“So, where are we going this time?” asked Edison.
“I'm still considering that,” said the Duke. “I haven't quite decided.”
“How do you decide?” asked Edison. “Is there some masterful path that we're following?”
“At the moment, I'm investigating Earth's timeline,” said the Duke.
“Hmm?” grunted Anise, leaning heavily against the console.
“I am still trying to determine who exactly the Eighty-Eight are. The Traveller seemed quite familiar with me, and implied that we have some common history, but I have yet to experience that for myself.”
“Alright then. When are we going?” asked Edison, with a smirk.
“Well . . . why don't you decide, Inspector?” asked the Duke.
“Decide where we're going?” asked Edison.
“Exactly,” said the Duke, cranking a lever which fired up the time rotor. “To which time shall we travel? You choose. Any time in Earth's preceding history or awaiting destiny.”
“I'm not quite sure,” said Edison. “Most history, to me, is more interesting to be read, not lived.”
“There's nothing in your planet's history that interests you?” asked the Duke. “It's over four billion years old, and you don't think any of that history is interesting?”
Edison considered this for a moment, rubbing his face. When he looked up waving a finger thoughtfully, the Duke smiled.
“Eighteen Eighty-Eight,” he said. “April, either the seventh or the eighth.”
“Oh?” said the Duke, setting the temporal co-ordinates. “You seem to have changed your mind. May I ask the significance of that date?”
“I like murder mysteries,” said Edison. “And that was the start of one of the most famous, unsolved mysteries in the history of the English police force.”
“So, you wish to find the answer? I like the sound of that, Inspector,” said the Duke, then he yanked the ignition lever. The ship began to slowly rock back and forth as they span backwards through time, the temporal engines groaning, creaking and moaning.
The Duke manned the controls, adjusting their course as they flew, to maintain a steady flight.
“Duke?” murmured Anise. “I don't . . .”
Suddenly, Anise collapsed against the console. Alarms started beeping and the ship groaned and whined.
“Anise!” screamed the Duke. He ran over, but the ship had swayed towards him and he had to ascend the incline.
“What is it?!” Called Edison, as he ran over to help.
“She's activated the weapons' targeting system!” said the Duke. He carefully slid Anise to the floor, laying her down and Edison headed over to tend to her as the Duke deactivated that octant of the console, silencing the alarms. Edison was still too far away, so before returning to the helm, the Duke leaned down to Anise on the floor.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“No . . .” she said, her eyes turning glassy. Suddenly, she sat up and bit him in the neck.
“DUKE!!” screamed Edison.
The Duke cried out in wordless pain, his hands slowly reaching to grab Anise but they grew weaker and weaker as she dug her teeth deeper into his flesh.
Edison was at a loss for words. More and more alerts and warnings started to flash on the console as Anise drained the life out of the time lord. Finally, the Duke's body collapsed on top of her, but Anise pushed him aside, he fell on his back, two small, slightly bloodied punctures in his neck standing out from where she'd bitten him. Edison was at a loss for words as he looked at the unmoving form of the Duke. That's when the ship crashed.
Edison flew from his feet. His back hit the far wall of the console room and he fell forward onto hands and knees. Anise held tightly onto the console to ride out the crash, but it was all over in less than 10 seconds. A high-pitched shriek followed by a thunderous boom as they collided with something, then hissing steam, fizzling sparks and a shift in momentum as they felt the impact.
Edison staggered to his feet and assessed the situation. The console was beeping and chirruping warnings as sparks erupted from the top of the column. The time rotor was still grinding and wheezing, but the ship was motionless. The Duke had slid closer to him, and Edison could see his cold, lifeless eyes. And Anise stood by the console, her teeth - and fangs - bared.
As quickly as his shaking hands could muster, Edison drew his gun and pointed it at Anise. After a moment's hesitation, he turned off the safety.
“Stand back, you!” he shouted, his voice wavering and fearful, full of adrenaline. “Don't you make me pull the trigger!”
The woman before him was a stranger, but he recognized her face as Anise. The expression was foreign, but the body was hers.
“Please . . . don't make me.”
Anise hissed angrily,
“Help . . . me!” she growled through gritted teeth. Then she turned and ran for the door. It opened automatically and she fled. Edison wasn't sure how to react, he felt like he should follow her, but the Duke's body was still lying on the floor in front of him. After a moment of pointing his gun at the open door, he returned it to his belt pack and leaned down next to the Duke. He placed two fingers against the Duke's neck, closed his eyes and silently begged for a heartbeat. He felt a slow, calm pulse in the Duke's neck, and was relieved, but the Duke wasn't moving.
“Duke?” said Edison. He tapped the Duke's cheek, but due to his nervous energy he ended up lightly smacking his face four times very quickly. “Duke, wake up.”
The Duke didn't move.
“Duke?” said Edison. and he tapped his other cheek, starting to panic.
The Duke sat bolt upright and inhaled deeply.
“JESUS!” screamed Edison, almost jumping out of his skin.
“Inspector . . .?” the Duke said, coughing. “I feel terrible.”
“You're terrible? You scared the crap out of me, I nearly had a heart attack!”
“I suppose you could say the same of me,” slurred the Duke, he wiped his hand against his neck and looked at the blood on his fingers. “Help me get to my feet, would you?”
Edison nodded to himself and grabbed the Duke's hand to lift him up. He was quite heavy and when he was on his feet he had to lean against the console to stay upright.
“What the hell just happened? What happened to Anise? Where the hell did she go?”
“I've lost a lot of blood, Inspector,” said the Duke, shuffling along the console and talking slowly, “so could you ask one question at a time?”
“What happened to you?” asked Edison.
“Could you please get me a bandage? There's a first aid kit in the compartment there.” said the Duke pointing to the far wall. Edison headed over to the wall, with alternating squares and octagon pattern in the metal. He clicked a roundel panel which popped out a handle, and he pulled it up to open the wall compartment like a roller door.
“For reasons which . . . I don't know, Anise attempted to drain all of my blood,” muttered the Duke. “She damned near would have succeeded, but one of my hearts stopped beating, to stem the flow of blood.”
“Your heart stopped?”
“Yes, but the other one kept me alive,” said the Duke. “Two hearts; twice the . . . circulation system. Means I kept enough blood to survive . . .”
Edison found a square, metal box with a green crescent moon symbol on it and brought it over to the console. He opened it and found a bandage inside, but it looked soiled with damp patches of some orange substance alternating along the entire thing.
“I think it's dirty,” said Edison, holding it up. The Duke took it from him anyway.
“It's medicine,” said the Duke. He unrolled two feet of the bandage and tore it off with his teeth, then tied the piece of cloth around his neck. “It will absorb into my skin, and help to heal and clean the wound.”
“Alright, but what about Anise?” asked Edison. “What the hell happened to her?”
“I have no worldly idea . . .” said the Duke.
“It's like she was a vampire.”
“A what?” said the Duke. “Help me to the couch, would you?”
“A vampire,” said Edison, as he held the Duke's arm to walk him across the room. “They're a myth. They grow fangs, drink blood and burn in sunlight.”
“I can think of several aliens with those characteristics,” muttered the Duke as he sat down, sighing heavily as he did so. “But, Anise is not one of them, she's human.”
