The Living Night:Part Three

By: Jack Conner

Chapter 1

While Ruegger and Danielle, and most of the other vampires in the Castle were going to sleep, Jean-Pierre found the rift in the wall of the water-filled shaft and entered it. Straining his eyes, he saw that the widest portion of the rift went deepest, becoming a tunnel. Where it led he didn’t know, but he took it anyway. He had no idea he was swimming into the nether end of Roche Sarnova’s Zoo.

When the tunnel ended, the albino rose to find himself treading water in a pond much smaller than the one the dragon had used. However, the air in here was no less stagnant. Great.

Leaving the water, he followed the only corridor available. Stone, all around him; he could feel its weight above him, poised to crush. For a moment he had second thoughts about going this route, but the truth was he needed to feed. Until he had, his wounds would not heal and he couldn’t face the sun. Hopefully he’d have an opportunity to strengthen himself soon. Then he could go back up to the lake, without fear of the sun, and enter the Castle through the Old Courtyard.

That was the plan.

The tunnel twisted, sometimes opening out into larger caverns of hard cold stone, at other times narrowing so that he could barely pass through. Every now and then a tributary of a tunnel would spill out into this main avenue, but Jean-Pierre, dripping water and sodden shirt sticking to his back, decided to stick to his chosen course. Sometimes stalactites and stalagmites reared from the floor and the ceiling, and in the uneven light of the torches they seemed sinister.

Suddenly, the smell of old blood washed across his nose, and he picked up his pace to find the source. He didn’t have to travel far. When he reached the remains of the human, he wasn’t sure what to think; he’d never seen such a corpse before.

He sensed that it had died long before it wound up here, but how could that be? It didn’t smell like a zombie. Almost, it looked as if something had eaten the dead man from the inside out. There were many tiny bite and claw marks reminiscent of a bat, but what bat could survive down here, in this air? That’s what it looked like, though, as if a horde of bats had infested his body, lived there for a time and, when the man’s flesh was useless to them, had broken out and flown away. Jean-Pierre could even smell the vague smell of bat guano.

What the fuck? It made no sense.

Regardless, the man had been dead for far too long for the werewolf to feed from. Jean-Pierre moved on, ever more cautiously. His clothes had dried when at last he came to a major fork, where the main avenue split into no less than six tunnels.

The albino paused, then entered the widest corridor. Torches blazed along the walls, but great distances separated each torch from the other, creating large dark pockets Jean-Pierre had to pass through. As weak as he was, he could still see well in the dark, but not as well as before. Again, he wondered at the nature of the torches; did someone light them? No, there couldn’t be enough oxygen down here to feed a flame for long. Was it some trick of magic? Perhaps a sorcerer ...

He shook the thought away. Though Kharker had alluded to magic-wielders from time to time, he spoke very little of them, saying only that once they had existed, had even been almost common—but no more. Perhaps magic did exist in the modern world, though, as evidenced by the dragon as much as the torches, and who but a sorcerer could wield magic? Still ... magic?

Jean-Pierre delved through the caves, sometimes encountering forks and crossroads; he always took the largest tunnel. Some might choose the path less traveled, but when it came to basic survival, Jean-Pierre preferred safety.

At one torch, he hesitated. He couldn’t see the next torch. Dimly, he could make out a bend in the cave and assumed that a torch would be waiting beyond, but in order to get to that light he’d have to cross a large portion of dark cave, threading through low-hanging stalactites and tall stalagmites all the way. The perfect place for an ambush. But what choice did he have?

He walked into the darkness.

When he had crossed the tunnel about halfway, he turned back to get a glimpse of the torch and get a better feel of his bearings, but even as he moved a section of the cave closest to the torch began to close.

The tunnel did not simply collapse. Rather, the rock walls, or what he’d thought to be rock, spiraled inward in a strangely organic way, closing off the rear path completely. When the spiraling was complete, it seemed as if a new wall had formed between him and the torch, but it was no wall, not really. The cave … was alive.

As he darted toward the far side, where the cave began to curve, he saw a similar scene there. Just as pliable as flesh, the stone wall folded inward from all three hundred and sixty degrees and spiraled in to close off his only exit.

The cave began to tremble. More, the very walls of the cave began to contract, as if the tunnel were shrinking—but he was not in a tunnel, he knew. He was in some sort of creature, the nature of which he couldn’t guess. It was like being trapped inside a giant stone intestine that was contracting in some lethal spasm.

All at once, the stalactites and stalagmites came alive. They shot out from their stone beds and elongated, their hard sharp points turning his way. Whether they were the tongues or the swords of the beast, Jean-Pierre didn’t know, but like serpents the stone spikes drove towards him.

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