Tuesday, 24 March 2009

There will be blood...

In the dim and distant past feuds amongst the species that made up the Old Kingdom were commonplace. Like many disputes they tended be focused on boundaries of territories, since they seldom lived cheek by jowl. These were different times though, the human population had grown exponentially in the last few thousand years, and with territory diminished the Old Kingdomers had to learn to share, or move to remote parts to try and remain apart.

The Vampire colonies based in Romania had chosen to move into cave systems carved out of the Carpathian Mountains which ran like a spine down the length of the country and up as far as Slovakia to the west.

Despite this move, and the attempt to isolate themselves from humans, they had found themselves increasingly attacked by some determined men from the surrounding area who thought their presence an abomination.

Over the years this had become fiercer and well organised. The ragbag of angry locals had been replaced by well armed and well informed soldiers whose sole intention was not to run them out of the mountains, but instead to annihilate them.

It seemed laughable to suggest that the remnants of the resistance movement, who had managed to escape, would start fighting on a second front with a Werewolf clan by taking one of its number hostage.

“This is surreal,” Vlad said.
“Maybe so mate, but that was the very thought on his mind.”
“We are all but defeated in the homeland, where would be keeping this female? We barely have homes ourselves. It is only the fact that I have managed to retain the old family home that I have a place to stay.”
“We do not know who is in London at the moment – we all moved so quickly to leave Romania while we could, there has been no means of communicating with each other.” The Count said thoughfully, and then he continued, “There are still Vampires left in the Cave systems, those who chose to live in the darkness permanently. We lost all contact with them over a hundred years ago…who knows what they are capable of.” He ended darkly.
“We can’t be sure that any of them are even left; as you say they have not been seen or head from for a century. It seems unlikely to me that they would have had an opportunity to go out and kidnap a member of the Clan.”

They were known as the ‘dark ones’ or the ‘întuneric’.

Many of them had been from high ranking families from Romania, and when the anti-Vampire policies had began to take hold all over Eastern Europe they had made their way into the caves, got as deep as they could and disappeared. Stories surfaced occasionally about livestock going missing, children living in nearby villages mysteriously vanishing, and it was often thought that it was the întuneric on the prowl.

“We need to find out for sure whether this is true, if it is, then your plan of uniting the Old Kingdom will be doomed before we begin. The Werewolf clans will declare war; the Witches will almost certainly side with them…” Vlad stopped mid-flow. “...and there is only one man who stands to benefit.”

He grew suddenly angry. His canine teeth seemed to lengthen, and his already pale face grew whiter, making his lips look almost crimson. When he turned to face The Count his eyes were on fire.
“Find Lord Kingsteignton, and bring him here….” He growled, several tones lower than his usual voice.

Cringing slightly in one corner was Costello, watching with barely concealed horror, his old friend grow ever more furious. The name Kingsteignton rang a bell with him.

“Er…this Lord Kingsteignton, the Lord Kingsteignton; big cheese in the European Union?” He asked wide-eyed.
“The very same” The Count answered.
“Only the top dog was due to meet with him…in fact should be with him now.”
“Where were they meeting?” Vlad asked quickly, eyes flashing again with fury.
“I don’t know – I got an image of a gentleman’s club….” He blustered.
“All I needed to know. Count, do you fancy coming with me?” He smiled at his companion, baring his fangs that were now very prominent.
The Count smiled, revealing his own pearly white canine teeth, and nodded assent.
“You had better stay here Costello – I intend this to get very ugly.”

Friday, 20 March 2009

Can a vampire tell the truth?

‘Come on Kingsteignton’ asked Roland impatiently after the silence had dragged out for several minutes. ‘It can’t be that hard to tell the truth; break the habit of the centuries and spit it out’.
Kingsteignton got up out of his chair and went and stood by the fire, kicking a smouldering log back into the flames with the tip of his highly polished shoe.
‘I have told you the truth, de Cazalrenoux; I need your help in sorting out the Romanian vampire rabble. I believe that it is to the benefit of all Old Kingdomers that they are brought to heel!’
‘Brought to heel?’ mocked Roland softly. ‘Who crowned you king of the Romanian vampires? I thought that young Vladimirescu was their leader? That he had taken over from Baron von Orloc? Not that he seems to have left London yet! Weren’t you involved somewhere in the staking of his father? And in the unleashing of the death squads?’
Kingsteignton continued to poke at the fire with his toe.
‘You have given me no reason as to why you are trying to destroy your own kind in Romania. If you were really concerned in conserving the Old Kingdom, you would not be participating in their slaughter! This wouldn’t have anything to do with this mysterious daughter of yours would it?’ asked Roland viciously.
Kingsteignton kicked at the fire harder and turned and faced Roland.
‘You seem to have compiled a lot of personal information on me’ he said heavily ‘especially for one who can’t even keep track of all the members of his own clan!’
‘I only have your word on that Kingsteignton; and your word is not something I would even risk the life of a cockroach on’ retorted Roland.
‘But I have proof, my boy’, drawled Kingsteignton. He slid his long elegant hand adorned with a strange heavy gold signet ring into his trouser pocket and pulled out a wad of tawny brown fur.
Roland felt his hackles rise, and he fought hard to not start the change process. Common belief would have it that the werewolves only changed at night during the period of the full moon, whether they wanted to or not. True this was a period of enforced change for them, but all adult werewolves could change at will, and, if they were not careful, spontaneously if they were put under stress or were in grave danger. It was a life skill that young werewolves had to master, and many had gone in to the change at the wrong time and place, sometimes with tragic consequences.
Kingsteignton tossed the wad of fur at Roland, who caught it in one hand and brought it up to his nose.
He sniffed at it delicately, his incredibly sensitive sense of smell teasing out all the different scents and signatures emanating from the fur. He imposed his iron will to stop his hand trembling as a totally new, but very familiar odour entered his nostrils. The scent was that of a very young female werewolf; this was the fur of a previously unknown member of the Clan.
Roland involuntarily growled low in his throat and bared his shining, white canines. He leapt out of his chair and in one swift movement grabbed Kingsteignton by the throat and slammed him against the wall.
‘Tell me where you got this’ he ground out ‘and this time it had better be the truth!’

