Chapter LXIV: The Rotten CoreI approached the woman confidently, coming up behind her as she admired a large painting with an appraising eye.
'Interesting work, isn't it?'
She turned as I spoke, looking at me through her hair, smoky eyes appraising me quickly.
'Victor Rossellini', I responded.
She extended a hand, which I kissed smoothly, raising my head to smile at her, allowing my predatory instincts to take control. She smiled back warmly, her eyes growing sultry.
'I am indeed.'
'I will do just that', I purred. 'But what are you doing this far south?'
'Like what? I'm sure there's a lot you'd be able to teach me.' She laughed then, a tinkling noise as her hand lightly brushed my forearm.
'Follow me', she said, her lips curving into a mysterious smile.
She swayed from the room, her dress staying on her slight frame through sheer force of will, or so it seemed. As she got to the door, she turned her head slightly to watch me, her cheeks flushed. I followed her into the library, and watched as she closed the door. She took my hand, and dragged me towards the desk, pushing me up against it as she kissed me deeply, hungrily. I returned the kiss, mind racing.
The Sarcophagus has to be here somewhere...but where? Her tongue grazed along my pointed canines, cutting her tongue slightly. If anything, this excited her more. She moaned, pushing her mouth harder against mine, her blood mingling on our tongues. I pulled back, feigning breathlessness.
'Surely there's a place a little more private than this?', I whispered throatily, stroking her bare shoulder. 'Somewhere we're not supposed to go, where no-one would look? I'd hate for Uncle Bruno to know what we were going to get up to.'
She thought for a second as she ran her hands under my jacket, gripping my waist.
'I know just the place.' She walked to a large decorative sword mounted on the wall, and pulled the hilt downwards. As she did, a large bookcase moved to the side, revealing stairs down to a lower level.
It may well be down there! Go! Nadia ran down the stairs, laughing huskily. I followed, wondering how to get the Sarcophagus out again without being noticed. We proceeded down a long flight of stairs, coming into what looked like a makeshift operating theatre. The smell of old blood clung to the walls, pointed instruments lined up on every surface, rusted and pitted. Nadia turned to me, visibly excited as she ran a finger down her face, biting her lip.
'Do you know what they do down here?'
'I know what I'd like us to do down here', I returned heatedly, gripping her by the arms. She leaned up, giving a kiss that turned into a bite. She laughed again, looking around the room with obvious fascination.
'I hope they don't do what I think you mean.'
'I'll show you.' Nadia opened a door, and proceeded down a further set of stairs. I began to follow her, then noticed a heavy tome lying on one of the benches.
'Book of the Giovanni', I murmured, running my finger along the spine. Looks like the book Pisha wanted. I threw the book in my pack, and followed Nadia down the stairs.
The scene was nightmarish. Corpses shambled in various states of decomposition, ambling idly as Nadia watched with grim fascination.
'What the hell is this?', I asked.
'Don't worry. I come down here sometimes. Just stay still, don't threaten them, and they'll ignore you.' One of the creatures raised it's head, wetly sniffing the air from a gaping hole where the nose used to be.
'I'm not sure about that. Rorge over there looks hungry.' The zombie was lurching over, grunting mindlessly.
'Oh please, stop being such a puss-'
Nadia cut off, giving a cry of horror as the creature grabbed her by the arm. i moved forwards, intending to free her, when another that had lied behind her, unseen, bit deeply into her ankle. She screamed, falling to the floor, as a spray of blood hit the creature in the face. It moaned, tearing flesh and bone in it's mouth. I raced forwards, unsheathing my sword, decapitating the zombie. The second turned to sniff at me, letting go of the woman's arm. As it began to open it's mouth, I thrust the tip of the blade through the gaping hole in it's face, twisting it. Congealed blood and brain oozed out of the hole in the back of it's head, covering Nadia, who huddled on the floor, screaming in pain and horror. I leaned down to check the ankle, which was badly broken, and bleeding heavily. She pulled away from me, her once-beautiful face a grotesque mask of pain and hatred.
