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With a wide, content smile on his face Godfrey DuLac walked the hallways of his castle, radiating. Finally a letter for a possible arrangement, a marriage for his only child coming from a triple-verified source. The arrival of the Herald with news that Karl Hornbach, a wealthy young noble from the Empire had taken interest in his daughter made the Knight happy. If the marriage happened he would also get a hold in the young man's lands, thus increasing his own status. Though rare, marriages between noble-folk from the Empire and Bretonnia had happened in the past. Most had turned out well but Godfrey now wondered how would a rather wild young woman such as his daughter would fare in the household of a man as a mere wife. The prospect of being without a male heir had been disheartening enough and after several failed attempts to wed his child to noblemen he dearly hoped she'd see his wisdom. His wife was from the Empire, raised as a proper lady, she had been as good as any wife a Knight could have hoped for. While unable to give him male children, their only offspring excelled at whatever she set herself to. Trained in swordsmanship, horseback riding but also more womanly pursuits such as music, he only drawback to the child was her strong-headed attitude. Raising his gloved hand to knock onto the door leading to her private chambers he hesitated a moment before proceeding. "Enter!", the girl's voice could be heard from the other side. The old man opened the door, stepping into his child's room. Much to his surprise and a small dose of dismay, the castle's armourer accompanied her, helping her try on a breastplate. Carinelle twirled around slowly, looking at herself in the mirror, silently. She had acknowledged her father's presence with a nod before smiling, "Look father, this arrived earlier today, a gift from uncle Sigmund, from Reikland....". His relatives from the Empire had pampered his child with gifts in the shape of books, jewelery she almost never wore and when her aptitude for more manly activities became truth these gifts changed to daggers, swords and even a matchlock pistol.
“Carinelle", he began, "a letter arrived today, a family from the Empire has taken an interest in you!". An encouraging smile was all he could sketch, not knowing how she would react. She had been curious about some of her would be-suitors in the past, others she didn't even bother to hear of. His eyes followed her movements and to his surprise, she raised an eyebrow, looking at him inquisitively. "Who is he father? What do you know about him?", she inquired directly, turning now fully to face her parent. Curiosity had obviously taken her over and she moved to sit on a nearby chair, dismissing the armourer politely.
"All I know is that he will be arriving in three nights time, and that his family owns large portions of land in Stirland. I've researched your mother's books a little and the Von Hornbachs appear to be a respected family within their region. The Elector of Stir....", it was all he could say before she cut him off. "Papa, I know you mean well, I will meet this young man for you. If I get to know him well enough and he is to my expectancies, I will obey your word and marry him", her voice replied quietly. Godfrey nodded; it had been a good response so far. Lady preserved if she did not find him to her liking, she'd remain unmarried, destined to go to the Empire and live off with her mother's relatives or... He refused to think about it. In a few weeks he would know the best course of action. Patience, one of his prime virtues would once again be put to the test.... With his gloved hand moving aside the dark purple curtain of his stage-coach, Karl Hornbach glanced through the window to the side of the road, where as a monument of Bretonnian engineering Chateau DuLac spired upwards atop a rocky hill. The dim lights of the village at the base could barely be seen in the gloom of night, but his eyes had adapted to the darkness quite well. The ramparts of the castle however were adorned with banners, powerful braziers illuminating the tower tops. While not the most imposing castle, it was decently built. With a sigh, an unnecessary one he turned back, gazing forward just as the stage-coach turned right and slowed down as the tired horses drew it up-hill to the castle’s gateways. Now and then the young nobleman glanced outside and as with a screeching stop the Stage-coach stopped at the iron portcullis he tapped with his cane in the wall gently. Old Herbert grunted, stepping down from his seat. An old bony hand reached for the gold plated door-handle of the coach opening it. Wide-eyed men-at-arms stared as the young Hornbach stepped off his vehicle. In his late twenties, charming, well dressed for a simple baron, wearing dark blue trousers, riding boots, a tunic covered by an ornate breastplate, accompanied by a plumed hat, he casually looked at the Gate Sergeant, “Baron Hornbach, Lord DuLac awaits me, be a good man and announce your captain that I’ve arrived”. A light slap on the Sergeant’s cheek awoke him from his trance. Rushing inside the edifice he returned mere moments later, followed by an older man, wearing DuLac house livery. The Captain, Reynauld Vitry stared down this pompous fool but as soon as their gazes met, he took a step back. Finally finding his words, he finally muttered, “B..Baron, I’ll lead you to his Lordship at once”. And so he did, with a hurried pace, he led the Empire noble within the central keep. While perhaps more primitive than his residence in Stirland the Castle was clean enough for his liking. Guardsmen saluted as noble and men-at-arms captain passed by. The doors to the grand guest hall were open, the two finally slowing down. A herald as if awoke from sleep rushed to guide the guest inside, presenting him to the Lord of the Chateau. As the long presentation of lineage was brought forth, Godfrey began to feel unsettled. However as a good host and respectful of the Old Ways he nodded to the herald once he had finished dismissing him. Before him stood Karl Hornbach, the would be suitor, a proud young man, perhaps too majestic for a simple Baron, but Godfrey was so far please. He had respected the ancient introduction ceremony
without flinching, arrived on time as predicted. Besides him the lady of the Castle, Wilhelmina ReinerDuLac, smiled, she seemed quite charmed by this new guest. A proper young man, with a good upbringing, or so he claimed. Hornbach’s eyes scanned the room, yet his prize was not to be seen. While not polite and bordering insulting he hid his irritation. The mother had showered him with praise and while he had appreciated it, it turned out to be a waste of time. His possible bride-to-be was NOT there. Only the happy barking of tracking hounds signaled the approach of another person. Instead of wearing one of the finer dresses that she had available Carinelle entered the hall, bowing to her father as was the custom, finally nodding to the guest. As of her attire, it consisted of riding pants, boots, the breastplate she had received earlier, a white shirt and at her belt a well-made Bretonnian long sword lay in its sheathe. Younger than him, she stared at the newcomer with maybe a modicum of curiosity. She curtseyed before him, prior to moving to sit close to her parents.
