December 13th, an unnamed hamlet in Illinois.
Laurel was the last to come in. He slammed the door behind him to keep the cold at bay and sighed with relief. Warm, at last.
The common room was mostly deserted at that time. The road to Chicago was closed at this time of the year, which was why they had decided to use this establishment as a rally point for Brotherhood activity. The refuge was an absolute necessity now that winter was in full swing.
It was a stupid mission to start with. They were tasked with finding traces of suspicious activity in the vicinity. At least there would be none of the more dangerous species about. There were no records of butchered livestock, and what would the evil bloodsuckers do in such a shithole?
Laurel striped off his heavy coat and dropped it on the hanger. His two companions were already sitting at their usual table and rubbing their hands to bring some life back into them.
There was Sal, pale and gaunt and judgemental, and Karl who was the human equivalent of a cock rash. In addition to them, the room contained two other patrons.
The first one he recognized. It was Joe, a squirrely boy from Bale’s team. The lad barely had any hair on his chin and wanted to play the slayer. Hah, what a joke. The poor sod was reclining in his chair with a complicated expression, somewhere between fear and anger.
The second man was also in the Order’s uniform. It was not quite his size and yet he was wearing it with predatory grace. He was lounging in his own chair with perfect confidence and for a moment, Laurel felt a pang of jealousy. He murmured a quick prayer to keep the temptation at bay. Envy was a cardinal sin, after all. He should just thank the Lord that this silver-haired gentleman was on his side.
“By God, Joe you little shit, what are you doing here by yourself?” Karl roared while scratching the stubble on his carmine cheeks. His porcine eyes focused on the boy like two gun muzzles.
“You shall not use the Lord’s name in vain,” Sal interjected in his low drone. As usual, Karl just dismissed him with one wave of his hairy paw.
“Yea yea, shove it Mr. Rent-a-Bishop. So Joe, where are the others?”
The young man mumbled something. Too low for the trio to understand but apparently loud enough for the grey-eyed man to smirk minutely.
“What’s that?” Karl spat.
“I said, they left me behind. Said I was a burden. They left me to die so I don’t care about them!” his victim half-yelled and half-whined. Joe’s eyes were shiny with unshed tears of outrage.
As usual, neither Karl nor Sal cared a wit about the boy. Karl opened his mouth to start his usual badgering while Sal just sat there looking constipated, his thin mouth puckered in an eternal grimace of disapproval. It reminded Laurel of a cat’s asshole.
“Enough of this,” he said, exasperated. Before Karl could redirect his ill temper on him, Laurel turned to the newcomer.
“And who might you be, brother? I haven’t seen you before.”
“I am with Hodges’ team. The rest of us will arrive tomorrow,” the man replied genially.
“Reinforcements? About damn time you pussies showed up,” Karl grunted. Laurel frowned. He could not quite place the unknown man’s accent, and Karl was starting to get on his nerves.
The new guy must have thought so too because he leaned forward and smiled dangerously. Laurel half-expected him to demand satisfaction, but it turned out he was wrong.
“You must be cold. How about a drink?”
He then knocked on his table and called the barmaid with obvious pleasure.
“Barmaid! Barmaaaiiiiiiid!” he said.
She soon appeared, putting on her apron and staring down at the one who had called her with annoyance.
“Barmaid. Kindly give these gentlemen a beer. My treat!” he declared generously.
“I’ll put it on your tab,” the woman retorted before moving behind the counter.
“Are you new?” Laurel asked the girl with curiosity.
“Never mind that Laurel, you cockless twit, I’ll take her over old Greta any day of the week. Hey, beautiful!”
Laurel was tempted to slam the vile man’s face into the table but quickly implored the Lord to deliver him from the sin of wrath. The prayer only kind of worked.
“Greta is upstairs resting. She has had a long day, and I would appreciate it if you could keep your voices down,” the woman retorted.
“Fuck that, we men need to unwind. Now get us that beer, I need to drown my molars.”
With one last disapproving glance, the woman gritted her teeth and went for the pewter mugs. Laurel understood that lecherous prick Karl to an extent. The woman had golden hair like wheat under the sun, and sky-blue eyes. She was also beautiful. Her skin was rather pale with a delicate pink sheen over her cheeks.
As she expertly drew beer from a barrel, he could not help but look down. She was moving with confident gestures that he found attractive. He looked down still and stopped himself before succumbing to the sin of lusty thoughts.
