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The Pale Lady

Black Knight
Jul 6, 2008
Originally posted by @The Pale Lady in separate threads, now combined and re-posted for everyone's enjoyment.

This is perhaps my favourite piece of fanfiction on Carpe Noctem. Enjoy! - DoN

The Children of Maat

Written by The Pale Lady

Book 1: A Law Unto Her Own.

Prologue: To Walk Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death.
IC -1204

Ushoran snarled, his lips curling back to reveal a set of sharp fangs. They glinted menacingly in the erratic torchlight.

“They could not help themselves! They killed a handful at best - worthless, meaningless mortals, nothing but cattle in the grand scale of things. Why should they suffer so?” He slammed a bejewelled fist onto the ornate table, the twelve goblets jumping.

“They have broken my laws!” Maatmeses heard herself say. “I did not create them at some idle whim. There is a very real reason for their establishment, Lord of Masks.” She looked into the vampire’s icy gaze, a contest of wills between two undying monsters. He gritted his teeth and stood with a whirl, his back to the table.

“I reiterate, their actions were innocuous. Their victims were nobodies. No one has so much as noticed their absence! The lives of street urchins, and blind beggars, they are expendable - and as numerous as grains of sand in our great desert!” he added pointedly.

“That is far from the point. Had my guards not overheard their conversation, their illegalities would have gone unnoticed. They would have slunk back to Lybaras and continued in their bloodshed unabated.” The High Judge licked her dry lips, the moisture soothing. “Who knows what could have happened then? Street urchins and beggars are numerous enough, yes, but what of city guard? Nobility?” She paused. “Grand Vizier, how sit the city’s coffers?” Harakhte’s gazed flicked skyward as his lips mouthed silent calculation.

“They are up sixty eight percent since my last books,” he answered eventually.

“And can we afford war?” said Maatmeses. Harakhte spluttered at the word.

“War? Who is speaking of war?”

“I speak of war, should Lord Ushoran’s offspring continue to feast in the kingdoms of the priest kings! They are aggravating an already sore wound. The Nehekharans grow suspicious of us and our practices. They hear whispers of the cult that thrives here, and still, his children,” she nodded toward Ushoran, “feed from Lybaras, and Mahrak!”

The Lord of Masks growled, a sound at odds with his otherwise refined appearance. He span around, a retaliation on his tongue, but another voice spoke out first.

“You will sit, Ushoran.”

He checked himself, chest rising and falling slowly. An element of composure returned to his eyes. Bowing, he sank back into his seat, like a whipped dog.

“Of course, my most glorious Queen.” The vampire lord coughed, hand before his mouth, the picture of etiquette.

Queen Neferata smiled from atop her throne, her gaze running luxuriously over each of the members of her court. It was a silken gaze that slipped into the soul, subtly penetrating the darkest veils of their minds. From beside her, King Vashanesh sat quietly, back straight, left hand resting atop that of his queen’s. When she spoke, her voice rang rich and certain.

“Maatmeses speaks the truth when she says the Nehekharans grow wary. They hear rumours, whispers of our dark lord and unseemly sacrifices carrying the length of the desert to reach their ears. My informants in their courts tell me this, and I hear the same story, whether from the court of Mahrak, of Lybaras, or of Khemri itself.” She paused, her tongue slipping out to lick the corner of her top lip. “They hear the name Nagash, and they grow afraid.” There was something sensuous about the way she said the Great Necromancer’s name, as though it brought her physical pleasure.

“You do not know that they would have returned, Maatmeses,” snapped the Lord of Masks, pointlessly reversing the direction of the conversation. “Lybaras is a great distance to travel, and the other kingdoms even further still. My children have everything they need to slake their thirst here, in our city. In this very temple alone, for Nagash’s sake!”

“And yet, something drew them there in the first place. Something lead them into foreign lands, against my explicit rules. For this digression, they need to be reprimanded. It is the law, Lord Ushoran. We cannot be seen to waver it for the nobility.”

“None are exempt in the eyes of the law,” added Captain Abhorash, from beside their dark queen. The table nodded their agreement, bar one. Ushoran’s temper raged unchecked

“Don’t be so ridiculous. We are exempt. Of course we are! We wrote the laws! We are above them, as we are above mortals.” Maatmeses struggled to contain herself in the face of such idiocy. Could he not see the potential consequences of what he was saying? The tension across the table was palpable. It tasted sour.

“Listen to yourself. Law requires all to obey it, else it fails, it unravels, and loses its integrity. You are not so mighty that you can do as you please without consequence, my lord.” A voice sounded from across the table, seductive and majestic. The High Judge felt ancient eyes settle on her.

“Am I not above the law, Maatmeses?” She licked her lips again, and smiled falsely. It was an unattractive expression on an unattractive woman. She looked both sly and awkward under the scrutiny.
“You are exempt all laws, my Queen Neferata. You are as a goddess, even to us. You come and go as you please about the city, no earthly law could seek to restrain you.” Neferata pursed her bronzed lips and nodded once, clearly pleased by what she heard. Ushoran grinned.

“That does not apply to you, however, and especially not your offspring!” snapped Maatmeses, quicker than she would have liked. She needed to trap the arrogant bastard, to turn his own words against him, before the meeting ran its course.

“And why not? Why should our glorious queen in death, Neferata herself, be free of the law and yet the rest of us assembled here be denied by it?” A couple of heads nodded in agreement, as though his words were causing them to reconsider. The High Judge knew Ushoran was slippery. His words could be sweet as honey, or like venom on his barbed tongue.

“Let his children feed where they please,” muttered W’soran, half to himself, half to the other masters. “They will be found out, and Nehekhara will march against us as one. It is not as though they have so much as a chance of victory against the likes of us.”

“You have seen this?” said Neferata curiously.

“We have seen it before, in Khemri, when our dark lord rose above the masses and sought to wrest control. It will be the same, only the outcome will be different.”

“Go on.”

“They can not hope to compete with the might of Nagash and Lahmia together! If Nehekhara united against us, he would come to our aid. He is our god! He will fight to protect his disciples, as much as to claim revenge over the men and women that prevented him from attaining the throne of Khemri. These facts are indisputable. His magics will wreak a devastation unseen in all the world yet!”

“We do not know for certain that he would directly interfere, even to save us.”

“Have faith in the Great Necromancer, he is both cunning and patient. No plot unfolds without his knowledge. Think of all he has achieved already…”

Maatmeses interjected, seeing the turn of the conversation. At the references to Nagash, an air of anticipation had settled over the assembled vampires, as though they were on the edge of their seats. The Great Necromancer had such an effect on their kind. She could not explain it, but she did not like the influence his name seemed to hold over its vampiric worshippers.

“We cannot simply throw our laws aside, and bank on the dark lord Nagash to save us when Lahmia is assaulted. Better to maintain an attitude of discretion, and avoid war altogether!” This was the fate of Lahmia they were talking about! Could they not see that? Had they become so self-absorbed that nothing was sanctified anymore, even their own city?

“We are all here of the same blood, all equal. If our Queen Neferata is fit to disregard the hand of the law, why should we curtail our behaviour?”

Maatmeses grabbed at the opportunity revealed by the vampire scholar, before anyone else could interject. It occurred to her, as she began to speak, that W’soran was antagonising the situation with his attitude. He is well aware that the queen was above them all, and had rights that they did not. Why was he siding with Ushoran’s views? Did he want war? The thought was unsettling.

“But we are not all equal! Our Queen,” she paused, adding influence to the title, “surpasses us all in rank, power and divinity. We are gods and goddesses amongst men, yes, but within our own number, Queen Neferata alone has the power necessary to disregard - even rewrite - the laws as she sees fit. You dispute this?”

“This is preposterous!” snapped Ushoran.

A hush settled over the vampires, as quiet as the lifeless deserts of the east. Then, from the head of the table:
“You dispute this, little brother?”

For a moment, Maatmeses thought he might. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it.

“I do not, my Queen.”

“Good. Then it is settled. The seven offending vampires will be punished for their crimes. Such wanton feeding is not to be encouraged beyond our city walls. What are they subject to, High Justice? I forget such things.”

“A year’s isolation in the Catacombs, my Queen,” spoke Maatmeses with a hint of pride. It did not go unnoticed on Ushoran, who grimaced and, leaping to his feet, strode out of the chamber. Shadow rippled across his bronzed torso as he quit their company. “I will see to it that a regiment from the city guard collect them and accompany them to the temple, for the administration of their sentence.” The High Justice could feel the knots in her muscles, her neck in particular aching. She had been tense, more so than usual, but she could not help it. The flaunting of her laws was unacceptable in the best of circumstances, but the laws broken in this instance… She was most passionate that they must not be ignored.

They existed for a reason!

“That is everything?” said Ahmose with detectable finality. He cracked the knuckles of his ham-fists. “The docks do not run themselves. I have six barques arriving in less than an hour that need officiating.”

“We are all busy,” muttered W’soran. “So busy, so much to arrange! Have you seen the Great Library recently? A wealth of information, fit for a god! But such a pain to categorise. Immortality such as ours in a necessity, merely to document the endless collection accumulated there.”

“That is all I wished concluded,” nodded Maatmeses, “though had Lord Ushoran not contested my arrests so virulently, I would still have called assembly, in light of these most disturbing turns of events.” The remaining masters turned her way. “I cannot stress how important it is that you limit your children to the city’s boundaries. Rumours have reached my ears that others too have been slipping through the city walls, for what purpose I can only begin to imagine. Do not allow your offspring to feed in foreign lands.”

