IN THIS EPISODE: …Monsters battle to the death! Vincent flounders…
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CHAPTER 40 – A Blaze of Glory
Vincent Duprix – The Tomb in the Waxworks
The First Night of the Full Moon
Vincent’s world was filled with pain—pain in nearly every part of his body, especially his neck and head—and heat, more heat than he’d ever felt before (aside from standing next to the bonfires at Guy Fawkes celebrations). In addition to that, everything seemed to be composed of dancing red and orange lights.
Where am I? he wondered blearily.
Then it all came rushing back to him…
He’d been about to bring Bastiti back to life, but Sethotep had betrayed them all, and arranged for his own resurrection instead.
That perfidy had shaken Vincent, left him unsure what to do next, and before he’d had a chance to recover his wits…
His bitch of a wife had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and bitten him—bitten him on the neck. The wounds on his throat still throbbed. He must have blacked out, then, but what in the name of heaven and earth did she think she was doing?
And where was this infernal heat coming from?
The realization hit Vincent like a thunderbolt.
It’s burning! My waxworks is burning!
Vincent’s blue eyes sprang open and, instantly, everything came into terrible focus.
Flames danced all around the mummy’s tomb display, which now lay in shambles. The exit leading to the rest of the waxworks had collapsed, and the debris filling it was on fire, too. Everything seemed to be ablaze.
How did this happen?!
Then Vincent spotted the apparent cause of the disaster: the mummy of Sethotep, his bandages afire from head to foot, was stumbling blindly around the chamber, setting everything he touched alight.
The mummy was not the only source of the chaos, though…
Victoria, dressed in a tattered red gown, was leaping about the room fighting with something that, even with all the rest, Vincent couldn’t quite believe he was seeing.
How in the name of heaven could that be possible?
But then Vincent recognized the wolfman’s tattered clothing, the same garments that had been worn by Paul Shaw, Vincent’s would-be sacrifice. Somehow, like Victoria, the handyman had become a monster.
Vincent’s head pounded as he tried to extricate himself from beneath the ruins of one of the room’s displays. Certainly, being half buried under the rubble explained the source of many of his aches and pains, but as Vincent watched the terrible melee around him, he realized that the wreckage may have saved his life, as well.
As he pulled his bruised body out from under what had once been a cabinet displaying exquisite china dolls, he noticed the Cushing girls—rather sensibly—fleeing down the short flight of stairs into their Chamber of Horrors. Had the twins been involved with this calamity, too, somehow?
That hardly merited thinking about at this point. Of all that was going on around him right now, only two things mattered to Vincent…
My work! his mind wailed. My art!
Everything he’d done, all the carefully sculpted portraits of Bastiti and everything else, all the displays he’d built for the waxworks over the years, all of it was burning! Vincent’s entire life was literally going up in smoke.
But part of him didn’t care.
My queen! screamed that mad portion of his soul. Bastiti, my love!
As much as the destruction of his life’s work pained him, the thought that the object of his desire might forever perish in the blaze was even worse.
Vincent coughed violently, his lungs filled with smoke, as he stood and tried to see his queen through the chaos and the conflagration.
Victoria and the werewolf had chased each other toward the blocked main exit, now, and were circling warily. Both were bleeding from numerous small cuts and slashes, and both kept looking at their wounds, as though surprised that they could be hurt at all.
Sethotep, still burning, had fallen to his knees nearby, where the recreated altarpiece had once stood. (Vincent had noticed the ruins of that altar lying next to the blocked exit.) And beyond the fiery mummy, at the back of the tomb…
There Bastiti stood in her sarcophagus, still untouched by the ravening monsters and the chaos around her.
I’m coming, my love! Vincent thought.
All that stood between the sculptor and his queen were a few yards of rubble, a blazing mummy, and an unpredictable inferno. None of those things would stop him!
I must reach her before the fire does!
But before he could figure out a safe way to cross that hazardous distance, something hurtled toward him out of the fire and smoke.
Vincent ducked, falling to the floor once more, as a ball of fur and fury sailed past, barely missing the sculptor’s head.
The werewolf, who’d apparently been thrown by Victoria, smashed hard into the tomb wall, crashing through the chicken wire and painted plaster. The crumbling set dressing revealed one of the barred first-story windows that Vincent had covered over to create a darker atmosphere for the tomb.
The wolf landed hard atop a pile of rubble, and howled in pain as a three-foot-long spike of wood stabbed into its back, near the shoulder blade. The barb pierced all the way through, coming out the wolf-man’s righthand pectoral, near its shoulder. At the same time, a huge chunk of the ceiling fell on the monster’s other arm, crushing that furry left limb completely.
The injuries almost assuredly would have killed a normal person, but the werewolf merely howled and writhed—like an insect stuck on a pin—trying to work its way free.
Before it could liberate itself, Victoria pounced.
She landed atop the struggling monster, straddling him, pushing him further down on the piercing wooden shard. Her claw-like hands found the wolf-man’s hairy neck, and she began to squeeze.
The werewolf tried to slash at her, but its left arm was crushed, and the right couldn’t move very far, because of the way the beast was impaled.
Victoria smiled in glee, showing her sharp fangs as the werewolf gasped for breath while she tried to crush its windpipe.
She’s a… vampire…? Vincent though in confusion. When did that happen?
More importantly, what would the Victoria-vampire do once she finished off her former wolfish lover?
Vincent glanced from his wife and the werewolf to Bastiti, standing so near and yet separated from him by flame and rubble.
Once she’s done with Shaw, she’ll come for me! Vincent realized.
He couldn’t allow that.
His wife leaned in close as she strangled her victim, her fangs nearly touching the werewolf’s hairy neck. The beast gasped for air, and death rattled in its growling throat.
