Rayne's wiseass comment was almost a reflex, her instinctive response for dealing with any situation that put her off-guard and through which she regained a measure of psychological control. Inside, she was dumbfounded.

Wulf, damn him, saw right through her. He lifted his cigarette holder to his lips and took a deep drag, smiling thinly the whole time.

"Are you surprised to see me, Agent Rayne?"

"Well, yeah, most of the time when I kill someone they die and that's an end to it. I don't usually get to chat about it with them later."

Wulf chuckled.

"Come now, Rayne. Do you think that I had made such a study of the relics of Beliar all those years without coming to realize their true significance? The ability to imbue one's essence directly into the body so that the living flesh not merely acts as a shell for the soul but becomes one with it. True immortality!"

"So you're saying, what, that you boiled your soul down into your anus, then some other joker shoved it up his ass and you possessed him?"

"Leaving aside your crude attempts at bathroom humor, that describes it quite nicely." He suddenly slammed his fist down on the desk, making knickknacks rattle. "The Thousand-Year Reich destroyed after a mere nine? Intolerable! This will not be permitted!"

"And you're going to change that? Yeaaah, good luck there. I guess being dead for a decade is kinda hard on the sanity, huh?" Not that he was the mental health poster boy to begin with.

"Oh, but I already have. The means are in my grasp even now."

"Gonna resurrect all the other Nazi buttholes, too?"

Wulf chuckled.

"Oh, please. National Socialism is far, far more than a few men--men who, moreover, were in the end failures. The ideals of Aryan glory will be spread by other hands now, by the Americans and the Soviets, the English and French. Indeed, if one strips out the economic ideology from Russia, Stalin has already made several laudable steps without anyone's help. Likewise, had its leaders gone a different direction--and had the Japanese not made the ludicrous mistake of attacking first--America might well have been an Axis power during the war. Yes, I believe the two surviving world juggernauts will be an excellent place to begin."

Hessler scowled, the expression distorting his bearded face.

"Commander, is this wise?"

"Come on, Hessler, don't you know it's rude to interrupt your boss in the middle of his monologue? Keep it up, Wulf; tell me how you're going to take over the world."

Wulf laughed again, this time deeply and full-throated.

"Ah, Rayne, you amuse me, you truly do. Do you think that I am going on like this because I am a madman who cannot help myself? I do it because it is excruciatingly obvious that one of us will not leave this room, and should that be you, I want you to appreciate the irony before you go."

"I'm just impressed you're willing to admit it might not be me."

Another chuckle.

"Being killed once gives a man a certain...perspective. Now and again a dropped coin can land on its edge. And I certainly knew that if there was any chance that I would be thwarted that it would be your Brimstone Society that accomplished it, so better to settle the matter--to say nothing of old scores--now."

Rayne's eyes narrowed.

"This is sounding dangerously like your next line is 'you've been doing my work for me all along, bwa ha ha ha ha!'"

"Oh, no, no; though after our previous encounter in Louisiana I can certainly see why you might suspect that. No, you've gone and inflicted personal and property damage that will take at least a month to rectify; you may console yourself with that thought. It is more a matter of taking steps along the way."

"Your 'steps' have so far lost you a werewolf doctor, a dhampir, and a dozen or so assorted goons," Rayne pointed out. "I'm not all that impressed."

"Pieces on a board," he dismissed them casually. "Knights and bishops--to say nothing of pawns--do not readily capture the queen. And yet here you are."

She raised the SMP 34 slightly without diverting the aim, calling attention to the fact that aiming point was Wulf's torso.

"You don't have Beliar's ribs anymore, Wulf. That makes you nothing but more meat for the grinder. I wonder how your blood will taste?"

"Threats before you even learn what our plan is?"

Rayne shrugged.

"Yeah, well, I honestly don't much care. If you're dead, then the plan goes away." She pulled the trigger, while her right hand sent the harpoon snapping towards Hessler. The sudden blow from behind snapped her arm up so that the spray of bullets ripped into the ceiling panels. A second blow crashed into her side, sending her flying across the room, crashing through an occasional table and a lamp. The harpoon had gone home, though; she was leashed to Hessler's corpse, the blade impaled through his open mouth.

