Underground Vampire, page 23
There being no further evidence, the Magistrate retired to dine and deliberate. After considering the evidence produced by each side, the arguments made and reviewing the relevant precedents, he resumed the proceedings, pronounced Petru guilty, condemned him to death, denied as untimely Petru’s application for stay pending appeal, and ordered that sentence be carried out forthwith. The prosecution requested a brief continuance to torture the condemned to secure additional information, which was granted in the interests of justice. He was burned with hot irons, an eye was gouged out and noxious chemicals were forced up his nose, burning holes into his face. The judge admonished them to be careful, as the law required that the condemned be cognizant of his destruction. It appearing that no more useful information could be gleaned since they had inadvertently destroyed Petru’s tongue, rendering speech impossible, the Judge decreed that the sentence be carried out forthwith.
There being no other business before the Court, they stripped Petru’s clothing from his frame, exposing his pale white flesh to the crisp early morning chill, and spiked his arms and legs to the towering and sympathetic Cedar tree. It had rained during the night and into the proceedings, so the emerging light was soft and beautiful. The air hung heavy with the primitive odor of decomposing vegetation. The sun rose, its rays penetrating the gloom like shafts of light illuminating faces in Flemish art.
It had been so long since Petru had seen the day that the slightest light affected him and his skin began to steam in the early morning glow. As the light bathed his naked body, he erupted into bubbling pustules, which burst spewing foul odors into the glorious morning. The sun was weak, which Oliver had hoped for when he chose the spot, and took several hours to bring Petru to a sufficient temperature for spontaneous ignition.
As Petru suffered Oliver watched, enjoying the spectacle, reliving again his own agony in the coffin. He understood that Petru’s death would not release him from his agony, that his damage could only be resolved by forgiving, but he would never admit it to the damnable Doctor. Hate became him and he enjoyed it and would never let it go.
At the penultimate moment when Petru steamed and bubbled, writhing in agony, Oliver approached him. The sun was bright, shining directly into his face, painting his naked body with angry red welts. Overhead, a minion shielded Oliver with a golfer’s umbrella brightly paneled in red and green and yellow. Oliver had saved this for the end, a last torture to inflict upon poor Petru so his death would have no meaning. Leaning close he whispered in his ear so no one else could hear, and at his words Petru lifted his head and strained at his bonds.
“Yes,” whispered Oliver, “I have an agent in the Mansion, an agent who told me how to capture you.”
With what was left of his strength Petru managed a sibilant hiss, “Who?”
Laughing in his face, Oliver replied, “She gave me you and she will give me Arabella and then I will take the Queen, you have failed in your duties.”
Petru went berserk chained to the tree but it did him no good and, finally, he burst into a glorious pyrotechnic green-tinged flame, hissing to the end. He smoldered down to a cone of silvery ash and the ring she’d gifted him on the night she turned him, a symbol of their bastard love.
Oliver carefully swept up the remains, funneling the fine dust into a stopped cloisonné bottle purchased for the purpose. The ring he slipped on his finger as a permanent keepsake of the wonderful time he’d spent with dear old Petru.
Driving back to town, he stopped in North Bend to mail a package containing a short note and an exquisite bottle addressed to a mansion on Highland Drive, Seattle, Washington. The note was addressed rather formally to Her Royal Highness, Queen of the Vampires, and asked only, “Are you missing anything?” It was signed “Your devoted subject, Oliver.”
“Can’t have this getting to Seattle before us,” Oliver said to his driver, “I expect she will really be upset.”
Her Royal Highness, for she affected such titles when vexed, sat at one of the rear windows of her mansion surveying the cityscape below. The strict symmetry of her classic Georgian reinforced her sense of order and ritual. Three stories tall with a full basement she occupied the first and second floors, with the servants, retainers and guards housed in quarters on the third floor and her personal humans stored in an addition off the pantry. The basement housed the furnace, water heaters and machinery to support her life in the style she required and expected.
Somewhere down there were those odd creatures who maintained the communication and computer systems. She never saw them. The only time she thought of them was when something didn’t work; she would send a servant down and then whatever it was that hadn’t worked, worked. Come to think of it she wished everything worked as well. She was glad she never saw them.
At the exact center of the front of the house was a paneled door topped by an elaborate entablature supported by pilasters. No one approaching from West Highland failed to stop and appreciate the edifice as they climbed the imposing stairs. Once inside, old and polished dense oak planks stretched through the house with pocket doors on each side of the grand hallway opening into the formal rooms. A boxed staircase rose through the center of the house affording a view from the ground floor straight up to the top and, coincidentally, providing an easily defensible position from above.
Vampire society endlessly quibbled about the house, with some questioning whether the use of nine pane windows on the servants’ floor deprived the home of authenticity and others detecting elements of Colonial Revival in the columned porch. Since many of the Vampires had known the original architects of the various genres, their arguments were spirited, consumed with minutia unappreciated by even the most fastidious architect.
