’s what I tried to tell myself.
The truth was, I’d let them get inside my shell. They’d breached my comfort zone, and I was... well, honestly NOT in love with them or anything. That would just be weird. They were already a couple, and I’d just met them. Way too soon to be THAT deeply involved emotionally, But yeah... I liked them. A lot. And the thought of them possibly dying in the next few hours going up against someone or something they didn’t understand? That pissed me off. All that went through my mind in a matter of seconds, and they’d managed to go about three feet before I groaned deeply and took off after them.
“I’m coming along,” I announced, causing them to glance back at me. “I know, I know. I said I wasn’t getting involved. And... I’m still NOT involved. Not really,” I said, purposely avoiding their glance. “I just want to make sure that you get your story straight... you know, what you’re telling the curator about the stone. I don’t want you to forget anything, or omit something potentially important.”
The two heroines glanced at one another, a small smirk curling their lips so in synch I’d almost suspect that they’d practiced doing it in the mirror. “Uh huh,” Janika replied, the barest hint of smugness in her voice. “And that’s the only reason you’re tagging along?” she asked.
I growled, eyes flashing red, causing their amusement to fade a bit. Good. Just because I had feelings for the little sluts didn’t mean they could take me lightly, dammit! “Let’s just say my reasons are my mine, and leave it at that. Now, c’mon... let’s just get this over with...”
Strange as it may seem, in all the time I’ve lived in River City—for two hundred years or so—I’ve never actually visited the museum. You’d think, vampire, gothic, ancient, and museums would just go together. But no. Never had a desire to visit. I suppose in a way, it was kind of depressing, seeing a building full of ‘old relics’, a lot of which weren’t really ancient to me, personally. I mean, my Master used to talk to me all the time about his travels and his adventures, and things he’d seen and experienced. And he was kind of like my ‘Father’. Well, ‘Sire’ basically means ‘to father offspring’, so yeah. Point is, things that happened back in your dad’s time don’t really seem ancient to you even if it was several hundred years in the past.
I mused on that as the two sexy heroines made their way to the curator’s office, informing him of what had happened. Professor Steven McBride was about what I’d expected—a short, thin, grey-haired old man with thick glasses and tweed suit. He seemed a bit nervous to me, twitching slightly, and he kept glancing around as if expecting something to leap out at him at any minute. At the same time, he came across as a bit snooty and pompous. A really irritating combination to be sure.
“So, when our new friend filled us in on what exactly it was we’re carrying,” Sunbeam finished, gesturing back to me, “we decided to come to you with this plan to catch the person trying to steal it. If you announce to the media that the stone has been recovered and that the exhibit will be reopening tomorrow, the thief will be sure to come after it again tonight. Then we’ll catch him in the act.”
“Hmmm... I see,” the Professor replied, stroking his chin, deep in thought. “A very clever plan. I do have some concerns, of course. For one, why are you so sure that the thief will come after it again tonight? What makes you think they would risk it for just a simple black rock?”
“For one, it’s not JUST a black rock,” I interjected, causing him to glance at me for the first time. “The Akert Stone, assuming that IS the actual stone Dr. Menat uncovered, is far more than a mere trinket. The stone is said to possess a portion of Anubis’ power, the power over life and death itself.”
Professor McBride blinked again. “Eh? And... just how is it that someone so young knows so much on the subject, Miss...”
“Gwen. Just Gwen,” I said, smirking. “And I’m older than I look. Let’s just say that I do a lot of reading in my spare time. And the stone, containing the power of Anubis—”
“Tch. Anubis’ power?” the man scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Rubbish. Mere superstitious nonsense...”
I frowned at that. “Yes, superstition. Just like super-powered beings that can fly or control the elements.”
“That’s different,” he replied, snidely. “There’s a clear difference between having Superpowers and using magic. Metahuman biology is not my expertise by any means, but there is a definite science behind a Super’s abilities.” He shook his head. “A magical stone that curses the living and steals the souls of its victims, however? Purest fantasy. I’d sooner believe in Bigfoot, Frankenstein, and the Loch Ness monster!”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at that one. Tina and Janika glanced warily at each other but wisely said nothing. “Sorry, sorry, I just find that... so fucking hilarious!” I continued, even as the old man bristled, nearly going red in the face. I straightened up, still grinning, looking him square in the face. “I feel compelled to point out,” I said, removing a small switchblade from my pocket, “that you left vampires and werewolves off your list. Smart move. I happen to know a few werewolves that claim most of Oregon as their territory, and one in particular that used to call River City home.” I smiled then, and McBride jerked back in shock as he caught a clear look at my fangs.
