Seven years ago, five Disparate vampires from as many different parts of Europe were brought together by a powerful patron to build a tower. From that night they have become a conspiracy of neonates of disproportionate power.
Two years ago they were tapped by their Patron, Lord Jurgen von Verden, to act as his delegation to the Fourth Crusade in Venice. There they are drawn into a twisted web of murder and intrigue and though they are nearly executed for the murder of a fellow ambassador, they are able to reveal the machinations of the Followers of Set within the Delegation. So impressed was Narses, the Prince of Venice, that he asked them to follow the crusade and keep him apprised of its movements.
By the end of the year they’d arrived in the port city of Zara, where they learned that it was being tormented by a powerful witch. They discovered the witch and dragged her back to her homeland deep in the Carpathian mountains. There they discovered a house in turmoil. The Voivode Koban had challenged the undead patriarch of the family Toth to a Trial by Warfare. Caught up in the violence the Coterie joined the battle in hopes of securing an end to the violence in Zara only to return to find it had already been destroyed by the very people that had sworn to protect Christendom.
The Lady Teresa and the Esteemed Sanchez had returned to their respective domains. Each has spent much of the past year working to further their goals outside the conspiracy to varying degrees of success. A month ago they received word from their friend and ally, Myca Vykos, who has asked them to join him in Constantinople which has been under siege since the previous June. Things had become extraordinarily dangerous and he believed that he could end the destruction but needed help from outside the Queen of Cities.
Erasmus, Vendramino and Kosmos had traveled together in the wake of the Militia Christi and found it laying siege to the city. While the Venetian and Knight had begun to bide their time outside its walls, hoping to somehow dissuade the Generals of the army from their horrific course of action, the Michaelite snuck into the city, hoping to do some good in defending the Dream from within its walls.
Now on the eve of the 15th of April, seven years to the night of their introduction, the Conspiracy of neonates will bear witness to the rising of a dark tide that will wash away the Long Night and send the world of the Undead spiraling into the War of Princes…
15th of April, 1204, 9:26pm
Monastery of Christ Pantokrator
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
Dona Teresa de Portugal sat in quiet repose on the smallish stool that sat in the corner of the chamber. The room was elegant in its austerity and she had noted that her friend the architect had traced his fingers over this wall carving or that. Sanchez’s companion stood in the opposite corner watching him. A small part of Teresa, the part of her that remembered love, envied the two.
They’d slipped into the city the night before using the cover of darkness and a passage secret to all but the undead. They found safe haven with a familiar face, Anna Sgorina. The young vampire they’d met in Venice had been made aware of their arrival and had allowed them to rest in her less then modest home. Teresa and her allies had arrived at the monastery, as Vykos had requested, an hour ago and the queen was beginning to grow indignant at having been made to wait when she heard a soft rapping at the door, signaling their host’s entrance. They were ill prepared for what they saw.
It was a young man with long straight chestnut hair, his skin was pale, but not unnaturally so and his face was vaguely attractive and conveyed a sense of arrogant nobility that Teresa couldn’t help but respect. He wore the black cassock so common among the eastern churches but the fabric was wrong, it was too fine, too elegant. If it weren’t for the flashing green eyes and the recognition of her own beast she would not have recognised Vykos at all.
“Greetings, Dona Teresa, Lady Sherazhina, Master Sanchez. I thank you for joining me but must ask, where are your allies?” – Vykos, nervously
“They are here, in the city but are bound by other obligations and could not attend.” – Teresa
The Obertus’ shoulders sagged ever so slightly.
“I see, than it must be up to you, my dear friends.” – Vykos
The fiend turned and secured the door to the chamber before continuing:
“I am sure you are aware of the present state of the city, yes? This siege has lasted for nearly a year and soon the damnedable crusaders will have breached the city’s walls and will bring it all crashing down around us. Many are going to die in the coming nights and we Cainites will quite possibly be the first to fall to their machinations. That is why I have asked that you join me here. Not far from here is another monastery, dedicated to St. John the Studious, within lay an ancient and powerful member of my Clan called Gesu. If truth be told he is my Grandsire, and therefore the grandchilde of the Eldest Tzimisce. I ask that you destroy him so that many more can be saved.” – Vykos
He spoke softly but with such fervor that they were somewhat taken aback.
“What could his death do to save the lives of others?” – Sanchez, incredulously
“Gesu is the Childe of the Dracon, childe of the Eldest and lover of Michael the Patriarch, the two of them came to this city with a third, Antonius of Ventrue. It wasn’t long before the Dracon and Antonius were at each other’s throats and so the Patriarch came to each of them with a gift. Two brothers, the eldest was Gesu, he was slight and sickly and of peculiar intellect. The younger was Symeon who was valiant and brave and a natural leader, each was to be embraced when they came of age, Gesu by the Dracon and Symeon by Antonius.
“But when Gesu was brought into his long night, legends speak of him slipping into a deep and restless torpor from which it was believed he would never be awoken. All the time Symeon sat at his side, feeding him and tending to his needs as best he could. When he finally rose from his death-sleep he devoured his brother in the beasts ravening hunger and realizing what he did, undid it as best he could.
“Since that night he has tainted everything that Symeon loves, everything that he holds dear has been stripped from him by the horror within that monastery. Not long ago a Genoese vampire called Gabrielle gave to him a girl, called Lillian. Symeon raised her as a daughter and as she grew into adulthood fell in love with her after a fashion. He presented her to Gesu so that she might be embraced and they could share their long night together but his brother had other plans. He embraced her but then absorbed her into his own body, devouring her soul in the process. Even now, her face looks out from his chest taunting my Sire.
“Despite this and so many other atrocities my sire loves his brother and does not see the danger that he poses. For the last five centuries he has protected his sire from all threats but does not see the greatest threat of all on the horizon. Should Gesu fall to the Crusaders than Symeon will fall with him along with all of the Obertus. I cannot allow one madman to bring down all that the Dracon strove to build.” – Vykos
“But, why don’t you do this thing yourself, or at the very least join us in the act?” – Sanchez
“I must keep myself at a safe distance. My sire does not know of my plan and if he is to trust me in the aftermath I need him to think me innocent. He is powerful and while I know how to shield my thoughts from him, I cannot shield my actions.” – Vykos, cryptically
Even though he didn’t think he was hearing the whole of the story, Sanchez couldn’t help but feel the fiend’s pain. This creature was all that was twisted and evil within the Tzimisce clan, and the similarities between Koban and he were overwhelming and if such evil existed within this beautiful city it had to be snuffed out.
15th of April, 1204, 10:05pm
Not Far From the Gate of St. John of Cornibus
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
The house of the bishop was massive and beautifully appointed. It seemed that the Bishop of Nod had done well for himself in the queen of cities. The walls were adorned with jewel encrusted mosaics and reliefs depicting various acts from the life of Christ with a decidedly blasphemous cast. The furniture on which they sat was lined with gold and upholstered in silk. The rugs were of Persian design and the candelabras, while ensconced within recesses in the walls, were made of silver and gleaming crystals.
Don Vendramino and Count Kosmos waited patiently, sipping delicately from the fluted glasses of blood that had been awaiting them when they entered some time ago. Though they barely spoke of it both had been worried for their friend Erasmus, who had yet to arrive. Vendramino had last seen him some two weeks ago, just before he himself had slipped into the city using old smuggling tunnels that he himself had had commissioned.
Kosmos slipped into the city with the help of his many contacts some weeks ago. He’d spent much of his time searching in vain for Gregorius Dimities, his sire. Unfortunately he was powerful and could cloud the minds of those around him. It was a trick that the Count never saw much use for himself but he had to admit that his sire used it well. Twice he was sure he found him only to become befuddled and lost.
The two were silently vying for the right to the third, untouched, flute of blood when the ornate doors opened. A small man wearing the clothes of a valet entered through the doors and then turned to salute the man behind him. The two vampires rose from their seats and smoothed their clothing as they bowed in respect to the Bishop.
He appeared to be a tall, heavyset and severe man in his forties, his beast was a cold thing that challenged Kosmos’ own mad voice and sent a fear tinged chill down Vendramino’s spine. His black hair was shot through with gray at the temple and when he smiled neither of them could help but notice that it was more of a snarl. He wore the crimson robes of the Cainite Heresy.
“Welcome honored guests and agents of Narses; I am Alfonzo of Venice, regent of the Latin Quarter and Bishop of Nod.” – The bishop
Despite his supposed graciousness, Vendramino could feel the malice coming off of him in waves. It was obvious that he saw them as a slight against him, though for what was beyond him. Kosmos himself saw deeper into the man, noting his hunger for power and his belief that he alone would be able to bear the burden of the city should the Patriarch fall. While the Michaelite respected the magister’s audacity, he knew that he would fail as the dream could not die so long as the Patriarch lived.
“Our patron informed me that you are here to further the goals of Christ’s army and to this end I think that your best hope will be found in the Monastery of John the Studious, within the Exokionion. There you will find a sect of Tzimisce who worship the vampire Michael as a god on earth called the Obertus. Their master is called Gesu and should he fall so too will the Dream. And if he dream falls so too will Constantinople.” – Alfonzo, gloatingly
Despite his bluster both vampires felt an undercurrent of fear running through his words, though why that might be was beyond their kenning. Both knew of Gesu and what he meant to the city and Vendramino, being a foreigner in the city and loyal to Venice and the west found his thoughts moving onto the treasures that may be plundered from the palatial churches throughout the city. Kosmos was less thrilled at the idea. Though he felt no personal loyalty to the Obertus or Gesu in particular, the idea of doing damage to the city or, more importantly, the Dream, Horrified him. He had agreed to follow the crusades and report back to Narses what their actions were, but he hadn’t signed on for this… this murder.
“Is it settled then?” – Alfonzo, eyeing Kosmos
“It is.” – The Michaelite lied
As they stood and made their goodbyes Kosmos couldn’t help but notice the twisted grin cross the bishop’s face.
15th of April, 1204, 10:42pm
The Latin Quarter
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
The city’s size was overwhelming, he’d been to the Imperial Palace at Nuremburg and this city dwarfed it in both size and splendor. In fact the more he traveled the more he was sure that this was the city he’d dreamed about. He’d searched for hours but could not find his allies. From the preponderance of Latin he believed to be near his destination but he could not make heads or tails of the city’s streets. He had recently slipped onto the rooftops to hide from the riots that were sweeping through the Quarter.
It also allowed him a bird’s eye view of the quarter, allowing him greater defense, which he couldn’t help but feel was necessary as he was pretty sure someone was stalking him. When he finally heard the sound of footfalls one rooftop to his left he was ready, and had his bow notched and ready with his stalker dead to rights.
He’d expected an urchin or thief, maybe a city guard who’d somehow caught sight of him. Instead what he found was a powerfully built young man decked out in brown leather and red silk. The clothes were fine but his bearing was that of a warrior or general. The man was perched upon the raised wall of the building he stood upon and though he was unarmed Erasmus sensed that he may be in danger.
“Hail, sir knight, I would have a word with you.” – The dangerous man
“Say what you have to say.” – Erasmus
“First lower your bow, so that we can speak as men.” – The man
Erasmus did so and the man leapt the short distance from one building to the other.
“I am Symeon of the Obertus. First, let me apologize for keeping you from your meeting with the Bishop but I needed a word and thought that as a fellow traveler on the via Caeli you may be the most open to my proposal.” – Symeon
Erasmus began to nod when he realized that the man seemed to know a great deal more than he should about him.
“How do you know me sir?” – Erasmus
“You are an ally of my childe, Myca, which is why I searched you out Erasmus.” – Symeon
“How can I help you, Symeon.” – Erasmus, realizing the danger that he was in.
“Even now three of your ilk, the Artisans and the Magister, are being convinced by him to destroy my brother Gesu. I am not angry with Myca, he is doing what he thinks is the right thing. But he’s young and naïve and he believes that with Gesu out of the way I will be able to move on away from Constantinople. One day he’ll understand how important Gesu is to me, and to the Dream. Please, join your allies, as you will find them all aligned against my brother. I know that you are a Latin and that we do not make natural allies, but I hope that I’ve chosen my ally well in this.” – Symeon, turning to look out over the city
Erasmus wasn’t sure what to say. But as he turned to ask the elder fiend how he was meant to stop them Symeon leapt from the rooftop and vanished into the darkness below.