The woman walked to them with the three mugs easily balanced in a single hand. She stopped at the edge of the table and frowned at Karl, who had licked his lips and was leering at her with naked sleaze. Without a word, the woman turned left and deposited the three mugs between Sal and Laurel himself, thus avoiding the risk of an errant hand.
“Avoiding me, lass?” the disgusting man asked with a touch of anger.
“I have good instincts,” she retorted.
“Karl, stop it,” Laurel ordered. He could tell that his repulsive teammate wanted to escalate but the horrid man restrained himself. Even he knew that they were sent here in this desolate place because they had fallen out of favor and could not afford any more offenses under their names.
In the end, the man relented.
“Bah, at least the beer is decent here,” he growled.
Karl then proceeded to slurp the liquid.
“This is a waste of time…” Laurel muttered, his patience and determination fraying under the combined effort of the remoteness, the weather and his insufferable allies.
“There has not been anything of note around here since the Red Maiden,” he continued with feelings.
“The Red Maiden?” a foreign voice asked from the other table. It was the grey gentleman, currently holding his mug in front of his lips.
Laurel groaned as Karl banged his drink on the table, sending foamy liquid across the polished wood.
“Hah! You don’t know about the Red Maiden! I’ll tell you all you need to know, stranger. Your pal Karl knows a lot, he does! I got it all from one of them archivist eggheads who gathered it from interrogation reports and spying! Lend me your ears, because it’s a tale like no other!”
Behind the bar, the waitress started to scrub glasses with furious energy. She was clearly annoyed, and Laurel could see why. It only took people thirty seconds to guess that any story garnering Karl’s interest would be vulgar.
“It all started in New-Orleans, the land of savages, whores, negroes and degenerates. The Red Maiden was made at Mardi Gras’ greatest orgy from the slut who had won the best ass contest.”
The barmaid sighed heavily, but she let the men continue. Laurel considered for one moment that he had joined the Order to protect mankind for the depredations of unnatural creatures and that he had trained hard to learn how to face them.
He had not expected that asking too many questions would land him there at the edge of civilization, forced to slog his way through the snow by day and listen to bawdy stories by night, paired up with a fanatical idiot who could only speak in Bible quotes and the sleaziest asshole this side of the Mississippi. Perhaps a career change was called for. He could respect his oath even if he operated independently.
Next to him, Karl was still recounting his gross story with gusto to the polite interest of the grey brother.
“Even the city’s debaucheries could not satisfy her! She would tour the brothels and take part in bloody games to quench her unholy drives. Her appetite for the pleasures of the flesh was never satisfied! She would lust after genitals the size of bulls and balls the size of ostrich eggs!” Karl added while extending his arm to demonstrate exactly how large the unlikely pieces of anatomy were.
“She would drain the seed of hundreds of men with her mouth to steal their strength, and drink it as well as their soul, which was sucked through the urethra! And that is why she was also called the Devourer.”
Laurel jumped in his seat at the unexpected sound of tortured metal. When he turned however, he could only see the barmaid still cleaning a mug with a terribly focused expression. He shrugged, imagining that she would find the story vexing and attempt to ignore it.
The grey brother, however, seemed to be having fun. His expression was split along the lines of disbelief and amusement.
“Is that so?” the man lightly commented.
“Right! But the story doesn’t end here! She left the city in her eternal quest for ever girthier manhoods and finally found a mountain man somewhere in Georgia. A spirit of stone and depravity.”
Laurel noted in passing that the waitress was more affected than he thought. She was slowly thumping her head against the wooden bar while muttering imprecations.
“Perhaps you should stop your story there Karl, your tale serves no purpose but to cause distress and horror.”
“But we’re reaching the best part!” his companion exclaimed with spittle flying in the air, “How they labored together to create the ultimate sex automaton, a creature with endless stamina and an artificial Johnson that could be inflated in the middle of the action! They named it, the Key of Beriah!”
A sound like an explosion.
Laurel searched the room to find the waitress’ fist buried through a table. Her beautiful visage was twisted with fury, most of it directed at the grey knight who had lifted his hands in helpless surrender.
“You think this is funny?! Sennak! An Suqqam Hayatu!”
Laurel’s heart skipped a beat just as cold sweat erupted all over him. A shiver of dread crawled up his back as terror, sheer terror, paralyzed his mind.
The appearance. The strange words. This strength. Her suddenly paler skin.
It could not be!
The grey gentleman replied in the same tongue with a tone that suggested an answer along the lines of “not my problem”. An instant later, the woman shook her fists with anger and started a low hiss. To Laurel’s savvy eyes, she looked like a woman two seconds away from tossing cutlery with malicious intent.
