Steinveld placed his book beside him, his eyes never leaving us. He was unarmed, however his stern features brooked no quarrel. The silence between us was ominous, as if waiting for the mayhem that would follow if we three decided to do battle. Ettori broke the silence.
“We aren’t here to claim your territory on behalf of Cardiff, brother. We truly do seek information.”
Steinveld’s eyes glazed over for a second then returned to normal. “Perhaps. Your masters do not necessarily tell you everything. And now you know I am here. Cardiff will know I am here.”
In a bold move which surprised me, Ettori was ready for that. “We don’t need to tell the Prince about you.”
Reader, you know my relationship with the truth can best be described as fluid. I always saw Ettori as rigid and inflexible. This was another side to him and, frankly, it impressed me. Either he was willing to lie to hide Steinveld. Or he was willing to lie to a Priest in front of him. Not necessarily admirable traits, however it might help him survive a bit longer. Steinveld was considering. I had already calculated the outcomes and weighed in.
“Ettori, I doubt we could keep Steinveld secret. And should we be caught, punishment would swiftly follow. On us, and perhaps on him.” I directed my next words to the Ventrue. “The Prince is a Brujah.”
He allowed a small smile to briefly appear. “And Brujah have tempers. Go on, Nosferatu. What is your point?”
“The Prince has treated fairly and openly with us thus far. At least as far as I can determine. I believe he would treat with you the same way. Ellewyn is too far away for him to reasonably lay claim. I believe we could convince him that Ellewyn with an ally in it is more useful than annexing a domain too far to reasonably hold.”
“More of your sire’s strategy lessons, Ethan?”
“Just common sense, Ettori.”
Steinveld’s gaze grew distant as he considered my words. “Perhaps contact is unavoidable.”
His words were grudging. “Better to be on your terms, Father.”
“It has been too long since I shared the wisdom of your kind, Ethan. Very well. Let us talk.”
I nodded slightly to Ettori and he took over. “We are seeking information about a monk. Brother Chax.”
“Yes. He wasn’t here very long. Didn’t work out. Seemed normal enough at first…” Steinveld tilted his head and stroked his beard. “Normal enough, then he started to act a bit strange. It was very bizarre. He was reading scriptures about Caine and Abel, and then he started acting oddly.”
“Oddly?” said Ettori.
“Yes. He became increasingly paranoid. He was convinced the Church had been infiltrated by demons, and that we had to tell the congregation. I resolved to confront him, but when I did…he was already gone.”
“I seem to be hearing this tale a lot,” I said. “Can you recall anything else?”
His gaze met mine. “I have your word you will advocate on my behalf to your Prince? That you will work to prevent conflict?”
He knows something. “Yes. My word.”
His eyes glazed over for a second, focusing on me before returning to normal. “Very well. I was able to view his soul, the way our kind sometimes can. It flickered.”
I recalled an art that others practice that allows the reading of emotions and intent. I assumed this was what he was talking about. He was probably doing it to me when his eyes focused or glazed over. I need to remember that and be on the lookout for it. “What does that mean?”
“I do not know. Your soul and mine are pale. A human is bright. His…flickered.”
Further discussion was curbed by a ruckus behind us. I heard three loud, excitable voices approaching.
“Are you having another sermon tonight, Father?” I asked.
Steinveld shook his head. The wooden doors were flung open, framing three men of the village. They carried a fork, a scythe and a rake and they looked angry. One of them was one of the people that spoke to Ettori earlier. They looked at him and there was murder in their eyes.
Steinveld hurried forward, his arms out, his expression open. “Friends, what are you doing?”
The spokesman, the one from earlier wielding the fork indicated Ettori. “We’re here for him. And his friend. We been told they are demons. They were at Nefyn when it was destroyed. We need to deal with them, Father.”
“Come now, Edward. These are my friends, simple travellers from the Cathedral of Cardiff. They are not demons. What would make you think so?”
The villagers advanced. “Another traveller came into town, came to the tavern to warn us about those two. Said they destroyed Nefyn.”
Steinveld was losing ground with them. Ettori stepped forward, “My sons, I swear in the name of God and his saints we did not destroy Nefyn.”
