A Second century has passed since the War of Princes began and it has gone on for far too long. The great vampire kingdoms are crumbling and the war has created new complications for the damned of Europe and beyond.
The Court of Love splinters due to centuries of backbiting and shadowy alliances. The baronies of Avalon declare war on each other in the absence of the Prince of London. The Sea of shadows, once the largest and farthest reaching of the kingdoms is the first to fall prey to the rising mortal tide, leaving only the Black Cross and the Voivodate standing. But even that is not to last.
The Fifth crusade has evolved into the Inquisition, an arm of the church mandated to stomp out heresy wherever it is found, and it found one in Venice. The Cainite Heresy, once revealed, was a revelation to the mortals who very soon began hunting something far worse than mortal blasphemers. Since its inception the Inquisition has spread like holy wild fire, wiping out entire Princedoms as it cuts a swath through the east and west alike. Elders, fearing the end of their own Long Nights, have resorted to feeding their own childer to the fires in hopes of making their escape.
Meanwhile in England peasants have risen up against their masters, revolting against the status quo and inspiring an entire generation of the Undead to do the same. The fires of anarchy spread across Europe infecting the youngest and most power hungry of the Damned in equal numbers. The Voivodate is probably the greatest victim of these upstarts, as trusted generals and favorite childer turn on their elders, some of the oldest and most powerful waking vampires fall to their childer. By the coming of the Fifteenth century Names such as Koban, Noritz and Byelobog are nothing but memories.
High Lord Hardestadt, seeing the collapse of everything, calls a convocation of elders to find a solution. This camarilla, as they call it, extols the value of the Silence of the Blood to combat the dangers of the Inquisition while also demanding that the young bow down to and obey their elders. Wherever their influence spreads the very word Cainite becomes anathema.
But even The Black Cross, which, by the end of the Fourteenth century, is the last remaining power in Europe, is not immune to the rising tide sweeping over the continent. In 1395 a cell of English and German Anarchs infiltrate Hardestadt’s stronghold and slay the elder, their leader, Patricia of Bollingbroke, committing amaranth upon the elder himself. Word of the ancient’s demise sent ripples through the Anarchs of Europe and within a decade the already tenuous Sea of Shadows collapses with the destruction of the Eldest shadow at the hands of his childe Gratiano and a small cadre of Assamite and Lasombra Anarchs.
June 18, 1413, 12:11am
The Domain of Kyrillos Dimities
Mad Count of Timisoara
That Sanchez had been invited to this place at all made the Spaniard nervous. It had, after all, been nearly a century since he’d last stood in the tower’s shadow.
Time had not been kind to the so-called “Castle on the hill” of which only the tower survived. Kyrillos had, of course, rebuilt, but the new structure stood apart from the tower and was now a smaller, more fortified house than a castle.
Sanchez wondered who built it for him.
He thought back to the argument that had severed their ties. Sanchez had accused the Fiend Vykos of base treachery, declaring that he’d sent them on a suicide mission in having them travel with Goratrix to Alceditz. Kyrillos had defended his Patron vehemently to which Sanchez called the Count himself a traitor, having abandoned the Black Cross for the Obertus.
It had been the wrong thing to say, no matter the truth of it, but what was said could not be unsaid and now Sanchez stood awkwardly at the gate wondering what he should do.
He did not have to wonder for long. Only a moment later a guard appeared and asked the Master Mason his business.
“I am here to see the Master of this house, he has summoned me.” – Sanchez, with authority.
The guard, after asking to see his invitation quickly opened the gate and let the Spaniard in. He was then led into the house, which was kept dark but was well decorated. He was surprised to be greeted by Eloise, the woman that Kyrillos had saved in Acre so long ago.
They shared pleasantries and he was even more surprised when he realized that she still lived.
“The Count has not ushered you into the Long Night, Lady Eloise?”
“Heavens no, I am his seneschal during the day. Though I have picked up a fair few tricks throughout the years, I don’t think that I would ever want to walk in the night.” – Eloise, bluntly.
“I couldn’t agree with your sentiment more, milady.” – Sanchez, flatteringly.
The woman blushed as she opened a door for him.
“My master’s study, Master Sanchez, they are waiting for you within.” – Eloise, curtsying quickly before scurrying away.
“They?” – Sanchez, to himself.
The windowless room was even darker than the rest of the House, lit only by a smoldering log within the great fireplace. In a large chair sat Kyrillos who was speaking to someone sitting in one of the two large and plush sofas that had been placed in the room.
“Ah, if it isn’t the celebrated Prince of Sebeș, come please, make yourself comfortable.” – Kyrillos
“I don’t believe I follow you, count.” – Sanchez
“Of course you do, Master Sanchez, the upstarts, these Anarchs, as your masters in Bavaria call them, they all but worship you. Rumors of the destruction are lauded all across Transylvania and beyond. Ulrike even tells me that they consider your Domain safe refuge as long as they pay your tithe.” – Kyrillos, mockingly.
The other figure turned so that Kyrillos could see her familiar and welcome face.
“Teresa, it’s been too long, how goes Alba Iulia.” – Sanchez happily.
Teresa sighed forlornly.
“All is well save that I am, sadly, once again a widow.” – Teresa, her face the very image of a grieving widow save her eyes, which twinkled with dark humor.
“Did you at least know this one’s name?” – Sanchez
“I long ago learned to simply rename them all Pavel.” – Teresa laughed.
The Black Queen lifted something from her lap and sat it on the floor distastefully. It was a strange motion and Sanchez took a moment to figure out what he’d just seen. His keen ears and nose confirmed what his disbelieving eyes had already told him.
It was a rat, and it wasn’t alone. There were dozens of them, upon the hearth and the furniture and the book shelves. Kyrillos had two perched on his shoulders, and he was currently petting another that sat in his lap.
“It seems that you have a pest problem, Kyrillos.” – Sanchez, disdainfully.
“Nonsense, I am simply performing an experiment. I am on the verge of a breakthrough I believe, but if you cannot handle it.” – Kyrillos, holding the rat up to eye level.
“Go now, and take your family with you.” – Kyrillos, to the rat.
The rat squeaked once and then leapt from the vampire’s hands, running toward the back wall, the rest of the swarm soon followed.
“I hope I have not offended your Epicurean sensibilities.” – Kyrillos chided.
Sanchez sneered unconsciously, he hated that term being used to describe his clan as of late almost as much as he hated being lumped in with the rest of his Clan.
“Not at all, Count, may I take a seat.” – Sanchez
“So tell me, Kyrillos, why have you invited us here to your ‘fabulous’ home.” – Sanchez
Kyrillos’ already strained smile faltered.
“Something is coming, Sanchez, and I felt it prudent that we rekindle our old friendship. The Night is too Long for the enmity of friends.” – Kyrillos
They sat in silence for a time before the door opened again.
The man who walked through was enormously tall, standing at least six feet. He wore a black doublet under a dark blue robe, a fantastically wrapped and bejeweled chaperon sat upon his head. Jewels flashed about his fingers and from around his neck.
Vendramino Giovanni looked every bit the part of a Venetian gentleman.
“I see that the years have been kind to you, Count, though I do wonder why it is that we all had to meet you here.” – Vendramino sneered.
“He’s kept that to himself thus far, Lord Vendramino.” – Sanchez
The old man turned to the Spaniard with a look of mild surprise.
“Look at you, Master Sanchez, the very image of civility. I dare say that I cannot even detect a speck of dirt upon your tabard.” – the Italian, condescendingly.
Sanchez smiled tightly.
“Nor do I detect even the faintest trace of the corpse on which you fed tonight, Lord Vendramino.” – Sanchez
Teresa cleared her throat.
“How goes Acre, my old friend?” – Teresa
“Well, I have opened trade with the Turks and Egyptians both, making myself and my family infamously wealthy. Though I must admit that your Clanmate and her brood do not make it easy for me, nor does the Prince’s childe, who demands a vast amount of money for her annual bribe. I swear that we backed the wrong whore in that exchange, dear Teresa, the girl runs the city as if it were her own private bank-roll and does it in her dimwitted sire’s name.” – Vendramino, his sneer fading.
“I am sure you have some plan to get her out of your hair, old man.” – Sanchez
“Indeed I do, Sanchez, It is simply a matter of weighting for the right moment and then she should be out of my hair, at least long enough for me to show the little sow her place” – Vendramino, his mouth twisted into a cruel grin.
Teresa laughed, Sanchez scowled and Kyrillos watched
“I have heard that the Continent has become besotted with rabble, tell me this is not true.” – Vendramino
“Yes, I am afraid so. Whelps demanding to be treated as alphas. Many if not all of them are feebly educated in our ways and believe that their blood gives them special stature.” – Teresa
“It is a strange madness to be sure, but not one that cannot be utilized.” – Kyrillos, thoughtfully
“Am I to assume, then, that you have parleyed with them?” – Ibrahim, from a dark corner where he’d gone unnoticed until now.
“Of course, why wouldn’t I involve myself with them? They are naïve and weak, this is true, but they have ambition on their side, why not take advantage of that?” – Kyrillos
“So, tell me, Lady Teresa, did you have any part in the destruction of your Clan’s founder?” – Vendramino, bluntly
Teresa was taken aback by the question.
“Absolutely not, that was the very worst night of my life. In the chaos that followed his destruction three of my children were destroyed!” – Teresa, furiously.
“But the act itself, do the actions of Gratiano please you?” – Vendramino, pushing the subject
“I think that the bastard should have learned his place! What does a fledgling neonate know of loyalty to the blood? If he wanted to ‘save us’ as he so claimed he would have gone the Amici and taken it to them instead of attacking like a coward.” – Teresa, her teeth extending into fangs.
“So you are not likely to back the power plays of these Anarchs?” – Vendramino.
“They are young and foolish and ill equipped to wield the power they are so resolute to take by force; though if one could find a way to redirect their energies, I believe they would make effective pawns.” – Teresa, thoughtfully, her fangs once again melting into teeth.
“But Gratiano did not work alone, yes? He had help from others of your own clan as well as mine and many others.’ – Ibrahim
“The fact that he was able to cloud the minds of his lesser does not make him right, Turk, I stand by my assertion that if he wanted to do this right he should have gone to the clan. As it is the Clan of Night has had its head cut off because Gratiano was incapable of finishing the job.” – Teresa
“While it does not change the events of that night, you may be happy to know that the Childe of Haqim who drank the last of the First shadow’s blood did not survive the act, his body was literally destroyed from the inside out by the power of your Ancestor’s blood.” – Ibrahim.
“That information does nothing for me. Gratiano still walks under his Long Night and we are left empty inside.
“Why have we not kept in touch, my old friend?” – Ibrahim
“I have been very busy since you returned to the holy land, Ibrahim.” – Sanchez
“I can understand that, I too find my time filled by our morbid friend. I have not even been home in nearly a decade. I am sure that my dog is long dead.”
As they laughed Eloise slipped into the room and appeared at her Regnant’s side, whispered something into his ear and then vanished again.
“I have not invited any others this evening, Eloise, turn them away.” – Kyrillos, whispered.
“They claim that they are expected and I don’t believe that –”
Eloise was unable to finish for she was interrupted by the door slamming open with enough force to crack it.
In the doorway stood a slight man with a great dirty beard and long filthy blond hair. In life he had been active and now in death his body had a nearly perfect physique, marred only by its filthy state and stark white skin.
The Conspiracy sprung to their feet at the sudden entrance, Ibrahim instinctively slipped into the shadows as the vampire threw himself onto his knees and face, prostrating himself before the gathered Cainites.
“Sanctuary for the Persecuted and driven! Blessed be they who shower forth their mercy upon the uprooted and the defenseless! Salvation surely comes for those who seek to save those who are lost!”
“Brother Anatole, Its been a lifetime!” – Kyrillos, stepping toward the prostrated vampire.
But before he could reach his fellow Malkavian, Anatole vanished only to reappear a few feet away grasping the shocked Ibrahim by his doublet.
“Turn not your backs on those whom god favors and man despises!” – Anatole roared at the Turk.
Ibrahim flailed for his dagger to defend himself from the shockingly powerful vampire.
“It is good to see you my frie…I don’t know you.” – Anatole, cocking his head to the side like a confused pup.
He released the Assamite and vanished again, this time reappearing by the door again where a beautiful young lady was waiting. She was dressed in the traveling clothes of a noblewoman but was no cleaner than her half-naked friend.
“Lucita!” – Teresa, rushing to her niece’s side.
“Aunt Teresa, my friends, if I may address you as such, Anatole and I have need of shelter and sustenance. Much transpires in the west, and little bodes good for any of our kind. We would be obligated to you if you, Count Kyrillos, if you would grant us hospitality for even a few nights, that we may recuperate and refresh ourselves. We have spent the uncounted weeks in flight, trying to reach you. Anatole’s visions have led us to you, and we are fortuitous that all of you have gathered here together. Please, do not turn us away in our time of need.” – The younger Lasombra’s collapsed against her aunt, who dutifully carried her to one of the couches.
“Yes, Lucita, I just said all of that.” – Anatole, tenderly, before turning to the others.
“She insists on repeating everything I say to the people we encounter.” – Anatole, rolling his eyes.
“Eloise, fetch them vessels with which they may feed, bring them quickly.” – Kyrillos commanded his steward.
“What happened to you, Lucita? I thought you were smarter than this. It’s madness to go so long without feeding.” – Teresa chided.
“I think Anatole’s rubbing off on me after so long, but we had to hurry. Something’s coming, Teresa, something which we cannot weather lest things change, the west burns, childer are hunting their sires. Our Clan has severed itself from our founder… and what Anatole has seen…” – Lucita, listlessly.
“Count Kyrillos, Childe of Byzantium, Know that ye need not fear me, for I have only done what God and our brethren ask of me; just as you relieved your Sire’s suffering so have I relieved the suffering of our cousins.” – Anatole, cryptically.
Kyrillos’ eyes narrowed and then he nodded. He and the mad monk had an understanding.
Teresa watched them for a moment and returned to Lucita.
“Where have you been, dear child? You have not visited the White City in some time.” – Teresa
“I know Teresa but Anatole and I have been on a pilgrimage of sorts, all across Italy, Iberia and France. We were even in the Lands of Hardestadt for a time before the High-Lord’s supposed demise.” – Lucita.
“Supposed?” – Teresa
“Oh yes, the Anarchs have been adamant that they drank the heart’s blood of Hardestadt but there have been rumors that he survived, though we did not believe them at first. Bavarian Cainites, Kindred they’ve taken to calling themselves, speak of speaking to him and the other conspirators that call themselves “Justicars”.” – Lucita
“Justicars?” – Teresa
“Yes, they believe that they can stem the tide of the Inquisition and the Anarchs by policing the entirety of our race. They think that the clans must fall under a single banner, it’s absurd, but many to the west, especially in those lands that once showed fealty to the Black Cross, have been swayed to believe in their cause.” – Lucita, she tried to sound cynical but it was clear that the argument was a persuasive one.
“I can see its allure, Lucita.” – Teresa
June 18, 1413, 2:54am
The Count’s Study
The Domain of Kyrillos Dimities
Mad Count of Timisoara
When Eloise finally arrived with a small herd of pliant mortals Anatole and Lucita were given a chance to feed and were soon joined by the others, save Vendramino, who had journeyed so far to be there that night. When they were done with their meal they returned to the study to continue their discussions.
“What, exactly, happened to the Elder of your clan, Lucita? There have been rumors but not even Teresa knows for sure.” – Kyrillos
Lucita glanced at Teresa before speaking. She’d already heard of the Queen’s losses on that night. Of how her youngest childer tore each other apart as the darkness within them overwhelmed them, of how Pavel was killed by his own childer, and Vanko was nearly destroyed by the sun when he found himself melting into darkness.
Lucita had heard similar stories all across the continent.
“It is perhaps the gravest news I bear this night. Seven years ago a handful of Lasombra Anarchs conspired to commit the ultimate horror. They wished to attack and perform the amaranth upon our Great Ancestor. It is said that, even while slumbering within his temple on the Isle of shadows he tried to defend himself from their concerted attack, but he was deceived by his own beloved childe, the much favored Gratiano, who was the secret architect of his destruction.
I have attempted to reconcile with my Clanmates. I cannot condone the actions of the Traitor and his ilk but I cannot deny what I am, I am of the same shadow as they. I’ve not been back to Italy since, I keep as much distance from the conspirators and their sympathizers but it grows harder with each passing night. I fear I’ve been marked a traitor for my refusal to join the Anarch Conspiracy.
She turned to Teresa who had been listening silently.
“I know that you cannot have had any connection with those who have commited this vile deed, dearest aunt, and so I prevail on your honor to allow me sanctuary until I have gained strength enough to leave Timisoara.” – Lucita pleaded, blood tears in her eyes.
“Of course, child, you are always welcome in Alba Iulia.” – Teresa, taken aback by the show of emotion.
“You must know, too, that you are both welcome to stay here for as long as you wish, no Lasombra, save Teresa’s childer, reside in my domain.
“I thank you, Count Kyrillos, but I fear that what has befallen my clan bodes ill for all Cainites, no matter their Clan. I plead with you that you mark well your own childer, for even you may have a viper in your midst.” – Lucita, warningly.
“We do, in fact have some Anarchs here in the East. In fact our old enemies, the Voivodate, seem rife with those who would supplant the old order. Vintila and Koban and even Noritz have all fallen to their childer. Even Master Sanchez’s domain is overwhelmed with those who claim the cause of the Anarchs, but you speak of them as though they are possessed of a more insidious nature, as if they are a conspiracy and threat against all of us who have weathered the centuries, surely your cannot believe them to be so dangerous.” – Kyrillos.
Lucita looked to Sanchez with a suspicious eye.
“You would do well to be careful whom you allow within your domain, Architect, there is no neck that these Cannibals would not tear out. In the west, many Cainites are rising up against their sires, claiming the same unfair treatment from them as they hear the mortal peasants make of their betters. I have heard stories of childer ordered to face the fires of the inquisition so that their sires might better make their escape, of Elders demanding that their progeny sacrifice the immortality they have been granted in the hopes that the old monsters might extend their Long Night a while more. The old values that once held our hidden society together, the hallowed bond between sire and childe, the hierarchy of Generation, the very embrace itself, are fraying like threads in a tapestry. I had hoped that the rebellion had not yet spread into these lands, particularly since the Inquisition has yet to threaten the safety of the Cainites that reside here.” – Lucita, revulsion tainting her every word.
“You say that the embrace has become denigrated?” – Kyrillos, nervously.
“Yes, some of the Anarchs have taken to a bastard’s embrace, creating servile monstrosities, more corpses than Cainites that they then set on elders as fodder against their more powerful prey to wear them out.” – Anatole, joining the conversation abruptly before again being distracted by the smoldering log in the hearth.
