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TVC II Supplemental Chapter 6: The Dragon's Disappearance

Malochai

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The Blood Dragon was standing aside from the rest of the Council, the features hidden behind his lion-wrought mask twisted in contempt. On his belt he had hooked the Claw Blades which were, as far as he knew, unique in their design, and his golden armour glimmered dully as the light in the vast hall of Drakenhof, the glyphs of ancient Nehekhara glistening with power briefly before returning to their dormant state.

'This pathetic gathering are nothing akin to the Council which last gathered,' he thought to himself, shaking his head slowly. The only members whom he even vaguely respected were the leaders of the von Carstein Triumvirate, and then for their management of the countless conflicting ambitions which would run rampant amongst any court of vampires. The others were snivelling wretches or incompetent fools, politicking amongst themselves for power and prestige. He was about to interrupt and give his opinion of the situation - and those present - when suddenly Lukas appeared at his side, bowing his head respectfully.

"My lord Shah," he murmured, as the blank mask turned to look upon him, the golden eyes blinking slowly.

"There is a reason you intrude upon the deliberations of the Council?" Shah replied, gesturing dismissively at the gathering. Lukas nodded, and drew a folded parchment from beneath his cuirass and handed it to his master, who raised an eyebrow as he examined it, the seal that of Karl von Carstein. Having never been a fan of the intrigues which seemed to plague his undead kin, the scion of Abhorash was dubious as a sharp nail, slightly elongated, slipped beneath the black wax and prised it open surprisingly delicately.

The Lord Shah, known as the Lion of Araby,

Should you be willing, I wish to speak with you after I have dealt with the Council. What I must ask is of such a nature that it cannot be written here, but it will require that you decline to accompany the Council upon the various current assigments that they are being sent out on.

I would emphasise that this is not a command, merely a request. The Triumvirate has need of your help and, perhaps, in return we can be of use to you with regards to your current issues. If you wish to continue with the work of the Council, I will of course understand.

If you are interested, please meet me in my apartments as soon as is convenient after the meeting is adjourned.

-Karl von Carstein, Lord Regent of the von Carstein Empire


Shah's scowl deepened as he read the letter, especially once he read the words with regards to his 'current issues'. Clearly, his identity had not gone as unremarked upon as he had thought. Then he looked back up to the bickering vampires before him and crushed the parchment in his hand, decided. He turned to Lukas.

"You were given this by one of Karl's attendants?"

"Yes, my lord. Not five minutes ago." Shah nodded again, turning to cast a glance at the Lord Regent, appraising him. Whilst he despised the secrecy, he was intrigued, and so ground his teeth until the other vampires managed to come to some form of agreement, although he had long since stopped listening - he was far more interested in what the Regent had to say than the Council.

Finally, the meeting ended and Karl strode off, saying, "Satsu, with me." Without a backwards glance, the Blood Dragon turned on his heel and strode from the hall, gesturing for Lukas to follow him. The two strode from the room, and through the winding, maze-like corridors of the Triumvirate capital, until he came to Karl's chambers within the castle.

He hesitated only a moment before knocking firmly, twice.
 

Get of W'soran

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The door was opened and a member of the Regent's guard stepped out.

"Lord Shah?" the warrior asked and when he recieved confirmation he gestured down the hallway and the two Blood Dragons walked away from Karl's chamber. "The Lord Regent is preoccupied with the Council, he hopes that they will be ready and departed soon enough at which point he will be free to speak with you."

The guardsman stopped at a door and opened it to show a small library with a burning fire and a few chairs. "If you could please wait here I will have refreshments sent to you and a guard posted outside the door if you need anything. The Lord Regent told me to say that if you have any interest that you may peruse the texts in this room." as Shah and Luke entered the library.

"I have also been asked to give my Lord Regent's apologies for this inconvenience but he believes that you, after the past few weeks, you would understand why he has prioritised his meetings with the Council." the guardsman said in a tone of faint disgust when referring to the Council.

The Regent's guardsman bowed deeply and closed the door behind Shah.

