Jacob was up early. It was still light out, the setting sun visible in the sky. His guest was very much on his mind. The young vampyre girl the lordling had them capture and keep locked in the storm cellar – Sky – was an Empusae, still one of the High Caste. Where was your loyalty to be placed when your betters were feuding? The callousness of Lord Delph’s plans boded ill for his family. Although Delph tried to hide it, from the Sanguinarian’s mutterings, Jacob was able to piece together his dealings with the demon. His kind were pawns and prey to almost everyone in this world, and when you lived this low on the food chain, you learned to tread lightly and avoid the pitfalls of others’ ambitions.
How was he to keep his family safe? The girl was too young to be of use to Lord Delph and would be sacrificed to his advantage. And when he had no further need for Jacob’s family, would they share her fate?
Lord Delph was awake and needed attention. The young Sanguinarian was nervous and edgy, his apprehensions adding a meanness to his already abrasive character. This Delph was a poor leader – selfish and vain, and quick to blame others for his failings. Jacob did not like that two of his sons would go with him tonight. Whoever this demon was, he was giving the lordling a case of the terrors, and frightened people did not think clearly.
“Jacob,” Delph greeted. “See that our guest is bathed and dressed. She must look presentable tonight.”
“I will set my wife and daughters to see to her,” Jacob nodded absently.
At twelve years old, Sky was small enough to pass for a human child between six and eight. Her blonde, almost white hair, was rare among Vampyres, and her grey-blue eyes held an innocence that lured victims to her. Since fleeing New York City, she had fed very little – only the one old man who had turned vicious after picking up a too young hitchhiker. When the young Sanguinarian Lord had found her, she had at first thought the long nights of hunger and fear were over. And then she had awakened to find herself locked up in a dark, dusty basement.
The double wooden doors at the top of the short flight of stairs banged open. In decades past, wagons would deliver coal to the house through these doors, and bits of the dark rock could still be found in and about the cellar. Crouching in the shadows at the far end of the room, Sky watched a woman and her two daughters descend into her prison. Lycanthrope. She could smell them from here, a smell that brought fear to the young vampyre girl.
“We are here to prepare you, My Lady,” Willet soothed.
Jacob’s wife was a kind woman, big-boned and with a few extra pounds after giving birth and raising seven children. She spoke in a soft, warm voice, and her hands, while rough from years of farm chores, were gentle.
Her daughters hauled a large tin washbasin down into the cellar and filled it with hot water. Sky found herself stripped of the rags she was wearing and deposited into the bath, too weak from hunger to protest. She wondered why she was being bathed and primped like a prized heifer and was too frightened to ask.
“She’s skin and bone,” the youngest daughter complained. “She hasn’t fed in so long you can see her ribs.”
“No help for it, Megan,” her sister snapped. “Don’t mind my sister, My Lady, she was raised in a barn.”
“Girls,” their mother warned. “Mind your Pees and Ques.”
“What was Upyr like?” Meagan asked wistfully like a farm girl dreaming of the big city. “It must have been beautiful.”
“Father said there were too many of us,” Sky replied quietly. “He said there was not enough blood for everyone. Not all the babies left for the Eaters of the Dead were deformed. He said that when we killed the Succubus, then all our children would grow big and strong. Only that didn’t happen.”
The room fell quiet. Willet was washing Sky’s hair with a floral-scented shampoo, her fingers kneading the girl’s scalp. Megan was pretending to scrub her back but was preoccupied with the reality that had shattered her illusion. Her elder sister, whose name Sky did not know, roughly scrubbed one of her legs. The bristles of the brush alternately tickled the sole of her foot or stung the top of her toes.
“What was it like,” Heather breathed, “when the Succubus got loose?”
“Everyone was dressed for the festival,” Sky explained. “I was wearing open-toed black shoes with a solid heel – otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to run. We weren’t that important, so our seats were high up, and she looked really small. So did the vampyre hunters when the fighting started.”
Sky fell silent and let Heather dunk her head to rinse off the shampoo. Sputtering, she wiped the water from her eyes.
“People exploded into clouds of dust,” she spat the words out with the suds and water. “Everybody started running and screaming. She didn’t look so small anymore.”
When his guest joined him, she was dressed in black dress pants, a black top with a sheer panel across her non-existent breasts, and a pair of high-top boots. Sky claimed to be twelve, but Delph doubted she was more than seven or eight. She was too small to be useful, and he did not have the resources to feed any extra mouths. If she pleased Shax with her death, she would be doing Delph and their people a great service; and if not, at least he was rid of her.
