The Transylvania Saga

Chapter 13-2 - Amber's Heart

October 30, 1495, 6:14am
The Entrance Hall
Poenari Castle

The coming dawn weighed heavily upon Sanchez as the scout kneeled before Dracula. Like Kyrillos, who stood at the Voivode’s side, he’d chosen to stay up to see why the messenger was in such a hurry. He regretted not following Teresa and her manic disciple into the daysleep.

The messenger wore the Voivode’s insignia and it was clear that he was one of the Prince’s men.

“My Liege!” – The Agent, falling to his knees before his master.

“What news?” – Dracula

“A band of demons and witches has entered Wallachia, my lord. They are headed for the castle even now!” – The Agent.

“Were they close on your heels, Bogomil?” – Dracula

“No, milord, by God’s grace they travel only by night but they’re fast, my lord, my men and I travelled day and night and yet they close on us each day by dawn, we saw their red eyes even as the sun rose to banish them. They nearly caught me tonight… they killed the others with their bare hands! My lord, they tore out their throats with their teeth! They drank their blood while their hearts still beat in their chests! My lord, I think they let me live, I think they wanted you to know they were coming! They called out to me as the sun rose, my lord, they said to tell you that the Sabbat was coming, that they bowed to no one…” – the agent.

“Get this man water and food, and then get him to a bed to rest. Get him a woman too, if it eases his mind!” – Dracula

Two guards moved instantly to do as their master bid.

“Do you remember anything else, Stanislaus, anything at all?” – Dracula

The Agent shook his head violently before looking up with a start.

“Yes, yes, yes! A mother heard names, specific names, in the night that they first came. They were chanting them, over and over again, Lambach, yes, yes, Lambach and Tabak!”

Lambach. Sanchez knew the name well and from the look on Kyrillos’ face the Mad Count recognized it as well. The Fiend had become a figurehead for those Anarchs who had survived the Massacre at Silchester after the Convention of Thorns.

Sanchez must have delved deeper into thought than he’d realized because when he looked up he saw his Host standing before him with Kyrillos at his side.

“I must insist that you and your allies remain here within the safety of these walls until this violence passes, master Mason.” – Dracula
Sanchez only nodded, his strength was gone and he couldn’t tell if it was due to the sun or the thought of yet another bloody incursion.

October 30, 1495, 4:54pm
Sanchez’s chamber
Poenari Castle

Sanchez awoke face down on the floor of his haven, his feet pressed uncomfortably against the heavy wooden door. It seemed that he’d collapsed just after he slipped the bolt into place.

Somewhere in the distance the Mason could hear the sounds of hellish bellowing and rending metal. It seemed that the Lambach and his Sabbat had reached the summit and were having a go at the gate.

Sanchez leapt to his feet and rushed out onto the castle’s roof where he found Kyrillos, Teresa and her disciple watching what sounded less like a siege and more like a battle.

“What’s happening?” – Sanchez

“A Sabbat arrived at dusk and began to tear at the gate. Somehow the Camarilla was waiting for them though.” – Lupe.

Sanchez looked below and found the assessment sound. The Camarilla was better equipped and better trained than the Sabbat and had the blood-mad monsters pinned against the cliff.

He recognized Milov and Fanchon as the leaders of the Camarilla’s detachment.

“The Justicars came to fight alongside their Archons.” – Kyrillos

“They’re outnumbered.” – Lupe.

“Yes, but they’re more potent and better prepared to face a sortie of the damned.” – Sanchez.

“Smug.” – Lupe

“Observant.” – Teresa

She’d caught sight of her niece among the Archons.

“Foolish girl.” – Teresa

“Ha! They made the idiot Alexander an Archon? They’re bigger fools than I’d supposed” – Lupe

Kyrillos couldn’t argue, though it seemed that the haughty Ventrue was skilled on the field of battle.

“Where’s Dracula?” – Lupe

It was clear that, in spite of their smaller numbers, the Camarilla was already overpowering the Sabbat, having cut their number in half.

“Enough of this!” – Sanchez, leaping into the fray.

Though the Camarilla was already winning the night, Sanchez’s entrance into the battle was welcome as the elder flitted through the mass of furious corpses, brutalizing the Sabbat before they could even register that he was there. Kyrillos leapt in after his ally, though he lacked the Toreador’s speed he made up for it in surprisingly skilled swordplay and ferocity, handling his own against two frenzied Antitribu .

Just as it seemed the Camarilla had taken the upper hand, pressing the Sabbat closer and closer to the cliff-face, and would stand victorious over the Sabbat the gates swung wide as Dracula led his personal guard, his so-called Axes, into battle.

The mortals were a force of nature as they moved across the mountain top, showing a skill with fighting the dead that was unheard of and tearing into the now surrounded Justicars and their followers.

Amidst the fighting Dracula turned toward the two ladies, his blood-spattered face twisted into a rictus of violence-fueled ecstasy.

“Wallachia will not suffer trespassers upon its borders! Join battle, my beauties and bring honor and glory to your names!” – Dracula

“No!” – Lupe.

Teresa looked at her disciple and saw the stress of holding back her beast twisting her beautiful face.

“Calm yourself!” – Teresa

“Calm? Calm? They’re being butchered down there! We should be doing something!” – Lupe

The Balustrade crumbled in the Brujah’s grasp as she roared.

The vampire leapt from the parapet and joined the skirmish, landing heavily upon the shoulder of Alexander with a sickening crunch. Before the Ventrue could even register that his arms were broken she’d dug her fingers into his flesh and grabbed hold of his ribcage and heaved.

The Ventrue’s flailing body flailed through the air, disappearing over the mountainside. After that, the Rage overwhelmed her entirely, and Lupe was lost to the red.

Despite having not signed their precious treaty, Teresa had never felt animosity for the Founders, rather she pitied their wretched view on the history of their kind and saw their stance, that the Book of Nod was only a parable, to be laughable at best and more than likely suicidal. Nor did she find the damned Sabbat of Fiends and Antitribu to be worth saving, in spite of the fact that they had, in the last couple of years become her nominal allies. So when Teresa decided to act, she did so in the name of her host, for whom she awoke a handful of shadows to act as guards, sending them to disarm any that would do harm to the Voivode, literally. More than one member of the Sabbat found himself flailing upon the ground, completely dismembered, most notable among them was the ancient Tzimisce Tabak and the Gangrel Justicar.

With the tide turned, the Camarilla made its escape, taking their torpid leader with them and, knowing that the Voivode would take his actions as treasonous, Sanchez went with them.

The Sabbat too attempted to flee, though thanks to the actions of Sanchez, Teresa and Kyrillos their numbers were greatly diminished. The Fiends even left their leaders, the dismembered Tabak and staked Lambach, for Dracula to do with as he pleased.

Dracula himself staked Tabak and left it to Kyrillos to oversee their removal to the castle. When they were finished the frozen ground was still littered with the corpses of Sabbat.

Teresa was pleased to see that none of them belonged to Sister Lupe.

November 4, 1495, 5:31am
Teresa’s Private Chambers
The Domain of the Black Queen
Archbishop of Alba Iulia

Sanchez had been surprised to find that Teresa had met him in Arefu before the next dawn but together they returned to Brasov to meet with Zelios, quietly enjoying each other’s company but when they arrived they found the old crypt abandoned, without even the few pieces of furniture that had been there before.

“Archbishop?” – Sanchez, falling onto the sofa.

“Yes, I thought it was amusing Title myself, but it helps to add an air of respectability and separate ourselves from the throng of “Pacts” within the Sabbat. We can’t have anyone thinking that, just because we did not join your precious little court that we are completely lost.” – Teresa

“And Archbishop is much more scholarly than “Black Queen”, right?” – Sanchez

The Black Queen Laughed.

“Oh, I am still the Black Queen, in fact, I have been in correspondence with a number of Noddists from across Christendom who have never heard of Teresa Balgrad but wish to learn at my feet nonetheless.” – Teresa

“Ah, so mysterious.” – Sanchez

Teresa went to her desk to show her guest the most recent letters to find an ancient wooden chest sitting upon it. How she hadn’t seen it before was beyond her.

“Sanchez?”

“What is that?” – Sanchez, running his hands over the weathered wood.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it belongs to Zelios, and I think ah yes…” – Sanchez, sliding his deft hands along the seemingly seamless panels only to hear the faintest of clicks.

The box’s right panel fell open revealing an oilcloth parcel and a letter.

Dearest Sanchez,
Within the enclosed oilcloth satchel you will find the amber brooch and tome as promised. I am sorry that I could not meet you myself but I was forced to make a small jaunt to Egypt on very short notice. I am sure that you remember how to use the brooch so I will not bore you with the instructions.
.
I look forward to meeting with you again.
.
Your Friend,
Zelios of Clan Nosferatu, Master Mason

As promised, within the oilcloth satchel was the amber inset in gold along with a large rounded tome crafted from what appeared to be two round sheets of amber that, and bound by a seamless heavy band of dark metal marked only by a single oval impression.

“It’s beautiful.” – Sanchez sliding his fingers over the amber’s weathered façade before pulling his hand away.

“What is it?” – Teresa

“Death. So many lives were lost over this thing. It’s impossibly old.” – Sanchez

“Let’s find out what it’s all about.” – Teresa.

Teresa grabbed the metal and twisted only to feel her limbs go numb.

“What?”

She looked at her hands to see that they’d paled and withered before she dropped the amber codex.

“It’s ensorcelled.” – Sanchez

“Thank you, Sanchez, I don’t know what I would do without your wise council.” – Teresa, as she felt her strength rush back into her limbs.

“Maybe we should try the brooch first.” – Teresa

“Way ahead of you.” – Sanchez, splitting the bauble and sliding it apart with a single hand.

Teresa looked through the amber glass at the inscription that Zelios had shown them and chortled to herself as she red

I am the key. Within the heart of my twin shall I reveal the truth. No more shall our father’s lies entrap us. All shall now know the black rot that lies behind his fair face. Read of his betrayal and weep for us all.

“The Brooch itself is the key.” – Teresa, sliding the brooch’s base into the oval impression in the metal band.

The gold held fast against the metal band, and Teresa received a small static shock before the metal band loosened beneath the brooch-cum-buckle, unraveling as though it were nothing more than a black leather strap.

“Am I the only one sick of magic?” – Sanchez.

The amber plates came apart revealing a series of beaten gold pages marked with an incredibly small but deeply etched script.

Teresa began to read:

My Brothers and Sister,
.
I write this warning to you knowing it may be that I shall never see any of you again. If it must be that my words reach you from beyond the Final Death, then I accept that it is so. I do not fear death itself; only what my dreams tell me may await my soul beyond that portal. Yet my heart retains its hope; I can imagine nothing more hideous than that which has already befallen me, and so I pray for true death, for a peace that admits no torments, no nightmares.
.
They will come for me soon, I think. I have but little time to finish, and so, must make a start. Think kindly of me in the nights to come if this should preserve you from the horrors that have stripped my existence from me. May you see the truth in my words and flee that which would destroy your souls…
.
…Shu made us welcome with great feasting, summoning forth slaves whom his attendants tortured and slew in such hideous fashion that we, who had seen many terrible things inflicted on the helpless who displeased our own kind, shuddered with revulsion and their savagery. In the following nights they tempted us with riches and the most succulent of babies’ flesh and blood. They offered us powers beyond and dreamed of by Caine himself. Again and again, they enticed us to partake of their rituals, to swear oaths with demons, and to inflict the cruelest of tortures on innocents.
.
And then Karesh fell to their seduction. He denounced the rest of us and the wicked fell upon us like the very hordes of Hell. Vekis, Madiel and I were made captive and by the most agonizing of torments, forced to Embrace the mortal leaders of the Ba’al. Then Madiel was slain, his blood drunk and his essence taken by his own newly made childe. Vekis and I were left alive so the Ba’al could question us.
.
I shall not tell you of all the terrors and degradations visited upon us in our captivity. Vekis died in torment, vainly trying to hold back information the Shu desired. I was questioned over and over, each time with new and more horrible tortures. My flesh was laced with worms and maggots set to eating their way out of my body, my thirst was like a red shroud that enwrapped me in unbreakable torment. But the worst times were those when my former brother came to me, whispering seductively and offering me my freedom and peace if I would but join him. He told me terrible secrets that broke my mind and shattered my sanity. I feared I should be kept thus forevermore, a pitiful remnant, a broken toy the evil Shu refused to put down.
.
Then in the midst of a moment of clarity, I found a way to escape. All I could recall was that my brother had betrayed us to the Ba’al and that they now possessed the gift of immortality. Somehow, I found my way back to the City. Kneeling before our Father and Grandsire, I told them what I had learned and begged for protection and the blood. Our Father seemed crazed by the news I brought. He urged Caine to make immediate and total war upon the Ba’al. With our Grandsire’s approval, he called forth our clan’s warriors. I was too weak to go with them.
.
Each day I slept uneasily, dreaming of Karesh’s whispers and the horrors that he told me. Each evening I awoke, covered in blood sweat, unable to recall what he told me, but knowing it portended disaster for us all. I went to our Father, begging him to help me unlock the secrets held within my dreams. He seemed distracted by the war and promised to assist me later. Our messengers returned night after night with news that another of my warrior brethren was dead, slain by jade devils. Though Shu suffered devastating losses, it seemed the war was not going well. Our Father became ever more determined, sending out his warrior childer until none existed any longer. Then he turned to our healers, asking that they pick up the slayer’s sword as well.
.
That day as I slept, I dreamed again – and I remembered what had twisted my mind to madness. I saw again Karesh coming to me, searing my flesh with heated metals while he whispered to me these words:
.
“Ah, my foolish brother, I take such delight in watching you writhe at my touch! And yet, this torment is as nothing before the knowledge I tell you now. You were betrayed, but not by me. I but followed the wishes of my sire. He sent us here, not to learn the plans of the Ba’ali, but to see if they would make worthy children of our line. For many years now our sire has been disappointed with our Clan. He has grown weary of waiting for us to awaken to his true teachings, to throw off the pitiful constraints we have placed upon ourselves, to reach beyond the idea of Shu’s guidance to the font of true power. Peace and inner harmony are for weaklings, and that is what our line has become – a clan of puling fools who have forgotten that we are the accursed of God. Our Father remembers and revels in it. Let the weak believe the lies he spins; when our time comes, they shall fall before us like wheat to the scythe.
.
“Do not believe that our Father’s first line will survive. Most of us have proven too peaceful, too willing to enter the search for Golconda rather than to rip out the hearts of any who deny us our rightful heritage as the overlords of the Earth. They shall be swept away in the red tide of battle, slain by his new children, the Ba’ali of Sai. Those among the new who survive will be the strongest and the cruelest. None shall know of our ascension until it is too late to turn aside our wrath. And on the night that the last of our sire’s first children bleeds his life into the mouths of his newborns, I shall rise to sit by our Father’s right hand and command all who dwell upon the earth.”
.
I have remembered. I am afraid. This have I written to warn those of you who are left. Heed not the words of our Father, for he is a liar. He seeks only our deaths. The Ba’ali are not his enemy, but his tool for our destruction. Flee if you can. I shall bury this beneath the floor of my room and hope our Father does not find it. The key to reading it, and my warning not to give the key to our Father or his minions, flies even now to one of our sisters who rests far from here and is, thus, safe for the moment.
.
It is almost dawn. Though awake, I am once again tormented by the nightmares that give me no peace night or day. My warning is finished. I hear our Father’s footsteps as he comes toward my room. Unknowing, I asked him to unlock my dreams and he has done so. Now he knows that I know the truth and he cannot allow me to exist with such knowledge. He knocks upon the door and gently tells me to ready myself. It is calm. I do not know if I am more afraid to greet the sun or to look upon his fair face, knowing him for the first time as what he truly is. I shall bury this now and hope he does not find it when the sun’s kiss scars my flesh and brings me, at last, to peace.
.
Javaniel, Second Bone Dragon
Childe of Yavok,
Childe of Zao-Lat

November 7, 1495, 1:21am
Beneath Poenari Castle
The Domain of Dracula
Prince in Exile

Kyrillos stole down the twisted staircase into the dungeons below the fortress. He had promised his host that he would leave him to his prisoners without interruption but tonight, as he was returning from hunting in Arefu, Kyrillos had seen the Fiend Lambach fleeing the castle in all haste, his clothes little more than rags and his eyes wild with hunger.

The Malkavian made all haste to the castle as fast as his undead flesh would allow and was now standing before the secret door into the dungeons kept specifically for the dead.

The old count could hear no heartbeat, and the smell of blood coming from within the chamber beyond was overwhelming leading him to fear the worst.

“Come in, Lord Kyrillos.” – Dracula

Kyrillos was taken aback by the Prince’s tone but did as he’d been bade.

Dracula stood in the center of the chamber, his naked body covered in a thick layer of dried blood that shone brightly even in the dark of the lightless room. Before the prince were the remains of the limbless Tabak slowly melting under the weight of his obvious distruction.

Dracula’s emerald eyes shone impossibly bright in the darkness as he grinned maniacally at his old advisor.

“It is glorious, Kyrillos, to see through these eyes!” – Dracula, the blood fading from his now unblemished white skin as he spoke.

“What happened here?” – Kyrillos

“Count Lambach graciously accepted an offer made to him by a victorious rival.”

The film of blood had now completely faded leaving Dracula’s skin perfectly clean and practically aglow in the dark chamber. The newly reborn monster seem flushed with power and appeared to be a full twenty years younger.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, my dear friend, I must return to the land of the living for I have plans to make, I believe that it is time that I reveal myself to the night, and take my rightful place in it.”

Kyrillos watched Dracula leave the dungeon and knew that his time at Poenari Castle had, at last, come to an end.

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Chapter 13-1 - Amber's Secret

October 20, 1495, 1:00am
The Black Ox Inn
The Domain of Master Sanchez
Prince of Sebeș

The Prince of Sebeș sat upon his stool behind his writing desk and waited to hear his next constituent’s plea.

Though he was a notoriously busy man he always made sure to keep at least one evening a week for these face to face exchanges with those Kindred who deigned to accept the Toreador as their Prince. Unfortunately for him, the number seemed to grow every week. So many Kindred, especially those of his Clan, wanted to bend the ear of the “Father of the Masquerade”.

There was a time, not so long ago when his city was filled with Iconoclastic Agitators and Zealots, now it was a commune for Artisans and Epicureans who wanted to ply their trades and hone their crafts, specifically their ability to blend in with the “Herd”. His insistence that they not refer to the Living as chattel often fell on deaf ears as those self-same vampires were convinced of their own superiority.

Luckily for him, Sanchez was adaptive.

The man who shuffled into the room was not one that Sanchez knew and as far as he could tell he was not among the Damned. He stepped forward nervously, his right hand buried in a large heavy leather satchel.

By his dress he was a craftsman, and from the satchel he removed a rolled vellum scroll sealed with black wax. The skin of his hand and outstretched arm was sallow and pitted with black scabrous sores, obviously the mark of a ghoul in the service of a member of Clan Nosferatu.

The missive was sealed with a seven pointed star. Before the Journeyman could even offer an explanation for his presence or the missive, Sanchez had already taken the scroll and opened it.
“Thank you, Bertram, you’re dismissed.” – Sanchez

The ghoul’s eyes widened. He had not introduced himself, nor had he ever met the Toreador Prince before.

Dearest Sanchez,
You have helped me in the past and now I find that I must beg your indulgence again. You well know the ritual that I have sought to complete to keep the demon Kupala from rising. In recent months I have discovered that a key to completing the ritual lies elsewhere. I would ask the favor of your assistance in bringing this site into alignment with those already marked.
For your trouble, I offer the following: Two items of exceptional beauty and value that also contain information related to the golden translation key you found so many years ago in Tihuta Pass. I give them to you freely in hopes that you may find them useful.
Please come in secret to Bran Castle above the city of Kronstadt, where I await you. Come to the east facing of the castle where you will find the gallows that grows over a forgotten barrow. Remove the stone that covers the earthen tomb – as you may remember, this passage leads to a stairway that descends into the rock below the castle itself. Follow the stairway until you reach the bottom and you shall find me there, where I have constructed a temporary haven.
I look forward to meeting with you again.
Your Friend,
Zelios of Clan Nosferatu, Master Mason

Sanchez read the note twice over. He’d sworn never to return to Brasov, which the old leper had referred to as Kronstadt, after the destruction of Josephus a half century prior but he did remember the passage described in the letter, in fact it had been constructed by Zelios after Erasmus had fallen into his unending Torpor. The fact that Zelios had taken up a haven there could only mean that Erasmus had finally risen, but if that were true than the question remained: What happened to the crusader?

October 24, 1495, 8:23pm
Before the Gallows Tree
The Domain of Rosenkrantz the Younger
Prince of Brasov

The night air was damp with fog which made Sanchez’s passage through the grounds of Bran Castle all the easier. Though it would have been appropriate for him to announce himself to the prince as he and Rosenkrantz weren’t exactly allied. Indeed, the Prince of Brasov had been heard on more than one occasion wishing for his fellow’s destruction after he was rousted from his seat in Sebeș, even though he was granted regency over the much more impressive Brasov for his trouble.

It was a matter of pride and Sanchez could respect that, even if he couldn’t respect the Royalist toady himself.

The castle grounds were relatively well groomed but the gallows tree rested in a forgotten and overgrown bit of garden and was nearly dead. At nearly three hundred years old Sanchez assumed that it had a good run.

His thoughts grew quiet as he approached the old stone that had long ago been marked by Sanchez’s own maker’s mark, a tower crowned by a circle. Instead of being moored and forgotten it had been torn free from the earth and roots and set aside. There were no drag marks which meant that it had been moved by someone of immense strength.

Sanchez hoped that Zelios had not become so careless as to leave the capstone to his haven so far from the doorway.

From within Sanchez could hear the sound of movement but no heartbeats, no breathing. Sanchez wrapped himself in a cloak of obscurity as he slipped soundlessly into the burrow.

The burrow was pitch-black without any sign of a torch having been lit. Even for most of the Dead the black was oppressive, but to Sanchez it was only dim.

He’d hoped that it would be Kyrillos. He’d heard of the Mad Count’s destruction at the hands of the roving Sabbat of psychotic Anarchs in England, but he’d been counted amongst the dead before and Sanchez didn’t buy it. He’d sent word to the old Byzantine to meet him here on this night to all of the places he was known to rest.

But it wasn’t Kyrillos standing nervously in the darkness; to the Mason’s surprise it was Teresa dressed as a man in riding breeches along with a narrowly framed and beautiful woman with a dark complexion who wore a simple cotton dress. Sanchez recognized her as the Spanish Anarch Lupe, the vampire who’d witnessed Kyrillos’ death.

Sanchez’s surprise quickly melted into puckish glee as he reached out and pinched the Black Queen on the ass.

The old Lasombra reacted with shocking speed and Sanchez saw her slamming her fist into the side of his skull with enough force to shatter through the back of his skull. He felt the flesh of his face liquefy under the weight of her ancient blood, his eyes burst, and as he felt his soul being pulled into oblivion he stepped back out of the path of her furious retribution.

He watched as the Lasombra’s fist slammed into her Antitribu ally, shattering her skull and sending her body into the stone wall.

“Sanchez?” – Teresa

“Heh. Maybe I should have announced myself.”

The Agitator lay motionless against the stone wall.

“I think I broke her.” – Sanchez

Teresa helped the girl to her feet as her brutalized face began to rebuild itself, her blood seeping back into the broken flesh as the bones reset themselves.

The woman’s face was ashen and sunken, her fangs prominent and her eyes were practically lambent with hunger.

“When was the last time you fed?” – Sanchez

“It has been some time, but I would have been fine had my face not been crushed!” – Lupe

Her voice was little more than a bestial growl.

“Fair point. Did Zelios invite you as well?” – Sanchez

“Yes, it seems that he’s discovered an artifact that may be useful to my studies.” – Teresa

“Well than we’d better be on our way. Remember though, that these stairs were treacherous in the thirteenth century, God only knows what they’re like now.” – Sanchez

He was referring to the massive pit that the staircase had been built into using stone slabs set in place through inhuman strength alone.

As if to prove his point the Brujah slipped, though Sanchez was there to catch her before she could fall.

“Let that be a lesson to you, L–“ – Teresa, but she never finished the sentence, as the stone beneath her gave way, causing her to slip off and into the abyss beyond the staircase.

“NO!”

Sanchez didn’t move so much as vanish from where he stood next to Lupe, leaving her to navigate the deadly staircase alone.

When he reached the bottom of the pit he found nothing but dust and dirt.

“Teresa?”

There was no response and in his panic Sanchez did not notice that he’d developed a second shadow nor did he notice that a soft light was illuminating the area from the small crypt built into the wall opposite the staircase.

When something slapped his ass Sanchez was near panic, spinning around with his fangs bared and his fists up only to see the Black Queen rising out of his own shadow as she might step out of a deep bath or spring.

Sanchez lashed out before she could react and, taking her in his arms, dipped low enough that she was nearly upside down, the look in the Mason’s eyes was almost romantic as he drew dangerously close to her.

“Just kidding.” – Sanchez, dropping her onto the stone floor.

“I should kill you!” – Teresa lifting herself to her feet.

“Have you dined?” – a new voice, stony and rasping.

The two vampires turned, only now realizing that they were not alone.

If they could have, they would have blushed. Sitting at a drawing table amid a writhing carpet of rats sat the stone-faced Nosferatu Mason. If he was amused by their antics his face did not betray his jocularity.

“Zelios!” – Sanchez, grasping his once-mentor’s arm

“My little friends are full of vitae should you require it and they are more than willing to share.” – Zelios

Teresa’s nose wrinkled in disgust.

“No, thank you, Zelios.” – Sanchez

They turned as Zelios’ eyes turned back toward the pit, as Lupe landed before them, having leapt to the ground.

“Lupe, our host has offered us this bounty on which to feed.” – Teresa

Without a word the Brujah stepped forward woodenly and reached down to pick up one of the rats. As she bit into the limp little beast her stilted control over her hunger finally collapsed and she tore into the thing, draining it completely before falling on another and another.

The others turned away to let her feed in privacy.

“Who is she?” – Zelios

“She is called Lupe and she is my disciple.” – Teresa

“I hadn’t expected you to bring acolytes.”

Lupe dropped another rat.

“I insisted, Master Zelios, Lupe has studied the lore of Nod all over Europe but has met so few of the most Revered thinkers who walk the Night.” – Teresa

“It is of no matter, if you have let her into their confidences than I have no reason to keep this from her. As to why you are here: I have recently discovered another key point in my grand design to bind the demon Kupala. I had not found it before because it does not lie in Transylvania at all, but in Wallachia. There is a castle there, overlooking the Argeș River, that was once occupied by the infamous Vlad Tepes, who once ruled these lands. Though he is long dead it is said that the so-called “Son of the Devil” might have practiced infernal rites within the walls of Poenari Castle and it would be very dangerous to place these runes blindly without understanding what diabolical spells have already infected its walls.” – Zelios.

“So you want me to make sure there are no infernal runes to interfere with your web?” – Sanchez

“Precisely and, as I have it on good authority that there is a new master of Poenari Castle that you must gain permission from them before placing them upon the walls if our working is to be successful.” – Zelios

“And what of the treasures we were promised?” – Teresa

Zelios reached into a leather satchel at his side and removed a small square silk pouch. Within the pouch was a largish piece of golden jewelry; a brooch to be specific, within which was set a large amber stone which had been polished into a dome.

Teresa recognized the bauble immediately, despite the century and a half since she’d handed it over to the puerile Nova Arpad.

“Curiously, my informants tell me that this brooch was once owned by the former prince of Mediaș. When Nova Arpad found it necessary to sell some of her jewelry due to a sudden reversal of fortune that left her fleeing her own domain, the brooch became the property of Lady Ana Golescu.” – Zelios

“She’s here in Brasov?” – Lupe

“Indeed, and she granted the brooch, along with a small treasure, for services rendered. Understand that, in my travels, I have become acquainted with many worthy scholars, both living and dead and have learned much lore regarding this little bauble. Specifically, I wish to draw your eyes to this seam along the side of the brooch, hidden by the webbing and intricate gold work.”

He turned the brooch on its side but Teresa saw no seam. Sanchez simply nodded. With a touch the gold slid, releasing the amber from it.

“How did I miss that?” – Sanchez to himself

“You’ll note the faint inscription upon either piece of the bauble. These cannot be read except by sliding the amber over the markings once it is released from the setting like so. Once done, the inscription is enlarged enough to make out the writing clearly. Sadly I’ve not been able to find a translation for the odd characters that make it up. I believe that, from what Sanchez has told me, the key you discovered in Bârgău Pass, might assist you.” – Zelios

Teresa sneered at Sanchez and his loose lips but was painfully curious about the writing.

“Once the Runes are inscribed upon Poenari Castle I shall know. When you return I shall give you the brooch and its companion volume, a tome that contains a much larger piece of writing that I believe possesses a great deal of lore tied to Kupala and our goal of binding the demon.” – Zelios.

Lupe dropped one last rat into the small pile that had formed at her feet.

“When do we leave?”

October 26, 1495, 4:36pm
Outside Arefu
The Shadows of Poenari Castle,
The Transylvanian Alps

The road to Poenari Castle was a smooth one, allowing them to make good time, especially with Lupe, who had history in Poenari Castle, at their side. Though they reached Arefu quickly, the road to the Castle itself was blocked to the point of being nonexistent and they had been forced to leave their entourage behind in the city to climb the 1400 steps that were cut into the mountain, leading up to the menacing castle that loomed over the city as if ready to strike, alone. Much like in Brasov, to fall from the narrow staircase would be deadly even to the dead, leaving their torpid body to wash away in the Argeș River.

The Castle itself had been little more than a ruin until Vlad Tepes took power and had it rebuilt and re-fortified, a project Sanchez did not work on directly but had kept his eye on. He saw now that the workmanship and design were beautiful examples of the Romanian style, with its five gothic towers rising elegantly from the mountain stone itself.

When the three vampires finally reached the top of the narrow stairs they found a small cordon of armored soldiers were waiting for them beyond the great Iron Gate.

“So much for the castle being unoccupied.” – Sanchez, gesturing for the Captain of the Guard to approach

“What business do you have with Poenari Castle.” – the Captain of the Guard.

“We wish to have words with your master.” – Sanchez

“Of course, my Lord, I did not mean to detain you, come with me.”

Sanchez smiled at Teresa who returned the smile with a roll of her eyes.

The Captain of the Guard bade another guard to unlock the gate and then escorted them through the craggy courtyard.

“What is your master’s name, Captain?”

“Our Lord wishes to remain anonymous as he has been in exile for some time now and his presence would create a small uproar if discovered.” – the captain

“So you don’t know?” – Sanchez prodded.

The Captain laughed before looking back at the two ladies conspiratorially.

“Truth be told, though the world has believed him dead these last twenty years, our master is in fact the supposed murdered prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes.” – the Captain.

Sanchez couldn’t hide his surprise as they approached the Castle.

Ahead the ironbound doors of the castle opened, illuminating the Courtyard and revealing a shadowy figure backlit by the great hearth within.

The figure that approached was small but imperious in his posture. As he drew closer Sanchez couldn’t help but notice that he wore great purple flowing robes, not unlike the Arabic viziers he worked with in Iberia and a great toothy grin nestled within his great iron-gray beard.

“Welcome to Poenari Castle!”

“Kyrillos!” – Sanchez and Teresa together.

“Why haven’t you answered any of my letters you curr!” – Sanchez, embracing his old friend

“What letters?”

“You fooled me again old friend” – Teresa, joining in the hug.

“Wait! You’re “Dracula”?” – Sanchez

The Mad Count laughed hysterically.

“We are here to draw runes upon the walls of the castle.” – Sanchez

“They’re not my walls.” – Kyrillos

“Then who does the castle belong to?”

“So you know the Prince’s majordomo?” – the Captain.

Sanchez’s face fell. He was going to have to convince Dracula to let them deface his castle.

“Why are you here?” – Kyrillos

“Zelios believes that this castle is a pylon in his binding of Kupala.” – Teresa

The look on his face was enough for the others to realize that he didn’t know the name.

“The storm demon.” – Sanchez

“The Demon that infests these mountains.” – Teresa

“We’re sorry but we don’t remember” – Kyrillos

“How can you forget the horrific weather that used to wreck Transylvania? Do you remember meeting Dragomir?” – Teresa

“Sorry, no.” – Kyrillos

“I’ve got this. Do you remember when I was nearly struck by lightning while climbing the walls of Vintila’s castle?” – Sanchez

The Malkavian barked a laugh.

“That was brilliantly funny. Yes, it’s coming back to me now.” – Kyrillos.

“Well, we have been dispatched by Zelios to apply another such sigil. You do remember Zelios?” – Teresa

“Of course we do!” – Kyrillos

“Well he believes that we must gain permission before placing the mark so we must speak with the Prince.” – Teresa

“You!”

Kyrillos and the others turned to look at Lupe who had, up until now, gone completely unnoticed.

“Excuse me?” – Kyrillos

“How do you live? I watched the Larvae descend upon you! How is Vykos dead but you remain?” – Lupe

The Brujah’s eyes flashed with fury.

“It was through my research that the Anarchs were able to perform their ghastly deed, my girl, I had long ago learned how to bring any such beast to heel.” – Kyrillos

“You Destroyed Him!”

Sanchez reached out with his mind to cloud the frenzied vampire’s ability to perceive the Mad Count even as she lunged for him and, for just a moment it seemed to work, the Brujah spun and pivoted furiously searching for her quarry.

And then Kyrillos appeared before her, imperiously demanding that she stand down.

Unfortunately, her beast was more powerful than he’d expected and she responded to his command with a string of expletives even as she charged.

Teresa reacted swiftly, sending the shadows to intercept her disciple and to hold her down while she regained her footing, great inky black tethers to hold the young Brujah in place even as she strained against them, but Lupe proved too strong for them, tearing through them as if they were not but spider webs and leaving them tattered as she charged the Mad Count.

She hit him with enough force to echo through the mountaintops like thunder, leaving him shattered upon the ground like so much debris, leaving nothing but dirt and stone.

Teresa’s jaw fell as she watched the last bits of Kyrillos Dimities roll across the ground. Sanchez merely smirked.

Lupe stood stalk still, her eyes darting from place to place looking for her prey, her hands clenched into fists but the feral light in her eyes was already fading even as she bellowed victoriously.

Sanchez turned away from the Brujah in disgust, cursing her in every language he knew.

Teresa closed the gap between her and her disciple in the blink of an eye and cuffed her across the face hard enough to break a mortal’s jaw.

“You earned that one!” – Teresa

“He killed Vykos! Are you really taking the side of a “Kindred” over him?” – Lupe

“Vykos was a vile piece of shit that devoured his sire for power and called it “revolution”. He betrayed Kyrillos when he destroyed that village while hiding behind the horrific results of Kyrillos’ work!” – Sanchez

“And I killed him! I slew the whelp who martyred Vykos!” – Lupe

Even as she cackled Sanchez saw the ground behind her begin to move: loose stones and dirt and other debris began to roll and twitch before being pulled together almost silently coalescing into the shape of the Mad Count.

The Brujah quit speaking and lowered her head.

“If we’re finished, the master awaits.” – Kyrillos, picking at his teeth with a long nail.

Teresa took the Brujah by the hand and pulled her toward the castle as a mother would a misbehaving child.

“You have completely embarrassed me!” – Teresa


The castle had changed much since the last time that Lupe had seen it but the layout was much the same. The walls were now covered with beautiful tapestries marked by the Draculesti coat of arms, with depictions of great battles and even portraits of the Prince of Wallachia. Even the furniture was elegant if a bit old.

When they reached the Throne Room the doors were opened by a pair of footmen revealing the chamber that Lupe had lost her life in so many decades ago. But the grand banquet table was gone, replaced by a long carpet that led directly to the large throne upon which a handsome older gentleman sat.

The Voivode looked much the same as he had when Teresa and Sanchez had last seen him. Too much like it in fact. His hair was a lighter shade of gray and his beard was shaven, replaced by a long thick mustache, but his face was almost the same, with maybe a few more lines at the eyes.

He was dressed as a noble should be and despite his exile it was obvious that the Prince was both wealthy and well fed.

Dracula leapt from his throne to approach them, his arms splayed wide in greeting.

“Welcome to my home! If we had known you were coming we would have been better prepared. Have you supped?” – Dracula

“We have not, milord.” – Teresa

“Gregor! Bring at least five men at arms! Bring them here for my friends!” – Dracula

The five men at arms willingly offer their arms and necks to Teresa and Lupe. Sanchez, who was not hungry, turned to conversation.

“You look good, Vlad, especially for a man who died more than twenty years ago.” – Sanchez

“Thank you. It seemed that I began to age more slowly after the events near Deva in ’72.” – Dracula

Sanchez couldn’t help but notice that the Voivode was more interested in watching the others feed than talking to him. The Toreador was put off with the intensity of his gaze as he watched until they finished.

“Now that you have had your fill come, we shall retire to my parlor and speak of your travels.” – Dracula

The parlor was indeed very comfortable.

“So how did you know I was here?” – Dracula

“We didn’t.” – Teresa

“An old and learned friend of ours sent us here to Poenari under the assumption that it had been abandoned to assay it for him. Had we known that you were here we would not have come as we did.” – Sanchez

Kyrillos looked disappointed in the response.

“And what, exactly, were you to look for?” – Dracula

“Well, this will no doubt sound ridiculous, but we were to inspect it for signs of Infernalism and, should we find it, remove its mark from the premises.” – Sanchez

“To what purpose?” – Dracula

Teresa shook her head subtly but Sanchez continued.

“Well, by marking a specific wall with a series of sigils we can turn the occult energy that is building here towards more fully binding an ancient and insidious demon that has haunted these mountains since time out of mind.”

“And now?” – Dracula

“Now that we know that someone calls it their home we will ask your permission first, the magic is fragile and, as I learned the hard way nearly two centuries ago, marking these runes without permission is extraordinarily dangerous.”

Dracula thought on his words.

“How exactly do you wish to mark my castle?” – Dracula

Sanchez removed the bit of stone that had been given to him.

“I might grant this request to you.” – Dracula

“Might?” – Sanchez

“Though, through the Legacy of my Basarab forbearers, I have had a particularly long and hale life, it is not an immortal one. I wish to be as unaging as you all are. More importantly, I want to forgo the usual bond forged by the embrace between sire and childe. I do not care to be burdened by the vagaries of your traditions.”

“While I will not curse you with this life myself, we know of one, called Sabela, who would grant you Immortality and whom, should you choose to destroy her, would not be missed.” – Sanchez

The others nodded.

“Ah but there are stipulations; while I would ask Kyrillos, who has stood by my side these twenty years, he has warned me against being Embraced into his Clan or by the Worms of Clan Nosferatu. Nor do I wish to join your Camarilla nor the Anarchs who rove the night butchering my people.” – Dracula

“You want autonomy.” – Sanchez

“Indeed.”

The vampires all looked from one to another. Lupe was disgusted by the idea of pulling another into this existence and Sanchez had already turned him down leaving only Teresa whose feelings on the subject were, by the looks of her, inscrutable.

“I do not wish for you to answer now, I understand that I ask a grave favor indeed and the truth is I grow weary of these walls and lonely in seclusion. So please, stay here with us for a few nights and grant Kyrillos a chance to entertain you.”

October 29, 1495, 5:33pm
Poenari Castle
Overlooking Arefu
The Transylvanian Alps

It had been a very long three nights. It seemed that Dracula needed very little sleep to his uncanny nature and spent all of his days preparing their nightly entertainment.