“You have made your point, High Judge, most…incessantly. This meeting is adjourned.” Something about Queen Neferata’s languid tone smarted Maatmeses. Let them continue to frequent the city walls then, she thought with bitterness. She had the entirety of the city guard at her disposal. The secrets of their comings and goings would not remain clouded for long.

The Pale Lady

Black Knight
Jul 6, 2008
Chapter 1: A Ruby Shattered.
IC -1200

Dark magic crackled through the air, a hundred bolts of black lightning arcing from the library’s entrance into the maelstrom of combat below. Where each bolt struck a man withered and died, his flesh stripped clean from his bones.

The charnel reek of spoiled blood hung heavy on the air, the stench so strong it was palpable. To the desperate soldiers that fought below, it was a bitter taste on their tongues, a reminder of the thousands who had died already, their bodies despoiled. To the dark denizens of the city, the defenders of ancient Lahmia, the smell was a promise, an unspoken promise of the feast that was to come should they win. It stirred their eternal appetites, bringing out the beast within each one of them. Lahmia was a city of vengeful monsters.

The air was saturated with the nauseating stench; it pervaded every corner of the great city. There was no escaping it. The vampires bathed in the rich, intoxicating scent, even as they murdered the invaders of their precious city with their fangs and blades.

More lightning flickered forth from the entrance of the Great Library, the chanting of a coven of vampire priests bringing it to bear on the encroaching soldiers. Scores fell beneath the arcane bolts, their bones collapsing to the cracked flagstones. Gleaming skulls stared vacantly up, their jaws locked in eternal screams.

Still the fighting edged nearer.

For every Nehekharan felled by the sorcery, two more rounded the street corner and threw themselves into the fray. Time lost all meaning, the battle dragging on for what seemed like an eternity. With the sun concealed from view behind dark storm clouds, night and day ran into one another. The clouds rumbled angrily overhead, venting their fury at the bloodshed unfolding below, constantly threatening a storm but never quite relenting.

The vampires of Lahmia revelled in the dark shadows cast by the thick black storm clouds, knowing full well the effect it was having on their enemies. They could smell it, the stench of the mortals’ fear. The shadows filled their hearts with despair. Their sun god, Ptra himself, was powerless over this cursed city. How could they possibly hope to triumph? That they still fought on was a testament to the strength of their revulsion toward the vampires and their fell ilk.

The first of the soldiers broke from the bitter fight, charging over the gutted corpse of a Lahmian guard and taking a step up the long flight of steps that lead to the entrance of the Great Library. His heart hammered in his chest. Sweat clung to his flesh in an oily sheen but still he charged. The vampires could not be allowed to live. The servants of Nagash were cruel, greedy and unnatural, and they had no place in the world. They were a pestilent blight upon the fair desert kingdoms!

He made two more steps before a beam of purple light punched through his face.

Mouthless, he died silently.

The perpetrator stepped from out of the ranks of the priestly vampires, his hands upraised. Even as two more soldiers mounted the stairs his hands cast them back, ribbons of obsidian-black light blasting from his fingertips. The light continued, scything through the wizard’s enemies, dissecting three whole ranks of warriors through their waists with a neat slash.

There was nothing neat about the chorus of screams that erupted from their mouths, or the contents of their bodies that spilled, ruined, over the library steps. It was no way to die.

The vampire wizard laughed, his voice echoing across the plaza. It was the laugh of the damned. Here was a monster who took true delight in the murder wreaked by his magics.

“Come!” he shrieked, his voice hoarse with the shouting of his incantations. “Come, and die! Feel the touch of my sorcery as it burns your flesh away and devours your organs! Do you not know who I am? You stand before W’soran, high priest of all Lahmia and devoted servant of the dark lord Nagash! Tremble, tremble and die!” His cacophonous voice rang across the plaza, planting terror in the hearts of all who heard it.

Still more soldiers came.

A hundred similar pictures unfolded the length and breadth of Lahmia. Every street, every clearing, every garden, every building, the armies of Nehekhara fought fiercely against the forces of undeath. They were united; warriors from every corner of the desert realm come together to lend their strength and overthrow the taint of evil that seeped from cursed Lahmia into the desert sands around it. Lahmia, once fair and noble a city, had become infected; a cesspit of vampires, and undead, and evil. Nagash worshippers! It had to be cleansed.

Teeth gritted in determination, the woman brought her curved blades down on the neck of a Khemrian. Bone parted as easily as flesh beneath her unholy strength and the warrior’s head flew from his shoulders, a fountain of hot blood spurting from the savage wound. She snarled and kicked his body aside, to join the countless number of dead that lay, festering, around her.

She was a pillar of strength, an embodiment of bitterness. While she stood tall, the clearing would not fall. It would not!

Her chest rising and falling heavily, blood racing through her ancient veins, Maatmeses, high judge of all Lahmia, surveyed her surroundings. Over a hundred corpses covered the cold sand, their blood already congealing into a blanket of sticky red. For a second, the heady scent distracted her, but only for a second. She squashed the feelings of hunger easily aside. If Maatmeses was anything, it was disciplined. She would not surrender to the bloodlust like the bestial gets of her brethren.

Vampires fought on every street corner, their fangs bared, faces transformed into feral visages of beasts. Lion-muzzled vampires snarled their fury as they tore the throats out of their enemies in gluttonous sprays of blood. Others, captains of the city guard, retained their human guise, instead turning their vampiric talents toward dismembering their opponents limb from limb. The Nehekharan warriors, mere mortals, could not hope to challenge the vampires in skill in combat. Their gutted corpses were a morbid testament to the fact.

Maatmeses watched as one vampire, his brow knotted, jaw dislocated like some obscene serpent, sprang from a low rooftop onto an unsuspecting soldier below. The man’s screams as the vampire bit his face clean off were drowned by the wet sounds as it fed voraciously. Its teeth savaged his ruined face, eager to reveal as much hot blood as possible. The High Justice spat with revulsion. It was such careless feeding, such wanton bloodshed, that had landed them all in this nightmare! The gluttonous habits of a few had damned their entire city to destruction!

Those careless, ignorant greedy offspring of her compatriots, the spawn of Vashanesh, of Ushoran and of cursed Neferata, were to blame! It was they who had turned their insatiable appetites on the other kingdoms. They had stalked the streets of Numas, Quatar, Lybaras and Mahrak by night, the bloody remains of their dark hunger rousing the first the attention, and then the ire, of the kings there. Their actions were just the spark needed to ignite decades of tension between Lahmia and the other kingdoms. There were other factors, of course. She could not help but be fair when pointing the finger of guilt. It was in her nature, every bit as much as the blood thirst was.

W’soran and his careless actions were as much to blame. He had long been in contact with Nagash, and it had only been a matter of time before one of his emissaries had become waylaid, and captured by the mortals.

Vampires are easy to interrogate, if you only know how, she thought knowingly.

The priest kings had quickly learned from their captives of the undying nobles, and the Cult of Nagash that had established itself in distant Lahmia, and they had grown violent. They hated Nagash, and anything connected to him. His memory was a blight on their lands, a stain on Nehekhara’s records. Their fury was at boiling point, and the expansion of the vampires’ hunting grounds into their own realms had tipped them over the edge.

The vampire cast back its head, gore smeared about its lips, and tossed the empty carcass aside. Its eyes shone yellow in the relative darkness, and Maatmeses was reminded suddenly of a cat, a capricious, self-absorbed creature, that stalks its prey with malicious intent before killing and feeding off of it with ruthless efficiency. She was not surprised to watch as the vampire murdered another soldier and promptly buried its face in his neck. They were little better than beasts, the youngest gets, she thought contemptuously, and her fair Lahmia, gemstone of the deserts, was burning for it!

As High Justice, she was more than familiar with vengeance. It was a part of her, it made her who she was. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. That was the way of the world. Her thoughtless kind had brought misery, sorrow and terror to the lands of men, and now the short-lived mortals were bringing their retribution.

Their retribution, she had quickly decided, was far from just. The deaths of a few did not equate to the sacking of Lahmia! This was her city! Her laws had kept it secure and safe and fair, for so long, and now it was crashing down around her and there was nothing her ancient legislature could do to prevent it. It had never failed her before, but against the swords and spears of the Nehekharans, her laws were useless. The beast within her raged at its shackles. Her fists clenched tight.

A cloud of arrows descended from the grey sky toward her. In a matter of seconds, the clearing she stood in would become a killing field. Her few remaining gets and she would become pincushions under the endless flight of arrows that flew true toward them.

Maatmeses’ nails lengthened. Her eyes grew dark, and her lips pulled back into a snarl. Words flew from her quick tongue, and the sands at her feet exploded into action. They responded to her will, stirring up into a momentous swirl of movement.

“Rise sands, rise, and conceal us from harm in your storm!” she cried, and the sands did as she commanded, in seconds becoming a vicious sandstorm. It plucked the arrows from the sky and tossed them harmlessly aside, splintered matchwood in the face of Maatmeses’ ire.

Across the clearing, the archers snatched more arrows from their satchels and took aim on the vampires once more.

The High Justice of Lahmia concentrated her hatred. She concentrated on the feelings of vengeance, on the unjust nature of the situation. She saw Lahmia burning in her mind’s eye, she smelled the ashes, and blood, and fear, and she dwelled on the screams and cries of agony that battered her senses.

She looked at the bodies of her gets, her offspring, her children, those who had been overwhelmed and slain.

No, not slain. Murdered.