A few minutes later mortal servants arrived, one with a goblet of warm blood and the other with mulled wine for Luke.
 

Malochai

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Shah scowled at the guard from beneath his mask but, after a moment of reflection, he realised that it had been naïve to expect an audience with the Regent so soon after the adjournment of the Council; there would be details to be seen to that were more important than a meeting with him. Lukas, however, bristled at what he interpreted as an insult against his master.

"My lord, surely you do not intend to wait upon Karl like ... Like some lackey?" he spluttered as soon as the guard left, but Shah quietness him with a wave of his hand.

"You are talking of the Lord Regent of the most successful and long-lived vampiric empire since Mourkain, Lukas. Have some respect. If you are agitated, you reflect poorly upon me." Even as he spoke the vampire was looking at the neat bookcases, brushing a finger gently across the spines of many ancient times the like of which he had rarely seen. A thick tome bound in leather and whose spine was embossed with golden lead lettering titling it 'A Treatise on Bloodline Dilution' caught his eye and he pulled it from the shelf, opening the cover and beginning to read.

When the servants arrived with drinks he took his graciously, but Lukas suspiciously eyed his own goblet.

"Drink, boy," he commanded imperiously as he sipped from his own, tasting the long-forgotten taste of noble Italian blood as it settled on his taste buds. "A fine vintage ..."

"How can we be sure they don't mean to poison you ... My lord?" Lukas asked, his voice taut.

"Because I have done nothing to warrant the Regent's anger, and if he wanted us dead then he very well could have allowed us to be killed beyond the walls of Drakenhof where the blame could not be apportioned to the von Carsteins. They are not that short-sighted, my mortal friend. Now, drink!" With that, he returned to his book and waited in silence, still as a statue lest he changed the page or drank from his goblet, and ignored the distrustful glances that Lukas continued to throw about the room.
 

Get of W'soran

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After almost an hour of silence voices could be heard in the hallway growing louder.

"I don't particularly care Satsu, you're going." a regal voice said which was unmistakably Karl.

A low deep voice replied, the words utterly indistinguishable.

"No it's not. Now take whatever preparations you must, I have business." Karl replied dismissively.

A few seconds later the door swung open and Karl stepped in with cane in hand, after closing the door behind him he smiled apologetically. "I apologise to you both." the Lord Regent said as he walked over to one of the seats near Shah "I had to speak with the Champion and our Necromancer friend." he added as he took a seat.

Once seated the vampire nodded and glanced at the book in the Blood Dragon's hands. "I hope the wait was not to dull." his smile grew a little warmer as he made eye contact with Shah "Thank you for accepting my invitation."
 

Malochai

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The Blood Dragon made a face beneath the cover of his mask as Karl mentioned Morturion, his clouding eyes the only outward sign that could be seen. With a single hand he snapped shut the book he had been perusing and nodded.

"Herr Weisskopf has some interesting views, although controversial, though I would expect nothing less from a Lahmian," Shah replied, shrugging beneath the golden bulk of his armour, "It's an engaging read." Turning away from the Regent slightly, he replaced the book in its correct location on the shelf.

"I was intrigued by the offer, if I am honest, although I am also grateful for the opportunity to leave my brethren for a while ... They do test my patience to the utmost.

He shot a glance at Lukas, who had let out an almost silent bark of laughter, and was looking distrustfully at the von Carstein, hand hovering near the hilt of his sword, as if expecting treachery, and forced a sigh through lungs which hadn't breathed in over half a millennia.

"Lukas! Please wait outside whilst the Regent and I talk," he requested, his voice sharp. The mortal looked at him, surprised.

"My lord-" he began, only to be cut off by his master.

"Who here is master and servant, Lukas? If you value your oaths to me, you shall remain outside until you are called!" Lukas opened his mouth to argue again, but he saw the burgeoning embers of anger flare in Shah's eyes and nodded sullenly.

"Of course, my lord," he murmured, bowing shallowly at the waist. With curt steps he strode to the door, his movements followed by the vampire's eyes and opened the door,mcasting another glance at the Regent as he did so. When the door closed with a soft click.