“This seems to be a largely European problem.” – Ibrahim gloated quietly.
Sanchez nudged the Turk to shut him up, motioning for him to pay attention to the quiet Malkavian by the fire place.
As if he knew they were watching him he turned to face them.
“God has not forgotten any of you. He has placed the mark of destiny upon all of you. Prepare your souls, for the time of testing and tribulation is at hand. Do you dare receive the terrible gift that the Lord has prepared for you?” – Anatole.
The room grew silent as his words sunk in and to Sanchez’s eternal horror; the Frenchman’s voice was filled with nothing but a terrible calm.
June 19, 1413, 11:53pm
The Domain of Kyrillos Dimities
Mad Count of Timisoara
Anatole had left shortly after making his oblique statement, declaring that his Lord had called him to Byzantium, but Lucita had chosen to stay for another night. It was now clear to Kyrillos why he had summoned his erstwhile companions to his home. It was the will of Anatole, who had, somehow, made his motivation known to Kyrillos in the same way that the Mad Count was oft forewarned about events.
Though this strange connection between he and others of his Clan had often interested him he now resolved himself to study the effect in earnest, perhaps gaining new insight into (and power over) its source.
The Venetian cur left even before Anatole had, and took the Turkish assassin with him. The Assamite liked to think that his movements went unseen and unchecked but the Count took pride in his ability to keep track of those he’d once called friends.
Sanchez left early the next night. His absence weighed heavily upon Kyrillos for reasons that the Count could not explain even to himself, much to his own consternation. He and the Toreador had had their falling out so long ago that Kyrillos oft wondered what it was that had separated them in the first place, but he would eventually remember his own actions, the ones that led to Sanchez marking him as a traitor.
The Toreador was better gone, off building the village that Hardestadt and his forsaken progeny had gifted him. Sebeș would never be a great city. Not without proper leadership.
The last to leave were Teresa and her niece, Lucita, whose carriage was only now leaving his sight… he cut off his own train of thought.
“There’s no time to regret, Kyrillos.” – The Count said to himself.
June 21, 1413, 9:24pm
The Domain of Ignacio Rossellini
Steward of Sighisoara
When Vendramino and his Turkish spymaster arrived at the fortress that his ungrateful wretch of a childe had procured for him, Vendramino was furious to discover that he had not even come to welcome him home. Instead he found a footman who was there to unload his bags and a serving girl who brought with her a carafe of preserved blood on which he could sate his thirst.
“Where is Ignacio?” – Vendramino demanded.
“The Master is meeting with a herald of the Venetian Family who arrived only a few moments ago. He asks that you make yourself comfortable, and wants you to know that he will join you as soon as he is finished.” – the girl.
“Of course, child, thank you.” – Vendramino, petting her head gently.
With a flick of his wrist he shattered her skull and ruptured her spine. The tray and carafe clattered upon the floor, splattering the cold partially congealed contents across the stone floor. He buried his fangs into her neck as she died, drinking the still living blood as it spurted from her neck. When he was done he dropped her in the pool of dead blood and stepped over her cooling body.
Ibrahim followed silently.
“I do believe, Ibrahim, that the girl was one of Ignacio’s gets’ bastards. She tasted faintly of the same bitter envy that tainted his blood when I embraced him.” – Vendramino
They reached the door from which they could hear Ignacio’s voice and slammed them open.
“I am sorry to keep a vassal of Venice waiting. I am Count Vendramino, and this is my domain.” – Vendramino
Ignacio was livid. His honey colored hair and snow white skin oft gave him the appearance of youthful innocence, but now they only helped to accent the black eyes that betrayed his hate for his sire.
“Sire, my apologies, I assumed that you would wish for me to continue the management of your holdings while you were here to ensure that things continued to run smoothly.” – Ignacio, his voice seething.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, dear boy, save for the fact that his is an envoy from the family itself.” – Vendramino shot back.
The envoy, a youngish looking ghoul, by the looks of him, was clad in the finest venetian fashion and carried with him a letter.
“Indeed, I was sent to parley with the Steward of Sighisoara, Count Vendramino” – The Emissary.
The old man paled. The boy smiled.
“You see, Vendramino, I have been summoned to Venice by Lord Claudius himself. You’ll be okay watching after our holdings while I am gone won’t you?” – Ignacio taunted his sire unabashedly as he left the chamber with the emissary.
Vendramino felt the cold, dead thing that animated his body trying to take over and shut it down.
“One day, that bastard will slip from his pedestal and I’ll be there to catch him, Ibrahim, and when I do I will take back the precious blood that I was forced to grant him.”
June 22, 1413, 3:17am
The Domain of Symeon of Byzantium
Master of the Obertus
Had the Count of Timisoara still known what it was to be physically tired he would be exhausted. He’d been summoned to Ramnic by his Liege, Symeon the Byzantine, nearly a week before and had ridden like a madman to reach his destination as soon as he could. Now he was climbing the parapet of the ancient castrum where the Obertus Lord was supposed to be awaiting him.
The fortification was ancient, older even than Symeon himself, which was probably why the Ancient was drawn to it. the Count had been forced to carefully climb the uneven and loose stone steps to reach his master and was not amused in the slightest at his situation when he finally reached its summit.
“Lord Symeon, are you here?” – Kyrillos into the foggy darkness.
“I am, Kyrillos, join me, please.” – Symeon, his voice a mix of physical youth, ancient power and soul-crushing age.
He finally found the Tzimisce in a small room that had once been a place for soldiers to escape the rain or the cold. Now it was an aviary for the master’s small family of falcons.
Symeon was cooing to a particularly large specimen when Kyrillos arrived. He recognized it as the one that had brought him his summons.
The Elder released the bird, sending it out into the night, another bit of parchment wrapped around its leg.
“Where have you sent him this time?” – Kyrillos
“Myca has not been to see me in some time and I worry after him sometimes. I know that he is fine, but he is also particularly hard to keep track of.” – Symeon.
“You sound weary, master.” – Kyrillos.
“I have lived, perhaps, too long, Kyrillos, I have watched everything that I hold dear collapse to the fires of the Holy and find myself in an unfamiliar land that I do not call home. My city calls to me even now, and I am barred from her. So yes I am weary.” – Symeon, his voice far off.
Kyrillos could sympathize with his fellow Byzantine.
“To business, though. I had hoped you would arrive sooner.” – Symeon, abruptly.
“Yes, I find myself being more careful these nights, between upstart fledglings and Inquisitors, I am obliged to take care to hide my movements.” – Kyrillos.
“Of course, it was not a criticism old friend, simply an observation. I find myself in an unenviable predicament. The Shapers amongst the Obertus, especially those who remember your sire, Dimities, are fearful of my having allowed you to join our Order, even in a lay capacity. Though you have long ago proven yourself to me and to my childe, many would like assurances to your loyalty.” – Symeon.
“And how am I to prove myself to them, my master?” – Kyrillos suspiciously.
“To tell the truth, Kyrillos, They demand a Blood Oath.” – Symeon.
“They would have me bound by oath to them?”
“To me, as Master of the Order and I, of course, would not require you to drink thrice, lest you give me reason.” – Symeon.
Kyrillos thought that it might have been the ancient’s idea of a joke.
“I would be happy to put their minds at ease, Master Symeon, as long as you were to drink from me in equal measure.” – Kyrillos, his voice resonating with the power of his madness.
“Of course.” – Symeon, happily.
And together they drank.
June 22, 1413, 4:16am
The Domain of Symeon of Byzantium
Master of the Obertus
Kyrillos was in the room afforded him preparing for the coming dawn when the door was shattered behind him.
Symeon strode in, his flesh rolling and his eyes full of blood.
“You would dare ensorcell me? I, the Grandchilde of the Dracon? I who survived the fires of Constantinople and built around him a kingdom in this Godforsaken land?” – the old vampire seemed to grow as he roared at Kyrillos.
Before Kyrillos could even speak the elder grabbed him and through him against the far wall of the cell with such force that he thought he might fly through it into the oncoming sun. What happened was far worse, though, as his very flesh seemed to liquefy, seeping into the stonework of the ancient fortress.
The last thing that Kyrillos thought that he might ever see was the Ancient storming toward him. He felt the cold fingers upon his face and then all was black.
June 23, 1413, 7:53pm
The Domain of Teresa Balgrad
Black Queen of Alba Iulia
When Teresa and her niece reached the Black Queen’s home they were surprised to find a carriage, painted black and covered with a sable covering.
“Silvestre? Here?” – Lucita, nervously.
“Calm yourself, childe.” – Teresa, dismissing her niece’s unease.
She could not dismiss her own misgivings, though. Why would the Lord of Iberia, a being whose eminence was second only to Lord Montano in the Sea of Shadows, travel the leagues and brave the Transylvanian wilds to visit her so far from the safety of his domain in Madrid?
“Could it have become so dangerous in Madrid?” – Lucita
“Is your sire still loyal to Montano?” – Teresa
“Yes.” – Lucita, defensively
“Then I do not believe so.” – Teresa
She couldn’t even convince herself.
When they tried to enter her home they found a handful of men-at-arms, ghouls by the hungry looks in their eyes, blocking their path.
“Let me pass.” – Teresa demanded.
“Name yourself, Vampire.” – the captain of the guard.
“I beg your pardon? I am Lady Teresa Balgrad and this is my home and domain! Now, step aside!” – she felt her beast infuse her words as she glared into the ghouls eyes.
He did not move.
“Silvio, please desist, it is, after all, her home.” – a soft, if powerful voice said from somewhere deeper in the house.
The Captain stepped aside begrudgingly.
Teresa stormed into her Haven to find her sire sitting at her table.
The small, silvered haired man motioned for her to join him. The table was set as though he were expecting them to dine. An assortment of grapes, cheeses, breads and oils were arrayed upon a fogged silver plate.
Silvestre was toying with a bunch of grapes, as if he were trying to decide their purpose.
“I am sorry for this intrusion, Teresa, I had thought I would find you here when I arrived, I hadn’t realized that you were in the habit of trusting your domain to the natives.” – The Elder condescended.
“Erzebet has proven her loyalty to me more than once in the course of the last two centuries and I find it easier to trust one whose ambitions lie elsewhere.” – Teresa
Silvestre dropped the bunch as if they were a used handkerchief. His patronizingly passive eyes never left her face.
“I am here to discuss the tragedy of our clan, my Childe. You have not returned to Madrid since the Shadow’s demise and I was worried that, perhaps, you were unaware of tenuous our grasp was upon the lands within the Sea of Shadows. The Childer are tearing at our throats. The lesser Clans, too, are chomping at our throats. The Portuguese Brujah are defecting, the ones who aren’t actively hunting elders with their Anarch brothers are declaring themselves Autarkus, they “won’t take sides”.” – Silvestre
“The Portuguese Brujah you say.” – Teresa, bitterly.
“Don’t tell me that you are still sore about how we chose to handle the control of your ‘Kingdom’?” – Silvestre, his voice high in his frustration.
“Of course not, Sire.” – Teresa lied.
Silvestre stood, grabbing a fogged silver goblet as he did so.
“It would seem that we’ve come to the point of my visit, Teresa.” – The elder sighed.
He closed his fingers into a tight fist over the goblet, after a moment blood the color of the night itself began to run ever so slowly from between his fingers.
“It has occurred to me over the last decade that, perhaps, I have wronged you. I will admit that I haven’t been particularly… sympathetic to your plight over the last two centuries. I saw your early failures in Portugal as a sign of a poor embrace, and I have discounted your many… accomplishments. You’ve proven, my dear childe, to be a loyal and accomplished magister. Your domain is proof of that.” – Silvestre, his blood filling the goblet drop by drop.
“Is there something wrong, Silvestre?” – Teresa
“There are…rumors… that your brother, Ambrose, may have allied himself with Gratiano’s faction. While I highly doubt that such rumors are true, I must insure the interests of our Clan over our Kingdom, over even my blood. I don’t know who to trust anymore Teresa, I need at least I can trust you, my only daughter. I can trust you, can’t I?” – Silvestre, his voice hushed
“Of course you can, sire.” – Teresa
“I am glad to hear that. I happen to be here, in Transylvania, to fulfill a debt owed to a local Prince, the Royalist Nova Arpad. Do you know of her?” – Silvestre
“I do, she rules over the region surrounding Medias. She used to hold sway over all the siebenburgen, but that was centuries ago. What could the Lord of Iberia possibly owe a backwater Royalist like Arpad? Rumor has it that even her own brood won’t have anything to do with her anymore.” – Teresa.
“It’s of no matter to you, Teresa. I simply need to know if I can trust you to fulfill my debt in my stead.” – Silvestre, his potent blood had already stopped.
“Yes, sire.” – Teresa
“I’ll need more than words, Teresa, I need proof, you know I do.” – Silvestre, holding out the goblet.
Teresa stared at that cup for a long time. She’d drunk from her sire twice and his blood had proven potent enough to last for two centuries. To drink from him again would make her Blood Oath complete.
“Master, I…” – Teresa, nervous
“If I can trust you, you Will Drink!” – Silvestre demanded.
“With all due respect, Lord Silvestre, you claim that your trust in me is questionable and yet you have not, in nearly three centuries done anything to prove that my Loyalty is returned. If you want me to drink, fine, but I will not be the only one!” – Teresa
Teresa held her left hand over another goblet and sliced her palm open with a small silver blade. Her own dark blood poured into the cup, filling it nearly to the brim.
“If my loyalty means anything to you, my Sire, you will drink with me.” – Teresa
Silvestre’s pale eyes darkened as his Darkness attempted to overwhelm him but he kept it in check. After a long moment in which they stared each other down, he hastily grabbed the goblet and drank the blood down.
Teresa did the same with her own cup.
“Now that that business is out of the way we can move on to your business in Medias” – Silvestre, clapping his hands together, his face was practically split by a victorious grin.
June 24, 1413, 4:14am
The Domain of Vendramino Giovanni
Count of Sighisoara
It had been an eventful few nights since the loathed Ignacio had left for Venice. So eventful in fact that Ibrahim was sure that if nothing happened to stop it, Vendramino might perform some horrific ritual that would send the entirety of the city to hell.
Last night they’d arose to find themselves with a visitor from Acre. The Prince had sent his only begotten daughter to act as Vendramino’s aid-de-camp whilst upon the continent. The conniving but much sheltered Charlatan was weeping when she joined them in Vendramino’s den.
The girl blamed Maria D’Agostino, claiming that she’d turned the prince against her. Of course, she was only partly correct. It was in fact Vendramino who’d pulled the strings that led to this conclusion, though his absence for the end game did allow the Genoan vampire to catch the Prince’s ear.
The plan had been for Sabela to merely be censured, possibly scourged and banished from the city gates, he had not expected Maria to convince the Prince to send her on this ‘quest of character’ she found herself on.
Ibrahim couldn’t stop his lip from curling into a cruel grin.
Vendramino had comforted the girl then and his grandfatherly voice chilled Ibrahim to the bone.
Last night had been easy. Ibrahim watched his benefactor pace about his den in a rage. A messenger had arrived only moments before from Mediaș. The Prince, a Royalist called Nova Arpad, was calling in a favor owed her by Ignacio, who, it seemed, owed her a great deal. The handsome Cappadocian had gone to her to help hide his various indiscretions from his sire, something the Prince had been more than willing to do, for a price. Now that price was being called in.
“Ignacio will be made to pay for this, Ibrahim, I swear it. I shall tear him limb from limb for this. I will feed his very soul to the howling dead that haunt this place! I shall reveal his treachery to my beloved grandfather and show him for the sniveling wretch that he is!” – Vendramino raved.
“Count Vendramino, if I may, your childe, though you loathe him, holds great sway within the halls of the Venetian members of your…Clan. Wouldn’t it be better to keep this indiscretion hidden and, perhaps, use it to keep him in line? Remove him from stewardship, by all means, but make him cleave to you out of survival. After all he is another voice within Augustus’s inner circle is he not, if he starts to back you wouldn’t that further your own influence with your Patriarch?” – Ibrahim
Vendramino glared at Ibrahim and for a moment the Child of Haqim feared that he might have to flee.
“You are, as ever, wise council, Ibrahim al-Rashid. But if I am to use this against my wayward son, I would need to ensure that I alone had power over him. I will need you to go and deal with this Prince of Mediaș. See that she has no need to call upon him again.” – Vendramino.
“And take Sabela with you. It would do her good to see the ways of the world outside of Acre.” – Vendramino.
“You must be joking, Vendramino. I am neither your childe nor your vassal and my services have a price, which in this instance would be very steep.” – Ibrahim, matter-of-factly.
Vendramino sneered at his friend.
“Name it, Turk.”
“I would learn the ways of the Giovanni.” – Ibrahim, directly.
“Of course, you have already been taught the basics of our insight, I do not see any reason why you could not also learn to command your flesh to ignore the banes of our existence.” – Vendramino, coyly.
“I speak of your powers as a Medium, Vendramino, I know that your power over the dead is no quirk of the blood. I have seen your experiments, my network would be much improved should I begin to employ the dead to gather information.” – Ibrahim.
Vendramino looked his spymaster over.
“That is not something that I can give freely. Should my Elders learn that I have given you the key to our Family’s power, I may find myself as dead as one of my charges. For me to give you that I would need something with which to hold over your head.” – Vendramino
“Name your price.” – Ibrahim
“You will drink from me, as a sign of loyalty.” – Vendramino
“Done.” – Ibrahim.
He appeared next to the Old Vampire and bit into the flesh of his neck, drinking deeply of the Old Vampire’s extraordinarily rich Vitae.
With a heave, Vendramino forced the Turk off of himself, the ragged wound of his neck healing over quickly.
“I am not amused, Ibrahim!” – Vendramino bellowed as the Assamite licked the cold vitae from his lips.
The old man took a moment to steady himself before leaving the room. Ibrahim knew that he was headed to the massive Library that Vendramino had long ago stocked and constantly sent new volumes too whenever he finished making copies in Acre. When he returned he held to his chest a smallish codex. It was covered in green leather and was stamped with the Giovanni seal.
“This is the Codex of Sepulchral Secrets, and it is my revision of Augustus’s own Grimoire, which, of course led to our family’s Long Night. It will teach you all you need to know of our Necromantic Arts.” – Vendramino, handing the book to his apprentice.
“And should any Giovanni see you with it, there will be nowhere you will be safe from our wrath.” – Vendramino cautioned.
“I am sure that my own brethren would look poorly upon me having this knowledge, I can assure you that I will guard its secrets with my life.”
