Malice and Madness

The Hunter Vampire Chronicles

Chapter 1

It was a clear night. A waning moon sat low in the sky, but it was obliterated by the artificial lighting, that slightly yellowish glow given off by the lampposts that blurred your perception. It was difficult to find anywhere there was significant shadow. Anywhere to hide.

And yet Rag had no idea where Malice had gone.

He slowed to an amble, let his senses reach out across the unmistakable stench of city nightlife, searching for some sign, some clue, some hint of her personal signature. Eventually, he caught it. The relief came out as a sigh. He wouldn’t have to go back to the others and say he’d failed, when they’d put their trust in him, when he’d smugly, and slightly menacingly said, ‘I’ve got this.’ He smiled. The kind of smile that could send you to hell.

The scent led him on a circuitous route that ended up at a manhole cover in the middle of a semi-industrial street, where those less well off had to put up with a daily influx of workers, noise and, sometimes, unsavoury aromas — sewers aside. He’d been in the sewers before, but it wasn’t somewhere he relished visiting. Who would? How bad would it be to say he’d failed? But he hated the looks. The ones that said, ‘You’re not pulling your weight,’ just because he sometimes wanted to do his own thing.

He took a deep breath, lifted the manhole cover, and lowered himself down into the dark void of icky.

Acute senses were not the best in this kind of situation, not all of them.

A layer of unsavoury water covered the floor of the tunnel that would make silent steps impossible. He listened intently and heard the faintest whisper of footfalls. He headed in that direction. What was the worst that could happen? He came face to face with a sewer worker? He tripped and landed face down in the water?

There was some light from the widely-spaced lamps attached to the arched ceiling, but sewer tunnels had a habit of all looking the same. They were like a desert landscape, or one of those never-ending straight roads. They lulled your brain into infinite boredom through lack of stimulus. And following a sound through endless tunnels was like finding the real face in a hall of mirrors. He really didn’t want to use his sense of smell.

He ought to go back, into the land of the mostly living. He ought to do anything but carry on.

But the glory of catching her by himself. He needed that.

He turned a corner and her presence hit him in sledgehammer fashion. He upped his pace.

Another turn and the tunnel felt as if it were going down, which was odd, because the watery sludge wasn’t sliding in that direction.

It wasn’t just that. Everything started to look weird. It had to be the fumes, or toxins. It certainly wasn’t normal.

For instance, ahead of him looked as though the tunnel was getting narrower and lower. As if it were disappearing into infinity, more than would be natural. Like an idiot, he lowered his head to compensate. He couldn’t help himself. There wasn’t any need, he tested it with an outstretched arm, but the illusion was too great, as if it had been painted on. They called that something. Trump thingamajig? The false image pressed down upon his senses. The whole experience made his steps wobble. He wasn’t going mad. Except, he might’ve been.

Lack of blood.

He did need to feed soon. It had been more than one day.

He’d been following her for a whole day?

He should’ve given up. Shame was one thing, lost causes another.

He turned.

He couldn’t make himself retrace his steps. He felt nauseous. Odd.

Rats began to scuttle around his feet. They looked marginally tasty. He grabbed for one and missed, tripped and fell to his knees. He realised there were a lot of them milling around. They seemed to be congregating at the end of the tunnel, as if this were the place to go. Each one stared at him, sniffed, and then turned away.

“Yes, I stink of shit,” he said, “but so do you.”

He sat there for minutes, unable to will himself to get up, in the stupid tunnel that wasn’t what it was. Where everyone died trying to get out and the rats were able to feast on the remains for weeks. More like hours, given how many of them there were. Death by rat. It didn’t sound pleasant. Death was never pleasant. He ought to know. He’d seen it many times.

Also, been there, done that.

He pushed himself up and as he did so, a rat bit him. He squealed and kicked out and shouted. Rage turned him. He was going to get Malice if it killed him, but the rats would get it first.

He blinked.

The rats were gone.

He looked down at his hand. There was no wound.

“It’s already healed.” But he wasn’t sure.

He began to walk forwards, as he couldn’t turn back.

At the end of the tunnel was a door. By the time he got to it, he was on his knees again. Crawling, when he knew he didn’t have to, because the ceiling looked as if it were dipping down so low, he couldn’t not. So screwed up. So ridiculous. Head not in the clouds but down on the ground. Knees wet. Covered in slime. Hands the same. Too late to worry about the smell. But it felt safe to crawl. Comforting in a strange kind of way.

It definitely wasn’t the kind of door you’d expect to see down in the sewers. Wood wasn’t known for its long-term, rot-resistant properties, when faced with the waters of human living. And the lock was ornate. Like you might find on some fancy door in a stately home. A castle, perhaps. A fairytale one where everything was beautiful, not a thing out of place.

And there was a sign. It said ‘Welcome.’

Someone with a sick sense of humour? Convenient for him.

The door was locked, of course. There was no door mat. That would’ve floated away. There was no plant pot. Not much would grow down there, apart from some disgusting fungus monster. Top of the frame?

He reached up. Even though the door looked small enough that he could reach, it was way beyond the length of his arm.

The distortion kicked his brain.

He vomited pure blood.

That didn’t happen often.

He crawled vertically up the door, one handhold at a time, on the fancy panelling, until he was standing again. He kept his eyes focused on one spot and felt around until his fingers touched something cold, metal. The relief was overwhelming. The kind of relief that released all the tension from your body, brought forth a sob, and made your legs collapse. That did have a benefit. He was now closer to the lock without having to go to the effort of crawling down. If he could just manage to get the key into the hole that was … somewhere in front of him. The nausea rose again.

He closed his eyes and let his hands find the lock. He fumbled the key into place and choked out in maniacal glee when it fitted. It clunked loudly as he turned it, and the door swung open.

Malice had better be through here, or his anger was going to reach epic proportions.

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