The Wild Hunt's Revenge

By Atom Mudman Bezecny

A week had passed since Bloody Mary, Brian Hammerstein, and the eternal adventurer Immorté had vanished to Immorté's homeworld of Rheton. Most of that week had been spent turning the serf-like citizenry of the capital city into freedom fighters.

 

The extension of Magister Sun's Imperium of Zero Pity that had its hand on Rheton was deposed; it lay dead in a pile of rubble, in a stack of Princes and Princesses who were undone by one of their own number—the man named Ultrablood, who was yet to be born. Now he would never exist, having undone the root of his own existence.

 

Terry Blood—Polyphema Bradford—Prince Riven, Grand Duchess Thusa, Grand Duke Ladon—they were all dead. Prince Phorcys was dead back on Earth, the first of the so-called “Ghost Family” to fall. Their deaths didn't mean the end of the Imperium here, in all truth, not totally. Prince Terry's wife Princess Ambia was the daughter of Lord Sun, and while he indulged her petty romances only thinly, he would not tolerate the sadness that would ensue from the breaking of one of her playthings. He would send a new viceroy to rule, alongside strong new officers who didn't fall to pieces at the death of a few royals. Mary was glad that she didn't need to sleep. She needed only a few hours rest in the Mirror-Realm every day. That gave her time to help train civilians to fight, as well as hold off the soldiers who came after the bands who weren't ready yet. She had prepared herself for the worst, but she wasn't prepared for this—only her power kept her in control of the situation. Her voice had broken and stuttered in front of the first crowd she'd called, when she saw that most of them were either children or old folk, and most of them were sick, and realized that these were the ones who would be fighting the men with guns and swords and clubs. But as soon as she remembered her bravery, the others seemed to echo it...it was contagious.

 

Some of them weren't so old, as it happened. It was just that their faces were lined by the extra stress that came with living in these ghettos. Some of 'em would need to work out a little to build some muscle, but others were accustomed to heavy lifting, and so the rifles she and Immorté brought from the Palace weren't too bad for them. By the third day a cadre under her training had taken down a guard battalion and captured a whole new sector. By the end of the fifth day nearly half the Imperial legions were depleted or retreating, with no casualties on their end.

 

On the morning of Day Six, she realized she'd fallen asleep, in her human form of Francine Rainsford. Brian woke her up.

 

“Hey, cuz,” he said. “I know you haven't slept in a while, but you were entering hour ten, and I don't want you wandering around this place as a zombie.”

“Thanks,” she murmured, sitting up. She remembered that in the summers she and Brian had spent together they had once had “sleeping contests” when she stayed over at his house. They realized that they were sleeping much more than they had been when they were children, a consequence of puberty, and so they would try to see how long they could stay asleep. Brian was still the reigning champion, at 30 hours, but Francine had once made it to 27. After that she had spent the next few days wandering around like a living dead girl. She'd tried to make eggs for breakfast but kept forgetting she'd started them; she'd nearly started three different fires. After that they decided to sleep within normal teenager parameters.

 

When they'd been kids on those wild summers together, they'd both dreamed of going into space. Now they were here together on this planet, and even after all these days they couldn't help but smile.

 

Once the week was up, Bloody Mary was confident that the Rhetonians could hold their own until Immorté had a chance to return. That was his intention, after all, once they dealt with the next scheme of the Royal Family. The last of the Wild Huntsmen, Immorté's brother Mik'hel, had been on Earth for some time now, trying to raise a vampire army. All they had for a clue was that this also involved one of Mik'hel's human relatives by marriage.

 

Before they took off, she wanted to address the people again. By now they knew her voice.

 

“As I've told many of you now, it's time for me to leave. But I'll be back someday.” She hoped that that was true. “In the meantime, remember my spirit. I will be with you as long as you remember. But more important than me...remember your training!”

 

And once again, she hoped that that had done the right thing. It felt inadequate, somehow, but she knew that saving this planet permanently would be a whole lifetime of work. She had to go back.

