AUTHOR'S NOTE: In a recent issue of the Bloodrayne comic, "Red Blood Run No. 1," there's a bit of a continuity gaffe. The resurrected Jurgen Wulf, in explaining how he'd been an idiot in his past, states that "Even after we lost the war, I still proudly displayed his ridiculous symbol" ("his" in this case referring to Hitler). The problem is that Rayne finishes the first game by rendering Wulf down to dogmeat in 1938, before WWII had even broken out. So, unless Wulf was deliberately lying to his subordinate (unlikely) or just a bit confused in the head after sixty-odd years in Hell (understandable), there's a problem. What say we close that gap, shall we?
Castle Gaustadt, Germany
"They say this place was the haunt of vampires!" von Kempelen said. "Monsters even among their own kind!"
"Then you'd better hope they're all dead," snapped Gartner. He was in charge of the expedition, a burly, broad-faced American who had been with the OSS in the war and still worked in some similar capacity. The fellow was a spook through and through, thought Captain Larson.
There were just five of them: Gartner, Larson, Sergeants Donahue and Rice, and the German, von Kempelen. The latter wasn't military; he seemed to be some sort of local guide. Gartner treated the fellow like a kind of pet. His mention of vampires almost fit; Larson thought he looked like Edward Van Sloan in the movie Dracula, if one could imagine a cringing, nervous Van Helsing.
"Vampires?" Larson asked sarcastically. "The U.S. government has us out looking for vampires?"
Gartner gave him a contemptuous look.
"Don't be a wiseass, Captain."
"Then do you mind telling me what we are looking for? It makes it kind of hard to find it if my men and I are just staring around blankly."
"Hell, I don't know either."
Larson stopped in his tracks.
"Putting it bluntly, sir, but what the fuck?"
Gartner laughed harshly.
"About time you said that. General Newcomb said you had brains, but I was beginning to doubt it."
"This is a fishing expedition, Larson. We're here to see what there is to be seen, because at least at one point there definitely was something."
"How do you know that?" he asked.
"Records, Larson, records. We've got people going over every scrap of paper the Nazis left behind. Look around at this place. Looks pretty damaged, huh?"
"Artillery barrage, maybe, or a bombing run."
"The latter, as a matter of fact--except that it might surprise you to know that it was the Luftwaffe that carried out the air strike, and in the winter of 1938."
"Hold on. The Germans bombed this place themselves? Before the war even started? Why?"
"That's the question we asked." By "we," did he mean the United States? Gartner and others personally? Some spook organization embedded in the Occupation forces? "The air strike was ordered under the authority of a paramilitary organization within the Nazi apparatus called the Gegengeistgruppe. GGG for short, so you don't sprain your tongue."
Donahue, who knew some German, spoke up for the first time since the mention of vampires.
"Yep. Pithy, ain't it? Turns out this GGG had some kind of operation running here at Castle Gaustadt, only things apparently got a bit out of hand."
"Out of hand? They bombed the place?"
"Interesting, isn't it? And from what we could tell, the GGG all but ceased to exist at that point. A considerable number of its officers, including the commander, Jurgen Wulf, were reported missing, believed dead."
Larson thought of the number of skeletons they'd passed on the way through the blasted-out structure. Many still wore their green Wehrmacht or black SS uniforms; their tailors had done a better job of holding up against rot and corruption than their flesh. He had a feeling, too, that the cleaning fire of the air strikes had done a good deal to obliterate traces of a greater horror.
"My question is, who was the GGG fighting? Some resistance group?"
"There was none left in Germany in 1938--not on the scale that it could fight a pitched battle with an armed force of this magnitude. Besides, if that was the case they'd have sent in the Wehrmacht or the SS to suppress it under their own aegis. The GGG, as its name suggests, had one primary mission: to research matters occult that could give Germany an edge in its quest for global domination."
Larson had to concede--though not out loud--that Gartner had a point.
"Who knows?" He glanced at von Kempelen. "Vampires, maybe. The castle's owner was listed as a Count Voicu. That's not a German name."
"Sounds Transylvanian to me!"
Von Kempelen blanched.
"I beg you, do not joke about such things!" The statement was, ironically, laughable, but he was so obviously sincere that no one laughed.
"What's that up there?" Donahue said, pointing.
"It looks like a tunnel, going into the mountainside," Larson said, studying the entrance through his field glasses. He glanced at Gartner. "Do you want to check it out, sir?"
"No reason not to. They built this bridge for a reason--and that damn minefield at the bottom of the steps wasn't put in for laughs. GGG must have been covering their backs."
"All right, then."