June 28, 1413, 8:25pm
The Domain of Symeon of Byzantium
Master of the Obertus
The first thing Kyrillos felt was an exquisitely hot fluid splash against his tongue. Soon the blood was being poured down his throat in great gushing gouts. This was not the first time he’d been fed since his…imprisonment, but it was the first time he’d been fed such quantities.
The blood rushed into every limb, every cell and began to reshape them. Slowly, inch by inch, he felt himself rising out of the stonework until finally he fell out of the wall and onto his knees. After another minute he was able to stand again, five more and there was no sign that he’d ever been harmed.
His vision was the last thing to return, but when it did he found his footmen dead at his feet. Theirs was the blood used to revive and heal him.
Master Symeon stood in the doorway, his young face a mask of fury.
Kyrillos was ashamed that he would make his Master so angry.
“It would seem that my fellows were right, Kyrillos, and for your violation I have bound you fully to me by blood. What say you.” – Symeon
“Thank you, master, for your magnanimity. We are horrified by our own actions and pray that you will one day forgive us.” – Kyrillos, prostrating himself.
“The only reason I allowed your release is that I have need of your services, Lunatic.” – Symeon, walking away.
“Of course, my Master.” – Kyrillos, following.
“When Myca secured these lands for our brethren he was forced to make certain concessions to the Eastern lords. One of those Lords is a petty but dangerous Ventrue called Nova Arpad. You will go to her domain, a manor house in the heart of Mediaș, and you will do whatever needs be done for her. Can I count on you, son of Dimities?” – Symeon.
“Yes, my Master.” – Kyrillos groveled.
“So be it.”
June 29, 1413, 12:53am
The Domain of Hardestadt
High-Lord of Bavaria
The Castle was as beautiful now as when Sanchez laid the last stone himself a century ago. It was easy for the mason to forget how more civilized Cainites took care of their homes after living for so long amongst the Tzimisce who rarely kept up their own castles. Every time he came here he had to appreciate his own work.
“Master Sanchez? The High-Lord would see you now.” – the voice of one of Hardestadt’s footmen pulled him from his nostalgia.
“Yes, thank you.” – Sanchez
The footman held the antechamber door for Sanchez as he entered, closing it behind him. The elder Toreador felt very aware of his surroundings, worrying that perhaps he was not properly dressed.
He hadn’t seen the High-Lord since his near destruction at the hands of the Anarch Patricia, no one had, rumors swirled across the continent about what could have happened to the ancient vampire, about treachery from within and of horrible magics taking their toll.
Sanchez didn’t know at all what to expect as he stepped into the dark chamber, but what he saw left him speechless.
When he’d previously met the High-Lord he’d been surprised by the stature and age of the elder, who stood no taller than Sanchez’s own shoulder. The elder vampire had been an elder in life as well, though the years had not been unkind to him. His hair was black but heavily streaked with gray, his piercing blue eyes were as clear as a hawks and his voice seemed at turns warm and hard depending on the subject at hand.
This was not that man.
The vampire standing before Sanchez was tall and strapping, having been taken in the prime of his life. His blond hair and dark eyes were as immediately recognizable as the immaculate raven cloak and gilded sword at his side.
The figure stood from his throne and smiled at Sanchez.
“Lord Jürgen?” – Sanchez, unbelieving
“Yes, Sanchez, It’s me.” – Jürgen
“… but how?” – Sanchez
“The Anarchs were as successful as was reported, my old friend. The Agitator-Bitch Patricia diablerized him and it is believed that they had help within this fortress. Though I had failed him in the Land Beyond the Forest, we were still close and he was grooming me to take his place once he was finally forced to go into the Death Sleep. So when he was destroyed I was able to quickly pick up the pieces, after contacting the ‘Founder’s conspiracy’, we agreed that it would be best to hide his destruction. I have ruled in his name ever since.” – Jürgen.
“That’s a lot to take in, Lord… Hardestadt.” – Sanchez
“I know, Master Sanchez. But now you’re the only one I can trust and I must ask a favor.” – “Hardestadt”, placing his hand on the Toreador’s shoulder.
“What of Lucretia, surely she would be delighted to hear of your survival.” – Sanchez, vehemently.
“I fear that even she has fallen to the influences of the revolution. She believed me destroyed, and without my guiding hand she has allowed her Pride to overwhelm her, now she is lost, believing that her Clan has abandoned her.” – Hardestadt the Younger
“I am sorry for her sedition, Hardestadt, I know that you two were close.” – Sanchez
“It’s no matter, all of my court has been overrun by traitors, usurpers and vipers. There have been three more attacks upon this glorious fortress that you made for me, but unlike my fool of a sire who believed that stone was enough to keep him safe, I was prepared. And in spite of his foolhardy faith, his dream that we, the children of Caine, should come together under one banner as Kindred must live on. Great things are coming Sanchez, and I want you to be by my side, building this better future. Our little conspiracy has banded together Elders from a majority of the Clans of Caine and we have only one more ‘foundation’ to lay, if you’ll pardon the metaphor. And that is with the Arpad Ventrue that rule the east.” – Hardestadt.
“What use could they possibly be to you, Milord?” – Sanchez
“They may be fools, cowards and vipers, Sanchez, but they are canny and powerful. Though you may not realize it, these Eastern Lords have influence in nearly every Eastern Court not directly tied to the Black Cross. If our grand experiment is to succeed we will need their support; which, of course, brings us to the favor that I must ask of you.” – Hardestadt
“Ask it, sir.” – Sanchez
“I have been promised their support for our “Camarilla” in exchange for a number of trivialities, money, favors, vessels and jewelry mostly, things that I have had no problem obtaining for them. However there is also a favor that they have asked of me that I cannot perform, personally and I must ask that you go in my stead.”
“If that is all, then of course I will do that for you.” – Sanchez
“Would that it was, my old friend, for now we come to the part of my favor that I am loath to ask of you: Two centuries ago you gave me your loyalty and then proved that loyalty by drinking of my blood. Now, in these times of anarchy and unrest I must ask you to do so again. It will be the last I ever ask of you, but it will bind the two of us together in a trust that I share with no other of our cursed breed.” – Hardestadt
“Jürgen, I will stand by you in whatever endeavor you undertake. I will follow you into hell itself if you tell me that our future is there, but I swore after drinking of your blood the last time that I would never be bound by Blood Oath again.” – Sanchez
“You never swore that to me.” – Hardestadt, uneasily
“No, I swore that to myself and my God, who is possibly the only being that I hold in higher esteem than I do you. That being said, these are indeed dangerous times and I do see your need for trust. So yes I will drink from you one last time, if only to put your mind at ease as to whom you can trust.” – Sanchez.
The young High-Lord smiled at his old friend.
“Let us celebrate, than, with a toast!” – Sanchez.
They drank a sweet bloodwine, a vintage that Hardestadt was fond of, laced ever so slightly with the heady tang of Vitae.
When they’d had their fill the High-Lord explained to him his mission.
June 18, 1413, 9:41pm
The Cities Edge
The Domain of Nova Arpad
Prince of Mediaș
When last Sanchez had come to this house it had stood upon a large walled estate outside the city. Now its walls had been absorbed by the city’s own. The lady Arpad even shared her view, looking out over city streets from all angles.
But, of course, it had been centuries since he’d last visited, and by all accounts the Prince of Ash was a talented and ruthless ruler, who had parleyed the loss of all Transylvania after the fall of the Council of Ashes into a network of favors and influences that spanned all of Eastern Europe. It was said that even some few Voivodes owed her favors.
The streets were muddy from the summer storm that began the night before, but people were out in droves, shopping and drinking and carrying on as if there were not a care in the world. Though the old Toreador couldn’t help but feel an undercurrent of unrest amongst them, as if they were waiting for something, something just around the corner…
Among the throng of the living, Sanchez had found his old friend Ibrahim who was surprised to see him, though not as much as Sanchez had been to see the beautiful girl at his side. It seemed that that they too had had been commissioned for the same purpose and from the looks of it they weren’t the only ones.
Wagons, marked by the crests of the Voivodate, Black Cross, Obertus Landhold, and the Sea of Shadows were there, along with the Venetian city-states and even the Courts of Love. It seemed that everyone who was anyone had owed something to the Prince of Ash.
“This favor, whatever it is, must be of vital importance for so many to have heeded the call.” – Ibrahim.
“Indeed, though I do believe that I see Teresa’s personal carriage.” – Sanchez, pointing to a particular wagon.
“Of course.” – Ibrahim smirked.
“How goes it, gentlemen?” – a voice, carrying forward from behind them.
They turned to find Thierry, whom neither had seen in over a century.
Sanchez embraced the Tremere as a comrade-in-arms.
“Never better, lad, and you?” – Sanchez.
“I’ve been sent here by Master Jervais, it seems that he owes the Arpad woman a favor and I am to collect for him to pay my own debts.” – Thierry.
“I am here for similar reasons, Master Thierry.” – Sabela, nervously
“Well, I’ll be damned twice more, if it isn’t the Lady Sabela of Acre.” – Thierry, kissing the girl’s hand.
“We’d best hurry though, for the hour approaches.” – Ibrahim.
As they hurried toward the great house Sanchez took time to note the architectural additions that had been made to it over the centuries, taking pride in the fact that many of them were influenced by his own works across the continent.
As they approached the fountain that stood in front of their host’s home, one that Sanchez recognized from two centuries prior as having once belonged exclusively to the Prince, they were startled to hear the shouting of men.
“This mockery of justice has gone on for far too long. The lords of these lands must cease their depredation! We break our backs and give our lifeblood for their pleasure! Our wives, sisters and daughters sacrifice their virtue on the altar of their insatiable and unholy lusts. It is time for us to stand together!” – A young agitator, shouting out to the odd passerby in the quiet streets around the Mansion.
“This cannot end well.” – Sanchez whispered to Thierry and Ibrahim.
The boy ducked low and scooped up a loose stone, but when he turned to throw it at the house he found himself being set upon by six men-at-arms bearing the crest of the Prince of Ash
“It is funny that I would go from the Court of the Prince of Dust to the Court of the Prince of Ash.” – Sabela whispered to herself.
The knights charged the boy, attempting to pin him down against one of the other houses. But the boy did something unexpected. He broke toward them.
“Help me, I’m being oppressed!” – He bellowed.
Thierry stepped back out of the boy’s way without thinking, while Ibrahim simply wasn’t there.
Sanchez quickly realized that the firebrand wanted to get past them and into the inn behind them but was shocked to see the man suddenly lose his footing. Without thinking about what he was doing Sanchez found himself standing in the boy’s path, keeping him from falling into the mud.
The soldiers were quickly upon them, their cudgels drawn.
“Hand the little shit over or you’ll be sorry.” – One of the guards.
“I’m claiming this man.” – Ibrahim, stepping from the shadows.
“And so I’ll have to make an example of you too.” – The guard.
The man tried to stare the smaller Turk down.
The man blinked.
“Fine, than you can explain it to our mistress.” – the guard, calling off his men.
The soldier kicked the kid.
“You’re lucky the foreigner speaks for you.”
The boy turned to Ibrahim
“Thank you sir, you’ve no idea the injustices that the woman who calls that house home has put us through, her and a hundred more like her-“ – The kid, cut off by the back of Ibrahim’s hand.
“It would behoove you to remain silent if you wish to live.” – The Turk, quietly.
The kid whimpered, holding his cheek.
“You dress like a pauper, but you speak like one of higher station, explain yourself.” – Ibrahim
“I was born here but was lucky enough to have been trained by scholars from the University. It was under their tutelage l realized the evils being perpetrated by the ruling class.” – the child revolutionary
“And these scholars of yours, did they not teach you to not speak out in public?” – Ibrahim chastised.
“I know that might does not make right!” – the boy rebel.
Ibrahim slapped him again.
“What do they call you, young philosopher?”
“R-Robi Bertok, sir.” – The boy had tears in his eyes.
More importantly, he didn’t cower. Ibrahim made a note of it.
“Robi Bertok, you belong to me, now.”
June 18, 1413, 10:01pm
The Domain of Nova Arpad
Prince of Mediaș
They were shown into a small, comfortable room just off the foyer, only to find that they were indeed, the last to arrive.
Ibrahim recognized them all, even if a few were only based on reputation. The first person he recognized was the Count of Timisoara, who sat in a high-back chair speaking to a tall, thin man dressed in enough finery that it must have weighed him down. By the large pendant he wore he knew Roland, a pathetic Ventrue slave-trader from Buda-Pest. The conversation wasn’t going well for either of them.
Teresa stood a short distance away, staying in the shadows, watching a beautiful but deadly young woman that he knew to be Kara Lupescu, the childe of Radu Bistritz and herald of Vladimir Rustovitch, who had taken a large portion of the room for herself. When Thierry entered she audibly snarled.
The final two vampires were well known and feared throughout Transylvania, each the supposed childer of Ancient monsters. The first was the Serbian Gangrel Zavid Kinslayer, a diablerist childe of Arnulf; the other was Marchettus, the supposed childe of some Carthaginian Warlord, he had sworn enmity upon all the Princes of the Land beyond the Forest. Ibrahim could not fathom why he would be here in service to one such as Nova Arpad. These two seemed to be regaling each other with war stories as they awaited the Prince.
Their reunion with the other members of their conspiracy was cut off abruptly by the appearance of their host’s manservant.
The tall wisp of a man was ancient and bald, his iron-gray beard hanging almost to his navel.
“The Lady Nova Arpad, Prince of the Realm of Mediaș and Mistress of western Transylvania.” – The old man, his sonorous voice echoing in the small chamber.
Nova Arpad was a vision, as beautiful as the night Ibrahim had met her two centuries prior. She peered at those who attended and when she smiled the room itself seemed to be brighter for it.
“As the Voivodes of the East are fond of saying, welcome to my home, come freely and of your own will.” – Nova chimed.
Lady Kara sneered at the Erroneousness of the woman saying such a thing to those who had already been invited into her home.
The Prince seemed to note the Fiend’s reaction but carried on anyway.
“Thank you all for coming as your patrons assured me you would. Know that you will be serving your elders in assisting me in the small endeavor I have in mind. A treasured piece of jewelry has been stolen from me and I wish to have it returned and the thief brought to me for retribution. Recently, a tribe of Egyptites – Gypsies, I believe the commoners call them – passed through my lands. I have reason to believe that one of their number gained access to my treasury and absconded with several valuable items. I have prepared a list of the missing jewels, but I expect some of them to have been sold or traded by now. One piece in particular concerns me, for it is an ancient relic and I am loath to see it disappear from my possession.
“The item is a gold pectoral, formed from linked tablets inscribed with intricate symbols. It was a gift to me from my sire who, in turn, was given it from his. I have no idea as to its origin but its antiquity is undeniable.” – Nova, her voice like a crystal bell.
The Fiend Kara stood and spat blood at the Prince’s feet.
“For this I am called across the whole of Transylvania? To act as a mouser for a petulant Royalist and her lost trinkets? I am the Childe of Radu and the favored vassal of Voivode Rustovitch, when my master hears of this he will be most displeased with the triviality with which you view his obligations.” – Kara Lupescu
With that the Fiend stormed from the room.
After a moment the Brujah joined her, though he ‘accidentally’ bumped the prince’s manservant as he passed him, the bones of the old man’s arm cracked audibly as he slammed into the wall behind him. The Gangrel followed quietly after.
Sanchez rushed to the man’s aid.
“Does anyone else feel as the Lady does?” – Nova snapped.
Thierry stood and bowed slightly to the prince.
“Though I am loathed to follow the fiend’s example, I must leave you. My master assured me that my mission would be of the utmost importance but I have many experiments in Ceoris that need my attention. Please, milady, understand that I mean no ill will to you.” – Thierry, bowing twice again as he passed her.
Roland, too, stood and left though he did so without a word.
The Ventrue’s eyes widened as nearly half of those who assembled abandoned their duty.
“So be it. I am glad to see that many of those who stood by their obligations are each my fellow princes, but I would remind you that we are not equals. Each of you have gained your cities through your patrons; while I have been the executor of the Siebenburgen since long before any of you were ushered into the Long Night.”
Sanchez snorted at her petty attempt to show dominance. She spun on him in an instant
“As for you and your foreign friends, I hope that your foolish indulgence with the rabble-rouser earlier does not betoken softness in your attitude toward justice being done.” – Nova.
“Adolph, my manservant, will give you any information you might need for your journey, as well as anything you might need. You may stay here in my home for the day, but I expect you gone by midnight, tomorrow.”
June 24, 1413, 8:35pm
The Olt Valley
The Domain of Josephus
Prince of Brasov
The Prince had been good to her word, providing fresh horses and a list of the items lost to her through her manservant, who also gave them what intelligence the Prince’s spy-network had been able to grant them.
The gypsies, members of the Torenu Clan, had fled southward toward Brasov. They had no doubt that they’d be able to find the band, as they had long made habit of stopping and making camp for days at a time.
The list of items had been the source of much of the conversation on the voyage.
“A pair of bracelets, a pair of earrings, and a brooch, we’re her equals whether she wants to admit it or not, and for this we have been called across the forest? It’s madness.” – Kyrillos, angrily
“How must our lieges feel, for lest we forget, she called upon them first.” – Teresa
“Which only proves my point, Teresa; we’ve all heard the stories of those who could not cope with the centuries, hell, we’ve known those who could not, they’ve gone mad and thrown away all that they’ve built. I believe that that is what the Lady Arpad has done.” – Kyrillos
“So you’re saying that she is not a threat.” – Sabela.
The two elders gave the girl a pitying look. It was hard for either of them to understand how one nearly as old as they could be so naïve to the ways of the Damned.
“You’ve not met many of my Clan, have you Lady Sabela?” – Kyrillos
“There have been others that visit Acre, but they never stayed long. You and your childer, though, Gauthier and Eloise, you don’t seem as mad as others say.” – Sabela
Kyrillos sad smile was well hidden by his beard.
“We are mad, dear girl, and nothing is more dangerous than a mad immortal.” – Kyrillos
“It looks like we are on the right track.” – Sanchez, interrupted.
They looked out of the wagon and saw the Torenu Caravan up ahead.
“It looks like you were wrong about them, Count.” – Sanchez derided.
“I don’t doubt that there are thieves among them, but I have heard that Silas was destroyed by mortal hunters centuries ago in France.” – Kyrillos
“Okay, but what of the others?” – Sanchez
“Neither Izydor or Delizbieta were ever known for their sticky fingers, Sanchez. Izydor had his… foibles but they all stemmed from his need to cause trouble, not take what wasn’t his. And if I heard of any crime perpetrated by the girl it was that her ‘fortunes’ often do more harm than good.” – Kyrillos chuckled fondly.
“You’re close?” – Sanchez
“We haven’t spoken in some time, but in our experience those who walk the night are unlikely to change overly much.” – Kyrillos.