She saw the wounds dealt them, the blades that pierced their hearts, each a palace guard, or a judge, one who had not only obeyed her laws but enforced them throughout the city. That had been their role, the duty of her children, and through the actions of others, they had paid the ultimate price. She saw nothing but their broken, battered bodies and Maatmeses, master vampire and high judge of Lahmia, knew a vengeance unlike any she had felt before.

It was not just!

A horrifying roar tore itself from her lips and her undeniable fury bore its way into the weak minds of the archers who had shot at her. They were mortal. Soft. Weak. Their minds crumbled beneath her vampiric fury, the dark gift racing through her tainted blood even as the archers fell screaming to the ground, their minds consumed by nightmarish visions of death and evil. They died with looks of abject horror on their faces.

Maatmeses had never been an attractive woman, even before she had joined the ranks of undeath. Her life had been filled with trials, and it had been a constant struggle rising through the ranks to high judge of the city. It had taken its toll on her figure. Wrinkles festered in the corners of her eyes, and around her mouth. Not even the stark black makeup that traced her eyes, or the bronze touch to her lips could hide it. The angles of her face were off too, making her appear harsh and stern by default. That she had seen much hardship was evident merely from looking at the woman.

Yet in that instant she looked monstrous. As she rent apart the pathetic minds of those who sought to harm her, retribution filling her entire essence, she was visible for the beast that she was. Her lips pulled back to reveal row upon row of razor-sharp fangs, and her face creased under her terrible ire into a mass of wrinkles, brow and cheekbones, but it was her eyes that were most changed. To look into them, in that moment, was to witness a thousand miseries, a thousand wrongs, a thousand pictures of pain and agony and injustice.

The city she had policed and judged and maintained for longer than she cared to remember was falling, and not even the might of it vampire lords could save it.

A sound like thunder rocked the earth, the very ground shaking with tremors. Maatmeses swung her blade around in a vicious swipe, burying it deep into the chest of a soldier who had strayed too close, before turning her gaze in the direction of the ominous rumbling. Anxiety and disbelief swarmed inside of her. It filled her every muscle.

“It cannot be!” she breathed and, with a glance at her five remaining vampires, raced off toward the source of the sound. If the terrible tremors had come from what she suspected, then all was lost. It was over. The ancient vampire gasped in exasperation.

The root of the blame lay with Neferata. Her and that accursed priest W’soran! The blatant injustice exhibited by the Nehekharans aside, everything stemmed back to the queen and her pet sorcerer. If they had not brought the Cult of Nagash into the court of Lahmia, if they had not infected the fair city with the taint of vampirism, it would still be standing. Before, it had been the jewel of Nehekhara. Its beauty and glory was unparalleled. Kings had travelled the length of the desert, braving the relentless heat of the sun and the multitude of other pitfalls concealed beneath the sands, to witness it. To walk the streets of Lahmia had been a breath-taking experience.

And those two power-hungry daemons had ruined everything. They had unleashed the curse of undeath over the city. They had turned its nobles and high ranking members into their own kind. The vampires’ disobedient, worthless gets had fed indiscriminately, venturing into the domains of other kings, and inciting their fury. The Queen and her wretch of a priest should be made to pay for the crimes they had committed.

It was only fair!

They should be made to pay, and yet instead, her Lahmia burns!

Vengeance coursed through the master vampire like a wicked poison. It consumed her, hatred fuelling her feelings of injustice, which in turn fed the hatred she felt, an endless circle of pain. Maatmeses knew she was looking for blame. She was scouring the depths of her memory, of events both recent and long passed, looking for any who might be in some way responsible for the burning buildings around her. She succumbed wholly to the virulent vengeance that flourished within her still, dead heart.

Flames exploded around her as Maatmeses neared the end of the street. Blistering heat washed over her like dragon’s breath. The Nehekharans had employed the use of their war machinery, catapults hurling flaming oils and massive boulders into the city.

More missiles crashed into the street, tearing down the house to her left in an eruption of rubble and sand. She hissed and turned, almost running into two soldiers as she did so.

Without breaking stride she thrust her blade out, gutting the first and stepping through his innards even as her free hand snaked out to break the neck of the second. He fell like a puppet with its strings cut.

She barely registered the flicker as their lives died out, or their blood as it spilled wet and hot from their mortal wounds. She had only thoughts for one thing. Please, let it not be, she prayed silently, please. Please. It was the centre of their existence, and had been for decades. Lahmia revolved around it, and the rites they performed there, in the name of Nagash. They consecrated him even as they drank in his name, to slake their dark thirsts.

Reaching the end of the following street, the high judge rounded the corner and froze. In that moment her undead heart broke, and something of the vampire’s mind was lost forever.

The Temple of Blood lay in ruins. Nehekharans swarmed over it like ants on a decaying corpse. The ground was strewn the dead, hundreds if not thousands of them, a thick carpet of twitching, bloodied bodies, and in their midst stood Abhorash.

The Lord of Blood fought valiantly, his blade a blur, the last of the temple’s guard in a tight regiment around him. He was every inch the commander of Lahmia’s armies, but for all of his efforts, it was pointless. They were wasted. For all his limitless strength, his tireless vigour and unmatched skill in combat, he was beaten. Overcome. Droves of Nehekharan warriors stormed past him into the temple proper, even as he slew their comrades. She empathised with the warrior in a way no mortal could ever understand.

Screams and flames alike rose out from the belly of the ancient structure, both soaring high into the sky and signalling the destruction of the vampires’ centre of worship. Where was their vengeful god now, she heard herself think. His devoted servants were dead or dying, his temple desecrated by flame and sword and burning oil, and he did nothing. Where once there had been respect and support, she felt only bitter hatred and disappointment toward their god. The Cult of Nagash had flourished to new heights within Lahmia, bearing the city with it, and now, as its vampiric devotees died or fled, Lahmia followed suit.

Tears of blood trickled from Maatmeses’ eyes. Her spirit was broken, just as her laws had been, and her city was.

For the first time since she could remember, the master vampire, high judge of Lahmia and head of the city guard, felt powerless. She was a broken woman.

Overhead, the storm clouds broke. Fat jewels of rain poured down over the raging fires and screaming combatants. Vampire battled mortal. Blood ran slick across the cold stone paving. Maatmeses watched all this, unfolding slowly before her, but she did not see it. Her gaze froze, unfocussed.

Her city had fallen. Her city had fallen, and those responsible had long since fled, to save their own monstrous hides. The scholarly guardians of the Great Library lay either dead or dying, centuries of literature and lore little but kindling for the hungry fires that devoured them. The docks were aflame, Ahmose, master vampire and lord of the Lahmian fleet, impaled on a scimitar. A handful of ships fled the city, bearing his few helpless gets. The rest lay still about the docks, fires claiming their unclean bodies. The Lord of Masks and their bitch of a Queen had long since abandoned the city, their own pathetic lives of more import than sacred Lahmia. Even the undead warriors, the skeletons and zombies that had risen at W‘soran’s word, collapsed under the constant assault of the Nehekharans.

Lahmia was in ruins, a lifeless, blood-encrusted husk of its former self, and there was nothing she could do about it. She had tried her best, and it had not been enough.

Her screams rose over the roaring thunder and carried far across the city.

The Pale Lady

Black Knight
Jul 6, 2008
Chapter 2: A Mind in Turmoil
IC: -1200


She was going mad.

The vampire stood at the entrance to the cavern in which she and her five offspring were sheltering. Outside the sun shone fiercely, driving the vampires underground, into the cool, dark mouth of a cave. They had taken to resting during the day, hiding in any shelter they could find, and fleeing across the endless desert by night. It was the most sensible way to travel, Maatmeses had quickly reasoned. Daylight was not their friend; it revealed their location to all who cared to look, and the blistering heat was relentless. It baked the very sands beneath their feet, so that the simple task of walking became a torture, the unprotected soles of their feet searing and burning with each step.

Night concealed them. Night hid them from their pursuers. Night offered respite from the boiling sun, and the wicked mirages. The darkness was their only ally, now that all they knew and loved was destroyed.

She heard them sometimes, during the day, when her children slept. They raced across the sands, steeds snorting, whips cracking like lightning. Their pursuit was as relentless as the sun’s heat, and equally as intense. Their cries, their laughter, their voices as they chased each other through the shifting deserts, stung at Maatmeses. These were the men who had sacked her homeland. They were directly responsible for the ruination of her city. Their hands dripped red with the blood of her kin.

Their voices mocked her.

It seemed to the High Justice that they haunted her on her arduous trek through the desert. Never quite catching up, but never stopping in their pursuit. They served as a living reminder of the death of her city, and all the pain and suffering that had come hand-in-hand with it. They were the living embodiment of her nightmares. Every time she heard them, a distant shout, their voices muffled by the desert winds and towering dunes, she was brought screaming back to Lahmia. Its burning streets stretched far into her mind. She could see the ruins, the desecrated temples, the ravaged libraries, in her mind’s eye. The images of destruction had been burned there for eternity, and all it took was the slightest of reminders to see her reliving the events first-hand.

There was no escaping them.

In her sleep, the nightmares came alive. They crept through her brain, taking the shape of those she had loved and lost, her children who had not survived the onslaught. Vampires she had known for decades - some for centuries - rose from the blood-soaked sands to plead with her. They begged her for vengeance, for retribution. They screamed at her to avenge their deaths.

“You are High Justice!” they would cry, and she knew what they would say, for they haunted her every night. “You of all know the value of retribution! It is a need! A necessity! They owe us their lives for the crimes they committed! An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, High Justice. Mother.”