 

She'd left the most important seed of all, anyway. She'd told them that if she was needed, they could find a child to go to a mirror in the dark, and speak her name thrice.

 

Immorté summoned his energy, and swung his hands downward through the empty air. Once more a violet sliver open in space, and it opened into a true portal. He walked into it casually, and with a bit more trepidation Mary and Brian followed.

 

In an instant, they were back on Earth. Specifically, they were back where they had left from—in the pantry of the Georgian house owned by Mary's father Sanger Rainsford. It was cramped, and they were used now to having open air around them. They moved instead to the living room. They were not alone.

 

Sanger Rainsford had shown up at the house on the end of a three day stretch of Loretta van Helsing and Ormond Murks taking up residence there. Earlier, Mary had wondered if Sanger had been aware of the pair moving in, but evidently he'd missed her telegram. Originally he'd had a rifle on them but Loretta had disarmed him, and no one made a move from there. They were standing around awkwardly when Mary found them.

 

“Who are these people, Francine?” Sanger exclaimed.

 

“Who's this old man, Mary?” Ormond said.

 

Mary laughed and introduced the two parties to each other. After all these weeks, Sanger finally learned where Mary went when she ducked into the mirror on the road to Milburn.

 

“You know, Mary, we still haven't dealt with the Johnny Leonox case out in San Francisco...”

“I know, Loretta. But for now, I need to deal with something more immediate. An alien warlord is apparently creating an army of vampires.”

“Vampires?” Loretta said. “We'd better come with, then.”

“Er, van Helsing, aren't you forgetting something?” Murks asked. “I was under the impression we still needed to deal with another vampire? In Bakunda?”

 

“Oh, yes, the Fallon case. I suppose that is tying us up a bit.”

“Need a lift to Africa?” Mary asked.

 

“No, she chartered a plane for us,” Ormond replied. “She just forgot, evidently. Must be old age...”

 

“Oh, come now, Mr. Murks, I'm 27. But thank you for reminding me about the plane. Money well spent—I assumed you'd be busy, Mary.”

 

“I am pretty swamped right now,” Mary confessed. “Listen, Loretta, maybe you know the vampire I'm looking for. All I know is that his brother's name is Amos Bradford. Does that name mean anything to you?”

 

“Amos Bradford?” She thought for a moment. “The name is a little familiar, but I have to admit, most of my knowledge deals with European vampires.”

Murks said, “You know, I've heard tell of a man on the Canadian border named Amos Bradford. He smuggles criminals out of the country, under the name the Black Raven...which, incidentally, is the name of the tavern he uses as a front for his operations. Bradford is actually his middle name. His full name is Amos Bradford Renault.”

 

“Renault?” Van Helsing snapped her fingers. “Of course. I know the family. Amos Renault: triplet brother of Robert and Leo Renault. Robert Renault is the one I know, because he attempted to repeat the experiments of Dr. Moreau in France—an associate of my father's dealt with some of the remnants of those experiments. Under the name Dr. Parry, Renault also transferred the brain of executed convict Scot Webster into a gorilla, so Webster could take revenge on the gangsters who wronged him and his family. But the Renault triplets had three more siblings, a second set of triplets, by their mother's affair with a British nobleman named William Clayton. One of them was Paula Clayton...”

 

“Paula Clayton, again! What's going on? It's such a small world...I wonder how she and her boy are doing.”

 

“I wonder the same now and again too. Danny Clay has some uncles: Lloyd and Elwyn Clayton. Dr. Lloyd Clayton grew up to be a kind, respectable man, but Elwyn Clayton pursued a decidedly darker career. He sold his soul to be a powerful creature of evil, and became a vampire. Lloyd was forced to kill his brother, but he rose from the grave, and preyed on his own daughter before Lloyd killed him again, giving his life to do so.”

 

“I'm guessing Mik'hel found a way to resurrect Elwyn again,” Immorté put in.

 

Loretta looked Immorté over. “You know, you and I must have a chat sometime. I normally stick to matters of the preternatural, but I'm deeply fascinated by alien life as well.”

“And I was the conjuration of black magic, too. As if the skull-face and crazy jet-black hair weren't a tip-off.”

