Chapter LXVIII: Rescues and kidnappings.
It was a long drop. The door had led to a large shaft carved out of the bedrock. At the bottom, I could hear two more hunters talking loudly. It seemed the most alert of the guards had been positioned outside. Why the hunters had been expecting a full-frontal assault I wasn't sure, but it seemed that finesse wasn't a strong point these nights. I jumped quietly from ledge to ledge, making my way down to ground level, and hid behind a box, listening to the guards.
'Imagine our luck, picking up that vampire on his way out of Hollywood.' The other laughed viciously.
'Bet he's cursing his, the bastard. They've been questioning him again. Something about using a red hot poker that's just so satisfying. They seem to be pretty talented. Despite his healing powers, the fucker's still burning.'
I moved past carefully, making my way into the tunnel. I had a grim feeling about the vampire they'd caught from Hollywood.
The tunnel divided into two branches. Flipping a coin, I settled on taking the left branch first. The further I went down the shaft, the stronger the smell of burning flesh got. I came to an opening, a rocky edge of ground surrounded by water, several cages suspended over the water, attached to a pulley system. A selection of instruments were lined up on one side of the room, one of them still glowing a dull orange. Two hunters were laughing to each other, one handing the other a cigarette.
'Hear the way he squealed? Not so tough now, huh?'
'It's a pity we ran out of salt. I'd just love to rub it in his pretty-boy face.'
I allowed myself this. I would not kill an innocent, not when I possessed the will not to, but there is nothing as despicable as a torturer. Especially one who takes pride in his work. I crept up behind one man, watching with amusement as his partner's eyes widened, the cigarette dropping out of his mouth. The man in front of me began to turn, startled, but I grabbed his head, wrenching it to the side quickly. The bone snapped, so violently that it jutted from his ruined throat, a spray of arterial blood hitting his friend's face. The man raised his gun, but I quickly grabbed it, making a tutting noise at the man. I reached forward with the other hand, jabbing him hard in the throat. He made a gurgling noise as his windpipe collapsed, falling to the floor. I took both bodies and dragged them into the water. Only then did I turn to the cages built into the side wall.
'Not looking good Ash', I said sympathetically.
'Those bastards.' I looked with compassion at the burned vampire, shed of his usual brooding. They had broken him, in body and in spirit, his voice a dull murmur. 'Don't worry. They're not coming back. They're dead now, and I'm going to get you out of here.'
In fury, I ripped the lock off the gate with little difficulty, and pulled the door open. I took Ash by the shoulder, and guided him gently out of the cell.
'Will you be able to get out?' The man nodded.
'They...brought me in on a boat, from the other chamber...I'll go there, they won't see me.'
'I'll help you there.' I took Ash by the arm, and half-carried his limping form back down the tunnel.
Reaching the chamber Ash mentioned, I helped him into a sitting position.
'Wait here. I'll clear the way, and you can get one of the boats and make your way out.'
I stepped into the chamber, finding four guards. The first, I moved behind while he patrolled, unholstering the Colt. I stood behind him, the barrel pointed against the base of his skull, right against the hindbrain. He froze, raising his hands.
'Sorry', I said. 'I'm not in that kind of mood.'
I pulled the trigger, blood spraying in a loud blast. The man twitched as he fell, the noise alerting the other guards. They approached quickly, raising their weapons. The first I hit with a wave of nausea, causing him to fall dizzy to his knees. A shot from the magnum ended his problem, his body kicked out of the way as I jumped to the side, avoiding the spray from the assault rifle. I returned fire, hitting the female hunter in the thigh, the stomach, the face. She fell, her gun spraying as it landed on the floor. I reloaded the colt, just in time to stare up at the face of an incensed hunter. He roared, kicking me head, sending me falling backwards. I got up groggily as he opened fire, the bullets hitting me in the shoulder. I winced in pain, and brought the gun up in the other hand, pulling the trigger. Unable to aim with one hand, the shot only winged him, hitting him in the arm. The momentum pushed him off balance, and he reeled to his knees. Not bothering to fire again, I jumped at the man, slamming the handle hard into his temple. The man toppled over, unconscious. I holstered the gun, and ran back to Ash, took him to one of the boats. He was aware of his surroundings now, able to start the engine to the speedboat.
'Get out of here Ash. Good luck.'
He nodded, guiding the boat out. I kicked the bodies into the water, and proceeded down the tunnel.
I knew I was getting close. I opened the door.
The room I was in was a large, open training space. Eerily quiet, too. I walked cautiously, my eyes everywhere.
The hunter Bach, however, only needed his eyes in one place. He carefully raised the sniper rifle, and took aim. The round hit me in the stomach, pain exploding inside me. I roared in pain, and took cover behind a stack of crates. I pressed my hand to the wound, trying to stem the flow of blood, as I reached into my bag for a bloodpack. Hopefully the liquid would help me heal faster, preferably before I died. I drank deeply, cursing, as the hunter yelled out in anger.
'Did you honestly expect that pathetic guttersnipe to come himself? You're delusional!' The longer I kept the man talking, the more the wound healed. The muscle was knitting together nicely, the flattened bullet being expelled in the process, the skin beginning to form over the wound. The scar turned to an impact bruise, before disappearing altogether. I gave a sigh of relief as the hunter continued to shout.
'How does 'When I finish with you, not even St Peter will be able to figure out who you are?' sound to you?'
'Keep talking you pompous bastard', I muttered under my breath as I loaded the sniper rifle. In one fluid movement, I turned, standing slightly as I readied the weapon, looking through the sight.
