Blood War by Robert Weinberg

Bloodwar - U.S. Blood War


Robert Weinberg

For your reading enjoyment, below is the final installment of the BLOOD WAR excerpts. Once again, all three novels in the trilogy, BLOOD WAR, UNHOLY ALLIES, and THE UNBEHOLDEN, can be found 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.

Chapter 9

Sicily - March 12, 1994

        Don Caravelli, Capo de Capo of the Mafia, rose to his feet as his four guests were ushered into the huge banquet hall. It was a gesture of respect coming from the supreme crime lord in the world, and the quartet of visitors grinned at each other in pleasure. It had taken months to arrange this meeting, and this slight display indicated that their trip had not been made in vain.

        "Gentlemen," said their host, a huge man well over six feet tall, his broad shoulders stretching the limit of his impeccably tailored jacket, "welcome to my humble home."

        He waved at hand to four empty chairs at the huge table. "My chef is preparing a special meal for you tonight." Caravelli grinned, flashing white teeth in contrast to a deep tan. "I, of course, will not join you."

        The four men said nothing. They all knew that Caravelli was a vampire. That mattered nothing to them. They only cared about his criminal empire. His taste in food was none of their concern. They considered themselves businessmen, dealing with the harsh realities of the world. If necessary, they'd deal with the devil if it was good for business.

        "I apologize for not greeting you at the airport," continued the Don, resuming his seat. Two Kindred, bigger even than the huge Mafia leader, took positions on his either side. Another pair stood guard at the door. "Unfortunately, my most dangerous enemy's whereabouts are unaccounted for at present. My advisors insist I stay within this fortress until she has been found. While I am no coward, I have barely survived three previous attempts by the bitch on my life. I prefer not to offer her an opportunity for a fourth try."

        "It's that crazy Giovanni dame?" asked Tony "The Tuna" Blanchard. Head of the East Coast brand of the Syndicate, he had visited Don Caravelli a number of times before and was not nearly as intimidated by the Mafia chieftain as his companions. It was Tony who had arranged this meeting, in hopes of forging closer bonds between the U.S. crime cartel and Caravelli's minions. "She still after your head."

        Caravelli nodded, smiling slightly at the choice of words. He beckoned to one of the men at the door. "Some wine for my guests. They must be thirsty after their long flight from America."

        The guard nodded and disappeared out the door. "Forgive me for being a poor host. Please, relax. We shall discuss your proposal after dinner. For now, you are my guests."

        A bottle of fine red wine brought murmurs of appreciation from the four Syndicate bosses. Don Caravelli, though he did not indulge, maintained one of the finest wine cellars in Europe. A second bottle was delivered and consumed as well.

        "I'm not sure I understand your problem, Don Caravelli," said George Kross, the Midwest representative of the cartel. A big, red-faced man with beady little eyes, he spoke with a distinctive Indiana twang. "Some crazy broad is out to get you? Why don't you just ice the dame? Fuck, you're boss of bosses. You could order the death the President of the whole damned USA if you wanted by liftin' a finger."

        "Unfortunately, your commander-in-chief is much easier to reach than a high-ranking member of the Giovanni clan," said Don Caravelli smoothly. He folded his huge hands together, resting his elbows on the table. "Besides which, Madeleine Giovanni has proven herself a quite worthy opponent, matching even my best agents. In the past sixty years, six of my most valued assassins have tried to eliminate her. Needless to state, none of them has returned from their mission."

        "A lady taking out six Mafia hitmen?" said Harvey Taylor, West Coast Syndicate chief. "She sounds like one tough babe."

        "Can't she be bought?" asked Kross. "Everybody's got a price in this world. Everybody. Human or Kindred."

        Don Caravelli nodded. "My sentiments as well. However, the Giovanni are a tightly knit band of troublemakers. They lust for the power I control. And," the Don shrugged in mock despair, "I made the unfortunate mistake of executing her father many years ago. Like all of her family, Madeleine neither forgives nor forgets."

        "Yeah," said Taylor. "Dames are like that. Still, you Kindred got a whole set of rules of conduct and all that. Can't you convince her clan elders to make her lay off?"

        "If I was dealing with any other clan than the Giovanni," replied Don Caravelli, "that solution might work. With those leeches, no compromise is possible."

        Don Caravelli rose from his chair. "Let me relate to you gentlemen a bit of Kindred lore unknown to most humans. It will make the situation I face much clearer."

        The Mafia lord walked over to the fireplace. He removed an iron poker from the tool rack. Holding the metal rod in one hand, he slapped it rhythmically into his other palm as he spoke.

        "As you are well aware, we Kindred live on human blood. It provides us with all the nourishment we need. Vitae, as we call it, is the elixir of life. However, while mortal blood is our wine, Kindred blood is our finest brandy. We call it the darker drink."

        Caravelli smiled, emphasizing each word with a whack of the poker. "When the opportunity arises, my friends, we Kindred are all cannibals. The sixth tradition of Caine forbids vampires from drinking the blood of their own kind, but it is largely ignored. The strong obey their own laws."

        Slowly, the Mafia chief circled the table, stopping briefly behind each Syndicate chief. None of the four appeared very comfortable with Caravelli standing behind them.

        "Diablerie describes the act of one vampire draining the blood of another. The pleasure derived from such cannibalism is beyond description. More important, however, is the result when it involves a vampire of any generation who drinks the vitae of a vampire of a lower generation. Remember, among my race, the lower the generation, the greater the power!"

        Don Caravelli's eyes seemed to glow as he spoke. "The life fluid consumed is such a powerful drink that it gives the attacker all of the strength of his victim! It is as if a child suddenly becomes his father, with all of the adult's vitality. In other words, a sixth generation vampire who practices diablerie on a member of the fifth generation, would himself become a fifth generation Kindred. And gain all of the greater power and strengths of that age group.

        "To lower his generation again, it would be then be necessary for him to drink the blood of a Methuselah, one of the Fourth Generation vampires. If that was possible, he would then experience another rise in stamina and ability. To progress further than that, he would have to find and kill one of the members of the Third Generation, the Antediluvians."

        "I get it," said Sol Cohen, the Syndicate boss of the South who had thus far kept silent. "It's like moving up the corporate ladder. Or taking steps in our organization. To rise to a level of greater wealth and control, you gotta take out the guy ahead of you in line. That's the only way to step into his job. And inherit all of his benefits."

