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I had come to accept that it was nigh-impossible to prepare for anything in a world where everything was possible. Still, I had never thought that I would be struggling with a dead body that was trying to kill me. One part of my swiftly-moving mind tried to formulate some plan of attack or observe some insight on how to not get myself killed.

Surprisingly, it had nothing to offer me. After all, it was one thing dealing with normal Pushed. There was a mortal being inside and I was a nemesis to the unnatural. I could get at the vulnerable thing in the superhuman shell and there were many ways to hurt a human for a trained physiologist. How do you hurt a corpse?

With my mind and body moving as one, I was faster than any normal person, but compared to this vampiric thing, I was moving in molasses. I had only moved three steps before it crossed the dank chamber, lunging with grime-encrusted nails at my shoulders. At least I seemed to be competitive in terms of pure reflexes and instinctively corrected for the creature’s attack, slipping to one side of it before throwing a Hail-Mary haymaker at its head.

The monster seemed to have no conception of self-preservation and moved into the blow in its efforts to snatch me. As with all the “invulnerable” superhumans I had faced so far, I felt the slight resistance of the supernatural outer skin before my fist carried through, powered by all the strength my body could put behind it.

Punching the partially rotten corpse was the most disgusting thing I had done in my life. My full strength tore into dead skin and flesh, knocking the jawbone completely free on one side. The air was filled with an explosion of new, fetid aromas as coagulated fluids and decomposing tissue went flying in a spray away from the impact. Any living creature would have been instantly incapacitated from shock and would die without immediate medical attention from such an injury.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t fighting a living creature. The outer vampiric form matched the inner corpse, its phantom jaw being knocked off its hinges with a tearing of alabaster flesh, but it did not crumple. There was a brief, guttural howl as it turned back to me. Already I could see that some force was forcing the jaw back into place, just as the vampire’s form seemed to regenerate in mere moments.

The distraction of watching the bizarre double-action was a stupid mistake. The vampire felt no pain, no more than I did, and in its animalistic rage barreled into me. It was only a few steps before my back slammed once more into the dripping brickwork. This time, though, there was a supernaturally strong corpse jamming me into it. The vampire pinned me to the wall by virtue of its rotting forearm across my chest. As my collarbones creaked, a blood-stained hand snaked up to grab my head, hoping to pry it aside for access to the blood vessels in my neck. Classic movie monster move.

This thing was far stronger than I was, but there was still some relief as I pushed against its elbow with one hand. My other hand moved to intercept his groping claw. I didn’t try to match its grip. Instead, I deflected the arm to one side, sending the corpse’s fingertips burrowing into the bricks behind me.

My accelerated thoughts cycled through my options. Any physical damage I did to the corpse, I assumed, would be temporary. The Pushed shell would simply force it back into position and carry on. It felt no pain, no shock. Frankly, it had no conventional vulnerabilities.

At the same time, I could use whatever violence I needed to without fear of hurting a living person. What I needed to remember was every popular myth about vampires. The Whiteout stole its template for the universe not just from Eric Flynn’s mind, but bits from every mind it touched. Whatever the myths said were the methods to kill a vampire were most likely the methods this thing was vulnerable to.

I ruled out sunlight immediately as I brought my free hand back down with a hammer punch right on the corpse’s shoulder. As with the jaw, the power of my blow was enough to crush the entire shoulder socket, giving me a momentary respite as the arm was pulled back into place by the regenerating form. Using that opening, I released my grip on its pinning forearm and delivered a short, sharp blow to the ribcage. My hand dug into the viscous mass of the monster’s torso and I was infinitely grateful for my leather gloves and full-body uniform.

With the vampire’s equilibrium disrupted by the two structural breaches, I was free enough to bring my legs up to my chest and violently thrust outward, sending the vampire flying across the room into the steamer trunk. The swollen wood burst from its bands and sent a torrent of earth spilling out to the ground. The monster was already stirring, white flesh knitting together and corpse parts being shoved back into place. I needed real options and I needed them now. My brain, thankfully, delivered as I slid down the wall, catching myself in a crouch.

I pushed off from the crouch into a smooth pounce, crashing on top of the corpse while it was still off-balance. Another spray of moist earth blasted up into the air as I tried to pin the creature with my knees. I frantically dug through the mounds of earth and debris for something long, wooden, and pointy. A moment later and I had something suitably stake-like in my hands. It was time for a classic-horror-movie-vampire staking. I raised the broken, jagged-edged plank up high and brought it down, letting my scientific knowledge guide my hand towards the heart.

If it had gone according to plan, my strike would have been true. My aim was impeccable. Unfortunately, I had failed to account for all of the supernatural abilities vampires were reputed to possess. Just as the makeshift stake began to part the perfect outer flesh, the creature shrieked and exploded. Not, unfortunately, into inert dust like so many television portrayals, but into a sickly cloud of fog. I held my breath as the mist burst past me on an unnatural wind, ending with another slight pop as the air pressure shifted back and forth. I threw myself from my kneeling position to spin onto my back, just in time to see a pair of massive fangs descend. There was no room to maneuver in the wreckage of the trunk. All I could do was throw up a forearm in defense.

