Vampire Counts Prelude Part I
Almost two months had passed since Cyris Blacksoul had been dispatched from Har Ganeth with her escort of executioners. Malekith had orchestrated a war between the beastmen of the Old World and the Wood Elves, and wisely he predicted that the Wood Elves would turn to the realms of men to hold back the tide during winter when the forest was at its weakest. No faction of the alliance had enough forces to tie up the Bretonnians however, and should they join forces with the Wood Elves, the beastmen would be crushed. No, Malekith foresaw the need for a force to counter the Bretonnians obsessed with their valor and gallantry. In early Autumn he sent for Cyris Blacksoul, a sorceress who even other dark elves feared, a sorceress who dabbled in the dark arts of necromancy. The mission was of dire importance – if they were to crush all their foes they would have to enlist the aid of the undead. By mid Autumn her corsair ships made landfall in the Dragonback Mountains. The distant skies to the south were filled with the smoke from the siege of Ekrund. A greenskin zeppelin sat ready for launch near their point of disembarkation, for the rest of this journey crossed the lands of men and dwarves and the expedition could not be hampered. The journey took them across the parched Badlands and over the besieged Dwarven port of Barak Varr and as the journey pushed north towards the lands of the Empire Cyris could not help but smile at all the destruction below her. Her heart only longed for the opportunity to join in the fray, but alas she had to make for the eastern edge of the Empire before the close of Autumn. Their greenskin transport made land two weeks after their departure from the Dragonback Mountains. They landed just north of the Ghoul Wood in the Haunted Hills; the frightened goblins dare not take their zeppelin deeper into the lands of men and the undead. The rest of the journey across the Haunted Hills would have to be made on foot.
Malekith had informed Cyris Blacksoul that she was to meet with a human in the town of Nachthafen and continue the journey with this human. Cyris knew not the nature of this contact or their importance only that she would be waiting for the Dark Elves on the night of no moon in the town’s cemetery. These lands were dreaded by the realm of men so travel was easier than expected, though they still took precautions. Thus the Dark Elves pressed on with the date of their meeting looming ever closer and as autumn drew to a close and the chill of winter slowly began to descend from the Worlds Edge Mountains, they made it to their destination with a day to spare. Hidden in the Haunted Hills and avoiding Empire Patrols, Cyris and her escort of six executioners waited until night. Come nightfall they approached the dark cemetery and noticed a lone figure standing among the crumbling graves, many unearthened and opened – their previous occupants missing. The sorceress approached the lone figure signaling for her executioners to hide among the shadows.
“A dark and grim night for one to be paying their respects to the dead,” Cyris stated as she approached the figure.
The figure turned around revealing a woman in a long flowing gown holding a single blood-red rose. “I fear not death nor danger, for death would do well to fear me, and those who bring danger shall soon know death.” She laid down the rose on a grave and it instantly withered and turned black. The woman smiled and lowered the hood of her cape, revealing a face of unsurpassed beauty. “And who is it that ventures to the realm of the dead and disturbs me in my meditations?”
A cold blue light began to glow from Cyris’s staff to better illuminate her face and the face of the woman. “I am Death’s cold hand,” Cyris replied with a twisted smile.
The woman approached Cyris and took the sorceress’s icy hand in her own, “My dear, it is a grave misconception that Death is cold.”
Instantly an unexpected and painful warmth ran through the sorceresses arm and she yanked her hand out of the mysterious woman’s hands. The sorceress’s body was no welcome host to warmth. “What manner of foul creature are you that tries to fill my soul with the warmth of the barren lands?!” Cyris demanded with a cold stare.
Now a smile came across the woman’s face as she replied with a regal courtesy, “Countess Lyllia von Averheim.” A look of shock spread over Cyris’s face. Had Malekith led her into a trap? A meeting with nobility from the Empire? Countess Lyllia gave out a hearty laugh and continued, “Who did you expect to meet? Archaon? I see Malekith gave you no notice of who you were meeting.”
“Yet you knew of me…” Cyris replied with an annoyed voice.
“No, not necessarily. I, like yourself, was also kept in the dark in regards to who I was meeting. Needless to say when a sorceress marches through the Haunted Hills with metal-clad soldiers creaking through the night, I believe I know I’ve met the right person. Fortunately for you, the people of this land are filled with the fear of night and that which goes ‘thump’ in the dark. All your noise did was drive them deeper into their hovels and board up their windows tighter.”