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Once more into the morgue....

Roland followed the steward down numerous dim, thickly-carpeted corridors, until at last he was ushered into a small, opulently furnished roon heated by a log fire crackling in the grate.

The tall, grey-haired figure, who had been reading the Times, stood courteously to greet him.

'Thank you for coming, de Cazalrenoux' he said in his dark, smooth tones 'I wasn't entirely sure that you would show?'

Roland took the cold, well-manicured, marble-smooth hand that was offered him and shook it briefly. It was like grabbing hold of an icicle and sent a shudder into the depths of his soul.

'I am a man of my word, Kingsteignton' replied Roland warily 'But I still remain unconvinced that you have anything that I could possibly want!'

'Now, my boy, put your hackles down and sit down here by the fire. Steward, please bring a bottle of cognac and a platter of cheese for Monsieur de Cazalrenoux, and another glass of the 'er claret for myself'.

The steward softly padded out of the room. Roland sat himself down in the proffered chair and glanced at Kingsteignton's glass. If it wasn't pigs blood, he was Groucho Marx! Well he hoped it was pigs blood; in this neo-gothic monstrosity of a 'gentleman's club' anything was possible.

His attention was brought back by Kingsteignton beginning to talk again.

'Now, I know that you have some strange, liberal views when it comes to the humans; but unlike some Old Kingdomers, I believe that you are a creature of the 21st century!'

'Hardly, Kingsteignton, I was born in 1742' retorted Roland.

Kingsteignton glared at him, but kept his temper on a tight rein.

'You know what I mean, de Cazalrenoux! You run a modern company and live a modern lifestyle.'

'In some respects yes, but in many respects I still adhere to the old traditional ways. But you didn't come all this way to debate on traditionalism versus modernism?'.

'No I did not. I came all this way to ask you what you intend to do to help me with the Romanian vampire question?'

Roland blinked in amazement.

'I don't intend to do anything. What has it got to do with either the Clan or myself personally?'

'They are going to ruin everything!' snorted Kingsteignton thumping his fist down on a small walnut side table, 'So of course it's something to do with you!'

'Ruin what? You are talking in riddles Kingsteignton?' queried Roland.

Kingsteignton sighed and met Roland's amber gaze squarely.

'As you are probably well aware, I have worked long and hard, and pulled many EU strings, to develop my uranium mining interests in the Carpathian mountains, for the good of all Old Kingdomers. Things were progressing well, until the Romanian vampire rabble decided that the mining was destroying their home cave systems and that the mining operations were polluting their environment. Apparently they don't like their humans radio-active!'

'All total piffle of course, but they have gone back to their rioting and looting bad old ways, and I have had to get the authorities to intervene. After all the years I have put in, we cannot allow some reactionary Old Kingdomers who are still stuck firmly in the 14th century to drag the rest of us through the mud!'

'The rest of us!' mocked Roland gently. 'Since when did any of your business enterprises benefit anyone except yourself, Kingsteignton? Or have you set up a Foundation for Distressed Old Kingdomers that I did not know about?'

Kingsteignton flushed as much as his waxy countenance would allow.

'All my business enterprises are run only with the intention to prove to the humans that Old Kingdom races are civilised and rational and can operate in their world safely - I will save the Old Kingdom races from extinction' he said stiffly.

Roland surprised them both by laughing.

'Drop the act Kingsteignton, if you want my help you are going to have to be honest with me. What is your real problem, what do you really want from me and why?.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The mind reader

It is fair to say that humans and the races of the Old Kingdom rarely strike up friendships, and a human and a Vampire becoming close is rarer still. But there were exceptions, and one such was striding manfully down the road toward the home of Demitrie Vladimirescu as the sun slowly set and the street lights began to flicker into life. He was young, possibly late twenties, and he had dark blonde hair that was already beginning to recede. His clothes were like those of a student, albeit a student that shopped in Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

The young man climbed the steps that lead to the massive black front door of the property in two bounds, and confidently rapped on the door. The door slowly opened with a slight creaking noise (which could have been remedied with the application of some WD40 but Vlad felt that it provided a certain ambience and elected to keep it). With the sun still not being fully set, the door had been operated via the multi-tasking remote control that Vlad kept in his study – so the figure trotted in and made his way immediately to the study.

The large airy rooms that he walked through radiated a sort of sadness; he had grown accustomed to the dustsheets and the eerie silence of rooms that would have once played host to friends and family and music would have rang out from the grand piano that sat, pride of place, in the large drawing room. It was, though, he thought a great pity.

