Authors: Steven Savile - (ebook by Undead)
The old priest fled the castle.
Lightning seared the darkness, turning night momentarily into
day. The skeletal limbs of the trees around him cast sinister shadows across the
path that twisted and writhed in the lightning. Thunder rolled over the hills,
deep and booming. The rain came down, drowning out lesser sounds.
The primeval force of the storm resonated in Victor Guttman’s
“I am an old man,” he moaned, clutching at his chest in dread
certainty that the pain he felt was his heart about to burst. “I am frail. Weak.
I don’t have the strength in me for this fight.” And it was true, every word of
it. But who else was there to fight?
His skin still crawled with the revulsion he had felt at the
creature’s presence. Sickness clawed at his throat. His blood repulsed by the
taint of the creature that had entered Baron Otto’s chamber and claimed young
Isabella. He sank to his knees, beaten down by the sheer ferocity of the storm.
The wind mocked him, howling around his body, tearing at his robes. He could
easily die on the road and be washed away by the storm, lost somewhere to rot in
the forest and feed the wolves.
The temple. He had to get back to the temple.
He pushed himself back up and lurched a few more paces down
the pathway, stumbling and tripping over his own feet in his need to get away
from the damned place.
There were monsters. Real monsters. He had grown numb to
fear. A life of seclusion in the temple, of births and naming days, marriages
and funeral rites, such mundane things, they somehow combined to turn the
monsters into lesser evils and eventually into nothing more than stories. He had
forgotten that the stories were real.
Guttman lurched to a stop, needing the support of a nearby
tree to stay standing. He cast a frightened look back over his shoulder at the
dark shadow of Drakenhof Castle, finding the one window that blazed with light,
and seeing in it the silhouette of the new count.
Vlad von Carstein.
He knew what kind of twisted abomination the man was. He knew
with cold dark certainty that he had just witnessed the handover of the barony
to a daemon. The sick twisted maliciousness of Otto van Drak would pale in
comparison with the tyrannies of the night von Carstein promised.
The old priest fought down the urge to purge his guts. Still
he retched and wiped the bile away from his mouth with the back of his hand. The
taint of the creature had weakened him. Its sickness was insidious. It clawed
away at his stomach; it tore at his throat and pulled at his mind. His vision
swam in and out of focus. He needed to distance himself from the fiend.
His mind raced. He struggled to remember everything he knew
about vampires and their ilk but it was precious little outside superstition and
The oppression of the pathway worsened as it wound its way
back down toward the town. The sanctuary of rooftops and the welcoming lights
looked a long, long way away to the old man. The driving rain masked other
sounds. Still, Guttman grew steadily surer that he was not alone in the storm.
Someone—or something—was following him. He caught occasional glimpses of
movement out of the corner of his eye but by the time he turned, the shadow had
fused with deeper shadows or the shape he was sure was a pale white face had
mutated into the claws of dead branches and the flit of a bat’s wing.
He caught himself looking more frequently back over his
shoulder as he tried to catch a glimpse of whoever was following him.
“Show yourself!” the old priest called out defiantly but his
words were snatched away by the storm. The cold hand of fear clasped his heart
as it tripped and skipped erratically.
A chorus of wolves answered him.
For a moment Guttman didn’t trust his ears. But he didn’t
need to. It was a man’s laughter. He felt it in his gut, in his bones and in his
blood, the same revulsion that had caused him to black out at the feet of von
Carstein when the man first entered van Drak’s bedchamber.
One of the count’s tainted brood had followed him out of the
castle. It was stupid and naive to think that von Carstein would be alone. The
monster would have minions to do his bidding, lackeys who still clung to their
humanity and servants who had long since given it up. It made sense. How could a
creature of the damned hope to pass itself off among the living without an
entourage of twisted souls to do its bidding?
“I said show yourself, creature!” Guttman challenged the
darkness. The rain ran down his face like tears. He wasn’t afraid anymore. He
was calm. Resigned. The creature was playing with him.
“Why?” A voice said, close enough for him to feel the man’s
breath in his ear. “So your petty god can smite me down with some righteous
thunderbolt from his shiny silver hammer? I think not.”
Brother Guttman reeled away from the voice, twisting round to
face his tormentor but the man wasn’t there.
“You’re painfully slow, old man,” the voice said, behind him
again somehow. “Killing you promises to be no sport at all.” Guttman felt cold
dead fingers brush against his throat, feeling out the pulse in his neck. He
lurched away from their touch so violently he ended up sprawling in the mud, the
rain beating down around his face as he twisted and slithered trying to get a
look at his tormentor.
The man stood over him, nothing more than a shape in the
“I could kill you now but I’ve never taken a priest. Do you
think you would make a good vampire, old man? You have a whole flock of dumb
sheep to feed on who will come willingly to you in the night, eager to be fed on
if your holy kiss will bring them closer to their precious Sigmar.” The man
knelt beside him, the left side of his face lit finally by the sliver of
moonlight. To Guttman it was the face of ultimate cruelty personified but in
truth it was both beautiful and coldly serene. “What a delicious thought. A
priest of the cloth becoming a priest of the blood. Think of the possibilities.
You would be unique, old man.”
“I would rather die.”
“Well, of course. That goes without saying. Now, come on, on
“And make your job easier?”
“Oh, just stand up before I run out of patience and stick a
sword in your gut, brother. You don’t have to be standing to die, you know. It
isn’t a prerequisite. Swords are just as effective on people lying in the mud,
believe me.” He held out a hand for the priest to take but the old man refused,
levering himself up and stubbornly struggling to get his feet beneath himself.
“Who are you?”
