Blood War by Robert Weinberg

Bloodwar - U.S. Blood War


Robert Weinberg

A Word from the Author:

VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE OF THE RED DEATH was first published by White Wolf in 1995 and it remains my most popular work of fiction. The trilogy has been reprinted several times in the USA and has also been published in Spanish, French, German, and Hungarian.

Each book in the one trilogy is divided into three parts, and each of these three parts has thirteen chapters. The numbers are significant in the World of Darkness. White Wolf has graciously given permission to reprint the first part of BLOOD WAR, the first novel in the Red Death trilogy. These thirteen chapters and introduction comprise nearly 40,000 words of the 275,000 word trilogy. The chapters will be published over a period of three months to keep download time to a minimum. This month starts the story with the introduction and first three chapters of BLOOD WAR. Enjoy!!

Impatient readers can find all three novels in the trilogy, BLOOD WAR, UNHOLY ALLIES, and THE UNBEHOLDEN, at most major bookstores and gaming stores. They are also available from, and signed copies are available from The Vintage Library.

These chapters are copyright © 1995, 2001 by White Wolf Publications. Reprinted by permission of White Wolf.


Book One




Blood was its Avatar and its seal -
the redness and horror of blood.

From "The Masque of the Red Death"
Edgar Allan Poe



Rome - June 15, 1992

        They met at twelve noon, on a bright Sunday in June, in a small outdoor restaurant a few blocks from the Coliseum. The phone call the night before to an unlisted number in the heart of the Vatican had been sharp and to the point. The unknown speaker stated the place and the time, the person to attend, warned of "no tricks", and mentioned an incredible sum of money. But it had been the final sentence of the conversation that had assured the rendezvous would take place. "We will talk," declared the mysterious voice in somber, cold tones, "of The Kindred."

        Father Naples arrived first. He was always early for meetings. Especially ones of importance. A big powerfully built man in his late fifties, with thick curly gray hair, matching beard, and piercing dark eyes, even in street clothes he looked like a priest. He carried himself with the quiet air of authority of someone used to giving orders and having them obeyed instantly. A man of unshakable beliefs and determination, Father Naples walked with the absolute conviction of hundreds of years of Church history.

        As specified by the late night message, he came to the meeting unarmed. Not that he was worried. His faith served as his shield. Along with the five other agents of the Society of Leopold in the restaurant, including two women disguised as streetwalkers. Combined, they carried enough firepower on them to start a minor war. And, though he had retired years before as a field operative, Father Naples still maintained his training in the martial arts. An expert at both kendo and karate, he could kill an attacker a dozen different ways.

        Following the specified instructions, the priest requested an table for two at the rear of the patio, away from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. A hundred yards away, in a rented hotel room, a directional microphone was focused on this exact location. Every word spoken at this meeting would be picked up and recorded for playback and analysis later. The priest smiled faintly as he instructed the waiter to bring a bottle of the house red. God provided, but the miracles of modern science and technology helped.

        He was just finishing his first glass of wine when the other man arrived. The stranger, perhaps twenty-five, tall and slender, with wavy blond hair and bright blue eyes, wore a white suit with an open-necked white shirt. He moved so silently that Father Naples wasn't aware of his approach until his shadow fell across the table.

        "Father Naples, I believe?" said the stranger. His voice, low and vibrant, was definitely not the same as the speaker on the phone the night before. The priest nodded, as much to himself as the other. There were at least two involved in this mystery. He wondered, how many more? Hopefully, he would soon know the answer.

        "That is my name," he replied, rising to his feet. He offered his hand and the young man took it. His grip was surprisingly strong. Dark, harsh eyes meet and held with bright blue ones. Few men could endure Father Naples' unyielding glare for more than an instant. The stranger never blinked. He matched the priest stare for stare, with an inner serenity undaunted by the priest's fierce scowl. Grunting in annoyance and surprise, the older man finally broke the contact. A brief pain flared in the priest's chest but he ignored it. Another glass of wine would help him relax. He had a sudden feeling that he would need a great deal of vino before the afternoon was over.

        "You are...?" he asked, resuming his seat. The other sat down directly across from him. Carefully, the young man rested a shiny new black-leather attaché case against the base of the table.

        "Call me... Reuben," said the blonde stranger. He grinned. "Like the sandwich."

        "There was a Reuben in The Bible," said Father Naples. "It is a good name."

        "The first born of Jacob," replied the young man smoothly. "His father's strength. One of the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel."

        "You know The Old Testament," said Father Naples. "Not many young men do anymore."

        "I have an exceptional memory," replied Reuben, with a grin. "And I'm not as young as I look."

        "A glass of wine?" asked Father Naples, pouring himself a second helping.

        "No thank you," said Reuben. "I do not drink wine."

        He paused for an instant, almost as if awaiting a reply from the priest. When none came, he beckoned to the waiter. "A coca-cola, please. And a menu."

        "We did not come here to eat," protested Father Naples.

        "Agreed," said Reuben. "But conversation flows easiest over good food. Besides which, I'm hungry. I spent most of the night traveling. Airline food might satisfy some, but not me. I need substance." He chuckled. "After all, you'll be doing most of the talking."

        The priest nodded, his thoughts whirling. Things were progressing well. The Kindred neither ate nor drank. Nor could they tolerate exposure to bright sunshine. The stranger was definitely human. And not very clever.

        Reuben's chance remark about flying played right into the Church's hands. Father Naples felt confident that his crew manning the microphone were already on the phone with the airport. Checking the flights arriving last night would not take long, especially with the authority of the Vatican behind the request. Before this lunch concluded, the Society of Leopold would have Reuben's real name and point of origin. It was all quite simple if you had the right connections. And knew what strings to pull.

        "You have the money"

        "Right here in this attaché-case," replied Reuben. He reached down and hoisted the black leather bag onto the table. Inserting a thin key, he snapped open the lock. Carefully, he raised the lid of the case a few inches. Involuntarily, Father Naples gasped. The box was filled with neat stacks of $100 bills.

        "Twenty million dollars in U.S. funds," said Reuben softly. He closed and locked the case and returned it beneath the table. "With more, much more to come, if you answer a few questions to my satisfaction."

        "Your satisfaction," said Father Naples, hoping to learn yet more. "Or your employer?"

        Reuben merely smiled and said nothing. With a wave of a hand, the young summoned their waiter and ordered a plate of linguine with meat sauce. Father Naples politely declined. He rarely ate lunch. Afternoon meals made him feel sluggish. The red wine was all he needed. It helped with the nagging pain in his chest. He poured himself another drink.

        "What questions?" he asked, once the waiter had left the table. "Ask me what you will."

        "The Kindred," said Reuben, his bright blue eyes twinkling in the sunshine. "The children of Caine. Your Order has hunted them, since the Middle Ages. The Society of Leopold knows more about them than anyone else in the world. Tell me the history of the Kindred."

        The priest scowled. He had expected no less. But that didn't mean he liked it better. "There are some secrets that I cannot reveal. Not without permission from Monsignor Ameliano."

        "Understood," said Reuben. He nodded as the waiter deposited a salad in front of him and a coke then departed. "Speak. I will decide afterwards if I need to know more."

        "Exactly where do you want me to begin?" asked Father Naples. "The Kindred have existed since the creation of mankind. They are the spawn of Satan himself. Though they claim to be descended from Adam and Eve, we of the Society know different. They are tools of the devil. They are as old as humanity, and their history is as complex."

        Reuben chuckled. "Start at the very beginning. With Caine. But please feel free to summarize."

        "Summarize?" replied Father Naples, sarcastically. He poured himself another glass of wine, emptying the bottle. With a wave of a hand, he signaled their waiter for another. "How does one summarize ten thousand years of absolute evil? An impossible task, but let me try."

        The priest lowered his voice. Though it remained sunny and bright, the day no longer seemed so warm. Or pleasant.

        "Thirteen vampire clans secretly rule the world and have done so since before the beginning of recorded history. Few in number, immortal though not indestructible, they call themselves The Kindred. For, they all trace their origin back to a single common ancestor. You said his name. He is Caine, the Third Human. The first child of Adam and Eve, he was tempted by Lucifer, the Fallen One. In his weakness, he yielded to Satan's words and became the first killer - and the first vampire."

        Father Naples gathered in a deep breath. Reuben sat patiently, his bright blue eyes undisturbed by the revelations being stated. As if it was nothing new. For the thousandth time since last night, Father Naples wondered who Reuben was. Or, more importantly, who he represented.

        "For slaying his brother, Caine was cursed by God with the mark of the beast. It was not a physical sign but a mental one. Caine had brought murder into the world, and by murder, he was forced to survive. As long as Caine killed and drank the blood of his victims, he remained alive. Immortal, he became an undying symbol of the monster that lurks within every man. Satan was very pleased.