I probably could have stopped there, but I wanted to really drive the point home. I let my eyes go red, having my blood draw inward, turning my skin a dour and ash grey. “But me, I’m a vampire,” I stated, walking towards him as he steadily backed away, eyes wide. “The mystical magical bloodsucking kind, that is. Of course, you’re a man of science,” I said with obvious derision as I back him up into a corner, “so I’m willing to bet you’re mind is racing, trying to come up with an explanation for what’s happening right now.” I took the knife and unlocked it, extending the blade, and the old man went pale, no doubt expecting to be cut or stabbed. “So... let’s see you explain away... THIS!”
If the old man’s eyes were wide before, they bulged nearly out of their sockets as the thin silver blade parted and plunged into soft delicate flesh. “Ahhhhhhhhh! Jumpin’ Jimminy Christmas!” he yelled, forcing himself so flat against the wall I’m surprised he didn’t break through to the next room. I calmly pulled the blade free from my lower abdomen, showing him the blood and the hole it had emerged from. After a few seconds, the wound closed up and I lowered my shirt back down.
“I suppose I could have pushed things a bit more and stabbed myself in the heart,” I said, reverting to my normal appearance again. “But the liver is just as important. And anyway, I made my point. Magic, sorcery, fairies, the undead, it’s all real. So don’t disparage things that you know nothing about,” I said, walking back to my former position by the door.
The Professor sighed loudly, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. “‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’,” he quoted softly, shaking his head.
“But regardless, even if you disregard the ‘magic’” I said, using finger quotes, “the stone was used in a number of special death rites and burial ceremonies by Egyptian priests during the late 2800’s B.C. so if nothing else, its a valuable and important piece of history.”
“At any rate, if you announce that the exhibit will be opening tomorrow,” Splash continued, “then the thief will HAVE to show up tonight if he wants the stone. Once the exhibit is open to the public, the stone, the staff, the headdress, and all the pieces recovered from Dr. Menat’s archeological dig will be stored under lock and key, behind an unbreakable glass case guarded by the latest in GrimTech electronic security, as well as armed guards. Think about it. Right now, security is as light as it can be, and everything related to the exhibit is still in down in storage, where Steelskin broke in to take the stone. It’s the perfect time to strike.”
“Yes... you make a good point,” the curator grudgingly admitted. “However, I am not as convinced that the two of you will be... sufficient,” he said, tactfully, after a brief pause, “for this thief’s next attempt. From what you said earlier, you have no information about who he is, or what he can do, or even WHEN he will come for the stone. What makes you think that you can best him?”
“Well, for one thing, the guy’s obviously an idiot,” I replied, causing them all to glance sharply at me.
“WHAT! Why you... um... why do you think that?” the curator asked, scowling.
Frowning myself, I merely shrugged. “Okay, so maybe not a moron, per se,” I said, considering, “but definitely an amateur. Think about it. He had his goons break in and steal the Akert Stone. That stone, specifically,” I said again, with emphasis. “Basically, he let us know what he was after. This museum is pretty big, and there’s a lot of stuff here from a bunch of different cultures and eras. Yet they ignored plenty of more valuable displays and went down into storage, and stole JUST THAT STONE, and left everything else untouched.” I grinned as I saw the recognition shine in Splash and Sunbeam’s eyes. “If he’d been smart, he would have had them steal some other items as well, to at least not make it so obvious.”
“Wow. That’s really insightful,” Janika replied, grinning at me. Damn, but if I didn’t melt a little from her smile. And the praise. “I know you said you’re not the hero type, but I think you’ve got a real knack for it. Are you sure you won’t change your mind?”
“Heh. Snowball’s chance in hell of that,” I replied back.
“Hmph,” the old professor grunted, rolling his eyes again. “Very well. It seems you youngsters have everything well in hand. I shall leave you to your planning. As for me, I need to return back to my office downstairs and finish sorting and compiling everything for tomorrow’s exhibit. I’ll contact my friend with the Channel 6 News and pass along the story about the stone being returned, and we’ll see if your scheme bears fruit.” He nodded softly, then turned to walk away,
“Hey, mind if I tag along?” I said, surprising everyone again. “What? I’ve never seen an exhibit being cataloged and put together. Besides, the Professor could use some looking after while you two are getting settled, in case some super powered crook manages to sneak his way past you.”
