August 19, 2017 at 10:09 pm #3442
There was still eight hours until dawn.
You left the Great Hall, stepping over bones and the smoldering remains of robes and ornate costumes that had minutes before draped across the bodies of the near-Eastern clans. Tables were upturned, glass and splinters of wood littered the floor, everywhere was the sound of shuffling feet, muttering and groans of pain, the wailing of women, the simpering, hollow threats of men. Only a handful of Assamites and Setites remained intact, on their knees, staked and slumped over the staircase or thrashing futilely in the claws of greater predators. Overhead the assembly bell rang wildly and you steered through the flotsam of violence but there was something your careful eye noted missing. Even in the midst of so much chaos, with younger Kindred, friend and foe alike, sprawled dead on the floor, you could not sight a single drop of blood on the stone there. Certainly, those standing and those now bound, bore the crimson stain of a fresh battle, but the castle’s surface had spared not a single smear.
It was quick. Just a flash across your retina, followed by a bare tremor beneath your feet and a jolt of fear that set the dead nerves in your limbs ablaze. You could see others around you, momentarily suspended mid-action, the elders, like yourselves, the younger ones rolled their shoulders, staggered or slung their heads. It was as if the entire thanos-system of immortals was afflicted with a seizure so distinct and fleeting it could only be noted in its aftermath.
Polonia looked to his side and saw Viviane was absent, slipped away at some sudden juncture. How long had she been gone? Heinricus and his Queen were far ahead, cutting a path through the Kindred hurrying to the assembly. A pair of Nosferatu drug a staked Setite towards its great doors and Polonia saw one of his Ducti slinging the body of fledgling Assamite over his shoulder.
But not everyone was gathering. Heinricus looked up to the one of the high windows, just in time to see a pair of bare feet slipping through into the night, another glance ahead saw a Toreador clasping the wrist of his paramour and hauling her, bleating and bloody, towards the Courtyard. They were running. The lesser beasts had been spooked, it seemed. Here and there he continued to catch the tail-end of these quiet exoduses while his own feet kept taking him forward until he realized, as did Polonia behind him, the young were escaping while the Eldest of them seemed pulled by some unspoken migration, spilling into the assembly.
The Host Revealed
In the midst of the shouting, the very real threat of further calamity, a figure began to move behind the chaos and towards the podium.
A woman was lithe and immaculately poured into a binding black dress.
Heinricus noted the spill of fiery red hair and for a moment he was filled with dread but as he followed her movements he saw her face and puzzled where he had seen it before.
And then he remembered.
He had seen her everywhere. Poised at a piano, behind a cello, the base of a violin at her throat. At every social gathering he could recall for the past two years and she had even been an overlooked guest in his own haven during that blighted Siege.
It was Anne Bennett.
Viviane turned from the shouting throng, her own eyes drawn to this woman who now stood behind the podium. She had noticed her before but gave her very little thought. She remembered some mention of a Daughter of Cacophony and had seen that flood of red hair from one of the balconies and then in the Great Hall singing a wordless song at the piano.
Polonia raised a hand to silence his men, watching the woman now as well. His mind turned over, trying to remember something and he saw her rest her chin on a fist, leaning over the podium and smiling. That’s when it struck him. That smile. He had seen it before years ago at a Palla Grande in Madrid in the months before they ousted the Camarilla from the East Coast. She had been at a piano, smiling and hammering out a grandiose tune as the frenzied Kindred made merry at the impending attack. It was an usual smile to decipher. Not one of nervous mirth to mask a deeper dread, of the beast grinning in the face of so much wickedness, of blood drunkenness, or even amusement as was so common to female Kindred…it was joy. It was like an artist stepping away from a canvas to admire their deft strokes and the bleeding of colors that began to form the framework of an emerging masterpiece. It had unnerved him then, but he found he had strangely forgotten her until just now.
Heinricus began to notice other eyes falling on her, heads turning and mouths clamping shut as minds began to recognize instances, remember events and try make sense of creeping confusion at this woman whom all seemed to know and barely recall any import to. He watched her gaze move across the now quieting assembly, her pretty face which could have been one of a multitude of comely women he had seen, bore that blissful smile Polonia recalled. It was strange, the effect her silent regard had on those gathered, not entirely unlike the attention many Kindred could command just by their presence. He saw her lift her head slightly to regard some fresh movement in the rear. Erik Eigerman who had been curiously silent for the entire Convocation was now standing, features collapsed into what could only resemble a jumble of confusion and a suspicion he could not name. Francoise Villion had suddenly and quiet without a notable reason darted like a blur just in front of him, one hand lifted just at her hip, fingers splayed as if she meant to shield him from an unseen blow. It was not a calculating move but one of animal instinct and she herself did not know why.
Anne Bennett watched this display and suddenly peeled out a burst of musical laughter, throwing up her hands and turning from the pair she looked on the assembly and gestured to them with open palms.