"Really, Agent Rayne, you don't want to hear about how I intend to replace key leaders in the East and West with doppelganger look-alikes?" Wulf clucked his tongue. "It's fascinating, you know."

The outlines of Dianne Warner's body were rippling and changing. There was for an instant a loathsome plasticity--featureless flesh of sickly green without features, arms and legs flexing like ropes of muscle without bone--and then they settled into the image of Erich Riber.

Guess that explains why I haven't seen him around.

"Aw, shit. I liked her."

"I am a likeable man," Riber said. "Miss Warner found me so on the train to Munich."

"So when I kill you, I'll be getting revenge for my own illusions, not the real Dianne?"

"Not at all," Wulf chimed in. "When my creations consume a person, they absorb the memories and mannerisms of that person. Otherwise, the imposture would hardly stand up under the slightest scrutiny."

"Thought of everything, have you? Including a way to make the things bulletproof?" Rayne burned through the submachine gun's remaining ammunition, stitching Riber's head and torso with a dozen shots. Each struck home with a wet, pulpy squelching noise, as if the bullets weren't hitting human skin at all. Riber's body rippled, as if a wave had passed through it, and then the bullets popped out, rattling off the floor. "Okay, I guess you have."

Rayne ripped the harpoon free from Hessler and swung her blades out, ready for use. She liked that better, anyway. It was more intimate, more personal than standing halfway across a room and letting a machine do the work of killing. Riber--was it Riber, turned into a monster for the glory of the Reich, or had the creature consumed him, too?--seemed to feel the same way. It had not employed the gun it had carried as Dianne but merely stepped towards Rayne, arms and legs wide. The stance was all wrong for fighting, but Rayne had a feeling that human-form concepts of balance and mobility didn't apply here.

In the next moment it confirmed her suspicion, the body shifting and changing until it took on the hideous shape she'd glimpsed before. The thing's clothes had evidently been part of its transformed flesh, for it was naked, its body a muddy greenish-brown like the scummy, mud-choked waters of a stagnant pond. Its "face" was a complete blank without eyes, nose, mouth, or any other features; its arms were not arms at all but sucker-covered tentacles like a squid's; its legs ended in quivering, splayed pads; and it had no discernable sex. It did, however, have a mouth, a great slit that ran vertically from the hollow of its throat to its waistline, bristling with three-inch fangs and a lolling red tongue tipped with a glistening barb.

"Damn, and I thought the Daemites were disgusting. You haven't lost your touch for finding things that rank high on the ugly meter, Wulf. Hey, there's a plan: maybe you can take over the world while all the sane people are busy retching."

"I tire of this prattle. Dispose of her." Wulf smiled thinly. "I wonder what your precious Brimstone Society will do when their top agent turns on them from within, mm? That will more than repay me for the losses inflicted here."

"I don't think so." Rayne leapt as a tentacle snapped, whiplike, at her, knocking over a chair. "I don't go down easy."

She slashed out, trying to sever one of the tentacles, but it flexed a U shape right where she was trying to cut so that her blade passed through empty air. Its barbed tongue flicked towards her face, spraying spittle, and Rayne jerked back, not wanting any part of what was probably a poisoned stinger.

The doppelganger, she soon found, actually fought intelligently for a monster. Using its long appendages, it kept her back at range, where her only targets for attack were the flexible, highly mobile tongue and tentacles themselves rather than the more vulnerable body. Rayne managed to get in a couple of glancing nicks, but nothing solid. Her frustration was building; the monster's unnatural biology was proving equal to her own speed and other inhuman advantages. Tiny, leechlike mouths in its suckers chittered through their spiraling fangs, laughing at her discomfiture.