The old man opened his mouth to protest, but Tina beat him to the punch. “That’s actually a good idea. Heroine or not, you’re pretty tough and good in a fight. And while we’re more than prepared to take on whoever decides to show up, this plan does kind of put the Professor in harm’s way if they manage to get past us. Having you along as backup does make sense.”
“Really? It makes sense, leaving me with a savage bloodthirsty vampire for my protection?!?” McBride exclaimed.
“Oh, now, don’t be that way, Prof,” I chided him, smirking. “I promise to be on my best behavior. And really, I’m not ‘bloodthirsty’ at all—I fed pretty well earlier... so I should be good for the next two weeks at least.” Splash and Sunbeam both groaned softly rolling their eyes
The old man sighed, hanging his head. “Very well then. It’s not as if I have much choice in the matter anyway. It’s not as if I could stop you. Just... try and stay out of my way and let me work,” he grumbled as I followed him down to the stairway leading to the basement.
As it turned out, the wonderful world of museum curating wasn’t nearly as interesting or exciting as I’d believed. Basically, it boiled down to checking things off of a list, and arranging and rearranging things in a bastardized version of Feng Shui to make it all seem ‘eye-catching and dramatic’. Or so old man MacBride claimed, anyway. I was sitting in the recliner in his office, a nice huge leather thing that was the embodiment of decadent comfort, when he walked in yet again, staring at his clipboard, muttering softly to himself.
“Well, everything is accounted for,” he announced aloud, as if I really cared one way or the other. “You were right. Of all the artifacts here in storage, the only thing taken was the Akert Stone. So yes, I will be able to set up the exhibit for tomorrow’s display without any problems.”
“Great,” I replied in a bored tone. “I’m totally thrilled for you. So, did you make the call to your friend at the TV station yet?”
“Yes, yes,” he said dismissively, wrinkling his nose. “I did that shortly after we arrived here in the basement. By now, the news should have gone out.” He walked to his desk and removed a small wooden trowel and a lighter. “If this bizarre plan of your two friends works, the thief should make his move sometime in the next few hours.”
“Here’s hoping,” I replied, glancing curiously as the old man pulled out a small baggie from his jacket pocket. “So, um... no offense or anything,” I replied, smirking as he poured some of the contents into the trowel, “but do you think it wise to, ahem, ‘partake’, when you’re here at work?”
The man blinked. “Pardon?”
“You know... lighting up? Smoking a doobie? Gettin’ high on th’ reefer?” I said. At his blank expression, I sighed deeply, pointing at the baggie. “Smoking marijuana! Geez!”
“What?!? Oh, no! No,” the old man replied with a laugh. “This isn’t marijuana. It’s incense,” he stated, igniting the herbs, sending a thick cloud of white smoke. He inhaled and sighed in contentment. “Mmmm. So refreshing.”
I gave him a look of disbelief. I mean, far be it for me to criticize. But really, you should own up to your vices. He could have at least gone with ‘it’s for my glaucoma’ or something. He’s old. I would have totally bought it.
“So, why did you feel the need to light some... ahem... incense?” I asked pointedly.
Apparently, it was HIS turn to stare at me in disbelief. “Are you kidding? This room, this office, the entire storage area, its dank, dark, and musty. It smells like a tomb down here.” He scowled. “Well, I know you’re an undead vampire, but I assumed that you still possessed your traditional human senses, like taste and smell.” He smirked. “Or, perhaps you LIKE the musty smell... it probably reminds you of your coffin back home.”
I bristled slightly, blushing in embarrassment. To be honest, I HAD noticed the dank musty smell, early on, but I’d just pushed it out of my mind, and after a while, had adjusted to it. I supposed it WOULD be bothersome to a normal human, though. Before I could belt out a stinging retort, however, the old man’s cell phone rang. Sighing, he set the lit container on the desk and glanced at his phone. “Sorry, I need to take this,” he said, walking to the door, leaving once again.
