Darkness, Spreading Its Wings of Black Chapter VI: Darkness

A column article by: Barry Reese
Darkness, Spreading Its Wings of Black
An Adventure Starring
Lazarus Gray & The Rook
Written by Barry Reese

Chapter VI

Darkness



Samantha woke up to a world of pain. The joints in her shoulders felt like they were on fire and as her mind cleared, she realized that she was shackled by her wrists to the ceiling of Phillips' basement. Her clothing was gone and her nude body was covered by a fine sheen of sweat. The back of her head throbbed and her mouth felt abnormally dry and tasted tinny. She realized that she had bitten her tongue before falling unconscious and swallowed a good bit of blood.

Devil Face was about ten feet away from her, humming a song to himself as he polished a series of sharp knives and bone saws. His mask had been crudely repaired with glue and even in the dim lighting, Samantha could see that it hadn't fully dried yet - bubbles of glue glistened in the candlelight. Even as she tested the strength of her bonds, Samantha recognized the tune that Devil Face was humming: "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" by Paul Whiteman. She suddenly realized she was never going to like that song ever again.

Devil Face heard the rattling of the chains and glanced over at her. His eyes traveled up her toned legs, past the mound of Venus between her legs, over the flat stomach and pert breasts. He caught his breath, hating the way she made him feel. It was the way of women: to tantalize men with their bodies until the spirit was made weak. He would very much enjoy purifying her. He would cut away all the pieces that teased him and then he would drain her of blood, lovingly washing every bit of her until she was as pure as the driven snow.

"I was worried you weren't going to wake up," Devil Face purred, moving toward her with a scalpel in his right hand. His foot brushed a bucket filled with tubing and Samantha swallowed hard, not wanting to imagine what it was for. "You're going to be my thirteenth. That's a sacred number."

Samantha grimly regarded the killer, refusing to show even the tiniest bit of fear. She trusted that Lazarus and the others would find their way there – and if they didn't, she'd just have to free herself. "Should I feel honored?"

"Yes. You should."

"Let me go, Phillips. You're in enough trouble as it is. Hurt me and I can't promise that they'll even let the police take you in. Lazarus might just skin you alive."

"I doubt that. I've read all about your employer. He's committed to bringing criminals to justice. He'd actually blame himself if anything happened to me."

"Morgan won't beat himself up for putting a bullet in your brain," Samantha said with a smile. That, at least, wasn't a lie. Morgan carried quite a torch for her and she knew that he'd stop at nothing to avenge her.

Devil Face brought the scalpel up to Samantha's cheek and drew it slowly across the skin, leaving a thin trail of blood. "You're so beautiful," he whispered. "I wish you weren't such a whore… but if you weren't we couldn't share this moment together, could we? So maybe I'm secretly glad."

Samantha flinched at the onset of new pain, but she said nothing. Her eyes caught the flicker of movement over Devil Face's shoulder and she gasped. "Is someone else here with us?" she asked, unable to maintain her silence any longer.

Devil Face stepped back, his eyes wide with surprise beneath his mask. "You can see her?"

Samantha peered into the shadows but saw nothing at all. "I thought," she began, but then fell quiet again with a shake of her head. "It was nothing."

Devil Face smiled, momentarily taken aback but now once more in control. No one else had ever seen Lady Death, not even the girls who had rested on the precipice between the world of the living and of the dead. "Well, it's time we began in earnest. You're the last one."

"What does that mean?" Samantha asked, as Devil Face turned away from her. He moved over to the tray of sharp implements and set down his scalpel, plucking up one of the bone saws and examining the teeth on the blade.

"Thirteen girls have to die," he said, not caring if she knew his secrets. It was too late for her and he was too close to achieving ultimate power. What could it hurt? "And then Lady Death will cross over onto this plane and she'll make me her consort."

Samantha heard the dreamy nature of his voice and couldn't help but think he was absolutely insane. But she'd seen some very strange things as a member of Assistance Unlimited, so she wasn't prepared to discount it completely.

"I'm not sure why being Death's lover would be a good thing," she said, hoping to keep Devil Face talking long enough to allow her friends to find them.

"You haven't felt her touch," Devil Face replied. He turned toward her with the bone saw in hand. As he approached, he bent down and grabbed the bucket filled with tubing and carried it in his other hand. He set the bucket down next to her dangling feet. "But you will soon enough."