        "Moreover, the blood gave Caine powers unmatched by ordinary mortals. He needed these supernatural abilities to survive the hatred and loathing he encountered wherever he went. Lucifer taunted him, making Caine bitter against God. The Third Mortal suffered mightily under the weight of his curse. Alone, haunted by demons, he yearned for others to share in his grief."

        Father Naples paused dramatically and sipped his wine. The story, though he had told it a hundred times to new recruits of the Order, still fascinated him. It was a tale of evil personified. And it was all terribly true.

        "It was then, in his darkest despair, that Caine learned from Satan a monstrous secret. Not only was he damned, but he could pass along his suffering to others. The Embrace Lucifer called this unholy ritual, in mockery of human love. A drop of the Third Human's blood, given to one of his victims at the moment of their death, transformed that mortal into a undead, immortal vampire. These Childer, as these dread offspring became known, were not as powerful as their Sire, but commanded potent forces nonetheless.

        "Encouraged by Satan, Caine created three such monsters. Together, this trio of undead monsters lived with their creator in the first city, Enoch, where they were worshipped by the human inhabitants as Gods. Immortal vampires, Caine and his brood. And Satan laughed at his triumph."

        "The Second Generation," interrupted Reuben. "Caine was the first. The three that followed were the Second."

        "Exactly," said Father Naples. "And in time, urged by Lucifer, they, too, bestowed the gift of eternal life on a select group of their victims. For the Second Generation learned from the Evil One that any vampire could pass along the curse to one of their prey by the same method used as Caine. A drop of Kindred blood given to a dying victim resulted in a new Childe. Again, the vampire created had powers diminished from that of its Sire, for it was yet another generation removed from the very first."

        "In ten thousand years, there have been how many such generations?" asked Reuben. Then, smiled as their waiter delivered his plate of pasta.

        Father Naples waited until they were alone before answering. "Twelve, perhaps thirteen. Caine's curse has grown so weak that those of the later generations barely possess any supernatural powers. They are minor annoyances. Abominations in the eyes of God, they deserve to be destroyed. But the Order of Leopold rarely wastes time hunting them. We are concerned with those of the earliest generations. The Elders of the Kindred are our quarry. They are the spawn of the devil, and thus, the true enemies of the faithful."

        "Delicious," murmured Reuben as he sampled the linguine. He seemed as intent upon his food as Father Naples' lecture. "Please continue. You were telling me about the Third Generation."

        "They were thirteen in number," said the priest, scratching his thick hair in confusion. He prayed that his compatriots could make some sense out of this bizarre escapade. He definitely could not. "Childer of the Second Generation, they were the true founders of the Kindred race. For these thirteen Antediluvian vampires were ambitious. Caine's guilt meant nothing to them. They knew not the Lord God, only Lucifer, the Dark Angel. Thus, they felt no shame, no remorse for Caine's actions. So, prompted by Satan, they duplicated the Third Human's crime. They rose up against their Sires and destroyed them. In that great battle, Enoch was destroyed. Caine vanished, never to be seen again. And the Third Generation reigned supreme.

        "They built the Second City, populated with human slaves, and ruled it with the aid of their new progeny, vampires of the Fourth Generation. For two thousand years, the Antediluvians kept humanity in bondage. Until, one morning, mankind finally rose against them in revolt. For, the vampires were immortal but not indestructible. Bright sunlight or fire killed them." The priest chuckled, not a pleasant sound. "Or beheading. Like Enoch before it, the Second City was destroyed. And what remained of the Kindred were scattered throughout the world.

        "The Third Generation, incredibly ancient by this time, disappeared. Many of their own kind thought them destroyed. Other, wiser ones, suspected that the Antediluvian vampires had gone into hiding. After many thousands of years of existence, they needed rest.

        "Kindred legends say that the Third Generation lie in a death-like sleep known as torpor in hidden tombs throughout the world. Someday, these tales predict, they shall arise, and the world of the Undead shall tremble." The priest spat on the ground. "Spawn of the devil, their return has been foretold in The Revelations of St. John."

        "What happened to the Fourth Generation?" asked Reuben. He had finished his linguine and now sat patiently sipping his coke. "Did many of them survive the fall of the Second City?"

        "A small number," replied Father Naples. "No records say how many. These Methuselahs, for they too were thousands of years old, became secretive. They realized that their continued existence depended on mankind thinking the Kindred destroyed. Thus, they instituted what became known as The Masquerade. It demanded that all vampires keep their existence hidden from mankind. The penalty for violation of the Masquerade by a member of the Kindred was death. Centuries passed, and in time, humanity forgot that vampires ever actually lived. They became creatures of myth, of legend. Just as the Kindred Elders had planned.

        "Then, and only then, did the Fourth Generation create new progeny. After the fifth generation came the sixth, then a seventh, and so on through the ages. Thirteen clans arose, each possessing certain traits and characteristics of the Third Generation Antediluvian who was its original founder. Working in secret, guided by Lucifer and his minions, these vampire clans schemed, fought, bargained, and conspired for control of the Earth. Using their supernatural powers, they became the hidden masters of the world. They were the Kindred and mankind, their unsuspecting victims, the Kine."

        "But since each vampire can create innumerable others, the Earth should be overrun by monsters," declared Reuben, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "Doesn't that prove this entire history just myth?"

        Father Naples shook his head. He felt a little groggy. Too much sun and too much wine this early in the day. "The Kindred are not fools. The Masquerade is just one of their laws. They have six traditions, governing the major aspects of their lives. One of the most important edicts controls the creation of new vampires. The Elders of the thirteen clans have carefully kept the number of Kindred in existence small, so as not to exhaust the available blood supply. Always remember, my young friend, that we are their food. One of the undead for a hundred thousand humans is the rule. Which nonetheless means there are well over fifty thousand of the Kindred scattered throughout the world."

        "A sizeable but extremely influential minority," chuckled Reuben. "Yet, for all of their great powers, the Kindred cannot function during the daylight hours. Sunlight destroys them. I find it hard to understand how they maintain this strangle hold on mankind when they are so vulnerable. How do you explain that inconsistency?"

        "Traitors," spat out Father Naples. "Devil worshipers. Humans willing to betray their kind for eternal life. Damned like their unholy masters, they are known as Ghouls."

        The priest paused, trying to regain his composure. "A drop of a vampire's blood given to its dying victim transforms that person into a member of the Undead. Killer and prey become Sire and Childe. That same vitae, given at regular intervals to a ordinary human, halts the aging process. It also bestows on the drinker superhuman strength and minor supernatural powers. However, the price the Kindred demand for their blood is eternal service. Able to function normally in the daylight, these Ghouls perform those tasks impossible for their undead Masters. It is immortality in exchange for freedom."

        "A deal with the devil is hard to refuse," said Reuben somberly. He signaled the waiter for another Coke. "A few more questions and I think my curiosity will be satisfied. Tell me about the Camarilla. And the Sabbat?"

        The priest snorted in derision. There was a bare trace of wine left in the second bottle and he drank it thirstily. All of this talk made his throat dry.

        "They are the two major sects of the Kindred," he declared. "The Camarilla believe that the Antediluvians met the Final Death when the Second City was destroyed. They feel that the basic threat to the Kindred comes from the possibility that mankind someday might learn that vampires are real. The Masquerade governs their actions. They are the traditionalists among Caine's descendants.

        "Seven major clans make up the bulk of the cult. The Ventrue are power mongers, the unofficial leaders of the sect. The Toreador are involved in the arts. The Tremere are a line of vampire wizards who rose to prominence in the Middle Ages. The Nosferatu are monstrously ugly because their leader was cursed by Caine. A handful of their fourth generation ancestors are rumored to be grotesque monsters, known as the Nictuku. The Malkavians are tricksters, seemingly mad, but probably more cunning than most imagine. The Brujah are rebellious in nature, while the Gangrels, master shape-changers, maintain close ties with the gypsies and werewolves."

        Reuben sipped his coke and said nothing. He had come to listen, not to comment.

        "The Sabbat are the rebels of the Kindred. My Order considers them the more dangerous of the two sects. Two major clans, the Lasombra and the Tzimisces rule the order. Most other clans are represented by small groups of rebels known as Antitribu.

        "Leaders of the Sabbat firmly maintain that the Third Generation lives and that they are secretly manipulating their descendants for reasons of their own." The priest's voice sank very low. "They fear an approaching Armageddon that they call Gehenna. A time when the Antediluvians will rise to take control of the Kindred. The Sabbat suspect that the Third Generation plans to devour their descendants."