Three months had passed and after falling madly in love with her suitor the wedding finally happened. It was a nearly Royal ceremony, what any young lady in both Bretonnia and the Empire would have dreamed of. Wearing the finest bride’s dress, the most expensive jewelry the young baron could afford. People from all over Stirland had come to their wedding held in the flower garden of the Von Hornbach residence. With the beautiful images gone, Carinelle woke once more in the early morning only to find herself alone in bed. It was a habit her new husband had to depart early in the morning and return late, just in time for dinner. While it was a normal time-table for any young noble administering an estate she sometimes saw him return weak, as if drained. Blaming exhaustion he tried to lure her mind away from those events, she became suspicious. With nobody to confide in so far from her home in the Kingdom of Bretonnia she remained quiet. Taking to horse-back she began exploring her husband’s land, meeting the people, listening to merchant and peasant alike. Most locals were friendly enough and gathered each time she arrived to a new village, eager to see the Baron’s young wife. Attired in a tunic, wearing an ornate breastplate, a feathered hat, her old sword she did not hesitate to spend time with her subjects. Old ladies muttered under their breath of how she was un-lady-like but a cheerful and friendly attitude won them to her side. Accompanied by Captain Reynard and his aide, a young man-at-arms Sergeant that had served with her father Carinelle became the most popular baroness the land had seen for a long time. In Sylvania’s shadow the people were wary of the nobility on the cause of legends and stories of old, of the terror of the Vampire Counts.
Soon, it would all change…..
The warm fire from the hearth barely illuminated the room she sat in, shadows reflecting on Carinelle’s face, like fingers of darkness and gloom. With loose hair she sat in her armchair, trying to read an old book, poetry written by a certain Ludwig Wiener. The poems and songs themselves seemed pleasant enough to make her try to learn the words of one of the ballads, an old Sylvanian song, unraveling the tale of an old hero who had stood in the face of the Undead hordes and through his sacrifice saved many peasants. Her face sketched excitement as she went over the epic poem, each verse imprinted in her mind, her inquisitive nature driving her to flip page after page. A brief moment she closed her eyes, setting the book down, the silence only broken by the creak of the oak door. Karl’s voice could be heard, somewhere from the shadows. “So, have you had a good day my dear”, he inquired quietly, the tonality of his voice indicating bare irritation. He tossed his hat onto a chair, removing his own tunic before moving to sit beside her in the spare arm-chair by the fire. “I hear you’ve kept yourself busy, visiting the people. While it was both wise and good for our image, your requests for priesthood of both Sigmar and Morr was.., unnecessary”. Raising an eyebrow, she smiled at him, a soft, gentle smile, “My day was wonderful Karl, I’ve visited several nearby villages to meet with the new priests that arrived. The temples and graveyards were in disrepair and I thought….” “It is not our job to care for the graveyards and temples, Carinelle, you’re getting too close to these… peasants. They live on our land, raise families but their ultimate goal is to service us….!”, he retorted, “DO NOT make such acts without my consent from now on. Now you’ve put me in a bad position, the priests will require money, money I cannot spare!” A fading smile changed into an intrigued expression, perhaps even somewhat angry as the young woman turned to her husband, “So the welfare of the people under our protection…. Their needs? Do these things NOT concern you? Forgive me husband but it is a bad nobleman who does not care for his subjects. You of all…..” “Your job is to shut up, agree with everything I say, NOT defy my every decision, Carinelle! Your job will be to stand with me in whatever I plan to do”, his voice rose above normal, “Leaving the mansion and estate is now forbidden. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of things to do here….to occupy your time.” Irritation turned into anger made the dark haired Karl gaze in her eyes, his lips trembling with the anger built up inside him. She was more than he could handle at the moment and his ventures, his business; his plans were now in jeopardy. The arrival of priests of Morr and Sigmar was not auspicious for his associates. In fact her attitude would perhaps put the both of them in danger… Defiantly she stared back in his eyes, her head high, she stood up, “Maybe I made a mistake, maybe you’re not the man I thought I married!” Turning slowly toward the door, the baroness moved away from the fire place, her long wavy hair now falling at full length onto her back. At the door her personal escort, Captain Reynaud followed closely. However it would not end soon…..
