I went back to the streets, the moon was back out, the streets were light enough to see. It felt almost peaceful, though that just made the eeriness worse. I walked quickly through the streets to the east gatehouse. If the moon wasn’t deceiving me, I could guess at the time, and the patrol was usually at the east gate by now. Though whether anyone tonight was patrolling without me was anyone’s guess.
I heard a yell, joined by others, a loud cry nearby. I turned, tried to place it. It was coming form the mayor’s house, a few streets over. I moved towards it, cautious. I heard voices, I thought it was Johanne. I readied my crossbow, I expected it to be a trick.
When I saw them, Johanne among them, I still wasn’t convinced. They stood arguing in front of the mayor’s house, angry, accusing, fearful. I saw a figure by the mayor’s door, which was open. Why was it open?
I walked up, “Ho!” I cried, still some distance off. Johanne whipped round to face me, crossbow raised. I didn’t lower mine. “It’s me” I said.
“How do we know”, he said. “Where have you been? You didn’t turn up for patrol.”
“I know,” I said. “I was attacked by thralls. Then it took me some time to get here. Thralls are breaking into people’s houses and killing them. I had to put another one of them down.”
“Shit,” Johanne said.
“What’s happening here,” I asked. Neither of us had lowered our crossbows yet. We both still looked suspiciously at each other. But while we figured it out, I needed to catch up.
“Frederick shot the mayor,” he said.
“He’s a thrall”, Frederick growled.
“I’m not….a fucking…aargh…thrall.” The mayor spat blood onto the ground. He sounded weak and in considerable pain. Probably because of the crossbow bolt sticking out of his stomach.
“What the fuck were you doing outside then,” Frederick demanded furiously.
“I heard voices,” the mayor spat.
“Goddammit”, I said. “I told everyone not to leave their house, no matter what they heard. And you just wandered out because you ‘heard voices’? Bullshit.”
“Yeah,” Frederick added.
“He’s not a thrall,” I told him. He spun on me, confused, but I explained, “Maybe touched or captivated. He doesn’t know what he’s been doing. But if he was a thrall he’d be up and tearing your throat out right now. He’s not so far gone he can’t be saved, if we can stop him dying of that wound. Pick him up, carry him inside. Where’s his wife?”
“I told her….to hide…aah…in the attic,” he managed.
“Course you did,” I replied. “Check inside,” I told the others, “be wary, she may have been turned as well, or he may have killed her.”
“We haven’t established that you haven’t been turned yet,” Johanne said calmly. He was a smart one.
“And I haven’t established that none of you have either,” I replied, equally calm. But there’s no helping that. We’ll just have to stay suspicious. But we can’t spend all night standing here, pointing crossbows at each other.”
He thought for a moment. Then he realised there was no other option, as I’d known he would eventually. He lowered the crossbow, though not all the way. So did I.
We heard a scream from somewhere in the city, we turned. Another one split the night. We heard someone running down a street to the side of us. A door breaking from somewhere else. Someone shouting. This was it. It was too late to get to another house now.
“It’s started,” I said. “Get inside the house.” The group moved, too slowly. I could hear the thralls coming. We slammed the door behind us just as they arrived.
I peered through a gap in the window. There were twenty of them, armed, carrying torches. They were yelling something.
“Fuck,” I said, “We’re outnumbered.”
“What! Johanne cried, He pushed past me to look out. “Shit,” he said. “How’d it get so many, so quickly?”
“I don’t know how long the Vampire’s been in the town,” I admitted. “The mayor’s daughter may not have been its first victim.”
“Come out”, we heard one of them shout. “We saw you kill the mayor. Come out, you bastards or we’ll burn you out.”
“Fuck”, Dan said, “they think we killed the mayor. We could explain….”
“Don’t be so fucking stupid,” I snarled. “They’re just saying that. They’re thralls. What would they be doing outside if they weren’t?” I despaired sometimes. You could say something a hundred fucking times, and then as soon as the situation came, they’d immediately forget everything you’d told them. I’d thought Dan had a solid head as well.
“Goddammit, he’s right,” Johanne groaned. “Get ready lads. We’re in for a fight.”
It didn’t take long, the thralls’ blood was up. And of all the places we could be, we’d ended up in the mayor’s house. We’d invited everyone in three days ago for the meeting. Not the Vampire, we were safe from that at least. But the thralls could enter as they pleased.
They started by pounding on the doors, accusing us of all manner of things, trying to shake the lads’ resolve, break their will to fight. Me and Johanne seemed to be the only ones to hold our nerve, reminding the men of the truth of things. But I could see the others were struggling. These were their friends and colleagues after all. People they’d grown up with, they looked and sounded exactly the same, they didn’t act like puppets of an ancient evil, they just seemed angry. The Vampire was cunning.
The back door splintered first as someone took an axe to it. Then the window at the side. We closed ourselves up in a circle. There were six of us in the room. Myself, Johanne, Frederick, and Dan, along with two others, Boris, and Stephan. Boris looked too old, he had grey hair, and his hands were shaking. Stephan was a smith, strong armed, but his face was confused, he was wavering, moving too far forward, out of the circle and having to be pulled back. I wouldn’t have picked him to stand at my side but here we were.
“Ready lads,” I cried. I didn’t know whether Johanne had finally dropped his suspicions of me, or had just forgotten, but he was fully focused on the door now. I had done the same as well though. At some point you just had to trust a man.
