London, England at night was a different place than the London of the day. The metallic glare of fluorescent and neon lights brought its buildings into sharp relief – the hodgepodge of old and new architecture created pockets of darkness everywhere. The city did not sleep. Early evening traffic merged with the early morning commuters, its pulse surging along the dark streets and the brighter avenues that housed its pubs and clubs.
Alvaro and Brendan left the cottage at midnight. The crowds would not leave its street until four in the morning. Until then, they took to the rooftops, floating through the city as only vampyres could. In lazy circles, they approached their target, learning its environs, and the rhythm of its streets and denizens. They explored every shadow, every nook and cranny, every empty building, storefront or loft should they need a bolt-hole to wait out the day.
The Tower of London was a castle and not a tower – a complex of interlocking fortifications on the north bank of the Thames. An open space, Tower Hill, separated the castle from the surrounding streets. Six acres of land ringed the castle, land devoid of cover other than the darkness of the night. The river and the wharf offered the best approach, the dark surface of the water and the shadows along the bank hiding anyone from unwanted eyes. Nor would anyone’s attention be turned towards the river at the hour they intended to make their assault.
A nearby high-rise offered a convenient perch from which the pair could study the layout of the castle. From here, Alvaro would set up a lookout, monitoring Brendan’s progress as he infiltrated the ancient fortress. It was close enough for him to move in to provide backup if Brendan should need it, and far enough away to be outside the range of any security sweeps. Besides, any of the real security would be electronic and inside Waterloo Barracks and the Jewel Room itself.
“Getting inside the building itself should not be a problem,” Alvaro offered. “The Yeoman Guard and the watch will have regular rounds, and there might be other security.”
“I am Nosferatu,” Brendan teased, “shadows are my realm.”
“Remember,” Alvaro warned, “the human eye may not be able to see in the dark, but the thermal imaging scanners can.”
“By the time I get out of the river, my body temperature will be too low to register. My thermal signature will be less than that of a mouse.”
“Then, watch out for cats.”
As they waited out the last hour, both lost in the shadows, Brendan’s thoughts turned to Crystal. She had not texted him today, and while there was a serious time difference between the two Londons, he sensed a growing distance between them. She had changed since Jean-Claude’s death, and he was not sure if he liked those changes. He had doubts about her plans – their plans: Jean-Claude would never approve, and not only because of the danger. Alvaro thought that if they succeeded in killing her father, tens of thousands of others would die. Would that make them mass murderers? He didn’t think Crystal even cared.
Aiko dominated the elder vampyre’s thoughts. He had received an odd and enigmatic text from her, and then silence. What was ‘honour has been restored’ supposed to mean? If she would speak no more of it, he must assume all was well, but Gwen’s follow up message about tangling with a poltergeist ῾with a shitty on for Aiko and me᾿ had whetted his curiosity. The dead were dead – well, with the odd exception. So what was the pair up to, and how worried should he be?
“I should get going,” Brendan suggested.
“Keep your radio on,” Alvaro instructed. “And stay safe.”
Brendan’s departure was anticlimactic. He simply walked down the stairs from the roof and out a rear door. Not very James Bondish – but tonight he was not out to attract attention or impress anyone. In the alley, he paused to listen to his surroundings. The odd shout in the distance echoed off the water of the Thames, the sounds of passing vehicles came from the direction of the street, and once he thought he heard the sleepy squawk of a seagull. As quiet as any city at four in the morning, with all but a handful of its residents tucked in their beds, the night was perfect.
The water of the Thames was colder than he had anticipated. Even at night, traffic still moved on the river. He needed to keep an eye out for the odd freighter or barge wending its way into the harbour or back out to sea. Their running and deck lights would not be visible this low in the water. Even for a vampyre, the black of a hull was difficult to pick up against the darkness of the night and could be on top of him before he realized it. Best if Alvaro was the only one of their acquaintances who had ever been run over by a ship. It would be much easier living with Drake if that remained the case.
At school, Brendan had learned to swim and set off across the river at a steady crawl. It was only a couple hundred miles to the far shore, he teased himself, nothing to an experienced channel swimmer. The water was bitterly cold. He went slower than he could to avoid creating a wake and drawing attention to himself. The forced slowness gave the chill ample time to sink into his bones and his belly.
Colder than a corpse, he clung to the wall of the Tower of London wharf, toggling the radio with his tongue. “I’m at the wharf.”
The drainpipe connecting the river to the moat was three feet underwater and a lot narrower than he had hoped. Not a strong underwater swimmer, he was glad a vampyre did not need to breathe. Ducking his head beneath the surface, he held himself down by the entrance of the pipe. Boneless, his shoulder followed him inside, his entire body seeming to shrink to fit the ten-inch diameter. Inside these cramped quarters, he wiggled his way along the rough concrete like a worm. Even here, the chill of the water sapped the last of his body heat.