On reaching the study he found he way barred by a huge vampire, well over 6 feet, stocky and bearing an impressive handlebar moustache.

“Who are you?” bellowed the Vampire.

Most people presented with a large bellowing blood sucker might have the good sense to run in the opposite direction, but Mike Costello was not most people. He gave the Count a wide grin and held out his hand in greeting.

“ ‘ello mate,” He replied. “I’m a mate of Vlad’s.”

The large vampire looked confused.

“You are not one of us.” He stated flatly.

“Blimey, no fooling you is there big man.” Mike smiled again radiating good natured confidence. Normally these words would have precipitated a sudden trip to the floor, a bloodied nose and the absence of many teeth, but the Count found that he was unable to feel any malice toward the friendly youngster in front of him.

“Is his Majesty about?”

“Yes, he is in his study –he was supposed to be catching up on some sleep, but I doubt very much that he is,” the Count replied.

Without a word Costello waltzed straight into the study and found Vlad resting on his chair.

“Evening Vlad.” He cried.

“Costello. Is there are a reason you have come over, or are you just after another crack at my wine cellar?”

“I bring news old man, as well as bagels and cream cheese for me – I hope you’ve eaten already only I’m not sure I could watch that again.”

“Yes, we have.” Vlad replied in an even tone.

“Before you gorge yourself on dairy product, let me have the news.” He continued.

“OK, you know you wanted to know if our hairy friends were on the move? Well they are, from what I understand they intend to bugger off back to France,” He said bustling out of the study in the direction of the kitchen and his dinner. “All the good it’ll do ‘em” He added.

“Quite. I am not surprised though. He has young family and London isn’t the best place to raise a pack.”

Count Antonescu, who had followed the two of them, gave the very definition of a hollow laugh.

“Ha! He is just a coward like so many of his breed. He is meant to be the Alpha male of his pack and all he wants to do is run for the hills.” He said contemptuously.

“Not sure about that big boy. It seems he needs himself a mate – as you know the doggies are getting a bit low on stocks so the men are going to need to get busy, if you get my drift.” Costello said, retrieving a red hot half of bagel from the toaster, and swearing lightly.

“I am not sure it is entirely respectful to refer to the clan as ‘doggies’.” Vlad pointed out to his less than tactful friend.

“Pardon me.” Mike smiled and stuffed his face with a bagel smothered in cream cheese.

Count Antonescu was bothered by this man. A human being who appeared to be totally at ease in the presence of Vampires, and unruffled at digging around for information on the clan – Mike Costello was clearly not your run-of-the-mill Homo sapien.

“Mister Costello,” the Count rumbled, “How have you discovered this?”

“Trade secret. I have my ways and means, contacts here and there…” He replied vaguely.

Vlad shook his head.

“He is a psychic. A very rare, fully human, psychic – he has no contacts, no ways and means. He just concentrates on the werewolf family and writes down the impressions he gets.”

“Cheers Vlad, that was going to look impressive.” Costello protested, or at least would have done had his mouth not been stuffed with food.

“A human psychic? That actually gets thing right?” Snorted the Count, “that is indeed most impressive.”

“Enough.” Vlad walked over to Mike who was still happily cramming bagel into his mouth. “What else did you learn?”

Mike swallowed quickly, and shook his head.

“Not much I’m afraid. I got the impression he was anxious about something – something that concerned a female werewolf. Thought it was just him thinking about a mate at first – but it was more than that. He’s always thinking about the opposite sex in general terms, but this time it was more certain.” He popped the last morsel of food into his mouth and walked out to have a seat where the Count had so recently been prostrate.

Mike popped his feet up and Vlad brought him over a glass and a decent Château Lafite that had been liberated from his ever dwindling cellar. He could hardly complain; it was not as if he was ever going to drink it.

“Very nice,” Mike said after making a great show of swirling and tasting the wine despite having no clue as to what it was supposed to do. Mike carefully picked his moment and then dropped his bombshell.

“Actually there was one thing I did glean from the Werewolf about the female.”

“Yes?” The two Vampires chimed.

“He thinks that you lot have got her locked up.”

Shaken but not stirred

'Roland, you can close your mouth now' said Sue a little tartly and then addressed the heavenly creature who was by now hovering in front of her desk and a little too close to Roland's knee for his comfort.

'Eunice can we please have one white coffee for the gentleman and I would like a whisky and soda and I think that you had better make it a double!'

'Are you not going to introduce us, Sue?' interjected Roland, who had by this time regained his composure a little.

'Certainly not. It would be most inappropriate! Eunice please can you fetch the drinks?'

Roland stuck out his hand to Eunice anyway, and said quite formally 'Hello, I am Roland de Cazalrenoux, and I am very pleased to meet you'.

Dancing green eyes met with his tawny, amber gaze, and dimples appeared as she smiled and held out a slim hand to clasp his briefly.

'Eunice Batchworth, pleased to meet you also'.

'Eunice Batchworth? What kind of name is that for a gorgeous thing like you?'

'A fine, traditional witch name. Batchworth is a name with a long and proud lineage in the Witch Kingdom' interrupted Sue testily ' Now Eunice go and get that coffee and please change into something more suitable for work!'

Eunice shrugged and smiled as she glanced down at her limb-hugging ripped jeans and flimsy white vest top, but good naturedly moved away towards the door, Roland's gaze following her every move.