15th of April, 1204, 11:03pm
The Streets of Exokionion
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
Titos and his men moved through the crowded streets like sharks through water, searching for their chosen prey. Decades ago, Titos and the others had been bound in blood to vampires.
Titos was by far the oldest, having been bound to an Animal for nearly a century, but Calomena had freed them from their bondage through her prophet, Stanislav. In his century of bondage he’d acted as his regnant’s hound, hunting down other vampires on which the hoary old goat could feed. Now he used his talents in his quest to purge the evil incarnate from the city. As they waded through the mewling mass of unbelievers, he forced them from keeping their eyes off of his sword, allowing them to move more easily, drawing less attention to themselves.
They’d found two vampires on this night, weak pitiable things that fell to his blade and their torches before they could even react, but their work was not done. This unholy Crusade was the last of the signs, so said the prophet, and if they slew too few then the world would crumble and they would drag the living down to hell with them.
The man to his right, Homeros, was getting edgy, his bloodlust was beyond even his own and Titos was somewhat afraid of him.
“The Prophet will not be pleased, should we return with only the blood and ash of two of their kind smeared over our clothes.” – Homeros
“Methinks he’ll not be pleased if you return at all, Homeros!” – Elias
The men laughed uneasily. Only giant Elias dared to speak to Homeros like that.
Titos wasn’t laughing. Ahead the crowd was parting of its own accord, edging away from something that was walking against the human current: two men of advanced years, merchants by their dress, the elder in sable and green, the other in deep blue and gold. The elder was taller but crooked, leaning heavily on his cane. They were obviously successful and wealthy and, at least to him, obviously dead.
They watched as the two moved away from the crowds into the darkness of a side street, away from the crowds and toward St. John’s. Titos and the others knew the area well and rushed in the opposite direction to head them off. As they slipped into the next street it was Elias who caught sight of them.
“There.” – Elias
“Vampire!” – Titos bellowed as he rushed toward the two monstrosities
Titos drew his blade as he sprinted, expecting to strike hard enough to fell the elderly vampire before he could react, but the strangest thing happened.
The elder thing was ready for him! By the time he reached it, the vampire had thrown wide his robes and revealed that he was wearing leather armor beneath and in his right hand he held a sword, which he brought down onto Titos’ shoulder.
The wound was shallow but startling, as the adrenaline coursed through his body he swung his sword slashing deep in the vampire’s side. The wound would have been fatal to a mortal but the vampire only looked bemused as he pushed the ghoul away.
The smaller vampire also carried a blade beneath his robes, and he swung it at Homeros’ torch bearing hand, slashing open his forearm even as the brute brought his club down on the vampire’s head with a satisfying and resounding crack.
Elias and the others went to work on the vampires as best they could, but for the devastation that should have been wrought they seemed to do little actual harm to the fiends.
The devil was powerful indeed if he could grant such vigor to even ones so feeble as these appeared.
One of his men fell a few short seconds after the melee began, Titos did not know who but just as they thought that maybe they were gaining ground they heard a wailing sound coming from behind them.
It was a large man, dressed as a laborer might, his skin was dark and his hair was black and for a moment his weathered face was contorted inhumanly into a mask of rage and fear before vanishing into the darkness like smoke on the wind. Behind him strode a woman, forcefully until she stopped directly where the man had stood only moments before. Even in the dim light Titus could see her eyes were a gleaming unholy black as she whispered.
She raised her hands as if bidding someone to rise and even as he watched the sky dimmed. Though it was a full moon the darkness that surrounded it seemed to choke the light out of it. The shadows seemed to reach up out of the ground and choke the light out of everything but the torches that they carried, which though they flickered brilliantly themselves seemed to illuminate nothing.
For a moment the battle ground to a halt. Each of the six mortals seemed to gasp for breath as the air seemed to be thick with icy humidity. In the darkness they heard the voice of the woman whispering in a blasphemous tongue that none of them knew. And then, just like that he heard another of his men, probably Homeros, scream as if from a great distance. Once again the battle was joined but no matter where he swung his blade it found nothing but thick, heavy air.
The darkness engulfed them for what felt like an eternity and though he fought his urge to run he found himself almost welcoming death when it finally came for him. It began when he felt the cold hard hand of one of the dead men grasping his wrist like a vice. He swung his torch at the thing and just as it connected with the things face he saw it. It was the elderly vampire that he had originally targeted, only now its face was contorted and wild. Though the torch scorched his face Titos saw the blackened wound close even as it appeared and then, he felt the thing wrap itself around him.
Fight as he might, he couldn’t seem to pull the thing off of him. It wrapped one of its legs around him and dug its foot into his side, it was so light that he found himself holding it aloft even as he fought to push it off. With one last prayer to Calomena he wrapped his arms around the thing with the thought of accepting his fate and hoping that the torch he held would burn the thing to cinders as he died.
That hope died as the thing drilled its fangs into his shoulder. The pain was excruciating in a way that was impossible to describe. His whole body spasmed and he dropped both his blade and his torch as his legs buckled.
The demon loosened his jaws for a moment and Titus thoughts came to him for just a moment before the thing again bit deep into his neck, rending the flesh. The pain lasted for an eternity before he finally succumbed to it and perished.
Teresa released the inky cloud of darkness after a few minutes of chanting and it dissipated in an instant destroyed by the light of the moon and the torches. When the light returned the mortals again stopped what they were doing and looked around, heaving with their breath. Sanchez in that instant slammed his fist into one of the men’s neck with a satisfying crack that sounded like a torn ligament. The man hit the ground hard, with Sanchez moving on to his next target in a blur. Kosmos slashed awkwardly at one of the attacker’s midsections, taking a beating as he did.
It took her a moment to find Vendramino, who was wrapped around one of the men tearing gobs of flesh and blood out of his shoulder and through and swallowing them whole. The man that Kosmos slashed at back into him and in an instant the Necromancer had leapt onto him, tearing out most of his neck and spraying the wall they stood next to with a great deal of blood before he began slurping at the great geyser of a wound.
One of last men standing charged her madly, recognizing her as the source of the darkness that had enveloped him, impaling himself on her blade as he did so. She had thrust it with enough force to completely sever his spine.
As the last man fell Kosmos bent down and picked up the gasping man that Sanchez had felled with his massive fist and forced his blood down the man’s throat. Even as she watched she saw the man’s throat, warped as it was by the blow, right itself. Immediately he began to breathe better, though it was still a deep shade of purple from the excessive bruising.
Sanchez rushed over to Vendramino and tore him away from the ragged corpse on which he had been gorging himself. The Necromancer looked down at what he was done and for the first time in the seven years any of them had known him he looked visibly shaken.
Sanchez looked up at Teresa and smirked wearily, he had not caused any of these deaths but she could see that it was getting to him. Suddenly though his smirk shifted to a look of concern and he began to rush forward. Teresa turned as she realized that she heard footfalls behind herself.
She spun with her blade at the ready to see two men staggering forward, each holding a sword. Before they reached her they collapsed to the floor, the man to her left had an arrow sticking out of his back. The man to her right had two.
She looked up to see her friend Erasmus standing on the roof top across the way, his bow drawn. She nodded to him in thanks and then turned back to their prisoner.
15th of April, 1204, 11:03pm
The Back Alleys of Exokionion
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
Kosmos stood triumphantly over the littered corpses of his fallen foes. He turned to see his friend, the Lord von Kronstadt, leap from the building adjacent and saunter over to greet him. The knight was proud of his precision in killing those two hooligans that he fell from a distance.
Kosmos himself had felled three of the fools. He’d felt their blood splash onto his arm and suddenly it struck him just what his actions had wrought. As he surveyed the carnage he knew that this was not how one acted in proper society. He’d acted in self defense, true, but he couldn’t help but feel that he’d somehow failed himself.
A nagging sound, like a muffled chirping, was coming from his right hand and he suddenly realized that he was still holding the last surviving attacker by his face after feeding him enough blood to better heal the wound.
He dropped the thug onto the ground.
“Who are you?” – Kosmos
“We are the Chosen of Calomena!” – The thug
“What does that mean?”- Kosmos
“We worship Calomena, sister to your beloved Caine! She has chosen the Clanless as her messenger and we follow her prophet, this is the end and we shall wipe clean you evil from the face of the world for her! Calomena…Calomena…Calomena.” – The thug
Disgusted, Kosmos lifted the man off his back and tossed him to Vendramino.
“Do with him what you will.” – Kosmos, turning to walk away.
Sanchez and Erasmus walked after him, wondering what he could possibly be thinking in throwing the man to his doom like that.
While the three walked away they heard the thug thrash against Teresa as she held him down.
“Now, now, no need to fight, I promise that you’ll not suffer for too long.” – Vendramino sounded almost compassionate as he pulled off the man’s boot.
The thug struggled against him as he drew a small sharp blade from his cloak.
“Please, please, mercy! Show me mercy!” – The thug
“Oh, I shall, I shall. I promise that once you’re dead I’ll not bother you again.” – Vendramino
The vampire slid the blade across the foot, shaving the top layer of skin off of it. The man wailed at the pain of it writhing against the impossibly strong woman who was holding him down.
Erasmus turned away from his compatriots in disgust and noted that he was not the only one. He and the two other vampires who abstained from the torture began to walk away, hoping that they could outpace the screams when they were suddenly blinded by a flash of brilliant golden light.
Erasmus’ first instinct was that one of the buildings that made up the alley had erupted in flame. But the beast did not stir, at least not in fear but he still shielded his eyes from it. There was heat, but it was the comforting heat of a mortal’s touch. After only a fraction of a second he lowered his hand and beheld the source of the light.
It was the figure of a man. He seemed to be massively tall before the Knight realized that his feet were suspended over the trash strewn stones of the lane. Two great wings grew out from the man’s shoulders, they seemed to be made of glimmering gold and lined with platinum, the same material as his hair. The man’s skin was a multifaceted array of colorful crystals that were illuminated by that same light that had nearly blinded the coterie.
The knight looked upon the stained glass angel in awe. As his gemlike eyes traced over him Erasmus felt his faith bolstered, buoying him up even as it caused him to ache.
“MY CHILDREN, THERE IS NOT MUCH TIME, A DREAM IS ABOUT TO END EVEN AS ANOTHER IS BORN. DO NOT LET IT BE STILLBORN. DO NOT BE AFRAID. DO NOT WORRY. AND DO NOT BE DECIEVED, FOR EVEN IN BEAUTY THERE CAN BE DECEPTION – AND MADNESS. THE DREAM HAS NEED OF MIDWIVES AND IT IS YOU WHO HAVE BEEN CHOSEN TO SERVE.” – The Angel
Though the angel spoke flawless German, Erasmus couldn’t help but notice that his lips did not sync with his words.
The angel paused for a moment as he looked upon the assembly of the damned and opened his arms wide.
“REMEMBER THAT THIS IS BUT ONE FORM. DREAMS CAN HAVE AS MANY AS THERE ARE DREAMERS TO IMAGINE THEM.” – The Angel
Just like that the angel was gone, leaving them alone in the darkness. Erasmus looked over at his friends and saw the same look of loss and awe on their faces that he knew must be on his own. Each of them rushed to wipe away the blood tears from their faces as they composed themselves.
Vendramino turned and noticed that the cultist had escaped and immediately took off after him. Teresa soon flickered after him as well.
“What are you doing here, Sanchez?” – Kosmos
“The Dona and I were invited here on Vykos’ behalf, he asked after you too but could not find you… which now makes sense.” – Sanchez
“Why would he invite you to Constantinople in the middle of a siege?” – Erasmus
“He has asked that we help him with a… familial matter. His grandsire, a powerful fiend called Gesu, has become a threat to him and his sire and he’d like us to… remove the threat so that his sire can be free to escape the city, an arrangement that I am less than happy with.” – Sanchez
“Gesu of the Obertus?” – Kosmos, incredulously
“That is the one yes.” – Sanchez
The Byzantine chuckled cynically.
“What?” – Sanchez
“That we would both be asked to destroy one of the most powerful forces of good in the city, as well as the Patriarch’s oldest and most loyal disciples only to be visited by the Patriarch himself on the same night… it is amusing in a morbid way.”