“You will do,” Delph conceded.
Sky made a courtesy and let the smallest of Jacob’s two hulking sons take her hand. Nodding, Delph led the way out into the night. He set a gruelling pace that her short legs had trouble keeping up. Jacob had offered the use of the farm’s truck, and Delph refused. He did not drive himself, finding the mortals’ vehicles slow and cumbersome. Nor was he willing to put his life in the hands of another, so if the girl could not keep up, she would have to be carried.
They were falling behind. Not by more than a mile or so, and yet enough to annoy the young lord. Joshua slowed to take the girl onto his back and then set out to show the vampyre lord that no one could run cross country faster than a Loogaroo. His hair grew shaggier, his muscles more pronounced and ropier, his legs slightly bowing and lengthening. He threw back his head and howled, letting his brother know he was coming. And he ran like the wind.
Delph did not let on that their transformation bothered him. As unnerving as it was to watch their features melt and reshape themselves, these shaggy brutes made excellent cannon fodder. And they could travel incredible distances in a single night. The one with the girl on its back was on all fours now, and she looked like some medieval princess riding a great wolf. Like some child’s fairy tale, but this fairy tale had a dark ending. Death, or worse, waited for the girl at the end of this ride.
The party halted in a copse of trees near their destination. Delph left the two Loogaroo here. No one would live who witnessed his interview with Shax. Some things were best swept into the darkest corner and left to die. He took the girl’s hand – she was submissive enough – nodded once to his companions, and set off towards the distant building.
The front of the St. Thomas Psychiatric Unit was in even worse shape than it was on his last visit. One of its doors hung askew, and a postal bag lay at the foot of a streak of blood that led inside.
“Stay close to me,” he hissed, “and do exactly as I say.”
The lake of urine in the front lobby was even deeper, and several bodies lay face down in it. Delph and the girl used these as stepping stones to reach the dubious safety of the far side. Here, he took Sky’s hand and led her through a maze of collapsed ceiling tiles and hanging wires. The hydro seemed to be out, at least in this part of the building. Two fresh corpses dangled from the ceiling in the distance, and Delph knew he was in the lair of an Eater of the Dead.
He spent little time navigating through this area, caring nothing about dragging the girl behind him when necessary. Her looks would matter little soon enough.
Shax sat enthroned in a room that had grown even more depraved in the last week. Spiders with the heads of beautiful women spun dark shadows from the ceiling. One of these creatures was spinning a bone-thin woman into a cocoon of blackness as she sang in a rusty off-key voice. The song might have been popular in the sixties or seventies – it was hard to tell through her tuneless wail.
Shax lounged on a chair that sat on top of four or five bodies, some of which may still have been alive. Maggots crawled across others weeks dead.
“My Lord Shax,” Delph greeted with a slight bow. “You are looking well.”
“Liar!” Shax roared, giggling. “This body is rotting around me. Fragile creatures, these humans. See.”
He held up an arm broken in several places and bloated with corruption.
“Enough flattery,” Shax demanded in a brittle cold voice. “I have decided to let you help me with my little project.”
“Thank you, My Lord.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Shax laughed. “We haven’t struck a bargain yet. You will have this book delivered to the house where the Succubus is staying. Whoever delivers it will be caught in the act of stealing it. And what price shall I extract for allowing you to do me this favour?”
“I have brought you this girl,” Delph offered. “Sweet and pure.”
“No, My Lord!” Sky screamed. “Don’t leave me here! I’ll be good.”
Unfortunately, Delph was interested in useful, not good. He shoved her away from him.
“Ah, how interesting. Come here, girl, let me get a closer look,” Shax wheedled, crooking his dirty finger.
Unable to help herself, Sky fell into his hypnotic stare. His black eyes filled her vision as she stumbled forwards, leaving a trail of urine behind her. He cupped her chin in one gnarled hand and gave a broken-toothed smile.
“Yes, you are very pretty. A little old? A little young? “ Shax studied her for a long spell. “Give us a kiss.”
A black tongue stopped the scream in her throat. Tingling to the soles of her feet, her soul was drawn towards the tongue. A gibbering terror filled her being. It licked her with a tongue of flame, and she fled. A cloud of filth filled her, chasing her into the depth of her being beyond conscious thought, where she hid in some dark crevice. Randomly it scourged her with a lash of fire, and she knew unrelenting pain.
