The rain comes down in sheets. Trees pelted by the rain, bow their lush crowns, like commoners bending to royalty, the sound of the rain serving as heralding cheers. Branch and bough soak in the water that softens their bark. The soil at their feet turning to mud.
Bailien stares into Woodside’s forest from the safety of the tunnel. The rain will affect them both, though more so the Neuri than the vampires. The rain will help mask their dead scent from the Neuri. It will also dampen the Mortal Born’s powers. Though they can still employ their essence to obfuscate themselves, it will be a thin veil. One the wolves will see through when close. But the essence will mask sound. The Neuri shouldn’t hear the rattle of armor.
Bailien arrived on the mortal realm a month ago, but now serves under a new House, and for the first time, a coven. He’s acclimated to his new House well. Though he prefers his former House, Wrath, Lust’s House has its amenities. The same cannot be said for having to serve under the Mortal Born vampire, Astor, Coven Master of the Bridge.
Bailien hears the sound of armored vampires shuffling about impatiently behind him. “Quiet!” he hisses. “Be still.”
All fall silent within the steel tube as every vampire within obeys the former Winged-One’s command. Though the demon’s wings are sealed within his back, and he no longer has the power to wield his songs, Bailien can destroy every vampire within the tunnel, if he so chose to, with his bare hands. But alas, his punishment forbade it, as does the spell engraved talisman Astor always has dangling from his neck.
Including Bailien, there are twelve vampires within the tunnel, all wearing full black plate armor made of silver. All save Bailien wear helms. He only wears the armor because Astor has insisted. He won’t have his new toy, his new prize, injured. After all the countless battles Bailien has fought upon the celestial realm, against adversaries such as the angels, he fears the Neuri little or any other threat within this dominion.
The armor he’s wearing is lacking, nothing compared to the armor he’d sheathed himself in upon the celestial realms. The weapons aren’t much to speak of either: daggers, short swords, long swords, all made of silver. The comparison isn’t a fair one, and Bailien knows he’s just being spiteful, abashed for having to wield such mundane tools. But they are well suited for the task, enough to fend the Neuri off. Hopefully, it won’t come down to that. Hopefully, they’ll be long gone before their snouts pick up their scent. He won’t have this mission botched. His true master depends on him. He loathes the thought of going into battle with the lowly Mortal Born at his side.
The House sigil on his arm ignites. Crimson light seeps from his vambrace, spills past the cuff, accompanied by a faint burning, stabbing sensation. The sigil imbedded into the tunnel’s whorled wall wakes as well. The signal. The way is open.
“Employ your essence,” Bailien says. His squad complies.
Bailien leaps from the tunnel and over the rank stream. Landing on the grass, he races into the woods. Behind him, eleven vampires follow. From an adjacent tunnel, more of the Mortal Born come. All similarly armed. Led by Astor.
The vampires plunge into the forest. They know where the Neuri king’s body is, courtesy of previous clandestine missions. Their mist masks the sound of their clanking armor. They move as quickly and as silently as possible. None wishes to dwell in the Neuri’s domain for long. What they are doing is forbidden. The dead are not allowed to set foot in Woodside, as are the Neuri barred from Cityside. This delicate truce has been in effect for twenty years, since the end of the last Neuri and vampire war.
Bailien’s squad reaches a clearing, where at its center stands a stone mausoleum the size of a shed. Thanks to earlier reconnaissance, Bailien knows that it’s much larger within, for it houses the Neuri’s entire royal line. Tonight it’s unguarded. The wolves hold their moots every full moon. What the wolves discuss during these monthly gatherings, the dead do not know. Lust’s spies could never get close enough, though reports indicate that they are both political and ritualistic. If they were to fail tonight, they won’t have another opportunity, moot or not.
As planned, Bailien’s unit moves in. They are to enter the mausoleum and retrieve the most recently deceased Neuri king while Astor’s squad secures the perimeter. Though the king’s body has been dead for two months, Neuri bodies decay slowly. It will be years before the first signs of decomposition start to show.
At the entrance, Bailien recalls his essence. The others dare not drop their veils. He lifts the slab of stone, places it to the side, and peers down into the earthen tunnel. No stairs. Just a fifty-foot drop that no mortal can make. Sensing no Neuri below, Bailien drops down. One by one, the vampires behind him follow; only upon landing do they unveil themselves and call back their mist.