“The Patriarch?” – Erasmus
“Yes, the angel in glass. That was Michael, the Patriarch of the Queen of Cities.” – Kosmos
Erasmus wasn’t used to hearing the Byzantine speak reverently.
“You were asked to destroy him as well?” – Sanchez
“Yes, by Narses childe Alfonzo.” – Kosmos
It was Erasmus’ turn to laugh as Sanchez began to eye the Michaelite
“I was contacted by Vykos’ sire, Symeon, he warned me that Vykos had hired someone to destroy Gesu, I just didn’t expect it to be you.” – Erasmus
As the knight spoke Sanchez searched Kosmos’ aura, he needed to know if he had some ulterior motive to telling him about Gesu. What he saw terrified him. As with all of the damned he knew that the aura would be dim but what he didn’t expect was the long twisted black cracks throughout it. Beyond that horrific addition his aura showed that he was being honest if a little mad.
Shaking off the revelation he and the others shared all the information they had and came to the same conclusion.
“We have to save Gesu, and we should do so before our compatriots compare notes.
15th of April, 1204, 11:32pm
The Monastery of St. John the Studious
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
Teresa and Vendramino lost the thug somewhere in the Exokionion streets. Even though the Necromancer had once lived in the city, he’d never been in this particular district and they were quickly beyond their depth.
Now they were standing before the Monastery of St. John the Studious where they were sure they would have found their allies but they found no trace of them. As they’d wandered the streets the two had begun to talk, comparing notes on the destruction of the Gesu and realizing, despite the promises of compensation they agreed that something wasn’t right about the scenario and they wanted to confer with the others before proceeding.
“They must be inside already.” – Vendramino
“Agreed.” – Teresa
The Queen turned and knocked upon the great doors of the monastery. They’d been warned that no one would be allowed to enter without Gesu’s express permission. After a few moments they heard the sound of someone on the other side and then the door opened tentatively. A young eastern-orthodox monk, wearing a cassock, peeked out of the darkness.
“I am sorry, but we are not admitting visitors at this time.” – young monk
“Hear us out.” – Teresa looked the boy in the eye and watched them darken as her words bound him.
“We must speak with Gesu who is expecting us, it is of the utmost importance and time is of the essence.” – Teresa
The monk’s posture seemed to change and his eyes grew wider as she spoke.
“Please, follow me, we haven’t much time!” – the monk ushered them inside and was careful to see if they’d been followed.
Once they were inside the monk turned to them.
“It’s good that you came, the riots have the entire monastery terrified, I’ll take you to Gesu myself.” – the monk, leading them through the twisted halls.
Though Teresa had spent decades in the presence of the Cainite Heresy while Vendramino had been raised by an inbred family of death-worshipers, neither had ever seen anything so perverse as the iconography that was etched into every wall, tapestry, and piece of furniture in the monastery. The monks who wandered about the corridors were each marred in some horrific fashion by their quest to achieve some great understanding.
Though it was outside either of the vampires’ sphere of study Teresa was able to decipher the monastery’s symbolism. It seemed that the Obertus believed that they could tap into what they referred to as the “Divinity Within”. That God rested within the soul and could be conjured forth through meditation and prayer.
The two crossed paths with many monks who did not notice them as they navigated the corridors, but it was a short while before they encountered another vampire. It was dressed in the Eastern Orthodox fashion, just as their guide, but its head had two distinct faces upon it, each facing just slightly off of the bodies center. They knew that the dead kept havens here and were not so surprised by the vampire’s presence, but its visage was enough to leave the Dona unnerved, but he was only the first. They came across another creature, this one naked, which had skittered arms that had been bifurcated at the elbow, each ending two pairs of malformed hands with only two fingers, one large pad-like hoof and one smaller more human finger. Its legs and been fused and warped into a tail, its feet had been molded into a pair of bony scythes. Others were hung from the ceiling in man-sized bird cages. One of the hanging monks seemed to reach out with horrifically long limbs that lacked any sort of bone structure while another was in the midst of Frenzy with a second head pressing against the skin of his back. Its gnashing teeth shredding his flesh while the man himself pounded against the massive bars.
“Huh.” – Vendramino
Teresa turned to see her ally looking up thoughtfully at the caged creature, the way she might look at a clumsily successful chess gambit, with scornful admiration.
Finally after making their way through the menagerie of horrors they found themselves at the inner chapel, where their companions awaited.
“Hail.” – Vendramino
Erasmus and Kosmos both turned, a look of confusion imprinted upon their faces.
“You waited for us?” – Teresa, pleasantly surprised
“No, we’ve only just arrived.” – Kosmos, muttered
“We were a bit…” – Erasmus, stammered
“We got lost.” – Sanchez finished.
Erasmus turned back to the door sheepishly. Vendramino could feel Teresa smirk.
“I’m sorry if my instructions were unclear, sirs, please allow me to get the door for you. It’s the least I could do.” – The monk
The monk held the door to the antechamber so that the coterie might enter.
“I’ll leave you now. Father Gesu waits within the chapel itself. He is most wise and I hope you know the honor being shown you by being given an audience with him.” – The monk, closing the door.
Sanchez couldn’t help but feel like he was being locked into a cage with a poorly fed and ill tempered dog. Despite the fact that they were only in the chapel’s antechamber he could feel the power of the thing on the other side of the inner chamber’s doors. The beast was scratching to get away; he looked to his allies and saw the same look on all of their faces.
It was Kosmos who finally gained the nerve to open the doors, throwing them open with a flourish. Compared to the frightfully beautiful monastery the chapel was somber in its grandeur. The floor was made of large stone tiles, each embossed with one heretical image or another. Upon the altar stood a man who wore loose fitting robes that conflicted with the hallowed setting. His face was young and beatific if plain. Erasmus saw the familial resemblance to Symeon immediately, this one was thinner, he looked much less vital, but it was still there.
Though the man understood what he was looking at the beast knew only the raw terror of standing before a creature of such ancient blood. It clawed at the back of his mind, begging him to flee.
The ancient vampire looked over the coterie with a look of annoyed curiosity.
“Gesu, we’ve come to beg you to come with us at the behest of your brother, Symeon.” – Erasmus, taking charge of the situation
The monk smiled weakly at hearing his brother’s name.
“Dear Symeon, he is a good man, my brother. But he is mistaken in his belief that my life matters to the dream. He is naïve, in his way. No, I shall stay here, where I am needed.” – Gesu
“Lord Gesu, please, come with us. There are those in the city now that know of the Obertus and they do not fear the destruction of a church.” – Kosmos
“Kyrillos, Childe of Gregorius, ever loyal to Michael and his Dream, hear me. Do not be afraid. Do not worry. I am safe here in my monastery and shall stay here as long as I am needed.” – Gesu
“What does he mean, ‘needed’?” – Vendramino whispered to Teresa, who shrugged
“Better question: who’s Kyrillos?” – Sanchez interjected
“You must go now, while my life matters little to the fate of the Dream, yours are paramount to its survival. Go and leave this place while you can.” – Gesu, serenely
An explosion rocked the chapel. It was distant but not nearly distant enough. Erasmus drew his bow and notched it so quickly that it seemed to appear in his hands as he kicked the door open and rushed out of the chapel. He heard the sound of men shouting and frenzied vampires roaring and over the din he heard a single voice, like a clarion call. It was a deep voice, filled with religious zeal. It was a voice he knew well.
“Gauthier.” – Erasmus, lowering his bow and returning to the chapel
“He’s here?” – Kosmos, his keen ears hearing the knight’s whisper
Erasmus didn’t like the Byzantine’s tone.
“He is and we need to go.” – Erasmus
Gesu calmly closed the chapel doors.
“Please, if you would kindly exit through the back of the chapel, there is a tile of black stone behind the altar. Move it and you will find a passage out through a cistern. Please protect yourselves, protect the Dream.” – Gesu
Sanchez and the others darted to the back of the chapel even as the smell of smoke and burnt flesh wafted in. Sanchez found and moved the stone with ease. The Architect looked up and was startled to find one of his allies missing.
“Where is Vendramino?” – Sanchez
“He said something about books.” – Teresa, slipping into the tunnel
Erasmus slipped in just behind her.
“Come on Kosmos!” – Sanchez, diving in himself
“I’m coming! Master please, let me take you with me.” – Kosmos
Gesu was momentarily frustrated with the Michaelite before the meaning of his words dawned on him.
“I could not let you make that sacrifice, Kyrillos. My fate is set. Go.” – Gesu, gesturing again for the Byzantine to flee.
“I shall retrieve your companion and ensure that he follows.” – Gesu
Vendramino had rushed out into the monastery, desperate to find the library, to save it from the flames, but they were too much, even for him. He staggered back to the chapel as he heard the mortals chasing behind him, sending his slave to delay them while he reached safety. When he slipped into the passage he heard the capstone set back in place by Gesu, who he heard whispering a prayer which he unconsciously began to recite himself.
Only after his eyes adjusted to the darkness did the necromancer realize that he had no idea where his allies were.
16th of April, 1204, 2:56am
The Cistern of Mokius
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
They had been trudging through the damp stone tunnel for hours but had finally found themselves within a great Cistern that Kosmos recognised as the Cistern of Mokius, a place that had been used by the dead as a meeting place for centuries.
“I know where we are, this way, follow me.” – Kosmos
He led them to a small fissure in a wall, which was upon further inspection just large enough for each of them to squeeze through. On the other end of the crack was a narrow passage way that first led down and then back up and around a bend, causing Teresa to gain a sense that they were doubling back.
She was about to complain that they were lost when the others stopped dead in their tracks. She listened closely and soon realized why.
They weren’t alone.
The voices were coming from below; there was a small crevice along the left wall of the tunnel. Erasmus and the others dropped down twelve feet, landing on solid rock. The fall would have broken their bones should they have been mortal.
There was a shallow curve in the wall up ahead and beyond that a small ridge that they could hide behind.
Teresa pulled the shadows close, allowing them to better hide themselves.
On the other side of the rocky wall were the sounds and signs of heavy labor performed by mortals. Heavy breathing, the smell of sweat. But there were also voices. Crisp and unhindered by strain. These voices counted three.
“Will there be time?” asked one, the crisp voice of the Eastern European nobility; it was both husky and feminine.
“There will be if you spoke less Natalya.” – This voice was deeper and there was a thickness to the consonants that Sanchez recognized as French
The girl said something in Russian, it wasn’t polite.
“Could the two of you at least work as you speak. We have little time and a great deal of work to do before the sun rises.” – This third voice was a deep gravely whisper that made the Toreador’s skin crawl.
“Yes, Malachite.” – the two responded as one.
His curiosity overtaking him, Sanchez found himself peeking into the chamber.
What he saw would have brought Vendramino to his knees.
There were a dozen men and women working desperately to box up what looked like hundreds of codices, scrolls, tombs and tablets into crates.
They were looking upon the fabled Library of the Forgotten.
He was also looking upon three vampires. The first voice, Natalya, belonged to a woman in her early to mid twenties, she was fair and her eyes were a pale green. The second voice belonged to a squat man who stood with feral confidence, his ears were sharply pointed and tufted at the ends.
The most surprising of all was the revelation of the third member of the conversation, the one they called Malachite. He was tall and reedy, stooping only slightly as if his limbs were almost too heavy to lift. Like his mentor, Zelios, Malachite seemed to be made up of some dark stone, though unlike Zelios’ chiseled features, this creature’s flesh was stretched taught and dry to the point of cracking whenever he made an expression or even spoke. His bottom jaw seemed overdeveloped, with a two competing rows of excruciatingly sharp fangs gnashed together whenever he closed his apparently lipless mouth. His nose was razor-sharp and his lidless, dull eyes seemed to bore through Sanchez as he looked upon him.
The horror of what he saw was too much for the Artisan and his beast was able to loose itself from its leash and immediately tried to flee.
Teresa caught her ally in her vice-like grip, holding him firm while he composed himself.
When they looked back to find the man and woman standing ready to fight, she with a sword, he with a set of wicked black talons that seemed sharp enough to rend even Erasmus’ hard flesh.
“Explain yourselves, Latins!” – The Feral man
“We were sent here by Gesu after the Crusaders breached the walls of St. John’s.” – Kosmos, seemingly offended by the implication that he might be a Latin.
