The World of Pillars.
A tract of space – geometrically flat but which bristled with vast rocky cylinders. Fog below hid any true ground and thick cloud above hid any sight of stars. Day was a brightening of the sky that lasted for six hours. At night darkness was nearly complete.
Clinging to ledges, crevices and cracks were human habitations. Farms and desperate patches of woodland. Below those were the tunnels of the gecko-men – the lizard like creatures who could move with agility over the vertical surfaces of the great pillars.
Above the gecko-men tunnels and the human habitations were the cathedrals. The cathedrals hung out from the pillars on vaulted arches and pierced upwards with spires and stained glass windows. At night the windows glowed red like a wine glass before a candle and in the short hours of daylight the cathedrals stood like crypts.
On the human farms the women worked. What men there were, stood by with vacant eyes caught in confused nightmares. The humans lived but did not prosper.
The Rose Cathedral.
He called himself Ephor and styled himself an emperor. Ages past his ancestors had been merely parasites. Those ancestors had wormed their way through the fissures of space-time and clandestinely predated on people. Blood suckers and soul suckers, they had found Earth and had found humans. Their psychic faeces were left behind as nightmares, while their diet of human blood was so much richer than the thin gruel of gecko-men blood. In generations the parasites changed, shaped recursively by human thoughts, desires and fears.
Ephor stretched his membraneous wings, closed his eyes and inhaled through the folds of his nostrils. He could smell the prisons in the gallery and the Renfielded men milling below the floor grating and the ammonia smell of the vampire guano they stood in.
Ephor, Emperor of the Vampires, Lord of the World of Pillars, Arch Prelate of the cathedrals sat on his throne. His majordomo was reading numbers from a ledger, accounting for the population of the Rose District. The numbers were worrisome as more of the women had been absconding reducing both the size of the available workforce and the number of bodies to feed on. Ephor though was expecting some good news in that quarter.
“And here it is!” Ephor announced to hall as Arch-Deacon Prince Tobias entered. Tobias carried himself with a swaggering arrogance that suited him. Less corpulent in appearance that Ephor but with that same lard like colour and texture to his skin, Tobias sported a cloak and wore a sword belt and scabbard. Aside from those two affectations he was as naked as the other vampires.
“Greetings my lord emperor” Tobias made a small bow “The absconder has been caught and is being brought up from the dungeons as we speak.”
“The dungeon? I said quite plainly that if your scouts caught her that she was to be brought straight to me.” Ephor glowered at Tobias.
“My lord, things are not as they may seem. To my surprise she was caught not by my scouts but by the cathedral guard. She was hiding in the very dungeons of the Rose Cathedral itself. Perhaps she thought it a clever hiding place but my guards are vigilant.” Tobias explained in a tone that mixed apology with pride.
As he finished speaking two vampire guards entered carrying a human dressed in some kind of leather and metal armour. As they approached Ephor’s throne, they threw the woman to the floor grating. She gasped in pain and pulled herself up to a kneeling position.
“You are an ugly bag of phlegm aren’t you?” She said starring at Ephor.
The vampire laughed in response. “Well a brave comment. Little woman, your men are dead or mindless zombies. We own you. We breed you. You are our cattle. Looking at you in your petty armor – is this what you run-aways have been working on? You’ve sunk so low. We took away your books and your words and your warriors and your weapons. You have nothing left and you play dress-up? It would be funny but it is actually sad. We are now more human than you. I’ve read the books that your kind can no longer read. I know more of your history and your culture than you ever could. As for your science? What a waste – it means nothing in this world of pillars. Your rules do not apply here. Oh look at you – what a pathetic specimen. I doubt you can even follow what I’m saying.” With a wave of his hand he dismissed the guards. This woman was no threat to him.
The woman ignored the guards as they left and spoke back to Ephor “Trust that I can follow what you are saying. I don’t think you understand what I am but I certainly can follow what you are saying.”
“Oh your arrogance is fun. I miss that. The Renfields are such morons and are truly incapable of much emotional range beyond hunger and fear. But do tell me more. What are you that is so special.”
“I’m of the Darug people” she answered, her brown eyes flashing in the candle light.
“Well you have me at a loss – I cannot say I’ve ever heard of them. Whoever they may have been they have been forgotten by history.”
“Not forgotten. We don’t forget. We kept stories alive for as long as there were people on Earth. When the invaders came we kept those stories in our hearts.”
“The invaders is a new name for us vampires it seems. Rather dull, you could do better.”
“No not you, I mean the Europeans who took our land and killed us with diseases and forbade the speaking of our language.”
“Ah an old Earth grievance. Well I can say ‘not guilty’ to those crimes!”
“The crimes of your kind came much later.”
“So tell me Miss Darug-people, aside from your persecuted ancestry, what is it that brings you to our cathedral.”
“I cam looking for you. I have a message.”
“Oh do tell” Ephor smiled revealing all his wickedly sharp teeth.
“We have been telling stories.”
“And that is your message? That our women have been telling campfire tales? What of? Brave heroes? They are dead. Your Churchill and your Davey Crockett and your Yuri Gagarin are all dead and the men who could have replaced are dead or their minds are ours. We have drunk their blood and cracked their bones and feasted on the marrow.”
“We have been telling stories of women.”
“Women is it? Let me guess – Good Queen Bess fighting off the Armada? Oh Boudicca slaughtering Romans? No, wait – let me guess? Your some sort of indigenous woman with a grudge? Pocahontas?”
“Irmgard Flügge-Lotz and Hedy Lamaar and He Zehui and Chien-Shiung Wu and Chanda Jog and a thousand others.”
