I left the inn and hurried towards the ruined church, all thought of shadows and anonymity gone. I had one objective; find Ettori before the locals did and decided that he was a demon. Squelching my way through the muck, I found him poking around one of the buildings near the ruins. Grabbing him by the shoulders I pulled him into a dirt road between two buildings. He tried to protest but my arts allow me to eliminate noise near me, and silence felt prudent under the circumstances.
When we got into our hiding space I held my finger to my lips indicating he should be quiet. He was yelling soundlessly at me. I slapped him about the face and put finger to lips again. Annoyed, he stopped. I withdrew the silence.
“You had better have an exceptionally good reason for doing that, Ethan…”
“Apologies, but you are about as subtle as a rampaging werewolf. You could be in danger here.”
“That seems unlikely, I am a man of-“
“They are suspicious of Priests in these parts. They burned the last one alive as they thought he was a demon. They’d do the same to you.”
“So this clumsy effort was your way of saving me?” Ettori looked conflicted. He didn’t have long to ponder, as Menw reappeared at that precise point.
“What have you learned?”
Glaring one final time at me, Ettori nodded to the church. “The fire started there as we suspected. Burned hot enough to melt any ornaments inside. I found another house down the street. No sign of people living in it, but with a wooden cross outside. Looks like they are using it as a church.”
“And you, Ethan, what did you find?”
“Stuff that supports what Ettori found. It seems Brother Chax visited here five years back, and convinced the locals that Father Damon was a demon in disguise. Do we know if he was Kindred, like us?”
Menw shook his head. “I do not know of any vampires by that name. How did Chax do it?”
“It seems Damon focused on the Old Testament, doom and gloom stuff. Chax convinced the townsfolk that he was missing bits out and would only do that if he was a demon. The inn keeper has gaps in his memory I think. He rationalised. A lot. And it calls to mind something Chax said to me about the Prince’s men.”
“He said that Father Alun, back at Nefyn, had turned the crowd against them. Just spoke to them, and then a few days later we find their bodies. Something isn’t right here at all.”
“You have a gift for understatement,” said Ettori. “Perhaps even a gift for the obvious.”
Ignoring him, I continued, “I think Nefyn was a trap, or perhaps bait for us.”
Menw nodded slightly. “Your words might have merit. Explain.”
“Five years ago, Chax convinces the townsfolk here that there priest is a demon. Regardless whether it was one of us, or not, he convinced the residents to kill a man of the cloth. He also instilled in them distrust of sanctioned clergy. They are convinced the priesthood has been infiltrated…by demons.”
“You mean like me?” asked Ettori.
“Exactly. And the Prince. And Dandrain. He used his words to turn the people against Damon and had him killed. What if the story he told me at Nefyn was a half-truth? What if the villagers were turned against the Prince’s men? But not by Father Alun, but by Chax.”
“For what purpose?” If Menw was confused he exhibited no sign.
“To cause the Prince to send us. Ettori, when Father Alun fought you he radiated power. I felt it as did you. And so did Chax. He was cowering the entire time. What if Chax hid the tithe to lure the Prince’s men, and then us, hoping that we would suspect the priest and kill him? What if his purpose was to lure us to kill his jailer?”
“Ok, Ethan, there is merit in what you say, if not proof. What is your next move, if you were Chax?”
I knelt in the muck and drew a cross in the mud. “Menw, this cross represents Llandowi. Would you be so kind as to mark Cardiff and Ellewyn?”
My Elder complied, hunkering down and marking two other x marks. I then traced a line from the furthest, Ellewyn to Cardiff. A more or less straight line between the two that passed through Llandowi. “I go to Cardiff next and start putting words in the ears of the locals. Spread rumours of demons in the church, and turn the populace against Emrick and any who stand with him. Words as weapons, ideas become the tools of murder by proxy. If you have an ally in Cardiff that understands animal speech, send word back immediately. The Prince may be in danger from the good citizens of his city.”
“I can get a message back, have no fear.”
Ettori was transfixed by the crude drawing. “Your simple hunter’s instincts told you all this?”
Time for a bit of truth, salted with lies. “No, my Sire used to lecture me on ancient history. And the history of humans is the history of war. Some of the plotting or strategy must have sunk in.”
“You two best get out of town, and continue on to Ellewyn. The longer you are here, the more you risk being found out. I go no further. Head along the north road. You will come to a stream in a few hours. Turn left at that point, and you will see foothills. You will find a cave there for shelter. It is the best shelter before Ellewyn. Don’t get killed.”
Menw faded from sight, leaving only us and our horses behind. I dragged my foot across the muck destroying the map, and mounted Atlas. We left the town quickly with no further remark.