“Thomas, hold! I am Malachite of Nosferatu, these are my compatriots, Natalia Svyatoslav and the Baron Thomas Feroux. How is it that you had an audience with Lord Gesu?” – Malachite
“We were sent by Symeon to save his brother from an assassination attempt.” – Erasmus, interjecting
“And did you succeed.” – Malachite
Erasmus turned away.
“We do not know his fate, or that of our friend.” – Sanchez
Those dull lidless eyes seemed to darken at the news.
“All is not lost. We are here to collect and relocate as much of the Library as possible so that the Dream my still be secured. Come and join us that we might succeed where you have failed.” – Malachite, his bitter words lacking the malice Erasmus felt they deserved.
Together they worked at boxing and transporting the crates down the dark maze of tunnels. Sanchez showed the same focus he had a year before in Toth, seeming to do the work of five men even as they all spoke of the Dream and of Michael himself. Malachite explained how he and the other Nosferatu would soon be leaving the City, hoping that by transplanting the Library somewhere abroad he my keep the dream safe. Natalya hopes that should she return to Russia she might also bring the Dream with her. The Baron claims that he will not leave the city that bore the Dream and that he will fight with sword and fang and claw until he is dead or the Dream’s birthplace is secure.
When they looked to the others Erasmus told how he believed that the Idea of the Damned creating something both good and lasting was something worth fighting for. He would stand by the Baron’s side here in Constantinople and would also shepherd his own Domain to try and fulfill those lofty goals by offering any refugees sanctuary in Kronstadt. Kosmos, a Michaelite to the core, vowed to fight to save the city from the rapacity of the crusades using every tool at his disposal, while Sanchez declared that he would embody the Dream through the creation of his Tower and other wonders throughout the world. Teresa was strangely quiet, giving platitudes to using her domain to shelter refugees.
As dawn approached, Natalya and the Baron offered to grant them shelter and realizing that not even Kosmos was sure where they were they accepted gladly.
16th of April, 1204, 3:22am
Somewhere Beneath the City
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Lady Alexia Theusa sat upon her stone throne surrounded by her slumbering childer within the tomb she’d built so long ago. Each of childer had once been an Emperor of Byzantium, and each had been embraced upon their deathbed. She and her sire, Byzar, had built this place so long ago as a place of quiet solitude, hidden away from violence and madness of the nightly existence of the Damned. The chamber was massive, capable of storing thousands of books, or dozens of bodies and had been crafted from solid granite. Its entrance was hidden beneath a cistern, accessible by only those who knew of its existence.
It was a perfect place to hide from the violence that had engulfed the city above and the Lady had chosen now as a good a time as any to enter the second death once again. She’d come here last night and had begun the preparations needed. She’d brought two of her most loyal ghouls, the first was to carry out her wishes once she was lost, and the second was to act as a feeding vessel until she was properly prepared. She’d spent her first night anointing each of her staked childer with oils and performing an ancient ritual that would allow her to rise should any harm come to them. She also set out preparations for her servants; as well procure a way for them to gain access to her precious vitae without destroying her. Tonight she rose, ready to put the final touches at sealing her Lair through both magical and mundane means only to find that both of her servants had been slain in her day sleep.
She learned only too late that she’d been followed to the crypt by a viper in sheep’s clothing. The man who stood before her now, Markus Musa of the Giovanni, a fellow Cappadocian who was here in the city ostensibly as an ally and fellow scholar of the Dark Arts had shadowed her here and laid in wait until she slumbered. He brought with him unwholesome servants in the form of specters and shades who he used to subdue her own men.
Now as she sat in silent horror the squat and swarthy vampire was explaining to her why he was committing these most foul acts; he held the head of one of her eldest childer as one might hold a melon as he spoke, explaining that his family had great plans for the Clan and that this was just the first step on some dark path that seemed incomprehensible to her. And then he drank deep from her beloved, devouring the creature’s soul and leaving him behind as he crumbled to ash.
That was the third of her Children to fall to this man’s unholy hunger. The constant and repetitive abominable acts had begun to take its toll, even as he stole the unnatural power from their heart’s blood. Throughout this horrifically interminable ordeal the one solace was that the bastard would be destroyed by his own hubris.
The Lady began to shift leftward on the throne; the massive wooden pylon that had been thrust through her breast was weighing her body down. Before she slip fully from it though the young Markus was on her and she was certain that her time had finally come.
“Now, now, my lady, we cannot have you falling and soiling those lovely clothes.” – Markus
He reached out and set her right on her chair, his hands were incredibly powerful as he lifted her, more so then they had been just moments before.
“Your experiment, to Embrace each Byzantine Emperor after their death, to leave them suspended in torpor until such time as you chose to release them. It was a brilliant if mad plan and I cannot thank you enough for your great works.” – Markus chortled.
There was the sound of exertion coming from beyond the tomb’s entrance. Markus grew quiet and still, the blood of her childer had granted him great powers of perception and he was using those powers now.
From beyond the shadows at the back of the tomb shuffled an ancient and bent figure. He wore simple robes of black, and hobbled on a cane. Her Beast, though weakened by the weight of the stake rose up in her blood. The old man was dead, like her but weak, his blood was so thin.
Markus turned on the elderly creature and though she couldn’t see his face she could feel his eyes on the old fool and in that moment she actually felt bad for the vampire.
Markus raised his arms toward the newcomer.
“Vendramino, is that you?” – Markus
The Lady’s hopes were dashed, she knew of Markus’ childe though she’d never met the hoary old black marketer.
“Uncle?” – The old man
“What are you doing here, my boy?” – Markus
The Diablerist opened his arms wide and embraced his childe.
“I have been following the Crusaders on their quest to sack all of Christendom and they of course have come to the Queen of Cities, allowing me to increase my influence and add to the Family’s coffers…” – Vendramino
The old man looked past his sire and right at Alexia.
“What’s going on, Uncle?” – Vendramino
“I am on a sacred mission to ensure the family’s future, my dear nephew. These gravediggers are a threat to our existence and Augustus himself as foreseen this and has asked that I destroy them and reclaim their blood for the family.” – Markus
The old man’s face was cast in shadow as he thought through his master’s words.
“It is taxing work however and I feel that your presence could be of benefit to my mission. Would you help me?” – Markus
The old man’s eyes were moving over the remaining few corpses.
“Perhaps, if it will help the Family.” – Vendramino
He was looking right at Alexia, as his sire took yet another of her childer into his arms.
“Then by all means, have your pick.” – Markus, gesturing to the other corpses before burying his teeth into the husk of a vampire.
The old man moved forward with purpose, no longer hobbling or relying on his cane. Soon he was standing before the Lady Theusa.
She wanted to cringe as his crooked claw of a hand caressed her face. He gently turned her head to the right and pulled back her hair to reveal her neck. Though she appeared delicate she was in fact ancient and her skin was powerfully dense, able to withstand even the sun for a time but she was suddenly terrified that it wouldn’t be enough.
“You have my gratitude.” – He whispered into her ear, his breath smelling of blood and death.
When he bit into her shoulder she found herself in agony. She could feel his draining every last drop of vitae from her body and she could do nothing to stop him. When the last of the blood was gone he continued to drink and she felt something inside her come loose. He was drinking her Heart’s Blood, the blood that was at the core of her being, her Beast, her Soul was in that blood and it was numbing as he drew it from her.
She resisted. She fought with and for her very soul, she battled the ghastly creature with everything she had, knowing that there would be no surviving the ordeal one way or another, but that at least she could have her soul.
It went on for an eternity, her battle with the withered soul of the elderly neonate whose twisted soul was little more than a guttering green flame nearly engulfed by the necrotic thing he called a Beast.
Her soul was strong, and backed by centuries of experience and she was succeeding in the clash of wills and then something changed. Somehow despite his weakness he began to overcome the ancient vampire. He drank deeper, sucking harder and harder, tearing at her soul until it was in ribbons. Until everything grew numb and quiet and as that numbing pain at the core of her being began to grow quiet she felt the heat of that sickly green flame flare to life and consume her whole.
The flame seared her until nothing remained but death and pain and if she were lucky, her own annihilation.
But something told her that she wasn’t going to be lucky…
16th of April, 1204, 9:24pm
Somewhere in Constantinople
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
They’d spent their day sleep in the shared haven of Natalya and the Baron. When they arose they thanked their hosts and were preparing to leave when a messenger arrived announcing a ball being thrown by the Bishop Alfonzo of Venice to be thrown in his chambers to celebrate his immanent ascension to princedom. The invitation extended to all Cainites within the city, local and foreign alike.
Teresa and Sanchez returned to Anna Sgorina’s haven where they could change into more appropriate attire for the festivities. Kosmos returned to his haven as well, leaving Erasmus to his own devices.
Now though, Sanchez, Erasmus and Teresa had congregated at the gates to the Latin Quarter, and Kosmos was nowhere to be seen. The Spaniards were dressed in their finest, Teresa in silk and satin, Sanchez in fine if functional clothes. Erasmus was decked out in formal knight’s attire.
“Did anyone here word of Vendramino?” – Teresa
No one could meet her eye; they were all thinking the same thing. The Necromancer was dead. He had to be. They all saw him rush back into the fire. He was a hard bastard to kill but no Cainite could survive that.
“We need to move.” – Erasmus, finally
They made their way through the city streets as they burned around them, dressed as unabashed Latins. Teresa was worried that they might be mobbed by the native Byzantines.
Two large looking men came forward, smelling drunk and looking dangerous. Teresa spoiled for a fight.
“Hagios Basileus Marchios!” – The drunks
“Holy Emperor, the Marquis.” – Erasmus translated
It dawned on them that the civilians seemed to not care much that they were foreign invaders.
“They’ve been through this before, they’ve grown used to conquerors and usurpers.” – Teresa
It wasn’t too long before they realized that they’re good and lost in a city none of them had ever been to.
16th of April, 1204, 10:09pm
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
Vendramino stood before the Hagia Sophia in angry contemplation. He’d tried entering three separate times and each time found himself barred by some unknown force. His blood was still singing from his act of Diablerie the night before. His body seemed colder, denser, as if his blood had not just thickened but somehow grown even more resistant to the banes of his existent. But if that were true why was it that he couldn’t bring himself to open the door of the damned cathedral?
“There must be something I’m missing here. There must be something that happened last night. There must be…” – Vendramino
The Giovanni turned and saw his allies, looks of exasperated relief etched upon their faces.
“We thought you were dead.” – Teresa
“We’re all dead, Dona.” – Vendramino
The joke was almost as terrifying as his presence there. Teresa and the others laughed in spite of themselves.
The mirth was short lived however, as the doors to the great cathedral burst open with the sounds of crashing wood and shouting men pouring out of the over-lit chapel. The doors had been forced open by a falling priest, who clutched a jewel encrusted tome to his chest even as he fell upon the stone steps.
Five soldiers followed after him, each wielding a club and a crusader’s cross. Not a knight among them. One lifts his club to drop it down upon the priest’s head when Sanchez lets fly a loose stone at the man’s head. Teresa watches as they turn their attention to the coterie.
It was Erasmus who stepped forward, revealing himself as he strode forward. The fight left each of them, at least for the moment.
“How dare you betray the oaths you made before God? You who swore to never raise a hand to a Christian, prepared to slay a man of the cloth? Pray that God’s unyielding mercy protects the lot of you from my wrath!” – Erasmus voice was calm while his rage was etched into his features, his unblinking eyes flashed with inhuman fury.
Teresa moved to check on the priest while Vendramino followed, his eyes set upon the book clutched to the mortal’s chest. Even as the soldiers left in shame the weeping priest told them of the defilement of the Cathedral. Erasmus visibly shook with rage even as Vendramino attempted to talk the priest into giving him the book.
Erasmus and Sanchez, both having had enough of the Necromancer’s pandering, dragged him off of the holy man.
Erasmus gave the priest an address explaining that he would be able to find good men there that would not let him come to any more harm.
They could still hear the looting from within the church. Erasmus looked to Sanchez and saw that their thoughts were the same.
“This needs to end.” – Erasmus, to his friend.
The Knight and the Spaniard leapt up the steps of the grand church, but as Erasmus reached for the door his beast recoiled. He was suddenly struck with a deep and terrible certainty that he was not meant to enter the cathedral. He looked to Sanchez and saw a pained expression on his ally’s face. He too felt the sense of doom surrounding the place.
