Before stepping out of the tower, Sara could certainly tell that there was more hustle and bustle going on in the city. She stuck close to Leon as they passed numerous Vesuvians, some minding her, others not paying any attention at all.
Carl, clearly a Remia, stepped in front of Leon and Sara, “I don’t care what you say,” he said, “You’re getting an escort whether you like it or not.”
“Just tell them to keep their distance,” Leon said, walking around Carl.
Even at mid-evening and with the sun completely blocked, Sara could see everything as well as on a gloomy day. The size of the buildings impressed her the most. Many were several dozen stories high.
Before long they were standing in front of the tallest building in Vesuvia. It was so massive it actually looked like several buildings put together.
“Here we are,” Leon said.
“The Council is inside this building?” Sara asked, looking up in awe, “I hope you have something other than stairs.”
“I hate to disappoint you this time but...” Leon smiled.
Sara’s shoulders dropped like anchors.
“It won’t take too long,” said Leon, leading the way.
Inside, the building was well lit with torches. At both sides of the lobby were dozens of circular nooks with a platform inside.
Leon and Sara stepped into one. A small tug on a rope, coming from a hole in the ceiling and into the floor, sent the platform on its way up.
“You should have seen the look on your face.” Leon said.
Sara did her best not to smile, “You’re a joker, huh?”
The platform moved much slower than the baskets between the towers. The sound of gears turning was a clue as to how it all worked. With each floor that passed, Sara could see some of what went on. Much of what she saw though were smaller lobbies for that floor, but the rest seemed strange – one floor had literally a giant pool of blood. Another reminded Sara of the ballroom at the Citadel. In others, the various Houses worked hard at mastering their powers.
“What exactly goes on here?” Sara asked.
“It’s a highly exclusive building for the elite, but not like your Elites,” Leon said, “Here we have the older, more powerful Vesuvians who’ve earned the privilege to reside here.”
“How about you? Do you have a place here?” Sara asked.
“No,” Leon answered, “I’m only allowed in here ’cause my parents are in the Council. But there really isn’t much you can do here that you can’t do elsewhere.”
“Then why bother?” Sara asked.
Leon continued, “Well...it’s like I said, the best are here. You can go to another building and they’ll have pretty much the same facilities, but Vesuvians there won’t be as powerful as the ones here.”
“So, are all Vesuvians are trying to get in this one tower?” Sara asked.
“No, no, no,” Leon answered, “Only a small fraction even tries, and of those that do make it, even fewer wind up here.”
The platform finally reached the top. Sara was reminded of the Great Hall. At the center of an enormous room, seven Vesuvians sat or stood about a huge, triangular table.
“Have a seat,” Alexia said. The one thing that immediately stuck out to Sara was her red highlights flowing through her black hair.
“Good evening, Leon,” said Sagan, an Orlok. He was grotesque almost beyond words. He had no hair whatsoever, wrinkly skin, pointy ears and a mouthful of sharp teeth.
“I see why it took you so long to get back,” Denzso said. He appeared similar in age to Arthur, but his biceps alone were the size of a child’s head.
Everyone sat, Sara with Leon on one side and Marus on the other.
“I’d like you all to meet Sara,” Leon said.
Marus was almost covered completely from head-to-toe in clothing. The oddity being a long trench coat with a popped collar that went up to his eyes, gloves, and a tricorne hat, “Pleasure to meet you,” he said, “It’s been some time since I’ve seen a human.”
“As you can see,” Leon began, “Each person here belongs to a different House. Marus here is a Turin. Alexia is a Doran. You probably guessed what Houses Denzso and Sagan are from. Gavin over there is a Liro. This pretty lady here from the Kanara is Helen, and the half-naked Siena there is Jaren.”
Sara looked over at Jaren. He was shirtless, reclined in his seat with both feet on the table. With a grin, he winked and quickly flickered his tongue at her.
Sara recoiled slightly, “I thought everyone on the Council was old.”
“What you consider old may as well be a toddler to us,” Helen said, “Everyone here is at least a thousand years old.”
“Oy!” said Gavin, “I got four years till I cross that line! Not that I care what any yous think, but I take pride in being the young one here.”
“Gavin, please,” Helen said, tiredly, “Leon, we were beginning to think something happened to you.”
Denzso sighed, “Tomorrow we have Khothu and Hegiran representatives meeting with us to discuss our options on how to deal with the invasion.”
“Excuse me,” Sara interrupted, “I understand the concern for your afterlife, but how does it affect you here, now? Aren’t your dead capable of fending for themselves? There must be countless Rheans who’ve passed over. I’m sure if they joined forces-”
“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Leon said.
Alexia spoke, “When we cross over, we become immortal, however, we lose our inherent abilities. With the invasion of the Pelasgians, many are being driven to portals that lead back to Rhea. Our dead can only exist for several days here before they completely decay, and reemerge in the Netherworld. It is only a matter of time before the Pelasgians begin to overrun them and we’re stuck with a refugee crisis we can’t handle.”
Sara asked, “Not to sound heartless, but if push comes to shove, can’t you close the portals?”
“No,” Alexia answered, “The ruler of the Netherworld, Lilith, opened them. She is the only one who can close them. Aside from that, it’s very much in our best interests to help Lilith.”
“Where do the humans stand?” Denzso asked.
“My people need me to verify all of this and for the time being have extended an offer of truce,” Sara said.
Denzso laughed, “I suppose it’ll take nothing less than seeing the Shadow Realm for yourself?”
“It’d certainly help.” Sara said.
“You’re tired, Sara,” Helen said, “Perhaps after some rest, you can join us tomorrow with the Khothu and the Hegiran. Maybe with some input from them, you won’t have to undertake such a dangerous quest.”
Sara wasn’t about to argue with a mind reader. ‘Tired’ was an understatement. She couldn’t stop thinking about a bed, “I can’t wait to see my room.”
“Stay with Leon,” Jaren said, “Word of your arrival has already spread throughout the city. You’ll be safest with him. As unfortunate as it is, there are certain individuals who may find the smell of human blood irresistible.”
“Aye,” Gavin said, “They’ll think twice before messin’ with Leon.”
Denzso stood, “This meeting is adjourned, then. Leon, we’ll send for you and Sara tomorrow.”
“I’ve got a guest room you can use.” Leon said to Sara.
“So, where’s your place at?” Sara asked as they exited the building.
“Just down the street, this way,” Leon said, leading on.
There came a point during the short walk when they came to a small clearing with a house sitting on a hill. It was extremely odd because it seemed out of place with so many huge buildings surrounding it.
“That’s your house?” Sara asked.
“Sure is,” Leon said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve had any guests.”
When they entered, Leon placed his sword with others just like it on a wall.
Among the swords, Sara noticed several dozen small glaives with the blades retracted.
“The guest room is upstairs, down the hall, on the left,” Leon said, lying down on a couch, “Have a good night.”
Sara started up the stairs, “See you tomorrow.” In the guest room, she placed her items on a dresser before sliding into bed and falling into a deep sleep.