Sarah and Avalyn entered the subway station. Minutes later, Father Purgeon came down the stairs, grasping the handrail, wary of slipping on the rain soaked steps, with a harried look on his face that made him look much older than his fifty-two years.
“Let’s get going,” he said, reaching them, shooting a fearful look back up the stairs. “I couldn’t tell if the officers in that squad car spotted us.” With the way things were going, he was sure that they had.
The trio made their way to the drop arm turnstiles and passed an empty ticket booth. Having spent the last of their money at the diner, the clerk’s absence pleased the priest. “Let’s go,” Father Purgeon said as he went over the turnstile’s arm. Avalyn was next, ducking her head as she went under the metal arm. Sarah followed.
They went downstairs, and then through a tunnel, a dimly lit corridor of concrete, whose ceiling dripped water. Overhead, flicking bulbs encased in metal mesh pens, painted the three with muted yellow light. The only other sources of illumination were the two red exit signs at each end of the tunnel.
The corridor rumbled with the passage of trains and it felt like they were in the bowels of some hungry beast. Water splashed where they stepped, and Father Purgeon couldn’t help but feel like Jonah swallowed by a sea creature.
Without realizing it, they’d linked hands midway through the tunnel.
A gust of wind blasted down the corridor.
“That could be our train,” Sarah said.
They broke into a jog, splashing water as they went. Their feet were soaked by the time they reached the end of the tunnel.
The corridor curved to the right and led to another descending stairway. They made their way down, but when they reached the platform, they saw that they were too late. The train doors had just closed. Impotently, they watched the train leave the station. Old newspapers swirled behind the train and seemed to mock them as they wavered in the air as if waving goodbye.
The platform was empty. They sat on the benches facing the tracks. The opposite platform was vacant as well. Twenty minutes went by and Father Purgeon got up. He moved to the platform’s edge and looked both ways. The tunnels were pitch-black. He examined the tracks, expected to see the usual barrage of rodents, scurrying back and forth, scouting for scraps. He spotted none. Somehow, this bothered him more than the darkened tunnels. He noticed how quiet it was. And the silence had weight. He looked at Sarah and Avalyn. Their eyes mirrored his apprehension. He walked over to them and sat back down. “Let’s quit creeping ourselves out,” he said.
Avalyn and Sarah nodded nervously, both wishing that they’d no reason to feel this way, but knowing they had every reason to.
They heard the train. Then saw it as light pierced the darkness. And what had felt like hours dissolved. The train pulled into the station, screeching to a halt. That wrenching sound never sounded so sweet. The sight of straphangers within the train relieved all three and made them feel foolish for feeling so frightened. They exchanged anxiety-alleviated glances, got up, walked to the train as the doors slid open, and stepped inside.
With only a dozen other passengers within the train, they’d no trouble finding seats. Father Purgeon led them to the corner of the train, where there was a two-seater available, away from the windows. Avalyn and Sarah sat. The priest stood in front of them and grasped the overhead pole.
The train left the station.
Avalyn’s eyes roamed over the passengers. She noted how everyone kept to themselves: listened to music, read, stared at nothing in particular, avoided eye contact, trapped in their own thoughts. Alone amongst each other.
Father Purgeon wanted to go over the gun with Sarah again. She’d never used one before. He didn’t want her to have to, though that choice, he felt, might not be theirs to make. He’d showed her how to unlock the safety, point, prepare for recoil and fire. But doing was different. He hadn’t used one in a very long time himself. He hadn’t forgotten how to, he just wondered if he could.
His mind returned to the police. With resources like that, what chance did they have? Prolonged evasion seemed impossible.
The train stopped at the next station. Passengers scrambled out and in. Frustrated scowls possessed the faces of those leaving, as those entering barely gave them room to exit. Shoulders slammed shoulders and feet stepped on feet. It looked to Father Purgeon like a football game in progress.
He watched and bemoaned man’s impatience. Then found himself wishing that the train was going express instead of local. He laughed at himself for being just as impatient as he’d judged his fellow straphangers of being.
He thought of his congregation. He wouldn’t be able to return to them any time soon. Would he ever be able to? They’d probably pin the detectives’ deaths on him. How long would he have to run? How long could he run? Then he thought about the architect of his current situation, Roman. Had befriending him been a mistake? Where was he?
