Hidden in a cloak of darkness, they travelled with the night. Angel made arrangements for the five to fly to London, England. Alvaro and Brendan’s presence required a flight that left and arrived in darkness. Difficult, but doable. They left on the evening of the same day the girls had set out for London, Ontario. Arriving three hours early at JFK airport to cope with the security delays that plagued all airports in the wake of nine-eleven, they were still there when the others reached the Canadian border. Lineups became a way of life for three seasoned travellers like Alvaro, Angel and the Wandering Jew – for two young teenagers, new to the rigours of air travel, it was a long and painful process.
This mission was Drake and Brendan’s, and the specialists sat back, letting the boys take the lead. It would be good practice. Soon enough, they would be taking their place among the ranks of the Choirs, going places even demons feared to tread. In the last decade, the incidences of demon incursions had grown twenty-fold, and the Vatican resources were stretched to the breaking point. Many of their contemporaries thought that this was it, the final battle to decide which prophecies would hold sway. Or at least the opening skirmishes.
On the plane, Drake lay back to get some sleep. Months of long nights with little rest were catching up to him, and if his companions did not have the human need for sleep, he did. He planned to take advantage of the twelve-hour flight to London to indulge in a few erotic dreams about Morgana that he never seemed to have time to finish. That girl did things to him that had to be illegal. Already he missed her and found he was not spending as much time with her as he would like.
Jean-Claude’s death had changed them all. Killing vampyres – hunting them, planning an assault on their lair – it was the only way he had to handle the death of a man who was like a father to him. Since his dad had died when he was two, Jean-Claude had come to fill that role in his life. So many of the young people in the monk’s life had come to see him in the same way. In both life and death, Jean-Claude wrote large on the canvas of so many hearts – a great man who the world would miss for many years to come.
Drake knew that his obsession with vampyres was destroying his relationship with Morgana - and maybe with everyone else too. He felt himself growing away from her as he became colder and harder with each passing day. He did not have the emotional tools at seventeen to reach out to her through his grief, to explain how he felt. There was a darkness that had settled into his soul, and it was tainting everything in his life. Morgana was the one good thing left in his world, and what he felt for her was so beautiful, so pure, he could not imagine living without her.
Still chewing over his worries, Drake drifted into a dreamless sleep. He awoke to his ears popping, and the sensation of falling as the plane made its descent into Heathrow Airport. It was two in the morning local time. Still dark, looking out the window past the Wandering Jew, he saw nothing but black. And then suddenly the ground was lit up with all the lights of London – as if a veil was pulled from in front of his eyes. It was breathtaking, especially at night. Until that moment, Drake had not thought much of his first flight on an airplane – like walking for hours through a long dark tunnel and suddenly finding yourself in a crystal-encrusted cavern.
Security here was even tighter than back home in New York. The five men waited at a baggage carousel for forty-five minutes only to end up in a queue at customs that took almost two hours to disgorge them at the far end. Here drugs and an IRA threat had caused an alert that heightened airport security, forcing delays even at this hour.
Angel, who occasionally made this city his home, led the way out of the airport to the taxi stand. He flagged a cab. The drivers waited patiently in the queue – unlike those back home in New York, who often fought for every passenger. It was this that first struck Drake as foreign. This and the small size of the vehicle into which they jammed themselves and their luggage.
“Air to mate?”
The driver was a big, burly man who spoke in heavily accented English through a bushy beard. Drake could not understand one word in four of the running commentary he kept up throughout the drive to the cottage they were renting. Then again, that was not so different from the cab drivers back home.
The sky was greying when the cab pulled up to a stone cottage surrounded by a typical English garden. Cutting it close, Alvaro and Brendan went on ahead to open the door before the sun grew any stronger, leaving the other three to pay off the driver and bring in their luggage. There wasn’t much of the latter. Later in the day, a local contact would deliver most of what they would need here in London.
Inside, a short hall doubled as a mudroom, leading into a spacious living-cum-dining room. In the back of the house was a small bright kitchen, and three bedrooms could be reached by a short flight of stairs on the right-hand side of the room. They brought the luggage up to these, and then Drake and the Wandering Jew found a bed. The other three did not need sleep, and Brendan spent his time exploring the small cottage while Alvaro and Angel settled into what the English called the front parlour.
The cottage was built of fieldstones, its interior walls covered with lath and plaster. Over the years, modern conveniences had been added – indoor plumbing and knob and tube wiring. The charger for Brendan’s cell phone did not fit into any of the outlets. At first, he assumed this was because of the age of the wiring, and then Angel told him they would have to get adapters for the 220-volt service. Elsewhere, the kitchen still had a hand pump in the sink to draw water from the well – there for decoration now that the plumbing was hooked into the city water main. A small pantry contained a variety of unfamiliar canned food, none of which mattered given Brendan’s dietary needs. The dishes were old, looking antique, and the flatware still had some of its gold spotted along its worn surface. Old, and not pretentious, Brendan decided.
