March 20 at 2:15 AM
Photo courtesy of Vera Kratochvil
Buckets sloshed from hand to hand, running along a human chain from the pier to the street. Snails squealed at the steady onslaught of seawater, pressing forward defiantly, and backing the men into the dock. One pounced, snapping a man in two, and tossing his remains into the sea.
Essinger cut off the advance, striking out with both swords, and fracturing teeth as they snapped down. "More seawater!" he shouted.
Saltwater splashed against the snail's wounds, scorching layers off its amorphous mass as the vampire carved it to pieces.
"Brothers, your women and children lie at your back. Do not founder!" Essinger screamed. "Hold fast; do not give an inch. The community is your shield; together we shall stand!"
As the demons closed in, the vampire plunged both swords into the fallen behemoth, and gashed it open. Steaming bones and appendages spilled out, a foot deep. Prodded by their hunger, the slugs slithered from their domiciles, and gathered around, devouring the sultry meal.
Talmot joined the fray, slicing the dinner party to ribbons. Blubber and eyestalks flew into the air as a cascade of seawater doused the wallowing remains.
"You are needed down the pier," said Talmot.
"Whatever do you mean?" Essinger chopped away.
"Look to the bay, old friend, and forgive that I cannot swim," said Talmot. "I will succeed your good work here."
"Then I shall leave you my sword." Essinger stabbed one of his blades into the walk.
"It will not do any good." Talmot raised his cauterized stump. "I can only wield one at a time."
"Still, you will make good use of it." Essinger turned and ran. He veered through the crowd, tears moistening the damp planks. Sprinting to the end, he stopped and gaped. "What in the devil's name?"
The Chasseur rested in the middle of the bay, a dozen smaller boats steering towards it. Nearby, a member of Salander's gang slit the fisherman's throat, and jumped aboard his ship. Quickly he joined the fleet, no more than three men to each vessel.
"So that's how you stack the deck?" Essinger stripped off his black coat and hat. "Then let me reveal my hand."
He sheathed his sword, and dove into the frigid waters. Dipping under the waves, he swam length after length before surfacing for air. As his head poked out, he grazed the bloated corpse of Claude Didier, riding the waves to the shore. "Claude, dear friend." Essinger genuflected, and said a prayer. He pulled his eyelids shut as a wave crashed down, and slipped back under the current.
Essinger thrust forward, intercepting a boat near the Chasseur. Holding his breath as long as he could stand, he prodded the boat's hull, and pounced on the two men as they looked over the side. He fed each his sword, painting the tide a darker shade of black. "May God have mercy on us all." Essinger pulled the lifeless corpses under.
As the last ship approached the Chasseur, the vampire dove under, and poked holes in it. The man jumped onto the fishing nets as his boat foundered. Knowing he could hold his breath longer than the entire crew above, the ancient warrior grabbed his ankle, and dragged him under. When his flailing body eased, Essinger slit his throat, repaying the fisherman's debt.
The crusader climbed the anchor, and snuck aboard the ship. He drew his sword, spotting the captain at the wheel. As he crept from shadow to shadow, lookouts in the fore and main masts alerted the crew below. Men flooded the decks, swords and pistols drawn.
Exposed, Essinger sprang from the shadows, shattering swords and skulls with his unyielding blade. He darted up the railing, and bounded over a group of men. As he cut his way through the stern, the captain turned. "Salander Roach?" the vampire exclaimed.
Salander fired his pistol, blasting Essinger through the railing. "Continue firing." He pointed. The crew shelled the sea until a fireball erupted at the far edge of Vissorouy.
"Great heavens, what was that?" Salander gasped.