Sanchez smirked. The madman wasn’t wrong.
Ordering the wagons to carry on to Sebeș, the conspiracy decided that it would be safer to approach the Gypsies on foot, just as the others who had come to see the travelers’ wares did.
When they arrived they found that the circle of wagons was well lit by a great fire in the center of their encampment and smaller campfires next to each wagon. A part of Kyrillos wanted to flee, but that part of him was weak and he had little trouble keeping it in check.
Ropes were hung between the wagons and the odd tree to help pen off the horses. Unfortunately the gypsies didn’t seem so worried about the various dogs, cats, chickens and goats that they allowed to roam freely amongst the villagers who’d arrived to trade and barter.
The smell of a still cooking stew wafted from a nearby wagon and caused the Malkavian to crinkle his nose. It smelled strongly of Paprika and some gamey meat that may have once smelled inviting to the old trader. Instead he was drawn to the heady aroma of the Gypsies and their patrons.
There were at least forty-five men, women and children within the Torenu tribe, a great deal fewer than had visited him in Timisoara a dozen years before. Their patrons were less numerous, though it was probable that had more to do with the hour than the wants of the people of Sebeș.
At the entrance was a barker announcing the various services afforded by the tribe, directing the newly arrived toward the horse traders and the tinsmiths and the glassworkers as well as a fortune teller and the various musicians that lived amongst the Torenu.
Near the bonfire a small band of gypsies played a persuasively boisterous melody that left many of the musicians laughing even as a small crowd had gathered around them to better hear and dance to their tune.
Kyrillos approached the barker and bade him come closer.
“I am looking for Izydor of the Torenu, does he still travel with this compania?” – Kyrillos, happily
The Barker, a man in his prime years with dark smoldering features, seemed startled by the old man’s question.
“I do not know who put you up to his little joke, my friend, but do not pretend that your wealth and station will protect you here.” – the Barker
“What did I say?” – Kyrillos
“That name is not spoken by the Torenu, and hasn’t been for many years.” – The Barker, spitting on the ground.
“What do you mean, sir?” – Kyrillos
“You do not know the tale? If you say you knew him then it must have been when you were just a child, for the one who was called by that name has been dead since my grandmother’s time.” – the barker hissed
“What happened?” – Kyrillos
“All you need know is that he is dead and all that is left of him is a legacy of pain and suffering. I will not speak any more on this subject. If you must know something you can speak to the fortuneteller, she can tell you more!” – The barker, returning to his duties.
“What of Delizbieta? Do you at least know of her?” – Kyrillos called after.
“Talk to the Fortuneteller, she’ll tell you all you need to know!” – the man shouted back. Kyrillos could have sworn that he was smiling.
Teresa and Sabela slipped away, as did the others, when Kyrillos approached the Barker. The two ladies found themselves among the jewelry makers and the clothiers. Sabela enjoyed looking at the multitude of baubles and Teresa knew that there was a fair chance that they might catch wind of the fate of the stolen objects.
“Milady, if it pleases you, I have wonderful garments, made of the finest oriental fabrics. Gowns that will stoke the fire of even the most distracted of men.” – a woman called out to Teresa.
Eying the gauzy robe she was being ‘seduced’ with she was impressed by the craftsmanship but thought that it was next to useless in terms of keeping one warm or modest. She was far more interested in the heavy gold bracelet that the woman wore.
Teresa took the tawdry bit of clothing and acted as if interested. After a moment of haggling she ‘suddenly’ saw the bracelet.
“What a beautiful bracelet, did one of your smiths craft that for you?” – Teresa, enviously. She hoped that the gypsy would want to sell it to an easy mark.
“Oh no, milady, this was a gift from Anasztaz.” – the seller cooed. She was fond of this ‘Anasztaz’ whoever he was.
“Do you suppose he could tell me where I might find something like that?” – Teresa
“I don’t see why not.” – the woman
“Do you know where I can find him?” – Teresa
The woman’s eyes glazed over slightly, as if she were trying to remember a childhood dream.
“I- I’m not sure.” – The woman, confused.
“May I buy it from you?” – Teresa.
“No, madam, I couldn’t do that.” – the woman, petting the bracelet.
Teresa was tired of being polite. She removed a small but heavy coin purse form the folds of her dress.
“Are you sure you cannot Give Me The Bracelet? I will pay good money.” – Teresa, compelling the woman to acquiesce.
The old woman slipped the heavy gold from her wrist without a second thought.
“Of course, it’s a fair trade, how could I refuse?” – the old woman.
Teresa paid very well. The old woman would think nothing of the transaction, save that the noblewoman offered her a deal that she regretted accepting.
June 24, 1413, 9:09pm
The Torenu Camp
The Domain of Josephus
Prince of Brasov
Sanchez heard the barker tell Kyrillos to speak to the fortuneteller and quickly found a small crowd of people waiting to do just that. He’d waited for some time before being admitted into the cunning-woman’s small tent.
He was surprised to find the inside so cozily decorated, even the ground on which it was raised was covered by an exquisitely embroidered rug. Large overstuffed pillows lined the room, which was lit by a single blue-paper lantern that sat upon a low table in the center of the tent. At the table sat a young woman, her hair was made up of black ringlets and coils, her eyes were as black as the night sky.
She was exotically beautiful and somehow familiar too.
“Hello, stranger, I believe that we are awaiting a few more, those that came with you.” – the Fortuneteller.
“What do you mean?” – Sanchez, curiously
The tent’s entrance billowed open and three more stepped in. Sanchez realized that she’d been referring to his fellows. When Sabela entered she growled and lunged forward, though Teresa was able to gently hold her back as she regained her composure.
“Welcome, all of you, to our camp. Please put yourselves at ease. Few are those who walk amongst the stars and we have no quarrel with you. You must have great need to risk traveling so close to Brasov this night. These good folk who braved the wilderness did so to find solace in knowing their future. Do you desire the same?” – The fortuneteller.
“You do not recognize us do you, Delizbieta?” – Sanchez
She smiled and raised her arms at her sides in thanks to them, revealing a golden pectoral that she wore around her neck.
Sanchez immediately made out the small symbols that were etched into it.
““I do indeed, Master Sanchez, I, and these people owe you all a great debt. You must forgive me for not recognizing you sooner; it’s been so many centuries that I am a bit befuddled. Please allow me to read your fortunes to make it up to you.” – Delizbieta
“I would like to hear the Gypsy woman’s divinations, perhaps she could take the Lady Teresa’s fortune.” – Ibrahim, appearing from the shadows.
“Yes, milady, please allow me to divine your future.” – Delizbieta
The Lasombra’s eyes seemed to shoot daggers at the Arab but took a seat directly across from the Gypsy.
Delizbieta placed a card in front of the Lady. It was the Queen of cups.
“For you, milady.” – Delizbieta, shuffling the rest of the cards before asking the Black Queen to cut them.
“Concentrate on the question you wish for them to address.” – Delizbieta, reverentially.
She placed the next card over the seven of cups.
“The Moon represents powerful forces outside of your control. You stand in the midst of these forces. This covers you”
She places another card across the moon.
“The Three of Swords denotes great sorrow. Your heart is pierced by the conflict that surrounds you, threatening that which means most to you. This crosses you.”
She places the next card from the deck just below the cross.
“The Eight of Cups indicates abandonment in your past. Those who supported you have already begun to withdraw their approval, perhaps seeing in you a threat to their own authority. This is the basis or foundation of your present dilemma.”
Delizbieta places the next card above the cross.
“The Hierophant or High Priest stands for tradition and faith. It is this force that holds the power to unlock and translate the secrets of the future. This crowns you, for it lies immediately ahead of you.”
She draws the next card and places it to the right of the cross.
“Death. Do not be alarmed, for we all know that death is but the beginning of new life. It is a renewal, and it lies in your immediate past. You are newly come from some renewal – no, for I can see this is not so – you recently experienced a transformation that greatly affects your future actions. This lies just behind you.”
Delizbieta seemed shaken by what the card showed her. She reached for the next card gingerly, placing it to the left of the cross.
“The Two of Pentacles or Coins. This card stands for balance. Its position indicates to me that your actions in the coming times will sway the delicate arrangement of forces in the world around you. What you do will affect more lives than your own. This determines your extended futures.”
Kyrillos noticed the sudden shift in tone, the Ravnos’ voice was shaking. And that she was now speaking to everyone in the room.
The seventh card was slipped into place just below and to the far right of the cross.
“The World represents fulfillment. It occupies the position of your innermost concerns. You have lived through difficult times, yet you long for your existence to have meaning and you fear that you will remain forever a pawn of someone greater than yourself.”
She placed the eighth card on top of the seventh.
“The Seven of Cups symbolizes temptation. Its place in your fortune represents the forces outside you who wish you to enact their will and who lure you with promises. Weigh carefully the value of their words against the reality of their actions. You face a time of great trial and tribulations.”
Sanchez glanced over at Kyrillos at those last words. They shared a nervous shrug as they thought back to their conversation with Anatole.
She placed the next card over the eighth.
“The Ten of Cups represents satiation. This is your goal, to satisfy your desires and fulfill your ambitions in whatever way you can. It is a deceptive card in this position, for you may achieve one thing only to find that you really desired something else.”
Delizbieta’s voice seemed strained, as if she were speaking under duress. She reached for the tenth card so carefully that Ibrahim thought that it appeared to burn her.
She placed it over the last card.
“The Wheel of Fortune is the card of Destiny. This is the culmination of what has gone before. Just as the wheel turns everything repeats itself in an unending cycle of activity. But here, in this time, you stand as the turners of that wheel. You are part of fate but in some sense, you are your own destiny.”
Delizbieta’s shoulders slumped forward and the vampire seemed to take a moment to compose herself before looking up at Teresa again.
“This… this has been a powerful experience for me, I could sense great forces gathering around you and the cards confirmed that for me.” – Delizbieta, looking in awe upon each of the vampires present.
“I’m sorry to ask this, Delizbieta, but I need to know where you got that Pectoral.” – Sanchez
The non sequitur surprised the fortuneteller.
“It was a gift. Why?” – Delizbieta
Before Sanchez could say another word though, a scream pierced through the sound of people outside. It was followed by the sound of heavy hooves hitting the ground.
Kyrillos turned and tore open the tent’s door to see men on horseback waving torches and swords above their head.
“What now?” – Teresa
“I don’t care.” – Kyrillos, looking for another way out of the camp.
“We have a job to finish here, Kyrillos.” – Teresa, elbowing the old man in the ribs.
The crowd exploded into screams as the mass of patrons and revelers became aware of the danger they were in.
“Help us and whatever you want is yours, I swear it!” – Delizbieta, before rushing out to help her people.
Kyrillos uttered a low, inhuman growl as he slipped from the tent. His fangs and eyes flashed in the fire light.
Teresa turned to Ibrahim and Sanchez but they were gone, though where they could have gone was beyond her.
“Sabela, we need to get as many people as possible safely from here. We also need to put out those fires. Do you think you can do that?” – Teresa
“I’ll do my best, Lady Teresa.” – Sabela, trying to be brave.
Teresa rushed out into the crowd, she felt dozens of bodies pressing futilely against her unmoving form as she took stock of the situation.
There were twenty men upon horseback. Most were armed with swords though a few carried crossbows or torches. They wore chainmail and the tabards with an unfamiliar mark emblazoned upon them, and they were smart enough to ride in packs of five.
Hunters, she thought, before praying that they did not know what it was that they were hunting.
“Heretics! Heathens! Witches! Diabolists! Prepare your souls to meet the fires of hell!” – Came a booming voice from within the ranks of the knights.
It was a lone man, a priest by the looks of him, dressed in simple robes, he carried with him a cross and a torch. His eyes burned with his faith and Teresa found herself unsure of her next action.
The priest flung his torch toward one of the many covered wagons and watched it go up in a flash. She could hear the sounds of screams coming from within.
Teresa wheeled around, hoping to see her compatriots and quickly found Sabela, pail in hand, throwing water on one of the smaller fires. The girl, though obviously afraid of the flames, came shockingly close to them time and again, showing no sign of them scorching her.
June 24, 1413, 9:52pm
The Egyptite Nest
A mile north east of Brasov
Father Giacomo strode forth ahead of his men, his cross in hand. The holy father may have decided that these wretches were beyond the reach of the church, but the priest knew better; if they would not convert and forsake their satanic ways than it would be up to him and his men to ensure their place in hell at their hellish master’s side.
Giacomo was furious to see a number of Christian faces among the throng of iniquitous vermin. He marked more than one face in the crowd to visit his ministrations upon in the future. They were not his concern now. He was here to clear the nest.
He watched with righteous glee as a whore and her pimp were trampled by one of his knights. It was a shame that her spawn was trampled too, but the chances of it ever being saved and brought into God’s grace was small.
A small cadre of the rats attempted to attack Giacomo’s paladins but were easily crushed under the weight of their divine might. Giacomo thanked God for their deaths and even laughed once as a small explosion destroyed one of the carts.
He hoped that it took a few of the heathens with it.
His enjoyment was cut short when he heard the sound of horses in distress. He turned to find that one of his five units, the one directly to his right, had broken ranks. Their leader, Brother Gabor, had been thrown from his horse and was at risk of being trampled. Though the knights quickly steadied their mounts it was too late, Gabor was indeed dead.
Giacomo looked to find a cause for the horse’s rebellion only to find a small old man who looked as affright as the horses; the priest was sure to remember his face so that he could show him what it was to be afraid.
Screams erupted behind the priest, cries of the gypsy whores as well as those of his own men. The priest spun around and saw an unearthly blackness wending its way through the knights and their horses like smoke, until all that remained was the dim light of their torches. The cries of those knights were muffled by the morass as if his men were underwater.
One by one the already dim torchlights began to go out. Three horses escaped the black cloud, though one of them did not possess a rider, the others fled.
As fast as it came the darkness faded, as if it were smoke caught by a breeze, but when it was gone it revealed a bloody massacre. Two of his knights had their throats torn out, a third had been crushed by his own headless horse. A forth sat as still as a corpse upon his unmoving steed. His face was pale and drawn, and fixed into a mask of terror.
The last knight rocked upon his restless horse, weeping incoherently as he looked in horror at the state of his unit.
Giacomo searched for the source of their horrific demise but did not find any sign.
“Our father… who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven… thy will be done…” – The knight whimpered.
Giacomo watched a unit of knights draw on the tent of the witch that was said to travel with the filth. She was beautiful and pale and Giacomo knew in an instant that she owed much to the devil, but when they approached her she gestured with her hands and said something profane and with her words the ground heaved, thrusting up great earthen walls as a barrier between herself and the knights.
It was all for naught though. For the knight leapt from his horse and over the wall. The witch tried to flee but the knight ran her through as she rebounded off of her own wall. With a mighty heave he freed her head from her blaspheming shoulders.
“She’s escaped! Over there!” – another knight cried out.
“No, she’s over there, between the carts!” – cried another.
Giacomo turned and saw that they were both right.
“No she’s fled into the crowd!” – cried a third.
“Damn her to hell!” – Giacomo shouted
There were at least six at his last count, though the knights had run through, trampled, and killed half that many.
Giacomo watched as five of his best men scrambled about trying desperately to catch the witch and saw the folly of such an action.
“Shore up your ranks men!” – the Priest cried out.
Amidst the crowd of running men and fleeing women stood a lone matron of noble bearing and obvious wealth and beauty. A part of Giacomo awoke as he looked upon her pale skin and her slender body. He would enjoy interrogating her immensely, but why was she just standing there when she should be running?
She glared angrily at one of the hosts of knights that had trampled so many of the foul gypsies, and was utterly still as they approached her.
She was an island of nobility in a human sea of refuse.
She was saying something to the knights, something that Giacomo could not hear over the sound of the fighting and screams.
A knight, Brother Eustace, dismounted from his horse and approached the woman, sheathing his sword as he went.
He said something to her but pulled away at the last moment, falling to the ground as he did.
Something was drawing them toward the woman, something dark. It took Giacomo a moment to realize that it was a shadow, indeed it was more than one. It was as if the night itself was assaulting her.
But she wasn’t afraid. As the priest drew closer he saw the shadows drawing into her mouth, her nose, her eyes. And what was worse, he saw that she was welcoming them.
A shiver went through the priest as she turned to look at him with eyes blacker than the night itself.
Giacomo prayed as he looked into the eyes of the demon.
The blackness began to seep from the woman’s eyes, leaking out like tar as her skin grew as pallid as that of a corpse. She smiled and the darkness began to flow from it as well. As he watched the beautiful woman seemed to rot away, as if it had devoured her from the inside out.
He watched as the corpse of a woman rose from the ground as if it were a doll in the hand of a child. Great tentacles of blackness snaked out from the dead woman’s dress and wrapped themselves around the knight that approached her, tearing him in half.
The darkness continued to engulf the corpse, and more great snaking tentacles seemed to slither about it even as the woman’s face withered further, her lips parting to reveal great black fangs.
The Knights, the gypsies and the visitors all began to flee in terror. Only Giacomo and his lieutenants were able to hold their own.
“Hold your ground, knights of God!” – Giacomo cried out.
The knights seemed to shake of their fear at his powerful words. His faith bolstered their own and they turned to face the demon that stood amidst the heathens.
It roared at them as they attacked, great tendrils of blackness wrapping about them and pulling them down or apart. It struck one knight with claws so wicked that it clove his head, neck and right shoulder from his body. But they were able to strike back in turn.
All around Giacomo the battle was rejoined and heathen blood was again being spilt in the name of the Lord.
The voice was quiet and yet they all heard it, and it was as clear as any bell that the priest had ever heard.
Its tone was deep and powerful and Giacomo could not help but want to heed its command.
The gypsies and those Christians that had decided to risk their souls for a night of frivolity continued to flee from the vipers’ nest even after the call went out, but the hostilities seem to end.
Soon Giacomo and the dozen or so surviving knights remained but the tensions seem to have ceased. The voice had come from that same old man that had been there at the beginning, frightening the horses.
But he was no man. Even now he was cursing at and storming towards the high inquisitor. His eyes lambent with madness, his teeth, half covered by his immense black beard, were long and sharp and his mouth was full of bloody foam.
“I know what you are, demon!” – Giacomo roared.
The demon continued his raving and then, inexplicably, Giacomo began to feel faint. His men had already come to his side to protect him from the monster but they too seemed befuddled.
‘We… must flee… father.” – Giacomo’s lieutenant whimpered.
The others began to break ranks, fleeing the demon that stood before him
Giacomo lifted his cross in front of him.
“I mark thee, Vampire!” – Giacomo, feeling his faith bolster him.
The creature took a step back as though he was trying to keep his balance.
