Content Warning: Firearms
Even in the closeness of the vault, the light from the sky above shone brightly enough for her to take in the curve of the hollowed cheeks and the artificial color added by the mortuary to the pallid lips. They had arranged her lover’s features into a credible resemblance of the expression she often wore in her sleep, so that, with a treacherous flicker of momentary hope, she almost persuaded herself that she had only to rouse her with a soft kiss on the lips to see those bright eyes open once more.
Then, as hope faded into bitter resignation, she knew that she had achieved all she needed from this visit to the threshold of the underworld. Her lover was not here, and the abandoned shell lying in this monument to death held nothing she cared to possess. Still, since she had known and loved even that evacuated dwelling place, she honored it one last time by pressing her lips to the cold and unmoving forehead.
As she stood to leave, she heard footsteps and voices echoing on the stair. At the same time, a flicker of torchlight lit the walls as it approached, and she blinked as the vault flooded with orange radiance. Four men appeared on the stairs. The first two halted at the bottom when they saw her, frozen at the sight of her dark form hovering beside the coffin. The other two, not realizing at first why their companions had stopped, shouldered their way forward, then likewise froze, astonishment and rage mingling with the light of the torches to lend a diabolical cast to their faces.
“Fiend,” said one of them at last, breaking the silence filled only with their breathing. “How dare you enter this sacred place?”
“The monster must die!” screamed the smallest and most mouse-like of them, the one to whom her lover’s parents had betrothed her against her will. He started toward her, as if to accomplish the feat himself, but the two on either side of him clutched his shoulders.
“Be cautious, my friend,” said the one who had first spoken. “She has confounded us before.”
“I have never wished for enmity between you and me,” she said, keeping her voice soft and even. “We’ve all lost someone we loved very much. We can do nothing for her by quarreling or violence, and she would be grieved to witness this scene.”
“Don’t be deceived,” said the first man to the others. “We must rid the earth of her kind, or the evil will spread. Remember the oath we all swore.”
The other two, who had up to now kept their peace, nodded, and both produced pistols from within their coats, leveling them at her.
“Your weapons will avail little against me,” she said. “Let me depart in peace. Despite the evil you have done to me, my heart is against killing you.”
“That we can never do,” said the leader. “The evil you have done among us—to our beloved friend—must die with you tonight.”
“I tire of your posturing,” she said, “Leave me alone now, or you will regret it for the remainder of your miserable lives.”