OFFICIAL VEKN GANGREL-ANTITRIBU NEWSLETTER VOLUME 4 NUMBER 3 MARCH 2001 IN THIS ENTIRELY FICTIONAL AND DEEPLY-SENSITIVE ISSUE .. I was going to do my usual stuff for this NL but I changed my mind in response to Ventrue harpy's piece about Loss of Feeling which started quite a lengthy thread recently. So here instead is a blatant plug for story-telling jyhad, of which a fine example may be found at: http://www.cam.org/~genestf/fgenest/jyhad/story3.html And here, to whet your appetites, is a lengthy series of excerpts from the above document, mainly written by me but not all, by any means; Phillipe Richer and Fred Genest are the other main contributors to these bits. The point, insofar as ther is one, of all this is to show that even those of us who revel in weird technical combos still sometimes like to think about the "real" world of darkness events simulated by our card-flopping. This game BTW took place when Fame had its old meaning and you could Heidelberg stuff around a lot more freely than is currently the case, so i won this game by doing doomed rushes with famous vampires, thus simultaneously turning my predator into a gimp and erasing my sequential preys. Ah, Happy nights! Excerpt from chapter 1: Heidelberg, Germany... The World of Darkness ... so like, and yet so unlike, our own. In this world Necromancers of the Interior and the Black Dog Game Factory [a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pentex] publish the highly-successful Jyhad trading card game, in which players take the part of Ancient vampires battling to the death in a desperate and futile attempt to prepare for Gehenna. Five years after its launch, Jyhad has overtaken Monopoly as the world's most popular game, and it's thought that there are now more Jyhad cards on the planet than there are people. Of course, Necromancers publish other stuff too. A sizeable minority of dedicated players still cling to Sorcery: the Gathering, quite a good game [certainly faster and less cerebral than Jyhad] but near-fatally wounded by Necromancer's incredible decision to remake the backs of the highly successful Magic: The Gathering first edition ..... And today the first boxes of the latest expansion for Jyhad have arrived in the pretty Rhineland city of Heidelberg, in the country of Germany. It is winter, and the European Molecular Biology Lab Jyhad society huddles in a steamy room heated by gurgling central heating pipes. The light is dim, and they have to squint at the cards as they rip open their boosters with shaking hands. O wow, lotsa neat stuff .. this Awakening of the Master edition was well worth the wait .... - "Hey, listen to this one!" calls the young man with the multiply-pierced face: ******************************** Calling the Wyrm Master Cost: 1 pool + X [X must be at least 1, and cannot be greater than 5] When this card is played, choose a ready vampire card that you both own and control, and cut it into X+1 pieces using scissors. Other players may not rearrange their cards once you have announced that you are playing this card. Drop the fragments of the vampire card from a height of at least 30cm onto the playing area. Until the end of your turn, you control every card on which any of these fragments comes to rest. Until the end of the game, you lose 1 pool in each of your untap phases. "Ahai Foebok! Ahai Carnala!" Invocation of the Threefold Wyrm, Chronicle of the Black Labyrinth ********************************** - "Excellent! How about this one .. " ******************************** Anne Rice, Interviewer of Vampires Requires ready vampire. Unique Retainer with 1 life, Cost 1 blood from acting vampire. The vampire recruiting this retainer does not untap for a number of turns equal to its capacity, whilst being interviewed. This vampire may burn X blood to reduce this number of turns by X. A vampire with Anne Rice as its retainer may transfer her to any other vampire as a strike:R, which ends combat. This strike cannot be dodged. That vampire does not untap for a number of turns equal to its capacity. That vampire may burn x blood to reduce this number of turns by x. Any vampire that is in receipt of Anne Rice may burn an Incriminating Videotape it possesses to remove Anne Rice from the game and untap. Only one Anne Rice can be played per game. ********************************* - "Hey, I've found another helper for the l'il guys .. listen up ....." ************************** Observant Archaeologist Unique Ally with 1 life, 0 damage, 1 bleed Requires ready minion Cost 3 pool When this ally comes into play, choose a ready vampire of capacity 6 or greater without Protean, Obfuscate or Vicissitude. That vampire loses 1 blood each time it untaps until either the game ends or this ally is burned. During each Methuselah's untap phase, s/he rolls a six-sided die. On a six, that Methuselah loses 1 pool each Master phase until either s/he is ousted or this ally is burned. ************************ Over in the corner the girl with the purple hair is frowning over another card. There is a lot of writing on it, really tiny, and the face has an unusual silvery-reflecting background ... - "Whatcha