They crossed the old wooden bridge. It was of sturdy, ancient construction, designed to support heavy wagonloads crossing and re-crossing the broad span, and had probably stood for centuries. Recent damage, though, made the crossing a harrowing experience; large chunks had been burned and blackened by fire, as if someone had tried to burn down the bridge, and in two places there were broad gaps where explosives or other massive assaults had torn holes in the surface. Donahue nearly slipped and fell when a burned patch gave way under his boot; Larson grabbed his coat and was able to haul him back just in the nick of time. His calf had been gouged by the splintered wood and it was necessary to clean and bandage the wound once they got across the bridge onto solid ground.
A heavy portcullis of medieval design hung above the tunnel, locked in the open position. Its spiked base looked like fangs set in the upper half of some giant maw, Larson thought, then snorted. Too much talk of occult mysteries and vampires could rot a man's brain.
The tunnel was not roughly hewn as he'd expected. Rather, it had stone-flagged floors and walls, looking for all the world like a corridor in a cathedral or late medieval palace. They passed more corpses along the way as the corridor spiraled inwards. All were Germans; the lack of bomb damage made it clear that some had been gunned down while others had apparently been sliced apart by swordlike blades. There wasn't a sign of a body that wasn't German, which raised the question of what--or who, given their use of firearms--the GGG had been fighting. Not to mention why so many armed troops hadn't been able to accomplish anything against that enemy.
The corridor led through a large, round hall which had been the scene of a savage battle--one of the two columns had been somehow smashed in two and the other nearly so, which made Larson eye the ceiling. The pillars looked to be ornamental rather than load-bearing, but one never knew...
Only two corpses were to be found here, each with only one arm, but the corridor that descended from the far side was a veritable abattoir.
"Captain, something doesn't look right here," Donahue volunteered.
"There's a lot of things wrong about this place," Larson responded. It was beginning to sink into him now, the presence not just of the brutality and inhumanity of battlefield violence but of an underlying foulness, a genuine evil. The only thing he could compare it to was when his unit had liberated a concentration camp and he'd been overwhelmed by the obscenity, the degradation of human life. Although not on the same scale, Castle Gaustadt had something of the same feel to it, the sense that this was a place where people had abandoned their humanity, descended to the level of a beast, unfettered by a shred of conscience.
"No, sir--I mean, yes, sir, but that isn't what I meant."
"Well, these dead men--they're Nazi soldiers, aren't they?"
"Judging by the uniforms, yes."
"Well then, sir, where are their guns?"
"Your man is right," Gartner said after a moment. "There's a couple of pistols, but nothing heavier than a sidearm. It's as if someone systematically stripped these men of their weapons as they passed through."
"But why? And who?"
"Maybe it was their comrades?" Rice volunteered. "Maybe they were fighting their way onwards and needed every gun, every magazine as they forced back whatever was here."
Larson considered the suggestion, then shook his head.
"If that's the case, then where's the enemy's bodies? If the Germans were forcing their way in, surely the opposition would have left behind some sign--and if they didn't leave anyone, then why give ground at all? No, there's something else."
"What do you think, then?" Gartner asked.
"Well, if you ask me, these were rearguards. I think somebody came in from outside and followed the Nazis into this hole. These men tried to stop that outside force and got their asses kicked."
Gartner tapped a skull with his foot; it was still wearing its helmet, strapped in place under its chin, but lay a good twenty feet from the nearest headless body.
"I won't argue that last part," he said wryly.
The tunnel turned, then opened up into a massive room. It was like the interior of a huge round tower a hundred feet high, except that it was entirely buried within the heart of the mountain. Von Kempelen and Rice shone their electric lanterns around, illuminating the floor.
"Well, I guess that explains where the guns got to," Donahue said, and indeed the floor was littered with them: pistols, submachine guns, even high-grade assault rifles. Larson picked one up, then checked the magazine.
"Empty," he muttered, discarding it. A few more proved the same. There was even a grenade launcher with an empty ten-shot drum and a couple of rocket launchers, sans rockets. "It's like a graveyard for dead weapons."
"Not for dead people, though," Gartner muttered. "What the hell were they shooting at? And if they fired this many rounds, where are the bodies?"
"Something else," Larson said. "For a room with a few dozen empty weapons sitting around, there's not a whole lot of bullet damage showing here. Whatever these guns were shot at, they hit." They'd been shot in this room, too. The amount of expended brass littering the floor was proof positive of that.
"So where's the bodies?" Gartner asked, half-rhetorically. "If something got shot in here, where's the corpses?"
"There's one, sir," Rice said as his light picked out something on the far side of the room. The group crossed over to an arch which led to a staircase going up, curving around the outside of the tower-like room.