Shah shook his head apologetically as he approached one of the side tables and placed his empty goblet upon the wooden surface. "I apologise, Lord Regent," he said, "Lukas is a good warrior, loyal and competent, but sometimes he forgets his place. Sometimes I think about turning him, only to remember that he is yet young and inexperienced in the long term - but then, fro, the sounds of it, I am not the only one who has issues with my household ..." With a sidelong glance at Karl, Shah let the words trail off into an expectant silence.
 

Get of W'soran

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Karl waved a hand, dismissing the apology. "There is no need to apologise, a servant such as he does you a great service...besides he isn't entirely wrong to be distrustful of our kind and perhaps my family especially if he knows his history." the Regent added the last with a grimace.

Then he chuckled at Shah's last comment "Yes. Conquer the world and you will still have every retainer questioning your decisions. What ever happened to simply having faith?" he asked with a shake of his head "In my day...well I suppose that is no longer relevant."

The nobleman sighed softly and leant forward in his chair. "I shall not dance around the subject or give waste time on formality. Allow me to explain why I've asked you here."

Karl frowned for a moment as he considered his words, one hand tapping softly against the arm of his chair. "Tell me...what do you see when you look at the von Carstein Ascendency? A Powerful Kingdom? An Expansive Empire? A fool's errand?" he shook his head and continued without waiting for an answer "It is a house of cards...an illusion of stability...the slightest breeze and..." the Regent moved his hand slowly through the air and a burst of cold air swept through the room to knock over Shah's empty goblet "and everything falls."

Karl stood slowly his cane tapping against the room as he paced over to the fireplace and stared into the flame. "I need your help...I need the Lion of Araby's strength....but before I explain why please humour me by answering a question."

The Regent turned to look at Shah "Why do you think we began this journey? To build an Empire?" he nodded slightly as if considering something "You may be completely honest, I will take no offence."
 

Malochai

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Shah nodded in appreciation of the Regent's compliment, considering the words which followed carefully. "I have known my share of your brethren during my years, Lord Regent, and whilst I have never taken your measure, I am not naïve enough to believe that should you want me truly dead even I would be able to fight free. A single mortal, however earnest his devotion, is unlikely to change that and would be more hindrance than help, but I am sure he would appreciate your words ... Eventually."

A wry smile curled his lips as Karl continued to speak, and barked in laughter at the mention of faith. "How can creatures such as us have faith?" he asked, "When even the symbols of gods are abhorrent to us, faith tends to flee our souls."

The Blood Dragon raised an eyebrow as the Regent spoke, speaking of the true delicacy of the vampiric empire, and it was with a reaction holding over from his human existence that, when the vampire sent the gust of wind through the room, he shuddered and drew skeins of Aqshy towards himself and wrapped them around himself, thawing the room as quickly as the von Carstein had chilled it, before he thrust the winds away from himself and considering the question.

He circled the room and absently looked at the books lining it, his mind quickly turning over all he know of the vampiric dynasty of the von Carsteins. From Vlad to Mannfred and the Triumvirate, he mulled it over.

"It is what you know, and whether you know it or not, you have been manipulated into thinking it is what you want," Shah began, before pausing. "But I am not sure it is only that. There is something in your blood, much as the grave is in the children of Ushoran, insanity and reclusiveness those of W'soran. Vlad imparted something to his children, and that drives you." He glanced back at Karl, and shrugged. "Meaning no offence, of course, but you did ask."

"Now, why is it that you have need of me, Lord Regent?"
 

Get of W'soran

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Karl nodded.

"A fair response however I know disciples of W'soran who dislike the arcane arts, scions of Abhorash who fear combat, daughters of Nefereta who despise manipulation and even a son of Ushoran who prefers the intrigue of Court." the Regent argued.

"My nephews have their own reasons...perhaps it is a calling of the Blood. Myself? My reasons began as much more petty." he said with a chuckle "I wished to prove my dead siblings wrong...that I, not they, where the true heirs of Vlad but that was foolish...any right to rule I had vanished with my death."