Bailien leads the way and races down the passage. The Neuri made these tunnels, excavating the earth with their claws. They are wide enough to walk three abreast, high enough to accommodate a Neuri standing upright in their bipedal battle form, and then some. Tree roots swim through the dirt and the air is thick and damp. There are no rodents nor insects down here. The Neuri have marked the tunnels with their supernatural scent, and all living things respect and fear it. Only the dead would dare such a transgression.
When they reach the end of the tunnel, another gaping hole greets them, and without slowing down, Bailien descends. The Neuri king’s body is another level down and he does not wish to tarry. The wolves may be busy with their moot, but any small mishap may alert them, bring them down upon the grave robbers. Bailien has very little faith in the Mortal Born.
This second tier differs from the first in that there are iron handles set within the earthen walls, fixed to wooden caskets. At the end of the tunnel, they jump down into the third passageway.
Halfway into it Bailien comes to a halt. The others stop behind him. He’s staring at the last iron handle, at level with his chest. He grasps it, then yanks the coffin out from the earthen wall and off its shelving, and lets it crash onto the floor, amidst a shower of soil and root. The wood splinters but does not shatter. Bailien’s bare, clawed feet take care of that. He doesn’t even pause to glance at the intricate art carved into the wood. Images depicting the life of the Neuri king. Every coffin within this tomb is similarly adorned. Two swift kicks later, and the casket is reduced to firewood.
The vampires stare at the massive form in awe. Never have they seen such a gargantuan specimen. The Neuri die in their true forms, wolf or human, and King Lycaon was no exception. He’d been a wolf before he’d become a werewolf, a six foot, three hundred pound wolf. Bailien kneels down and feels the body. The fur is course, but the body hasn’t hardened. Rigor mortis hasn’t even set in. Bailien grasps the loose fur around the nape of the great wolf’s neck and tosses the beast across his shoulders.
The vampires do an about face and file out, as quickly as they had came, Bailien bringing up the rear. He could’ve had them carry the body, but he doesn’t trust them enough with it, doesn’t want to risk damaging the vessel his master, Lucien, will soon inhabit, after the possession.
After they have jumped up and out of the tunnel, and enter the second tier, Bailien follows, firmly holds the wolf in place as he leaps. As soon as he begins to make his way down the passage, he freezes, sensing something above. Now he hears it. Screams. Shouts. Howls.
There’s only one way out. The way they came in. Bailien isn’t afraid of the Neuri. Not yet at least. He hasn’t been on this plane of existence long enough to fear them. Hasn’t seen them in battle. He’s more concerned with getting the vessel back to the coven in one piece, where the ritual will be performed.
Those in front now hear the screams. The sounds of melee. The sounds of death. Some turn to Bailien, seeking his instruction, hoping such a powerful being can get them out with their undead lives. Others draw swords and daggers. The former Winged-One glowers at them. He doesn’t care whether they live or die.
“Upon exiting, girdle me, form a protective shield around me. We make straight for the coven,” Bailien says to them, knowing he will sacrifice everyone of them if he has to.
Out from the mausoleum, Bailien’s men pour, paying heed to the former Winged-One’s orders, heading for the forest, trying to ignore the battle that rages around them. It’s raining even harder than it was, and the vampires have dropped their veils. Useless to waste what won’t camouflage them anymore. With the vampires encased in silver armor from head to toe, the wolves cannot get to their foes to kill them. The same cannot be said for them. There are over a dozen bleeding bodies strewn across the sacred ground that has now become a battlefield, some still convulsing in their death throes, transforming back to whatever form they were born in. There are more humanoid forms among the dead. No surprise. Among the Neuri population, those born to man outnumber those born to the wolf.
Bailien and the vampires easily escape the Neuri and disappear into the forest with the body Lucien will soon dwell in.
That was twelve years ago. Bailien came out of the memory and returned to the present.
White light streaked across the sky and revealed the city’s metallic grandeur. The storm jabbed against steel. Rain, washing over jagged skyscrapers, resembled waterfalls flowing onto flooding streets.
Bailien walked across the bridge. Drake had been so promising, an easy recruit. Never needed persuading. Never so much as a push. Bailien needed to know what had happened. He knew how to acquire such information. They would have to release the beast. Besides thralls, the beast was the only day hunter they had, and his hunting skills were unrivaled. Astor wouldn’t like it, but it had to be done. Besides, anything that made Astor uncomfortable was worth it.