“Forgive me Countess,” Cyris said with noticeable contempt, “But I know not what pact Malekith has sown with a human or how you plan to help me with our endeavor. Perhaps it would behoove you to enlighten me. ”
“Ah and still no introduction from the icy heart of the Druchii. Very well sorceress,” Countess Lyllia began but was interrupted.
“Cyris. My name is Cyris Blacksoul,” the sorceress interjected curtly.
“Ah, very well Cyris. We make haste to Castle Drakenhof, but of that you knew. Of the nature of my role? Why without me how do you hope to raise dear Mannfred?”
“I find it strange that a woman of nobility from the Empire would aid our pursuit.”
“And I find it strange that a Dark Elf would dabble with the undead, shall we proceed?”
“It is rumored that the Von Carstein Count lay ‘dead’ somewhere in the Dark Moor.”
“Yes, some Witch Hunter of Nuln dispatched our late Count once more. However in the thick of the battle, Von Carstein’s followers attempted to take the body for reanimation, but as they were crossing the Dark Moor in the dark of night they were shot down with holy bullets from the Witch Hunter. Unfortunately for the Witch Hunter fog and dark prevented him from finding the body to complete its destruction.”
“Then we’ve no time to waste discussing particulars. We make for the Dark Moor before the snows begin to fall.”
“We shall go by way of Castle Drakenhof and pass under its shadow. The Empire patrols are thin in those lands, they fear the darkness that fills the castle. The Dark Moor is not far from there.”
And so the party pressed on through the night across the grim country shrouded in mist, nary a word exchanged between any present as they slipped through the dark. Traveling only by night, it took them three nights to reach the Dark Moor. When they arrived their eyes were met with a thick fog blanketing a dense marsh, it was no wonder the Witch Hunter could never find the body. Cyris began to have doubts that they would achieve their mission before the snows began to fall. To make matters more grim, as they stood at the edge of the marsh surveying their surroundings rain began to fall.
“The rains will not help us in our search,” Cyris stated, her voice filled with irritation.
“Nonsense, we but need to find the high ground and wait for the waters to fill the Moor,” Countess Lyllia replied.
The executioners held torches high in their left hands, while their right hands were ever present on the hilts of their swords, always ready to draw and strike. Leading the way they climbed upon a small hill in the northern end of the Moors. The rains continued to fall and slowly the Moors turned into a lake with grass breaking the surface of the water.
“And now we let nature aid us in the course of history. A great blood offering is necessary to give life back to Count Mannfred…” Countess Lyllia said.
“And here we seem to have forgotten to bring a lamb to the slaughter,” Cyris said with a sarcastic smile and suggestive glance at Lyllia.
Lyllia laughed aloud, “Foolish sorceress! You think I would blindly come to sacrifice myself. No the blood of seven and my own will suffice, for my blood is far richer and more potent than the ice that flows in your veins, Dark Elf.”
“What do you suggest then?” Cyris asked.
“Draw a blade across the palm of your hand and squeeze generously. Everyone. Let the blood soak the ground and be washed down the slope into the Moor. Trust me, it will find Von Carstein.”
Cyris nodded to her executioners and in unison all six drew a long dagger across their palms and let the blood flow onto the rain-washed hill. Cyris hesitated, but upon seeing Countess Lyllia cut both her palms deeply she too committed the deed.
“A little thunder and lightning could lighten things up…” Lyllia said to Cyris. Taking the queue the sorceress began a dark incantation and the skies began to twist and churn as a storm formed above. Soon thunder began to sound across the lands and lightning lit the skies. Lyllia began her own incantation quietly to herself as the blood freely flowed from her hands down the hill. To an outside viewer, a ghastly spectacle was taking place on the hill – two women chanting in strange tongues circled by six figures clad in black mail as lightning flashed across the skies lighting them up briefly.
The blood flowed down the hill and began to swirl in the waters as if some force was pulling it in. As the cacophony continued a massive bolt of lightning struck the ground and both women caught sight of the outline of a figure rising from the waters. Every few seconds lightning flashes would briefly reveal him showing his approach to the hill with the two women and the executioners. Both women stood in awe and stopped their incantations. The storm began to break leaving only lowly rumbles to fill the sky. A sense of fear swept over Cyris as there had been no lightning flash to light up the Moor and reveal the figures presence, until finally the storm gave out its final effort and cast one last bolt of lightning across the sky.