        "Crudely but effectively put," said Don Caravelli. He returned to his seat, still holding onto the poker. He smiled at the four men, but his eyes were cold, icy cold. "I am a Fifth Generation Brujah. Madeleine is a Sixth Generation Giovanni. Clans mean nothing in diablerie. Not only does the bitch want to kill me, but she wants to suck me dry. It would transform her into a Fifth Generation Giovanni, expanding her already formidable strengths."

        "Man oh man," said George Kross. "No wonder you Kindred are so paranoid. Not only are there two sects at war, thirteen different clans struggling for power, but every vampire on the block is looking to murder his boss, drink his blood, and then take his place."

        "Essentially correct," said Don Caravelli. "Your mention of the thirteen clans is most apt. For, as you already know, thirteen third generation vampires, the Antediluvians, are the founders of these distinct bloodlines. But, some of those thirteen are not as old as the others."

        "Watcha mean?" asked Sol Cohen. "You saying that some other Kindred went and did this diablerie thing on one of the top honchos?"

        Caravelli laughed, a full bodied, deep sound that echoed in the chamber. "Honchos! You Americans use such wonderful terms. I must remember that word. It has a certain ring I like."

        The Mafia chieftain tossed the poker to the side. The four Syndicate bosses breathed a sigh of relief. They were all well aware of the fact they were deep inside an impregnable fortress where Don Caravelli's word was law. Though their host had been gracious to a fault, none of the quartet felt quite at ease.

        "The original Third Generation consisted of thirteen vampires, embraced many thousand years ago. However, not all of them survived the centuries. Even though they were masters of incredible powers, they still could be killed. Those who performed those murders were Fourth Generation vampires, who, once the deed was done, drank the blood of their victims, and thus were transformed into Third Generation Kindred. It happened several times in our history."

        The Don paused. "You must be hungry. I shall order dinner prepared." He waved a hand at one of his lieutenants. "By the time my story is finished, it will be here."

        "No disrespect, Don Caravelli," said George Kross, "but my stomach's been feelin' kinda jumpy last few minutes. Combination of that wine and this cannibalism talk. Mind if I take a trip to the john?"

        "Of course not," said the vampire. "Nicko, on your way to the kitchen, show Mr. Kross the facilities."

        Kross wobbled out of the room, his face a pasty green. "George never could handle wine," remarked Sol Cohen with a laugh. "He's a beer man from way way back."

        "I am sure he will be fine," said Don Caravelli.

        "To continue, my own bloodline, the Brujah, are actually descended from a Fourth Generation vampire named Troile who killed his Sire in ancient times. In truth, our clan should be named Troile instead of Brujah."

        "What about Brujah's other Childer?" asked Tony Blanchard. He knew a great deal more about the Kindred than his fellows. "Weren't there other Fourth Generation vampires around other than Troile? What became of them?"

        "Some existed," admitted the Don, a slightly annoyed look on his face. "Their Sire dead, the remaining few effectively became clanless. There were rumors of them disappearing into the Far East. But no one knows for sure. Nor cares."

        "I bet the Giovanni weren't among those original thirteen," said Harvey Taylor. "I don't think there were anybody with a name like that around before the Middle Ages."

        "The Giovanni and the Tremere clans are comparatively young ones," stated Don Caravelli. "Their leaders, both extremely ruthless men in life, became equally ruthless Kindred in undeath. Giovanni and Tremere lowered their generation by one act of diablerie after another. Until finally, when they were Fourth Generation, they each hunted down an Antediluvian and drank their blood. Thus they gained the full strength of a Third Generation vampire for their clan. And thus, by Kindred law, established themselves as a true bloodline."

        "If these events took place in the Middle Ages," said Tony Blanchard, "that must have left a bunch of vampires who were the Childer of the two murdered Antediluvians suddenly clanless. And pretty pissed off."

        "The Giovanni and Tremere proved to be quite savage," said Don Caravelli, waving a hand about casually. "They methodically exterminated any members of the original clans they could find. The easiest method to prevent their enemies from taking revenge was to wipe them off the face of the Earth. By the time the Camarilla ordered them to stop, only a handful of the displaced Kindred survived. Those few became outcasts, Caitiffs. Members of an extinct bloodline, they were clanless and thus unimportant."

        "Which lead us to what?" asked Harvey Taylor. "I know there's a point to this story, but I ain't sure what it is."

        "The lesson is quite simple, Mr. Taylor," said Don Caravelli. "Of thirteen clans, just these three are descended from vampires who are not eight or nine millennia old. Even immortality becomes boring after six thousand years. The Brujah, the Giovanni, and the Tremere bloodlines are younger, stronger, more dynamic than the other ten. Though our elders are not as ancient, they possess powers equal to the leaders of any other clan. We are not as weary of undeath. Far fewer of our number have retreated into an eternal torpor. Or abandoned all hope and watched the sun rise.

        "The elders among these three clans know that one of our bloodlines is destined to someday rule the Kindred. Though we forge uneasy alliances, even pursue common goals, we understand without question that the other two new clans are our true rivals among the Cainites. So, while I wish Madeleine Giovanni would cease her endless pursuit, I know it will never happen. The Brujah, the Tremere and the Giovanni are engaged in a secret battle to the death. It is a Blood War. And, in such a fight, there are no compromises."

        "George's been gone for long time," said Tony Blanchard. He chuckled. "Hope he didn't fall in."

        "I am sure Mr. Kross will be joining us momentarily," said Don Caravelli. He rose to his feet. "Ah, supper has arrived."

        Three huge Kindred entered the room wheeling a gigantic rolling serving table. On it were three huge silver platters, covered with immense lids. Lifting them off the cart, the attendants placed a platter in front of each of the Syndicate bosses.

        "Hey," said Sol Cohen. "What about George? He should be here."

        Don Caravelli smiled and nodded to his men. Each lifted the lid of a platter. The horrified screams of the three gangsters bounced off the walls of the chamber for several minutes. George Kross had returned, but in pieces. The shocked look on his face, staring with open eyes from the tray in front of Tony Blanchard, indicated his death had not been a pleasant one.

        "While I recited my little tale to distract your attention," said Don Caravelli, "one of my men, an expert in reading thoughts, probed your minds. It was not very difficult to assert that Mr. Kross had been planning his own small deception for months. He schemed to infiltrate my fortress and learn its secrets. Afterwards, he had visions of selling his knowledge to the highest bidder. The fool. He thought to play me for an idiot."

        The Mafia Capo grinned savagely. His face no longer appeared the least bit human. His bright eyes glowed blood red.

        "His trip to the bathroom was the result of an overwhelming suggestion placed in his mind by my agent. I thought it best to deal with Mr. Kross outside this chamber. It would have been inhospitable to butcher him during our talk."