got there, Ffion?" - "Dunno ..... looks like wallpaper, 'cept it's a rare ...." ************************ Breaching the Veil Master Cost: 5 pool + 1 Ready non-Caitiff non-Pander Vampire + Special When this card comes into play, burn all vampires you control, and place all their blood and your remaining pool on this card; this loss of pool does not result in you losing the game. Discard blood or pool in excess of 30. Name a clan [other than Caitiff or Pander] that one of your burned vampires belonged to. This master card now counts as a 30-capacity vampire of that clan, and is considered to have the superior version of all 3 primary disciplines of that clan, and Inferior versions of all other disciplines. This vampire cannot hunt, but can steal 1 blood from any other vampire as a +1 stealth direct action. You cannot play master cards for the rest of the game. Skip your influence phase for the rest of the game. If this vampire becomes controlled by another Methuselah or minion, burn it. You lose the game if this vampire is reduced to zero blood, or burned. Cards and actions that would cause you to lose pool now steal blood from this vampire instead. Cards and actions that would give you pool now give this vampire blood instead. "If you want a thing done properly, do it yourself." ************************ She bends closer to look at the picture. It's a figure hunched over a book in a shadowy castle. Shit, must try to get to bed a bit earlier tonite ... coulda SWORN it turned for a moment and looked at me ... her eyes water, and she sniffs ... o BUGGER!!! A big drop of blood splashes from her nose onto the card, and blindly she reaches for the kleenex ... ... the card buckles, and swells ... a black mist pours from it, and the Goths draw back ... the mist coalesces, and a dark-haired naked man forms on the table. He is bearded, greying slightly at the temples, and his eyebrows bristle over dark and glittering eyes. His body is powerful, pale-skinned and hairy. He sits up, and looks around. - "Have you got any hot sugary coffee and biscuits?" - "Shit, man, we thought you were a real vampire." - "Oh, I am. The coffee and biscuits are for YOU ... once I've finished with you ..." ... It's about half an hour later, and I feel human again. Oh alright, very funny, anyway I'm sure you know what I mean. With my coterie of anaemic Goths I take up residence in Heidelberg castle. You can look down on the town from here. My! Aren't they busy as little bees, clearing up the debris from the unfortunate incidents of last year? I'm sure we all hope there will be no repetition of anything of THAT sort. Yes, brothers and sisters, my stay in the realms of Charon has made a new character out of me. Hey, i've been out of torpor for three days and I've not killed ANYBODY. Know why? I've found the secret of the road back to Grace. Tell you??? Uh-uh, not so fast. YOU gotta go there too, to find it yourself. Don't worry, i'm gonna help you like the loving brother i am. It's all in a book, see, in the tower of shades, in the great city of Necropolis, in the land of Stygia. 2 flights up in the cinnabar room, 275th book along on the middle shelf. The Gospel according to Joseph of Arimethea. Read it or be damned! (sigh) I was afraid you'd take that rotten, cynical attitude. So TYPICAL of you. Ever since we were all mortal in Nod, you've NEVER been able to accept that I am the smartest AND the most beautiful. Just because of that unhappy affair with the razor and the merchant's daughter [it slipped!! It did!! And anyway she wanted it!!!] you all think I'm a psychopathic killer. Well I'm gonna CONVINCE you, you hear? You're coming to heaven with me whether you want to or not!!! And I know who is going to help me ... I'm not the only vampire with Vision, you'll see ... Down in the dark places of the castle a sarcophagus lid slides back, and a figure stirs ... - "Grand Master ... is it time?" - "Not yet, dear brother, first you must feed. You will need your strength for the Holy Task ahead of us ..." Excerpt from chapter 2; I'm reading the latest edition of Nature. Buggering hell [I should know, I've been there ... still walking a bit gingerly, I can tell you .....]. How the FUCK did they find out about the discrepancies in the tissue culture lab's blood records???? You know what? I suspect that one of my Dearly Beloved Brothers might have a talon in this particular pie ... now I wonder who that could've been ..... - "Ffion darling, see if you can get into the tissue culture lab computer. Find out who might have been accessing it unusually, and get back to me." - "Yes Master." A few hours later, and she is back, with a page of print-outs. Now why would someone from North America be using our server? They have mirror sites that are WAY faster in Bethesda ..... Chicago, hmmmm ..... how VERY interesting ...... Later, in the darkened crypt of the castle, a ceremony is performed for the first time since the thirteenth century. We speak in Old French, I standing before a seven-branched candelabrum, and the huge figure of my ancient liege knealing before me, his enormous hands gently holding mine. - "I, Front-de-Cuir, known