Giacomo smiled at the pathetic thing standing before him, it didn’t matter to him that his men had fled, for the lord stood by him.
The vampire smiled.
Why was he smiling?
“I cast you back – ” – Giacomo’s words ended abruptly as something icy slid across the skin of his left hand.
He looked down to see a large black snake-like tendril had wrapped around it. He felt others crawling up his robe and wrapping around his legs and waist. He felt a deep and desperate coldness as one of the things twisting around his legs slid into his body.
Before he could do or say anything he felt the arm that had been holding the cross snap. He looked down at where his right arm had been and found an empty sleeve, the coarse fabric growing redder as he watched.
He screamed out in fear as much as pain as the he was lifted into the air and spun around to stare into the malevolent eyes of the dead woman. Her naked flesh undulated as if dozens of serpents slithered under her gray skin.
The thing was beyond smiling but its black eyes seemed to gleam with insidious glee as he felt the icy darkness of death overtake him.
June 24, 1413, 10:17pm
The Torenu Camp
The Domain of Josephus
Prince of Brasov
Teresa stepped from the wagon, one of the few that remained after the fire had been put out. She wore the colorful clothes of a gypsy woman who was evidently a bit larger than the Black Queen herself.
She was still tying a knot in some rope she found to hold the dress together when she stepped into the campfire-cum-pyre.
The others looked at her wearily. It was obvious that they had not expected the transformation that had occurred. She dared not tell them that she had not expected it either.
It seemed that the darkness that had once mystified and confused her was now very much a part of her.
She was still unsure of how she felt about this new development. She checked her wrist to ensure the bracelet was still there.
“Delizbieta!” – Kyrillos called out as he stepped over the dead.
“What?” – Delizbieta shouted after him. She was kneeling a short distance away, closing the eyes of a fallen gypsy that bore a striking resemblance to her. Blood streaked down her cheeks.
Kyrillos approached her.
“I believe that we have stood by our side of the agreement, my dear.” – Kyrillos, courteously.
“It’s yours; I never wanted it to begin with.” – Delizbieta, begrudgingly tearing the pectoral from her chest.
“I believe your people are safe now, Delizbieta. If you need somewhere to go, Timisoara is still a safe place for you.” – Kyrillos, compassion leaking into his voice.
“We were being watched.” – a voice came from behind them.
It was Ibrahim, slipping out of the trees like smoke.
“By who?” – Teresa.
“I do not know him, though he was familiar. He was dressed as a gypsy but watched the caravan burn. I tracked him into the trees for some time before losing him.” – Ibrahim.
He looked at the gypsy woman.
“Does this man sound familiar?” – Ibrahim
Kyrillos looked down at the pectoral in his hands.
He closed his eyes as he rubbed his fingers over the gold plates and breathed deeply through his nose. He heard a rushing sound and smelled smoke he saw the man that Ibrahim was speaking of. Tall and lithe with long dark hair and skin as pale as the Greek’s own. He didn’t know the man, but when he smiled his face seemed to change before erupting in flames. The flames shook themselves and stretched their wings.
It was a bird of fire. A phoenix.
Kyrillos blinked and found himself watching the gypsies traveling through the forest in the trees, an intense sense of longing coursing through him like blood itself.
He blinked again and found himself in a darkened stone chamber surrounded by other treasures. In the distance was a door which crept open, revealing a shadowy figure that reached down with cold hands and picked him up, kissing the gold plates of the tablet.
Then he was being looked over by nova… then he was alone.
Everything began to grow dim again.
Kyrillos found himself standing once again in the clearing surrounded by the dead.
“Who is the tall thin man with pale skin and brown hair, with the wicked smile?” – Kyrillos
“That’s Anasztaz, the man who gave me the Pectoral.” – Delizbieta
“He is nearby.” – Ibrahim.
“What is this all about, I don’t understand.” – Delizbieta, from the sound of her voice though it sounded as if she might regret already knowing.
“I tracked him into the woods to the east of here, before he vanished into the scenery.” – Ibrahim
“Are you sure that he is called Anasztaz?” – Kyrillos asked the seer.
“Who else would he be? He is a cousin of mine.” – Delizbieta
“He smiles an awful lot.” – Kyrillos
Delizbieta looked as if she wasn’t following his logic
“He does, yes.” – Delizbieta
“This pectoral, along with other valuables, was stolen from the Lady Arpad, the Vampire ruler of Mediaș.” – Kyrillos
“Unbelievable. Take it as far from here as you can. I want nothing to do with it. Anasztaz is young to the Night and foolhardy. He told me he made a deal in Sebeș, I simply wanted to believe. If you can describe the other trinkets I will do everything in my power to see them returned to you.” – Delizbieta.
Sanchez approached them with something in his hand.
“I’ve searched all the wreckage that I dare approach and this is all I could find.” – Sanchez, holding up a golden brooch set with a massive egg shaped piece of amber.
Teresa took the bauble and studied it.
“It’s the one we’re looking for.” – Teresa
“I know. Hey, has anyone seen Sabela?” – Sanchez
“Of course, she was helping to put out fires with some of the mortals. She just left to fetch some water.” – Ibrahim
“How far away is the river from here?” – Sanchez asked
“Only a couple of minutes, it’s why we chose this spot.” – Delizbieta
“They went to fetch the water quite some time ago though, it was one of the old women who told me to borrow some clothes.” – Teresa nervously.
“But she came back, yes?” – Ibrahim
“Delizbieta, Delizbieta! They’ve taken mama!” – it was a child
“Who’s taken mama, Grigory?”
“The knights, they took mama and the others that went for water!” – the girl was crying.
Ibrahim exchanged looks with Delizbieta.
“What about the girl who was helping put out the fire?” – the Seer asked.
“Yeah, yeah, her too. They called her a witch when she made the water rise from the river. They took her too.” – the child, in spite of her fear she became excited while recounting the ‘witch’s’ magical feats.
“How do you suppose they were able to bind her?” – Sanchez whispered
“She’s canny, if she were weak enough she may have allowed them to take her so that she could have time to recuperate, but if we don’t get to her by dawn it won’t matter.” – Ibrahim.
June 24, 1413, 11:55pm
The Abbey of St. Mary
The Domain of Josephus
Prince of Brasov
Unwilling to leave the recovered jewelry behind, Teresa had brought it with them as they traveled toward the city and in so doing had time to study the Enochian text carved into the pectoral.
“I have found the key to power. It lies in surrender. Thus shall my name be forgotten or revered by my brethren. From within my own destruction, I shall fasten my gaze upon those who would seek my exalted destiny for themselves. Lo, let them be wary, for I have seen the unfolding of fate. I shall come again when my time is nigh.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” – Sanchez
“I’m not sure, there was obviously more at one time. But someone felt the need to break the tablet apart and shape it into this gaudy thing.” – Teresa
It was marked by the same symbol of the other tablets. A circle marked by three lines, the central line was drawn from the circle’s center down while the other two were much shorter and were drawn from the circle’s edge a short distance apart and at a diagonal to the left and right of the central stalk.
She’d been looking for the meaning of the symbol for centuries but it was not associated with any known language. The closest she ever came was with Noddist Scholars who found similar symbols attached to various supposed artifacts of the second city.
“I’ve heard tell that it belongs to a language that predates even Enochian.” – Teresa
“Then why didn’t the author write the whole thing in that language.” – Ibrahim
“It’s possible that he couldn’t, the earlier language may have been figurative and very basic. It allowed him to have a seal of sort to mark property or territory but not to express ideas. Enochian must have come later and granted him the ability to write complex thoughts down. Thoughts that he feared that he might one day forget.” – Sanchez
“Are we really suggesting these writings belong to some ancient vampire that might rise again to claim them?” – Kyrillos
“That’s unlikely, but whoever he was, if the Noddists are correct, he was from the time of the second city and from his writings he was more than a little crazy.” – Teresa
She and the others slowly turned to look at Kyrillos.
“You’re all ridiculous.” – Kyrillos, never looking at them.
“What are you doing, count?” – Sanchez
“I cannot be sure, but I believe that we’ve found the home of our would-be destroyers.” – Kyrillos.
They looked up at the edifice in front of them and immediately recognized it.
“This is the Abbey of St. Mary.” – Sanchez
“So it is.” – Kyrillos
“Isn’t this the place that Josephus calls home?” – Teresa
“Not in some time, from the looks of things. In fact I’ve found no evidence at all of our kind within the city’s walls.” – Kyrillos.
June 25, 1413, 12:02am
Beneath the Abbey of St. Mary
Brother Gaspar had been ordered to check on the witch. It was not something he was happy to do, but he’d fled the battle in the gypsy camp and was being punished for it. Why the Abbey had these tunnels and cells was beyond him but the inquisitor had made good use of them.
The knight walked passed two other knights who had been guarding the gypsy scum. They mocked him for a coward as he passed.
They weren’t wrong.
Gaspar followed the tunnel a ways longer before he began to hear the sounds of skittering and scratching. The earthen tunnel was well lit but there was no source that he could see but the noise was growing louder the farther down the tunnel he stepped.
The knight drew his sword. Something was very, very wrong. He turned the corner into the corridor that led to the witch’s cell and what he saw terrified him.
“Dear god in heaven!” – Gaspar
Hundreds of rats were pouring from the dirt walls and floor and flooding into the witch’s cell. Gaspar would not fail his oath again. He would not allow the devil to claim his witch just yet.
The knight charged the cell, pulling a torch from the wall. He began swiping at the rats with his sword in one hand and the torch in the other. When he finally reached the cell door he saw the witch writhing, still bound by rope and a look of terror painted over what little of her face he could still see. The only sound he could here over the unholy shrieking of the rats was the muffled sound of her cries.
The rats were eating her alive.
With a heave, Gaspar released the wooden bar that held the door closed and forced his way into the room, crushing dozens of rats underfoot as there was no way to not step on them. He noted with some pride that the hell spawn seemed to fear him, fleeing through the door as he waded through the ocean that was their diseased bodies.
Gaspar pushed forward, swatting away the rats as they tried to eat at the witch’s face.
If he couldn’t free her he would end her earthly suffering. He raised the sword one last time but when he swung it he found his arm held by hers.
The witch stood before him, unbound and unharmed. The flood of rats mulled patiently around her as if awaiting her command.
“Flee, my pretties.” – the witch
The rats did just that, rushing from the room into the corridor. In the distance Gaspar could hear the sounds of men shouting and metal on stone.
“What have you done?”
The witch’s dark eyes seem to gleam by the light of the torch.
“It’s of no matter to you now, sir knight.” – the witch cooed
June 25, 1413, 12:10am
Outside the Abbey of St. Mary
The Domain of Josephus
Prince of Brasov
“There is no doubt that this is the place.” – Teresa, pointing toward the entrance
Dozens of rats were scrambling down the steps and into the street, followed quickly by three knights.
“Destroy the swarm!” – a knight cried out.
“the witch has cursed us! We must stop the plague.” – cried another
Kyrillos looked on with amusement.
“Maybe we’ll not have to save that one.” – the Malkavian mused.
“Lets not risk it.” – Sanchez
Sanchez slipped toward the church before Kyrillos lost track of him.
“It seems that it is just you and me, milady.” – Kyrillos to Teresa
The Lasombra nodded wordlessly.
Ibrahim slipped through the cloister unseen. Though Teresa had killed the priest that led the knights into the encampment, there had to be a commanding officer. Someone who led these paladins into battle and he didn’t have to search long to find him.
In the dining hall he found his target, an old gray haired man who looked as though he’d lived through more than one battle. The old man seemed tired and Ibrahim wished to ensure that he would never again have to risk his life in battle.
Teresa was surprised to find the chambers beneath the Abbey being used by the knights. They’d been built by Josephus to hide from the light of the sun and had been very well hidden which only made the Black Queen worry for her old ally all the more.
She’d slipped passed the knights by wrapping the shadows about herself, though it had been made all the more difficult by the fact that she was wearing the bright clothing of the gypsy woman.
Now that she was in the tunnels she was startled to discover that the knights had not only turned them into some sort of brig but also lit them with a dozen torches.
The black queen sneered and cast her shadows out to snuff out the light.
She rounded a curve to find two knights standing guard over the gypsies that had been captured.
“Who goes there!” – one of the knights.
“Who, me? I am called the Black Queen, and I was wondering where you were keeping the young girl you captured.” – Teresa
The darkness that had preceded her bled forward into the hall.
“The darkness… this is the woman who brought the darkness that killed Father Giacomo!” – the other knight.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk… one should never gossip about one’s betters.” – Teresa
Two tendrils whipped out of the darkness and wrapped themselves around the knights’ necks while two others snaked out to bind their sword arms to their bodies before pulling them toward the Black Queen.
One of the knights tried to speak but the tentacle around his neck squeezed even tighter before filling his open mouth.
The knight found himself staring into the blackness that took the place of the woman’s eyes.
“Go to sleep my pet.”
“And when I leave here what are you going to do?” – Sabela asked the knight.
“I will put a torch to your chair to ensure that it burns to cinders and then I will tell Commander Ferenc that I destroyed you and will never speak of any of this ever–” – Gaspar’s eyes grew wide suddenly.
Sabela reached out to shake him but felt his body go slack in her arms.
“Good plan.” – Ibrahim, appearing behind the dying knight.
“What did you do?” – Sabela screamed as she lowered the knight to the ground.
“We have no time for this, Sabela, we must flee this place now if we are to get you out of here.” – Ibrahim, patronizingly.
“No. He wasn’t supposed to die. No one was going to die.” – Sabela, blood tears streaking down her pail face.
“You are not a prattling neonate Sabela, so quit acting like it, leave him, we have to go.” – Ibrahim, pulling the weeping vampire off of the now dead knight.
“I’ll be outside when you wish to join me, but I suggest that you drink what little blood remains if you wish to be strong enough to make it through the night.” – Ibrahim, vanishing again into the darkness.
Sabela looked down at the brave knight and brushed the hair out of his eyes. The stone floor was growing wet with his blood but she couldn’t bring herself to drink the rest of it.
Without thinking she bent low and kissed the knight and, biting her tongue, she bled into his mouth. Her life flowed into his corpse and so too did her iniquity, infusing his dead flesh with the power of sin.
“A little help, please, Lady Teresa.” – Sabela’s soft voice startled the Lasombra
Teresa turned to see the desert princess dragging the body of a knight, and leaving a bloody trail in the process.
“I do believe that he is dead, Lady Sabela.” – Teresa quipped before turning back to her project.
“Now, where were we?”
“You were instructing us as to our duties mistress.” – one of the knights, absently.
“Ah, yes, thank you, Sir Paul.” – Teresa, patting the knight upon the chest, lovingly.
The sounds of shouting from above were growing louder.
“Perhaps we will continue this discussion later, dearie, for now, be a good boy and help the girl carry out your friend while you escort us off the premises.” – Teresa
“Yes, milady.” – Sir Paul.
The two knights were leading them out through a side door when they came to the attention of the commander.
“Halt!” – Commander Ferenc.
“Do not stop, Sir Paul, we have places to be.” – Teresa, calmly.
She spit a bit of her dark blood into the shadows that they passed through and, when they came to life, sent them rushing toward the closest source of light to snuff it out.
“I said, halt! Wait, that’s the witch! Close the gates, stop them!” – Commander Ferenc bellowed before charging them.
“It would seem that we are about to have to fight our way out, Sabela, I hope you have become a better fighter in the last two centuries.” – Teresa nervously.
“I am sorry to say that I have not, Lady Teresa.” – Sabela
Ferenc and his men hadn’t even cleared half the room when the knight collapsed suddenly, screaming as he hit the ground.
The knights at his side immediately turned to help him to his feet but when they reached down to pick him up they found their commanding officer clutching at his armor. His face was a deep purple as if he were being strangled.
“Let’s not waste this opportunity.” – Teresa whispered to a noticeably shocked Sabela.
As they escaped the abbey Sabela couldn’t help but to pray to a God she knew had forsaken her that the commander would not suffer for long.
When she looked over her shoulder what she saw almost made her wretch, for the now dead old knight had expired only after the flesh of his face had burst as if his blood had boiled within his veins.
As the small band of vampires and their mortal retainers reached the edge of the city in a stolen cart they were startled to hear the sound of coughing and the sharp intake of breath that followed.
Sabela spoke softly, soothing the knight who was obviously afraid. She was busy trying to explain his situation when Kyrillos sat down next to him.
“Welcome back, Gaspar, we have much to talk about.” – Kyrillos
July 1, 1413, 8:34pm
The Domain of Nova Arpad
Prince of Mediaș
When they arrived at the home of the Prince of Mediaș they were shown into her receiving room, where they presented her with their findings as she sat comfortably upon her throne.
“So you are the one who stole into my treasury and took my heirlooms.” – Nova, suspiciously.
Gaspar shook his head vigorously.
‘No, milady, these people are mistaken, I have no recollection of… no reco- FOUL SWINE! THEY ARE MY REIGNMENT AND I SHALL HAVE THEM RETURNED TO ME WHEN I SIT UPON THE THRONE OF TEARS IN MY KINGDOM OF BLOODY DEGRIDATION FOR I AM BELIAL, LORD OF INIQUITY AND YOU ARE BUT A TASTY MORSEL ON WHICH I SHALL FEAST! – Gaspar-cum-Belial.
“What is wrong with him?” – Nova
“I am sorry, milady, this has been his state since we discovered him in Brasov, he is young but whatever demon possesses him it has made him an outcast even amongst the gypsy scum with whom he traveled.” – Kyrillos.
“I am a knight of god! What have you done to me!” – Gaspar pleaded.
Teresa tried to interject but the knight began to roar again.
“BOW DOWN BEFORE ME! I AM BELIAL AND I AM YOUR LORD AND MASTER!”
“You will find that I am lord and master here, ‘Belial’.” – Nova
“Milady, we would beg you to please show him mercy. Whatever it is that afflicts him is punishment enough.” – Kyrillos
“He does not speak for the rest of us, milady.” – Teresa scoffed.
They debated and argued over the pathetic young vampire’s life for some time before the Prince silenced them.
“I have decided that I will grant the wretch his life, at least for a time. He shall exist in my dungeon until he bores me, now onto the matter of the pieces that he stole.” – Nova, motioning for her servant to come forth with the chest that they had brought with them.
Inside was all of the lost jewelry save a single earring. In addition they had taken from the gypsies a small fortune in jewels and gold as payment for their efforts in saving the camp.
“I see you have added many fine pieces for my collection, but where is the other earring, this was part of a set?” – Nova asked.
“We were unable to find it. It is believed that it was destroyed by the fires set by the Inquisition.” – Kyrillos
The Prince ran her fingers through the assorted jewels.
