“The council is our system of government. They choose everything: the governing codes, Admissions, Subtractions, and the…entertainment,” he said in obvious disgust. Anticipating Lastor’s question, the messenger hastened to explain. “The entertainment is a weekly ritual. It is a competition of torture, its subjects brought by the week’s contestants. Some subjects are convinced they will become vampires at last, fulfilling some pathetic fantasy but most are brought forcefully, as lambs to the slaughter.”
“Truly they have forgotten. Neither life is less deserving, we all deserve to die.” Lastor stopped pacing. “How is it possible no humans know of this?”
The messenger waved a hand dismissively. “Currently, most believe that the sewer line is so precariously balanced geographically that to go in would be near suicide. The sewers break through to a monstrous cavern, with space enough to comfortably hold hundreds, protected from the sun by miles of dirt. Those with admission may come and go as they please, those craving admission must win their favor to gain entry.
“You are Lady Audrey’s husband. They have been watching one who fits your description since the councilman’s son decided he would marry your wife. If you were foolish enough to go through the proper channels, they would kill you in a heartbeat.”
“How do they know who I am?” Lastor demanded.
“They broke into her mind.” The messenger looked downcast. “As a result, they know everything about you. They know her passion for you is equaled only by yours for her, and that eventually, somehow, they can expect you to arrive. As such, they will watch for you and hunt you until you are in pieces. Or dead, but they do generally prefer pieces. It will be nearly impossible for you to break in and free her and you will almost certainly not survive. There are other ways of liberating your wife.”
Lastor remained quiet, his eyes searching for answers.
The messenger took a breath. “You recall that she is to marry the son of a council member.”
“You would of course have no way of knowing that I am the council member’s second son. It is to be my brother who marries your wife. Were he to be unable to marry her for any reason, I will immediately be required by the council to marry her. If I marry her, she will be in my control and must obey me, as stipulated by the council code. From there we have but to remove her at our leisure.”
“Clever.” Lastor looked around him and grabbed one of the bartenders who was coming out the service entrance for a smoke and looked him in the eyes. “May I have a cigarette please.”
The bartender nodded demurely and pulled the unopened pack from his pocket and handed it as well as a book of matches to Lastor.
“Thank you,” Lastor said, unwrapping the cigarettes. “You can go now.”
The bartender nodded again and walked back into the club with a vacant look on his face.
The lighter flickered in the dark, the flame unruffled by the slightest breath of wind. The night felt dead. Lastor rolled his eyes, taking a drag off his cigarette. He squeezed his eyes tight shut for a moment until sparkles danced in his vision. “When do we leave?”
Lastor and the messenger ducked through a wrought iron archway in the oldest part of town, leading down an alley that was practically falling apart around them. Bits of mortar crumbled as Lastor’s long coat brushed past. They picked their way through piles of brick and rubble, following what was only a vaguely beaten path.
The messenger finally stopped. He crouched down and set his fingers into the manhole cover and pulled it up as easily as if it were a plate. He slid the cover aside and climbed down the rusty ladder. Lastor followed, pulling the cover back behind him and dropping the last ten feet or so to the dirty sewer floor.
Lastor lost count of the twists and turns they made. The scent of ancient human waste overrode all else, and Lastor could no more have scented a den of vampires than heard them.
The tunnel began to glow with an ambient light that gently filled the tunnel, growing brighter slowly. As they rounded a final turn, Lastor’s stomach dropped as the floor suddenly ceased to exist. Hundreds of yards away, he could vaguely make out the other side of what was an enormous cavern. Lastor edged closer to the precipice and peered out over the edge.
It was an amazing sight. The cavern was large enough to fit several Coliseums and a few Chrysler buildings between them. There were buildings in crooked rows, shacks, houses, mansions, what appeared to be clubs, and at the center a large arena, all cobbled together with collected rubbish. From their vantage point, they had a bird’s eye view of the center of the arena, empty but for a single raised platform with an altar. Beside the arena was a giant black building with pillars lining it like bars. The back of the black building was connected to one of the statelier mansions. The whole cavern was lit by the soft greenish-white glow from what appeared to be streetlights.
Lastor tore his eyes away from the building and looked at the messenger. “So. We’re here. Now what?”
The messenger smirked. “Now you go kill my brother.”
Lastor’s eyes flashed and he allowed himself a tiny smile. “Where is he?”
The messenger closed his eyes and was very still, searching as Lastor had done. He was quiet for a moment or two. Then he opened his eyes and looked at Lastor.
“With your wife.”
Lastor’s eyes blazed. Before the messenger knew what was happening, Lastor had vanished down the giant ladder to the cavern floor.