One evening as an argument grew heated and threatened to spill over into a duel over the propriety of certain decorative elements, the Queen opined that she preferred to reside in a Georgian house because it was the way things were supposed to be. There were no more arguments about the style of her residence.
This morning she sat in one of the less formal rear rooms. This one was the tea room, a second floor space across from the sitting room where she received visitors and conducted business. Conceived as a sunroom, the bright airy feeling had been stifled by the heavy tint applied to the windows. The Space Needle, unpleasant as always, marred her appreciation of the clear day, reminding her once again of the detestable Eiffel responsible for that abomination in Paris. What was it about World Fairs, she mused, that spawned large undressed ornaments that came to symbolize the Cities that were forced to endure them? Today Mt. Rainier appeared, startling gawping tourists as if it was a giant toadstool sprouted overnight, prattling on as if it were an apparition at Lourdes.
Back to the Space Needle, she thought again about how she could knock the damn thing over, a plan which not one of her so called advisors had ever supported or even, she was sure, taken seriously. Even Petru, her most loyal retainer, had merely acquiesced by bobbing his Ichabod Crane head and murmuring in his idiotic language, a tongue that even the present day inhabitants of his wretched land could not understand.
She was doubly vexed at the sights out her window with the failure of Petru to return from his nightly excursion into the city. He had begun his nightly visits to the City since the troubles started, but was always back to give a report in the morning, fetching her tea, describing his evening. Now, he had been gone for three days without a word and she’d endured his replacement’s miserable efforts long enough.
The imbecile still could not prepare the tea correctly and he’d been training for forty-six years, she groused to herself. How hard could it be to properly select the leaves, heat the water and bring the pot to the correct temperature; you’d think any idiot could measure leaves and pour heated water gently over the leaves, brewing the proper strength. Clearly, he could not learn or perhaps Petru, dear Petru, was incapable of teaching.
All her thoughts inexorably returned to him. Something had gon
Uncertainty, there was too much of it, she would have to simplify her life for the sake of her digestion. Her combat squads were experiencing resistance. The rebellion, for that was what it was, she admitted to herself when she was alone, even if no one was allowed to say the word in her presence, had coalesced into a nasty, perverted guerrilla war, hiding in the labyrinth that was under Seattle, attacking from abandoned and forgotten sections of the Underground, dissolving into the maze of passages before her forces could come to bear. The warfare was inconclusive, draining on resources. Her losses were mounting through the constant ambushes, and she’d had to reorganize her forces to shore up the patrols.
The truth was, her police were more of a civil force adept at bullying Vampire society into submission than meeting a determined foe. Psychologically, they were unprepared for an opponent who not only resisted but actively took the fight to them. Her forces’ violent suppression of any resistance, real or perceived, had led to several instances of Vampires loyal to her or at least not in opposition being severely injured or killed. Her commanders lobbied to impose a curfew and permit the unannounced searches of private residences, an expansion of police powers sure to offend much of society.
If she could maneuver the resistance into a decisive battle, she could crush them with her superior forces but that option was highly unlikely. Oliver, her dear Oliver, was proving to be an adept general; she should have cut off his head when she had the chance. He had obviously thought long and hard about strategy and tactics while he’d been down there chewing on his concrete casket.
This time she would not be lenient. This time she would take Arabella’s advice, his head would be removed, his heart would be cut out and all his parts would be burned. Perhaps his followers would be given a chance to dine on his heart before they suffered the same fate. Already her stomach felt better, contemplation almost as satisfying as the deed, almost but not quite.
Petru’s customary execution of captured traitors attracted great notoriety, and attendance at the public exposures was impressive. Petru had managed to open a shaft to the upside so that the miscreants could be staked out in the Underground Square. It was so thoughtful of him to arrange it so she could attend without much travel. She had, of course, attended the executions and had personally approved the verdicts.
Despite the efficiency of the proceedings, though, she could not shake the feeling that the crowd was not enjoying the display with its customary zeal. Many of the Vampires exhibited restraint when there should have been joyous approval. If anything, the executions seemed to have stiffened the resistance and, since realizing that, she’d taken to private punishments, which, of course, she attended, as was her duty, although the executions were becoming tedious affairs, satisfying to the sadists but offering little encouragement to anyone else.
It was tiresome, all the capturing and executing, the morning report where her commanders touted the tally and assured her they were winning, that Oliver’s forces could not sustain the losses, it was just a matter of time. Oh and by the way, in the war of attrition she had lost this many Vampires but the body count was in her favor, just a little longer and victory would be hers.