Murks tapped Loretta on the shoulder. “We should let them get on with things. And get on with our own things, as well...”

 

“Murks, you're impatient. Incorrigibly so.”

 

Murks grunted, and turned his mind to this week's blood supply, and how nice it would feel to have in his veins.

 

The two went up to the rooms they'd taken as their own to get ready. Sanger looked at his daughter in surprise. “What's this, a boarding house for the hordes of Hell?”

“I may be...stashing some friends here, when they need a place to stay. Is that alright?”

“I'm not using those spare rooms for anything. Just promise me I won't wake up with the Headless Horseman over my bed.”

“Promise.”

 

“Now, I heard you say that you, Brian, and your tall friend are looking for a vampire. How can I help?”

“Do you know anyone who could give us intel on where Elwyn Clayton might be?”

“I could call up the man who borrowed my name.”

“L'Aigle Viviti? The Dark Eagle?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“You're serious?”

“Well, I'll probably just end up on the line with one of his associates. But they've got one of the best archives on crooks and other bad sorts in the world—I'm sure they could find something.”

 

“Let's see what they have to say, then,” Immorté said.

 

As Sanger went away to use the phone, Mary said, “I hope he comes with us this time.”

“Doesn't he normally?” Immorté asked.

 

She shook her head. Immorté understood what it was like to seek the approval or attention of one's parents and failing to achieve it, though in a wholly different way.

 

She wanted to change the subject, and so she asked Immorté to recount to her a little of his history. She was curious to know about the lore of this country from someone who'd lived it firsthand. In their adventures together, they'd been moving too hurriedly for her to really dig into why he was called “Immorté.” Some of these stories, as he told them, she took mental notes on, to compile later.

 

“He got back to me.”

Sanger was at the door then.

 

“That quick?” Mary asked.

 

“The Eagle works around the clock, and so does his crew. Their research is good, and what they told me is this: there are accounts of a man matching Elwyn Clayton's description out in a small town in Louisiana. Could be one of his living brothers, but here's the twist—he was seen in the company of a stranger named Michael Prince.”

 

“Michael Prince?” Immorté laughed. “He's supposed to have Huntsmen-level intelligence. I suppose he thinks no one knows he's here, and that he's hidden.”

 

“We should head out then,” Mary said. “Everyone get ready if you need to do so.” And she shot a glance at her dad as she said this, realizing too late that she'd just crushed something. She had been so excited have all her friends and assistants under one roof that she'd chosen to forget how vital a thing it was for him to avoid the Mirror-Realm. Now her approach had been a passive one, passive-aggressive, without any true effort on her behalf—knowing and yet ignoring that this was something they'd need a longer talk on. Sanger frowned at her, having picked up on all these feelings. That cut her. Now she just felt awkward—exposed. The joy of her gathering faded, and she realized only then that that joy had been a novelty. Since she'd returned from 1983, Mary's tugging pressure, the stress and strain she brought along with empowerment, had lapsed. But now it was back again.

 

She wondered how long Mary was going to keep her in suspense. Ever since they'd found each other, and she'd taken that long step away from being Francine Rainsford, Mary's anger had added fuel to her own, and while she'd shoved the fire down, her opportunities to do so had been incidental. Even facing her “destiny” in the 22nd Century hadn't smothered the flame, and that seemed in the moment to be the climax of her bond with Mary's fury. One of these days the bottom would fall out and—

 

She was losing focus. So Dad wasn't coming—so what? They'd have a chance to spend time together once she got back.

 

“Does this process...take a while?” Immorté asked.

 

“Yeah, c'mon Mary, let's go!” Brian said.

 

“Er—I'm sorry,” she said. She directed Immorté over to the large mirror her father had hung on the wall. “Now don't resist...” And she slowly began to work him into the glass.

 

“Hey, this is weird—!” he laughed. “Yer power—feels like it's the power of Hemkranic glass conversion.”

“What the hell is that?” she asked. He was taking his sweet time getting in the damn glass.