Hmph. Good riddance anyway. It’s not as if he was good company. Leaning back in the recliner, I sighed softly, inhaling a bit of the ever-growing cloud of smoke. I couldn’t help but smile. Whatever this stuff was, it was pretty good. I don’t know if I could really describe it... but it had a kind of... earthy musky smell to it. Not at all like the musty dusty smell that had permeated this place, though; it was fresh, alive, and alluring. And relaxing. Traditional drugs don’t really affect vampires much, our weird metabolism pretty much burns it out. Hell, even poisons that specifically affect us, like garlic and silver nitrate, are pretty transitory. With enough time, that stuff works its way out of our systems as well.
But this shit? Yeah. I could definitely see myself rolling a fat one and puffing away, munching on a bag of chips, and watching ‘Dude Where’s My Car?’ until my eyes bleed. Chuckling at the thought, I reclined more, wondering idly how my two new friends were doing upstairs...
Tina glanced up sharply at the sound of a pair of boots approaching their location. Nodding silently to her partner, she and Janika moved quickly into position. Their Neuroweave costumes had shifted to a newer more recent model, an entirely black version that let them blend seamlessly into the shadows. Likewise, the hallway floor was littered with small, nearly invisible nanoprobes, a little present from their mentor, Parker Albinn, allowing them to track their foe as she advanced.
And it was definitely a ‘she’. Splash couldn’t help but smirk at the sexy senorita sauntering towards their location. She was a deliciously curvy Latina, with a soft mocha complexion a bit lighter than her own dark caramel. She was dressed in a skin-tight black and pink bodysuit that left little to the imagination. Most striking, though, was her hair, a shoulder-length black bob that was shaved and platted on the left side of her head. Tina couldn’t help but make the obvious comparison to Sombra from the Overwatch game.
Of course, if she IS like Sombra, we might have a problem, she mused, slowly gathering her water powers, even as Janika prepared to spring the trap they’d set. All of the gear we set up is electronic... so if she happens to have the ability to hack our tech, then we’re definitely screwed.
Across the room, Sunbeam was having similar thoughts. Her fingers twitched slightly on the button for the stasis field generator they’d brought with them. One of Eugene Frasier’s inventions, it would ideally allow them to capture and hold virtually anyone, despite their strength or special powers. even Omega Girl herself. Of course, that required getting the subject inside the capture zone to begin with. As the unknown girl inched steadily closer and closer to the trap. she found her anxiety rising to match it.
And then. just before she reached the target area, literally a foot away from the stasis field, she stopped.
“So, are you ladies going to come out and introduce yourselves?” she called out loudly, “or are we just going to keep pretending everything is honkey-dorey?”
The two heroines glanced at one another, unsure of what to do. Had they actually been discovered? Or was the stranger just testing the waters, trying to draw them out? Sighing softly, the woman pulled a small object from her pocket and tossed it to the floor. A plume of pale grey vapor issued forth... revealing the thin red laser grid lining the floor of the hallway, as well as the containment unit just a step or two from where her booted feet now stood. “Ooops! So... I pretty much ruined your whole surprise,” the girl taunted them. “Wanna come out and say hi now?”
“Tch... fine,” Splash replied, stepping out as she released her power, sending a torrent of water straight at the girl, knocking her off her feet. “Consider this my greeting.” Walking over to the would-be thief, she stood above her, hands clenched, a large orb of water circling around both fists. “So, any chance you wanna give up and tell us who hired you?”
The woman chuckled softly, shaking out her wet hair before brushing it to the side with her fingers. “Heh. Water. That’s nifty. Wasn’t expecting that. But to answer your question... no. I don’t think I wanna give up just yet.” She grinned, getting to her feet as Splash slowly backed away. “Besides, you haven’t even seen what I can do yet.”
Tina swallowed, eyes wide as she kept backing away. “No. NO! You... you just stay away!” she yelled, her powers releasing, water hitting the ground around her as she backed away in apparent fright. “I don... what... you.... what are you doing to me?” she asked, twitching as the woman smiled, walking towards her. “Please! PLEASE! Don’t... don’t come any closer!” she begged, dropping to the floor, scuttling backward, desperate to maintain the distance between them.
