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He could see her eyelashes fluttering. It was a slight motion, almost undetectable as Julius continued his work: pouring liquids into the vial of blood, mixing and stirring. Yet Richard noticed it. It would be an easy thing to call out to the guards and to warn Julius. The girl had obviously woken up; Robin hadn’t hit her nearly hard enough, it seemed. He had almost prepared himself to interrupt the skeletal man when he spoke first.
“It’s done…It’s perfect! All we need is our test subject, and then we can use it on others. I won’t have a mishap like last time, after all.” Julius was now holding up a small vial of pinkish liquid, cloudy and swirling with tiny white specs. He smiled widely, his yellowish, cracked teeth flashing briefly under the harsh lighting. Abruptly, he turned, walking toward the chamber that contained one of the restless. Richard could hear him muttering under his breath, sounding like the rasp of dry leaves whispering across dead branches. He suppressed a shudder and instead cleared his throat, “Julius, I think the girl is…”
Julius waved one hand, cutting him off, “No longer necessary if this works. We’ll keep her for now, and then we can dispose of her.” He inserted the vial into a small device that Richard hadn’t noticed before at the bottom of the glass chamber. A small tube fed from it directly into the space. The creature inside seemed to be growing more agitated. Instead of licking the glass, it was pressing its nose against it—its jagged nails raked down the smooth sides. Julius adjusted a few dials on the device. There was a hissing noise, and the pink liquid began to bubble downward, disappearing.
There was a moment of silence, and then a completely different hissing noise sounded. The tube at the bottom of the chamber began to eject pink smoke. For a brief time, Richard could see the outline of the restless, thrashing in its enclosure. It began to move faster and faster, a gyrating motion that looked like nothing human. He could hear the muffled sound of gargled screaming. Blood suddenly spattered against the side of the glass; a hand slid downward and there was a thump as the body collapsed.
Richard stared as the smoke slowly dissipated, floating to the bottom of the enclosure before disappearing entirely. A steaming, crumpled heap lay at the bottom of the cell. Richard barely kept the look of disgust from his face—it no longer looked like anything close to human. It was a gelatinous heap on the floor, the result of years of decay. Bones floated in a brownish red pool.
Richard glanced toward Julius, half expecting to see cold fury or perhaps bitter disappointment. Instead, he saw something far more disturbing. Julius was smiling; he wore an expression that Richard could only describe as pure bliss.
“It works.” Julius smiled wider, an impressive feat considering how far his face had already stretched. He walked around the enclosure, a white hand trailing against the glass. His yellowed nails clicked against the hard surface, “It works.”
Richard cleared his throat politely, “Julius, I hate to point this out when you’re obviously so…pleased. But if your experiment worked, wouldn’t the creature have turned into one of us? That is, something sentient and possibly alive?”
Julius’s grin faded slightly as he turned toward Richard. The guards shifted in the background nervously, and Kari eyelids fluttered again. With a few strides, Julius was suddenly in front of him. Richard had never thought him to be a large man—he was all skin and bones, a walking corpse. Yet he was suddenly very aware that Julius was far taller than he was. “Don’t you understand, Richard?”
Richard looked up at the man coolly, determined to keep face, “Understand what?”
Julius gestured toward the steaming pile of gelatin in the glass chamber, “We’ve found the cure. This curse will no longer affect any of us. We’ll be free of this existence…free to die in grace rather than rising again.”
Richard slowly reached for the silk handkerchief in his sleeve, withdrawing it with all the care in the world as he gently dabbed the sweat forming on his brow, “Do you mean to say that this…whatever it is…will kill all of us?”
Julius spread his arms outward, “Why are you surprised? Since the Fall, we have been cursed to exist…but not to live. Never to live. We’ve had to scavenge a living from the bones of the old world, to try and eke out a living amongst the dead and the dying. We’ve done it, but we are still in limbo. What I’ve created will free all of us. We will be heroes, Richard. We will be the avenging angels that strike down the demon inside all of us.”
Richard always knew that Julius was slightly eccentric—the product of being left alone in this backwater town for all of these years, he assumed. But now, he realized that Julius was completely and utterly insane. Richard adjusted his collar, trying to keep the look of horror from his face as he smiled. He’d have to tread cautiously.
“How will anyone appreciate your work if they’re all dead? Unless, of course, this…cure of yours merely prevents people from coming back from the dead?” He clung to this small hope. It was possible that it was just a misunderstanding. Julius’s response dashed that hope like so much breaking china.
“Oh no, everyone will die. After all, the curse is in all of us, feeding us. This kills the curse and the host along with it,” Julius gave him a slow smile, the sort of smile that Richard would expect from a cat about to pounce on a mouse. “You don’t understand the true Hell that this world is…the Hell that I’ve had to exist in. Ages upon ages I’ve been here, trying to create a cure. But then I realized that there is no cure, not for this. The only way to combat it…to find true salvation…is to destroy.”
Richard took a step back. This was a problem, a big problem. His eyes flickered to the laboratory equipment on the metal table. Perhaps if he smashed it, it would prevent Julius from doing any more. Surely his bodyguards didn’t condone what he was doing. Perhaps they would rush to his assistance. He chanced a glance at the two burly men near the door and his heart sank. They were wearing the same smile that Julius had. He would find no help from them.
Richard looked at Julius again, “But we’re eking out an existence, as you say. Surely it’s more important to preserve what life we have as opposed to destroying it forever?”
That was apparently the wrong response. Julius’s face contorted into an expression of rage. He snarled, grabbing Richard by the throat. His yellow nails dug into Richard’s skin, causing sharp pinpricks of pain as he struggled to breathe, “Do you think me a simpleton? You have no idea, you foolish creature. I was there. I saw the world crumble into dust, fall into Hell. I saw the clock tower tumble into the hands of a thousand restless souls, pulled down brick by brick.” Spittle flew from Julius’s mouth, spattering Richard’s face as he tried to pry the fingers away from his throat, “I saw it and couldn’t do anything about it. I am dead, boy. I am dead in a way that you could never understand. And I will not be denied my one chance at Heaven.”
Richard tried to respond, but he only made a squeaking noise. Julius let go of his throat and Richard stumbled away, falling to his knees as he gasped for breath. Julius gave him a look of utter disgust, turning away from him, “There are those that believe we should profit and live in Hell, but they are heathens. I mean to destroy Hell and its worshippers. I mean to exist for the glory of God.”
That’s when Kari moved, a swift motion that took even Richard by surprise. Her auburn hair swirled behind her as she leapt from the metal table. Richard saw a glint of metal in her hand and heard the high wail of a siren before chaos ensued.