 

“Means you can change the glass matrix to a Hemkra Quartz one psychically, and use it as a dimensional access port. I can feel some pan-band radiations pulsin' out strong...” And then, just as his head vanished: “Outta curiosity, how many dimensions, mathematically speaking, is this world?”

 

She hadn't been counting, she wanted to tell him. She sighed.

 

Another “subtle” scheme failed. Dad had never properly watched someone enter the Mirror-Realm, and maybe if he saw them go in easily he'd learn it wasn't so bad. But she could feel he heard Immorté's words as protests, even though the undying adventurer was a goddamn hulk.

 

Immorté was a strange being—now he was acting mercurial. Strange thing for a man of a hundred-plus. But she realized then how little she truly knew of Immorté, even now with a few scattered stories in her head—maybe his long decades of life made him unbalanced, and that was why he was behaving like this.

 

Or maybe she was just on edge. She didn't really want to fight another vampire—what was this now, number four? Maybe it was really her destiny to fight vampires. What an ugly fate that'd be; she'd rather take Tsuu-Aas again.

 

Brian went through then, and she followed. Once the three were all inside, she could see that even Immorté was humbled by his surroundings. “The structure of this place is pretty crazy,” he said. “Even moreso than you being able to turn glass to H-Quartz. I've heard of boundary points before, but this somehow satisfies all boundary conditions for all worlds and planes. I wonder what ol' Doc Hesselius would think of this place. He and I went down to the Witch-House once, in Arkham—man, there were some damn strange dimensional happenin's down there, lemme tell ya—”

 

“Mr. Immorté, let's keep on track,” Mary said.

 

“Oh, but I've got good memories coming up now,” Immorté chuckled. “Why, one time, Stagecoach Mary and Dan Reid and I were out in the desert—”

 

“Immorté...”

 

“Huh?” He paused. “Oh, I'm sorry, Mary. I, uh, I...” And he seemed to be at a true loss for words. She raised an eyebrow, half in frustration, half in concern.

 

“Well, are you going to take us to Louisiana?” he asked then.

 

“Yes, let's get a move-on,” she sighed, echoing the sentiment for the group one last time. She brought over the mirror for the town Dad had pointed out—a small hick burg by the name of Mapleton, Louisiana. Some distant memory of hers told her that Mapleton had a sister city by the same name in Massachusetts. It was right at the edge of the swamp, and while he said nothing of it, Mary could feel Brian was thinking about his old adventures down here with witches like Aunt Hagar. But Mapleton wasn't close to New Orleans and other vodou places. It was kind of out in the middle of nowhere.

 

They had appeared out of the mirror of an old junker car left out in the bayou woods. She didn't want to take them indoors; it seemed like a tactical mistake in her mind. She was already sensing intense energies from this town, and it made sense then that they were chasing an apprentice of Count Substance. Kamarack called himself that for—well, probably a number of different reasons, but at the heart of things he derived the name from the fact that his mystical powers were a consequence of his carrying some of the substance of Charles Jason, the Pumpkin Master. Jason had claimed to break into this universe from another, and the discharge of energy had joined he and Kamarack—Mary had wondered about other universes but that wasn't what mattered now. What mattered was finding Elwyn Clayton and staking him dead. She realized she had taken it for granted that she could leave it to Immorté to tear down “Michael Prince.” And why not? He was his problem, and if Clayton was an echo of Kamarack then Mary had something personal with him.

 

Just then, however, she heard the voice of Immorté in her mind. She found it jarring at first, but his telepathy, his psychic power, was so much less intrusive than Nadine Ingomar's. “Don't worry, I just want to know if you can feel that too,” he “said.”

 

“I can,” she replied, knowing he meant the magical energy that arose from Elwyn Clayton. “I've been getting better at tracing it. And you have quite a lot of experience.”

“Ohh, yeah. I can sense the geography of this town, because it's not so large—can't always make out what all of the signs are on the buildings but I know what a cemetery is. He's in there. Lights up hot in my mind's eye like a funeral fire.”

 

“I'll let you lead the way then,” she said. “Are you getting a signal from Mik'hel?”