His declaration gave the villagers pause. I needed to back him up. “We were at Nefyn, certainly. It was destroyed by a freak storm. It was tragic. It was us that carried word of their plight to Cardiff, in order that aid could be sent. Tell me, who told you otherwise?”
“His name was Harald…and he said you’d try and confuse us…”
“We are in a Church,” I said, and then indicated Ettori and Steinveld, “My friend here swore by God and your priest has vouched for us. Tell me, did Harald say we were dangerous?”
Edward nodded swiftly. “Yeah, very dangerous! Said you were demons and that we needed to kill you.”
“And then you came here to kill us?”
“Very brave of you, to come with farming tools and only three of you.” The villagers looked at one another, their jaws opening slowly and their eyes widening. “To kill two demons who can call storms powerful enough to destroy villages. And he didn’t even come to help you. What kind o a friend does that? Tell me what does Harald look like?”
“He has…,” Edward paused. “He looked normal. Nothing special. And his voice was friendly.”
“You can’t tell me any more details than he looked normal?”
Edward’s mouth hung open as he tried to think of other details. Tried and failed. There are powers of anonymity that can make even a monster such as me pass for human without disguise. Unless a wielder is gifted in their usage, they tend to create merely bland, forgettable faces that could be any one of a hundred people.
“You have been deceived, bewitched.” The villagers looked dubious. “Where is Harald now?”
“Back at the Tavern.” All of the anger was gone from the villagers and was replaced with fear and confusion.
“Ettori, Steinveld, those people might be in danger. And I believe you two are the only ones capable of containing it.” Ettori nodded.
Steinveld addressed the villagers. “Go home. Put those tools away, before you hurt someone or yourselves. My friends and I will take care of this.”
We hurried to the tavern. Ettori readied his sword and I unslung my bow. The building looked like it could have been a barn or a town hall. Ettori was first to the door. “Follow me in”
He charged into the building, with me close behind, bow ready to fire and we were met with blank fearful stares. The tavern was full of patrons drinking, talking and two were even wrestling. Nothing untoward was happening at all. I quickly lowered my weapon, Ettori doing the same. Steinveld scanned the room. “They are what they appear to be.”
I beckoned to my comrades. “Keep them inside. I am going to summon spies and scout, to see if I can find our quarry. It wouldn’t be good if they saw me.”
Steinveld and Ettori nodded, and I left the tavern. I took the road to the outskirts of town, glanced around quickly and once satisfied that I was unobserved, I released a beckoning shriek. I could feel my arts tugging at the birds nearby, calling to them, compelling them to come to me. First one old crow, and then two and three and then soon a flock of about 20 landed at my feet.
I met the eyes of one and spoke. “Hello friend. I need you to talk to your kin for me. I am hunting monsters. Have you seen any?”
It looked at me with its shiny black eyes and then cawed at the flock. The flock responded, and I felt certain the noise would attract the attention of the villagers, such was the screeching racket. However, all was still well, so far. The birds shrieked, cackled and shrieked some more, then the one I had addressed spoke.
“Monster. Yes.” It pointed in one direction along the edge of town with a wing. It then leaned forward and brought its wings together in front of its breast, and then started moving them up and down.
“I am sorry friend, I don’t understand.”
“Big teeth. Sharp teeth. Fast.” It moved the wings again and began shifting on its feet nervously.
What was it trying to tell me?
“It fast. Big teeth.” The wings again. And the feet again…moving. All of them, moving, in sequence.
“Four legs, like a horse you mean?” I pointed at Atlas, who was still wandering near the outskirts. The crow nodded. I pointed to myself and then Atlas. “Two legs. And four?”
The flock began cawing loudly. “Good, Friends. Can you follow it? Circle high, and don’t go near until I call? Then fly down, strike once. Only when I call.”
More shrieking, but I understood it. They were agreeing. They leapt into the air and flew off toward the fast big teeth. I summoned Atlas and then hurried to the tavern. There was no way I was facing whatever had spooked them alone.
I explained to Ettori and Steinveld quickly what I had learned. Ettori was sceptical as it didn’t match with what we knew of Chax, but was convinced when I pointed out we had no other leads. I told him to follow the flock and keep his distance. Steinveld remained behind to look after the villagers.
The flock led us along a track through nearby woods. I watched the shadows for any sign of ambush, and I watched the sky for any change. I detected no immediate threats, and the flock continued moving for five minutes. And then it began circling.
