Thanks for the kind words, Bane_Of_Kings and Boc! Glad you enjoyed
Here's the next part, It's a bit longer than the last I think, but not much. This one is spread out more, though, into smaller parts;
When the sun retreated behind the horizon, yanking with it the last vestiges of light, Raphael returned to the chambers. He brought Aliana a chalice of crimson, taken recently from a bled victim in the catacombs beneath Ecliptic. She awoke with a startle, sitting upright, blankets slipping from her elegant form like water. She took the chalice in hand, marring her cheeks and lips with rich scarlet, licking it away with a tongue of pink. Sleep was not the same for Aliana and her Vampire brethren. They dreamt of being with their fellows, feeding and slaughtering. There was no dreams of bounding fields and pretty flowers that were often rife in the minds of the cattle, the men and women and children.
He stood attentively as his mistress peeled away her nightgown, tossing it uncaringly onto her bed and nakedly rummaging through the gathered traveling cases. Finally she found what she wanted, a amber-coloured dress of fine material. She slipped it over her head, arms rigid in the sleeves. Her fingers curled on the cuffs, fastening the pearled buttons together nimbly. She required no assistance in pulling the formfitting dress on the smooth clothe clinging to each individual curve, forcing Raphael to stare in raw admiration.
‘Stop it.’ Demanded Aliana suddenly, shattering the silence with her lyrical, beautiful voice.
‘Stop what, Lady?’ Wondered Raphael, arching an eyebrow.
‘Your gaping. It is annoying me, greatly. If I did not hold you in such a high position, slave, I would have rend you from head-to-toe.’ She growled, her warning far from false. The use of slave hurt Raphael within, like daggers driving into his heart.
‘I-I never re-realised..’ He stammered in return, looking guilty. Of course, he was lying. Even Aliana knew this and allowed a feral smile, parting her lips to reveal her dread fangs.
‘Has there been news of Reghorff?’ She blurted suddenly, changing the course of the conversation drastically, much to the relief of Raphael.
‘None of importance, mistress.’ Came his simple, curt answer.
‘You are withholding information, Raphael.’ She pointed out angrily, jabbing an accusing finger at him.
‘I am not,’ He began, voice half-risen ‘You are just being paranoid once more, Lady Aliana. What I hear, you hear. I promise you that..’
‘Are you sure, errand boy?’ She taunted laughingly, snorting to herself.
‘Fully, mistress.’ He promised, a tone of irritation cowering beneath the many folds of his voice.
‘Then that is all, Raphael. If I am in need of you, I shall send one of Radu’s serfs to collect you.’ Her erratic voice growled in the torchlight, her form dancing as embers spilled out towards her once more in the wind. Raphael bowed deeply and retreated from the room, not rising back to his full height until he had pulled the folds of the velvet curtain back across.
When he stood in the gallery, alone, he allowed a long drawn sigh. Had he really goaded her into anger? Had he forced her into the outburst? No. her conversation with Lady Sophia the previous night had all but confirmed that the Vampires were in a strenuous state, murderously attacking their closest out of spite. If he was to be honest; he was glad to be away from the von Carstein Lady, fearful of her tremendous wrath. He had little duties now that he was not needed, and thus the waiting began.
He trawled from wing to wing, banquet hall to banquet hall. The lavish, gothic designs of Ecliptic Castle were strangely pleasant. Despite the violence-depicting tapestries, the marionette-displayed corpses and the claret coloured paints, Raphael felt at ease. He knew that he could have been walking parallel with a monster, a killer who’s kill count could have been tenfold the population of Sylvania. Yet still, he felt no fear for such things, no gnawing at his soul.
His continuous footfalls ended abruptly when he entered another feasting hall. Whereas the others had been devoid of life, this one was a ruckus of singing and dancing. Thralls in purple garbs twirled around one another, smiling and laughing while sharing gulps of alcohol. Others sat at a long table, eating from piles of food that made Raphael’s stomach growl in anticipation, picking at meats and fruits veraciously. At the head of the table, a old man slumped over, his flesh gray and haggard. A pair of crimson lines were strung out along his neck, each one still wet.