Vampyres were cold-blooded, but unlike their fellow cold-blooded creatures, they did not need heat to stay active. Brendan felt discomfort, nothing more. The pipe bent, following the slope of the land up to the moat. The vampyre fit with ease, his equipment not so much. The small, watertight pouch at his side stuck in the elbow of the pipe. Desperate to free himself, Brendan spun in place, corkscrewing about the pipe’s circumference like an insane plumber’s snake. And suddenly, he was free.
The top of the pipe ended a foot above the surface of the moat. He slipped beneath its surface with a quiet splash. It was a slow, leisurely swim around the moat to the wall furthest from the river, and his strong, steady stroke carried him through the water like a torpedo. ῾I wonder if there are any of those freshwater sharks in here that Gwen’s always talking about?᾿ He thought idly. ῾If not, Gwen would be disappointed.᾿ Not that this would bother him – at the moment, he was the most dangerous thing in the water.
“I’m here,” he whispered into the microphone. “Just beginning to scale the wall now.”
Even with the water-resistant material, his clothes were saturated from his swim and weighed heavily on his frame as he hauled himself out of the water. The rough-hewn stone of the outer ward offered plenty of hand and toeholds. Brendan scaled its surface in under ten seconds, a wet blur against the shadows that barely registered on the security monitors. No-one watching them would connect that brief motion to anything human – a flaw in the tape or a piece of paper blowing in the wind.
The intruder dropped off the wall and into the shadows at its base, leaving a single wet footstep behind. He had been visible for less than a second, too brief a span for the human eye to pick him out from the darkness. His target – the Waterloo Barracks – was in the inner ward. Two more walls to scale. He paused, listening for the footsteps of a guard. How many were there, and how many rounds along the castle grounds? They were in too much of a hurry to do proper surveillance, and Brendan was relying on his seeing them before they saw him.
The second wall leading to the outer ward felt smoother to his questing fingers. As he levered himself over the top, he heard but did not see an approaching guard. Brendan rolled into the shadows of the parapet, listening to the slamming of his heart. Footsteps approached. The guard stopped, his booted foot inches from the vampyre’s face. Brendan held his breath. In the shadows, he was no more than a slightly darker blur, almost invisible.
The guard lit a smoke and continued on his rounds. Listening until his footsteps faded in the distance, Brendan let go of his breath and rolled off the wall. He landed noiselessly in a three-point stance. Two walls down, one more to go. This one was the tallest of the three, and he chose to climb it at the corner, where it met the Bowyer Tower. Here he hoped to find better foot and hand-holds, and he was not disappointed. Up like a jack-in-the-box, he set one foot on the top of the wall and launched himself into the darkness beyond.
His target was in the old Jewel House located in the basement of the Waterloo Barrack’s west wing. When the Jewel House was renovated and relocated to the main floor of the Waterloo Barracks, the new security added to the difficulties of accessing the Brotherhood archive. For one thing, the entrance to the basement and the small hidden vault had been covered up by the new floor – the old storeroom and display room no longer accessible to the public. Worse, the forty-nine steps still ended in a massive storeroom door.
Soldiers of the Queens Colour Squad guarded the Jewel House and the Tower grounds, monitoring everything from a state of the art control room in the Waterloo Barracks. Brendan could not afford to wander around its corridors blindly. Soldiers were often more alert than their civilian counterparts, the product of their training and the often deadly consequences of lapses. Fortunately, any room designed for human occupation included some form of ventilation system and the old narrow ductwork in the basement viewing room had never been removed.
Ripping a grate off an outdoor return, Brendan slipped into a space that would not accommodate a small child. He flicked on his radio. “I am inside, almost.”
“What does almost mean?” Alvaro chided.
“I’m crawling through a ventilation duct the size of a straw,” Brendan complained.
῾God this is tight.᾿ The squeeze made him feel like a blob of goo oozing its way through the ventilation system. In Upyr, he had crawled into tighter places searching for a meal, often through sludge and other unpleasant liquids that accumulated in the sewers. At least here it was only dust and cobwebs. And the occasional crunchy thing that might have been a spider or the remains of its meal. The mass of flesh that was him filled the duct, leaving no room to avoid anything.
Following several sharp turns, the duct he was travelling in ended at a grate. Below, in pitch blackness, the old Jewel Room lay in a blanket of dust and quiet. Unsure if the old closed-circuit cameras still functioned, Brendan paused. In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought, bringing one of his arms forward. The grate fell, landing in the empty room with a loud clang. The sudden noise almost gave him a heart attack, and he lay in his hidden perch for a long moment waiting for its outcome.
