My plan had already suffered a massive blow. Nine trustworthy cardinals lay dead. I was glad that I’d recruited someone on the inside, and not just anyone, a personal friend to the Pope. Maria, who was currently itching to begin the preparations to execute the plan, hurried back to the castle whilst I remained to hunt.
I turned away from the Vatican and sped towards the now damaged monument. I scaled it with ease and perched precariously on the tip. I scanned the city, marvelling at the sight, peering into the horizon. My eyes quickly located a figure in the distance, a man by the look of it. Even miles away, I could clearly make out the figure. He was middle aged and plump with a bushy, greying beard that matched his hair. He was drunk, alone, and surrounded by trees and shrubs, the perfect place to feed.
I leapt fifteen feet into the air, spinning as I fell. Nothing blurred the way it would with a human; I saw every tiny detail. The sensation, even after a hundred years, still felt exhilarating. I landed softly on my feet, I could’ve jumped from a bench. I began to run, quicker and quicker, towards the drunken man, weaving between buildings, carts and trees. The man was miles away, yet I closed the distance rapidly. As I neared him, I slowed to a walk. We were isolated by the trees that surrounded us. I crouched into some long grass, directly behind the man. There he lay snoozing. He was helpless. I looked down at the man, thinking how pathetic humans had become as I inched closer, preparing for the perfect, satisfying kill.
I could smell the foul stench of stale liquor on the man’s shabby clothes. A bottle fell from his clutch as the man twitched in his drunken slumber. Deep-crimson wine spilled into the dirt as the bottle rolled slowly away. I took the final steps towards him and bent low over the man. I would have much preferred someone cleaner than this to feed from, but in times like this, I had no choice but to surrender to the ever-growing thirst in his throat. I saw a vein pulsing in the man’s neck, and at once sank my sharp canines into it. The burning began to instantly subside in my throat, although he man awoke immediately, the paralysing poison kept him from struggling or screaming. The man’s body went limp as I finished my feed, my body feeling refreshed. The burning sensation in my throat had all but disappeared. I stood up. The body must be hidden. I scooped up the corpse and carried it towards a nearby river. I hung over the riverbank and let the body go. It hit the water with a splash and floated for a moment, before descending into the dark depths. I had satisfied my thirst, and I had acquired the map. So far, although the plan had been attacked, it was not yet over.
I returned quickly to the castle where I strode through the open doors and into the council chamber where, not only had the council members dispersed, Maria was located.
‘Back so soon?’ She asked as I approached her.
‘Well, there are a number of things I’m anxious to begin.’ I replied.
‘As you’re aware, we now have only one priest on this inside. As much as I’d like to trust he will suffice, I think we need a couple of others.’ She said, seriously.
‘I agree, hopefully, we will hear something soon from him, but until then, we need to know more about security, he’s bound to be well protected.’ I said taking a seat at the council table, next to Maria.
‘Precisely, this will likely be our only chance,’ She said slowly, ‘I think we should send Reyjak, he can help.’ I nodded in agreement. I summoned Reyjak who instantly agreed to head for the Vatican and learn what he could about security for the party.
‘I’ll make contact when I have something solid.’ He said, importantly, sweeping from the room with eerie speed.
We spent the next two days capturing and interrogating those who we believed might know something about the security, or any other valuable information. Our attempts were futile and the hours were spent in either frustrated silence where I’d randomly make a sudden outburst, startling those around me, or spent in the dark secluded space of my bedroom where I pondered on many of the puzzling questions about religion that bombarded my brain. Even now, many questions still remained unanswered.
It was on the second night did Reyjak return. I was quick to receive a full report on anything he’d learned.
‘My lord,’ He said, his voice deep, ‘the Vatican will be heavy with security, they will have archers posted on the rooftops, armed guards around the perimeter and patrols on the inside. The Pope will be heavily guarded.’ I cursed, I feared this would be the case, but it did not come as a surprise. I quickly formulated a plan.
‘Reyjak, I need you to acquire some uniforms. I’ll have the archers taken out once they’ve been stationed, my men will make short work of them. Once they’ve been dispatched, your men can take their places and assist only if absolutely necessary.’ I reeled off the fully-formed plan quickly. Reyjak quickly absorbed the information.
‘The most important thing, though, is you must learn the identity of the two papal guards that shadow the pope, I want my men to replace them before the party begins. And Reyjak, we cannot afford to be wrong.’ He looked slightly overwhelmed but nodded,
‘Of course, my lord, I’ll see to it immediately.’ He replied, rushing away instantly. It was finally all coming together, so far, I felt hopeful, I wished at this point all was not too good to be true. Maria and I spent the rest of night discussing our options and what would happen if we managed to successfully turn the Pope. It finally looked hopeful and the prospect of seeing our vision complete, made these moments some of the happiest we’d truly been in a long time. As we were talking, a knock at the council chamber doors resounded around the room. Our conversation broke off as I shifted myself upright in my seat, and spoke loudly,
‘Enter.’ I said simply. The double doors creaked open and a young woman, one of my clan members, sidled up the throne. I did not have to wonder for long why she was coming to see me. She knelt down before us and extended her hand, in which was clutched a piece of parchment, a letter.
‘I was given this by a man in the city, he said to deliver it immediately to you, sire.’ I gently took the parchment from the woman, who looked unsettled to be in our presence, and dismissed her. I unfolded the letter and read aloud the contents,
I am truly sorry to bother you, but we have made an amazing discovery, here in Venezia, one that I know you’ll find most useful in your quest. I am sorry, once again, that this letter is vague, I cannot risk it falling into wrong hands should I be intercepted. Please come in haste, you will not be disappointed.