        "The longer a vampire survives," said Reuben, his expression never changing, "the more potent the blood it needs to exist. Thus, human vitae no longer satisfies Third or Fourth Generation Kindred. They need a more powerful stimulant. Only the blood of their descendants, of other vampires, slakes their unholy thirst. They have become cannibals."

        "Correct," said Father Naples, undaunted by this unexpected revelation from his companion. "No one knows for sure if the Antediluvians still exist or if they turned to dust millennia ago. But, if they are merely sleeping, as the Sabbat claims, when they awaken after ages without blood, their hunger will be all consuming."

        "You named only nine cults?" said Reuben, switching subjects. "What are the others?"

        "There are the Ravnos, a society of outcasts and drifters," intoned Father Naples, using his fingers to count the remaining few. "Then, the Assamites, an Order of Assassins, much feared even among their own kind, The Followers of Set worship a long dormant Third Generation Egyptian horror, the embodiment of that land's ancient evil. And last, we must not forget the Giovanni, another fairly new clan, who are preoccupied with two subjects - death and money."

        "Good," said Reuben, putting down his empty glass. "Now I know all the clans. But I am unsure about their interactions."

        The young man's bright blue eyes burned with an intense inner fire. "What is the Jyhad?" he asked.

        Father Naples was feeling very strange. Yet, he felt that he had to answer. It was extremely important to himself and the Society of Leopold that he answer Reuben's every question. Extremely important.

        "A myth among the vampires," said the priest. "It is the title given to a secret war that supposedly has been fought for millennia. Stories claim that it rages between the few remaining members of the Fourth Generation, the Methuselahs, using their unsuspecting descendants as pawns. Beings of incredible supernatural power, they each seek to gain absolute control of the Earth. Other scholars claim that the Jyhad is really a cruel game played by the Third Generation, expertly manipulating the Methuselahs from behind the scenes. The world of the Kindred is filled with treachery and deceit. Remember, Lucifer, their patron, is the Father of Lies. Wheels spin within wheels within wheels. None other than the fabled Antediluvians know the truth."

        "On that subject," said Reuben, "you might be mistaken."

        The young man gestured for the check. "Is there anything else, anything of importance about the Kindred, that you think I should know? Perhaps about the Inconnu? Or the recent disturbances in Russia and Peru?"

        Father Naples shook his head. "Inconnu? Russia? Peru. No, I don't think so. Why do you ask?"

        "Just confirming a few of my own suspicions," said Reuben. He pulled some cash from his wallet and paid the waiter. "It's time for me to leave. You've told me everything I wanted to know."

        The young man rose to his feet. "No need to get up. I can see myself to the door. Thank you for your time, Father Naples. I appreciate the information you've given me, though I think your views concerning the devil tint your narration slightly. That's always been a problem with the Inquisition. You worry too much about demons and too little about evil. I'm sorry, but I can't permit you to relate our conversation to anyone. Especially to your superiors in the Society of Leopold. May God grant you peace."

        None of the five Society of Leopold agents stationed in the restaurant noticed Reuben leave. Nor could they remember afterwards anything at all about his appearance. When rewound, the audio tape from the directional microphone was found to be completely blank. And none of the technicians working the post could recall a word of the conversation they had supposedly recorded.

        Father Naples remained unmoving at the table until fifteen minutes passed and a curious waiter came over to see if anything was wrong. To his horror, he discovered that the priest was dead.

        According to a secret report prepared by a team of investigators, Father Naples died from a massive heart attack. One suffered by the priest a few minutes after sitting down at noon. No one could explain, nor even attempt to answer, how a dead man managed to drink two bottles of wine.

        The black attaché case found beneath the table was empty.


Chapter 1

St. Louis - March 10, 1994

        Someone was following him. A sixth sense, the result of years of detective work, warned McCann that he was being watched. And tracked.

        Softly, the detective cursed. He leaned against a nearby building and casually scratched his right ankle. At the same time, McCann swept the street around and behind him with relaxed gaze. It was late, nearly midnight, but in St. Louis' "adult" entertainment strip, things were just starting to happen.

        Dozens of people crowded the sidewalk. Men and women, black and white, they were all part of the usual weeknight crowd. Cheap whores in black leather outfits that exhibited all of their charms mixed with high-class hookers dressed in silks. In a tough economy, both were anxious for business. Teenagers and college students hunted for drugs, bargaining with street dealers for the best price. Red faced drunks begged for quarters. Young kids, dressed in rags and violating the curfew, danced on street corners, looking to grow up fast.

        Young and old, they shared one trait in common. None of them expressed the least bit of interest in the motionless figure of Dire McCann.

        With a sigh of annoyance, the big detective shook his head. Friends didn't track you. Just enemies. Mentally, he reviewed anyone he might have insulted or annoyed lately. The list wasn't very long. He hadn't been actively involved with the St. Louis underworld recently. Instead, he had been traveling around the U.S.A. for much of the past six months tying up loose ends of his personal life. What little he had accomplished while in the city had been in employ of Alexander Vargoss, a rich and powerful industrialist. And those jobs hadn't crossed paths with any gang chieftains or Mafia Dons who directed the majority of St. Louis' thriving criminal community.

        McCann couldn't believe that his missions for Vargoss had anything to do with his tail tonight. Nobody with any intelligence, even major crooks, hassled the secretive industrialist or interfered with his plans. Besides being incredibly wealthy, with connections in both the police department and the mayor's office, Vargoss was the most powerful vampire in St. Louis. In the argot of the Kindred, he was the Prince of the city. And, like the medieval princes of old, from whom the term had been taken, Vargoss ruled with an iron hand. Any Kindred or Kine foolish enough to cross him ended up dead. The permanent end of the Final Death.

        Mysteries annoyed McCann. Especially when they revolved around him. Though he possessed extraordinary patience, the detective never delayed the inevitable. As he repeatedly told acquaintances, he liked to face the devil straight up. Oftentimes, that policy led to bloodshed. But McCann, though he deemed himself the quiet type, was no stranger to violence. When necessary, he was quite deadly.

        Straightening his jacket, McCann started walking again. Clutched tightly in one hand was a small box and a stack of letters he had just retrieved from the all-night delivery center where his mail was sent. Maintaining odd hours and being out the city for long stretches of time, McCann preferred not using a post office box. The clerks had a bad habit of stealing anything that looked the least bit valuable. The shipping depot charged more money for their services, but they guaranteed the safety of anything sent there.

        Back in the city tonight after weeks on the road, McCann checked in first at his office. There were only a few message on his answering machine, nothing of importance. With a warm breeze blowing off the river making the weather tolerable if not comfortable this March evening, the detective decided to walk the five blocks to the mail drop. He needed to work the soreness out of tired, old muscles. The certainty of being watched had not started until after he had retrieved his mail. That perplexed McCann. A stakeout meant a long term commitment of time and resources. He wondered who was after him? And why? The detective meant to find out.

        The black hole of an alleyway loomed up on his left. Smoothly, without breaking stride, McCann swiveled into the narrow corridor. An unbroken wall of brick twenty feet high lined both sides of the passage. Just as he had remembered. It was the perfect location for a trap.

        A big, broad shouldered man, standing four inches over six feet and weighing near two fifty, the investigator moved with astonishing swiftness. McCann raced along the walkway, eyes quickly adjusting to the gloom. Thirty feet from the street, the alley made a right turn into near absolute darkness. The only illumination came from a bare hint of moonlight peeking out from between the rooftops. Rats, burrowing in stacks of days-old garbage, scurried out of the detective's path.

        McCann stifled a snort of disgust. So much for keeping the neighborhoods clean. The main streets looked fine, but out of sight, just beyond the bend, urban decay ruled. Decades of graft and corruption had taken their toll on basic city services. St. Louis was no different than every big city. The rich and famous received all the benefits of modern life, while the poor and middle-class suffered with the crumbs. Things never really changed, McCann decided, his gaze searching the walls. At least not in his lifetime.

        Finally, the detective spotted the boarded-up doorway recessed behind a thigh-high pile of trash. He nodded in satisfaction and headed toward it. A dozen steps further, the alley ended in a twelve foot high steel privacy fence. Soundlessly, McCann slipped into the alcove. It effectively made him invisible from anyone trailing behind. Then, he waited.

        From underneath his topcoat, the detective pulled out his gun. Few humans knew of the Kindred. A mere handful of those, like McCann, dealt with the vampires on a regular basis. The big detective was quite aware of the unnatural strength possessed by his undead clients. Vampires were stronger and quicker than mortals. While not invulnerable, killing them by ordinary means was almost impossible. However, though they regenerated damaged or lost body parts, it took them time to heal. They could be rendered helpless by enough force.