Knocking the tea cup across the room, she fixed her attention on Petru’s replacement and as he snapped to, she ordered him to, “Find Arabella and have her present herself forthwith.” Scampering out the door, she thought he exhibited a bit too much relief to be out of her presence and resolved to pay more attention to her staff, perhaps rot had set in and some pruning was necessary about the home.
Standing in the doorway observing her snit was her personal favorite lady-in-waiting, Prunella. One of the originals, Prunella accompanied her from Europe, a comforting sight in these turbulent times. Like all the old guard, she was as much warrior as servant, and the Queen knew her power and security rested as much on the incorruptibility of her praetorians as on her own ancient strength.
Beckoning her in, she looked with interest at the parcel Prunella held before her. Her lawyers handled all contact with the official Human world. Long ago, to ensure loyalty, she had turned one of the partners so that she would always know what they were up to; lawyers had a distressing habit of double-dealing. Consequently, no mail of importance came to the mansion. Other than the daily advertising trash, which was unavoidable, her post box was cheerfully free of correspondence. What did appear was inspected, shredded and burned by an unseen minion.
To receive a package here was unsettling; to have it hand addressed to her with no return address suggested a communication from the People of the Night, a suggestion with several unpleasant possibilities. Anticipating her unasked question, Prunella said, “It has been scanned and does not appear to contain any explosives.” While they would undoubtedly survive the blast, the explosion would bring nosy attention from the Human police; her staff was working overtime as it was to contain the fallout from the ongoing war. “It appears to be a vase or perhaps a statue,” Prunella said, placing the box on the table.
“Open it then,” the Queen commanded, “Let’s see what we have.”
Without hesitation, Prunella carefully slit the wrapping with a fingernail, then sliced open the box without intruding into the interior so that the wrapping tissue was undisturbed when she removed the top. They both inspected the contents, something carefully wrapped in expensive paper with a card tucked on top.
Lifting the card between two of her long spiky nails, Prunella opened the envelope, removed the card and placed it on the table before her Mistress without glancing at the contents. After a moment, Her Royal Highness tilted her regal neck to read the card. She then reached into the box and removed a truly exquisite vase. She set the vase on the table with the card before it and for a time said nothing, only contemplating the objects as if they were some sacred symbol.
Finally she rose, gathering the vase in her hands, and instructed Prunella to assemble the staff for an announcement. Without saying more, she swept from the room across the hall into her private chambers awaiting word that all were present on the ground floor. She placed Petru’s remains on a shelf in her bed chamber and had the maids dust the vase daily in memory of his service. What more could she do?
When summoned, the household staff assembled in the square at the bottom of the staircase. The meetings were rare as, after a hundred years, even the densest trainee learned his duties and performed them to expectation. Most of those present recalled the last time they’d met as a group when Oliver all those years ago had first challenged authority.
They watched as she descended from her second floor study dressed in boots and black pants sleek as seal skin and a black sweater, all covered by a long black coat rather like the dusters evil cowboys wore in Italian westerns. She held a vase about ten inches tall embellished with ornate cloisonné work, probably Japanese in origin. She walked into their midst holding the vase high, proclaiming, “Petru is dead,” in a voice that they knew meant this wasn’t over, in fact, it had just started.
They stood impassive and shocked. Killing Petru suggested power and organization, it also made the threat personal since any of them could be next. The Queen looked out over the massed servants; these were her most loyal retainers and her personal protectors. Really a Praetorian Guard, they had all been made by her, many in Europe and most had long age. They would follow her commands without question and, she believed, would die before turning on her or giving up in battle.
But, like an enormous fortune, its power lay in having it, not in spending it. So long as it was in existence, her enemies must respect and fear its power. Used indiscriminately, the Guard might be defeated or wounded and her aura diminished. History was
“Prepare yourselves,” she announced. “I want to revenge myself.”
“Of course,” said Prunella, “when….”
But, before Prunella could finish her statement the Queen screamed, “Now, I am going now.”
The astonished household staff instantly sprinted off to their quarters to change into combat gear, to the armory for swords and stakes then back to the main hall to fall into formation. They left her presence as maids and butlers, gardeners and cooks, secretaries and handyman and returned as a mobile combat group prepared to deal with whatever their Mistress had in mind.
Ascending the stairs, Arabella felt her stomach tighten at the thought of meeting the Queen. The summons had been curt, delivered by one of the house Vampires she’d never spoken to before. “You must come to the mansion,” was all he said when she’d opened her front door.
“Now,” was all he said.
Entering the mansion she was struck by the preparations in progress, the calm quiet sepulcher of the interior gave way to the practiced professional bustle of an army barracks gearing up for deployment. No one said anything to her and she asked no questions as she ascended the stairway. She paused in the hall outside the drawing room and knocked lightly on the door, fully expecting Petru to open the door and usher her to her audience. Instead, the Queen herself called for her to enter and she opened the door to the gloomy room, looking about in her customary fashion to locate Petru before she stood before the Queen.