Samantha slammed her foot against Devil Face in an attempt to hurt him, but her position didn't allow her to put any real strength behind the blow and it elicited nothing more than a chuckle from the madman.

"Don't fight," Devil Face warned. "It will only make things harder for you."

The next moment was one that Samantha would long remember. Devil Face placed the sharp blade against her shoulder, obviously intending to remove her right arm with no anesthetic whatsoever. Just before he began his grisly task, a figure descended the stairs and threw himself at Devil Face's back. The impact knocked the villain aside, though the blade drug painfully across Samantha's arm, taking a long stretch of flesh with it.

Devil Face whirled about to see Lazarus Gray facing him, hands balled into fists. Rapidly moving into the room were Morgan, The Dark Gentleman and Eun, all of whom looked at Samantha with concern. Normally, she would have felt embarrassed by her nudity but at the moment she didn't care – her only desire was to be freed so she could help bring this killer to justice.

It was Morgan who reached her first, steadfastly keeping his eyes off her nakedness. He fumbled with the locks around her wrists, concern for her making him sloppy. "We'll get that cut sewn up," he said, as if her bleeding arm was important to her.

Eun saw that Morgan was busy with Samantha so he moved to assist his employer, The Dark Gentleman in tow. Devil Face was swinging his blade with great skill, forcing Lazarus to keep his distance.

"There's too many of them," Devil Face hissed. "Please – help me!"

The Dark Gentleman glanced around, wondering whom it was that Devil Face was talking to.

"He's talking to the woman over there," Lazarus explained, nodding his head in the direction of Lady Death.

"I don't see anyone!"

"She's there. Trust me." Lazarus knew that the woman before them was not human. His past experiences as a member of the Illuminati had included many forays into the supernatural. As such, his mind was open to perceiving things that most people could simply not accept. He could see Lady Death as clearly as Devil Face could – and, truthfully, so could all of his aides, but because of the unreality of the situation, their minds refused to accept what their eyes beheld. Thus, they could not acknowledge it.

Lazarus ducked under a swipe of Devil Face's blade and struck out with a karate chop that knocked the air from the man's lungs. Devil Face recovered quickly, however, driving the bone saw against Gray's neck an instant later. Blood spilled freely, but Lazarus knew that it would look worse than it really was: nothing vital had been struck.

Eun smelled something awful, like an ancient tomb had been thrown open. He gagged and backed away, his eyes widening as half a dozen figures emerged from the shadows, shambling toward them with open sores dotting their skins and portions of white bone protruding. These were the undead, summoned forth by Lady Death and their presence was a sign of just how close Devil Face was to completing his awful ritual. He had loosened the barriers between Death's realm and those of mortal man… and now her warriors were spilling through.

The first of the zombies uttered a long, guttural moan and reached for Eun. The young Korean batted the hand aside and unleashed a series of kick punches and kicks, most of which had no obvious effect. To Eun, it felt like he was attacking a side of beef. It wasn't until one of his fists crashed through the thing's ribs and was momentarily stuck that he realized the full danger he was in: these creatures were not alive and were thus immune to all forms of pain.

Eun looked about and saw that the monsters, all of which were grabbing at his clothes and hair, now surrounded him. One of them dug its claws into the meat of Eun's arm, tearing into the flesh and spilling blood.

The Dark Gentleman shared Eun's horror. Unlike the members of Assistance Unlimited, this was his first contact with the supernatural and it was almost enough to shake his sanity. But his sense of self-preservation was strong enough to propel him into combat, shooting several bullets into the torso of the nearest zombie. The impacts caused the undead creature to pause but didn't deter it from coming onward.

Lazarus knew that things were quickly spiraling out of control and made an effort to end his battle with Devil Face all the faster. He lowered his shoulder and charged like a maddened bull, slamming his bulk into the big man's chest. They tumbled back until the basement wall halted Devil Face's progress. Devil Face grunted hard and struck wildly with the bone saw. He repeatedly cut Gray's face and shoulders, but the leader of Assistance Unlimited ignored the pain and continued pummeling his enemy, breaking ribs, smashing a nose and finally fracturing Devil Face's hip.