Bailien welcomed this new mystery. Death would be worthless without a little intrigue.
Though he’d enjoy Astor’s distress, even at Drake’s expense, Bailien wasn’t pleased with having to deliver this most urgent news, for he’d intended a night out with the fledgling, of course after Astor had killed him. Drake would have had to settle for his victims being older than the fare he was used to having. Teenagers, at least. Old enough to have began making decisions, soul-fated decisions.
Astor had been uneasy lately. The countless conferences between Lust’s covens, having to supply pure souls for the Seven to feed their monstrosity, on top of supervising his coven’s normal nightly activities, were finally taking their toll on the coven master.
If it wasn’t for the foul back stabber, Bailien and Lucien wouldn’t be in there current predicament, serving under the Mortal Born. But none of them had seen it coming. After all, Heaven’s Gatemaster had seemed so dissatisfied. Discontented enough to Fall. Someday, Hell would restore Bailien and Lucien to their former glory, when Hell deemed that they’d paid their penance. Then and only then, would he never again have to submit to a Mortal Born. In time.
The weeping rain gave way to hail. The sleet shattered on the bridge’s surface to cold dust. Fragments of frost sparkling under the moon’s lunar gaze.
Bailien stopped, peered over the railing, and stared at the base of the bridge; the sight filled him with trepidation. He closed his eyes and basked in the storm, while in the distance, the city called him. His blood sang back, but that was all it would do. He must forget the metropolis for now. But just before Bailien leapt over the railing and fell to the writhing river, to where the waves broke against the concrete base of the bridge, an idea came to mind. Before returning to the coven, he could check with Lyliss, Coven Ruler of the Sewers, whose House was Envy. Their spies were the best. If Lyliss didn’t know, nobody did. The delay would upset Astor, but that was a bonus as far as Bailien was concerned. Bailien raced towards the end of the bridge and headed to the city.
Twenty minutes later Bailien was below ground and closing in on his destination. Her coven was near. He was now racing down a subterranean passageway, thirty feet beneath the train tracks, heading towards the next trapdoor. The train rumbled overhead as he pulled the hatch open and dropped through. Above him, the trapdoor fell shut and rained dust. He shook his head, dislodging most of the dirt from his hair; his ruffling hands got rid of the rest.
He made his way to the next trapdoor at the end of the tunnel. Engraved within the metal hatch was a lit, red sigil representing House Envy, Leviathan’s seal set in a sphere, a seven headed serpent wrapped around a glyph, the Enochian word for envy arching over the snakes pates. He pulled up his sleeve and the sigil on his arm awakened. Then both demonic seals blinked out. He reached for the hatch, grasped it and pulled it open, then slithered down the iron ladder underneath it.
He and Lyliss had shared blood. The small sips they shared weren’t enough to cause addiction. Still, it was a forbidden act, a breach of security between covens. As easily as Bailien had entered Lyliss’s domain, so too could she penetrate Astor’s province.
The sound of padded feet. Six Pit Bulls stormed around the corner, claws clicking on the floor, crimson eyes gleaming, their thin coats of fur barely able to conceal their bulging muscles. They were exaggerated mockeries of what they had been. Whereas a natural Pit Bull weighed thirty to sixty pounds, and were fourteen to twenty four inches in height, the lightest of these monstrosities weighed a hundred pounds and stood at forty inches. Vampiric blood coursed through their veins. Like human thralls, they required their master’s blood.
They growled and bore their fangs. Bailien froze in his tracks and waited. Reaching the former Winged-One, they circled him. Smelling their mistress’s blood in him, they relaxed, though they wouldn’t let him pass.
“My babies,” said a female voice.
The dogs turned. Tails wagged and rumps wiggled. Some yelped. Others whined.
“Oh yes, my babies, come to mama,” Lyliss said stepping into the corridor.
Garters wedded pink thigh high stockings to a sheer pink strapless tube dress that barely covered her bottom; a red thong could be seen through the fabric parting her cheeks. Her breasts challenged the material. She knew she had the body for it. Standing at five foot five-now closer to five foot nine with her red heels on-she was small boned, though not quite thin. Thick where a woman wanted to be.
