Heinricus von Verden risks his sanity and soul to discover some truths surrounding the mysteries of his birth, the Baali, and his ever elusive mother.
– Heart of Darkness –
There is a place in Germany, a strange, far place, haunted as bones by the flesh that covers them, a place shrouded from the eyes of men by fossilized brambles, the skeletal branches of towering trees, withered and reaching upward in a tormented and twisted canopy. A canopy that shades a circle of stones, crooked as a Crone’s back, piercing as a Turk verse along a scimitar, heavy as the sands of the sea. Beyond this circle, no blade of grass, no weed, no speck of green, flourished. And not a single parched leaf covered the bare and blackened ground, stained like aged meerschaum. In the heart of this hollow ground, a cistern, carved from tiered stones beneath it, bubbled with the black blood of the earth, tempting like the sweet sin of a virgin’s bursting maidenhood. A large, jagged crack marred the edge of the cistern. Nearly eroded from the stone by the sweeping winds of time was an engraving of a sacrificial tripod with an eye above it, a mark of Tholos of Delphi, Athena’s Temple, Apollo’s Oracle.
Adira, a gentile tempered ghoul he had taken under wing in New York, had known these stones, known this land, and known Lenora, as a Goddess, and had guided Heinricus here. Standing by his side, she demurely waited for him now to taste of the waters where her Goddess birthed her holy son so that he could see the truth of them.
As Heinricus peered down into the Stygian depths of the cistern, his hunger and dread for those midnight waters soared like black-winged birds to the Infinite Deep. It smelled of blood, fear, and the unknown, which coiled about him with a cool hand and bade him, “Drink and know thyself.”
Adira stood with a gentle stature, cutting a small figure beside Heinricus’ aura of power. She said, her girl’s tongue barely audible over the spiritual cooing of the earth beneath them…
Adira: “Welcome to the place of power, Your Eternal Majesty. Why have you come?”
She asked a question that it seemed she should already have the answer to, but here again was the rhetoric of Baal spawn.
Heinricus’ steps that had led him here had been slow and methodical, an unconscious delay of what was to come. For in truth, a vampire’s life was itself a delay to preserve itself for as many years as possible, lying to oneself, claiming the mantle of eternity that belonged only to God. He was vividly, painfully aware of just outside of His Light he found himself, never more than this night. The expanse around him conjuring to mind images of terrible dread and beauty, blackened sphere of corruption and eternal evil, of blackness that threatened to overflow the well and from such had he been spawn.
The suit he wore was a deliberate choice, modern, expensive, sterile banal, professional! It was outside of any time or culture, and it served as a visible form of his attempt to reject the dreadful implications for himself, to dislodge the macabre claws that he saw attempting to drag him, yelling and screaming, sanity all but thrown away, into the pit alongside those who God had personally cast down. Jesus protect him, for in truth, this was a domain of devilry, witchcraft, and paganism. And in it, his reason, his strategy, his plotting, his steel sword, and eyes at his back were as out of place as a torch in the deep sea.
He refused to dignify this mockery of a religion that Lenora had seemingly created around herself. He threw it away, its investitures, its canon, and its symbols, ignoring the loaded question of the ghoul, Adira. He placed his hand in his other hand, prepared for anything.
He considered, for a moment, the blasphemy of it all. He would never be so full of hubris to claim superiority over the Messiah. And yet, to find the truth of his birth on this Hallowed Month…it was morbid.
Adira let him reason it out and did not wait for an answer. That was not the service she owed her Goddess. She leaned forward and retrieved an ordinary pewter cup, scooping up the black water, and turning to him, offered it to him.
Adira: “Drink and know thyself.”
She did not know for all of Heinricus’ long unlife, it always came round to those words.
Heinricus was staring at a black hole and took, what in a lesser being may have been the deep breath before the jump, using the time to gather his monster, chain up the Beast, lock it in an iron casket. He reined in his emotions, his humanity drowned in the black waters and, in truth, had he ever had any?
Drinking, what a simple act that yet carried such importance. For, in truth, was it not the drinking of the blood that fundamentally connected him to the Antediluvians and Caine himself? How many had suffered so that we may drink?
“Man was made to mourn,” says the poet. But not so, he was made to Drink!
As he drank, he no doubt marveled that the black blood did not turn his atrophied stomach, perhaps finding it strangely akin to the communal wine that had once found some secret place to abide in him. The taste of it was ambrosia, the food of the gods, as if nectar poured from the horns of Amalthea. It was of the Earth and not of the Earth; it was holy and sweet blasphemy; it was all things and nothingness. And he recognized within its flavors the piquancy of his own blood and his mother, recalling a night when the blood of the Unnamed kissed his lips. The dark sky above him rolled with crimson embers, vermilion, incarnadine, the color of her eternally bloody smile.