“You wanna stop?” – Sanchez, his voice shaken but resolute.
“No.” – Erasmus, pulling open the great doors.
The two vampires steeled themselves and entered the hallowed halls of the Hagia Sophia, their beasts scratching at their blood to escape.
The inner chambers were well lit, but appeared to be devoid of any looters. It actually took a bit of searching before they discovered anybody. The man they found was a large brute of a man, dressed in the tabard of the crusades with the markings of a Captain. In his right hand he held a blade and in his left a large sack full of jingling trinkets and what sounded like broken glass.
Erasmus threw back his hood revealing his holy visage to the wretched thief who dared call himself a man of God.
“How Dare you?” – Erasmus
The man stepped forward, his twisted grin faltering as he looked upon the undead knight. The Captain dropped his guard as he turned to fully face the pair of vampires. As he first caught sight of Sanchez the Spaniard leapt at the plunderer. Before Erasmus could even attempt to cry out for his friend to stop the hot headed vampire was on the warrior, wailing on him about his head and shoulders.
The captain panicked and slammed the Spaniard with his bag of loot, something within splintered from the impact, Sanchez was undeterred. Remembering he had a sword in his hand the crusader slammed its blade into the vampire’s chest.
Sanchez’s eyes went wide from the shock of the blow. The blade pierced all the way through to the back of his tunic. He stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do. His beast wanted him to tear the bastard apart for the presumption of the killing blow. The knowledge of what the beast wanted was all that it took for him to push the urge down into the bottom of his gut and as he laughed in his head he gasped a rattling breath and then collapsed. Dead as far as the captain knew.
“You dare spill Christian blood in the house of our Lord?” – Erasmus was as quick on his feet as the Toreador.
“I-he attacked me. I was protecting myself.” – The Captain, realization of his act dawning on him.
“Leave this place! Take your men and leave this house of God and don’t look back and pray that He is feeling merciful.” – Erasmus
Between the power of the Knight’s blood and the weight of a Christian death on his head, the Captain needed no more convincing and called for his men to depart, while he himself sobbed. The men left hastily, leaving their ‘treasures’ behind, more than one grumbled about assaulting Erasmus, after all he was alone, but they all left one by one as their commander continued to weep.
After they’d left Erasmus reached out with his senses and noted that they were alone. He let out an all too human sigh of relief.
“You can get up now, Sanchez.” – Erasmus
He looked around at the grandeur of the cathedral and was amazed by the beauty. After a moment of basking in its glory he looked back down at his friend.
“Come on, Sie Spanisch Narr.” – Erasmus
His friend laid there with his chest still skewered by the sword of the captain. Erasmus nudged the Toreador with no effect. At some point the fool had caught a glimpse of the cathedral’s beauty because the once dead-looking vampire’s eyes were focused upon the ceiling, slowly moving over the intricate patterns etched into it.
Erasmus kicked the Spaniard, Hard.
Sanchez was on his feet so quickly that Erasmus couldn’t follow the movement.
“What was that?” – Sanchez
“I was going to ask you the same question.”
Teresa stood near her friend as he mourned the loss of the tome. They watched the eight men stumble out of the cathedral, one of them bearing the weight of what looked like some sort of commanding officer who was bemoaning some great horror that had befallen him.
At first she was amused by their predicament but then, after a moment, she realized that they had come out in one piece and that her allies had yet to reveal themselves.
After a full minute she actually began to worry. After two she was trying to summon up the nerve to enter the holy ground and search them out. After all the crusaders were unharmed and though Erasmus was an accomplished warrior he may have been completely powerless on holy ground. What if his incredible resilience had finally failed him? What if Sanchez wasn’t fast enough?
The doors to the Cathedral opened then.
“What do you mean ‘an ambush’? How can you call it an ambush when you waited until he saw you?” – Erasmus, honestly perplexed
“… If you don’t get it, I’m not explaining it.” – Sanchez, trying to save face.
The two were laughing, even as Sanchez fingered the hole in his tunic.
“Damn it I liked this one.” – The Spaniard laughed
Though he wouldn’t admit it even to himself Vendramino was grateful that his allies had survived unharmed. He unconsciously let slip a small smile at seeing them.
16th of April, 1204, 11:34pm
Somewhere in Constantinople
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
After they left the church it didn’t take them long to find themselves completely lost. Their guide, Vendramino, had done little to familiarize himself with the city beyond the Latin Quarter and now so far from any familiar landmark beyond the grand cathedral he was at a loss when it came to finding his bearings.
“Maybe he’s some sort of high functioning idiot.” – Sanchez, to Teresa in Spanish
“He’s not an idiot.” – Teresa
“He reached into a fire.” – Sanchez
She nodded in quiet consent, mostly because of the subject matter as it seemed in poor taste to joke about fire when they stood in a city that was literally burning down around them.
Just since they’d found their way from the church a dozen new fires had erupted into being. Her inner darkness was writhing in ice cold terror; begging her to run from the city and never look back.
She pushed the fear down into the dark hole where her heart had once been.
She looked to Erasmus who was, as usual, quietly scanning the streets for trouble. Along with his knight’s clothing he wore a full complement of gear and weaponry, including his bow and quiver. The bow was currently in his left hand. His thumb caressed the leather of its grip lovingly, as if he were comforting himself, yet another human tick that was not there even a year ago, another sign that he was no longer his own master. Theresa’s lip curled in disgust, completely oblivious to the inherent hypocrisy of the gesture.
Vendramino was picking up speed, a sign that perhaps he was beginning to recognize their location.
“Do you hear that?” – Vendramino
“What? The arguing? What of it.” – Sanchez
“No, I hear it too. They’re Vampires.” – Erasmus
And it was, two of them from the sound of it. One older, the other sounded young but confident.
“You cannot deny Basilius’ complicity in what has happened here Theodorus! Anna Komena -” – The younger voice
“Ah, yes, your beloved Lady Komena! Can we not get past the constant partisan attacks even in this crisis, Alexander? Or is your anti-Latin zeal so great that you would accuse even me of treason against the Dream?” – Theodorus
As the two argued Erasmus slipped into the shadows to get a better look at who was talking. The elder looking of the two was a stately Byzantine of advanced years. He was dressed modestly but his clothes were finely made. The younger one, Alexander he was called, looked much like the supposed Latins he so despised. His beast reacted in fear at the sight of them but he was able to keep it in check, as did his friends who were now with him in the darkness.
He recognized the names Anna Komena and Basilius as both being Ventrue elders of Constantinople, vampires he’d been warned to watch for. Despite what Alexander said, Basilius was no great ally of the West and Erasmus had been warned to keep a wide berth if possible.
“You there!” – Theodorus called out, startling the hidden Ventrue.
He was sure he’d been found and prepared to run. He had no quarrel with these two but the state of the city was tense and he didn’t know what either of them was capable of. All he knew was that they were old and they were Ventrue, and that was enough to be wary of them.
“Yes, Kosmos, come tell us your insights after living with the western hordes.” – Alexander, derisively
Erasmus and the others craned their necks to better see their missing ally. Erasmus could feel the shadows grow denser and colder as they dimmed, wrapping them in a cocoon of chilly darkness. He looked over his shoulder to find Teresa looking back at him with empty black eyes. A chill arched up his back, as it always did when she used her diabolic powers.
“What sort of argument are we having, sirs?” – Kosmos
“We’d like your opinion as to who is to blame for this mess, master Kosmos.” – Theodorus
“I would think it obvious that it is the Latins who are to blame for the destruction being wrought.” – Kosmos, an explosion in the distance seeming to punctuate his opinion for him
“But don’t you think that maybe it was Basilius and his softness towards outsiders that made this outcome all the easier?” – Alexander, his eyes raking over Kosmos predatorily
Kosmos collected his thoughts before he responded. He argued without passion but with great thought and conviction. In the end it seemed enough to sway Alexander enough to end the tension between the two patricians.
“Well said, Cyril.” – Theodorus
“Yes, well spoken Michaelite. There is wisdom in your words, wisdom no doubt gained through your time with the Latin bastards.” – Alexander
“In any case, could the two of you point the way to Alfonzo’s feast? It seems my time with the Latins did not give me knowledge of their quarter within the city.” – Kosmos, subtly turning his head to acknowledge his hidden friends.
“I’ll be damned” – Sanchez, impossibly quiet
Erasmus nodded in thanks to his crafty Byzantine ally as the Merchant shuffled passed the two Ventrue and on toward the blood feast. Even before they were out of earshot the two were again at each other’s throats. Erasmus worried at the implications for his Clan and the city.
The others slipped through one alley and then another to intersect with their friend who stood waiting for them.
“I’m so glad we were finally able to find one another.” – Kosmos, laughing as he threw his arms around Erasmus, giving the taller man a great bear hug
“At least we got directions. I’m tired of wandering these burning streets.” – Erasmus, straightening his tabard and pulling his hood up to cover his head once more.
They set out once again for the feast only to face a massive explosion as a building not a block away was destroyed by a great gout of fire.
Sanchez lost control and attempted to flee, but Teresa, herself horribly shaken, grabbed him and held him close long enough for him to begin to regain his composure.
“Thank you my lady, I do not believe I’d be able to find you all again had I been able to run.” – Sanchez, embarrassed by his own outburst.
They laughed awkwardly only to be surprised by yet another explosion. This one was too much for the Lasombra who threw Sanchez back and attempted to flee. Sanchez was on his feet and waiting for her at the entrance to the alley she was heading for and ready to grab her. However he had not accounted for her incredible strength and she was able to bat him aside with a quick flick of her wrist, sending him into the closest wall.
In seconds she was flitting down the alley but found herself trapped there. Erasmus was sure she’d try to leap onto the wall, as he’d watched her do in Toth, but instead she crouched down into the darkness which seemed to grow darker and darker until even his preternatural vision could no longer see.
Erasmus pulled back his hood, revealed his inspiring aura to her and beckoned for her to overcome her Beast. Slowly he coaxed her to step out of the darkness, which had once again lightened to a more natural shade, allowing him to see her bared fangs and black eyes. Her skin was three shades lighter than he was used to seeing and he could see the network of her black veins through them, but even as she was engulfed in the Frenzy she kept her graceful movements, as if the Beast within her heart had begun to transform her into more fully into a shadow.
“I am here, Erasmus. I am… I am in control.” – Teresa, her voice eerily calm and emotionless
The two of them stepped back onto the street to find Sanchez picking himself up off the ground. Erasmus was sure that the Spaniard had to be hungry.
“Let’s get out of-” – Vendramino was cut off by yet another explosion, this one directly in front of him. It seemed to be his turn to lose control over his own Beast. His flesh went cold. His eyes went dead. It took the others a moment to realize anything was wrong. At first they assumed that he was simply startled, until he shouldered past Kosmos to get away. Teresa reacted quickly, grabbing the shambling merchant; he tried to throw her off but couldn’t. He turned toward her and bared his fangs, a raspy growl forming in his throat.
“Vendramino, your books, they are in the fire. Only you can save them.” – Erasmus
“Really?” – Sanchez
The frenzied vampire roared at the knight, evidently it agreed with Sanchez’s assessment.
Erasmus stood down, embarrassed.
Teresa continued to hold the Cappadocian back, easily.
Kosmos strode forward and put a hand on either side of the vampire’s head
“What are you doing?” – Teresa
“If I succeed we will not need to fear Vendramino’s Beast… or experiments… for years.” – Kosmos, from there he began to whisper… something to Vendramino
The Beast’s dead eyes went wide for a moment and then he relaxed.
“What did you do?” – Sanchez
“I took away his fear.” – Kosmos
“Can you fix him?” – Teresa
“Does he have to?” – Sanchez
“I can.” – Kosmos
Suddenly Vendramino shuddered and shrieked as he came to his senses.
“What happened?” – Vendramino
“I saved you.” – Kosmos
Teresa let the old man go and he straightened his clothing.
More buildings exploded but they were able to keep themselves under control. Over the sounds of the myriad fires Sanchez heard chanting.
“Calomena! Calomena! Calomena!”
The Chanting was ahead of them and it was getting closer.
“Burn the Cainites! Destroy the abominations!” – a single dominate voice over the chanting din
The voice belonged to a figure holding a torch over his head as he rounded the building. Their beasts reacted to him and immediately they knew he was a vampire.