The back door broke first, they came through, two men with axes, yelling for us to drop our swords. We didn’t.
They were hesitant, others pushed in behind, them, shoving them forward, then they screamed and charged. Dan stove the first one’s head in with his axe, then the other was on Fredrick, metal clashing against metal.
Then the others were upon us. And the window splintered. A crossbow poked through. I fired my own at it, but didn’t see if it hit. I dropped the bow and had to defend myself with my sword.
It was chaos, the circle quickly broke up, someone tripped me and I fell, then I cut someone’s legs away and got up, fell again, made it to the stairs. Two men were bashing at each other with the hilts of their sword and I stabbed one of them in the back. The other fled. I stood with my back to the stairs and defended myself against someone carrying a club. It struck me on the shoulder with a force that almost made me drop my sword, but I didn’t and I stabbed him in the guts and he fell away, screaming.
Another came for me, he knocked my sword away, and almost had me but I turned to the side, and the tip of his blade caught in my jerkin. I stabbed him in the eye with my knife and then he was in no state to stop me cutting his throat.
There was blood everywhere. I staggered back into the main room. I couldn’t see anyone I recognised, figures fought in the darkness. I had no idea what was happening, someone came for me, yelling something, and I hit him as hard as I could with the edge of my sword and he fell heavily to the floor and didn’t get up. Someone was sobbing somewhere. Someone else was laughing. The house was surrounded by flames, and figures dancing. I couldn’t tell where I was, whose house was this? A single voice rang out, louder than the madness, “Get Out!!” it cried, and I obeyed, I fought my way to the door, hitting people with my sword to get past them, people roared back, and tried to strike at me, but I was already past them.
I fell into the street, breathing hard, head spinning, the street was as light as day, and I looked up to see the house was ablaze behind me, the doorway I’d just come out of was already burning, I had no idea how I had gotten out of there.
I fled into the street. It was over, the town was dead.
I ran, as fast as I could. I knew where I was going. All the other plans had failed, there was just one thing left to do. One final hope. The church loomed tall over the town, its steeple a beacon against the endless night.
“Dennis”, someone cried. I turned, recognising the voice. Standing there, surrounded by other women and men, was Rosaline. They were all carrying long knives and clubs. I didn’t hesitate. I ran to her.
“We heard shouting,” she said firmly, “someone said the mayor was murdered. People are breaking into houses and murdering people. We won’t just sit inside and wait to die.”
“Get them into the church.” I told her, “Ring the bells, the townsfolk will come if they hear the bells won’t they?” She nodded. “Don’t invite anyone in,” I warned her. “Leave the doors unlocked, but keep them closed, and don’t open them for anyone, or invite anyone in. Then it’ll just be the untouched who can enter.” She understood. She led her people to the church, a crowd of survivors, women and their husbands, children, the old.
I ran back to the Inn, the door hung open, torn to pieces by my blows. I pushed past them, stepped over the innkeeper and his son, and made my way back up to the guest room. I found my crossbow and my bolts. I armed myself. I tightened my belt, I washed my face of the smoke. I knew what I had to do. I could not even think of it, but I knew. And I would not falter.
The Inn was already packed when I arrived. People still arriving. Rosaline was at the door, telling everyone the rules, do not invite anyone in, keep the doors closed but not locked. I came in at the back of them. When I entered Rosaline grabbed me and hugged me tight. I wasn’t sure why. But I hugged her back, just as tightly.
“You made it”, she said.
“I made it.” I replied. “Are they all here?”
“No”, she said, “not all.”
“Then they’re lost,” I told her. “Lock the doors. We wait out the night here.” She looked like she wanted to argue, but I pushed past and barred the doors myself. “No more come in,” I cried. “We have to keep them out. We have to stay safe.”
They obeyed, men and women together, finally acting in their own defence, locking and barring the doors. I made my way to the back, walking down the central aisle and people huddled in the pews, under their Christ and their burning saint. I didn’t look at the painting as I walked past it, the saint’s knowingly serene expression as the flames blackened his flesh was too much for me to bear.
I went through the door at the side of the apse, into the vestry, where a back door was shut. I checked it. It was locked and the key was in the lock.
Rosaline was behind me. I looked at her and embraced her again. I didn’t want to let go. But she put her hand on my chest and pushed me back gently but firmly. Reluctantly, I relaxed my hold and stepped back. She studied me. Her face was serious.
“I was thinking,” she said. “I thought you said that only thralls needed an invite. Others could come and go freely, and they could still be a danger.”
I nodded. “Yes,” I said. That’s right.” And then I stabbed her through the heart with a single blow.
I watched, my eyes cold and dry as she gave a soft gasp, her face crumpled with confusion and pain. And she slipped out of my hands to the floor. I thought of saying sorry, but she couldn’t hear it, and I didn’t deserve to say it. I waited, watching her grow still, expecting to feel something. But I didn’t. I was just numb, empty inside. Perhaps that was for the best.
I could hear calls from outside, banging on the doors. I waited for a longer time, for them to gather, for all of them to gather.
No one else in the church came back to the vestry. I was grateful for that.
Finally, when I thought I’d waited long enough, I turned to the door. I turned the key in the lock. I opened the door.
“Come in”, I told them.