“Oh thank God,” Frederick Konstantin rose from his seat by the barrel fire. Brita had just stumbled down the steps leading into Lieutenant’s subway sanctuary. She looked exhausted, and a little rough around the edges, but otherwise unharmed, although her eye makeup did look smudged, as if she had been crying. He pursed his lips. She wore make up now?
Konstantin gave his sister a quick hug, his dark eyes taking in the others as they followed her into the smoky lair. They were a ragged looking bunch.
He did some simple math. “Where is the librarian?”
Brita’s arms tightened, her face buried in his jacket.
“Oh Fred, there was a terrible accident. We had just left the building, and he went back in, Lord knows why. We waited for him, he said he would be right back out, but,” she pounded a fist against Konstantin’s chest, “they shelled the library. It’s all gone. Karl didn’t make it back out in time.”
The Inquisitor gritted his teeth, his complaints forgotten. “I hope they have some good books in heaven.”
“Do you suppose we’ll ever see heaven?”
Konstantin met Lieutenant’s smirking gaze above his sister’s sweaty head. The successful outcome of the Inquisitor’s mysterious mission had made the Grey officer so happy that not even the obscenely heavy casualties suffered by his men in the surface battle could dampen his good mood. Konstantin sighed.
“I’m not sure Brita. We’ve done some unforgivable things.”
Hrist and Mist’s timely appearance stalled Brita’s budding questions. As she hugged the excited girls, Deirdre whistled sharply from across the room.
“Get your gear boys,” she flashed her long white teeth, “we’ve got a ship to catch!”
Lieutenant shook her and Naoise’s hand while the newly freed sailors cheered and gathered their meager supplies.
“Thank you for bringing back my people mistress Raven. We could have never succeeded in rescuing them ourselves.”
Deirdre brushed off his compliments. “It’s not us you should be thanking. Your man Karl was a brave soldier and an invaluable guide. Without his help we would have failed many times over.”
Lieutenant smiled solemnly. “Volksgrenadier Franz was a good man. He will receive special mention tonight when we honor our fallen.”
Naoise gave the Grey officer a parting nod.
“See that he does.”
Led by some local guides, Deirdre’s men marched into the tunnel leading away from the Grey hideout. As they trooped through the old subway station, the Grey soldiers they were leaving behind stopped licking their wounds to quietly salute the departing foreigners. To Konstantin’s perceptive eye it seemed like they were standing a little taller than they had been when their “guests” had first arrived. The small group of people he had prayed with before the battle even pulled him aside before he followed his sister into the darkness, to let him know he would remain in their thoughts and prayers, and to give him some food for the journey. For that he was eternally grateful.
“Are we there yet?” Jim was getting repetitive.
Konstantin adjusted his grip on the wounded American, to help him step over a partially tumbled wall.
“In case you haven’t noticed, we are still wandering through alleys full of dead people in the dark.”
“So, we clearly aren’t there yet.”
“Hey everybody,” Deirdre called in the near distance, “we’re here!”
Jim winked at the annoyed Inquisitor.
“See? I told you we’re here.”
Konstantin made a sour face. “You’re an idiot.”
Dragging James along, he shouldered his way through the tightly packed sailors, joining Felix and Brita as they stood peeking through a gap between two buildings. They were back in the warehouse district. Konstantin could hear the gurgle of water slapping against dock pylons. Beside them stood Billy Budd, sailor. He was almost gloating.
“Ladies and…you guys,” he flourished dramatically toward the dark river, “the Sea Wraith.”
Felix cleared his throat. “Um Bill…we can’t see anything.”
The sailor glanced over his shoulder into the nighttime gloom.
“Oh, right. Sorry. Miss Deirdre, if you could?”
The dark skinned witch clapped her hands. “With pleasure.”
One of her tame balls of blue fire coalesced in a clenched fist. Swinging her arm like a softball pitcher, she cast the orb out over the slowly flowing water. When it reached the apex of its flight, the glowing ball paused, growing in brightness until it illuminated the vessel moored below.
“My God,” Konstantin felt a shiver pass down his spine, “that’s the Alexander Nevsky.”
When America fell, nearly every remaining government had tried to scramble together a plan to survive the apocalypse. Korea sent a handful of rockets into space. Italy dug their bunkers.
Russia used its subs.