Chapter II – The Shadow’s Embrace
Storming through the living room Baroness Von Hornbach growled as from the distance Karl’s voice sounded. Turning to face him she spun her head, narrowing both of her azure eyes on him. What was he thinking? Where was his mind? He had never insulted her, nor spoken to her like that. “Damn you woman! You will not leave my presence like that!”; he yelled, clenching his gloved fists, stopping a short yard away from her. “Come back to our rooms, we do not need to take this further…..”. The clapping of hands could be heard coming from the living room’s double door and both Carinelle and Karl turned to face the source of the sound. A dashing young man gazed upon them, with cold green eyes, a sly smile. His raven hair was almost as long as Carinelle’s, framing a pale white face; charming, how charming he was, the young baroness thought. Karl paled in comparison to him. “Karl, Karl, my dear Karl, I see you have quite the predicament here. Your wife, such a lovely young lady I might add, she has quite the personality”, the stranger spoke. A few strides took him across the room to the young couple. As if Karl was not even there he took her hand, kissing its back with icy-cold lips. His words now in old Bretonnian filled Carinelle’s ears and all she could do was force a smile, enraptured. “Damsel, allow me to introduce myself, I am Lucius von Carstein, son of Count Werner from neighboring Sylvania.”. As his melodic voice filled her mind a blush filled her cheeks, Karl was not even present anymore. Lucian, Lucian had stolen her heart, unable to resist his charms. Like the dark handsome knight from the folk tales he seemed everything her husband was not. Soft, well-educated, maybe even a Knight as well. Spinning toward the husband, the dark visitor spoke on the same quiet tone, this time in the language of the Empire, “If I had known you had such a jewel of a wife, pray tell me Karl, why you would even argue with one such as her? I know it is improper but I could hear you from the stair-well. Perhaps it is wise to listen to her counsel, yes?” A gloved hand patted the baron’s cheek as his guest turned his attentions once again toward his young wife, “Carinelle, Lady Carinelle was it? I hear you’re not the ordinary young lady we’d expect to see in the Empire. Your… manly preoccupations set you apart, I am most intrigued”. Several quick blinks of her eyes and a serious effort were necessary to make her awestruck expression to go away. “Your compliments, my Lord, they are most overwhelming”, it was all she could say and as any gentleman would Lucius offered his arm. Her slender one wrapped around it, she was completely oblivious. They walked together to the guest table sitting across from each other. Only him! She had eyes only for him! The charming prince who always seemed to have a reply, a comment, an idea and appreciation for her un-lady-like hobbies. Swordsmanship, he seemed to know it inside out, politics – she was a mere ant before his vast knowledge, history, falconry, animal husbandry, old legends. Karl had never spoken to her of such things; he was more content in sharing a bed with her.
Slipping into the shadows, a jealous, infuriated baron walked down the halls of his estate, signaling his house guard to gather. This guest had gone far enough, seducing his young consort. Followed by the noisy steps of armoured swordsmen once more Von Hornbach entered the living room, grinding his own teeth, “Enough! I called you here to talk business yet you dishonor me by luring away my wife! This is not how it’s done, Von Carstein!”. “Karl!”, the guest spoke quietly, “I pictured you as a civilized noble, surely a few minutes of conversation with your young wife are merely polite”. Not even bothering to stand up, Lucius gazed at the two dozen armed men now entering the room, “Please my friend, let us sit down and talk!”. “ENOUGH!”, bellowed the young baron, “You are my business partner! Yet you have no honor, all you seem to care about is bedding women, including my wife!”. He turned to the guards, pointing to Von Carstein, “seize him, take him to the dungeon”. “It saddens me that we must come to this, Karl, but as any man I am entitled to defend myself”. A sigh could be heard from the dark haired man as the guards closed in, led by an officer. Just as the guest stepped toward the shadows, the first guard attempted to strike. Carinelle screamed, she cowered in a corner, she could see veteran soldiers being hacked apart with contemptuous ease, the Great-Swords employed by her husband shoved aside like toys. Von Carstein handled his sword with such dexterity he seemed to move in a blur. Blood splattered over the white walls, limbs fell to the ground, screaming men tried to run as they were robbed of their lives. Reaching for the blade of a fallen soldier she pointed it at Von Carstein. Her defense however was short lived. Pain turned into dark pleasure as Lucius descended upon her, growing fangs, drinking her life-blood. A weak struggle was all she could put out as her vision grew black, her breathing now irregular. She lost all consciousness…
Chapter III – Light from the Darkness