 

“No. He's probably shielding himself. You're shielding yourself, aren't you?”

“...damn. I-I think my guard's been down...”

Brian had been using his eyes while his friends were involved in the psychic realm. Even in the dark of the night he could see moving shapes.

 

“We've got company!” he yelled, and he had to yell twice to shake them from the trance. At once, there was light. A bright purple light, spackled around the edges by bits of violet magma. Brian was knocked away and was unconscious in an instant. Somehow the heat of the moment let Mary feel his life—it was as warm and living to her as the magical energy which stemmed from Clayton in the graveyard. The same energy was now unveiling itself as Mik'hel dropped his safeguards. The energy he called to himself obscured his appearance—now he was raising another hammerstrike blow against Brian, to finish him off. Blindly, Mary dove into the storm of purple crackles, and slashed out at the first flesh she found. A voice like Immorté's cried out in pain, but another pulse of light drove her back.

 

“Worthless girl.”

 

He lifted her up effortlessly. She saw a flash of blue skin—and blond hair, nearly white, like some of the other men of his family. The eyes were white and pitiless. “I am not alone. My power is tripled by the presence of my companion. He was entombed in the swamps of this town's twin village in Massachusetts, and the unique relationship between the two towns laid down long ago by ancient magic carried him through space to this region. The two towns called Mapleton are a remnant of a magical experiment of Mistress Abigail of colonial Salem.”

 

“Enough with the history lessons. Who's this companion of yours?” Immorté said.

 

“He has many names but he is known to me as Yasta-hiqun, the Mummy-Lord.”

There was that phrase again: Mummy-Lord. Mary had heard it not long ago, in reference to the Mummy-Lords of Atlantis. Yasta-hiqun was not a Mummy-Lord—he was a traitor, whose romantic relationship to a member of the royal family and attempted necromantic revival of such saw him executed. Ever since 1938, however, there were reports around Mapletown, Massachusetts that the reanimated mummy of Yasta-hiqun was wandering around killing people, kept alive by the last surviving specimens of tan'nah leaves. As a historian, Mary would know Yasta-hiqun as a cousin of Kahlariish, one of the most interesting mummies in the—

 

She choked then, and not because of Mik'hel. All this thought passed over her in less than an instant, but now, as thoughts of her classroom lessons as Francine Rainsford entered her mind, they were just as swiftly shoved out of her mind, with a force so tangible she couldn't ignore its presence. This was Mary: her hellish anger. Mary was actually choking her now, choking down words that linked her back to Francine, to Lamb University, to everything else. It was almost like Mary hated her. Francine could see what Mary looked like without a human host; a storm of dark clouds nearly without shape, though she definitely had eyes, and it was these eyes that conveyed mindless anger, in a purer sense than Francine had ever seen before.

 

Now more than ever, she realized that she should have seen Bloody Mary as more like a power source, as she now felt her predecessors had. Mary hungered for emotions, and she had continuously projected on her as she was now sure Nadine had done. Humanizing Mary made her closer to her, and now what was once a tool had become a monster let free of its chains.

 

Names swept over Mary then: Typhoid Mary. Mary the First (of England?). Elizabeth Bathory...their faces came over her as if they were the ones Mary had enjoyed wearing most.

 

Mary desired revenge against Mik'hel for hurting her—but she also wanted to take down the vampire growing stronger out in the cemetery. Francine idly observed that Mary did have a penchant for hunting vampires, but even now she couldn't differentiate if this was built into Mary's spirit from long before they were joined, or if the battles with Kamarack, Lucy Weston, and Kahuna'ana were upsetting enough to make the spirit lock onto bloodsuckers like they were ancient foes instead of recent ones. Maybe it was just that anger usually had a shorter memory than a longer one. Francine was forced along for the ride as the spirit within her took her to the cemetery.

 

“Mary, stop!” Brian called out. “We need you!”

 

“Naw, I can hold my own against my brother and his...shriveled mummy. Once I pull them out of the shadows, that is. She needs you. She's going after Elwyn Clayton.”