A feeding ritual. Whoever the Vampire was, he had now retreated back into the darkness, leaving in his wake a slack fleshed corpse and a grand party. Thick, surly Sylvanian accents were a sonorous orchestra, flamboyantly echoing throughout the hall, in Raphael’s mind, with enough force to shake the timbers above. As though on time with his entrance, the music stopped. Heads turned towards him, shallow nods and animalistic greetings acknowledging his presence. Some of the faces were turned pink with exertion, others glossy with perspiration.
Panting, a skinny-faced woman pranced towards him, carrying the folds of her dress in both hands. A scraggly mane of khaki hair draped from her skull, greasy strands licking her face. A scar ran along the length of her right cheekbone, curling the corner of her lip upwards before disappearing off her chin and into her collar. It was her azure eyes, wide and surrounded by alabaster, that made her even half-attractive. Raphael stood tall, his shirt clinging tight to his chest and gut. He forced a smile, trying not ti twist his lips in disgust.
She was pungently wafting, a horribly radiating smell from beneath her dress. Raphael pushed the cuff of his nose, lifting the tip upwards. She curiously looked at him, the smile on her face drooping away into a saddened expression. Apologetically, Raphael allowed his arm to fall away, despite the unbearable smell and reached out, cupping one of her hands in his. She smiled up at him, pulling away her hand and dancing back into the crowd, twirling like a colourful spinning top in her dress. Several times she indicating for him to follow, and each he denied with a twiddle of his palm.
He laid one hand on the wooden pane beside him, leaning against it as he continued to watch, with a smile upon his face. The interlocking prongs of figures, wenches and serf-men, sang a ancient tune of Sylvania that caused the fake smile upon Raphael’s face to disappear. Once, his mother had sung this to him. It had been sung at her funeral, after the wasting sickness had turned her into a walking cadaver, forcing Raphael to tear her head from her bony shoulders with a hatchet.
He had been but a child then, and to reasons then unknown to him, he cared not for her plight. He had reveled in her death, leaving her decapitated corpse to leak putrid blood within their cottage.
The song was a haunting melody. A flute player stood atop the table, walking to and fro, casting his baleful tune across the feasting hall. Those sitting clapped in appreciation, some even raising their chalices in salutation. Others tapped the wood beneath their plates and cups, pounding it with finger tips, a staccato of thumps.
Raphael clenched his fist tightly, the well-cut nails cutting crimson crescents into his palm. Something within him boiled, bubbled and then burst. The scarred woman spun past once again, flashing a wicked grin. She twirled her hand, attempting to entice Raphael. He shook his head in shame. Such a hag trying to bed him? Ha! Ridiculous.
The thrall of Lady Aliana was not weak of mind. He would not bend to the whim of a nameless, worthless whore. Even more so, a disfigured one. If he chose someone such as her, he feared the repercussions of his Lady. It would not go to have someone such as her, it was not right. She was destined to die, another nameless servant in the service of the hallowed von Carsteins. He would rather split his own throat with a shard of glass than bed her.
Anger coursed through his every muscle, vein and nerve. The tune continued to blare, the sound now a shrill roaring. A horrible, damned sound it was. There was a gnawing at his soul, plying it apart and slowly devouring each unsatisfactory morsel. He turned away from the jubilant hall, looking back into the darkness that he had crept from. It beckoned him with shadowy fingers, each rippling in the luminous torchlight. He stood there for a short passing of time, entranced by the obsidian recess.
He cast a quick glance over his shoulder, smiling uneasily at the woman. She shared it, before continuing to dance to the terrible tune. Raphael sank back into the shadows, leaving the loudness behind. The fell hounds of Sylvania howled in the distance. Somewhere, some unfortunate soul was in the midst of being devoured. Raphael allowed a silent prayer for mercy, snorting his disgust at such a gesture.
Hours into the night, the monstrous portcullis of the castle withdrew vertically, chains clanking. Before the final quarter of the gate had even retreated into the holdings, a trio of horsemen advanced inwards, mounts snorting vaporous clouds into the dark dwellings. Men-at-arms in rich scarlet armour and skull helms advanced from the archways around the courtyard, halberds held at the ready.