        Thus, instead of a .45 automatic or a .375 Magnum, McCann carried a Ingram Mac-10 submachine gun pistol. Just eleven inches long, it held thirty .45 caliber rounds that could be fired in one continuous burst. The impact of those bullets could rip any normal man to shreds and smash a vampire flat. In the harsh nether-world of crime in which the detective operated, the gun had proven to be an extremely effective tool.

        Nearly a minute passed before McCann's shadow made the turn and came into sight. Hugging the shadows, the newcomer was a short, stocky man in his mid-thirties, with swarthy, cruel features. Dressed in a dark pullover and faded jeans, he appeared unarmed. Appearances, McCann knew full well, gripping his gun tighter, could be deceiving.

        Spotting the steel fence in the dim moonlight, the stranger muttered a curse. Angrily, he moved forward, head moving from side to side as he looked for a break in the barrier. Intent on the bars blocking his way, the man walked right past McCann.

        "Lose something, brother?" asked the detective, stepping out of the alcove. The stranger stopped moving, then slowly turned. Less than six feet separated the stalker from his quarry. The man's eyes widened in sudden shock as he spotted the submachine gun pistol in the investigator's left hand. Its muzzle, gaping wider than the entrance to hell, was pointed in a direct line with his stomach.

        "McCann, right?" the swarthy man asked, his voice low and guttural. Slowly, very slowly, he spread his hands apart, as if demonstrating he was unarmed.

        "That's me," admitted the detective. "Which hardly matters. What's more important, is who..."

        The detective never completed the sentence. The stranger's right hand twisted unexpectedly. As if by magic, a thin metallic cord flashed out from beneath the man's arm and wrapped whip-like around the Ingram. McCann was caught completely by surprise. Before he could squeeze down on the trigger, the gun went flying from the detective's hands. Pistol and strangler's rope disappeared into the trash, leaving the detective unarmed. And in a fight for his life.

        Free of the threat of the submachine gun, the swarthy man attacked with a ferocity that had McCann reeling. A series of savage karate kicks to his chest sent the detective stumbling backwards. Steel tipped boots felt like hammers striking McCann's body. Growling deep in his throat, the assassin leapt into the air, aiming a sideways thrust for the detective's head. Enough force propelled the blow to crush McCann's skull like an eggshell. But, it never connected.

        Moving with blinding speed, the detective dropped beneath the kick, thrusting both of his arms upward as he did so. Catching the outstretched assassin's leg between his hands, McCann twisted hard. The attacker screamed as cartilage and muscle in his knee exploded. Howling in pain, he collapsed to the pavement.

        Cautious of another surprise, McCann circled the injured man until he stood behind his head. A swift, brutal blow from a wood box knocked the assassin unconscious. Shaking off the pain of bruised ribs, the detective searched the alleyway for his pistol. In minutes, he had retrieved both his weapon and the strangler cord. A long thin strand of black fiberglass alloy, it was knotted in three places to crush a man's windpipe on impact. The weapon successful melded modern technology with ancient assassin's techniques.

        It also served as an effective rope to tie the assassin's hands tightly together behind his back. By the time the swarthy man regained his senses, brought back to reality by a series of sharp slaps, he was securely trussed up in a sitting position, his back resting against one wall of the alley. He whimpered in pain as McCann, squatting nearby, tapped his damaged kneecap with the barrel of the Ingram.

        "Time for us to have a little chat," said the detective, pleasantly. "I dislike being followed. More so, I really hate when somebody tries to murder me. I want to know why, and I want to know why... quick."

        "I won't talk," declared the swarthy man angrily. "I demand you turn me over to the police. I want a lawyer."

        McCann smiled. "Funny thing about this part of town. Cops don't come around here very often. They figure anyone crazy enough to wander about deserves what they get." McCann rapped the muzzle of the gun against his prisoner's undamaged knee. "You're on your own, my friend. Back here, we're isolated from view. Nobody can see or hear a thing. There's no cops, no lawyers. Just you and me. And my gun."

        Small beads of sweat dribbled down the assassin's face as his gaze flickered to McCann's eyes, then to the submachine gun, then back to McCann's eyes. Mentally, the detective shrugged in disgust. He was wasting his time threatening this clown. It took a lot more than a veiled threat to worry a true professional. The swarthy man was cheap talent, hired merely as a diversion.

        A decoy! The thought slammed through McCann, as the sensation of being observed suddenly flared. Instantly, the big detective flung himself flat to the ground in the darkness. Twenty feet distant, at the bend in the alley, a heavy caliber automatic bellowed. A dozen shells exploded in the swarthy man's chest, jerking his body about in a grisly dance of death. They were bullets meant for McCann, baited by the hapless assassin's life.

        Squeezing the trigger of the Ingram, McCann fired a useless burst in reply. He felt sure that his unseen opponent had already fled the scene. Strike quick then move. That was the operational procedure of a true professional. Never waste time on meaningless chatter or second tries. Mistakes like that were for amateurs like the dead man sprawled up against the wall. The real assassin was gone.

        A short, muffled gasp and a flash of white leather indicated that McCann had jumped to the wrong conclusion. The detective shook his head in disbelief. The night held more surprises than he liked.

        Three figures stepped into the moonlight. Their leader was a tall, aristocratic man, with a face that appeared to be carved from weathered stone. He wore a black tuxedo, with a ruffled white shirt, a red bow tie and a matching red cummerbund. To McCann, it was a costume right out of wedding. Or a funeral. The detective, though, knew better than to speak his thoughts. No one dared insult Alexander Vargoss, Ventrue clan elder. And the vampire Prince of St. Louis.

        A step behind him stood two nearly identical platinum blondes. White leather jumpsuits clung to their voluptuous figures like a second skin. High cheekbones, pitch-black eyes, and wide sensuous lips gave them a predatory look. McCann had encountered them before. They were Fawn and Flavia, Vargoss's twin bodyguards. Silent and deadly, they never spoke. Or acted without direct command of their Ventrue employer. Assamite assassins, the twins enjoyed their notorious nicknames as the Dark Angels of the Kindred.

        Held effortlessly in one Fawn's arms was the lifeless body of a man. The pale white light glistened off the horrified expression frozen on his face. A hint of blood coated the blonde's upper lip. With a flicker of her long tongue, she wiped it clean. Then mischievously, the vampire smiled seductively at McCann.

        The detective shuddered. Though she looked to be in her early twenties, McCann knew the girl and her twin were actually over a hundred years old. Oftentimes, the pair mocked him with suggestive gestures. They enjoyed pretending passion still stirred within their perfect forms. But McCann wasn't fooled.

        Along with food and drink, vampires no longer craved sex. For them, hot blood was the ultimate high. Carnal pleasures meant little to them. However, McCann had heard tales of Kindred who had taken human lovers in a desperate attempt to retain some of their lost humanity. The notion made his flesh crawl.

        "We were on our way to your office when we spotted you entering the alley," said Vargoss dryly. "Two lowlife scum followed. We stayed in the shadows, assuming that you preferred us not to interfere. However, when your adversary chose to flee instead of fight, I demanded he stop." Vargoss shook his head in mock despair. "The fool chose instead to point his weapon at me. Fawn, of course, reacted."

        "Of course," repeated McCann, bending over to search the first assassin's pockets. As expected, they contained nothing.

        After Fawn dumped the second man to the ground, McCann checked him out as well. The dead man yielded a wallet holding five hundred dollar bills and nothing else. McCann pocketed the money and slipped the billfold into his back pocket to examine later.

        "You could have warned me before he started shooting," said the detective as he gathered together his mail from the alcove. He pushed the corpses together against the wall. Sooner or later, the police would discover the pair of lifeless bodies. They would be listed as two more vagrants murdered for no reason in the wrong part of town. With fifty unexplained deaths or more in St. Louis every month, the death of a pair of bums wouldn't rate a line of newspaper space.

        "Nonsense," said the Prince, smiling. "I had absolute confidence in your ability to deal with the situation. Circumstances proved that my trust was not misplaced."

        "And if you were wrong?"

        "There are other humans, McCann," said the Prince. "Never forget that. I find you vastly entertaining. And quite useful despite your mortal limitations. I would mourn your passing. But, you are not indispensable. There will always be others to take your place. In five hundred years, you will no more than a pleasant memory. I will still remain."

        "What a cheerful sentiment," said the detective. He picked his words very carefully. Vargoss appreciated his honesty and his sarcasm - within limits. No vampire in St. Louis mocked the Prince of the city. Much less a human, no matter how entertaining. McCann tiptoed on a tightrope where undead horrors feared to tread.