“Cousins, how happy I am to see so many still gathered here, and so much accomplished already….at MY invitation.”
It could have taken a quarter of an hour but it all happened so fast.
The walls behind the podium suddenly groaned, dust shaking free and loose stones crumbling to the floor. They began to split down the middle and recede. At first they revealed only darkness, the electric hum of the artificial lights suddenly ceased as the room was thrown into darkness and only the ominous glow of the torches and multitude of candles arranged each night provided any visibility. Within the opening you could see the first gray angles of what appeared to be two large blocks of granite, but as the walls rolled further in on themselves you began to understand what you saw.
And the smell. That same fetid-sweet stink that lingered in the Castle suddenly overwhelmed you. In the half-light you could see the sarcophagi were caked with hardened gray-green silt, and bits of what looked like the remnants of dried sea-weed that clung in erratic curls along its edges. They looked as if they had been dredged out of the sea years ago and pressed into this now yawning chasm in the wall. There was a steady thick splatter that sounded like water falling onto their surface and as you followed the sound you could see several steady streams of dark liquid pouring down from the darkness above and staining the lids.
You followed it upwards and at once understood. The lowest level of the Gallery was positioned just above this hidden room. The lowest level that boasted that marvelous blood fountain, continuous leaking its contents onto this hulking stones. The whole of the assembly was suddenly very silent, watching the viscous streams of blood hammer the sarcophagi. They looked like cannoneers waiting for the spark of the fuse to meet the gunpowder packed within. Whatever lay within seemed to be drawing the blood down in heavier torrents, and you saw dark tendrils of it being leached from the stones in the walls surrounding them.
And then suddenly, growling out from this moment of horrible suspense you heard one of the lids grinding, inch by dreadful inch…open.
And that is when the world became saturated with red.
Tell me how you wish to survive….or tell me how you want to die
You found your way back to thought, through the forest of pain, fear and blood that soaked into your bones and drove you to utter madness.
Heinricus felt teeth in the nape of his neck, in the sole of his right foot, now relieved of a boot. He could feel his hands pressing through something hard and round and then splitting it like overripe fruit. He looked down to see a tangle of brains, bone and blonde hair strung through his fingers. Below him Victoria Ash’s mouth had been savagely feasting on gaping puncture in his gut, before collapsing into dust.
Viviane felt the thinning flow of blood evaporate suddenly, her wild tongue searching for more. Her face was pressed into something that now tasted of leather and then presently ash. Her vision cleared just as she saw the hideous face, marred further by the gaping hole from which she gorged, of Cockrobin disolve into bone below her. Their was a wet weight against her cheek and she snapped her eyes to it, seeing a large pat of her scalp sliding down her face to the skull of the Nosferatu.
Polonia threw back his head, a veil of fleeting darkness slinging from his eyes like a whore tossing a tumble of hair. He found himself thrashing and beating back weakly pulsing tendrils of darkness that struck his flesh like vipers, leaching his vitae. One darted into the hollow of his throat and began to consume him before he tore it away with a roar. All around him his own shadows speared and bit him as he tried desperately to regain command.
You looked up.
There were no longer men and women here, only dogs slavvering and howling, eating one another and then falling under different fangs in that same bite. The tapestries hung in blood sodden tatters along the wall, the pews were splintered and smashed, vampires crushed under and impaled on their remains, thrashing pitifully as others fell on them to gorge easy prey. A body hewn in half slid from the balcony and crumbled to dust mid-fall. Everywhere was a red fog that hung in the air and clung to your flesh.
In the midst of the carnage, as you struggled to make sense of what you saw, the crimson miasma had seemed to form a thin vortex around a cluster of writhing figures. One was bent in the middle of the fray, a large column of bleeding spikes protruded from its back, its flesh looked like rice paper soaked in pitch and sloughed from a deck of rib bones that rose and fell like a fish gills. It’s limbs were thin and too long for its body, what passed for fingers looked like crooked razors which opened and closed at terrifying angles and gored one of the figures that you now saw attacking it. It was Villion, or to your eyes just the shell she wore, which flickered in and out of constancy revealing a nude woman whose body even in this hell defied all your expectations of beauty. Her face however, was torn away and there was only a blackened skull surrounded by bloody tangles of honey blonde hair. The sockets of her eyes were leaking a white ichor as the creature she accosted sliced her beautiful figure at all sides. Her hands were grasping at what must have been its head, a knee bent and foot lodged in its chest trying to gain purchase to pull it free. The third plunged a something that had the glint of steel into the creature’s back. The figure had the bearing of a man and you could see him lift his head briefly, eyes burning a hot blue through the haze, Grecian features bleeding in and out of nordic ones. It was Eigerman. He turned his head to the right just as the attack from behind reigned down on him. Something pale, an arm perhaps, though it moved like liquid stone crooked around his neck and pulled him out of view.
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