        The Mafia chieftain gestured and the covers went back on the platters. "You gentlemen came to bargain in good faith. I appreciate that. Please be aware that I expect the negotiations to run smoothly. I think you will find my terms for your organization most generous." It was not necessary for the Don to threaten them any further, with the mutilated body of George Kross resting in front of them on the table.

        "In any case, you now know much too much about the Kindred to leave here unchanged," he declared as the table was cleared. "My second-in-command, Don Lazzari, will shortly feed you some of his blood. The transformation from human to ghoul is quite painless. It will guarantee your silence on what I have told you tonight. And insure your loyalty to my every wish."

        Don Caravelli nodded at his still trembling guests. "Perhaps, now, you understand why Madeleine Giovanni and I cannot make a bargain. Neither of us," and he laughed and laughed, "is very good at forgiving."


Chapter 10

St. Louis - March 12, 1994

        McCann dreamed...

        A solitary oil lamp flickered as a cool breeze rustled through the dimly lit chamber. Huge black shadows, reflections of grotesque stone gargoyles, dispersed throughout the room, danced across the sandstone walls. A spiraling arm covered with pictographs ran in a tightening noose around the polished red tile floor. The drawings ended at the base of a wide, raised table, constructed of bronze, stone, and silver, in the direct center of the hideaway.

        A circle of thirteen green wax candles surrounded the table. They burned with a thin blue flame. On the top of the platform were dozens of baked clay pots. Each of them contained a fluid, or a mixture of fluids. Two figures, standing side by side, their hands gripping the table, stared at the largest receptacle. Their eyes burned with fires that matched those of the candles.

        The male stood well over six feet tall, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He wore a loincloth and pair of sandals. His shoulder-length hair was black as night. His face was lean and drawn, with flat nose, sharp chin and thin lips. Too-white skin and mystic symbols of black-soot drawn on his cheeks emphasized that he was no ordinary man. Or vampire. He was Lameth, Childe of Asshur. Before his Embrace, he had been the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the Earth.

        The woman at his side was equally impressive. Dressed in thin garments that fully displayed her ample charms, she was as tall as Lameth but with long, flowing blonde hair the color of the new moon. Full breasted, with narrow waist and wide hips, she was considered by many to be the most beautiful woman, living or undead, in the Second City. Her wide eyes, knowing smile and lush lips offered evidence that even death could not silence the passions within. She was Anis, once princess of Ur, now Childe of the third generation vampire known as Brujah.

        "I worked for two centuries," Lameth declared, "perfecting this elixir. Many were the times I thought I would never finish."

        "Those were the nights when I intervened," murmured Anis. "Offering you the necessary courage to continue. As befits two lovers."

        Lameth laughed, a mocking sound. "The part of faithful sweetheart does not suit you well, my dear Anis. You pushed me forward not from feelings of love, but of all-consuming passion. Your motivation came from the desire to live forever, freed from the beast that lurks within all Kindred."

        Anis chuckled. "Why so cynical, Lameth? I don't remember you pushing me away on those nights that I taught you that even the undead can still delight in the pleasures of physical love. You were an eager student."

        "As you instructed many others," replied Lameth, smiling. "Your lovers are legion, Anis. If I was not sure of your mortal origins, I would suspect Brujah had embraced a succubus as his Childe. Lately, I have heard unbelievable whispers linking you and Troile. Even I find it hard to understand what you would see in that rebel."

        Anis' eyes narrowed, and she peered around the room as if searching for spies. "Only to you, Lameth, would I reveal the truth. For, despite your accusations, I do love you. We were lovers in life, and we have been lovers in undeath. The bonds between us cannot be sundered. You are the one Kindred who I can trust."

        "As I trust you with the secret of my elixir," said Lameth seriously. "If the others discover its existence, we will both suffer the Final Death. Especially when they learn that I had barely enough ingredients for two treatments. My fate is in your hands. As you said, our fates are bound together. You can trust me with any secret, no matter how forbidden."

        "I need to be free," said Anis. "Free not only of the all-consuming thirst for blood that threatens my sanity, but free of the shackles that bind me to the one who made me this way, my Sire. I, who once was a king's daughter in the greatest city in the world, cannot bear to serve another. I must destroy my bonds. The one who commands my will must die."

        "You plot Brujah's death?" whispered Lameth, astonished. "Impossible. You could never get close enough to him to perform the act. He trusts no one."

        "Wrong," said Anis. "He trusts his first childe, his favorite. Troile."

        Lameth looked at her in amazement. "Troile worships Brujah. He treats his Sire like a demigod."

        "Even demigods can be destroyed," said Anis, her lips curling in a satisfied smirk. "Troile may venerate his master, but he lusts for me. And passion is stronger than faith, my love. Passion obliterates reason. Troile listens to whatever I say."

        Slowly, sensually, Anis ran her hands up beneath her breasts, cupping them in her palms. Her eyes blazed.

        "Soon, very soon, my lover will attempt to kill Brujah. If he succeeds, I am free. If he fails, there are other Kindred to seduce. Many others."

        "If Troile drinks Brujah's blood, he himself will become Third generation."

        "I don't care," said Anis, laughing. "Knowing Troile, he will be so overwhelmed with guilt afterwards that he will flee forever the Second City. Powers means nothing to such naive idealists. It doesn't matter. Third generation or not, my mark is upon him. Now and forever."

        "You are insane," said Lameth. "Gloriously mad. Yet, while I question the methods you employ, I perfectly understand your feeling of bondage. Asshur demands nothing from me, but I still chafe under his rule. If I could rid myself of my Sire, I would."

        "Find a pawn to manipulate," said Anis. "Remain in the background, out of sight, always. Let your agent take the risk and suffer the consequences if he fails. Whenever possible, blood bond your confederate before acting and make sure to command him to forget your role in the scheme."

        "You are the consummate plotter," said Lameth admiringly.

        Anis pressed close to him. "You are the only one who means anything to me, Lameth. As it was in life, so it is in death. Aid me in my plans. Help me undermine the Third Generation. Together, we can rule the world."

        Reaching for the container holding the elixir, Lameth filled two cups with the murky black fluid. "Drink," he commanded. "This potion will destroy the foul hunger inside us. Drink, and then we will discuss the future."

        McCann dreamed...

        The man in black smiled.

        "So the clans formally made peace with the Giovanni upstarts tonight?"

        "Exactly as you expected," answered his companion, his swarthy features and dark clothing proclaiming him an Assamite assassin. "They accepted the inevitable. Augustus Giovanni was recognized as a Third Generation Cainite, replacing by diablerie, Asshur, also known as Capaddocius. The Venetian's Childer were proclaimed true Kindred, with their clan taking the place of the Children of Asshur."