“Yeah, but vampires are said to be undead humans.”
“Un-dead? Do you mean 'alive'?” asked the Duke, frowning deeply.
“No, undead. Y'know, dead, but not really dead.”
“Anise isn't dead,” said the Duke. “And she's not a vampire. She's a human that's been infected with . . . something.”
“Something? That doesn't help at all.”
“Edison . . .” growled the Duke. “I'm trying very hard not to pass out right now, could you permit me some breathing room?”
“Right, right. I'm sorry,” said Edison, running a hand through his blond hair. “But what are we going to do now?”
“First, I'm going to need a drink of water. Second, we're going to find out where we are, and try to figure out what's become of Anise . . .”
The Duke sat his head back on the couch. He looked very tired as he closed his eyes and exhaled deeply.
“Then what?” asked Edison.
“Then . . . then we bring her back.”
Edison helped the Duke to rehydrate with water from the lower decks and got him back on his feet, but he was still severely weakened, stumbling from the couch towards the console.
“We're looking for a parasite,” said the Duke grabbing the console to stand. “Whatever she has, it's not airborne, waterborne or passed by skin contact since otherwise, we'd be affected . . .” the Duke said, he spoke fast but he was slurring some of his words. “It's not bloodborne, since I'm unaffected. It must be an insidious parasite.”
He shuffled around the console until he found the right section.
“And it must have an incubation period, since she hasn't been alone for over two days, so she must have ” the Duke paused for a moment. “Unless she was bitten by something while in your presence, such as when I was kidnapped by the Traveller.”
“Hold on, wait wait wait . . . how do you know we aren't affected?”
“Because we're not showing symptoms,” said the Duke.
“But she wasn't showing symptoms either until she up and bit you.”
“ . . . fair point,” said the Duke. He shuffled to the right and started typing on an oddly-shaped keyboard. Edison watched the holographic screens appear, two circles each showing an image of both himself and the Duke which said “Full Body Scan in progress”. After a moment, the images flickered through their skeletal systems, circulatory systems and muscles. Finally the scan completed, and floating letters appeared beside each of the circles.
the first read: "Edison - Full Body Scan Complete - HEALTHY" andEach of the diagnoses had a section of fineprint underneath, with the detailed results of the comprehensive scan.
the other read: "ρ1Θη0 - Full Body Scan Complete - HYPOVOLEMIA"
“What the hell is that?” asked Edison, pointing to the Greek letters.
“That's my name,” said the Duke, dismissively. "Neither of us are infected.”
"But you're low on blood," said Edison. The Duke smacked the panel and the holographic screen vanished. Flicking a switch, a slightly transparent, blue hologram of Earth appeared, about the size of a basketball.
“Thank god we're still on Earth. But where on Earth?” asked Edison.
“There,” said the Duke, pointing to a blue square on the holographic globe, situated in above in the Mediterranean sea, in the middle of a Western European landmass.
“Where exactly is that?” asked Edison, squinting.
“I don't know what it's called,” said the Duke. “I'm not from here, remember.”
“Well, I don't know where it is either, I suck at geography. What about the year?”
“Sixteen hundred and nine.”
“Alright . . . that doesn't help much either.”
“Then we'll have to work it out as we go,” said the Duke. “Come on, we'd best be going.”
The Duke stepped away from the console, but rather than walk to the door, he stumbled to the far wall, over the Persian-style rug and leant heavily against the wall next to a wooden umbrella stand with gold trimmings.
“Duke, this is ridiculous, you can barely walk.”
“I'm fine!” growled the Duke. He leaned down and he retrieved a short, black and silver rod of some sort from the umbrella stand. It was a foot long, had an ornate handle which looked like a doorhandle set atop a ring and chrome bands around the ends. The Duke clenched the handle and with a little schwick! of metal it quickly extended into a walking stick. The Duke leant on it heavily and walked towards the door, which opened automatically.
“Why do you have a walking stick in your control room?” asked Edison.
“I had weaker legs in my youth,” said the Duke heading into the lobby. “Now, enough questions. Come on, Inspector. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to find Anise.”
As soon as he stepped into the lobby, the Duke slammed into the right wall and cried out, more from shock than pain.
"Duke! Are you alright?!" yelled Edison as he ran over to help. But he watched as the Duke lifted his legs off the floor and knelt sideways. "What the . . .?"
"The ship landed at an angle," said the Duke, rubbing his sore arm. "Watch your step."
The Duke opened the door and climbed out, with considerable effort. Edison was fascinated as he walked into the lobby. Out the door he could see the dark horizon, green hills and the shadows of tangled, twisted trees; but it was all sideways, tilted almost seventy-five degrees counter-clockwise from his standing position.
Edison reached both hands into the lobby, and by swivelling on his foot he rolled inside and fell onto both hands, and found himself pressed against the wall via gravity, arms out, as though he were doing push-ups, he was staring straight at the glass wall, and through it he saw brown dirt and he could hear running water. He shuffled out of the door sideways, stepping over the door jamb and stood up.
"That was weird," said Edison, rubbing the mud and grass off his hands. After cleaning most of the muck off his hands, he took his flashlight from his belt and checked his surroundings. He turned to see the ship, using his flashlight to see. The Lift was in the guise of a glass, cylindrical elevator, with metal on the roof and base, each etched with fine details, and it was sitting in a one-foot deep moulded divot in the grass created by the force of its impact with the ground. along the ground behind it was a smear of mud that began at the river nearby.
He turned around to see the Duke looking off in the distance, hunched slightly because of his walking stick.
"So, where do we start?"
"We know one thing for sure about our parasite," said the Duke, before turning around to face his companion. "It drinks blood, so it will probably be looking for more."
"So, we're looking for people?"
"Or animals, yes."
Edison started walked away from the river and scanning the ground with his mag-lite as he slowly made his way up the embankment.
"What are you doing, Inspector?"
"I'm inspecting," said Edison, he rose up to the top of the slope where there was a dirt path and then scanned the ground with his flashlight. “Well, looky here . . .”
“What is it?” asked the Duke as he hobbled up the embankment.
“How many people do you know that would have rubber-soled sneakers in the sixteen-hundreds?”
The Duke joined Edison and saw a detailed shoe-print in the dirt path.
“Is that an anachronism?” asked the Duke.
“No, it's a shoeprint. But it doesn't belong in this time period, it can only belong to Anise.”
“Good work, Inspector. Lead the way,” said the Duke, gesturing along the path. Edison began walking down the path, with the Duke keeping up pace behind him, the dirt crunching underneath their feet.
“Is this really what we're doing? Hunting down Anise?” asked Edison. “I mean, it's Anise.”
“It's her body, not her mind.”
“But what do we do when we catch her? Before she ran, she spoke to me. She said 'help me' . . . is Anise still in there somewhere? Or was that the parasite, playing tricks?”
“I don't know, Inspector. But that parasite must be weak. It fed on me the instant it gained control, so it must have been starved. Perhaps she was still fighting it when she spoke to you. In either case, if we get to Anise quickly enough, we can restrain her, return to the ship and use the ship's equipment to disinfect her.”
