Vicious growls and bestial screams serrated the air and swept into the chamber. The sounds of heavy bodies colliding shook the walls. The vampires heard bones breaking, flesh tearing and teeth gnashing. Then, those raucous growls turned to whimpers, then to yelps, high-pitched and desperate.
In the Hall of Gathering, every eye turned toward the corridor. Every voice was silenced.
Then a Rottweiler’s body flew into the room and landed on the table. Headless. Limbless. Drained.
Before any of them could react, the cold air suddenly turned frigid, a frigidity that even the dead felt. As quickly as the temperature in the room had dropped, Nathan and Dalia disappeared, as if the air had swallowed them. Though the vampires couldn’t see them, they heard their screams. Gerald, who’d been sitting right next to Nathan and Dalia, was trying to get away from the table when his body was lifted, apparently by his neck. His body convulsed and shook; his chins warbled and wiggled spasmodically as two open puncture holes appeared on his throat as if invisible fangs had pierced it. Then, a great gouge encircled the holes, the size of a mouth.
Instantaneously, his body shriveled before the coven leaders’ eyes, collapsed and crumpled inward as the husk that was once Gerald was desiccated, his blood completely drained. Gerald seemed to implode as he turned to ash. Terror tore into every pale face. In the blink of an eye, three coven leaders had been destroyed.
Astor’s mind raced. Only Winged-Ones attacked like this, undetected and unseen. Only a vampire belonging to his coven could activate Asmodeus’ seal and enter. Or a vampire who’d fed off a vampire from his coven. The Recreant? Was the Recreant a Winged-One? In that moment, Astor realized that Bailien had set him up. Had lied to him. If Astor had known the Recreant was a Winged-One, he would’ve never allowed the hunt in the first place. He would’ve immediately informed his House Ruler, Asmodeus, and let the demons deal with their own. He’d been deceived. Bailien knew that the Mortal Born vampires couldn’t stop the might of a demon. Knew that the entire coven could fall. Bailien would sacrifice every damned soul on the planet if he had to, just to get out from under Astor’s feet. Astor should’ve seen it coming.
Where Nathan and Dalia had once been, ashes drifted to the floor.
Devlin leapt away, feeling invisible wings brush against his face, leathery and cold. He crashed into the moaning mortals hanging from the wall, entangling himself with the siphoning tubes. He tore himself loose and several of the tubes popped free. Blood sprayed the air. The twitching tubes resembled decapitated snakes writhing in death, blood pouring from the stumps of their plastic necks. The humans on the wall convulsed.
The blood hit something. Gave shape to a wing. Wings and part of a face were now visible, heaving with the feed, the wings unfurling, ready to swathe around prey. Devlin saw death’s face, a bloody bodiless head with fangs, before the demon’s wings enshrouded him. The blood spouting from the tubes was thinning to a trickle. The humans on the wall had ceased jactitating and now hung still. The blood on the demon’s body began to fade, seemingly ebbing into the nothingness it had appeared from, taking Devlin with it.
Devlin’s shrill screaming keened throughout the chamber.
Astor thought about contacting Asmodeus. He quickly shed the idea. Contacting Hell took more time than contacting his minions. Besides, the Seven would be too busy making preparations. Opening the doorway to the Deadtime required their full attention. Instead, he tore away at his sleeve, grasped the House sigil, and activated it, closing his eyes.
The coven is under attack! Everyone report to the Hall of Gathering and defend the coven!
Astor opened his eyes and saw Devlin’s ashes drift to the ground.
Lyliss and Laszlo were racing for the exit, essence exploding from their backs, galvanizing their flight. Astor hissed. If he escaped with his unlife, he’d remember their abandonment.
Astor got up and ran. He saw that Lyliss and Laszlo had already escaped via the tunnel that led to the exit by the base of the bridge. In his haste, Astor tripped over a fallen chair and fell on his back. As he scrambled to his feet, he reached for the Talisman dangling from his neck, wanting to activate the spells on them, administer as much pain as he could upon both Bailien and Lucien before his end.
Astor’s minions arrived and swept into the room just as Astor felt glacial fingers graze his neck. The air ate him. His minions froze, unsure and terrified.
Roman fed off Astor, not even knowing whom his victim was, so lost in the throes of the Bloodlust. He felt the others. Astor’s coven. He felt their baleful energy, the fear behind it, and heard their scampering feet. He dropped his essence, allowed them to see him, wanted them to see him. Needed them to see their harbinger of doom, of a final death, relishing the role he now played, he now accepted. Brimming with vampire blood, he felt its power coursing within him and wanted more of it. But behind the sounds of the vampires’ vile frequencies, past the sound of the blood he now heard roaring in their veins-and in his own-he heard the priest’s soul song, distant but there. Then Father Purgeon’s song faded from his mind, retreated to some recess, some small niche that was drowned by the waves of addiction, and stifled to silence. He no longer cared about saving Father Purgeon. He now wondered if he’d ever really cared at all.
What wounds he’d received during the dog attack had healed. With each of the coven leader’s deaths, the red script had appeared within Roman’s mind. He still didn’t know what to make of it. At this point he didn’t care. It might as well have been gibberish. The scarlet symbols meant nothing to him. Nothing seemed to matter now. Nothing mattered but the blood.
Roman opened his wings and Astor’s ashes drifted to the floor. He lunged into the mob of vampires, trying to quench an unquenchable thirst.
Behind him, on the floor, resting on Astor’s ashes was the Enochian engraved talisman.