The first night they’d been treated to a demonstration put on by his very best warriors, only for Lupe to enter the fray and leave them broken upon the floor, this was followed by a reading from the Feast of Fools, which the Prince and Sanchez both found very entertaining.

The next night Teresa learned that the Mad Count had convinced Teresa that she was a powerful sorceress and had volunteered her to perform for him after which Sanchez was volunteered to exhibit his masonry work. It was then that the Mason also revealed a number of secret passages in the castle that even Vlad was unaware of. Finally a troupe of dancers entertained them with their prowess.

The worst part was not part of these little shows, in between and even during them the Prince had taken to spending as much time in her company as he could and even seducing her. He was good at it to be sure, but sex was always a tool for the Black Queen, even in life, and after three and a half centuries if anyone were to seduce her, it wouldn’t be a mortal, no matter how talented he might be.

That was not to say she didn’t return his advances. She’d lain with him three times over the last three nights and he had proven himself to be an imaginative and exuberant lover. It was hard to imagine that he was seventy years old.

But she didn’t get much out of it.

Now he was here in her windowless bedroom, playfully removing her gown and she just didn’t have the patience for it again.

“you were amazing, my prince, it was the best sex I’ve had in three centuries, now please, rest your head for a little while before joining us downstairs.” – Teresa

The count smiled as his eyes dulled. She removed his clothing as he lay upon the bed and ensured that he would find evidence of their act as he slept and then fled the room.

At least he quit asking her for the Embrace.


October 29, 1495, 11:47pm
Beneath Poenari Castle
Overlooking Arefu
The Transylvanian Alps

For the first time since they’d come to this place Sanchez was given time to actually examine the castle, which he’d been doing since the sun dipped below the horizon. As far as the others knew he still hadn’t risen from his daily repose, and in a way they were right. If they were to enter his sleeping chamber they would indeed find him still asleep under the bed, but he’d risen none the less, slipping from his room to wander the myriad corridors and rooms unhampered by walls and doors and prying eyes.

He’d already investigated the outer walls, roof and upper floors of the castle and it was a truly beautiful example of Romanian Gothic design, and the Toreador couldn’t help but feel pride at the thought that his designs had not only survived but thrived over the centuries.

Now he was combing the lower levels. He’d already investigated the ground level in his excursion with the prince, so he saw no reason not to go deeper into the depths of the fortress. The first level below the castle was for living out a siege, with storerooms and cells for survivors and refugees, it was obvious that they had not been used in quite some time. Beneath that was the dungeon. With a number of large cells for holding prisoners, soldiers and even a room for torture. Sanchez noted the large wooden chair in the Torture chamber and the window that led all the way out and, by ten in the morning would allow a single sliver of light to run across whoever was chained in one of the lower ceilinged cells.

It was then that he noticed someone else was in the room. It was Lupe, in the lonely quiet he noted her haughty bluster was gone, her features were passive and would be serene if it weren’t for the fear in her eyes.

The girl passed right through him as she touched a set of manacles, running her fingers over the stone floor.

The young Brujah stood and made her way toward the Torture Chamber but stopped before entering, she turned to look at a small wooden closet door but when she opened it he saw that it was in fact another low room.

The girl gasped at what she saw within.

There, in the center of the chamber, chained to the ceiling and floor in irons were the remains of a man, he was impossibly thin, though that might have been due to the extreme desiccation, his long wispy hair doing little to hide the scars across his withered face.

The boy’s eyes and nose had long withered away, but his incredibly long and sharp fangs jutted visibly from his drawn lips and gums.

A long pike had been thrust through his chest.

“Ignatius?” – Lupe

Sanchez didn’t know the name, but he was sure that his was the Impaler’s work.

He suddenly became aware of someone saying his name and touching his hand.


Sanchez opened his eyes.

“I’m sorry to bother you, my friend, but I am here to tell you that the Prince has granted you permission to place your mark on the castle wall.” – Kyrillos

“Thank you.”

Sanchez slipped from beneath his bed and flexed.

“I didn’t know that there was a secret dungeon.” – Sanchez

“What secret dungeon?” – Kyrillos

“…”


Lupe looked upon her fellow victim with abject horror. How long had he been here? Had the Impaler done this and how?

Without thinking Lupe reached up and tore the chains from the wall and then from the floor, laying the Torpid vampire down at her feet as gently as she could. It was only after she pulled the stake from his chest that she realized the error.

The corpses withered eyes regenerated almost instantaneously into slit lambent red orbs filled with only hate and hunger.

Before the thing could even move though, Lupe was gone, lending her cursed flesh some of the speed granted by her ever-raging beast she was able to clear the room and bar the door without before he even realized that she was there.

Within the chamber a low, deep rasping growl reverberated through the dungeon. To her surprise she saw the man whom she’d attempted to murder three nights prior, with a soldier at his side.

“Open the door, girl!”

Lupe did so without thinking, if only because he told her to and then with a heave, he tossed the dazed mortal into the room and slammed the door shut once more.

Lupe looked at the Count with horror.

Without a word he turned and walked out of the dungeon leaving Lupe to the sounds of the beast feasting messily.

October 30, 1495, 6:09am
The Northern wall
Poenari Castle, Overlooking Arefu

The sigil was a simple one, but the work was exacting and performing it upon a wall while clinging to it made it particularly slow work.


Kyrillos approached Dracula as he sat contemplatively upon his throne.

“What’s on your mind, my mad friend?” – Dracula

“Did you leave a vampire to rot in the dungeon below, milord?” – Kyrillos

“I did.”

“Why? Why do that without warning me?” – Kyrillos

“I was curious. The Cainite below is a cousin of mine, a member of the Danesti line of House Basarab and I used him to gain a better understanding of the nature of your kind. He held an estate close to Alba Iulia and had not interacted with humanity since the time of my father. I believed the world would not miss him, and it hasn’t for a quarter of a century. “

“Fair enough.” – Kyrillos


Sanchez had finally finished the last of the symbols and was crawling across the wall when he caught sight of a thin looking man wearing peasants’ garb moving as frantically as he could up the mountain stairs.


Teresa was just joining Kyrillos and Dracula in the throne room when the Captain of the Guard appeared.

“Milord, you’re going to want to come to the gate.”

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Chapter 12-3 - The Fifth Tradition

October 20, 1493, 10:00pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

As with the night before, the third night of the Convention of Thorns began with a summary of the previous night’s speeches and debates as reported by the Archons to the Founders and it was clear that, while consensus was all but impossible, it appeared that some common threads were beginning to emerge.

The first speaker was Husayn al-Fatin, who spoke with a softly confident voice, begging the convocation to show leniency upon the Banu Haqim.

“The talk of the Children of Haqim that I have heard here, and in domains across the Continent, is filled with gross exaggerations and insulting prejudice. We of the so-called Clan of the Hunt carry out a necessary service for those vampires who do not wish to dirty their hands with the blood of their Cainite brethren. Our traditions are both ancient and honorable and are governed by rigorous discipline in order to prevent spurious and unauthorized Murder.” – Husayn

The entirety of the assemblage seemed to scoff at once.

“We do not wish to submit to an authority that we neither recognize nor comprehend. Can you truly blame us for exacting payment in the blood of those who would have us kill for them? We consider this price an appropriate one the risk that we take, both to our undying existence and our eternal souls, as well as a means of paying respectful tribute to the essence of a worthy adversary.

“We do not oppose your “Camarilla”. We do, however, wish to remain outside of it. Do any of you truly desire an army of Holy warriors and slayers in the command of your elders? I beseech you to think on these carefully before voicing your own opinions before this august body.” – Husayn.

The professorial Assamite had not yet stepped from the Dais when Mistress Fanchon, the intense and imperious Tremere Justicar stormed the stage amidst cries for the destruction of the Turks and their fortress in the Persian Desert.

“The Turks would have us sympathize with their murderous ways. They would have us pity they for the “risk” they take in drinking our Hearts’ Blood! To allow this farce is beyond madness. No that they have practiced it over the last century!” – Fanchon

The Tzimisce delegation, led by Velya and Lambach Ruthven began to laugh derisively.

“Yes, for surely no Tremere would dare Drink the Hearts Blood of so many Cainites, nor would the Nascent Camarilla allow even one Clan to fall to the Greedy cravings of such devilish diablerists!” – Lambach

Soon the whole of the Courtyard was up in arms, trading barbs and death threats in equal measure. It was quickly becoming clear that should the assemblage fall to frenzy no one, no matter how ancient or puissant they might be would survive let alone keep the peace.

Suddenly, from the crowd a young, earthy looking woman with long brown hair and a round face obscured by a hood leapt from the crowd, charging the founder’s place amongst the northern wall. The Anarchs rallied around her, bellowing forth an impassioned cry that was touched with the fervor of a century of hard fought battles.

Before Hardestadt could even reach for the bejeweled hilt of his great sword, she was one him, her hood falling away to reveal a pretty face with blue eyes bright with passionate zeal as she brandished two strange wooden clubs from beneath her coarse cloak.

“May your arrogant, black heart be sundered and your soul sucked down to the deepest pits of Hell, Hardestadt!”

“Tyler!” – Hardestadt

Hardestadt’s entourage closed in on the Arch-Anarch but she was too fast, using her preternatural speed to give the appearance of retreat even as she advanced past the High-Lord’s personal guard, reappearing on the Ventrue’s flank, the strange weapons were pointed directly at Hardestadt’s dead heart.

“And this time stay dead!” – Tyler

There were multiple flashes of flame and gouts of black smoke accompanied by the deafening sound of shots ringing out.

As he was turning to face his attacker when she opened fire, Hardestadt was forced to stumble back, falling over his own feet before falling under his own weight.

Smoke rose from to black holes, the smell of gun smoke hung heavy in the air.

The Anarch crowed triumphantly over her fallen enemy.

“Hardestadt is dead! Long live the Movement!” – Tyler.

The Anarchs’ cries of victory died in their throat even as Tyler escaped the Founders and their entourage.

Hardestadt was rising to his feet. His hand cover the smoldering wounds even as he stood to his full height. The wounds obviously pained him but he was in no danger of final death.

Tyler, seeing that she failed howled in rage, cursing the name of the Founders and their Camarilla before vanishing into the night. Rafael and Sanchez attempted to give chase but she was too fast even for them.

October 21, 1493, 12:24am
Beneath the Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

“Lady Teresa Balgrad? I had thought I saw you in the Courtyard.” – Husayn.

Teresa was surprised to find herself standing face to face with the Assamite Consul.

“It has been too long, Husayn.” – Teresa

“Yes, since Timisoara, I believe, when we met beneath the little church.” – Husayn.

“Oh, yes, I’d forgotten. It seems that you didn’t make many friends tonight, Husayn.”

“Indeed, I thought for a moment that the Tremere witch would destroy me where I stood.” – Husayn

It seemed as though the Diplomat had run out of diplomacy. Teresa was careful not to enjoy it too much.

“I would say that you should feel safe here in my haven, but the truth is that we’ve never been exactly allies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish you ill personally, our enmity has long since cooled, but that does not mean that we are friends.” – Teresa

The Assassin nodded gravely.

“The funniest thing about all of this, of course, is that we were invited here by Hardestadt himself, along with your masters in the Sea of Shadows, after the end of the Bitterest of the Crusades. And now we are forced to sue for peace because we have done as was asked of us. The Tremere and Ventrue, together, have taken my homeland and now we face extinction.”

“Your clan might have been invited, but it was you and your kind that decided to debauch yourself on the blood of our elders, including, I might add, the one who founded my line.” – Teresa.

“I understand that our position is precarious. The survival of my Bloodline is dependent upon our willingness to accept the terms dictated by this gathering. I had simply hoped to ask your assistance in our attempt to gain the most favorable decision possible.” – Husayn

“Again, Husayn, while I understand you plight, and may in fact be sympathetic to it, I still cannot understand how it affects me.”

The Assamite’s face dropped.

“I’m aware that, for many years, one of my brethren has been at the disposal of your Conspiracy of Romania Princes.” – Husayn

“And?”

“Should we survive that relationship wouldn’t need to change, but should the Banu Haqim fall, what then? What would become of your ally when we are hunted like the Cappadocians who scurry away from their Giovanni successors?”

“So I should protect you so that I may have one of yours at my beck and call?”

“Would you have us placed under the rule of those who might order us to serve their own purposes? Or would it not be preferable for us to conduct our own affairs unaffected by the politics and concerns of the Camarilla? There may come a time when you may need the services of one of our Kind? Would you rest content with the suspicion that one of your enemies might hold power over us?” – Husayn.

“You are wiser than I have given you credit for, Turk, I’ll give you that. I have an ally within the Founder’s Entourage who has considerable pull with the Toreador, Rafael de Corazon. I will speak to him. But I make no promises.”

The Assamite bowed deeply before fading into the darkness of the corridors.

October 21, 1493, 1:13am
Outside the Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Sanchez was staring out at the garden kept by the monks of the Sacred Crown when Teresa seemed to materialize beside him, her white skin practically aglow in the moonlight.

“I’ve been waiting for some time, Teresa.” – Sanchez

“I have been approached by an old acquaintance who would like a private audience with you and your friend, Rafael.” – Teresa

“Is this about Tyler and what tonight’s incident means for the Anarchs?” – Sanchez, never taking his eyes off the garden.

“No, it actually has to do with the Turks.”

The Mason’s shoulders slumped.

“I know you hold no love for them after what they’ve done under the cover of the Turkish Wars, however they do still serve a purpose when controlled.” – Teresa

“That’s a hell of a caveat.”

“But what happens when they decide to declare war? Do we run? What could we possibly do to subdue an entire Clan? Usurp them as the Giovanni have the Cappadocian Clan?”

“I’ll not run from them, nor will you. And as to the “purpose” that they serve, I have no need for it, nor does any vampire who claims membership to the Camarilla. The Masquerade has no place for their “Holy War”.” – Sanchez

“I understand that –”

“Do you? I cannot think that you do if you are here asking me to support their “cause”.” – Sanchez

Sanchez gestured for Teresa to be quiet.

“It’s a beautiful evening for a stroll through the garden isn’t it Ibrahim?” – Sanchez

Teresa looked out of the corner of her eye and saw the black-clad figure standing not six yards from her. His skin was a dark shade of mahogany which nearly blended with the shadows even under so bright a gibbous moon.

“Honored friends, how did you know I was here?”

“I recognized your Childe, Robi Bartok, as a member of the delegation and he let his thoughts betray you. I have been aware of you for some time now.” – Sanchez

“I had not expected to make myself known to you, content with letting people see what they wanted to, but I couldn’t allow my weak Brother, Husayn, prattle on any longer in the name of our Lineage.” – Ibrahim

“No one would expect you to.” – Sanchez

“It is clear to me that the Lady Teresa has been speaking with my wayward brother and has allowed his weakness to sway her. Understand this, honored friend, you do well to deny your ally’s request for aid in this matter for we are here under duress and do not intend to accept the rulings of this gathering of infidels as binding.” – Ibrahim

“Why don’t I believe that you speak for the rest of your clan?” – Sanchez

“How dare you, Remember that I am Abdul-Haqim Ibrahim al-Rashid and I have served my Lineage faithfully these three centuries and do not intend to see the walls of our holy fortress crumble under the weight of foreign demands. It is not we who began this fight! You Europeans came to our lands and slaughtered our people in the name of Your God and we responded to that offense!”

“Ibrahim, hold –” – Teresa

The Assamite was on the verge of frenzy

“You will hold your Slatternly tongue! If you do not wish to become the next victims of your leaders’ shameless desire for unlimited power over all of the children of the Banu Kayyin, you will support our insistence on complete and unfettered freedom to conduct our affairs! You will demand that your pitiful Camarilla withdraw their forces from the Holy Lands and seek not to meddle in our traditions and customs. There can be no compromise between your rulers and the Children of Haqim!”

Ibrahim was, by now, barely keeping the beast at bay and Teresa prepared for the worst. But before she was forced to act the vampire turned and melted into the night.

“Who knew that the Turks had firebrands?” – Sanchez

Teresa laughed.

“Let’s hope that the Founders know what they’re in for.” – Teresa

Sanchez joined her in her mirth.

October 21, 1493, 2:03am
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Kyrillos had promised Vykos that he would meet with him three night prior and had finally made good on it only to find his way blocked by Alexander, the oafish Ventrue he’d met when he was introduced to the prince.

“Lord Vykos says to tell you that it was a mistake, you’re not who he thought you were.” – Alexander.

The Anarch sneered as Kyrillos turned to walk away.

“On second thought, dear boy, perhaps it is you that we should be speaking to, as it seems that our old friend is not quite himself.” – Kyrillos

The look on the young Anarch’s face was one of abject fear.

“I will not.” – Alexander.

“Fear not, young man, for we mean only to enlighten and educate you in the ways of the Long Night.” – Kyrillos

“I’ll learn from you, Uncle.” – Qamar

Kyrillos set a finger over the girl’s lips.

“Hark; do you hear what we hear?” – Kyrillos

“No.”

The Malkavian elder’s eyes became unfocused as he concentrated.

What he heard were the errant thoughts of the young Brujah with whom he kept crossing paths:

“I wish to learn from you, Master Vykos, it is said that of all the Cainites in Christendom you are the most knowledgeable of our dark Father and his time in Nod.

“While I am sure that our time together would be both fascinating and illuminating for both of us, now is not a good time, little one. However, this is neither the time nor the place for such a conversation. Should you wish to continue it; we are planning a grand spectacle to end these festivities. If you joined us, afterwards I shall give you all the time in the world and would even take you on as a student if you so wished it.”

“Thank you, sir, I would be most honored!”

Kyrillos blinked once and then again.

“Are you okay, Uncle?” – Qamar

“Yes, my child, it is a sad truth that insight comes with a price.” – Kyrillos

October 21, 1493, 10:00pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

When Kyrillos entered the Courtyard there was already someone upon the Dais. He wore little more than a burlap loin cloth and some ancient looking jewelry. His skin was dark and weathered and what little hair he had was white and as wispy as smoke.

This was Unmada, the oldest waking Malkavian in the entire world.

“I foresee a rain of blood and fire that consumes us all if we do not unite. My Clan, the Children of Malkav, shall perish utterly if we do not make common cause with those who seek to end senseless warfare and destruction. We must overcome our blind, unreasoning hatred for those different from ourselves and accept our childer back into our hearts, lest we destroy them and destroy ourselves by our unthinking cruelty to our younger brethren.”

The elder was helped off the stage by his Childe, Vasantasena, before an open forum was called.

A few vampires attempted to make a speech but were quickly booed off the stage for various reasons before Sanchez demanded to be heard.

“We who have gathered here have done so in the promise that we will finally see an end to this bitter crusade. For the last three nights, we have come to this place and those with something to say have stood upon this stage and spoken their minds, for good or ill and yet by the coming of each dawn it seems that we have taken two steps back away from any sort of accord. So I say enough! If we’re going to do this, then let’s do this! Get over our damned pride, our anger our jealousies and all the petty shit that the Beast that gnaws at our breasts feeds on and just do it, broker the peace, do what needs to be done and be DONE!”

Sanchez stepped off the stage to a rather large applause, passing his ally, Rafael de Corazon as he did so.

The Founder seemed glide onto the stage as a feather on the breeze.

“The Man who just spoke up and demanded Peace is brilliant! Master Sanchez has, for the last fifty years, ruled his fiefdom of Sibiu from the shadows. He is the Architect of our future! A century ago, I met him whilst visiting Bavaria and as we spoke he taught me many things, he reminded me of something that I want to reiterate to you everyone here.

“Shut your dandy ass and give the stage to someone who matters!” – an anonymous Anarch bellowed.

“The Fifth Tradition commands us: Thou shall not reveal thy true nature to those not of the blood. Thou shall not reveal thy true nature to those not of the blood! Thou shall NOT reveal thy true nature to those not of the blood!”

Hardestadt himself approached the stage to pull him off of it.

“Do Not Seek To Drag Me From The Speaker’s Stair. You Elders, who seek to force me to silence, YOU are to blame for abandoning our sacred Traditions. It is YOUR fault that the living seek to slay us, reviling us for our excesses! You are to blame as well, Hardestadt. WE are to blame. WE have lost our claim of blood by existing so conspicuously among mortals. Living openly amongst them has been our ruin! WE violated the spirit of the Fifth Tradition, and we pay for it in blood.”

Rafael paused, no doubt expecting derisive heckles from those present, but was met with wrapped silence.

“How many of us have lost a childe or an ally to the fires of the Inquisition? How many have had to flee, leaving behind everything one we valued? Mortals are too numerous and too jealous of our power. They will try to destroy us as long as they know of us. We must hide from their envious eyes. From this time forward, we must no longer live openly, but remain hidden, pretending to be no more than mortals when we interact with them. We must adopt what my friend, Master Sanchez, refers to as a Masquerade, pretend that we are not vampires, ridicule the idea that there ever were such creatures as ourselves. This is the only way we will survive the Inquisition’s incursions. We must disappear if we are to remain in existence.”

As Rafael stepped from the Dais the crowd broke out into applause, which turned into an ovation.

During the display of solidarity Kyrillos saw a number of Tremere he had not seen in prior nights, led by none other than Etrius himself take their leave.

October 21, 1493, 10:43pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Teresa had spent centuries keeping her distance from monasteries such as these having never understood her Clan’s propensity for the cloistered life. Now, though, she thought she understood. There was a serenity here that she hadn’t found in Alba Iulia; a sense of calm that pervaded the whole of the environment and set her beast at ease.

That was why she was so very perturbed now as she stood face to face with the Vampire that had tried to destroy her less than a generation ago.

“You have some nerve, Gypsy.” – Teresa

“You know quite well that I am no Rrom, my Queen, and casting all of the dispersions in the world at me will not make what happened any easier.” – Sabela

“So you admit you tried to destroy me.”

“Yes and no, I did set things in motion to destroy as many of the elders present as possible, but I knew that, should you show up, you would escape with ease. Now, can we please dispense with any murderous intent?” – Sabela

“Says the woman who tried to set me ablaze.” – Teresa

“I have never held a grudge against you, Lady Teresa!”

“Of course you don’t! I didn’t try to set you on fire!” – Teresa

The shadows erupted into life as if of their own accord, shaping themselves into tendrils of black ichor that plunged towards the treacherous Ravnos only to meet in the middle, finding nothing but air.

Sabela had never been there at all.

“Clever girl.” – Teresa

October 22, 1493, 3:16am
Beneath the Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Word had spread quickly that Etrius, arguably the most powerful Tremere not yet in torpor, had arrived not for political reasons but to perform a grand ritual to insure that the Assamites would never taste the blood of another Cainite ever again.

It occurred to Sanchez, and more than a few of the other members of the Camarilla faction that the Anarchs might attempt to sabotage such a rite and they had posted a number of four man shifts to protect the Warlocks for four hours each. Fortunately at the end of his own shift it had become clear that nothing was going to happen.

He just hoped that the next shift would be as uneventful for Kyrillos.

October 22, 1493, 4:19am
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Kyrillos sat sullenly upon a rather uncomfortable bench outside the chamber where the damned Warlocks were casting some rite that would protect all of Christendom from the blasted Turks. He had yet to figure out just how he’d been talked into not only standing guard like some pathetic Brujah or Gangrel thug, but he’d also agreed to take the last shift before dawn.

He’d watched countless monks making their way through the corridors and was not surprised to see yet another. His attitude changed when the monk took a seat next to him.

“You should not be here, it is not safe for the living! How may we help you?” – Kyrillos

“The Founders make pretty speeches don’t they?” – The Monk.

“Indeed, especially Hardestadt.” – Kyrillos

The Monk laughed.

“I have heard the blow-hard wax poetically about his myriad achievements for nights on end and we’ve all heard de Corazon praise himself for the brilliance of the Masquerade.”

“They do think very highly of themselves, an unhealthy habit to be sure. But they are good with all the talk, which makes up for the lack of anything actually being said.” – Kyrillos.

“Ha! I knew you would understand, Lord Kyrillos! Still this plan of theirs, though flawed, is better than no organization at all.”

“Indeed, but we must interject for I seem to be at a disadvantage. How do you know me, monk?” – Kyrillos

“Lord Kyrillos, forgive me. I have heard so many stories of the infamous Mad Count of Timisoara from your ally Niccolo diVenizia that I forget that we have not yet become acquainted. I am Federico.”

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance and it has been many years since we have spoken with the old Ferryman, but as you were saying.” – Kyrillos

“What? Oh, I understand the need for order; in life I was a soldier, a mercenary in fact, selling my services across the Italian peninsula. Methodology is important even in our sordid existence, but a good soldier can think for himself. Please understand, I support the Camarilla and have since my Becoming half a century ago, but I do not blindly subject myself to its whims.”

“Good! One must test everything and accept nothing.” – Kyrillos

“Exactly! It helps to listen to the other side as well. They make their points, after all. The Elders cannot enjoy the loyalty of their childer and use them as pawns in petty displays and labyrinthine schemes. We cannot prey haphazardly upon the Living without diminishing what is left of our Humanity. The Founders have made a start, but do not expect them to carry the entire burden of responsibility.”

“No, that way leads to slavery.” – Kyrillos.

“Which in turn, leads to revolt, I knew you’d understand.” – Federico

“So, young man, what did you think of those handgonnes that the Anarch wielded against Hardestadt.”

October 22, 1493, 9:46pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Teresa hadn’t fed since she’d arrived at the Abby and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone so long without blood. She could only thank God and Caine that there were so few mortals wandering the grounds to tempt her. As her mind wandered she began to think on how tedious it was to have a solid physical shape ever since she transcended it more than a generation ago.

She thought of how easy it would be to let her consciousness expand the bonds of her corporeal form, to release herself from the confines of this facsimile of her long dead body crafted from dust and Vitae.

“Lady Teresa! You would not believe who we conversed with last night!” – Kyrillos

“Who would that be, Lord Kyrillos?” – Teresa, her consciousness reasserting itself within her flesh.

“None other than your treasonous seneschal, we forget her name, the one who attempted to burn us to ash.” – Kyrillos

The room darkened ominously.

“Of course she is; how could she help herself? I must be sure to have a word with her before returning to my city.” – Teresa

“We must confess that we nearly lost control.” – Kyrillos

“She tried to destroy us, Kyrillos, it is completely understandable. These Anarchs aren’t making any friends with their antics are they?” – Teresa

“They are entertaining though.” – Kyrillos

“At least you’re enjoying yourself.” – Teresa

“How could one not enjoy last night’s exhibition? These handgonnes, even their name is guttural and ugly, what did you think of them?”

“Underwhelming.” – Teresa

“I could see their use as a party favor or as some sort of loud practical joke.”

The Black Queen smiled.

“I can imagine our Artisan friend wishing to find out how they work. Perhaps he can make use of the technology.” – Teresa

“Ha! I’ve no doubt. Blast it, milady, we’re late!” – Kyrillos

They arrived in the Courtyard to find the pulpit taken up by a crooked, ancient looking woman dressed as in the clothes of a beggar. Even from the edge of the courtyard her eyes seemed to shine with unwholesome green light. She was currently speaking with a voice far more powerful than her frail from would suggest over a hostile crowd of hecklers.

“…de Corazon has proposed that we hide from the Living, that we make them forget that we ever existed and it seems that many of you agree with him…”

Teresa looked at the assembly and realized that those vampires loyal to the Camarilla had grown by half, leaving a shockingly small sample of Anarch Delegates who continued to strut bombastically despite their dwindling numbers.

“…Others among you think we should crush them. I would argue for a third course: Let us leave the Living alone. We shall not hide from them, nor shall we seek to revel in their fear of us. You who want to compel their obedience, what fools you are! You cannot even govern your own childer, much less thousands of mortals. And you who seek to bury the knowledge of our kind and hide your face from mortal scrutiny, you, too are fools. Once known, always ready to be rediscovered. But play your game, indulge in this Masquerade of yours. It shall serve you – for a while – and be all the worse when your true nature is revealed. No mask lasts forever. Take care lest when the Masquerade ends the Living hunt you again – not because they fear you, but because you have lied to them and made them look the fool. I call for leaving the mortals alone, but I am only one woman and a Ravnos at that. No doubt you tired of listening to such a low clan long ago.” – Durga Syn

Teresa was impressed by the White Mother, whom had writhed her way into the Founders’ bosom as the Ravnos stepped off the dais.

Once she was gone the conversation turned to the Justicars and their succession before Eleanor de Valois once again returned to take the stage to announce that there would be one final open forum for delegates to make any final statements before they cast their votes.

After the votes were cast the crowd dispersed, the Founders and a chosen few elders taking part in the Drafting of the Treaty of the Convention of Thorns while others still finalized their plans for a statement of protest.

All the while the Tremere continue to cast their ritual.

October 23, 1493, 2:32am
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Alexander walked out of the Courtyard with Lupe as she railed against the Camarilla. He was still having a hard time believing that the nun that he’d met a so many years before had become this iconoclastic rebel. Though he’d long sympathized with the Anarch cause he couldn’t help but blame them for his current state and had long decided to always be on the side holding the reigns, meanwhile the Spanish nun had fallen in with the Fiends and the other Antitribu.

“Don’t believe a word of it.” – a voice from the shadows.

“Lord Vykos! It is an honor and a privilege to be graced by your presence again.” – Lupe

Alexander recognized the vampire before him as the one who had castrated himself.

“Its all a mockery of course. These strutting peacocks truly believe that by enforcing their pretense of a Masquerade and ruling the actions of their childer with fists of iron that they can delude the world into ignoring our existence.” – Vykos

“Do you believe we still have a chance milord?” – Lupe, hopefully.

“No, sister, our cause is indeed lost. They will seek to crush our spirits and tame our actions so that we become mere extensions of their power!” – Vykos

“But you’ll show them!” – Alexander

Vykos sneered at Alexander’s mocking tone.

“How can you just return to the sheepfold like a lost little lamb when you know the glory of living like the wolf?” – Vykos.

“Perhaps they believe that by aping the Living they might rejoin them.” – Lupe

Vykos cackled at the thought.

“My, but you are a lovely girl!”

“I’m sorry, Lord Vykos, but I intend to be on top when this is all over.” – Alexander

“Then why pretend to be something less than yourself?” – Vykos

“Not revealing your nature as an Immortal does not preclude controlling them from the shadows. Aren’t we immortal? Aren’t we possessed of eldritch power over ourselves and others? Why do we have to put all that in jeopardy by revealing our natures to the Living?” – Alexander

The Tzimisce scoffed.

“Well, if you change your mind some of us are planning a grand spectacle to celebrate our refusal to submit to their decrees. If you wish to join us in exploring the fragility of the Camarilla’s so-called Masquerade join us in Silchester tomorrow evening. The mortals here will never forget that we are immortal blood drinkers and madness made flesh!” – Vykos

Vykos turned to leave and Lupe followed, leaving Alexander alone with his thoughts.


“But, Myca, we love you as if you were our own blood.” – Kyrillos

The Malkavian had cornered his old ally as the Tzimisce fled the courtyard, challenging him for his cowardice in their earlier meeting.

“If you truly had any affection for me, Kyrillos, you will join me tomorrow night otherwise I shall treat you as an enemy to my cause.” – Vykos

As the angry and misshapen vampire stormed off Kyrillos couldn’t help but notice the fear he felt beneath the bluster. Fear of being bound to the elders, fear for his own existence and something else, on the very edge of his conscious thought, a fear so dark he’d hidden it even from himself.

Kyrillos couldn’t help but pity the Fiend.

*

“I’d thought we’d never get a moment alone my dear girl.” – Teresa

Sabela looked desperately for an escape but could see nothing through the curtain of darkness that the Black Queen had surrounded them with.

“It’s been far too long, my lady, how goes it in Alba Iulia?” – Sabela

“It goes very well, though your absence is felt very deeply.”

“You’re too kind but I am sure that you have handled it with all the grace that befits a lady of your station.” – Sabela

“Indeed, but without you I fear that I may grow complacent. No other Cainite dares to raise their sword against me. I cannot remember the last time one of my friends tried to burn me alive.”

Sabela let out a pathetic sort of laugh.

“Oh, don’t fret, dear heart, I hold you no ill will. You are ambitious and I have nothing but respect for that. However, it saddens me that you did not have the nerve to come at me directly.” – Teresa

“My lady, I… I have no apology for that. What I did I did not do out of malice for you, for I have held you in eternally high esteem. My actions were a necessary evil, a machination set forth to destroy the ancient vampires, Cretheus and Rustovitch. When I learned that you and the others had arrived my hands were already tied. There was no way for me to undo it. I did pray, though, that you would all survive and have cried tears of joy since learning of your fate.”

“Yes, well, be grateful that I am in a forgiving mood, lest the Legendary Ravnos survival instinct be truly put to the test.” – Teresa

The Black Queen turned on her heel to leave then and there when a figure manifested within their abyssal shroud.

The figure was male and had, in life, been well fed. His eyes were the color of roasted almonds and his skin was the color of honey. His curly black hair was pulled back no doubt by a silk ribbon.

He dressed in the finest Spanish fashion.

“Lady Teresa Balgrad, Black Queen of Alba Iulia and Scion of the Fallen Sea of Shadows, I am called Gabriel and I pray that you can give me a moment of your time.” – The Vampire in German accented Spanish.

Teresa did not say a word, she was strangely hesitant as he spoke.

“I apologize for interrupting you but time grows short and I have much to do before the coming of the sun.” – Gabriel

“Go on.”

The vampire laughed.

“I concede that you have amply demonstrated your power to dictate terms for us. However, you must understand that some of us will not bow to your rule. That is not to say, though, that we wish to draw an irrevocable line between us, but there are issues at stake here that the Founders do not fully understand.” – Gabriel

“And what, exactly, is it that would mystify the Founders?” – Teresa, noting that Sabela had fled as they spoke.

“For one, we need to break free of the chains that bind us to the sleeping ones, the ancient founders of our clans. The dangers inherent in an organization like the Camarilla, which attempts to keep younger Cainites enthralled to their elders, cannot be overstated. You are making a mistake if you believe that you will find safety within such an organization of puppets who refuse to acknowledge the most ancient of us.”

She liked this Anarch.

“Please, reconsider your motives for quashing the actions of those of us who disagree with you. Whose hidden schemes dictate your actions? Do you know who your masters truly are? Think on it before you destroy your own chance for responsible freedom.” – Gabriel

Teresa was taken aback by the statement. Like the Tzimisce, the First Lasombra had long ago gone on to whatever hell awaited it, but what of the Founders? None of them so much as thought of such a thing, and she’d met Tremere, she saw the eldritch power that came off of him in waves. What must the first Brujah be like? What of the Ventrue… or Malkav for that matter.

“Milady, we’ve learned to undo the power of the Blood Oath. Loyalty cannot be bought, it must be earned. It is the first lesson we learned in the endless war. The second is that slaves do not make the best soldiers. Come, join us in our army, for when Gehenna comes we will be ready to make war against the Ancients and their pawns.” – Gabriel

With that he vanished once more into the darkness, leaving the Black Queen to ponder his words.

October 23, 1493, 10:00pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

The arguments had been made, heard and the final course of action had been decided. Eleanor de Valois read from the newly finished Treaty of Thorns.

“Many years have passed since the start of our current conflict, now called the Anarch Movement. Be it known that on this night of 23 October, 1493, the Jyhad has ended. The time for self-destruction is over.

“This Convention, bound in the Covenant of Caine by sacred vow, represents an unyielding, vigilant truce between the Kindred known unto themselves as the Anarchs, the Clan Assamite, and the free-standing Kindred bound under the title of Camarilla. Henceforth, the parties shall be recognized by faction as the Anarchs, the Assamites and the Camarilla.

“Each of the parties agrees to the responsibility of maintaining peace. Each shall lay its censures upon any who breach or oppose this sacred Agreement. Accounting will be made of all parties for violations by them to either the letter or the spirit of this Agreement. This document is legally binding under the accepted Lextalionis of all Cainites as it has passed through the ages. All Kindred are entreated to accept and gain pleasure from this peaceful accord.

“Be it known that the Anarchs will enjoin with the Camarilla as an accepted part, making it whole. Anarchs are expected to work peacefully to achieve their own ends. They must become defenders of all, and they shall receive full entitlement to all rights and privileges belonging to all Camarilla Kindred. All Anarchs shall be accepted back unto their elders and their formerly denounced clans without any fear of reprisal. Only the most vicious of atrocities shall not be forgiven. These shall stand written for the Justicars to hear within one year, after which all allegations are no longer valid. All Anarchs shall reclaim all remaining and rightful property confiscated from them. In return they must turn over any war gains taken during the conflict by giving them to their sires or any recognized Clan Elder.

“Know also that if the Anarchs are further warred upon, this open jyhad invalidates their responsibility to maintain peace with their attacker. They may act freely without fear of reprisal from non-active members of the Camarilla. Anarchs are guaranteed the freedom to act as they please, short of breaching the “Masquerade” imposed for the protection of all Kindred from the kine.

“It is also noted that any member of any other self-proclaimed sect must openly declare this before his elders and renounce this relation. Failure to do so will result in the destruction of any deemed guilty. No Kindred may be sent unknowingly to his death by an elder or sire, unless the security of Clan or Camarilla outweigh the possible loss of unlife.

“From this night forward, the Assamites shall henceforth no longer commit diablerie upon members of other clans. The Assamites must commit themselves to this acceptance by a mark of assurance placed upon them in the form of a Thaumaturgical limitation. All members of the Assamites will become unable to drink freely of the vitae of other Kindred from now until forever. In addition, the Assamites shall pay the elders of Clan Brujah of Spain two thousand pounds of gold, in ransom of the five Assamite Elders captured committing diablerie. Also, the Assamites may no longer participate in Blood Hunts.

“Be it also known the Assamites are guaranteed complete independence from Camarilla demands. The Assamite fortress, Alamut, shall be free from any further assaults. Assamites are also granted, out of respect of their beliefs, the freedom to commit diablerie within their own Clan without restraint and the right to commit diablerie upon all Kindred not recognized as holding membership within the Camarilla.

“It is rendered that all parties involved and all showing allegiance to any of these parties shall be held responsible for all aspects of this Convention brought forth here, in the neutral Kingdom of England, outside the hamlet of Thorns, near the town of Silchester. May Caine hold truth and peace for us all.”

Eleanor finished reading and placed the parchment down upon a small table set before the dais.

“All who accept the provisions put forth by the Treaty of Thorns may sign the document and all Anarchs who agree to end the hostilities with their elders must drink the blood of all elders present.” – Eleanor

The Anarchs who remained in the courtyard grumbled loudly at the pronouncement, one or two even threatened to storm out, but they would acquiesce, they had already done so simply by remaining behind when the others fled into the night.

Suddenly a voice called out from amongst the crowd. The body turned to see Vasantasena, the beloved and devoted childe of Unmada.

“We are a wounded people, and this agreement is no balm to sooth us. This is a thorn in the heart of all Kindred…”

When she was finished speaking Vasantasena turned and walked out of the Convention. Seven vampires followed her, three of them belonging to the Founders’ entourage, all of them Malkavian.

The rest of the Convention watched impotently, incapable of acting, or of even thinking. When they were gone none could even remember her statement clearly.

As they queued up to sign the treaty, first the Founders, then their fellow elders and loyalists and finally the Anarchs who were made to drink from a silver chalice to prove their commitment to peace. Sanchez couldn’t help but be sickened by the whole affair, and no more than by his own actions. He also noticed the complete lack of certain members of the Anarch delegation, specifically the Tzimisce contingent and their hangers on, but also of the Black Queen.

“Look how far we’ve come.” – Sanchez, to no one in particular.