Scratching an unshaved cheek with stained fingernails old Roger, a somewhat hunched back old man wearing the livery of the House Du Lac squinted his grey eyes at the small group of young men before him. Adjusting an old cap that covered his few strands of hair his old bones attempted to adjust as he stood upright. These boys, the sons of some farmers with some will had all come to be presented to the Lord; they would be tried and tested. Half of them would easily give up in the first weeks of training, returning to their lives around pigs and a plow, but that is how Bretonnia had been ruled for centuries. Tapping the shaft of his spear onto the ground to catch the attention of the would-be men-at-arms he adjusted his voice as he gazed upon them all gathered in the courtyard of Chateau DuLac. Old Godfrey had passed away twelve years ago but his wife; aged sixty five still lived within her husband’s castle. She would come each year as Lord Du Lac had now expired to greet the candidates. Heads turned to face Roger as doors opened, to their right. Attired in the best Marienburg silk the Lady of the Castle, Wilhelmina Du Lac stepped into the light, her head supporting a light tiara, some sort of elvish jewelry, gloves to match her long flowing dress, low heeled shoes, making a soft clicking sound on the stone covering the courtyard. As one the peasant young men accompanied by their fathers knelt down not expecting what came next. A new female figure appeared, wearing a Bretonnian dress, midnight blue velvet, practical yet breathtaking. Gold string trimmed the edges of the garment, delicate gloves also covered this woman’s hands, yet the low heeled shoes were replaced by comfortable light boots. With loose wavy hair framing a hauntingly beautiful face she looked at the arrivals, a small smile appearing on her face. As always she waited patiently for Wilhelmina’s speech to end. After Godfrey died Carinelle remained in her parental home. As her father’s kin squabbled over land she had found the wisdom to keep her mother in strength and with some political maneuvering gain Louen’s acceptance as sole ruler of the land as no male heirs were present. Charles Foy, knelt, his eyes closed. He could see with the corner of his eye the lady dressed in dark blue circling around the peasants slowly, barely sketching any emotion. For the first time in his life he felt the chill of stalked prey. Pulling his backpack closer he gulped down feeling the trailing of delicate fingers through his hair. Dirty and unkempt he’d imagine his brown tresses of hair were the last thing a lady of noble bearing would touch. “Rise, please”, the young blonde woman said, her voice nearly enthralling, kind. By the Lady, Charles stood up faster than he could ever had. The contemplation of his life passed a moment through his mind but his tension was soon disarmed. “Do not be frightened”, she continued, “Nobody will hurt you”.
Slowly turning to Lady Du Lac, the younger woman whom appeared to be old Godfrey’s daughter smiled, “He will do mother. With your kind permission, can he be excused to join me?”, she inquired, a lively smile taking over her lips. A simple wave of dismissal was all Carinelle needed. Gently grasping Charles’ arm she gave him an assuring smile, “Come, your father sent you here to have a better life. I think he would be very proud to learn you are a page in my service”. Page? A page? Had she lost her mind? This is what raced through Charles’ mind as her words rolled out. Who in the Lady’s name would make a peasant into a page? Regardless perhaps this would be the opportunity he always dreamed of, yet instead of serving a glorious Knight he’d be serving a woman. The laughs and veiled insults toward his father would shame his entire family as their son served one of the pompous little ladies of the land. His eyes glanced as he was taken deep into the castle and scenery changed. Wall tapestry depicting the history of the Du Lacs, stories etched on banners, captured trophies, tomes, scrolls, candles and incense sticks. Led like a child he stepped into a room where two maids had just prepared a bath-tub for him. Perfumed oils, incense sticks, candles and soon he found himself undressed. He’d never taken a bath like this before and now against all popular belief he was treated as a Knight, yet what appropriate knight would allow women to do all this? For a moment fear took over, but the charming presence of the young daughter of the Lady of the Land made him shrug it off. “Lisette, Marie, you are free to go my darlings”, the young noble woman spoke quietly and the maids retired, door closing behind them. Time no longer seemed to flow normally; the room grew somewhat warmer as if someone had put more wood in the fireplace. Cold hands seemed to strip the dirt from him, with it the thoughts and conceptions of a meager peasant remaining in the water. Music, music from an angelic voice filled his mind as he lay in the bath without care. She was singing to him that was for sure. Where he had arrived a dirty scared peasant he now saw things he never thought possible. Vampire, that is what she was. Overwhelmed by pleasure he soon shrugged of all the fear, yet he would soon awaken from the bliss. Before him, still attired in her dark blue dress, gloveless and shoeless stood Carinelle Du Lac, a thin trail of blood trickling down from her crimson lips. “I reward loyalty; I punish betrayal and crimes, Charles. Imagine much more of this, imagine adventure and glory. But now when you felt pleasure you must soon learn to fear”. Walking close to the tub she leaned down, her mouth opening only to reveal a set of fangs grown from her upper canines. Clawing at the bath-tub, at the floor he tried to scamper away. As his doorway of salvation grew closer and closer she was before him, leaning on the door, a finger rising up to her lips, “Shh dear Charles, nobody will hear you scream anyway”. An insane last attempt to defend himself caused him to pick up a dagger lying close to a weapon stand. Forged in the shape of a serpent the dagger hissed in his hand, it rebelled and soon he saw her stagger back, the dagger embedded in her stomach. Where he’d expected her to fall dead, she casually removed the weapon and started laughing, “I will enjoy our nights together, you surely have spirit Charles!”