as the Leper Knight, do solemnly pledge myself to the Order of the Bitter Rose and do place myself in all things at the disposal of its Grand Master, until Redemption." - "And I, Legbiter, known as the Mad Knight, do hereby claim the title of Grand Master of the Order of the Bitter Rose, since none other claimeth it. And I do solemnly swear by the Blood of Abel to revive the traditions of our ancient order, and to seek that redemption for the damned wherever it may be found, either in Christendom or Outremer. And I do accept thee, Front-de-Cuir, into the Order of the Bitter Rose. May St Caine and All Dark Angels bless us and keep us, Amen." Excerpt from chapter 3 Heidelburg, Germany A cold wind caresses the towers of the castle. In the dining-hall Legbiter and Front-de-Cuir are sitting at a great oak table. Front-de-Cuir reaches for the goblet which sits before him. And then suddenly the goblet is in Legbiter's hand, and Legbiter stands beside him. "Now you". - "I'll try, Master .." -"NO!!! Do, or do not .... for the Order of the Bitter Rose, there is no try ..." And he does, eventually. - "I have a mission for you, dear Brother." - "Command me, master." - "Our enemy The Raven is abroad once more, and worse, he intends to spread the Curse of Caine. You must persuade his principal lackey of the error of his ways." Front-de-Cuir bows, and seems to melt into the shadows. Shadows that are coterminous with the enigmatic pools of darkness that have lately been gathering around the elegantly-sculpted crypt of Sir Walter Nash... The night was nearing its end, hues of dark blue tainted the sky and the Prince of Chicago had just reintegrated his crypt after a very long night. Pieces had been moved on the chessboard, after the savage attack of Volker and the ritual performed by Camille Devereux. Nash had just sent his loyal butler to bed, when a faint noise coming from the corner of the room alerted him to a presence. he barely had time to jump aside when a red-eyed man ran from one end of the room to the other, trying to impale the Prince with the weapon left behind by Volker. Shifting his approach, the deformed member of the Order of the Bitter Rose lets go of the torn signpost and attacks with his powerful fists. Sir Walter, somewhat surprised by this attack, cannot prevent a "Now what?!" from escaping his lips, while he tries to regain his composure and study his adversary. Front-de-Cuir smiles at his foe's perplexed expression, a smile of razors in pustulent gums. But his voice is sweet and mild, almost childlike. "Ah mon cher Prince, vous n'avez pas idée des ennemis que vous vous êtes fait en vous alliant à cet ignoble oiseau de malheur qu'est - The Raven -. Mais je suis ici pour vous sauver du diable qu'il est. Les crimes de Cain seront pardonnés, et nous retrouverons tous la Grâce. Venez, cher frère, embrassons-nous!" "My french may not be very good Nosferatu, but I can tell you this: 'Retourne en enfer!'", replies Sir Walter, trying to inflict some damage to his opponent with a daring charge... (SLAM!!!) The two vampires grapple and then. with an appalling crunch, the Ventrue Prince is hurled back against his sarcophagus, except for his right arm, which Front de Cuir spits out, as he circles for another attack. Nash blinks with the pain, and when his eyes open again Front de Cuir is behind him, bending his remaining arm backwards, backwards ..... (CRACKKK!!!!!) (silence) Tenderly, Front-de-Cuir gathers the shattered limbs of the Prince of Chicago and arranges them with some kind of decency in the coffin. He smoothes Sir Walter's hair back from his bloodied brow. - "Soyez content, cher Prince. Vous allez retrouver la Grâce, je vous le jure." From his malodorous robe he draws a Black Rose which he places on Sir Walter Nash's chest, and then he bends and whispers something inaubidle in Nash's ear. Is that a trick of the light, or does the Prince's face soften somewhat? - "Master, it is done. The first of our errant brothers has been shown the road to Grace." - "Well done, dear brother. Let us hope that he takes it. (sigh) But I fear it will be long before we can teach his misguided master the path of virtue. The Order will have need of all its valiant knights, ere this crusade be done ..... " Legbiter rises, and at his gesture Front-de-Cuir follows him to the crypt ... where another coffin lies open, and a shrouded shape waits for the resurrection into Death ... Excerpt from chapter 4: Inside a secret tissue culture lab in Germany - "HOW old???" - "I was born in 862, so a bit over a millenium." - "And, er, to what do you attribute your remarkable longevity?" (smile) - "Diet has a lot to do with it." - "OK, now you understand I have to take a blood sample here, and you agree to its use in Molecular Biology research?" - "I understand. What exactly are you going to do?" - "Make the DNA, make a clone library, sequence it - separately, characterise the proteins ... try to find out what it is that makes you so different ... there, all done." Front-de-Cuir rises, and in that disconcerting way of his melts into the shadows. The young biologist is used to dealing with disturbed