“Does it matter? Really? What’s in a name? Truly? Turned
meat, cat’s urine and mouldy bread by any other names would still smell
repugnant, wouldn’t they? They would still stink of decay, rot, so why this
obsession with naming things? There is no magic in a name.”
“What a sad world you live in,” Guttman said after a moment.
“Where the first things that come to mind are riddled with corruption. Give me a
world of roses and beauty and I will die happily. To live as you do, that is no
life at all.”
“Do not be so hasty to dismiss it, priest. They have an old
saying in my hometown: Die reinste Freude ist die Schadenfreude,” the man said
in perfect unaccented Reikspiel. “The purest joy is the joy we feel when others
feel pain. Now I believe it is the only genuine joy we feel. The rest is
transitory, fleeting. Soon the darkness will be all you have left, and the light
and your precious roses and everything else you think of as beautiful will be
nothing more than memories. The knowledge of this gives me some slight happiness
I must confess. When you’ve been reduced to nothing, then let us see how much of
the so-called beautiful you choose to remember. My name is Posner. Herman
Posner. Say it. Let it be the last thing you say as a living creature. Say it.”
“Herman Posner,” Brother Victor Guttman said, tasting the
name in his mouth. The words were no more evil than any others he had said.
There was nothing unique about them. They were not tainted with vile plague or
ruined by undeath. They were just words, nothing more.
“A rose or rot, priest? You decide,” Posner said. His hand
snaked out grabbing the old man by the collar and hauling him up until his toes
barely touched the floor. Guttman struggled and fought, kicking out as Posner
drew him in close enough for the priest to taste the redolent musk of the grave
on his breath. The creature’s touch was repulsive.
It didn’t matter how much he kicked and twisted against
Posner’s grip; it was like iron.
He felt the teeth—fangs—plunge into his neck, biting
deep, hard. The old man’s body tensed, every fibre of his being repulsed by the
intimacy of the kill. He lashed out, twisted, flopped and finally sagged as he
felt the life being drained out of him.
And then the pain ended and Posner was screaming and
clutching his own chest.
Guttman had no idea what had caused the vampire to relinquish
his hold. He didn’t care. His legs buckled and collapsed beneath him but he
didn’t pass out. He lay in the mud, barely able to move. He was sure his
tripping heart would simply cease beating at any moment and deny the vampire its
kill. There was a delicious irony to the thought, the beast gorging itself on
dead blood, only realising its mistake when it was too late.
Posner lifted his hand. The skin beneath was burned raw with
the mark of Sigmar’s hammer.
For a moment the old priest thought it was a miracle—that
he was saved. Then the cold hard reality of the “miracle” revealed itself. The
silver hammer he wore on a chain around his neck had come loose from his
clothing and as the vampire leaned in the silver had burned its mark on the
beast. Silver. At least that part of the stories was true. The metal was
anathema to the lords of the undead. He clasped the talisman as though it might
somehow save him. It was a feeble gesture. Posner leaned over him and grasped
the silver chain, ignoring the hiss and sizzle of his own flesh as he yanked the
holy symbol from around Guttman’s throat, and tossed it aside.
The stench of burned meat was nauseatingly sweet.
“Now let’s see how you fare without your pretty little
trinket, shall we?”
Before Guttman could scramble away Posner had him by the
throat again, fingernails like iron talons as they sank mercilessly into his
flesh. The pain was blinding. The priest’s vision swam in and out of focus as
the world tilted away and was finally consumed in an agony of black. The last
sensation he felt as the pain overwhelmed him was the vampire’s kiss, intimate
and deadly, where his fluttering pulse was strongest. Guttman’s eyes flared open
and for a fleeting moment the world around him was intense, every colour more
vibrant, more radiant, every scent more pungent, more aromatic, than they had
been through his whole life of living with them. He was dying, drained of life
and blood, and this intensity was his mind’s way of clinging on to the memories
of life, one final all-consuming overload of the senses. Victor Guttman let it
wash over him. He felt his will to live fade with his thoughts as he succumbed
to Posner. He stopped struggling, the fight drained out of him.
Posner yanked his head back, better to expose the vein, and
sucked and slurped hungrily at the wound until he was sated. Grinning, he tilted
the old man’s head and dribbled blood into his gaping mouth. Guttman coughed and
retched, a ribbon of blood dribbling out of the corner of his mouth. His entire
body spasmed, rebelling against the bloody kiss and then he was falling as
Posner let go.
The vampire walked away, leaving the old man to die.
To die, Guttman realised sickly, and become one of their
kind. An abomination. No. No. It cannot happen. I will not kill to live. I will
But he knew he would.
In the end, when the blood thirst was on him and his humanity
was nothing but a nagging ghost he would feed.
Guttman clawed at the mud, dragging himself forward a few
precious inches before his strength gave out. His erratic breathing blew bubbles
in the muddy puddle beside his face. His hand twitched. He felt himself slipping
in and out of consciousness. Every breath could easily have been his last. He
had no idea how long he lay in the mud blowing bloody bubbles. Time lost all
meaning. The sun didn’t rise. The rain didn’t cease, not fully. He tried to move
but every ounce of his being cried out in pain. He was alone. No passing carters
would save him. He had a choice—although it was no choice at all: die here,
now, and wake as a daemon, or fight it, grasp on to the last gasp of humanity
and hope against hope that something in the temple could stave off the
transformation and buy him precious time. Death was inevitable, he had always
known that, accepted it. He would meet Morr, every man, woman and child would
eventually; it was the way of the world. He promised himself he would do it with
dignity. He would die, and stay dead. Judge me not on how I lived but how I
die… who had said that? It made a grim kind of sense.