We passed half a dozen more Unseelie by the time we found the sub-basement. Mingled in with the white-skinned, pierced and chained, black-nailed, black-lipped Goth-youth, casting similar noir glamours, the Dark Fae were doing things to their unwitting victims I refused to see. Though I saw none as horrific as the Gray Man or the Many-Mouthed-Thing, I was beginning to realize that there was no such thing as an attractive Unseelie.
“Not true,” Barrons said when I remarked upon it. “Unseelie royalty, the princes and princesses of the four houses, are every bit as inhumanly beautiful as Seelie royalty. In fact, it is virtually impossible to tell them apart.”
“Why are there so many Unseelie here?”
“Morbidity is their oxygen, Ms. Lane. They breathe richly in places like this.”
We’d been navigating a maze of subterranean corridors for some time. Now we turned down a long dim hallway that ended in an immense, square black door belted by bands of steel. A dozen men stood guard between Mallucé and any of his too-fervent faithful, shoulders slung with ammunition, toting automatic weapons.
A large bull of a man with a shaved head stepped into our path, blocking our way. The safety pins in his ears didn’t bother me. The ones in his eyelids did.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he growled, fixing his rifle on Barrons with one hand, resting the heel of the other on the butt of a gun tucked into the waistband of his black leather pants.
“Inform Mallucé that Jericho Barrons is here.”
“Why would the Master give a fuck?”
“I have something he wants.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
Barrons smiled and for the first time I saw a glint of genuine humor in his dark eyes. “Tell him to try to access any of his bank accounts.”
Ten minutes later the door to Mallucé’s inner sanctum burst open. The shaven-headed messenger stumbled out, his face ashen, his shirt covered with blood.
He was followed by two Unseelie Rhino-boys who jammed guns into our sides and marched us through the doorway and into the vampire’s lair. Nausea flooded my stomach and I gripped my purse tightly with both hands so I wouldn’t inadvertently touch either of our ugly escorts.
The chamber beyond the steel-belted door was so sumptuously decorated in velveteens, satins, gauzes, and brocades, and so busily furnished in Neo-Victorian that it was difficult at first to locate our host in the clutter. It didn’t help that his attire matched his surroundings, the very height of Romantic Goth.
I spotted him at last. Motionless on a low-backed, richly embellished chaise scattered with gilt pillows and tasseled throws, Mallucé was wearing stiff, textured brown-and-black-striped trousers and fine-tooled Italian slippers. His eggshell linen shirt dripped lace at his wrists and throat, and blood at his jabot. He wore a brocade-and-velvet vest of amber, russet, crimson, and gold, and as I watched, he withdrew a snowy handkerchief from a pocket in the inner lining and gently dabbed blood from his chin, then licked a few remaining drops from his lips. Muscular and graceful as a cat, he was pale and smooth as a marble bust. Dead yellow eyes lent a feral cast to his sharply chiseled, too-white face. Long blond hair pulled back in an old-fashioned, amber-beaded queue emphasized his abnormally rigid pallor.
The vampire separated sinuously from the settee and rose, holding an incongruously modern laptop. With a graceful flick of his fingers, he snapped the chrome case shut, tossed it carelessly on a velvet-draped table, then glided to a halt in front of us.
As he stood there in all his undead stillness, face-to-face with the carnal maleness and disturbing vitality of Jericho Barrons, I was startled to realize that, although I was deep in the belly of a vampire’s lair, surrounded by his worshipers and monster minions—if pressed to decide which of the men before me was more dangerous—it wouldn’t have been Mallucé. Eyes narrowed, I looked back and forth between them. Something nagged at me, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was a thing that I would stupidly fail to put my finger on until it was too late. Before long, I would understand that nothing had been what it seemed that night, and the reason Barrons had faced-off so coolly with the blood-sucking Master was because he’d gone in with the quiet assurance that, no matter what happened, he would walk out alive, and not because he had Mallucé by the proverbial fiscal balls.
“What did you do with my money?” the vampire inquired, his silken voice unmatched by the steel in his strange citron eyes.
Barrons laughed, teeth flashing white in his dark face. “Think of it as an insurance policy. I’ll return it when we’re through, Johnstone.”