“That's a brilliant plan, Duke. But you seem to be forgetting that I have no idea how to catch a vicious, vampire infection-bug Anise-thing. And you're half-drained of a vital fluid. How are we going to restrain Anise? Wave your cane at her?” asked Edison.
“You know, there was a saying back on Rathea . . .” said the Duke, sounding exhausted as he spoke through gritted teeth. “Don't question the duke!”
Anise watched the town precariously balanced atop a gnarled bough. It was almost entirely silent, still and dark. Almost. Her eyes stalked the quiet streets, scanning for unwary prey; she looked the picture of a predator, but behind those eyes she was terrified.
The Duke is dead. The Duke is dead and I killed him . . .
What's that movement? . . . just a rabbit, not worth the effort.
I watched the life drain from his body . . . I'm a monster . . .
There! The peasant woman, old but full-blooded. They watched as an old woman wandered out of a simple, stone house, headed to the privy.
No no no, please, no! Don't hurt her! she screamed, and tried to stop herself. All these voices in her head, it was difficult to tell them apart. Anise had so little control, but managed to tighten the grip of her fingers on the tree branch above, she wanted to hold back, to hold herself there, keep the monster here.
“Let go,” Anise snarled. If you could stop me, you would have saved the alien.
I won't let you do this.
“Stop . . .” Anise grunted through gritted teeth. “Help . . .”
Her fingers wouldn't loosen, but with a loud snap! Anise yanked the branch off the tree. Anise's eyes flickered back to the peasant woman, she was looking off towards them, trying to find the source of the sound.
Anise growled, viciously. Now it will try to run, we'll have to rip it's throat . . .
No! Please. stop this!
The more you fight me, the worse it will be for both of us . . .
Edison and the Duke moved at a steady pace along the path, despite the Duke's limp, headed into a little village. The sun had yet to rise, but there was a soft, blue light in the sky so they could see the small cobblestone and brick houses around them, many with large yards fenced in around them for farming. However, Edison concentrated on the ground, watching with his torch.
“Her footprints have definitely disappeared,” said Edison as they wandered deeper into the village.
“Perhaps the ground is firmer here,” muttered the Duke.
“No, look,” Edison turned around and pointed the torch behind him. “See? You can just see my footprints. The arch there. The toe . . . I think we're going the wrong way.”
“We're definitely not going the wrong way,” said the Duke.
“What makes you so sure?”
“I can smell blood . . .” said the Duke, gesturing along a side path with his free hand, leaning his right on the walking stick. “Down that way.”
The pair of them walked slowly down the path, but Edison's torchlight quickly fell on the body in the middle of the road.
“Oh my word . . .” muttered the Duke. He stood over the body, leaning heavily on his cane as Edison knelt down to inspect the body. She had collapsed and was lying a a grisly, disconcerting angle. Her legs played like the hands of a broken clock, stark and lifeless.
“She's as pale as paper,” said Edison, grimly. “Her legs have been broken and her throat has been, slashed.”
“No blood fell on the ground,” said the Duke. “Only upon her gown.”
“But she's anaemic. She must have been drained as well . . .” said Edison. He leant forward and touched the woman's cheek. “Cold, but not freezing . . . in this temperature, she couldn't have been killed very long ago.”
Edison stood up, still looking down at the body in his torchlight.
“I don't know, Duke. This is getting serious if she's killing people.”
“We have to continue on the trail. Has she left any more footprints?”
“Not that I can see . . . she mustn't be running along the path anymore. I'm not good enough to follow a trail over the grass,” Edison said glancing at the fences either side, and the houses. “We'd best get moving, we don't want to be spotted when the townspeople wake up.”
“But where do we go next, Inspector?” asked the Duke.
“I don't know, Duke . . .”
“You're an Inspector . . . inspect,” growled the Duke. “You're not thinking clearly. Consider: she fell on her back, and was slashed on her front, which means Anise was facing . . .”
The Duke limped around to stand at the foot of the body. “ . . . thusly.”
“Well, leaning down,” said Edison, then he frowned slightly, “ . . . but the look of the blood on her gown means she was standing when her throat was cut . . .”
“So if she ran, she would have fled that way,” said the Duke, pointing down the road.
“Not necessarily. She ran up that way, she could have turned back,” said Edison. He moved back down the road. “Duke, over here.”
The Duke turned to see Edison pointing his torch at a deep shoeprint in the packed, dirt road. It was a lot clearer than the shoeprints they had been following.
“She jumped,” said Edison, pointing at the nearby house. “Off that roof or perhaps the fence. She must have jumped down here for the force to have left this imprint.”
Edison turned around, following the point of the shoeprint's toe-tip, and it lead right back to the body.
“That explains how we lost her footprints along the path,” said the Duke. “She's not running along the path.”
“Then, we're stuffed” said Edison. “If she's not running along the path, then how can we follow her?”
The Duke inhaled deeply as he considered.
“You're forgetting something, Inspector. I can smell blood.”
“I can't,” said Edison. “What does that mean?”
“This poor woman's body was exsanguinated,” said the Duke. “But I can still smell it, off in that direction,” said the Duke, pointing over the houses on the other side of the path.
“You think you can smell Anise?” asked Edison. “What are you, a bloodhound?”
“No, I just have experienced senses,” said the Duke, glancing at Edison. “It's a common trait amongst Gallifreyans.”
“Galley-what? I thought you were . . . like, Rathean.”
“I'm a lot of things. Quickly, now.”
The Duke began limping down the path, following his nose towards their quarry.
The pair of them crossed the river and followed the path around as the sun began to rise at the cockerel's call. Atop a large hill before them, they saw the side of a stocky, stone castle, masterfully hewn and visible from far across the land now that the sun lit it.
Edison returned his torch to his belt as the path before himself and the Duke curved, to lead around to the front of the castle, where presumably another path lead to the entrance. But the Duke stopped and stepped away from the path, turning towards the brush which was scattered around the base of the hill. There, he stood and looked up at the castle.
“Drat . . .” growled the Duke, softly.
“What is it?” asked Edison.
“The scent trail leads this way,” said the Duke, pointing up to the top of the hill. “And, as you can see . . .”
The Duke lowered his gesture to point to something shining white in the light of the sun. They were torn and broken, but they were unmistakably a pair of white running shoes.
“Do you think she knows we were following her?” asked Edison.
“No,” said the Duke. “Most likely, she needed bare feet to climb the hill.”
“But why? Why would she go to the trouble to climb up to the castle?”
“She hunts in the dark, perhaps she rests in the day. It's a large building, big enough to hide in.”
“Well, how can we get inside?” asked Edison. “We can't go up that way.”
“I'm afraid we'll have to get in the old-fashioned way. Knocking on the front door.”
“You think they'll let us in?” asked Edison.
The Duke untied the bandage from around his neck and put it in his pocket.
“They'll let in a duke,” said the Duke. “Go fetch those shoes, and we'll make ourselves look a little more presentable, shall we?”
“The shoes? What for?”
“We're in a different time, Inspector. This is no place to be leaving temporal litter, as there's no telling who might pick it up.”
