I had been so certain that would work, and yet I still felt the strangeness in my blood. “Thank you for trying. I suppose we had best get on our way.”
I clambered onto Atlas with some difficulty, and urged him on to a trot. Menw and Ettori easily caught up with me, Menw speaking to the horses. Whatever he said, the horses increased their speed and a trot became a cantor. Menw spoke a few times on the road back, I think. I barely recall. For the entire journey, I simply watched the ground as it passed. I don’t even remember how long it took us to get to Cardiff, I just remember the guards greeting us as we approached. We were ushered through the Cathedral to the annex that the Prince used for holding court. Everyone was there as before, including the boy who had been sweeping the last time. I had forgotten to quiz Menw about him. However, there was also an imposing looking gentleman in red robes, the cardinal I assumed. He was joined by a woman, a nun. Prince Emrick rose when we entered.
“Your return is timely. Menw, I trust your business in Llandowi has been tended to?”
“It has your Majesty, but we have more pressing issues. Ettori and Ethan bring news. And, Ethan has become sickened as a result of their errand.”
I struggled to focus on the Prince. Not only was appearing close, then far, then even further, the child sweeping appeared to change. He appeared close to me and his passive expression was replaced by wide grin, and intense eyes that held more than a hint of mischief. The image faded and returned to normal. I was able to focus on the Prince again, and discovered he was staring at me.
“Yes, so he is. Perhaps our new friends can help?” He gestured to the nun. She approached, her entire body covered by her black habit. Her approach was graceful, the habit barely moving as she did. It almost gave the appearance she was gliding, almost. And there was a serenity that followed her not often found in our kind.
Before she could speak, the boy with the broom was beside her. The wicked grin and maniacal glint in his eye was back. “Tolemrick, can I play with this one. I think he’s nearly dead anyway. Please?”
The Prince rose from his seat. “Garronwy…I am sorry, I mean Ishmael, come away from there. You can play in the streets if you wish, but you know the punishment if any of the citizens are harmed in any way.”
The child, Garronwy or Ishmael, lit up. Colour flooded his cheeks, and he left the room gleeful, stopping only for a moment to call back, “Maybe another time, Mr Nosferatu.”
The nun wore a troubled look as her eyes followed the child out of the annex. She gently shook her head and addressed me. “Please, sit. This may feel strange.”
Her voice was calm, reassuring. Something about her made me want to trust her. I took a seat on the bench at the side of the room, Ettori, Menw, the Prince and the Cardinal looking on. She started to sing. It is hard to describe her voice, but the word that comes to mind is pure. And warm. Ettori told me later she was singing a hymn; I didn’t hear it. I felt something passing over my body, cleansing it. When her song was done it was as if a black fog had lifted. All my anger and frustration faded, my composure returned as did my strength.
She offered me her hand to help me up, however, I refused. “Thank you, Lady. I believe I would like to stand up unaided, if you wouldn’t mind giving me some room.”
She obliged and I rose. My legs were shaky still, but I felt their strength returning, my blood no longer felt alien. “To whom do I owe thanks?”
“I am Dayna. You are feeling much better?”
“I am, thank you.” The Prince was scanning me and I could see that he was satisfied.
“Now that you are healed, perhaps you can relay to us what you have discovered?”
I allowed Ettori to answer. He reported Chax’s behaviour at Ellewyn upon reading scriptures, the possession theory, and how he convinced the population of Llandowi to murder their priest. He then recounted our encounter with the beasts that led to my incapacity.
“Fine report, young Lasombra,” said the as yet unidentified Cardinal. “Perhaps now would be a good opportunity, Emrick to introduce us properly.”
The prince smiled, and something about the way his cheek twitched told me it was forced. “As you say. Ettori, Ethan, I present to you Kordell, and of course the Lady Dayna. When I called for aid, it was they who responded. We also increased the number of guard patrols on the walls and in the streets, which you may have noticed.”
I hadn’t but the state I was in when we entered Cardiff, a mountain could have fallen from the sky and still escape my notice. “Also, I should say thank you for your warning, Ethan, about the potential danger to myself and Cardiff. However, Kordell believes that Chax has other intentions.”
“Indeed, Majesty. Your reasoning was sound, Nosferatu, based on your limited understanding. However, I believe your ultimate conclusion was not correct. Perhaps once, it could have been, however there is something quite telling about a key point in your information.”
“What’s that?” I said.
“Chax spared you. I believe even your limited understanding noted that. And yet you did not realise the profound significance of it.”