The leader smiled unnervingly. He was tall and clad in silken robes, dabbed in emerald and peach. A curved dagger was the only weapon he bore, fastened to his hip with golden thread. Hair of silver was tied into a flowing topknot, the remainder of his head bald and creased with age. Both of his companions were old, clad in leather armour and bearing tall spears. One was blonde and defiant, the other bald and hawkish in appearance.
Cawing ravens had perched on the battlements above, beady crimson eyes watching the procession of figures with interested. Raphael himself had joined the birds when the alarm had spread through the keep, and now his fatigues were soaked with perspiration, his lungs burning within his chest cavity. The ravens did not move as he slipped between a pair of braces, leaning over ponderously. He struggled to find purchase and nearly fell to his death, his sweat-logged gloves slipping on the smooth surface.
When he finally wiggled himself into a safe position, he stared intently down on the heads of the assembled warriors and guests. Raphael did not know who the mysterious guests were. Perhaps they had simply stumbled on Ecliptic Castle, favoring the safety of its impregnable walls over the wilds of Sylvania? He blamed them not if that was true. Not even the most loyal of Sylvanian citizenry were safe from the wrath of the undead. If one was foolish enough to venture into the darkness, then it was his duty to die in the name of the von Carsteins.
The lightning flashed, followed several seconds later by the rumbling boom of thunder. The warhorses below neighed loudly and reared up, striking out with their frontal legs. The men-at-arms stepped back, out of reach of the muscular limbs. One was unlucky enough to receive a blow, crushing his nose and breaking his jaw and cheek bones, killing him instantly. The corpse collapsed flatly, halberd clattering away. Blood dribbled from the skull helm, pooling around the broken head in a crimson crescent.
Not one of his companions moved. The warhorses settled back down on all fours and the hawkish mercenary jumped from his saddle, spear held across his chest in a protective, double-handed grip. The tattoo of a coiled serpent rested on the nape of his neck, in the centre of which sat the numerals VI. It became apparent to Raphael that he was a veteran, it was a mark of soldiery. He was no minor mercenary, he was a trained warrior. He looked up over his shoulder and acknowledged Raphael with a grin, his eyes like chards of ice.
The thrall fell backwards. The smooth concourse of the battlements jarred his tail bone as he landed, scattering the ravens which had been nestling there in a rain of black feathers. Each caw that they delivered brought them further away, into the darkness that Sylvania offered. He turned back towards the tense situation below, happy to find that the hawkish fellow was no longer looking his way. Even on his feet, his lanky frame towered over most of the men-at-arms.
Next onto the ground came their master. Despite his aged appearance, he landed almost acrobatically. He needed no support from the hawkish mercenary, who was focused solely on the warding off of the men-at-arms. The warhorses stood still, only their heads twisting back and forth, manes flicking in the cold breeze. The blonde haired man remained mounted, his mount wheeling around to face the clanking portcullis as it sank downwards once again. He clearly looked fearful, nervously nibbling upon his lip.
‘I wish to speak with Radu von Carstein, at once.’ Demanded their leader, his voice ancient. It sounded odd as it echoed throughout the courtyard, ringing in the ears of all present. Only now did the blonde man dismount, allowing a bow-legged thrall to lead the horses away, towards the stables.
The trio allowed themselves to be surrounded by the men-at-arms. The scarlet-clad psychopaths stepped in and formed a honour guard, each of them ignoring their dead brethren beneath their feet. The hawkish fellow cast another quick glance up at Raphael, nodded at him, before they were led into the forever-darkness of Ecliptic Castle.
The great oaken doors of the throne room were slowly dragged open by a dozen serfs. Each strained under the weight, muscles burning, trains of perspiration running into their eyes. The illuminated chamber was starkly bright when compared to the remainder of the keep. Great braziers burned around the ornamental room, dripping embers onto the blue-veined marble. A regal carpet ran the centre of the room, bordered on either side by dozens of fluttering standards.