She patted the alpha’s gargantuan head. He raised it and licked her hand, his whines growing louder.
“I know baby. I know what you want.” Lyliss brought her wrist to her fangs. They hung from robust lips shinning with scarlet spit. The dog moaned as she made the first tear. She lowered the wound to his mouth, but held it inches away, giggling as his eyes bulged, and laughing when his tongue lolled toward her bleeding wrist.
“Now, now,” Lyliss cooed. The dog slurped back his tongue. She patted him with the blood dripping hand and watched his eyes cross as driblets met his muzzle. She enjoyed being wanted. Needed to be needed. There was power in giving. Control.
After a few more moments of delivered agony, she placed her wrist into his maw. The dog fastened his mouth around her entire wrist. Lyliss breathed heavy and quivered where she stood. Her eyes rolled back into her head. She arched her back and her bosom swelled with each gulp. Blood exchange, given or taken, was an exhilarating and erotic experience for vampires.
Apparently, it was just as heady to view. Bailien felt himself harden as he watched her facial expressions, knowing she was getting off on him getting off on her.
There were others to feed. Lyliss pulled her wrist free, swaying where she stood. She wouldn’t feed the others as much, but she had to give them something.
She dropped her wrist and fed the rest of her outer guard.
She drew her hand back when the last one finished suckling. As they filed down the corridor the way they had came, she brought her wrist to her mouth and lapped the gash, enjoying the taste of her own blood. She looked at her wrist. The wound was gone.
“Say something,” she said. Her green eyes dilated as they roamed over Bailien’s body.
“We may have a Recreant on our hands. My charge is missing. Evidence points to murder. Before and after he was made a vampire.”
She lowered her voice to a conspirator’s whisper. “Drake is missing? Astor’s prize? He will be furious. Will he set the beast loose?”
“The Recreant’s a Winged-One, Lyliss,” Bailien said, knowing it would shut her up, and pleased to give her information she didn’t have, knowing how much it would upset her.
Her voice was small, meek. “Winged-One! Here? Impossible! I would have heard something.”
“You’re hearing it now. And I expect you won’t be telling anybody. It’s important that Astor doesn’t know the Recreant is a Winged-one. I’ll tell him it’s just an older vampire.”
“I can keep a secret, Bailien,” Lyliss purred, “especially for you. But why aren’t you going to tell him?”
“Because what he doesn’t know could eventually hurt him. No one can match the might of a Winged-One. Even I’m not capable of such things. Not without my wings. Not without my songs.”
“Didn’t something like this happen to Servanah, except that she wasn’t killed when she awoke?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“I may know of another. Someone else who was killed days before their time. Someone else who awoke without an emissary awaiting them.”
“Who, Lyliss? Tell me.”
Lyliss reached for his groin. Gave it a hard squeeze. She felt him stir and smiled. As abruptly as she’d grabbed him, she released. “Come,” she said, “follow me and I’ll tell.” She didn’t look back as she sauntered to the trap door at the end of the tunnel, knowing he’d follow, knowing he’d be watching her as he did.
Lyliss was correct. Bailien did not disappoint. As he followed, he drank in the sight and licked his lips.
They came before a solid gold, elevator door. Imbedded within it, was a panel made of black granite stone. Within the stone, Envy’s sigil. She placed her hand on it. It lit, along with the sigil on her left arm. Her hand throbbed with the pulse. The sigil blazed bright, then, winked out, as did the one on her arm. She pulled her hand away when she heard a mechanical sound. The lift was coming.
When it arrived, the doors soundlessly folded open. They stepped inside. Every surface was paneled with mirrors save for a black granite square. Engraved in the onyx stone was House Envy’s sigil. Lyliss pressed her palm to it. The outer doors closed and the lift descended.
Reaching their destination, they stepped off the lift and entered a circular chamber the size of a small concert hall. Lyliss’s lair was a whorl of gold surfaces that spiraled upward to a domed ceiling where diamonds depended from gold chains. Ivory pillars, resembling Roman columns, supported the entire structure. An arching mosaic, depicting Heaven’s first war, adorned the ceiling. This theme extended to the floor, where another mosaic captured that war’s authentic aftermath of Lucifer landing in Hell, his minions descending about him. Carved into the pillars were more scenes.