“Victoria!” Vincent shouted as he threw a fist-sized chunk of plaster at her.
The improvised missile flew wide of its target and shattered the glass of the barred window, just beyond the struggling combatants.
Victoria turned at the sound and spotted her husband. Her eyes burned red with hatred. “Vincent…!” she hissed. “You’re nex—!”
The half-dead werewolf lunged forward and fastened its razor-sharp teeth around the vampire’s neck.
Victoria shrieked in surprise.
The beast clamped down hard and then twisted and pulled. With a single jerk of its head, the werewolf ripped out Victoria’s throat.
She screamed like a banshee and tore herself away, clutching futilely at her severed jugular as it sprayed black blood and misty ectoplasm into the hellish heat.
The vampire who had been Vincent’s wife careened wildly around the devastated tomb, her eyes mad with hatred.
Vincent couldn’t tell whether she was looking for him—for one last victim—or groping desperately to find help.
In just a few seconds, though, her wild gyrations slowed, and she crumpled—like a marionette with its strings cut—atop a pile of rubble near the blocked exit.
“But… I’m immortal…!” she gasped. Her head lolled to one side, revealing the extent of her terrible neck wound; the werewolf had nearly torn her head off.
How anyone could survive near decapitation for even an instant, Vincent couldn’t imagine.
And still, Victoria wasn’t quite done yet. Even as the last of her vampiric life blood seeped away, she muttered:
“I… can’t… die…!”
Then the fire in her hazel eyes smoldered out, her claw-like hands twitched three times, and her unnaturally youthful body stiffened and moved no more.
Vincent smiled, enjoying his wife’s gruesome demise.
“You never really did understand irony, my dear,” he muttered, shaking his head scoldingly. “But you always were a blood sucker!”
He chuckled at his own joke. Then his mind returned to the perils at hand.
Burning rubble still separated them, but very little remained of Sethotep now, only a charred body, kneeling close to Bastiti’s bandaged feet. The architect’s mummy smoldered, the fires consuming it not yet burnt out, but it did not move.
The werewolf, on the other hand, was anything but dead. With its vampiric foe dispatched, it had resumed struggling to free itself. It had gotten its left arm—the crushed one—loose from the rubble, and already that limb looked almost as good as new.
How is that possible? Vincent wondered, stepping further away from the beast, and toward where his queen stood in her sarcophagus. The flames were licking ever closer to her now, but if the werewolf got free…
I’d stand even less chance than Victoria did!
“Vincennnnt…!” someone said, and the sculptor nearly jumped out of his scorched skin. “Vincent… help… me…!”
A shudder ran through Vincent as he realized it was the charred remains of Sethotep speaking.
The mummy looked small and fragile now, like a crude figure made of charcoal, with ashes for its skin. It smoldered slightly, and grey-white dust crumbled from its jaw as it spoke.
“Help … me…!”
Vincent’s gaze flashed between Sethotep’s crumbling body and the werewolf, as, with one mighty heave, the beast tore loose from its impalement. Weirdly, while it was still slashed and cut in numerous places, the gaping hole in the monster’s chest—like its crushed arm—seemed to be quickly mending.
“I think I have more pressing concerns right now,” the sculptor told the remains of the undead architect.
Vincent locked eyes with the beast that had once been his wife’s lover. In that moment, the sculptor couldn’t remember whether one was supposed to stare down wolves or shun their gaze, to avoid being killed.
Too late to change tactics now, Vincent thought, wishing he had some type of weapon close at hand.
The werewolf glared at him… and then at the fire still building all around. It glanced at the barred window and made a choice.
In one bound, the wolf-man cleared the rubble and fastened its humanlike hands on the broken window’s iron bars. Giving a mighty heave, it tore the bars from their moorings and cast the whole latticework aside, into the demolished tomb.
With a howl of victory, the beast sprang through the window and vanished into the night.
Vincent sighed with relief.
That’s one less thing to worry about!
“Help… me…!” Sethotep’s corpse repeated from near Vincent’s feet. “Help… me… and I… will reveal… my secretsss…!”
The sculptor circled around the blackened husk, moving closer to Bastiti. “Help you? Again?” Vincent scoffed. “The last time I helped you, you betrayed me!”
“I did it… for my… for our queen!”
“It’s my queen I’m worried about, now,” Vincent replied. He doffed his ceremonial robes and quickly wrapped the stained and torn silks around Bastiti’s mummified form. Then he picked her up; she felt surprisingly light in his arms. “Don’t worry, my darling,” he told her. “I’ll get you out of here.”
The passage down to the Chamber of Horrors was blocked by flames now, too—nearly everywhere was—but Vincent had built a secret panel that led to the servants’ stairway in the tomb wall. He’d used it earlier to drag Paul to the altar, and he could use it now to escape.
If only the fire hasn’t reached it yet!
“Take me… too!” the psychic voice of Sethotep urged in the sculptor’s head.
“Quiet, you!” Vincent barked, and he kicked the architect’s charred corpse.
The body of Sethotep crumbled to dust, and his skull careened out of the ashes and rolled to rest against the tomb wall.
Vincent laughed. “Not so clever now, are you, old man?”
A low groaning echoed to the mad sculptor’s ears. Vincent mistook the noise for Sethotep’s plaintive reply.
“What’s the matter? Bast got your tongue?”
The groaning grew louder.
With a shock, Vincent realized that the sound was not the mummy replying to him.
He looked up. Above him, the entire ceiling of the tomb burned like a Guy Fawkes day bonfire and groaned like a dying ox.
As the blazing wreckage gave way and crashed down on top of him, all Vincent could do was clutch the mummy of Bastiti to his breast and scream.
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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