The world turned to midnight around him. The reaching arms of the frosted deep seemed to raise from within the well of blackness beneath the cistern and pull him into its depths, a sea of obsidian black, an ocean surrounding him more ancient than the mountains, tumultuous with the memories and the dreams of time. The sea was not silent, but rung with cacophonous waves breaking, overlapping screams, songs, laughter, conversations, drowning each other, as if waters from the Great Flood, of a Twisting Network of Madness, of the Frenzied Blood of Cursed Caine. Waves of an atramentous ocean gave rise to soft colors: green, grey, white, violet, and, at last, blue. The sea stilled, and he found himself in the icy reach of corridors lit by azure, Atlantean flames. The geometry of the halls was all wrong, uncanny, directionless, what was up appeared a glassy black ocean, what was below his feet, a clear ebon sky.
Heinricus walked untroubled by the geometry and the oddness that surrounded him, his step the careless one of the dreamer.
His eye fastened on a cloaked figure in the darkness, a light like the shining eye of a lighthouse beckoned him forward and whispered in some familiar voice who’d he’d once thought a friend issuing some warning to his soul…
“Turn back, Heinricus.”
But when had he ever?
A voice coiled up from the darkness, into Heinricus’ very soul and bid him to see how he had turned his back on his family, when they had needed him, turned his back on his past, and all of offered such insight into Heinricus’ need to control, to dominate, to obsess over the minutia of everything going according to his plans.
A Whispering Voice: “You’ve brought great shame upon everyone. Your father was never proud of you. Your ancestors, everyone who is watching laughs at your folly and curses your name. And…your sister, your sister, she has not forgiven you.”
A Cunning Voice: “Run from your family. Run you bastard scum, the shame of Ventru himself. Run from your duty, your traitorous blood.”
But Heinricus did not run, did not avert his eyes, he forced himself to observe, appraising whatever horrors came. He distanced himself from the alien world around him, and played the strategist, who saw numbers and things to be moved at will. The characteristic methodism of the blood of the Ventrue — claim not that it settles uncomfortably in his veins.
A Cunning Voice: “Run, Bastard King. Your crown is made of tin and peasant shit. And it does not take the word of the…to make it so…And for all your long life…such as it is…wasteful and idle…of all the petty pursuits of the undead…”
– The Order of the Venerable Dead –
Decayed and shrunken forms spanned the dark reaches of an ancient hall Heinricus had known, their bodies contorted, bowed, stretching toward a dried up fountain. Around them, 15 thrones worn with the ages, like tombstones, covered in dust, like Malkav seemed to be in perpetuity. This was the Order of the Venerable Dead.
A figure carrying a sharply haloed lantern wept for the stretched figures there, leaving blood red asoka flowers beside them like so many graves.
A Cunning Voice: “You were given a noble task, a singular thing that glimmered in the dying light of the sun, a single cause to hold fast to and see sword to foe. And you could not even manage the fleeting vapor of that task. So see now, your estranged brethren brought low, as low as your cunning and…your vile birth.”
Heinricus: “I choose my duties and my foes. They are not placed upon my shoulders like an ill-fitting coat.”
A Cunning Voice: “The Blood of Veddartha is the only garment you wear, and it is cut badly to your measure, which is little higher than stacked excrement.”
Heinricus: “I do not sit upon oversized chairs like the Order, planning for a battle that was won thousands of years ago that we choose to continue for no reason other than to justify our existence and dwindling importance.”
A Cunning Voice: “No, in this you are wise. You do sit upon a chair at all, but sit on the bones of the dogs you sent to our bosom. And you gnaw upon them like a peasant, sucking marrow for your swollen belly.”
Heinricus allowed it to wash over him, too old to raise and pound his chest at every toothless threat. What did he care for the whispers of ghosts? He would not be tied to a ridiculous thing like the Order of the Venerable Dead.
A Whispering Voice: “By the end of this road, your weakness will show.”
A vaporous form in the darkness sidles up to Heinricus, and a voice, sexless and haunting as a wind in a corridor with no windows speaks…
A Cunning Voice: “There is a story about a fox who desired grapes set upon a high branch. He leapt for three days and came no closer than the time before to reaching their sweet nectar. On the third day, he left. And said, ‘They were sour grapes, anyhow…your wine must taste of piss.”
Heinricus: “I am no fox.”
He scoffed; Ventrue were leonine things. His voice lacked a tone or accent, either by design or as a side effect of his lower emotions, the Beast so thoroughly imprisoned. Or so that is how he imagined himself to be. But in truth, the beast was testing the lengths of its chains.
A Cunning Voice: “You are worse. You are a rat. The thing that creeps in corridors and makes no sound but chittering. For that is how you come and go and conclude your selfish business with those who called you…Brother.”