A gasp escaped from both women and the executioners all drew their swords at attention when the lightning revealed the decaying figure looming in between the two women, having bypassed the six executioners that ringed them. The clouds had parted and now the twin moons lit the night sky revealing the figure who gave a decayed half-smile and raised his sword at an executioner. The clash of steel rang through the night as the two figures fought; the remaining five executioners positioning themselves between the figure and the women. The executioner weighed down by days of travel and heavy rains was a fair match for the decayed body of his opponent. As blade met blade and cut across armor the women stood in shock, unsure of whom they had raised and why he was fighting those who raised him. In a decisive move the decaying figure cut across the executioner’s arm upwards and whipped an arc of blood into the air. He opened his mouth and let the drops of blood fall on his tongue. He once again gave off his half smile and finally said in a raspy voice, “One of my own.”
He sheathed his sword and broke the eerie silence, “It would seem I am out of practice, but no worry, in time I will be sowing the fields with the seeds of death. To whom do I owe my thanks? Who foolishly raised Count Mannfred von Carstein to plague the world of men once more?”
Lyllia quickly stepped forward in front of Cyris to take credit, “Countess Lyllia von Averheim of the Averheim Coven.” She bowed lowly. “And may I present Cyris Blacksoul, sorceress of the dark arts of Lord Malekith.”
“A Lahmian and a Dark Elf in accord?” Mannfred gave a deathly cackle. He raised the Countesses hand and licked her palm tasting her blood. “Yes, the sweet blood of a Lahmian indeed… And tell me sorceress, what part does the Dark Elf King play in this ceremony? Where do his ambitions drive him now?”
Cyris brought her staff forward and pushed Lyllis aside, she felt deceived that she had been in company with a vampire the whole time and not known. “Lord Malekith sends me as an emissary, my Lord von Carstein. For the gift of life you have been granted by his hand, he would have you fight with him and take life as his right hand.”
“Malekith was foolish to raise me thinking he would get a lapdog,” Mannfred sneered and spat on the ground.
“He does not seek a lapdog, my Lord. He seeks a general capable of ridding the world of men. He saw you as the most able,” Cyris replied diplomatically.
Mannfred cackled, “Ah yes flattery wins the heart of any egomaniac. Very well, sorceress, I have no qualms slaughtering men if that is what Malekith wants. But know that whether or not he wills it, I would have done it anyway, and should he step in my path I shall slaughter him as well. What is dead, cannot be killed. What has been raised, cannot be brought down again.”
“Rid the world of men and the domains are yours, all Malekith wants is Ulthuan, but the alliance between the Elves, Men, and Dwarves proves troublesome.”
“It will take time to raise an army, no war against the Empire will be swift.”
Cyris hesitated. “Trouble not over your army, with that I shall aide you. While you shall strike at the underbelly of the Empire, know that the hordes of Chaos plague the north and harry Altdorf. This is not your primary objective.”
A gruesome display of anger filled the decayed face as blood rushed to his cheeks and slowly seeped out of his wounds. He was no friend of Chaos and had fought with Archaon’s vanguard in Kislev in ages past. “Allegiance with Chaos? And who would you have me waste my efforts on?”
“We have a common enemy in the realm of Men. Let us first turn our swords together against our common foe and once you have established your empire in the the realms of men, Malekith cares not if you turn it on Tchar’zanek. Your host is to strike at Bretonnia first. Bring the arrogant knights to their knees and feast on their souls.”
“Bretonnia…” Mannfred stood tapping his fingers on the hilt of his sword,”many leagues from Sylvania…”
“Your only hope of success lies in uniting the blood lines.” Lyllia interjected. “The Lahmian covens of the Empire and Bretonnia are ready to rise with you, but we must come together as in the times of Lahmia. The Daughters of Neferata will only march if we march under one banner. We must fall back upon the Original Blood Kiss.”
“The blood lines will never unite!” Mannfred spat out.
“The blood lines must unite,” Lyllia insisted. “And they can, only if the von Carsteins work as the mediator.”
“The strigoi are scattered outcasts! The necrarchs are bitter hermits! The Blood Dragons are prideful knights no better than their Bretonnian counter-parts! The Lahmians are seductive wenches with no taste for battle!” Mannfred burst out
“And the von Carsteins are arrogant pompous fools. Yet your bloodline is the most cohesive. Look past our faults and we will try to look past yours. Unite the blood lines! Lahmia and the age of Neferata will rise once more! Besides without the other blood lines you have little hope of success in Bretonnia. Unite us and we shall tear the realm of knights apart.”
Mannfred hissed and showed his canines. “Very well Lahmian, arrange for the bloodlines to meet in Castle Drakenhof. We shall seal this pact in blood and rid the world of men for Malekith!”