“Hedy Lamaar? Ah! The movie actress.”
“And inventor. We have been learning about this world. You kept writing and books from us and so we adapted. We applied the spoken word traditions of our ancestors and we passed on what we knew.”
“I have read your legends and your histories. They won’t help you nor your silly fables about my kind.”
“It wasn’t legends we told but equations and calculations and revised parameters. We taught ourselves how this world worked. We inferred the differences and discovered the geometries.”
Ephor was growing tired of the banter. The woman had drawn him into a pointless dialogue and he risked losing face in front of Tobias.
Ephor stood and flexed his wings out again and then with a leap took to the air. His leathery wings beating against the draughts that wept through the cathedral.. Below him the woman stared at him defiantly.
“Petty fool. You think your girlish stories mean anything to me? You have achieved what? Some shambles of a suit of armour? Such pathetic material could not protect you from me. I shall tear out your guts with my teeth.”
“It isn’t armour” the woman replied “it’s a flight suit and it is meant to protect me from the hot propellant exhaust – not from your teeth.”
Ephor looked down briefly puzzled. “The hot what?”
“Propellant” she answered and touched a decal on her wrist. With a sudden roar the woman was lifted into the air at high speed. Her left arm outstretched with a fist, she aimed herself straight at Ephor. He twisted his body to avoid her but her right shoulder crashed into the joint where his wing met his back causing Ephor to crash to the floor grating below. Tobias was also now in the air and made a grab for the woman’s leg as she tried to avoid crashing into the ceiling. She placed a well aimed kick with her steel-capped boots into Tobias’s face and causing him to fall backwards clutching the bloody ruin of his nose.
The woman had now reached the row of high open windows by which the vampires would exit at night. She steadied herself on the lintel and made a quick check of her flight suit.
Ephor had recovered enough to stand. Tobias was snarling like a feral dog. The majordomo had recovered from his amazement sufficiently to run out to gather the guards.
“You have achieved nothing with this foolish display other than to reveal your plans. You know nothing of strategy, you ignorant woman!” Ephor spat angrily.
“yeah, thanks for the advice but I don’t have time to chat. I just came here to find your location and send a message.” She then lifted her right wrist close to her mouth and spoke into it “Target location confirmed. All airships head towards my current coordinates. Prepare for mass assault. Over and out.” She looked back down at Ephor and as the cathedral guards and with a “See-ya later.” she jumped out of the window.
“Follow her you fool!” Ephor screamed at Tobias “Tear out her liver and bring me her bleeding heart.” Ephor turned to the guards. “There is some sort of human insurrection on its way. Mobilise everyone we have and warn them that some of the humans can fly.”
The sky around the Rose Cathedral
The airships flew in formation. Each ship bristled with an outer metal frame that was covered in a loose net of ropes. The ropes were covered in sticky sap and long sharp thorns were twisted into the strands. The first assault of vampires foundered on the netting and the crew of the airships could easily shoot arrows into their guts – aiming at the liver of the vampire which was the most vulnerable organ.
The second wave of vampires attempted to drop rocks on the airships but the flexible skin of the ships was too tough for this to do much damage. As the airships closed on the cathedral, some of the crew took to the air using their jetpacks to engage the vampires directly. From their elevated position the airships could drop small explosive jars onto the roof.
The fires from the explosive matched the reddening sky. Dawn was approaching and with the cathedral damaged the vampires began to scatter in search of shelter. With the counter-offensive from the vampires disintegrating, the destruction of the cathedral proceeded at a greater pace.
With the roof gone and main spires toppled, humans began to descend to the cathedral either by rope of by jetpack.
The ruins of the Rose Cathedral
Ephor was wounded. His broken wing caused him great pain but his leg was worse. A huge chunk of masonry and dropped and struck a glancing blow to his leg, ripping a deep gash from below his knee to his ankle. He could barely stand but still he hobbled as quickly as he could to escape the increasing light. He struggled up a short flight of stairs and then collapsed with exhaustion. Twelve feet away he could see a heavy red velvet drape. If he could just reach it, he cover himself and be protected from the daylight for long enough to reach the catacombs below the cathedral. He tried to pull himself up but collapsed under his own weight as his leg twisted with a sickening crack. His body wanted to howl in pain but he knew the foul women with their silver tipped arrows would be searching the ruins for him.
He gathered his will and with his finger tips scratching into the stone tiles he pulled his body closer to the drapes. He was closer by a few feet. He stretched out his arm again and dug his finger nails into a crack in the stone tiles and pulled once again.
“You’ve still got a couple of metres to go I think” said a soft voice.
Ephor turned his head painfully. The woman was there, looking down at him with a pitying expression.
“Unfortunately I don’t think you’ll make it before the daylight is bright enough to start burning your skin”
Ephor wanted to shout defiance at her but he could only spit out phlegm. A racking cough convulsed him. He knew that his body was torn inside but he knew his kind could heal the most terrible of wounds. Deep inside him was the vestigial form of the parasite from which his kind had evolved in a Larmackian process. While that lived it could weave a new body from nearly nothing.
Ephor once again stretched out his hand but his broken fingernails could not find a grip on the stone and he scrabbled uselessly trying to find purchase.
“Here, let me help” the woman’s metal shod boot crunched down on his fingers, holding his hand in place as Ephor once more pulled himself further forward.
“I need you to live just a moment longer.” she said. “I just needed to give you some advice that would have been useful to you in hindsight.”
“What would that be” he croaked, trying to retain what little dignity he could in his voice.
“You really should have diversified your reading” she said and with that she shot the silver tipped arrow into his liver killing the tiny parasite inside him.