        The man in black nodded. "Even the undead tire after a hundred years of fighting. I'm only surprised it took the clan leaders this long to come to their senses. What is the essence of the agreement?"

        "The Giovanni agreed to remain involved with Kindred affairs. They swore the Oath of Caine to stay neutral in all clan disputes. And they agreed to cease hunting the few surviving Children of Asshur."

        "Considering that they exterminated all but a handful of the Children, not a hard bargain to take, eh?" The man in black laughed. "The Giovanni got the peace and recognition they desired for a handful of promises that cost them nothing to honor."

        "They swore the Oath of Caine," said the Assamite, in protest. "They would not dare violate that vow."

        "I have been a member of the Kindred for more than a millennium," said the man in black solemnly. "During that time, I have witnessed the breaking of a hundred vows, a thousand oaths, a million promises. We vampires are no more noble than the seed from which we come. Mankind never honored its word. Why should the Kindred?"

        "Then the Giovanni lied?"

        "They will maintain a clever facade," said the man in black. "As necromancers, they are concerned more with the dead than the living. Or the undead. I doubt that they will do much to upset the other clans. Theirs is a watching and waiting game. But, what they eventually plan for Kindred and Kine is a mystery I do not wish to think about."

        "You imagine things," said the Assamite. "The Giovanni are too few in number to ever pose a threat. They waste their energy on commerce and trade. As if money will ever matter to the Kindred."

        "No one at the parley expressed any interest over the identity of the vampire who foolishly embraced Augustus Giovanni? Or why he took the risk?" asked the man in black.

        "Those questions were never raised. You worried about it for naught. The dolt paid the price for his arrogance with his life and blood. He should have known better than to challenge the will of a necromancer."

        "Perhaps he had no choice," said the man in black. "No choice at all."

        And Lameth, who used the man in black as his voice and ears, smiled in satisfaction.

        McCann woke...

        It was dark outside. Another night had begun. It was time for him to put on his clothes and get moving. The Prince wanted to see him again at the Club. Perhaps Vargoss would have some news about the Red Death. Or perhaps there would be information about the mysterious Rachel Young, the ghoul whose true master was a source of confusion.

        Though totally awake, McCann was still troubled by his dreams. Both conversations had taken place many centuries in the past. It seemed extremely odd that he suddenly would think of them both in the same night. McCann felt uneasy, unnerved. He suspected powers beyond his understanding were manipulating his mind. It was not a pleasant thought.

        That was when he noticed a small box on the nightstand by the side of his bed. His eyes widened in surprise. The package had not been there when he retired. Mentally, he checked the defenses protecting his home. They were all intact. None showed any signs of being disturbed. Yet, the container provided tangible proof that someone had entered the dwelling when he was sleeping.

        Gingerly, McCann folded back the edges of the box. Inside were the letters and papers from his office. On top of them rested the Tremere photos from Russia.

        There was no note. Nor was one needed. Sitting on the photos was a single green sequin.


Chapter 11

Washington, D.C. - March 12, 1994

        Normally, a city the size of the nation's capital could support a dozen Kindred comfortably. However, over ten million tourists visited the metropolis each year. That huge influx of new blood, along with a constantly shifting population due to political hiring and firing, enabled several dozen vampires to exist easily throughout the city and surrounding suburbs.

        Last night, the Red Death had lowered that number by two. This evening, Makish planned to continue that trend. Following the instructions of his grisly employer, the Assamite intended to wipe out more than a quarter of the Kindred residing in Washington. It was an ambitious plan, but Makish enjoyed challenges. The Red Death had proposed a sliding-scale bounty for each vampire slain. The greater the number killed, the larger the reward per Final Death. Tonight, Makish was feeling very greedy. And quite lethal.

        The Deadlands was a popular private men's club in the Anacostia section of the city. It was located east of the Anacostia river in one of the worst neighborhoods in Washington. No one visited The Deadlands without a bodyguard. Or tried to enter without an invitation.

        The owner of the establishment was an eighth generation Toreador clan vampire named John Thompson. He had lived in the city, under a dozen different names, for more than a century. Well connected with the most corrupt power mongers in the capital, Thompson worked hard to satisfy the most decadent wishes of his establishment's exclusive membership.

        No desire was too extreme for those who frequented The Deadlands. Sex and drugs were the norm. Orgies took place every night. Sadism, torture, even ritual sacrifice could be experienced - for the right price. More than one tax increase had been passed to help pay Thompson's fee for a Congressman's outrageous request.

        Makish was, in his own twisted manner, a highly moral individual. He considered Thompson a necessary but unfortunate link between the world of the living and the undead. To insure their safety, the Kindred needed control over important people in government. That much Makish accepted. The assassin, however, found extremely distasteful the constant pandering to the basest instincts of the politicians. He felt such acts put the Camarilla on the same level as the hated Sabbat. Removing Thompson promised to be an enjoyable artistic endeavor.

        The Assamite arrived at The Deadlands shortly after 1 am. Hooked to his belt was a large black bag. Inside it were the special tools he needed for this assignment. And the others to follow.

        Makish was already in good spirits. Three thugs had jumped him on his walk to the club. Before attacking, they stupidly made several insulting remarks about the color of his skin and nature of his ancestors. It had been a bad judgment call on their part. The Assamite had strangled the trio with their own intestines. Makish considered the horrified look of stunned disbelief in their eyes as they choked to death adequate repayment for their affronts to his dignity.

        His feelings soaring high, he surveyed the front of the club. As he expected, a half-dozen ghouls guarded the entrance. They provided the necessary muscle to keep The Deadlands safe from both unwanted guests and neighborhood operators. All of the men were built like professional football players, and each of them carried an AK-47 automatic rifle in full view. No police patrolled this section of the capital. None dared.

        Makish smiled and shook his head. Like too many of the Kindred, Thompson had grown complacent. He believed himself invulnerable. Dealing with ordinary humans had dulled the edge of his wits. Ghouls were stronger and faster and deadlier than normal humans. However, they lacked imagination and realization what a truly powerful Kindred could do if provoked. They were no match for an Assamite Assassin. Especially this particular Assamite Assassin. A direct assault would take too much time and give Thompson a chance to escape the surroundings. But, there was more than one way to enter a fortress. Any fortress.