The train pulled into the next station. As passengers came and went, a man entering the adjoining car caught Father Purgeon’s attention. Pale skin, luminescent even under the fluorescent lighting. He was wearing a black overcoat and a black t-shirt. His attire exaggerated his pallid countenance. He looked at the priest.
“They’re here, they found us. We have to get off the train,” Avalyn said. Father Purgeon tore his eyes away from the man.
Avalyn and Sarah got up, Avalyn grabbing the priest’s hand as she guided him towards the doors. But the doors had already shut, and the train began to move.
Avalyn pulled Father Purgeon, led him and Sarah in the opposite direction, towards the car’s dividing door. The priest looked back and saw that the pale man was now grinning, revealing his fangs.
There’s nowhere to go, priest, Father Purgeon heard a flat voice say within his mind.
“Keep moving,” Avalyn urged while pulling him along. Reaching the door, she slid it askance, and the three of them went through into the next car. “We have to get off this train,” Avalyn said.
Father Purgeon took the lead as they weaved between people and poles, trying to keep their balance as they went, trying not to break out into a full run. Anxiously, Father Purgeon glanced behind him. The vampire hadn’t moved. The priest looked to the windows, hoping they’d leave the tunnel and pull into the next station, but all he saw was darkness, periodically punctured by tunnel lights flashing by.
Three cars later, they came to a halt. Ahead, through the car-dividing door’s glass, they saw a man staring through the glass, a secret smile parting his leering lips, revealing a single fang and an empty space where the other fang should have been. He wore a black business suit, collared shirt beneath the blazer, also black, as was the tie knotted at his neck.
“We have to go back, and hope the train reaches the station before they reach us,” Father Purgeon said. They turned about, Sarah now in the lead.
The train left the tunnel just as they reached the middle of the car, they gathered by the door amongst other passengers waiting for the train to stop, but instead of slowing down, the train accelerated and bypassed the station. People waiting on the platform blurred by. Passengers ready to debark frowned in confusion and wondered why the local had gone express. With no announcement coming over the speakers, they peered about as if they’d find an answer on their fellow commuters’ faces.
The lights inside the car flickered, then, went out. Sarah, Avalyn, and Father Purgeon huddled close together. They heard heavy, loud thumps throughout the compartment. The lights came back on. They were the only ones still standing. Everybody else on the train was asleep. Passengers’ heads lolled against one another, fell into strangers’ laps, or dropped on neighbors’ shoulders. Those standing had fallen to the floor.
Sarah gasped. Avalyn’s breath caught in her throat. The vampires were inside the compartment. They stood by their respective doors, the doors sliding shut behind them.
Father Purgeon thought that now was a good time to panic. Now was also a good time to find out if he could still fire a weapon. He drew the gun and flicked off the safety, pointed it at the vampire on his side. “Sarah, make sure your safety’s off. Avalyn, stay between us.” Avalyn grasped the passenger stanchion pole. Sarah did as the priest instructed and aimed her weapon at the vampire she faced, her hands shaking.
Father Purgeon felt the train shift and saw the bodies sprawled on the floor in front of him slide in his direction. An incline. Only one route dictated such a steep slant. The Lone Bridge.
Outside, the moon cast lunar light upon the Lone Bridge’s train tracks. From the tunnel, the shrieking train shot. Sparks sizzled on the tracks from the train’s clamped emergency brakes and showered the icy river below. The train reached the center of the bridge and came to a squealing, sparkling halt.
Father Purgeon wanted to check on Sarah and see how she was doing. But he was afraid to take his eyes off the vampire on his side. He was glad he hadn’t. The vampire moved. He pulled up the sleeve of his blazer. On his forearm, a black symbol blazed red. The vampire shut his eyes and grasped the forearm with his other hand.
Bailien, we have the priest. We’re on the bridge, just above the coven, William said.
Lucien and I are on our way. We’re almost there, Bailien replied.
The red symbol blinked out and faded to black. William opened his eyes and pulled down the sleeve.
“What do you want from us?” Father Purgeon said.
William said nothing. When Bailien had contacted him, requesting his aid, William had eagerly agreed. He was still smarting over the fang Astor had pulled, and Bailien had used that resentment to his advantage. The fang would eventually grow back, though that would take some time.
“Look at their auras, William,” The vampire on Sarah’s side said, voicing his partner’s wonder. “See how their souls sing.”