As Edison picked up the shredded remains, the Duke checked to see what was in his pockets. when he returned, the Duke took the shoes and stuffed them into a large pocket near the base of his leather coat. Then he used his old bandage and wrapped it around Edison's neck, folding it into a loose knot, hiding the soiled portion of the cloth within the knot, the Duke tied the bandage into a makeshift cravat, tucking the torn ends into the v-neck of Edison's grey shirt.
“There, much more regal. You'll be my valet, do you understand?”
“Not really. How are we going to catch Anise if we're busy playing valet?”
“We'll ask very nicely.”
The Duke slammed his fist into the large gate several times, sending echoes through the morning stillness.
“I'm the Duke of Rathea, and I demand you open this door!”
“Uh, Duke?” said Edison, in a harsh whisper. “Do you really think we'll get in their good books by waking everyone up ten minutes after sunrise?!”
“It's a matter of emergency, we have to find Anise.”
“But we can't tell them that! If we say Anise is a vampire, they'll probably burn her at the stake.”
“Then we'll withhold the knowledge that she's infected with an alien parasite. We'll tell them she's . . . sick.”
“Why will they listen to us anyway?”
“I told you, Edison, I'm a duke. Open this door!” yelled the Duke, banging the gate again.
“Hold up, sir,” called a voice from above, from out of the window of a guard watch box.. “We hear you, the messenger's just announcing your arrival.”
“Thank you!” called back Edison, before turning back to whisper to the Duke. “That's another thing, you can't be 'Duke of Rathea' here.”
“Well, what do you suggest?”
“I dunno. Say you're the duke of . . . Russia or something.”
“The duke of what?”
“It's a country. I think they have dukes. Or czars of something . . . what's important is that Russia isn't thirty billion lightyears away.”
“Two point five million,” corrected the Duke. “But alright, if you insist. I'm the Duke of Russia.”
After a few minutes, the doors slowly opened, and revealed behind them a large, well-tended garden and courtyard, and in the middle of the path stood a dwarf, well-dressed, but not ornately. Duke and Edison were speechless for a moment.
“Hello, comrade,” said Edison, putting on a bad, Russian accent. The Duke slowly turned to look at him.
“Don't do that again,” he said. He turned back to the little man. “Good morning, sir. I'm the Duke of Ra-Russia. I apologize if this is early, but this is an emergency. Are you the master of this domain?”
“I am Fizckó,” replied the man. “I serve Lady Trencsén, but I'm afraid she has no time for visitors at the moment. I'm sure you understand.”
“I'm not sure you understand, sir,” said the Duke slowly as he limped a few steps towards the little man. “I'm the Duke. And this is an emergency. There is a killer loose in your castle. Decorum be damned, man! Your lady is in danger!”
“A killer?” asked Fizckó. “And you two know who he is?”
“Anise Trevino,” said Edison.
“Come this way,” said the man, turning and waddling down the path. It looked as though one of his legs were shorter than the other, as his gait leant to the left. The Duke and Edison followed, walking calmly as he walked briskly on short legs.
“The word from castle guard is that a man snuck into the castle in the morning hours, at the change of the guard. If he supposed he'd not be seen in the confusion, he was mistaken, there were more eyes to watch him scale the wall.”
“It's not a man,” said the Duke. “Anise is from my own palace, and she is a very cunning woman.”
“Aren't they all, sir?” joked Fizckó. “We're on alert, just protecting the silver and linen.”
“You'll need more than that,” said the Duke.
The lot of them passed through another secure door before entering the castle, proper. There were attendants by the door and Fizckó approached the nearer man.
“Tell Lady Trencsén that there's a criminal in the castle, and two guests looking for them: The Duke of Russia and his man.”
The attendant disappeared into the castle. It was surprisingly warm and well-lit for a stone castle. With lush carpet, detailed portraits, and exquisite architecture and furniture. There were more servants in the castle, many could be seen walking swiftly around in the areas through the open archways.
“So, this killer lady of yours,” said Fizckó, “she must be mighty important if the Duke of Russia is after her. With the troubles in Muscovy, it's odd that you would travel so far after one girl. And with only one man.”
The Duke considered this a moment.
“She's my daughter,” he said, clicking his fingers. “Yes, daughter, you understand my dilemma?”
“Only too well,” said Fizckó.
From deeper in the castle, they heard the fussing of handmaidens, then a well-dressed woman entered the room, with a trail of servants behind her. her skin was pale and her hair was brown, and woven neatly behind her. She wore an exquisite, red dress with a high collar, frills and embroidery common of that era. And she had wide, expressive brown eyes, but their only expression was one of mild disinterest as she approached the duo.
“May I introduce, The Right Honourable Countess of Trencsén, Báthory Erzsebet.”
Edison frowned for a second, then a look of horror.
“Bat-tory?” he murmured to himself. She stood before them, looking cold and humourless.
“Who are you?” asked the Countess, sounding bored. then suddenly she shouted at Edison “Address him, man!”
“My Lady,” said Edison, flinching. “Uh . . . The Great Duke of Russia . . .uh . . .”
He glanced at the Duke, but he offered no help as to his name.
“Piono . . . Trevino.” he managed.
“Your Serenity,” said the Countess, “why are you in Slovakia?”
“We're here after my daughter,” said the Duke. “She fled from me, and we believe she has breached your castle, hiding somewhere within.”
She stared at the Duke in a way that made Edison uncomfortable. Her eyes didn't move a millimetre, unflinching.
“Breached?” she said, the word foreign on her tongue.
“She snuck in, my Lady,” said Fizckó.
“Another one?” she said.
“The same one. The thief is a woman,” said Fizckó.
“And a killer,” said the Duke.
“ . . . You're here to get rid of the thief in my castle?” she asked the Duke.
“Absolutely,” said the Duke. She considered this a moment, glancing back and forth between the two of them.
“Oh, thank God,” said the Countess. She put a hand to her face, suddenly tearing up. She waved another dainty hand at her face as though to fan the tears. “That monster of a woman! She's killed my bedmaid!”
“My Lady?” said Fizckó, confused.
“Yes, in the gardens! I saw her there.”
“Would you come with me?” Fizckó asked the pair of them.
“Of course,” said the Duke and they followed the man again, this time through the castle.
“Duke . . .?” whispered Edison.
“What is it?” asked the Duke.
“We're in terrible danger,” said Edison. He glanced at Fizckó and spoke quieter. “That's Elizabeth Bathory.”
“What does that mean?” asked the Duke.
“You know, Eliz- . . . that's right, you're not from here,” sighed Edison.
“Is everything alright, sirs?” asked Fizckó, turning to look at the pair of them.
“Yes, what is it, Edison?” asked the Duke, stopping and staring at him. Edison glanced at Fizckó warily, he knew the dwarf couldn't be trusted.
“Bathory is . . .” Edison considered a moment. “Steeking.”
“Pardon?” asked the Duke, then in a low growl through clenched teeth asked “How do you know that name?”
“Deep in your ship, I met him,” said Edison. “And she is like him.”
“It's this way to the gardens, sirs,” said Fizckó.
“I understand,” said the Duke, replying to Fizckó, but looking at Edison. “Completely.”
The woman was battered and bruised, all over her arms and face., and the lower half of her dress was covered in blood. She had been discarded in an area surrounded by a large, stone wall and filled with trees.
“What do you think, Inspector?” asked the Duke, sadly.