And always, at the back of her mind, that insidious voice, whispering, whispering, whispering.


She would wake, rivulets of blood trickling from her eyes, sweat glistening on her brow. Every night. Every night. No escape.

The woman turned to watch her surviving offspring as they slumbered. They lay, still as corpses, in the cold, concealing dark. A grey tinge had begun to settle over their olive flesh, an outward sign of the excruciating hunger they all felt, but had not once complained about. She had taught them well. Without law, there was chaos. And without discipline, there was no law. That was the way of things.

Her nightmares were right, of course. The Nehekharans had a blood debt to pay. They had sacked Lahmia simply because of their beliefs. They had heard of the rising of the Cult of Nagash, and they had taken offence.

Violent offence. The evidence was there for all to see; the hollow, burned-out shells of the homes and palaces, the despoiled temples and smashed fountains. Lahmia was a ruby shattered.

The Cult of Nagash, she thought, self-loathing eating away at her insides like a ravenous scarab. They - she - had dedicated decades to his worship. She had not been the most devout of Lahmians, cursed W’soran and his followers had claimed that title, but she had accorded respect to the Great Necromancer. She had felt a kinship of sorts, based on the similar nature of their dark selves.

Yet he had done nothing to save them. Nothing. Not a single act in the defence of his loyal servants. She felt sick at the thought of him, of the hours wasted in his worship. The vampire could feel her fangs growing, her eyes darkening, at the mere mention of his name. Then that whisper, again, like a forked tongue in her ear.


She shifted uncomfortably, as though to shrug of the subtle insinuation, and returned to her previous thoughts.

She owed it to the dead of Lahmia to exact the blood toll herself, and she would make sure not to disappoint them. They had died defending Lahmia, their Lahmia, the city upheld through their laws and their justice.

Their deaths would be avenged, and it would not be pleasant. Far from it. A grin split her face. There was something distinctly reptilian about the expression. Yes, there would be vengeance. It was what she did best. It was what she was born to do, her mortal and her undying births both cumulating in her maintenance of law.

She would have her revenge!

With a last, considerate glance toward her offspring, the vampire stepped out from the soothing shadows of the cave into the sand and sun, her dirtied white robes trailing behind her. She blinked rapidly as her eyes adjusted to the intense light. It was brighter than she remembered, dizzying spots flaring in her vision. She shook her head, clearing it of the nauseating brightness, then set off.

There were others deserving of vengeance. Perhaps more-so than the Nehekharans, she thought, ire already festering inside of her. The vampires were as much to blame for Lahmia’s destruction as those who had made it a reality. They might as well have desecrated it themselves, for all their unlawful hunting, their gluttonous, thoughtless feasting.

No, they had desecrated it themselves. They had broken her laws! They had knowingly flaunted the strict guidelines she had so carefully laid out for their kind. They too would have to be punished! The poisonous hatred seeped through Maatmeses, saturating her, twisting her thoughts in dark and violent directions even as her list of deserving victims grew.

She moved quickly across the desert sand, a lonely shadow in a world of light. Where before the vampires had wandered aimlessly, desperately seeking some new shelter to hide them from their pursuers the following day, now the High Justice moved with a purpose. Her nostrils flared and her keen eyes, sore from the sun but sharp as diamond nevertheless, scanned the horizon for sign of her quarry. To the west, the shadows of the mountains loomed.

Her offspring were weak and thirsty. Their stomachs growled to be fed and nourished. The beasts inside needed sating. She knew the consequences of denial. She had seen what happened to those who did not feed, and it was not becoming. The irony of the situation was not lost on the master vampire; blood denial had been a punishment in ancient Lahmia, a means of deterrent, one of the few punishments still feasible on her immortal kind. Those that had broken the most severe of her laws, whether they had personally affronted that soulless queen, or murdered beyond their means, had been locked away in ancient stone sarcophagi, trapped for months, years, sometimes decades, denied the touch of blood to their lips until their undead frames could not take it anymore. Denied the taste of warm, fresh blood on their tongues, and its revitalising energy, their mortal shells had withered and atrophied and their skin had turned ashen, until they had resembled little more than dried out husks. Such was the punishment for disobeying her laws.

And now, if she and her children did not feed soon, they would suffer similar consequences. They, lawful to the end, justice their very motive for existence, falling victim to the same fate she had used to reprimand criminals and murderers. It was a stark truth to the severity of their situation. Maatmeses was at her wit’s end, but she would not give up. She would see to it that her children’s hunger did not consume them. They would feed tonight.

Her nostrils flared again, the fresh scent of some desert beast carrying on the ghost of a breeze. Eyes narrowing, Maatmeses picked up her pace. She would nourish herself on the blood of the living this night. They all would. They needed to be strong, if they were to ever have their vengeance on those who had torn their world apart.

As she stalked her prey across the desert sands, it came again, sifting through her mind like some distant memory, or remembered dream. Even the glaring sun it seemed could not banish its chill presence.


Dusk came rapidly. One moment the sun reigned supreme, bathing the desert in her golden light, the next instant she had guttered and died. Within minutes, her radiance had turned a fiery orange, and then a blood red. It was an ominous sight; the eternal dunes rolling out across the horizon, swamped in crimson light as the sun spluttered her last.

Within the sanctity of their cave, the Maatmesin fed. Their High Justice had been there when they had woken, stirred from their sleep by the pull of the rising moons and the cooling of the air. The temperature did not bother them; nothing but the most severe of cold could harm their undead forms, and while the chill became noticeable at night, in contrast to the insufferable heat of day, it was far from uncomfortable.

The vampires gorged themselves on the carcass of an old camel, their fangs sinking hungrily into the dead animal as they sought out every ounce of blood within the beast. Maatmeses could see the desperation in their eyes as they drank, the flickers of relief that waxed and waned as the fresh, rejuvenating blood ran down their throats. It brought her some comfort, to see them feeding so eagerly on the food she had brought them. Ordinarily, they would have catered for her, golden goblets filled to the brim with the blood of criminals - for she would not drink from the innocent. Only those deserving of death, or punishment, or those few who gave themselves willingly, were worthy of draining. She had but to say the word, and an endless supply of blood was hers to enjoy. Thick, thin, sweet, sour, and all of it hot and fresh.

But these were far from ordinary times.

The camel’s corpse quivered and shook as the five of them nuzzled their jaws into the hairy flesh. They had been reduced to feeding off beasts, Maatmeses realised with a sinking stomach. The nobility of Lahmia, judges and palace guards, forced to slake their dark hungers on the animals of the wild.

It was fitting, she thought with a flicker of irony. The beast lurked within each and every one of them. A monster, eager to be freed, to run amok and murder and slay and drink until it could not move, it had become so bloated and intoxicated on the lifeblood of the living. It was not that she hated herself. To deny that her vampire nature was a gift would be a lie. She loved the strength it gave her, the speed, the power. She had had all eternity to refine her laws, and see to it that they were adhered to.

And punish those who broke them, she thought bitterly, and it was a genuine loathing of the disobedient, the unruly, the criminal, that weighed constantly on her mind.

Only now she was the chief magistrate of an empty city. Ransacked. Its lifeblood spent, drained away by the ruthless men of Nehekhara.

She was a lost soul, in a world that despised her, simply for what she was.

The other vampires were not so disciplined in their morals, she thought ruefully. Their ‘queen’ had drank at leisure from only the most beautiful and handsome of her subjects. Such narcissistic criteria were flawed. Neferata cared not for her subjects’ innocence, or their willingness. That meant nothing to her. The daemoness had but to turn her will toward her intended victims, and they would fall, idolatrous, to their knees, slaves of the flesh.

They would beg her to tear their throats, and sup of their blood. They would lay, smiling, at her feet, even as they died, their blood drained into goblets and passed around.

Hundreds perished to sustain the fountains of blood that Neferata took such beauty from. Some had been criminals, their souls black and twisted as their hearts, but others were as free of sin as their counterparts were evil. She made no discrimination, and therein laid the wrong. The pang of injustice stabbed Maatmeses’ heart.

“High Justice, you must feed, to recuperate your strength,” uttered Issa, his mouth bloodied. The master vampire smiled at her son-in-blood, the expression at odds with the hard look of vengeance that had taken up permanent residence in her eyes.

“I have drank my fill already, Issa.” She indicated the second camel, a withered sack of bones and flesh that lingered near the cave entrance. Not a drop remained within the now skeletal beast, such had been her prodigious appetite. It had not tasted good.

“Where are we headed?” It was a simple enough question, but Maatmeses was unsure of how to answer. In truth, she was unsure of what the answer actually was. Uncertainty was not something she was familiar with; she suspected that was one of the reasons she had been attracted to law-keeping in the first place, all those decades ago. With the law, you were either right, or you were wrong. There was no middle ground, no grey area.

Her other gets raised their heads at the question, the camel momentarily forgotten.

“North. We keep travelling north. We keep to the spine of the mountains. They offer us plentiful shelter, enough that we can travel the desert by night, and retreat to caves during daylight, to hide out our pursuers, and sleep.” Ptoleme piped up, his voice articulate and refined. It soothed Maatmeses a little, to hear it.

“But where are we headed? What is our final destination, High Justice? We cannot live off the blood of desert beasts forever.” The judge was right, she knew. The past week had been hellish. It was barely an existence, scratching a living from wandering beasts and fleeing like criminals from the light of day, in case they were seen or followed. They were all six of them forsaken, with nowhere and no-one to turn to.