One year had passed and again Charles found himself in the Arenas. Before him another peasant boy recruited Lady knows from where stood in front of him wearing padded armour, a protective leather helmet and held a sword pointed at him. A few blade clashes, hesitant made the young men study each other, looking for an opening. The other, rushing slashed several times at Charles’ torso, several blows parried but some strikes made contact with his padded carapace. “Always use a low guard, both of you! Remember, the goal is removing the weak! Through this one of you will advance, the other will stagnate! Our enemies are plenty, our resolve must be steel!”, a female voice spoke on a commanding tone. Carinelle, attired in a darkly colored armor watched the two wouldbe squires fight, a fight one would walk out of. The other would join the others at the cemetery, standing ready to defend his lands in Undeath. “Block Charles, block! Move those feet!”, she barked again, her intense gaze looking at the two. A few narrow cuts made blood trickle down from both combatants and the smell of it drove her close to hunger. Both boys knew that on a moment’s notice she could swoop down on them from her gilded chair, gorging herself on one of them or both. A referee watched them, a man in Knightly armour, wearing House Du Lac livery with glowing orbs of light instead of eyes sparkling underneath the helmet. He walked by silently, the ornate armour shifting as he walked, long robes flowing onto the floor. Silver spurred boots made clinging sounds as he stepped onto the heavy stone, silent otherwise. Charles gulped, he wanted to spare his opponent but if he’d lose his face would be sealed. He had murdered six men and a young woman in these trails and the blood on his hands felt like tugging his own blade down. This woman, she was a devil yet he loved her, his mind only focused on pleasing his protector. What was once innocent blade strikes now became a furious assault. Kicks, punches, even bites, turned the two into frenzied warriors fighting for their lives and a fate worse than death. Begging eyes now stared wide at Charles’ features, blood spurted out on his hands, warm lifeblood. Jacques, his own bunk mate and friend limped backwards with a longsword embedded in his torso. He fell to his knees and lifeless eyes rolled back, just as he touched the ground. Cut and bruised, bitten and slashed the young victor gazed upwards toward the Vampire, hoping, no begging for her approval. A broken heart remained but survival was what mattered. She was cruel but she had an odd sense of justice. Just as all of Bretonnia seemed to swoop down on her father’s lands she kept the other nobles at bay through wit and force of arms. He had seen living Knights serving the family driven to blood-rages, men-at-arms performing the wildest feats. To any outside observe it seemed like unflinching loyalty to Godfrey’s widow, but the truth was far darker. A nod, it was all he had hoped for and it finally came, the Light in the Darkness approved of him, it was all that mattered. Undeath was the reward both he and Jacques sought; but not as zombies, as powerful wights. Dragging himself to the side once more he glanced upon the misshapen features of Jurgen Gerhardt, the Necromancer serving his Lady of Light. Chanting made his wounds literally close, he felt invigorated as a parchment of genuine skin was consumed.