“It's a classic case, Duke . . .”
“What do you mean?,” asked Fizckó. “A classic case of what?”
“Uh, Anise,” said Edison. “. . . 'Anise' is famous for torturing young girls. burning or cutting their thighs. Beating them. They say it's a . . . beauty thing.”
“You're saying there are two monsters here?” asked the Duke, quietly.
“No,” said Edison, but he raised his eyebrows and nodded his head.
“Well, that explains why she was attracted here,” said the Duke. “The smell of blood. I thought it was her, but we were following the same trail.”
“She's trying to pin it on her,” said Edison.
“In any case, this won't lead us closer to her,” said the Duke.
“She won't come here?” asked Edison.
“She already did,” said the Duke, he pointed up at the stone wall. “Even from up there, she could see the blood has dried.”
“Then this is a dead end. No clues as to where she is.”
“Who is she trying to blame?” asked Fizckó. “I don't understand, this is simple murder, isn't it?”
“She's blaming it on Anise,” said Edison. “I mean, Báthory.”
“What are you two playing at?” asked the dwarf, stepping closer. “The Lady Trencsén is not involved in this grisly business.”
“Of course not,” said the Duke. “However, our quarry is hiding in the castle, somewhere. We'll need to search it, top to bottom.”
“Our own men are searching every room.”
“They won't be good enough,” said the Duke. Fizckó considered him a moment.
“I'll ask the Countess.” Fizckó turned and waddled back into the castle.
“He can't be trusted,” said Edison. “History says she had a few accomplices, one of them a little cripple named Fizckó.”
“No one can be trusted,” said the Duke. “Even we can't be trusted. Lies upon lies, it's making my head spin.”
“So, are we going to go searching rooms, then?”
“No, she's mobile, if we search each room one by one, she'll just keep moving. What we need is a way to track her.”
“Mobile . . .” said Edison.
“Yes, she moves quite quickly.”
“No, mobile,” said Edison, he opened up his hiking pack and took out his iPhone. “Everyone in London has a mobile phone, but no one in this era would. Can't you track something like this?”
“What is it?” asked the Duke, stepping closer.
“it's called a mobile phone, you dial a number and it calls another phone, so you can talk between them.”
The Duke took the phone from Edison's hand and reached into his coat, retrieving his laser spanner.
“Can you call her now?”
“Well, no. You need a cell tower to transmit the signal, and they won't be built for four hundred years, and I don't know her number.”
The Duke pointed his spanner at the phone, a series of coloured lights flickered from the two prongs of the spanner and the screen of the phone flickered with graphical glitches and programming code.
“This uses a primitive signal . . .” muttered the Duke. “But the range is impressive, I can relay the signal through the timeship's communication system. Use that as a rudimentary
'cell tower'. You say Anise has one of these?”
“In all likelihood, yes. Can you track it?”
“No,” said the Duke. “We'd have to go back to the timeship to hone in on her device. However . . .”
The Duke selected the keypad and dialled a number. After a few seconds, they heard an electronic ringing sound from within the castle. With a glance at one another, the two ran after the sound.
“How do you know her phone number?” asked Edison.
“I don't,” said the Duke. “I set it to call every other phone on Earth, simultaneously. Luckily for us, there's only one here.”
“You're a genius,” said Edison.
Slipping past some servants, the duo came to the stairs and made their way up as quick as they could. Edison grabbed the Duke's arm to help him, but as they reached the top of the stairs, the phone stopped ringing.
“What happened?” asked the Duke, glancing at the phone in his hand. “Does it only ring for a short time?”
“It rings longer than that, usually,” said Edison, then he joined the Duke looking at the phone. He saw the call timer slowly ticking away. “She answered the phone . . .”
The Duke looked confused, so Edison took the phone from him.
“Anise? Is that you?” he said into the phone, as they climbed to the top of the stairs.
“I don't like being hunted,” said Anise, but she spoke without her usual chavish accent or enthusiasm, it obviously wasn't Anise herself speaking, but the parasite speaking through her. Edison also heard someone else moaning in the background of the call.
“The ringing came from that way,” said the Duke, pointing down the corridor. They walked slowly down the hall.”
“You started it,” said Edison. “We're looking for you.”
“I know. I want you to stop.”
“What is she saying?” asked the Duke.
“I don't want to die-” Edison pressed the loudspeaker “-you're trying to stop me. I did nothing to you, and you're trying to kill me.”
“We don't want to hurt you,” said the Duke.
“We don't?” said Edison under his breath. The Duke ignored him.
“However, you've taken our friend, and we want her returned.”
“She is ours,” said the parasite within Anise. “Without her, we cannot survive . . . Stop Me!”
Suddenly Anise growled and they heard more struggling and moaning on the phone.
“Down there,” said Edison, pointing to the far room. They ran over and burst in. They found a bedroom, and by the bed Anise was standing with phone to her ear in one hand, and her other held a handmaiden, arm around her neck grabbing the lower half of the girl's jaw with her hand, the long claws ready to tear out her tongue. Both of her hands had claws, several inches long, her toes were also sharper, as were her teeth, bared, and blood stained her purple shirt.
“I thought you'd find me,” said the parasite. “So I brought a friend.”
The servant girl looked terrified, but couldn't speak or scream with Anise's fingers in her mouth.
“Don't hurt her, don't hurt anyone else, we just want Anise back,” said the Duke.
“I killed you,” said the parasite.
“I'm not that easy to kill,” said the Duke. “Tell me what you are, and I can help you. I can take you somewhere safe, where people like me won't try to stop you.”
Anise shakes her head.
“You want me dead, I can see it. The Eighty-Eight wanted to kill me too, just for feeding. I need to feed, or I'll die!”
“Not on humans,” said the Duke. “You drank my blood, so if you can feed on other creatures, I can take you to a world with animals larger than this continent. You could feed for a lifetime on one creature. Just give me back Anise.”
The parasite looked interested but still fearful. The maid in her arms wailed, tearfully.
“I can't sleep until they die,” growled the parasite. “I feed until I sleep. If I can't feed, I die!”
“It's not always that simple,” said the Duke.
“You're lying! You're the Eighty-Eight! You're lying to me! You're all lying! . . . Let go.”
“Anise?” said Edison.
“Help me . . . No!” the parasite screamed and dug its fangs into the maiden's neck, the girl began screaming.
“Anise!” yelled the Duke.
The stone wall behind Anise popped and pieces of debris went flying as the bullet hit it. The maiden dropped limply to the floor and, in a panic, Anise leapt across the room, and slipped out the window. Edison was breathing heavily as he lowered his gun.
“Edison . . .” the Duke stammered, shocked. “You'd shoot her?”
“What the hell else was I going to do?!” screamed Edison. “She would have died.”
He bent down to check on the woman.
“She's just fainted,” said the Duke, dismissively. “We need to return to the ship.”
“What? We can't leave now,” said Edison, he crawled over the carpet and picked up Anise's phone which she'd dropped as she fled. “We can't track her anymore.”
“I know how to track her now, but we'll need to return to the ship,” said the Duke.