The thought was like a slow poison, weakening her once indomitable resolve, destroying any certainty of hope. She stood from the rock on which she had perched, turning to watch the ruby-red sun disappear over the horizon. It lit her face, washing over the sun-kissed flesh, the crow’s feet at her eyes and the faint remnants of make-up there, that over the weeks had faded from black to near-nothingness.


“When we reach the desert’s end, we will enter into the shadow of the World’s Edge Mountains. They are tall, and dark, and deep, and between their towering peaks we will find shelter, and respite, for a time at least.” Never had she been so uncertain. She felt naked, stripped of her robes, her pendant, her authority. Routine was nonexistent, and she was struggling to cope.

In truth, she was not sure why they even travelled north. She felt a…compulsion. A pull of sorts, leading her away from Lahmia’s sun-baked corpse and into the cold, grey of the mountains. It came and went in strength, but she could feel it always, a taint, something inside of her, leading her, guiding her.

And despite her wariness, her voice of caution, she had surrendered to it. She was exhausted, and starving, and her world had been wrenched from beneath her feet. Everything was different now. Her allies had abandoned her. The pangs of pain that had wracked her body at the deaths of her gets still stabbed at her in her sleep. Nightmares followed her into the sun, playing out ceaselessly behind her eyes.

She welcomed the tug on her soul that drew her north, because it gave her a direction. That, and vengeance, were all she had now.

Behind her, all was silent. She had the full attention of her children, each digesting the information she had just revealed and turning it over in his or her head. After a moment, a solitary voice spoke up, giving words to the thoughts that occupied each and every vampire present’s minds. Maatmeses flushed with pride at the cold truth of what she heard.

“We will need our vengeance, High Justice. Too many have wronged us, and our people.”

“And our homes,” said Ptoleme.

“And our honour,” added Odji.

Maatmeses turned to face her children, her children of justice and retribution, and she saw it reflected in each of their eyes, in the turn of their lips, the shine of their cheeks and the fresh blood on their teeth.

“We will have our vengeance, my children. We will have our vengeance for Lahmia, that I promise you.”

As her gets returned to their feeding, the master vampire heard it again, the faintest of whispers at the back of her mind.

“Maatmeses…You are so close.” The words slithered into her consciousness, this time accompanied by the shadowy image of a man. He flickered before her eyes, faster than a lizard‘s tongue, but she recognised him instantly, for she had seen him depicted before, a thousand times over.

As the sun spat its last before surrendering to night, Maatmeses smiled, and never had a smile said more.

The Pale Lady

Black Knight
Jul 6, 2008
Chapter 3: Blessed Basth
IC: -1200

The husky purr of a dozen cats filled the chamber, pleasure resonating from wall to wall. The animals lounged on silken divans while a pair of acolytes placated them with pieces of perch, freshly caught that morning from the River Vitae. The reek of fish was overpowering, but the two men made no sign of noticing it. They had performed this duty countless times before, and would do so for many years to come. Eternity no less, such was the role that the liche priests fulfilled. They would enter this shrine every morning and maintain its sanctity, and that of its feline guardians, until their skin was like sandpaper, and their living corpses withered husks of their former selves. This was the fate of the liche priests.

The cats’ throats rumbled with contentment.

The large golden doors to the chamber swung open, and a third figure strode in. He approached the two priests, treading carefully around a trio of cats that had skittered over to rub against his legs. He smiled, enjoying the obvious blessing of Basth. The goddess’ favour was prevalent amongst the priests of her temple. She watched over them all and protected them, shrouding them from the attentions of evil.

Gently ushering the attentive animals aside, he came to a stop behind the two acolytes. Their ceremonial robes matched his own, except that they lacked the multitude of golden adornments that hung from his wrists and delicately around his neck. The bracelets and necklaces glittered gold in the warmth of the temple sconces, cat faces emblazoned on the small circlets. It was clear just from comparing the newcomer’s attire to those of the two priests that he was their superior. As though to reinforce the thought, they turned and bowed reverentially.

“Greetings Enkhil, Adhe.”

“Greetings, Nebankh. What brings you to our sanctum this morning?” The liche priest smiled.

“I come only to immerse myself in the presence of the favoured creations of our most beneficiary and beautiful of goddesses,” he intoned, indicating the small army of cats that lounged about the chamber. Their musky scent mingled with the sweet-smelling incenses that smouldered in silver bowls on the temple floor. “I seek her guidance.”

“Something troubles you?” It was a rather ignorant question, thought Nebankh, considering the recent troubles that had accosted all of Nehekhara. The plague of undeath had resurfaced, and it had taken the combined might of all the kingdoms to quell it. They had triumphed, of course, as had been foretold by the goddess Basth. The vile abominations had burned as readily as papyrus, their magics unable to contest with the arcane protection offered by their goddess. Those that had not died had fled like the beasts they were, scattering into the desert to die a slow and painful death, baked under the intolerable heat of Ptra’s sun chariot.

If they were not caught and killed first.

Despite their overwhelming victory over the repugnant cultists of Nagash, he remained uneasy. There had been no respite from the horror of ancient Lahmia, for no sooner had he and his contingent of priests quit the place, to return to the tending of their most sacred temple here, Basth had visited him in his dreams.

“No, no, nothing of the sort. I only seek to saturate my body with the blessed aura of our goddess, and attain inner calm. I have not been sleeping well, and am tired. Basth will restore me.” The acolytes nodded knowingly.

“Of course. Basth will heal your ailments. She rejuvenates all things worthy of her touch.” Nebankh smiled reassuringly.
The goddess had appeared to him while he slept, a cloud-grey Mau, noble and surpassing any cat he had seen before in health and beauty. It was a radiant creature, whiskers near invisible, golden eyes flecked with bronze and green. They had peered languidly into his soul, as though idly seeking her disciple’s understanding. Mau-Basth had not been disappointed.

He saw the images she had eased into his mind. Rank upon rank of walking dead, armies of creaking bone, rusted armour and humourless grins The grin of the long-dead. Then had come storm clouds, thick, tumultuous waves of them, turning day into night and hope to despair. His thoughts had writhed with confusions. How was this possible? The cursed blood-drinkers were dead, or else fleeing and lost. Easy prey for the chariots and horsemen that pursued them. The Mau’s eyes flashed in answer, a single, solitary image searing into his mind with corruptible force. His flesh had crawled as he had understood what he was seeing, as though trying to escape the vicinity of the vision.

Nagashizzar, he had heard in his ears. Nagash.

“I would be alone with the servants of Basth for some time, if you would let me,” said Nebankh, his voice ringing with politeness. The priests had no right to deny him, but it did not hurt to ask. They bowed, before turning to leave.

“Indeed. We have finished out duties here; the cats of Bash are satisfied. I hope you reach the peace you seek, Priest Nebankh.” He bowed as they left, waiting for the ornate gold doors to thud shut before stepping over and sitting beside one of the cats on the nearest divan. It was unbelievably comfortable, made of the finest silk in all Nehekhara. The other sanctums of the Temple of Basth were similarly furnished; the cat goddess deserved no less luxury.

He had taken his vision to their High Priestess the second he had woken. There was little the revered woman could do, so far from their temple home, but she had needed to know the stark truth revealed in Basth’s dream. Their goddess had blessed him, Nebankh, with this foresight, and he would not disrespect her by keeping it from his colleagues.

Istnofret was the epitome of their goddess. Majestic, reserved, contemplative, and insightful, she alone was worthy of Basth’s undivided favour.

It helped that she was the most beautiful woman Nebankh had ever seen.

He ran a hand down the spine of the cat to his left, the creature rolling in response to his warm touch. It looked up at him through amber eyes, knowing, curious. There was a mystery that surrounded cats, he thought, as he stared into those pools of honey. He marvelled how capricious they were; they could slip from a lightly dozing beast into a quick and savage killer in a matter of moments. The odd desert rat that ventured stupidly into their temple was brutal evidence of this.

Their goddess was no different. To those she loved and cared for, she was an emphatic, nurturing force, who sought only to protect them from their enemies. To those same enemies however, she was ruthless and cold and deadly. He tickled the cat once more, then shifted, his elbows on his knees, head resting in his hands.

Of course, the High Priestess had known of the vision already. He had been fool to believe Basth would grant him a vision, but not Istnofret, her own high priestess. She had been as troubled as he by the grotesque revelation. Lahmia had been purged, but the vein of undeath apparently ran deeper. Nagash it seemed not only lived, somewhere in the ancient bones of the mountains, but thrived there, growing stronger. It would not be long before their nightmares were realised once more. The fell grip of the undead would spread, as was its nature, claiming the lives of everything it touched and turning them against those they loved and had fought to protect. That was the ultimate horror of the undead armies, it was from that aspect that they drew their strength, their power. That, and the very concept of the walking dead, which was so abhorrent to the men and women of Nehekhara.

He had been there, when cursed Lahmia had fallen. The Legion of Basth had strode the streets of the now ruined city alongside the priest king of Mahrak and his own bodyguard. The resolute warriors of that noble city had cut down the undead and their servants with golden scimitars, even as Istnofret and her acolytes - Nebankh included - invoked the blessings of Basth and shielded them from the corrosive magics that the fell monsters employed.

He could remember it all as clearly as if it was yesterday. The poisonous quality of the air, the bitter taste on his tongue, the clash as blade met blade and the wet smack of butchered flesh. He did not think that he would ever be able to forget it.

The priest shuddered.