His dark path would continue…
The shadows of the forest shifted and changed, as if sculpted by fingers of changing coloured light. Around the circle of braziers wisps of magical energy danced, flew back and forth, in distinguishable pattern, causing glimmers of bright purple light to intertwine with the multicolored auras. A central figure gestured slowly, tracing patterns in the air with its hand, holding a great book in the other. A low female voice could be heard filling the air, almost as if a poem was being recited. Five others lay on their knees in between the blazing fires, bowing, whispering, crying softly as more wisps flew through each of them, faster and faster. Their eyes begged for mercy, their pain the only thing visible in the hollow gazes cast up on the woman at the center of the circle. With a gentle motion she set the book upon an old stone pedestal, removing her crimson coloured gauntlet. Grasping a serrated dagger from a nearby box, she recited louder, “Nagash-na rehek althu! Essae Draconis….”. A single movement slit her wrist and crimson drops of blood poured in a golden chalice with rubies encrusted onto the surface. The sensation of her own essence leaving her forced the woman to close her eyes, in ignorance. Behind each of the figures kneeling on the ground stood a warrior attired in heavy armour, each with a sword in their hands. With slow steps she moved toward the first, kneeling down toward the frightened young woman, running a hand through her dirty hair. Blue eyes locked upon the girl dressed in peasant rags and a mere smile formed on Lady Du Lac’s face. “You must not be afraid. The blood you will shed for me, to consecrate this holy chalice will be put to good use. And you my dear, you will know no more suffering, you will join the Lady of the Lake and the other Gods in the great beyond.” A moment’s pause, silence followed by humble begs of mercy that came from the rag dressed girl made Carinelle smile reassuringly. Signaling the guard to step away she embraced her would be victim gently; “Hush, others weren’t as fortunate as you, I was not as fortunate as you. You will sleep forever. While it is unfair, it is necessary. Bretonnia must survive; the sacrifices of our ancestors must not go in vain”; she spoke. A trickling sound followed as warm blood from the one who had been Charlene Orlais filled the chalice. As each of the peasant young folk fell to her dagger the young Vampire felt tears of her own blood fall onto her cheeks. One by one they offered their blood, some with more dignity than others. Raising her hand with the chalice toward the pale green light of Morrslieb she uttered the final words, “Essae Draconis, renash sehek na’lek.” A flash of crimson light made the warriors around shield their eyes, while a maddened necromancer cackled nearby, overwhelmed by the surge of magic. Each ruby on the chalice became a bright shining jewel for mere moments. Wisps of Crimson emerged from the chalice, their forms crashing into a silvery
barrier which showed at each impact. Faster and faster the wisps bombarded an invisible barrier that stretched from the edges of the Village of Abois into the hills of Aquitaine. At the same time dozens of families hurled closer and closer together in their peasant hovels as the curtain of silver light, now visible dwindled. Old protective wards placed by the Grail Knights expired under the assault of the Dark Magic unleashed against it. The sound of armoured men marching on the muddy streets, the wails of terrible things in the dark, the howling of terrified dogs. A signal, a bad omen for the people of Abois only lasted a half-an hour. As the friendly rays of the sun appeared so did the peasants. Walking onto the muddy ground they saw a rider in the middle of the village square. Clad in Knightly armour, with long dark hair fluttering into the wind he spoke for all to hear, “Fear not good people, for the Light in the Dark has mercy and justice, praised may she be. Return to your families and tell them that this night the love of the Lady of the Crimson Grail has spared you from a terrible fate”. With those words he was gone, riding west into the hills.
Ruins of the Forbidden Chateau, Aquitaine. The sound of slavering jaws, tense muscle, low growls filled a small antechamber that lay before an a corridor leading into ancient burial crypts that had served the nobility of Aquitaine for centuries. Vrolak, the ancient Varghulf frolicked close to Carinelle’s position, like a loyal hound. It smelled her, the old dusty walls, old bones, there from time long forgotten. With a gentle hand the female Vampire stroked the beast’s fur and spoke “Hush now old one, we will find it soon and for your services you will have all the blood you require”. With dead nostrils flaring it smelled the gold chalice Lady Du Lac carried and as she extended it toward him, his black tongue darted out sipping its contents. With glowing yellow eyes it snarled, massive arms at the ready, flexing the vestigial wings attached to them. A nod was all it took and ancient claws dug into the stone door that shielded the deeper reaches of the Crypt from them. Blow after blow made chunks of stone fly out of the slab of granite. A gust of stale air coming from below indicated the Varghulf’s success. Warmer than the air of the upper levels it washed over the human servants, knights and Undead warriors following their leader into the tomb. With great strides the beast launched forward into the gloom below, only the noise of its steps being heard. Just as the first human followed torches came to life, filling the corridor in pale blue light. Charles Foy took in a deep breath following the Varghulf down. His first steps into a much larger chamber made him raise his own hooded lamp to get a better glimpse of his surroundings. This area seemed to be the main burial chamber, littered with coffins around a central one. Magical runes glowed on the pedestal supporting the sarcophagus, runes that seemed to repel the mighty Vrolak.
Mere moments later Lady Du Lac followed, holding the chalice in her hand. Vrolak growled low toward the central sarcophagus as if warning her, yet she undaunted moved close, her armoured hand passing on top of the rune circle. Smoke appeared from the gauntlet’s joints, she screeched in pain but soon drops of blood fell onto the first protective circle; “Draconis essae, renash sehek na’lek!”. Again dancing wisps emerged from the ground, their crimson light filling the burial chamber. The dance lasted for an hour and despite’s Charles’ best attempts to hide his worries, he closed on to Carinelle, involuntarily laying a hand on her uninjured arm. It took a mere push and he flew against the wall as an angry Vampire shoved him away. One by one the runes expired, the circles of protective magic dissipating. An armoured hand battered through the sarcophagus’ lid, then another and with an unnatural howl a man emerged, wearing an old set of armour, a gaunt face staring at Carinelle and her companion, “YOU!You freed me, what is your name little one?”, he inquired on a commanding tone. “Lady Carinelle Elise Du Lac, Daughter of Godfrey Du Lac, turned to Darkness by the fiend Lucius Von Carstein, your Lordship”, she bowed down as the etiquette required, “Duke Philippe D’Aquitaine, you are free from the Wards and magic of the Grail Knights, but for your safety we must leave here…”. The old Blood Dragon could not believe his ears, yet wisdom weighed heavily in the stripling’s words, “Very well, My Lady, I shall accompany you. I owe you a debt that can only be repayed through honor”. A handshake sealed it, a grasp of each other’s wrist was the sign. Once more the people of Abois huddled in their homes as the howling neigh of two Nightmares filled the night’s sky. By morning they were gone, but Lord Thomas Ableux, Knight of the Grail could not contain his horror. The Red Duke was free; the King had to be informed.