“Yes, Thomas. The sound and sight stings,” William replied, his flat voice almost sounding animated, making it sound more like a mockery of what it mimicked, a living voice. “Especially hers.” He pointed a black nail at Avalyn. “The Seven will appreciate her.” William smiled, his single fang gleaming, but then, anger washed away the grin. “What makes you so special?” His smirk returned. “Loved girls like you when I was mortal. Loved making them squeal and scream.”
Again, Father Purgeon asked, “What do you want?”
Again he received no answer. William came towards Father Purgeon, though he hadn’t taken a single step. He glided across the floor, though his feet never left the ground. Bodies obstructing his path slid askance like water parted by a ship’s bow. He was staring at Avalyn, his gunmetal, green eyes swirling, silhouetted by pristine whites that resembled a winter landscape of untouched snow. On Sarah’s side, Thomas slithered toward them.
With the distance between them closing fast, the priest pulled the trigger. Maybe it was because his targets were already dead. Maybe it was because he sensed their palpable malevolence. Whatever the reason, it was easier than he thought it would be, far easier than shooting or killing the living had been. The blast startled Sarah into action. She fired too.
William and Thomas had heard the humans’ fingers depress the triggers. There was a blur of motion as the bullets shattered glass and ripped through metal. Then, Father Purgeon felt frost course along his arm. William was in front of him, grasping his wrist, bringing him down on bending knees. Father Purgeon’s hand went numb and he dropped the gun.
Thomas appeared before Sarah and swatted the gun from her hands. It struck a passenger’s head and left a deep gash, a gully that filled with blood. Sarah squealed. What felt like winter’s hands themselves clenched her neck and lifted her.
“Wouldn’t have worked even if you’d hit us!” Thomas screamed. “Too bad this one’s pure,” he said, shaking Sarah as if she were weightless. “I’d love to play with her. She looks like a few hours of fun.” He stared at her. Sarah felt his eyes bore into hers. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Touch you like a tart? Treat you like a pig?” He slid an elongating nail down the front of her coat, sheared through her blouse, exposing her bra.
“Careful!” William said. “You don’t want her blood spilling on you. Besides, Bailien wants them alive.”
Fighting the frost of William’s grasp, Father Purgeon dug into his pants pocket with his hand and hoped he’d find what he so desperately needed now. The cold was spreading throughout his body and made his bones feel brittle. His fingers found the crucifix. He yanked it free and shoved it against the back of William’s hand.
William looked at the cross then at Father Purgeon. “That doesn’t work, priest,” William said, plucking the cross from Father Purgeon’s hand and tossing it away.
Father Purgeon felt like a fool. He actually thought that would work, harbored the hope that the superstitious cliché was true.
Avalyn was between them, still grasping the stanchion pole. William and Father Purgeon were to her right, Thomas and Sarah, to her left. Both vampires were busy with her friends and ignoring her. She used the opportunity to reach for a beer bottle she’d been spying on by her feet. She gripped the neck of the bottle, shattered it against the stanchion pole, and brandished the jagged end before her. “Let them go!” she screamed.
Thomas and William exchanged an amused look.
“Isn’t that cute,” Thomas said.
“Quite precious,” said William with laughter.
Thomas dropped Sarah and leaned down, brought himself level with Avalyn, a sardonic grin spreading across his face. Behind him, on the floor, Sarah closed her jacket over the torn blouse and rubbed her neck, trying to dispel the fading frost and shed the shame. Thomas jabbed at the serrated glass with his fingertip. “This won’t even break through my flesh, sweety,” he said.
Avalyn took a step back. “It’s not for you, stupid,” she said, before jamming the jagged end into the palm of her hand. She bit back a scream and dropped the bottle. As confusion washed over Thomas’s face, she rubbed her hands together. As understanding began to creep over his features, she leapt and dove for Thomas’ face, pressed her bloody palms to his cheeks. He dropped to his knees screaming.
“Sarah, the bottle!” Avalyn shouted.
Without hesitation, Sarah reached for the bottle and picked it up, squeezed her eyes shut, and stabbed her palm. As soon as she drew blood, she dropped the bottle and shoved the leaking hand down Thomas’ shirt, rubbed it on his chest. His screams were so loud that Sarah was sure that her eardrums would rupture.
William flung the priest at Avalyn and Sarah. Father Purgeon crashed into them and their hands broke contact with Thomas.