“While I am grateful for these baubles and I am truly amazed that you were able to find culprit and for everything else you have done, I am going to ask you to inform your sires that their debt to me is still unpaid.” – Nova, off handedly.
“I beg your pardon?” – Teresa
“After all, you did not return my earring to me, and I was very clear as to its sentimental value.” – Nova lied.
“What horseshit.” – Sanchez
The Prince’s lip curled into a feral sneer before the placid façade returned to it.
“Please, Master Sanchez, understand that this is not meant to reflect upon you and I shall pay you handsomely for your services.” – Nova Arpad, motioning to one of her servants.
The man she motioned to stepped forward and brought with him a chest, at his side stood four others with identical chests; with a flourish they opened the chests to reveal that each was filled with silver bars.
“It is five Librum, more than enough to cover your expenses and to compensate you for your time.” – Nova, graciously.
“Now if you would excuse me, I and “Lord Belial” have much to speak about.”
The sound of a loud clatter rang through the chamber and everyone turned to look at a seething Sabela.
“You, with your petty games, have banished me from my kingdom and you spit in my face with so much silver.” – Sabela raged.
Spitting at the prince and upon the money the Ravnos turned and stormed out of the chamber.
“I like her.” – Sanchez, quietly to Kyrillos.
“Please forgive the childe, she is young.” – Teresa pleaded.
The Prince’s serene continence twisted in rage as they turned to leave but before they even reached the door, Gaspar began to scream and to claw at his own flushed-red flesh. By the time they reached to doors his tormented cries had faded.
July 4, 1413, 11:24pm
The Domain of Sanchez
Master of Sebeș
Ibrahim had just finished the second of his nightly prayers when he found himself playing host to a spectral figure.
“I bring word from Vendramino Giovanni, Earl of Sighisoara and Childe of Markus Musa.” – the ghostly old man moaned.
“Yes, yes, Fodor, I know who you serve. What news do you bring me.” – Ibrahim, dressing himself.
“Your Master would have you know his displeasure in your failure in fulfilling the duties entrusted to you.” – Fodor groaned.
“I’m sure he’s very upset, old man, just tell him that I will make it up to him when I return to Acre. I’ll give him the money she granted me.” – Ibrahim, brushing the ghost off.
“He does not want your dowry, Ibrahim, nor do you owe him anything. He wants to know that as far as he’s concerned the ledgers are balanced, though he will no longer make use of your services.” – Fodor.
“What do you mean? We have worked together for two centuries, he relies upon my network to move his merchandise.” – Ibrahim, a creeping dread crawled over him as he thought on it.
“Yes, about your network. Lord Vendramino is aware of the advantage that it presents to whoever you choose to work for in the future and has decided that he does not wish to face such a challenge. As such, all ports have been informed that they are to burn any and all ships in your employ. Further those of your childer who act as your lieutenants have also been liquidated. Understand that Lord Vendramino wished for you to understand that there is no animosity here and that his actions are simply business, which is why he’s allowed you and those childer who have no bearing upon his business to live, though should you ever attempt to do business on the Mediterranean again his largesse in this matter may be retracted.” – the ghost said before flickering out of existence.
Ibrahim would stand there for some time, silent and unmoving, before finally giving into the rage that threatened to destroy him from within its cage.
July 5, 1413, 12:09am
The Domain of Sanchez
Master of Sebeș
It had been some time since the ‘Master of Sebeș’ had traveled for so long and he found himself grateful to be home again, questioning how it was that he used to live as a nomad. Wondering how it was that Ibrahim could continue to do so.
Sanchez approached his haven behind the citadel he had built. To anyone who didn’t know what to look for it appeared to be nothing more than a small out building, but once inside he could secure himself from sunlight, fire and even a coordinated attack.
It was really… where was it?
The small building that had once been his haven was gone, as if it had never been there, instead there stood a stone pavilion.
“I’ll be damned.”
Upon the pavilion was a letter sealed by the mark of his Patron, Hardestadt.
Though it pains me, I have come to the realization that the trust I have put in you was misplaced. Your actions toward my ally, Nova Arpad, have caused the Black Cross a great blow from which it may never recover.
As such, though I have taken steps to ensure that you will never be a threat to me nor my kingdom again. I have divested you of your little cult of personality with which you’ve surrounded yourself. You will find that the name Sanchez means nothing to the masons and architects of Europe, nor will it be remembered by any of the great princes that once called upon you to construct their havens.
You are now as free as you always spoke of wanting to be, for you are no longer weighed down by the obligations that come with fame or status. Sadly, while your name as an engineer and architect has been struck from history it has not been struck from the minds of the Princes of Iberia.
On a final note, I am told that the effects are far reaching and that, should you go to either of your childer, you will find them incapable of remembering you as their sire.
Fear not, old friend, I have not severed your ties to those who truly loved you. Those Princes of Transylvania whom you’ve always been close will still know you as will Zelios, who seems to have a genuine fondness for you. I too shall always know you and will remember you well.
Until we meet again,
Sanchez stared at the letter for some time before looking up again at the night sky.
July 6, 1413, 10:25pm
Teresa’s Personal Chambers
The Domain of Teresa Balgrad
Black Queen of Alba Iulia
Teresa sat upon her throne and shook with fury. In her left hand was a crumpled letter from her sire. In it he’d waxed philosophic about her failures as both a childe and a Lasombra. He explained in exquisite detail how she’d fallen short time and time again and thus she was to be considered caitiff by any and all Lasombra who owed any allegiance at all to the Clan. He called her an Anarch who was actively trying to undermine his authority within the Sea of Shadows and thus he had destroyed any and all contact she had once had with the royalty of Europe.
Finally he’d informed her of the horrible happenstance that took her family from her. About how there had been a coup in Portugal and all of her surviving descendants were now dead.
As the Queen of shadows sat upon her throne black tears streaked down her face and all she could think was about how it would feel to reclaim her sire’s blood.
July 10, 1413, 3:39am
Teresa’s Personal Chambers
The Domain of Teresa Balgrad
Black Queen of Alba Iulia
Kyrillos sat sullenly in Teresa’s salon. He’d been ousted from his domain by his own childer, a fact that he was loath to forgive, no matter Ulrike’s worth to him. Symeon and the entire Obertus Order had turned their backs on him, and his childer had sided with them and so it was that the Mad Count of Timisoara was cast out even by those amongst the Low Clans, forced to beg on hand and knee for sanctuary in the domain of his sometime ally.
“Did you hear about Thierry?” – Teresa asked him as she entered.
“No.” – Kyrillos, not caring one wit about the Tremere.
“He was destroyed by Jervais when he returned without Nova’s blessing.” – Teresa
“I’d heard something similar about Kara Lupescu, she didn’t even reach the voivodate before the wolves got her.” – Kyrillos morosely.
“At least some good came of this then.” – Sanchez, joining the conversation.
“It’s good to see you, Master Sanchez, I’m glad that you, at least, are in good spirits.” – Teresa
“I’ve never been smart enough to face reality. Why start now. The Bitch of Mediaș gave me more than enough to get started rebuilding and since my reputation as a iconoclast is secure I should have little trouble getting the local Anarchs on my side.” – Sanchez smiled.
Teresa found herself smiling in spite of herself as well.
“Despite your reputation I never saw you as an Anarch.” – Kyrillos
“I’m a Toreador, Kyrillos, we adapt.”
July 10, 1413, 9:31pm
Teresa’s Personal Chambers
The Domain of Teresa Balgrad
Black Queen of Alba Iulia
The weather had turned for the worst during the day, as though the sky itself had turned on them. For the first time in a century the Black Queen thought back to a time when the weather was always so horrific, so oppressive.
They’d all been forced to hunt in the storm and by the time she’d returned Teresa had been forced to change her clothes. To her surprise she found that they’d been joined by another.
It didn’t take the black queen long to recognize Octavio, though it had been a century since she’d last laid eyes on him.
“How goes it, Lord Octavio?” – Teresa, as she joined her guests in the Parlor.
“Lady Teresa, I thank you for taking in a poor pilgrim amidst the storm and resent that I must come to you in such a time but I knew that I must come at once when I saw the sign.” – Octavio, apologetically.
“What sign did you see, old friend?” – Sanchez, rising from his perch.
Octavio went to answer when his back suddenly straightened as if he’d been struck by lightning.
“Ave, Militates! hear now these words, for on them rests the balance of times to come. Lo, I beheld a great upheaval among the sons of the first born of Adam. Beneath their feet opened a great chasm. Upon its lips they stood, poised to fall. Opposite them stood the generations angry and resentful.
“Thus it is given to me to speak this warning unto you, O keepers of the balance and bearers of the signs of the last days! And the childer shall be divided; brother against brother, hands raised against one another, even Caine himself once slew his kin. The lesser shall become greater and the great shall fall in the whirlwind of blood. One of the eldest has gone down into the pit, never to return. Another awaits doom from the kiss of the ungrateful childer.
“Arise now, and go forth, all ye who hear my words.”
And with that he collapsed, convulsing as he had a century before, and as before they held him down so that he would do himself no harm.
After a moment the ancient Malkavian arose and apologized for his fit.
“It’s quite alright, Octavio, I know too well the weight you carry.” – Kyrillos, resting his hand upon the old vampire’s shoulder.
“Do you remember what you said, Octavio?” – Sanchez.
“Aye, I do. I cannot forget it.”
“Do you know what it means? Can you be more specific?” – Sanchez
“I know that the Lord of Fiends stands upon the edge of destruction and that whether or not he meets that end lies within your province. You possess the knowledge, hidden here in this house, of his resting place. One will come in supplication to you asking for what you have, Lady Teresa, you must be wary of his pleas for help. Be wise in your choices, for all of our sakes.” – Octavio.
The elder saluted the Black Queen before excusing himself and then, just as he arrived, he was gone.
July 13, 1413, 3:39am
The Domain of Teresa Balgrad
Black Queen of Alba Iulia
Three nights. It took three nights for the prophet’s words to prove true. Three nights before her servant uttered the fateful words:
“Presenting the Lord Dragomir Basarab and his sister, Sherazhina.”
Everyone in the library rose, more out of nervous surprise than etiquette, as the siblings entered.
They were a study in beauty in contrasts: she darkly sultry he a vision of pale gentility, they were completely different and yet unquestionably similar, from their poise to their bearing, one could mistake them for nothing but siblings save, perhaps, lovers.
It took only a moment for Sherazhina’s mask of civil indifference to dissipate as she immediately charged and embraced her lover.
Sanchez, for his part, met her half way.
After she finally broke away from their seemingly interminable kiss she ran her hand over his cheek and the other through his hair.
“I am so sorry about what has happened. It was too cruel a sentence, but I promise you that not all of us have forgotten.” – Sherazhina
“It’s fine, Sheri, I have all the time in the world to turn my fortunes around, and Hardestadt underestimates my resolves… and my contacts.” – Sanchez, grinning at the last.
“Where will you go?” – Sherazhina
“If nothing else, I’ll return to Birkau Castle, it’s been too long since either of us have set foot in our citadel, from there I can regroup. But I promise you that before long I shall return to Sebeș triumphant.” – Sanchez, confidence oozing off of him in heavy waves.
No one doubted what he said was true.
Teresa called for refreshments and everyone spent some time questioning the unlikely twins about their time spent together. If it had been a generation since Sanchez and Sherazhina had spent time together, it had been longer for the others.
“While I wish that this was purely a social call, my sister and I came here to speak to the Lady Teresa specifically. You see, we represent a group of Cainites who like you grow weary of bearing the humiliating yoke of our sires’ capricious and intolerable tyranny. They wish for you to know that they sympathize with your current difficulties and would like to offer you the opportunity to increase your own power and, perhaps, restore your losses.” – Dragomir, a bit of the manic flare they witnessed in the castle a century prior appearing as he spoke. But we need your help in order to do so. There is a tome that purports to reveal the resting place of the Ancient Tzimisce whose blood flows in all the members of our Clan. My sister believes that this book, called the book of the land, is somewhere in your library, milady. I beg you to search for it so that we might find our cursed progenitor and, destroying him, strike a decisive blow against those who have treated us as little more than pieces upon a chess board.” – Dragomir pleaded.
“If I do this, would your… friends… aid me in destroying my sire?” – Teresa, speaking as if the very words poisoned her.
“We will indeed back any actions against that old Shade.” – Dragomir, excitedly
A weak smile played upon Teresa’s lips.
“We’ve been warned, Teresa” – Kyrillos, quietly.
The smile faded.
“Yes, Kyrillos, I remember your charming cousin’s words.” – Teresa, sullenly.
“Perhaps you misheard his warning, Lord Kyrillos, did he not say that the Lesser shall become greater?” – Sabela suggested.
“No, I don’t believe that he did, child.” – Kyrillos
Teresa pursed her hips. Sherazhina had yet to speak or even make eye contact, instead she seemed content in watching her brother speak.
“He did, in fact, say that old friend.” – Teresa.
“Yes, but think to the intent of those words. You do not need these… Fiends… to challenge your sire, I will go with you to Madrid, just don’t do this unspeakable thing.” – Kyrillos pleaded, possibly for the first time in centuries. He too never took his eyes off of the pale Tzimisce.
“Is the invitation open only to Teresa, or may I join your cause?” – Sabela, her voice wickedly deep.
“We would welcome any to our side in our war against the ancients.” – Dragomir, gliding toward the Ravnos.
“I don’t know.” – Sanchez, he too had noticed that Sherazhina had remained quiet.
“One cannot share the Hearts-Blood, only one would truly benefit from this treachery.” – Kyrillos
Dragomir pointed a finger toward Teresa
“Her Clan did just that. Was it not a cabal of like-minded Lasombra and Assamites that destroyed their founder?” – Dragomir, rhetorically.
“Yes but who took the bounty of the ancient’s heart’s blood? Who took his place at the apex of the Clan’s hierarchy.” – Kyrillos
“None, nor shall any of us. This is not a collusion of fiends out to replace the Eldest, but to destroy him. That is why we come to you now.” – Dragomir shot back.
“What say you, Sherazhina?” – Teresa.
“I have always despised what I have become, milady, and it seems to me that I am not alone in my resentment, I cannot say more than that.” – Sherazhina.
“I am sorry, dear Sherazhina, but I cannot endorse an act of protest so bloody as this.” – Sanchez, sadly.
Teresa couldn’t help but notice the tension leave the girl’s shoulders when the Toreador made his refusal.
“I need time to think on your request, Dragomir, I ask that you go to your fortress and return here in three nights. I shall have your answer by then.” – Teresa
And with that the Black Queen excused herself to retire to her chambers.
It did not escape the Malkavian’s notice that when Lord Dragomir left that Ibrahim and Sabela were nowhere to be found.
July 13, 1413, 4:34am
The Domain of Teresa Balgrad
Black Queen of Alba Iulia
Sanchez sat upon a stool in the lightless stone chamber beneath Teresa’s home. Nearby stood a large heavy chest, too heavy for even four men to lift and too big by far to get through the small door, in which he would safely spend the daylight hours.
With a knife he whittled a small bit of wood. He was making a statue, an ornament really, to remind him of what he had lost, and what he’d refused to give up. It had already begun to take shape.
Specifically it had begun to take her shape.
Sanchez stood, slipping the wood and knife into his pocket as he went, and opened the door.
“Why do you insist on never letting anyone knock?” – Sherazhina
“I let people knock, just not you.” – Sanchez, barring the door before kissing each of her knuckles in turn.
“I am not some gentle waif that needs to be protected from every scratch or scrape, old man.” – Sherazhina, giggling at the tickle of his mustache.
“Yes you are.” – Sanchez, earnestly as he lifted his face to nuzzle her hair.
“We need to talk, Sanchez.” – – Sherazhina insisted as she pulled the Spaniard from her and held him at arm’s length.
The Spaniard let out a loud and obnoxious sigh to show his disappointment but he listened nonetheless.
“I’ve spent so much time to consider how we reached the point where this is the course of action that we must take, my love. I’ve tortured myself nightly, wishing I could undo my brother’s shameful deed, but I cannot and I fear that Dragomir is lost to me. There is something I can do, though, and you can help me, Even should the Black Queen choose not to help them they’ll find a way. I beg of you, give me the book, we will go together and we will undo their plot. I am willing to give up my own Long Night if it means protecting the ancient from these Anarchs and possibly save my brother’s soul. I would go to Teresa myself but I would be stronger if you stood by my side, dear Sanchez.” – Sherazhina.
“Of course, my love, come, dawn is not yet reached the mountains, we still have time to speak with her.” – Sanchez
July 13, 1413, 4:34am
The Domain of Teresa Balgrad
Black Queen of Alba Iulia
“Are you sure about this course of action, Master Sanchez?” – Teresa
“I am.” – Sanchez
“Even if we can convince Kyrillos to join us, what are four of us going to do against a small army of Tzimisce?” – Teresa.
“My brother’s coalition is not nearly as populous as he pretends. There are seven of them in total but only four of them will have any power, and you’ve faced most of them before. Along with my brother, there is Lugoj, who planned the coup and the Koldun Velya is with him, though so far from his own domain, I doubt he’ll be much of a threat.” – Sherazhina
“The Flayer you say?” – Sanchez.
“Wasn’t he the one who crafted the Vozhd used in the battle of Tuzfold?” – Teresa
The Spaniard nodded.
“And Lugoj was the commander of the small army that Ibrahim and I dismantled. He is very powerful considering his relative youth.” – Sanchez.
“Are there any more that we should worry about?” – Teresa
“Only one, and only because he is such an unknown, who is called Lambach Ruthven, all I know of him for sure is that he is a powerful seer, it was he who knew that you had the tome they were looking for.” – Sherazhina.
Teresa stood and opened the door.
“Go to your chamber, the sun is nearly upon us. We’ll speak again tomorrow night, but know this, if we are to succeed in stopping this, we will need Kyrillos.”
July 16, 1413, 9:48pm
The Domain of Vintila Basarab
Voivode of Tara Crișana
From the outside the castle seemed to have become more dilapidated over the past century, another of the many spires had been taken by the great crevasse upon over which it had been built, but inside the place was as secure as ever, indeed it seemed that the Voivode had built deeper into the mountainside over the decades.
Ibrahim sat quietly and unnoticed in the war room as the Tzimisce schemed.
Lugoj was a surprisingly small man dressed as a warlord from two centuries prior. Despite his small stature, Lugoj possessed a powerful aura about him and obviously held the attention of the others.
Velya, a large, regal gentleman of advancing years, loomed over the monster he deferred to, was etching arcane symbols onto a bit of parchment as Lugoj spoke, as if he were devising some recipe that Ibrahim had no chance of understanding.
They were once again going over their plans should the Black Queen decide to not give them the book when they reached Alba Iulia.