Heinricus: “We have no brothers, no sisters, and no fathers. We have sires and broodmates. Fool is the Cainite who believes otherwise.”
A Cunning Voice: “Then you are a fool. You cannot hide the secret parts of your heart from us. For that is where we live.”
A Whispering Voice: “In the long run…you will fail.”
A Cunning Voice: “Fail because that is your fate, the point of the long blade by which you have made your way in this world.”
A Cunning Voice: “What is the sweetest sin to dine on, brother?”
A Whispering Voice: “Treachery…”
Heinricus: “A sweet sin is a contradiction in terms.”
A Cunning Voice: “And lies, lies, lies…they go well with denial and obfuscation. There is nothing we have loved more than to sup on the lies your wagging tongue tells, Heinricus von Verden. But not to others. No. Those are children’s games.”
A Whispering Voice: “Himself or you?”
A Cunning Voice: “Or course, it will be himself. It is not the lies you tell to others, Heinricus. It is the lies you tell to yourself.”
A Whispering Voice: “You will be betrayed.”
Heinricus: “Who will be the traitor?”
His mind suddenly grew razor sharp, finally focusing on something he considered of importance.
A Whispering Voice: “No one ever hears them coming, and the whispering of their skirts…not until it is too late.”
Heinricus’ frustration grew, and it had the sound of rattling chains in his soul at having been denied objective, useful information, replaced by vague prophecies. He had never trusted Cassandras.
– Carthage and the Well –
Further below, the ghostly echo of clanging swords, the drum of bodies hitting shields, a specter of a city built on the third dream of scholars broken in blood, chaos, and ruin. The quintessence of the sapid salt in the air clashing with acrid taste of sulfuric emerald flames. A voice cuts through the expanse, and cries…
“Delenda Est Carthargo!”
The shining light dims, and the cloaked figure shifts before your eyes into the milk-skinned patrician lady, Lykenia, whose lips once again fall on you like they did outside of the tomb where Vestia and Aetius once dwelled.
Heinricus reacted then, buckling to keep her fetid mouth from defiling his flesh. Ventrue are not goblets to sipped upon, not fodder for the Baali! But he could stop her, could not pull her away, and the wet snap of her mouth buried his lips beneath it.
Her darkness strangely calls to you again, as if some part of you knows it. But there is sweetness, myrrh, and, incense in those lips now where before there was only ruin. A sword blade comes crashing down toward your neck, and you now know the eyes of Camilla himself as he nearly cleaves you in twain. But Lykenia shoves you back into the safety of darkness, of bones and blood, and broken innocence, back into Tophet-Well, a descent of infinite night that stretches to Hell itself.
But Luciferian shores are not where you end up. Instead you land near a shimmering pool surrounded by lush vegetation, ornate statuary, a place of deep and idyllic grandeur unlike any you have ever known. A man silently stands at the shore of what might by the Well of Ashur, but it crawled with such life and sanctity, such unearthly beauty that it seemed the Fountain of Eden. A light springs from his eyes so intense, that it makes it impossible to see him clearly.
Heinricus turned his head sideways, blinded, but he didn’t look down, never down.
The man with the sun forever in his eyes looks across the gulf to a beatifically serene face with soft cerulean eyes the shade of the crystal blue flames in her palm, and she is known to you. And he casts his light upon her blotting out her form, hiding it in the burning suns of his eyes.
A Cunning Voice: “No…She is stewing in the belly of Lucifer…a project of your own design. Of all the Cainites that could be trusted, nay, useful, you sent her to the Devil to be tried like a plate of sweet meats. No king does thusly.”
Heinricus: “Tell me of yon victories, then. By my actions was Moloch himself laid low.”
A Cunning Voice: “Hahahahhahahahaah HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAH HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA HAhahahHAHAHAhahahaahhahahaahHAHAHha!! It makes amusements with us, brother!”
A Whispering Voice: “Have it tell us more!”
A Cunning Voice: “It takes the credit for a deed done by a nun!”
Heinricus: “It was not her hand that smote the demon but the piece of wood she always carried.”
A Cunning Voice: “Lies, lies, lies…they are the finest thing in all of creation to dine upon.”
Heinricus: “By her sacrifice, I did more than the Founders and the Order ever managed to accomplish.”
A Cunning Voice: “By sending an innocent to the slaughter and standing by as she was devoured? Are you soft? And FOR WHAT? To be saved at the end of all things by a madwoman!”
Heinricus struggled to ignore the maddening whispers, focusing instead on this man with sun in his eyes. He bristled at the recriminations of these voices. They were unwanted and unwelcome. He tried to concentrate on what was before him.