With smoke billowing from his wounds, Thomas got up, his face a rage filled blood mask. Avalyn’s blood had eaten through most of his face like acid. Every tooth and fang was visible, gleaming past frayed flaps of seared flesh.
“Why do such things?” William hissed. He leapt on top of Father Purgeon. The cold spread across the priest’s shoulder blades. He thrashed. It did no good. He felt like a child squirming against a parent’s grip.
Thomas warily eyed the females as he came toward them. Sarah threw herself in front of Avalyn, shielded her body with her own. Avoiding Sarah’s bleeding palms, Thomas shoved her aside, sent her crashing into a sleeping couple.
From his position, Father Purgeon saw the moon. A smudge marred its luminosity. The blemish spread, ate away at her celestial face, like spilled ink blotting across a white sheet of paper. The shape enlarged until it completely consumed the satellite.
The shattering of glass froze everyone in place. Something had crashed through the window. A black, membranous sphere rolled along the floor and bowled down several stanchion poles before unraveling and forming into wings.
Roman emerged and jumped to his feet.
“Winged-One,” Thomas hissed in awe.
William leapt off the priest.
Roman ran at Thomas, his wings whipping behind him like an organic, sentient cloak.
Thomas reeled and backed away, his essence exploding at his feet and propelling him away from Roman. In mid air, he snatched a dozing passenger, and flung the mortal at the Winged-One. Roman lowered his shoulder, his wing shooting up and batting the human projectile aside. The sleeper careened into other comatose commuters.
Roman leapt. The impact was brutal. His momentum snapped several of Thomas’ ribs and lifted him off the ground. Airborne, Roman wrapped his arms, legs, and wings about Thomas, enclosing both predator and prey within a leathery cocoon. The combatants rolled over sleeping passengers and crashed through stanchion poles. The erect fur lining the wings stabbed into Thomas and siphoned blood. Slamming into the dividing door at the far end of the car, Roman unwrapped his wings and rose. Ashes drifted to the floor. Red mist dissipated and dissolved. All that was left of Thomas.
Roman was surprised at how fast he’d killed the vampire. He was becoming more powerful with each vampire he drained. Again, he’d seen that symbol. That red symbol igniting within his mind. He’d heard its sick song. But he still couldn’t understand it, still couldn’t read it. An enigma that he’d no time to unravel right now.
Father Purgeon saw the cross lying on the floor. He grabbed it and placed it in his pants’ pocket. Just in time. Cold hands gripped him from behind and hauled him from the ground.
“Stay clear of me, Winged-One!” William screamed, clasping Father Purgeon in a headlock as he backed away. “I’ll risk the burn and snap his neck! We wait for Bailien!”
Bailien. Drake’s house, all over again. These were the only clear thoughts that crossed Roman’s mind. He was salivating. Blood dribbling out from his trembling mouth and down his chin. His black eyes swirled and seemed to expand in their sockets. His head was pounding, intoxicated with vampire blood. He felt it coursing throughout his body, an ecstasy he couldn’t quell, a rapture he didn’t want to diminish. He wanted more. Needed more. And he meant to have it. Blood tears welled in his eyes then spilled down his face, joining the blood that was now foaming past his fangs and from his mouth. He felt like a rabid beast, and he had no qualms with this feeling. In fact, he wanted to become one with it, give into it until there was nothing that remained but the joy of the feed, where only the need existed.
He forgot all about the priest. Roman couldn’t even remember who he was. He didn’t even know why he was here. All that mattered was the vampire before him and the blood in the creature’s veins. His nostrils gilled, spreading wider than they’d ever had, made his face look monstrous to the priest.
Father Purgeon hardly recognized his friend. But there was something familiar about the way he looked. The way his body trembled. Its posture as well, hunched and heaving. Roman looked like a junkie. Like an addict in need of a fix. But what drug did his friend need? He thought he knew the answer to that question as well. Roman was looking at the vampire, William, like an alcoholic would look at a bottle of liqueur, like a dope head staring at a loaded syringe. Then it hit him. Roman had just killed a vampire, presumably by feeding off him. William was the bottle, he was the syringe, and his blood was the drug.
Father Purgeon had to get through to Roman, somehow break him from the addict’s trance. He didn’t know if he could do it, but he had to try. He focused on his friend, tried blocking out everything else around him, tried making eye contact with Roman. The vampire’s grip was making it difficult, made his neck feel like it was caught in a vice-grip, like it was clenched by something made of steel instead of flesh. His throat was frozen. Felt like he’d swallowed dry ice.