I was saved from the worst case scenario by my peculiar immunity to the Pushed. Those knife-like teeth were immaterial to me. Still, the inhuman strength behind the corpse’s jaws mashed hard into my leather sleeve. I could feel my forearm muscles get torn and mangled as my mind suppressed the pain. My eyes locked with the double gaze of my attacker, who continued its attempt to gnaw through my sleeve, as I stabbed upward with the sharpened slat.

Though nowhere near the heart, the wood itself seemed to be repellent to the beast, at least able to wound it better than my fists or feet. There was a shudder that ran through my arm as wood pierced inhuman flesh. The glowing red eyes gaped and, in a fraction of a second, I was free as the beast recoiled to howl in rage. It turned away from me, clutching at the board that had impaled it through the guts. I was sickened to see not only bits of dead matter drip out of the wound, but fresh blood as well.

Willing myself to hold it together, I forced myself into action and rolled to my feet. The creature was having trouble extracting the crude stake; for all its feral qualities, it seemed to realize that leaving splinters of wood inside it was bad. Thinking myself unnoticed for the moment, I surged towards it with the intent to drive it chest-first in the wall, hopefully impaling it further and buy me time to find another sharpened piece of wood. I had underestimated the corpse’s sensory powers or its primal instincts, as my rush was met by an immediate backhand, delivered with preternatural speed and power. There wasn’t even a muscle twitch to read in the animated corpse; I had no chance to divert. I did, however, manage to roll with the impact as it sent me sprawling backwards, landing face-down on the slick stones.

Having been hit by the most powerful Pushed on the planet already, I certainly wasn’t put out of action, but I was dazed by the hit, spitting up blood from my busted lip. The bruise would certainly be impressive if I lived through this. At least the impact had shattered the corpse’s hand into fragments that even the Pushed aura couldn’t properly form a hand out of again. As I pushed myself up, I caught a glint of silver on the ground.

It was a dirty but intact crucifix. It must have belonged to the victim, lost in the struggle before it could be brought to bear. I wondered if it would work at all, especially for an avowed skeptic, as I crawled for it. It was just within my grasp when I felt a vice-like grip on my ankle.

Three months of on-the-job combat training kicked in as I lashed out with my free leg, feeling the brief slow before the sickening squish of biker boot in dead flesh. Unfortunately, there was no recoil of pain or shock, only that relentless corpse grip. The world whirled about as I was yanked through the air by one leg. Muscles and tendons screamed before I was suddenly free, only for one more violent impact on cold, hard stone. It was only a miracle that kept my head from being brained open on jutting stones and my bones intact. Still, my ability to shut down pain and push my body had its limits, and I was slow to get my bearings or mount a defense.

The world was still a gray blur as I was again hoisted into the air, this time by the scruff of my jacket. A cold, corpse hand pressed against my forehead, driving it back and to the side. No protection there. It couldn’t drink my blood with its phantom fangs, but it could easily chew open a deadly wound. Two things happened, near-simultaneously, that stopped that.

First, I opened my clenched hand to reveal the glittering necklace with its smudged but intact cross, swiped right as I was thrown through the air.

Second, there was a pure, white flash, the same color as the Whiteout itself, radiating from behind the monster, followed by a loud twang, like the release of a bowstring magnified tenfold.

The vampire dropped me, averting its eyes from the crucifix, as a large, metal arrow protruded from its upper right chest. I couldn’t be sure if that shaft was meant for me or the vampire. After all, the white flash could only have been caused by one thing: Epic’s portal. The Crusaders sent someone here. Whether he was here to help me or kill me was the rub.

I could tell instantly that the man was Pushed but, more importantly, he was using Pushtech. Invented and built by “super scientists,” Pushtech to me was nothing more than random parts and junk cobbled together, but to mundane eyes, it was impossibly advanced technology. Of course, it only worked for a Pushed, something always excused away with one conceit or another by the Pushed and their supporters.

What to me was a suit of random looking armor bits with a crossbow strapped to one gauntlet had the outer appearance of a magnificent suit of powered armor with an advanced, mechanized crossbow system attached to it. Annoyingly, because he had a real motorcycle helmet on, I couldn’t see his features or read his expression.

“Monster!” he cried out, showing his intent for the moment, with an accent straight out of an Arthurian movie. “Stand down or I shall smite thee again!”

Great. I was going to die either from a vampire or this guy’s horrid dialogue. Ultimately, I decided beggars couldn’t be choosers as the vampire, tearing the arrow harmlessly from its chest, sprang back to the attack.


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Framed