They had swept through the city, entering in the second wave because of the resilient nature of their dual forces. There was little resistance. All those that they encountered died, or fled, victims to the cold weaponry of the king of Mahrak’s bodyguard. They had systematically burned the bodies of the dead as they advanced through the city, be they the crumbling corpses of the blood-drinkers, or the broken bodies of their own men. The fires cleansed their flesh and freed their souls, and ensured there was nothing left to respond to the devilish magic of their priests.

Some of the Lahmians had fought back. Every few streets they would encounter pockets of resistance, small bands of the blood-drinkers, their chins bloody with feasting, ensorcelled blades in their dead hands. There had been lots around the first two plazas, and a great retinue of the Nagash-worshippers had guarded the library. A smaller group had sought to defend the Lahmians’ centre of law, and nearly every shrine to their dark, treasonous god had also been protected.

None had withstood the combined might of Basth and Mahrak, their unclean bodies purged with fire and blade, and it had only been a matter of time before they had reached the vampires’ unholy temple.

It had burned, just like any other temple. Blasphemy, it seemed, was most flammable.

Something rubbed against his back, soft and warm and smooth, and Nebankh turned in time to see one of the cats slip through the gap by his elbow and onto his lap. It curled up there, depositing itself comfortably under his watchful gaze. In seconds the creature was asleep.

Istnofret had dispatched her fastest, most loyal priests to Khemri, bringing news of the terrible tidings that had filled her dreams. They had done what they could to spread word of the imminent threat. Basth did not lie, and her vision had been as clear as a Nehekharan day. The undead were coming. Maybe now, maybe in a year, maybe in ten. But they were coming, and by all the gods of Nehekhara, by blessed Basth herself, they will want their revenge.

The fortress loomed over Maatmeses, foreboding, its gates carved out of the very rock of the mountains themselves. Towers jutted claw-like from its rigid heights, their shadow reaching out as though to grasp the lands of men and crush them. The stench was repugnant, even to hers; a mixture of rotten flesh, riddled with plague, and the bitter tang of something acidic. She could feel it corroding her spirit, gnawing away at it bit by bit, a malevolent hunger about the very air itself. The erratic screams that stabbed the gloom outside did little to diminish the feeling.

Then she was flying, soaring over the landscape as though running a thousand times her fastest pace. Gargoyles reared up before her, giant monstrosities of bone, rock and metal that guarded the fortress gates. Their fanged jaws locked in eternal grimace, the stone daemons roared as she passed. The ferocious sound shook Maatmeses to her core. Never had she seen such terrible constructs before. They reminded her of the old temple Ushabti that used to guard the palace in Lahmia, but these gargantuan beasts made them look like fragile puppets in comparison. It was impossible to imagine the damage they could wreak were they brought to life, animated by the dark magics that gathered here. They were living stone vessels of destruction, and their eyes shone with malevolence, dormant - but only just.

Then she was passed them, gone, descended into a winding warren of horror and madness. Undead creatures loped through roughly-hewn corridors, blood fresh at their rubbery lips. Others shambled painstakingly in their wake, the dead flesh of their feet scuffing the ground, or stood propped up at doorways, their loose skin green with infection. Hollow eye sockets flared with witch-flame and grievous moans escaped their crumbling windpipes as she swept passed, faster and faster, the labyrinthine maze of tunnels and passages winding their way through her consciousness. The haunting nightmares of ghastly spirits sank their chill claws into her mind. These were the servants of the master of the fortress: the zombies and ghouls and spectres that served him, bound to his unimaginable will as hounds on a leash.

Suddenly she stopped. Nausea welled up inside of her, and the vampire felt the overwhelming urge to vomit her latest meal onto the cold hard of the ground. Her gorge rose dangerously and she gagged.

He sat atop his throne, ancient and calculating as only a god can be. Balefires flickered in his gaze, unblinking, unflinching, an omniscient grin spread over his withered face. She felt herself tremble in the Great Necromancer’s presence. Whether it was the wicked eyes of the monstrous god, or the crackling of the death blade by his side, she could not tell. She felt immobilised by the cloying aura of death that enveloped the dark lord. It was like standing in a pool of tar. This was what true terror felt like, she realised.

“Maatmeses…My Maatmeses. You have been my loyal servant for many, many decades.” She felt herself nod. She could not fight it, his voice was like velvet. Old, dusty velvet, cob-webbed with disuse, but smooth all the same. “Your beloved city has fallen, and you are a broken woman. I can feel it in your veins, in your mind, in your very essence. You are changed from the Maatmeses that I watched as she ruled the courts of Lahmia. But I can help you.” Here was one who could end her life at the slightest of whims. Maybe the only being in all Nehekhara with the strength to do so, so strong were she and her fellow master vampires. She struggled to concentrate, the Great Necromancer’s figure swaying in and out of focus.

“I know you lust for vengeance against the Nehekharans. They are pathetic. Ignorant, weak, mortal. Their ignorance bred fear, and that fear bred action, and now you are homeless and alone.” Her heart swelled painfully even as she felt herself falling. “But you are not so alone as you think, Maatmeses. You have me.”

Beams of sunlight blasted through Nagash, his throne, and the thick shadows that clung like bats to his overbearing form. The vampire’s jaw gaped with shock, her ivory fangs exposed. Other figures began to appear, hazy and insubstantial. One seemed to step through Nagash himself as it approached her. It reached out to touch her, even as her lord spoke again.

“Come, Maatmeses, my servant. I bid you come and as my servant, my lieutenant, you and your brethren can claim back ruined Lahmia, and the deserts will be thick with the corpses of the Nehekharans!”

“High Justice? Maatmeses, are you alright?” Issa stood in front of her, a hand on her shoulder. It was icy, his grip hard as stone, and he looked at her through eyes laced with concern. She shook her head, regaining her surroundings. Overhead the desert sun shone fiercely down.

“I am fine, Issa.” Then, with more certainty: “We will all be fine. I know now where we must go, and what we must do.” He gave her a puzzled look. The man must think she had gone insane.

“Our dark lord has not forgotten us. He is waiting, in the bowels of Nagashizzar, for our arrival. In his hands I place our lives, for the Great Necromancer knows all things. He will know what is best for us, and where our future lies.” At the mention of the cult’s undead god, Issa gasped, his eyes clouding with a mixture of fear and respect. Doubtless he could feel his touch too. They all could, although all but the wisest would not recognise it for what it was. Nagash was a part of each of them, guiding them, encouraging them, nurturing them. He was with them always, she realised that now. The revelation seemed so obvious to her, as though she had always known it.

Maatmeses did not know why she placed such trust in the Great Necromancer. Nagash had forsaken them when Lahmia fell. His most devoted servants, his priestly disciples and immortal cultists, had been cursed and burned and slain and still he had been nowhere to be found. She fought to understand the conflict of opinion that waged inside of her. Something quelled her bitterness, drowning it out under a wave of subservience. Perhaps it was fear, or awe, or the belief that with Nagash’s aid Lahmia could once more shine, restored, the gem of the desert. A sly grin split her features in two.

They were going home

The Pale Lady

Black Knight
Jul 6, 2008
Chapter 4: Bloodied Sands, Bloodied Hands
IC: -1200

The charioteers had tracked them to the ruins of an ancient temple. The vampires heard them long before they saw them, their shouts of triumph like death knells in their ears. Maatmeses sprang atop a collapsed ruin, her aged appearance belying the lithe grace that flooded her limbs. Gold glinted on the horizon as the rising sun winked treacherously at her from the adornments and framework of the approaching chariots. The High Justice wore an expression of solemnity, but inside her emotions raged. Here was her chance for justice. Here it began. She would wreak a terrible reckoning for the damages that were owed her and her children! Blood would stain the warming sands this morning, and it would not be hers.

The blood debt would be paid!

The old Maatmeses might have kept her dignity. Her discipline was enough that she might have kept her wits about her. She knew that vengeance was about to be waged, and that would have been enough to placate her tainted soul.

Instead, she raised her head, eyes glaring up at the sun, and screamed her fury at the clear blue sky. Her voice broke, the sound becoming as much a howl as it was a human shout. Something in Maatmeses had died with Lahmia. Some piece of her had fractured off, lost forever. She had been irrevocably damaged, her mind as ruined as the Temple of Blood, as unbroken as her laws that had been so carelessly flaunted.

Her face, whether from malnourishment, or something deeper and darker, had never looked more angular. Her brow, her cheekbones, her jaw, they were all slightly askew. Like some monstrous crocodile, she bared a grin and vented her undeniable anger at the encroaching enemy.

All she knew was vengeance.

Below her, dotted around the crumbling ruins of the nameless temple, her children mirrored their mother’s stance. It was as though her primal roar had unlocked something in each of them. They felt her pain. Their minds filled with images of injustice and wrongs, the wrongs that had befallen each of them. They saw their friends and family, lying murdered in the streets of Lahmia. The pain of wounds long healed resurfaced, flaring up inside their bones and stabbing at their organs. Their eyes radiated agony as they remembered crimes long since passed and drew on them, their sense of justice bringing out the furious fight in each.

The Maatmesin drew wickedly curved blades from their robes and took up positions, Odji scrabbling lizard-like atop a pillar in the manner of the High Justice herself, the other four fanning out into the ruins. The chariots could not reach them here. The uneven ruins would tear their frames to kindling if they dared to enter the rocky terrain, meaning the Nehekharans would have to dismount and bring the fight on foot. The vampires could not have hoped for better surroundings in which to defend themselves.

