by Stephanie Robyn
budapest, hungary – 3 november 1956
The boots of the occupying Soviet troops drummed steadily over the pavement, their constant march broken by their encounters with the dissidents. Gunshots and tear gas crackled and hissed over the blocks, drowning the shouts of the men who fought and the troops who struggled to either arrest or execute the obsessed nationalists.
Nagy had once again taken control of the country. The premier supported the demonstrators who grappled with the foreign army, calling for the withdrawal of the Soviet army and new reforms, free elections. He sang of a new economy and pronounced Hungary a neutral country. He fanned the fire that raged through the streets in the hearts and fists of the patriots, every Molotov cocktail thrown exploding in a fiery halo that cried Hungary’s coming independence from the Soviet government.
When she rose from her slumber that sunset, the fighting was still raging, unabated. Gyork paced restlessly outside the bedroom door of her room in the dilapidated townhouse, full of reports as his lady emerged from her chamber. The Soviet tanks had entered the city. A new slew of troops had come from the USSR to join their fellows, and the situation was rapidly growing dire. From his lips spilled a list of names, of her associates and allies who were either dead or missing with the close of the day. Jenci Zsofika was downstairs in the parlor, and had managed to collect of about thirty of the renegades, now gathered in the basement of the townhouse to regroup, organize, and nurse their many wounds. The tanks were closing in on the old city even as the dour young Gyork related the news to his mistress.
“How many of the masks do we have left?” she inquired, motioning for him to close the door as she shed her tattered robe, reaching for a patched pair of what had once been a set of uniform trousers. Running a comb swiftly through the loose curls that tumbled to her shoulders, she frowned a bit to hear his response.
“Only ten.” Gyork’s words were clipped. He had no love for the battle being waged in the streets of Budapest. Mina knew he had long wished to leave his home country, but the icy clamp of the Communists made that difficult if not impossible. “It’s not enough. It’s simply not. We should leave while we still can.”
“No,” she murmured softly, shrugging into a form-fitting thermal shirt, her hands working swiftly to tug on a battered fatigue jacket over it. The temperature outside was below freezing. They were fortunate the townhouse was still partially heated, although fires now burned in places never intended for hearths. Tying her hair back at the nape of her neck, she shoved a moth-eaten cap upon her head, turning the brim backwards to display the Hungarian flag drawn upon the worn fabric. The sharp report of machine-gun fire echoed along the nearby buildings, mingling with the cries of her people and the rapid explosion of home-made explosive devices, the sounds of conflict stabbing at the winter night. Lacing a pair of Soviet-issue combat boots upon her wool-socked feet, she set the cap at a rakish angle and proceeded to the hall, dropping Gyork a half-hearted wink. His expression was openly disapproving.
“Mina!” The once-busboy followed her to the top of the stairs, curling soot-blackened fingers over the scarred banister. His voice dropped as his mistress turned flashing eyes upon him, desperation in his tones. “My lady. We could leave now. Meet your lady mother in England. You know she doesn’t want you here in the midst of all this mess!”
Resolutely ignoring him, she continued down the stairs, looking for all the world the most beautiful ruffian one might ever set eyes upon. Jenci Zsofika paced the bare floors of the parlor below, his hands clasped at his back, cool hazel eyes darting between the staircase and the massive spiderweb crack that decorated the picture window over the street. He was twenty-five years old, and had once been one of Mina’s students. Now he led his own faction of protesters and demonstrators- guerrillas, really- and had been steadily attempting to chip away at the Soviet forces since the violence exploded into the open. She liked Jenci a great deal. His passion for the land was like to her own, and he had supported Nagy unwaveringly even throughout his loss of power. In Mina he saw the history of his country, for she had long ago revealed to him and a group of select others that she was descended from the Bathory line. Without the knowledge of her government employers she aided the plots of the dissidents, using the gifts of her nature to secure for them a meager supply of weaponry and anti-gas devices. There was nothing more she could wish for than the forced withdrawal of the foul Soviets from her country, and Jenci was the ardent personification of the people who struggled in the icy streets outside.