'It's you! They've never done that before! I'm telling Bruno, you fuck! Who are you really?' She dragged herself back towards the door, pulling herself up the stairs, screaming for Bruno as loudly as she could. I couldn't give chase, but I couldn't kill her either. I swore, racing down the tomb halls, hoping I could get to the Sarcophagus before I was apprehended.
The tomb was decorated in a gauche faux-Catholic style, both blasphemous and idolatory. I ran through the corridors, ignoring most zombies, making short work of the ones that came close. Eyes darting to the left and right, searching for any hint of where the sarcophagus might be. Running down a long tunnel with heavy metal grates along the floor, I heard an audible click. I paused, wondering what it could be. Abruptly, the floor gave way, dropping me into a pit of animated corpses.
As I stood, I waved the sword in a wide arc, keeping the creatures at bay. One raised it's hands to grab me, and was rewarded with its rotting internal organs spilling across the floor. I span, taking the blade in an arc, half-decapitating the creature that had stood to my side. I managed to jump over the other few, finding a door which I was able to strong-arm, taking me to another corridor.
Time lost meaning down here. It could have been minutes that I sprinted through this maze looking for the Sacrophagus, it could have been hours. I became coated in gore and brain matter, a crazed killer minotaur in a labyrinth of the departed. And then, I came to a large iron door. I gripped one of the metal rings, and pulled the door laboriously open.
There it was. The Sarcophagus I'd gone through so much to find. Get it out, and that was it, I could get the fuck out of dodge and start fresh somewhere. I walked to the edge, wondering how the large stone tomb was put down there.
'You!', cried a heavily accented voice.
A growing sense of terrible realisation crept up on me, nausea rising in my stomach, a feeling of unnatural cold washing over me.
'What agreement would that be, Kuei Jin?'
I laughed, a dangerous sound, a vicious sound.
'Obviously you haven't heard of my reputation. I'm going to tear you to fucking pieces when I get down there.' My bravado seemed to surprise and confuse the Kue Jin, who turned to look at his partner uncertainly. His gaze returned to me.
My response came in the form of a snarl as I jumped into the pit, sword raised as the blood shield formed from my gritted teeth, spreading over my face, my body, my limbs. By the time I landed, poised on the soles of my feet, pushing myself towards them, I was a grim spectre of blood, my features etched in vermilion armour, my face a mask of rage. All this. All these games. The work of that bastards La Croix and the Eastern bitch! I threw myself wildly at the Kue Jin with the claws, blind fury overtaking any sense of strategy.
It did give me the edge. Startled at the ferocity of the madman who had raced into the room with no warning, neither Kuei Jin was prepared. The one with the blade merely watched, jaw dropping as I landed heavily on top of the one with the claws, slamming the hilt of the sword into his face, his cheek crushing under the impact. He roared in pain, pushing me off with his legs and scrambling backwards, holding his ruined face. I had already rolled back to my feet, thrusting, feinting and slashing at the one with the sword, pushing him back against the wall. I cut him deeply across one thigh, the blood oozing from various small slashes on his arms and torso. His training with the weapon kicked in, and my advantage was lost. He began to expertly deflect my wild blows, scoring several marks against me, including a vicious sting under the eye which dripped to the floor. The blood shield was not coping under the onslaught.
Pain wracked my body as the forgotten Kuei Jin raked my back with his claws, shattering the shield. I fell to the floor with a grunt, feeling each and every torn sinew.