        To think was to act for Makish. Moving with sight-blurring speed, he swept into a deserted building two doors away from the club. It took him mere seconds to reach the roof. It was level with the top of the next. Effortlessly, he leapt the space between the two structures. The club was less than thirty feet away. The ghouls never looked up.

        Extending his perception, Makish surveyed the sloped roof of his destination. Originally a Victorian mansion, the building had been rebuilt and reinforced when it was transformed into a men's club. The Deadlands had a number of alarms and motion detectors built into the roof and gables. However, there were no real guards keeping watch. That was all the information that Makish required.

        Soaring like a bat, he covered the thirty feet separating the two buildings with a single powerful leap. The sensors recorded nothing unusual. The Assamite had mentally locked them into their present setting. Makish possessed incredible powers over machinery.

        Beneath the wood and brick facade of the roof was steel plating. The Assamite didn't care. Again, he checked the top floor of the building for inhabitants. There were only two - mortals engaged in an act of passion. He doubted they would even notice his entrance.

        Hardening his fingers to the consistency of diamonds, Makish plunged his hands into the roof. Like two missiles, his digits dug into the thin steel and ripped through it. Effortlessly, the assassin curled his fingers and pulled back, peeling the section of the roof off like a piece of cardboard. Creating an entrance was a great deal easier than fighting his way through one. Making no sound, Makish slipped into the club, black bag dangling on his hip.

        He was on the fifth and top floor. Thompson was two levels down, talking business with a pair of potential customers. Running on a tight schedule, Makish had no time for subtlety. He planned leaving no survivors to his attacks. While he disliked killing innocent bystanders, these lawmakers could hardly be described as guiltless. Murdering them was probably doing their constituents a favor.

        Behind him, a woman screamed. Makish whirled. He had momentarily forgotten the human couple engaged in sexual union in the rear room. A young lady, quite attractive and very naked, was standing in the center of the hallway, a horrified expression on her face, shrieking hysterically at the top of her lungs. There was no sign of her companion.

        A quick scan of her thoughts revealed that the man, an elderly politician, had collapsed unexpectedly at the height of his passion. The woman, a high-priced hooker, had come searching for medical help. Instead of finding aid, she discovered Makish descending from the hole in the roof.

        "My apologies," said Makish regretfully and slapped the screaming woman hard across the temple. The blow instantly shattered her skull and she collapsed to the floor in a pool of blood.

        Dragging the corpse with him, Makish entered the room from which the woman had just exited. The senator laid on the bed, clutching his chest, gasping for breath. He had suffered a mild coronary. Enough to incapacitate him, but not kill. Makish completed the job by tearing out the man's heart. Casually, he threw the woman's body across the politician's. United in life, he felt it proper they should be united in death.

        Alarms, activated by the girl's screams, were ringing throughout the house. The assassin made no effort to use his mental disciplines to shut them off. He preferred minor chaos when he worked. Confusion served him well.

        His mind fixed on Thompson's location, Makish hurried to the staircase leading down. Three ghouls, armed with guns, were running up the stairs.

        "In there, please hurry," shouted the assassin. Trembling with emotion, he pointed with a shaky finger to the door of the room he had just left. "The senator, please. He looks very ill. I think he is dying!"

        The ghouls rushed passed him. And died as he tore out their throats with three rapid strokes of his hands.

        Dark hands covered with blood, the assassin continued down the stairs. He hoped there would be no more interruptions. There weren't. He found Thompson still in his office, assuring his guests that there was no cause for panic.

        Slipping into the chamber, Makish nodded pleasantly to the two Congressmen then smashed their heads to pulp. Thompson, a short, squat man with a huge handlebar moustache, gaped in astonishment.

        "Who-who are you?" he asked.

        "I bring justice," said the assassin, aware of the hidden video camera and tape machines recording his every word and action. His rather stilted dialogue had come directly from the Red Death. "For too many years, your presence in this city has offended the Sabbat. Tonight, that insult ends."

        "No," cried Thompson, backing up to the wall behind his chair. Though shaken by what he had just witnessed, he was still in control of his emotions. His thoughts revealed a button beneath his desk, already pressed, summoning the ghouls from out front. And, the existence of an emergency escape passage hidden behind the plasterboard a few feet to the right. "We can make a deal. I swear it. We can make a deal."

        Makish toyed with the idea of letting Thompson escape into the passage, extending the hunt by a few minutes. It appealed to his sense of irony. But, business was business and he had numerous other killings to perform tonight. Sometimes, art had to be sacrificed in the name of expediency.

        Reaching into his black bag, Makish pulled out an eighteen-inch long wood spear. Thompson shrieked in horror when he saw it. His fingers slapped for the hidden panel but never connected. Makish moved like lightning. With a thrust of his powerful hands, he slammed the stake into Thompson's heart. Eyes frozen in shock, Thompson dropped to the floor.

        Contrary to popular belief, a wood stake didn't kill a vampire. However, it did paralyze the Cainite until removed. Thompson was unharmed, merely immobilized. Which was exactly what Makish wanted.

        Out of the assassin's bag of tricks came a role of thick gray tape and a small circular device two inches in diameter. Mentally, the assassin switched off all the recording devices in the office. He preferred not displaying his special toys to the eyes of either the Camarilla or the Sabbat. His fondness for Thermit was well known. Death by high explosives was Makish's favorite artistic expression.

        "Open wide, please," said Makish politely, and with one hand forced the round ball into Thompson's mouth. A thin strand of wire connected the device to the stake buried in the vampire's chest. Carefully, Makish wound the heavy-duty tape around his victim's mouth and upper body. Reinforced with optical fiberglass threads, the tape was nearly indestructible. It could not be torn, only unraveled. Taking it off required hours of hard work. Removing the stake, though, took much less effort.

        "Your ghouls should arrive shortly," declared Makish cheerfully. "Seeing you frozen on the floor, they will immediately think to withdraw the cause of your anguish. You will not be able to tell them not to. Unfortunately for you, when they pull out the stake, the action will activate the trigger of the plaything in your mouth. It is a small but extremely powerful Thermit bomb. The resulting fire should burn your body to ashes in seconds. The colors will be spectacular. It will be an artistic finish to your existence."

        Taking his bag, Makish stepped into the secret passage. It was a quicker, easier escape method than returning to the roof. "Good bye," he said to the unmoving Thompson. "Thank you for your cooperation. Enjoy your wait."

        The explosion was so loud that Makish heard it two blocks from The Deadlands. He nodded in satisfaction, deciding it was an excellent beginning for the evening's endeavors.


