Far away from the site of the twins’ new-found love life, Louise was flagging. She had managed to dodge her pursuers, her knowledge of the house where she had spent her entire life leading her down to the cellars, into the intimate and secluded areas of the house. She knew the vast bulk of the undead had followed her, enticed by her feminine form and their apparent affinity with travelling downwards, but for the moment she was alone in the maze of grimy passageways that ran underneath the whole of Tunnicliffe Manor. Her dress was strewn with cobwebs, her knees and hands were muddy and slimy from the numerous falls she’d had in the darkness of the passageways, and she had lost one of her new and very expensive shoes. Her cheeks were red and her lip had started to quiver. Anyone who didn’t know her could have been forgiven for thinking she was on the verge of breaking down.
But Louise shared more than just a nomenclatural similarity with her late mother. Her reddened face and quivering lip were not signs of despair, but rather of anger; anger at the precariousness of her situation, anger at her mother’s death, but most of all anger at the damage to what was now her property that those barbaric, frankly plebeian riffraff were no doubt doing. From this, it can be gathered that, not unlike her mother, Louise had her nose held so high in the air that birds were in danger of flying up her nostrils.
Rage can only propel a body so far, however, and now Louise was beginning to tire. She leant on the wall for a moment to catch her breath, and then realising what she was doing started away from the clinging grime, loosing forth a small, involuntary squeak. Then she froze, as it was joined by a deep, guttural laugh which reverberated round Louise’s head. She looked around, hoping that her momentary lapse would not constitute one of her final moments; the coast seemed clear. She took a deep, relieved breath, and walked around the corner, straight into cold, grey flesh.
As you have no doubt realised, Tunnicliffe Manor was not a place where fun was often experienced. The family’s tipple of choice was tea, and they otherwise subsisted almost entirely on cakes and the occasional strawberry; perhaps if they had known more about the extent and general fullness of the wine cellars below the mansion, this entire story might have been very different. The undead warriors, however, were certainly finding out about the extent of the wine cellars, and were doing their level best to reduce their fullness. Almost all of them had chased Louise into these passageways, and completely forgotten about the pursuit as soon as they had lain their glowing red eyes on the rows and rows of bottles that had been stored for centuries in the cool, damp air of the Tunnicliffe’s basement. Even the travails of the previous incumbent of the chapel had put hardly a dent in them; but they were certainly being dented now. After several lifetimes spent being dead, the grey-skinned warriors were determined to make up for lost time, with the added benefit that their carousing might also make them forget the torments they had been through for a while. Louise’s escape thus far had been greatly facilitated by the amount of alcohol they had managed to consume, although her realisation of this did not serve to assuage her anger.
It was also fortunate for Louise in the specific as well as the general, because the warrior who she ran in to may well have had quicker reflexes had he not partaken of rather too much Chateauneuf-du-Pape. As it was, however, with his hands occupied by two newly liberated and nearly empty bottles, and his motor functions badly impaired, Louise’s lack of attention resulted not in a swift grab and the end of Louise, but instead in the sudden loss of verticality of the warrior as he lost his balance and crashed down onto the floor. Louise, forgetting herself for a brief moment, immediately rammed her heel as hard as she could into the groin of her prostrate opponent, before stepping back and primly adjusting her dress as he groaned in pain. She noticed the wine bottles.
“That will teach you not to consume alcohol in the presence of a lady, brute. I assume your fellows are doing the same thing. Well, we shall see about that. Lowborn creatures, I will not allow alcohol in my manor!” She seemed pleased at this realisation that, with her mother gone, Tunnicliffe Manor was indeed Louise’s. “My manor!” she repeated to herself, glorifying in her new position and almost forgetting about the creature still moaning on the floor. She daintily stepped over the prone form, and began to move down the corridor once more. She was now the lady of Tunnicliffe Manor! And not before time, either, she thought to herself. Of course, it was a shame that Mother had to pass away for her birthright to be passed on, but then, Louise recalled, she had not been much of a mother; she and her sister had known the nanny far better than they had ever known Louisa, and indeed she’d only started taking an interest in them when they were old enough to start making snide comments to the carefully selected guests. It was regrettable, perhaps, but Louise could not bring herself to feel much remorse.
She ran down another corridor, away from the creature she had incapacitated, and found herself in a large chamber, so large, in fact, that the far half of it was shrouded in darkness so that she could not see what lay beyond. She ran towards it anyway, reasoning that it must lead somewhere and knowing, despite her anger, that being around when the creature managed to get back up would not be the most prudent course of action; she had seen what they had done to the gardener. Her heel caught in a hole in the flagstones of the floor and she pitched forward, gashing her knee on the rough ground and splattering her dress with foul-smelling mud. She shrieked in frustration, and the shriek gave way to hot tears of anguish, of fury and of fear.
Presently, a more pressing concern than her muddied dress and bloodied knee began to make itself known to her. In the flight from the conservatory there had not been time to consider who, or what, these men were; and there was something about their glowing eyes and the deep, disconcerting shadows which moved across their bodies without any change in the light which suggested they might not simply be ruffians from the village down the lane. She collected herself, and rose back to her feet. It was a quality of Louise’s, as it had indeed been of her mother’s, to be able to take large and unwieldy problems and focus on one tiny part of them, to pull apart one seam of the dress and direct all attention, thought and opinion onto this loose thread. No matter that these men had killed her mother, displaying an inhuman strength which fit well with their odd and disconcerting appearance; no matter that they had seemingly appeared from nowhere intent on bringing destruction, and no matter the terror they inspired or the horror they were evidently capable of. Whoever, and whatever, they were, they were behaving with an utter lack of decorum, and, judging by the brute she had left crumpled on the stones, had partaken of what was now her wine in an irresponsible and frankly loutish manner. Well, she was Louise Tunnicliffe, lady of Tunnicliffe Manner, and she would not tolerate that kind of behaviour! She would march down to the cellar, where these brutes were no doubt concentrated, and give them a piece of her mind! With her chin firmly set and a new sense of righteous purpose, Louise spoke into the darkness before her.
“I am the Lady of this house, and I will not allow this state of affairs to continue!”
A pair of glowing red eyes flared into life in front of her face, fires lit suddenly in the gloom.
“You really aren’t in a position to issue ultimatums,” an arrogant, amused voice said, the words floating out from the darkness. She screamed, and lashed out with her hand towards those horrendous eyes; but a grey and mottled hand tightly grasped her wrist before the blow could land. Lord Achan, still holding on to Louise, stepped forward into the light, though his face carried the shadows with him. He looked down at her as she struggled in his grip.
“You monster! Unhand me!” she shouted. He cuffed her across the face with the back of his hand and she fell, unconscious.
Two more warriors emerged from the darkness behind Achan. “Take her,” he instructed them, and they hastened to obey. Achan melted back into the thick, cloying darkness.
He had more work to do.