individuals, but this last two, migod, they were WEIRD. Still, it's an interesting project, and there is certainly something very odd about the blood samples ... no cells at all, and they actually lyse erythrocytes when added to normal blood ... kinda like it's changing it to a copy of itself like, well, like Prions really, the things that cause Mad Cow disease ... hmmm ... maybe I should do this bit in the containment lab. Don't want it getting out and infecting everyone, do we? ********************* Meanwhile, in Europe... - "Mr Evans?" - "Yes?" - "I want to buy Virgin Radio from you." - "'Scuse me? I just paid Richard Branson a cool 8 million for it. Why d'ye think I'd sell it to you??" ... - "O ..... OK ...... do you want it gift-wrapped?" - "Hi, it's 6h30 and this is Zoe Ball broadcasting to Europe on 1215 AM. This used to be Virgin Radio but our new owner has decided to call us TART Radio from now on, which is highly appropriate considering I do the morning sh........ Hang on! I'm not reading this!!!!" (confused sounds off, interrupted by Stairway to Heaven, the REALLY LONG album version....) Pietro Gucci, style icon of the shoe world is just back from a trip to Cuba. He flies into Frankfurt airport, and makes his august way into the airport lounge. Oh NO!!!! Hairy fanatics in malodorous religious habits leap athletically over the barrier and slap custard pies all over his BEAUTIFUL clothing. As they are led away the unfortunate Senor Gucci makes his way to the rest-room and begins pathetically to dab at the stains spreading over the previously-immaculate fabric. We are watching this from just behind the designer's shoulder, looking in the mirror, and so we do not see Front-de-Cuir until his claws close around the Italian's neck and shoulder. With a terrible ripping sound the head comes off and the camera follows as it arcs over the door of a nearby cubicle and plops into the bowl ... the head turns face up, and we see the dead mouth working spasmodically for a second or so, before the eyes roll up and are still ... pan back to the body, which slumps to its knees, spurting blood, and then falls forward. A pool of gore spreads towards us, and the camera draws back ... as the blood laps around a Black Rose lying on the tiled floor, seeming to embrace it ... In the shady crypt of Heidelberg castle, the Order of the Bitter Rose receives its latest recruit. The white robe is so dazzling and the tonsure so closely-cut that for a second or so we do not realise that it is a WOMAN who is kneeling before Legbiter. Her voice is deep and savage, her eyes are deadly and her teeth are filed. A voice seems to speak to us from deep inside our heads ... The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she, who thicks man's blood with cold. ******************* Front-de-Cuir is reporting to Legbiter on the unfortunate events in the lavatory at Frankfurt airport. Legbiter shakes his head gravely. - "Vanitas sanitatum, et omnia vanitas, thus saith the Bleacher. Let us pray that this little demonstration will lead our elegant but depraved adversary to repentance." Knightmare enters, but does not bow. She is dressed in close-fitting black leather, and there is a sword at her side. Her hips swing with insolent physical grace. - "Legbiter, the Statue-huggers are on the move. Shall I grease 'em?" - "Dear Knightmare, how pretty you look in your armour. But let not your youthful enthusiasm run away with you ... there is Precedence to consider, and we may need the services of our new media acquisition for other purposes ... the Raven menaces us still. Even now, I believe that a plot may be hatching between our Adversaries. We must be on our guard." Knightmare snorts derisively, and leaves. You used to be madder than this, AND sexier, you silly old bugger, she thinks, as she descends the stairs. Reading her thoughts Legbiter smiles. Ah my dear, you have no CONCEPTION of the depths that I have plumbed. But you will learn. O yes ... you will learn why Gehenna, which we all fear, is a Place, as well as a time ... you will learn the Great Secret that Front-de-Cuir and I discovered that winter's night in distant Outremer ... the secret that drove me insane, and that I had forgotten until I read that book in the land of gibbering shades ....... Excerpt from chapter 5: Inside the secret tissue culture lab in Germany Dear Dr Stark, the committee has considered your application for funds to support research into the possible function of a prion-like entity associated with extreme longevity. We regret to say that it has not been possible to recommend that this project be funded. Referees' comments are attached for your benefit. - "WHAAAT???? FUCK!!!! Fuckee fuck FUCK!!!! That was the BEST grant application I've ever WRITTEN!!!! What do the fuckwit referees have to say this time ..... I bet it's those bastards in London ....." Stark project 0/25; referee number 1. I can't believe this is a serious application. All the figures supposedly showing preliminary data are actually pictures of flowers. Stark 0/25; referee number 2. There is something wrong with this application, the figures seem to be