It wasn’t as if he was wrong. The V4 armor wasn’t made with stealth in mind. I felt lucky that Book Tower had high ceilings. Otherwise, I’d be bumping my helmet against the ceiling constantly.
Amy didn’t make any noise that I noticed. Given that it appeared out of nowhere when she transformed, I had no idea what it was made of. Mystery magic stuff was my best guess so far–with the distinct possibility that it was the physical manifestation of the remains of souls that the Bloodmaidens had consumed over the millennia of their service to Amy’s family’s empire.
Her ancestors weren’t nice people.
Anyway, Mateo and Vincent walked ahead of us, Mateo with rapier in hand and Vincent walking behind him, one step at a time, nose sniffing the air with all the caution you’d expect of a rodent.
It struck me that the two of them together, a masked swordsman accompanied by a humanoid hamster, seemed like something that should appear in a children’s book—not one about vampires though.
Anyone putting those ingredients together had a poor understanding of genre.
“What’s amusing you?” Amy glanced up at me.
“Nothing worth mentioning,” I told her over the comm. Explaining cultural aesthetics to a warrior princess and magical girl from another universe seemed like it would take too long.
As Mateo and Vincent neared the next floor, Mateo held up his hand and spoke into his comm, “We’ll take a quick look at this floor.”
This floor looked more intimidating than the last one somehow—it might have been the windowless, grey metal door. Whatever construction they’d done had also replaced the early 20th century paintings from the ceiling, replacing them with flat, white ceilings with no molding.
It didn’t take long for Vincent to pick the lock on the door. The two of them left, their footsteps impossible to hear even on the concrete floor.
Amy and I waited for them to come back. We could have talked, but instead looked up and down the stairway for people coming to kill us.
They came back a minute or two later. Mateo still had his sword in hand and Vincent closed the door slowly, letting the lock’s click be the only noise it made.
Mateo kept his voice low as he talked, “The whole floor was some kind of guard post, but it’s empty now. There’s still equipment, guns, partial suits of powered armor, and some armored uniforms.”
“Powered armor?” I looked toward the door.
“We don’t have time,” Mateo said.
“I know, but you’re saying it was empty?” I checked my suit’s sensors, trying to see what I could get out of a ping.
It turned out not to be much. Even when I put my hands on the wall, I only got a few rooms worth of echoes. He was right. The computer assembled composite didn’t show anything human. From the map it created, I got the impression of closets, beds, and shelves. So, basically, the floor was a barracks.
“Empty,” Mateo said. “They’ve got special rooms for mechs. If you want to go through them, I’d wait ’til after.”
I didn’t argue and followed him up to the next floor. This time, I pinged the place as I walked up the stairway, using my HUD to view the reconstruction. It didn’t make a lot of sense.
Unlike the last floor, this one was one big room. If it wasn’t, the other rooms were on the far side of the room that took up most of the floor. At that same time, the room wasn’t empty, and judging from the density of the material around the edges of the room and some parts of the floor, it was organic.
There was more organic material in the middle of the room, but those were human-shaped.
I spoke into the comm, “Before we go in, you should know that there’s something in there and that it’s all over this side. Also, there are a bunch of people in the middle of the room.”
Vincent turned back to look at me, “What do you think it is? The big thing, I mean.”
“I don’t know. Mold? A fungus? We’ve seen vampire watermelons. It could be anything.”
Mateo stopped, staring ahead at the doorway outside the stairwell. This one hadn’t been redone in a modern style. If anything, someone had gone out of their way to recreate the feel of the lower stories, touching up the original art, the ornate moldings around the ceiling, and restoring or replacing the golden chandeliers.
Also, the stairway ended. I knew we weren’t on the top floor, but this was the farthest up we could go without going deeper into the main area of the floor.
Shaking his head, Mateo said, “You’re right. There’s something in there. I’m not sure what to even call it. It’s got similar energy to vampires, but I don’t think it’s undead. There are undead in there, though.”
Amy pushed her way past me on the stairs, beginning to say, “Let me take a look—“
The door opened, blood-red tendrils exploding out of it, grabbing Mateo and pulling him through the air before he could jump out of the way. He struck one tendril and then another with his sword, cutting one through, but it wasn’t enough, and within seconds, he’d been pulled through the door.