The tight expression on his face lacked entirely in its usual strained warmth as he turned to face the young woman descending from the upstairs. His hands were locked so tightly behind his back that his triceps flexed tautly as he turned, the bare skin visible beneath his torn jacket reddened with the cold and peppered with burns. Jenci’s broad features were etched with fatigue and pain as he regarded her in silence for a moment, and then offered a brief nod simultaneous to his start toward the basement. “Alexa’s been shot,” he said curtly, throwing back the wooden door with a creak that would have been loud, if not for the machine-gun bursts and explosions outside. “And the tanks are moving to the inner city.” His boots hammered down the stairs as an echo of the gunfire, Mina following swiftly behind.
Gathered upon the freezing concrete floor was a group of thirty-odd young people, crammed in an uncomfortable stench of burnt flesh, chilled sweat, and drying blood in the small, darkened space. The groans of the wounded mingled with the quiet sighs of the dying and the ravenous sound of chewing, bread and fire-cooked chicken being torn and passed between frozen, dirty fingers. A momentary ripple of heartened greeting ran through the protesters as the sparse light illuminated the slender form of Mina behind Jenci, murmurings of “my lady” touching dry throats. Jenci moved immediately to the form of a young woman, being cradled in the arms of one of her schoolmates. The lamps flickered upon the sticky, dark red stain that spread over the surface of her clothing, the salty tears of her friend dropping into the open wound that gaped so horribly at her stomach.
Mina paused at the foot of the stairs, watching as the stocky Jenci knelt beside the prone young woman. Alexa was nineteen, as was her friend Eszti, who sobbed brokenly over her shattered body. Jenci lifted a thick hand to touch Eszti’s hair in comfort as he bent over Alexa, his blackened fingers brushing with infinite tenderness over her cheek. The wounded girl’s dark eyes were luminous with pain and bewilderment as she stared up at him, her gaze darting feverishly to the slender form of Mina. Her lips parted to emit a bloody froth, and she jerked in Eszti’s gentle hold. Crossing the uneven floor, Mina crouched before Alexa, curling an immaculate alabaster hand over the girl’s chilled and dirtied fingers. “Alexa,” she breathed, her other hand reaching to lift the blood-thick golden hair back from her forehead. Eszti continued to weep, her sobs rising, choked as the battered body in her arms jerked once, and then fell to lifeless relaxation. Jenci bowed his head, lifting Alexa’s slim and shattered frame to his chest, and the vampire closed her eyes as she watched his broad shoulders shudder with grief.
Their mourning was fleeting, for Gyork’s boots pounded the basement stairs even as the first tears cut a pale streak over Jenci’s sooty cheeks. The young man’s expression was grim as his eyes landed upon his lady, his words rising through the sudden despair that froze his vocal cords. “My lady,” he said hoarsely, flickering a hand up the steps, “they’re here. And they want to see you.” A click resounded from the concrete walls as he cocked the pistol in his hand, leaving no doubt as to who “they” might be.
Mina and Jenci rose together, their eyes locked in the gloomy chill of the underground room. The young leader’s gaze washed tensely over the source of his inspiration as he wordlessly passed her his firearm. Closing her elegant fingers over the steel, she nodded to him once and removed the cap from her head, leaning to place it upon the sunny blonde curls of Alexa, its brim covering her staring eyes. “Get them all and take them out the back,” Mina instructed softly. “The gas masks we have left-”
“Are in the crate behind the stairs,” Jenci finished, flashing her an almost gruesomely fierce smile. “We already reloaded the guns.” Lifting his voice, he drew his other pistol from the back of his pants and gestured toward the stairs. “Let’s go, everybody. Out the back.” Pushing the teary-eyed Eszti ahead of him, he looked once more to Mina as the protesters clomped up thesteps, their weariness still visible in spite of the sudden dire situation. “We knew they’d find you out, eventually,” Jenci whispered, touching a hand lightly to her shoulder, his fingers leaving a darkened mark upon the fatigue jacket as he squeezed softly. “I’m going to stay inside with Eszti. I won’t let them arrest you, my lady Bathory.”