Immorté knew even without telepathy that the words “She needs you” were enough for Brian. He took off, hoping to lend his skills against yet another creature of the night.

 

But there was a problem. Mik'hel had mixed up the order a little in his wording. After Brian vanished into the trees, the Prince's guest joined him, but Immorté learned in that instant that it was Yasta-hiqun in the cemetery—and Elwyn Clayton here in the woods.

 

“Come now, Mik'hel,” Elwyn said. “I think if we pool our powers we can turn this craven spawn whom some call your brother into a powerful weapon. Don't you agree?”

“That was my plan,” Mik'hel replied.

 

“If we can use him against her in her current state—you are still pushing her a little, aren't you?”

“It only takes a little push. Yes, one will kill the other, and then we'll kill the survivors. The boxer—his mind says he fights as a boxer—is half-dead already from what I dealt him.” His empty eyes locked onto the skull-face of his brother; bile rose from how this so-called relative of his kept his long, mangy hair. He was like a wild horse, but one about to be broken by the rider. “The Wild Hunt's revenge. He slaughtered my family, and now I'll kill him the ones who helped him do it...and their planet.”

Elwyn Clayton looked nervous as this prospect. “Err, yes. Quite.”

 

Mary had stopped running—her steam vanished. Anger infects memory, and eventually one forgets what they were mad about. Especially a short-sighted spirit like Mary. Francine was back in control, and for a moment she didn't dare to take back her spiritual form. That was not her—she was insulted that it could even be thought of as her. The whispers of her forebears rang true with feeling: the Marys who lived through their duties, and who passed on their hold willingly and not in bloodshed, reminded her that Mary was a tool. Now and forever, Francine saw that—but she still had to exorcise the last traces of the animation she had given Mary. Or maybe she just believed that was so; in magic, it didn't really matter. She had to find a way to do that, without giving the spirit her power back. For now, she changed back to her ghost form, and found she was reasonably in control of herself—but only like a hospital patient is in control at the tail end of a fever.

 

She kept going on to the cemetery, knowing now where it was, and saw soon that Brian was following her trail. She didn't want him to—it was dangerous for him. But she was in no position to tell him to turn back, as she knew that Mik'hel would fry him if he had half a chance. She would just have to kill Elwyn before he had a chance to go for Brian.

 

She broke off a stick as she ran, to use as a stake. She wouldn't miss her strike, even if he had an ambush waiting for her. As she approached the border of the metropolis of stones, she could see his figure in the moonlight. She crossed over into this domain of the dead, and rushed towards him.

 

But the ghoul drinking in the moonlight was not Elwyn Clayton. It was Yasta-hiqun.

 

Unless Elwyn Clayton had mummified himself, but she ruled that out at once. She'd been tricked, and when Brian arrived he saw the trick as well. They realized that all three of their group had underestimated the enemy they had left Immorté with, and as Yasta-hiqun weakly stumbled about, as if only tangentially aware of their presence, Mary and Brian assembled the implications of what that all meant.

 

Immorté was upon them in a moment, and once more Brian was knocked away. Mercifully he was still alive, but only just—he'd broken some insignificant bones under Mik'hel's assault but now he was burned as well. As Mary saw his shallow breath she struggled to hold the storm under herself. Immorté approached, his eyes reflecting the hateful soul of Mik'hel.

 

She raised her claws and prepared to fight him. She knew he was supremely powerful but she'd beaten supremely powerful before, and she'd do it. She just hoped that Mik'hel combined with Immorté was not enough to kill her before she had a chance to get a hit in.

 

But it was Elwyn Clayton who was steering the skeletal adventurer. Mik'hel was sending power to Immorté but didn't want to waste effort piloting his mind. Clayton's polished Republic Serial voice came through the bony jaws. “Ms. Rainsford, I hope you understand that there's nothing you can do. I've talked it over with my brother-in-law—at least I'm sure that's His Highness' link to me—and he's agreed to let me have your cousin, Mr. Hammerstein, as an apprentice. Of course, I may subject him to a few years of feeding first...”