The man who had lived as Robert Phillips these past few years, coasting on a fabricated past until he had achieved a position of power, now knew that his plans were swiftly coming to an end. He sagged to his knees, pain blotting out all rational thought. He saw The Rook entering the basement and he wanted to curse the unfairness of it all, but he knew that it was his own fault. He had stuck to a plan for years, killing only those girls who wouldn't be missed. But Schuller had been an impulse murder and it had led to his downfall.

"Don't give up hope just yet," Lady Death purred and her voice seeped directly into her follower's mind. "We may yet have our victory…."

***



The Rook stared about him in amazement. He saw the lovely young Samantha Grace being freed from her chains by Morgan Watts; Eun Jiwon was in danger of being ripped to shreds by a half dozen undead; Lady Death herself stood on the edge of it all, a haunting smile visible from beneath her hood; Devil Face was on the floor, flecks of blood on his lips; and – most surprisingly of all – a villain from his past.

Turning to face him was Doctor York, a madman who had tried to open a portal to Hell back in '33. The Rook had defeated him then but the incident had haunted him ever since, mostly because he knew how close he'd come to losing the battle.

The Rook drew one of his pistols and took careful aim. If York was involved in all this, then things were even more dangerous than he'd assumed.

***



Lazarus Gray could scarcely believe what he was seeing. Coming down the stairs in all his arrogant glory was Walther Lunt. Lunt was the German mastermind who had recruited Richard Winthrop into the Illuminati and he had eventually become Winthrop's greatest foe, overseeing the plot that led to Winthrop's "death" and "rebirth" as Lazarus Gray. Since then, the two had clashed repeatedly and Gray had come to know Lunt's ruined visage almost as well as he knew his own. Badly scarred by an acid attack years ago, the right side of Lunt's face was a mass of burned tissue and the ugliness had seeped into the man's very soul.

Suddenly things began to fall into place: no doubt Lunt was somehow the puppet master behind all of this, pulling Devil Face's strings in some elaborate plot to destroy Gray and his allies.

After casting one quick glance at Devil Face to ensure that he was in no shape to re-enter the fray, Lazarus threw himself toward his old enemy. He managed to drive Lunt against the wall but the other man responded with more skill than Lazarus remembered him possessing, slipping an arm under Gray's and using the bigger man's momentum to toss him to the ground.

Lunt slammed a foot down, narrowly missing Gray's skull when Lazarus rolled out of the way. Lazarus reached out and grabbed Lunt's leg, driving a fist just above the German's kneecap. A loud cracking sound indicated that Lazarus had successfully broken the man's leg and Lunt quickly joined Lazarus on the floor. They grappled now, hands wrapped around each other's throat. There was no letting up now and it was obvious to each that this would be their final battle.

***



The Rook was in the fight of his life. In their last meeting, Doctor York had shown none of the skills that he was now displaying. The made scientist had just broken one of The Rook's legs and he was now choking the life from him. The Rook had to exert all his will to remain conscious as he fought to take York down. Somewhere in all of this, The Rook's pistol had been knocked from his grip, but the vigilante had more pressing concerns at the moment.

Stars were beginning to appear before The Rook's eyes and he knew that he was literally seconds away from blacking out. He drew his head back and then slammed it forward, smashing his forehead directly into York's nose. Blood spurted from York's nostrils and his grip weakened enough for The Rook to pull free, gasping for air.

The Rook scrambled to his feet, his shoe bumping against something hard on the floor. Looking down, he spotted his pistol and he quickly snatched it up. His broken leg ached horribly and he was unable to put much weight on it but with one good shot, the battle would be over.

York was on his feet again and The Rook realized that he had a perfect shot: one bullet to the villain's head and the city would be safe.

Just as he was about to pull the trigger, he caught a glimpse of Lady Death. The hooded figure was watching the battle with obvious interest and The Rook momentarily assumed that it was because she was concerned for York's survival. But then something occurred to him: where was Lazarus Gray? His aides were here, actively battling the zombies – even poor Samantha, naked as the day she was born. But their erstwhile leader was nowhere to be seen.

The Rook suddenly realized that he'd been duped. He twisted, turning the barrel of the gun on Lady Death.

***



Lazarus had tensed, preparing for a potentially fatal shot to come from Lunt's gun. Blood was flowing freely from his nose, but Lazarus was ignoring it. If he didn't time his movements just so, he was about to die… and all that he'd accomplished with Assistance Unlimited was going to come to an end.

