————-FROM THE UNTITLED MANUSCRIPT BY AVERY DOYLE—————
I woke up on a cold flagstone floor, less groggy than I would have expected given how I’d been put down. Caroline says that the few toxins and tranquilizers that work on Vampyrs tend to move through our systems faster. The first thing I remember is the stench. The air was thick with the smell of piss, shit, mildew and that old socks odor of unwashed bodies.
“Avery?” It was Caroline, just behind me. I opened my eyes and sat up, regretting my haste as a wave of dizziness crashed over me.
As my sight cleared, I saw that the muffled hums and creaks I’d been hearing came from people lying in stacks and stacks of cages. They were naked, bound, mouths taped shut and sustained by I.V. drips hanging on the doors of their cages. I’m not talking full-size cages, either, there was just enough room for the person inside to lie on their stomach and maybe raise their head a little. There were men, women and children of all ethnicities and ages with colored, laminated tags on the front of each cage. Some of them cried while most just lay there while the bodily waste from the cages above them dropped down onto their backs and legs. There had to be close to a hundred cages, stacked four high and running nearly the length of one wall. The lowest cages were at knee height, raised up above drainage grates in the stone floor.
“This is the reality of The Order,” Caroline said. Her voice echoed in the dungeon-like chamber. She was sitting against the wall opposite the cages, arms resting on her knees, eyes on the floor. “All the bureaucracy, all the politics, all the power and wealth and grand history: this is the foundation it rests on. You couldn’t understand before why I didn’t see the humor in those movies and television programs you showed me…”
“What … what is this?”
“This is the wine cellar.”
That’s what I was afraid she was gonna say.
A few of the caged people stared at me, pleading with their eyes.
“C’mon,” I said, getting to my feet. “Help me get them out of these cages before somebody comes.”
“The guards will just put them back and hurt them for causing trouble.” She hadn’t moved, except to glance up at me.
“Don’t think like that! There’s almost a hundred people here. We could overpower the guards and make a break for it!”
Caroline shook her head. “If they’re all free, the guards will just shoot them. It’s happened before. Even if we got through the guards, the stairways are monitored. The cellar will be sealed off, gassed—”
“And if we got out before that happened, we’d still have to get through the house and more guards. Then a private island patrolled by a hundred or so experienced soldiers armed with machine guns, flamethrowers and attack dogs.”
I’d fallen back into my old role-player, problem-solving mode. It helped thinking of this as a fictional scenario designed to test my resourcefulness, rather than the bleak reality it was. “Well, every guard we take out gives us weapons and equipment to help even the odds. We use one of the flamethrowers or something to torch the mansion, create a little distraction.”
Caroline said, “Every wall of the mansion is a firewall, all the exposed beams are steel made to resemble wood and all the flammable decorations are treated with flame retardant chemicals every few years. But for the sake of argument, let’s say we managed to make it to one of the boats. There are attack boats patrolling the waters in every direction and they’ll sink anything that’s not authorized. Supposing further that we managed to land on Long Island or Connecticut- do you really think you, me and a hundred naked humans could just disappear? They’d hunt us down just like they did tonight and they’d catch us.”
I paced, trying not to look at the faces of the caged people. “Well, what the hell do you want from me? We can’t just give up!”
“Avery,” she said. “I’m not trying to be a defeatist but you have to realize that Ash has been in charge of Sebastian’s security for over fifty years now. He led successful high risk missions in both World Wars and personally redesigned every aspect of this island’s security plan. I doubt there’s anything you can think of that he hasn’t already planned against.”
“Well, you managed to get away.”
She nodded. “At the time, I was Sebastian’s Adjutor and advisor—though in name only by then. I used my connections to make preparations for two years. Then I waited until Sebastian was away at a Gathering. I left the island on official business and disappeared.”
Okay, granted, that approach wasn’t gonna work for us in this situation…but then I thought, Kill Sebastian. If we could grab him as a hostage, we could force safe passage for us and the captives back to civilization. A hundred naked people telling anyone who’d listen about a terrible vampire island should prove a nice distraction.
I’d never killed anyone before but I thought I could make an exception for him. With Sebastian dead, Caroline and I would be a low priority for whoever took his place.
Before I could start outlining my brilliant scheme to Caroline, I paced far enough to catch sight of an archway across from one of the stairways. The archway held a prison-bar door, beyond which lay a dark passageway. “Check this out! There’s a tunnel or something here. Maybe you can MacGuyver it open.”
“The passage only leads out into the maze.”
“Maze? You’re not saying he—”
“Had an actual maze constructed,” she confirmed. They say that’s a sign of a great relationship, when you finish each other’s sentences like that. “Back in Nineteen Seventy-Seven or Seventy-Eight. Stone and barbed wire and even some glass sections for people desperate enough to jump through…”
“Yeah and deadly booby traps, too.” I walked back to where she sat. “C’mon, Caroline, a maze? I mean, that’s fucking retarded! What is he, the Man With The Golden Gun?”
“No, he’s a Feral.” She said, hiding behind her clinical tone. “It’s a condition some Vampyrs contract in which their more primitive, predatory instincts overwhelm their human thought processes. It’s often accompanied by structural changes in the eyes, fingers and other aspects of the victim’s physiology. He built the maze to sharpen his tracking skills. He has his people capture the fittest, most dangerous humans they can find—soldiers, athletes, mercenaries, convicts—and put them in the maze. I think he Creates some of them first, even though that’s illegal. There are no traps, just Sebastian, nude and unarmed. All they have to do is get out of the maze and they win their freedom. As far as I know, no one ever has.”
I was getting a little sick of Sebastian’s increasingly mythic status. I stopped myself from replying as my nifty new vamp hearing detected the sound of someone approaching from the passageway. I snuck over to the other side of the archway and squeezed myself into the darkness of the corner as well as I could.
I went completely still as the prison door buzzed and slid open. A second passed … then another … and then a large figure entered.