Janika’s jaw visibly dropped in shock. “What the HELL?” she yelled, rushing from her own hiding spot, moving to step between her lover and the villainess. “What the FUCK did you just do?” she growled, anger marring her normally lovely face. “If you... if you hurt her... I swear I’ll KILL YOU! KILL YOU WITH MY OWN FUCKING HANDS!” she screamed, rushing towards the Sombra wanna-be, rushing straight ahead in a blind charge! The fist that connected to her chin sent her tumbling to the ground, stunned, but it also gave her a moment of clarity, realizing just how out of control she’d acted seconds ago. “Ughhn... you.... bitch,” she murmured, rubbing her jaw. “I get it now. You’re messing with our minds... our emotions...”
“Ding ding ding,” the girl replied with a slight bow. “We have a winner. Sorry, I never formally introduced myself. My name is Taylor... but these days I go by Empathy. As in, ‘empath’. And as you figured out, I can control and manipulate people’s emotions, pretty much however I please.”
Sunbeam and Splash glanced at each other, a slow smile creasing their lips. Simultaneously, both women burst into laughter. And not merely giggles or chuckles, wild raucous laughter, as if what the woman had just stated was the funniest thing that they’d ever heard in their entire lives. Within seconds, tears were running down their cheeks as they doubled over, holding their sides.
“Amusing, isn’t it?” Empathy stated, kneeling down, examining the containment unit the two heroines had set up. “Never underestimate the healing power of laughter... or the debilitating effects of it either. And I have others as well... so many other emotions that I can use to get a person to do whatever I want.” She snapped her fingers, and suddenly, the laughter ceased, leaving both heroines breathless and slightly drained. “Still, the classics are always the best. Like simple, good old fashioned fear,” she said, focusing on both girls again. “Now then... I think I have this little gizmo figured out. You two... walk into this trap you set up, and activate it... right now.”
Splash and Sunbeam gasped, suddenly afraid. “N... no,” Janika managed, shaking her head, even as the urge to obey nearly overwhelmed her. “Not... going to do... what you want...”
“Oh?” Empathy said simply, eyebrow raised.
Splash let out a loud groan, closing her eyes. She and her partner were resisting, fighting it as hard as they could... but she could feel it. Knew it, instinctively. Some part of her brain, that reptilian hindbrain, that genetically ingrained survival instinct, was telling her, begging her, demanding that she follow through, that she do what the woman said, now, now, now, now, now! Or something bad would happen. Something dangerous. Something so devastatingly unthinkable that death itself would be preferred! Even the knowledge that it was artificial, that Empathy was manipulating those feelings, wasn’t enough to make them subside.
Fear couldn’t be rationalized. It could only be repressed or conquered. But the fear they were being assaulted with was an unbeatable titan. In the end, the outcome was never in doubt.
“’Beam!” Tina croaked, even as her legs started moving, walking right into the path of the stasis generator. “I’m sorry... I can’t... I have to do this...”
“I know,” Janika whimpered, taking a few halting steps as well, one, then another. “I’m sorry...I didn’t think... it would be like this...”
“No one ever does,” Taylor replied simply. She watched in satisfaction as the two heroines finally lost their battle, entering the zone and sealing themselves off. Only then did she relent, allowing the paralyzing fear assaulting them both to abate. “Well... that was fun. Kinda anticlimactic, really. Ah, well... another day, another dollar,” she said, taking out her cell phone, typing a quick text message. “And I just earned myself a buttload of dinero. See ya later, kiddos!”
“Huh? Wait!” Splash called after her as she turned to leave. “You’re just leaving? Like that? Didn’t you come here to steal the stone?” she asked, gesturing to the unopened metal case sitting on the display table a few feet away. Empathy’s smile sent icicles down her spine.
“Actually... no. My job was just to come here and take you two out of action,” she informed the two trapped heroines. “I suppose I could have taken that more literally, and actually KILLED you,” she added with a predatory glint, “but I get the feeling that my boss wanted the pleasure of dealing with the two that had sabotaged his plan and caused him such aggravation personally.” She turned to walk away. “As for the stone... we all know that that case on the ground is empty. Not that it matters. My boss already has the stone. After all... you two hand-delivered it to him personally.”
Something... something wasn’t right.
It had taken me a little while to notice.... to even realize what was happening. Which, in and of itself, was a really bad sign. I was drugged... practically stoned off my ass. Which SHOULD have been impossible! Yet the room was spinning, and the overhead light seemed to be sending out a sparkling kaleidoscope of colors, so hypnotic I was hard-pressed not to fall into a stupor. When the door opened, and the Professor walked back in, I was actually grateful.