October 24, 1493, 8:07pm
The Ruins of Silchester
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

When Lupe agreed to follow Myca Vykos and his fellows into Silchester she had done so to ingratiate herself to their cause and make them trust her enough for the exotic Tzimisce to take her under his wing and teach her what she knew of Cainite History. She had not expected this.

The once quant village was in flames. Many of the city’s denizens had escaped the carnage but far more died in the bloodbath that began as the sun buried itself beneath the horizon. Dozens of vampires raced wildly through the streets and the hills, butchering any of the Living that they found. Only last night rebels numbered fifteen but Vykos revealed a dark and twisted sorcery that allowed them to damn their victims with a horrific half-Embrace that left them as little more than mindless blood drinking monstrosities.

The young Antitribu couldn’t pretend to be innocent in these affairs, she herself had taken more lives than she could keep track of. In fact she was only now coming to her senses after being overwhelmed by her Beast.

It was the sudden lucidity that had shocked Lupe the most. She’d thought that she could hide from all of this by giving into her passions but something had grabbed her and dragged her back to consciousness against her will.

Before she could take the time to mourn her own humanity, which she felt must be hanging perilously over an abyss, instead she couldn’t take her eyes off of the Romanian vampire she’d met on her first night in Thorns.

The bearded monster strode through the carnage with an aura of calm that was almost unreal and despite the serenity that marked his face and posture his eyes were filled with a kind of feral madness that she could barely withstand.

“Vykos!” – the man barely spoke at all but Lupe could hear him clearly over the din of screams and feral growls.

One of the monstrous Tzimisce, a great horned gray creature, stepped forward, his steps falling heavily and crushing the corpses it trod upon.

“You have come to join us, Kyrillos?” – The creature in Greek.

“No. I’ve come to put a stop to this abomination.”

The creature rippled, flashing blood and bone and viscera and then it was Myca, standing naked before the Count.

“Abomination? This spectacle is nothing short of the glorious product of our work, old friend!” – Myca.

“No. We’ve only ever used the Larvae in such a way once before, and that was only because of the desperate need of our survival.” – Kyrillos

“But so is this! Our cause is more important than any one of us and any number of this chattel.”

“And then what? What are you going to do after this bloodbath comes to an end? You’ve created dozens of those monsters without any way of controlling them. Are you going to raise them up? Make them like us? How much of your soul are you willing to part with?” – Kyrillos

The Fiend only laughed.

Lupe watched from her vantage point, unseen by anyone as a number of the mindless beasts… Vykos called them Larvae… began to converge upon the two vampires.

“Ah look, Milord, it seems that these poor souls have come looking for you to nurture them!” – Vykos

“We’ll not forgive you for this, Myca.” – Kyrillos

The Tzimisce laughed again as the Larvae honed in on the Malkavian.

“ENOUGH.” – Kyrillos

The Tzimisce’s laughter came to a sudden stop at his opponent’s ever so soft words. Lupe didn’t know how the monster weaved a spell with his words but its effect was apparent.

“Get Out Of My Head!” – Vykos

The fiend covered his eyes and tried desperately to cover his eyes and ears, smearing his flesh as he did so and wiping his features from his once beautiful face.

“NO.” – Kyrillos

His voice was no more than a whisper and Lupe could see streaks of red blood pouring down his cheeks but even from her vantage point she could feel the Monster’s voice twisting through her mind like fingers through clay.

Below Myca Vykos began to Roar in fear and pain. The last Lupe saw of him before she had to flee was his frenzied retreat into an already burning building.

Lupe, horrified by the destruction of her newest teacher took solace in the fact that, when she fled the Count was being set upon by a host of Larvae.

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Chapter 12-2 - Peace and Retribution

October 18, 1493, 10:00pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

The Courtyard was packed tightly with the undead. A dais had been built at its center surrounding an ancient fountain, the step encircled by thirteen sigils that were, according to one of the attendants, supposed to represent each of the thirteen clans of Caine. Kyrillos wasn’t sure how he felt about a cracked mirror being the only representation of the Clan Malkavian. He also wondered how the Lady Teresa would feel about a cross and crown representing her own Clan.

The Courtyard was separated by a gravel path leading from the northern and southern walls to the dais and the delegations used this path to define their loyalties, with the Anarchs standing to the west and those loyal to the Founders to the east.

The distinction between the rival factions was clear, the Anarchs, with few exceptions, most notably their leaders, had taken to dressing as mere commoners, while those who sided with the elders dressed as any lord of the night of any worth would.

At the Northern most wall of the courtyard stood the founders themselves, along with their entourage. Kyrillos eyes widened when he saw, standing close to Raphael de Corazon, a powerfully built figure with weathered features dressed in the finest Spanish fashions. The Madman blinked more than once to ensure that it wasn’t some sort of chicanery before he realized that it was indeed Master Sanchez.

Never in the three centuries that he’d known the Artisan had he ever seen him dressed in such a fashion.

Of the Founders he knew very little that was concrete. He recognized the severe Lady Camilla, with her tightly bound hair and pail eyes. They’d shared more than one Salon over the past few decades and enjoyed a quiet and convivial rivalry. He recognized, too, the boy-elder Milov Petrenkov. Though only from stories of his cunning and the age at which he was embraced. Knowing Camilla it wasn’t difficult to figure out that the jade-eyed imperious woman was Mistress Fanchon and that the young blonde beauty must therefore be Lady Adana. There were too many Nosferatu to tell for certain which was Joseph von Bauren, and of course no one could miss the military bearing of the great High-Lord Hardestadt, his blond hair cut militaristically, his shoulders squared. He wore even these fine clothes as if they were armor.

Kyrillos had never met the High-Lord directly but now, seeing him, he couldn’t help but note how familiar he seemed. He knew that the sense would nag at him for the rest of the night. Kyrillos saw Teresa standing near the front of the throng, her entourage in toe, and decided to join her.

He was pleased as the throng parted to afford him and his entourage room.

Along the Western edge of the path, standing directly across from the count were Myca Vykos, Lambach Ruthven and Velya, the three Fiends who acted as generals for the Eastern Anarchs. It seemed that Lambach was in the middle of telling a particularly amusing story, though the woman acting as his personal guard remained grim as she stared at the Founders.

Kyrillos almost didn’t recognize the woman. She dressed as a woodsman might, in dark leather clothing. Though none at this gathering were armed she stood as if she was used to having a sword at her hip. The Lady Lucretia von Hardtz’s waist-length black hair was braided as it always had been. Her once beatific features were marred with the unending fury of the Beast, her skin bone white, her eyes set too deep in their sockets. She looked like a beautiful corpse and all Kyrillos could think was to wonder what could drive her against the Black Cross.

“Did you see who are acting as the Assamite Representatives?” – Teresa whispered

Kyrillos turned to see four vampires, their black skin standing out in sharp contrast to their white clothing, standing at the southern edge of the courtyard.

He recognized Husayn al-Fatin almost immediately. The two of them had been bitter rivals for centuries, feuding over customers and merchandise alike.

“It appears that the Eastern Cainites have more to offer the founders than had been let on.” – Teresa.

Kyrillos smiled toothily.

Six mortals approached the stage, each standing a distance from the other, and each wore a brown vest with a blood red broach marking their language of origin.

Young vampires on both sides of the divide voiced their confusion at the sight of the translators.

A slender and pretty vampire with bright eyes walked up the path and onto the stage, she stood behind an odd symbol that resembled an incomplete pentagram.

When she began to speak the Count was disappointed to hear that she didn’t address the crowd in Latin but in French.

“I am Eleanor de Valois of Clan Brujah and Declare this the formal opening of the Convention of Thorns!”

“At least she speaks clearly.” – Teresa

“The first decision we face regards the return to the fold of those Cainites who have declared themselves Anarchs. How should this be accomplished in a peaceful fashion? Shall the believes that led to this state of war between generations be allowed to proliferate, and if so, how can this happen without a return to bloodshed? Should Blood Oaths be required of those who recant their rebellion and, if so, who should bind those oaths? What guarantees shall the Camarilla accept to assure the future behavior of those formerly in rebellion?”

The woman paused, allowing for a wave of hackles and barbs to be fired from both sides before continuing.

“There can be only one authority among Cainites, and that authority is the Camarilla. Your presence here testifies to the acquiescence of that fact.”

Another wave of murmurs among the Anarchs threatened to drown her out.

“Should a general amnesty be granted to those whose actions led others astray, or should the leaders surrender themselves to the judgment of the Camarilla’s Justicars and their Archons?”

She paused again before continuing with a southward nod.

“The actions of Clan Assamite require stern measures to curtail. The commission of diablerie practiced by their members must stop. Recently, the Camarilla has discovered the location of their stronghold of Alamut, an action that has convinced Clan Assamite to engage in negotiations as to their status within Cainite society.

“Should Clan Assamite remain independent of the Camarilla and refuse to subject themselves to its rulings? If they do remain apart, how may we ensure that their practices pose no future threat to us? We must seek some sanction or control over the Assamites if they do not join the Camarilla.”

Another pause, this one filled with rumbling agreement from all those present.

“Finally, the Founders of the Camarilla have been acting as Justicars for the Camarilla and taking on assistants to act as their Archons. Shall this system of governance continue? If we agree to abide by the adjudication of a council of Justicars, shall the current holders of that office remain in their positions? If not, who will be the new Justicars? How will we select future Justicars and what will be their duties and responsibilities? Will we appoint a council to oversee the Justicars or shall those justices serve as the highest authority of the Camarilla?”

After a long moment she continued.

“For the next four nights, we shall hear arguments on all sides of the issues. Your voices are welcome in peaceful discussion. We shall convene every evening for a formal accounting of the previous night’s discussions. Afterward, you may talk among yourselves and attempt to reach a consensus. By this time, five nights hence, on the 23rd night of October, in the year of Our Lord 1493, we must reach a decision on each of the issues presented. Thank you for your attendance.”

With her final word the lady bowed and returned to the Founder’s retinue, but by then the discussion had begun.

October 18, 1493, 10:37pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Lupe, in her quest to learn all she could about the Cainite Condition, sided with the Anarchs so that she could better approach a Fiend called Vykos. It seemed that the ancient monster was among the best versed in the lore of the damned. Only now after speaking with her “fellows” did she learn of another ancient monster called the Black Queen, had joined with the Camarilla and that, to Lupe’s astonishment, she was the mysteriously dark lady that she’d spoken with the night before.

Upon realizing her error, the Antitribu sought her out only to find the ancient with whom she’d shared a cell was looming over her.

“Count Kyrillos, it is good that we found one another.” – Lupe

“Is it?” – Kyrillos, noting her defensive posture.

“Indeed. I had hoped to bend your ear about…”

“So what is your opinion on the what we have just heard? Do you trust this French Clanmate of yours?” – Kyrillos.

“How are you so sure that I am one of the Brujah?” – Lupe

“One notices the signs my girl, so what did you think?” – Kyrillos

“They are… it seems that the Founders view of the world has little bearing on these modern nights. It… I think that they presume much, that their age has, perhaps… separated them from the realities of the plight of those of us who still remember the warmth of the sun. I’m sorry, I am not what you would call a politician or and advocate, I am here in search of a teacher, I want to study our history, to catch a glimpse of what those who have existed for centuries might have witnessed, and what those who came before them saw in the night. I simply thought that this would be a good place to start looking.” – Lupe

The old man laughed, his great bushy beard splitting into a toothy smile.

“You see, perhaps it is that we have been too long separated from the Sun, our Long Night began so long ago, before anyone dared the thought of plundering Byzantium’s riches, but I think that this grand experiment is an attempt by the Founders and the Elders that they represent, to come into these modern nights. Just as the mortal world is amidst an age of Rebirth so too are we…Kindred…in the middle of our own Age of Dark Enlightenment.” – Kyrillos

“Probably.”

The Elder’s smile faded, replaced by a look of distaste.

“What I mean to say is that I think that even if that were true there is a real chance of these Elders seem to be at risk of reproducing the same follies that led to this revolt in the first place as they attempt this experiment.” – Lupe

“Of course they do. This is nothing more than a power play by a group of particularly powerful Cainites to maintain that power far into the future. They wish to take the reins of the past and use them to subdue the future, to conquer it and secure their place indefinitely. I occurs to me that you might be new to this” – Kyrillos.

“What?” – Lupe

“All of this hobnobbery. Rubbing elbows with your fellow damned.” – Kyrillos

“Probably, yeah.” – Lupe

“Let me introduce you to a friend of mine.”

Lupe suppressed a shudder.

The old man, with his bushy beard and his ancient, threadbare clothing, possessed a force of personality that was all but overwhelming, and he wielded it in much the same way that Lupe had taken to wielding her own unholy strength, battening aside loyalists and Anarchs alike as he waded through the throng of living and dead bodies until they stood before the dark skinned vampire from the night before, his robes, of antiquated design, were none the less beautifully crafted and of a particular shade of emerald green.

“Myca, my old friend, let me introduce you to a young friend of mine, we beg your pardon dear, but we’ve forgotten your name.” – Kyrillos.

“I’m called Lupe, lord Vykos.” – Lupe, curtsying.

“It appears that she’s heard of me.”

“I’m not surprised. She seems to feel that the Founders are biting off more than they can chew, a view you share, I believe.”

“I believe that, for all they hope to accomplish they go a long way to separating themselves from the teachings found in Cainite Lore. To turn your back on Noddist teachings, to ape the kine, is folly. Look at the Lamentations of Caine, his parables, I’ve only caught glimpses of those teachings but it seems foolhardy on the very face of it to go down this path that they Founders have chosen.” – Lupe.

“Fascinating, please go on.” – Vykos.

The young Brujah didn’t notice the Count excuse himself.

October 18, 1493, 11:30pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

“Come now, Sanchez, you must let it rest. There is so much here to draw your attention away if you’d only let it.” – Teresa

The Artisan stood quietly in a shadowy recess in the Courtyard’s wall, nursing a bottle of wine. The Black Queen could never understand how he could drink the stuff.

“She should have come. There was a time when she would have come, no matter the consequence.” – Sanchez

“That was before Sibiu, and besides, I think you underestimate the effect travel has on her.” – Teresa

Sanchez scoffed, spilling some of the wine as he did.

“Not so much that Vykos and his ilk could not be swayed from attending.”

“They are here against their want. Sherazhina has no such need to travel so far, especially by water. But if you’ll not be swayed I’ll leave you to your wine.”

The Black Queen turned to leave to find that Kyrillos was standing behind her, the incredibly pale woman they’d met the night before, Lady Ana she was called, was on his arm.

“What say you, Sanchez? How goes the first night of the convocation?” – Kyrillos

“It’s horseshit!” – Sanchez, his words slurred.

The lady’s brow furrowed.

“How does he drink the wine? I was told that we could imbibe naught but blood.” – Ana

“I’ve only just discovered the quirk, milady. It turns out that we can drink libations but only those of the highest proofs. I wonder if perhaps the bastard that made us had a fondness for the grape before he committed fratricide.” – Sanchez

“To be sure, it is possible, but costly, as each drink dilutes the Vitae further, drawing the hunger for Blood to a near frenzy. Most of us prefer to mix wine with blood to counter this side effect. It would seem that Sanchez is beyond that.” – Kyrillos

“Don’t worry, my eccentric friend, I’m not about to risk the lives of the fine people of Southampton over a broken heart. I’m not about to digest the swill, it’s taste just helps me think.”

“Of course, to the matter we were already discussing, are you saying that the convention is a fool’s errand?” – Kyrillos.

“No. I believe in the Masquerade and in the Camarilla’s goals, I simply refuse to believe that Hardestadt would keep his word and stay his hand in destroying those who might disagree. There will be vitae spilt over this yet, no matter what the Founders say.” – Sanchez

“I can only hope that you are wrong, though if the Brujah have taken as great a role in these proceedings as tonight might suggest, I think that you may be correct. I pray that cooler heads prevail.” – Teresa

Realizing that he did not know the beautifully fair woman standing at Kyrillos’ side Sanchez bowed, taking her hand before she even saw him reach for it.

“Pardon me, milady. I am Master Sanchez, architect of the Masquerade and scion of the Clan of the Rose, and who might you be.” – Sanchez

“Forgive our rudeness, Master Sanchez, this is the Lady Ana Golescu of Clan Ventrue.” – Kyrillos

“Golescu, how do I know that name?” – Sanchez

“I would hope so, milord, my family hails from Golesti, in the Făgăraş Mountains. I have spent much of my time since beginning my Long Night ensuring that the name will outlive even me.” – Ana

“Ah, yes, I knew I’d heard of you, they call you the White Mother do they not. This one is a crafty one Teresa, not unlike you.” – Sanchez

Teresa smiled wanly.

“I could only hope to be compared to the infamous Black Queen of Alba Iulia.” – Ana

“Oh, for everything I’ve heard, dear girl, you have the ear of Frederick himself. Surely you have nothing to learn from an old monster like myself.” – Teresa

“I did, before his death. It is Maximilian who rules the empire now.” – Ana

Sanchez laughed drunkenly.

“You, my dear, are the very image!” – Sanchez

Black veins etched their way across the Black Queen’s eyes as she watched Sanchez make a fool of them both.

“I meant no disrespect, Lady Teresa, It is an honor, Lord Kyrillos spoke very highly of you during our time together before Vlad Dracula’s death.” – Ana

“That’s where you vanished to, Kyrillos? But why not just tell me? Why let us think you dead? And where did you go after his death.” – Teresa

Kyrillos glanced sideways at his friend.

“We cannot say, Teresa, please do not ask us again. We can only promise that, in time, it will make sense.” – Kyrillos

October 18, 1493, 10:38pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

Sabela slipped carefully through the crowded courtyard, even with the promise of Elysium and her knack for moving unnoticed through the crowd she feared the Black Queen’s wrath should she be discovered.

She hadn’t expected to be waylaid by a girl who looked even younger than she.

“I am Qamar bint abd al-Haqq, childe of Theophana and ward to the Lady Ana Golescu, what are you called?” – The girl in Arabic

“I am called Sabela, why are you talking to me?”

“Because you seem nice and your trying not to be seen… and you speak my language.” – Qamar

“And you are here against your better judgment as well?” – Qamar

The Ravnos laughed.

“You’re very astute, but I must admit that I am interested to see what happens.”

“I’m just glad the madness will stop. It’s so hard to find a pet, It’s all so stupid.” – Qamar

“You realize that should the Camarilla get its way, they’ll surely abolish any chance you have of finding “pet”. They want us to hide who we are from the world.”

“I don’t see how that would affect me?” – Qamar

“How could it not?”

“All I need is a Knight to match the one I’ve already got.” – Qamar

Sabela wasn’t entirely sure how to respond.

“Do you believe that the camarilla would allow you to collect these knights? They’d demand that you hide behind a mask of mortality, that you act the proper girl and do as your told and never, ever speak out of turn?” – Sabela

“And how better to do that than to be surrounded by loyal pets who would protect me and help me pass as their ward or child?”

“I’d rather we didn’t have to hide.” – Sabela

“You’d rather the living would continue to hunt us openly?”

“I’d rather hunt them, openly and freely… that’s a lie but I do not wish to hide what I am. This farce of a Convocation is ridiculous, the idea that the entirely of those of us who walk the night are somehow of a mind on the subject of this ridiculous “Masquerade” is beyond embarrassing. The truth is that the elders who sponsored this little convention have already made up their mind and will enforce their will through the power of their blood and that of those whose loyalty they’ve already secured.” – Sabela

The other girl shrugged.

“I was under an impression that these are simple guidelines and that –.”

“Oh, no, no, no! What I’m telling you is that what they’re planning is Absolute Control. These won’t be “Guidelines” they’ll be commandments written the stones that they’ll eventually bury you with.” – Sabela

“As long as you don’t flaunt your nature, murdering people in the streets, enthralling and ghouling or even embracing with abandon I don’t think there’ll be much of a problem.”

Sabela was seething. The stolen blood burned in her veins, begging her to bash the girl’s ignorant head in, to enshroud her in nightmares and to twist her mind until it snapped while raptors and vermin ate her undying corpse.

Before she could say one word, before she could act on her darkest desires, a large dark figure appeared at the girl’s side. He was handsome and had the bearing of nobility and Sabela thought that she recognized him, though she couldn’t quite place how.

“You’re not talking politics with this one are you?” – The man asked of Sabela.

“No.”

“Good, because this one’s not been right since the night she was turned, I am Alexander Habsburg of the Ventrue, might I have the pleasure of learning your name?”

“This is Sabela. She’s funny.” – Qamar

It was clear that Alexander was aware of the danger that Sabela posed to the girl. She was also aware that two other figures were approaching. The first was dressed in the robes of a Franciscan Monk, while the other was dressed in the finest French fashion.

“We could not help but notice your philosophical debate, milady, I am Fr. Jean-Marc and this is my cousin Gilbert d’Harfleur and we would love to join in the discussion if you do not mind.”

“Of course you’re welcome, I could use some help in explaining to this fledgling that the measures that the Founders have already taken show what they’ll be willing to do given more authority. That these Laws that they wish to enact will be absolute.” – Sabela.

“I am sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more. We were Embraced under the most dire of circumstances and have been determined these long years to not allow our Clans’ differences to alter our previous ties to blood. The measures being put forth are to protect the Mortals from the depredations of our kind as much as they are to protect us from the living.” – Jean-Marc

“That’s all well and good, but I don’t remember granting them power over me. Indeed I’ve never actually met any of them.” – Sabela

“We came here because we want peace. We were hoping to convince you to approach the matters discussed here with compassion, no matter your view, because punitive measures in this situation would, as you say, be highly out of place. We have a need for the mortals whose lives, have, until now, depended upon the whims of capriciously cruel monsters, they should be allowed to live their lives without fear of our depredations.” – Jean-Marc

“This war must end. Too many of them have died needlessly, to many of us have lost ourselves to the beast and the sun and the flames because we cannot be bothered to remember that life is precious. The Camarilla can act as a forum in which we can air our grievances without bloodshed. – Gilbert.

It was a pretty speech.

“And their solution for all of this, the payment necessary to access this forum is to be subjected to a Blood Oath.” – Alexander

“You have to admit that some of these Anarchs have taken this revolt to far, dear Alexander, after all we are a product of one such act of brutality.” – Qamar

“I do not have to admit any such thing and the result of that brutal act is that, nearly forty years later we are hale and hearty, so to speak, while our families and enemies are dust.” – Alexander

“And besides, until now humanity has thrived under these conditions.” – Sabela

“Yes, until now. But tonight they hunt us. For the first time in all of human history, the mortal world has risen up to smite the monsters in the night, shouldn’t we protect ourselves from that.” – Gilbert

“We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.”

Alexander, Sabela and Qamar all started at the craggy voice of Kyrillos Dimities.

“Alexander, Qamar, it is good to see you both again so soon after our last meeting. And Sabela, We had not expected to find you here, so far from Paris, where We were assured you were. But where are our manners, gentlemen, we are called Kyrillos Dimities.”

“We have heard of you, Lord Kyrillos, I am Gilbert and this is Jean-marc. We did not realize that you knew these three, it is most serendipitous.”

“Indeed, we could not agree more.” – Kyrillos

“You know him?” – Sabela

“We’ve met.” – Alexander

“Alexander is afraid of my Uncle even though I assured him that he was kind.” – Qamar.

Sabela padded the girl on the shoulder.

“My dear, you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Dear Heart, I’ll explain later.” – Alexander

The Ventrue was surprised that the child-vampire was handling the presence of so many elders.

“Whatever may happen, Sabela, I want you to know that we are glad that you’ve survived.” – Kyrillos

The girl smiled nervously.

“If it’s any consolation, I was unaware that any of you would be there and have since sworn off burning down any more castles, I am truly sorry I put you in danger.” – Sabela

“You burned down a castle? Absolutely stunning!” – Alexander

“Did anyone die?” – Alexander

“There were twelve casualties in total, not counting a multitude of mortals.” – Kyrillos

“Did they scream?” – Alexander, breathlessly.

“No, they – wait, what?” – Sabela

Qamar laughed nervously.

Jean-Marc and Gilbert both flushed in anger, making the family resemblance that much easier to recognize.

“Forgive Alexander, he’s a degenerate.” – Qamar

“It seems to me that the obvious answer to all of this is that the upstarts should be bound to the elders.” – Kyrillos, returning to the original conversation.

“But wouldn’t that only anger them more?” – Qamar

“Only at first, but the fight would leave them after the oath set in.” – Kyrillos.

“I for one don’t believe that God’s yet abandoned us and that there’s still hope for our redemption and that such bondage would weigh heavily on whichever soul were so unlucky to have to bear it.” – Jean-Marc

Sabela and Alexander both began to laugh ruefully.

“Redemption?” – Sabela

“Yes, I for one have remained a priest and have found my faith bolstered by my condition. Before my Becoming I sought power and influence, now I seek only God’s grace.” – Jean-Marc

Sabela and the others thought on his words.

“You know, you make a good point, and I couldn’t agree more that this war must end here and now, but that being said, I think that their grace comes at too great a cost and that I’d rather meet my final death than be bound for eternity to them.” – Alexander

“The Blood Oath is rarely eternal, Alexander, it could only last a year or so.” – Qamar

“That’s not how it works sweetie.” – Alexander

“I don’t believe that the war will end with eternal subjugation.” – Jean-marc

Gilbert grew silent even as his cousin impotently reassured the neonate and Sabela noticed that his faith in his beloved “Founders” motives had been rattled.

October 19, 1493, 10:00pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

The Second Night began much the same as the first, with the delegations coming together in the courtyard, and segregating themselves along lines of loyalty. The makeup was nearly the same, with only a few faces having changed sides, or abandoning the Convention altogether.

The results of the previous night’s discussion are summarized as the night began before Myca Vykos took the Dias to make an impassioned plea in favor of the goals of the Anarchs.

“For too long have we suffered under the yoke of the elders outdated leadership! We are not childer to be forever told to mind our elders and to be punished when we step outside the bounds of what some ancient anachronism considers “Proper”. We are thinking beings. Powerful Beings! And if we are not according the respect we are owed we will take it by force!”

The Anarchs bellowed approvingly while Sanchez smirked derisively.

“So says the five century old Fiend who cut out a domain in the middle of war-torn Transylvania before Diablerizing his sire and taking his domain to score political points.” – Sanchez, to no one in particular.

A particularly twisted looking Nosferatu who wore the emblem of an Archon laughed as the Tzimisce delegate stepped down and then stopped abruptly when Hardestadt himself strode across the courtyard amidst catcalls and heckles from all quarters.

“Let whelps like Vykos yelp and posture! It is age and wisdom that deserve to rule. He and his ilk are fit only to bow down before us, beg our forgiveness for daring to question their elders and receive a good whipping for their impertinence.” – Hardestadt

Roars and snarls from the Anarchs nearly drowned out the High-Lord as he paced across the stage.

“Is he mad?” – Kyrillos asked Teresa who could only watch wordlessly.

“We have already crushed this pathetic rebellion into the dust along with the Saracens and we are only here because they have sued for peace, realizing that they cannot stand against us. There will be retribution, for they have acted like unruly and destructive children. Still they are our childer and we shall forgive them but only when they agree to proper retribution and cease this pathetic rebellion.” – Hardestadt

Sanchez noted that both Eleanor de Valois and her Sire, Adana de Sforza, were hiding their face in shame at the High-Lord’s outburst just as those delegates who came in the name of the Camarilla could not decide whether to cheer or cringe.

Vykos, for his part, was nearly apoplectic, his oft serene features were twisted into a horrific mask as he stepped forward, cursing the ancient Ventrue.

The normally reserved Fiend tore away his emerald robes and, standing naked before the assemblage reached down and tore away his manhood, the sound of tearing flesh and the splashing of cold, dead blood, sent gasps through the crowd even as he through his ragged and bloody genitals at Hardestadt as the Founder stepped off the stage, hitting him square in the face.

The Ventrue wiped the blood from his face with his raven-black cloak before turning on his heel and stepping back onto the stage.

“And another thing! Some here have argued that we fear what the mortals may do to us with their inquisition and their superstitious, torch-wielding mobs. Some otherwise Intelligent Cainites have counseled that we ought to take responsibility for leading the mortals. I, for one, shall not! Why should we better the lives of the living? Do they not hound me and strike at me at every turn? I own them nothing but ashes and spite and would not stoop to help them even if we all became safer for it!” – Hardestadt, once again turning to step off the stage, incidentally crushing Vykos’ manhood under his boot.

Even some Anarchs cheered for the Elder as he returned to his place at the northern edge of the gathering, whilst more than a few supporters seemed utterly turned off by the whole thing.

Eleanor de Valois stepped forward, her obvious anger marring her delicate features as she called for the next speaker. Sanchez was in his own mind and for a moment hadn’t realized that it was his name that she was calling.

Sanchez made his way across the courtyard to calls of “Traitor” and “Sellout” from either side of the aisle. He turned to look back at Raphael to see that the young Founder was smiling.

“As you could hear from my reception as I came to stand here, I’ve never been one for acceptance amongst my peers. In the last three centuries I have had more blood-hunts called on my head than I think, everyone here combined. But the fact remains that we have to find a way to coexist, not just with each other, but with the mortals as well. If we don’t either we will be forced to go to war with humanity, a war that we will not survive, or we go so deep into hiding that our numbers would dwindle to the point of our destruction. They have number, time and the sun itself on their sides! Now, I’m not saying that we need to be friends, or that the Anarchs should bow down to the elders no more than I am saying that the elders must sacrifice their own holdings to ungrateful childer.”

The crowd murmured dismissively, while Hardestadt shook angrily where he stood, glaring at the smiling Raphael de Corazon.

“I know that this is an impossibility for any of you to consider but what if the tables were turned? What if the Anarchs had won and it was the Elders who sued for peace? Would you want them to rape your domains and bind you in blood, or worse? Would you want to be at their mercy? Because I promise you, from experience, that one night, no matter what happens here, you will be at their mercy. Not as enemy combatants, per se, but it will happen.”

“We’d eat them and be done with it!” – it was the violent Ventrue neonate that Jean-Marc had warned him about, the one called Alexander.

“You know what, I give up! If you really want destruction or subjugation than there’s nothing I or anyone else here can do for you. We are here to broker a peace and to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, because no matter how powerful you think you are there is no way you can win, there is too much against us, whether it is the living the newly or ancient dead, you are all outclassed due to the sheer weight of numbers. But like I said, I’m done here. Good luck with eternity, because it’s going to end too soon.”

And with that, Sanchez walked away, leaving the courtyard entirely. To his surprise he heard the sound of cheering.

October 20, 1493, 4:22am
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

When the speeches had all but come to an end Lupe went off in search of Vykos only to find herself alone in the crowd and wandering aimlessly.

“They tell me we come from a clan of philosophers.”

Lupe turned to find a dark young woman standing far too closely.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The Brujah, we are the Learned Clan, and yet I see an unfortunate trend amongst our ranks toward bestiality and barbarism.” – the girl.

“That seems to be the case, yes.” – Lupe

“Forgive me, I am called Lilika and I serve as Adana de Sforza’s Archon. I have heard that, despite your political leanings, you are possessed of a scholastic mind and that you are open to knew ideas. Do not misunderstand me, my sympathies lie with those that desire freedom, I simply cannot countenance the rash behavior of your fellows.”

When Lupe did not respond the Archon continued.

“I had to suffer many indignities when I lived from those who did not believe that a woman could be educated, and so I understand the arguments of those of you who feel that your sires do not grant you the respect you deserve. Even before my Embrace I sough that respect, and fought for it when newly Embraced as vigorously as the you now do. I have been known to rebel merely for the sake of proving I had the right to disagree with my elders. Still, I would counsel you to prudence.

“I have read the works of the Greek and Roman philosophers as well as the writings of theologians and mathematicians. All wise thinkers counsel moderation and self-control over sheer self-indulgence and extremes of behavior. I see neither of these virtues arising from anarchy. I do believe that the Camarilla is an attempt at self-control and that the Masquerade provides a way for us to walk the middle road set forth by Aristotle. I hope that you, too, can envision the virtue that lies in containment and responsible government.”

“Thank you, Lilika, that was a well thought and provocative argument.” – Lupe before turning and walking away.

Lupe found herself, once again in the Courtyard where Kyrillos Dimities was standing upon the stage.

“Friend, enemies, We are known as Kyrillos Dimities, childe of Gregorius and of Byzantium. We wish to reiterate some of those points made tonight from our own perspective. While we agree that we must hide away from Humanity, which does not mean we must cower. Instead we must use our anonymity to manipulate the world of men to our own ends. To that end, an august body of honored peerage would establish clearly defined rules for Elder and Neonate alike so that the horrors of the past century need never threaten us again. As for the Anarchs we feel that they must be accepted back into proper society with only the most dangerously violent or seditious being bound to a patron until their rage is soothed. Some amongst them may find this harsh, however one must take the long view and remember that the path of violence oft erodes one sense of self. This rings especially true of those who are plagued by the whisperings of a Beast that gnashes its teeth at our soul, struggling to devour the last vestiges of who we once were. That is all we wish to say. Goodnight.”

“Everything that guy just said is horseshit!” – Alexander bellowed as the old man stepped off the dais.

Before she could have words with the boorish knight she caught sight of Vykos and his entourage and fled the Courtyard.

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Chapter 12-1 - Conspiracies Convene

February 9, 1493, 9:43pm
The street outside the Black Ox Inn
The Domain of Master Sanchez
Prince of Sebeș

“You’re a funny man Iaco, even if you are a gimp.” – Adrian

Adrian and Iaco stumbled drunkenly down the street, along with Adrian’s brother Alexandru, trying desperately to keep the old man on his hobbled feet.

“You think my…words are funny, you should see me dance.” – Iaco

The three of them together were so completely drunk that they didn’t notice the dark figure following them through the street.

“Lord Sanchez!” – the shadow bellowed.

Adrian spun faster than the other two and the three of them suffered for it, all of them landing heavily on the stone street.

“Ah, hell Iaco, get your gimp ass off of me!” – Alexandru

“Sorry, sorry.” – Iaco, struggling to get to his feet.

The figure stepped out of the darkness, he was a young man with a surprisingly full beard.

“Master Sanchez, I am sorry I did not approach you when I first entered the city, but I could not be sure of who you were.” – the young man.

“I’ve never seen you before in my life, and I sure as hell ain’t no “Master Szantos.” – Adrian

The man looked confused.

“I was not speaking you, but to Master Sanchez, for whom I have a letter.” – The young man.

“Oh, well I am so sorry, Alexandru, aren’t I sorry? But as you can see, none of us are “Master Sanchez” are we Iaco?” – Adrian

“Noser I aineverduvim.” – Iaco.

The three of them turned once more, though more deliberately this time.

“What the hell was that about?” – Iaco.

“I have no clue my gimpy friend.” – Alexandru

“Enough wit’ the gimp jokes already! I can make my own way.” – Iaco, stubbornly pulling away from the brothers and falling over in the process.

“Oh, come on now Iaco, we promised to help you home.” – Adrian.

“Go on, you drunken riffraff. I don’t need your help, go on and get.” – Iaco, shooing them away with a gesture

The messenger looked on dumbfounded as the brothers stumbled off into the dark street. He never approached the old man, nor offered to help him to his feet.

When the men’s voices had faded the struggling old man flickered, reappearing only inches from the envoy’s face.

The façade was gone. His face was still weathered and craggy but he stood straight, his skin white as death, his eyes flashing brightly in what little light was cast by the ensconced torches on the tavern’s wall.

“Who are you and what are you doing in my domain?” – Master Sanchez

“I’m sorry, sir, I did not mean to offend it’s just that.. I’m sorry… I uh…”

“Spit it out!”

“Forgive me, Prince, I’ve ridden for three days and nights without rest and am befuddled.”

The elder’s eyes brightened dangerously.

“I’ve come with a message of grave import from the Lord Rafael de Corazon.”

Sanchez lifted the rolled parchment, its rose seal unmarred.

The ghoul looked at it with a horrified expression, as he had not removed it from his satchel.

And just like that Sanchez was gone.

February 11, 1493, 12:06am
Teresa’s Private Chambers
The Domain of Teresa Balgrad
Black Queen of Alba Iulia

The missive claimed that Teresa’s niece, Lucita, would be arriving on this night. It had been nearly a decade since she’d last seen the girl and, though she was loath to admit it, she was excited by the thought of seeing someone she had known when the sun still kissed her skin.

When the knock came to her door, Teresa felt her dead heart nearly beat. The thought of her heart was enough to cause the gauzy darkness of her being to begin to return to the material world.

The sensation was strange. She had spent so many of her nights as a part of the darkness of her home that separating herself from it was becoming more and more difficult.

The door opened to the chill February wind as a squat figure hurled himself over her threshold.

“We demand an old priest, a young priest and a nun! We are famished!”

The darkness within Teresa convulsed, trying desperately to wrap itself around the elderly figure’s throat and squeeze until nothing but blood and ash remained.

“Kyrillos?” – Teresa

She’d thought him destroyed for more than twenty years. He had vanished from her domain one night, leaving a small pack of his wretched Larvae loose in her streets. They’d killed more than a dozen of the kine before they were put down.

“Had I known you were coming perhaps I would have procured them for you.” – Teresa

“No matter, we’ll take whatever you have on hand.” – Kyrillos

Teresa couldn’t repress a snarl.

“I should hit you.” – Teresa

“Twould be a shame if you did, Milady, as things you hit tend to die.” – Kyrillos

The mad vampire smiled and the Black Queen’s rage ebbed.

“I wouldn’t hit you that hard, but after the mess you left me when you vanished you’re lucky you’re not ash.”

The Malkavian laughed and Teresa couldn’t help but follow suit.

“Your timing is, as ever, exact. I am expecting my niece and your cousin tonight.” – Teresa

Kyrillos clapped his hands together.

“Excellent! It has been too long since we have entertained together.”

“Don’t think that just because you have made me smile that I have forgiven you.”

“We would never, though we believe that the peace offering we bring may do more to make you forget any inconvenience that we may have caused you.” – Kyrillos

Teresa’s eyebrows raised.

The madman turned and opened the door with a flourish, revealing six strapping young men dressed finely.

“Oh, Kyrillos, you shouldn’t have.” – Teresa

“We spared no expense.” – Kyrillos.

After the Black Queen surveyed her prizes they retired to her receiving room. It was dark save for the subdued light cast by the embers of a long dead fire.

Light enough for the damned at any rate.

“So, what of the rogue, Sabela? Has she been dealt with?”

Teresa’s Darkness came rushing forward once more at those words.

“Do not speak of her again, Kyrillos! Should she ever try to return to these lands I have been given promises from every Prince, baron and tyrant of Romania that she will meet the morning!”

The look on her face warned Kyrillos from continuing that particular line of conversation.

“Have you heard from the Mason as of late, Kyrillos?”

“No, though I have heard that he has taken back his Domain and his Legacy, with no small amount of help from the Warlocks.” – Kyrillos

“I’ve heard the same from Sherazhina when last she was here. I had hopes that she would take possession of her brother’s domain after what happened in Sibiu but she refused.” – Teresa

“A shame, I’m sure.” – Kyrillos

They sat around reminiscing and enjoying her gift when another knock came to the door.

It was Anatole who entered first; he looked uncomfortably sullen in the finery that his companion had demanded he wear.

Lucita, for her part, was a vision. The very embodiment of a modern lady, dressed in sable and silver.

Though Lucita tried to act appropriately in front of the Prince, it didn’t last, and she and Teresa embraced heartily.

“Come Anatole, it isn’t like you to be so dower. As the Mistress of this domain I demand that you be of good cheer!” – Teresa

“Blood?” – Anatole.

Teresa pointed toward another room, letting out a loud sigh to show her exasperation. What was she going to do with two Lunatics under her roof?