After she had closed the door behind her, Sue's glare brought Roland back to why he was there and the serious nature of his visit. Sue, however, was not to be deflected from what she wanted to say.

'Roland, Eunice is only eighteen, a very young witch and my only niece. I will not tolerate you trying to use your charms on her and turn her head!'

Roland held up his hands in mock surrender.

'Sue I haven't done anything! I just wasn't prepared for that vision of beauty to stroll into the room. But really, Eunice Batchworth? And how can she be your niece? You are at least 725 by my reckoning?'.

'I have told you, the name Eunice Batchworth is one held in the highest esteem in the Witch Kingdom. It was the name of my sister and held by all her direct female descendants. You don't honestly believe that my real name is Sue Fisher, do you? Unfortunately, that side of the family were very prone to running into trouble; inquisitors, witch-finders and the like and didn't tend to last very long. Even Eunice's poor parents!'

'I thought that the witches had been relatively safe from human persecution for some time? Whatever happened to them?' asked Roland.

'Oh, they skied into a piste basher in Verbier about fifteen years ago' replied Sue quite matter of fact 'Too much red wine at lunch. The other scourge of the Batchworths! Apparently, it made quite a mess on the piste. Anyway back to that information you wanted. It's not going to be ready for a few days; the spells and incantations are quite complicated and drawn-out'.

'But Sue I need it for this meeting with Kingsteignton!'.

'Well you are going to be late for that anyway, it's almost noon now!'

'Oh, I made him rearrange for 2.30; he wasn't happy but that old club of his is such a morgue that I'm sure that they've got a velvet-lined coffin handy so he can have a nap! But I need that information. I can't go into this blind!'

'Well the specific stuff you have asked for is going to have to wait. What I do know is that our Lord K is using his EU position to pull all kinds of strings and I've heard that the Romanian vampires are taking a terrible thumping. You might want to ask him why he is attacking his own kind?'

'Hmm' thought Roland aloud. 'You don't think that it's the Romanian vampires who are holding Kea do you? Do you think that's what he's trying to imply?

'If I was you, my boy, I would ask yourself why is Kingsteignton encouraging the systematic slaughter of his own kind in eastern Europe, and why would they be holding a female werewolf against her will. Who is it who benefits and why? Kingsteignton never does anything that doesn't directly benefit himself and fills his coffers. Besides there is bad blood between them because of his daughter'.

'His daughter?' echoed Roland 'I didn't know that the old coffin-hugger had ever had a daughter?'

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A Bite to Eat

The young butcher’s apprentice did not raise as much as an eyebrow at the request for four pints of pig’s blood – he simply gave a grunt and went out the back to retrieve the item for his strangely dressed customer. While it was certainly chilly for the time of year, he did not see why anyone would wish to dress like Nanook of the North and why the pale sunshine that occasionally crept through the clouds should occasion the need for sunglasses.

He thought for a moment and concluded that the man in his father’s shop was some kind of movie star – it was not unusual in the vicinity of Kensington to see the odd celebrity - ensuring that everyone could see them by application of headscarves, baseball hats and expensive designer shades.
Quite why a star of stage and screen would require this much pig’s blood was something of a mystery, but then again, he reasoned, you did hear some very funny things about the rich and famous.

Once safely double bagged and paid for the apprentice returned with some vigour to his previous task which involved a slab of meat and a cleaver. As Vlad left the store he briefly wondered what kind of a person willingly does that for a living.
And the humans are worried about us? He thought to himself, making his way with some haste back to his abode before the time ran out and he swiftly turned into a rather large pile of ash.
His thoughts quickly returned to the subject of his conversation with the Count. The situation in the old country was much worse than it was here since the hunting of Vampires was very nearly a national pastime in parts of Romania. In the old days it had begun with the burning of ancestral homes, and then when the Old Kingdomers had gone to ground the destruction of any home that shielded them.

In more modern times the Communist regime had dispatched death squads to deal with what they had termed the ‘infestation’ of Old Kingdom races. Communism may have fallen, but the death squads remained – the local Vampires, weary at having to run and hide had made the decision to fight back.

He would have to speak to the Count again to get a fuller picture of the situation, after all figures in a loss column can only tell so much.
“Those that have survived have left the city and have scattered to the surrounding countryside,” The Count said with sadness in his voice as they ate dinner.

It should be noted at this point that watching a Vampire feed from a plastic bag is not the best experience. It is similar to watching somebody eating sticky spareribs – in the sense that you just know that the end of the meal they are going to be covered in the sweet, sticky juices. Vampires favour bibs, or at the very least not to wear white.

“According to the field reports this is spreading throughout eastern Europe, and there have already been anti-Old Kingdom groups holding meetings in Amsterdam, Milan and Cologne. The Werewolves in the forests of Germany and France are also at risk…” He continued.

“Hence your e-mail,” interjected Vlad, keen to come to the controversial missive.

“Yes. For too long we have stood apart from the others, fought for ourselves with no thought to our old enemies. We now have a common foe – we should put aside these petty squabbles, these ancient feuds. They are pointless, and imagine for a moment how formidable we would be if we made a pact to stand united.”

“You would never get agreement; it is not the first time that this has been mooted. My father…” Vlad began.