Whoever he was, he was young. His eyes were wild and his face had a cruelty that went beyond merely being undead.
Despite the fact that the vampire put all of their hackles up Kosmos, Sanchez and Vendramino chose to hide within the very alley that Teresa had hidden in only moments before. While the vampire himself was no threat, the torch-bearing mob was another story altogether.
Erasmus stood his ground and notched his bow, ready to take out as many of the marauders as he could before their fires took him.
To his pleasant surprise he realized that he was not standing alone. Teresa stood behind him, whispering something infernal to the shadows. The effects were immediate and apparent as the darkness surrounding the mob flooded in, snuffing the light from the air around them until all that remained was the dimly flickering flames themselves, floating ominously in the darkness.
Erasmus smirked at the mob’s sad fate and let loose an arrow into the darkness even his uncanny gaze couldn’t pierce. Unfortunately for the fools within he had long ago mastered his craft and heard the muffled cry of pain as the torch fell to the ground.
Teresa had no trouble seeing through the abyssal cloud and stared directly into the eyes of the whelp that was so obviously the source of all the chaos. Even across the expanse her dark will reached out to ensnare his own…
Something was wrong. He was smiling at her, as if he could see her despite the darkness that enveloped him. He was, he was looking at her and he was whispering something if only she could hear it… she was sure she…
Erasmus saw that the darkness was fading. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Teresa was in some sort of stupor. He notched his next arrow and aimed for the newly visible vampire’s heart. The arrow buried itself into the vampire’s heart, his smirk melted into a look of inert fear before the he collapsed, dead on the ground.
Teresa came out of her stupor to find Kosmos kneeling over her. He offered his hand to her and helped her stand, even as Erasmus slew yet another cultist.
Another of the Cultists landed on his back, Sanchez materializing where the man had been standing only a moment before.
Erasmus looked over to see where the last two had gone off to and found them on the ground at Kosmos’ feet, one of them jerking fitfully, his eyes rolled back in his head. The Byzantine looked at him and shrugged.
Kosmos stepped over the bodies and up to the corpse of the vampire.
“What should we do with him?” – Kosmos, turning to Erasmus and the others.
As he spoke Teresa flitted behind him, a lit torch in her hand. She knew what to do with the presumptuous little shit that had dared to touch her mind. Calmly she raised the torch over his body and let it fall.
The body erupted into a small inferno even as the Caitiff let out a horrific shriek. Kosmos and the others looked upon her in horror as she turned and walked away. She cared nothing for their dismay; her conscience was clear as she walked into the darkness.
Vendramino scuttled over to the body even as it burned and Erasmus was struck with the thought that the Grave Robber would attempt to devour the wretch’s soul even as it burned but instead the merchant drew a glass vial and scraped some soot into it. Afterward he skittered on all fours over to one of the corpses and bit viciously into it, drinking deeply.
Erasmus turned from the display in disgust and followed after the Lady.
Kosmos too was disgusted by the display and had to look away when the necromancer bit into one of those that Sanchez and he had deliberately spared. Their cries of anguish filled the night and when they finally died down Sanchez and Kosmos watched as the Necromancer began a slow chant over the bodies.
At first the Spaniard thought it a prayer but it soon became apparent that it was some dark ritual that neither wanted to comprehend.
17th of April, 1204, 12:02am
The Grand Bazaar
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
The five met again just beyond the city’s greatest market, now empty and burnt down around them. Both Kosmos and Vendramino stood in shock and awe at the carnage wrought by the Crusaders and the vultures that had followed them. They wandered the square solemnly. This was once their court, their home, and nothing of what they held sacred was left.
Nothing save a small shop, somehow safe from the fires that had taken its neighbors. Indeed the rioters and looters seemed to have consciously let the building be, allowing it to stand despite their rage.
“Why do you suppose they left it alone?” – Sanchez
“Perhaps it holds some local significance, to the locals.” – Erasmus, stating the obvious
Kosmos shook his head, furtively glancing around as if expecting another attack.
Vendramino seemed almost giddy with excitement.
“Not reverence, but fear. This, my friends, is the House of Lamps!”
17th of April, 1204, 12:10am
The Grand Bazaar
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
Vendramino slipped into the House of Lamps as silently as a ghost. The store was larger than it appeared on the outside and was filled with dozens if not hundreds of lamps of all shapes and sizes, each one containing a bright little flame. The lamps were crammed around three small aisles barely large enough to move through without touching the merchandise. The floors were covered in thick carpets that muted his footsteps. Great curtains hung from the walls and across the large open floor to help create the perception that the one large room was in fact many and gave the entire establishment an exotic eastern feel. Despite the many sources of light however, the entire establishment seemed shrouded in a pall of darkness and no vender was readily visible as he stepped cautiously around the lanterns.
“The House of Lamps is well known among the people of Constantinople. According to the old stories the proprietor is a devil worshipper and a witch who performs black magic. They say that if it is evil and it is in the city, that the House of Lamps has its hands in it.” – Kosmos, to the others as they waited for Vendramino to return.
“Welcome to my humble shop, Vendramino of the Giovanni. How may I be of assistance?” – A voice behind Vendramino
Vendramino turned towards the voice to find a woman who appeared to be in the middle of her years, but for her white hair and her eyes, which spoke of unspeakable wisdom.
“I am Layla Madera.” – she said, answering his unasked question.
“You seem to know who I am so my introduction would be pointless.” – Vendramino, at a loss for words
“Indeed they would, Vampire.” – Madera, matter-of-factly
Vendramino meant to respond but was distracted by the sense that he was being watched by… something else, something Evil.
He turned and looked all around him but found nothing. He was sure they were alone, he and this woman who seemed at once both incredibly powerful and utterly terrified. But when he looked back to the shopkeeper he found his own blurred reflection over her shoulder and behind the unnatural smudge he saw her.
Her skin was as black as sackcloth and seemed to blur at the edges as if it were melting into the shadows in which she stood. Her hair was hidden under the hooded cloak she wore. Her eyes were an unnatural crimson that seemed to glow in the darkness. The features that made up her face were each so finely crafted that he would have described her as preternaturally beautiful in spite of her char-black skin.
Vendramino blinked and in that instant she vanished only to reappear next to him. She was small, even next to his bent form, but she had an aura of horrible rage and furious wisdom. Up close he could see that her red eyes were bloodshot and horrible. The evil poured off of her in waves.
Outside the shop Kosmos quit speaking midsentence. Erasmus and Sanchez felt it too: something inside the House of Lamps was very, very wrong.
The woman reached out and took Vendramino’s face in her tiny hands, her grip shockingly strong.
“You’ve seen him, haven’t you? Finally he stirs. Even he cannot sit idly by while his precious Dream dies.” – The black woman
She looked at him with her monstrous eyes and then smiled.
“He’s no good you know. We thought he was but he isn’t. I was his favorite, and he called me Ma-ri-ah. He made me feel love, he made all of us feel love.” – Ma-ri-ah
She squeezed the necromancer’s face tighter as she spoke; her unholy grip was beginning to put stress upon his skull as she continued.
“He left us all to die when the Akkadians came, even me, his ‘most precious’ was not worth saving from their savagery. You see his love, his kindness, his beauty are all lies. He fled as his city burned and never thought once about the fate of his beloved ma-ri-ah”
The words would have been sad if it were not for the rage seething through each syllable.
Vendramino felt terror rising in his throat like so much bile as he pulled away from her and was nearly stunned when he found himself falling backward, free from her horrific grasp. He scrambled back onto his feet and then out the door, refusing to turn back when she spoke again.
“I trusted him once, and trusting him made me what I am today.” – Ma-ri-ah, to herself, mockingly.
Teresa saw the store’s interior candles flicker and then the door blew open and Vendramino came tumbling out, whiter than even he normally looked. Vendramino fell to his hands and feet and then got back up only to trip again. Blood-sweat coated his cold brow.
Sanchez helped the old man to his feet.
“You okay, Viejo?” – Sanchez
Vendramino looked at him with haunted eyes.
“Don’t we have a feast to get to?” – Vendramino, turning to walk away.
17th of April, 1204, 1:17am
Not Far From the Gate of St. John of Cornibus
The Domain of Michael
Patriarch of Constantinople
The compound was by far the largest of the Latin district and had gone largely untouched in the recent violence. Unlike the houses around them, the compound was well lit, inside and out, with a procession of the damned slowly filtering in, each dressed in their most extravagant finery. Sanchez looked to the others and saw that they too were still well dressed despite the night’s activities, but his own tunic… his favorite tunic… was torn and bloodied from his run in with the knight inside the church.
The Artisan thought about the way his clothes had looked when the night had begun. He focused on the gaping tear and began to will it away, concentrating on forgetting the frayed edges and flecks of blood until nothing remained but his tunic. Of course it was little more than an illusion, a trick taught to him by Master Zelios so many years ago. He was kind of embarrassed by the fact that he’d never gotten any better at using it. Zelios had explained that the more he practiced and better he got at it, the less he’d have to focus on it.
Worse, he could feel the forgotten rip. His own preternatural senses disliked the presence of the illusion and he knew that they weren’t as keen as some other vampires. Once the process was complete he slipped into the line behind his friends.
The procession moved slowly but steadily, and there were few occasions when they were pushed back by particularly influential vampires. But soon they were being announced. As a member of Clan Lasombra Teresa was introduced before the others and quickly found herself alone in the mass of vampires. Not since Venice two years prior had she seen so many in one place at one time.
Teresa was shuttled around and introduced to many of the big players of the city. It seemed that everyone who was important had made it to the feast. Indeed it was possible that every vampire in the city was there. Alfonzo had evidently learned of her lineage and wished to brook favors from the childe of Silvester de Ruiz. She moved amongst the throng, allowing its natural ebb and flow to guide her. She was mindful of her allies’ movements and encounters. She saw Sanchez studying the bishop’s murals and displayed icons, each more blasphemous than the last. The art was beautiful but overstated to the point of being gaudy and it seemed to actually pain him to look upon it.
Erasmus found himself surrounded by a small cohort of Patricians and other Latins who wished for word of Hardestadt or Jurgen. They wondered if possibly the whole debacle was some plan of the Methuselah or his brilliant childe.
Vendramino was whispering with the Brujah Svyatoslav and some vampire Theresa had never seen, a soldier who seemed to be as uncomfortable as Erasmus at the event.
The air was energetic with the news that the Latins had indeed taken the city and that soon the hated Byzantines would be under the foot of the West. Even Alfonzo’s enemies within the crowd seemed happy at the thought of being out from under the agonizing weight of the Patriarch’s shadow.
If only they knew.
Erasmus stood awkwardly in the shadows of the hall, shrinking away from the crowds of Byzantines and Latins alike, the former seemed to blame him personally for the city’s fall while the latter took far too much pleasure from its death rattles.
The Knight was preparing to leave when he found himself standing before the uncommonly affable Alfonzo.
“My dear boy, why are you so sullen? Our enemies are routed. The city is ours, so why do I find you skulking here in the shadows?” – Alfonzo
“You’re in a far better mood, Bishop.” – Erasmus
“Were you not listening? How could I not be pleased with the events happening in my city? Now go, be merry and at least have a drink, the refreshments shall be presented very soon.” – Alfonzo
And with that the Bishop was gone, vanishing back into the festivities.
True to his word it wasn’t five minutes before a wave of quiet rolled over the crowd. A moment passed and then the crowd parted to make way for a procession of three score mortals, each dressed in clothing that, despite its current state of disrepair, had been finely made. He may not have been born in Constantinople but he knew wealth and privilege when he saw it.
Erasmus searched the crowd of laughing faces and found Alfonzo smugly watching the spectacle of the blood feast begin. Erasmus wanted desperately to be appalled by the whole thing but as an old man dressed in tattered robes was forced onto his knees Erasmus got a whiff of the holy man’s sin and his Beast called out for it. He hadn’t even realized how hungry he was until he saw the man’s blood splash into the basin set into the floor.
The knight watched them bind the dying man’s legs and raise him up, suspending him upside down over the shallow pool to better drain him. A mortal man approached him with an offered chalice of blood and Erasmus couldn’t resist.
The crusader nearly finished the man by himself, going back again and again, almost greedily before his beast finally felt sated.
He turned and saw that there were many others who were drinking their fill, and it only heightened his shame.