“Between and amongst us all, my queen! Between and amongst us all!” – Anatole.

“Forgive him, my Queen, he’s been at this for a fortnight, ever since he spoke to another of his Clan, a giant of a man called Havnor. And though he will no doubt abstain, I would gladly partake in any Vitae that is offered.” – Lucita

Once she had fed they adjourned to the receiving room.

“I am sorry that this visit must be short but Anatole and I have much ground to cover and time grows short. Our visit is concerning a great meeting of Cainites to be held in England.” – Lucita

“I’ve heard tell of it, but I don’t see how a meeting at the other end of the world would affect us here beyond the forest.” – Kyrillos

“I understand how you might feel that way, Lord Kyrillos, especially considering your experiences, but I assure you that you’re wrong. The troubles caused by the Anarchs that you yourself have suffered are nearly at an end. The meeting is being called by a Convocation of Cainites that call themselves the Camarilla. These Cainites, or rather, Kindred, seek to end the destruction this war between the young and the old of the Long Night.”

“And this meeting is going to make this happen?” – Teresa

“It’s key to their plan, yes. We are threatened by so many outside forces, from the Inquisition to the superstitions of an empowered herd to the wave after wave of war that seems to have swept over this continent endlessly since before any of our Nights began. But while these threats seem, at least for now, to be beyond our control, the Camarilla seeks to thwart the threats that we can control.

“You are of course speaking of the Anarchs.” – Kyrillos

“Surely, Lord Kyrillos, you’ve experienced some of the destruction wrought by this infighting? It’s been many nights since we last spoke, but I’m certain you remember the deadly fire that swept Kastély Hermannstadt two decades ago, and that you understand that the destruction wrought that night was not the first nor the last such act since this war began.” – Anatole

Kyrillos nodded and stared into his bloodwine.

“I do not know your minds concerning the Anarchs or the Elders. You might support them still, Count, but even if you do I beseech you to go to England and let your voice be heard. Everything we do, everything we become from this moment on will be colored by the decisions made at this convocation. I know it’s a long and arduous journey, but as you can see, Anatole and I travel frequently from west to east and even north. We have survived. It is not as difficult as the old stories would have you believe. Please say you will attend.” – Lucita

“We have done our fair share of traveling, dear girl.” – Kyrillos

“I’m sure that Lucita regrets her presumption, Lord Kyrillos.” – Teresa

“Say we were to make this journey? How much time do we have?” – Kyrillos

“The Camarilla has called for the Convention to be held on the third week of October of this year, but they’ve called for it to be held in England, near Silchester. There is a small hamlet there called Thorns that boasts a monastery called the Abby of the Sacred Crown. The Abbot of the monastery, a Cainite, promises the attendants the security and privacy of the Monastery. Not to mention –”

“Lo! The Dragon returns, wreathed in blood and after him, a raging torrent of flames and destruction follow! The earth cannot hold him, nor the fires of the sun contain his fury! Darkness claims all who challenge the Dragon’s will! From the eastern mountains his anger rises; a tide of woe drowns the faithful of Byzantium as the ravages of war bring the old cycle to the end! Too much Carnage! Beware the field of blood! Let the young bow down before the old lest the Dragon consumes all in disarray!”

Anatole, though bellowing, never moved from where he stood behind the still sitting and suddenly very uncomfortable looking Lucita. When he was finished he returned to watching her as if he hadn’t spoken at all.

When he realized that the others were watching him and not speaking he seemed to blush.

“What?”

“Nothing, my friend.” – Teresa, dedicating his words to memory as best as she could.

After they assured Lucita that they would attend the conversation returned to their own lives, and to the adventures of the younger Lasombra.

It was nearly dawn before Kyrillos could get his Clanmate alone.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Cyril Kosmos.” – Anatole.

The Byzantine vampire was surprised. He had not been called by his birth name in nearly three centuries.

“I must ask you, old friend, what you meant by “the field of blood.”

“I’m not sure what you mean. Perhaps you should ask the Storyteller.” – Anatole.

“We don’t know what you mean.”

“Ask the one who tells the tales of the tower, ask him who sets the timeline.” – Anatole.

“What does that mean?” – Kyrillos

“What does what mean, milord? Were we speaking?” – Anatole.

“No, Anatole, I don’t think we were. Though I mean no disrespect, I must say that you are very frustrating to talk to.” – Kyrillos.

“You have no idea. Sleep well, milord.” – Anatole.

October 17, 1493, 10:00pm
The Abby of the Sacred Crown
The Domain of Father Samuel
Prince of Southampton

The monastery was beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful Lupe had set eyes on in the fifty years since she’d begun her Long Night. The Abbey was of Cistercian design, its walls tall and crafted from white stone.

In many ways the monastery’s grounds reminded her of the one where she watched the so-called Founders stand by while the Devil-Kindred came to power.

It was large, the valley in which the monastery had been built was wide and pastoral.

It was almost peaceful.

The lie of it all roiled in her dead gut, infuriating her.

She had heard of the convention in Normandy, where she had been searching for a Noddist scholar called Aristotle de Laurent, she hoped to find the ancient Malkavian here.

She was greeted by a pair of glassy-eyed monks in white robes who offered to see to their horses and to show her to a set of chambers beneath the monastery where they could sleep safely, if cramped.

She was instructed in the rules of Elysium and gifted goblets of vitae that she was assured were gifted by willing vessels and from the bleeding of peasants.

“Don’t believe it, sister, we know the taste of rat when we taste it.” – An incredibly deep voice from deeper within the small, incredibly dark cell.

It belonged to a nobleman dressed in a fashion that was old when Lupe was a child.

“Forgive our rudeness, sister. We have a habit of speaking our mind even when it is ill advised. I am called Kyrillos Dimities, Childe of Gregorius, Mad Count of Timisoara, my quiet companion is the Lady Teresa Balgrad.”

“Companion?” – Lupe

She peered carefully into the gloom. It seemed as though the small candle at the door was insufficient to scatter the shadows. Perhaps her companion was Lasombra.
“Never mind, would you mind terribly if we were to accompany you to meet Father Samuel, we find that there is strength in numbers.” – Kyrillos.

“I suppose not.” – Lupe

The monks, who had waited sedately for her, showed the three vampires into a well-appointed antechamber, far too opulent for a man who swore an oath of poverty.

“Please, wait here, the Prince will see you as soon as he finishes receiving his current visitor.” – another servant.

Lupe noted that this servant wasn’t a monk and that, unlike the monks, his eyes were clear.

“I know you!” – A child’s voice.

Lupe knew the voice well, though she hadn’t heard it in nearly fifty years.

“Qamar?”

It was indeed the vampire-child, though she was now dressed in the finest French fashion, the pale noblewoman, Ana, held the girl protectively.

A third figure stood in the room, he was tall and dark and dangerous looking.

“Alexander.”

“Sister!” – The knight smiled sadistically.

“What are the chances?” – Ana.

“Astronomical.” – Lupe.

“I have to say, sister, you clean up well.” – Alexander, cupping her ass.

Lupe lashed out unthinkingly, the back of her hand slammed hard into his chin, she felt the bone crack.

“Thank you.”

His fist slammed into her abdomen and she felt her intestines burst.

“Do you realize that you two are in Elysium?” – It was a woman’s voice.

Lupe didn’t recognize her, but she was darkly beautiful and possessed of a familiarity Lupe couldn’t quite place.

The woman stood close to the old man and Lupe realized that she was responsible for the suffocating darkness from before.

“Children.” – Kyrillos, to the woman.

“What? Are you telling me that we can’t have a little back and forth here? Away from the prying eyes of the Herd?” – Alexander

“Forgive our friend, Count Kyrillos. I am Ana Golescu. I don’t expect you to remember me, but we met once before in Sibiu, before the Anarch assault. This is my ward Qamar. Our friend, Alexander, is boisterous and prone to forgetting his place.”

Alexander glared at the old man, expecting him to flee but instead the Madman glared back at him, his eyes flashing with three centuries of power.

The knight backed down, bearing his fangs and hissing in the process.

“Sister Guadalupe, I know that when last we met it was not on good terms but I must ask your forgiveness, please understand that my actions were those of a mother torn from her child, and that I only did what I did to secure the destruction of the monster that ended my life.” – Ana

“Did you succeed?” – Lupe

“I did.” – Ana smiled.

“Then it was warranted.”

It wasn’t forgiveness, but it seemed enough for the lady Golescu.

Afterwards the chamber grew quiet, until the door into the Prince’s chamber finally opened.

The figure that emerged from the doorway was tall and willowy. His skin was so black that they could not tell where his skin ended and his hair began. His features were angular and sharp. He wore green silk lined in gold and his eyes were a brilliant hazel.

“Ana, what’s wrong with his skin?” – Qamar

“Nothing, sweetie, be quiet now.” – Ana

Kyrillos knew those eyes.

“Vykos.” – Kyrillos.

“Kyrillos, I’d heard you were destroyed.” – Vykos, grasping the Malkavian’s hand.

“No one can destroy me, old friend.”

“I am glad to hear it, Kyrillos, but I must be off. We must speak again, perhaps figure out a way to show these fools the madness that they will unleash!” – Vykos

Kyrillos smiled woodenly before being ushered before the prince.

The prince was as esthetic as his home was opulent. His chestnut brown hair was cropped close to his head, revealing fine features and a strong jaw.

His robes, though fashioned to look like those of the Cistercian order were obviously of the finest fabrics. Even the braided rope belt was made of fine linen.

“Greetings and welcome to the Sacred Crown. You are indeed most welcome here but I caution you. Exercise frugality when feeding, though I have opened both the towns of Silchester and Thorns to all of my guests, the sheer number of delegates risks revealing our presence to the people here. I warn you also to take care of the Silence of the Blood, even when challenged by a Cainite of drastically different points of view, please keep the peace.” – Father Samuel

And with that, the vampires were set loose upon the Convention of Thorns.

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Chapter 11-3 - The Voivode

July 7, 1472, 9:42pm
Birkau Castle
The Domain of Radu
Exiled Count of Bistria

The trek across Transylvania was relatively quiet. They traded coaches often and took their time to keep from being noticed and they passed the time answering the Voivode’s questions.

“We assure you, my Prince, you are in no danger of being eaten by any of us. Not only are we not wanton killers, but we are not particularly hungry at present.” – Kyrillos

Sanchez and Sherazhina chuckled. Kyrillos began each night the same way, with the same promise after returning from his hunt.

“Besides you are among the most respected men we have ever met… or feared.” – Kyrillos.

Sanchez hoped that Vlad III wouldn’t regale them with any more anecdotes. Gypsies and Turks and accusations of impregnations, it was all just so macabre.

For their part, they told him stories of the Crusades, and of the Shadow Reconquista and of Constantinople when it fell for the first time. They told him about the battle of Tuzfold and of Acre and the Witch of Zara.

And of course, they spoke of the children of Caine, of the Clans and their proclivities, of the powers that their cursed nature granted them.

Though both Kyrillos and Sanchez tried to emphasize the negative aspects of Immortality, between the constant hunger and, of course, the endless night, they couldn’t be sure if they were swaying the Voivode one way or another.

When they entered the Tihuţa Pass Sherazhina, who’d been particularly tense throughout the voyage, visibly relaxed.

“Are you okay?” – Teresa

“It’s good to be home.” – Sherazhina

“What is that?” – Vlad, interrupting the Count mid-sentence.

Overhead upon the cliff stood Birkau Castle, the full moon illuminating it with silvery light.

“That is where our conspiracy was forged, milord. And it is, possibly, the most beautiful of Master Sanchez’s creations.” – Teresa.

“Have you never seen it before, Voivode?” – Kyrillos

“I have not, no. I have spent far too much of my time in the south of my domain and have not had the honor of visiting the most eastern parts of my kingdom.”

As they made their ascent up the mountain toward the castle its ancient gates once again seemed to open of their own accord and as they passed the gate into the castle’s courtyard the three vampires could have sworn they heard the sound of wolves howling.

As they rounded the “Lover’s Statue” they found themselves once again greeted by the Count who was much changed in the month since they’d last seen him.

Where before his clothes were threadbare and anachronistic now they were fresh and beautifully crafted, though he still showed the signs of age he had before, any exhaustion he showed before was now gone, Radu was as he had been when they first met him so many centuries ago.

“I am Count Radu Bistritz, welcome to my home. Enter freely and of your own will, I pray that you leave only some of the happiness that you bring, my Prince.” – Radu

Radu was unmoving as he gestured for the prince to enter but became animated as Vlad crossed the threshold, taking his cloak.

“Come in, the night air is chill and you must be in need of food and rest.” – Radu.

The smell of roasting meat wafted from the castle’s metal door.

“Thank you; I have a keen hunger, indeed.” – Vlad, Following Radu deeper into the castle.

Before Sanchez could follow the others in Sherazhina grabbed his arm.

“Wait, Sanchez, something’s wrong.” – Sherazhina

“What do you mean?”

“Radu’s not in control of the situation, somewhere along the way someone took the reins from him and he’s completely oblivious to it.” – Sherazhina.

Sanchez looked over his shoulder at the Count walking away from him, the Prince in hand and their allies in toe.

Sanchez stepped over the threshold and closed his eyes.

He saw Radu and the others entering the dining hall. He saw Tiberiu on the roof tending to his pigeons and Sherazhina standing on the steps watching him, he concentrated on Radu and felt something pulling at the old bat.

Radu was indeed out of control, something impossibly ancient and beyond the mason’s understanding had changed him and worse he was completely oblivious to it. The old bat was completely oblivious to the danger that he posed to his would-be ally.

Steeling himself, Sanchez joined the others.

With one last look over her shoulder at the malignant moon hanging above, Sherazhina followed.

July 7, 1472, 10:05pm
Birkau Castle
The Domain of Radu
Exiled Count of Bistria

“Master Sanchez, are you sure you do not wish to partake? I have made sure to secure a repast suitable to all of our needs for this evening in the western sitting room.” – Radu

“No, Radu, I am fine, I have had my fill this evening, as hard as that might be to believe.” – Sanchez

It was a bad lie, but the mason had lost his appetite.

If Radu noticed it he was too preoccupied with his noble guest to give any sign.

“Well, if you change your mind they shall remain until dawn. Now, Prince Dracula, I hope you would do me the honor of having a word with me in private.” – Radu

“Of course, what kind of a guest would I be otherwise?”

Radu showed Vlad into the next room, leaving the conspiracy to their own devices.

Sanchez was barely able to warn the others before the doors opened again revealing the still exuberant Count who strolled triumphantly back into the room.

“My conversation with the Voivode must wait a few moments my friends for I must speak with you all away from our dangerous guest’s suspicious ears. You see, our decision has been made for us. One more powerful than the Eastern Tzimisce will decide Dracula’s fate. Tiberiu is to leave within the hour to deliver Vlad Kazikli Bey to him. I encourage you to accompany them on the journey as a measure of security. I’m guessing, of course, that you have never had the opportunity of seeing the interior of the Cathedral of Flesh.”

The Conspirators exchanged nervous glances.

“Surely you’re joking.” – Kyrillos

Radu’s reaction was one of curious incredulity.

“I didn’t believe that it still existed.” – Teresa

“What is it?” – Sanchez

“According to legend it’s an ancient temple to Metamorphosis created by an ancient Tzimisce, perhaps even the Antediluvian himself. It’s said that it was used to perform profane rituals to appease or abjure the demon Kupala.” – Teresa

“Oh, him.” – Sanchez

“Yes and no. Its creator was not our Founder but his childe, Yorak. It is true that the Temple was lost to our clan long ago, but only because its master slumbered. With his resurrection the Cathedral once again accepts sacrifice.” – Radu

Kyrillos looked long and hard at the old Tzimisce.

“Isn’t it true that many a Cainite have entered the Methuselah’s layer at his invitation only to vanish?” – Kyrillos

“That’s absurd. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must not keep our guest waiting. If you’ll grant me your leave I shall return in ten minutes to continue this discussion.” – Radu, exiting once again.

“You cannot be serious.” – Sanchez once the door closed.

“Yorak’s a myth.” – Kyrillos.

“Really, after everything we’ve seen? You’re going to tell me now that you don’t believe?” –Sanchez.

“Surely Yorak existed once, and the lunatic Metamorphosist most probably tried to build a living home, but how would he keep it alive even as he slept?” – Kyrillos.

Sanchez was less than convinced.

“Yorak is said to be the first and greatest of the Voivodes but it is also said that the lands of the Cathedral are blasted, a blight on face of the earth. We have trekked nearly all of the land beyond the forest, have either of you ever even heard of such a place?” – Teresa

“You mean besides Tuzfold?” – Sanchez

Teresa acknowledged his point. Sanchez and Sherazhina kept their own council after that, conversing so quietly that it sounded as though they were humming to the Black Queen.

Radu returned after only a few minutes, securing the door before he spoke again.

“The Ancient’s made his decision, Yorak has either chosen his childe or settled upon the means of his destruction and will enforce his will one way or another. I and my fellows could oppose the will of those Tzimisce who wished to destroy the Voivode, or those who would make him their tool, but there is no denying the Ancient. Indeed, I am surprised a creature of such power didn’t simply reach out across the leagues and dominate…my…mind…” – Radu

The Old Bat closed his eyes, placing the tip of his fingers against his brow, the veins of his forehead and temple stood out, creating a very human image.

Nearby a goblet began to shudder, and then warp and finally crumple under an unseen weight.

The same pressure that crushed the goblet seemed to press upon Teresa’s head, had she been alive it might have done considerable damage.

And then it was gone.

“The legends of Yorak’s prowess are indeed great.” – Radu, taking his leave once more.

“It seems that our dear Count was played for a fool.” – Sherazhina

“The weak minded always are.” – Teresa

“Will any of you accompany us?” – Kyrillos

“You’re going?” – Sanchez

“Of course.” – Kyrillos

“Why would I want to trek across the countryside again just to deliver a mortal to a monster in a cave?” – Teresa

“Or be in the presence of something that can dominate a Cainite mind from across the leagues” – Sanchez

“To be honest, I’m intrigued.” – Sherazhina

“You’ve got to be kidding.” – Sanchez

It was clear that the lovers were in disagreement.

When the Count returned once more, he appeared to have aged ten years. The confident lord was gone, replaced once again by the walking anachronism.

“An invitation to the Cathedral is a great honor, one that cannot be refused. The temple upholds the most ancient traditions of the Metamorphosist Cult of the Old Clan, these Kolduny have spent millennia keeping the land pure of the corrupting nature of the demon Kupala.” – Radu

He spoke as if from rote, there was no faith or passion in his voice.

“We’ve already decided that we will go, old friend, as a favor to you.” – Kyrillos.

Sanchez glared at the Malkavian.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot be a part of this.” – Sanchez

“Come on, Sanchez, it’ll be fun. We never get to just travel.” – Sherazhina

The Toreador snarled.

“Teresa, you cannot tell us that the thought of introducing yourself to one so close to the source of our kind.” – Kyrillos.

Teresa nodded.

“No, I’m not going.” – Sanchez

Sherazhina looked at him expectantly.

“Are you sure that you want to do this?” – Sanchez

Sherazhina smiled.

“Fine, I will not let you go alone.” – Sanchez

Kyrillos began to whisper to himself conspiratorially as the lovers argued, his eyes focused on something in the distance.

Teresa touched his rigid shoulder but he did not respond, at least not to her.

“Yes, yes, I suppose him too. No, no, that won’t be necessary.” – Kyrillos

“Kyrillos?” – Teresa

The Count’s eyes fluttered before focusing on the Lasombra.

“Yes, oh, Teresa, our apologies, we were keeping Eloise apprised of our plans, it is up to her and Niklaus to ready our carriage for another journey.” – Kyrillos

July 8, 1472, 5:16am
Birkau Castle
The Domain of Radu
Exiled Count of Bistria

Sherazhina slipped deftly from the chamber the Count had granted her and Sanchez to take their day sleep, leaving Sanchez to bolt the door behind her. It had been a generation since she’d last slept within the walls of the castle themselves and she had become determined to sleep within her own personal tomb, which she was sure was still hidden even from one so observant as Radu himself.

She was crossing from the eastern wing through the hall when she realized that she was not alone any longer.

“Fear not, Lady Sherazhina, its only me.” – Radu, from the shadows.

The Count looked tired, more than he should have even with the light of day beginning to warm the furthest mountain peaks.

“Ah, Radu, I had thought that you would have secured yourself for sleep by now.” – Sherazhina

“Indeed I should have. But I knew that as your home, you would want to make yourself at home. Honestly, child, you had no reason to hide that from me. We are both Tzimisce are we not? I myself am feeling the effects of being so far from my beloved city.” – Radu

“Oh, I had not thought of that. I am sorry for your loss Radu. Is that why you were waiting for me?” – Sherazhina

“No, milady, I came to suggest that you and your allies protect your minds, for Yorak’s power is nigh-insurmountable.” – Radu

Without another word the Count turned and vanished into the Eastern wing of the castle, to whatever chamber he’d taken as his own haven.

When she was sure she was alone Sherazhina slipped onto the tower staircase and down towards its foundation. She was happy to see that the old bat hadn’t replaced the old tapestries that hung upon the winding case and then reached down, removing a small wedge of stone from the wall before pressing her foot into another, causing a squat bit of wall to swivel open. Had the wedge remained, the door would have been immovable, as it was now that she barred it from within.

The furniture was still beautiful, if covered with decades of dust, assuring the Tzimisce that it had not been disturbed.

She didn’t bother with the fireplace, or with a torch, her eyes were well adjusted to the dark. Instead she moved swiftly, pressing against the far wall. It required the very power of her blood so heavy was the hidden door to her bed-chamber.

The sarcophagus within was ancient, crafted when she was still a living woman, depicting battles from the early crusades, and of a particular warrior, the late Jürgen von Verden. It was hers now.

Sherazhina barred the door and then the Sarcophagus too. Sanchez had built this place to be nearly impregnable.

So why was it that the every ounce of blood in her body was screaming at her that she wasn’t alone even within the gilded tomb?

July 8, 1472, 9:55pm
Birkau Castle
The Domain of Radu
Exiled Count of Bistria

Radu didn’t seem to be himself the next evening when he appeared in the receiving room. His clothes were ill fitting, his eyes bloodshot and his skin ashen.

“You do not look well, Lord Radu.” – Kyrillos

“I did not rest well, Lord Kyrillos, and when I did I dreamt of lost Bistria.” – Radu

His voice was little more than a dry rasp.

Kyrillos eyed the count, blurring his vision to better see the fissures in the man’s aura. Listening for the thoughts that so plagued him.

He saw and heard nothing but a wave of fury. There was so much fear and rage that the Old Bat’s beast was actually obfuscating his conscious mind.

Kyrillos blinked to see the Count glaring at him, his once kind blue eyes were now great bloated orbs of blood. His mouth was drawn back into a grimace that revealed the twisted yellow fangs of a monster.

Fists clenched, the count turned and stormed out of the room without another word.

Kyrillos realized that he must have been muttering again.

“I see turning friends into enemies has become a hobby of yours, Kyrillos.” – Sanchez

The vampire shrugged.

“We were able to make Lord Rustovitch forgive centuries of animosity in a single night, friend, and have no doubt that the Count will forgive us.” – Kyrillos

The door opened again only for the still living Prince of Walachia to appear out of the darkness.

He looked as giddy as a child.

“So we shall travel again, my friends. I am glad that I will not have to travel alone, and rest assured I shall find some way to compensate you.” – Vlad

Teresa laughed.

“Yes, I’m sure you would kill anyone we wished.” – Sanchez, under his breath.

“You understand that you’re going to go to your death. ” – Sanchez.

Vlad looked confused.

“In fact, in all likelihood Yorak isn’t going to kill you, at least not outright. This is a creature who long ago began to craft a temple out of still living flesh of men..” – Sanchez

“We don’t know that, Sanchez, until last night we thought it a myth.” – Kyrillos

“Those are stories told to frighten young Tzimisce.” – Teresa

“You keep telling yourself that.” – Sherazhina.

“We’re only going because Radu was forced! How do you know that Yorak didn’t push us too?” – Sanchez

“Are you scared?” – Kyrillos

“You’re damned right I am! How can you not be?” – Sanchez

“Friends, friends! I considered you all allies before you chose to be my travel companions, a choice that was most apparently not made lightly, and so I can only think that you are indeed the only people I would have at my side if I am walking toward my end” – Vlad

Sanchez was taken aback by the Impaler’s earnestness. He’d never thought of him as anything but a butcher and tyrant.

“In any case, Sherazhina and I shall ride in our own carriage, there’s no need to make the Voivode uncomfortable for the crossing.” – Sanchez

July 23, 1472, 8:50pm
The Blasted Heath
Not far from Deva

The caravan drove across the uncommonly bleak Transylvanian countryside, drawing ever closer to the city of Deva. Radu assured them that Tiberiu knew the way but the Beast hadn’t said more than three words for the entire crossing.

They were practically in the shadow of the City’s Citadel when they noticed it:

It was the sound of hooves on barren, dead earth that told them that they were drawing near. The sound was quickly followed by the smell of decay and of offal. Sanchez peered out of the window to see that the trees had become sparser and less robust, it seemed as the entire forest seemed to have been overtaken by a horrible, throbbing pink moss, there were so many felled trees that they slowed to a near crawl.

They were nearly through the trees when Tiberiu’s horses reared, refusing to go any further.

“Can you imagine anything that could terrify one of those monsters?” – Sherazhina

Sanchez didn’t want to find out, but opted to join the others.

“The horses will go no further. Nor will I.” – Tiberiu, as they reached the others.

“Then we shall close the distance on foot. It cannot be too far from here, can it?” – Vlad.

“Indeed.” – Kyrillos.

As they entered the clearing they noticed the squelching sound of their shoes in the muddy earth, each footprint releasing the smell of dead blood. It didn’t take long to realize that the very earth seemed to be soaking in it.

“Everything’s dead.” – Sanchez.

“Quit being so gloomy, my love.” – Sherazhina.

“What’s wrong with you?” – Sanchez

The earth was completely dead here, black tendrils of dead earth snaked out from some central point in the distance, strangling the life out of the local wild-life. Not unlike a vampire.

The air, too, was humid and still with the smell of old blood and excrement hanging like a heavy fog.

Strange lights and globes of unnatural flame seemed to dance across the wasteland that stood before them as the sky rippled with strange, undulating shades of pink and green that seemed to blot out the stars and left the moon looking as though it had been bathed in blood.

They walked for over a mile when they saw one of the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and at its base, like an open sore, opened the gaping maw of a cave.

“There are stories, you know, it’s said that a witch did battle here against a powerful demon. It’s said that the battle tainted the soil forever. They say that whenever the demon stirs in its grave it blights the land once more. I think we found the sight of its grave.” – Sherazhina

“Seriously, Sherazhina, what’s with you?” – Sanchez.

“Do you smell that?” – Kyrillos.

“Meat, I smell living flesh.” – Vlad.

His voice was hoarse, as if he were on the verge of tears.

The Voivode stepped forward, marching defiantly toward to the cave’s entrance.

“Yorak! You seek me? Well here I am!” – Vlad.

“I have to say that I am impressed.” – Sherazhina

“He’s a man after my own heart.” – Sanchez

“It’s a shame that he seems so eager to die.” – Teresa.

Kyrillos, for his part, stood at the Voivode’s side, egging him on.

As they followed the madman and his Malkavian companion into the cavern Sanchez quickly realized that the same unwholesome moss seemed to be growing in the cave as well.

It was only after getting a good look at one of the fungus’s nodules that he realized that it was a veined glob of spongy flesh. It was only than that he realized that they were beginning to find it difficult to find bare stone on which they could plant their feet.

“Welcome to the Cathedral of Flesh.” – Sherazhina, ominously.

July 23, 1472, 9:38pm
The Domain of Yorak,
Lord of the Cathedral of Flesh

They walked through the cavern for a short time before they realized that the cavern’s stone walls were giving way to the spongy flesh of the Cathedral.

The amorphous mass of flesh that sheathed the wall undulated softly, as the darkness was lessened with otherworldly bioluminescent fluids coursing through veins and arteries within the pinkish membrane casting the corridor in hues of crimson and blue.

Kyrillos and Sherazhina paved the way, excitedly showing the others all the glowing organs within the walls, while explaining to the Voivode their apparent purpose.

Sanchez, to his eternal horror, couldn’t help but notice the odd whispers and the occasional face pressing to the surface of the monstrous flesh.

“It’s fascinating that these lungs are of such size. Sherazhina, how could this be achieved?” – Kryillos.

“The Process would have required every strand of matter within at least three healthy adults. My guess is that they were ghouls who were worked into lungs only after being fully grafted into the Cathedral. It would have been the only way to keep them alive.” – Sherazhina

Sanchez didn’t like the sound of her voice. His love had only ever shown revulsion at the thought of using her clan’s legacy upon the living but now she spoke reverently while discussing mutilation on the grandest scale imaginable.

“See, there, Voivode, at the point where the lungs converge, there are four, no five, separate brains. It seems that the Priests wanted to ensure that these souls would be aware of their fate. My guess is that they are at least semi-aware even now.” – Sherazhina

Soon the amorphous corridor began to take on more familiar shapes, those of walls and tapestries and even the occasional furnishings, all crafted from impossible flesh.

“Look here, this tapestry: I know this story, it is the battle of Mohi. The Mongols overran the Hungarians laying waste to a quarter of my people.” – Vlad

As he ran his fingers over the tapestry it seemed to ripple as if in pleasure.

“I remember it well.” – Sherazhina

“We all do.” – Sanchez

“You were there. It is so strange that I understand that you are immortal beings, but I cannot truly grasp it.” – Vlad

“I may be easily impressed, but this is…” – Kyrillos

It was clear that the Malkavian had lost his exuberance as the reality of the place began to weigh upon him.

“Do you see that?” – Teresa

Ahead, two misshapen figures loped toward them, their eyes glimmering with red light. The figures seem to be two halves to a whole, each possessing a single eye and three strange withered appendages on which they moved gracelessly.

The creatures, when they drew close enough to be seen clearly, began to hiss and cough, and it quickly dawned on the Conspiracy that they were trying to communicate in some long forgotten form of communication.

No sooner did they realize this that Sanchez and Kyrillos felt slick tendrils of the creatures’ alien minds touch their own.

They were trying to communicate and the experience was excruciating.

“They want us to follow them” – Sanchez, through the pain.

Twenty feet further into the Cathedral and the floor began to warble unnaturally, though they had been walking upon fleshy rugs and a dermis-like floor for some time, that floor was now pockmarked and oddly shaped, warbling as they stepped upon it and making sickly noises in their wake, not unlike stepping into a shallow puddle.

Teresa couldn’t take it anymore and whispered to the darkness of the cathedral. Soon great black tendrils exploded from the shadows, wrapping around one another until they took the shape of a large black throne.

The Black Queen sat upon her perch and with a thought it rose up, held aloft by a barrage of small writhing black tentacles, with another thought a canopy formed over her tenebrous mount protecting her from any fluids that might drip from the ceiling.

Sanchez couldn’t help but be jealous.

The Cathedral’s interior was changing once more, a great tapestry of alien limbs and faces writhed in an orgy of motion, occasionally shuddering in pleasure and pain.

More than once Sanchez was sure that the great mass was going to surge together in horrid peristalsis, constricting until they were all forced to join with the “art”.

Again he saw the vestigial faces appearing, their features locked in eternal torturous orgasm.

“How many have been sacrificed to this monstrosity?” – Teresa

“The number is beyond counting.” – Sanchez

“And how do they survive?” – Teresa

“Vitae, of course.” – Kyrillos

“The Blood is the Life.” – Vlad

The Voivode’s tone made them all uneasy.

“They’re worshiping Yorak. They love him and hate him, but he is all they think about. I think that it sustains him.” – Sherazhina

Their horrific escorts lead them onwards, down one winding corridor after another until they finally find themselves facing a vast human orifice. To either side of it stood two massive creatures made of muscle and bone plate standing twice as tall as any man. Each rested their massive hands upon great bone clubs the size of a man. They glowered down at the Conspiracy and their living charge and growled through row upon row of needle like teeth.

It was only after taking all of this in that they realized that the massive szlachta were actually part of the cathedral.

Before the great sphincter and between the two guardians a shallow bowl of congealing brackish black fluid rested upon a pedestal.

“The stench.” – Sanchez

“Beyond this threshold lies the sanctuary of the Kolduny Yorak, the first Voivode and childe of the First Shaper.” – Sherazhina

The Tzimisce’s voice was wistful, somewhere between a sigh and a prayer.

“Sherazhina!” – Sanchez

He grabbed hold of her shoulders and shook her hard, trying to probe her mind.

Suddenly her listless eyes came into sharp focus.

“Sanchez?”

The Tzimisce looked around before hugging the Toreador, blood tears ran down her face.

“Where are we?” – Sherazhina

“We are within the Cathedral of Flesh.” – Sanchez

No sooner did he say those words that the guides approached the guardians, licking at soft patches of flesh and hissing soothingly in that strange alien speech until the guardians fell to sleep.

One of the guides loped forward and then stood up upon one limb, dipping the other in the brackish fluid and making a sign in a mockery of the cross.

The second approached and did the same, before drinking deep from the bowl and spraying the foul liquid over the Threshold.

The orifice quivered and then opened, releasing a humid blast of unwholesome air.

Vlad retched and the Mad Count was forced to brace him to keep him from falling.

The great tapestry of bodies that made up the walls of the chamber audibly moaned as they began to give off incredibly bright light in shades of green, blue, orange and yellow.

As they entered the umbilical like corridor beyond the threshold the sound of blood and Vitae churning through the walls was almost hypnotic, calling to them, begging for them to give into their beast and feed.

“Do you feel it?” – Sherazhina

“It’s like my very Vitae is trying to escape me.” – Sanchez

“If only we could do something for them.” – Kyrillos

“There’s no telling what would happen if we tried. There’s a good chance that it would devour us.” – Sherazhina.

Kyrillos kept a close eye upon the Voivode and was disturbed to see that, despite nearly being killed only moments ago, his face was contorted into a rictus of reverential joy.

“Voivode, most of this was once human, this is the craft of the Fiends of Clan Tzimisce, whom you have waged war against these last few years.” – Kyrillos

The Voivode only nodded as he stumbled forward with all the fervor of a devotee.

The sound of blood grew louder as they finally reached the end of the umbilical. They found themselves in a great chamber of flesh; the arteries in the walls were several feet around and seemed to thrum with each beat of the heart that they instinctively knew that they were standing before.

A sinewy web of flesh hung from the ceiling, suspending a great beating mass that must have been a heart some forty feet above their heads. The ganglion form undulated and then shuddered before it began to descend from the ceiling.

As it lowered it began to change, warping and taking on a multitude of nightmarish chimerical shapes of creatures long dead and of those that could never have existed. Fangs and claws and leathery wings formed only to give way to tentacles and fur and feathers which in turn gave way to stranger things still.

When the mass finally reached the ground it shuddered before bursting in a squelch of amniotic fluid and blood, giving birth to a slimy tumor roughly the size of a man before retracting into the ceiling once more.

As they watched the milky white cyst shuddered and shriveled until it was replaced by the small stooped figure of a particularly old man.

His skin was jaundiced and his eyes sat in sockets colored by particularly livid bruising. His lips and nail beds were black and his eyes reflected far more light than they should have.

The man wore no clothes but clung to a great walking stick that looked far too much like a great, malformed phallus.

The old man reached own with his free hand, his fur covered palm up, his impossibly long fingers splayed, beckoning to the prince.

The Impaler approached languidly, a beatific smile etching his face while the Methuselah looked on serenely.

The Cathedral shivered with anticipation as the Conspiracy remained still.

Vlad reached the old man and fell to his knees, his head lolling backward on his shoulders exposing his neck.

The Methuselah stroked the Impaler’s cheek lovingly before taking his head in hand and stooping even lower as if to whisper in his ear.

Kyrillos watched helplessly as the ancient threw back his head, his mouth agape, revealing long gleaming translucent fangs.

The Conspiracy turned away, not wishing to see the mortal’s doom, when they heard it.

Yorak was screaming.

Sanchez turned to see the ancient staring up at the great ceiling.

“We should leave. Now!” – Kyrillos

Sanchez didn’t need to be told twice and, picking Sherazhina up, ran back through the corridor.

Teresa’s throne reared and sped after the Toreador leaving Kyrillos alone.

Though he followed directly after he noted a drop of blood falling from the Impaler’s neck and landing on the floor, he watched as from that very spot the flesh tore as great gouts of blood and Ichor erupted from a great pustule that formed in seconds.

Yorak continued to scream in some dead language, his tone pleading as the chamber collapsed. Great hooked tendrils and clasping wolf-mouth snakes extended from the walls and floor, grasping the ancient and holding him fast.

The Conspiracy ran.

“What’s happening?” – Teresa shouted

“It’s awake, the cathedral’s awake!” – Kyrillos

“Do you hear that?” – Teresa

Kyrillos did. The thrumming ever present heartbeat was slowing and soon it would stop.

“God help us.” – Kyrillos

“What is it?” – Teresa

“The Cathedral is dying… but… but I think it’s embracing itself. I think it’s diablerizing Yorak!” – Kyrillos

They ran faster, the sudden realization that soon they would be trapped within the body of a massive vampire spurred their beasts on.

Kyrillos and Teresa reached another antechamber to find Sanchez and Sherazhina, the Toreador desperately trying to calm the obviously panicked Tzimisce.

Her dark eyes filled with blood as they watched her begin to tear herself apart. Her body grew unnaturally and horrifically as she took the Zulo shape.

It was too much for the Toreador and he followed her into frenzy.

Kyrillos and Teresa watched in horror as the lovers vanished into the Cathedral’s depths.

“We can’t save them.” – Teresa

“I know.” – Kyrillos

They wept blood tears as they fled.

As the Cathedral continued to go through the transformation, they felt its nascent beast beginning to form sending them further into their panicked escape.

Suddenly the cathedral shuddered in peristalsis, vomiting the last two vampires up through the ceiling, the esophagus-like flue pulling them up and up, even as razor sharp fangs formed just long enough to create gashes in their flesh.

Soon Kyrillos and Teresa both were covered in blood. Teresa used all of her strength to fight the thing but it proved to be too strong for even her.

Though neither vampire was willing to accept their destruction they both knew that there was nothing they could do.

Teresa closed her eyes and prepared for oblivion.

July 23, 1472, 8:50pm
The Blasted Heath
Outside the Cathedral of Flesh

Kyrillos lay upon barren black soil of the Blasted Heath unsure how he survived, and was covered in a horrid mix of bile and blood. He stood up and wiped the slime from his face. Not fifteen yards away lay the still body of the Black Queen.

Kyrillos rushed to her side, her skin was bone white and, to his horror, cracked. Wisps of blackness wafted up from her empty eye sockets and from her slack mouth and even from her nose.

“Teresa?”

He touched her skin and it felt like porcelain on his fingertips.

Kyrillos stepped away from the Lasombra’s corpse when he saw the most peculiar thing.

The shadows wafting off of the Queens body began to withdraw back into her body. Soon she was sitting up, her stony husk returning to a semblance of living flesh.

“I thought you were dead.” – Kyrillos

“So did I.” – Teresa, rolling her wrist to set it.

“My God.” – Kyrillos

Teresa turned to see what he was reacting to and saw where the mouth of the Cathedral once stood was a great gaping maw of gnashing teeth. The Embrace was complete, as was the destruction and diablerie of Yorak.

Teresa would have laughed had she not felt the rumbling of the earth.

With a loud crashing a great wound opened in the hillside and two bloody naked figures were ejected, collapsing on the ground.