garbled. I can't referee it in its present form. Needs to be resubmitted for the next deadline. - "???????" ****************** As Sir Walter Nash prepares his speech for the convocation, a sudden blast of loud pop music permeates his august sanctum ... turning his head, he sees a shapely figure with a sword in her right hand and a ghetto blaster on her left shoulder stalking out of the shadows. Knightmare hurls the Ghetto Blaster at the wall. It smashes, and smokes, as she prepares to pounce Nash ... but then, suddenly, her eyes open so wide they seem to occupy the whole of her face, and the sword falls to the floor ... - "O Caine's good grace ... I ... O ... I never dreamed it would be you ..." Nash seems similarly stricken. "O my love ... after all these years ..." They hurtle into each other's arms with the force of opposing magnets, and there is an audible crunch as they make contact ... Some time later the camera plays over a scene of devastation ... Discarded, Nash's suit and Knightmare's armour are intermingled, and the two lovers are lying together naked in Sir Walter's coffin. Both bear the marks of passion, but Sir Walter's are worse, and he seems in a deep sleep as Knightmare languidly traces the outlines of his ears, lips and nose, smiling as she does so. - "I'm glad it was you, dearest. Legbiter may be mad but he never lies unless it's in his direct interest to do so. So I really believe him, that we can be human again. And then we can be truly together as nature intended." She kisses him, long and tenderly, and then swiftly rises and dresses. As she leaves she blows the comatose Prince another kiss. "Until next time, my darling ... " And she is gone, into the cold dusk ... ******************************** Heildelburg Castle, Germany I'm going through my files deleting the Bitter Rose virus. Only a coupla million biotech stocks and the project application, not too bad damage at all. And stylishly done, I have to admit, but then that's one thing ol' ravey-chops has never been short of. Poor old Ioshi and Stark though ..... hmmmm ..... I'm interrupted by the sudden knowledge of Front-de-Cuir's Impressive presence. "Master, it is nightfall again." I open my arms wide. "Dear Brother, ever faithful to the cause. Come to me." I sink my fangs into his massive neck, and drink deeply ..... - "Now I have another mission for you, sweet brother. Once again you must pass among the UnCainely. Powerful forces are aligning against Redemption, and the Order alone can stop them. This time it is the Prince of Washington who must be guided into the path of wisdom." Front-de-Cuir fades once again into the shadows. In his strange world of unnatural corners and impossible angles, it is only a few minutes' walk to the Black Oval Office where Emerson Bridges attends to the business of guiding the Camarilla ... an Institution threatened by the rumours of his brother Prince's apostasy ... can it really be true that Sir Walter Nash is Knightmare's lover, perhaps even blood-bonded to her???? Is it actually possible that they are conspiring with the Mad Malkavian Legbiter and his Absurd Order to achieve some ridiculous chimaeric Golconda??? Sighing, he rubs his august forehead and turns his thoughts to more pleasant matters ... he savours the sweet memories of Natasha's death-agony and rebirth into darkness. Bridges' undead heart leaps, in spite of himself, as the skinned corpse of his favourite ghoul-butler smashes through the door and hits the desk, spattering blood in all directions. He rises. A hideous mockery of the butler lurches into view. Patches of skin and uniform are loosely attached to the enormous bulk of, well, SOMETHING, that carries a silver tray, with a Rose on it ..... As Front-de-Cuir advances to present the platter to Emerson, a yell can be heard coming from an alcove in the Prince's office. A form springs out of the shadows and blocks his way by slamming into him. The rose falls to the floor, rolling out of view under the desk. And when Front-de-Cuir raises his gaze, the Prince of Washington has disappeared. But Natasha is still in front of him. Front-de-Cuir's eyes fill with big bloody tears. "My poor little lost lamb" he sobs, the platter rolling into the corner with a clatter. "You at least shall never know the curse of eternal murder." She closes in, flailing at him with her impotent little fists, which Front-de-Cuir seizes in his great massive paws. He draws her to him, seeming to embrace her with real affection: there is a terrible snap as her spine breaks, and she goes limp. Since the end of the cold war the clubs and brothels of Heidelberg have been quieter ..... morose german bikers cannot fill the space left by the handsome and extrovert GIs. Some have closed completely, and it's in a back room of one of these that the Sabbat conclave has met tonight. - "Alright Comrades, next on the agenda is Comrade Knightmare's proposal to elect, er, some French guy to the College of Cardinals. Comrade Your Grace, the floor is yours." - "Yeah, thanks Comrade Chair, the Candidate is Front-de-Cuir, the Leper Knight. Some of you may know him by his English name, Leatherface. Maybe you even know another name, but I wouldn't say it where he can hear (nervous laughter). I think this Comrade's recent efforts against the hated Ventrue are too well known to require rehearsal by me. 