Lyliss made her way to the center of the room, and plopped herself onto her throne, also gilded golden. She leaned back and gazed upward. Scanned the rows of locked and sealed draws. As a morgue served the dead, Lyliss’s vaults held the bodies of the un-dead, the denizens of her coven, the Coven of the Sewer, whose mistress always drank first. Only after she had fed, would she let them feed. They lay awake and hungry within their vaulted tombs.
Lyliss eased back, pulled her top down, and spread her legs. “Feed me,” she said.
Bailien smiled. His eyes lingered over her breasts then loitered there. His fangs extended, among other things. With an effort, he retracted them, shut his eyes because he had to.
“No time for sex. I need that name, Lyliss. I must return to Astor.” But Bailien couldn’t control his lust, slave to the sins of his new House. He opened his eyes and walked towards her. He’d taken no more than two steps when a burning sensation along his left arm vanquished his libido. He pulled back the sleeve and saw red punching through Asmodeus’s black sigil. “Astor,” he said.
“What are you going to do?” Lyliss asked, sitting up in her throne.
The burning sensation intensified and Bailien hissed, but he wouldn’t answer Astor’s call. He looked at his wrist. The sigil started to bleed. He dropped to his knees, balled his left hand into a fist and took the pain. Blood poured down his arm. He screamed between clenched fangs.
Lyliss was staring at the blood running from the sigil, her eye’s glazing over, dilating. She dropped to her hands and knees and crawled toward him. Even in his pain, he salivated over the sight.
She reached him, grasped his bleeding forearm and brought it to her mouth, her fangs extending. Her tongue darted out and she licked the blood away.
The sigil went out, faded back to black. Lyliss licked off the rest of the blood.
“Glad you enjoyed yourself,” Bailien said as he rose. Lyliss remained on her knees. She knew he liked her there.
“It’ll only get worse, Bailien. He’ll keep calling. Besides the pain, you’ll lose blood. The glyphs that bind your wings will be next.” She shook her breasts. “Take what you need from me.”
The small sips they’d drank from each other over the years weren’t enough to force addiction. Full drainage was required for that to happen. Full drainage from three different sources. The only thing that they risked was addiction to each other’s blood. And neither of them had a problem with that.
Bailien grinned, bit into her nipple and suckled. Her chest heaved and her breasts swelled. Her eyes rolled backwards. Her breathing came in ragged gasps. Bailien released her after only sucking the teat for a moment, a few seconds. It was enough for now. He forced himself away and rose. “Thank you, Lyliss. Now, I need that name.”
“His name is Darius, of House Sloth. Laszlo has him working at one of the city’s morgues.”
There was a blur of motion and Bailien was gone.
Lyliss got up, put her breasts away, and threw herself back in her throne. Her hand moved down to her hardened vulva. She waited for her coven’s pleas.
She didn’t have to wait long.
Drifting from the rafters, the first wails dropped to her ears, falling weighted, heavy, and miserable. How long should she give them today? She massaged herself. Minutes or hours? Their cries grew louder, encircling her. She soaked them in, her hand blurring between her legs.
Seconds later, blood was soaking through her panties. She brought her sopping hand to her mouth and licked away the blood.
She rose and went behind her throne. On the wall behind it were three golden levers. She grasped the one in the center and yanked it down, then shoved the lever back to its original position. Along the center wall, two dozen coffins slid out of their steel sheathes.
“Rise and shine! Rise and shine!”
Within the coven, Asmodeus’s seal ignited on Astor’s arm and he felt the burn. He pulled back his sleeve and opened the conduit, closing his eyes.
Master, I’m here, Bailien said in his head.
Astor opened his eyes and let go of his arm, breaking the connection.
He’d left the Hall of Gathering a few minutes ago to pace the corridors, exasperated from sitting and waiting. Now, he rushed down the corridor he was in and broke into a run. He was a blur as he navigated the ever-weaving passageways, each spilling into another. He slowed to a jog, then, to a nonchalant walk as he entered the Hall of Gathering.
Bailien was sitting behind an oval steel table. Strewn across his lap was the old man they had chained to the wall. Bailien had only been here seconds. Apparently, more than enough time to drain the man.
Gluttonous bastard, Astor thought, wondering if Bailien was serving the wrong House. His stock was depleted enough. He could use all the humans he could get his hands on and he was loath to waste what supplies he had. Bailien was alone, without Drake in tow, and this angered him more than the former Winged-One’s voracity. Astor was afraid to hear what doom Bailien brought.