“It’s them!” – Kyrillos.

When the vampires rushed to their allies’ aide Sherazhina was still mid transformation, her demonic form melting in on itself until she was once again just a woman.

“I can’t believe they survived Kyrillos. Kyrillos?” – Teresa

Kyrillos looked down on his allies with wild eyes. His head snapped back toward the great maw and he began to mutter nonsense before assaulting it.

Sanchez realized what was happening and appeared in front of his friend before he could throw himself into the great maw.

The Cathedral reacted too, the great mouth closed and its flesh hardened into a shell.

Sanchez continued to hold the Malkavian back until the mad frenzy subsided.

“What happened to the Impaler?” – Sherazhina

“He must have been devoured by during the diablerie.” – Kyrillos

“Alas, poor Yorak.” – Sanchez

“We should leave this place.” – Kyrillos

In the distance they could hear Tiberiu chanting.

“Ku-pa-la! Ku-pa-la! Ku-pa-la! Ku-pa-la!…”

When they reached the carriage Kyrillos called to Eloise for a canteen to wash himself off with.

Tiberiu was still chanting, frothing blood pouring out of his mouth.

In the distance they could see a figure on horseback.

“Who is that?” – Sanchez

“He stole our horse!” – Sherazhina from the rear carriage.

It was the Voivode, still covered in the dreck which must have birthed him back into the world of the living.

“No More! If I decide to join you in your “Long Night” I shall do so on my own terms. Not like this. Not like this!”

And then he was gone.

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Chapter 11-2 - The Impaler

June 17, 1472, 12:00am
Kastély Hermannstadt
The Domain of Otto
Prince of Sibiu

From her vantage point on the outer edge of the gilded hall Sabela watched the various factions square off.

There were, of course, no active hostilities. No precious blood was to be spilled on this night, by order of the right and honorable Prince Otto, an order that both Rustovitch and the ancient Cretheus seemed to be enforcing.

“Enforcing this Elysium seems almost treasonous.” – Arianne.

Sabela laughed at the Toreador’s commentary. They had arrived together, Sabela and her well known friend, and many assumed that she was the elder Cainite’s childe.

Let them assume.

It was quickly becoming obvious to them that despite their superior numbers the Fiends had forfeited their edge in any bargaining that might go on tonight simply because they couldn’t seem to agree on anything.

Vikto Danislav was the most vehement in his disdain for the Prince of Wallachia; regaling any who would hear of his slaughter of Kronstadt and the impalement of Vikto’s cousin Dan III. Sabela noticed, though, that he quieted whenever Rustovitch set eyes on him and seemed genuinely fearful of Razkoljna.

More than once he nearly came to blows with Dragomir Basarab over some old quarrel between the two and, had it not been for Dragomir’s sister there most definitely would have been bloodshed.

“You know them, right?” – Arianne

“Yes and no. I have had some dealings with them in my time as Seneschal of Alba Iulia, but I don’t know them well, no.” – Sabela.

“Ah, well, it’s a shame because I think they may be the best way to break this abhorrent truce.” – Arianne.

“No, I still think that it will be the Voivode who is most responsible for that tonight.” – Sabela, watching the mortal cling to Rustovitch like a child clinging to his mother’s skirt.

“Hark! I do believe the woman is breaking ranks!” – Arianne

Sure enough, one of the fiends, a severe woman of advanced years had broken ranks and was making the perilous trek across the gleaming battlefield.

The harpies were heartbroken to see the woman fall short, choosing to speak with the frumpy Necromancer instead.

  • Ciro saw the woman approaching and prepared for the worst. Her black hair was pulled so tightly back from her face that it seemed to stretch her features.

“Milady.” – Ciro.

“Greetings, Ciro, I am Danika Ruthven, an old confidant of your ancestor, Claudius.”

Ciro nodded blandly.

“Then I shall be sure to give him your regards, Lady Danika.” – Ciro.

“You misunderstand me, Giovanni, and are perilously close to offending one who has done so much to ensure your family’s current place in the Long Night. Fear not, though, I am, as ever, an ally here in the Land beyond the forest.” – Danika.

“Forgive me, Lady Danika, I didn’t mean any disrespect. It is only that I have never seen quite so many children of Caine in one place… outside Venice of course.” – Ciro.

“It is no matter, young Giovanni, though I wonder, how long have you been in Transylvania.”

“Not long, perhaps two months. I am still attempting to shore up the family’s holdings at the behest of my sire. If it pleases you, I may call upon you.” – Ciro

The elder-fiend’s eyes gleamed.

“I make my domain not far from here, in Hunedoara, and should you find your domain inhospitable I can grant you asylum. It is the least I can do.” – Danika.

“Thank you, I appreciate that, now if you’ll excuse me.” – Ciro, abandoning the conversation.

Jervais approached the Black Queen with all the grace of a wet slug. His movements were slow and deliberate, as if walking had long ago become alien to the slovenly monster since their last meeting nearly a century ago.

At his side was another of his kind, a tallish fellow with a weathered brow and sparkling eyes.

The tall vampire, though obviously hale enough to cross the same distance in a few breaths paced himself alongside his hideous companion. It should have given Teresa a chance for escape but she’d already acknowledged their presence and it seemed that nothing would save her.

Shoring up her pride she stepped forward to receive them graciously when she was quite suddenly intercepted by the pale figure of Dragomir Basarab.

“That underhanded Danislav swine! Why have you not destroyed him, Teresa? We are allies aren’t we?”

“We are allies, Dragomir.” – Teresa

“Then why does that Bastard still draw blood? He destroyed my entire family, Teresa, every last descendant of Vintila Basarab has been buried. Only I and my sister remain! Why have they not been avenged?” – Dragomir.

Before Teresa could respond Sanchez and Sherazhina were at her side.

“Calm yourself, brother.” – Sherazhina

“I was under the impression that the family was slaughtered by Lupines, Dragomir, had I known that Vikto was involved, I assure you that he would have been dealt with.” – Teresa

“Dealt with? DEALT WITH?! Have you even set eyes upon him?” – Dragomir

Livid bruises began to darken the pallid vampire’s skin as fissures formed around his eyes and mouth revealing mottled green scales beneath.

Sherazhina placed a hand upon his shoulder.

“You mewling wretch! The so-called Voivode of Tara Crișana running to the bitch queen of Alba Iulia.” – Vikto.

For some reason Sanchez expected him to look older.

“Vintila Basarab ruled your domain with an iron fist for centuries! To see you squander his power and defer to a Corsair who claims only one city sickens me!” – Vikto

With Sherazhina’s hand gripping his shoulder tightly, Dragomir seemed to calm himself.

“Teresa, you had best keep to your end of the bargain and avenge my family!” – Dragomir

Vikto barked out a loud obnoxious laugh, drawing the attention of what little of the room hadn’t already noticed the altercation

“Dragomir, if you are my vassal, I will gladly protect you and your interests.” – Teresa

“No, I am not your vassal! But my family and holdings were within your domain and should have been under your protection!” – Dragomir

Teresa had forgotten how dim Sherazhina’s brother was.

“I cannot, and will not, keep track of every mortal family within my domain, if I were to do so than I would not allow you to feed within it. I remember their deaths, but by all accounts it was a lupine attack and I was not about to incur the wrath of those abominations to protect them.

“That being said, Vikto Danislav has not directly introduced himself to me and I shall address that when the time is right.

This is not that time Dragomir” – Teresa.

Vikto stopped laughing and glared down at the queen.

“What will you do, Bitch Queen? I am Vikto Danislav, ruler of the Danislav Estates in the name of my sire Count Florescu, Voivode of the Tara Maramesului and you have no power over me!” – Vikto.

Teresa smiled cruelly.

“I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Kyrillos Dimities.” – Teresa

Vikto’s eyes widened as Kyrillos joined the conversation.

“Come, my boy, let us have a talk about your manners.” – Kyrillos.

Vikto Danislav fled back to the safety of the other Tzimisce.

“It is good to see you my dear friend, it has been far too many years.” – Zelios

Sanchez was embarrassed to realize that he had not marked Zelios’s presence before the old Crawler appeared at his side.

“Master Zelios, I am sorry for not searching you out, I should have known to look for you.” – Sanchez.

“It is my Clan’s legacy to go unnoticed, Master Sanchez, you have nothing to be ashamed of.” – Zelios.

The masons spoke for some time of the architecture and shared stories of their travails since their last meeting.

“But I must ask you, Master, how do you see this? What do you make of the Dragon’s fate?” – Sanchez

“To be honest, Sanchez, I am only here because, as the least offensive member of my clan in the Land Beyond, I was invited and I refuse to let my Clan lose face out of pride.” – Zelios.

“This is embarrassing, master, for that was why I have come as well. Could you imagine the humiliation of my cousins if some lout arrived to represent the Clan of the Rose.”

“Quite.”

It was the closest Sanchez could remember seeing his teacher come to laughing.

“To answer your question though, about this Dracula, I must confess that I know little of the situation, as I have only just returned from a sojourn to the south. I know that he has been a thorn in the side of the Fiends, and that he has shown great interest in Poenari Castle, for which I might offer my services, should he survive this night.” – Zelios.

“Than what do you think of the Anarchs, Zelios?” – Sanchez

Zelios thought for a long spell before speaking.

“Hannibal, my sire, used to speak at length of the parables of Caine, he said that the young should cling to the old, and that, in turn, the old should care for their young. This rebellion speaks to failure on both sides of the war. The Elders have abdicated their responsibility whilst their progeny lack the foresight to see the result of their rebellion.”

“I must say that the more I see the more I come to realize that the survivability of our… kind… lies not in our ability to rule whether openly or covertly, but our ability to blend into the herd.” – Sanchez.

“I have heard something similar from another Epicurean, called Raphael, I believe he is a statesman of yours.”

“Indeed, it was at his behest that I came here tonight.”

“Ah, well that explains it. It seems that the Clan of the Rose, in its familiarity with the living, may have a point when it comes to their Masquerade, though I must say that it is awfully… well perhaps I am too old to see the value of allowing men to rise up and take the reins.” – Zelios

They didn’t speak for some time, but simply enjoyed each other’s company and the craftsmanship of the hall.

“Have you heard of the climate in Sebeș?” – Sanchez

“You mean the army of young agitators that have taken up their havens there?” – Zelios

“Yes and no. It is my domain, no matter what that Royalist toad, Rosenkrantz, says, and I have given the Brujah permission to reside there, as long as they keep their peace and assist in my projects.” – Sanchez

“Yes, I’ve heard of the walls, I daresay that your fortifications are the talk of Eastern Europe.” – Zelios

“Would you expect anything less, considering the hell we seem set on putting ourselves through?”

“Sanchez, I’ve also heard about what was done to your legacy, and you should know that, though your works might have been hidden, they will never be forgotten… indeed, perhaps it is for the best, as it can only strengthen your Masquerade. How would men explain the name Sanchez moving down through the ages? Perhaps Hardestadt has done you a favor my old friend.”

“Which reminds me, Zelios, who built this beautiful hall?”

“I have no Idea but it is brilliant!”

June 17, 1472, 2:12am
Kastély Hermannstadt
The Domain of Otto
Prince of Sibiu

“Cretheus! That old bastard is up to something, I just know it!” – Stanislaus all but bellowed.

Stanislaus had been standing alone for some time before Arianna and Sabela had noticed him and now they were taking turns riling him up.

Sabela couldn’t believe how wicked she was being.

“But, as vampires, isn’t it safe to say that we’re all up to something?” – Sabela

“It’s not the same, you stupid girl! He’s an old fool!”

“You are obviously very young, Stanislaus, and your zeal is remarkable. Now, come, there is no point in starting a fight so early in the night, one need not put a target on one’s back to make a point.” – Sabela.

“I just want to put that whore-mongering bastard in his place.” – Stanislaus

“Oh, but we will, my boy, we will.” – Arianne

“This place is filthy with monsters that have outlived their worth! Look at those two Warlocks, they’re not even hiding their scheming. I’ve no doubt that they’re preparing for war!”

Sabela couldn’t stifle her laugh any longer.

“You doubt me, girl?” – Stanislaus.

“No, dear boy, I don’t doubt your fervor or your belief. I do, however, think that you’re a little misguided in your rage.” – Sabela.

“Alright, alright, whatever.”

“”Whatever” may be the case but I think that we should wait, if the Methuselah or the Warlocks try anything you can step in, but you make no friends for yourself disturbing the peace for nothing.” – Sabela.

“I said whatever.”

The young Brujah hung back, sulking against the wall.

“Out of the way, minion, we wish to speak with your master.” – Kyrillos

Razkoljna turned toward the Mad Count and growled.

“Excuse my imperious friend, Lady Razkoljna, but we are old friends of the Voivode and have business we would discuss with him.” – Teresa

With an aside glance toward her master the Eastern Lord stood firm.

“Please milady, I meant no disrespect.” – Kyrillos

The Black Queen clenched her fist in frustration at the way that the Malkavian embarrassed not only himself, but her as well.

“It is of the utmost importance that we speak with Lord Vladimir, milady, it concerns the wellbeing of his guest.” – Kyrillos

“Fine.”

Teresa blinked and then looked at the avuncular glint in her allies eyes.

The bastard had charmed her with simple words, as though the ancient Fiend were some dewy young farm girl.

Not for the first time, Teresa wondered if Kyrillos had ever used his honeyed tongue on her.

As they passed the Count kissed the Ancient Fiend’s knuckle and Teresa saw her blush, a wonton glint flashing in her suddenly all too human eyes.

“One of these nights, Kyrillos, you will explain to me exactly how you do that.” – Teresa whispered.

“Rustovitch, my old friend!” – Kyrillos

The Voivode glared at his guardian before turning a baleful eye upon the two interlopers.

“Lady Teresa, I am glad to see that you are well.” – Rustovitch

The Black Queen curtsied.

“Lord Kyrillos, it’s been said that you abandoned the Royalists of the Black Cross after our meeting in Tuzfold. It’s a shame that you fled to the Obertus banner, though, I suppose rats nest together.” – Rustovitch

“Yes, the Obertus were kind to me for a time. I have since moved on.” – Kyrillos

“We were hoping to have a moment with your charge.” – Teresa

“Of course you were.” – Rustovitch

“There’s no reason for there to be any animosity, Lord Rustovitch.” – Teresa

“Truth be told, I would rather speak with you, milord.” – Kyrillos.

“I’m sure you would.”

“Not only was Tuzfold a political action, it occurred nearly three centuries ago and, I should remind you, was considered a failure by elders of both sides.” – Kyrillos.

The Voivode rolled his shoulders and Teresa prepared for the worst. Instead the Voivode laughed, dropping a heavy hand on the Count’s shoulder.

“I’ve heard of the Mad Count’s honeyed tongue!” – Rustovitch

Teresa joined in, laughing politely.

“Go ahead, Teresa, speak with the Dragon, I wish to speak with Lord Rustovitch.” – Kyrillos.

“If the Voivode of Voivodes will give me his leave.” – Teresa

“Go ahead, Teresa, I am sure that the Impaler can hold his own against the Shadowess.” – Rustovitch

Teresa slipped passed the laughing lord and his entourage to find Dracula, standing nervously alone surrounded by the damned.

He didn’t look like the painting, and though she’d caught sight of him more than once, she was surprised by what she saw up close.

She saw that, what appeared to be fear from afar was simply wariness. His beard was full and his hair was graying despite the fact that his face was that of a young man.

When his eyes alighted upon the beautiful woman his eyes flashed.

“Greetings, I am Vlad the third, called Dracula, the son of the Dragon, and to whom do I have the pleasure of meeting?” – Vlad.

“I am Teresa Balgrad, the Black Queen of Alba Iulia. It is a pleasure to meet you, milord.” – Teresa.

“I’m sure it is. And is the beautiful Black Queen here for a pound of my flesh as well?” – Vlad.

“You are a very powerful man, and you have made it difficult for our kind these last few years, but that is not why I am here.” – Teresa.

“I have no doubt.” – Vlad

“I am here to ensure that you are aware of just how dangerous a position you are in and that you are able to make an informed decision.” – Teresa

“Oh, so you believe that I should have some say in what fate will finally deal me?” – Vlad

He eyed the Black Queen incredulously.

“Yes, I know the sense of doom one feels when faced with the prospect of eternity, especially when the eternity offered is one of an unending night. There is a faction within the Long Night, one who believes that the choice is yours. The Count of Bistritz, a vampire called Radu, is amongst them and would like to speak with you, away from this entire hullabaloo.” – Teresa.

“And are you and he family?”

“He is an ally, a friend even but no, we are not of a blood. We are not Clanmates.” – Teresa

“Than what clan does he belong to?”

“He is one of the Tzimisce, the indigenous strain of vampirism here in Transylvania.” – Teresa

“And you are not one of them?” – Vlad

“Me? My line hails from the Mediterranean, we are Lasombra, the Clan of Darkness.” – Teresa

“And these Clans, what separates them? Is it origin and lineage?” – Vlad.

“We are children of our environments and of our Founders, where the Tzimisce are territorial savages, we Lasombra are elegant, political creatures. Where they are crafters of living clay, we are creatures of shadows.”

“This is so fascinating to me, My Queen.” – Vlad.

“If you would be willing to travel to Bistritz with me, my cohorts and I could teach you much about our kind.”

“Yes, my lovely, I think that I will travel with you for a time.” – Vlad.

Teresa noted how quickly the Voivode answered and knew in that moment that Dracula saw her as his best chance of surviving the night, which was exactly where she wanted him.

Unfortunately their conversation was cut short by the sudden uproar from the Tzimisce camp.

“It seems as though Dragomir and Vikto have reached the ends of their patience with one another. Return to Lord Rustovitch, milord, we will find you when the time is right.” – Teresa

Sherazhina and Sanchez were breaking up the burgeoning fight as the Voivode fled to the ancient Tzimisce’s side.

“Enough, Dragomir!” – Sherazhina

“Enough? He slaughtered our family! His death is all that will ever be enough!” – Dragomir, his delicate hands had been replaced by horrible grasping claws.

Vikto only laughed, though his clothing had been shredded by the appearance of viciously barbed plates of bloody bones.

“This is Elysium!” – Sanchez

The Spaniard’s words were punctuated by a sudden and resounding pounding THUD as the great wooden doors burst open.

June 17, 1472, 2:17am
Outside the Kastély Hermannstadt
The Domain of Otto
Prince of Sibiu

The six Sabbat had been waiting all night for the signal, a silent whisper in the mind of Vasili, their leader.

It had come only a moment before and Vasili, the beautiful childe of their leader and idol, Dominic, was commanding that they take the castle. Gast couldn’t wait.

The hulking Tzimisce tore through the doorman before he could even draw his sword, his massive arms enhanced by the beast and the blood.

Vasili and his German consort Ilsa tore into another of the ghouled soldiers with such ferocity that he was quickly dismembered.

The last two guards were dispatched with ease by the two Beasts they’d picked up in Bistria; Dan and Magda.

Gast licked the guard’s blood off of his massive hammer-like fists. It had taken him months to perfect their crafting, blending the flesh and bone together so that they were heavy and dense enough to be used as weapons whilst keeping their flexibility.

“Come on, y’brute, we’ve got to get in there and kill us a methuselah!” – Dan hissed.

He was more snake than man, often moving around on all fours and only standing upright when he absolutely needed too.

The beast skittered off into the darkened castle, scrabbling across the stone walls.

Gast loped after.

They were gonna kill them lots of elders tonight.

Beautiful Vasili met with another ghoul, this one seemed to be escorting guests to the party. Before he knew what happened he was showing them the way to the giant wooden doors marked by the gaudy sigil of House Arpad.

Beautiful Vasili thanked him by letting Gast tear him limb from limb. Unfortunately he’d been forced to take his head first, to keep him from screaming.

They looked over the door as they enjoyed the remains of the escort.

“What if Gast were to bash it open? That’d make quite the show.” – Magda

The beasts snickered.

“It’s not locked.” – Ilsa

“Thank you, love, we hadn’t noticed.” – Beautiful Vasili.

Gast laughed.

“I like the plan. It’s flamboyant.” – Gast

“Make it happen!” – Beautiful Vasili, while jamming the ghoul’s withered head onto his pike.

Gast lifted his hands over his head and bashed the doors inward, tearing them from their hinges.

“I guess they open out.” – Gast

The Beasts snickered. Ilsa rolled her eyes.

Gast looked into the great hall and watched with glee as all the little breeders attempted to flee even as their corpse-lovers moved to shelter them.

He saw the pathetic “Voivode of Voivodes” standing defiantly as the others.

The massive Fiend stepped heavily into the chamber as the others followed him in, beautiful Vasili to his right, Ilsa and the monstrous Magda to his left. Dan slid between his legs when he came to a stop.

One of the guests, a nobleman wearing plated leather clothes, charged them, his hands were vicious looking claws, his eyes were an unwholesome orange.

Before Gast could respond Ilsa flickered, vanishing from her place at his side to standing directly in front of him and behind the charging vampire, her massive cleaver now stained with dead blood. The vampire was collapsing to the ground, his legs tumbling to the ground, severed from the rest of his body.

Gast stepped heavily onto the now frenzied vampire’s back and tore his arms free.

Ilsa sneered at the giant.

Bitch.

Ilsa saw the look of derision on the brute’s face. How dare he look at her with contempt, she just saved his life.

The young Antitribu was about to turn to find another victim when she saw the shadows of the corridor behind them darken and writhe. Her face must have shown her fear because Gast began to turn when tendrils of inky black slithered out and grasped his arms, torso and neck.

Just like that the giant was gone, pulled into the darkness. Ilsa could hear his screams, but they were muted and distant.

There was no time to mourn him. Only to avenge his death.

Ilsa turned to attack only for her sword hand to crumple, her cleaver fell to the ground, the bones of her wrist, forearm and elbow were shattered.

Ilsa, panicked, looked to her lover for help.

Beautiful Vasili saw Gast pulled into the darkness, he saw the look of fear on Ilsa’s face and did the one thing he knew to do. He watched Dan, possessed by some unreasoned fear suddenly flee into the abyss that had once been the corridor outside the hall.

He heard his friend’s distant screams suddenly cut short.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

They weren’t supposed to die. They were here to kill the mewling elders.

Vasili felt his fear and hate overwhelming him just before the rage overwhelmed him.

He saw one of the guests, a fat, swarthy looking vampire dressed in scholarly robes of silk and linen, his fingers practically encrusted in jewels.

At his side was a beatific and pale woman with glazed eyes.

Vasili leapt at the monster, fueled by the power and fury of his beast.


Ciro Giovanni had planned on staying out of the fight. He’d hoped that someone else would deal with the blasted Anarchs.

Unfortunately one of them had set his eyes upon him and seemed to have lost control of his beast.

“Damned Agitators.” – Ciro.

The pretty monster charged Ciro, vanishing from where he stood and reappearing directly in front of him, his sword held high.

Ciro didn’t think, he only acted, reaching out and taking the vampire’s head in his left hand.

“MARCESCERE FACIES.” – Ciro.

The Sabbat went slack as wisps of black, greasy smoke rose from between the Italian’s fingers.

The vampires’ face began to dry out, the skin hollowing out even as his eyes shriveled and the cartilage of his ears and nose withered.

As the blood drained his tongue rotted, taking the fleshy organ with it as the skin of his face cracked and flaked away.

Ciro could feel the bones of the face and skull growing brittle, he could feel the now rotten teeth dislodging themselves.

It would take nothing for Ciro to squeeze, should he want to.

He decided that he did.

The vampire’s skull shattered under the inhuman pressure of Ciro’s grip, releasing a cloud of crimson dust as the torpid corpse fell to the ground.

Ilsa looked at the vampire that held her arm and knew him immediately.

“Sanchez!”

“I know you?” – Sanchez

Blood rushed into her arm, repairing the damage as she swung her free arm at his face. Even though she connected she couldn’t leverage her strength, he barely reacted to it.

She spat in his traitorous face.

“You are no Anarch.” – Ilsa

“How would you know?” – Sanchez

She’d hoped that she’d distracted him enough to not notice Magda’s attack but it never came, and in that moment she realized that the Beast couldn’t see him.

Instead the Beast attacked the Italian, slashing at the man who had just destroyed Beautiful Vasili’s head.

Her claws cut deep into the vampire’s face, but the vampire didn’t seem to care.

In the moment she was distracted by Magda’s attack Sanchez shattered her arm again, sending the now loose fist into her face.

Her last thought was of the pain of her shattered arm shattering her skull.


Kyrillos watched Sanchez beat the woman-Anarch with her own fist with glee. He’d sent the lizard to meet Teresa’s void and watched the shadows within tear him cleanly in half.

He saw Vendramino’s spawn wither the head of the pretty one and take the claws of another across the face and it was clear that he wasn’t the only one enjoying the show. Then it happened. It was so fast that he’d almost missed it, but the woman with the claws, the only one still standing, was across the room, holding one of the mortals, a particularly inebriated merchant, by the throat with her wickedly clawed hands.

Kyrillos moved to act, to weave a spell of madness that would put a stop to it, even as she cursed them and made pathetic demands.

But before he could the tall Tremere stepped forward and hissed something arcane, something powerful.

The Bestial Anarch’s eyes flashed with unholy light and the acrid smell of smoke filled the air before a popping noise filled the air and blood and grease covered the wall behind her.

She was already falling to ash before her body hit the ground, arcs of green lightning and flame destroying any evidence that she ever existed.

What followed was only silence. Kyrillos became aware that Sanchez was standing not far from him, with Sherazhina at his side. These Anarchs were young, inexperienced and of thin blood. They had not stood a chance, and most of them would, perhaps, one night rise to see the night sky, as neither Teresa nor Sanchez did any lasting damage and despite the horror show put on by the Devil-Kindred, it seemed that his victim too would rise some night.

Only the beast who had attempted to harm one of the kine had been dispatched. There was a lesson in this, perhaps.

Kyrillos looked nervously at the two eldest monsters.

It was Cretheus that broke the silence, guffawing loudly.

“If this is the worst we must fear from the whelps, I think that we have little to fear.” – Cretheus.

Rustovitch joined him, followed by their sycophants and then the rest of the crowd.

Where once the room had been broken into war parties separated by loyalties and ready to explode, now the elders and their childer were interacting, mingling and even enjoying each other’s company.

“And all it took was a little bloodshed.” – Sabela

Arianne laughed but Stanislaus looked heartbroken.

“Oh, come now sweet boy, the night is young, and the air is chilled. I’m sure that we will find something to brighten your spirits.” – Sabela

Arianne laughed again, this time at their little inside joke.

“Come, we’ll away.” – Arianne.

And together, the harpies left with their Anarch pet and never looked back.

June 17, 1472, 3:51am
Outside the Kastély Hermannstadt
The Domain of Otto
Prince of Sibiu

After the Anarchs had been taken care of and the mortals had been made more comfortable, the talk once again turned to the rebellion.

Even those Anarchs present, Lambach, Dragomir and Sanchez expressed incredulity at the actions of those interlopers.

At some point Kyrillos was able to approach Vlad III and they spoke for some time, and to Teresa’s horror they seemed to get on famously.

It was during this brief moment of good will that Cretheus called out in a cool, clear voice, from the front of the room as his personal entourage began to leave.

“If you would all excuse me, I must thank Prince Otto for hosting this salon, and Lord Rustovitch and his fellows for a truly diverting evening. And now I feel obligated to inform you all that the Castle is on fire and I will take my leave of you. I bid you good morrow.” – Cretheus

And with that he left.

For a moment everyone seemed to look from one to another as if wondering what to do next.

Rustovitch and a few of the other Elders slipped from the room politely. Others simply vanished through various arcane means.

Lambach, Dragomir and the others fled quickly but Sherazhina chose to stay behind, not wanting to leave Sanchez’s side.

“No!” – Vikto, not far from where Sanchez stood.

The mad Tzimisce was desperately trying to graft his legs back onto his body.

“Let me lend you a hand.” – Sanchez

“No!” – Vikto, pushing Sanchez away before fleeing into the smoke filled tunnel, his ill-fitting legs carrying him clumsily into the unknown.

Sanchez attempted to follow only to find himself cut off from the others, for a moment it seemed as though his panic would overwhelm him in the hot darkness.

“Sanchez is that you?” – Kyrillos appearing from the shadows.

“Yeah, what took you guys?” – Sanchez

“We weren’t sure what happened to Sabela or to Teresa’s husband. We finally decided just to leave. How bad is it?” – Sherazhina

“I’m not sure, there’s a lot of smoke, but that could mean anything in a closed environment such as this.”

As if to answer their speculation Vikto reappeared, his flesh and clothing alight with flames. His demonic howls of pain drowning every other sound out.

Kyrillos almost lost control at the sight of him as he passed them. Sadly a young Ventrue that none of them knew was not so lucky and Vikto slammed hard into him and his guest. The Royalist went up in flame as Vikto was fully engulfed in the fire, the mortal woman’s dress fared the same, taking her with it.

“We’ve got to get out of here. Now!” – Dracula, standing protectively in front of Teresa.

“This way!” – a voice called from a small alcove.

It was a servant, his dress marking him as a one of Otto’s attendants.

The alcove was roughhewn and unfinished.

“I know a passage out of the castle. I was one of the men who helped build it and am privy to all of the master’s many hidey-holes and escape hatches. For three draughts of blood I shall share my knowledge with you.” – the Ghoul.

Kyrillos looked the man in the eye for a long moment before pressing his foot into a small crevice where the wall and floor met causing the entire wall to pivot.

“How did you…” – the Ghoul.

“Have no fear, Niklaus, I shall make you immortal that you may never need to solicit our kind again.” – Kyrillos.

They followed a small upward passage until they reached a stone door. With a great heave Niklaus forced it open, despite the overgrowth that had been used to hide it holding it down.

The sensation of the night air on their faces was glorious and they rushed out as quickly as they could to find themselves in the courtyard near the far wall within a rose garden.

Together they watched the castle burn until the wee hours of the morning reminded them of the coming dawn.

“How far from the city are we on foot?” – Sanchez

“An hour, sir.” – Niklaus

“Do not worry, my friends, I know where we can make shelter and protect you from the sun.” – Vlad III.

And just like that they put the conspiracy aside and put their fates in the hands of Vlad the Impaler.

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Chapter 11-1 - The Count

June 5, 1472, 3:11am
The Tihuţa Pass
The Domain of Radu
Exiled Count of Bistria

Lightning flashed against the Bârgău Mountains as the coach rode dangerously fast up the mountain road. As they reached a particularly precarious turn in the road Sanchez was sure that Tiberiu, Radu’s agent, would slow the horses but was shocked to hear the crack of his whip egging the giant beasts on faster.

“He means to kill us and leave our corpses at the bottom of the gorge for the sun to find!” – Kyrillos, nervously.

Sanchez chuckled, but only because he was sure that his mad friend was correct.

Teresa held tight to the bench upon which she sat, the wood creaking from her immense strength.

“You really believe in Hardestadt’s dream, after what he did to you?” – Teresa, trying desperately to take her mind off their imminent doom.

“I could care less about his dream, but yes, I do believe that we Kindred are best served by hiding our nature amongst the Kine, that to perceive them as nothing but chattel is a fool’s game and if the Camarilla and its Masquerade is the best way for us to hide amongst the Kine than yes, I support it wholeheartedly!” – Sanchez, earnestly.

“Kindred, Kine, Masquerade. I daresay, my old friend; that you are, bar none, the worst Anarch I have ever met.” – Kyrillos scoffed.

“How do your Anarch sycophants feel about your sympathetic views of the Camarilla?” – Teresa, curiously.

“Believe it or not, we are not all blood-mad beasts hungry for diablerie. Those who come to Sebeș are made to pay a tax of time, service, money or people to my efforts to fortify the city. They are also forbidden from frightening or doing lasting harm to any of the citizenry.” – Sanchez, somberly.

“And that works?” – Teresa, intrigued.

Sanchez nodded.

“And how does the Prince of Sebeș feel about this?”

“Rosenkrantz? I could care less about how he feels. He’s a puppet prince put there by Hardestadt as a favor to one of his lackeys. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not ineffectual, he just has no clue as to what he’s doing.” – Sanchez

The coach began to turn right, causing it to tip to the left and the three vampires to brace themselves.

“That Beast is mad!” – Teresa snarled, banging against the front of the coach.

“Let him be, He has everything under control.” – Kyrillos, but his voice wasn’t as sure as his words.

“Finally!” – Sanchez, looking out the window at the great iron gates built into the very stone of the mountain.

“I don’t remember gates.” – Teresa.

“No, of course you don’t. They were placed here only a century and a half or so ago, as a precaution.” – Sanchez

The castle was formidable. The tower they had commissioned so many centuries prior was still the largest and most central building of the complex, but it was clear why it had taken Sanchez so long to finish it.

Beside the tower stood a large donjon with a great stone roofed bridge annexing them. Around the donjon and tower were a series of additional buildings, great wings each made up of at least a dozen rooms. Between the castle and the iron gate stood a weathered stone statue depicting Master Sanchez and his muse Sherazhina looking out toward the dawn.

It was beautiful, or had been. It seemed that in the ensuing centuries little had been done to keep up or repair any damage done to the castle.

“What has he done?” – Sanchez gasped.

The Coach pulled around and Tiberiu leapt from his seat, loping over to open the coach door.

Radu waited for them at the castle’s great metal doors, a warm light emanating from behind him.

Their old friend looked somehow older. His dark blond hair was shot through with gray and his gentle face had become rounded and heavily creased with worry lines.

His clothes too were old and threadbare and nearly a century out of date.

Teresa couldn’t help but pity the old Count in his current anachronistic state.

“Welcome to my home, the last refuge, I fear, for the old ways of the Tzimisce. Welcome to Birkau Castle.” – Radu, his voice weary despite his valiant attempt at putting to show otherwise.

Teresa could sympathize with such ennui.

The Count went through the motions of hospitality with grace, offering them fresh blood and a chance to clean up before asking that they join him in the library.

Though the outside of the castle looked downright decrepit, the interior of the castle was still in beautiful order, if a bit dusty. It was clear which chambers Radu favored, for they were excellently appointed, while the others remained dark and bare.

Sanchez, when he finally joined the others in the receiving room, looked unhappy. It seemed that he had explored the castle while the others got comfortable and did not like what he had found.

Count Radu sat comfortably in a luxuriously ostentatious chair, its high back facing the great hearth and shrouding him in shadow whilst protecting him from its roaring flame.

“Great, wonderful, I cannot ever thank you enough for coming here tonight. I know that I sent Tiberiu with no warning, but I had no choice.” – Count Radu.

“Why bring us here, then?” – Sanchez asked bitterly.

“You know full well, Master Sanchez, that I am trapped here. And I do have a favor to ask of you, but first I must have news. I have been trapped here to the east of civilization since the Sabbats overtook my dear city.

“Sabbats?” – Teresa

“It’s what some of the more militant Anarchs call themselves, to better scare the mortal populous.” – Sanchez, scornfully.

“You don’t agree with their philosophy, Anarch?” – Teresa mocked.

“No, I do not.”

“It was Master Sanchez who gave me this Castle to hide in a lifetime ago.” – Radu.

“Not that you’ve shown any gratitude in your efforts to keep it up.” – Sanchez

“It is as the Lady Sherazhina left it, Master Sanchez. I am sorry if this disturbs you, for I find it to be the greatest structure I have ever beheld.” – Radu

“So, Count, you wish to know what is happening in the world at large?” – Teresa, trying to change the subject.

“The Anarch Movement has grown out of control. A third founder has been destroyed and the whole of Transylvania is overrun by Agitators and Antitribu along with the youngest of your own clan which seems determined to destroy all of their elders.” – Kyrillos, his voice almost mocking.

“Yes, the ‘young’. I have heard tell that your Obertus friends have had a hand in all of this, that they are the source of much of this animosity.” – Radu scoffed.

“The Obertus have crumbled, just as your own Voivodate did almost a century ago. Myca Vykos did indeed destroy his sire as of late, an act I cannot say that I am distressed by. But I believe that they are as caught up by this fervor as any sect.” – Kyrillos.

“It does us no good that the Inquisition has become more and more adept at stalking our kind, here. We grew too comfortable as the rest of Christendom revolted against the night. The Tzimisce may have been the most complacent, but you cannot say that we have not all had losses.” – Teresa retorted bitterly.

“The actions of the Devil-Kindred brought that hell down on us!” – Sanchez argued.

“Your precious Founders were no less culpable.” – Kyrillos sniped.

“They did all they could to lessen the result of that mess. Rafael himself tried to intercede but it was too late. Besides, the way I heard it, those crusaders seem to hold your issue in pretty high esteem.” – Sanchez.

He was referring, of course, to Gauthier, who had no small part in the creation of the Knights of Acre during the fifth crusade.

The Madman sneered. It had been more than half a century since they’d last spoken and it seemed that neither respected the other’s choices.

“And what of the Kine?” – Radu asked, trying to change the subject.

It was Teresa’s turn to get angry.

“It is all but impossible to deal with them. While I have never been one for flaunting my power openly, I find that any show of force is now met with maniacal clergy out for blood. Alba Iulia is becoming harder and harder to control, and these… Sabbats? These Sabbats make it all the harder, practically leading the church, or worse, that damned Voivode to our doorsteps.” – Teresa

The room’s shadows began to ripple and darken as she railed.

The room was quiet for some time before anyone spoke again. The Voivode, Vlad III Dracula, had taken up a one man crusade against not only the Turks but, it seemed, his own people, slaughtering them by the dozens.

“You heard what happened in Brașov, what happened to Josephus?” – Sanchez

The others nodded. The truth was far more sinister. The Son of the Dragon had learned of the existence of the Damned after one of his rivals amongst the Danesti line was embraced by some fiend.

Since that time he had become a one man Inquisition, having personally destroyed a dozen vampires beginning with his rival Dan III. Mostly he targeted the Fiends, but every once in a while he would find a nest belonging to another clan. In 1459 he attacked Brașov, destroying Josephus and his brood.

“So you know of the Dracula problem?” – Radu

Sanchez eyed the Count.

“So, that’s why you’ve invited us here?”

Radu glanced furtively at the Toreador.

“That’s what I thought.” – Sanchez scoffed and turned to leave.

Radu practically leapt from his chair to chase the Architect down.

“I am asking you to help me, Master Sanchez, I have been in your debt for all these years and would not dare to expect your obligation in these matters but, please, please, hear me out.” – Radu pleaded.

“Speak your mind, Fiend.” – Sanchez.

Radu paced for a time, his hands steeped over his mouth, before speaking again.

“I need not tell you of the horrors visited upon these lands by the Dragon’s Son. His actions against the Turks are understandable, even commendable in their own fashion. But it’s his actions against the people of Transylvania that have my Clanmates at each other’s throats.”

“There’s dissension amongst the Tzimisce?” – Teresa, feigning shock.

“Indeed. My western kin believe that Dracula is a threat, that he must be destroyed for his actions in Brașov and the destruction of so many of our southern kin. They blame him for the destruction of their herds and their mortal pawns, including many of the Danesti line of House Basarab.”

“That they don’t recognize the Silence of the Blood and exist openly amongst the mortals had little to do with their destruction then?” – Kyrillos.

Radu hesitated before speaking again.

“Others among the Clan see Vlad as a potent weapon against the Turks. It is believed that he would be able to once again bring the Voivodate together and end the squabbling between the oldest and youngest of our kind.”

“That is a lot to put on the shoulders of a neonate. How many of us have seen perfect childer crumble under the pressures of immortality?” – Teresa.

“Indeed, others make that same argument, suggesting that we embrace him solely so that he can be used as a figurehead and kept in check, Vladimir Rustovitch being the most vocal of the faction.”