From a stained sack, this man with the face that was too bright to see, this man of strange gravitas, who makes your eyes ache to look at too closely, plucks out limb after chopped and bloody limb, beautifully shaped as if by some master craftsman, as if someone had broken the works of hands infinitely more skilled than Da Vinci, God himself.
Heinricus stares for a moment, taken in by the contrast, the superimposition of gore with artistry, of macabre beauty.
It called to mind to mind that of Isis with the remains of Osiris. The pieces felt heavy with the weight of some horrible sin. He tosses these limbs into the pristine waters of the well, sullying it.
– Birth of the Baali –
As the waters part, emerald fire rolls beneath the waves, birthed from it like the ancient gods, but howling like mad newborns, the Baali. And those screams pushed him away back into the deep recesses of the churning ocean to spare him absolute madness, back into the still blackness, until there was quiet again and another light to guide him. More strange whispers and warnings whispered to him through it.
Heinricus witnessed the act that would plague the world of innumerable millennia, and there, in the midst of the crafted limbs, covered in gore like a baby birthed from the womb, stood the most devilish form that he would come to associate with the strongest emotions he would left with, anger and hatred.
Heinricus thought, “Ah, why did not God send the Archangel then?”
The screams below in the depths of the well rippled as the trio bathed in emerald fire clutched themselves, clutched each other, and bayed as if in their births they saw every bit of their unclean and ill-fates. More than once a hand below trembled, snaking upward for some mercy which did not come from unseen crushing weight that hemmed their souls to purpose.
A Cunning Voice: “We wish he would not have done so and let them come to us as they were. They are the most pitiable of you all…bound to keep us sleeping and despised for saving you from our jaws.”
Heinricus: “So you reveal your identities. Cast from Heaven, thrown into perdition, barred from salvation. Snake, serpent, leech born from the bleakest womb.”
A Cunning Voice: “Did you require such clarification?”
A Whispering Voice: Of course he did, a thing does not exist unless Heinricus von Verden may quantify it.”
A Cunning Voice: “Hubris…”
Heinricus: “You speak to me of Hubris? You who coveted the Throne of the Almighty?”
Heinricus felt a strange and undeniable sense of pride at the thought of speaking with the spawn of Satan.
A Cunning Voice: “We speak to you of it because we are born of it…who better to instruct you in your sin…but the masters of such.”
Heinricus: “Masters of such, but not of me. My existence was given to God long ago.”
God had pervaded his words when he had been a Crusader then, and as it had been then, so it was now. But he had never been one of the Chosen, his Faith so pure as to drive the children of Caine from his visage.
A Cunning Voice: “Lies, lies, lies…they taste of rosewater and virgin blood.”
But the voice, seemed also to recoil in some ethereal fashion at the name of God.
Heinricus took a step sideways, facing, as much as he was able to, the figure he now knew to be the three-eyed prophet. He squinted, and directed all the power of Ventrue’s disdain at Saulot.
Heinricus: “You should have crushed their newborn skulls then and there, smashed them against the rocks.”
And those screams of the three Baali founders below in the well of green flame were now deafening as they began to shrink from the blinding third eye of the man above, and the Father’s eye further above still than even the one who stood here and looked with some inscrutable and obscured countenance on what he wrought below. Those screams howling like a mad wind pushed at Heinricus, just as he himself felt a firm jab, Saulot’s own hand, suddenly and decisively shoving him into the pit, where his bones clattered like glass in depths below. He was confronted with the bone crushing, painful reality of the situation he was in, unable to react, falling unceremoniously, awfully on his back, the embracing limbs of the mad Baali and their screams his own comfort. He could not move, feeling the fire that burned but did not consume, blanket him. He struggled with his, as the flames smothered him, loved him. He…he was not a filthy Baali, vermin colonizing his flesh.
Worse than the pain was that there was nothing to be done about it, save look at the emerald flames dancing in frenzied fury around him, swallowing him, but not burning him, the scorn above undeniable. He attempted to withdraw within, focus his mind, raise his defense, combat this. Against scorn, he answered with Pride. But it was futile. It overwhelmed Heinricus. For never had he felt so far from God and his noble Ventrue blood. And nothing, not even perhaps Hell’s own form of mercy might hear him here. With nothing but contempt of the Earth, above and Below, and his own twisted fate to keep him company. In that moment, he knew for a glimpse what it meant to be one of the three.
A cunning voice calls down at the green flames that roll around Heinricus, but the voice is closer than his own heartbeat.
A Cunning Voice: “How does it feel, Heinricus von Verden? To be like those you cast a hateful glare upon? To be given a gift too heavy for one’s hands? How does it feel? Answer…for you already know. You are a hell spawn.”
He heard their screams wraps around him, so close, until he realized the screams were, in fact, his own.
– VIDEOS –