Karl glanced back at the fire "No...after our initial success I saw a new world of possibilities...not a world of undeath as Nagash wished but one of the living and undead side by side. A land ruled by an Eternal Dynasty of the living dead with no more petty battles between princedoms but rather the stable leadership of the vampire. And we did it...no more vampires murdering each other over ridiculous intrigue and the mortals have better living standards than the Empire was ever capable of granting them."

The Regent looked at Shah "And ironically it was only after giving up on my own personal ambition that I realised I was a skilled ruler. I needed Micrea to conquer and Simon to help out outwit our foes of course."

Karl shook his head "If only we had managed this years ago...the rising Chaos would be no threat."

Karl paused and bowed his head "Apologies for my ramblings, I am sure they bore you."

Karl began his slow pacing before the roaring fire once more as he spoke "In Ostermark Micrea is leading his forces to quell any remaining resistance. It is all going according to the schedule we had planned...sadly the Chaos invasion is not part of the plan and so I must accelerate our time table and to do so Micrea will need help. I plan to lend him some of my legions but soldiers can only do so much...what we need is power."

The Regent stopped to look at Shah "We have sent large numbers of our Colleges Magi as well as their Battlemagi to deal with this however I wish the Supreme Patriarch to join them. My son Ademus will need to travel light and as such I can not afford him the guards that would make me comfortable."

Pausing to let this sink in he continued "I would like you to guard my son on the path to Ostermark, once there however I would need you to report to Micrea. As I said the soldiers, the armies, can only do so much and the magi will certainly help but we also wish to gather warriors of singular skill to fight either alone or in small groups."

Karl leant on his cane. "What do you think of this?"
 

Malochai

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Shah shrugged, perusing the vast array of tomes which lined the walls of the library, before speaking. “That is of course true, and I too have known many who break the stereotypes of their bloodline, but you asked why I thought you, so presumably the Triumvirate, do what you do.”


The Blood Dragon frowned beneath his mask as Karl continued to speak, wondering why the Regent was choosing to confide all of this to him, essentially a complete stranger, instead of merely asking his request. ‘Unless he is trying to manipulate you in some fashion, and this is merely the prelude to it. He is, afterall, a von Carstein,’ some rogue part of his mind whispered. He mulled it over and dismissed it; he sensed no duplicity on behalf of the other, and thus continued to listen with an open mind.


“On the contrary, Lord Regent, I am greatly interested in your thoughts. I particularly agree with you that one cannot rule alone. I myself have my mate Eva - as I am sure you know - and a small council of advisors, although I feel that they often seek to appease me. Not surprising, given they are my gets.” Shah stopped himself, unwilling to give too much away to the von Carstein, despite his apparent honest and earnest speech, and instead focussed on the task upon which the Regent would send him.


“The people of Ostermark are hardy and not to be underestimated …” he began, the cogs in his mind working overtime. Rowhaine would surely keep the rest of the Council on task and attempt to stymie the Chaos invasion before it became a tide which couldn’t be stopped, and there was truly little he could do to help currently. He had never had good relations with Lahmians bar his Eva, and few other Blood Dragons had survived their encounter with him. Even the other members of the Council were beginning to rub his nerves raw.


“I will travel with your son, Lord Regent, should you be able to assure me that, upon the road, he will be able to follow orders. If he will not, I cannot guarantee his safety, and I will refuse to stake my honour on such.

“I believe I can work with Mircea … Although I will not be ordered about like some downtrodden get; I am a lord in my own right and will expect to be treated as such. Beyond that, I see your proposal as favourable compared to working with the rest of the Council, and feel that I can indeed be of more use in the north. I can have my escort ready to leave within an hour.”
 

Get of W'soran

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Karl chucked slightly "Yes I'm not sure where I would be without the Baroness." he said referring to his wife.

The Regent tapped his cane lightly on the ground and walked away from the fireplace. "Yes one mustn't underestimate humanity, my brothers made that mistake." the von Carstein said as he reached the bookcase and removed a scroll.