“Where is he?” Astor said.
Bailien said nothing, his face, a blank mask of indecipherability. Behind that visage, he seethed. He forced a smile as he stared at Astor, then at the talisman around his neck. The only thing that stopped him from killing Astor where he stood.
Astor’s hand flew to the talisman. He respected and feared the fact that he was dealing with a former Winged-One, a demon, a fallen angel. He rubbed the talisman, made sure Bailien saw him do it, reminding Bailien that he could hurt him whenever he wanted to. He and his former master, Lucien.
Bailien pushed the body off his lap. “Since Drake isn’t with me, I assume you expect bad news. You won’t be disappointed.”
“Where’s Drake?” Astor asked.
“Missing. Think he’s dead.”
Astor said nothing, shock silencing him.
“I’ve learned some things. Not as much as I would’ve liked. Love crime scenes. They leave such sweet stories behind.” Bailien did not even try to suppress his ecstasy, visibly shuddering with the memories of the dead children. He told Astor everything he’d discovered back at Drake’s house, save for the fact that the Recreant was a Winged-One. He never mentioned visiting Lyliss or what he’d learned from her.
“Like Servanah!” Astor said. “She spoke of being borne to a roof. She didn’t see her killer. It was supposed to have been me, with William serving as her emissary. She had no memory of arriving, or of reaching the coven. She’d washed up along the base of the bridge. William found her. Said she might have fed off an animal, maybe a shark. He’d found bits of coarse flesh in what was left of her fangs. That would account for her memory loss. And the condition of her fangs. She should have known that feeding off of animals is almost as dangerous as feeding off the pure.”
“Perhaps she was desperate,” Bailien said. “She would have awoken ravenous. And sense takes a backseat to starvation.”
Astor pulled up his left sleeve, flipped his wrist, exposing a bone-white forearm, and stared at the black sigil embedded there. He ran his hand over it. The glyph beat and pulsated-crimson through the black.
Servanah, he thought.
Instead of a response, Astor received an image. He saw a great vast blackness. A void where nothing dwelled but a cold emptiness. An absence of all. He heard the eternal sound of silence. Immortal death. The void. He opened his eyes.
“She resides in the Nothing now. Two dead vampires! Coincidence? I think not!” Astor couldn’t hide his anger. He couldn’t hide his loss. Across from Bailien, he took a seat. “Oblivion.” This was more serious than he thought. “We’d better catch this Recreant quick. Soon human blood will no longer suffice.” After the next feed, the thirst would force him to hunt his own, exclusively. The addiction would demand it. A Recreant vampire was something Astor didn’t wish added to his already packed plate. “This Recreant would’ve seen the Mark.”
“Apparently, he cared little for claim,” Bailien said. “You know what has to happen.”
“It’s the only way,” Bailien said.
“We’ll call a meeting. Gather the coven masters.”
“I’d agree if it were earlier. But day’s coming. We need the beast.”
Astor reached for the talisman hanging from the silver chain around his neck. He stroked the dormant Enochian glyphs engraved on them. He didn’t want to release his prisoner, not unless he had to, unless there was no other choice. Recreants were a rarity. On some occasions, it had been difficult retrieving the hunter, even with the talisman’s aide. Astor had asked Asmodeus to reinforce the strength of the spells on it, infuse the glyphs with darker incantations. Thankfully, the demon lord had done so. Still, though he trusted his House ruler, Astor had yet to test them, and was wary to use it until he did.
“Arrange the meeting anyway. Have district one attend. There might be others he’s killed. It could be too late already. Time for the secretive to share,” Astor said.
“What of the hunter?” Bailien asked.
Hate washed over Astor’s face. With little choice, he consented. “We will release the beast. But I want him back by twilight, Bailien. He will not abuse my generosity.” He clutched the talisman and ignited the Enochian glyphs.
Bailien screamed and fell. He landed on his hands and knees, his head barely missing the steel table. Astor smiled as blood soaked through the back of Bailien’s coat. A red glow punched through the fabric and emanated from the metal binds that sealed the slits along the former Winged-One’s back, that kept Bailien’s wings imprisoned.
Simultaneously, from several levels down, a thunderous roar of pain, followed by a hollow howl, tore through the chamber.