Chapter 4 – Tales in the Dark Once more the campfire flickered on the pale faces of the vampires, sitting close to it. Rising and falling as more wood was burned or it was refueled it cast shimmering shadows on the surrounding ruins. Fort Lenard, an old Aquitaine fort had been abandoned for centuries and now, evading pursuit Duke Philippe and Lady Du Lac found themselves alone. Swirling a silvery metal cup the male of the two sipped its contents, looking up at his companion. Between strands of dirty blonde hair he could see a weary expression on her face. Thoughtful she did not even bother to look at him, merely held the grip of her sword tightly in her right hand, the blade pointing down. Nearby an unfortunate peasant lay torn, mangled beyond recognition as the two Nightmares quietly consumed his flesh, away from the fire’s warming light. After a moment’s thought Philippe finally broke the silence; “You seem to know my story well, my lady, yet I do not know of your fall into the shadows. I must tell you I am intrigued. Your father was a mere young knight who served with me in the Crusades, I sure would like to know more of you.”
Her eyes raised slowly, dropping the sword and silently she looked at the hero who shared her curse. He must have been in his early forties in life, yet despite the pale tone of his flesh, he had never changed. If she had been alive perhaps such a man would have made a good husband, she thought. “If I am to tell you how I became like this your Lordship I will begin with my suitor”, she added absently. “Karl von Hornbach was his name as I’ve told you and he came from the eastern Empire. It was pleasing in a way to find one such as he”, pausing she moved her hair away from her face and perhaps sketched a smile. “The arrangements were quick, perhaps too quick for the usual formalities. He came at my father’s castle as he had mentioned. When we first met I was with my parents and honestly he seemed pleasant, charming.” “Yet there was more to him than met the eye, yes?”, the Duke inquired, idly scratching his pale cheek. “Indeed, unlike other must I say proper young Knights whom had as for my hand, I felt enraptured by him. Such gallantry, honor, kindness…”; an unnecessary deep breath followed as she continued; “He spent two weeks with me, we rode together, we spoke, we learned of each other and in the last days before his departure I was unable to fathom another second without him.” With an ungloved and she churned the fire a little more, looking at the older man who sat in front of her on a bedroll, her gaze once more turning to the ground; “In a month after he had departed we had settled the wedding. Of course my parents were thrilled as I had turned down all suitors I had before”. “Pierre d’Arlois from Quenelles, Leodric, son of the Duke of Parravon among them seemed to be no match for this young man from the Empire”, her words rolled again quietly, but for their keen senses the Duke had no problem hearing her. “Preparations followed of course and the best craftsmen presented a variety of jewelry, wedding dresses, shoes. I still remember it lasted for almost ten days”. A faint laugh came from her, making the Red Duke raise an eyebrow. Undead or not she had a liveliness he had not seen before in another of his kind. “I still recall my choice for a dress, white laced with small sapphires supposedly imported from Ulthuan by Marienburg merchants, a veil held by a silver circlet with a similar stone, the finest light boots my father’s fortune could acquire, a dream it was”. A pause came, her eyes turning toward the shadows where the Nightmares now rested besides the leftovers of their dinner. “You were quite in love, Carinelle”, the Duke dared a more informal tone with her, not sure how to react. His own memories surfaced for a moment but he shrugged them away. Her story drew his attention for now. “Oh your Lordship, you have no idea”, she quickly responded, her face brightening a mere moment. “And there I was a couple of days later, in a large Stage-Coach sent by my betrothed from Stirland to carry me over. It was made from the finest wood, laced with gold, his own heraldry, it had beautiful green curtains covering windows, drawn by the most beautiful horses I had seen.”