Maatmeses watched as the chariots raced nearer. She could make out individual figures now, noticing immediately the heraldry of Khemri. It fuelled the furnace of her hatred. Her hands clenched and unclenched as the beast within threatened to spill out in all its deadly glory. Overhead, grey wisps of cloud began to coagulate. They were nothing; a pale smear in a sea of blue, but they were there nonetheless.

“They destroyed our Lahmia!” she chanted, her children attentive. “They burned our homes, and trampled our scriptures! Our courtroom they ravaged with their war machines, its hollow, burned out remains all that is left of our centre of law!” The Maatmesin frowned, then snarled, hatred edging progressively over their expressions. The disciplined vampires were working themselves up, every wrong, every affront to their sense of justice inciting their anger, their bloodlust, their power.

“Yes, Maatmeses, yes…Remember.”

“They dismembered Eshe as she fought to guard our office. They torched our scrolls, flames licking at the papyrus commandments even as their blades removed her arms.” Her voice began to break again. “They made her watch - watch - as her life’s work went up in fire!” A calm had settled over the Maatmesin. The vampires seemed entranced, their eyes glazed, a cold hatred enveloping them as Maatmeses projected images of their sister’s torturous death into their minds.

“Gehb died protecting the Fountain of Basth. They came with spears and priests, cursing him, wracking his muscles with agonising pain and paralysing him so that he could not evade the spear points of the soldiers. His heart was spit like that of some wild beast, before they ransacked the ancient monument he had guarded.” She went on, listing the names of every one of her children lost in the fall of Lahmia and each of the fell circumstances surrounding their demises. She commemorated their deaths even as she drew strength from them.


“Hatred…” She could barely distinguish between his thoughts and her own anymore. He had become a part of her, she realised. She hated them. He hated them. Together, their hatred was doubled.

Dark grey smudges flourished in the dawn sky.

The chariots were within bowshot. There were nine of them, rolling three in a row over the last mighty dune before careering down toward the ruins. They were typical of Nehekharan design; the wood used for the yoke and chassis ensured the finished construct was as light as possible, and two slight desert steeds pulled each. The insignia of Khemri was stamped clearly on them, marking them out as property of the capital: golden strips adorned the sides, and their banners, bearing the heraldry of The Living City, fluttered and snapped in the wind.

The High Justice finished her rites and scooped a handful of rubble from the cracked pillar on which she crouched. Lifting her hand to her lips, she locked gazes with one of the charioteers and, eyes flashing lizard-like, breathed vampiric breath over the rocky dust.

“I have witnessed my own nightmares firsthand,” she said, her voice like stone. “I have seen them and I have felt their pain. I have watched my beloved homeland fall. Now feel your own nightmares, mortal, as they engulf you.”

Almost immediately the man at the reins screamed and clutched at his face. The soldier who rode with him shouted out and clutched frantically at the reins, desperate to keep control of the charging horses as they raced down the dune. His bewitched comrade saw nothing but the thousands of bloated plague flies as they swarmed around him, nipping, biting, stinging, infecting his flesh with sickness and malignant disease. He screamed again, his eyes rolling back into his head, and tore at his clothes and armour.

Maatmeses watched, her ancient eyes proud. Deserving.

His clothes removed, the man did not stop. Swatting desperately at the imaginary flies, he continued to pull and rip, fingers digging into his own flesh in an effort to tear off the infected skin. It came away in thick, fatty strips.

Bloodied and hysterical he toppled from the chariot, dragging his passenger with him.

The High Justice felt something welling up inside of her and before she could stop herself a course laugh burst from her throat. This was justice. This was vengeance! She felt the same kind of satisfaction that she had done in her court, when condemning those who had broken her laws. It was a strange feeling, but one she was long accustomed to. A pleasant sensation, of right being enforced, but mixed with a macabre glee, some part of her relishing the look of the condemned as they learned of their fate. It had been there ever since she could remember, lurking, a darkness to her soul that fed off the misery and despair of criminals, and her enemies.

She watched the mortal, not fifty feet from her, as he convulsed in the sand and ripped at handfuls of his skin, overwhelmed by visions of his darkest nightmares.

He had got what he deserved.

The remaining eight chariots turned and slowed, cutting a semi-circle around the deserted temple, before disgorging their Nehekharan drivers onto the gritty sand. The master vampire watched them as the sixteen Khemrian spearmen advanced on the ruins and their undead quarry. Their faces were grim. Hard. She knew what they were thinking, for she had heard it said a thousand times before. The vampires were unnatural. They should be long dead, buried beneath the sands, or better still burned to ashes and scattered to the capricious desert winds, bones and all. They would murder her children, if they could, and reduce them to dust. Their weapons glinted maliciously in the fading light, silently promising pain to her last few gets.

But they had underestimated their prey. That much was obvious from the meagre handful of soldiers sent to dispatch them. These were not the mindless beasts that had bloodied the streets of Lahmia, or hunted thoughtlessly in their cities. These were her strongest. Her first. Her fastest, most disciplined and deadly. Her own blood pumped thick and powerful in their veins.

The mortals had made a grave mistake in coming here.

The desert light seemed to waver as the soldiers entered the ruins. The stench of undeath hung about the air like a thick cloud, clinging to the broken pillars and cracked stone stairways. It was revolting, the soldiers’ faces twisting into grimaces. The vile taint was more than a smell. It was a sickness, that seemed to infiltrate their very bones, and unsettle their stomachs.

Calm descended over the ruins as the spearmen quietly advanced on the stationary vampires. In seconds they would be upon them, spears stabbing, blood spilling, screams sounding.

Then they sprang.

The five gets leapt into action. They span and ducked, dodging hasty spear thrusts and emerging easily within the spearmen’s reach. They had lost the advantage their long weapons had at distance. The spears were of little use in such close quarters.

The first vampire, Ptoleme, snarled and lashed out, his palms crashing on either side of a soldier’s head. The man tried to duck, to avoid the killing blow, but he was much too slow. His head burst like a ripe fruit under Ptoleme’s unholy strength, shards of bone piercing the vampire’s hands. He licked his lips, the rich aroma of blood threatening to drown him. It had been so long since had tasted the blood of men!

Maatmeses’ firstborn fed like a beast at a watering hole, drinking deep and fast, eyes locked warily on the other soldiers. Camels and desert rats were no comparison to the sweet, succulent blood that filled his mouth now. He shuddered bodily.

Beside him Issa swept forward , his mouth bristling with long, sharp fangs. Mortal in appearance, his vampiric essence betrayed itself through his gnashing teeth and snake-like eyes. He dodged a clumsy spear stab and leapt onto the culprit, knocking him tumbling to the sand. The man struggled, but it was futile. The vampire’s strength far outmatched his own. Ancient eyes bored deep into those of the mortal. They hinted at an anguish and suffering far beyond the man’s years.

“For Eshe,” he hissed vehemently, “for Lahmia!” Teeth flashed, flesh parted, and hot blood spurted violently out from where moments before the man’s jugular had been. His screams rose to a high crescendo then abruptly stopped.

Maatmeses watched as below her children exacted a vicious toll on the spearmen. They were taking what was theirs by right. The spearmen’s lives were forfeit, that was the way of the world. They belonged to her. They belonged to her children. They belong to the dead that filled the streets of once glorious Lahmia.

“Kill them!” she screamed, all decorum lost in the wild and the heat and the endless dunes of the desert. “Kill them all, it is no less than they deserve!” Her visage monstrous, Maatmeses herself descended into the bloody fray.

Cold fear settled over the mortals. She could smell it, rising like the heat. They knew they were dead. She felt no sympathy for them. They were men, there was no way they could hope to stand against the preternatural strength and speed of her children and she, especially roused and vengeful as they were. Justice glittered in each of the vampires’ eyes. They were fulfilling a duty, to Lahmia and to Maatmeses herself, as much as they were fighting for survival.

Shadows festered in the hidden corners of the ruins, lengthening and spreading a clammy chill about the air. It touched the hearts of the few surviving men, quelling any hope and feeding the dark terror that took root there. They knew their dooms were at most minutes away. In a matter of heartbeats, their souls would be in the shadowy realm of Usirian, his alone to judge. Maatmeses ensured they all knew this, focusing her will, impressing it on the weak minds of the mortals. She clouded them with images of their eternal souls trapped in a hellish underworld, Usirian’s monstrous servants forever devouring them, even as her golden khopesh slipped through the air. The sickles tore through skin, muscle and bone indiscriminately.

She was rewarded in her efforts by a chorus of despondent groans, rising ghost-like from the swirling melee.

Thunder rumbled angrily through the now thick storm clouds, the elements themselves demanding payment for the fall of Lahmia.

In minutes it was all over. The soldiers had been no match for the vampires, their brittle bones and soft flesh were no contest against the righteous strength of the undead monsters, with their steely grips and iron-hard claws.

Blood covered the ground in crimson puddles, staining the ancient temple stone, slick and shiny. Maatmeses marvelled at the ruined bodies left in their wake, as though seeing far more than the still warm corpses on the sand. She looked at the blood spilled, smelled the iron tang as it enveloped her, saw the broken necks, the dismembered limbs and headless corpses and one word sang in her head, drowned out her ears and sat, delicious, on her tongue, more nourishing than any blood.


“It embodies you.”

“Feed, my children, drain their corpses until there their veins run dry. Their blood is owed us!” Her ravenous gets needed little encouragement, collapsing on the ruined bodies of the Nehekharans, their claws busy as they plucked at hearts and sundered flesh.