Kosmos watched as his beloved city collapsed around him. These Cainites laughed at the city’s fall; they reveled in the destruction that they obviously didn’t comprehend. Kosmos couldn’t explain it any other way.
When he first saw the ostentatious display he was overwhelmed by the affront to the dignity of his city. His pride was crushed under the weight of his grief as he began to understand that the dream really had begun to crumble.
Cyril looked over the chaos of the feast as if with new eyes. For the first time since Dimities ushered him into the long night the full weight of that act had finally and fully settled on his shoulders.
He was, much like his beloved city, damned.
Cyril looked for the Latins he had counted as friends and allies these past seven years. The Spaniard drank merrily while appreciating the blasphemy wrote large over the Bishops home. Erasmus too was making a meal of one of the fallen nobility of the city. Neither seemed to be paying heed to the pain they might cause their Byzantine friend. Somehow, the others found a way to be worse. He couldn’t blame them, really. Don Vendramino himself was Venetian, just as the Bishop was. Teresa too had a stake in it, as she shared the Bishop’s Clan. Though he understood their actions he couldn’t bear the pain of their active betrayal of the dream.
Vendramino was enjoying himself greatly . He had just spent the last twenty minutes instructing the slaves how to properly bleed the various vessels, as their own crude methods were grossly inefficient. He showed them how to properly slice so that the blood would flow more evenly and the loss would be minimized.
Now he was again moving about the joyous crowd, a chalice of the young girl’s blood held close to his breast. He saw that Sanchez had discovered the blood feast and was currently enjoying a great deal of it, while entertaining many of the guests with his boasts and limericks.
Teresa had joined a small group of Lasombra who were gesticulating exuberantly as they spoke. Erasmus seemed to be pained by the proceedings, continuing to skulk in the shadows near the entrance, though he did have a moment with the Bishop. Kosmos had almost disappeared in the crowd for shrinking away. He’d never seen the Byzantine acting so humble and in some dark place inside himself he knew that something wasn’t right. The merchant walked meekly through the skirts of the crowd as if lost, eventually settling upon a small bench near the door. Vendramino realized that the Byzantine was somehow heartbroken by the proceedings. It was a strange revelation to say the least.
The Giovanni once again spotted Natalya Svyatoslav in the crowd. She and her childe, Ioannes Phokas, had spoken with him about safe passage to his domain should Constantinople become too dangerous for those who remain loyal to the Dream. He’d agreed to make the arrangements should it come to that. For a price.
As dawn approached he was heard a very familiar voice.
“Yes, Lady Alexia asked that I apologize for her absence as Japheth has need of her wise council.” – Markus
The elder Giovanni smiled as he saw his nephew, gesturing for him to join the small grouping of monsters.
“Ah, gentlemen, if it pleases you I would like to introduce my Nephew and Childe, Don Vendramino Giovanni, Count of Schaasburg. Come nephew, let me show you off.” – Markus
The old man joined his sire’s small circle and immediately recognized Peter the Humble, a young Lasombra, from his time in the city. The other was introduced as Gabriella of Genoa. After a cursory greeting they returned to their conversation.
“Surely it worries you that the mortals so easily disregarded our council. Had we been in charge such carnage could surely have been averted” – Gabriella
“Indeed, perhaps if Michael had not vanished this could have been avoided.” – Peter, bitterly
Markus and Gabriella both began to respond when they all grew quiet and turned to look at the stage. Indeed the old Venetian himself turned to look to the stage as well, and so too did everyone else who had attended.
Upon the stage stood Bishop Alfonzo, dressed as he was in his finest robes.
“Welcome, children of Caine! I am sure I need no introduction.” – the Bishop to a wave of laughter.
“As a special treat, and because I know that the sun approaches, I have procured for our entertainment the services of Gregorius Dimities, Michael’s own Muse of Performance who wishes to share his own ‘dreams’ with all of us!” – the Bishop as the crowd erupts into astonished applause.
After a few moments the applause grew sparse before fading completely only to be gradually replaced by a low murmur of confused guests before they once again returned to the feast.
Soon one of the bishop’s ghouls rushed forward and obsequiously whispered something to the new Prince. First his smile faded and then they all heard the cracking sound of the ghoul’s neck breaking of its own accord.
The ghoul’s body sagged but somehow stayed on its feet as the bishop took his head in his right hand. With a wet wrenching noise the body forcefully tore itself from the head. The bishop turned and stomped off still holding the poor soul’s disembodied head, shadowy tendrils snaking out from the slack mouth.
Kosmos finally engaged with his surroundings when he heard his sire’s name.
When he failed to materialize however Kosmos once again gave up on the whole thing, deciding once and for all to leave it all behind. As he made his way through the throng towards the door he soon found himself flanked by the others: first Erasmus and then Sanchez and then, surprisingly, Vendramino was at his side before the Dark Queen too appeared at his left. The show of solidarity humbled the Byzantine as they exited the compound.
When they reached the outer doors they found themselves stopped by the bishop’s guards.
“The Prince would like a word with you.” – the Guard
They were escorted into the bishop’s personal chambers. There they found the new Prince pacing agitatedly.
“You, you’re the childe of Dimities yes?” – Alfonzo, pointing a spindling finger at Kosmos
“I am.” – Kosmos
“Then I can assume that you know his habits, routines and patterns.” – Alfonzo
The Byzantine nodded.
“Then you and yours will bring him to me.” – Alfonzo
With a gesture, Alfonzo bid them leave and recessed deeper into his shadowed rooms.
When they left they found that many of the guests had also departed, though some had elected to stay and sleep the day away in the ever growing pool of mortal blood, many others were weary of the violence and wanted the security of their own havens as the dawn approached.
Sanchez watched the Byzantine carefully. He, like the others, had always assumed that Kosmos had been a particularly eccentric member of his own Clan. However he had heard of Dimities before and recognized that though he was a Michaelite and one of the Patriarch’s Muses to boot, he was also quite famously one of the Lunatics.
For that to be true than so to must it follow that Kosmos was also a childe of Malkav, and it dawned on the Architect that such a revelation should have been obvious from the start. But he was determined to take his friend’s secret to Gehenna if it came to that. Now though they had more important matters.
“We should rest now, we will begin the search come nightfall.” – Erasmus, as if reading the Spaniard’s mind
“Why do we do this thing at all? We are princes and powerful in our own right as well, what have we to fear from the Heretic?” – Vendramino
“This is his city, and he has power here but also in Venice and beyond, this is a truth we all know. Should we attempt to run we would not get very far.” – Teresa
Sanchez begrudgingly agreed.
“So then, where shall we rest?”
17th of April, 1204, 7:35pm
The Latin Quarter
The Domain of Alfonzo of Venice
Prince of Constantinople
They rose as one as the sun set. Each was well fed and well rested as they set forth with grim determination.
“Where could he be?” – Erasmus
“Yes, Kosmos, where would Dimities go?” – Sanchez
“He has not been any of the places he would usually haunt, I have searched for him the entirety of our time here and have not found him once. He long ago mastered the art of staying hidden so that not even my powerful perceptions could find him.” – Cyril, his mind somehow still clear
“You must have some Idea of where he makes his haven.” – Teresa
“He has two havens in the city. One is the Great Palace and the other is the Kynegion Amphitheatre. But I have visited both on many occasions and can find not a trace of him at either.” – Cyril
“Trust your instincts, where would he go if he were hunted by the prince of the city?” – Vendramino
Cyril thought about it again and even called out to his blood, unconsciously tapping into the very madness he’d recently overcome.
“Kynegion. He’s at the Kynegion.” – Kosmos said with unyielding Certainty.
17th of April, 1204, 8:19pm
The Domain of Alfonzo of Venice
Prince of Constantinople
As they made their way to the Amphitheatre they saw many things that would horrify even the most jaded of souls. Buildings filled with people burning to cinders. Rioters tearing women and children apart. Crusaders dueling furiously over plundered treasures. It was as if the city had gone mad. But nothing prepared the coterie for the scene taking place before them.
There stood Gauthier de Dampiere, once again somehow right there before them. He and his men were stalking through the streets oblivious to the carnage around them as they hunted for demons and monsters when they found one.
He was dressed as a nobleman in the finest clothing but he moved with the feral grace of a jungle cat, loping and leaping upon one of the crusaders with an hellish bellow.
“Is that the Basileus?” – Vendramino
Cyril nodded as he watched in horror while the Caius, Ventrue Elder of Constantinople fell upon one of the crusaders. With a flash of metal the man was cleaved in twain at the shoulder. With a blur of motion and a flick of his wrist another was impaled upon his blade as well.
Before any of the others could react the elder leapt onto another of the soldiers tearing out his throat with his teeth before leaping off of him onto the last, landing on him and crushing his skull in his powerful hands.
Gauthier drew his own sword even as the vampire drained his ally dry, whispering a prayer as the beast turned on him and pounced.
The Elder was wickedly fast, leaping over the knight’s head as a child might skip rope. But when he alighted, ready to pounce onto the knight’s back, he found himself landing on the blade midway through its upward swing.
The blade cleaved through undead flesh and boned as a hot knife through butter and as the Ventrue elder, a being powerful enough to survive sunlight and fire, stood there in stunned silence the crusader unsheathed the sword from his chest and severed his head from his body in a single murderously efficient move.
The coterie looked on in stunned silence as what was quite possibly the most powerful active vampire in the city crumbled into ash before their eyes.
“Move.” – Erasmus whispered, urging the others on.
Minutes passed as they fled the carnage and soon they realized that in the chaos they must have lost their bearing, as so many landmarks were now little more than rubble in the streets. But even as they were approached by the most unlikely of guides
“Despair, for the night ends tonight! Beware the coming dawn for it brings only darkness! The black madonna rises as an angel falls to madness!”
The ranting man was dressed as a crusader and indeed Sanchez recognized him as the Lieutenant that had impaled him the night before. But his presence, though disturbing had revealed to them that they were on the right track.
“Rest now, sir night, you are safe.” – Cyril, soothing the man into a sleep with the power of his own madness.
“We are close?” – Vendramino
Cyril nodded, gesturing toward the north.
17th of April, 1204, 8:51pm
The Kynegion Amphitheatre
The Domain of Alfonzo
Prince of Constantinople
The Amphitheatre was empty and unguarded, having been abandoned by the mortals of the city years before, indeed even the looters left it be, believing (rightfully so) that nothing of any worth would be found within. The complex was completely barren of life.
“Maybe we should have gone to the palace.” – Teresa
“No, he’s here.” – Kosmos
“I can feel him too.” – Sanchez
Erasmus nodded, he felt it too. A powerful sense of madness infused the very stones of the place.
“This way.” – Kosmos, walking through the familiar halls
Soon they found themselves within the open air of the main Theater, it wasn’t the largest of the cities many theaters but it was Gregorius’ favorite. And there, below them on the stage they found the elder, kneeling with his head bowed as if accepting applause. A dark pool forming beneath his bowed head.
The coterie slipped down through the stands toward the vampire.
“Hail, Gregorius Dimities!” – Kosmos
The elder looked up and they saw that blood tears streaming down his wizened face. He was surprisingly small, his frail form spoke of many years spent in luxury before he was ushered into the long night. His face was as kind as Kosmos remembered, he appeared for all the world to be a kindly old man. All the better to fool his prey no doubt.
“My Kyrillos, you’ve returned, as I knew you would.” – the elders voice was as disarming as his face.
“Yes, Master Dimities, I’ve come. Bishop Alfonzo asks for your presence.” – Kosmos
The old monster laughed.
“I couldn’t perform before them. How could I participate in a celebration of the Murder of which I am culpable. I would ask the Patriarchs forgiveness but what I did has barred heavens doors against me. I cannot redeem myself for my sin.” – Dimities
“What exactly did you do, Master Dimities?” – Erasmus
“I drove Michael mad. It took centuries, along with thousands of comedies, dramas and tragedies to spin the web of madness.” – Dimities
“…But why?” – Erasmus, disbelieving
The hoary old man began to weep openly.