Then Rayne made a very bad mistake. With it being all she could do to keep pace with her unnatural opponent, she'd put Jurgen Wulf out of her mind. His new body lacked the relics of Beliar that had given him such supernatural power--they were now locked away in Brimstone's vaults--so Rayne had all but dismissed him as a threat. In truth, the blued-steel Leug pistol he drew from a hip holster wasn't a serious danger, but the several shots he snapped off in her direction were precisely timed, suddenly offering a fourth direction of attack for her to keep track of, and the change was too sudden, catching her off-guard. Her foot slipped just a fraction as she tried to pivot while landing after a jump, and she found herself with the doppelganger's right arm coiling around her, pinning her arms to her sides. The tiny leech-mouths nibbled at her, sucking on her blood or tearing at her leather bustier in search of the tender flesh beneath. Rayne fought against it with all her strength, but it was futile. Like a python, the entwining arm was nothing but raw muscle, imbued with supernatural force and redoubled by each coil wrapped around her. It began to draw her in towards the giant, slobbering maw, its torso seeming to split open to admit its fresh prey. The barbed tongue came up again, ready to sting and strike.

Damn it! It is not going to end like this, fed to this freakish monster like a doggie biscuit! Fury and frustration built upon fear and hate as she struggled futilely, until at last she surrendered to the blood rage and the world seemed suffused in a haze of red.

The blood rage was her at her most elemental, most vampiric state, Rayne's inhuman side let loose to its fullest extent. There was no thought, no science to it, just an unceasing passion to destroy, to rend things apart, to slash them, bleed them, to kill. Sometimes it scared her, letting that piece of Kagan inside her out into the world, but she used it, too, and often. Within the rage she was at her strongest, her fastest, her most lethal.

Strong enough to break the doppelganger's grip? No, not that strong. But Rayne's rage-clouded mind, consumed only with the urge to tear and destroy this thing, saw what she hadn't before: while it still held her, so too was the arm fixed in place compared to her body, and while her arms were held fast, her legs were not.

Thought and action were one, the urge to kill demanding that the opening be taken instantly. Her hip torqued at a tendon-straining angle with titanic force, ripping the sharp spike of her heel into rubbery flesh, ripping, tearing, until a gout of some stinking ichor that served the thing for blood spewed from the stump and Rayne fell to the floor, still wrapped in the severed arm. The monster screamed in agony that thrilled Rayne's soul as she slipped from its slackening coils. It flailed out with its other arm, but it wasn't fighting, just a wounded beast thrashing in pain. Her blades rose and fell, hacking and chopping it apart, tearing and impaling the thing until it lay in twitching chunks on the floor that pulsed, throbbed, and finally lay still in death.

Spent, the rage fell away from her and Rayne swayed and nearly fell with the loss of its sustaining energy. She'd been weakened by the fight, but there was still one source of strength left.

"Nice try, Wulf, but gee, it looks like it's down to you and me again." With the rage gone, she felt every bruise, every bite the doppelganger had inflicted, and she wasn't interested in pushing the banter much further. "And now it's going to be just me."

She leapt for him, arms outstretched. He reacted quickly, snapping off two quick shots that punched through her abdomen, but Rayne kept right on going. He blocked her first grab for him, but she got a hold of his arm, swung around behind him, and hooked his ankle, tripping him so she could push him down on the desk.

"This...isn't...over," Wulf gagged out.

"Yes it is," Rayne purred in his ear, then buried her fangs in his neck. Possessed and reshaped by Wulf's spirit or not, the body was a living human one, and its blood was hot and sweet. Moaning, Rayne guzzled greedily, giving herself over to the feeding, able to give it her complete attention without any other distractions. When she was finished, Jurgen Wulf was nothing but a withered husk.

"That's twice now," she told the dead man. "Let's hope that even someone stupid enough to be a Nazi can take the hint."

She was about to drop the corpse again, but noticed with some surprise and disgust that with the jaw sagging open in death, she could see Wulf's tongue. It was swollen and black, and it continued to wriggle like a living thing.

"Well, well. Looks like I just found that relic." She snapped open a blade, then sliced down, bisecting the corpse's skull from crown to collarbone. The tongue, sliced in two, seemed to squeal, vibrating against the air, then burst into flame and was ash in seconds.

Rayne dropped the corpse, then stopped and thought again. Wulf was a smoker, and she found a matchbox in one pocket. A few here, a few there, and the tower room was thoroughly ablaze when she left it. By dawn, she figured Riber Haus would be a complete loss.

Her life had one ghost in it already, the hate for her father that had shaped almost every major choice she'd made. She didn't need any more.