Karl returned to his seat and spread the scroll, which turned out to be a map, over the table. It was a map of Ostermark detailing all manor of settlements from Cities to villages and it included Keeps or fortified manors with numbers scribbled near them giving known troop numbers.

"The Imperial State Troops are largely disorganised but the holdouts are being more tenacious that we'd thought."

The vampire frowned "We control the capital and most of the other cities and major towns so we've got a strong base of operations in the province."

Karl sighed "But I need this dealt with soon. Kislev is only to the North...my homeland will eventually be overrun by this Chaos invasion if the Council doesn't act quick enough. From Kislev it is just across the border into Ostermark and if we can't get things organised first then we'll be unable to put up a proper defence."

He smiled grimly "I would rather not loose our newest territory and it would set a a poor precedence to allow such harm to come to our newest subjects."

Karl's smile become more genuine. "Thank you Lord Shah, don't worry. Ademus might be the most talented mage at our command but he's fully aware which of you two is the more experienced in such matters. You'll have little trouble with him."

The Regent nodded "Micrea will treat you fairly. I recommend you seek out a warrior called Ankarash when you reach the army, he'll probably be with the main force. He's a former disciple of Abhorash and an honourable man although he's made a few foolish decisions in the past. If you've the inclination you may find some interesting history about your line, he serves in a capacity similar to the one you'll be asked to undertake once you reach my nephew."
 

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"Then it is decided," Shah said, the tone of his voice making it clear he would now not be swayed from his course, thiugh who he thought it was that might attempt to even he wasn't sure. "You have my word that I shall do my utmost to ensure your sons safety until we reach Lord Mircea, and then against the resistance in Ostermark."

Striding to the door, he opened it and called to Lukas, who was there within moments, hand on the hilt of his sword. Shah shook his head slightly, and Lukas frowned. "Do not be foolish, man!" the Blood Dragon chastised his guard, who looked slightly put out. "Ensure that my Guard are ready to travel when called upon."

"Of course, my lord," Lukas replied, a question clear on his features. Shah spread a hand for him to speak. "If they ask, my lord, where should I say that we are going?"

"To Ostermark, my friend." Lukas nodded and Shah closed the door again, turning to look at the Regent, his eyes calculating. He seemed to come to a conclusion, and bowed at the waist, before approaching; just out of arms reach he stopped and raised his hands to the back of his head, where he momentarily seemed to pull at something. Shah pulled a hand away, the mask coming with it to reveal handsome features of clearly noble origin, and he held the other hand out.

"It is my pleasure, Lord Regent ... And please, call me Markus."
 

Get of W'soran

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The Lord Regent smiled and shook Shah's hand. "Karl will be fine, your acceptance of this task has helped ease my mind in this matter."

Karl opened his mouth to say something when there was a brief knock on the door. "One moment!"

The Regent waited until Shah had secured his mask once more before speaking again. "Enter."

The door swung open and Captain Heinrich "One-Eye" Kelrak the new commander of the Regent's guard entered, somehow managing to look powerful and exhausted at the same time. Seeing Shah he bowed respectfully. "My Lord." he greeted before turning to Karl "The papers are ready for your review and the Trade reform details have been delivered to your study. Also one of the commanders from the Modernisation Project is waiting for a meeting and then we need to discuss possible candidates for the Champion position, it has been vacant since Dieter's passing and it makes us look weak."

Karl smiled and clasped the tall man on the shoulder. "Thank you old friend, I know you have much be taking care of. I can find my own way back then you can call back in a few hours to speak about the vacancy."

Kelrak hesitated before nodding. "Thank you sir. Excuse me." he added the last with a bow towards both men before leaving the room.

Karl turned back to Shah and smiled "Excuse me I'm afraid I can't put off my role much longer, hosting the Council took more time than I had expected and I have allowed too much to pile up on me."

Karl then, to Shah's surprise, bowed to the Blood Dragon. "Take care of yourself Markus, I hope we can speak properly next time you visit." he said earnestly before leaving the room, closing the door behind him, and hurrying to his next appointment.
 
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