The residents of Cachtice Castle were keen to throw out the Duke and his meddlesome companion; thankfully they were done playing Russian with the Báthory lot and went back to the ship. Edison spent the trip, explaining the history of Elizabeth Bathory to the Duke, and wondering if they were contributing to the vampire myth. The Duke didn't speak at all, not until they returned to the ship, still laying on its side by the river.
“Help me lift this, will you?” asked the Duke. Edison assumed it would be heavy, due to its contents, but the Lift weighed no more than what it appeared to be; it wasn't light, but together they managed to stand it on its base. It was smeared with mud and stood slanted on the riverside, but it was much easier to enter. Then the Duke walked right inside.
“You said we can track Anise with this?” asked Edison.
“Yes,” said the Duke, as he hobbled over to the console.
“How?” asked Edison. Hooking his cane to the edge, the Duke typed on the computer section of the console. A holographic screen appeared which read 'T.T. Capsule Information System'.
“When it was screaming, the creature described its life-cycle: feed, die, sleep - it gave me all the information I need to narrow down the species. A parasitic, mind-controlling, teratomutating bloodsucker with a life-cycle of infection, consumption, then hibernation.” The database responded by opening a file, with the spinning image of a luminescent, fat, blue worm and several lines of data titled 'Gemohane Leech'. “Gee-mow-ha-nay . . . it could be no other.”
“Alright, how do we track it?”
“Heat. This leech comes from a much colder climate - hence the hibernation - Anise will be several dozen degrees hotter than a regular human . . . ”
“Alright, let's track her,” said Edison. The Duke typed in some information into the computer.
“Already done,” said the Duke. Then he leaned against the console, head down.
“Okay . . . now what?”
“Now, we need to come up with something brilliant,” said the Duke.
“I believe that's your department,” said Edison, with a smirk, but the Duke continued staring at the console.
“I'm a fool,” said the Duke.
“What are you on about?” asked Edison.
“It's my fault,” said the Duke. “The Eighty-Eight. The creature kept talking on and on about the Eighty-Eight. It must have come from the warehouse.”
“What warehouse? What the hell are you talking about, Duke?”
“Before you came aboard, Anise asked to travel with me. I felt that I owed her that much and I thought it would be safe. Then we met with soldiers in a warehouse stockpiling alien artefacts. We escaped just in time, but she left my sight, she must have been infected then.”
“So, why does that matter?”
“Because it was my fault!” screamed the Duke, turning around. “She was there because of me! I left, but I came back from Rathea to travel with her! It's my fault she's was infected, it's my fault she's a murderer and it's my fault we're in this mess! If I had stayed on Rathea, this never would have happened!”
“What do you want me to say, Duke?” said Edison, looking confused. “Do you want me to say 'It's alright'; 'it'll be okay'? . . . I'm out of my goddamned league, here. You can't go losing your head now as we get to the home plate. I can't do this without you, I didn't understand half of what you said. Meanwhile, that Anise-leech thing is out there, raising hell.”
“I don't know what to do, Edison,” said the Duke. “If it were anyone else, I'd just kill them. I don't know how I can save her . . . But I don't think I have the hearts to kill her . . .”
“Hey! We're not killing anybody!” yelled Edison. “You're the Duke of Rathea, man! Think! We have this database in front of us, surely we can use it to identify some kind of . . . Achilles heel. Does the Gemohane leech have a weakness?”
The console beeped behind the Duke, and the page of data scrolled down and enlarged a specific portion.
“Biological weaknesses of the Gemohane leech,” Edison read aloud. “That's helpful.”
“How did you do that?” asked the Duke half-mindedly as he read the screen.
“I dunno. It's your ship . . .” muttered Edison.
“Fragile skin membrane. Must feed regularly. Here,” the Duke pointed at the holographic screen. “Highly susceptible to alcohol, even small traces, induces vomiting and disorientation.”
“Alcohol? So, we throw some beer in her face and she's fine?”
“No, it says the skin membrane is fragile. We need her to drink it,” said the Duke.
“How the hell can we do that? Throw a kegger?”
“She drinks blood, doesn't she?” asked the Duke. “If I drink enough alcohol for it to diffuse into my blood, she need merely drink it, and the leech will lose control.”
“You're gonna get drunk?” asked Edison, he smirked at the thought, then frowned. “Duke, you can't. You're still low on blood from the last time she bit you. Do you want her to drain the other half?”
“I'll be fine,” said the Duke.
“No,” said Edison, he unwrapped the cravat from his neck and handed it to the Duke. “I'll do it.”
The Duke was grim-faced, he didn't like the idea, but nonetheless he nodded his approval.
The Duke descended into the ship's cellar and returned with two large bottles of a dark liquid he called “an antique vintage of black wine” and a silver goblet decorated with blue stones. After only two glasses, Edison was feeling lightheaded. By the third, he was starting to go red in the cheeks and had to sit down.
“Are you alright, Inspector?” asked the Duke.
“Uh, y-yeah . . . of course of course.” said Edison, flopping his hand dismissively.
“Have you never drunk wine before?” asked the Duke. Edison laughed out loud.
“Nope,” he said. “Have you?”
“When the occasion calls for it. But never this quickly,” the Duke said, refilling Edison's goblet. “You're going to be terribly dehydrated in a few hours, but I daren't dilute your blood-alcohol.”
“I can't see you drinkin',” said Edison, drinking. “I can't see you doin' anythingk fun. Nothing that doesn't involve the . . . the 'world' coming to an end.”
The Duke just watched, stoically, as Edison sipped more wine.
“I think you like it,” said Edison.
“Like what?” said the Duke, humouring him.
“The world endin'. Or hay-liens attacking. And before? You wanted an Anise to bite you.” Edison pointed an accusing finger, forgetting that he was holding wine and spilled it on the console room tiles. “Oh, shit.”
“It's alright,” said the Duke, leaning forward. he took the remnants of the bandage-cravat from Edison's pocket and used it to wipe the floor.
“I think you're dangerous . . .” Edison whispered to the Duke, leaning next to him. “Sometimes . . . it's like you got a death wish.”
“On the subject of danger,” said the Duke, standing as Edison quaffed the wine, “And tongue-loosening liquids, I'm curious, Edison. How did you get aboard my ship?”
“I walked on,” he said between sips.
“How did you get past the door?” asked the Duke, topping up his goblet.
“You left it unlocked.”
“I didn't,” said the Duke. Edison seemed to consider this for a moment, but instead just giggled.
“I'm the Duke of Russia . . . Rarr ra ra . . .” he said, then he started laughing uncontrollably.
“I think you've had about enough . . .” said the Duke. He took the goblet from Edison's hand and returned to the console. Placing the cup by the glass column, he accessed the computer. With some quick typing, he located the human lifesign with anomalous heat signature, and plotted a course. The Duke then unhooked his cane from the edge of the console and walked around to the helm.
“Hold onto your seat, Inspector,” said the Duke.
“There aren' any seatbelts!” said Edison, giggling.
The Duke pulls the ignition lever. The console room shuddered, as they lifted off the ground. The time rotor wheezed and whirred as the Lift rose off of the ground and disappeared into the clouds.
“We should adjust our visage to something a touch more modern,” said the Duke, as he shuffled around the console. He swiped at a touchscreen, flipped a switch, twisted a dial and pressed a button, in response the ship hummed softly. “Much more apropos.”