Deciding he was neither going to die, nor be discovered, he oozed out of the ventilation vent and took his true form. Stretching as he studied his surroundings, he waited patiently for his eyes to adjust to the true darkness. The display cases had long since been removed, only the discoloration of the floor marking where they had once stood. The patch of the floor he was interested in was where the third display case had once stood, counting clockwise from the door. He moved to the one he thought was his target and frowned.
Something flew through the darkness and nailed him in the head. Brendan spun. Looking around wildly, he spotted a dead rat.
“Uhm, Alvaro,” he said, hesitantly into his radio. “I’m in the old Jewel House, but we got a problem. Someone threw a dead rat at me.”
“Did you say a dead rat?” Alvaro demanded.
A second missile flew through the air and struck him square in the back.
“Ouch! I mean something or someone is throwing dead rats at me,” Brendan complained. “But I don’t see or sense anything.”
“Carry on with the mission,” Alvaro decided – dead rats may be unpleasant, but they could not hurt the young vampyre. “Keep me posted.”
Distracted by the sudden rain of rat corpses, Brendan retraced his steps to the same stretch of floor. Holding his hand out to protect his face, he studied the pattern of tiles. Bingo! There was nothing subtle about his breach of the Brotherhood Archives – he did not plan to leave anything behind. He simply drove his fist into the floor, shattering the concrete. Below, in a niche no bigger than a bread box, he discovered an ancient lockbox. The lock snapped. Lifting the lid, he found a pile of loose leave papers and parchment. After the briefest inspection, he began to roll them up and shove them into a waterproof canister.
As he placed the last roll inside, the door burst open. Ducking a hail of rats and bullets, Brendan dashed to the open ventilation shaft. One step away, a bullet caught him in the shoulder.
Not until he was in the shaft did he realize he was bleeding. Behind him, a shower of dead rats held up the pursuit.
“Alvaro!” He radioed. “I’ve been shot!”
“Not bad, I think,” Brendan replied, the familiar voice easing his panic. “But it’s gonna be hell when I get out of here.”
“Come over the river wall, I’ll cover you from here,” Alvaro instructed.
On the rooftop of the high-rise overlooking the Tower of London, Alvaro unlimbered a slingshot and a bag of navy beans – not fatal, but very painful. For anyone but a vampyre, the distance was too great. Alvaro watched the wards fill up with light and soldiers, searching the front of Waterloo Barracks for any sign of Brendan. There. Coming hard around the east corner of the building, faster than the human eye could follow and leaving a trail of blood.
A soldier turned to point out the blood trail. Alvaro pulled back and let loose. The white bean struck the guard on the temple, dropping him like a sack. A guard rose on the wall directly in front of Brendan. Alvaro’s first bean rattled off his helmet. His second caught him square between the eyes and he took a nasty tumble off the walls. Alvaro winced, hoping he was alright. While his missiles were non-lethal, a fall from any height could result in broken bones or even death.
Brendan was on the second wall now. Alvaro began to pick out targets at random, sending a shower of beans down into the wards of the castle, pinning down the searchers. Three more soldiers fell to the unseen missiles, one crying out and holding a badly bruised knee before Brendan climbed over the last wall and slipped into the river. Alvaro folded up his slingshot, pocketed his beans, and turned to climb out of the building to meet the other vampyre at the river.
A Plague of Dead Rats And Navy Beans On Both Your Houses:
One headline in a local tabloid proclaimed.
Last night guards at the Tower of London had a run-in with the tower ghosts. According to one source, the old Jewel House was visited by a plague of dead rats. While responding to a possible intruder, three of the soldiers guarding the tower were greeted by a shower of rats, one claiming to have discharged his weapon at a dark shape that disappeared through the wall.
Outside, meanwhile, other soldiers responding to the general alarm were met by a hail of Navy beans. Three soldiers were slightly injured during this bean-storm.
An interesting side note: a spokesman for Scotland Yard suggests a blood trail was found leading from the Waterloo Barracks and apparently through all three walls. The blood has yet to be identified but is not believed to be human.
Local historian and Tower expert, Reginald Harold, believes the blood trail might follow the route taken by Bishop Ranolf Flambard during his escape. However, there is no historical evidence to support his claims.
“Well,” Angel sighed. “It could be worse.”
“Easy for you to say,” Brendan complained. “You didn’t get shot.”
“It’s only a scratch,” Alvaro assured him. “The bullet went right through. You’ll be good as new by the end of the week.”
“Yes, but will I be able to play the piano?”
“Sorry, can’t help you with that,” Alvaro shrugged. “Major miracles are outside my skill set.”