'Fact, he can't be here with us tonight because he is taking care of some Ventrue bitch even as we speak." (cheers) - "Now, I know what you'll be thinking. Why should we be electing one of our best warriors to a position of influence within the church? When we all know he can't even take political actions or use equipment, because of the vows of his Order?" - "Well, comrades, that's just exactly the reason why Front-de-Cuir is best for the job. We don't WANT someone who's gonna be scheming and plotting in the church to cause trouble. We want someone who is going to stabilise things, and above all to unify the church against the fuckin' Camarilla. Cos I tell you Brothers and Sisters, there's a storm brewing and the Cammie bastards are its weatherfront. Why, only the other night I had to persuade an old friend not to help them ostracise our independent pals." Someone stirs in the back row and Knightmare casts a baleful glance in that direction. Her voice deepens and seems to acquire an even more savage timbre. - "And I know something else that some of you are thinking ... the fuckin' spies and cammie fellow travellers, we know who you are, the ones that think you're so fuckin' clever (uproar, but Knightmare's voice soars above it, seeming in fact to come not from her but from a deep place inside your head), well you can tell your masters that this vote had BETTER pass, because if it fails, we'll come a callin'." More uproar, cheers and jeers but the cheers seeming to carry the night .. a fight breaks out, and Knightmare stands with her hands on her hips and a cold smile playing across her face. While the skirmishes blossom to bloodied battles around him, Zach manages sneak away unnoticed. Throwing an helpless look toward the assembly, he heads for his hidden motorcycle, and rides back toward Frankfurt to make his report to Mast, his mentor. "We will have to do somethings about those fools, " he thinks sourly. "Especially that Cardinal Knight. Things will get messy real soon..." Outside the club a black limo is parked. In the back Legbiter is sitting, talking to a heavy-jowled figure with hooded eyes and a strangely thin, almost reedy voice. -"Leggy, Leggy, you know how much I love you. But you never show me enough respect, and that hurts me, right here." A withered hand hovers over the area where, long ago, this creature's heart might have beaten. But the effort of remembering its exact location is too much, and the hand slips back into the coat. He pats my cheek. "But you always were my favourite. Y'know what? I'm gonna do this favour for ya." I seize his hand and kiss the big golden ring that gleams there. "I won't forget this, uncle Augustus. O, and many happy returns of the day." I signal out of the window and a ghoul in shades approaches, bearing something long and thin wrapped in gold paper and red ribbons. Augustus reads the label; To Uncle Aggy from little Leggy, for your collection. Many happy returns of the day. He opens it. It's a sword, a basket-handled Jacobean duelling sword to be precise .... Augustus Giovanni chortles merrily and wraps me in a great bear-hug. -"The Sword of Judgement ... Leggy, leggy, you always did know how to get round your old Uncle!" He snaps his fingers, and the tortured faced man at the wheel of the car turns. "Gaspare, you gotta help Cousin Leggy now, y'understand? Now you be a good boy and make the Family proud, y'hear me?" -"Yes Cainefather." A look of pure hatred flashes my way. I return it with a sunny smile. And then we both get out of the car, and stand with our heads bent as it purrs off into the Spring night. Passing a bare Magnolia tree, its wheels whip up the fallen blossoms in an opalescent cloud. Heidelberg Castle, Germany Legbiter, lost in thought, dreams of the day where all kindred will have found the way. When is eyes re-focus on his desk though, a letter that had not been there moments before has materialized. The Malkavian opens it and reads: Dear Thou-who-hast-always-been-crazier-than-most, Are you simply out of your fucking mind?!? I can understand your beliefs, and I even somehow respect them. BUT CAN'T YOU LEAVE MY MINIONS ALONE FOR ONE SECOND? Don't you have some artsy guy from the Renaissance to take care of? I would like to respectfully point out to you that there is a rather nasty Brujah trying to destroy me who, my sources say, has his eyes on your own pool of influence. I am sure that you are aware of how my own disappearance would strengthen him just before he jumps to your neck. Not that he is not already the strongest of the pack as it is now. Soooo, how about you don't make his life too easy, ok? I would so much hate to see you end up with an enemy that is not me. Of course, if your only goal is to destroy every last minion I have, without concern for your other adversaries, I say you are on the right track. Keep up the good work... - The Raven - - "My My, the bird of the night is rather edgy these