The last warm nights of summer were coming to a close as Lyudmila stepped down out of her carriage and onto the cobbled drive before her. This war really was a boon. So many dead and missing, so many too easily explained as the casualties of conflict. So few questions asked. Aurelius had promised a feast, and by the sounds drifting across the desolate grounds of the sprawling estate, he had delivered again. As she neared the door, a shrieking figure in a white nightgown dashed around the side of the manor house, gibbering at her in terror. Four paces behind loped a pair of slavering, blood frenzied ferals, grimy loincloths flapping, scrambling on all fours after the desperate young man. He didn't even make it to the cobbles before they were on him. Smiling softly down at him, almost benevolent in her understanding, Lyudmila held his gaze until his throws had ceased and the light within him fled. Delight blooming deep within her, she turned and took Kisha's profered arm as the woman materialized next to her. Giggling with sinister joy, the pair swept up into the manor, leaving devastation in their wake.
Athanasius sat at the center of the table, his back to the wall where the hall's former owner hung in pride of place above the fire. The coat of arms which had previously resided there for generations now served as a platter. Its former glory gone, paint scratched and chipped, the lovingly maintained patina now obscured by grime and gore. To his left and right sat the rest of his Council. His All Fathers. Ylvan at his left hand, Casimir on his right. The thralls waltzed like puppets ripped around by their strings before them, their steps disturbing congealing puddles on the floor. The effect was as elegant incense, flooding the banquet chamber with a heady perfume of iron and death. A much needed touchstone of sentience amongst the evidence of such animalistic carnage. His hags crouched in a far corner, mumbling and nattering at each other, nearly as incoherent as the ferals his Council had captured and enslaved. For all of her trouble, despite the extreme danger she posed, that meddling woman had ultimately done him a favor. Let her have her home, and all those weak enough to succumb to her Call. With her and all the others out of the way, he had been able to rise far above his previous station. Now that Pesmerga's curse had been lifted, a toast, yes a toast! to the spiteful creature which had awoken them, a whole new world lay before him. At the far end of the table, Darva could be heard savagely castigating Timur for the leg shaking tic inflicted upon him. Timur had been lucky. They had all been lucky. If Athanasius's hags hadn't figured out a way to circumvent the ritual, to shunt the majority of that damned Siren's hexes onto the ferals and away from the All Fathers, his plans may have all unraveled before him. Ah, and speaking of his hags, here came Seidei, the final ritual clutched in her filthy talons. The room fell still at her approach except for dessert, which continued its pitiful mewling on the racks. A fitting melody to this momentous occasion.
“What do we need, Hag of Hags?”
“Family, Father Athanasius. Nothing more.”
A muted gasp went up from several seated at the table. Lyudmila's fingers gently clawed at her wrist, where two shiny puckers were just visible below the hem of her cuff. Athanasius's gaze swept up and down the table, and one by one, his Council gave assent. The only thing they held in truth as abomination. The only thing that could ensure their dominion.
“Timur, Kisha… Lyudmila. Zalman,” he growled, “You remain here. We’ll need your strength. The rest of you… we depart for Travance in a week’s time.”
Athanasius stretched his shoulders and unclenched his jaw before finishing, “Prepare your courts to move.”
His council looked at each other, concern slowly draining from their features as the lust washed over them at the thought of the slaughter they could inflict along the way.
With a more dulcet voice, Athanasius turned to the hag, “My thanks Hag of Hags. Would you care for dessert?”
A cackle began at the back of the room, and Seidei cracked a black toothed smile, “Lungs! Liver! Heart! For us, kind Father!”
The macabre waltz began anew, and Aurelius himself lifted the knife. Athanasius looked out over the kingdom he had made, and saw that it was good.
Dominic was not pleased. At all. He felt sorry for that poor man, but his timely arrival and demise had finally shaken Kisha from Dominic's trail, and even that he wasn't fully certain of. That undead bitch gave him the creeps. As long as no one looked up, he might just be able to get enough of whatever it was those disgusting old women were working on for Travance's mages to figure it out. As long as no one looked up...
On her way back from the table, the nastiest and most grody of the hags suddenly snapped her head up, locking her eyes directly onto Dominic's. “Aw shi--”
Another night. Another forest seen only as streaks of bark in the darkness. Another hopefully quick getaway. What were they feeding these ferals anyway? Magnus's orphans? Dominic tried not to laugh at the old witch hunter habit of making really dark jokes in a tight spot. Man, they really shouldn't be this fast. Though he really shouldn't be carrying around all this grave dirt either. And this silver. Was it always this heavy? Stepping around the bole of a particularly thick tree Dominic jabbed out, catching a feral in the chest before bolting away again. There were just too many to stand and fight. He knew damn well when to cut and run. Just have to outlast them, and then get all this third hand blood off him. Again. He should really settle his tab with the laundry service too. He glanced back and almost wished he hadn’t.
But none of that really mattered. Not right now. There were ferals behind him, and a long road ahead of him. Just another night at work. Only this time he wasn't headed to some flea bitten inn to wait out the day. As soon as he shook off the last of these mindless vampires, he was headed home. Maybe he should stop at the House on the way. Travance could use all the help they could get.