“I don’t know! What does it matter? I’ve hated him for so long I just wanted to end it and only now do I realize the horrible mistake I’ve made. I’ve doomed the Patriarch and with him the Dream! Even now he has gone to his Temple to ascend.” – Dimities fatalistically
“His temple?” – Erasmus
“The Church of the Archangel Michael.” – Vendramino, absentmindedly
Despite the windfall of the greatest city in the world falling to western forces, Teresa remembered seeing Michael in the streets, she remembered his grandeur and the sense of peace he brought her. She knew that her sire would never forgive her next act should he ever learn of it. She looked to her compatriots and saw her decision reflected in their eyes.
With that she turned and walked out of the theatre followed by her allies.
All but one.
“Kyrillos, please…” – Dimities, his voice hoarse as his childe came closer to help him to his feet.
“I’m here, Sire. Everything will be all right.” – Cyril
“I must die for my sins Kyrillos. But I fear for my soul. After so many nights, my soul weighs heavy.” – Dimities
Cyril looked upon his sire in horror. He had ushered the Slaver into the Long Night and damned his soul. But he was his master nonetheless. He was old and powerful and yet he lacked the cruelty of the other vampires of the city.
He’d forgotten how much he’d cared for the senile old monster.
“I…I cannot, Sire.” – Cyril
“I die tonight no matter what, my childe, this is the only way you can save me… Devour my Madness, free my soul from this eternal night, don’t let it follow me to hell.” – Dimities
Cyril closed his eyes to his own blood tears as he placed his hand on his sire’s shoulder.
“As you wish, my sire.” – Cyril
17th of April, 1204, 9:19pm
The Domain of Alfonzo
Prince of Constantinople
“I hate this city!” – Sanchez as he kicked another bit of debris out of the road in front of him.
“How can we be lost, Again!”
Vendramino had never been particularly comfortable navigating the city outside of the Latin quarter and with many of the landmarks burnt to the ground or masked by plumes of smoke it had become all but impossible to get his bearing.
“Perhaps we should backtrack, Vendramino, see if you can right yourself while closer to the Quarter” – Erasmus
Sanchez scoffed. He opened his mouth to speak when he felt it. Something powerful was setting upon them, it was the same feeling he’d had in the Amphitheatre. The way Erasmus posture had changed told the Spaniard that he wasn’t the only one who felt it.
They turned and looked down the dark alley to their west to find Kosmos slumping out of it, his face a mask of anguished exhaustion.
“Must we draw you all a map?” – Kosmos, smiling wearily
The Byzantine slumped forward, fully into the light, beads of blood sweat dotted his face leaving his gray-black beard flecked with red. The madness was coming off him in waves, Sanchez once again found himself unable to believe he never noticed it before. Sanchez looked more closely and saw that his aura was rippling with cascading colors that were nearly impossible to read beyond the thick black fissures.
Sanchez recoiled for a moment at the thought of the amaranth. He’d heard many stories over the years about the children of Malkav and their belief that Diablerie consumed not the soul but beast, allowing the fallen vampire entrance into heaven. He didn’t know if the stories were true but the fractured aura, as hard to read as it was, spoke of heartache.
He placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder reassuringly.
The old Greek patted it the way a father might pat a son’s hand to comfort himself.
“Do you know where we are Kosmos?” – Teresa, eyeing the display of affection with apprehension.
“We do, the Church is six blocks west of here.” – Kosmos
The Byzantine cleared his throat and stood tall, whatever discomfort he’d felt had, at least superficially, past. He turned on his heal and marched toward the old church with conviction, leaving the others behind to follow, or not.
And so they did.
17th of April, 1204, 9:44pm
Church of the Archangel Michael
The Domain of Alfonzo
Prince of Constantinople
The going was easy once they knew where they were going. Not once did they have to change course to avoid roving rioters or looters. Nor had they run into Gauthier or his crusaders. In fact after a few minutes of quiet Erasmus began to notice how few people seemed to be in the streets at all, finding it more than a little unsettling they seemed to be empty save the coterie.
As they came to stand before the doors of the church the street behind them seemed to come alive, as if the city had been waiting for them to touch the door before coming alive. The effect was unsettling enough to give Teresa chills, despite the fact that everyone else beside the band of monsters seemed to be oblivious to whatever had kept them away from that particular street.
Sanchez was the first to regain his wits and throw the doors open. The narthex of the church was surprisingly large and reverberated with a power that they’d felt before in the streets not three nights ago.
Erasmus, Kosmos and Sanchez all felt a surreal sense of recognition as they looked about the grand antechamber of the chapel. They’d all been here before, in their shared dream, though none of them knew of the others’ experience. From the other side of the Nave doors they could feel the a great power. In fact now that they’d drawn closer they realized that they’d felt it all the while they’d been in the city. It was the power of the Patriarch.
Michael was here in the flesh.
Kosmos closed the door behind him as if to seal the resounding aura into the church and they ventured forth into the nave. They walked into the vast empty space where services would normally be held and found the Deacon’s Doors and Beautiful Gates thrown wide. The church, abandoned as it was, should have been dark accept the bright glowing figure floating a foot above the altar.
It was the same stained glass figure they’d seen in the street before, made of stained glass and light. The angel, its wings spread wide opened its eyes, flooding the church with clear white light.
“WELCOME, MY CHILDREN, TO MY ASCENSION.”
The coterie looks on in silence. Blood tears flowed down Erasmus’ face as he steadied himself against the wall. Kosmos could somehow feel that whatever madness had gripped the Patriarch’s mind was gone now that his sire had left the night.
“I AM GRATEFUL THAT YOU WOULD BE THE FIRST OF MY PILLARS TO ARRIVE, THAT I MAY SPEAK TO YOU. I HAVE HAD SO MUCH TIME TO CULTIVATE THE OTHERS OF MY LITTLE TRINITY AND I KNOW THAT YOU MAY HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.”
“How are we part of your trinity?” – Teresa
“NARSES IS A MONSTER, BUT ONE HAS TO ADMIRE THE MONSTER HE’S BECOME. DO YOU KNOW WHO HE WAS? DO YOU KNOW THE STORY OF NARSES, JUSTINIAN’S GREAT GENERAL? IT’S OF NO MATTER. TWO YEARS AGO YOU BECAME HIS AGENTS, YOU WERE CHOSEN BY HIM TO BE HIS WEAPON AGAINST ME. YOU FIVE ARE THE PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF HIS HATE FOR A DREAM HE COULD NEVER HAVE AND OF MY FAILURE TO FOSTER HIS GREAT TALENTS. I DROVE HIM TO HIS MONSTROUS ACTS AND AWAY FROM HERE. FOR MY DREAM TO SURVIVE I MUST COME TO EMBODY IT, I MUST ALLOW MY FAILURES TO CONSUME ME SO THAT I MAY TRANSEND THEM AND MY DREAM MAY SURVIVE.”
The blood in their veins grew cold as the Archangel spoke.
The others turned to see a girl with skin as black as her own soul. Her eyes glinted red in the darkness that seemed emanate from her.
“You wish for these fools to believe that all you do is for them? For us all?” – Mary
She glanced toward the coterie and each found their weapons falling to the ground.
“MARY. MY BEAUTIFUL GIRL, IT IS GOOD THAT I COULD SEE YOU ONE LAST TIME. I COULD NOT GO FORWARD WITHOUT YOU KNOWING THAT I NEVER MEANT FOR ANY HARM TO COME TO YOU SO LONG AGO.”
“Don’t even think that you could ever apologize enough for what has happened to me!” – Mary
“YOU MISUNDERSTAND MY DEAR GIRL. I OFFER NO APOLOGY FOR IF IT WERE NOT FOR MY FAILURES IN EBLA AND THE PAIN IT CAUSED YOU, OR FOR MY FAILURE TO BRING PEACE TO THE ORIGINAL TRINITY OF THIS CITY, WHICH LED TO THE SIMPERING VAMPIRES OF THIS CITY, LIKE PETER WHO WAS SO DUTIFUL IN BRINGING YOU TO ME, THEN NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE INDEED YOUR HATRED HAS BEEN THE CATALIST FOR MY APOTHEOSIS.”
The others turned toward the doors to see a lone kindred, small and meek, even as he shook with impotent rage. When Mary turned to see the Lasombra she noticed Vendramino’s bent form
“You’re a part of all of this somehow…” – Mary, her voice no longer a hate filled growl.
“SO YOU SEE MA-RI-AH, YOUR BECOMING THIS THING OF EVIL WAS NOT IN VAIN. EVEN YOUR FORSAKEN FORM AS MARY THE BLACK WILL SERVE MY GREATER GOOD.”
Michael’s words struck Sanchez like a fist. This was no angel. Hell, this wasn’t even a man. He looked again and sure enough there was no angel of light and glass. Just another vampire, beautiful to be sure, but a he was still nothing but a blood sucking fiend. No better than any of the rest of them.
“Why don’t you shut the hell up you manipulative bastard!” – Sanchez
The others looked at him as if he must be mad. Who was he to speak to the Archangel like that? But when they looked back at him they too saw him for what he was. The angel was gone. All that stood before them was another vampire Prince.
“You cannot do it, Mary, you cannot give him what he wants.” – Teresa, once again herself
“After so many centuries, are you going to prove him right? Are you going to really be nothing more than a tool for him?” – Vendramino
“Enough! Mary you must kill me! You are the last Pillar of the last Trinity, you must play your part! I must ascend!” – the Patriarch, his majesty long gone now, replaced by furious bewilderment
From the door they heard a growl and the already forgotten Peter charged the Patriarch. He was faster than the other but before he could reach Michael Mary gestured and they he erupted into a gout of green flame, falling into a pile of greasy ash.
The others watch the ash spread across the sanctuary in stunned silence as Mary made her move. She was fast, too fast for most of the others to see.
Sanchez saw her, and what’s more, he was just as fast. She was surprised to find him standing in front of her. Though she could have chosen to destroy him something made her stop.
“Why shouldn’t I give him this last request, fledgling?” – Mary
“Because, if you destroy him you make him right. He’s used you for millennia, he’s manipulated entire civilizations in his quest to, what? Become an angel? He seems to have forgotten that he’s not Michael the Archangel, that he’s simply a particularly old monster. Do you want to give him the satisfaction of believing him right? Wouldn’t you rather he live or die against his own will? The way we all do?” – Kosmos
Mary looked at him and then to each of the others and then finally to Michael himself before crying out in rage and pain before turning and vanishing in a vortex of black and green flame.
Michael’s eyes darkened as Mary the Black vanished.
“I must commend you all on your accomplishment. Mary the Black has been planning on devouring my soul for nearly three millennia. I was sure she would do it but you were able to avert our shared destiny. You were well chosen, it is obvious to me now that it is you that were meant to be here.” – Michael, grimly
Sanchez picked up his sword, sheathed it and turned to leave. The others followed suit.
“Kyrillos, you’re one of my own. You’ve always been like a son to me. How is it that I did not see that God set you on this path. You have fulfilled an aspect of the dream I had not expected. When you left the city I wept that you might return and you have bringing with you the true answer to my tribulation.” – Michael, the madness beginning to creep back into his voice
As he stepped forward his skin seemed to shine, for a moment he was once again a angel of glass, but none of them were falling for it.
“Even without Mary, I am weary of this plain and you have brought with you one who can end it. You are called Mischa, yes.” – Michael, to Erasmus
“I am.” – Erasmus, quietly
Sanchez realized that the Warlord had been quiet throughout the conflict.
“I can sense that your faith is strong and that you walk the Via Caeli, a road in which I helped to codify. I WISH TO SPEAK WITH YOU IN PRIVATE.” – the Patriarch
The others stepped out into the Narthex of the church, closing the Beautiful Gates behind them. Not one of them questioned Michael’s request and instead spoke of more temporal things.
“What do you suppose will happen to Alfonzo’s reign should Michael choose retake his place in the city’s political structure now that Dimities is no longer manipulating him?” – Teresa
“It is not of Our concern. Our domain is far from here.” – Kosmos
“Did you feel that?” – Sanchez
They had. It was if the air rushed out of the room. As if the sun and moon had somehow been darkened. As if they were no longer being crushed under some great burden that they had not even felt.
The four looked toward the Nave doors.
“He’s dead.” – Kosmos, shocked
“But, what of the Dream?” – Vendramino, equal shaken
The doors burst open and for a moment it appeared that they were wrong as before them stood a stained glass angel. But the image dimmed and faded, revealing Erasmus who looked to his allies.
“I am the Dream.”