Which again, was a very bad sign.
“Well, that should do it,” he said with satisfaction, staring at his phone for a bit before placing it back in his pocket. “Everything seems to be set.” He then turned to glance at me. “And how are YOU feeling, Miss Gwen?” he asked, his voice so sickeningly sweet with concern that I finally figured out that I was truly in deep shit. “Hmmm... no snappy remark, or sarcastic rejoiner? Then I guess the herbal mixture actually worked.”
“Whh... whhaaaaatt...” I tried, slurring my words as my head lolled to the side. “Whhhaat... did... yooouu...” I tried to ask before sighing, the effort of speaking having drained all my strength. The old man’s laughter sent a wave of cold fury through me, but even that was unable to fully penetrate the fog.
“If it isn’t already obvious,” he explained, walking over to the side of the room, retrieving the familiar metal case that housed the Akert Stone, “I’m the one who hired those idiots to steal the stone. I know, I know... the obvious question—why hire someone to steal the stone when I could simply take it myself? And the answer should be equally as obvious: When the stone eventually turned up missing, I, as the curator and leading authority on the exhibit being displayed, would be the natural subject. And with Dr. Menat herself coming to attend the exhibit’s opening, I couldn’t simply swap it out with a fake—as the one who had uncovered the artifact in the first place, she’d recognize the deception in an instant. I wanted the stone, but I needed a scapegoat. And everything was set to go off without a hitch... until you and your two little friends interfered.”
Well... shit. I called it, the fact that the mastermind was an amateur and a dumbass. I’d even given him helpful advice, telling him just how he’d screwed up, giving him the incentive to try again with a much better and well thought out plan. And... he had. Whatever he’d dosed me with was super effective... and since Splash and Sunbeam hadn’t swooped in to rescue me, I could only assume that whoever he’d been chatting and texting with earlier had gotten the drop on them as well. Fuck.
“You’re probably wondering what was in that incense,” he said casually, as he walked back over towards me. Duh. Of course. If I’d been able to, I would have nodded. “It actually IS a mixture of herbs, by the way. Rue, Jasper, Marigold, Thyme, and Rosemary, all herbs believed to be effective in neutralizing and repelling the undead.” He smirked evilly. “Before meeting you, I’d dismissed much of the old texts I’d uncovered in my studies as superstitious nonsense, but you really opened my eyes. I’ve had this mixture of herbs for years, and it does make a nice incense, but I never seriously believed I’d actually find a practical use for it.”
“Ggllaaaad... tttoooo bbbeeee... of... uussssseee...” I grunted, using all of my strength to raise my hand. All I needed to do was roll my arm, knock it across the desk and push over the still burning incense bowl, shove it to the ground and hopefully let it burn out. If I could get rid of it, I could maybe regroup, and recover enough to rip this asshole a new one—
“Sorry, but I think we’ll let this burn a little while longer,” Professor McBride stated, moving the damned bowl out of reach, pouring in a bit more of the damned herb mixture. He chuckled at the noise that issued forth from my lips. “It’s probably difficult for you to believe, but I have nothing against you personally. This is all about my ascension, nothing more. You and your friends are merely obstacles in my path that must be overcome.” He sighed softly. “To that end... I have plans for those two upstairs. They both have a role left to fill. But you... you are a problem I did not anticipate.”
I tensed up as he turned to glare at me. Well.... as tense as I could get with my muscles turned to jelly. He’d said I was a problem for him... and obstacle. And I felt an emotion I hadn’t felt in decades, not since the night my Master had been taken from me. Fear. Because, yeah, I remembered only too well what happened to my Master. And while this old guy didn’t have the look of a vampire hunter about him, the fact that he knew enough to make this damned incense showed that he did at least know SOME of the lore.
He sighed deeply, shaking his head, retrieving a small but heavy wooden rod from the wall. “I admit, I am not as learned about your kind as I should be. And as much as I’d like to try out every method of killing a vampire, and seeing which ones work, I don’t really have the time. I’m on something of a schedule.” He grinned at me as he held the heavy makeshift club lightly in his hands, slowly raising it up. “Luckily, I happen to know just how to take care of you. And vampire or not, this is sure to keep you out of my hair for the foreseeable future.” The club came down with a sickening crunch to the side of my head, and my vision swam, then darkened, fading to black...