        "I cannot afford the luxury of emotions," declared Vargoss, almost wistfully. "Nor friends. We Kindred are an ambitious race. It is part of our heritage. More than a few of my loyal subjects believe that they should rule this city, not I. Too many of my nights are spent squelching their ill conceived plots."

        "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown," said McCann.

        "Shakespeare understood the politics of power," said Vargoss, with a smile. "He should have been one of us."

        The vampire turned to leave. "Enough chit-chat. Come to the club tonight around midnight, McCann. I am entertaining a visitor from overseas. I want your opinion on what he has to report. Strange events are taking place in the former Soviet Union. Extremely disturbing events."

        "I'll be there," said the detective. "At midnight."

        Then Vargoss and his Dark Angels were gone. Leaving McCann standing alone in the alley with two lifeless bodies. Holding in his hands a small box and stack of letter, several with foreign postmarks. And an enigmatic smile on his face.


Chapter 2

St. Louis - March 10, 1994

        McCann's office was located on the third floor of the Dempster building in the heart of the tenderloin district. The small suite consisted of a tiny reception area and an inner office beyond. Big bold black letters on the glass doorway proclaimed, Dire McCann, Investigations. Beneath his name, in much smaller print, was the disclaimer, Consultation by Appointment Only.

        Twisting his key in the lock, the detective pushed open the door to the outer office and turned on the light. He was greeted by a low coffee table stacked with several old issues of Sports Illustrated, and three worn red leather chairs. McCann shrugged. It wasn't much, but he didn't require any better. Recently, his only clients had been the Kindred, and none of them worried about his taste in furniture. At least, he noted with a small measure of satisfaction, the cleaning woman had kept the place tidy during his long absence. She almost made the outrageous rent he paid worth the price.

        Walking through the reception area, McCann entered his inner sanctum. The office was dominated by a massive oak desk. On it sat an elaborate telephone answering machine. To one side was a low table with a dedicated fax machine, personal computer, and ink jet printer. Several metal cabinets hugged an inner wall, while behind McCann's armchair a row of windows looked out on the street. The glow of a nearby streetlight gave the room an eerie, ghost-like interior. Two more red leather chairs, matching those in the outer chamber, completed the furniture. No cheaply framed photos with hearty endorsements or tacky paint-by-the-numbers artwork hung on the walls. McCann believed in a strictly functional workplace. Besides which, it made a better impression on potential clients.

        Tossing his coat on one of the red chairs, he dropped into the seat behind his desk. Removing the submachine gun pistol from his shoulder holster, he reloaded it from a box of ammo stored in the desk. Considering what had happened already tonight, it seemed like good policy to stay ready for trouble.

        Once that task was finished, McCann checked his answering machine. There had been three calls since he had gone for his walk. He reviewed the messages quickly.

        Two came from people needing an investigator to handle divorce work. Pulling out a pad of paper and a pen, he jotted down names and phone numbers. Such work didn't interest him, but another detective in the building specialized in marital problems. The man appreciated the leads and paid McCann back in favors. It was an arrangement that benefited them both.

        The other message was from an insurance agent anxious to sell him a health care policy. McCann grinned. Considering his present circumstances, he wasn't sure he could afford the premiums.

        Answering machine reset, he opened his mail. The junk flyers he tossed into the garbage can; the bills he pushed to the side for later. That left him with five letters and the box. Three of the missives came from Italy, the fourth from Australia, and the fifth from Peru. The box was from Switzerland.

        McCann read the correspondence from Venice first. Dated approximately a week apart, the letters contained detailed records for financial deals made during the previous seven days. The facts and figures covered hundreds of major business transactions throughout Europe and the United States. The detective scanned the documents carefully. There were no unusual expenditures or unexplained expenses. Not that he expected to find any. The masterminds of the Giovanni Clan were the greatest financial wizards in the world. They kept a tight watch on their investments. McCann merely wanted to make sure no one other than him was skimming the profits. The longer he lived, the more cautious he became. And, though he appeared to be in his mid- thirties, Dire McCann had lived a very long time.

        He opened the envelope from Australia next. The only thing it held was a month-old newspaper clipping from Darwin, North Territories. The piece discussed how a recent influx of nomadic aborigines from the Tanami desert had created a shanty town at the edge of the city. Local officials were trying to get the troublemakers to return to their reservation but with no success.

        No one could offer an explanation for the natives' unexpected migration. Nor were the unwelcome aborigines willing to discuss why they had abandoned their primitive shelters and made the long trek to the coast. Their only reply was to point in the general direction of the MacDonnell Range of mountains and utter the word "Nuckalavee, Nuckalavee," over and over again. Unfortunately, no one other than the natives understood what the term meant. The story ended with the mayor promising city residents that the shanty town would be gone shortly.

        McCann grimaced. He understood why the aborigines had fled. But he doubted that the government officials in Darwin would believe his answer. Or care. Mentally, McCann noted that he should request that his clipping service search for any follow-up stories. Or reports of unusual disappearances in the North Territories.

        Shaking his head in frustration, the detective ripped open the letter from Peru. A color photograph and a short hand-written note tumbled onto his desk. McCann swallowed hard when he saw the picture. Tonight's mail was filled with bad news. In major doses.

        Scribbled in black ink around the margin of the photo were the words, "Found at entrance to huge cavern, Gran Vilaya ruins, Peru." The picture showed a massive stone statue of a crouching demonic figure, with a misshapen, bloated female body and the face of a snarling jaguar. Circling her feet in a ring were a dozen stone heads. Judging from the size of the skulls, the demon stood at least fifteen feet tall.

        The accompanying letter was short and to the point. It was written by a member of the Explorer's Club. He described uncovering the statue at Gran Vilaya, located in the fog shrouded region of Peru known as the "jungle's eyebrow." It fronted a huge network of previously unknown caves that honeycombed the Andes for miles. No one knew for certain the purpose of the underground warren. Several members of the expedition thought it might have served as a ritual burying ground for the mysterious Chachapoya civilization due to the numerous skeletons found scattered all through the tunnels. Which would therefore identify the demonic figure as the guardian of the dead. The writer ended his note with the hope that McCann felt his research money was being well spent.

        The detective had contributed nearly five hundred thousand dollars to help finance the Gran Vilaya expedition. The money had come from a secret Giovanni slush fund whose existence, if they ever discovered it, would surprise a number of clan elders. The results definitely justified the cost. Though McCann would have been happier if the archaeologists had not found a thing.

        The statue was not a representation of the spirit guardian of the dead Chachapoyas. It showed their murderer. A creature who abhorred all life, she was named Gorgo, the One Who Screams in Darkness. And the empty caverns in Gran Vilaya indicated that once more she walked the Earth.

        Sighing, McCann ripped open the small box from Switzerland. He recognized an old friend's handwriting. Inside were xerox copies of more than three hundred pages of hand-written memos and high level classified documents. They were a mixed selection from half-a-dozen different European security agencies. All were marked TOP SECRET. Rough arranged in chronological order, the earliest was dated approximately four years ago, while the most recent was less than a month old.

        Written on the first page of the stack was a short note. I thought you might find these reports interesting. There was no signature. None was needed.

        Glancing at his watch, McCann saw it was eleven thirty. Time for him to leave if he was going to be at the Club Diabolique by midnight. Alexander Vargoss did not like to be kept waiting.

        Gathering all of the letters and papers together, the detective shoved them into the second drawer of his desk. It didn't have a lock, but he wasn't worried. Nobody other than him would understand the meaning of the material.

        He was donning his overcoat when the telephone rang. McCann checked the caller ID feature on his phone system. He didn't recognize the number. Curious who could be calling this late, the detective picked up the receiver. "Dire McCann," he announced, as his tape recorder automatically started recording the conversation.

        A man whose voice McCann didn't recognize spoke in clear, crisp tones. "Lameth," said the stranger, "beware of the Red Death."

        Without another sound, the man hung up, leaving a stunned McCann holding the receiver. Lameth, the speaker had called him. It was a name from the dawn of history, one that McCann believed long forgotten. A master schemer, the detective did not like unexpected shocks. Especially ones of this magnitude.

        Anxiously, the detective rewound the audio tape. He wanted to hear that voice again. Pressing the play button, he waited for the speaker to begin talking. And waited.

        After a minute and several more tries, McCann was forced to accept the fact that his recorder had not picked up the conversation. Angrily, he checked the caller ID screen. It was blank. The digits displayed a few seconds earlier were gone. The detective rubbed his eyes in amazement. Some unknown power was working hard to make sure he didn't trace that call.

        Hurriedly, he jotted down the telephone number from memory. Machinery could be tampered with, but not his mind. A quick push of a button connected him with the local police station.