I rolled to the side, feeling the rush of air as the katana whistled down where my throat had been. I pushed myself up, ignoring the screaming muscles in my back, shouldering the katana wielder out of the way as I went for the vampire with the claws. I clenched my hand angrily, thrusting it outwards, an invisible blow slamming into his stomach. He gave a grunt, then a cry, as his stomach opened, blood seeping from the wound into my clenched fist. The added blood, the vampire blood, healed my back quickly, my senses heightening. He stumbled, dazed, drained. Now was the chance. Hissing, I gripped the sword in a reversed grip, and with every ounce of strength I possessed, I slashed downwards, severing the Kuei Jin's head, removing his arm and half his chest from the violent diagonal cut. His body fell to the floor, disintegrating. Laughing again, ignoring the pain that still ran up my spine, I turned to the other Kuei Jin.
'You are a demon!' He screamed the words, panic mingled with rage of his own.
He crossed space in a seeming instant. A blue flash and he was halfway across the room, a second flash and he appeared in front of me, blade already slashing. I screamed, feeling my left eye burst, the blood and retinal fluid pouring down my face. The deep cut had left half my cheek flapping uselessly. I fell to my knees, trying to press the flesh into place, tried to ignore the agony that was overtaking me.
'We kill demons like you in the East', the Kuei Jin mocked, circling me with the sword. The air whistled from my mouth as he gave me a hefty kick to the ribs, the sound of cracking bone making him smile.
'We find the Kindred, and we play with them. We kill them in the end, of course, but how long it takes...' I laughed again, a wracking half-cough, spitting blood onto the floor.
'You gonna talk all night, bitch?'
Worldlessly, the vampire kicked me again, breaking another rib. I gasped, my body spasming, my hand losing the grip on my weapon.
'A wiser Kindred would know when to beg.' A wiser Kindred wouldn't be down here.
The Kuei Jin was lowering his guard, thinking me defeated. He kicked me again, and involuntarily I groaned in pain, a deep, animal sound. He chuckled, and kicked me again. I folded under that kick, my chest hitting the ground hard, making the shattered bones grind. I grit my teeth to prevent from screaming.
'Beg, vampire.' The grip on the blade was negligible now, the desire to make me suffer more powerful than the will to survive. If he had just thrust the sword down, ended it quickly, instead of savouring the moment, then it would be finished. No more pain, no more fetching for the master. He could guard the Sarcophagus, the agreement could stand.
He did like to talk.
'I...' I gasped.
'Yes, dog?' The Kue Jin leaned in, enjoying my squirming on the ground, the wracking cough.
'I...' The Kuei Jin pulled my head up harshly by the hair, looking into my one eye with both of his.
'I...I'm gonna drain you dry, and when I get out of here, I'm going to fuck your beloved Ming Xiao until her hair bleeds.' The Kuei Jin's eyes widened as if I had backhanded him. Before his grip on the blade could tighten, I used a surge of energy to grip his head in one hand, and used the momentum to pull his head back, exposing his neck. With a roar of anger, of defiance, of the feeling of utter helplessness I felt in this chess game, I plunged my fangs deeply into his neck, drinking the liquid that burned and fizzled on my tongue. He tried to break away, but the strength of his vampiric blood empowered me as it weakened him. I drank deeper, feeling his life pour into mine. My skin healed, the cheek reattaching, the gouge turning to a scar that faded and disappeared. The eye didn't return though. Maybe because there was nothing to return from. The lid healed, but the eye didn't grow back. It didn't matter. I continued to drink.
But it was no longer blood.
I drank something deeper, more vital. I couldn't describe the taste, the sensation. It was lighter than air, and more dense than rock. It filled me, and it emptied me. I felt at once divine and depraved. I continued to drink, holding the lifeless body in my arms. It was like a vein of gold, running through his body.
I drank until that gold was mine.
Throwing the body aside, I stood, touching the socket where the eye had been tenderly.
Another thing to thank LaCroix for, I thought darkly. I felt stronger, more alive. Transcendental. And yet, I also felt dispassionate, viewing the world with a detached amusement. Now how in the hell do I get this box out of here?
I raised my head, my once powerful hearing now being able to pick up sounds floors above me. A roaring voice.
'Find him, and fucking kill him!'
Looked like the fun wasn't over yet.