* For Alexandra Noseworthy who is beautiful and awesome and filled with light.
They had once called her The Iron Maiden.
The name had been a misnomer. She carried an Épée. It was her sword of choice when fencing. It had a long blade and a thick almost bell shaped hand guard. The sword itself was made from maraging steel to give it flexibility, not from iron.
When they started announcing the end of the world, Alexandra had taken matters into her own hands. If the world was going to end, she was going to be prepared. She was going to be armed. She forged a new Épée completely out of iron. It no longer had its flexibility, but could wound quite easily. It served her well in what the world had become.
As the world that was left began to heal, a dystopia rose up around her full of darkness and shadow. Alexandra had never killed anyone before but she learned quickly. It was kill or be killed in this new shadow world. That was the way of things now.
Soon, even the dystopian land around her crumbled until all that was ruins. Alexandra had survived only by skill and desperation. Everyone she had known or loved was gone from this world. All she had now were her wits and her Épée. She had no feeling left inside of her, only iron.
She was truly the Iron Maiden now.
The evening her world changed again, she was walking down what had once been a busy roadway. Cars and trucks were left where they had been standing like burnt out husks. Glass from shattered roadside lamps still littered the concrete like jewels that could draw blood.
As she walked by the cars sitting like fallen sentries on the road, she noticed that they all had numbers spray painted on the doors in bright red paint. The numbers were 666. She wondered what that meant.
She continued on down the road and saw the same numbers were spray painted everywhere. A chill ran down her spine. Alexandra didn’t know why three numbers should cause a tremor of fear to run down her spine, but she was afraid now.
As she continued to walk a little further, she began to sense that there was someone near by. She could always do this and it had saved her ass more than a few times. She stood there for a moment with her eyes closed, trying to pinpoint where the person was hiding.
Alexandra wasn’t surprised. There were lots of people still alive in what the world had become. She just didn’t know whether she would have to kill again until the person revealed themselves. As she was trying to sense where the person was, she heard footsteps and knew the person was close.
Opening her eyes, she took up the en garde position and waited. She didn’t have to wait long. As she watched, a shadow began to form into the shape of a man. Alexandra didn’t know how long he had watched her, how long he had observed her. It didn’t matter. All that did matter was defending herself so that she could survived another day.
She wasn’t prepared for him to pull his own Épée from the shadows and take up the en garde position. She knew from her fencing days that they would observe each other for a moment, trying to get the measure of each other. Looking at the shadow man, she couldn’t see his face but that didn’t matter. She relaxed her body, letting a sigh run through it and prepared to fight.
They were silent for a moment, for just a second, and then they were off. The man lunged at her with his Épée and she parry’d and lunged right back. They were a whirlwind of flashing blades and the clang of steel. This had always reminded Alexandra of music, each clang of sword a note on a musical score, the shuffling of feet like drums or cymbals.
She advanced on the man and lunged again and was able to dig the point of her Épée into his shoulder. He wasn’t expecting it and didn’t have time to parry. He let out a cry and stepped away from her, putting a hand to where Alexandra knew the blood was starting to flow.
“That fucking hurt.” He said. ” Épée’s aren’t supposed to draw blood like that.”
“I know.” Alexandra said. “This is one of my own making.”
The man regarded her and stepped out of shadow and into the light. He was short and lean which would be an advantage in the arena. He had dark hair that fell past his shoulders and large hazel eyes that were opened in surprise.
“Where did you learn to fence?”
“Here and there. What does it matter? None of that exists anymore.”
He smiled and Alexandra felt a flutter of something unknown to her move through her body. The ice within her melted a little bit for this man and she didn’t know why.
“True.” He said. He laid down the sword and held out his hand. “The name’s Bruce.”
She held out her own. “Alexandra.”
They shook hand and Alexandra experienced another tremor run through her, one of warmth and light that was unknown to her in this world of darkness and shadow. They stood there with hands clasped for a moment until a loud, horrifying roar filled the air.
Alexandra picked up her Épée. “What the fuck was that?” The roar had sent shivers down her spine.
“It’s the beast! Come on! We must hide!”
Bruce grabbed his own Épée and grabbed her free hand. They found a van that was still mostly in tact and slid inside it. Alexandra should have been worried about sharing such a cramped space with a stranger but didn’t. She had no idea what that meant but realised that she wanted to find out.
“What’s the beast?”
“Didn’t you see the number of the beast written all over the place? If I had been thinking clearly, I would have just left you be and run away.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I saw your Épée and figured you were a kindred spirit. It’s been so long since I’ve sparred with anyone.” He gave her a smile that she saw in the darkness of the van, a flash of white teeth that sent shivers though her body.
The air was ripped by another earth shattering howl. Alexandra shivered now for a completely different reason. “What is the beast?” She whispered.
“Some have said that he was once a man. I do not know, I’ve never seen it but have only heard it’s howls in the night.”
They heard another mournful howl and knew the beast was close. “It must smell us.” Alexandra said. “Do you think we’re safe here?”
“No, I don’t think we are.” Bruce replied.
“So what do we do?”
“Are you a fencer or not? We fight of course. It’s our only option.”
Bruce began to move away from her and out of the van and Alexandra had no choice but to follow. She slipped from the vehicle to see Bruce standing there, rigid and unmoving. She stood and saw why: the beast was standing before them.
It had the shape of a man but that was where the similarities ended. It was larger than a man and was covered in what could only be fur. Intelligent eyes regarded them widened with surprise and the only reason they were still alive was because they had taken the beast unawares. It had talon like claws at the end of each finger and sharp teeth that reached pas it’s jaw. There was blood dripping from the teeth and Alexandra wondered who the beast had killed.
She stood beside Bruce and wondered how she had survived in this world alone. She would not lose him. He took her hand and looked at her. She nodded and knew what he was going to say.
“En garde!” She screamed and they both lunged towards the beast.