“That was many years ago young Vlad, times have changed. Vampires are all but gone from much of Asia and the Middle East, soon we will be run out of eastern Europe and then what? We cannot keep running and hiding.”

In any case it will not be me doing the telling Vlad. It will be you.”

“Me? Why will anyone listen to me?” He protested.

“You have not heard?” The Count exclaimed. Vlad gave a blank look indicated that he had not.
“Baron von Orloc has been killed. As second in command you are his natural successor – you will lead the remaining pockets of resistance.” He said staring straight at the protesting figure at the other end of the table.
Vlad had wondered why the reports from the border territories between Germany and Poland had gone so quiet. The Count was correct, he was the second-in-command as he had been since his father's time. He had not stepped up to leader then because of his age, but now he was old enough to take the reigns of power. And it terrified him.
The the Count added ominously: “You will have to unite the Old Kingdom.”

“But you are the senior General. I have never fought in my life!” Vlad answered, flustered by this news, “I read reports; I write reports; I am not a leader…”

“You are your father’s son – it is in your blood. But you will need to do this quickly or they’ll be a vacuum of power at the top. Lord Kingsteignton would love that.”

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Extraordinarily Ordinary

A couple of hours later Roland found himself standing outside the unpretentious green door of the neat Georgian townhouse in Islington belonging to Sue Fisher. His long ring on the doorbell brought Sue herself to the door and she greeted Roland with a big hug and a huge smile.

'Well hello, Roland, long time no see. I suppose you are in trouble again, and need my help in digging you out with your skin still intact?'

Roland grinned ruefully.

'I'm not in trouble, Sue, well not yet anyway!'

'Are you sure? I can see trouble hanging over you like a big grey cloud?'

'Well I've come to ask you to see if you can get me some information. Hopefully any answers I get from you will be straightforward and won't lead to any trouble, but I wouldn't lay any money on it!'

'Well come on in then' she chided, tugging gently at his sleeve and leading him through the hall and into a comfortable, if slightly untidy, office area. She showed Roland into a comfortable chair in front of a big pine desk and then went to sit at her own place on the other side.

'Ohhhh' she suddenly shrieked as her bottom made contact with the chair and just as rapidly rose back up into the air. A large black cat suddenly emerged from beneath the chair cushion spitting malevolently, all his claws unsheathed and ready to put into action. Sue swatted at him just above his head, and he leaped off the chair and scooted up the curtains. He jumped from there onto a high shelf, where he settled himself in a defensive posture, glaring at them angrily.

'Geronimo, how many times have I told you not to hide under the cushion on my chair!' spluttered Sue, as she pulled herself together and managed to sit down successfully, patting her hair hair back into place as she did so.

'Sorry about that Roland' she said 'Can I offer you tea or coffee? Is it too early for a drop of something stronger?'

'Well, 11.30 is a bit early for me, but don't let that hold you back!' laughed Roland.

Sitting opposite, Roland looked her up and down and thought to himself that no one looking at Sue Fisher, a very ordinary looking, middle age, middle-class, slightly dumpy woman, would realise that she was the most powerful witch in the country. Apart from an unfortunate resemblance to Harriet Harman, there was nothing at all to mark her out as the truly extraordinary creature that she was.

'Well knowing you I think I will need a whisky and soda sooner rather than later; I suppose you want some of that hot wishy-washy hot liquid that passes for coffee in your world?'.

With that Sue pushed a button under her desk and a few moments later the most beautiful, gorgeous female witch that Roland had ever seen strolled nonchalantly into the office.

Friday, 6 March 2009

The Enemy Within

Dmitrie left the sleeping figure laying on the sofa and made his way to the large bay windows covered in blackout blinds and heavy velvet drapes that matched those in the study. But realised that he would not be able to check for anyone watching the house from there as the sun had now risen, so taking a look out of the window could be the very last thing he ever did. For occasions such as these he had a camera mounted on the side of the house so that he could watch from the safety of his study’s television.

On returning to the study he sat in the comfortable armchair and reached down for the remote that controlled not just the wall mounted monitor above the desk, but also the camera.

The monitor flickered into life and he moved the camera about the street.

The street was wide and lined with trees, and the houses were well back from the road with steps leading up to the large black front doors. When Vlad was a younger man each of these houses had been the residence of just one family, but times had changed and they had been divided into apartments.

Vlad began to look for suspicious activity, but saw nothing but the usual parade of mothers with pushchairs, be-suited people rushing to the local tube station and children on their way to school (or indeed avoiding it).

He was desperate for some sleep, but he knew that he would have to venture out into the daylight at some point – as risky and potentially deadly as that was. He had very little food in the house, especially considering he had an injured man who would need to feed as soon as he was awake. Not only was the sunlight a danger, but so was venturing into a butchers shop and asking for pigs blood – since even the dimmest butcher would suspect that the buyer was not making their own boudin noirs.

It was fortunate then that one man had decided to adapt everyday objects for the Old Kingdomers. The main business dealt with items such as specially tinted windows, doors that could be opened without the need for hands, and other ephemera for the non-human inhabitants of the earth. You could have all of these – at a price – and it was a price that for many was too high.

Vlad suspected that the business was an effective cover for selling specialised equipment that could be used in warfare. He was not alone in his suspicions, but nothing could be proved. The company also had no competition, as anybody who had tried to set up their own small concerns suddenly shut up shop and disappeared.