Chapter 12

St. Louis - March 13, 1994

        The Prince held his council of war in his office at the rear of Club Diabolique. Attending were Vargoss, Flavia, McCann, a ninth generation Brujah named Darrow, and an eighth generation Nosferatu known only as "Uglyface" for obvious reasons.

        Darrow, who rode a Harley, favored black leather outfits, and had tattoos over much of his body, advised the Prince matters of policy. Despite his looks, Darrow was no rebel. He had spent most of his life serving as an officer in the British Army. He had participated in many of the major campaigns of the 19th century and was the veteran of a hundred battles. He was a calm voice of reason, not afraid to contradict the Prince when Vargoss was wrong.

        No one in St. Louis knew much about Uglyface's background. Nearly seven feet tall, thin as a rail, he had lived in the city longer than any other vampire. His face came from a Gahan Wilson cartoon - wide, bulging eyes, tiny button nose, wide mouth full of yellow teeth, and ears that stuck out like antennas from the sides of his head. Uglyface's grotesque features branded him an idiot. He was not. The Nosferatu vampire possessed an incredible memory for names, dates and facts. Like many of his clan, he thrived on gathering and processing raw data into usable information. He served as the Prince's Minister of Intelligence.

        "The Red Death struck three more times in America last night," said Vargoss, resting his arms on his desk. He was obviously concerned. Troubled eyes stared at the trio facing him. To the rear, on guard as always, was Flavia. She was clad no longer in white leather but in black. And for the first time in decades, she stood alone.

        "According to reports I received in the past hour, he appeared again, in Europe, while we slept. Five perished in Paris at a reception at the Louvre. Two more were lost in Marseilles during a Ventrue clan meeting. In total, he sent thirty-five Kindred to their Final Death."

        "Six separate appearances in twenty-four hours?" said McCann. "Our spectral friend travels awfully fast."

        "Are we positive it's the same bloke?" asked Darrow, voicing the detective's own suspicion. "That bloody mockery of a face of 'is was awfully distinctive. Maybe it was meant to attract attention, aye? Any Kindred adept at flesh sculpting could rearrange his features into that grotesque mask. Instead of dealing with a single Red Death, we may be faced with several. Maybe an entire Sabbat pack made a pact with a demon."

        "Following that same line of reasoning, are you convinced the Red Death was a vampire?" asked McCann. The detective was anxious to establish certain facts he already knew as truth.

        "The abomination belonged to the Kindred," said Vargoss, angrily. "My will touched his when I commanded him to stop. Blood called out to blood, McCann. The Red Death was definitely one of the Damned."

        "A vampire composed of living fire," said McCann. "It's incredible. Are there such disciplines?"

        "None practiced among the Camarilla," said Uglyface. His high-pitched voice squeaked like a cartoon character's.

        "Darrow has it right," declared Vargoss. "The Red Death is a member of the Sabbat. Those demon lovers mock the power of the flames. One of their sacred rituals, the Fire Dance, requires them to jump and dance through a blazing funeral pyre."

        "Sorry," said McCann, "but I don't accept those kind of deductions. I'm a detective remember? Let's use a bit of logic. Leaping over a fire like Jack-B-Nimble is a lot different than burning your footprints into the floor. I'm not discounting possible Sabbat involvement. I just wonder why they've never used this particular method of attack before. The war between the Sabbat and Camarilla is more than five hundred years old. Why save the Red Death until this week? There has to be more to the story than we comprehend."

        "McCann raises a good point," said Darrow. "These friggin' attacks make no sense. Usually, The Sabbat spends years organizing a Crusade to take over a city. We all knows the procedures. First they send in the spies. Then, they place traitors into the Kindred council of elders. Next comes their efforts to expose the Masquerade through carefully planned acts of murder and terrorism. And, then, during the resulting chaos, they attack in overwhelming numbers, exterminating any vampires they cannot convert to their cause. There's no place for the Red Death in such plans."

        "Perhaps they have finally invented a new strategy to replace their old method," said Uglyface. "Why should the Sabbat waste the time and effort of a Crusade when the Red Death can wipe out a city's elders in a night?"

        "Sounds great," said McCann, "except that's not what happened. The Prince wasn't destroyed. St. Louis hasn't been overrun by Sabbat members, anxious to consolidate their control. Do you understand what I saying? The Red Death killed some Kindred. Most of the dead were later generation vampires. The attack cut the population a little. Otherwise nothing much changed."

        "Bloody hell," said Darrow, grimacing. "We've totally ignored the most important question of them all. Why did the Red Death attack here in the first place? No offense, my Prince, but St. Louis ain't a major Sabbat target. Least wise, not according to our intelligence reports. They have their eyes on bigger, more important cities. What made us so bloody special we warranted the friggin' attention of this fire monster?"

        "No offense taken, Darrow," said Vargoss. "I value your honesty more than any flattery. And your point is well presented. As best I can tell from my discussions with other Camarilla elders, the initial appearance of the Red Death last night was definitely at this club. Why?"

        McCann suspected he knew the answer. However, he had no intentions of stating that the Red Death had come to the club searching for him. That would raise questions he had been carefully avoiding for countless years. It was the proper moment to swing the conversation in a different direction.

        "Anyone remember Tyrus Benedict?" asked the detective. "Maybe the answer to your question is tied up with his visit."

        "The Tremere wizard," said Vargoss. "Of course. I almost forgot him." The Prince scowled. From his coat pocket, he removed several folded pages of fax paper. "I sent a message to Vienna late last night regarding Mr. Benedict and his mission. This reply came from Etrius, himself, while I rested."

        McCann, a student of Tremere history and organization, immediately recognized the name of the titular head of the vampire mage's Inner Council of Seven. Etrius served as the guardian of the founder of the clan of undead wizards, the powerful sorcerer known as Tremere. The vampire laid dormant in torpor in a stone sarcophagus in the catacombs beneath Vienna. Strange rumors swirled about regarding the condition of Tremere's body. Rumors that Etrius refused to confirm or deny.

        "The wizard, a cold merciless bastard like all of his clan, expressed little regret in Benedict's death. However, he was extremely interested in the tale of the Red Death. And the monster's control of fire."

        "No bloody surprise, that," said Darrow. Like most Kindred, he feared and distrusted the Tremere. Though they protested that they were loyal members of the Camarilla, everyone knew that the wizards worked for their own ends. And those plans they kept to themselves. "What those devils wouldn't give to wield a power like the Red Death! They'd probably burn us all off the map. And laugh at us for providing the information while they did it!"