In the beginning months of the Judgment, when the hungry northern tundra had stretched its icy fingers south from Siberia to Cambodia, and Moscow could no longer deny that the world was dying, the Kremlin issued standardized tests to the entire Russian population.
Konstantin had heard rumors that when the results came in, military special operatives forcibly collected the highest scoring individuals, placed them in the Russian navy’s six newest Borey class nuclear submarines, and sent them to sea. These people were to be Russia’s hope for the future, surviving deep underwater while the rest of the world froze solid.
The problem was, as far as anyone knew, none of the infamous survey ships, as they came to be called, had ever resurfaced.
Konstantin gazed out across the dark water at the floating mass of dark metal. Clearly at least one had. That it now operated under Deirdre’s black raven standard was more than a little troubling for the already wary Inquisitor. He reminded himself to trust God’s plan even as he checked his knives. It never did hurt to have a little extra insurance.
A small boat was retrieved from where it had been buried. A burly, bearded sailor manned the oars, shuttling his kinsmen to the silent hulk. As the crowd standing on land slowly dwindled, the submarine began showing faint signs of life. Shielded lights flickered atop the conning tower as the ship’s powerful nuclear reactor hummed steadily.
“The Boreys were the first Russian subs to use pump-jet propulsion of course, making them nearly silent in deep water…” Konstantin had the misfortune of sharing his float to the ship with the overly didactic Snorri. Sensing his friend’s foul mood, Jim egged his Scandinavian windbag on with well-timed exclamations of interest and disbelief.
“170 meters long!? You don’t say!”
In Konstantin’s opinion, the bumpy ride across the river couldn’t end soon enough.
Escape from the Dead City, when it happened, was almost anticlimactic. Deirdre’s sailors prepped their ship with the easy professionalism of lifelong seamen, and almost before its newest occupants new it, they were submerged and creeping silently out to sea. Once the bustle died down, the group split apart in a mostly vain attempt to find some privacy to rest and lick their wounds.
Large, callused hands reached through the open bulkhead door, roughly pulling Brita into the darkness beyond.
“Oh! Felix!” She playfully slapped the grinning young man’s bearded face, “You startled me!”
The northern giant feigned remorse, showering Brita with mock apologies until, laughing, she stopped his babbling with a firm kiss.
“Where have you been anyway? There’s not exactly any room to hide in this floating nightmare.”
The Franciscan nurse had quickly learned why most submarine navies had traditionally been an all male pursuit. Even aboard a modern nuclear submarine of the Sea Wraith’s dimensions, the cramped conditions left little of daily life to the imagination. Brita supposed she couldn’t complain. The ship’s current design actually afforded her, Deirdre, and the twins a modicrum of comfort and privacy, since much of the bulky military specific hardware had long ago been stripped away. Currently, the women were bunking where the missiles had once been stored in the fore of the ship. It was almost cozy.
Felix pulled away from Brita’s embrace. His stay in the submarine’s claustrophobic interior had not been as easy as the women’s. His oversized body was ill-adapted to the close confines of the nuclear vessel, and he always seemed to be bumping something tender against an exposed pipe or valve or bulkhead.
“Speaking of where people have been, have you seen your brother in the past few days?” He scratched his furry jaw, “he was up haunting the bridge for a while, and bothering me about his pistols, but Jim kept telling Snorri to teach him what all of the instruments were for, so he eventually gave up.”
Brita crinkled her nose in thought.
“You know what; I can’t remember seeing him.” She shrugged, avoiding Felix’s attempt to steal another kiss, “Oh well, it’s not like he could have stepped outside for some air and gotten lost.”
“Hmm. I guess you’re right. Luckily for you, I happen to be a clever young gentleman, and I have arraigned for the private use of a certain small berth but a deck away, so if you will my dear…”
Smiling, Brita let the incorrigible young Viking lead her away to his promised privacy.
Lord make me chaste, she prayed…but not very.
Konstantin shifted slightly, careful not to bang his forehead against the top of the torpedo tube. Breathing deeply, he let himself lay back against the smooth curving metal of the tube, his arms crossed over his chest. It was dark. Really dark.
The Inquisitor stretched his fingers, wiggled his bare toes. His boots sat on the floor underneath the torpedo tube’s internal hatch. Konstantin hoped that somebody would eventually notice them; he had realized too late that the hatch could not be reopened once it was latched shut, at least not from his position inside the tube.