“They’ve stopped,” said Ettori. “Why?”
“I would guess the creature they are following has stopped. The creature is probably aware of them. Maybe of us. I smell a trap.”
“This is your expertise. What do we do next?”
I dismounted and handed him the reins of Atlas. “Hang back, don’t engage until the birds swoop. By that point I will need your help.”
He nodded. Without any further words I hurried into the trees allowing the darkness to bring about my anonymity and silence. I crept towards the swarm, readying my bow and scanning the trees. My nocturnal vision made what would ordinarily have been an impossibly dangerous task into merely a difficult one. Inch by inch I crept toward my prey, hoping at once to find nothing and something. And there it was, poised in the middle of the dirt track, waiting for us. A black beast on four legs, the size of a large dog. Its hide appeared almost scaly in places, and its head was elongated like that of a horse. I have never before seen nor heard of any such beast. Why would it wait like that?
I scanned deeper into the woods on my side of the track and opposite. Clever beast. I spied two more of them. One lurking just ahead of me, another across the way. Three beasts, of undetermined origin and power, lying in wait. I could only formulate one strategy that might have a chance. I took a firing position, aiming at the beast across the way.
I pointed the bow, sighted down the arrow and traced along its form, finding its face and eyes. It was motionless, a consummate ambush predator. I almost smiled. It was my opposite. And I was its death. I let the arrow fly toward the creature. The launch was cloaked in silence and anonymity, so the creature never saw it coming until it struck.
The arrow hit is mark, plunging through the soft tissue of the creature’s eye and into what was presumably its brain behind. The creature shrieked and then fell, dead. I released a piercing scream to summon the crows, which they responded to, forming into a swirling funnel of feathers as they struck down at the creature in the track. It responded, ineffectively gnashing its teeth at them, and clawing. I couldn’t afford to worry about the birds. The other creature, the one closest to me had turned as soon as I called the birds and was now leaping for me. I could hear hoof beats approaching at a charge. Good, Ettori would take care of the third. I cast aside my bow as it was useless this close and raised my arms in defence.
The beast was already upon me, claws sinking into my shoulders and my guts; teeth snapping at my face. I was able to catch the thing by the throat before it could sink its fangs into my face, however the claws on its feet were equally sharp and it gouged a large chunk of flesh from my stomach.
Pain burned through my gut and my side, and the loss of muscle caused me to stagger. I summoned the powers of my blood, flooding it into the wound healing it as rapidly as I could. The pain was replaced initially with dull aches, as the muscle and flesh tried to rapidly grow. The claws continued their vicious work, made worse as torn flesh forcibly met torn flesh. Since becoming a vampire, my wounds never heal properly, always leaving a scar that looks as if it hasn’t healed at all. A by-product of this process is excruciating pain when my corrupted flesh tries to join with itself. My own weakness became the ally of the beast, the distraction allowing it a momentary advantage, which it used to knock me on my back.
Its teeth snapped at me repeatedly, and I strained with everything I had to keep the thing’s jaws away from me. This was not going well. We were trapped together, entwined, and it had the advantage of the claws and jaws.
And then it hit me. I have fangs too. Fangs that are as sharp as the talons of a werewolf, designed to penetrate flesh to get at the life’s blood trapped inside. This creature may be dangerous, but Nosferatu are the reason people are afraid of the dark. The next time it snapped, instead of pushing the thing away, I pulled it closer and ducked past its jaws, and sank my fangs into its hide. The scales were no defence at all, and I was able to tear a huge chunk of flesh from its throat. Blood began spilling everywhere, causing its strength to fail.
By a supreme effort of will I tried to prevent myself from drinking any of the blood. Human and Vampire blood is the most nourishing and flavourful. Animal blood is barely sustenance. I had no idea what monster blood would do. I struggled to my feet, tasting a stray trickle that had gotten into my mouth before I could stop it. I wanted to spit it out, but my beast overruled me, and gulped it down. I felt an odd shiver as it entered my system, and a wave of unnatural fear. I slammed the fading creatur head first into a tree crushing its skull. I felt warm all over and a weariness clawing at my face. I think I was right to try and avoid drinking.
Then there was blackness.
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