        "Harry? Dire McCann. Yeah, I'm back in town. You enjoy the whiskey I sent for your birthday? Good. How about returning the favor? Can you check a phone number in your reverse directory? I need to know the location of the caller. Fast." McCann rattled off the code. "I'll hold."

        It didn't take very long for Harry to reply. "The booth in the front lobby of my building," repeated McCann wearily. "I should have guessed. Thanks buddy. I owe you another bottle."

        Hanging up, McCann pulled his coat closed and walked to the door of his office. The phone booth on the first floor had been out of service for months. Frowning with concentration, he shut off the light then locked the door.

        First there had been the assassination attempt in the alley. Next came the ominous reports from across the globe. Monstrous beings were stirring. Finally, a mysterious caller used a name out of the distant past. A name McCann preferred forgotten. Not a believer in coincidence, the detective knew the three events had to be linked together. But how?

        The voice on the phone had warned him to "Beware of the Red Death." McCann had absolutely no idea who or what the Red Death might be. He had a terrible suspicion that he would soon find out.


Chapter 3

St. Louis - March 10, 1994

        The Club Diabolique was located a few miles from McCann's office, in the middle of one of St. Louis' older industrial parks. Driving there in his late model Chrysler, the detective went through three red lights and violated a half-dozen rules of the road. However, he reached his destination with five minutes to spare.

        Leaving the car parked on a back street several blocks away, McCann walked to the nightspot. Originally an abandoned warehouse, the building had been converted into a disco by several ambitious young capitalists ten years earlier. When that craze had died, so had the club. It passed through several hands and incarnations before being bought by the present owner, Oliver Pearson. After several months of extensive interior redesigning, the nightspot had reopened with a new name, The Club Diabolique, and a new attitude. Converted into a Gothic-punk haven, with live music, a huge dance floor, and an exclusive "Members Only" upper level, the bar had quickly developed into the hottest place to be seen in town.

        Virtually none of the mortal patrons realized that the club served as a gathering place for St. Louis' small community of Kindred. Even the undead needed a place to socialize and relax among their own kind. They found it at The Club Diabolique. It was here, too, behind locked doors, that the Prince of the city, Alexander Vargoss, held court, dispensed justice when necessary, and greeted vampires new to his territory. Which was the situation tonight.

        McCann arrived at the front door exactly as the hands of the big clock over the entrance pointed to twelve. As usual, a crowd of anxious patrons waited impatiently on the sidewalk outside.

        There were rich middle-aged businessmen wearing expensive suits, accompanied by much younger women dressed to kill in skin-tight designer dresses and five inch spiked heels. Club Diabolique catered to mistresses and expensive ladies of the evening, not wives. Morals and inhibitions were checked at the door.

        Crowding them for space were the Goths. They were Punks with an attitude. Generation X-ers without much money and without much hope, they felt cheated by a world spoiled by their elders. Their quest for identity had led them down strange paths. Searching for meaning in a meaningless world, they turned to the 19th century Gothic traditions for inspiration. Their look was a mix of black leather and Victorian finery. Many of them, not realizing the bitter truth behind the legends, fantasized about becoming vampires. Sometimes, it happened, turning their dreams into nightmares.

        Goths dressed the part. Their hair was black - short and spiky, long and flowing - or white, bleached colorless and cut close. They wore chalky white facial makeup and heavy dark eyeliner, giving their faces a hollow, unearthly look. Clothes were usually loose fitting and black, though white lace was also popular. Skirts and dresses tended to be mid-thigh and velvet, worn with net stockings. Ruffled jackets, with vivid purple linings, were the latest rage. What little jewelry they wore, ankhs and earrings, was invariably silver.

        McCann sympathized with the Goths. Most of them were bright, sensitive young men and women trying desperately to cope with a world of diminishing returns. Lonely and bored, they had created a whole new subculture based on a romanticized view of decadence and death. Their view of the undead came from erotic novels and movies, not the Kindred. As he strolled past them, he uttered a silent prayer that they remain forever ignorant of the truth.

        A giant of a man, seven feet tall and weighing close to four hundred pounds, guarded the entrance to The Club Diabolique. Dressed in undertaker's garb, he exude an air of restrained menace. This was Brutus, nicknamed the Arbitrator of Souls. In more mundane terms, the ex-wrestler worked as the doorman.

        Brutus controlled admission to the club. His word was law. Bribes meant nothing to him. Nor did social status, or lack of it. No one was sure how he selected who was granted access to the nightspot and who was not. Brutus never explained his choices, and no one dared ask.

        McCann nodded to the doorman. Brutus nodded back. "He's been expecting you," said the giant, his voice rumbling like distant thunder. There was no need to identify whom the doorman referred. Along with being the gatekeeper and occasional bouncer, Brutus was also one of Vargoss's Ghouls.

        McCann stepped through the door into the club then paused, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom. The dim lighting and a thick cloud of tobacco smoke made it difficult to see. The ever-present pounding of rock music played at pain-threshold levels made conversation impossible. Nobody cared. The Goths, the straights, and those in-between came to The Club Diabolique to be seen. To dance. To drink. And to forget their ordinary identities in a night of sin and debauchery.

        The huge promenade was crowded with hundreds of patrons moving frantically in time to the eardrum-shattering sound of tonight's band. With a wry smile, McCann noted that the four entertainers called themselves Children of the Apocalypse. After the news from Peru and Australia, the name seemed quite appropriate.

        Accompanied by a back-beat that refused to quit, McCann climbed the narrow stairway leading to the second floor. Another figure stood guard outside the ornately carved door marked "Members Only" at the top of the landing. Tall and slender, with greased-down black hair and skin so white to be almost translucent, he was "Fast Eddie" Sanchez. Though Eddie looked to be no older than eighteen, he was closer to a hundred. Eddie was one of the Kindred, Embraced as a young man on the frontier at the turn of the century. He was gifted with extraordinary reflexes, amplified by his vampiric powers. Sanchez was the fastest person with a knife McCann had ever seen - living or dead.

        "Evening, Eddie," said McCann. "What's the good word?"

        "Nothing good tonight, McCann," said Eddie. "The boss is waiting inside for you. Got some big shot Tremere sorcerer with him. Word out on the street is that bad time's are coming."

        "Sounds like a good reason to keep your blades sharpened," said McCann, as Eddie opened the door.

        "I always keep my knives ready, McCann," said Eddie, seriously, as the detective walked past him into the next room.

        There were a dozen round cocktail tables scattered about the private chamber, with perhaps fifteen Kindred and twice that number of ghouls present. A small bar served whiskey for the ghouls and blood, both human and animal, for the Undead. Neonates, recently Embraced vampires, worked as the waiters.

        To the rear of the room, on a small raised stage, a undead trio of jazz legends were playing some of their greatest hits for a small but appreciate crowd gathered nearby. Alexander Vargoss hated rock music and refused to allow it in his domain. The walls and floor of the private club were soundproof. They kept the noise outside, and sometimes, held the screams inside. Humans other than McCann had entered the private chamber. But he was the only one who had ever left alive.

        A stunning redhead was singing with the band tonight. Wearing a green sequined dress that sharply delineated a near perfect figure, she possessed a deep, syrupy voice that blended in perfect harmony with the three musicians. Though detective was positive he had never seen the woman before, her face looked vaguely familiar. Snagging a passing waiter, McCann asked, "Who is she?"

        "One of Ivers' ghouls," replied the fledgling, recognizing McCann immediately. All of the Kindred in Vargoss's domain knew the rogue human who served as their Prince's advisor. The waiter gestured at a flashy outfitted Kindred male sitting alone at a corner, eyes fixed on intently on the singer. Iverson belonged to the Toreador clan, known among the Kindred for their obsession with the arts. He had been visiting St. Louis for the past month on business. "He watches her real, real careful. Doesn't like anyone else taking an interest in the lady. Can't say I blame him. She's good."

        "She's terrific," said McCann. "I'm surprised he's left her mortal. Having her as his Childe would really boost his prestige in the clan."

        "I think he's worried she might loose her sultriness if Embraced," replied the waiter. "Makes sense to me."

        The neonate pulled free of the detective's grip. "I wouldn't gawk too long, McCann. The Prince looks like he's getting impatient. Plus, that Tremere he's with is a real obnoxious bastard."

        "Yeah," said McCann, giving the singer a long last stare, unsuccessfully trying to place her features. Shrugging his shoulders in defeat, the detective strolled over to Vargoss's usual table at the far wall.