Konstantin focused on slowing his heart rate. He had a feeling that what should have been a temporary hiding place, to avoid Snorri’s ceaseless propaganda, had just become a more long-term residence. He got as comfortable as the cramped space allowed. The air grew stuffy. Konstantin fought to keep his eyelids open. He lost that fight.
Inquisitor-Brother Frederick Konstantin dreamed.
Christ writhed painfully upon the cross, the heavy nails through his wrists making him powerless to manipulate the pale witchfire glowing in his trembling hands. To his left and right, tied to crosses of their own, Deirdre and Brita burned.
Konstantin brushed stinging sweat out of his eyes, his legionnaires helmet heavy atop his head. He hefted his spear. It was time to finish this.
Above him floated a tattooed angel, his lips twisted in a beatific smile…
He walked through the Vatican, his boots crunching on the brittle bones of the long dead. His dark eyes probed the shadows, a sneer across his pale face. He entered the chamber of judgment, where, lifetimes ago, he had brought countless witches to die. Impossibly old now, the tribunal still sat on their hardwood thrones, accusation in their cruel eyes. Konstantin’s mad laughter filled the chamber…
Konstantin once again faced the great tiger across the bloody remains of his friend. The magnificent creature pawed its kill, growling irritably at the meddling Inquisitor. It spoke.
“Why do you interfere Fenrir?”
The Inquisitor glared. His stomach growled.
“That’s not my name, beast.”
The tiger shook its shaggy head.
“I know you Fenrir. Perhaps you do not yet know yourself.” Yanking, it tore an arm free from the kill, batting it toward the Inquisitor’s booted feet. “Here. Eat.”
Konstantin recoiled in disgust. He did not want to eat his friend. He was just so hungry. Konstantin’s anger waxed. Seized by an uncontrollable urge, he scooped up the shredded limb, bringing it to his lips. Gorging himself, he tore into the meal with unnaturally sharp teeth, hot blood running down his chin and into his fur.
Regaining control, he broke away from the feast. His head thrown back, the horrified Inquisitor howled into the cool night sky. In the darkness his screams were the lonely baying of a wolf…
A disturbance. The stale air of the torpedo tube whooshed out of the opening hatch, to mix with the only slightly less stale air of the sub’s interior. Konstantin awoke to gentle hands tapping his face and shoulders. After the complete darkness of the tube, the light leaking in from the aft torpedo room was painful.
“What were you doing in there Mr. Konstantin?”
It was the twins, Hrist and Mist. They had taken to sub life like a pair of old salts, exploring their exciting new environment ceaselessly. Luckily for Konstantin, their games had finally brought them to the aft torpedo room.
“Oh, nothing girls.” Konstantin pulled himself from his temporary prison, dizzy after having spent so long lying down. “I was just resting.”
Mist giggled. “You should be more careful next time you rest. You have blood on your lips.”
Hrist wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, and you smell awful. You should get cleaned up; everyone is waiting for you on the bridge.”
Konstantin licked his cracked lips, frowned at the copper taste. “Everyone is up on the bridge? Why?”
The girls grabbed each other’s hands and skipped to the circular door leading from the torpedo room, which they took turns climbing through. Mist’s head popped back into view, her blind eyes turned toward the Inquisitor as her tousled hair bounced from side to side.
“I dunno why. I think it’s ‘cause we’re surfacing.”
Solomon Rex rode another eddy of air, his flight taking him in ever widening circles around the city center. He was confused.
Up until yesterday, the sky over the city had been so thick with artillery fire that he had been restricted to quick flits from one rooftop to another. Now, not only had the big guns gone silent, but the entire city seemed to be resting. He had even seen some cooperative efforts by both sides being made to battle the firestorms still raging through the shattered commercial districts.
When he had captured a lonely civilian, the terrified creature had told him that an assassin had killed the leadership on both sides, all in the same evening, and that the new brass were actually engaged in peace talks.
Solomon wouldn’t really have cared, except that from what the local had told him about the assassinations, to Rex it sounded like his old associate Konstantin’s style. Now however, he could find no evidence of his quarry’s current whereabouts. It was almost like the fugitive Inquisitor and his magic-wielding sister had vanished from the surface of the earth.
Rex swung his hammer casually beneath him, his wings beating steadily through the cool air above the suddenly quiet city. He wasn’t overly concerned. He would find his prey eventually. He always did.