Over a hundred men-at-arms stood around the room, halberds clenched tight to their armoured chests, cloaks of ruffled fur billowing out behind them. Unlike the others in the keep, these were each gifted the allowance to wear the clawed symbol of Radu von Carstein upon their shoulder pauldrons and greaves. The Count himself was currently in the throne room, his hands cupping his cold cheeks. His raised throne was made from the blackest of rock, wrapped in golden and bronze metal rungs. Dashes of crimson, as though a painter had lost his temper with his brush, were splashed across the floor beneath him.
Horns blared deafeningly as the oaken doors slammed to a halt. Men-at-arms pranced in, trailed by a small group of men. Radu sat up immediately, a predatory smile spreading across his handsome features. Two of the three figures were armed with spears and short-swords, while the third had the appearance of an ambassador, only bringing with him a curved dagger, the pommel of which was of mammoth ivory.
As they drew nearer, the men-at-arms split off between the flanking banner poles, slipping away in pairs until only the guests remained. The younger of the two soldiers, a blonde haired man with an air of nobility around him, was visibly shaking.
‘Who dares bother me?’ Questioned Radu, his voice a rasping growl. The emerald-peach robed man stood firm as he pulled himself onto the first of the steps that led up onto the throne, his topknot swaying.
‘Radu von Carstein..’ He began, inclining his head slightly in respect ‘I, Lord Franz Ritter von Kruez, Protector of Reghorff, am the one who dares bother you.’
His accent was not native of Sylvania. It was strong, barbaric. The vowels were painstakingly elongated, twisted and renewed so that each word he spoke was little more than a mockery of those which they should have been. Ritter was a title of the Empire, meaning knight. He was a warrior, then. That was indeed good for Radu, he could relate with von Kruez through that. Had he come to attempt an assassination on the throne-dwelling beast, though?
‘Are you of the Empire, child?’ Asked Radu, arching one of his brows to emphasize his question.
‘I am, von Carstein.’ He said flatly, his vowels emanating across the throne room. It was said in an insulting manner, as though Radu had simply stated the obvious.
‘Then Reghorff truly has thrown in its lot with the Empire. I was hoping that the rumours were nothing more than that, rumours. Of course, all cannot be as simple as that, can it?’ Concluded Radu, each word a hiss, yet still von Kruez stood strong, unimpressed by the monster’s display of rage.
‘You misunderstand, Vampire. Reghorff has never left the side of the Empire. It was you, men of Sylvania, who turned their back on the Empire. Reghorff remembered its glorious origins and has now returned to them.’ Strongly retorted von Kruez, his chiseled features remaining still.
‘You amuse me, von Kruez. I could kill you in an instant if I so wished, but it does not vex you. Why do you stand before me, defiant and ignorant? What has brought you here to my court in such confidence?’ Now, he was interested. What possible answer could von Kruez give him? He was dead either way, Radu had decided that as soon as his eyes had met those of the so-called Protector of Reghorff.
‘I come here to give you an offer, dog. Leave Reghorff in peace, or I will run you through on the field of battle and mount your head upon the highest banner pole.’ His voice was stern, his accent simply helping to add the commanding tone.
Radu von Carstein leapt to his feat, drawing his Falcata and pointed it accusingly at von Kruez. Both of his hired-muscle lowered their spears so that the hooked point was aimed at Radu’s damned heart, their faces furrowed into snarls. The blonde’s weapon was trembling in his grip, the haft a blurring line, the tip appearing unthreateningly weak.
‘You dare threaten me, child?’ He roared, furious at von Kruez. The Imperial still stood, in reach of Radu’s Falcata.
‘I do. Now, are you going to use that pretty blade of yours, or is it a pretty ornament?’ He goaded, looking the Vampire in the eyes. Franz Ritter von Kruez had long since forgotten how to fear death. He had accepted that it would come, welcomed it in fact. His family were all gone, he was the last of a noble line. A rainbow in the dark, abandoned by all that he believed he could love, left to fester and rot.
