Roman soared towards the bridge. It was half a mile away. Even from this distance, he saw that the mortals had already towed away the wrecked train. What would they think had happened? The train car’s roof was missing. Most of its windows were shattered. Groggy passengers within, awaking, unable to offer an explanation.
As he closed in on the bridge, he sensed the presence of vampires. His veins started throbbing, and his head felt as if it was percolating. He heard their malevolent frequencies loud and clear droning in his ears, igniting his need. He ascended into the sky, circling the bridge from above, releasing his essence as he did to mask himself.
Then he saw them, six Mortal Born vampires, dropping from the train tracks, hidden within their mist, safe from mortal eyes, but not from Roman’s.
They landed on the base of one of the stanchions and mustered there. By their feet, Roman saw a pulsing red symbol, like the one he’d seen on Servanah and Drake’s arms. One of the vampires, a female, rolled up her sleeve, grasped her arm, and closed her eyes. The sigil below her ignited. Several seconds later, the sigil winked out. A grating sound followed, like rock grinding rock. An opening appeared and the vampires entered, descending single file. When the last of them stepped through, the concrete slab rumbled back in place. The sigil reignited, pulsed-crimson, and resumed its watch.
Roman dropped down from the sky.
Fifteen minutes later, the coven leaders sat around the steal table, chalices set before them, filled to the rim with blood. Bailien was there as well, standing behind Astor, to his left, disallowed a seat. Lucien was back in his cell, where he wouldn’t be for long, if Bailien had his way.
“How long have you known?” Envy’s coven ruler, Lyliss said, before sipping from her goblet, her halfway drawn fangs clinking against the metal.
“I’ve had the information for a night. Figured we’d have the Recreant by now.” Astor stabbed an accusatory glance at Bailien.
“Such information must be shared,” Lyliss said, licking her robust lips, dappled with blood. “When were you going to inform us, Astor? I wonder, if you’d captured the Recreant, would you have told us? Would there have been a need to?”
“I’m informing you now.”
“She’s right,” Laszlo chimed in, smiling. It was a toothless smile, though not a fangless one; he’d removed what wasn’t needed. He shifted his skeletal, filthy frame in his seat, dust billowing from the rags. The stench of dead human flesh wafted from the fabric. Sloth’s vampires kept their meals until they rotted, and every fiber of their garments soaked in that stench, exuded it.
Though Sloth’s coven ruler spoke to Astor, his eyes lingered on Lyliss, as most male eyes in the chamber did. Her raven-black hair, brushed against her milk-white breasts that challenged the haltered top of her sheer, pink tube dress. Even Dalia, coven Pride’s ruler, the only other female vampire in attendance, couldn’t help but ogle.
“I would have informed all of you immediately,” Laszlo continued, “Your procrastinations have cost me, Astor. This Recreant destroyed my downtown morgue and I’ve lost a fledgling and a thrall. I demand reparations!”
“Reparations! You have a lot of nerve demanding anything, Laszlo,” Astor said. “I’m not the only one who is guilty of procrastination. In fact, you went beyond procrastination. You failed to report that Darius, your precious fledgling, was without an emissary, as were both Drake and Servanah. With that information, we might have avoided this entire debacle. Everyone here knows that Servanah’s mortal life ended before I could take it. And though that is a crime in itself, it is not as severe an offense as draining vampires. No, Laszlo, you will get nothing from me. Besides, most of you would have done the same. But, relax your tense looks. We expect to have the Recreant soon.”
And indeed their anxious looks ebbed; confusion replaced tension. Devlin, Gluttony’s coven ruler, a stereotypical obesity, with a collection of chins beneath his fleshy maws, voiced the collective question. “How?”
For that answer, Astor looked to Bailien.
Under the bridge, Roman hung upside down, clenching an iron beam with his talons.
Roman looked at the sigil beneath him. He’d seen the same one on Servanah’s arm. On Drake’s. The seal of House Lust. Astor’s coven.
He wondered how many vampires were down there. He wondered how powerful they were, and if he could handle them, plus save Father Purgeon without getting him killed. But most of all, he wondered if he could control his addiction.
Roman hadn’t forgotten what Darius had done to him. Hadn’t forgotten what Servanah had tried doing. The misery spell. The lust spell. He wasn’t about to be caught unawares again. He’d be more careful this time, less direct.
He tried penetrating the walls by the sigil with his echolocation, but it was no good, he couldn’t see beyond the stone. Next, he tried with his essence. He shot it into the rock, formed the malleable mist into a single beam of energy. The sigil repelled it, deflected it right back into him. Finally, he tried reaching out with his mind. Same result. He wasn’t surprised. Fluxing water hindered his senses and powers. A perfect place for a coven. The river was a natural barrier against prying minds.