The Duke leaned against the console walking back around, double-checked his co-ordinates, then steered the ship through the air, they slowly meandered through the sky, then the Duke sent the Lift quickly downwards. The gravity in the ship seemed to lessen slightly as they flew down. He attempted to slow their descent for a softer landing, but as they hit the ground with a firm bump, dropping the Duke to the floor.
“Duke!” slurred Edison, he stood and tried to run over to help his friend, but fell over instead and started giggling to himself.
“Anise is close, now,” said the Duke, straining as he picked himself up from the floor. “Now, we need to set up our . . . 'trap'.”
“Can you help me up?” asked Edison “I seem . . . hmm, to have lost my feet.”
The Duke looked over at the policeman, as he struggled to reach for his cane.
“I'm starting to suspect that this was a bad idea . . .”
The Lift had been re-camouflaged as a red stagecoach, and the Duke was sitting within as Edison stood outside, standing crooked and occasionally swaying and wiggling to catch his shifting weight. They had landed beside a large copse of trees, far from the homes and trails around, although they could still see the hilltop castle over the trees.
“Anise!” Edison called out. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
“Don't go yelling, Inspector,” the Duke called from the window.
“I thought we were trying to catch her,” said Edison, turning around.
“Yes, by luring her towards you. You're the bait. Yelling is doing nothing . . . except annoying me.”
“Well, how . . . hexactly is she going to find me?”
“She'll smell you,” said the Duke. “Sense your heat.”
“Smell me . . .” murmured Edison. “Then shouldn'n I smell like blood?”
“ . . . perhaps.”
Edison starts staring at his hands, then sticks his thumb in his mouth. He slowly gnaws at it, but starts making pained noises.
“Gah! That hurt,” he says, looking at his thumb. “It didn't draw blood.”
The Duke sighs heavily, picks up the wine bottle and his cane and steps out of the carriage. He walks up to Edison and in one quick move, swipes the metal handle of the cane across the back of the policeman's hand.
“Ow! You scratched me!”
The Duke raises an eyebrow and waits patiently for Edison to get a clue.
“Hey, look, I'm bleeding!” Edison says excitedly, pointing at the thin, red line on his hand.
“Here, have a drink,” said the Duke, holding out the bottle. “We need to keep your blood-alcohol at levels toxic to the leech.”
Edison takes a swig, frowning at the taste.
“This stuff is really bitter,” he said.
“Well, it's very old. Be thankful it's not vinegar,” said the Duke. He took back the bottle and returned to the carriage.
Edison folded his arms and stared at his shoes as the minutes ticked by. The sun was getting higher in the sky, approaching midday.
“Duke . . .?” said Edison.
“Duke . . . I don't feel so good,” said Edison.
“You are unhealthily inebriated,” said the Duke. “I'm sorry, but . . .”
“Butt?” said Edison, turning to the carriage again. However, the Duke had fallen silent. Within the forest, he could see a dark figure moving and they were moving very fast. It dashed through the upper branches of the trees, he couldn't see Anise, but he knew it was from the speed and ease of her movement.
“Duke? What're you . . . I feel sick.” said Edison. Suddenly he retched, and threw up black wine and bile onto the grass. As he did, Anise took that moment of weakness as a chance to attack. He wiped dark spit off of his face with his sleeve as Anise grabbed him from behind.
“Chess,” groaned Anise as she hesitated for a second, then bared her fangs and sank them into his neck.
“Guh-argh!” Edison groaned as he felt the cut into his neck. Anise fed on him hungrily curling her claws around his face, holding him tightly. The Duke watched her feed from Edison, waiting for the alcohol to affect her, but as the seconds ticked on, it felt less like he was poisoning the parasite and more like he was watching another one of his friends die.
“Edison!” screamed the Duke, leaping out of the carriage. Anise didn't react, she continued to feed. The Duke limped quickly towards her, when Anise made a strange rumbling noise in her throat, like a guttural growl, which made him stop short. At first, the Duke thought that she was growling at him, but with a snort she dropped Edison, spat out a vibrant spray of crimson blood, speckling the Duke's coat with blood and then she started coughing heavily.
The Duke saw that Edison was bleeding from two puncture holes in his neck, and was glad. Dead men don't bleed, so for now at least he knew the Inspector was alive.
“What have you done?!” shrieked the parasite, and she screamed like bloody murder.
“It's alright!” yelled the Duke. “I'm not here to kill you!”
“Liar!” screamed the parasite, blood dripping down Anise's chin as it yelled. “You're killing me!”
In a mad fit, she ran at the Duke and shoved him back. With inhuman strength, she sent the Duke flying back several metres, landing at the foot of the carriage with a sickening thump.
Anise started pulling at her hair, screaming in pain and confusion.
It was then, with cool, calm precision and drawn to the sound of screams, that Countess Báthory entered the clearing. The skirt of her dress was red with blood and she held scissors in her hand.
“You shouldn't scream so loudly,” said the Countess. “Someone might hear you.”
The Duke tried to jump to his feet, he tried to run and stop the Countess, but he was sore and weak. Edison was still collapsed and bleeding on the ground. Before he could even sit up, Anise ran at Báthory with animalistic rage. With one slash of her claws, Anise shredded the front of Báthory's dress and shoves her back, but she's starting to look sick and woozy. Báthory attacks, slashing with her scissors driving a shallow cut along Anise's neck and collar bone, then pushes her down.
“You're a murderer,” said Báthory, seething with anger. “But you're no better than any of my girls! You'll be mine as well!”
A cane smacked Báthory in the side of her head. She stumbled and dropped her scissors, but didn't fall. She regained her bearings and tries to pick up the scissors, but the Duke grabbed them as well, and they both fell to the ground, struggling, the Duke on top trying to pry the scissors from her grasp.
“You can't hurt her!” screamed the Duke.
“She's a demon! She had to die!”
The Duke took the scissors from her, but then Bathory bit the Duke on the neck. She didn't have fangs, but her teeth dug in painfully. The Duke cried out as she threw him off and stood up. The parasite was very weak now, Anise's body was seizing and convulsing on the ground. Báthory walked over and grabbed her by the neck, dragging her back to her feet. Holding tight with both hands, the Countess was cutting off Anise's air supply, suffocating her with her bare hands.
“You're . . . mine . . . now . . .”
As Anise's face turned red, suddenly she vomited blood. A torrent of scarlet covered Báthory, as a dimly glowing, blue, slug-looking creature slid out of her mouth as well, landing on the sodden ground. In shock, Báthory stumbled backwards, coated with blood on the slashed front of her dress.
“How dare you!” she screamed. She turned back and saw the Duke, still holding the scissors in his hand as he lay on the ground. She marched over and stomped on his wrist, then yanked the scissors from his fingers. Anise looked scared and confused as Báthory turned back towards her, her teeth reverted to normal, the claws on her hands and toes grew brittle and snapped off, and she saw the murderess heading for her.
“I'm going to flay you like a braying lamb,” Báthory threatened as she stalked towards her prey, relishing the moment before she would stab her in the heart. She held up the open, metal blade.