 

She rushed up and slashed a claw at him. He took her wrist and threw her back.

 

“I've sent Yasta-hiqun back on his way. He has...business here in Mapleton; it's not an accident the swamp-warp brought him here. I once ruled him, you know, under the name And-Ho-Eb—Priest of Karnak, trainer of the servants of Countess Carody and Queen Obongo. It was fun being his master, but ruling Immorté is better. Immorté has such power, and promise,” Clayton continued. “I'm enjoying the chance to use it.”

He switched on telekinesis, and twisted Mary over backwards.

 

“I hope you've burned before,” he said. “I'll do it again.”

 

Only then did the spirit realize that her tears were coming out...

 

She screamed. Blind, in a single second. The pain rippled through her whole body, shredding her inside and out. She had never felt anything like it—only faintly could she recognize that her rage made it worse. The pain and rage looped together, and finally it was too much. Once again Francine slipped her hold over the form she shared with the millennia-old spirit. Her white eyes turned red, and a power that hadn't slipped over the Earth in centuries was unleashed.

 

She heard nothing. Nothing but the sound of her own heartbeat. Brian was yelling to her but the sound was lost, and his faces and all faces were blurry and indistinct. There was no reason. Things looked as if they should be hot in the red heat that pressed over her vision, but instead there was cold numbness. And the command of something alien and evil to who she was.

 

She was upon Immorté in a second. Clayton felt a flash of fear echo back through his victim into himself—or maybe it was the other way around. In any case, both Immorté and the vampire felt the terrible pain of her claws as they tore into the Lost Prince's guts. He could heal himself with his powers but only if he had time, and she wasn't letting up. Another slice and blood splashed hot from an inches-deep gash on his arm.

 

If he could scar, these blows would leave marks. She made that arm useless then by cutting across his pectoral, and then directed her claws to his leg. He wasn't used to being hobbled. He'd have to move fast if he was going to—

 

No chance. Now the other leg. The pain was blinding him...and splintering the connection between he and the man whose hypnotism wormed around in his brain. Opening his eyes, he forced out a burst of electrokinetic force—his full strength, doubled up with Mik'hel's. The tyrant Prince came up behind his brother, his hands pouring all his psychic energy into his body. Perhaps he hoped Immorté would burn up at the end of all this, consumed by the influx. He was sure the blast would kill Bloody Mary.

 

But no. She came charging through, her shape battered into a form akin to that which Francine had seen when she looked at the ancient Mary. She was still alive, and in her streak forward she laid the final blow against Immorté.

 

It didn't kill him. Only Immorté's fortitude saw to that. But in more than 107 years, Immorté had been knocked unconscious only once, and that was when Mik'hel had overwhelmed him on Rheton. Now Mary had brought him to the same, helped only in part by the overwhelming strain of absorbing his brother's power too.

 

“Stop her!” Mik'hel commanded. “Or I'll blast you to dust—”

 

His breath left his chest. Mary found the stake she brought with her, which she'd dropped when Immorté attacked her. In a single motion, she pulled Elwyn Clayton in close and killed him. The psychic feedback Immorté gave him from the pain-burst of the injury had stunned him already—now he was back to ashes, beyond the aid of his once-constant companion, the Dracula-spawned homunculus Zolarr, whom Dracula had torn from the essence of one of his former servants.

 

Mary regained her shape, slowly resuming a form similar to Francine's, but she was still more like an animate fog when her ghost-claws pierced Mik'hel's throat. “There is no revenge beyond me,” the spirit growled. “Thus there is no vengeance for your Wild Hunt.”

His eyes pulled opened wide in surprise. He choked, desperately trying to pour his power into healing himself. Mary tore her claws out of his throat by pulling forward, but he still lived after that. But even he, a being so changed by his power that it dyed his skin and bleached his hair, could not stand against her next blow. Like a reaper's scythe she hooked the last flesh of his neck and decapitated him.

