Thick crud caked the tunnel Bailien sped through, sponged the sound of his steps. Outside, the river pressed against the metal and created a hollow baritone hum within the ring-ribbed womb.
Ahead, a growing pinpoint of crimson light. The exit. Bailien accelerated to a blur. He stopped when he reached the end of the tunnel. Set within the steel was the source of the illumination: a red demonic sigil. The seal of Asmodeus and his House. The word Lust written in Enochian script, arching over a glyph that resembled a trumpet standing on its end, with a devil’s tail wrapped around it.
He placed his left hand on the sigil. Red punched through the black of his blazer’s sleeve. Beneath the fabric, there was an identical seal branded into Bailien’s forearm, engraved there with Hell’s fire. For a moment, both seal and arm blazed bright, then, went out. The way was open.
He perched on the tunnel’s lip and looked at the sigil. Claw marks, singed fur, and russet stains, marred its face. Dried blood. Hours old. He smelled the scent of wild urine. The Neuri were growing bolder. The Neuri were coming closer.
Refuse streamed over his boots and ran over the cylinder’s lip. He pushed off the edge with his feet and shot over a ravine and its flowing brook created by the waste that spilled from the tunnel’s mouth. A series of similar tube’s riddled the ridge he’d just vacated, always feeding the streaming estuary beneath them.
The seal reignited and returned to its vigil. The way was closed.
Behind him, over the ridge, the spires of the metallic metropolis stabbed the sky and resembled swords standing on pommels, brazenly daring the elements to topple her majestic peaks, while at her feet, the circumambulating river separated her from the woodlands. Like any other conurbation, she looked a lot better from a distance. Thunder roared and the snow would soon turn to hail.
Bailien released his essence and left the ironworks of the city behind. Though the smog and pollution that encompassed Cityside leaked into the woods and were enough to camouflage a vampire, he was now in Woodside, and mortals were the least of his concerns.
He sprinted down a dirt path flanked by trees buckling in the wind, their creeping canopies seemingly striving to smother all would be travelers. Glimpses of forested hills whipped by through gaps in the lush awning. Swirling leaves were sent into a whirlwind as the bullet that was Bailien blasted through them.
Within moments, he was in front of Drake’s house and jogging toward it. He was here to pickup Drake and deliver him to Astor, who would kill him then immortalize him.
Confusion creased his brow. Though he saw Drake’s car, he didn’t sense the mortal inside. Something was wrong. He gazed up at the balcony. Its doors were open; they were never open. He leapt to the balcony with a pang of remorse. Having to leap reminded him of his wings, reminded him that they were sealed within his back, held captive by the spell soaked iron bands there. All because of the betrayer, the Gatemaster, Raguel.
Bailien grasped the balcony’s banister and hurled over it. Splintered wood and nails littering the floor recorded a powerful entry. Bailien’s eyes widened. Where was Drake? He hurried down the stairs, skimmed their splintered scalps in his haste.
Bailien entered the room of dead children and stirred with excitement. The sight captivated him. He ran to its center, aghast with admiration. He didn’t even try to suppress his ecstasy, visibly shuddering. Drake’s achievements were most admirable. However, Bailien’s euphoria was short-lived.
He noticed Drake’s throne, what was left of it, and his face fell, his enthusiasm turning to tumult as he looked at the dead. He counted the bodies. There were only eleven. Where was the twelfth? Where was the girl?
There was blood on the floor. Yet, he was averse to touch it, for if it had come from an innocent, he’d pay for his indiscretion. It was worth the risk. He dabbed a fingernail at it and braced for the burn. Nothing. Safe to taste. He licked his nail. Mortal blood, but impure. He relished its flavor, its dark song. Drake? He couldn’t be sure; he’d never tasted him.
He ran down the stairs, crossed the cellar’s threshold and gasped when he saw the coffin’s shattered lid. Then all the blood on the floor and walls. Reluctantly, he fingered a smear on the wall and brought it to his mouth. Immediately, he recoiled, shuddered in ecstasy. His eyes rolled back.
Vampire blood! No, not just vampire blood, but demon blood! Winged-One! His mind raced as he sucked on his tongue. Yet, he tasted something else too, an underlining weaker strain within it. Fledgling blood. Mortal Born. He scanned the floor and descried something else. Palming a fistful of dirt, he inspected it. Mixed within were ashes. Was this Drake?
The forced entry was cause for alarm. The obvious signs of a struggle were cause for alarm. The ashes were cause for alarm. And the blood was definitely cause for alarm.
The ashes signified the death of a vampire. As to the blood, one strain belonged to a demon, a Winged-One, the other to a fledgling, Mortal Born. It didn’t make sense. Winged-Ones weren’t allowed upon the mortal realm. A Renegade? Though rare, it had been known to happen. But the Covenant, the agreement. What demon would dare break it? If the Fallen broke it, so to could their adversaries.
Unless it was him. The Unfallen, the former Gatemaster, Raguel, Bailien and Lucien’s betrayer. Bailien didn’t want to hope on something that might not be. He’d given up on that desire back in Hell, after he’d had Perdition scoured searching for the backstabber. Behind his coven ruler’s back, he’d even searched the mortal realm, a twelve-year hunt that had yielded nothing.
No, it couldn’t be him. Too good to be true. Bailien shoved the fantasy aside. It was probably some demon bored of Hell, a Renegade. Then why kill Drake, only to kill him again? It made no sense. Then it hit him. Because of the blood. A Recreant! Vampire blood was powerful for a variety of reasons, but it came with a heavy price: addiction.
Few knew of Drake’s existence outside of House Lust. Who would risk a war between covens, between Houses; it would benefit no one.
They had a Recreant on their hands. A drinker of vampire blood. Bailien let the dirt and ashes sift between his fingers.
He closed his eyes and thought of his thrall. Within seconds, the conduit was made.
Yes, master? his thrall asked in his mind. Larson and Sands have already cleaned the child’s apartment. Is something wrong?
Quite an understatement. Serf, besides her mother, are we sure that Avalyn has no other kin?
Yes, Bailien, she won’t be missed. None of them ever are, Serf said. Bailien could hear the need in his thrall’s voice. He’d have to feed him soon.
Hope you researched her well. She’s missing and I mean to find her.
We’ll go over her records again, make sure we didn’t miss anything, and start a search.
Have your men handle that. Not you. Need you here now. You must relieve me and secure the house.
Bailien broke the connection and left the cellar.