Ibrahim, upon hearing the plan, hoped that Teresa would give them what they wanted.
The one called Lambach rushed into the room, he was tall, thin and handsome, but had a nervous energy about him that was off-putting. He rushed to Velya, practically tossing the letter that he held.
Ibrahim noted the black wax seal.
The letter was from Teresa and Ibrahim prepared for the worse.
Velya read the missive and then, folding it, handed it to Lugoj
I thought it only polite to inform you that I do indeed have the book that you are looking for. Unfortunately, I cannot part with it, nor can I allow you to have the knowledge contained therein. I have with me Lords Kyrillos and Sanchez as well as the Lady Sherazhina, and we have all agreed that, should you wish to destroy your Elder, you will have to do it without our assistance, for we intend to ensure that your plot fails.
If you wish to find the Cathedral you will have to rely upon the insights of Lord Lambach alone.
Give Velya my best,
The Black Queen.”
Lugoj, crumpling up the letter and tossing it into the meager fire they had made in the hearth.
Ibrahim was prepared for the worst as Lugoj’s shoulder’s began to shutter.
And then he heard it.
The Oath-Breaker was laughing.
July 17, 1413, 12:56am
The Domain of Vintila Basarab
Voivode of Tara Crișana
Lugoj, the Voivode of Tara Banat, dressed as he was in darkened leather and furs, his small but densely packed body reminded Sabela of the wolves she would see prowling outside Acre when she traveled from the city to the Caravansary.
Sabela couldn’t help but find the little monster seductive as he sat upon an ornate throne within the earthen chamber, staring at Ibrahim.
“So Hardestadt’s Turkish dog wishes to join our little conspiracy?” – Lugoj’s voice was the deep purr of a lion.
“Yes, I was nominally loyal to the High-Lord’s Transylvanian Delegation not out of ideological similarities but –”
“Yes, yes, you were a blade for hire, Master Turk, this is well known. What leaves me confounded is why you would join us? We are not offering you any payment.” – Lugoj, interrupting the spy.
“Ah, but we do have Ideological similarities, Voivode.” – Ibrahim.
The Voivode laughed.
“We shall see, Ibrahim.” – Lugoj, standing suddenly before snapping his fingers.
The ornate throne on which he had been sitting since Sabela had joined them suddenly shuddered and began to melt like wax. The tall back, which she had assumed had been carved from ash wood began to warble and undulate. Great splotches, not unlike bruises, began to warp and shift, flowing down into the seat creating two large lumps that soon filled out into legs that folded out as if they had simply been crossed beneath another unseen seat.
Now the once-seat-back was standing upon two thick legs, the bruises fading until they were the color of flesh. With a loud pop the once-chair’s ‘back’ formed a rib cage and an abdomen so thin that Sabela could make out the shape of the creature’s spine.
The thing shuddered as two shoulders seemed to produce themselves from behind it. Each shoulder was attached to long shockingly thin arms that ended in hands that were almost as long as the thing’s forearms.
More bruised flesh appeared atop the thing as its chest and shoulders slid loudly down its spine, shortening its abdomen as a head tore free of its shoulders, much the same way a newborn’s head pulls itself free of its mother.
If she could have, Sabela may have vomited as, with a wet tearing sound, the thing’s egg-like head produced a mouth and eyes.
Only after it had finished birthing itself did she notice that the chair’s arms had gone through a similar metamorphosis, revealing three nearly identically androgynous creatures, though the central…thing… was larger and more identifiably male.
Sabela realized that the one to the left was looking at her with all too human eyes.
The thing licked its lipless face with a bruise colored tongue as it stared at her hungrily.
“You heard them, Andrej, they wish to join us.” – Lugoj purred.
Andrej said something that Sabela didn’t understand and the right one bent over, grabbed its knees and with a sickening popping sound split its spine, stretching its back and flattening its rib cage. Its face, a mask of anguish, suddenly hardened and darkened taking on the appearance of mahogany as its body completed its transformation into a table.
The left one looked right at Sabela as it stood behind its brother and, taking hold of the other’s shoulders thrust violently into it, fusing with its brother as its own shoulders popped forward and its elbows bent backward loudly. The hungry thing looked up and opened its mouth wide as its torso warped and grew, its round shape snapping and reshaping itself until it seemed to swallow the head with a wet sucking sound.
With one last, extraordinarily loud POP a seam split the thing’s chest down the middle, an oval blood blister forming in the middle of its breastplate.
The two had transformed into some sort of macabre tabernacle.
Andrej stepped around his brothers and with a flourish split open the large bulge between his legs and removed a bone key before plunging it into the blood blister of a lock. Blood trickled down the cabinet and onto the table as he opened it, revealing a boney chalice shaped exactly like the Hungry One’s upturned head.
Andrej scooped the chalice from the tabernacle and craning his neck over it, used the key to slit his own throat.
Precious flowing vitae poured out of him and into the chalice before the wound closed.
“The Vessel, my Voivode.” – Andrej croaked.
Lugoj did not take the head-cup, but instead blessed it before it moved on to Lambach who held out his throat for Andrej who promptly slit it so that the fop might bleed into the chalice.
And so it went, from Lambach to Dragomir to another conspirator that Sabela didn’t recognize. It was then that she realized that the ‘war-room’ had grown more crowded as nearly a dozen new vampires had joined them. And each of them slit their throats and bled into the chalice.
Finally it came to her.
Andrej held out the cup and key, after a moment his serene expression was replaced by an anxious one.
After a very long moment the girl held out her throat.
With a flick of his wrist Andrej tore her flesh with his dull key-knife, she’d expected it to be painless and she was wrong. It took all of her will to force the blood that rushed to heal her to flow instead but she did it and before the wound was even healed the monster had moved on.
Finally, after slitting Ibrahim’s throat the monster-priest returned to Lugoj who was joined by the stately Velya.
Lugoj slit his own throat with a spur that had sprung from his thumb, bleeding into the nearly full cup and then handed the chalice to Velya.
Velya took the cup in his right hand before holding out his left for Lugoj to slit with his bone-spur.
As the nobleman added his blood to the chalice he whispered something incomprehensible before setting it upon the tabernacle and intoning some arcane ritual that Sabela couldn’t follow. From the look on the faces of those around her she wasn’t alone.
Stepping aside, Velya bowed and gestured for Lugoj to drink.
Lifting the brimming cup to his lip Lugoj drank and then, after taking a moment to center himself he passed the cup to Lambach who drank and passed it to Velya who drank and gave it to Dragomir before drinking and passing it to Andrej who, after drinking, moved from vampire to vampire granting them a single sip from the cup until everyone had drank but her and Ibrahim. After a moment of thought he approached Ibrahim who drank.
Ibrahim’s knees seemed to weaken in the moment between his drink and Andrej’s approaching her. A knowing chuckle slipped through the congregated Anarchs as Andrej raised the cup to her lips.
She drank and everything changed.
July 20, 1413, 1:13am
Deep within the Eastern Carpathians
The weather had grown steadily worse as the war party cut a swath through the mountain passes.
They’d started out shortly after they’d performed the “Rite of Vaulderie”. Ibrahim was amazed at how well these Tzimisce controlled their mounts and negotiated the trails as they cut across the Carpathian Alps.
They’d already begun moving east despite the fact that they weren’t entirely sure of where they were going, but two nights before they’d received word by crow that they were searching for Sernog Monastery.
Since then they’d hardly stopped save when the sun rose and even then a few of the monsters were able to carry on within their steeds.
According to their scouts they were two hours ahead of the Black Queen and her cohorts, unfortunately they’d yet to find the Monastery.
As they rode they came across a small farm. Voivode Lugoj approached the farmstead without dismounting from his monstrous warhorse.
The poor farmer didn’t stand a chance.
“Where is Sernog Monastery?” – Lugoj demanded
The old man fell to his knees before the Fiend, weeping and praying for salvation.
With a sneer Lugoj reached out and grabbed the man’s head, his arm stretching nearly to the ground to do so. Ibrahim found himself praying as well, though he wasn’t sure who, exactly, he was praying to.
The Voivode’s fingers sank bloodlessly into the farmer’s skull. The farmer seized once then again before Lugoj let him fall to the ground.
“Never mind.” – Lugoj returning to the party.
The man was dead, his body a dry husk.
“The Monastery is not far my friends, we are close to the end of this journey!” – Lugoj.
The war party cheered, and Ibrahim found himself joining them.
July 17, 1413, 12:56am
Deep within the Carpathian Mountains
The Resting Place of the Eldest.
Sabela stood atop the winding staircase as she looked upon the black edifice of the ruins of an ancient citadel blackened by fire and worn by the centuries. The path had been narrow and twisting and long, 1,236 steps to be exact, and by the time she had reached its end her very blood screamed at her to leap from the mountain top and hope for the best in landing on the jagged rocks below.
There was something about this place, beyond the looming skeleton of the citadel long since destroyed and beyond the cathedral built further still from the cliff face. There was something here, something old and Evil and so very powerful.
Sabela wiped the blood tears from her eyes as she approached the empty doorway into the church.
Sabela found Ibrahim and together they entered the blackened cathedral. Like the doors the church’s roof had long ago fallen to disrepair and, evidently, fire. The windows, which had once been filled with stained glass were empty, the glass blown outward as if from some great blast.
Lugoj had been the first to enter the Cathedral and was now standing in the center of the barren sanctuary. And as Sabela passed through the arched gateway she found herself watched by carvings of beings that were as much devils as angels. The sanctuary itself smelled of the heady musk of some dead thing in some constant state of decay, as if the very stones themselves were but the remains of some great beast.
“And behold the Waiting Beast so entombed beneath the thrice blasted hall.” – Velya, quoting some blasphemous scripture.
“You are sure this is the place?” – Dragomir.
Velya sneered at the young Fiend.
“Do you hear it?” – Lambach, his voice weak.
Though he had been speaking with the Noble Fiend Sabela listened too and she did indeed hear the unholy sounds of people screaming as if trapped in a moment of utter torture.
“It is but the moaning of the damned and the devoured, Cousin.” – Velya, his voice oddly comforting as he patted the younger vampire’s shoulder.
Sabela shuddered at the Nobleman’s idea of comfort.
“Father! We are home!” – Lugoj roared.
Sabela was again reminded of a great beast.
It was Ibrahim who approached the altar first, even as Sabela clung to the oddly dewy walls.
“The wooden floor of the Dais has been eaten away just like everything else.” – The Turk noted aloud.
“Father, why do you hide from us? Are we not your beloved children? Are you not proud of what you have wrought? Come out, let us look upon the face of the father we so adore!” – Lugoj mocked.
Two of the triplets, still naked and still sexless, grabbed hold of the Tabernacle wall and began to heave, trying to unmoor it and bring it down around them. Their pale, pinkish skin began to ripple as they exerted themselves, growing thicker and darker even as they grew in height. Great horns pierced their brows and curled back over their bald scalps as great slabs of muscle formed over their ever stretching bones. Great talons tore through their skin and into the wall as they applied themselves fully to the task of its destruction.
Sabela watched in horror as one of the giants nearly crushed Ibrahim underfoot.
“Master! The Father, we smell him!” – The giant growled victoriously.
“Of course you smell the father, we are here in his nest, he is here too. We all smell the Father, you Moron.” – Velya his voice bored.
As the two monstrosities heaved and hoed Ibrahim vanished for a moment and then reappeared next to Lugoj.
“I think I’ve found it, Voivode.” – Ibrahim
Lugoj called off the creatures and followed the Assamite to his discovery, and there, beneath the rotten wooden planks of the altar was a clay slab. Ibrahim dug into it and produced two mettle rings held together by a chain.
“It is a strange trap door, no?” – Dragomir
“It’s more a cork than a trap door, dear cousin.” – Lambach, patiently.
Brushing the Assamite aside, one of the abominations took the chain in hand and with a moment of intense exertion tore it free from the stones surrounding it.
“Ha-ha! FOUND IT!” – The creature bellowed.
“You’ve done well, my friend.” – Velya, placing his hand on Ibrahim’s shoulder before stepping into the hole.
Ibrahim followed directly after the Nobleman and was soon followed in turn by others until only Sabela, Lugoj and the two monstrosities remained.
The two seemed to argue, pushing and shoving one another before one finally relented with a great sigh.
The creature slid one arm into the hole, and then his head, only to discover that his shoulder would not fit through the opening. With a grunt he began to push through anyway, the skin and muscle rolling up as he did so.
Sabela could hear the wet bursting sound of the soft tissue sloughing away from bone as it forced its way into the hole until finally the other arm slid through, causing the creature to fall head first, and land with a deep squelching sound.
Sabela did not enjoy being in these monsters’ presence.
The second followed immediately after, with similar results.
Lugoj looked down the dark hole before turning back and flashing Sabela a smile.
“Come, sister, we shall protect you.” – Lugoj, before leaping into the breach.
Taking a deep, unnecessary breath Sabela took the plunge.
July 17, 1413, 1:05am
Deep within the Carpathian Mountains
The Resting Place of the Eldest.
Kyrillos and his cohorts had traveled with their full retinue to ensure that they were all fully prepared for whatever the conspirators had prepared for them but instead decided to leave them behind in the village of Șerud to better speed their travels.
Something had been eating at him since he’d left Șerud and now as he approached the ancient village on horseback he knew what it was.
“What’s troubling you, Kyrillos.” – Sanchez, riding up beside the Malkavian.
“Can’t you feel it, Sanchez?” – Kyrillos
The Toreador took stock of the ancient looking buildings.
His brow furrowed.
“They’re all dead, aren’t they?” – Sanchez, his voice low.
“Indeed, my old friend. It seems that our enemy was able to discover the Elder Fiend’s resting place without Teresa’s book after all… a pity that, more so that they reached the end point before us.” – Kyrillos, glancing over his shoulder as he spoke.
They were fast approaching the outskirts of the little village, which would lead them to the “1,236 perilous steps to the thrice blasted hall built upon the Waiting Beast’s tomb.”
The book had been oddly specific.
“Jesus!” – Sanchez called as his horsed bucked under his weight.
Kyrillos jumped at the Spaniard’s exclamation, looking up from whatever he’d been staring at as he’d become lost in thought. What he saw made his skin crawl.
When night fell on Sernog fifty people had called it home. Now, all fifty were piled high at the edge of town. Some of them bore horrible wounds from where their life’s blood had been stolen from them, others had been horribly mutilated by their killers.
Kyrillos heard the sound of stifled sobs from behind him and knew that Sherazhina was crying.
He almost joined her.
July 17, 1413, 1:26am
Deep beneath Sernog Monastery
The Resting Place of the Eldest.
The fall had been devastating for many of the Anarchs, though the triplets, all seemed to be fine, Andrej growing and reshaping himself until he was once again the larger of the three. Ibrahim was setting his shoulder when Lugoj fell, landing hard on his neck, his body tumbling lifelessly down the small hill of bones that had ‘broken’ their fall.
One of the others approached the body only to step back when the General awoke suddenly, his head still sitting upon his shoulders at a horrific angle.
Sabela fell soon after, landing hard on her feet. Strangely she seemed to be the only one of them not to be harmed by the fall.
Once everyone had repaired themselves Lugoj told the triplets to stay behind in case the Black Queen and her cohorts arrived and then the war party, now down to eleven for the loss of the monstrosities, moved on.
They followed the path as it spiraled downward into the darkness. None of them required light by which to see so the going was easier than it might have been.
Finally they reached a great fissure in the mountain, causing them to take pause.
“This should not be here.” – Lambach, nervously.
“You are not wrong cousin.” – Velya, rubbing his fingers over the rough stone.
“Where does the mist come from, cousin?” – Lambach
“If I had to guess, I would say that it is Koldunic Magic, much like the fissure itself.” – Velya, dusting his hands off as he rose.
“At least the way grows wider here, we will not be so bottle-necked should an attack come.” – Lugoj.
“Well, not after we cross the bridge anyhow.” – Ibrahim, pointing out the rope bridge that spanned the misty chasm.
“You have a point, friend Turk.” – Lugoj, smacking the Assamite on the back as he approached the bridge.
They’d reached the other side of the chasm with relatively good speed. The rope bridge, despite its obvious age, had been well preserved.
“It seems we weren’t the first here, Lugoj.” – Lambach, pointing ahead through the now widened corridor.
“You don’t say, young Ruthven.” – Lugoj, flatly.
The General moved ahead of the others, his loping gate more animal than man.
“I bet it is our friends.” – Sabela, appearing next to Ibrahim.
“Friends?” – Ibrahim.
The Ravnos rolled her eyes before something caught her breath.
Ibrahim looked and immediately understood.
Once they reached the end of the corridor they found themselves in a natural cavern so unbelievably massive that a strange miasma hid its true size. The walls were heavily hewn into what looked like windows and doors; dozens of them.
Ibrahim instinctively drew his sword, willing the others to ignore its presence.
“What is this place?” – Sabela asked
No one answered.
“Do you smell that?” – One of the Anarchs she had not met asked
“I do, Igor.” – Another responded before slipping off toward the wall.
Sabela took a deep breath and her hackles rose.
She smelled it too.
From the shadowed doorways a dozen figures leapt. At first Sabela was unable to comprehend what it was that she was looking at.
They stood twelve feet tall and seemed to stoop, leaning heavily upon their massive arms. Their flesh was pale to the point of being translucent and bristly hair grew unevenly all over their horribly calloused bodies.
Great yellow tusks jutted from their great, malformed mouths and the flesh from their arms had been stripped away, revealing horrible barbed bone protrusions along their forearms and knuckles.
One of them drew very close to Sabela and as it sniffed her she saw that its eyes were small milky things.
The thing drew in a deep breath and then released it in a great roar, its breath hot and cloying.
And then the chaos began.
Sabela, reacting on instinct, grabbed the creature’s face and stared deeply into its withered and cataract enveloped eyes.
She remembered the lessons taught to her by the Lady Teresa and Pushed him, willing him to do as she said.
“Protect me and my compatriots, my pretty.” – Sabela whispered.
For just a moment she felt a spark of human intellect in the creature’s eyes and she gripped tightly to it.
The Creature reared back, tearing away from her hands and roared. Sabela, panicked that her trick did not work prepared for the worse but it did not come.
Instead the creature turned and hurled itself at another of the war-ghouls, biting and slashing at the monster’s back even as it tried to kill one of the conspirators.
The trick did not last for long but as the thing turned on her she had already mesmerized another of the creatures to defend her.
Unfortunately the other was faster and Sabela found herself slamming into the stone wall. She felt a sharp pain in her head and down her back and everything went black.
Ibrahim saw Sabela slam into the wall and, judging by the way her head hung loose upon her shoulders and her chest was caved in he assumed that she had died.