A three-wheeled white and rust van pulled in front of the cottage. Standing a foot from the window, Brendan watched a small, wiry man with a shocking tuft of grey hair get out of the vehicle and move to the door of the cottage. Angel answered his knock.
“All right, Guvnor,” he greeted animatedly. “Sorry I’m late. The wife was in a hump until I cleaned the gutters. Been promising I would, don’t you see.”
“No worries, Winston,” Angel broke in, lapsing into silence as the strange gnome started up again.
“No worries!” The Brit cackled. “I love the way you Yanks talk – that I do guv. If one of these lads w’ud help me, got your crate in the back of the van.”
“And the lad I am looking for?” Angel pressed as he moved out to help Winston with the crate.
“Enjoying Her Majesty’s pleasure in Belmarsh Prison with those terrorist types,” Winston replied. “Don’t know what the lad did to get himself into a scrape like that, and don’t want to know. Won’t see daylight this side of a decade.”
The crate they unloaded was the size and shape of a coffin, and Winston kept up a running commentary about vampyres and grave robbers as they trundled it into the cottage. The two vampyres shared a smile. Even during the crepusculum immortalis, a vampyre never slept in a coffin – no self-respecting vampyre would be caught near one. Vampyre culture considered anything reminiscent of death or its trappings gauche, and scrupulously avoided these. The crate did resemble an Eighteenth-century coffin, the type often seen in old Western movies before the climactic showdown, or a cheesy vampyre movie from the forties.
The crate held no bodies, however. Inside was a collection of tools most commonly used for climbing and spelunking. Beneath this, hidden in a false bottom, lay an arsenal of weapons used by vampyre and demon hunters. Cross bolts, crucifixes shaped like stakes, holy water and leather and chain mail armour. The tools of the trade for the Brotherhood – or for five men planning a jailbreak from a Category A security prison.
“I’ll make contact with the lad tonight,” Alvaro commented as he looked over the crate’s contents. “Is this Jaimie worth the effort?”
“He’s the best spelunker the Academy has ever trained,” Drake replied through a yawn as he emerged from a bedroom. “At least he was until they turfed his ass out.”
“Not too bright,” Alvaro muttered. “Whatever could he want in Ten Downing Street?”
“That’s his weakness,” Drake scowled as if he had bitten into something that tasted bad. Like an ass sandwich. “He likes to break into places he’s not welcome. Caught him in the secret archives in the Tower of London. Wouldn’t tell anyone what he was doing there, so they were forced to expel him.”
“Make sure to ask him tonight,” Angel warned. “I wish Crystal was more forthcoming with her plans. I hate chasing after renegades blind.”
“And what does that make us?” Drake muttered, his words still caught by the four immortals with him.
Lights still lit the grounds of the prison and its common areas in the wee hours of the morning. The sixteen-foot fence surrounded by razor wire was an easy leap for Alvaro – the lights, guards and electronic surveillance devices were another matter. Speed was his only option. It was a matter of choosing the right patch of shadows – the four cross-shaped wards offered plenty of those. Choose wrong, and he would strand himself until caught by the sunlight or guards. ῾There, and then there᾿, he decided. An alcove of a door, and a patch of shadows cast by the fold in the building where the two ells of the cross met, offered a pool of darkness to hide in during the climb to the roof.
A vampyre’s speed was enough to fool the human eye, but not always electronic cameras and sensors. Backing up to get a running start, Alvaro was a blur that flashed towards the fence. Too quick for the eye to follow, he appeared as a ripple on one of the security screens. The guard watching the bank of monitors tapped the screen, not suspicious enough to either log the blip or run the tape back at a slower speed. Anything faster than a frame by frame viewing would still not catch his motion, but his image would remain until that area of the hard drive was overwritten.
Alvaro paused in what was not an alcove but a shallow extension that jutted from the wall, short of breath. So his eyesight was not what it used to be, and his knees stiffened up each morning. ‘Crap, admit it, boy. You are getting too old for this shit.’ Twenty-five hundred was a perfect age to retire, perhaps to some old-age home for decrepit vampyres. Too many nights with young women – like Aiko – or too much fondness for wine and good cigars. Hell, blame it on the women. Wine and cigars were too fine to desecrate. From his narrow haven, not much more than six inches of darkness, he eyed the well-lit prison compound dubiously. What was he thinking when he made that first leap? He would never get up enough speed from a standing start to cross all that space.