 

The horror of this scene was lost under the darkness of the night, but Francine Rainsford saw it fully. She had no pity for Mik'hel or even for Clayton, but she knew that Mary wasn't going to stop at killing those two. She'd stopped going after Immorté because she was sure he'd die of his injuries—now that she heard Francine remind herself that Immorté could regenerate, she was planning to finish him off. Brian would be next, and then the populace of Mapleton. All simply because Mary was created to be a spirit of vengeance, and her anger would blind her till the very end.

 

But Francine had some of her strength back now, from having been denied action for so long. Pushing her way back into the abstract limits of this representation of her mind, her hands sought out Bloody Mary and once she caught her, she wrestled her down. She couldn't retain control forever, and knew now that this aspect of the spirit would keep her from regaining her human guise as long as she still existed.

 

To Brian Hammerstein's perception, Bloody Mary seemed to freeze for no reason. She grunted, possessed of the anger that led her to strike out at Immorté, but there was confusion leeching into the anger. That scared Brian, but he wasn't going to let that stop him. His plan didn't involve hurting her, even if it was necessary—he couldn't bear the thought. But he still approached her, and as if by habit, his fists were up.

 

She turned to him and snarled, and he knew at once that this wasn't Francine, but something from another world which had overtaken his cousin. She made a charge towards him but he remembered going up against Champ Javorski and he held his ground, even with his fear. She stopped before she struck him, and he lowered his fist.

 

Smoke and fire seemed to come from her, like she was a gasoline can tipped the wrong way. At once Brian knew the power that crackled out of her body, and saw how tremendous that power was for the first time. He didn't have the preparation Nadine Ingomar had given Francine. He nearly ran from that.

 

“Brian. Together,” she held out her hand, and for a wavering moment Brian thought with disgust that Mary was offering him her power. “Please.”

 

“No,” he said, but not to deny her. “No, I should be the one saying please. Please, Francine, let me help you.”

Tears were in her eyes. Water tears. “Yes. Please. Help me.”

He took her hand.

 

Together, they shoved Mary back down. The ghost had taken part of her soul, and now they took it back. Once it was part of her again, Francine could look down into the swirling pool of chaos that was her power—her power. Not Mary's. Not the ghost's. Her own.

 

And she made Mary nothing but a tool.

 

No longer did the spirit have a separate voice from her—they were now one forever, and it was Francine Rainsford's mind in control.

 

The change was obvious to Brian, and to Immorté as he recovered. The Prince had been inside her mind and seen that she was not herself—now that he was recovering he had no ill feelings towards her, unless concern can be called an ill feeling. Once he could stand he took a step towards her, before his own priorities came back. He looked over at the beheaded corpse of his brother, and he sucked in a deep breath. An indescribable feeling came over him, one which he had felt shallowly before on Rheton. There, when he saw his father dead, it had been like it was all over. But now that Mik'hel was gone, all kinds of things were just beginning.

 

“Immorté—I—” Mary began, but he raised his hand, and sent to her mind a feeling that all was well. He understood, and he was alive. “I don't know how to thank you,” she said then.

 

“Thank Brian, he helped way more than I ever did,” Immorté said. “I couldn't have talked you down from that.”

 

“Talked me through is more like it,” she said, turning to look at Brian. Francine's face replaced that of her ghost form—now truly just another form, and nothing more. Then, the two embraced.

 

Afterwards, she hugged Immorté, too, and he chuckled at that as he hugged her back. As they stepped back from one another Francine opened her mouth to propose to head back to the house. Just as the words reached the tip of her tongue, however, Immorté inhaled sharply. His head tilted back, and he made a low moaning sound. Then, his back arched, and he flopped over backwards, his huge body flailing as if he was having a seizure.

 

“Immorté—what's wrong?!” Francine exclaimed, changing back to Bloody Mary in an instant. As Immorté churned in pain, however, a pair of green eyes manifested in the space of his body. These emerald orbs stared down hatefully as a voice proclaimed:

 

“The death of the Wild Hunt of Rheton shall not go unavenged! I proclaim a death-curse on Prince Immorté...so speaks Zahl Doone of the Far Moors!”

 

To be continued in Operation Bell Witch...!

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