The Vampire Count admired the bravery of the man. It was a genuine feeling, but still he felt malicious contempt towards von Kruez. He looked down on his opposite. He could almost hear the heartbeat of von Kruez, the throbbing of each vein and artery. His skin turned as crimson as the blood which it harboured, only the whites of his eyes contrasting against it. Radu would suckle him dry, he promised as much. The old man wanted death! He wanted Radu to rip him limb from limb!
Once again, the feral grin spread across Radu’s face. Fangs slipped from his lips, carving blood rivets along his chin. He threw back his head, relishing in the aromatic stench and the moist sensation upon his lower face. And then he darted forwards. He was a mere obsidian-clad blur, Falcata swinging madly. The blade cleaved the blonde haired man from shoulder-to-hip, spurting gore across the ground, organs spilling out in a carnal tide.
The other hired-muscle spun his spear in a whistling circle before him, the tip flashing in the fire-light. Two rapid swings from the Falcata were deflected away, stifling a snarl from the Vampire Count. The mercenary returned a blow suddenly, the tip of the spear burying itself into the chest of the Vampire. With a smile he yanked the spear free, droplets of gore striking the blue-veined marble beneath, and stabbed again.
This time, the Count’s free hand shot upwards, gripping the haft. His opponent looked on in bewilderment as the Count flicked his wrist, snapping the metal and tossing it aside uncaringly. Falcata held in a reverse grip, the Count ended the pitiful life of the man. Rendered in two at the tip of the chest bone, his opponent simply stood there for several moments, glazed eyes staring on at his murderer. Fleshy threads tore and blood cascaded as both parts came away from one another, wetly clapping against the marble.
Von Kruez smiled enthusiastically, silken robes blowing in the wind around him. Radu, blade dripping strands of gore, chest rising and deflating rapidly, tilted his head in wonder. The Imperial envoy drew his dagger, bringing it along the centre of his chest, cutting left and right. Blood spurted from the terrible wound, soaking his robes through and through. His face twitched in pain, the corners of his mouth curling upwards, his lips flipping.
‘You see, von Carstein, I do not fear pain or death.’ He grunted through bared teeth, pulling his dagger from his flesh with a slurp.
‘That is good, von Kruez. But how else will I take pleasure in your quartering and hanging?’ He hissed, bloody bubbles growing around his mouth, his lank hair slick with crimson.
‘So confident, von Carstein. You will not be the first of your kind which I have slain, nor will you be the last.’ Factually returned von Kruez, the muscles of his face still twitching uncontrollably.
And that was it. The pair threw themselves at each other, dagger meeting Falcata in a series of loud clangs. Sparks erupted in great showers as the hell-metal of the Falcata cried out in unholy agony, meeting against the blessed silver of von Kruez’ dagger. Surprisingly, the old man matched every blow from Radu. His free hand held behind his back, as though he was strolling, he parried each strike and cleave that came at him.
He ducked behind a banner pole, spinning around it in his acrobatic fashion, and laid a kick in the ribs of the von Carstein. The audible crunch was good for von Kruez, and he allowed a tense smile to spread across his spasmodic face. Using the banner pole was a purchase, von Kruez threw both legs up into the air, again striking the Vampire Count in the side. His quarry stumbled away, knocking over several adjacent poles, sending them clattering onto the ground. Radu followed them, snapping poles beneath his weight, growling and twisting on the floor.
Still the fight continued. Radu thrust his blade upwards from the floor, nipping von Kruez’ leg. He yanked back, again lacerating his flesh, this time just below the other. He winced and back flipped away, landing clumsily. The von Carstein laughed triumphantly, arching his back and kicking his legs out. He landed on his feet in a low crouch, Falcata held before him, protecting his face. The Imperial was not visibly struggling, however Radu knew that he could not compete with his advanced metabolism for much longer.
‘You are done for, von Kruez! Surrender and your death shall be quick.’ He offered, pulling himself to his immense height, the white nubs of his cracked ribs pushing painfully against hi skin, stretching it.
‘I will do no such thing!’ He decided, throwing himself forwards once again.
Radu von Carstein smiled. The Imperial landed on his curved blade, pushing deep, ripping flesh aside.
Leaning in close, Radu muttered three words.
‘Scream for me.’