Ibrahim had, up until now, gone completely unnoticed despite his position in the eye of the storm. He drew his blade across his palm, coating it in his own venomous vitae and waited.
Sabela opened her eyes and found that not only was the left not working, but that her head was resting within the bloody hole that had once been her chest. Luckily she didn’t feel much beyond that.
She watched as the creature under her command fought the one that had attacked her and she smiled… or she would have had she still possessed a mouth.
Ibrahim slipped through the carnage toward the creature that was squaring off to tear Lugoj limb from limb.
They did not notice him slide between them or at all until his sword was buried in the thing’s chest.
The thing knocked him aside as if he were a plaything, but the damage was done.
The thing’s veins thickened as the poison coating his blade did its work. The thing grunted and collapsed under its own weight.
By the time that Ibrahim stood up the damage done by the creature was already a memory and with a moment of concentration, so was he.
Sabela scrambled along the wall, willing her blood to heal the devastation done to her chest and face. As her head righted itself she looked up in time to see one of the creatures bearing down on her.
She once again braced herself for the worst, but then something slammed into the attacking beast, slamming it into the ground with an unhealthy snap.
It was the creature she’d mesmerized before being crushed. It was battered, bloodied and broken, but stood triumphant over the corpse of her attacker.
“Good boy.” – Sabela, exhausted.
Ibrahim was preparing his blade to attack another of the creatures when he found himself crushed beneath a great weight. His bones snapped, his flesh tore and when the dead thing rolled off of him he found himself barely able to stand let alone protect himself.
Turning to figure out exactly what happened he found one of the creatures, the dead one that landed on him, had been thrown by a massive gray creature that had once been Velya. It seemed that the Tzimisce had thrown the thing and hit Ibrahim by happenstance.
Damn his luck.
Unable to even take a step the Assassin sent blood to mend his legs and began looking for a viable vessel on which to feed.
Sabela looked upon the devastation that they had produced over the few short minutes that had passed since they’d entered the nest. Ibrahim reappeared feeding upon the corpse of one of the gargantuan beasts that were strewn about with the corpses of so many of their allies.
“Where are the others?”
Ibrahim looked up, his eyes wild and his face smeared with blood.
“I think they continued down the path.” – Ibrahim croaked as he stood.
Without another word Ibrahim began to shamble in the direction of the Tomb of the Elder and Sabela followed.
July 17, 1413, 1:34am
Deep within the Carpathian Mountains
The Resting Place of the Eldest.
“They were still warm.” – Teresa, disgusted.
“I never imagined that they would do something so…” – Sherazhina didn’t finish the sentence.
Kyrillos’ original assessment had been wrong. There was a survivor, an old man who had been the community’s priest. When they found him he had been transformed into a sign for them to find, his bones had been crafted into two posts over which the canvas of his flesh and viscera had been stretched taught.
Sherazhina had found the wretch upon whom a message had been scrawled.
“Welcome to our Father’s home. The festivities will begin soon. Join us if you dare.”
“K-kill m-me.” – The tarp moaned.
Sherazhina reached out and touched it softly, almost caressing it. Where her hand touched the thing split in two, ending its suffering.
No one spoke as they walked the 1,236 steps up the mountain and now as they stood before the blackened stones of the monastery Sanchez stood beside his beloved before taking her hand in his.
“Sherazhina, I don’t think your brother can be saved.” – Sanchez, his words were more a warning than condolence.
Sherazhina didn’t say anything but instead squeezed his hand and stepped into the church.
The great church was long ago abandoned but the tabernacle wall’s shattered state seemed to be relatively new.
The count closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose. When he opened his eyes they had a distant look as if he were watching something that she could not see.
“It’s empty, of course it’s empty, I smell the father, of course you smell the father… you’re safe with us.” – Kyrillos said, his voice shifting tones as he spoke.
Sherazhina shuddered before walking away from him.
Sanchez looked around for a moment and then walked purposefully to what was left of the altar.
“They came through here.” – Sanchez, kneeling over something that she couldn’t see.
Kyrillos began to walk toward the altar as well, though he seemed to be following someone that the others could not see.
Sanchez touched something as he squatted upon the altar. It was bloody and gelatinous and sprayed out over much of the dais.
“What is this stuff.”
“It looks like viscera.” – Sherazhina muttered.
Sanchez wiped the goo off on a bit of wood.
Kyrillos, still mumbling nonsense to himself stepped into the hatch and vanished.
Sanchez and Teresa looked at one another aghast.
“You should probably follow me if you want to stop them from destroying the ancient.” – Kyrillos called up to them from the darkness.
Teresa shrugged and with a wry grin dropped into the darkness below
Sherazhina stepped back.
“I’ll go no further.” – Blood tears flowed down her face.
“Sherazhina, we have to go, it’s why we are here.” – Sanchez implored
The woman hugged herself but after a moment acquiesced, following him down the hole.
“Well, well, well.”
Teresa was walking toward the rope bridge when she heard the voice from above. She leapt back in time to avoid being crushed by the Zulo shape crashing down from above, it landed on all fours, but still stood as tall as her chest at the shoulders.
When it stood to its full height it towered over her.
Two others joined him, though they had been hiding within the chasm itself, rolling with unnatural grace onto their feet.
“You must be the ones…Basarab spoke of” – one of them said, stretching as if awaking from a nap.
“And you must be the ones that left a bit of themselves above. That hatch was a tough fit, no?” – Teresa
“I left that for you, did you taste me? Was I delicious?” – The one to the right, a great multi-pronged tongue slipped out of its mouth and slithered over much of its face.
“You are in the presence of Count Kyrillos and I shall not be denied, grant us safe passage or be destroyed.” – Kyrillos, stepping forward as he spoke.
The one who had not yet spoken took a step back, but the other one, the hungry one, charged and Teresa drew her sword.
“You!” – Kyrillos bellowed at the creature that fell from the wall.
“Me?” – it responded.
“Yes, you. You must protect me and my allies at all cost.” – Kyrillos demanded.
The quiet one turned to look at his brother.
“Andrej?” – its voice was an uncertain whimper
Andrej turned toward the quiet one and slammed his massive inhuman fist into its brother’s inhuman face.
Sanchez appeared before the Hungry One and slammed his fist into the charging vampire’s jaw with enough force to shatter stone.
The Hungry Tzimisce swung wildly at the Toreador but hit nothing but air.
The Quiet One’s eyes made only momentary contact with Teresa’s own, but that moment was all that the Black Queen required
“Kill the one who attacked me.” – She commanded.
The Quiet One sneered and flung himself at the Hungry Tzimisce even as he swiped at Sanchez. The other Tzimisce was so taken off guard that he didn’t even try to defend himself as his ally flayed the very flesh from his back, laying his skeleton and desiccated gut bare.
The sound of Kyrillos’ gloating laugh filled the cavern as the three monstrous Tzimisce squared off.
Sanchez kicked the thing in the back as it turned to face his brothers, forcing it forward into their waiting claws.
The quiet one slashed the thing’s neck before stopping dead.
“NO!” – It roared, as its sibling fell to the ground.
Teresa’s influence was broken. Realizing that he had shrugged off her compulsion to murder his brother the black queen acted quickly and, placing her hand on his massive stomach, pushed.
The creature didn’t know what hit him as he flew back twenty feet over the chasm, falling into the mists that obscured its bottom. Even if he survived the fall without succumbing to the second death it would be some time before he freed himself and came looking for her.
Her contemplation of the Quiet One’s fate was interrupted by the horrific wet shudder that came from the thing that lay at her feet as its gargantuan form withered and reset itself.
When the horror show had ended all that remained was a small, fat man in the middle years of life. His coarse features a testament to years of drinking and rough living.
If it weren’t for the large, bloodless gash across his face and his half opened deep green eyes, she would have assumed he was dreaming.
After a moment spent wondering what kind of man he had been before his Long Night began she nudged the corpulent body gently with her foot and sent it to meet its ‘brother’ at the bottom of the fissure.
Teresa looked up to find a burly and hirsute man wearing no clothes drinking from Kyrillos’ wrist.
“Good, Andrej, yes, drink deep my mutable friend, we have much to talk about.” – Kyrillos.
Sanchez and Sherazhina looked uncomfortably at Teresa.
By the time they reached the cavern home of the guardians all that remained was a single Zulo warrior standing over the body of a ghastly corpse.
The thing growled as it turned its eyes towards them.
“What do we do now, Sanchez?” – Teresa
“We make short work of him and move on.” – Sanchez
“It’s over, my friend! The battle is over and you are victorious, let us talk peacefully now.” – Kyrillos, approaching the massive vampire.
Red mist began to rise from the Tzimisce as its form shrank down, taking on more human proportions.
“Yes, now we can talk as the Lords of the Night that we are.” – Kyrillos said, wrapping his arm around the swarthy old woman that stood where the monster had been moments before.
“Yes, milord.” – the woman, deferring to the mad count even as he helped her step off of the small mound of bodies upon which she had roosted.
Sanchez shook his head in disbelief.
Go. Now. – Kyrillos’ voice echoed within Sanchez’s mind.
Seeing that his companions heard it as well the Toreador did not argue, leaving the Malkavian to his audience.
July 17, 1413, 1:36am
The Elder Fiend’s Tomb
Deep beneath Sernog Monastery
The Resting Place of the Eldest.
Ibrahim found himself in a long stairway leading deeper into the mountain’s core. Unlike the natural wall that made up the rest of the cave network the walls here had been intricately and delicately carved into a mural of pictograms and hieroglyphs.
The mural told the story of a powerful man, a chieftain or shaman, who was visited by a god and being cursed or blessed.
Though he was fascinated he knew that he had to reach the others as quickly as possible if he was to take part in the destruction, especially if he was going to secure a sampling of the ancient’s blood.
When he and Sabela reached the bottom they found a pair of heavy stone doors opened wide. Within the chamber that followed they found Lugoj surrounded by his lieutenants: Velya, Lambach and Dragomir.
When they drew even closer they saw that Lugoj was standing over a great smoothed-stone sarcophagus, holding a pale arm by the wrist.
The arm belonged to an ancient looking old man, his skin a pale yellow that had become translucent with age revealing the large blue veins from which Lugoj now fed.
Ibrahim, his curiosity overwhelming him, looked into the sarcophagus to see an ancient looking man so small that he could not have stood any taller than four and a half feet tall. His sparse hair was iron gray, his long scraggly gray bead hung low enough to mingle with the white hair of his chest.
Ibrahim drew closer still, his blackened skin tingling from his proximity to so much power. He felt his fangs pressing upon his bottom lip.
A gentle but strong hand upon his shoulder snapped him from his revelry.
“Wait, dear friend. What was promised shall be given, you shall soon possess the blood of an Antediluvian.” – Velya whispered, holding up a vial of black vitae.
Ibrahim could feel the power resonating from that small glass bottle. Without a word he took it and turned to leave.
Lugoj, moaning loudly, pulled away from the ancient vampire, his skin rippling as he did so.
“The Power.” – He moaned, his voice a full three octaves lower than it had been before.
When he looked up at the assembled Cainites his eyes were a startlingly vibrant yellow.
Sabela, looking in the coffin, noticed that the old man had not been naked when he went into the casket but instead had been wearing vestments that had long since faded with age. Lying upon his chest was his undisturbed left hand which seemed to cling to something that, from her point of view appeared to be a small doll.
Lugoj unceremoniously dropped the arm onto which he’d been holding, the thing shattering as it slammed into the stone coffin’s side. Small cracks followed from that initial point of destruction and soon the whole body was collapsing under its own weight like a dust filled husk.
Lugoj turned and, tearing the sleeves from his coat, held out his arms as if performing some rite.
“If you wish you may drink.” – Lugoj, the flesh of his arms splitting like overripe fruit as blood bubbled up and began to flow from his arms to the ground.
“Drink the blood of the Old Ones!”
Ibrahim couldn’t help but think about the potency of the blood being offered him.
Before he could stop himself though he found himself drinking deeply from the fountain of blood that had been offered to him; he felt the power flowing through him and into him, he felt it altering his skin, his flesh, his very bones as it coursed through him, waking his beast and empowering his senses.
Once he’d drank his fill he forced himself away from the young god from which he’d so readily supped and looked upon him with undying affection.
Ibrahim heard the whispered voices of his compatriot’s inner most thoughts, he felt the worms moving through the mountain. Looking at his hand he watched the flesh ripple of its own accord.
The Assamite watched as the Tzimisce took their turns in drinking from their leader and then, with a moment’s concentration, he vanished.
Sabela, for her part, refused to imbibe the vile ichor that the fiends called Vitae, and watched as the wounds on Lugoj’s arms closed.
Suddenly the vampire slumped and paled noticeably.
“I… I must rest… I am so… Velya please…” – The General seemed to faint.Velya, lifting his friend, turned to the others.
“We must away from this place, we cannot risk Lugoj’s life in another altercation. The destruction of the eldest is still not entirely complete. Our brother must be allowed to finish the assimilation.” – Velya commanded. Lugoj’s body seemed to recede into itself.
And with that, they fled, even as the sleeping Lugoj withered.
July 17, 1413, 1:48am
The Elder Fiend’s Tomb
Deep beneath Sernog Monastery
Sanchez and Teresa discovered the staircase mural and were immediately fascinated by the story depicted. Though the Master Mason was desperate to study the beautifully etched figures and the tale that they depicted they had more important things to do.
Tearing himself away from the murals he reached the massive stone doors ahead of Teresa and, using all the power he possessed and calling upon all the strength that his beast could muster, he pushed.
The doors barely moved. Not only had they been crafted from a particularly dense stone, but they seemed to be barred.
“May I try?” – Teresa
“By all means.” – Sanchez, stepping aside.
She reached out and tested the doors, gently pushing and pulling on them, before stepping back and after a moment of contemplation, she kicked.
The door to the left cracked as it became unmoored from the wall, slammed down upon its end and then collapsed to the floor.
Dust filled the air as they entered the empty stone chamber, its walls seemingly made of the same stone as the mural.
They approached the sarcophagus, a massive, black, lidless thing, and found nothing in it but fine black ash.
“Look there.” – Sanchez, gesturing to something on the floor beside the sarcophagus.
Laying upon the floor was the coffin’s great stone lid but its material was not what fascinated the Toreador. Instead he knelt down to study the image engraved into its surface.
It was a man, a priest-king by the looks of him, resting peacefully, his mouth turned up into the barest hint of a soft smile, his hands clasping each other on his chest.
As Sanchez studied the exquisite stone work he noticed that it had been textured in such a way that it had taken on a softness very similar to skin. After a moment he started to notice other peculiarities in the engraving, though he couldn’t put his finger on any specific flaw, he simply felt a dread that he could not explain.
“We were too late.” – Sherazhina.
Even as she said it they heard the sound of a mad cackling from somewhere beyond the chamber.
Sanchez stood and spat in the direction of the maniacal Anarch.
“We should return and see that Kyrillos is safe.” – Teresa, defeated.
“Be sure to get some of the ash, I’m sure that Kyrillos would find use for it.” – Sherazhina.
Sanchez, dejected, smirked at the absurdity of the request even as he dutifully reached down to grab a handful of the surprisingly greasy substance, his fingers digging into surprisingly hot and wet material.
Before he could even lift his hand out he felt a peculiar sensation, as though his very vitae was pulling at him, and then the world around him swirled.
“Oh god, oh god no, this isn’t supposed to be happening, it wasn’t supposed to me. It wasn’t supposed to… it wasn’t su…” – a voice shrieked inside his head.
“FOOLS THESE CHILDER. I HAVE SEEN YOUR ACTIONS IN THIS AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE YOUR JUST REWARDS.”
Sanchez couldn’t respond. He watched as a sinister looking man in leathers bit into the near petrified arm of the one who inhabited the tomb and then, he saw… something… change, a ripple went through the dead thing’s arm and into the Warlord, who only gripped the arm tighter.
As the Vampire drank more deeply Sanchez saw another ripple, this time flowing from where the warlord was holding the ancient.
Sanchez shook off the vision, returning, forcefully, to the present
“Did you hear that?” – Teresa gasped, her hands pressing against her temples.
“Hear what?” – Sanchez, confused.
A voice that seemed to come from the very walls themselves.
As they left the way they came they stopped to study the mural in depth, only to find Kyrillos there, heading toward the tomb.
“We were too late Kyrillos, there was no way to stop them.” – Teresa.
Kyrillos’ eyes flashed in his rage.
“Fret not, old man, we have found something and could use your expertise.” – Sanchez, patting the Malkavian on the back.
The Mural told the story of a Priest-king, a great shaman and sorcerer who was able to bind the very land itself to him through his strange magics.
One night, when the Priest-King lay dying, a god appeared to him. The god was powerful and handsome and blessed the Priest-King.
The Priest-King became strong again and returned to ruling his people with an iron hand, lording over man and beast with his new powers. No one could hide their secrets from his all-seeing eye.
Soon though, it became apparent that the god’s blessing had come with a great curse.
The Priest-King was banished from the day and from the warmth of the fires of his people. More importantly, the Priest-King was made to crave those he was meant to rule.
The Priest-King had been tricked and in his rage he lashed out, destroying his tribe and then, unsure of what to do, he fled.
Soon he found a great city, a paradise, but that paradise was soon destroyed by the coming of the floods.
The god-kings, trapped by the endless storm, began to attack and devour each other, but soon the flood receded and only a few remained.
The Priest-King abandoned the other god-kings wandering the world until he found the mountains under which they now stood.
There high in the mountain passes the Priest-King faced a great evil and prevailed, binding it to his will, regaining his strange magics at the cost of being bound to the place where he made the pact.
The Mural’s story seemed to end there, as it began, with the Priest-King turned God blessing another man as he was blessed.
“Look here.” – Teresa, pointing at the strange symbol used to punctuate the legend.
“What is that?” – Kyrillos.
“It looks like the symbol we found on the pectoral.” – Sanchez.
“Yes, but it is different. You see here, the great circle and the line drawn from its center down so that it reaches beyond the circle itself? The other symbol was marked by two more stalks that were drawn to either side of the central stalk, kind of like rays, remember?”
She was right, this one instead had one additional stem that twisted around the first in an “s” from the right to the left and then terminated at the bottom of the stalk.
“What do you think it means?” – Kyrillos.
Sanchez remembered that the Malkavian had not known about the earlier discovery.
“My working theory is that they are signs adopted by the Antediluvians prior to the advent of the written word.” – Teresa
Kyrillos looked at the Lasombra like she was mad.
“Look at me all you want, but it’s the only thing that makes sense.” – Teresa
The coterie painstakingly transcribed the whole of the mural before finally fleeing the chamber before dawn.
None of them had been willing to risk spending the day-sleep within those unhallowed halls.