Later, Delph stood on the porch of the farmhouse drinking wine mixed with blood. He stood less than a foot from the edge of the roof, watching the patterns of the sunlight only a hand span away. Behind him, Jacob stood waiting patiently.
“It is sometimes a hard thing to be a leader and to do what is necessary,” Delph said idly.
“Vengeance comes with a price,” Jacob replied, not sure if he had been addressed or not.
“Vengeance,” Delph laughed, a cold choke of sound. “Vengeance is for the petty. No, my father started something far more dangerous, and now our people must pay the price unless we can stop the Succubus.”
Delph fell silent, remembering. “Have you ever heard of something called the Vampyres’ Doom?”
It was a legend, no more. Something spoke of like a campfire tale on dark nights when the door was securely bolted, and you sat in the bosom of your family. No one could say what it was or how it worked. Only that it could slay all vampyres with one stroke.
“Crystal Raven will unleash this if we do not stop her,” Delph concluded darkly. “How far would you go to prevent it?”
Their second day in London, England, was long and dull. During the afternoon, Drake spent hours riding around with Winston, preparing for tonight’s job. Call him provincial, say he was uncool, or an American snob, but the steering wheel of the van was on the wrong side. Watching the traffic scoot by, he could not help grabbing at the dashboard every time they passed a truck or a bus. Cars merely caused his anus to tense up.
London was what you would expect – if you went in for that thick, pea soup fog stereotype. Drake was disappointed that he was unable to do any sight-seeing and praying for the weather to hold out through the night. Visibility was down to a foot, heightening the surreal effect of traffic barreling down on him from out of a curtain of mist. At one point, the vague shape of a large statue loomed out at him as they travelled what he assumed was Trafalgar Square or just some pimped out roundabout. He did not know and was afraid to distract Winston while he was driving.
When the harrowing drive finally ended back at the cottage, Drake staggered directly up to one of Alvaro’s bottles of wine and took a long pull.
“I take it the drive around town with Winston was eventful?” Angel teased.
“It was the lorries, guv,” Winston cackled. “I don’t think he fancied them much.”
“You will be back at midnight, Winston?” Angel questioned.
“Aye guv,” he waved goodbye, “at the stroke of.”
On this fog-shrouded night, Belmarsh prison wore a sinister air. The unseasonable weather offered perfect cover for tonight’s work. Alvaro would go in, and with the low visibility, his approach was wide open. He chose a direct path to the point he had climbed to the roof last night, leaping the fence and sprinting into the shadows. No point pressing my luck, he thought as he hugged the wall. Some over-alert guard might spot him if he became too complacent. Just because he was fast, and visibility sucked didn’t mean someone would not notice a shadow out of place, or a sensor trying to decide whether it had been tripped.
The wall was slick and moist. Climbing it was a little more difficult, and a slight delay halfway up left him vulnerable. A hitch, he told himself, wondering when he was younger if he would have had as much trouble. If it were not for Aiko, he would be seriously thinking of retiring from all this shit - at least for a couple of thousand years. The girl intrigued him. She was only the second orphan vampyre he had ever met, and as he had once told her, Alvaro had a theory about their origin. Over the years, he had heard of others like him and once had to kill a second. Aiko was the first one young enough for him to test his theories.
On the roof, he paused. Getting down into the building was no problem for him, but he wondered how he would bring the mortal out the way he came in. Jaimie had broad shoulders with overdeveloped pecs. The ventilation shaft was a tight fit for his own slim form; Jaimie would find the quarters too cramped for comfort.
There was no choice. When all else failed, bold was the way to go. He checked his clothes and decided he would do. It was a matter of picking a few locks or breaking those he could not pick. And then bluff, bluff, bluff and bluff some more.
Inside, Alvaro decided to break the lock on the cell first. Sometimes it was sweet to have the freakish strength of a vampyre. Like an athlete who had eaten his Wheaties religiously, freshly blooded Alvaro was Popeye with a stomach full of spinach. And then he ran into his first snag.
“I’m not going,” Jaimie pouted stubbornly. “Besides mate, how do I know you will keep your word once we are out of here.”
“I have given you my word,” Alvaro replied coldly. “Whatever you are after, son, I assure you it will have to be done by the end of the week. We have no time for games.”
“I’m still not going, mate,” Jaimie retorted.
“Once I leave, you will have to wait ten years to reach it,” Alvaro concluded. “I will not come back.”
The two men squared off, eyes locked. Jaimie blinked, rolling off the bed with a defeated sigh. Only a fool entered into a staring contest with either a vampyre or a cat.