The skirmish marked the start of her retribution, and the retribution of her children. The few slain here were a landmark, the very start of her feud. More wandered the desert sands, and cowered in their cities, deserving of justice. Their black hearts festered with guilt and responsibility.

She would make it her duty to exact their toll. In time, they would be hers.

The overcast weather followed the vampires as they headed north, although in truth it had more to do with the encroaching mountains than any supernatural influence. Days rolled into weeks, with nothing but night and day to separate them out. It was an inane journey. The monotony of the desert dunes threatened to drive the vampires insane, and they took to commemorating the dead, to renew their memories, and to pass the time. These elegies were not the fury-filled incantations that Maatmeses had used at the ruins to incite her brethren into bloodthirsty righteousness, but sorrowful accounts of their lost colleagues’ lives. They praised the dedication of the Maatmesin, who had all held positions within the Lahmian court of law, or captained over garrisons in the city guard. They had been loyal unto the end, fighting with their dying breath to defend that which they had fought to uphold in life, and they had been undeserving of the ravaging torches of the Nehekharans.

It was with heavy hearts that the Maatmesin made their way through the last stretch of desert and into the mountain passes that bordered the Straits of Stars.

The sun had seemed slow to rise this morning, although Maatmeses knew that it was no more than a trickery of the mountains. They stood imposingly off to the vampires’ west, and ensured the passes that wormed their way in their midst were trapped in a constant cool that, even long after night had passed, never quite faded. Maatmeses welcomed the colder air, relishing the change it made from the insufferable heat of the desert. Every day that they progressed into the mountains was a day’s escape from the damned place. She had seen enough hardships in that desert, both physical and mental, to last her a lifetime, and was glad to be free of its torment, at least until she could return under better circumstances.

A savage caw shattered the otherwise calm and the ancient vampire raised her eyes. She quickly spied the source of the sound: a lonely bird circled high overhead, tracing a large, slow circle above their heads. It was doubtless some raven, vulture or other carrion bird, that had decided they were not long for this world. She smirked at the thought. If it intended to wait until they dropped dead in this desolation, it was going to be most disappointed. The last place they were going was Usirian’s shadowy Underworld. She had been freed from that fate the instant she touched Neferata’s elixir to her lips, and the gift of immortality ran ripe in the blood of her offspring. Her blood. The blood of the Maatmesin.

It would take more than the desert to end her existence now. So much more.

Maatmeses grunted, a hand darting instinctively to her heart. She could feel the pull inside of her growing stronger with every passing day, luring her deeper and deeper into the mountains, away from the desolate deserts of the east. It could not be long before they arrived at Nagashizzar.

She did not think that she could resist the Great Necromancer’s call anymore, even if she tried. It was inconsequential, of course. She wanted to follow. She wanted to reach Nagashizzar and be welcomed by their dark lord into his fortress. There she and her children would be safe! They could rest, and regain their strength and stature.

From within the confines of those insurmountable walls, they could plot their vengeance on the pathetic Nehekharans.

And Nagash would help them.

With the Great Necromancer by their side, retribution was assured. The priest kings could barely rid themselves of him when he had been but a renegade priest. Now, within the sanctity of his fortress, he was untouchable. His deathly magics, the likes of which could strip flesh from bone at but a word, would slay all before him. None would be able to resist. He was as a god! With Nagash guiding them, helping them, aiding them in their vengeance, they could not fail! Hope flared like a dark star in her heart, filling her limbs with renewed vigour.

There would be others too, she realised, as she stared absent-mindedly along the gravely path they trod. Bits of stone and sand mingled together, proof if any that they were leaving the deserts and transgressing into the World’s Edge Mountains.

They could not have been the only vampires to escape the fall of Lahmia. Her curiosity piqued by the sudden realisation, Maatmeses scoured her memory for any indication of who else could have survived. It was not hard; the memories were still raw in her mind. She doubted she would ever forget the last fateful days of the siege.

Ahmose. Strong, mighty Ahmose. He had been slain, she was sure of it. The Dockmaster had been killed by a regiment from Zandri. She could remember the shout go up as clearly as if she heard it now. The master vampire had epitomised everything that it was to be a man; he had been muscular, and tireless, and his eyes had radiated courage the likes of which even the bravest mortal could not hope to match. The watery blood that filled their veins was dilute with generations of cowardice.

The Dockmaster had also been arrogant, brawly, crude and chauvinistic, resenting the queen for the grip she had over the city, and their cult. He had held no place in Maatmeses’ heart.

Then there was Abhorash. He had been there when the Temple of Blood itself had fallen. Maatmeses reached across and pulled at her once white robe, slipping it securely over her shoulder. The warrior had earned her respect; they had held similar values in life, values that had only been reinforced by their ascension into the ranks of the undead, and unlike brutish Ahmose, they had seen a lot of each other. He, supreme commander of the Lahmian armies, and she, High Justice and captain of the city guard, their business about the city had often intertwined. Together, they had shed crimson tears when the Temple of Blood had fallen.

Abhorash had defended it as best he could, the centre of their cult, just like he had sworn to do, but the Nehekharans were too many. His martial prowess had been drowned in a sea of mindless mortals. Demoralised and forlorn, he must have slipped away after its destruction. She hoped he had slipped away after its destruction. Maatmeses had been focused entirely on the ruins of the temple at the time, and while she was loathe to believe one of Abhorash’s nobility and strength might have been slain by the Nehekharans, she could not be sure.

Then there was cursed Neferata. Her handmaidens and she had fled long ago, before the armies of the Land of the Great River had even reached Lahmia’s gates. Maatmeses fought the urge to spit her contempt for the vile woman. This had been her fault, and yet she had washed her hands completely of the sacking of her city. It was pathetic, a disgrace worthy of the mortals. That fool W’soran had not stayed long either. Once his precious library had fallen, he had made his escape. She had seen him and a small retinue of priests as they fought their way clear, his magic slaying all who stood against them.

Of the others, she was not sure.

The bird cawed again, the harsh sound breaking the woman from her reverie. Her vampires had come to a stop up ahead. They looked like she felt, she thought with a stab of regret. These were her children. She had brought them into the world of undeath and now they were starving, homeless and stripped of their duties. It was no way to live. A few weeds and hardy scrubs clung to a measly existence in the gritty, rocky sand, but they looked much the worse for wear. Plants were supposed to be green, not grey. Even the desert rats seemed to avoid the place. Their musky smell had petered out as quickly as the gurgles of the Straits of Stars had come into earshot. The great river itself seemed polluted, and sick with poison.

They were truly in the land of the dead now.

An itch settled over her tongue, a slight burning sensation that made the ancient vampire frown. She scratched it against the roof of her mouth until the feeling subsided. The air here was polluted. She could smell the acrid tang of magic, feel it becoming stronger and more saturated the further north they went. It was a tickle against her flesh, an itch beneath her skin. This place was far flung from the opulent palaces of Lahmia, with its lush gardens and ancient houses of literature and law. It was fast becoming a barren wasteland, and it would only get worse the closer they came to Nagashizzar. It stood to reason.

This was the price to pay for the redemption offered by the Great Necromancer.

Stood apart from the other vampires was Issa. The Lahmian judge stared empty-eyed over the fast-flowing Straits of Stars, his mind off in some far-away place. It did not take a great deal of thought for Maatmeses to realise where it lay. Eshe, his Eshe, had not survived the sacking of Lahmia. The Nehekharans had murdered her as she fought to protect the courtrooms that had been at the centre of their existence. The High Justice saw the sorrow in his face as much as she felt it in his blood. The two had been devoted to each other, madly in love, from what she had been able to tell, and that was a rare thing, especially in such turbulent times.

A part of her rotted with guilt for her role in Eshe’s demise, the putrid emotion worming its way into her insides. The courts had needed defending. It went against everything she stood for to leave the ancient centre of law and justice unprotected against the ravages of the ignorant Nehekharans, and Eshe had been amongst those designated to guard them. Her vampire son must have known she would not be coming back, thought Maatmeses, as she watched Issa remove something small from the strap at his waist. He must have realised that she would fight to the death to uphold the sanctity of the courts. He must have known, when she turned from him for the last time and stalked off towards the courts, that he would never see her again.

Maatmeses admired such devotion, she realised with a twist in her gut. Envied it. Such immortal love was unheard of.

Dark memories swarmed up from the recesses of her mind, snatching at the opportunity to inflict more pain upon the ancient vampire. Men like Issa were all too few. She knew better than most the polygamous nature of man. They were fuelled by their insatiable lusts, easily the equal of even the most gluttonous vampire’s blood-thirst. Once sacred, treasured even, by the High Justice, circumstance had marred the concept of marriage, scarring it, transforming it into cold, hard law in the eyes of the woman, and like all laws, when its sanctity was broken, the only answer was punishment. Her lips curled with a mixture of satisfaction and revulsion.

Law had always been her friend and ally. It was irrefutable in its truth, holding everything together from justice, to criminals, to punishment and crime. It had been the skeleton of Lahmia, the bones that had held the city together, just as it held marriage, property, authority and military might in check. Law encompassed justice, and vengeance.

Nothing was so important. Nothing.

Issa turned, slipping whatever it was he had been toying with back into his belt and rejoining his fellow vampires. It was time to move on, realised Maatmeses, stepping level with her offspring. The sooner they reached Nagashizzar, the better.

Far, far overhead, the lonely raven fell. It plummeted from the heavens, a dead weight, the noxious air having filled its lungs and stopped its heart. Such was the fate of all who breathed too long the vapours from the Straits of Stars. It was a fell omen, should any have chanced to look up and see it. They did not.
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