Lazarus caught Lunt's eyes shift to something over his shoulder and he risked a glance, wanting to make sure that Devil Face wasn't back in the fray. What he saw gave him pause: it was Lady Death, standing half in the shadows. Seeing her brought a bit of clarity to his mind – something about this situation did not feel right. The last time he'd checked on Lunt's whereabouts, he'd been in Europe… how had he managed to spearhead this plan involving Devil Face? Especially since the murders began before Lunt ever came to Sovereign in pursuit of Lazarus? Had he just taken over a pre-existing plot of some kind? Or was all of this just a bizarre illusion perpetrated by Lady Death?

Narrowing his eyes and focusing all of his amazing willpower allowed Lazarus to suddenly see the truth: the man before him was not Wilhelm Lunt at all. He had been battling The Rook for the past several minutes, while his aides fought for their survival.

Just as The Rook turned his gun on Lady Death, Lazarus turned and jumped into the middle of the scene involving the zombies and the other members of Assistance Unlimited. Samantha's body was covered with scratches and bruises. She was fighting bravely, but was unarmed and had been backed into a corner by two of the undead. They tugged at her hair and opened their mouths in an attempt to catch her tender flesh between their teeth. Lazarus unsheathed the dagger he kept on the calf of his left leg and drove the blade through the head of one of the monsters, freeing Samantha to dispatch the other by gripping its skull in her hands and repeatedly driving it into the wall. When the thing's head had been reduced to a liquid pool of gore, Samantha shoved it away from her.

"Glad to have you back with us," she said with a smile. "I was wondering what was up with you and The Rook."

Lazarus removed his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. "A momentary lapse of rationality," he explained.

A gunshot rang out, sounding abnormally loud in the basement. All heads, even those of the remaining zombies, turned to see Lady Death stagger back. The bullet couldn't really destroy her, but it was enough to ruin her tenuous hold on this plane. Her body shimmered, turning to thin trails of smoky vapor that eventually dissipated. Devil Face cried out, a mournful sound that spoke of dashed hopes and lost love.

The four remaining zombies seemed uncertain now, their hungers no longer enough to drive them forward. They became easy prey for Morgan, The Dark Gentleman, and Eun, the three men using differing means to dispose of the beasts: Morgan and The Dark Gentleman put bullets through their brains while Eun preferred bashing their skulls in.

In the aftermath, the heroes stood silently for a moment, lost in their own thoughts. When enough time had passed for everyone to feel like they'd regained their footing in the real world, it was Lazarus who spoke first. "We should tie up Phillips and call the authorities."

The Rook cleared his throat, gun still in hand. "I think we should kill him. He's dangerous – and the police won't believe half of the truth, even if we decide to tell them. With his money and clout, he might pay somebody off in this town and get off scot-free. The best way to deal with a rabid dog is to put him down."

"That's not how I do things," Lazarus retorted. "I know that the justice system in Sovereign is corrupt, but we have to give it a chance to do the right thing."

The Rook's fingers shifted on the gun he held and he knew that no one would be able to stop him if he chose to end Devil Face's life here and now. But he liked Lazarus and didn't want to test their friendship in that way. He holstered his weapon and nodded toward The Dark Gentleman. "Decided to add a masked man to your team, Lazarus?"

The Dark Gentleman smiled. "I'm just helping out."

The Rook watched as Lazarus used a thin, almost invisible cord to wrap up Devil Face's hands. The killer was sobbing softly and put up no resistance. The cord was obviously of Gray's own design and The Rook knew there was no chance of the villain escaping, even if he came to his senses and tried.

The members of Assistance Unlimited crowded around one another now, sharing their experiences. The men were anxious to know that Samantha was mostly unharmed and she was grateful that none of them mentioned the fact that they'd seen her naked.

The Rook slowly ascended the stairs, preferring not to say goodbye. He had forged some friendships here, but he had other places to be and he had never been good with partings. He noticed that The Dark Gentleman had the same idea. The young man was making his way to the stairs when The Rook stepped out onto the first floor and hurried out into the Sovereign City streets.

To The Rook's surprise, the sun had come through the clouds. The darkness still clung to the edges of the sky, but it looked like they were being driven back by the rays of the sun. For a moment, The Rook thought he saw the face of Lady Death in one of the clouds but then it was gone, replaced by a beam of light that shot forth, like a spotlight.

For one day at least, the forces of good had won – and in a place like Sovereign, that was something to be proud of.

THE END

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