The charcoal eyes widened in the yellow light of the ground-floor hall as Mina merely shook her head mutely, watching the movement of the dissidents toward the back, alley exit of the townhouse. The rumble of man-made earthquakes shivered the house as she pushed Jenci away, knowing already the sound of tanks upon city streets. “Jenci, go,” she whispered, “you and Eszti both. Please go, now.” An aggravated shout rose from the other side of the front door, followed by the pound of a gloved fist. Demands in Russian that Comrade Lyubochka open the door immediately were repeated, several times over.
“Mina!” Gyork snapped, standing to the side of the doorway. The pistol was ready in his hand, curled at the back waist of his pants. He jerked his chin agitatedly toward the front door as the sound of a rifle butt’s smash upon the wood blended with the reverberation of the tanks and the ever-nearer bursts of machine-gun fire.
Giving Jenci a last push back, she strode to the doorway without looking over her shoulder, jerking back the door with a cascade of rapid blinks at the Soviet troops standing upon her front stoop. The man wielding the rifle stopped in mid-bash, pulling the firearm back against his shoulder as he planted a hand just below the hollow of her throat and shoved her back roughly. “Comrade Lyubochka, Mina?” The soldier’s voice barked as jaggedly as the crack in the parlor’s picture window. His dark eyes landed unquestioningly upon the half-visible form of Gyork at the edge of the narrow foyer. “And Comrade Lyubochka, Gyork. You are both under arrest for sheltering the rebels. Put your hands atop your head and turn around.”
Her eyes widened behind their fringe of black lashes as she stared back at the soldier, rosy lips parted softly in an expression of shock. Lifting her hands slowly, palms out to him, she raised them to shoulder level, all the while gazing into that craggy, battle-hardened countenance. “Turn around and leave this house,” she whispered in Russian, watching the effect of the hypnosis strike him as his eyes softened to delicious confusion. Without hesitation, the man spun on his heel and pushed his way through his fellows upon the stoop, moving to the military jeeps parked on the curb. His comrades stared after him in astonishment for only a moment before another of the soldiers stepped forward, repeating the charges as he moved to grasp Mina by her lifted wrists. “You are under arrest for sheltering the rebels. Come along peacefully.”
Again, another soldier was turned back, departing the townhouse in wide-eyed befuddlement. She stared at the four who remained, preparing to cause their exits one by one. A third came forth to announce the arresting charges. He reached again for the docile hands folded atop her gold-streaked cinnamon curls, grey eyes wide and innocent as she stared back at him, a beautiful freckled angel in patched trousers and a too-large fatigue jacket. As the hypnosis swelled glitteringly along the ebon sunburst in her gaze, the solider behind the man moving to grab her surged forward, knocking his rifle-butt to her chin with a resonant crack. Her head jerked back, the soldier wavering in the unfinished grasp of hypnosis beginning to blink the fog from his mind.
“You,” the fourth soldier growled, his fingers snaking forward to seize a handful of the mahogany ponytail, “are under *arrest*! For sheltering the-” “Shelter this!” Gyork shouted, aiming his pistol at the man’s head with a rapid shot. Blood and brains sprayed to the off-white stucco of the foyer wall as the bullet shattered his left eye and exploded through the back of his skull. Gyork’s other hand darted simultaneously to yank Mina to one side, pulling her out of the foyer as the remaining three soldiers doused the confined space with gunfire. She stumbled, gasping softly through the trickle of blood on her lips as bullets peppered her calves and ankles, the crimson blossoming swiftly over the patched trousers. The Soviets surged after them, only to fall back dead at the onslaught of Jenci and Eszti, who leapt from behind a wall across the corridor.
Burning pain flashed through her lower legs as she shrugged off Gyork’s hand, leaning into the wall to stare at the grim-faced pair of young Hungarians who had just dispatched the remaining soldiers in her doorway. Jenci moved to her side as the blood began to pool thickly about the heels of her boots, going to slide a supportive arm about the slim curve of her waist. This, too, was shrugged off as she pulled the handgun from the back of her trousers. “Did they get out?” she demanded, her own voice barely above a whisper. Jenci nodded shortly as Eszti stepped up behind him, the still-rounded lines of her young face set now to grim purpose.