With a sigh he pulled on a hooded top that hung loosely on the back of the armchair (what else are chairs for if not to hang discarded clothing) and from a trouser pocket withdrew what appeared to be a pair of sunglasses – but the eye pieces were designed to cover the entire eye in the manner of a pair of swimmers goggles. On one of the arms of the glasses was the mark of the maker – a simple letter K. It matched the embroidered symbol on the hoodie.

With hooded top, sunglasses and a scarf covering the lower part of his face he was ready to leave the house – then he set the timer on his watch. He would only have a maximum of 30 minutes before the protective garments would cease to shield him from the effects of the sun.

As he ventured to leave, he felt the presence of a man standing in the doorway.

“I see you are up and about then Count,” Vlad said without looking up, and stopped the timer on his wrist watch.

“Thank you for your help,” came the reply in a rich dark tone, accented heavily with his native Romanian.

“I need to go out for supplies, but if you are hungry then there are two or three packs in the cupboard above the oven,” Vlad smiled revealing his white teeth with a pair of sharp, prominent, canines.

“Oven?” Count Antonescu inquired.

Vlad laughed, the first time he had done so for some time and it felt good. It reminded him of his father, a proud man who would have been the same age as the Count had he survived. He had never understood his son’s apparent need to blend in with the humans, and had stared uncomprehendingly at the shiny new appliance in the kitchen until he had it explained to him that it was for heating up raw foodstuffs.

“It is just for show, as a lack of one can excite comment – but the microwave can be invaluable for bringing blood to the correct temperature,” he replied smoothly.

The Count wandered up to Vlad and fingered his hooded top. 

“I see you have invested in protection from the sun from his company.”

“If there were anyone else I would go to them – he might be a self interested egotist but his company has allowed our kind to live more ordinary lives.”

“And why should we?” the Count suddenly raged. “We are not ordinary, we are extraordinary…” he faltered, the outburst seeming to sap all his energy.

He continued more quietly, “We should celebrate the fact that we are of the Old Kingdom, not apologise for it. And this excuse for a Vampire,” he indicated the letter K, “is not helping anyone but himself.”

“Count, if you don’t mind me asking, why are you here? You should be back in Constanţa – protecting our people.”

“Yes…but we are losing the battle Vlad, they seem to be one step ahead of us at every turn. They are getting information from someone as to our movements and our strategies. You have seen the numbers for yourself.” 

The Count lowered himself into the armchair, and breathed heavily. 

“It is one of us Vlad; one of our own is selling us to our enemy, and I think we both know who that might be.” 

Once again he pointed to the K symbol.

Vlad nodded.


Thursday, 5 March 2009

Groping For Some Sanity....

Roland left his penthouse apartment in a thoughtful mood. The conversation with Kingsteignton had unsettled him. He tried to avoid any conflict with other Old Kingdomers, but if Kea was out there he needed to find her and bring her home to the clan.

The clan needed all the members it could get; three was not enough to create a new generation and improve the bloodlines. Of course there was always the option of 'turning' a human. But in Roland's experience however much they said that they wanted it and were excited by the idea of immortality in a totally new form, once they had got over the initial excitement they pined for their old lives, family and friends. The monthly change was hard enough for those born to it, but unless a human was mentally and physically strong enough, as well as totally committed, it could devastate them. Roland had seen some tragic cases of broken turnlings, left to live out their very long lives in mental confusion and shattered bodies.

The rigid structure and hierarchy of the clan, which was basically a pack after all, was also hard for turnlings to assimilate into. Especially recently, when human society was becoming less formal and class-bound. People nowadays were just not used to obeying a leader, such as the clan chief, implicitly and did not understand the importance to the survival of the whole clan of them keeping to their place and fulfilling their duties without question.

Roland was also grimly aware that as the clan leader and alpha male, that he needed to find a mate. Could Kea be the one? Or was she just a child like Proserpine? Was she in fact alpha female status? They wouldn't know that until they found her. Or should he seek out that rare thing, a human female who was both immensely physically strong, incredibly intelligent and emotionally grounded. A natural leader.

His musings came to an end when he found himself in front of the door of the apartment where Malvolio and Proserpine lived. De Cazalrenoux Holdings owned the whole block, which was now mainly rented out, but clan members tended to live here because their apartments needed some very special adaptations which would have been very hard to explain away to a more traditional landlord.

He needed the sanity and comfort of his clan and as he turned his key in the lock he could hear the excited squealing of a seven year old running down the hall.

"Roland, Roland, come and see what I am making," screamed Proserpine as she threw herself at him at full speed.

He caught her up in a huge hug and swung her around, her dark curls swinging.

"Is it for me?" he asked as her put her gently down and led her into the large, bright kitchen/diner.

"I'm trying to get her to eat her breakfast," said Malvolio drily as he slid a huge stack of pancakes onto a plate in the middle of the table.  "So please don't excite her any more than she already is!"

"Don't be such a grump," Roland shot back at Malvolio good-naturedly. "I want to see what she has made for me?"

"It's a special pancake, Roland! It's in a heart shape with extra syrup just for you!"

Roland accepted his special pancake with lots of praise for the 'maker' and a cup of coffee from Malvolio. Roland was aware that Proserpine was going through a stage where she had a bit of a crush on him and that there was some serious 'hero-worship' going on. He was also aware that although he knew it was natural for young female clan members to go through this, Malvolio was a little touchy that he was currently not number one in his young charge's eyes. Proserpine was beginning to test her boundaries and would not behave for Malvolio, but would do anything that Roland asked.