The three vampires glanced at one another.

“It’s well-known that he’s taken to drinking the blood of his victims. It’s safe to assume it’s to transform himself into one of us.” – Teresa, thinking.

“I’ve heard that Eastern Royalists are also interested in him, believing that to embrace or kill the most powerful mortal in Transylvania let alone the only one who seems to have any ability to keep the Turks at bay…” – Kyrillos, running his hands over his beard, one after the other.

Radu nodded.

“A convocation is to be held in Sibiu in two weeks, Otto von Hermannstadt has declared it “Elysium”.” – Kyrillos

“Yes, I’ve received an invitation to that, I believe.” – Teresa, remembering.

“All of the Princes have, Teresa, so that all the most powerful vampires of Transylvania can decide together. That is why I have asked all of you here. With Master Sanchez acting as my proxy and both of you at his side, I am sure that you would be able to offer the Prince a third option.” – Radu.

“And what would that be?” – Sanchez.

“I have, through my herald, Tiberiu, called another convocation. This one made up of the Eastern Branch of our Clan. Our western cousins are too emotional, they are not thinking rationally about this “Dracula Problem” and I believe that, in the time it takes for you to return here with our friend than we will have the chance to decide the mortal’s fate.” – Radu

“And why would I be party to this?” – Sanchez, confused.

“Because, Master Sanchez, somehow, even after a three century Long Night you have retained your humanity, and I believe that you would have a unique insight into the mind of Dracula. Our decision would be made, in no small part, based upon your recommendations. Understand that we have other agents who could and still can carry out this request, but it is my belief that none would have your insight.” – Radu.

Sanchez wanted to believe that the elder Tzimisce was trying to flatter him into doing this for him but Radu had always been so earnest that he couldn’t help but trust his words were true.

“I don’t know, Count. I think that my friends and I must speak on this.” – Sanchez, his anger ebbing.

“Of course, of course, please allow me to excuse myself while you discuss this matter. I shall return shortly.

With that the Count vanished into a dark corridor. After a moment Sanchez heard a faraway door shut.

June 5, 1472, 4:46am
Birkau Castle
The Domain of Radu
Exiled Count of Bistria

“That Radu would ask us speaks volumes as far as we are concerned. We believe that we should all do this, as it obliges him to us in a way that is far from trivial.” – Kyrillos began

“I don’t know. I cannot see how anything but further exposure could come from this course of action. Stories are still told from Sighisoara to Avrig of what happened at St. Timothy’s all those years ago. Even the people of Sebeș were not spared. We are only now starting to see results in curtailing the fear of the peasants of the unholy creatures of the night.”

“What’s that to do with this situation?” – Kyrillos, failing to see the relevance.

“Cappadocius was destroyed nearly a generation ago in a little monastery that no one knew about and yet people as far away as Sebeș still talk about that day as if they were there. How do you think the herd will respond to the transformation of their Voivode into one of the damned? Don’t you think that, perhaps, it would bode ill for all of us?” – Sanchez

Kyrillos nodded at the wisdom.

“But surely you understand Radu’s position. It seems that Vlad’s fate is set, isn’t it best that it not be decided by Rustovitch?” – Teresa argued.

“I have already been asked to the Convocation of Sibiu to act as proxy to Rafael de Corazon to try and talk some sense into those present, so I have no intention of turning the Count’s offer down. But that does not mean that this is a wise course of action.” – Sanchez

“Fair enough, old friend.” – Kyrillos

“But don’t think that my complicity is a vote of confidence. Something is wrong here, I can feel it in every fiber of my being. This will not end well.” – Sanchez

“Finally, then, it is decided. Now let us inform the count.” – Kyrillos rushing the door.

Sanchez and Teresa remained behind, happy to let Kyrillos claim credit.

The Malkavian, though, had never been in this part of the castle. Indeed he’d not returned to the site in nearly three centuries and was at a loss for how to navigate its corridors. When finally he found the library it was quite noticeably empty.

“Can I be of help to you, sir?” – came a willowy voice from the corridor.

Kyrillos turned to see a bent and disfigured form of incredible age. Her limbs seemed strangely dissimilar, the left far longer and more robust than the right, its fingers wide and oddly shaped so as to give the impression of a shovel. Her right eye, too, was wrong, set further to the side than it ought have been, and large. It was clear that it had been placed there to allow her a near panoramic view on that side.

“Ah, perhaps, my dear, we are looking for your master, Count Radu.” – Kyrillos, kindly

“Oh, he’s not in the Library, curious that. He might have gone meditating in his study then. Please, follow me, Cierna knows the way.” – the szlachta said in a sweetly conspiratorial whisper.

As she walked he noted that her head bobbed a little too much, though the reason became apparent when she craned her neck to look around a corner, stretching it out almost like another arm.

She led him to a small set of well-crafted doors and held her finger to her lips to warn him to be quiet.

After waiting for him to acknowledge her command with a nod she turned and threw the doors open wide, causing them to slam into walls on either side of them.

“Master! Your guests wish to speak with you!” – Cierna shouted cheerfully.

The flung open doors revealed that Count Radu had been meditating whilst sculpting a bust of Julius Caesar, trying to recreate the Marble figure that sat before him.

The fiend had chosen a different medium, however, as a young man sat placidly upon a stool; his face, and all the flesh beneath it having been pulled away to reveal bare bone. It was this medium that the Count was currently sculpting, pushing and rubbing with his fingers and thumbs to try to reshape the architecture of the boy’s face.

Though Kyrillos was not by any means an artist, it was clear to him that despite his valiant efforts, the Count was losing the battle.

The count, startled by his servant’s entrance, looked forlornly at a bit of the man’s ruined cheek before turning to look at them.

Kyrillos was surprised by the relative lack of blood, the count’s own hands had only the occasional splotch to show for his efforts.

“Cierna! How often must I remind you to knock when entering a room!” – Radu chastised the girl.

The creature dipped her head in what must have been an apologetic bow before shuffling off, a sly grin upon her face.

Radu threw a sheet over his…work… before cleaning the blood from his fingers with a towel.

“You’ll forgive me, I hope. I was meditating and lost track of time. I’ve been studying my Clan’s more… occult arts and have come to find it very soothing.” – Radu, apologetically.

June 5, 1472, 10:20pm
Outside the Gates of the City
The Domain of Radu
Exiled Count of Bistria

They’d been given a place to stay for the night that they might rest up for their long journey. The itinerary was set for them it seemed as tonight they were leave not for Sibiu but for home where they were to prepare for the convocation and bring with them any mortal they’d wished introduced to the Night.

From there they were to leave for Sibiu.

That had been the plan, anyway.

Now, as they approached the city gates they began to see the reason for Radu’s hesitation at leaving the safety of Sanchez’s fortress.

In the distance they saw a dozen or more bodies hung upon crosses, their guts hanging down by their feet.

The smell of blood was nearly overpowering, too, as pieces of men women and children, twisted into horrible shapes, lay upon the side of the road while others appeared to have been eviscerated and left to rot.

“Anarchs did all of this?” – Kyrillos, shocked.

“No, this is the works of the Sabbats, perhaps the pack of monsters that ran Radu out of the city. But this is beyond the pale, even for those bastardized monsters.” – Sanchez, horrified.

“Must we go through Bistria?” – Kyrillos shouted up at Tiberiu.

The driver didn’t answer save that the horses went faster still.

When the gate was in sight so too was the light of the fires; fires the size of houses and barns.

And by the light of those fires they saw them.

Vampires, at least a dozen of them; whooping and hollering and jumping with glee. As the coach approached their revelry ended and they charged the road, some as men, some upon hand and foot and others as if they were wind.

Kyrillos was off the coach almost before it could stop.

“Greetings, my friends! Why do you block the way?” – Kyrillos demanded in good cheer

One of the vampires stepped forward, the most dashing of them, a sword strapped to his back.

“We wish to know what Cainites travel our road!” – The pretty monster laughed.

Sanchez stepped off the carriage just then.

“We’re passing through you –” – Sanchez began before being cut off by his Mad friend.

“My dear man, as you seem to be the speaker for this band of revolutionaries I would have words with you.” – Kyrillos

The vampire laughed as he approached the Malkavian.

“Understand that we don’t want trouble, we simply noticed that you came the way of Birkau castle and we wondered if perhaps you got yourself a stowaway in the shape of the Tyrant Radu.” – the pretty antitribu laughed.

“From what clan do you hail, friend?” – Kyrillos

“I forsook my Brujah ancestors along with my sire and his sire before.” – The Antitribu spat.

“Very good, my good friend! I can tell you, though, that Radu doesn’t ride with us, though I must ask why you’re looking for him.”

“Ah, but you see, the Tyrant Radu is a criminal most foul and we have declared a blood-hunt against him.” – The Antitribu

“And why don’t you simply go and get him, you obviously know where he is.” – Kyrillos

“Ah, but we are proper Cainites, no matter what the damned elders say of us and the Pass is beyond our Domain, therefore he is free as long as he stays clear of Bistria.”

“He is not leaving the Pass and I suggest you remember that that is my domain.” – Sanchez interjected angrily.

“Who the hell are you?” – The Antitribu, turning on the Mason.

A handful of others drew close to him, ready for a fight.

“I am Master Sanchez, Architect of Birkau Castle and Shadow Prince of Sebeș.”

The Sabbat stepped back.

“Master Sanchez, I’m sorry we didn’t know. Please forgive us.” – one of the Sabbat.

Sanchez nodded and a few of the vampires smiled.

“Who the hell is “Sanchez”?”

It was one of the larger less human members of the pack, a massive creature with unnaturally wide arms and hammer like hands. He was as ugly as the Brujah was pretty.

“Wait, I know you, you’re the coward who wants us all to hide away from the eld–” – The brute didn’t finish his statement.

Instead he was sent flying across the road, landing hard upon his head. Sanchez, for his part, hadn’t appeared to move from his place at the Coach door, only his position changed, and only slightly.

The brute lay there unmoving for some time before standing again. From the looks of it, his ribcage had been crushed under an incredible weight.

“Please, Master Sanchez, my friend meant no disrespect. He’s young and stupid and forgets that we’re not the only enemies of the elders sometimes.” – The Brujah

“That’s all well and good, but if anything happens to my tower know that I have marked each of your faces and I shall come for each of you and you will not know it until I have taken my anger out on your flesh. Am I understood!” – Sanchez, his eyes aglimmer in his rage.

The Anarchs helped their friend to his feet and then as if as one they skulked away, fading into the trees.

“Come on, Kyrillos, we’re done here.” – Sanchez

June 17, 1472, 11:15pm
Kastély Hermannstadt
The Domain of Otto
Prince of Sibiu

The citadel was great and beautiful even on a night as dark as this, with the sky clogged with clouds and the rain falling in great sheets.

“Are we to enter through the front gate?” – Sanchez

“How old fashioned.” – Teresa

Their coaches approached the great doors and each was let out in turn.

Kyrillos was the only one to bring a guest, the lovely Lady Eloise, his near constant mortal companion since the time of the crusades. It was strange that she was still alive after all these centuries but she and her master had come to some strange arrangement.

As they entered the foyer they found two guards dressed in the colors of the mortal lord of the castle.

The men politely took their names and titles and together with other guests they were led beneath the castle into the tunnels beneath along with a largish man with black hair and intense eyes, his own guest was a pretty, if ashen, girl who didn’t seem to blink.

“Do you know this castle? Master Sanchez?” – Teresa wondered aloud.

“Yes, I apprenticed under Zelios during its construction, as a gift to his childe Marusca.” – Sanchez, fondly

“So you know the way?” – Kyrillos

“No. These tunnels are new to me. I don’t recognize them at all.” – Sanchez, realizing that they’d entered an area of tunnels that he’d had no hand in building.

The Toreador ran his fingers over the well hewn walls and for a moment saw their construction, he saw the mortals working diligently to carve them out, he saw Prince Otto, the foppish Royalist overseeing their construction with a mad glee in his eye.

“Beautiful.” – The Toreador whispered

“What was that, Sanchez?” – Kyrillos asked, but ahead of him he saw what the Toreador was referring to.

Two great wooden doors stood before them, each intricately carved with the Arpad coat of arms and encrusted with precious metals and jewels enough to make even their old ally, Vendramino, jealous.

When the doors opened from within they found themselves nearly blinded, though whether by the brightness or the beauty of the chamber beyond none could say.

The floor was a chessboard of black and white marble polished into such a high shine that it was clearly reflective. It was clear that many of the guests were uncomfortable with the thought of their ‘reflections’ being put on display in front of mortals.

The walls, which stood at least three stories tall, were crafted from the finest stone and wood, each carved with beautifully elaborate murals and hung with great tapestries.

Sanchez couldn’t help but notice that there were no visible torches or candles, not even a chandelier. The light seemed to come from above, some hidden blaze reflected of hidden mirrors and the bright stones of the hall.

It gave the room an ethereal quality that Sanchez found alluring, though he was able to keep his composure despite the exquisite beauty of it all.

“This is truly masterful work, Sanchez.” – Kyrillos whispered.

“It is, but I cannot help but wonder whose work it is.” – Sanchez, his voice dreamy.

Kyrillos eyed the Toreador.

“Get out of my mind, friend, I am not out of my wits enough to not notice your creeping.” – The vampire’s voice was hard and the Count pulled away.

Near the back of the gilded hall stood a long banquet table filled with silver dishes heaped with the most extravagant food that had gone untouched by the dozen or so mortals present.

The “Kindred” were a different story. Most, if not all, of the vampires present were huddled together into two camps to either side of the great banquet.

To the right there were half dozen kindred of obvious wealth and dressed in the fashions of the west. Kyrillos noticed Nova Arpad amongst them; she was speaking to the toad Jervais and another Warlock that the Count didn’t recognize.

They, and the others, stood close to a singular figure. He was shorter than the others, even Nova, with black hair that was cut sharply in the style one often saw on the busts of famous Romans. He was dressed finely in the style of the Empire, his purple overgown embroidered with golden flowers.

The figure seemed, despite his small stature, to be the largest and most important thing in the room, his entourage held to him by his own gravity.

On the other side of the room stood another clique, this one far rougher looking then the other. Kyrillos recognized far more of these monsters.

Most notably, there was Sherazhina and her brother Dragomir. He also saw Myca Vykos and Vikto Danislav, the most recent thorn in Lady Teresa’s side, and all of them seemed to buzz about the vile Vladimir Rustovitch. There were others too, an imperious woman and a small cruel looking man stood out most.

None of them seemed to be getting along and despite the fact that they seemed to share a mutual respect and fear of Rustovitch he was not the true source of their presence.

Instead it was the man beside him. A tall willowy man stood with long dark hair and ruddy skin, with penetrating eyes that seemed to be absorbing his surroundings.

Kyrillos knew who he was immediately.

“Presenting the Lady Teresa, Black Queen of Alba Iulia.” – The Herald Announced.

The Queen stepped cautiously onto the polished marble floor and was quickly met by a dark clad woman that she knew to be the Lady Danika of Hunedoara, the Tzimisce Voivode who claimed a domain to the southwest of her own.

Theirs had been a comfortably tense relationship, made the better by Kyrillos and his eye for trade routes.

“Presenting the Lord Kyrillos Dimities attending in the name of Radu, Count of Bistria and accompanied by the Maid Eloise.”

Kyrillos stepped into the hall, nodding politely to those he recognized.

“Presenting Master Sanchez of Clan Toreador, attending in the name of Rafael de Corazon.”

Even as he stepped into the hall Sherazhina responded, running toward him and he toward her, the two embracing near the middle of the chamber between the two factions. Their affection for each other was met with hisses and angry whispers from both camps.

“Presenting Lord Ciro of Clan Giovanni, attending in the name of his sire, Vendramino, Count of Sighisoara in absentia.”

The room grew quiet as all of the Cainites turned to size up the heavyset vampire. His black hair pulled back by a red ribbon, his robes, while marking him as a scholar, were obviously crafted of the finest fabrics.

The man’s pale jowly face was downturned, causing the vampire to peer up as if from a book.

His companion went unnamed and she walked listlessly beside him.

While the others turned back to their conversations the conspirators eyed him a moment longer.

The Italian returned their stares blandly before crooking the tiniest of smirks.

June 17, 1472, 11:29pm
Kastély Hermannstadt
The Domain of Otto
Prince of Sibiu

“Do you remember when I told you that it could never be so easy, Kyrillos?” – Sanchez, nodding toward the ancient vampire.

“He does not worry me nearly as much as Lord Rustovitch, ours is a long enmity after all and I fear that none is forgiven. The ancient has no need to notice us, let alone hate us after all.” – Kyrillos, dryly.

“But he has noticed us; and besides, I’m sure that Rustovitch doesn’t even remember us.” – Sanchez, glancing over at the Voivode of Voivodes who looked back at him, his regal features momentarily twisting into a visage of hideous monstrousness.

“Never mind, you’re right, he hates us.” – Sanchez, waving at the Voivode jocularly

“I think Cretheus is more aware of the Son of the Dragon than us.” – Kyrillos noted.

“Who?” – Sanchez

“The Methuselah, he’s called Cretheus.” – Kyrillos.

“The Inconnu, really?” – Sherazhina, entering the conversation while craning her neck to see the vampire.

“You’ve heard of him?” – Kyrillos, curiously.

“The name pops up in histories dating back to the time of Rome, he’s supposed to be one of the Ancients who turned their backs on the War of Ages.” – Sherazhina

“How do you know that’s him?” – Sanchez.

“They were whispering his name?” – Kyrillos absentmindedly.

Sanchez left the obvious question alone, it was best not to ask a Malkavian where they receive their information from.

“Is Vendramino truly your sire?” – Teresa asked the Italian.

“Yes.”

Ciro’s response was so terse that she was almost taken aback.

“I’ve known him for a very long time, and count him as a friend as we shared a great many interests.” – Teresa

“So he’s told me, Lady Teresa.” – Ciro.

“So he’s told you of me? Is he well? It’s been a long time since last he visited.”

“He does well indeed. He is currently working closely with our Patriarch, on what I do not know.”

Teresa couldn’t help but laugh at the vampire’s unwillingness to communicate with her and the obvious contempt he felt for her and everyone else in the chamber.

It seemed that the rumors of the Giovanni were indeed true.

“Well, Lord Ciro, please give your sire my regards.” – Teresa

*

Though it was a given that they did not need to search out Prince Otto, Kyrillos had decided to do so anyway.

To his surprise, the Prince found him instead.

A foppish Ventrue, Otto was dressed in an overly elaborate houppelande, with sleeves that nearly reached the floor and his white hair was cut shockingly short. Even by the standards of the damned the Prince was beautiful and pale.

“Lord Kyrillos, It is good to see that you are well. Please don’t be offended, but I had hoped to see your patron. It’s a shame that the Count would be so afraid to leave the safety of his tower. I remember a time when the Tzimisce were a proud and noble Clan. That they cannot control their own is a sad indicator of their growing irrelevance.” – Otto.

Though Kyrillos was not one to defend the eastern Fiends he couldn’t help but find the fool’s native arrogance just this side of offensive, especially when considering that so many of his guests belonged to that clan.

Kyrillos nearly excused himself, he was so put off by the Prince’s fool-hearty behavior, when it dawned on him that Otto, for all of his pomposity, was a masterful player of the game of Princes.

Something wasn’t right.

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind that he noticed the stench. A dry smell, like a desiccated corpse after a week on the side of the road

He looked at the prince again, but this time he really looked. While the Prince was indeed flamboyantly dressed, his clothes hung loosely and ruffled upon his withered and stooped frame. The prince’s hand, which had been resting upon Kyrillos’ shoulder was mottled and dry, its fingers were longer and tapered at the ends.

Only his beautiful face remained. Its lips parted to reveal brown and rotted teeth.

Kyrillos realized he was staring when the Prince’s emerald eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Who are you again?” – Kyrillos

The Prince sneered.

“I am Otto von Hermanstadt, prince of Sibiu, Why would you even ask me such a thing, Lunatic?”

Even as the prince spoke, his thoughts betrayed him.

OTTO IS DEAD, they whispered to him,

RUXANDRA the imposter’s mind cooed.

Kyrillos smiled at the imposter. He had met Ruxandra once or twice and knew her by reputation as the childe of Marusca, the previous prince of Sibiu.

The count took the imposter by the shoulder and laughed uproariously.

“Congratulations, my Prince, I am so very impressed by you and what you have done here. Please grant me the honor of a correspondence!”

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Chapter 10-5 - The Oncoming Storm

April 8, 1444, 5:34am
The Lion’s Inn
Just inside the City Gates, Sebeș

Lord Claudius glared at the Lady Ana as she stood before him.

“I sent you to speak with Japheth and you come here to tell me that the Cappadocian himself wishes for me to meet with him?” – Claudius’s voice was cold.

The lady nodded warily.

“Excellent! The Cappadocian has indeed left Erciyes.” – the Italian, rubbing his hands together evilly.

“So you knew?” – Ana.

The elder mouth stretched into a wolf’s grin.

“Misbegotten or not, you’ve proved yourselves worthy of the blood of Caine tonight and will no doubt grow to be proper progeny.” – Claudius, condescendingly.

“You know that the Cappadocian is mad?” – Ignatius.

“Of course I do, young Ignatius, it is this kind of blasphemy that demands swift action.” – Claudius

“If that is so, then what is your angle?” – The scarred young man demanded.

Claudius’s eyes flashed toward him angrily.

“How dare you!”

“If it is so important that the Cappadocian’s acts of deicide be stopped then why the ruse? Why pretend that it is his childe who must be put down?”

“Come with me!” – Claudius, laughing as he put his arm around the young Fiend.

Ignatius’s stomach twisted in fear. Had he gone too far? Was the elder about to destroy him?

“Do not fear, young Basarab, I only wish to sit and have a drink with you.” – Claudius laughed as they crossed the Tavern’s common room.

Even at this early hour there were a half dozen or so men preparing for journeys… or at least they would be if they weren’t, to a man, trapped in a half sleep. All of them stood or sat in a daze, their eyes open but unseeing, their breath slow and rhythmic, their heartbeats oddly steady, weak even.

Claudius sat down next to a particularly swarthy man with thick arm hair and a short, patchy beard and invited Ignatius to sit on the other side.

The man lifted his arms and placed them in front of the two monsters.

Claudius raised the arm before him and inhaled deeply.

“Ah, such a lively vintage, he’s of Saxon and Magyar blood, and prone to fits of bloodlust. In another life he would have made a wonderful Gangrel, perhaps even a Brujah.”

Ignatius had no idea what he was talking about.

“Ah, I had not realized that you do not possess Danika’s rarefied senses, my boy.” – Claudius, obviously enjoying himself.

Ignatius watched another figure enter the room, a young boy looking for his father, but when his foot touched the common room floor his face, too, went slack. He took a few listless steps to a nearby table and took a seat.

“Drink, boy, I hate dining alone!” – Claudius vehemently.

When Ignatius waved the arm off Claudius bit into the man’s arm anyway; it didn’t seem particularly pleasant, even in his current state the man’s breath became distressed and erratic. He clenched his teeth so hard that he began to bleed, having bitten through his own tongue or cheek. The man’s fists were clenched as well.

When he was finished, licking the wound closed as an afterthought, he continued.

“You’ve seen right through me, young Basarab. Long have I wished to be the voice of my Clan, should I sit at my grandsire’s right hand just as my sire sits at his left our family’s stature would rise to the apex of power within our Clan. But we would also have the Cappadocian’s full attention, we could persuade him to turn away from this madness and forestall the calamity of his apotheosis. He is ancient, this is true, and the workings of his mind are inscrutable but, like many of the most ancient of our kind, the old one is quite addled and easily distracted. Without a mad sycophant like Japheth and his issue by his side it is our hope that we can end this… madness once and for all.” – Claudius, before taking another bite.

The man seemed to seize from the pain of the bite.

“What if it’s an act?” – Ignatius.

“An act? So what if it is? He wishes to replace God!” – Claudius, shocked by the question.

Ignatius nodded.

“Worry not, my boy. All will end well. Now, the sun will rise soon and we must make our rest. Gather your friends and I will show you where we will rest.

April 8, 1444, 7:24pm
The Lion’s Inn
Just inside the City Gates, Sebeș

Alexander awoke as the sun dipped below the horizon. They’d been huddled in a stone chamber beneath the inn’s cellar hidden by a great wooden door.

It was amazing how vital he felt and how it seemed that he’d only blinked his eyes as the sun rose while at the same time what he felt when the sun rose was so akin to drowning.

Alexander was pleasantly surprised to learn that they’d not been locked in, that the only bolts to the doors were on their own side alone.

The Inn was bustling. It seemed that a man had died there that morning, just before dawn, after having some sort of fit.

“I think we should get out of here.” – Qamar whispered nervously, holding tight to Lady Ana’s arm.

“Stay close, child.” – Ana whispered.

“Yes, we wouldn’t want you to be lost in this crowd. One could never be sure if one were safe in a rabble such as this.” – The Frenchwoman, Amelia, cooed as she seemed to appear next to the girl.

Qamar almost jumped out of her skin and fled completely behind Ana.

“Oh, poor child, Theophana must have done quite a number on the little one.” – Amelia smirked.

Ana smiled at her sire and suddenly the room seemed to lighten from its radiance alone. The dangerous looking men in the room all seemed to glance her way, and a few even managed to blush.

Alexander saw that even Amelia was affected by her childe’s sublime countenance, her initially cool amiability warming as she stood there.

Qamar, suddenly and with a speed only a child could muster, dashed through the crowd toward the Italian general who stood at the far end of the tavern watching the small mob with a fire in his eye.

She held something out to him.

“What’s this?” – Fernando, brusquely.

“It… it’s a letter, from Sister Guadalupe…sir.” – The girl stammered.

“Pathetic.” – Fernando, dropping the letter and returning to his perusal of the crowd.

Qamar flinched away from the missive as if it were aflame and sped back toward Ana.

When she’d returned Alexander had already moved on but Ana and Amelia continued their conversation, somehow going unnoticed in this crowd of rough men.

Qamar noticed, then, that she had not once drawn the attention or groping hands of any of the men. In the calm of the moment she realized that the room itself seemed darker, the shadows seemed deeper and the wits of those around her all the more dull.

Of course they didn’t notice her, how could they, the sad cattle?

April 8, 1444, 7:34pm
The Lion’s Inn Stable
Just inside the City Gates, Sebeș

Alexander, busy readying his horse and trying to clear his head, hadn’t noticed the Lady Jadviga’s approach until he felt the swell of her breasts upon his back.

He turned only to be pushed roughly against a wooden beam. The woman who had in the last few days been his lover, mother and, should everything go according to plan, soon be dead by his hand was standing so close that her ruby lips were all that he could see.

“My love, why do you hide out here with the beasts?” – Jadviga cooed, her voice deep and intoxicating.

“I’ve a lot on my mind, milady.” – Alexander whimpered

“Of course you do, my pet.” – Jadviga’s words were more moaned than spoken as she pressed even closer to him.

He couldn’t take his eyes off of her long, starkly white, teeth.

She ran those teeth across the skin of his chest, though how his tunic had become torn was beyond him.

He shuddered suddenly.

“What’s on that cunning mind of yours?” – Jadviga purred.

“Just what Hardestadt said to me, before we left Poenari.” – Alexander

What was he saying?

“You spoke before you fled?” – Jadviga

“Yes, he warned me about you, said you were more dangerous than the others.” – Alexander, smelling the Lady’s red hair.

“Oh, and what did he say then?” – Jadviga

“He told me that of all the conspirators, your destruction was the most central to the ending of your plot.” – Alexander confessed as the Lady ran her tongue across his chest.

Jadviga’s head shot up as if she’d been struck, she stepped back, her hands bent into claws snarled at him, her teeth transformed into horrible fangs, her eyes flashing bloody red.

The seductress was gone, this creature was Fury incarnate.

“He said what? That putrescent, dead-hearted villain! He wishes to destroy me? Should that happen than the founders will reward him! He seeks my destruction for doing the duty he himself charged me with! Well, I will not be so easily removed!” – Jadviga roared.

And then she was gone. She didn’t move, nor did she leave, she simply wasn’t there anymore.

A shaken Alexander returned to the Inn to hear Fernando railing against the Founders as well.

“Who do they think they are? Telling us who we can and cannot kill? I have slain Taifa usurpers, Saracens, Turks, Franks and Greeks! We are not our brothers’ keepers and Caine would not wish for us to pretend to be so!”

“Here, here!” – Leopold laughed.

Domnall stepped into the Inn and for the first time Alexander realized that he hadn’t seen him below.

Even as the knight mulled over where he could have hidden himself away the giant motioned for him.

“My raven reached the founders, Alexander. Lord Hardestadt is demanding our presence.” – Domnall

“I’ll be sure to drop everything and flee to Poenari as fast as possible, perhaps tomorrow.” – Alexander, smugly.

“I am only telling you what the bird told me.” – Domnall

Alexander eyed the giant.

“And did the stones say anything to you?” – Alexander, incredulously.

“No, though the horses are… you’re mocking me.” – Domnall

“Yes I am.”

“Call me mad if you’d like, but ever since we… came back, I’ve been able to hear the animals, and they can understand me too.” – Domnall explained.

April 8, 1444, 7:45pm
The Catacombs
The Domain of Japheth
Abbot of Manastirea Sf. Timotei Martirizat

When Sister Guadalupe rose from her day sleep she was momentarily startled. The night before she’d spent much of the remaining evening wandering the Monastery grounds and the halls of the church itself.

When the sun began to rise she was given a place, as promised, within the catacombs beneath the church. Instead of a bed she’d been shown to a loculus where she might inter herself throughout the day.

To awaken within the niche now caused a moment of abject panic and it shamed her that she had so quickly adapted to her undead state.

After crawling from the earthen bed Guadalupe donned the coarse robes they’d brought for her and quickly made her way above ground but with a wrong turn or two found herself completely lost.

Lost within the library.

Many of the books were treatises on God, the trinity, and the role of man in God’s kingdom, but here and there she would find other essays: dark dissertations on the nature of the Damned, on the force that drove them, what the dead called vitae, an obvious bastardization of Vita, or life. the power that Blood possessed over them.

She also found references to Caine, the mythical first vampire, and to his being the Biblical Cain. As she read she learned more of Nod, and of the so-called Cainite Heresy, though she was grateful that they at least recognized the nature of their beliefs.

“I see that you’ve taken to the robes better than the other.” – a soft voice interrupted her reading.

She turned to see a monk standing over her.

“I am sorry, Sister, I did not mean to startle you.” – the Monk, kindly

“I was a nun… before.” – Guadalupe

“Yes, to which order did you belong, sister?”

“I belonged to the Dominican Order, though I have been answering to the Inquisition for some time.” – Guadalupe.

“Oh, truly, than this must be quite the change for you. To be honest, I am surprised that you did not greet the sun at the end of your first night amongst us.” – the monk’s kind voice had grown cold.

“I was bound and unable to do so. During my durance within my captors’ dungeons I had time to think on my state. I came to the conclusion that my current state is God’s will and must adapt to it if I am to know his will.” – Guadalupe.

The monk seemed impressed.

“It is good that you have seen reason, good sister. And yes, I do believe that he has a plan for us all. According to the fragments of our father’s writings we were created by God. It is a shame that it took your conversion to this state to come to this conclusion.

“It is difficult to see the other side of an argument when that side is busy eating your family.” – Guadalupe.

The monk was taken aback.

“…Quite. I must ask, Sister Guadalupe, if you would join the other in a vow of silence” – The monk, refusing to look the nun in the eye as he changed the subject.

“Perhaps, though I think that I must make arrangements before I was to decide on such a course of action.” – Guadalupe, confused by the strange request.

“It is good then, that you at least are coping with your nature better than she. Welcome to the Monastery of St. Timothy the Martyr. ” – The monk.

“Thank you, brother, but I have to ask who you are referring to when you speak of this ‘other’.”

“The woman; Sister Marianne”

“Marianne survived?” – Guadalupe was surprised.

But the monk was gone.

Though it took a few tries, Guadalupe finally figured out the odd turns and double-backs of the Monastery and, once acclimated, made her way to the Abbot’s quarters.

“You may enter.” – came a soft voice from within before she could knock.

The chamber was too dark to see in at first, being without window or candle, but soon a candle set upon a table began to glow and in its small but warm light she could make out the foggy eyes and blue-gray skin of her host.

“How might I be of service, Sister?” – Japheth, softly.

It was strange watching him speak, as if forming words with his mouth took conscious effort.

“I was wondering about the location of the one called Marianne. We became acquainted before our deaths and I had assumed her destroyed.” – Guadalupe.

The vampire moved to speak but stopped, as if unsure how to proceed.

“I can show her to you, but understand that she has vowed to remain silent and to fast in an attempt to purify herself after the events that led to your current state.”

It was obvious that the idea of removing the curse frustrated the abbot.

“Thank you, Abbot.”

He showed her out of the monastery and past the gardens to a small pool near what looked like a large mountain grotto.

The spring was lined with stones upon one of which sat a small robed figure.

Her robe was pulled back to reveal the long wavy hair that Guadalupe immediately recognized as Marianne’s.

The girl seemed to be studying her reflection in the still pool.
“Marianne?”

The girl’s head snapped up in a way that was entirely unnatural and the Nun noted how pale she’d become, more so even than the others, her skin somewhat translucent and marked by blue veins. Her cheeks seemed hollow and her lips thin, blue and taught. Her eyes were shot through with dark veins and unnaturally bright.

Like Japheth and the other corpse-monks, she bore the mark of death the way that none of the others had. But in spite of it all she somehow remained almost ethereally beautiful.

“Do you remember me, Marianne?” – Guadalupe

The corpse nodded.

“Why are you fasting?” – Guadalupe

The vampire raised her arm and sleeve fell away to show that she was holding a dead rat by its tail.

The dead girl’s eyes welled up with blood tinged tears.

Guadalupe rushed to embrace her but the girl pushed her away.

“I understand, Marianne, but I promise God has a reason for this, we are not damned!” – The Nun was crying to.

The girl dropped the rat and walked away, leaving Guadalupe alone with her tears.

April 8, 1444, 9:18pm
The Castle Hall
Câlnic Castle
Not far from Sebeș

“You would dare return to the conspirators first?” – Hardestadt demanded of them.

Ignatius, Ana and Qamar stood before him within the castle, Alexander and Domnall having opted to stay outside with the horses. Hardestadt himself paced from one end of the altar to the other. Only Camilla and Adana had joined him it seemed.

“They were closer.” – Qamar, quietly.

“You can be assured that we wish our makers destroyed almost as much as you do. What would you have had us do had we come here first?” – Ana shot back.

Hardestadt drew close to her, his rage flowing off of him in waves.

Ana didn’t flinch.

“She’s got fire, that one.” – Adana, just loud enough for her to hear.

“I can’t decide whether or not I’d like to see our friend snuff it out.” – Camilla chuckled back.

“It was a good plan.” – Hardestadt, relenting.

“Why would you charge us with the destruction of your mole?” – Ignatius.

Hardestadt spun on the scarred man.

“I can take it that she yet exists?” – Hardestadt, coldly.

“She did not leave the safety of her compatriots long enough for us to spring.” – Ignatius.

The elder sneered at the excuse before storming off.

Qamar began to cry.

The pale-haired Italian vampire approached the girl with a kerchief.

“I’m glad to see that you survived your trials thus far. Fear not, child, some of us are actually rooting for your success.” – Adana, wiping the bloody tears from the girl’s face.

“Oh yes, I am so glad that you were all able to make it, I would have been simply horrified if I weren’t the one to tear you limb from limb myself.” – Camilla cooed.

They heard a sigh as the statuesque Mistress Fanchon entered the hall. The boy, Milov and the hideous Joseph followed shortly after, arguing.

“So, tell me child, where are the others? Where is Lupe?” – Adana

“Lupe?” – Qamar, confused.

“Yes, the Nun, did she not survive the ordeals?” – Adana, cautiously.

“Oh, no, no, she elected to remain at the Monastery with Japheth. Did you think we were going to die?” – Qamar

“Oh, yes, I was sure you wouldn’t last the first night. The ones that made you are particularly unhinged and it was assumed that they would kill at least a few of you.” – Adana, matter-of-factly.

“Oh.” – Qamar could feel the panic starting to rise again.

“Don’t mind the others, they fear that Claudius might succeed in usurping Japheth’s place at Cappadocius’s side through wanton diablerie and turn him against our experiment. Their hostility to you is due to the fact that you’re a reminder of their failure to defeat them.” – Adana, giggling.

“But what if they’re right? The Conspiracy of Isaac I mean, what if the Cappadocians can eat god?” – Qamar, insistently.

Adana laughed as she turned on her heel to sit next to the girl. It was only then that Qamar noticed that she was dressed as a man would.

“Oh, my girl, those are just rumors spread by the Giovanni bastards to excuse their murderous motives.” – Adana, ruffling the girl’s hair.

“But he’s crazy.”

“If the rumors are true.” – Adana agreed.

“No, ma’am, we met the Cappadocian and he is indeed mad.” – Ignatius.

“Oh, dear, of course you did.” – Adana laughed, patting his hand.

“What’s going to happen to us when this is all done.” – Qamar

“We are of different opinions, of course, but if Hardestadt promised you that you’ll live than you shall.” – Adana, standing.

“You were born bastards and bastards you shall be as long as I suffer you to live.” – Joseph interjected as he helped the blond vampire to her feet.

“Oh, Joseph.” – Adana laughed.

The man’s breath was horrifically bad but Qamar made her way to her feet.

“Your breath is bad, and you’re ugly.” – Qamar, defiantly.

The boil covered vampire glared into her with hate filled black eyes, his lips pulled back to reveal a mouthful of pitted, vicious fangs.

Qamar prepared for the worst while Ana and Ignatius moved to protect her.

The vampire’s mouth opened wide and he bellowed with laughter.

“I like this one! Milov, you could learn a thing from this childe!” – Joseph laughed.

“Go to hell, Leper.” – Milov growled.

“Qamar! Apologize! That is no way to talk to your elder.” – Ana admonished nervously.

“Have no fear, girl, she’s in no danger, at least not now. As for the conspirators, all you need to know is that Claudius and his ilk are parasites on the Cappadocian clans. If they, and by “they” I mean the Giovanni, they’ll use this ruse as an excuse for their crimes, I have never met a more devout vampire than Japheth of Cappadocia. As for his sire, if he even exists anymore, there is no way that he would attempt something so vile, I’ve heard tell of his destruction of much of his own clan after the rise of Christendom. There’s no way that he would attempt something so sacrilegious.” – Joseph

“The Giovanni, on the other hand, are young enough and power hungry enough to sunder the walls between the living and the dead in the hopes of gaining power in both.” – Adana added.

“Yes, and, Camarilla be hanged, this must be stopped, should they bring the infernal lands here all will be lost for us and for those living in the sun. You get that right?” – Joseph, earnestly.

Qamar nodded.

“Good girl, have a mouse.” – Joseph, producing a small gray mouse as if from nowhere and placing it in her hand.

“Can I name him?” – Qamar, holding the thing in her hands.

“I don’t care.” – Joseph, having lost interest in the conversation.

“I think you are meant to eat him, Qamar.” – Ana

“But I don’t think that he would sate me, no I don’t, do I Joy, no, not a little mouse like you.” – Qamar, playing with the mouse.

“Are you hungry, my sweet?” – Camilla having appeared over the girl’s shoulder.

Qamar dropped the mouse, which ran from the room post haste.

“uh, y-yes?” – Qamar, nervously. She looked around the room to see that the others were having their own conversations.

She could feel the anxiety rising in her chest.