Roman released the beam and dropped. Descending, he flipped his body and landed on his feet by the sigil.
“We know where he resides,” Bailien began, “where he slumbers during the day. Lucien will capture him then.” He wasn’t going to tell them anymore than he had to.
“Do we know what House he belongs to? Do we even have a name?” Greed’s coven ruler, Gerald asked. He was a long-faced man, whose entire cranium looked as if someone had grasped his chin and the crown of his head and pulled, stretching it.
“No,” Bailien said.
“How many has he fed on?” Laszlo asked.
“Four,” Bailien said, hiding a grin, stifling a smile. “Far as I know.”
“Four! Then he’s already addicted!” coven Wrath’s ruler, Nathan said, craning his bull-thick neck at Astor, clenching his fists, which resembled large, stone mallets.
Bailien was finding it much harder to control his glee. Look at how terrified they were of a mere Mortal Born vampire succumbing to the Addiction. Imagine if they knew the truth. They’d soon find out.
“Besides Darius, who are the others?” Dalia asked. She had sandy blond hair, a razor-cut bob, eyes that matched a turtleneck shirt, cobalt blue. She wore a formfitting outfit: black suede, crop-jacket, black leather pants, riding boots. “Whose covens have been compromised? Has he fed on anyone from my coven?”
Bailien let the silence hang, enjoying their collective anxiety, their swelling fear. They had a right to be afraid. He wished he could tell them that the Recreant was a Winged-One. Wished he could drop the weight of those words on them. But he knew he couldn’t. He’d not destroy such a splendid surprise.
“Servanah, Drake, Darius, and Thomas,” Bailien reported, hoping his tone didn’t sound jubilant.
“My coven is compromised!” Lazlo said. “Because he’s drank from one of my minions, he could enter any of my covens!”
“Relax,” Astor said. “Surely you’re not afraid of one vampire. He’s probably more concerned with hiding than anything else.”
“Except for Darius, all of them were from House Lust. More specifically, Astor’s coven,” Nathan said, his face mimicking concern, his mouth feigning a frown. “You must be furious, Astor. I didn’t know much about Thomas, but as for Servanah, I’m sure you’ll not easily replace her.”
“He’ll replace her easier than you think,” Lyliss said. “Sex addicts, fornicators, and rapists are a dime a dozen, common fair, far from unique. But Drake was a rarity. A destroyer of innocence.” She breathed in deeply, mimicked a human inhalation flawlessly, a habitual act many of the Mortal Born found difficult to shed. It was no secret that she’d coveted Drake for her own coven, her and her demon lord Leviathan, House ruler of Envy, one of the Seven. Silhouetted by her ivory sclera, her emerald eyes slitted and dilated, looked like verdant foliage swirling in snow. “He should’ve been mine.”
“Higher powers make such decisions,” Bailien said.
Thinking she’d offended Bailien, fear flashed in Lyliss’s eyes, but she quickly recovered, batted her long lashes, pouted and said, “Of course, Bailien. Hadn’t I humbly conceded?”
“Conceded? Yes. Humbly? No.”
“Due to your ineptitude, you and your dog’s failed attempt at alleviating this threat, we might lose more minions before sunrise,” Nathan said, boldly glaring at Bailien.
A hush fell over the room. All in attendance shocked at Nathan’s open display of contempt. No one but Astor dared speak to Bailien in such a manner. And that was only because Astor wielded Asmodeus’s talisman and had the demon lord’s protection.
Bailien swiveled his head at Nathan, stared at him, his black onyx eyes locked on the Mortal Born’s. Bailien’s eyes seemed to swirl, churn within their sockets like sludge, and Nathan couldn’t look away, knowing, too late, that he’d crossed a boundary Bailien wouldn’t let him get away with. Nathan’s body convulsed. Blood tears welled in his eyes then ran down his face. Blood bile rose in his throat, then erupted; a volcano of blood that jettisoned onto the table, the blood waves knocking over several goblets. On Nathan’s face, lacerations split his skin, as if some unseen scalpel was slitting his flesh, the rents bleeding freely.
“Enough, Bailien!” Astor said, grasping Asmodeus’s talisman and activating the glyphs. “Leave us!”
“As you wish,” Bailien said, feeling the burn on his back binds but not showing Astor, or any of the soul bags in attendance how much it hurt. His black orbs stilled.
Astor let go of the talisman as Bailien made his way out. Bailien never took his eyes off Nathan, who’d by now averted his eyes and was staring at the floor, properly chastened. The blood pouring from his eyes had tapered off to a trickle, and the gashes on his face had stopped bleeding, but those scars might never heal.
Bailien left the Hall of Gathering, carefully hiding a smirk, wondering how many vampires Astor would lose. If he’d lose his entire coven. He wondered how many coven leaders would escape. If they’d even help Astor at all.