After they had eaten and Malvolio had sent Proserpine to get ready for school, Roland told him about his conversation with Kingsteignton and asked him what he thought he should do.

"Trouble is Roland, you don't know whether or not Kingsteignton's telling you the truth or just spinning you a line. You know that he would say or do anything to get what he wants."

"Yes, but can I take the risk of not meeting him?" asked Roland.

"When are you meeting him?"

"At his club at midday; that specialised car of his is a wonderful piece of machinery."

"Pity about that," retorted Malvolio. "Maybe someone should accidently open the door? Look I think you should see if you can get more information before you meet him. See if you can get a confirmation that he does actually have this Kea?'

"Yes, but how? There isn't enough time to put it out over the networks and even if there was that could just put Kea in even more danger?" Roland asked.

"Wasn't thinking of that," Malvolio replied cheerfully. "I think that you should stick to what has worked before. You need to book an appointment with Sue Fisher."

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Visitor

With the email dispatched, Vladimirescu moved from his desk to the only other item of furniture in the room – a large comfortable armchair where he could rest his weary body. Life, as ever, had other plans.

As he settled himself in the armchair and closed his eyes, he was disturbed by an insistent hammering on the door. He drew what was left of his strength and made his way through the house to the front door, with the hammering becoming louder as he did so.
“Alright, alright,” He said as he went through the laborious process of drawing back the large bolts and fishing about in his jacket for the keys. The hammering stopped as suddenly as it had begun and Vladimirescu threw open the large door.


A man, looking to be in his early fifties, was crouched on the doorstep, one hand on his chest trying stem the flow of blood that issued from a wound. Vladimirescu quickly got the injured man to his feet and helped him inside.

The man coughed and spluttered as they made their way through to the large drawing room, which was empty save for a few bits of furniture covered in dust sheets. Throwing off one of these sheets revealed an elegant Victorian couch which was used as a makeshift bed.

Vlad rushed to the bathroom where he kept a well stocked first-aid box, and tried to ignore the smell of fresh blood filling his nostrils. He grabbed at bandages, gauze and antiseptic and ran back to the bleeding man, his body racked with pain as he did so. It was not at all normal for him to be up at this hour and his body was telling him so in no uncertain terms.
Once back, he discovered that the man slumped, his arms hung down and his eyes closed.

“No!” Vlad shouted at the man, “You must stay awake, can you hear me?”

He tore open the dying mans shirt and discovered the source of the blood, something had pierced a large hole in the chest, clearly aiming for the heart. A slither of wood left no doubt that this was an attempted murder.

Thankfully the strike had missed the man’s heart, and after a period of convalescence he would recover to full health, but it had been a close call.

Vlad, now relaxed and moving swiftly, administered to the wound. He now had time to ponder just who the man was – the fact that he asked for help in Romanian told him he was from the old country.

Then he noticed on the floor a Romanian passport that had clearly fallen when he had helped the stranger to the couch. He picked it up and flicked to the photo. He was staggered when he saw the name: Count Tudor Antonescu, better known as Trojan1422.

What was he doing in London? The last Vlad had heard he was leading a small resistance movement in Constanţa – this meant that Trojan must have been attacked on his way to see him. If someone had been following the Count then he would have to abandon the house entirely – he could not risk allowing the data he held here get out into the open.

“Wake up,” he called again, and as he did so the eyes of the prone man flickered open. He tried to speak, but he could not seem to form words.

“Who did this to you?” Vlad asked.

Trojan opened his eyes fully now, and spoke two words before closing them again: “Old Kingdom”.

It Could Be A Very Long Day

"I can't possibly think of anything I wish to discuss with you Kingsteignton, so why would I meet with you," rasped Roland.

"Oh, but I have information on something I know that you need; I would go as far to say that it is something you crave," was the enigmatic reply.

"What would you know about what I either want or crave?" asked Roland tightly.

"My dear boy, we have interacted many times over the years and I make a point in keeping an eye on people like you. I need your help and am willing to trade the information in exchange."

"You do not have a good record when it comes to helping other Old Kingdomers, Kingsteignton. In fact you don't even look after your own people. You have betrayed my clan too many times for your own ends."

Lord Kingsteignton for a long moment made no reply. Maybe he was revisiting the same memories as Roland, of the times during the Second World War when he had been a prominent Nazi sympathiser in England and had used his considerable influence both at home and on the continent to expose and destroy clan members and even individuals from his own race that he had deemed a threat to his security. Roland even suspected that he was behind the savage killing of Proserpine's parents by a bunch of Hells Angels on a lonely stretch of the Brighton road. Luckily Proserpine had been left behind that day, but the clan had lost two important members and Proserpine was now being raised by Malvolio without the guidance and love of a mother.

"Very true, De Cazalrenoux, but now I need your help against a common enemy."

"We have no common enemies except the humans and you already know my feelings on that score."

"I know that you have this totally barking idea that we should try and negotiate with the humans and  integrate into their society, but the common enemy I am talking about is Old Kingdom," sputtered Kingsteignton.

"You mean you are fighting with your own race again?" questioned Roland drily.

"What if I said they were holding a member of your clan?" retorted Kingsteignton.