“By all means, educate this ignorant Nosferatu.” Kordell, or those like him are the reason my Sire chose to exile himself from the social life of being kindred. The constant sneering of those who deemed themselves better. Truth be told, I am surprised this is the first time I have really noted it.
“I wouldn’t go that far. He spared you because you have caught his interest. He wants to toy with you.”
Emrick beckoned to a page that had been lurking in the corner. Within a few minutes a table was setup in the centre of the annex, a carefully drawn map of the city draped across it. “I must confirm I agree with Kordell’s assessment. Chax could have killed you himself. Instead he sends beasts. This is grave news.”
The court was assembling around the table, and I realised that we had shifted from court to war council. Ettori unwrapped the severed head taken after our battle. It was rotted and putrid after only three days, but no flies crawled over it.
“I beg your pardon Majesty, Kordell. I think you are wrong about it being grave news. He has shown a weakness, his hubris. He doesn’t consider us a threat. So he plays. And if the focus is on us as you say, that presents an opportunity.”
Ettori passed the severed head to Emrick, who examined it and showed it to Daeryn and then Kordell. It was the Cardinal who spoke. “We believe Chax is a fallen angel. You yourself shared this theory. As such, before he fell, one of his jobs would be to tend paradise. He would have had the power to create flora and fauna. I believe this creature is something he constructed using a corrupted version of that power.”
Menw appeared at the shoulder of the Prince. “Perhaps. Now, at least we know what to look for. And what they smell like.”
The Prince looked at the map, the elders of the city clustering around the outside. Guenhav and Launce looked on, her bored, him smirking. Myrddin was unreadable, as ever. Dandrain and Dayna both looked concerned. The silence was the silence before a storm and it was the Prince who broke it.
“You two are in danger because of the errands you have done in the name of this court. You are the target of a powerful being, and we must now ask your help again. I won’t mince words with you. Ethan is right. There is an opportunity. We need you to be bait. The danger will be great, but know you will not stand alone.”
Without hesitation, Ettori spoke. “I am happy to raise sword against this foul creature of the pit.”
I shrugged. “I’m in.”
Oddly, it was Dayna who spoke next. “That is very brave of you both, and perhaps a tad cavalier. Be sure you know what you are committing to.”
Ettori was unshakeable in his resolve. I have seen this many times in him now. He can be an idiot, and even conceited, and yet he will gladly step between others and harm. “It is God’s will. His strength gives me resolve.”
That satisfied Dayna, somewhat though it alarmed me. She then addressed her attention to me. “It isn’t bravery or bravado. It is prudence and strategy. In any conflict or hunt there are three options. Run. Hide. Fight. If it is a fallen angel and as powerful as you say, running and hiding would be futile and result in a fight on its terms. So, I choose fight when there is an army available. That isn’t bravery.”
Dayna smiled. “I disagree. Kordell, an army needs weapons.”
The Cardinal hefted chest onto the table. “Indeed. I was able to procure these,” he glanced at Emrick,”At great personal expense I might add.”
The Prince ignored his jab. He opened the chest and pulled out the first item. It was an arrow made of silver with purest white flight feathers I had ever seen. Kordell passed it to me. “This arrow is made of solid silver, and was blessed by the Pope. In essence, a blessing from God’s mortal hand. And the feathers are rumoured to be from the wings of Michael himself.”
Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “Michael? Is that a big deal?”
Ettori looked upon me disapprovingly. “The Archangel Michael. Leader of the Heavenly Host. He is God’s champion.”
“So, he is a big deal. We think this will harm Chax?”
Kordell’s look was more disapproving than Ettori. “We believe that if it penetrates the heart of Chax it might stop him. I understand you know how to shoot a bow?”
The next thing from the chest was a set of chains. “These are the chains of St Peter. It is said they will bind a being of pure evil.”
Ettori spoke next. “Won’t he sense these? Won’t he realise that we have them?”
“Come now, young Lasombra. Why would God allow a being of the pit the power to sense the weapons sent to defeat him. I am confident that this Chax will not be able to sense them.”
I couldn’t help noting the conditional phrases used by Kordell. We believe. It is said. I am confident. I wish I was as confident as he.
The Prince spoke next. “There is no doubt in my mind that we would be in danger at one point or another from this Chax. With your consent we have a chance to fight him under circumstances of our choosing, however there is still considerable danger still to you. So, I have instructed the court that we will follow your direction. How would you muster us against this foe?”
I looked at the faces. Myrrdin, Dandrain, Launce, Guenhav, Menw, Kordell, Dayna, Daeryn, and of course Emrick. “What about Ishmael?”