        "Sorry I'm late," said McCann, nodding to the Prince. As usual, Vargoss sat with his back to the bricks. Like Wild Bill Hickok, he was obsessed with the thought of being attacked from behind. Considering the ambitions of his subjects, McCann didn't blame him a bit. Flanking the Prince on either side were Fawn and Flavia, clad as always, in white leather. The fourth Kindred at the table, dressed entirely in black, was a short, rat-faced man with wispy gray beard and beady little eyes. A Tremere magician, according to Fast Eddie. He stared at McCann contemptuously.

        "You delayed our conversation until this kine arrived?" the wizard snarled at Vargoss, making it quite clear he considered McCann one step below a monkey. The Tremere clan were not noted for their social graces.

        "Good evening, McCann. You find our new singer interesting?" the Prince asked the detective politely, his voice icy cold.

        Like most Ventrue elders, Vargoss considered bad manners a deadly insult. That a closely trusted Tremere councilor had sought to betray him a few months earlier in a plot uncovered by McCann further aggravated the situation. Suddenly aware that he had offended his host, the rat-faced Tremere magician nervously folded his hands together on the table and said nothing more.

        "She's quite talented," answered McCann blandly, as the woman finished her song. He was anxious to learn what brought the sorcerer to St. Louis. But he knew better than try to play peacemaker between two Kindred of rival clans. "I've heard few better."

        "An exceptional performer," said the Prince. He gestured to one of the Kindred at a nearby table. "She is Melville's ghoul. Her name is Rachel Young."

        As if hearing her name, the redheaded singer raised her eyes and looked across the room. For an instant, her gaze met McCann's. Rachel had the bluest eyes the detective had ever seen. The briefest hint of a smile flickered across her lips. McCann smiled back.

        Vargoss turned and focused his gaze on the Tremere. The Prince's eyes blazed and his voice had the bite of a knife. "I refuse to tolerate rude behavior in my domain, Mr. Benedict. Especially to one of my guests, kine or Kindred. You have been warned. I do not believe in second chances."

        Vargoss gestured for the detective to sit. "Not that McCann needs me to defend his honor. He is no ordinary mortal."

        The Prince showing off his pet human, thought McCann sarcastically. But he knew better than to disappoint his mentor. Leaning forward, he traced a certain proscribed Cabalistic phrase on the table. For an instant, the letters glowed red fire before disappearing. Benedict's eyes widened in shock.

        "You are a mage?" he whispered. "Of what tradition?"

        "Euthanatos," replied McCann, naming the infamous Death cult. Several of their number cooperated with the Kindred, lending credence to the detective's lie.

        "My apologies," said the rat-faced vampire. Like most Kindred, he was extremely wary of mages. Those beings foolish enough to cross magicians usually ended up perishing in peculiar fashion. Including the Undead. "I am Tyrus Benedict. I meant no disrespect. To you or your order."

        McCann nodded, struggling not to break out laughing. Deceiving Vargoss with a few parlor tricks had been extraordinarily simple. As was the case now with Benedict. The Kindred were masters of deceit and deception. Yet, they much too easily accepted the unbelievable when confronted by the obvious. They saw complications where none existed. It was a basic character flaw that Dire McCann understood and exploited quite effectively. And had done so, in various guises, for a very long time.

        Vargoss raised a hand and immediately a waiter appeared. "A drink, and then we shall talk," he declared. "The best blood we have for myself and my guest. McCann, would you care for something?"

        "I'll pass," said the detective. "Your whiskey is too smooth for the likes of me, Prince. I prefer my rotgut cheap and with a punch."

        "As you will." Vargoss snapped his fingers. "Serve us."

        McCann watched in silence as the two Kindred drained their blood cocktails. As usual, Fawn and Flavia abstained. They preferred their vitae straight from the vein.

        Vargoss, his cheeks flushed crimson, placed his glass on the table. "All right, Benedict. I understand the Camarilla elders sent you here to bring me up to date on the recent troubles in Russia. Speak. I am listening."

        "A little over three years ago," began the vampire wizard, "at the height of Boris Yeltsin's unexpected rise to supreme authority in Moscow, all communication with the Kindred inside the former Soviet Union abruptly ceased. In the period of a few days, an Iron Curtain of silence descended across Russia. It was as if the earth itself swallowed up our brethren. No one was sure what had taken place but all agreed it warranted serious action. Several fact-finding missions, made up of powerful members of the European Ventrue and Toreador clans entered the country searching for answers. None of them returned."

        Vargoss shrugged. "Obviously, it was a Sabbat takeover. The Brujah Elders in Moscow underestimated the discontent among their kine. Their puppet rulers spent too much money on weapons and not enough on food. Without a strong leader like Stalin to keep the commoners in line, discontent and anarchy flourished. The fall of the government, and the Brujah with it, was inevitable. No mystery there. We saw it take place on television."

        The Prince paused. "The Sabbat are demon-worshipping lunatics. But, they are also experts at staging revolutions. They caught the Brujahs unaware and slaughtered them before a counter-attack could be organized. "

        "So we thought as well," said Benedict, his gaze darting to the Prince then to McCann then to the Prince again. "Until our spies high in the ranks of the Sabbat learned that they too were unable to contact their agents within the country. A half-dozen Paladins and Bishops vanished in the purge."

        "Liars," said Vargoss. "The Sabbat thrives on deception. Even among themselves."

        "Not so," said Benedict. "The Lasombra Elders desperately wanted to know what had happened. They sacrificed dozens of packs in suicide missions to break the barrier of silence."

        "Did they?" asked McCann.

        "No," said Benedict. "They failed. Something stronger than both the Camarilla and the Sabbat ruled Russia. And it wanted no interference from the outside world."

        "Something stronger?" repeated Vargoss, turning the statement into a question. "What organization exists that is mightier than the Camarilla?"

        "The Army of Night," said Tyrus Benedict, his voice rising in intensity. "An unholy band of demonic Kindred belonging to no clan, they are allied with the forces of hell. The fiends belong to the brood the most feared sorceress of all time - the Hag, Baba Yaga. She awoke from torpor several years ago and has now reclaimed Russia as her own. Armageddon approaches. The Nictuku are rising!"

        "Nonsense," said the Prince angrily. "The Nictuku do not exist. They are myths, invented by the Nosferatu Elders to frighten their rebellious Childer."

        "Baba Yaga is no fable," said Benedict. He reached into an inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out a handful of photographs. "A dozen Tremere wizards met the Final Death obtaining these pictures. Look at them and then tell me if I am lying."

        Vargoss's eyes narrowed as he stared at the photos. Raising up one particular picture, he showed it to Fawn and Flavia. "She has teeth of iron, and six inch claws," he stated in hushed tones. "Just like the legends claim."

        McCann, anxious to see the evidence but knowing his place, waited patiently as Vargoss closely examined each photos. In the meantime, he glanced over at the Tremere wizard. Benedict had not said a word since revealing the pictures. That seemed odd.

        The rat-faced vampire sat perfectly still, as if frozen in place. There was an odd look in his face. His eyes were focused on the jazz trio across the room. The musicians had suddenly gone silent. McCann wondered why.

        "Benedict?" said McCann, mystified. "What's wrong?"

        The detective never received an answer. Instead a scream of absolute, utter terror rocketed him to his feet. He turned as he rose, so that he faced the rear of the chamber where the noise had originated. In one hand, he gripped his machine gun pistol, ready for action. At his side were the Dark Angels. Each of them held a pair of short swords they were capable of wielding with deadly efficiency. Right behind them stood Alexander Vargoss. The Prince of St. Louis was no coward.

        "Who in hell's name is that?" whispered McCann. Now he understood the shocked expression on Benedict's face. The surprises were coming fast and furious tonight. He felt sure they were all linked together. The trick was discovering the common thread. "What in hell's name is that?"

        Tall and gaunt, a lone figure dominated the center of the chamber, a few feet in front of the stage. It had not been there a minute ago. Somehow, it had materialized out of thin air. That was what the Tremere wizard had seen. It was a magical feat that challenged even the most powerful of the Kindred.

        The newcomer wore a single garment, consisting of a ripped and tattered shroud, held tightly in place about his body with moldering white bandages. His chalk white face was that of a long dead corpse. Ancient, decaying skin stretched tightly across a hairless skull. Paper thin lips, a beak-like nose, and hollow, gaunt cheeks combined in a look of utter malevolence. Huge unblinking eyes, like the black pits of hell, took in all those in the chamber.

        A creature of blacks and whites, streaks of brilliant crimson marked his face, his chest and his arms. Hands and fingers glowed ghastly red. The bright scarlet of fresh blood. There was no question in McCann's mind that here stood the Red Death.