“Save the girls!” he shouted hoarsely, hoping that Roman heard him.
If Roman had, he gave no indication that he did. In fact, he gave every indication that he hadn’t, or just didn’t care. Roman came forward, lowering to his haunches as if he was about to spring.
Then, outside, in the distance, a braying howl. Accompanying it, a great bounding sound. The train shook. The sound grew louder, drew closer. Slumbering passengers teetered on the edges of their seats. The violent vibrations loosened light fixtures from the ceilings.
Roman momentarily snapped out of whatever trance he was in and looked up. Everybody in the car did. Something large was running toward them. Along the roof.
Then, the roof indented. The wrenching, squealing sound of tearing metal. A section of the roof above Roman’s head disappeared. Looked like the night tore it away. Cold air blasted in. The full moon cast everything in silver and silhouetted a creature like the ones Roman had seen lurking by his home. He’d never seen one this close. The colossal wolf glared inside through the opening of jagged metal. Baleful, black eyes bore into Roman. Its great claws grasped the lip of the opening.
Lucien shook with rage. For the first time since his disgrace, he laid eyes on the one responsible for his current predicament. Finally, the betrayer, Raguel, was within his reach, waiting for his deserved end. His ire palsied his limbs. He’d waited so long for this moment, and now, all he could do was stare.
Roman felt its hate. Its want. Its need. But it didn’t override his own. He looked back at William.
Lucien roared and jumped inside. Without taking his eyes off William, Roman leaped backwards, narrowly avoided the descending beast, and collided with Sarah and Avalyn.
The wolf dropped to his haunches, coiled and ready to pounce. As he was about to spring from his stance, the subway car’s loading doors opened and Bailien floated inside, his essence pluming beneath his feet. “Lucien! Reign in your rage!” he roared. He looked at Roman, recognition freezing his face. It was as Lucien had said. Recreant and betrayer were one in the same. Raguel. Another realization struck him when he saw Raguel’s face. Bloodlust consumed him. The embodiment of addiction. An unquenchable craving when addicted to vampire blood. This made Raguel more dangerous than he already was.
“Winged-One, I know you well!” Bailien said.
Roman saw the new arrival’s eyes, flat black, onyx orbs, like his own, like the wolf’s. He felt the energy emanating from Bailien and knew that he wasn’t like the other vampires in the train, that he wasn’t Mortal Born. If he was like Roman, where were his wings? Roman was no longer interested in William, catching a whiff of Bailien’s scent, the blood beneath his skin, coursing through his veins. The Blood of the Fallen. More powerful than mere Mortal Born blood was. Would make what was once exquisite seem so mundane.
“Weak one, I know you not!” Roman said, roaring his words to be understood, ready to pounce on Bailien and feed.
“Roman! Forget him! Save the girls! Save Avalyn!” Father Purgeon screamed.
Roman ignored him and leapt.
Behind Roman, Sarah, having already gained her feet, was leaping toward Roman. She’d understood that Father Purgeon had been trying to get Roman’s attention, trying to snap him from whatever spell he was under and, had thought that there was no better way to get a vampire’s attention than to burn it with her blood. As he left his feet, Sarah’s bloody hand grazed his wing.
The acidic burn he felt along his wing gave Roman pause. He hissed and dropped to his knees, smoke billowing from the back of his wing. The searing pain snapped him back to his senses. He’d heard every one of Father Purgeon’s words, but in the throe of the Addiction, the Bloodlust, he’d been helpless. He now headed the priest’s words.
He turned around and grabbed both Sarah and Avalyn, one to each arm, and leapt for the window. As he went through the glass, he shielded Avalyn and Sarah with his wings.
I will come back for you, Father, Roman sent to the priest.
Whether or not Father Purgeon had heard him, Roman didn’t know, for there was a resounding shout of “Lucien,” followed by a horrendous explosion of metal and glass. As he flapped his wings, firmly holding the females to his chest, he looked back over his shoulder and saw the wolf-beast soaring towards him.
He felt claws dig into his ankle. The creature tried pulling him down with him, but his grip slipped, and Roman heard his howl, dissipating and descending.
Lucien plunged into the icy waters. Seconds later, his head broke the surface. His body shook with rage as he watched his betrayer fly away and escape.