I zeroed in on the hunter, watching as Bach moved to the left. I followed him, and fired once, hitting the man in the leg. He screamed in pain, dropping to one knee.
'It is a travesty', roared Bach as he slammed the bolt into place, 'that your despicable kind should use our weapons against us!' I ducked as his rifle stopped swaying, the bullet smashing the top of the crate where I'd been hiding. I raced across the training hall to hide behind a large cardboard cutout of a vampire that had been used for target practice. Again, I gave careful aim, firing at the hunter. This time I missed, the bullet hitting the wall to his left. I cursed. This wasn't my weapon.
Bring him in close.
Bach proved very obliging, running down the stairs, heavily favouring his unwounded leg. He ran towards me, holding the rifle to his shoulder.
Injured as he was, I cleared the distance faster than he did. As he falteringly raised the rifle, I veered to the side, running around him, thrusting the sword deeply into his stomach. He groaned, dropping the rifle.
'Lord! Aid me!'
The hunter was surrounded by bright blue light, his body disappearing. I stood, amazed, watching as the light dissipated. Could the man truly have been in link with his God? Was there more to the hunters than merely religious zealotry and a desire to kill my kind?
A cough, behind me.
I turned, looking at Bach. The man held a hand to his side, his lifeblood pouring onto the bare rock. He coughed again, drawing a ragged breath, blood dribbling from between his lips. There was no victory in this. I had killed an old man who had the strength of his convictions, the belief that he was ridding the world of accursed predators. The fact that he had probably killed tens if not hundreds of the Kindred was no consolation, no mitigation of my deed. I tore my eyes from the dying man, and ran up the stairs to the small house at the top.
Inside, a slightly overweight, confused man in a bathrobe stood up, and pleaded with me in a cracking voice.
'Professor? I'm here to get you out. Can you tell me about the Sarcophagus? Quickly, we don't have much time.'
'Probably, but we're safe up here, we'll be able to tell when they're coming. Please, the Sarcophagus.'
The Professor looked off into the distance, the precarious situation forgotten as he visibly switched to lecturing mode.
'Only that they were an ancient warrior civilisation', I replied.
'And this Messerach, his remains are inside the Sarcophagus?'
'You mean you never opened it? You don't know?'
'Right, of course...you mentioned something about him being like Dracula. Why did you say that?'
'Which would be?'
'You're saying this Messerach used to go around drinking blood?'
Could it be that an antediluvian really sleeps inside that big stone box in LaCroix's office? I don't like the sound of this...
'The world is full of nutcases. These just seem a little worse than usual. How did you find out about the Sarcophagus? You said people having been looking for it for years.'
'Oh, I don't know about that, I always wanted to be an archaeologist!'
'Stop disseminating. You're hiding something, and I want to know what it is.'
The professor looked embarrassed, running his hand through thinning hair.
'Very well. I was tipped off. I don't know by who, or how he knew where to find it, but the man was very clear on where to dig. That's all I can tell you.'
Someone planned for the Sarcophagus to be dug up. This whole game has been going on much longer than anyone thought...
'Right. Question is, how do we open it?'
'There's a key? Do you know where it could be?'
'Yeah. Let's get the hell out of here.'
'Thank you my friend. I don't know who you are, or why you've come for me, but I will never forget your kindness.'
'Don't thank me til we're out. Come on.'
We ran to the door, and I yanked it open, freezing in horror.
'You may have killed me, vampire, but you will not escape alive! LaCroix will not open the Sarcophagus!' With a final gasp, Bach pushed the button, a loud explosion resonating above the cavern roof.
'Oh shit', I cursed, grabbing the academic by the arm. 'Come on, we don't have much time!' I ran down the stairs, half-dragging half-carrying the man behind me.
I sprinted across the training room floor, the professor wheezing behind me.
'Please, I can't keep up!'
I knew we didn't have the time to let him rest. The loud rumbling continued overhead, pieces of rock falling from the ceiling. The whole place was about to collapse. Tapping into my reserve strength, feeling the hunger that came with it, I put the man on my back, his arms around my chest, and continued to run. Kicking open the door, I raced back through the next chamber.
I continued to run, lugging the man, my feet struggling to keep a grip on the wet floor.
I dropped the man into the boat, jumping in behind him. I quickly revved the engine, and sped the boat out of the cavern, through the metal gate, and down a long tunnel, the sounds of the caverns collapsing behind me, of grinding rock and screaming hunters. I continued to torture the engine, dragging every ounce of speed out of it, sighing with relief as we came out into the ocean. I turned the boat, watching as the tunnel exit emitted a large wave of dust and smoke, before taking the boat to a deserted beach. Climbing up, as luck would have it, we arrived not far from where the taxi had stopped.
The ride was taken in silence, save for the small groans of the professor. I looked out the window, wondering where the key could be found. Muttering a quick word to the driver, I smiled reassuringly at the professor. The secret was safe, and his innocence preserved. We made a small detour, stopping outside the downtown hotel.
'Grab everything you can from your room. It would probably be best if you get out of town. The taxi driver is going to take you to the airport. Forget any of this ever happened. Trust me, it's for the best. Go home and rest.' I shook the man's hand, his eyes misting up gratefully. I smiled, while inside I felt cold. I did not deserve this man's gratitude. It was wrong, for the Kindred, for the hunters, to have involved a man in our cherade of an existence. The man ran into the hotel as I walked back to the tower.