days. Could it be he is not so strong as I would have believed?" And so the Malkavian becomes lost in thought again. I'm writing my reply, and humming a risque little campaign song I learned during the second crusade: - "Richard, hath onlie gott one balle, Ye Odere, is in Westminstere Halle, His Mothere, Sillie Buggere, Putt it there whan that hee was Smalle." I sit back and admire my calligraphy. Shit, even I can't read my own writing. But this is one I can't entrust to a secretary, and I know that his chief minion's skill in code-breaking will decipher it. Here is what she reads, once she will have figured out which way up to hold the parchment: Esteemed Lord Raven, we write to express the honour we felt to be blessed with a letter from your Lordship. It is indeed greatly to be regretted if the youthful enthusiasm of our Knightly Brethren has caused you any unease or inconvenience. But you will appreciate, more than some other benighted kindred lost in the fogs of damnation, the Noble Cause that animates their breasts, and in your great magnanimity this will doubtless cause you to forgive them. For our part, we will undertake to restrain their excesses. Actually, we had better do so right now - I can hear dear Knightmare in the armoury, choosing her outfit for another foray (how I hate crude modernisms such as Bum's Rush, don't you?) against the dear Prince of Washington. She does have some unreasonable jealousy about his relative position vis-a-vis her, um, friend the Prince of Chicago, you see. For this time, I will try to convince her to turn her attention to the decadent inhabitants of Miami. Doubtless with your superior wisdom you will be able to see, better than us, how a more lasting cessation of hostilities between us might most stably be arranged. Please consider what form a peace treaty between America and Heidelberg might take, and communicate it to us as soon as may be. Ut Magnus Vermus Trismegistus Non Vos Edat, Your Loving Brother Legbiter, Prince of Wessex and Castellan of Heidelburg, called the Mad Knight Excerpt from chapter 6: It's evening again and I am taking breakfast. Stop wriggling so much, you'll ruffle my suit. Good girl. Aaaaah. Now, off you pop for your coffee and biscuits. Sigh. I do miss their death-agonies, I must admit. O good, here comes the butler with the mail. Ah, how delightful, a letter from the Dear Princess of Rome. I think we'll have this one opened in the bunker by someone expendable, just in case ... [some time later]. Dear Lord Legbiter, this is your mandate for the extra activity required by the rumoured imminent awakening of the Antediluvians, styled Gehenna. You are requested and required by the Nectocratic Decision of the Conclave of Frankfurt to use all Powers and Influences that may be required to prevent and forestall this unhappy event. For which let these Presents be your authority, Constanza, Princess of Rome. PS Dear Leggy, it's been a ghoul's age! Sorry you had to leave Rome in such a hurry last time. Let me know when you're coming back, and I'll get that Special Dress out again! Kisses, Conny. PPS Love to Gaspare. Uncle Aggy says the sword is Great. Hmmm, if only they knew. Y'see dear brothers in Caine, Gehenna isn't just a TIME. It is a PLACE, a valley just outside Jerusalem. They tipped the rubbish there in Classical times, 'cos it was really stinky. Lots of rubbish. Layers of it, and great bonfires to try to drown out the stink, but it seemed to get worse and worse as they burned. And then the Paynims built a castle there, a sorta watch tower for the city. They called it Krak Riyha-Afnah .... A really tough tower, and in the end it was the Dark Crusade, the one they don't tell you about in the history books, that broke its magical portals and cast down its walls. The defenders fled into the dungeons, and we followed them, hungry for blood .... but of all the Order of the Bitter Rose, the original one, only Front-de-Cuir and I made it out of that dungeon .... and I went mad, and Front-de-Cuir got religion. Hey, I wonder where my old comrade is ... he should be here by now ..... O look, here is the latest issue of Nature ... and our paper is in it! What a fabulous picture of Gaspare on the front cover! He WILL be pleased. And that banner headline - SELF-ASSEMBLING PRIONS - A MOLECULAR BASIS FOR VAMPIRISM - wow, if that don't put the mockers on the fuckin' cammies and their cowardly masquerade, i don't know what will! Let's see if they did our corrections properly .... A PRION-LIKE ENTITY ASSOCIATED WITH EXTREME LONGEVITY AND UNUSUAL DIETARY PREFERENCES Stark, M*, Legbiter, Lª and Honnecker, A*. *European Molecular Biology Lab ªHeidelberg castle Heidelberg, Germany Nature volume 392,  pp 600-605. A small polypeptide has been isolated from 4 individuals whose age has been shown by radio-carbon dating to be, respectively, 6000, 1000, 600 and 500 years before present. This peptide is unusual in showing multiple repeats of the sequence Valine-Alanine-Methionine-Proline-Isoleucine-Arginine- Glutamate [VAMPIRE in the single-letter code]. The peptide is shown to have the functional property of altering mammalian blood-proteins