The stream was exactly where Menw had indicated. Ettori was not in any mood to talk that night and that suited me. I think he was still smarting from my rough handling. I imagine he will eventually get over it. I passed the rest of the evening attempting to reach my cloak in our new shelter. Concentration was harder as there was water flowing from within, supplying the stream. It made the place damp, cold and uncomfortable. I reminded myself that the Prince had agreed to my terms, so I was obliged to serve and some discomfort was to be expected. The cloak was once again just out of reach. However, I felt I was closer than I had ever been and that soon it would respond to my will as the silence did. Perhaps with more time, it would have come, but sleep took me before I could achieve anything.
I woke the next night and walked to the cave entrance. The mounts had dutifully remained close. I sent out a call using my arts. A call for deer. Likely the biggest thing nearby that I could convince to allow us to feed. I could hear shuffling about in the cave behind me. No doubt he would be hungry too.
A deer walked to the cave mouth within a few minutes. “Hello friend. Might I borrow some of your strength?”
“Yes, borrow is good.”
Ettori and I drank sparingly from the deer before allowing it to leave. Compared to the one from the night before, this one was shaky on its legs. It should recover, however it made me wonder about what was different between it and the other.
The ride to Ellewyn was uneventful and passed quickly, ending when we arrived at open and unguarded gates. It looked much the same as any one of a hundred towns, mucky roads, mostly wooden buildings, excepting the blacksmith of course, and there was the church, the wooden steeple stretching above and looking down on the inhabitants.
Without waiting for my approval or input, Ettori encouraged his horse toward it. Given the potential danger, I instructed Atlas to wait outside the town, and approached the church cautiously. I could feel the anonymity starting to coalesce around me, enveloping me. The shadows were sanctuary once more. Ettori didn’t notice, of course, so determined was he to reach the church. Of course, it wasn’t to go entirely to plan. A couple of townsfolk met him in the street. I decided to test the strength of my art, and the skill of Ettori.
They paid me no heed and greeted him. Blunt as ever they discovered they were coming from a hard day’s labour, and a late service, and were now on their way to the tavern. They indicated the location, which I noted for later scouting. When they left Ettori glanced around for me, confused. I stepped from my sanctuary.
“Apologies. I was testing my arts. And the fewer people that see the scarred man with an executioner’s hood, the better.”
“Your skill is improving it would seem. Good thinking. Come now.”
The Church was of wooden construction and not so dissimilar to what Llandowi should have looked like were it still standing. The door was ajar and light spilled into the street. With no regard for caution or prudence, Ettori pushed through, with me following a cautious distance behind.
Standing at the front of the church stood a man in priestly robes. He had short dark hair and a cropped beard. He had the weathered look of someone advancing in years, a face as rigid as stone; stern but not unkind. He was reading from what I assume to be the bible. I couldn’t quite tell if he was human or like us. Perhaps a test was required. Before looking up, he spoke. “Good evening travellers, my name is Father Steinveld. Please come in and be welcome in my church.”
He spoke with a thick accent, an accent I had never encountered before. He placed his emphasis on sharp sounds, like the letter v, and his speech rose in volume towards the end of each sentence.
Ettori greeted him as a fellow brother of the cloth. I greeted him with a challenge. “Good evening, Father Steinveld. You may call me Ethan. Thank you for inviting us into your home.”
His attention was suddenly on me and his demeanour shifted from welcoming to cautious. “Of course, my son. And what brings a kindred spirit into my home this evening?”
I examined him closely. He was not especially pale, however others of our kind can appear less deathly, flooding colour into their cheeks, remembering to breathe and to blink. He was keeping up appearances well, but I was pretty sure we were standing in the presence of another vampire. Peasant superstition holds that we need invitation to enter the homes of others, and he was canny enough to not only note my challenge, but respond using the word kindred. I confess, I don’t like it as a label. It seems to be a lie perpetrated by others of my kind wishing to distance themselves from the idea that they are monsters. However, the fact that he said it was an indicator of his true nature.
Ettori answered him. “We are here seeking information about someone who used to work here.”
Steinveld feigned confusion. “There hasn’t been anyone else working here for a long time. Near ten years, and he didn’t last long.”
His eyes met Ettori’s but they kept coming back to me. “It is him that Ettori and I have questions about.”
“We have travelled from Cardiff, with questions from the Cathedral,” added Ettori.
“This church is not answerable to Cardiff, now I must insist you tell me why you are really here.” Steinveld lowered his tone into a measured response, quiet, calm and intense.
“Father Steinveld,” said Ettori, “We simply seek answers, and shelter for the night.”
“Come now, let us not pretend any longer. You mean day, don’t you?”
“I don’t understand what you mean, Father.”
Steinveld chuckled. “I mean, you and your Nosferatu friend need shelter for the day. I am Steinveld of the Ventrue Clan, and if Cardiff is claiming my domain, then, I am afraid there will be trouble.”
The Mycroft Journals is a serialised fiction, written in response to a roleplaying game I play in. It serves multiple purposes. It acts as a permanent reminder of what happened in the story (so, it helps us players), it acts as an advert for the game, and I think our Games Master has provided us with a compelling story, which other people should get to experience.
Featured artwork is by Barry Martin. Check out his page