The corpse lay half in, half out of the archway. It was clad in an elaborate uniform and an officer's cap lay a short distance away. The epaulets bore an unusual design, a three-armed variation of the swastika. Larson had already seen it here and there on other bodies around the castle, generally those of officers. The rank insignia suggested that this man was at the least a major-general, perhaps more.
"What's that mark, anyway?" Larson asked.
"The GGG's insignia," Gartner said. "Not sure of its origin, but it's all over their paperwork."
"I wonder what chopped this guy up?" remarked Rice. The description was nothing less than literal: the head had been severed, one leg separated at the knee, the other leg cut off at the hip, the bone sliced clean through. There was no sign of the left hand at all.
"It doesn't make sense. Who--or what--uses that kind of blade in combat these days? You'd need an axe or one of those big two-handed swords...hey, maybe a Japanese sword? Their officers still carried them now and again."
"Maybe." Gartner bent and picked something out of the dust. It was a silver monocle, a Y-shaped crack in the glass glinting in the lantern light. "Well, take a look at that."
"Is it significant?"
"It puts a name to our corpse." He bent and picked up the skull. "Gentlemen, say hello to Mr. Jurgen Wulf himself. Guess he isn't missing any more."
Von Kempelen shuddered.
"We should leave. This place, it is unholy. Surely you can feel it?"
"He might not be too far wrong, sir," Donahue concurred.
"Too bad Wulf, here, can't tell us what it was he was after; save us a lot of time, that," said Gartner, eying the skull. "Hell, he ought to be able to talk. The tongue's still in his head."
It was gallows humor, but accurate, too, as Larson saw now that he looked. Unlike the flesh on its face, which had rotted away, the tongue was still in place inside the skull. It was black and swollen, like the tongue of a strangled man, though leathery in look instead of wet. All in all it looked like some kind of loathsome worm or snake.
Suddenly, it acted like one, striking from out of the skull, shattering Wulf's jaw from within and scattering teeth. It struck at Gartner's face, burrowing into his mouth. Blood sprayed, and the Intelligence man screamed, the noise choked by the loathsome thing attacking him. The soldiers stood, stunned, riveted to their places, unable to believe what had just happened, unsure of what--if anything--they could do for the man. Gartner had fallen to the ground; he writhed and flopped like a landed fish, clutching at his face.
Finally, at last, he lay still.
"Mein Gott!" whimpered von Kempelen, cringing against the wall of the stairwell. "Mein Gott!"
"What the hell was that?" Donahue said. "Some kind of leech?"
"I don't want to find out," said Rice. He was trembling, a combat-hardened veteran shaking like a leaf.
Larson drew his sidearm, the butt of the .45 warm in his grip.
"We can't just leave him here, which means we have to kill that thing." He bent over, keeping the gun extended between himself and Gartner's body, making sure the barrel was pointed squarely into the open mouth. Donahue's description of the thing as a leech might not have been too far off; Larson could see where it quivered inside the blood-spattered pink hole as if it had rooted itself where Gartner's own tongue had been. It was freakish, though; no animal struck like that.
Suddenly, Gartner sat up. Larson gasped aloud, his hand jerked from nerves and the gun went off. Fortunately, the movement of the apparent corpse had taken it out of the line of fire and the bullet ricocheted harmlessly off the stone floor. Gartner's left arm came up, fastening on Larson's wrist in a bone-crushing grip, twisting the gun away from the spook's body.
"Hell, Gartner, I thought you were dead," Larson tried to explain, though he supposed in Gartner's position he'd have acted fast to prevent a second shot, too.
Gartner's right hand came up even as he spoke, his own pistol in it. He fired twice, blowing the top of Rice's skull off. He turned, firing again, the bullets thudding into Donahue's body, taking out the second sergeant. Von Kempelen screamed and ran for the exit, but Gartner shot him in the back, sending the German pitching forward onto his face.
"I must say, however, that his body will serve most excellently to replace my own."
The words that came from the bloody mouth and writing black tongue were clear and precise, not at all the words of a man in pain. They were not Gartner's words, though. This voice had a strong German accent and an arrogant, supercilious tone not at all like Gartner's deep, forceful one.
Larson fought, then, fought for his life. His boot lashed out at the thing's midsection even as he reached with his left hand for the gun he held in his trapped right fist. The shock of his kick ran up his leg but had no apparent effect on the monster in Gartner's shell. With a twist of his arm the thing flipped the captain back against the stone wall, driving the breath out of him. It leveled the .45 at Larson while he fought to regain his senses, but the weapon clicked empty.
The thing in Gartner's body rose to its feet. The flesh of its face quivered, rippled as if it was trying to reshape itself in ways human muscles could not follow. It sighed as it approached the stunned soldier, as if it regretted having to lower itself to such crudities, then methodically used the barrel of the spent weapon to beat Larson's skull in.