There was a slight gasp from the assembled kindred. The Prince’s expression was granite. “He will stand where we tell him, but once conflict starts we will have no control over him.”
“I sensed in him the heart of a murderer. Can we use that?”
Emrick nodded. “I would not formulate strategy around him.”
I thought. We only knew of one weakness exhibited by Chax. Hubris. If he came in his true form he could fly, and he was really big which meant really powerful. Something nagged at me, and my eyes fell on the map, the east gate where the Inn stood. Tall buildings along a narrow street, the buildings overhanging the street. He would not be able to manoeuvre effectively in such tight quarters. I pointed at the gate.
“We engage him here. His size and wings will be worthless in such tight quarters.”
For the first time I heard Myrddin speak. His voice was cold and precise. My fear of him had been partially supplanted by Ishmael, however it only took his voice to remind me that his kind are called fiends for a reason. “If needs be I can grow wings and engage him on high. I believe your strategy to be sound, however. His wings will be useless in that space. Then perhaps he can succumb to brute force.”
“What about his creatures?” Ettori’s voice was a welcome intrusion. “Surely we aren’t expecting him to come alone?”
Emrick considered this. “Ettori is right. However, given your description of them, I believe the members of this court will be able to easily dispatch them. Launce, if your vaunted skills with a sword are as powerful as your boasting, I believe you would be well situated near the gate.”
The Toreador, Launce took a bow. “I have yet to meet a person capable of matching me.”
“In boasting or swordsmanship?” replied the Prince. Launce simply laughed.
Ettori continued. “We also need to evacuate the people. Can we put them in the Keep?”
Emrick nodded again. “We have put provisions in place and all the women and children will take shelter there. Twenty of my best Guards, and Khonsu will watch them?”
Menw caught my eye and mouthed “The Bitch”.
“I don’t suppose any of Khonsu’s kin would be willing to help?” I have seen werewolves a few times. They can be beaten, but only with careful planning and preparation. Or overwhelming force.
Emrick simply replied, “They are. They won’t interfere.”
I suppose that is better than nothing. “Then I suggest Ettori and I lure Chax to just in front of the Inn. Menw can cloak a number of troops nearby. They can carry the chains to hinder Chax. Perhaps Launce and Ishmael can be nearby to provide immediate support if the beasts try and overrun us.”
Menw spoke up. “I will wait in between you two and can cloak Ishmael and Launce. Perhaps Lady Guenhav would care to assist too?”
The Ventrue woman rolled her eyes. “I’ll go where ordered. If I must fight at the inn, then I will fight at the inn.”
Ettori addressed the Cardinal. “Perhaps, given your importance to the church you should stay near so that I can offer my protection.”
Kordell’s face was a mask. However, it was a mask only barely covering his amusement at the notion he would need Ettori’s protection. “Were I you, young Lasombra, I would concern myself with yourself. I will remain close. I will even accept Menw’s cloak, though I have little need of it.”
The cold voice spoke again. “I can unleash a beast the likes of which make fallen angels tremble. Of course, it will also shake the resolve of our guards.”
Kordell answered. “I will make sure our mortal troops attend a sermon to bolster their courage. But perhaps you would serve better in reserve?”
“I agree,” I said. “It wouldn’t hurt to have someone with the militia bolstering their courage and lending their power should they get bogged down.”
“Dandrain’s skills make him ideally suited to that role. I would suggest that Daeryn and I remain in reserve, in order that we can respond to any peril you are in. And that lady Dayna remain close, as her talents as a healer will likely be needed.” The Prince’s idea was sound.
“I think we have a plan,” I said. “We use militia to cordon the area, led by Dandrain. Put some archers and long spears in the inn and walls. Ettori and I are bait, Menw standing between us with chains. He will cloak Guenhav, Launce, Kordell and Ishmael ready to spring our traps. Dayna remains on hand to provide healing, Myrddin remains in reserve as does Daeryn and the Prince. Menw has the chain, and I have the arrow.”
The Prince signalled to the page again who hurried over with a polished wooden box. He withdrew two vials of dark liquid. Very dark liquid, with a slightly red colour running through it. He offered the vials to Ettori and myself. “We have one more weapon we can offer, though if you refuse, I will understand.”
Ettori looked at me, so I answered him. “Elder blood. A potential to loan us arts beyond our capability. Whose is it?”
I felt sure I knew the answer. “It is mine.”
I held in my hands a vial that could grant me great power for a short term, but without care could be used to enslave me. What choice did I really have?
“I accept.” I drained the vial.
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