“Those slanderous… scandalous lies! Perfidy!” she sputtered with outrage, “I would never!”
Horrified silence covered the inn until an elegant voice interrupted it.
“Are you quite sure you never lusted after large genitals?” the man in grey observed while inspecting his nails, which were black and quite sharp. Then he turned to the woman with the deadliest shit-eating grin Laurel had ever seen. The suicidal moron added in a mocking falsetto voice:
“Is that your main gun captain, or are you just happy to see me?”
Laurel upended his table and jumped to the side just as a stream of incoherent curses, in French of all things, turned into a scream of feral rage.
“Goujat! Malotru! Sombre cretin!”
An instant later, a piece of the bar with the deformed nails still attached crashed against the wall, missing the other man only because he had dodged it with supernatural speed.
Not one, but two vampires.
Laurel instantly knew that they were still alive because the vampires were bickering. He climbed to his knees and grabbed the pallid Karl, dragging him behind himself.
“We have to get out!” he screamed. Thankfully, they had the entrance wall to their direct back and the door was only a few feet away. They could do it.
Sal did not listen. The religious retard stood up with an expression of triumph, brandishing his cross before him.
“In the name of the Fa—”
An instant later, the man’s brains splattered against the stone behind them as the two survivors were showered with pieces of ceramic shrapnel. Laurel thought in passing that he had never seen a man killed with a thrown plate before.
Laurel crawled to the door while on the other side of the upended table, a cataclysmic conflict was taking place with the fracas of broken furniture and the errant piece of gliding masonry.
They finally reached the door.
Laurel reached up for the knob, pausing only when a massive cleaver embedded itself only a hair away from his fingers. With his heart thundering in his ear, he finally managed to open the door and pass through. He turned around just to see a delicate hand ending in savage talons close around the neck of his companion before the man disappeared back into the room.
Laurel turned and ran.
He sprinted with all his strength, needled by despair. There was a derelict house in front of him across the town square. The stables were just behind. Five seconds. Four seconds. Three seconds. Almost there.
Behind him, the door of the inn crashed open as he was crossing the threshold of the ruin.
A primal instinct made him turn.
The woman was here with her arm up, claws extended.
Laurel fell backwards with a scream, pointlessly covering his face.
There was no pain.
Hesitantly, Laurel removed his arm and took in his surroundings. He was inside the destroyed home. A quarter of the roof had collapsed, and it smelled of soot and unwashed bodies despite the open air. There was an extinguished fire by his left and a veritable rat nest of chest-high planks, tarps and clutter to his right piled against the wall.
In front of him and on the other side of the threshold, the Red Maiden was staring in disbelief as she attempted in vain to enter the collapsed edifice.
“But… how!?” she exclaimed.
And suddenly, the rat nest exploded outward. In an instant, Laurel realized his mistake. The pile of debris was actually a makeshift cabin! A light shone from beyond the tarps and he could even spot covers on the others side.
A ghastly apparition suddenly stood before him. It was a man with a long beard that must have been white at some point of the distant past, possibly before it was used as a napkin, handkerchief, and other things he did not dare contemplate. His bald head was oily and grimy and two insane eyes above a large nose were fixed on Laurel with an expression of sheer malevolence. From the waist up, the man was covered in more layers of cloth that he thought could be possible, giving him an air of impossible obesity.
From the waist down, the creature was completely naked. Two hirsute spindly legs emerged from the mess of shirts, and between them freely dangled the man’s shriveled genitals. They quivered feebly in the glacial air as he jumped up and down, spitting and vociferating.
“Get off my lawn!”
The stench emanating from the poor sod was nauseating and Laurel covered his nose. He must have intruded in the home of the hamlet’s reject.
Then the reality of his situation came back to his battered mind and he fearfully returned his attention to the Maiden, only to find the vampire unmoving. She was cradling her elbow in one hand, the other hand massaging the bridge of her nose. Her eyes were closed.
They stayed like this for a good ten seconds with the local idiot still jumping around. Eventually, she threw both hands in the air.
“That’s it. I am done. I. Am. Done. Done!”
Then she turned around and walked to the middle of the square, picked up the destroyed door, replaced it on its hinges and slammed it closed behind her.
Laurel could not believe his luck and did not expect for it to last. He ran to the stable and took his horse, riding East until a pallid dawn cast its cold glow on the snowy land.
And that is the closest a Gabrielite ever came to the Red Maiden without dying.