“Go with them,” Mina instructed. “Gyork and I will meet you tomorrow at sundown, at 12 Judenstrasse. They’ll be looking for the two of us, so you shouldn’t be-”
There was no shout of surprise, no warning whatsoever, as the two drivers of the Soviet jeeps turned their handguns around the edges of her open doorway, firing over the fallen bodies of their comrades at the Hungarians in the townhouse foyer. A searing pain sizzled in a horizontal line across her forehead as a bullet grazed her flesh, finding its final resting place between the concerned and fervent eyes of Jenci Zsofika. Ezsti was not even allowed time to react as a second shot ruptured her throat, Jenci’s body toppling back into her own to join those of the soldiers upon the bloody foyer floor. Mina was falling back into the parlor even as Gyork once again grasped her by the back of her jacket to pull her out of the way, firing over her shoulder at the two men who dashed into the house after the wounded Comrade Lyubochka. The pistol’s report shattered ringingly in her eardrums as George felled the two soldiers, stepping forward to draw his long knife across the throat of one who had merely been struck at his collarbone. Wiping the steel blade upon his pantleg, he grabbed his lady by the hand and pulled her from the townhouse, bounding onto the icy streets with Mina at his side, her movements impeded by the slices of pain in her lower legs, even as her vision blurred with the blood streaming at the shallow wound in her forehead.
The two Soviets Mina had befuddled sat still upon the seats of the two military jeeps. There were no words necessary between the vampire and her ghoul. Gyork flew to the second vehicle, slashing his kes to the neck of the man within. Mina fell upon the jeep before her, a spray of blood mixing with the hiss at her lips as she grasped the solider by his close-cropped hair and sank ivory fangs to his jugular, tearing the flesh and ligament away and spitting them to one side even as the hot fountain of crimson erupted to bathe her face in its horrible glory. Gyork appeared at the driver’s side of the jeep, pushing the man’s body from within as he prepared to climb inside.
An unearthly thunder shook the pavement beneath the jeep’s tires as a Soviet tank lumbered around the block’s corner, only a few houses down from where the blood-drenched pair stood in the jeep. Gyork’s dark eyes widened as he froze, suddenly, staring up at the metal monstrosity rolling toward them. Wiping the blood from her vision with one gore-splattered sleeve, Mina also stared, but only for a moment before reaching icy fingers to the ignition of the vehicle. Gyork sprung into the driver’s seat, jamming desperately at the acceleration as the wheels skidded upon the ice-slicked pavement, the shrieks of their skid unable to drown the lazy, metallic creak of the tank’s turret and the heavy rumble of its startlingly swift progress down the street.
The military vehicle roared despairingly as it swerved down the narrow streets of the old city, Gyork working the gears frantically as he looked over his shoulder to the steady turn of the tank’s turret. In heartbeats the massive gun would be aimed upon them. The freezing wind whipped the loose, bloody curls back from the healing flesh wound at Mina’s forehead as her eyes darted between Gyork and the tank bearing down on them, knowing that in seconds the two of them would most probably be consumed in the fiery nimbus of the jeep’s explosion. Reaching over to rip her ghoul’s hands from the steering wheel, she leaned back in the careening jeep and kicked a boot to his side with bone-shattering force, thrusting his body from the vehicle and to the icy street below. Scrambling to the side of the now-driverless jeep, she leapt from the seat to roll upon the pavement, the frozen asphalt tearing deep scratches into her porcelain skin. Scrabbling for the sidewalk, she pulled herself laboriously into an alley as the explosion of the tank’s fire found the corner of a building rather than the military jeep which had stalled and swerved without someone behind the wheel. Stone showered into the night air as the corner of an edifice that had stood for centuries took a jagged wound.