Bullets may not kill him, but damn did they hurt. He leapt into motion. A slightly slower blur against the night draped building, he dashed a hundred yards into the second pool of shadows. Heart pounding against a chest bruised inside and out, Alvaro waited for the bullets or the coronary – whichever came first. Some minutes had passed before he surrendered to the need to finish his mission. Fortunately, climbing, even on the sheerest surface, was second nature to all vampyres. Still, he seemed to remember it being easier a year or two ago.
The roof was a haven of shadows. Here, Alvaro could stroll to the ventilation shaft that would carry him down to the maximum-security wing, but dare not. Crawling on his belly like an Eater of the Dead, he wormed his way down into the cell block below. The dust and the cobwebs were not doing his clothing any good, black and tailored from expensive silk, and a perfect surface to show each blotch and blemish. When he reached the cell in question, he would be such a fright he didn’t doubt he would scare the human to death. He dreaded seeing himself in a mirror.
The boy was housed in the isolation unit. Both a good and a bad thing. While he would be alone, it was a tight fit in the shaft leading up to the cell. Alvaro unfolded himself from the darkness of the vent like a spider from its web.
“What would you be wanting, bloodsucker?” A chilling voice asked from the lump lying on the cot.
“That depends on you, Jaimie,” Alvaro replied, moving to the steel mirror on the wall to fuss over his appearance. “I have come to make you an offer. Feel free to reject it.”
“And why would I fall in with the likes of you?”
“Come now, Jaimie lad,” Alvaro chided. “You know who and what I am.”
“I am not your lad!” Jaimie snapped back. “And what’s in it for me?”
“We would get you out of here, for one,” Alvaro replied. “Ten years in solitary confinement can get very lonely.”
“If I say aye, and I’m not saying it, mind,” Jaimie hinted, a sly look in his eye, “there’s something I am needing from you.”
“And what would that be?”
“I need you to get me into Number Ten,” he replied as if it was the easiest thing in the world.
“And what would you want in Ten Downing Street?” Alvaro demanded suspiciously. Did he think someone in the Prime Minister’s office was a vampyre or demon-possessed?
“Not in it, mate, under it.”
The van carried the girls to London, Ontario, stopping in front of a shadowy structure of a yellow brick house. Exhausted and bedraggled, its occupants tumbled out and began the lengthy ballet of unloading their luggage. Aiko was still shaking from an ague, cold to the bone despite being wrapped in two blankets. Crystal and Cantara helped her inside, isolating her from the mortals while her eyes still glowed red with hunger. Hunting light switches on their way up to the second floor, they led the stricken vampyre into the last bedroom at the end of the hall – the only one with a lock – and settled her into a bed.
With their charge tucked in, they returned downstairs, where the others were gathering in the living room for a snack and to fight for choice room assignments. Already a heated discussion was in full burn. Cantara, Kristen and Crystal would have to bunk with Aiko. Under the circumstances, there was no other choice. That left twelve people to find space in the three other bedrooms, packing themselves in two to a bed.
Suddenly a rapid series of bangs from the kitchen interrupted their free-for-all. Bang! Bang! Wham!
“What was that?” Gwen asked suspiciously.
A distinct rattle of pots and pans punctuated her question.
“Oh!” Crystal squealed, eyes lit with excitement. “I forgot Jean-Claude said the house was haunted! Is that our ghost?”
“Oh good,” Gwen sighed. “For a moment, I thought it was giant spiders.”
“Don’t be silly girls,” Miss Sweider laughed. She believed in many things that others didn’t – demons and angels, vampyres and djinn – but ghosts were stretching it too far. “Someone probably didn’t close one of the cupboards, and a pot fell.”
“Let’s go see,” Morgana suggested, leading the exodus into the kitchen.
They caught a brief glimpse of the blizzard of pots and pans, flatware, plates and glasses when the lights went out.
“Christmas!” Cantara swore. “Let’s hope the electrical in this old crate has been updated. I don’t know where we would find fuses at this time of night. Here’s praying for breakers.”
“Ouch!” Gwen cried. “Who goosed my bum?”
“Wasn’t me,” Morgana sang out. “Not my type.”
“Must have been one of the spiders,” Jade teased.
“Don’t say that!” Gwen complained. “You know why I don’t like spiders.”
“Because they want to eat you,” the other girls chorused.
“Well,” Gwen replied reasonably, “I can’t help it if I have tasty blood.”
“Enough,” Cantara sighed. “Crystal, come down into the basement and help me find the fuse box or breaker panel. At least two of us will know where to find it.”
Alone in the darkness, Aiko lay snuggling beneath a pile of blankets. She felt a presence in the room and searched the shadows around her. She saw no one. Had feeding on her own kind struck her blind? No, she could still see her hand. Eyes glowing crimson in the darkness, she fixed them at the point where she felt the presence and hissed in anger.