“Oh, don’t worry my dearie, we’ll get you someone to drink, and everything will be all better. And as for these big questions, don’t worry about Claudius. If fact, would you like to hear a secret?” – Camilla, leaning close and whispering conspiratorially

“uh… yeah?”

“The cobweb tells me that a soul-storm draws near. That on the night we tear out Claudius’s withered heart the heavens will open and a maelstrom shall let loose a deluge to rival any save that sent by God to destroy our kind so many millennia ago. Get yourself to safety my precious, bundle up your soul in a cloak of purity.” – Camilla, whispering excitedly and taking the girl’s hand.

“Okay.” – Qamar was beginning to whimper.

“Hold fast at the storm’s heart and wear stout boots of courage lest you fall into hell where you belong you spiteful little bitch! Now, let’s go get you that blood.”

The matron turned on her heel and dragged the frightened Qamar out of the hall with surprising force.

Though Ana followed, fearful of the girl’s fate, it became obvious that Camilla was true to her word, having led the girl to a small chamber filled with naked, reclining men and women.

Ana watched as the girl was shown a trio of sisters. Each girl was marked by great ruptures on their necks.

Camilla joined Ana as the girl fed.

“Isn’t she a glorious little monster?” – the Matron.

“Are you going to let her kill them?” – Ana.

“It is life that we feed on, milady. Something you should learn, but watch, I don’t think she’ll kill all three.”

She was right. The girl only drained the first of the sisters, though she drank from a second as well. It was only after she had her fill that she realized that the first had become cold.

“No, no-no-no! Camilla, what do I do?” – Qamar

“I am sorry child, but I cannot allow you to embrace her, though her sister, from whom you’ve drank too much, might still be saved with by giving her back the blood you stole.” – Camilla instructed.

Qamar did as she was told with no small amount of glee.

The woman’s breathing steadied and her color came back as well before her eyes flitted open and she sat up with a start.

“I’ll call you Daisy.” – Qamar tittered.

“What? My name is-”

“Your name is Daisy!” – Qamar roared at her, striking her across the face.

The woman screamed.

Ana couldn’t help but weep.

April 8, 1444, 11:15pm
The gypsy camp
To the west of Câlnic

Ignatius, Domnall and Alexander had followed the instructions of the odious Joseph to find Durga Syn and, true to his word, they found her with a band of Gypsies.

They’d made relatively good time, free as they were of the ladies and the coach that they would have been forced to bring along with them.

The camp was still relatively lively, even this close to midnight, each wagon had a lantern at the door and a campfire under an awning and in the center of the camp was another, larger fire.

None of the vampires wished to get too close to any of it.

“Durga Syn!” – They took turns shouting from the camps edge before surreptitiously slipping into the camp proper, trying their best to keep their distance from the flames.

The gypsies, for their part, seemed to be doing their best to ignore the three interlopers as they made their way through the camp.

“Durga Syn!” – Alexander bellowed.

A couple of the gypsy children looked in their direction but then, looking at each other, returned to throwing things into their family’s fire.

It was then that Ignatius noticed their washed out appearance and the muted quality of the flames.

“Its like we’re looking through smoke.” – he mumbled to himself.

“Of course it is, you Basarabi fool.” – came a croaking voice from behind them.

The three turned to see the stooped old woman with the lambent eyes from the castle.

“I cannot have you traipsing about my camp and causing a fright.” – Durga Syn, chiding them.

“I found her.” – Alexander.

“Come to my wagon, we can speak there with some privacy.” – Durga, biding them follow to a lone dark wagon.

Once they entered the wagon the color seemed to return to the world, though the hideous old woman they knew was somehow replaced by an image of a sweet old gypsy woman.

“You’re casting spells over our eyes you gypsy cunt!” – Alexander barked.

“Of course I did. Would you prefer I had let you come into my camp and terrify my people?” – Durga, chastising the knight as she lowered herself onto a huge pillow.

“Please, have a seat, can I offer you refreshments?” – she asked, amiably.

“We came in search of knowledge, old mother. I am sorry that I don’t know the custom, do I offer you a gift before asking you questions?” – Ignatius, humbly.

The old woman waved her hand.

“What can I help you with, my chick? I suppose you’re here to ask about the Ritual of the Egg.”

“No, mother, we are here on other business.” – Ignatius

“Hmm, a shame. What is this business you have with old Durga?”

“We wish to ask what you might know about the Cappadocian.” – Ignatius, respectfully.

“I know that he is one of the Original. That his name was all but lost even before the floods came. Legend has it that he marked Noah’s own son with the curse of Caine when the boy went north. He is said to be among the most powerful of blood sorcerers and his understanding of the Curse and Death is without parallel.” – Durga Syn, thoughtfully.

Ignatius shuddered.

“Do you think he could devour God?”

“Wow. Ummm. The Cappadocian is a most dangerous Antediluvian, since he has tampered with forces well beyond the kenning of mortal and kindred before I would say that his research shows promise. He has personally uncovered passages of the Book of Nod from the Erciyes Mountains penned by Irad himself. It’s said that that ancient childe of Caine knew the secret to lifting the Mark of Caine from the soul of one of the damned. Such a ritual, should it have been found would, according to Noddists, bring about a golden age for Kindred and Kine alike. It’s more likely that we’d all be destroyed instead.” – Durga Syn, not exactly answering the question.

Alexander noted that the old woman didn’t sound particularly upset at the thought of their destruction.

“So you’re saying that he might be able to do it? Because he’s going to try to do it.” – Ignatius, more nervous still.

“If the Cappadocian Antediluvian believes he can do it than he will try to do it, of that I’m sure. Just as I am sure than his power is beyond our comprehension… look I understand that you are new. Let me explain: I have existed for thirteen generations, since before the gypsies came to these lands. They are not my people, though I have adopted them and consider them my own. Mine are a far older people from far to the north of here, and the Cappadocian was ancient long before they walked the earth. When the Christians speak of the coming of the flood Cappadocius was an old evil even then, some claim that he is death itself. I believe that he could destroy the curse with ease… though if it is true that we were cursed by the God of the Jews than I don’t know if he could truly devour him.” – Durga Syn, thoughtfully.

“It’s strange, when we brought these questions to the Founders they only laughed.” – Ignatius.

The elder chuckled.

“The founders are… myopic. Even Mistress Fanchon, the sorcerer of their ranks, a skilled aurar in her own right, is prone to disbelieve prophesy or the tales of the most ancient of us.” – Durga Syn

“Short of a suicide mission to try and run him through the heart, is there any way to stop him?” – Alexander, darkly.

“Why would running the Cappadocian through the heart kill him?”

“Whether we kill him or not is irrelevant, is there any way to stop this?” – Alexander, becoming frustrated.

Durga Syn did not answer for some time.

“I don’t know. The truth of the matter is that the Augury of Egg was no small thing. I restrained my reaction in front of the secularists but I have never seen anything like it, save once, for the one who will perhaps save or destroy us all… but his time has not yet come. Whatever is in store for you, I do not believe this to be your end… yours will be a long existence filled with tribulations and woe. The fact that you have survived proves the prophesy to be true, so if any can find a way, sir knight, it is you and ilk.” – Durga Syn

Alexander and the others exchanged a look.

“You asked if you should offer me a gift, how about instead you do me a favor. Before you accept it I must warn you of the dangers inherent in it. Should you interfere with the Necromancers of the House Giovanni you will earn yourself the ire of a powerful family who wield magics unseen by the damned until their induction. If you can, keep the Conspirators from capturing Japheth’s soul. Their infernal arts are powered by souls and Japheth’s own is ancient and powerful. They will bring with them a vessel to capture it as he expires. If you can you must cover that vessel with the blood of a Giovanni. In doing so you will rob them of their prize.” – Durga Syn.

“I will do this, Durga Syn.” – Ignatius before turning and leaving.

“We should probably go with him.” – Alexander, to Domnall.

Alexander turned to follow.

April 9, 1444, 12:38am
The Abbots Chambers
The Domain of Japheth
Abbot of Manastirea Sf. Timotei Martirizat

“I cannot have you do this.” – Japheth, vehemently.

The Room was oppressively dark, with only a single candle lit upon a desk near the back of the room when Ignatius was granted an audience with the ancient. Now, having told him of their plan to protect him from his treacherous nephew the room seemed darker still.

“What!?” – Ignatius, incredulously.

“I don’t want you to fight in my name. My master has forbidden that any risk death in his name or in my own.” – Japheth, sadly.

“But, it’s my duty, Lord Japheth.” – Ignatius

“Then I absolve you of your duty, young Ignatius, go back to Alba Iulia, and forget about this place.” – Japheth

“But all we have to do is smear Giovanni blood upon the object meant to be your vessel. I need not lift a finger in your defense, but I can at least protect your soul!” – Ignatius, growing desperate.

“Even if I knew where to find the blood of a Giovanni I would not get it for you.”

“But, why?”

“I trust in my faith in the Cappadocian, he has foreseen all of this and he tells me that all will be right.” – Japheth, but his voice wavered even if his conviction did not.

Ignatius, defeated, left.

He was in the garden when he saw Guadalupe, but she was too busy following after another robed figure to see him.

“I need to speak with you.” – Ignatius, having snuck upon her.

The nun was startled.

“What are you doing here?”

As quickly and quietly as he could Ignatius filled her in on what had transpired since they’d left her the night before.

“And how do you propose to taint the vessel with Giovanni blood? It’s pretty clear that our kind do not bleed lest we wish it.” – Guadalupe, incredulously.

“I have no idea.” – Ignatius, honestly.

The nun’s eyes went wide and she spun around.

“Where did she go?” – She demanded

“Who?”

“Marianne, she was turned by Claudius, I’m sure of it.”

Immediately they began to search the monastery grounds.

They found her, once again, at the pool.

“Marianne, I need to speak with you, I only ask that you listen.” – Guadalupe called to her.

Marianne turned to look at her but then looked over her shoulder. The nun turned to see Ignatius.

“It’s okay, he’s a… a friend.”

“What’s happened to her?” – Ignatius, shocked by the girl’s appearance.

“She’s hardly fed since the change and I think that she’s like Japheth and the other monks. I don’t think that they’re completely free from death’s hold.” – Guadalupe explained.

Marianne nodded.

“Ignatius is a friend, we both are. We can’t undo what was done to us, but Ignatius has a way to stop what they are planning. Claudius wants to take Japheth’s soul and bind it to a vessel, but if we can contaminate that vessel with his blood we’ll be able to stop it. Do you understand?”

Marianne nodded and without hesitation held up her hand, palm out, wrist up. Though she didn’t make a sound the meaning was clear.

Ignatius revealed a wineskin, like those that had been used to feed them after their torture and held it out to the girl to put her hand over it.

The girl, for her part bit into her own wrist before doing so, the blood within ran dark and slow. It smelled dead.

She gave them enough to fill the skin, at least two pints worth, before the wound finally closed.

“Thank you, Marianne.” – Ignatius, reverently.

She nodded and then left.

“Will you return to Câlnic Castle with me?” – Ignatius.

“No, I think that my place is here with Marianne and the other monks. I may not stay here, but I’ll make this place my home for as long as possible.” – Guadalupe.

Ignatius left but before he was completely out of earshot he turned.

“It fits, you know!” – Ignatius called after her.

“What does?”

“The Founder, Adana, she called you Lupe!”

And then, he was gone.

April 14, 1444, 11:49pm
The Trinity Rock Grotto
The Domain of Japheth
Abbot of Manastirea Sf. Timotei Martirizat

The monastery’s inner garden was surprisingly large for a courtyard sanctuary.

Beyond the gardens and the clear, clean pools of water, the garden lead to the gently sloping foothills of the Făgăraş mountains. Where the hills and mountains met were three great stones, these stones were called the Trinity and were the reason why the Monastery was placed here in the first place.

The natural wall of the trinity rocks were filled with a handful of natural caves, caverns and natural springs, the largest of which could be used for services in even the worst weather.

The path to these grottos was not without danger, however. Decades ago thorny bushes, thistles and roses had been planted to remind those who entered of the pain that must be suffered before the perfection of God’s own heaven could be attained.

The largest grotto had also been marked by a semicircle of rocks that had been, over the course of centuries, been chipped away at until they could be used as seating for those in attendance.

Three of those seats stood out as particularly impressive, much like the trinity rocks of the mountain.

The centermost and largest of these seats was marked by a curious symbol, a bowl-shape with a central stem with one parallel line to either side.

Though many did not know it, this was the mark of the Cappadocian, perhaps the closest thing to a name he still possessed.

The grotto’s seating was large enough to hold as many as three dozen individuals comfortably but tonight only a quarter of that was currently present.

Japheth sat in the left most of the three seats, to the right of his father’s place. Another, older-seaming figure sat to its left.

This figure was heavyset with iron-gray hair cut short in the style of a roman. He wore extravagant sable clothing of the finest fabrics and though his features were that of a much older man, death marked this man far less than it had the hollowed face of the man to his right.

This, then, was Augustus; patriarch of the Giovanni house and last of the Cappadocian’s childer.

Marianne sat next to Guadalupe. Though they’d not spoken to each other at all in the last week, they’d spent nearly all of their time together and the Sister knew that her silent friend was glaring at the old man with nothing less than burning hatred in her eyes.

As the moon moved toward its apex of the sky Claudius appeared at the mouth of the cave. Behind him stood the seven conspirators, each prepared to defend their ally on his way to meet his destiny. Behind them strode Alexander Habsburg along with his Sire.

Walking before him was the Lady Ana; in her arms she carried a pure white dove.

There was no doubt that this ‘offering of peace’ was in fact the vessel about which she’d been forewarned.

Guadalupe had known that Ana had chosen to return to the Conspirators out of some strange loyalty to her sire, but she was surprised to see Alexander at Jadviga’s side.

In the end, though, it seemed that it didn’t matter.

Each of the conspirators bowed as they stood before the elders of the clan.

Claudius went so far as to kneel.

Only Alexander and Lady Ana remained on their feet, Alexander holding a lantern, Lady Ana the dove.

The Lady stepped forward meekly, not unlike a bride and brought forth the dove, holding it out to the elders, though never leaving the light of the torch.

Now it was Guadalupe’s turn. She strode out, head held high, and took the offering, nodding her thanks and the thanks of the elders whom gave her the duty.

Over Ana’s shoulder she caught sight of Fernando looking at her with baleful eyes, a sneer twisting his face.

She returned to Japheth who rose from his seat and accepted the dove graciously and bade Guadalupe step aside.

“Brother Claudius, please step forward, this is a sacred place to our Clan. There is no reason that you should not cross its threshold fully.” – Japheth, stiffly.

Claudius lifted himself from his knee and strode forward, a sly smirk twisting his cruel face.

When he finally reached the ancient he fell to his knees in a mockery of penitence.

“Forgive me, Brother, I have sinned against you!” – Claudius, contemptuously.

“That you have, Brother, but my sire forgives all, as does my father in heaven and so I forgive you.” – Japheth intones.

Claudius rose, dusting off his hosiery as he did so. Japheth, still holding the dove in one hand, placed his other gently upon the Giovanni’s shoulder.

“Go forth, and sin no more.”

Claudius, his eyes ablaze stepped back aghast.

“What’s this? No kiss for your brother? No kiss of peace and forgiveness?”

In an instant his face was inches from the ancient’s chest, his fangs, short and wickedly sharp, a mere inch from the coarse robes. He was held back only by the ancient hand which held it steady.

“Hear me well, Brother, I am he who sits at the right hand of our Father. I obey his will and word. Remember well what happens to those who stray from the path and his will. Now come, for I crave your ‘kiss of peace’, I am ready to know your soul.” – Japheth, releasing the monster’s head.

Without hesitation Claudius buried his head in the vampire’s chest. The dove, crushed and dead, fell between their feet.

Japheth, for his part, seemed to be in prayer, his eyes closed and his face placid.

If it weren’t for his clenched fists Guadalupe would have thought that he wanted this.

All the other monks fell to the ground in supplication, each having descended from Japheth. It seemed that they believed their prayers might save his soul.

Only Guadalupe herself and Marianne remained standing.

With a cry of rage other figures appeared in the grotto.

It was the Founders, their weapons drawn, charging forth with righteous fury.

“Death to the betrayers! Death to the Necromancers! Death to the Conspirators!” – Hardestadt.

Japheth turned his head to the General and cried.

“Stand back! Let no blood be shed in the name of the Cappadocian Clan!”

Suddenly Alexander, his weapon drawn, was thrusting his blade into Lady Jadviga.

“You traitorous shit!” – Jadviga roared.

The rest of the conspirators rushed forward to protect their diabolical ally.

Amelia, Ana’s sire, strayed behind, though she was attempting to move forward with a long wooden shaft protruding from her breast.

The lady collapsed then, her flesh and her clothing collapsing as she did so, leaving nothing but an empty, translucent husk.

Guadalupe looked behind her to see the giant, Domnall, a great bow in hand, a victorious smile, the first she had ever seen on him, splitting his bearded face.

She turned back and eyed her sire. If she was going to act it would have to be now.

She charged Fernando, swinging with all of her might. He moved to dodge her, vanishing from the spot on which he’d been standing, but when he paused she was there, waiting for him. Her fist connected with his jaw, sending him flying back.

Having created an opening Guadalupe was glad to see that Ignatius used it, jumping through it with what looked like a wineskin. The skin burst over the dove, drenching the tiny corpse with dead but potent blood.

Alexander was not alone in his assault on Jadviga who was now boxed in by the knight and Hardestadt. Unfortunately she was a capable fighter in her own right.

Even as Hardestadt struck a seemingly ineffectual blow upon her she did the same to him.

“Cease your violence! This is a holy place!” – Cried one of the monks.

Unfortunately, it did little to stop the frenzied monk that fell upon him and tore out his throat with black fangs.

Ana, having failed to reach her sire before she expired, backed herself into a corner.

Throughout the violence, Claudius continued to feed until finally Japheth relented, his pale skin shriveling into a gray skin and dusky husk, his features rotting away.

When Claudius dropped the ancient corpse it shattered upon the dirt floor like brittle pottery, leaving nothing behind but dust.

Claudius shuddered as his skin seemed to grow paler still. Blackened veins appeared in his ashen flesh.

He cried out triumphantly as winds began to whip through the cavern.

“Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood shall have eternal life and I shall raise them up on the last day and I shall grant them eternal life!” – Claudius cried out in triumph even as a look of confusion crossed his face.

Why had he said those words?

Lightning crashed outside, startling the newly empowered methuselah and the room began to fill with a cold greenish light.

The fighting stopped.

The wind stopped.

Everything stopped.

Everyone turned instinctively toward the central seat, the symbol upon it seemed to be the source of the illumination.

From that light a form took shape.

It was a small, dark man with ashen skin and deep set ethereal eyes.

Guadalupe recognized him immediately.

“The Cappadocian!” – Claudius moaned.

Guadalupe found herself falling to her knees, as did almost everyone else present.

He looked much as he did before: a luminous being, a projection of some other, terrifying consciousness. But this time he seemed more real, more solid.

She looked at his feet and saw that, indeed, they were standing upon the earthen floor.
The pressure in her head began to mount as the Cappadocian took a fully corporeal form.

When he did so the winds picked up again, the garden outside was surely sundered by its force

If the Cappadocian was a god than he was a very angry god.

CLAUDIUS GIOVANNI, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?- the Cappadocian’s voice seemed to shake the mountain.

Claudius looked fearfully toward his sire.

Augustus, for the first time since his appearance, rose to his feet.

“He did as I bade, sire. He has taken the place of your son just as I shall take your place.” – Augustus, his voice consoling.

He reached out and took the antediluvian by the shoulder.

“I want your blood, father.”

Ignatius took a step back, fearfully. Many others followed suit.

Only Augustus stood his ground, though only through constant exertion and Guadalupe realized that he was trying to move forward.

MY BLOOD IS NOT MINE TO GIVE, DEAR AUGUSTUS, IT BELONGS TO GOD, AND I CAN ONLY HOPE THAT HE FORGIVES YOU FOR SPILLING IT. AFTER ALL, MY CHILDE, HIS FORGIVENESS IS FOR ALL, EVEN THE LIKES OF YOU.

Somewhere in the distance a tunnel collapsed.

Augustus strained against his sire’s presence inching ever closer as the death god spoke.

“You sanctimonious sot, I will destroy you!” – Claudius roared over the growing winds.

THINK ON WHAT YOU DO, MY CHILDE, MY GRANDSIRE, CAINE, HAS COME TO ME AND TOLD ME TO BECOME AN ETERNAL SACRIFICE THAT ALL LIFE MIGHT BECOME ETERNAL. I AM TO BRING HEAVEN ON EARTH, DELIVERING ALL OF US, LIVING AND DEAD, FROM GOD’S CURSE.

“Heaven on Earth? Never!” – Augustus mocked, finally reaching his sire.

YOU CANNOT STOP ME, I HAVE GIVEN MYSELF FREELY AND SO I SHALL CONTINUE ON LONG AFTER THIS EARTHLY VESSEL IS EXTINGUISHED.

“But I shall have your soul as well as your power!” – Augustus crowed as he grabbed hold of both of his sire’s shoulders.

Augustus bared his fangs and buried them in the death god’s neck; his own body began to glow with the same eerie light.

The Cappadocian reached out to cradle his childe’s head as a mother might cradle a suckling infant as the old man drank ever deeper.

Rivulets of black blood poured out of the sides of Giovanni’s mouth and down his face and the ancient’s chest. Where it touched the younger of the two his skin began to smoke.

Finally, after an eternity of minutes Augustus pulled away.

“IT BURNS" – he roared within all of their heads as great gouts of black smoke erupted from his mouth and nose. Through the glow of his shining skin Guadalupe could make out great black fissures, as if the blood itself was burning him.

Hardestadt had, through sheer force of will, gotten to his feet and was beginning to approach the foul diablerist.

“Blasphemer! Blood Traitor!” – Hardestadt roared before the winds finally took hold and threw him against the cave wall.

More shocking still was that Guadalupe saw that both Ignatius and Domnall had somehow gotten to their feet.

Moving as one they slowly inched their way toward the two blinding figures.

As they drew ever closer their skin began to smolder and darken but still they persevered and, digging their fingers into cracks and fissures in the stone they moved closer still until they too began to smoke.

Somehow, finally they reached the eye of the storm and, as one, they bit into the Antediluvian.

They held on for less than a second but in that time they too began to shimmer and then glow. When the wind finally took hold of them it threw Ignatius from the grotto entirely, where he was caught up in the maelstrom and vanished.

Domnall too was thrown, but he flew deeper into the grotto where he slammed into the stone wall, his glowing skin erupting in black smoke that seemed to evaporate into the ground.

At the center of the storm the two beings glowed ever brighter until the light finally began to fade.

Only Augustus remained.

Columns of hellish red light radiated from the methuselah’s eyes, ears, nose and mouth. For another moment he was born aloft by the power of the maelstrom before his feet once again touched the ground.

CLAUDIUS, HIS SOUL, IT FLIES, GET THE DOVE! CATCH IT!

Claudius rushed to grab the dove but when he saw the blood that had sullied its feathers his shoulders slumped.

“Come Back!” – Claudius, chasing after something that was beyond Guadalupe’s vision.

The winds died down and the moonlight began to flood into the now wrecked garden.

Guadalupe rushed to Marianne’s side when she heard her scream. The girl lay on the floor of the Grotto, her eyes alight with the same hellish glow that had been in Augustus’s own. Soon that glow was running through her veins and illuminating her very skin. Whatever was happening to her was obviously very painful.

And then, just like that, the infernal glow was gone and Marianne lay very still for some time.

When she opened her eyes they no long shone with unnatural paleness, her skin was, though still as pale as Guadalupe’s own, no longer translucent and, most astonishingly her cheeks began to fill out.

“Marianne, are you alright?” – Guadalupe asked the newly rejuvenated fledgling.

Her only answer was the terrified look on the girl’s face.

April 28, 1444, 1:12am
Burghausen Castle
The Domain of Hardestadt
Prince of Bavaria

No evidence was found of the bodies of either Ignatius Basarab nor of Domnall O’Brien and it was soon concluded that they had been destroyed as a result of their actions. The Lady Ana Golescu had vanished in the melee. The vampire childe Qamar was never found.

Lord Alexander Habsburg and Sister Guadalupe, for their part, had been very helpful in binding those Conspirators who had not escaped following the destruction of the Cappadocian Founder.

Though neither Japheth nor his Sire had been saved, Hardestadt couldn’t help but feel that the actions that night had been a success.

Three conspirators, Theophana Montpellier, Leopold Valdemar and Jadviga Almanov had been successfully captured and would be dealt with swiftly.

The Diablerist, Claudius Giovanni, had also successfully been captured but was released a short time later into the custody of his progeny, Vendramino.

Hardestadt had made it very clear that Devil-Kindred of “Clan Giovanni” would never be recognized or accepted by the Camarilla, that they would hunt them to the very ends of the earth.

Despite this setback he was sure that no one would ever learn the truth, that Jadviga was in fact a childe of Hardestadt the Elder, and had been instrumental in the formation of the Camarilla and the end of the Conspiracy.

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Chapter 10-4 - Son of All Kindred

April 5, 1444, 7:26pm
An Underground Chamber
Poenari Castle
The Făgăraş Mountains

Deep beneath the dilapidated Castle Poenari was a vault. This vault had a great metal door that was latched so as to keep something in. Beyond that door was a large, low ceilinged room with a number of cots. The only light within was a single candle at the far end that had been lit by a servant mere moments before the sun touched the horizon.

When the sun finally began to fall beneath the earth and darkness began to overtake the sky they awoke, free for the first time since they’d been killed.

When the door did open they found Roderigo waiting for them on the other side. With only a nod and a smile he bade them follow and escorted them out of the dungeon’s depths and into the castle proper.

A cool breeze from a rather large hole in the castle’s wall wafted over them and Domnall realized to his horror that he hadn’t taken a breath since before the door had been opened.

The motherly monster, Camilla, chortled softly and the giant couldn’t help but think that she had known what he was thinking.

Horror followed as he realized that she could.

Something stirred inside the giant and a small whine came from the depths of his throat.

They were in a common room, with a great oaken table set in its center.

Upon the table was a large map of Transylvania, the kind of map one would imagine would be useful to generals and kings, but the boundaries didn’t belong to any fiefs or kingdoms that the giant recognized.

Hardestadt looked over the map, studying it while tapping his closed fist upon the table rhythmically as if to some beat that only he could hear.

“Your fool childe lost that battle for you a long time ago, Hardestadt.”

The voice was a guttural rasp that came from a hole in the wall above them. Domnall looked up to see a small creature covered in coarse dark gray fur. The thing was the size of a largish dog and had blazing red eyes. It possessed the ears and nose of a bat and a mouth full of needle-like barbs.

It fell to the ground, landing on its forelimbs as a wolf might, before standing and flexing its clawed fingers.

Instead of fear, Hardestadt glared furiously at the strutting imp.

“Hold your tongue, Milov, our guests have finally joined us.” – Hardestadt, angrily.

The creature turned toward the assembled fledglings even as he grew into the shape of the pale boy with red lips and innocent eyes.

He smiled sheepishly but his long teeth reminded Domnall of a wolf.

“They must be the domains of the damned.” – Ana whispered to him.

He grunted a thanks as Hardestadt turned to regard them disappointedly.

“You are puny, immature and naïve.” – Hardestadt

“But there’s little we can do about those most unattractive qualities.” – The monstrous Joseph interrupted.

The Lord shot the old man a look. It seemed that they were not getting along tonight.

“We shall aid you immensely in the hunt for your treacherous progenitors.” – Hardestadt continued.

“Listen up, little ones, he becomes positively choleric when forced to repeat himself.” – Adana, joining the conversation.

The smile on her face revealed how much she was enjoying setting Hardestadt on edge.

The Lord was clenching his long, sharp looking teeth and drank something thick and red from a stone goblet before speaking again.

Domnall couldn’t take his eyes off of the cup.

“Claudius and the rest of his so-called conspiracy scurry about. They meet in any number of hidey-holes and nests, huddling together and fleeing like vermin to plot against their betters only to scamper off when we approach.” – Hardestadt.

The Lord stopped to drink deeply from his goblet.

“Rats, however, rarely fear or question their own.” – Joseph muttered even as he stroked such a creature that seemed to have perched upon the back of his hand.

“You shall present yourselves to the Anathema at the Lion’s Inn, a small Inn on the edge of Sebeș. Our sources tell us that the poor dears have taken to cowering there to lick their wounds.” – Camilla, running her fingers through the boy-monster’s hair as she spoke.

Milov pushed her away, glaring daggers as he did.

“Do not attempt to assault them, my hearties, for you have no hope of destroying them. Instead you should sue for peace. Tell them that you escaped our clutches and beg them to take you back. You can tell them that you overpowered Roderigo after he took a liking to you.” – Adana

“Yes, you may take my footman with you as proof but he must not come to harm. Tell them that he led you to them after you bound him to yourselves and bade him tell you all the places that you have seen him.” – It was Rafael who said this, joining the conversation at last.

“You must learn all you can from them once you’ve regained their trust and then return to us that we might rout them, though if you must find yourselves alone with any one of them, bring them low.” – Hardestadt.

“It’s true.” – The nun, quietly.

“Do not, under any circumstance, attempt to challenge them openly! We cannot stress it enough. These traitors are all extraordinarily powerful, as they are truly close to the source of our power and each has walked the Long Night for centuries. Any two of them will be able to destroy all of you with little exertion, no matter how powerful you seem.” – Mistress Fanchon’s warning seemed to lack any amount of concern.

“And if you destroy your sires you’ll no longer be held culpable for the crime of your creation.” – Milov smirked.

“So you wish for us to go to our makers and, under false pretenses, secure knowledge of their future crime for you and, should the opportunity arise, destroy them for you.” – The Nun.

“I have hunted werewolves and something tells me that these things lack the same banes as the skin walkers. I know firsthand how hard it is to kill us, so what chance do we have against something immortal.” – Ignatius, worried.

“We put a stake through their heart, we cut off their heads and we set the remains ablaze.” – Sister Guadalupe said matter-of-factly.

The assembled vampires looked on the once-plain nun with a look not unlike horror.

“Barbaric!” – Camilla hissed.

“I can’t imagine anything would survive that, no.” – Milov, his innocent eyes gleaming.

“How do we know which ones made us?” – Qamar, nervously.

“I don’t know that that matters, Qamar, I think the point is that if we kill them we’ll prove that we’re not in league with them.” – Guadalupe.

““Why can’t we just burn the inn down with all of them inside? Why must we keep up this charade?” – Alexander, ponderously.

“I like him.” – Adana

Milov and Joseph both laughed, Camilla seemed honestly shocked by the audacity and brutality of the proposal.

Mistress Fanchon seemed to be paying full attention for the first time since they were brought into the room, setting down the tome she’d been reading.

“Because, should you burn the building down around them they will not tell you their plans!” – Hardestadt, furiously.

“Besides, we could not be sure that it would destroy them. While it’s true that fire is a bane of our existence, it affects each of us differently. Claudius and Jadviga belong to lines who are notoriously hard to destroy, I have heard tales of members of the Cappadocian Clan who have braved the light of the sun with no ill effect whilst it is said that those vampires who follow Set can be annihilated by a single ray of sunlight.” – Fanchon, standing up from her sofa.

“But if the fire didn’t kill them couldn’t we just destroy them once the fire died down?” – Alexander.

“Believe me, boy, if they survived the fire, they would have no fear of a pretty bit of metal.” – Milov barked through his laughter.

“Then it is a suicide mission.” – Alexander sighed.

“Not if you do as you’re told!” – Hardestadt roared as he crushed his goblet, splashing blood across the map.

Domnall, staring at the blood, noticed it wash over Alba Iulia and the curious words: Black Queen.

Rafael was suddenly at the Lord’s side, crossing the distance from his perch at the door to the table so deftly that he seemed to glide.

He whispered into the Lord’s ear and Domnall saw his expression change, darkening, even as he calmed down.

Adana was snickering.

“Get on with it.” – Hardestadt

Joseph and Milos joined the girl in their merrymaking.

“Though, my ally, Lord Hardestadt, has a mind similar to your own in how to deal with these… Anarchs… Lord Alexander, but we have come to believe that such overt acts will only do us more harm than good.” – Rafael, ignoring the German vampire’s obvious anger.

Domnall realized suddenly that for all the general’s bluster, and the fact that the others seemed to defer to him, these two were on equal ground.

“As our dear Guadalupe can attest, humanity has become aware of us, and more importantly, they’ve become aggressive to our existence. They fear what they don’t understand and now they fear us. Priests… priests, who are supposed to be the embodiment of Christian love and charity, spit upon us. They consign us to hell simply for existing. Even those of us who are as noble as any saint who has lived since the death of our Savior, would be consigned by the living to destruction, just as the Romans destroyed Christ. So take care, my pigeon, Hardestadt wouldn’t care about you flaunting your natures if it were only your existences that were on the line.” – Rafael

Hardestadt gave a disgruntled sigh in agreement.

“Rafael’s right, my sweets, it is the survival of all Kindred that depends on you. We all must uphold this Masquerade, lest we fall to the flames of the Inquisition. No kindred, not even the Anathema, will applaud the inquisition’s arrival.” – Camilla, soothingly.

The room grew quiet then, the silence broken only by the sound of footsteps at the door.

Roderigo limped into the room, his face was a great, livid bruise, one of his eyes was full of blood and his arm was held in a sling.

“Deliver these children to their pernicious sires.” – Rafael to the ghoul.

Roderigo nodded and gestured for them to follow.

And without a word, they did so.

Domnall was surer than ever that his death had only been forestalled.

“Lord Alexander, wait! I would like a word with you.” – Hardestadt demanded before the door closed.

Domnall was sure that he’d never be seen again.

April 7, 1444, 1:09am
The Forest Road
Not far from Sebeș

Alexander had been sure that he was dead when the German held him back as the others followed the hobbled… ghoul?… out of the chamber.

The general seemed to tower over Alexander as he approached them.

“The one who made you, the Lady Jadviga, is a very dangerous Kindred. I have known her for many generations and there was a time when we I could call her an ally, this makes her a greater threat than her compatriots. Of all the conspirators, it is vital that she be destroyed.” – Hardestadt, privately.

“With all due respect, Lord Hardestadt, but is she a threat to everyone or to you specifically?” – Alexander wondered aloud.

“She’s a threat to the masquerade and to everything else that we’ve been working for. Young knight, can I depend upon you?” – Hardestadt.

“Of course, Lord Hardestadt.” – Alexander.

Even now he wasn’t entirely sure why he’d agreed but he wouldn’t break his word.

Now though they’d been travelling for some time and seemed to have changed teams at some point during their day-sleep. Alexander only recognized Roderigo, who seemed to not be lacking for sleep.

“We’ve all but arrived, Lord Alexander.” – Roderigo, his voice surprisingly cool.

The walls of Sebeș were visible in the distance.

Before Alexander could respond though, Roderigo pulled hard upon the reigns, forcing the horses to come to an abrupt halt.

Ahead of them the road had been severed by a fallen tree.

“Son of a Venetian whore!” – Roderigo swore as he slowly lowered himself to the ground. Despite the fact that the wounds had turned out to be mostly superficial he was still moving at half pace.

“What’s going on?” – came a voice from within the coach.

“A tree’s been felled and is blocking the path.” – Alexander called back.

Ignatius and Domnall joined the coachmen in assessing the situation.

“We might as well just get to it.” – Ignatius, ornery from being cooped up.

“May I be of assistance.” – Guadalupe asked quietly.

“Away with you sister, I’ll not have you dirty your hands when we can do this ourselves.” – Alexander scoffed.

The five men fought with the massive log, the three young vampires strained themselves just as hard as the men and soon found their skin speckled with bloody sweat.

After a few moments of watching the nun grew anxious, she knew that her body had grown more powerful since her death.

“For the love of all that his holy!” – the woman cursed before joining them.

To Alexander’s shame the nun proved to be stronger than he. She took a spot near the top of the tree and after a moment of exertion let loose an unearthly growl.

Alexander felt the tree lighten in his grip and finally it seemed to lift as if completely free from the earth’s pull, turning end over end and landing with an ear shattering crash beyond the tree line.

They all turned toward the Spanish woman who seemed flushed and exhilarated, her face a mask of vampiric monstrosity.

“How did you do that?” – Ignatius asked as his wits returned to him.

She gave him a quizzical look and then realized what she had done.

“I have no idea.” – Guadalupe, honestly.

“Maybe you’re beginning to see that there are advantages to this state, sister.” – Ignatius
Domnall and the other men laughed, Alexander watched her quietly.

The sound of clapping interrupted their small triumph.

April 7, 1444, 1:27am
The Forest Road
Not far from Sebeș

Iancu wasn’t sure how they’d managed to move the tree with just five men and a woman, indeed when it came crashing back into the forest it had startled the bandit half to death.

Costin, the nominal leader of their little band, seemed to take it in stride as he stood across the road, applauding their effort.

“That was mighty impressive!” – Costin called out to the people in the road.

Two of them were obviously coachmen, the other three men were… not. The first thing that Iancu had noticed was the giant, grizzled looking man wearing ill-fitting leather armor.

The next was the beautiful woman with clenched fists. If Iancu didn’t know any better he’d have said that she’d been the one to pivot the trunk. There was also a wiry, dangerous looking fellow with three scars running across his face. He seemed to be joking with the woman about something.

The apparent leader of the group was a large, pale man. Though he was nowhere near as large as the giant he seem to exude a presence.

His hair was cut in a short, militaristic fashion and he wore his armor and sword like someone who had done so in battle.

“Are you the one responsible for this?” – the powerful one demanded as he approached Costin

“We are!” – Costin laughed, gesturing for them to look around them.

Costin wasn’t a big man, not like his quarry, but he was dangerous. Iancu and his brother Dragos often shared stories with the others about Costin the Killer, the man who once slew three men with his bare hands.

This soldier had little chance against him.

“This’ll be good.” – Dragos laughed from over Iancu’s shoulder.

The Soldier turned to look toward them from across the road and Dragos waved.

“We’ll eat well tonight, brother.” – He laughed as they drew their swords.

From across the road he could see that Emilian and Marin had taken position near the hind carriage which meant that Zavid and Bogdan were in position near the front.

The Giant made him nervous but this would go smoother when the Soldier, the fool who hadn’t even made for his sword, was dead.
Iancu didn’t hear what the two men said to each other as the soldier approached but it didn’t necessarily matter because quite suddenly the soldier was rushing Costin the Killer. He slammed his fist into the highwayman’s chest with enough force that the brothers heard it from across the road.

Costin collapsed to the ground and didn’t move.

“No way.” – Dragos exclaimed.

Zavid was the first to break ranks, charging the soldier, his sword held high.

The scarred, dangerous looking one leapt toward him, knocking the sword away as he landed on him, driving him to the ground.

Marin tried to charge the Soldier too but was intercepted by the giant who growled.

The giant leapt like a wolf at the highwayman, tearing into the man’s throat with his teeth.

Blood sprayed as the massive creature worried at his flesh.

More horrifying though, was when the thing stood up, still holding Marin in his teeth and drew the crossbow from his back.

Iancu stepped back into the trees hoping to go unnoticed, the courage leaving him.

He saw Emilian sneak up on the brute ready to skewer it and free his flailing friend but any hope of that was dashed as the soldier came out of nowhere and, leaping, fell to the ground with the bandit’s hair clenched in his fist, driving his face into the ground with the force of his own falling weight.

The giant, for his part, aimed and fired over the soldier as he fell, striking Bogdan in the chest where he stood perched.

The giant loped toward the fallen bandit, standing over his dying body.