Maria and I remained silent for a moment.
‘What could possibly be that important?’ I asked, shaking the letter. I understood the need for vague hints, I myself, was a cautious man and would’ve taken the same steps to ensure the secrecy remained intact. All of a sudden, I felt as though I was compelled to stay, I had to wait for the response from Reyjak or the priest.
‘It’s ok, I’ll go. You stay here and wait for reports, send word if you need me. I could really use a little break away, I’ll be back in time for the party.’ Maria piped up. I agreed, I had hoped whatever Klomano had called me for was worth it, I needed Maria back soon, she was one of the few I could truly trust.
‘Ok, don’t spend too much time away, I’ll need you soon. I’ll have a horse and carriage waiting for you within an hour, my love.’ I said to her. I looked into her deep red eyes that were once a glistening green. Her soft face, perfectly shaped and flawless, with a portion of her fringe falling over the side of her face.
‘I love you, I won’t be long.’ She whispered as I stood up. I held her face in my hands and she closed her eyes and buried her face in my palms.
‘I love you too.’ I whispered back. I leant in and gave her a soft kiss. ‘I’ll get the carriage ready.’ I added, letting go of her face. She nodded,
I made my way to the entrance hall, a large, circular room just off from the entrance, filled with marbled furniture and decorative statues. I spoke to one of the guards, clad in steel plated armour clutching an intimidating halberd,
‘I want you to fetch a horse and cart, I need it here within an hour, the driver must be human and he must not be aware of Maria’s importance. For all he knows, it’s just a lady wishing to travel to Venice.’
‘Yes my lord.’ He said instantly and vanished out of the front doors. Maria came sweeping down the long stone staircase, her black robe falling almost perfectly behind her. In one hand she clutched a leather-bound journal, in the other, an intricate sword-cane, the handle made of solid silver depicting an eagle head. She descended the staircase and stood in front of me.
‘You look beautiful.’ I said, to which she replied with a smile. ‘The carriage will be along shortly.’ I added.
‘Thank you, I hate being away from you, I’ll be glad when I come back and finish this.’ She said.
‘I couldn’t agree more.’ I replied honestly. It wasn’t long after that when the crunching sound of wheels and a trotting horse could be heard from outside. We both went out to the front courtyard and watched the carriage pull up by the front doors. I threw a purse of coins to the driver, ‘Make sure she gets there safely.’ I said to the old man. His face was lined with wrinkles and his thick beard blew slightly in the breeze.
‘Of course, sir, don’t ye’ worry ‘bout nothin’, I could cross these roads blindfolded.’ He said politely, inclining his head and pocketing the coins hastily. Maria opened the carriage door and stepped inside,
‘Goodbye, my love.’ She said as the carriage lurched forward and rounded the corner, disappearing out of sight.
‘Goodbye.’ I spoke quietly to the empty courtyard. I headed back inside; there was still much I had to plan. I spent four hours pacing the council chamber, unable to place my thoughts on one subject for too long. As I thought these words, Reyjak came swooping into the room, his figure just a blur, even to me. He stopped dead in front of me.
‘My lord,’ he began, almost hastily, ‘I have been asked to tell you the priest has some information which he believes you’d find useful.’ He looked slightly unhappy at being asked by the priest to be a messenger.
‘Thank you, my friend, have you learnt anything of the papal guards?’ I asked, hopeful. As I’d expected, he shook his head.
‘Unfortunately not my lord, I have a number of people trying their utmost to uncover this information. It appears it is a closely guarded secret, no doubt an added security measure.’
‘He’s right to feel unsafe.’ I said hotly. ‘You may go,’ I added, after looking up seeing Reyjak standing uncomfortably. He turned sharply on his heels, and left through the open doors without another word. I immediately left for the Vatican.
It was not long before I was strolling at a steady pace towards the obelisk that had become a routine meeting point for my allies in the Vatican. I could already see the form of the priest who stood calmly, awaiting my arrival in the dark. The sky was dim, no stars twinkled above, no moonlight shone brightly. Though it did not affect me, I could feel the cold air blowing onto my face and flapping my cloak.
‘Sire,’ the priest spoke immediately as I strode up to him. ‘I have discovered this.’ He thrust a letter into my hand which I tensely opened and read silently.
His Holiness Pope Gregory XII,
I write this letter in haste, I know of a plot, one that threatens your life. Please heed my warning when I say your party will endanger you, there is a man coming for you. I cannot reveal his name, nor his motives, but you must regard this letter with concern. I seek only the same as you: power. Together, we share a mutual bond for the same thing, to have dominion over the people. We can both have this if you would take caution to the contents of this letter.
The letter was signed with a decorative letter ‘K’. I felt my heart sink and I plunged my hand into my pocket, withdrew a letter, opened it and compared it with the one I’d just received.
‘My lord,’ the priest said, his voice straining with concern, ‘are you alright?’ He asked curiously.
I could not breathe, sunlight was less than an hour away; I could see the sky brightening from the horizon. I stared blankly at the two letters, their handwriting identical. Klomano, he wants to rule over the vampires, which meant he would have to do it one of two ways: become elected by the current leader, or kill them. Realisation hit me as I managed to choke out a single word, my voice strained with fear,