The hall was full of courtiers, each one painfully beautiful, their alabaster skin glowing in the pale witch-lights which hung from the ceiling on four immense chandeliers. Some sat around Bretonnian tables and Cathayan rugs as they sipped from tall, fluted wineglasses and others stood arrayed around vast fireplaces which sputtered and sparked. They wore either courtly dress, ranging from deep crimson reds to celestial cobalt blues and verdant emerald greens, or polished armour.
It was into this surreal retreat from reality that Casimir stepped, inhaling deeply. The fragrant bouquet of blood was intoxicating in its rich depths, and from the smell alone he detected sources from across the Old World; Estalia, Tilea, Bretonnia and the Empire, each country was represented. A growl reverberated deep in his chest as his desire for blood rose in him, the Beast struggling at the adamant chains he had bound it in.
"Control yourself," came a familiar voice, cold and steely, from behind him, a vice-like grip settling upon his shoulder. Casimir shuddered and twisted his thin lips into a snarl before turning to the newcomer, a man as tall and sublime as any other in the room, clad in a gilt-edged suit of obsidian serrated plate mail with curves sharp enough to cut to the bone. "Behave with some comportment, Casimir!"
With an effort the younger of the two schooled his features into a more human façade, hiding his bestial nature behind a mask of civility, "Better, boy."
"Alaric," he spat, nodding his head in a facsimile of subservience whilst turning back to look at the gathering of the nights aristocracy in the opulently decorated hall; Alaric stepping next to him; both clasping their porcelain hands behind their waist in an unconscious mirror of the other.
"Welcome home, Casimir."
— — —
Casimir strode beneath the tall arch of the hall's doorway, his armoured boots resounding from grey stone flags and disturbing a decade's accumulation of dust, his movement creating a swirling vortex of granules which glimmered in the silver light of Mannslieb, filtering through the fallen roof and past sundered beams high above. Upon what remained sat a murder of crows, their malignant, obsidian eyes turned to him and glistening with cruel intelligence. So much had changed, he thought, as he cast his eyes around the ruin of what had once been a lavish grand hall. No one had so much as stepped foot in that cavernous space in a long time, he surmised, and narrowed his eyes.
The groan of rotting wood beneath his feet brought him back to himself, and he looked down at the shattered doors, the planks riddled with woodlice and other creatures which feasted upon it. With disdain he crunched a bug beneath his foot and strode further into the room, standing by the grime-covered mantle which looked like it had been subjected to immense heat, the marble seemingly have run and set like the wax of a candle.
“It was a terrible thing that happened here, Casimir,” came a silken voice from behind him, tinged with something he would have attributed to genuine sorrow had he not known better the person who spoke to him. Rising an eyebrow, he turned to her.
“You speak as if you were here when it happened, Penelope,” he replied, drawing a gauntleted finger across the filthy marble and drawing it away.
“And you act is if my mere presence here is an insult,” Penelope replied sharply, her voice cold as the ices Kislev, piercing eyes seeming to freeze his very heart, dead for over a century as it was. Returning her gaze with a flat look, Casimir raised an eyebrow.
“Well, was it not?” he returned, “Your mistress knows our history, and if this is not a ploy to throw me off balanace, then I am not a son of Abhorash.” Penelope gave him a scathing look, before tutting in admonition.
“Do not be so juvenile, Casimir,” she scolded as she swept towards him, seeming to glide across the deep layer of dust, leaving barely a footprint as she passed. The Blood Dragon stood statuesque as she approached and circled him, a porcelain hand trailing around his chest as she did so. It felt as if, even through the thick steel plate, her fingers were drifting across the flesh of his chest. He shuddered and then snarled, his pearlescent fangs sliding from gums. With a gauntleted palm he grabbed her wrist, pulling her close and leaning forward to speak in her ear.
“Keep your distance, quean,” he murmured, before spinning her away. With elegant grace, Penelope followed through, her carmine skirts billowing like the blooming petals of a flower. When she stopped, she held her skirts in a curtsy, a mocking smile upon her face, cut through by a strand of auburn hair which had escaped the Bretonnian braid which hung down between her shoulders and past her waist; to any human her unnaturally preserved beauty would be irresistable.
“You know you want me again, Casimir,” she smirked quietly, the voice carrying across the silent space between them like a silken promise.
“That is enough, Penelope,” came another voice from beneath the arch of the doorway, a voice which demanded respect and commanded obedience. With grace which even Penelope couldn't match, and a silhouette which cast a shadow even over that of her protégé, the scion of Lahmia ghosted forwards to reveal her as little more than a youthful girl, fresh in the blossom of her youthful womanhood. If Casimir had to guess her age by appearance alone, he would place her at sixteen at the most, “We are not here to indulge your foolish whims, child, and this is one you have already had your chance with. Restrain yourself!"
With a deferential bow, the younger Lahmian bowed her head, murmuring, "Of course, mistress, I am sorry," as she did so. Casimir smiled as she was reprimanded, and then turned back to the newcomer, frowning as quickly as he smirked as he considered her. The woman wore a cobalt dress which clung to her slender waist and lifted her modest bosom, covered modestly by the fall of velvety, straight wheat-gold hair. Approaching Penelope, the newcomer circled her as she had Casimir before gently placing a conciliatory hand on her cheek and smiling at her before sweeping the strand of hair behind her ear gently.
"Now, to business! I am the Lady Danièle, handmaiden to the Queen of Silver Pinnacle and her chief agent in Couronne. You are Casimir, son of Alaric, correct?” she asked, her eyes seeming to pierce his dead soul.
“You know very well that I am, Lady Danièle. Why is it you asked Penelope to arrange a meeting here? I have no desire to become embroiled in the affairs of the Lahmian Sisterhood once again.”
“You have become involved with us before,” Danièle replied, a perfectly sculpted eyebrow raised, “Why not use your skills to aid us once more? You would be … Richly rewarded.” Casimir’s bark of laughter was harsh, his eyes simmering with anger as he stood confidently before her, the spread palm of his armoured hand upon the ornate, golden pommel of the sword belted at his waist.
“Such was I promised before, when I worked with your putain, until she tried to kill me,” he snarled. “Never again will I work with your miserable kind!” Danièle regarded him cooly.
“Then why did you come, I wonder? Surely not to see she who so betrayed you? No, if you had no intention of working with us, you would not be here. What is it you want, Casimir? What is your price?”
With a smirk, the vampire looked from Danièle to Penelope and back. “I want Alaric.”
"An acceptable trade. Alaric is yours, when our business is complete," the youthful-looking Lahmian agreed, extending her hand. Taking it in a hand covered with cold armour, the Blood Dragon lifted it to his thin lips and kissed it.
"I look forward to it, my Lady!"