        Vargoss nodded. What small trust he had in the Tremere vanished when his closest advisor, Mosfair, turned on him a few months ago. Only McCann's intervention had saved the Prince from the ultimate betrayal. The detective had never revealed that Mosfair had actually been acting as an agent for the Sabbat, not his own clan. McCann disliked alliances between the major Kindred bloodlines. And he worked very hard to prevent them from succeeding.

        "However, what I found extremely interesting was a message on the second page of the communication. Etrius stated that Benedict had been sent merely as an envoy to personally apologize for the transgressions of his brother clan member, Mosfair. He was not carrying with him any documents relating to the Nictuku or the recent events in Russia."

        The Prince paused, obviously enjoying the astonished looks on his advisors' faces. Vargoss possessed a strong sense of the dramatic. "Moreover, Etrius stated that though Benedict stated the basic facts about the mystery correctly, none of the Tremere sent to Russia to investigate the Soviet problem had returned. The name, The Army of Night, meant nothing to him. And, he knew nothing about any photos."

        "What a friggin' mess," declared Darrow. "You believe that slimy wizard, my Prince? He could be lying."

        "Who can fathom the duplicity of the Tremere?" said Vargoss. "I suspect, though, from the tone of this letter, Etrius was deeply disturbed by my revelations. He urgently requested I relay word for word everything Benedict said about Baba Yaga."

        "I'll bet," said Darrow. "Them Tremere don't like surprises."

        "According to the ancient legends of my clan," said Uglyface, "the Iron Hag was the greatest sorceress in the world. She was one of the Nictuku, monsters created by Absimiliard, the first Nosferatu, in his days of madness. Her powers rivaled those of Lameth, the Dark Messiah."

        "It sounds like someone tampered with Benedict's thoughts during his journey here from Vienna," said McCann hurriedly. He was anxious to shift subjects. "No wonder the notion upsets Etrius. Messing with the mind of a wizard is no job for a lightweight."

        "I asked Uglyface earlier to backtrack Benedict's trip," said Vargoss. The Prince shifted his attention to the Nosferatu. "What did you learn?"

        "Following the wizard's trail proved quite difficult," said Uglyface. "He used unconventional methods of transportation. However, after much searching, I was able to verify that Benedict arrived in Washington, D.C. three nights ago. Attempts to contact my usual source of information in the capital, my friend Amos, proved useless tonight. I received no replies to my queries about the Tremere's activities in the city. Or any of my other questions."

        "Three nights ago," repeated McCann. "Yet, Benedict arrived here last evening. That leaves an entire night completely unaccounted for."

        "The Sabbat has a foothold in the city," said Vargoss. "They want to add the capital to their empire."

        "The Camarilla controls the capital," said Darrow. "The Tremere are a powerful force there. Peter Dorfman is Pontifex there, and he is very ambitious. For all we knows, Benedict may have received new instructions from a member of his own bloodline in the city. There's a bitter rivalry between Dorfman and other Tremere elders. Meerlinda, leader of the U.S. branch of the clan, plays one against the other in order to maintain absolute control of the bloodline. In turn, she and Etrius both scheme to take charge of the entire clan. It's a frigging bloody mess, and anything's possible."

        "I agree," said Vargoss. "We need an agent to personally investigate the situation in Washington. That is the only way we will learn the truth."

        All eyes focused on McCann. The detective laughed.

        "Why do I get the impression I've been elected?"

        Vargoss smiled. "You are the obvious choice, McCann. A mortal detective, you possess the necessary skills to discover the facts. And you can function during the daytime, when the Kindred are helpless."

        "Yeah, and I have my mage powers to protect me," said McCann. "Not that they would do much good if I stumble upon the Red Death. I assume you're willing to pay well for this scouting expedition?"

        Vargoss laughed. "What I like about you, McCann, is that you are so pleasantly frank. After listening to constant lies and half-truths, it amuses me to hear real, honest greed." The vampire lord nodded. "You will be well compensated for your time and trouble."

        Unexpectedly, Flavia leaned over and whispered into the Prince's ear. Vargoss frowned then rose from the table.

        "Excuse me. I shall return shortly."

        The Prince exited the chamber, followed by his bodyguard. McCann barely had time to deal Darrow and Uglyface a second hand of gin rummy before the two returned.

        "The plans have been altered slightly," announced the Prince, taking his seat. Flavia returned to her position at his right. "You are still traveling to Washington, McCann. But you are not going alone. Flavia is going to accompany you."

        "What?" said the detective. "What?"

        "Flavia argues convincingly that a lone human, even a mage, cannot stand against the concentrated attack of a Sabbat pack. Especially if the Red Death is involved. Besides which, Flavia has contacts with the important Camarilla leaders of the city. I am forced to agree. She is right. You need protection and introductions. And she is the one Kindred who is capable of providing you with both. Darrow will take her place at my side during her absence."

        "I work on my own," said McCann, feeling trapped.

        "Not this case," said Vargoss, in a voice that brooked no denial. At his side, Flavia's lips twitched in the slightest of smiles. "Do not anger me, McCann. You will discover the truth about Tyrus Benedict. And Flavia will guard your back."

        "As you command," said McCann, bowing to the inevitable. "It should be an interesting trip."

        Flavia nodded. Sensuously, she licked her upper lip with her tongue. McCann grimaced. She winked.


Chapter 13

Paris - March 14, 1994

        Paris is a city of many mysteries. Take, for example, the electric power lines leading into the foundation of Notre Dame Cathedral. No records exist showing why the cables are there or where they lead. They are live wires, supplying electricity to a location somewhere beneath the church. Since no one complains about the lines, the powers-that-be in the public works department leaves them strictly alone. The policy, as in most big-city administrations, is if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

        Another unexplained mystery of Paris is the vast network of underground tunnels that honeycomb the city. Located hundreds of feet beneath the ground, these passages are not the result of any known city engineering project. Impossible to reach, no man has walked through them in memory. Who built them and when is a matter of continued speculation among the city engineers. What few records exist from the 18th century indicate that the tunnels were already in place then. Official policy states that the corridors are remnants of an underground fortress built during the Roman occupation of the area. The explanation is ludicrous, but the dating of the tunnels is much closer to when they were actually constructed than anyone realizes.

        Less noticed but equally mysterious is the purpose of the Vert-Galant warehouse, located at the west end of the Ile de la Cite. The building is over two hundred years old. No one knows the identity of the present owner. As has been the situation regarding every owner for the past twenty decades. The rent is paid promptly each month by a cashier's check drawn on a Swiss bank.