Fairly deafened by the explosions, she drew herself to her feet and began to run, grey eyes rushing burningly over the snow-littered sidewalk, looking for Gyork. Crimson droplets splashed upon the stone as she ran, flying from the myriad wounds in her calves. She screamed his name as the massive tank came to a loud stop at the center of the street, its hatch clanking back to reveal a gunman rising from the belly of the beast. The rifle blast ripped into her back, smashing through the right side of her ribcage and emitting a bloody fountain where it emerged at the front. Falling to her hands and knees upon the ice-slick pavement, she gasped, snarling at the unspeakable pain as her blood poured to the street below. “Mother,” she choked softly, only dimly hearing the shouts of the soldiers climbing down from the tank to approach her on pounding feet. Drawing herself up with shaking fury, she turned to face their advance, charcoal eyes shining more brightly than the flash of the bayonets they leveled at her. A feral hiss dropped with the blood that spilled from her lips, coating her chin and throat as she lunged at them, the fanged teeth gleaming in their speckling of crimson. Claws tore ribbons of flesh, gouging the eyes of the first soldier to reach her, even as the bayonet stabbed through her breastbone, permitting her to get that close to him. An inhuman shriek bubbled bloodily from her throat as she staggered, the sharpened steel protruding from the back of her battered jacket. Ripping at his face and throat, her screams blended with those of the first soldier who had stabbed her, and it seemed as if the street of her city began to sink beneath her buckling knees. The second tank soldier reached her, bayonet flashing at the tip of his rifle as it came down, driving down through the gap between her collarbone and chest. Again and again he stabbed, rending the alabaster flesh as he sought to end the life of this beautiful demon who just kept fighting. Screaming for the mother she had not seen in four decades, she struggled against the onslaught, the talons of the undead raking at her assailant.
Very dimly, she heard the cracks of firearms, a trio of shots felling the Soviets who manned the silent tank that awaited them in the street. Gyork swayed as he stumbled to her side, having taken a rifle wound in the shoulder in his effort to get to her. His dark, handsome face was streaked with blood and scrapes from the road, his cold hands shaking as he drew the battered form of his lady to him. An animalistic shout of fury erupted from his own throat as he staggered to his feet, pulling the dazed vampire along with him, grabbing up the discarded Soviet rifles. Lurching down the frozen street, he laid her upon the seat of the military jeep that had veered to a crunching halt at a lamppost, the seats of the vehicle running dark with the stains of their blood. The hot pain dulling to a numb throb at his wounded shoulder, he pulled the jeep back, pushing it to speed skiddingly down the icy streets of Budapest.
The crimson ran in rivulets over her slender, white hands as she dragged herself to a half-sitting position upon the front seat of the jeep, pain-wracked charcoal eyes finding the grimly set countenance of her ghoul as he raced at a breakneck speed through the streets, the sounds of gunfire and screaming, exploding Molotov cocktails and the stench of tear gas seemingly around every corner. Charcoal eyes widened in desperate horror as she looked to Gyork and knew his intent. “No!” she screamed. “No, Gyork!” “We’re leaving!” Gyork shouted, the effort of his raised voice causing him to wince and growl in pain. “Now!”
“No!” Mina shrieked, reaching to rip at the steering wheel and send the jeep swerving dangerously into a row of already-smashed cars at the side of the road. “No!” She screamed, battling with Gyork for control of the vehicle. She couldn’t leave her people. No! She had to stay and fight for them. For Alexa and Eszti…for Jenci. For Hungary. She would heal, Gyork would heal, and they would struggle anew. It couldn’t end this way. It couldn’t end with a failure. Her country needed to be free!
Grabbing up one of the rifles he’d taken from the dead soldiers, he swung it at his lady, smashing the butt into her temple and watching with harsh satisfaction as she lapsed into unconsciousness. They were leaving. The struggle to get out of Budapest hadn’t even begun…assuming they survived that, he could go west, across the plains to Austria, where the Soviets had no hold. His lady would not die in this rot of a land. This land that put the light in her eyes…why, he would never understand. But they were leaving.
The dawn of 1957 would find them in Vienna.
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