Me and Alistair went alone. Nikolai nor Yuri liked that, but both me and Father carried the Cŵn Annwn inside us. We had the best chance of survival in the vampire lair. Father drove us to the residence. It was a silent tense ride. I guess the two of us really had nothing to talk about. It was probably better that way since we had no chance to start a fight.
Fortunately, it didn't take long to arrive at our destination. The vampire lair was a big gothic-style building that looked more like a church than anything else. It was surrounded by a gray brick fence easily seven feet tall. Stone gargoyles watched us from atop of the fence, on each side of the gate. No one stood guard here, but within a second of us stopping in front of it, it opened, allowing us to drive through. The road was clear of snow and slush. A single car was parked in front of the residence. We parked next to it.
There were no vampires to be seen, but the small hairs on the back of my neck stood up on an end and I shuddered. We were being watched. We got out and headed for the door. When Father raised his hand to knock, the door opened. All it missed was some thunder and creaking and it would imitate every cheap horror film in existence.
“You're trying a bit too hard to be dramatic don't you think guys?” I asked out loud. Father gave me a stone-cold look without any emotion. Still, I understood he wanted me to keep quiet. We did agree that he would do the talking, but I didn't realize I wasn't even allowed small comments.
He walked inside the house. I followed. Something of a living room seemed to await us beyond the door. A wide wooden staircase leading up dominated it. Still no sign of vampires. Father walked to an archaic-looking armchair and simply sat down. I didn't feel comfortable enough to sit. I studied the big bookcases touching the ceiling, filled with all kinds of books. I studied the paintings of what looked like demons hanging on the walls. As I did so I listened intently to our surroundings. I couldn't hear anything. No footsteps, no voices, no beating hearts. An unnatural and almost sinister stillness dominated the house. Something heavy seemed to perpetuate the air though. I didn't like it here, not at all. I was about to say so to Father when I finally heard footsteps.
A door on the right opened and a small young-looking vampire walked in. He wore the attire of a butler. “Alpha Alistair Ghealach, Baltazar shall receive you now,” he said in somewhat of a flat voice. No acknowledgment for me? I tried not to be offended. Father got up, fixed his casual suit jacket, and followed the vampire through the door. Huh… And here I thought we would go up the grand staircase. In reality, we went the opposite direction. A staircase to the basement awaited us on the other side of the door. It was small, barely big enough for two people to walk next to each other.
Down in the dark corridors of the basement, I finally heard heartbeats, footsteps, and quiet voices. It all smelled of blood and death though. As we walked past many closed doors I even heard soft moans come from behind them, some in pleasure, others in pain. I forced myself to ignore it. There was nothing I could do for the human slaves that fed the Clan. The young butler stopped in front of the last door in the corridor. It was big and made from metal, it looked too heavy for a human to ever open. Fortunately, Father wasn't human. He simply pushed it open. I flinched at the loud screech that cut into my ears.
The room behind the door was barren… A king-sized bed with bloody red curtains dominated the gray windowless room. Two simple armchairs and a coffee table between them stood in the middle. In one sat Baltazar himself… Or who I assumed was Baltazar. I had never met the king of the Purgatory vampire clan. He didn't look too scary… He was tall but very thin with almost hollowed-out cheeks and pale skin. His light brown hair seemed weirdly mussed as if he just got out of the bed, and so did his simple clothes - a wrinkled gray t-shirt and black pants. This was absolutely not how I imagined the king of vampires to look like. It was kind of disappointing. Also, Daniel’s talk of Baltazar’s catatonic state seemed way more possible now.
Baltazar looked up and caught my gaze. As I saw his green-blue eyes a weird sense of recognition swept through me. For some reason, he looked kind of familiar, like I have met him somewhere but couldn’t remember where. I guess it was possible we might have met before… Maybe he once went to the pack house for a meeting and I passed by him, too caught up with some childish game to take notice.
“Baltazar, thank you for agreeing to meet us,” Father said as he sat down in the armchair across from Baltazar. His words made Baltazar turn his attention to him. There was no place for me to sit so I stayed by the now-closed door. I noticed about five locks on the inside of it. What the hell? Was this like a panic room or something?
“Of course, Alistair. My… How long has it been since we have seen each other?” he asked, looking almost nostalgic.
“Very long,” came Father’s flat response.
Baltazar once again looked up at me. I wasn't sure if I was expected to also greet him, or if I should heed Father’s previous warning and just stay silent. “Those eyes…” he whispered, studying me intently. “Is he your son?”
“Yes... Reid,” Father said quietly, almost hesitantly.
“Reid?” Baltazar frowned and then suddenly his whole face lit up. Before I even saw him move, Baltazar stood in front of me, uncomfortably close. Instinctively I growled at him, trying to back away but only hitting the door. “Reid! Of course! Oh, how you've grown… It feels like yesterday when I heard that Alistair has had yet another son! You're already a man…” He looked me up and down his eyes full of wonder. Then something dark flashed in his eyes. It looked almost like sorrow. “Bran would have loved to see you like this. All strong and grown-up… He would have loved to see that.”
Bran’s name coming out of his mouth almost made me flinch with the wrongness of it. No vampire had the right to say his name like that. Like they were friends. Baltazar put his bony hand over his eyes and wandered back to his armchair. I was glad for the distance.
“Baltazar,” Father said patiently, waiting until the vampire king looked at him, “You know what I need to ask you… The mercenaries were found on your territory.”
“I didn't kill him!” he yelled angrily at Father. “How can you even say that? How can you be so cruel? I didn't kill him… I didn't... Poor Bran…” Baltazar looked positively miserable and his eyes were glazed over as if he was about to start crying any moment now. I stood there in confusion, not sure how to process all of this. What the hell was going on? “When you called me and told me of his… death,” he seemed to choke on the word and had to take a few minutes to regain what little composure he had, “I was devastated… I stayed here for weeks… I was in no state to look for the mercenaries. I have nothing to do with this, Alistair. I wouldn't have… I wouldn't…” He shook his head. Was he playing some kind of a game? He had to be. There was no way… Why would Father even inform him of Bran's death? None of this made any sense. I felt like they spoke in a language I could barely understand like I kept missing the keywords that would give this exchange of random sentences a meaning.
“I know, Baltazar, I understand.” Alright, now I was one hundred percent sure I was dreaming this up. No way Father’s voice could be so gentle when talking to the vampire king that was our number one suspect. “But can you be absolutely sure that none of your vampires had anything to do with this?”
For a second Baltazar looked startled, then his eyes darkened and he looked away. “No, I cannot say that…”
“How many of your vampires share your ability?” Father asked. Baltazar’s ability… The ability of teleportation. The act of transporting one thing from a place to place without even touching it, which meant it left no scent and no trail. Someone used that technique to put a wolf on our doorstep. Which was why we suspected Baltazar in the first place. I didn't know other vampires had this ability.
Baltazar just watched Father for a moment, his jaw clenched tight. “My three Walkers,” he said in the end.
“Maybe you should ask them how they've been spending their abundant free time,” Father suggested.
Baltazar frowned and his eyes turned bloody red. I braced myself for a fight. Guess you shouldn't have accused his Walkers Father. “If I find Bran's killer I will rip them to pieces I promise you that. But my Walkers would never…” he shook his head, his eyes losing the dangerous glow. “They knew… They would never hurt my Sun.”
My Sun… Suddenly memories started flooding into my head. So that was why he looked so familiar to me. We have met. More than once. I clenched my jaw and shut my eyes trying desperately to chase the memories away...