“Careful, Astor,” Lyliss said in a purr after Bailien had left, and as Nathan wiped away the blood from his eyes. “You don’t want Bailien or his former master reinstated. I’m sure they’ll not easily forget.” She tried pouring more blood into her chalice, flicking open the valve end of the tube hanging above the cup with her thumb, but it seemed to be jammed. She got up and walked over to the human female who was attached to her tube and decided to drink from the source, plunging her fangs into the female’s neck. The human quivered, would’ve wailed and moaned if her mouth hadn’t been sewn shut. Lyliss returned to her seat and every eye followed her now flushed flesh.
“I’m protected by Asmodeus. I fear nothing. Besides, when they’re reinstated, if they’re reinstated, they’ll return to their legions, engaging Heaven in a fruitless war. The true battle resides here. The priest they’ve brought with them is far more valuable than they are.”
Studying the sigil, Roman felt its malevolent surging current. A sick song intoned from it, crooning and droning, a sound more abominable than those produced by the most execrable mortal souls.
He didn’t want to touch it. Thought they’d know it if he did. But what other choice did he have? He wasn’t going to let Father Purgeon die down there. If he couldn’t deactivate the sigil, he knew he’d bash down the concrete barrier anyway.
He grasped the sigil, pressed his palm to it and waited. Several seconds passed, enough time for doubt to begin to creep into his mind. But then, the concrete slab started to slide. He didn’t know what he’d done or how he’d done it, but the way was open.
The stench of sex was palpable, pungent and thick. He stared down into the depths. Father Purgeon was down there; he could hear the priest’s soul song cutting through the darkness, smell his soul past the stench.
Still engulfed within his essence, Roman descended into the Coven of the Bridge.
Bloated water bugs and swollen rats scuttled out of the way avoiding Roman’s bare feet as he made his way down a seemingly endless set of steep stone stairs caked with sludgy grime.
He tore himself away from the images threatening to impede his progress; every hell that happened here was recorded into the stone. He shoved aside the hopelessness he felt from the deluge of emotions trying to violate him with a course hungry penetration, a dense greedy desire that sought entry. Reeling and stumbling, balancing himself with his wings, he reached the landing. It led into a long corridor as seemingly endless as the stairs he’d just descended.
Water dripped from chains lining the walls and ceiling. At the end of the hallway was another set of steep stairs. He went down them, faster than he had the previous set, still trying to outrace the visions vying for his attention. He reached the landing and came upon another corridor that was identical to the first.
At its far end, he heard voices.
It was hard to hear Father Purgeon’s signal, playing lightly in the background, with all the malefic frequencies shrouding it.
He heard the vampires’ airless voices, their flat sounding phonations. Hunger called. He could taste their blood within their scents. He felt its promised peace. Its pseudo solace. He trembled and his veins itched. His resolve was slipping.
Behind the hunger was a rage that fuelled it. He was angry with himself for imperiling his friend. He was remorseful for befriending such a benevolent being. He hated himself, but he hated those who were remorseless more. He hated the vampires for reveling in everything that was wrong with the world and for exploiting everything that was wrong in mortals.
As he neared the end of the corridor, Roman’s wings began to vibrate. Something was coming. Then he saw them, six Rottweilers, racing toward him. Their bodies rippled with muscles, all but punctured through rough, heavy coats. All bore their fangs, two rows of thirty daggers, like a shark’s, oblique and serrated. Their paws boasted elongated claws. Their crimson eyes gleamed and locked with his. Still immersed within his essence, he wondered how they saw him. The answer came as immediately as the question. He remembered how common dogs, cats, and rodents had always sensed him, seemed to know that he was there. Now he knew that they hadn’t just been aware of his presence, but that they’d actually seen him through his mist.
Roman sensed the vampire blood in them. He felt his need rise. Felt it coming to consume him. He tried to suppress it, tried to beat it back down. But their blood called him, sang him a song he couldn’t fight, couldn’t ignore, sounding as sweet as he knew it would taste. His eyes glazed with blood as he fell into the Addiction.
Like an arcing missile, the lead dog shot through the air. The others charged. Roman left his feet and soared under the airborne animal. He sliced its belly open with his wing. Blood and entrails spilled as the eviscerated dog smashed into a wall with a wet crunch, slid down it, and fell into a mangled heap.
Roman hit the ground, rolled, and jumped to his feet. He sensed the others girdling him and swung his body, releasing his opposite wing. It met two of them and hewed through their necks, but as his wings soaked in their diluted blood, the next pair struck. One slammed into his chest. The other bit into his leg. He fell backwards and onto his back. At his leg, a Rottweiler tore through flesh and drank. As the one that had met his chest ripped into his neck, he wondered where the third and final dog was. That was when he felt fangs bite into his head.