        Behind the spectral creature, at the rear of the stage, crouched Rachel Young. She had been the one whose screams had first alerted the crowd. Now, though, her lips were pressed together in an expression of helpless despair. She was terrified of the Red Death. Yet, she made no move to flee the horror. Looking down, McCann understood why.

        The floor surrounding the walking corpse sizzled. The vinyl bubbled like lava beneath the creature's feet. Waves of super heated air rose around the figure, giving it an eerie, unearthly vagueness. The Red Death blazed, but did not burn.

        "In three hundred years, I have never seen its like," muttered Benedict, still seated. "How can such a monster exist?"

        McCann wondered the same thing. And he based his observation on a much greater span of time.

        "Who are you?" The Prince's voice rang like a bell through the silent chamber. "And how dare you violate the traditions and enter my domain without permission?"

        The figure raised its head until its eyes glared directly at Vargoss. "I am the Red Death," the monster declared in slow, deliberate tones. "I go where I want. Your petty territorial claims mean nothing to me. My will is the only law."

        "That ain't the way I sees it," said Fast Eddie Sanchez, emerging from the crowd of Kindred closest to the Red Death. Squinting from the heat, he took a step closer to the monster. Then another. In one hand, he clutched a needle thin stiletto. "Entry to this club is by invitation only. And it don't sound like you got one."

        Fast Eddie wasn't terribly smart, but he was extremely loyal to his Prince. Before anyone realized what he planned, the guard lunged forward and buried his knife up to the hilt in the Red Death's chest. Or at least, he attempted to do so.

        The metal blade flared incandescent. It vanished in a flurry of steel tears. Leaving Eddie unarmed and very near the Red Death. Reaching out with its claw-like fingers, the spectral figure snared the guard by the throat. Effortlessly, it raised him into the air. Eddie shrieked in sudden, overwhelming pain. Then, arms and legs flailing about wildly, he ignited.

        Gouts of blue flame burst from Eddie's nose, eyes, ears, and mouth. Tongues of fire erupted from his chest. His fingers blasted into bits like firecrackers. Legs and arms exploded like dry wood thrown into a blazing fireplace. His skin blackened and crinkled like burning paper. A blast of incredible heat roared through the chamber. And Fast Eddie Sanchez was gone.

        Laughing insanely, the Red Death opened his hand and let a trickle of ashes fall to the floor. "He was the first. But not the last. A fitting end to all those who defy the Sabbat. Or challenge the might of the Red Death!"

        The crowd went berserk. Screeching like wild animals, Kindred and ghouls bolted for the exit. Fire destroyed vampires, and though most had existed for hundreds of years, they clung to their unnatural existence with all of the hunger of their mortal counterparts. More, for they knew beyond any doubt that they were the damned.

        Panic-stricken, they fought and clawed for the door. Only to discover that it refused to open!

        Kindred who had been sharing a table minutes before ripped and tore at each other in a blind fury to escape the monster in their midst. They bolted from place to place, pushing chairs out of their path. For, walking slowly and deliberately through the chamber, burning a ghastly trail of blackened footprints in the floor, stalked the Red Death. Methodically, it grabbed hold of any Kindred foolish enough to venture close. Clasped the vampire to its chest and turned it to ashes.

        "It's searching for me," whispered Tyrus Benedict, huddled fearfully in his chair. "It wants the pictures from Russia. They are what drew it to this place. We are doomed!"

        McCann shook his head. "Nonsense," he snapped at the wizard. But wondered if perhaps the Tremere sorcerer wasn't correct.

        "Attend me," snapped Alexander Vargoss to his Dark Angels. "He must be stopped."

        Features grim but determined, the Prince stepped forward directly into the path of the Red Death. Vargoss' body pulsated with raw energy. A fifth generation vampire, he was over 2,000 years old and controlled incredible powers. Raising his hands high over his head, clenching his fingers into fists, Vargoss extended his mighty will. "Halt," he commanded in a voice that never before had been denied. "HALT!"

        The Red Death laughed in defiance. It continued to advance.

        "Halt," repeated Vargoss, his voice uncertain. The first traces of doubt showed on his face. The Red Death was very close. It was too late, much too late, for the Prince to turn and run.

        Desperately, McCann squeezed the trigger of his submachine gun. Thirty bullets slammed into the monster from nearly point blank range. And slowed it not at all.

        Slowly, with great deliberation, the Red Death reached out for the Prince. To the detective, always suspicious of being manipulated, the monster seemed to hesitate for an instant, almost as if waiting for an interruption.

        Two blurs in white leather hurtled forward. Moving with inhuman speed, Flavia and Fawn grabbed the Prince by the shoulders, spun him around, and sent him flying. Crimson fingers clutched empty air.

        Saving Vargoss from the Red Death had been the Dark Angel's primary purpose. However, that accomplished, they could not resist the challenge the monster presented. Assamite assassins, they thrived on death and destruction. Two sets of matched blades, the finest weapons in the world, slashed in wide arcs. The blows were not aimed at the Red Death's face or chest, but at its wrists. The twins sought victory not with brute strength but speed.

        Moving faster than the eye could see, the blades connected. Then passed through! McCann cursed aloud, astonished. In his entire existence, he had before seen the like. The spectre appeared composed entirely of frozen flame. Which meant nothing physical could harm it. The Red Death was invulnerable to normal weapons.

        Tentatively, McCann reached out telepathically with his mind. He hated revealing any hint of his true essence. But there was no other choice. He had to know the truth. What type of being was the Red Death? For a bare instant, thoughts crossed, as mind touched mind. Then, McCann recoiled in shock.

        The Red Death was one of the Kindred. That much the detective read easily from the monster's surface thoughts. It used a discipline McCann had never before encountered - Body of Fire. Transforming into this form took the combined efforts of several vampires, which meant the Red Death did not work alone. McCann caught a fleeting memory of a group calling themselves "The Children of Dreadful Night." Then the thought was gone, swallowed up in the creature's obsession with destruction. In its present state, the Red Death was more elemental fire than vampire. It hungered to destroy life. It existed to kill.

        More frightening was the fact that the Red Death immediately detected McCann's mind probe. It closed off its thoughts - then returned the favor with a mental stream of hellfire that would have burned the detective's brain to cinders if he remained in contact. McCann had no idea who the Red Death really was. But, there was no question that the monster recognized him!

        Undaunted by their initial failure, the twins danced away, preparing a second attack. "No," cried the detective, but his warning was ignored. The Dark Angels leapt forward, their blades now aimed at the Red Death's eyes. This time, the monster was ready.

        Though not as fast as its two enemies, the spectral creature still moved with incredible swiftness. Long arms lashed out in sweeping motions in both directions. Flavia dropped to the floor, diving beneath the creature's swing. Fawn, caught leaping forward, was not so fortunate. Crimson fingers raked across her face.

        The Dark Angel screamed, the first time McCann ever heard her make a sound. Then, an instant later, she exploded in a fireball of white flame. Involuntarily, McCann's eyes snapped shut.

        Behind him, he heard a gurgle of sound. Unable to see, the detective swung his arms about, making brief contact with someone hurrying past. Then, as the pain faded, his vision returned. And he found himself staring at the headless body of Tyrus Benedict!

        In the chaos of the past few seconds, an unknown killer had crept behind the frightened Tremere sorcerer and decapitated him. Already, dissolution had begun. Benedict's body collapsed inward upon itself, a rotted husk consumed by decay. The grave, cheated for three hundred years, was not denied. In seconds, all that remained were the wizard's clothes in a crumpled heap on his chair.

        Benedict was gone, and with his death, so too was the Red Death. The fiery spectre had vanished as suddenly and mysteriously as it had appeared.

        The crowd in the chamber were just beginning to realize they were safe. At the door stood Alexander Vargoss, his features a mixture of despair and relief. Exerting his overwhelming force of majesty, he was bringing order to his restless brood.

        Whatever power had barred the exit disappeared with the Red Death. However, until calm was restored, the Prince refused to let any of his progeny depart. What had taken place inside this chamber was not the concern of the patrons of The Club Diabolique. The Masquerade must be maintained.

        Alone, on her knees in the center of the room, Flavia cried tears of black blood. Dark Angel and Red Death. McCann felt certain their duel was far from over.

        The photos on the table were gone. As were the contents of Tyrus Benedict's clothes. The Tremere wizard's mysterious executioner had taken everything.

        Or so McCann thought, until his gaze unexpectedly fixed on a gleaming bauble on the floor. Bending over, the detective picked up a shimmery green sequin. He remembered blindly hitting someone. Here was solid evidence of that contact.

        Hurriedly, he scanned the crowd. Though no one had been permitted to depart, there was no sign of Rachel Young. The singer had disappeared. McCann was not surprised.


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