I got out of the car. The wind raced around me. The rest of the city was calm, but not this bit – never this bit.
“We need to be quick,” I mumbled as I flattened my tie down and tucked it under the lapels of my long jacket. My shoulder-length flaxen hair whipped around my neck as I turned up to stare at the clear sky. It was clear to everyone else. I could see the hints of shadows racing across it. I pulled up my collar and hid further underneath it.
My driver and bodyguard, Barney, raced ahead.
His footfall thumped melodically on the uneven cobbles. He reached the construction tape, ducked underneath it, and lifted it for me.
I crunched under, despite my tall form.
I gazed up at the security cameras on poles. “Has anyone disturbed them?”
Barney shook his head, his silver-flecked beard catching the moonlight. “Not a soul. The rest of the town still thinks this area is getting developed – albeit at a snail’s pace.”
“Keep it that way.” Shoving my hands deep into my pockets, I tried to chase away the nerves climbing my back.
You wouldn’t think a man like me would ever feel nervous. I was the top vampire in the city. I came from the most prestigious family. Of the elite races present in town, I was by far the strongest.
But with strength comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes an acceptance that no matter how powerful you are, there is always something out there stronger.
A few latent crackles of magic tingled over my bare wrists as we approached the low sandstone building.
I ignored it. Barney didn’t.
“Damn aura field,” he muttered as he locked his arms around his middle and let his teeth chatter freely. “It’s getting worse.”
“I’m sure it is,” I whispered.
We reached the gate. On the outside, it looked like nothing more than an old wrought iron structure that led down a set of chipped, ancient stairs.
From the inside, it was hell.
Barney fumbled in his pockets. He soon pulled out a ring of gleaming keys. My eyes locked on one. There were other keys that were more impressive. There was even one depicting a tiny skull. If you brought your face close, it would whisper deathly promises in your ear.
But the key he plucked out and shoved into the lock with sweaty fingers was nothing more than a smooth slice of metal. Its simplicity belied what it held back.
As the door creaked and opened, I shivered.
I’d faced murderers, gangs, jealous vampires, and God knows how many corrupt elites over the years, and not one of them had ever made me shiver. Now it was uncontrollable. I had to curl my hands into fists and sink my nails all the way in just to get a modicum of composure.
I nodded at Barney. “Wait here.”
Barney looked immeasurably relieved, but he still went through the process of contorting his expression and shaking his head. “I should be with you, sir,” he promised weakly.
I ignored him. I walked down the stairs, grabbed the gate off him, and closed it.
Turning slowly, my white-knuckled grip still on the bars of the gate, I faced those dark stairs. My eyes adjusted immediately. It didn’t matter how dark an area was, a vampire could always see perfectly. It was one of our old, throwback predatory skills. It was hardly useful in today’s round-the-clock illuminated world, but at times like this, it came in handy.
You could not shine a light down here. Things you did not want to attract would come for you.
I reached the base of the stairs. They were long, and the trip took at least a minute, but it seemed to be over in the blink of an eye. My mind was already skipping ahead – not just to what I would see, but far ahead to what would come if I failed in my duty and let the city fall.
I turned and walked into a room. There was another gate. Barney didn’t have the keys for this one. It required blood.
Pulling my hand out of my pocket, I yanked my wrist up and sliced it with my long vampire canine. A few drops of glistening blood pooled down my skin. I wasted no time in flicking them forward. As soon as they splashed on the metal, they sizzled. They sunk in past the chunks of flaking rust. There was a creak, and the door opened itself. It accepted my offer.
It would want more – but I would not freely give it.
A vampire’s blood was some of the most powerful of all the magical races. Not only could it turn another creature into a vampire, but it had inherent magical properties. If you were stupid or down on your luck, you could allow yourself to be milked. No one had ever tried to do that to me – and they never would. Belford blood was some of the most powerful. My family was one of the oldest. Originally harkening from England, we could trace our roots back to the very first wave of vampires. That meant my blood was a cut above the rest.
I usually hated using it in magical ceremonies, but this one was necessary.
As the door creaked open and I slipped on by, I faced a room. It was a grotto. It was roughly carved out of thick, chunky gray-black rock. Though there was no light down here, I fancied that if any ever made it this deep, it would be absorbed by the rocks. They were so pitch black, they looked like gaping voids.
The rock was irrelevant, however. The small well dug into the center of the room was everything.
I’d shoved my hands back into my pockets. Now I freely curled them into fists. I sunk my nails all the way in. As they indented my palms, I had to slacken off just before I cut myself again.
It took a long time, but I gathered the courage to step forward. I stared down that pit. There, at the bottom, I saw that dark green writhing mass.
My cheeks became as pale as new snow. My heart stopped beating for several seconds. I closed my eyes. My feet were right on the edge of that well.
I heard the whispers. Unstoppable, deadly, coming for all.
“The time is near. We can’t be held back forever. We will swamp this world – but we will start with your city. We will come for you, Belford. We will come for every last drop of your blood. There is no one who can save you now. Accept your demise. Sacrifice yourself.”
The floor shuddered ever so slightly. A few stones fell out from underneath my feet. I almost teetered forward, but I threw myself backward just in time.
I fell to my knees and slowly tilted my head up. “You’re wrong,” I spat in a tight whisper. “There’s one person who can save me.”
“You have no chance of finding her in time. It’s over. The future is set in stone. Sacrifice yourself willingly, or have every drop of your blood stolen. It is your choice.”
I pushed to my feet. I didn’t stare back at that well once. I left the room, locked the door, reached the gate above, and silently followed Barney back to the car.
He kept shooting me worried glances. It took until he opened the back door for me until he gathered the gumption to part his quivering lips. “How is it going, boss?”
“Not well.” I pulled myself into the back seat and slowly did my seatbelt up. My grip was too strong, and I accidentally cracked the plastic. I automatically moved over to the seat beside it.
Barney took one look at the cracked plastic, then back at me, and paled. “How long do you have?”
I wouldn’t make eye contact with him. “A month at most.”
Barney staggered forward and grabbed the door. “A month until the end of the world?”
I finally made eye contact with him. “A month until the end of the world,” I repeated.