“This cannot be happening.” – Iancu, gagging back a sob.

“Bogdan didn’t even attack, he was just standing there.” – Dragos, his voice showing the first sign of panic.

“We should go, before they remember that we’re here.”

But it was too late, the woman had spotted them and was moving through the brush at a surprising pace.

“How is she doing that?” – Iancu

“I don’t know, just run!” – Dragos, tearing out into the forest.

Iancu did as he was told.

*

Ana stepped out of the carriage, keeping little Qamar safely behind her as she surveyed the carnage that had been wrought, to make sure that everyone had survived the altercation intact.

She didn’t expect to see Domnall standing, bent in half at the waste, over a dead man, holding the corpse by the neck with his teeth and making a horrible sucking sound that she, to her eternal horror, found so very tempting, so seductive.

Alexander was kneeling over another body, a man with a bloody face that was beautiful in its gruesomeness. She could feel her teeth elongating as she looked at him.

Alexander lifted him up to cradle his head. The gesture was almost endearing, or it would have been if his next act wasn’t to lick the man’s face clean.

Ana’s breath hitched as his tongue lapped at the man’s bloody face. He looked up at her and his eyes seemed to gleam in the low light of the full moon and the little bit of torchlight.

The Knight smiled cruelly, showing her his long, hard fangs as he reached up and took ahold of the man’s ear.

With a single deft motion he tore the ear from its moorings, a great spout of blood erupted from the man’s head as he lay screaming and thrashing even in his unconscious state.

The knight clamped his hands tight to the bandit’s head and began to suck from the wound, draining him even as the man’s thrashing weakened into strange fitfulness as though he were enjoying a particularly intense dream. Eventually the fitful motions grew smaller and weaker until he stopped moving entirely.

Alexander rolled him aside like a child done playing with a toy and set his eyes on the other man, the one who could only lie there moaning and holding his chest with one hand as he tried to crawl away.

Alexander scrabbled toward him on all fours before knocking him over and sitting on his chest.

The man screamed loudly as the Knight took his hand and grabbed hold of his index finger.

“Wait” – Qamar.

Alexander hesitated.

“Why should I?” – he sounded like a child being told that he could not eat a bit of pastry.

“I want to ask him a question.” – Qamar.

Something about the way she said it gave Alexander pause and, finally, he relented.

*

Iancu ran for as long as he could, taking a confusing, unmarked trail to try to stymie her pursuit.

He was having a hard time breathing and he was pretty sure he was lost when he leaned up against a tree to catch his breath.

The woman stared at him from some distance away. Some small part of his mind that was still rational noted that she’d taken a different path than he did and wondered how it was that she was able to track him.

That tiny voice was drowned out by the intense fear that overwhelmed the rest of it.

She approached him slowly, her hands palms up to show him that she was unarmed… the others were unarmed too… her face was beatific, peaceful, beautiful.

She wasn’t out of breath, she wasn’t sweating. She was pristine as she walked toward him.

Iancu opened his mouth to scream and suddenly the woman was right in front of him, her icy finger touching her lips.

“Shh. I am not going to hurt you. I am trying to help you. You will be quiet?” – the woman said, her words were almost impossible to understand through her thick Spanish accent.

Iancu nodded.

“Listen to me, the men who are with me, they are monsters and they will keep on killing. I need you to find a man, his name is Brother Clement, he is a monk, he will be able to get in touch with the Inquisition. Tell him that Sister Guadalupe sent you. He’ll hear you out. Do you understand?” – Sister Guadalupe, her voice rushed.

“Yes.” – Iancu, nodding emphatically.

Before she could say another word a sword burst from her chest. It was Dragos, he’d gotten behind her without her noticing and run her though. The woman’s head slumped, her shoulders went slack and then she crumpled to the ground.

“Oh, thank God!” – Iancu cried, hugging his brother close.

Dragos laughed at his brother’s tears, but the laugh was shaky, he’d been frightened too.

“We should get out of here.” – Dragos said as he sheathed his bloody sword.

He turned to leave and then caught his breath.

Iancu looked up from rubbing the tears from his eyes to see his brother standing very still, and very stiff. Iancu began to laugh at the sight when he something made him look over his shoulder.

“No, no, no, no…” – Iancu, his voice a sobbing whisper.

There stood the woman, her dark clothes black with blood in the moonlight.

Her beatific expression was gone, replaced by the curled lips and fangs of a beast. Her hands were held with her palms up and her fingers curled in like claws. Her eyes were dark, their pupils wide black disks, like a dog looking at a threat.

The woman took a step forward and gave a deep bestial growl.

Once again Iancu turned to run, but this time the woman was there waiting for him.

She opened her mouth to roar and the Bandit felt something cold in the pit of his stomach.

He looked down and saw that it was her arm, buried past the wrist.

And with that, Iancu and his brother began to scream.

April 7, 1444, 2:19am
The Lion’s Inn
Just inside the City Gates, Sebeș

When Guadalupe finally made it back to the wagons she was flushed, her skin bright and vibrant. Her clothes, however, were covered in blood, as was her face. Her leather armor had a large hole through the center of it, as if she’d been run through, but there was no wound.

While they traveled the short distance to the castle Qamar and Ana helped the nun, who had not spoken again since returning, change her clothes, though they ended up fitting her with a simple long shirt and tights and belt.

It would do for now.

Qamar had turned out to be a surprisingly proficient interrogator. Straddling the bandit’s knee, she’d spoken to him in a sing-song voice and learned that he and his band of miscreants had been paid to waylay the caravan and burn the carriages to the ground with its occupants still inside.

Luckily for the freshly dead, they’d decided to simply murder them instead.

Though the man, who was called Costan, didn’t know his employer’s name he was able to describe him and they immediately recognized him as Lothario.

Alexander, upon hearing this, drove a sword through the man’s skull.

Only Ignatius’s quarry, the Bandit Zavid, survived to travel with them, though he had to be bound and gagged to keep him from shrieking or escaping.

That had been then.

Now they stood before the surprisingly large structure that was the Lion’s Inn. It’s sign announced that it’d been established in 1378 and from the looks of it the building had once been someone’s home.

Between the Inn and the city wall leaned an old barn where hands were ready to take the horses in and feed them.

The common room was a large hall, its walls adorned in animal skins. There stood a few long tables, large enough to seat as many as twelve people apiece. It was dimly lit by two large dueling fireplaces, neither of which had enough kindling to burn at more than a low ebb, as well as small candles at either end of each table, though many of those had been put out throughout the night.

The proprietor was a smallish bald man with a great mustache that Qamar couldn’t help but be entranced by. She waved sheepishly each time the old man caught her staring.

A youngish girl, no doubt the innkeeper’s daughter, seemed to throw straw about the stone floor, it was clear that she was glad that the night was nearing its end.

Alexander and Ignatius approached the old man.

To everyone’s surprise it was Ignatius who started speaking.

“We’ve come in search of a man, good sir, he calls himself Lothario and is a singularly hard man to forget.” – Ignatius.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I know who you mean.” – the old man, turning an eye to look at the young man.

Ignatius couldn’t help but notice the man’s eyes glance a bit too long at his scars.

“Perhaps, you know the Lady Jadviga. She is far more difficult to forget.” – Alexander, gesturing crudely to describe her as he spoke.

The man laughed at the Lord’s pantomime.

“I wish I did know who you mean, sir, but I don’t.” – the innkeeper, chuckling.

Ignatius’s arms flashed out and grabbed the old man’s coat and then pulled him over the counter upon which he’d been leaning. He slammed the old man to the floor with much force before bending down so that their noses touched.

“Where are they?!” – The hunter demanded, furiously.

The girl screamed in fright and her cry seemed to snap Ignatius from his fury. He stood abruptly and straitened his clothes before turning his back to the room.

Alexander took over, speaking as the man got to his feet.

“As I told you, there is no one here by that name.” – The old man coughed as he got to his feet.

“If he is not staying here, perhaps you would recognize him anyway, he is tall and a bit stooped with curly black hair and an odd smell about him. He speaks with a light Italian accent and has a scar that runs down his right cheek.” – Alexander, diplomatically, as he sat a few silver coins upon the counter.

The man, again, shook his head.

“Then perhaps you’d know our friends. We are looking for a small group of indiviuals, they may have come here a few nights ago, they dressed in dark traveling clothes and paid well for their rooms.” – Alexander, placing more coin upon the counter.

“Sir, please, I am sorry that I do not know these people, I wish I did, as your coin would be much appreciated, but no one fitting that expression has come through those doors in the last fortnight, maybe even longer.”

Alexander nodded disappointedly and walked away, pulling Ignatius with him.

He left the silver.

When he took stock of the room Ignatius noticed that Domnall was nowhere to be found, though how a man so big could just vanish was beyond him.

The answer came when the brute trudged his way down the too-steep steps.

“The entire top floor is empty and I don’t think they’d take their rest there anyway.” – Domnall

The Lady Ana watched the youngest of their number speak to the serving girl with quiet worry. She feared what would happen should the child lose control, she’d chosen a dark empty table near the middle of the room to make her perch, sitting in the middle of the table to keep some distance from the fireplaces and to ensure that no one entered the Inn without her seeing.

As she watched the Knight trying to calm the hunter she heard the deep chortle of a man.

She turned to find that she wasn’t alone at the table. Sitting at its opposite end was the man that had damned her with his invitation.

“Lord Claudius.” – Ana, weakly.

“Please, have your compatriots take a seat. Let us discuss this business you have with the Conspiracy of Isaac. One never knows, we may even allow some of you to live once you’ve said your piece.” – Claudius chuckled.

Ana swallowed hard, she knew she’d been alone at the table when she’d taken her seat.

“Lord Claudius, we’ve been looking for you for some time now.” – Ana, hiding her surprise.

Alexander and Ignatius had already spotted the Italian and were fast approaching, gathering the others as they did so. Soon all of them were there by Ana’s side.

Qamar sat down in a huff, it seemed that the girl had ignored her attempts to speak with her.

The Innkeeper gathered up the girl and soon vanished up the stairs.

By the time each of them finally took a seat at the table it was clear that Ignatius and Guadalupe were only barely keeping themselves in check.

The Venetian radiated an almost palpable aura of death as he sat at the head of the little table and it was strange to Ana that she hadn’t noticed it before.

More importantly, the Lady Amelia de Croy, the monster who had done this to her, was sitting next to her, watching her, and she hadn’t even noticed.

The other Conspirators too were sitting around them, the Lady Jadviga was seated gracefully at the table next to theirs, the girl, Theophana was sitting upon another table, Danika Ruthven stood upon the second floor looking down from the small balcony, while the Lady Dimitra was perched upon the railing.

Fernando Marchetti seemed to walk out of nothing, simply appearing halfway down the staircase.

“I’m sorry; Lord Claudius, but we have failed you. We were unable to die for you but we were able to escape them.” – Alexander, humbly

“How did you escape them?” – Amelia, incredulously.

“We were able to press Roderigo into our services after out torture. The fool showed us sympathy and helped us to feed, he even explained to us our condition as we put ourselves back together.” – Alexander laughed.

“And what happened to the treacherous ghoul?” – Fernando demanded as he came to stand close to his child.

“He’s with the horses, currently. I have claimed him as my own and have done a great deal to ensure that he will be loyal, even beyond the Blood Oath he’s taken with Hardestadt.” – Alexander.

Fernando scoffed but it was clear that he’d respect the childe’s wishes.

“When I say that we were tortured, Lord Claudius, please understand that I mean that had we still been alive we’d have been dead many times over. All I want to know is when you will allow us to return and exact our revenge upon the so-called Founders.” – Alexander.

His aura of command was surprisingly intense in the face of so many monsters.

Ana had to admit she was impressed.

“The founders claim that you wish to do away with Japheth to take his place in your…Clan’s… hierarchy, is this true? Is all of this a simple play for power?” – Ana asked.

The Conspirators laughed.

“Of course it’s true, my dear, at least to a point. We do want to destroy Japheth, the Methuselah is an evil from before the rise of man and the sway he holds over his sire will surely lead all of us, living and dead, to ruin. But if it were as simple as politics, do you really believe that I would have been able to bring together so many disparate creatures for this goal?” – Claudius.

“What did he do?” – Guadalupe, speaking for the first time since returning from the woods.

“Sadly, Japheth Cappadocius is lost to a terrible madness and it falls to me to destroy him before that madness spreads and corrupts the rest of the Cappadocian Clan. That is why I agreed to join Jadviga in founding this unholy cabal, why I plot against my own kin. We understand that we risk becoming Anathema to many of those who walk the Long Night, but the first son of the Cappadocian must be stopped. He truly believes that he can become a God on earth, that he can supersede our Lord on the fleshy plane. Such blasphemy must be put to rest before it can spread and do even more harm.” – Claudius explained.

“But surely he’s mad, such a thing cannot be possible, even for creatures such as us.” – Ignatius.

“That was my belief also, but Japheth is an old monster and he constantly grasps at things far beyond our kenning. He believes that he can raise the Childer of the First Cappadocian over our Lord and take his place in the heavens, thereby reigning over the living and the dead. It is a tantalizing thought, especially for a sect so devout and debased as the Clan of Death. God has cursed his hubris, but I fear it is not enough.” – Jadviga, rising as she joined the conversation.

“If you are among us who understand these implications than you understand that there are times when one must stand against the tide and do what is best for all, even if it damns you in the process. Our eyes are open, but we believe that God is on our side and we shall not fail!” – Fernando, vehemently, from his place behind Guadalupe.

“Why should we believe you? Just three nights ago you were celebrating your great victory by killing us slowly. How do we not know that the Founders are right, that you’re nothing but wanton monsters scrambling for power?” – Guadalupe to the Italian general.

“Look at the facts, dear childe, what have we told you? We have come together to destroy one of our own. We are not denying that, indeed as you so succinctly pointed out, we celebrate it! But we are attempting to destroy but one whilst these so called Bearers of Tradition would destroy all of us because we break the laws of a handful of our contemporaries who have decided to set forth laws over all of the Damned, think on that and then tell me who is more treacherous!” – Fernando fumed.

“We do not claim to be anything but evil, childe, but our evil is a mote in the vastness of one who has murdered and plotted against god since the time of the great deluge itself.” – Claudius

“You don’t mean to tell me that he is the same Japheth as the son of Noah.” – Guadalupe, it was her turn to be incredulous.

“I cannot say that for certain, no, but the fact is that I have found his name in records that date back to before the rise of the Pharaohs, and his own works speaking of the receding of waters. If he is not the son of Noah, it does little to discount his age.” – Claudius.

“You killed us, damned us and then left us to die in your stead and now you want our sympathy? Or are you going to end us yourself?” – Alexander, amicably.

“Even the Founders agree that the bond of Sire and Childe is sacrosanct, these “Law Bringers” who sent you to kill us are guilty of the crime they wish to punish us for six times over. Do you not see their hypocrisy? Do you not see the folly? We are not going to destroy you, our childer, Alexander, your creation was no easy thing and we are all grateful to see your continued existence, just as we all mourn to loss of young Karlo, for whom Leopold grieves. And let the cowards be thrice damned for sending our childer to do the deed for them.” – Jadviga

“Tradition means nothing when one’s true master is power!” – Fernando, bitterly.

“I will help you in this task, Lord Claudius, if what you say is true than Japheth must be stopped.” – Guadalupe.

Fernando clasped her shoulders happily.

Jadviga pressed herself against Alexander’s back, bending low to whisper into his ear even as she ran her fingers through his black hair.

“Once we have expunged the disease that is Japheth, our friend will wield great power amongst the Kindred and kine alike, Alexander. His family contains powerful vampires, skilled necromancers and the shrewdest merchants in Venice. Whoever allies with him shall reap great reward, and no one, least of all the founders, will have any power over any of us.” – Jadviga, sensing that Alexander still did not trust them.

Alexander stood suddenly and seemed to be on the verge of walking away. Instead he walked around her slowly, as if taking stock of her.

“How could I say no to you, milady.” – Alexander.

Ignatius stood abruptly and turned to leave.

“Where are you going, my childe?” – Danika, curiously

“This is all too much, I must have time to think.” – Ignatius respectfully.

“Do not take long, time is of the greatest importance if our plans are to succeed, young Basarab.” – Claudius called after him.

“Well, if everyone else is in agreement, let us toast to our future success.” – Claudius.

As if on cue the door opened and a young man that looked enough like the innkeeper and his daughter to be family entered holding a silver tray filled with cups of rich red liquid.

The smell of blood almost overwhelmed little Qamar as it was sat down in front of them all.

“A toast, to the Conspiracy of Isaac and the destruction of Japheth Cappadocius!” – Dimitra, speaking for the first time.

“A toast!” – Theophana agreed.

Others too joined in.

*

While the others drank their toast Ignatius stepped out into the chilled morning air to think.

“What troubles you, dear boy?” – it was Danika, though how she was able to follow him without his knowing startled him.

“Your compatriots speak of the sanctity of our blood and the necessity of your actions but those very actions put a lie to your claims!” – Ignatius, shouting at the noblewoman standing before him.

“What do you mean?” – Danika, her voice low.

“I speak of the bandits! Of you sending Lothario out to destroy us all!” – Ignatius.

The old woman’s dark eyes went wide.

“He did what?” – The old woman hissed.

Ignatius told her the whole of the story, of how they were accosted and how everyone of the bandits was now dead, save the man that Ignatius had kept.

“His name is Zavid; he claims to have been hired by a man fitting the description of Lothario Sforza.” – Ignatius.

“Bring the bandit!” – Danika growled before she turned and stormed back into the Inn. Ignatius couldn’t help but follow.

Though he’d been right behind her it seemed that Lord Claudius was somehow already aware of the situation when they returned, as he was on his feet with his eyes locked on the three of them.

Only a moment later Lothario appeared from the same door as the boy had. Ignatius couldn’t help but notice that he smelled of sex and the girl’s blood.

“Milord?” – Lothario, breathily.

“Lothario, it has come to our attention that these Cainites were accosted on the road here, and that those same bandits claim to have been hired by a man matching your description. Surely you have some explanation.” – Claudius, as though speaking to a child.

“I don’t know what they could be talking about, milord, it must be some mistake.” – Lothario

Ignatius pulled the bound bandit into view and released his gag.

“Zavid?”

“That’s the man who hired me and my friends, he offered us silver for it!” – the bandit, his voice filled with panic.

Lothario’s face contorted into a mask of rage.

“You impudent cur!” – Lothario as he charged the young man, his hand raised to slap the man across the face.

“You don’t touch him!” – Ignatius roared as he grabbed the ghoul’s arm and twisted.

Lothario began to shriek as somehow the man’s arm had become bent to nearly a ninety degree angle, and then twisted again. There was no sign of torn flesh or broken bones, though a livid bruise was forming.

Ignatius looked down at his own hand in equal parts horror and fascination before looking to his sire.

“What did I do?” – He demanded frantically.

“Only what you had to do to protect your property, youngling.” – Danika, pride showing on her face.

April 7, 1444, 10:46pm
A Forest Road
Not Far From Avrig

In the end they were convinced to do their sires’ bidding, something that the Elders were all too willing to believe was an earnest commitment to their cause.

Guadalupe had to admit that it was strange how such unscrupulous monsters could be so trusting, even of those whom they’d done harm.

Was the call of blood truly so important to the damned?

It didn’t matter, she supposed. They had their orders and were already on their way to fulfill them.

Their orders were simple really, they were to act as emissaries to Japheth, to deliver a message for Claudius.

He wanted them to explain, for him, that the heart-sore and contrite Claudius needed the ancient’s council as he was in the throes of a crisis of conscience. Conducting his family’s business dealings no longer excited him; color and meaning had left his life and he believed that Japheth’s wisdom could see him through this conversion, to leave behind the ways of his father and join with his Brother in Blood in their father’s house.

The ruse was as plain as it was disgusting. But perhaps the creature was as myopic as it was old. The possibility had struck the nun as all too likely.

Because the night was drawing to a close they had been given a place to stay, but were set to leave the moment the sun had set once more and now found themselves on a forest road with the mountains themselves in view.

They shared a carriage for this jaunt; with Alexander riding with the driver and Domnall and Ignatius riding above with Zavid, the three ladies had more than enough room to ride comfortably.

To add to the absurdity of it all the nun was currently wearing the clothes of one of Jadviga’s ladies in waiting, clothes that were finer than any she’d worn in her life.

She chastised herself for enjoying it.

So busy was Guadalupe chastising herself that when the carriage suddenly lurched forward she was thrown, along with the other ladies, against the front of the coach, Little Qamar landed hard, knocking the air from her lungs.

“What happened?” – Qamar cried out.

A fiery arrow imbedded itself into the coach’s wall. The nun steeled herself against the Beast’s terror before seeing Domnall’s giant hand tear the arrow from the wood and send it flying out into the forest.

“We’re being attacked.” – Guadalupe.

“Again?” – Ana, exasperation and fear tainting her voice.

“Are these more of your men?” – Ignatius, eyeing Zavid.

“No, sir, I’ve no idea what’s happening!” – The bandit.

Ignatius tossed him a blade.

“Prepare to defend yourself!”

When the bodies of the band of highwaymen had been discovered the people of Sebeș had been in a panic. They may have been killers and thieves, but whatever had killed them had done so with a ferocity that wasn’t human.

Clement had inspected the bodies, and indeed there were signs of the attack having been the work of the damned. Throats torn out by all too human teeth, a man’s gut’s pulled from his body through a horrid tear, bodies bitten, chewed and torn asunder.

The bodies were burned, of course, after being beheaded. Clement’s fellow inquisitors were convinced that the monster must have been a local fiend, but Clement was convinced that he knew better.

He believed that the massacre had been the work of a sabbat of vampires that had gone nearly feral.

His suspicions were confirmed in the worst way possible.

Upon the shirt of poor soul that had been torn limb from limb he found a note, addressed to him, written in blood.

It claimed to have been written by Sister Guadalupe, a sister inquisitor he’d met some nights ago in Sighisoara. She claimed to have been cursed with undeath and wished for release. She’d claimed to be heading into the city of Sebeș to contact the monsters that had damned her eternal soul and would send him further information as to their location as soon as she could.

The next morning he found another missive from the monster, this time written with ink and quill and left at the door of one of the city’s smaller churches.

She told him that they would be traveling on the road to the Monastery of St. Timothy and moreover it begged that he end the suffering of her soul.

Something told the priest that he could trust this monster, that perhaps the divinity of the girl was overwhelming the monster that had stolen her dead flesh.

Brother Clement’s instincts had been correct.

The Coach made good time as it drove through the forest toward Avrig. Upon it sat three figures, the most notable was the giant but he recognized the smallest of the three as being the man who’d offered him his services alongside the Spanish nun not a week before.

To Clement’s horror, the boy had become noticeably paler and his posture spoke of something not quite human.

It seemed that something dreadful had indeed befallen those he had once hoped to count as allies.

The brother swore on that moment that he would free them from this cursed existence, that he would set their souls free.

The knights who came with him, members of the Order of the Poor Knights of the Passion of the Cross of Acre, were well trained in the ways of hunting and destroying the damned.

When the carriage’s front axle fell into the rut in the road Brother Kristof began the attack.

The knights brought with them special weapons, among them flaming arrows and what they called “Goliath Slayers”, stones wrapped in linen and soaked in holy water.

The knights let loose their burning arrows.

The first hit the coach wall but the giant reached down and tore it free, tossing it to the ground.

The monsters’ thralls, men who willingly turned their backs on God’s grace to serve their undead masters, went to work cutting away any and all of the burning arrows that caught the carriage.

“I warned thee, I told thee to shun the halls of the damned! You did not heed my warning and now you are damned yourself!”

The knight glared cruelly at Clement, and the monk couldn’t help but think happily on the idea that he would see the bastard die and sent to hell.

“Clement! I thought we were friends!” – the scarred boy called from the top of the coach.

“My friend died! You’re just the thing that killed him!” – Clement bellowed.

One of the knights let loose their Goliath Slayer and struck the giant full on in the face. The beast’s hands rose to block their view but the sight of black smoke erupting from his cheek told the monk that the strange weapon was effective.

When the giant lowered his hands the left side of his face was nothing but a great black hole, the flesh having erupted, exploding off of now blackened bone. Only his dark eye remained relatively unscathed.

Unfortunately, with the exception of infuriating the giant further, the attack seemed to have no effect. Before Clement could even realize that the thing had raised some sort of weapon he felt something heavy upon his chest.

Clement looked down to see what looked like a hole in his chest, his life’s blood pouring out of him in great gouts.

By the time he fell to his knees, the monk was already dead.

Kristof was aware of the death of the monk, and he made a note to mourn him when he had a chance, but this was not that time.

Even as the monk fell the Coach doors flew open and a dark haired woman stepped out, her eyes bright. She looked him right in the eye and smiled, and it dawned on the knight that this was the woman who had warned Brother Clement of their destination.

In the moment that Kristof took to think on that the woman vanished, flickering from view with a speed that he could not fathom and leaving him looking for another target.

In this case it was the knight that the monk had pointed out to him. The man moved like a seasoned warrior as he charged into battle toward one of the other knights.

The knight thrust his sword into his fellow’s stomach, and though Kristof was sure that the blade was at least turned aside by the knight’s armor it was still enough to put him down.

Kristof turned again, taking in the battlefield, watching the other knights draw their swords or ready their Goliath Slayers, just as he was.

He was not expecting the Lady to step out of the carriage. She was beautiful, just as the dark haired woman was, but snow white in her paleness. Her hair looked like spun gold and her eyes seemed to flash amber in the light of the moon.

She looked at him with those beautiful eyes and he couldn’t help but notice how bright they were, how the black pupils seemed like great pools in which he could find himself falling into…

Guadalupe watched as the battle played out around her from beneath the carriage. She’d thought that the captain had seen her when she stepped from the coach but found that she moved with such speed that the fear had proved unfounded.

She had thought that when the knights attacked that she would be relieved that her nightmarish existence would finally be over, but now, as she watched her friend, Brother Clement, lay dead upon the hillside and Alexander bury his sword in the stomach of one of the Brother-knights, she couldn’t help but wonder if she had made a mistake.

The Captain pulled another cloth wrapped stone from his satchel and prepared to throw it as Ignatius leapt into the fray. Lady Ana stepped from the Coach and for a moment Guadalupe once again felt a glimmer of hope but then, as the Lady approached the Captain, she saw his arm go slack and the stone fall to the ground. Having somehow enchanted the holy knight, Ana took his hand in hers and buried her long curved teeth into the captain’s arm, drinking deeply from him.

Another knight attacked Alexander as he stood over his victim but the knight had somehow seen him coming and side stepped him. Guadalupe caught a glimpse of his face and saw that it was twisted into a mask of devilish glee, his eyes bright and his smiling mouth full of long pointed teeth. Alexander threw his sword after him, somehow impossibly burying it in the poor man’s back.

Her attention was pulled from the most monstrous ally’s assault by the sound of a little girl’s screams as Qamar tumbled out of the cart, her jaw smoking and sizzling from where one of those stones had hit her at the side of her neck and face.

It had only been a glancing blow and Guadalupe found herself both regretting that it had not been a clearer shot and grateful that her young friend had survived.

Qamar began to stand, her eyes wild as she glared blindly at the nun. In an instant the girl was on her feet and charging one of the knights, leaping upon his back and screaming a hell born monstrosity and burying her teeth into his neck.

Another knight had engaged Ignatius, slashing at the young man’s chest and burying his sword in his side before unsheathing it from his body. Guadalupe wasn’t surprised to see that the Romanian was still standing as the knight began to swing again. Ignatius swung, closefisted, at the surprised knight. The man’s head rolled back and to the left. The nun saw that the Romanian had somehow dented the man’s helmet with his blow.

The knight stood for another moment, his head spinning, before collapsing to his knees and finally to the ground, unconscious. Guadalupe breathed a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that her friend would not kill the knight.

The giant leapt from the carriage top and landed upon another of the knights, crushing him under his massive weight before falling upon him and tearing out his throat.

*

Alexander finished licking the blood from his sword and turned his eyes toward the monk. He approached the corpse and scraped the heel of his boot across the corpse’s face.

He bent down and looked into its glassy eyes and chuckled.

“I don’t know how you found us, priest, but I wanted you to regret it.” – Alexander whispered.

He looked back at the coach where Ignatius and the Nun were at work pulling the coach from the rut that it had fallen into. It was a miracle of sorts that the horses survived this pathetic little altercation.

It was amazing how hard they were to kill now.

It was amazing how freeing it was for the mortal coil to be lifted.

He looked down at the body again and laughed whole heartedly.

“Oh, father, I think I will make you regret it. Forever!” – Alexander, running the palm of his hand across his blade.

April 7, 1444, 11:37pm
The Shadow of the Făgăraş Mountains
The Domain of Japheth
Abbot of Manastirea Sf. Timotei Martirizat

Guadalupe fumed as she watched Qamar play with her ‘new toy’. The Brother Knight, a man called Alin that she referred to exclusively as her “Pet”.

Guadalupe had attempted to kill the man when she’d fed him her blood but it had only resulted in his further damnation. When he arose Guadalupe had wept and had continued to weep for the rest of the trip.

Ignatius had also bound one of them, though he assured her that he had only fed him some blood and had not imparted even a modicum of his curse.

He would release him when they reached the Monastery.

She had her doubts.

Both the knight and Qamar’s Pet had been bound tightly before they began to leave and they were now under Zavid’s care.

Now they were approaching the boundary of the Monastery, a short wall of black stone delineated the grounds from the surrounding lands. In the middle distance stood the monastery itself, a small, squat building that was shockingly new, upon a hill. A lush, manicured garden surrounds it on all sides, small headstones jutting from flowerbeds and beneath large, majestic trees engendered a sense of serenity within the nun that she had not felt since rising from the dead.

Like many Romanian monasteries, the building itself was brightly painted with the faces of saints. Standing before the Făgăraş Mountains, looking all the smaller and more beautiful for it, Guadalupe found that she was incapable of imagining that this place could be home to so ancient an evil.

The air was filled with only the sounds of the monks singing unto the lord whilst kneeling in a circle within the garden in front of the monastery.

Alexander cleared his throat as an elderly monk passed but seemed to go unnoticed.

“We’re here to see Japheth” – Domnall, loudly

The old man continued on his way but another, very young monk rose and without a word beckoned for them to follow him.

They passed through the knave and into the monastery proper where they were guided down a small stone stairway into the catacombs below.

The earthen halls were lit sparingly by small waxy candles and they walked for some time through coffin lined walls until they reached another chamber that was very similar to the monastery above but seemed, somehow, much older. The room was filled with a cold light that did not seem to come from anywhere in particular and was empty save for a raised altar and dais. Beyond that stood three ancient looking wooden chairs; the central chair along with that to its left were empty save the strange rune carved into the center one.

The rune itself reminded Guadalupe of a chalice or a bull’s head. A half circle attached to a long stem, to the left and right of the stem were two smaller stalks that stood unattached to the greater shape.

Though she did not know what that symbol might mean its appearance alone filled her with dread.

To the right of whomever that seat was meant for sat a young man in monk’s robe and tonsure. He was handsome, or had been once. But now his clean face was pale and vaguely blue, especially around his lips, nose and deep-set eyes. Great dark veins stood out in relief to the smoothness of his skin, putting to mind the appearance of veined marble.

He rose gracefully, as one would imagine a stone statue might if it were to suddenly come to life.

“Are you Japheth?” – Qamar, sweetly.

“Yes, I am Japheth, my child. I am the first and foremost scion of the Cappadocian and the clan that bears his name and Abbot of the Monastery of the Martyred St. Timothy.” – Japheth touching the girl’s blackened wound.

Qamar flinched painfully and the Methuselah turned to the silent monk.

“See to her wounds.” – Japheth, his voice soft.

The monk obeyed, escorting the girl away from the others to clean the wound with some water.

“Abbot Japheth, we have come to give you a message but first we must tell you that what we are to tell you is a trick, the monster who sent us, Lord Claudius, plans to murder you.” – Guadalupe, unable to lie to the beatific creature standing before her.

Ignatius glared at the nun for a moment before relaying the message, hanging the ancient a written letter as he did so.

The only reaction they could perceive from Japheth was a slight twitch in the corner of his mouth as he refolded the letter.

“Please, I must confer with my Sire.” – Japheth, his voice strained.

They’d expected to be excused or for the vampire to excuse himself but instead he simply took his seat once more and with a slight shudder his body went rigid.

Japheth’s eyes seemed to lose their warmth and animation, taking on the appearance of glass beads. After a moment the room dimmed and they watched in horror as the ancient’s body withered, the placid faced boy shriveling into little more than a dried out and blackened corpse.

Moments passed and Guadalupe began to fear the worst: that somehow the ancient had simply ceased to be.

Ana even approached it, nudging its shoulder experimentally, but nothing happened.

Then the room began to brighten again and the Lady jumped back. This time though the light source seemed to be the strange sigil upon the central chair. What few shadows existed in the room seemed to be attempting to flee.

The husk flickered and began to fill out before the vampire rose again.

“My father wishes to speak with you.” – Japheth rasped.

The glow from the sigil intensified, taking on the shape of a man. His skin horribly white, his long hair and beard were as black as coal. He too wore robes, but these were the robes of a shepherd. The thing’s sunken eyes seemed to see them all and none of them at the same time.

Guadalupe noted that the figure, though ‘sitting’ didn’t seem to actually be touching the chair itself.

“Welcome, children, I am He that was once called the Cappadocian, I am the Son of All of the Kindred of Caine, unburden your hearts unto me.” – The Luminous being intoned, his voice gentle but possessed of an unbearable strength.

And they did.

April 8, 1444, 1:18am
The Domain of Japheth
Abbot of Manastirea Sf. Timotei Martirizat

The Cappadocian, upon hearing their confession, bade them return to the place of their murder and to pray for their victims’ forgiveness.

Not all of them had chosen to return, Alexander had stayed behind, unwilling to face the Priest that he had damned.

Ana was sure that Guadalupe would never forgive the Lord and she couldn’t blame her.

When each of them, save Domnall, had unburdened themselves, explaining not only the crimes they had committed earlier in the night, but also everything that had occurred since arriving in Sighisoara he had responded as if he’d known it all already.

“To understand that which has come before requires a wisdom that you do not yet possess; the teachings of the Book of Nod tell us that to have Wisdom is to possess Life beyond Death and that those who lack wisdom perish even while still living. Do any of you wish to possess this wisdom?” – Cappadocius cryptically.

“To learn at the feet of one such as you would be a great honor.” – Ana, truthfully.

The others, save Alexander, agreed.

The Antediluvian appeared before the Lord.

“To turn away from this world is an arduous path and it is not for everyone. Leave this place and return to the world above. Go with the knowledge that you know yourself too well.” – Cappadocius, placing his hand upon Alexander’s shoulder.

The Lord nodded and left, striding from the room with his head held high.

When he was gone the Antediluvian turned to the others.

“For those of you who care to grow wise, do this: Return to those Templars that attacked you, forgive them with all your heart and bless them in the name of our Lord. When you have done so return to me and you shall become wise.” – Cappadocius.

They did as they were told, returning to the sight of their massacre they asked forgiveness of each of those knights who had been killed. Guadalupe had wept bloody tears at the revelation that the monk, Brother Clement, was nowhere to be found.

As they gave the last of their blessings the four dead men sat up suddenly, their wounds closing, their color returned to them.

The vampires had returned to the monastery, their heads held high, their crimes absolved.

They found Cappadocius awaiting their return at the dais.

“Because you have harkened, you shall hear.” – Cappadocian, motioning for them to sit before him.

“There is an old fable told by the Clan of the Moon: ‘When I made a sacrifice of plants and fed upon them I rose above them to become lord over plants and like unto a god. When I made a sacrifice of animals and fed upon them I rose above them and became lord over animals and like unto a god and when I made a sacrifice of Men I rose above them and became lord over Men and became unto a god!’”.

The Ancient stepped down from the altar and placed his ephemeral hand upon Qamar’s shoulder.

“The Malkavians know more about these matters than do any of the other Clans. They understood that the Spirit has risen from plants to animals to man and to the Children of Caine. We are not cursed by God but are blessed with life everlasting. Our savior did say “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him, and whosoever eatheth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life and I will raise him up to the last day.” Did he not?”

The assembled kindred nodded reverently.

“But did you also know what St. Luke says of our Savior? “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly and his sweat was as great drops of blood that fell upon the ground.” Blood for sweat, as ye have blood for sweat, what do ye make of these portents?” – The Antediluvian asked.

They sat there quietly, unable to respond as he looked from face to face hopefully.

“Our savior was more blessed than man or kindred, but we kindred are a step on the path. We are a step closer to God through Caine. God’s redemption is for creatures such as us! We must have our own sacrificial Lamb before God.”

“You wish to Martyr yourself, to become closer to God?” – Ana.

“Our savior said “I am the bread of Life yet he that cometh to me shall never hunger and he that believeth in me shall never thirst.” Well, I shall believe in him! I shall come unto him! I shall consume him! Just as kindred feed upon man I shall feed upon God and rise above him. I shall become Lord over all! But, just as I had to die to rise above death so must I die to rise above the mark of God. I must die to my current state just as I once died to my humanity. My death shall be a crucifixion, my consumption of God will be my sacrament and it must be a perfect act, a pure act of sacrifice for the good of all, including my enemy.” – Cappadocius, reverently. Madly.

Ana could hear the sound of bones popping and turned to see Guadalupe gritting her teeth and making fists trying desperately to keep her composure.

“Who would make an enemy of one such as you, Lord Cappadocius?” – Ignatius, his disgust in the subject seemed to be lost on the death god before them.

Ana looked over at the Abbot to see that he was as pained by this blasphemous sermon as they were disgusted by it.

“Mine is the Clan of Life after Death. Life beyond Death. Death, not as an end but as a beginning and I am to become the ferrymen of Souls! Let all who have eyes see and all that have ears hear, let them that have minds understand, and those that have souls know! Amen.” – Cappadocius, intoned in a mockery of prayer.

And then, just like that he was gone.

“Are you going to stop this madness?” – Guadalupe demanded of the ancient vampire.

“I did not know. He has never confided so much of his plan to me as he has just now. You should be exceedingly glad. My father rarely appears before us and almost never to those of another’s blood and has never revealed himself to ones so young as yourself, let alone so far from the source of our Curse.” – Japheth’s voice was hollow, even broken.

Guadalupe approached, placing her hand on his own.

“You must understand that the Conspiracy of Isaac plans to kill you. They believe that it is you who are behind this deicidal plot. They must be warned.” – Guadalupe

The ancient laughed.

“If what you say is true than something must be done, but remember, sister, our Lord’s view of false witnesses. Though I would not be surprised that a scion of that woe begotten family would attempt to… It seems that the money lenders have once again invaded the temple and we have taken tax collectors to our bosom. I am sure of my father wis– ” – Japheth grew quiet and contemplative again, unwilling or unable to finish the thought.

“Didn’t our lord also accept tax collectors amongst his disciples?” – Ana, meekly.

Japheth glared at her and she instinctively took a step back.

“Either way, I shall do as my sire bids.” – Japheth, his voice still distant.

With that he sent them back out into the world.

April 8, 1444, 1:58am
The Domain of Japheth
Abbot of Manastirea Sf. Timotei Martirizat

Guadalupe had chosen to stay behind, having gained permission from the Abbot to make her haven in the catacombs beneath the monastery as long as she promised to refrain from feeding upon any of the monks who made it their home.

Domnall, unable to see what good such an action would be, was able to send a missive to Hardestadt by way of a crow that they came upon in the road warning the Lord of this newest, most terrible development.

And with that the coterie, less one, returned to their sires.

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