Idly drawing a shape on the ground she smiled now, obviously the beautiful memories improving her mood. Looking at the Duke, she paused for a good minute before resuming her story, “Followed by my father’s Knights we travelled east, across the passes and into the Empire. At the border only Captain Reynaud and his aide, a sergeant remained. Stirland greatswords, Knights employed by my husband to be, state troops in their best attire. It was a dream….”. “You seem quite knowing of the Empire’s military, why is that?”, Philippe cut her off, perhaps somewhat irritated. “My mother is from the Empire, I had visited my relatives in Reichland often, thus I was instructed in the ways of the neighboring country as well”, she replied, not sketching any expression. Dreamy blue eyes gazed up at the silvery light of Mannslieb and she continued; “I remember even today the smell of ripe wheat, the peasants working in the fields, as we approached his fortified manor. It was so full of life, so … I felt I had found a home away from my parents’ castle”. “Impressive”, Philippe added, not sure what to do. A part of him felt like tearing her to bits for attempting to pollute her Bretonnian blood, yet after years in the Empire she came back home, for some reason only she knew. “My wedding was shortly before harvest day and it was more that I could have hoped for”, her voice could be heard once more, “Nobles from the whole region came, even the Elector’s wife showed up… Back in the manor’s flower garden we were married under arches of summer flowers by a nice elderly priest of Sigmar and a Grail Knight coming all the way from home. That day when cultures mix I saw something beautiful. I was sad my husband’s parents had passed away some years before, I was sure they would be proud of Karl”. “Then I assume your family returned home?”, the Blood Dragon asked. “Yes, I was left with my husband who was the only thing I lived for then. We had agreed to wait on having children for we wished to enjoy a few years on our own but then, my second year into the marriage he changed.”. She clenched both fists tightly leaning back not bothering to look at the other Vampire. Finally the story followed, “He left home for whole days, he came home tired, angry sometimes he appeared drained…” “Did you suspect anything from the beginning or?”, her companion asked, trying to force a human smile upon his dead face. “At first I simply assumed he was running the lands as he was supposed to but I had taken advantage of it and with Captain Reynaud and his aide I began visiting the people. I listened to them, I helped them, I rebuilt temples, I gave money to the Churches of Ulric, Taal, Sigmar and Morr. For a while the presence of more priests gave people hope, for under the shadows of those hills people lived in fear…”, her eyes closed again and she now rested onto her back.
“When his accountant told him of my doings, we talked. Calmly at first and wishing to be a good wife I cut off some of the donations I made but he would not persuade me of not going to be with the people. Calm discussions turned into arguments then all out shouting on his side. Little had I known then who was behind everything…” “So your husband conducted shadowy business, well not very surprising with where you mentioned the night before his home was…”, the other retorted quickly. “Yes, then one night as we fought over my doings a new visitor came into our home, Lucius Von Carstein…”, she growled low, hatred obvious now in her words. “He used his magic on me, he glamoured me and when my husband as was his right demanded an explanation Von Carstein rebuked him in a crude manner. As Karl called in his men to remove Von Carstein he showed his true colors. I remember to this day as he drew out his sword, butchering seasoned men”, she growled once more sitting up, looking intently at Philippe, “Seasoned Stirland troops were cut down like children, my Lord…”. “Bloodshed is alas unavoidable”, the Duke spoke calmly, careful now as he noticed her anger. “When he was done with the men like a wild animal he jumped on Karl, disabling him. I .. .I fought back but soon my life was drained under the eyes of my injured husband. That day he fed me his foul blood and I was undone, I was cursed..”. Her eyes closed and she seemed to calm down. “What Von Carstein did was not honorable, yet how did you escape?”, he inquired. “Three years after my marriage and about one and a half after my Awakening in the Dark I gained permission to take a small trip out of Landshof Keep. Taking a Nightmare I rode off and each night”, she sighed, “I fought of his summons, I crossed the Empire and just as my father lay on his deathbed I returned home”. Taking a handful of dirt into her hand she clenched her fist tight, “Bretonnia called to me. As I witnessed my father’s final hours I took a decision. I could not stand losing him. . I cast out everyone from his chambers; I drained him and offered him the Kiss. He sleeps now under Chateau Du Lac, waiting for my call…”. “And for the past years you lived here out of sight of your maker, unseen by the Grail Knights, turning your home into a bastion for yourself, impressive, Carinelle”, Philippe chuckled, perhaps amused at her pathetic attempts to keep on to things she had lost. “What of Karl?”. “Lucius imprisoned him beneath Landshof after offering him the Kiss, starving him, slowly turning him into something more akin to an animal than Vampire…”. “Well now I understand your motives, yet why need me? I’ve fought against my own people, I was imprisoned for it, yet you child, you released me… WHY?”, he asked the tone of his voice rising somewhat.
“Because you are the key to what lays underneath this ruin, the cursed sword of Arokai the Ancient. You will help me reclaim it and with it take vengeance…”, her response this time came quickly. “Together we’ll reclaim it and with it I will kill Lucius, Karl then return to defend these people. Sometimes it takes more than a few Knights and peasants. These people need one who cares for them deep in the dark..”. Philippe D’Aquitaine stood up, “And if I lose my life?”, his question seemed bitter but he took a step back, his back bumping into a slavering large form behind him. “I released you and you are bound by honor to help me. If you attempt however to betray me or claim the blade for yourself, Vrolak won’t take kindly to it”, she added with a malicious smile, her bare hand indicating the Varghulf behind her companion. “I hope we are clear my lord and I hope you will live to your word”. A stunned duke turned only to face the old creature that looked down at him, it’s thirst for blood obvious. Without a word he seemed to back away taking his place. Soon the sun would be up and they would go underground, soon the search would begin.
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