Roland instantly felt a resonant thudding in his blood. He had had an awareness that there was another clan member out there somewhere for sometime. It was like a continual prickle, an irritation that he could not scratch out. He did not know the parentage, or how they had got lost; all he knew was that it was a female, and that her name was Kea. Sometimes he would wake with the name Kea repeating in his head, Kea...Kea.....Kea.......Kea....

"What has that got to do with you? Why would you care?"

"Because I know that you care," replied Kingsteignton smoothly. "And because I need your help to eliminate this person and his associates."

"Looking out for your own backside as usual, Kingsteignton. These are your own race, your own bloodlines, you should be protecting them, helping them to thrive."

"Don't give me that missionary drivel. The way that Vladimirescu's lot are carrying on is going to expose us all; the last thing any of us need is another pogrom."

Roland went quiet. He needed to locate Kea, but to move against other Old Kingdomers to do it? And to work with Kingsteignton? Could he trust him?

"Well De Cazalrenoux, what's your answer, are we to meet?"

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Another Long Night

Dimitrie Vladimirescu sat in his private study, sipping his first coffee of the day, or more properly the last coffee of the night. He grimaced as the bitter taste filled his mouth, and he longed for a very different sort of drink, but supplies were low and he would have to temper his desires.

He had been up for many hours and soon, as was customary for his kind, he would need to sleep. The world outside was safely hidden from view behind heavy velvet drapes that adorned the windows of his central London townhouse, but he was growing weak as the sun made its effects felt.

The room in which he sat was a relic of a past age; a time of decadence when no expense was spared in the design and décor of this once magnificent chamber. Now the beautiful rugs were looking threadbare; woodworm had made its mark on the custom-made furniture and those drapes had seen better days.

Dimitrie had passed the night reading the reports that had been flooding in from all over Europe from friends, family and acquaintances, and they had not made for pleasant reading. He had not read of a death toll like this since the days of the Russo-Turkish War. At least then, he thought to himself, he would have had an army to lead into battle, but there were so few of them now – the days of glory and blood were over and he and his kind were clinging to existence.

He stretched, putting the paperwork to one side, and finished his coffee in one gulp. Despite his youthful countenance, his dark hair that hung in loose curls down to his shoulders, and his sharp, clear eyes he was beginning to feel all of his years. Like the room in which he was sat, at first glance he looked to be in the prime of his life, but on closer inspection he bore the signs of a long, long, life.

As he closed the book in which he had been making careful notations of the losses, a trill noise indicated that a message had arrived on his email account marked urgent. The sender was listed as ‘Trojan1442’, an elder of the community based in the Romanian homeland, he was much older than Dimitrie himself and was rumoured to have fought alongside Vlad Tepes in the wars against the Ottoman Empire.

Though it had to be admitted that Dimitrie had never heard of a man of Trojan’s years who had not claimed to have served the infamous Impaler in some capacity.

Dimitrie was about to switch off the infernal machine, he was not sure that he could take yet another account of bloodshed and mayhem, but the subject line made him stop short. It read; Subject: A solution?

Dimitrie read the contents of the email with a look of horror on his face – it was a bold proposition from the aging warrior. Perhaps a few years ago he could have safely deleted this email, written off the suggestion as the ravings of a madman who was now too old and too tired for service, but now things had changed and too many of those who had once walked proudly across the earth were now dead or in hiding.

He quickly sent a message back. It was simple and stark.
To: Trojan1422
From: Vlad1785
This will need discussion. You know what to do.

The First Day of the Rest of His Life

Roland groaned as the light of the new day started to filter behind his eyelids. He turned in his bed and the fine, cotton sheets felt like they were rasping the skin off his legs and body. Every part of him ached; his joints, his head, even his teeth seemed to throb in their sockets. He felt like he had been doing an assault course for the last four days, where the only thing he had had to drink was vodka.

He swung his long legs over the edge of the bed and padded into the shower. He turned the water on to the hottest setting and let the burning torrent pound his body. As the tension and the aches began to ease, he began to review the events of the previous night and became grimly aware that he could not go through another change in the box. Both he and Malvolio needed to run free, to stretch their limbs, do some hunting and be true to their nature at that time.

And there was Prosperpine to think of. She was almost ready to experience her first change, and it should be out in the forest, under the light of the moon. Roland couldn't even imagine how terrifying it would be to go through the first change in the box. It was an exciting, heady experience, but could also be scary and intimidating if you did not know what was going on.

No, it was time to take what remained of his clan back to south west France for an extended visit. There Proserpine could go through her first change in her ancestral home, with her clan around her to guide and comfort her. She could make her first kill under his watchful eye as clan leader and be initiated into the ways of their kind.

He switched off the shower and walked back into the bedroom towelling his dark auburn hair dry as he went. The people who worked for him at De Cazalrenoux Private bank, the bank that his family had run for the last century, had nicknamed him 'The Fox', which he regarded as somewhat ironic in the circumstances.

He was just sliding the last gold cufflink into the cuffs of his linen shirt, when the phone rang on his private line. He picked up the phone warily - very few people had this number, and it was rarely good news when it did ring.

"De Cazalrenoux speaking," he snapped into the receiver.

"I need to meet with you urgently," replied the urbane voice of the older man on the other end.

It was a voice that Roland had hoped he would never have to hear again in his lifetime.....