        No one cares that while deliveries are made to the warehouse nearly every day, nothing is ever shipped out. Yet, the shelves of the building are never full. That shipments, ranging from computer supplies to expensive art prints, are never seen again once they enter the building is equally perplexing. Where and how the items are removed are questions that the clerks managing the building are paid not to ask. Their salaries, much higher than they deserve, come from that same Swiss bank account.

        Phantomas knew the truth lurking behind the mysteries. The power lines snaked down to his hidden lair deep beneath the Crypte Archeologique in the main square fronting Notre Dame. The tunnels, constructed in secret over the centuries through subterfuge and deception, provided him with access to hundreds of locations in Paris. The warehouse belonged to him, and the purchases were made through the convenience of ordering merchandise by computer. The necessary capital came from his bank account in Switzerland. The funds had been raised over the centuries by the judicious use of blackmail among the rich and famous of Paris. No one living or undead the vast metropolis could keep a secret from the prying eyes and ears of Phantomas.

        Tonight, the ancient vampire sat in front of a computer terminal in the main chamber of his lair and wondered if perhaps he had overestimated his own skills. For hours, he had been trying to locate some reference to the Red Death. And, for hours, he had not found a single clue.

        Phantomas was obsessed with information. A scholar during his life, he retained the same passion for knowledge after his death. Some vampires lived for blood. Phantomas lived for facts. He collected them, saved them, ordered them, and tried to weave them into a pattern. Especially facts concerning vampires.

        A thousand years ago, he had conceived of his great project involving the history of the Kindred. He had been working on this masterpiece of information ever since. It was his obsession, his dream. The Nosferatu elder was writing an encyclopedia of the Kindred. It contained every fact, every scrap of information he had been able to learn about the Cainites during the past millennium. The invention of computers had greatly helped his work, eliminating the tedious work of handwriting the information into journals. Also, the powerful data-base he used enabled him to cross-reference millions of acts, establishing clear links between hundreds of seemingly unrelated incidents and occurrences.

        Centerpiece of his project was the most complete family tree ever attempted of the Kindred race. Starting with Caine, the diagram listed many thousands of vampires who had walked the earth for thousands of years. Along with describing each Kindred's relationship to the other Cainites, the chart also featured a detailed biographical profile of the vampire. By using this genealogy and history, Phantomas had hoped to discover some trace of the Red Death. But, so far, his quest had drawn a complete blank.

        The profiles of the Kindred were drawn from a hundred different sources. Phantomas had been using computers since their invention and was perhaps the greatest hacker in the world. He could access the files from any major data bank or information file. No security code was safe from his unscramble program. The secrets of the world were at his gnarled fingertips.

        Most of Phantomas' data came from the mainframes used by Camarilla and the Sabbat. Both sects maintained extensive code-word systems to protect their files from their hated enemy. Neither were aware that a third party, uninvolved in their blood war, had been stealing data from them for years.

        The American CIA, the British SAS and CID branches, the French Surete, the Israeli Mossad, and the Russian KGB also fed Phantomas information. He was insatiable in his quest to make his encyclopedia as accurate as possible. That it was never seen by anyone else didn't matter. Phantomas worked for his own satisfaction.

        Discrete taps on phone company computers throughout the world provided details of the Red Death's other attacks on Camarilla strongholds. Together with his own information on the monster's appearance in Paris, Phantomas had fed the encapsuled data into his computer. Then, he had programmed the machine to search and evaluate his files for those Kindred powerful enough to wield the powers of the Red Death. He purposefully had the machine eliminate the thirteen members of the Third Generation of vampires. It wouldn't require a computer to tell when they had arisen from their ages-long torpor.

        A comprehensive scan had turned up twenty-seven possible vampires who might be the Red Death. A second run eliminated those Kindred engaged in major blood feuds or in centuries-old sleep. To Phantomas' frustration, the procedure left two possible names, neither covered in his file of biographies - Anis, Queen of Night; and Lameth, the Dark Messiah. Both were legendary figures of the Fourth Generation. But among the Kindred, legends often were based on fact.

        Lameth was reputed to be the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the Earth. No two tales agreed on the identity of his tutor, but all agreed that it had been one of the primeval elemental forces that once walked the Earth. According to myth, Lameth discovered a potion that artificially induced Golconda, the mental state that allowed vampires to exist in perfect harmony with their surroundings. Whoever controlled that elixir controlled the Kindred. That was why Lameth had been dubbed "The Dark Messiah." He had vanished into the mists of history over five thousand years ago. Though rumors of his meddling in Cainite affairs continued to surface.

        Anis, Queen of Night, was a contemporary of Lameth's. Myths dating back to the Second City held her responsible for the revolt in which the Third Generation rose up and killed their Sires. She was described as the most beautiful woman who ever walked the Earth. And among the most deadly.

        The legends of the Second City described Anis as consumed by ambition. She was said to possess seductive charms nearly as intense as Lilith, the lover of Adam, and one of the most powerful of demons. Anis, too, had disappeared more than five millennia ago. And, like Lameth, rumors of her reappearance circulated constantly among the Kindred.

        Significantly, no legend mentioned the Sire of either of the two.

        Frustrated and annoyed, Phantomas had abandoned the search for his attacker's identity. Instead, he decided to focus upon the special Disciplines of the Camarilla and Paths of Enlightenment practiced by member of the Sabbat. Again, his efforts turned up nothing remotely resembling the incendiary grip of the Red Death. Nor was there any mention of demons gifting humans or Kindred with such a power. Phantomas even checked the latest developments in chemical and biological warfare. The results were the same. Nothing.

        The Nosferatu shook his head in distress. Recent reports from America, obtained by phone taps on supposedly safe lines, indicated that there might be more than one Red Death. The possibility of an entirely bloodline of vampires not included in his genealogy chart depressed him. He had worked for hundreds of years on his chronology. It was inconceivable that he had missed an entire branch of the Kindred family. Yet the facts seemed to point directly at that conclusion.

        Phantomas pounded his keyboard in frustration. Lameth or Anis had to be the Red Death. Or one of them had founded a bloodline all whose members possessed the power of the Red Death. That was the only possible solution to the mystery. Still, he was not convinced it was correct.

        Nor did any of his speculations, Phantomas suddenly realized, address the equally mysterious young man who had warned him in advance of the Red Death. And who knew his name.

        Without warning, the computer keyboard sprung to life. Shocked, Phantomas lifted his hands off the console. The keys continued to type, as if being hit by invisible fingers.

        A single phrase appeared on the computer monitor. Staring at it, Phantomas shivered. He had no idea what the words meant. Yet, he was convinced that his stray thought about the man in the Louvre had triggered this response from his computer. Voice trembling, he read the name aloud.

        "The Sheddim."


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