A flourish of forest fowl took flight, and Báthory stopped dead in her tracks. She placed a hand on her chest as fresh, bright blood spilled from the bullet wound. She was in utter shock, and after a few seconds, she collapsed to the ground. Edison, still lying on the ground, pointed the gun away and struggled to get to his feet.
“Oh my god! Chess!” said Anise.
“Anise?” said Edison. “Is that you? As in you you?”
She nodded, but there were tears in her eyes.
“Oh my God . . . oh my . . .” she fell to her knees and wept, as she saw the blood everywhere. Edison got to his feet, and made a beeline for the Duke.
“Come on, buddy,” he said, offering a hand. The Duke got to his feet, and the two leaned against each other to stand upright.
“Anise?” said the Duke. But she looked absolutely devastated, and she sobbed louder.
“I'm sorry . . .” she said, between sobs. “I'm so sorry!”
“It's not your fault,” said the Duke. He leant on his cane and walked over to help the girl to her feet. It was a struggle, but he got her to her feet, and he walked her to the carriage-shaped Lift. Ge sat her in the seats then turned to Edison, who was staring at Erszebet Báthory as she lay on the ground. The Duke walked over to join him.
“What is it?” asked the Duke.
“I've stuffed up, Duke,” he said. “Big time. I've stuffed up.”
“What is it?” he said.
“I shot her,” he said, pointing at Báthory. She wasn't dead, but she was slowly dying as she lay on the ground, bleeding. “She doesn't die, now. She dies locked up. I've changed history, I . . . I really messed up.”
“She won't die here,” said the Duke. He leant down and picked up the scissors from the ground, then walked over to the patch of blood thrown up on the ground, where there was a fat, blue, iridescent leech almost three inches long, probing around blindly for blood and warmth. With a groan, the Duke leant over and pinched the scissors with the end of the scissors, not enough to cut through, but enough to pick it up.
He then turned to the body of Báthory at his feet, and dropped the Gemohane leech on top of her.
“What are you doin'?” asked Edison.
“The leech's abilities will allow her to heal. Together they will survive.”
“What?!” said Edison, shocked. “No! This is wrong! You're letting the leech go?! After everythin' it did?!”
“History says she will be punished and locked away” said the Duke, watching as the leech bit into Báthory's abdomen and slipped under her skin. “I am guaranteeing its capture and death.”
Edison shook his head.
“This is wrong, they'll only kill again,” he said.
“History needs its heroes as well as its monsters, Inspector,” said the Duke. “We cannot choose what should and should not have happened.”
“You've already made a choice, to do nothing,” said Edison.
“It's been a long day, Inspector,” said the Duke. “So forgive me if I have to remind you once again: Don't. Question. The duke.”
The Duke turned and returned to the Lift, and after a few seconds of hesitation, Edison joined him.
They entered the control room, and saw Anise leaning against the console, covered in sweat. There were some light smears of blood on her hands and her hair was a wet, ragged mess.
“Anise?” said the Duke. But as she saw him, fresh tears spilled into her cheeks.
"Oh GOD!!" she screamed, as she collapsed to her knees. "No!"
"Anise, calm down," the Duke said sternly, like an order. But she didn't.
"All those people!" she shrieked. The Duke dropped his cane by the door and quickly marched over to her, taking a knee beside her.
"This is not your fault, it couldn't be helped," he whispered.
"I . . . I can't," she sobbed. The Duke looked at her, sorrowful, as she cried.
"Anise," he said, placing a finger under her chin and tilting her head up to look him in the eye, "You are an innocent girl, you don't deserve any of this."
"How can you call me innocent?" she cried, tears smearing the make-up on her face. "All those people?"
"I know, it's unfair," he said. "But don't worry, I can fix this . . ." The Duke helped her to her feet.
"How can you fix this?" she asked, her crying stopping for a moment, a glimmer of hope in her voice. Edison leant on the couch as he watched the Duke comfort Anise.
"Look into my eyes," said the Duke. Then he stepped forward, and with one hand around her waist and another cradling her cheek, he closed his eyes and kissed her.
Edison was speechless and he dropped his jaw as the two of them embraced. It was a passionate kiss, warm and soft, and the Duke held her as she slowly wrapped her arms around him as well and as he leant into her she lost herself in that moment. Finally, after a few seconds, they slowly disentangled from one another and Anise opened her eyes again.
"Whoa . . . where am I?" she asked. Her eyelids drooped and the Duke leant her down on the ground as she fell asleep.
“What the . . .? Duke!” yelled Edison.
“Be quiet,” said the Duke. “She's asleep.”
“Wha- . . . wh-w- . . .What the fuck?” stammered Edison. “She's traumatized, and you kiss her?”
“In order for our minds to communicate, I needed to be in close proximity. I held her close to bond with her thoughts, so that I could take away her memory.”
Anise lay peacefully on the ground, her pleasant slumber a shocking contrast to the blood and sweat all over her body.
“You kissed her . . . to make her forget?” said Edison.
“Yes,” said the Duke.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” asked Edison. He stumbled as he stepped towards the Duke, but despite his blood loss and drunkenness, he managed to stand and think properly. “That's your solution? Just wipe her mind - poof! Gone! Pretend it never happened?”
“It should have never happened,” growled the Duke. “She didn't ask for this . . .”
“I always knew you were dangerous,” said Edison. “Is this what you do? You trounce around space-time, spreading damage, then when you royally bugger it up, you just make everyone forget?”
“I won't forget!” roared the Duke. Edison fell silent as the Duke slowed his breathing and tried to calm down. “I can't forget, but she can. And a sweet, young, innocent girl like her shouldn't remember such monstrosity; to be traumatized for life for something that was entirely my fault. This mistake was mine, I deserve to live with the consequences; she doesn't.”
Edison was still upset, but rather than argue, he sat down on the lounge and wiped at the bite mark on his neck, which was still bleeding.
“I just have one more question,” said Edison. “Will she remember that you kissed her?”
“No,” said the Duke, glancing back at Edison. “And you won't tell her, either. It would do her more harm than her memories.”
“Then did you really need to kiss her, to do your mind-meld thing?”
“That's two questions,” murmured the Duke, he was silent for a moment before he turned to his friend. “Inspector, I understand that my actions are changing the course of people's lives. Don't think for a moment that I make my decisions idly. I understand the weight of my every deliberation . . . but as a duke, sometimes you have to make the big decisions. Even when you know that what you're doing is wrong.”
Pulling the ignition lever, the Duke manned the helm and rose the Lift up into the sky, above the clouds. After rising to a safe altitude, the Duke finds the first aid box with the green moon on the lid and walks over to Edison with it.
“Here, we'd best get you healed, then clean up. And rehydrated,” said the Duke.
“You said that history has its heroes and its monsters,” muttered Edison, as the Duke unravelled another length of healing bandage. “How do you know that you're not the monster?”
“From experience,” said the Duke. As he tied the bandage around Edison's neck, he glanced towards the doorway, where his black cane had been discarded. “I wasn't always the best man I could be; but I'm learning from my mistakes.”
Edison watched as the Duke picked up the cane, then without using it he slowly limped around the room, to the umbrella stand. He clicked the handle, reducing the collapsible cane down to its portable length then dropped it into the stand.