Nodding, Alvaro stepped to the mirror and studied himself. Brushing some imaginary dust off his lapel, he moved to the door of the cell. Its lock was one of those electric models that could be opened and closed remotely, triggering a light and a buzzer at a manned station. Its hinges were mere steel and not alarmed. Gripping the handle and the small window, a slot at eye level for guards to look in on the prisoner, Alvaro snapped the hinges at the flange. Bending the lock throw without breaking the electrical contact, he opened the door enough for the two of them to squeeze through when the time was right.
Outside the cell, Alvaro paused to replace the door somewhere close to its original position before turning to his companion.
“Once beyond the isolation wing, follow my lead,” he instructed.
“And how do you intend to get us out of here?” Jaimie asked suspiciously. “And what about the cameras?”
“You’ll see,” Alvaro assured him, wincing. “Up you go now, on my back.”
Reluctantly, the heavier man climbed on the vampyre’s back. Even burdened, Alvaro was only a blur on the monitor as he raced up the hall to a blind spot by the main section doors.
Precariously balancing his burden and himself, Alvaro took out a small radio build into a pen and whispered, “now Angel.”
The power went out. Alvaro had exactly ninety seconds to get through two doors and down one level before the emergency generators kicked in. Impossible for a human, not a vampyre. A black streak through the darkness, he raced across the prison. He paused before an interview room in the general population area of the prison, stepped inside and locked the door.
“This is your brilliant plan to get us out of here,” Jaimie griped. “Blimey! You’ve locked us in.”
“Patience, my young friend,” Alvaro breathed. “They’ll be here to let us out soon enough.”
He settled into a chair at the table to catch his breath. God, the Brit was heavy. That’s what a steady diet of fish, chips and steroids would get you. This time for sure, Alvaro promised himself. This was absolutely his last mission. After today, it was nothing but sun, sand, and maybe Aiko in a bikini. Maybe one of those skimpy things of which the French were so fond.
The door banged open, and a guard burst in. Behind him, three others waited.
“What the Jesus are you doing here? Who are you?”
“I am Barrister Alvaro de San Carlos,” Alvaro screamed, standing, “and this is an outrage. My client and I have been trapped in this room for five hours. You! You did this!”
“Easy mate,” the guard replied. At the full height of his Mediterranean anger, Alvaro was an imposing figure. “I only came on watch two hours ago.”
“This is because I am Spanish, and we defeat you in the World Cup! Five hours I wait while a guard ῾fetches᾿ my client’s release papers. I yell, I bang, I scream, and still, I am trapped like an animal!”
“And who is your client?” The guard asked when he could get a word in edgewise.
“As if you don’t know!” Alvaro accused. “This is Kevin Bullock, due to be released at six o’clock. Is this what you call six o’clock? I demand to speak with the warden this instance!”
“Simmer down, mate,” the guard soothed. “I’m sure it was an honest mistake. We’ll have this sorted out in a shake.”
“Simmer down!” Alvaro cried, knowing a Kevin Bullock had been due for release and had probably left prison hours ago. Drake’s proclivity for hacking into sites where he was not invited did have its uses. “I demand to see the Minister of Justice! This is an outrage, an absolute outrage!”
Alvaro refused to remain in the interview room, insisting that he and his client follow the guards to his supervisor’s office. Whenever Alvaro set off on another rant, Jaimie bit his tongue to avoid laughing. He was now demanding an audience with the Queen, threatening to take his case to the World Court in the Hague, and if that did not work, he would take it to the press. The vampyre could talk faster than a Frenchman, was more animated than an Italian, and just when you thought he could get no louder, he discovered some hidden level of volume. He didn’t need an audience with the Queen, she could hear him from here as well as most of London. Half the inmates in the general ward were awake and yelling for him to shut up. In the end, Jaimie was convinced they had thrown them out to avoid a riot.
With a cheeky grin on his face, Alvaro walked out of the front gates with Jaimie Outlaw at his side. He escorted the escaped prisoner to a white van, where Angel, Winston and Drake sat waiting.
“And what happened to our carefully crafted plan to hop the back fence?” Angel asked levelly.
“Someone introduced this boy to steroids and pumping iron,” Alvaro retorted. “It’s a ventilation shaft, not the Grand Concourse.”
“And so you improvised,” Angel replied, “and I had to electrocute myself?”
“I always knew you had an electric personality,” Alvaro smirked.
“That’s it! Stop the van. The vampyre’s walking.”