to copies of itself, apparently by a cut-and-splice mechanism involving nucleophilic attack by the glutamate hydroxyl group on the peptide backbone. The peptide is shown to be unstable in the absence of mammalian blood. Interestingly, there is a correlation between the number of peptide repeats and the age of the individuals studied. The camera zooms back out of a high window, and then pans down to one of the less salubrious quarters of Heidelberg ..... the brutal and ruinous Nazi-era buildings which have been pressed into emergency use to house the hordes of desperate refugees fleeing from the spiralling conflict in the Balkans. We see Front-de-Cuir moving among his flock, exchanging a word here and there, bringing help to the sick and relief to the dying. They actually love him ..... because the death he brings them is clean and quick, unlike what he does to the neo-nazi thugs whose skinless corpses the Polizei are just fishing out of the river ..... An hour or so later, and all the Order of the Bitter Rose are assembled in the Great Hall for Dark Vespers. Solemnly, I drain Front-de-Cuir of a ritual quintal of vitae. Solemnly, Front de Cuir fills himself with the vitae of our newest recruit, Gaspare Giovanni. Strangely, he doesn't seem that happy about it, nor about being the most famous vampire since Caine ..... I wonder why that might be .... hehehe ..... Gaspare Giovanni, still weak from the ritual exsanguination, finds himself on the plane to Montreal. In a box in the hold, that is. Meanwhile Knightmare is in the first-class compartment, wearing her factor 8 million suncream and ostentatiously chain-smoking Cuban Cigars. They De-plane and make their way to Boucher's quarter. - "What's Leggy want this time?" Knightmare looks at the Italian with distaste. - "It's the pickled heart of Frere Andre. Boucher ate half of it and he's promised the other half to Legbiter. This is a great honour for the Order of the Bitter Rose." Their contact is in the graveyard, awaiting them. All the vampires INSTANTLY take a massive dislike to one another. Knightmare hates Joaquina because the gypsy is prettier than she is. Gaspare hates Joaquina because she is a low-life gippo thief with no concept of Omerta [as opposed to a low-life wop thief with a strong concept of Omerta]. Joaquina hates Legbiter and all his vamps because she knows the old lecher keeps a folder full of pictures of the pretty vamps and he keeps tilting them to look at their cleavages. - "We've come for the heart." Joaquina burps, prettily. "What heart?" That's the last straw ..... ritual exsanguination, jetlag and now cheek from a Ravnos. With a snarl, Gaspare leaps on Joaquina ..... Knightmare thinks about joining in but then feels a familar hand on her thigh .... "O Walter ..... you came!" Badger was passing nearby on her new hawg when she heard the distinctive snarls and grunts of a fight. She watched the woman resist the powerful blows of the man, and rejoiced when she saw her knock him unconscious. She offered her help in getting rid of the body, and invited her to the bar, reopened only an hour after the police raid. No one can keep it closed. As for the body, since Badger doesn't care the least about the Masquerade, she dropped it right into the waiting line of a Montreal Italian restaurant, named Da Giovanni, all the while singing: Da Giovanni, Da Giovanni, Da Giovanni, Da Giovaaanniiii. La meilleure place à Montréal, Où les repas sont un régal, Da Giovaaanniiii. Vous goûterez les meilleurs spagetthi, et la pizza, et le ravioliiii. Vous passerez une belle soirée, Soyez-en sur quand vous irez chez... Da Giovaaanniiii. Walter Nash and Knightmare are sitting at the best table in Da Giovanni, gazing into each others' eyes. - "This is our first proper date for 2 centuries" - "O darling it's lovely! And so sweet of you! What a pity we can't eat all the lovely pizzas!" Sir Walter smiles. - "My dear, Da Giovanni specialises in, um, hard-to-meet pizza toppings." He snaps his fingers, and an attentive waiter bends and listens to his whispered instructions ..... and not ten minutes later the lovers are tucking into a deep pan quadruple anchovy and corpse pizza with extra vitae (hold the garlic chummer, and I MEAN hold it, less you want to take a closer look at the origins of the Pizza Marinara). And as is customary at Da Giovanni, they get to keep the bottle when they go ... with a sigh, Knightmare notices that she's been drinking Gaspare. Well you taste a lot better than you look, or fight. She puts him in her luggage to take home but first Sir Walter takes her to his bijou little Canadian residence (a mere 35 rooms set in a paltry 250 acres). As this is a family tale of Gothic horror and intrigue, we draw a veil over the subsequent day of unrestrained passion. Tired but happy, Knightmare leaves next evening for Heidelberg. Gaspare is still in the box, and by now he is feeling REALLY surly. Meanwhile panic reigns in Miami. An open alliance between the insane and the insanely violent! The worst breach of the Masquerade since the Inquisition! And horror of horrors, an article in Nature which it's instantly apparent to M is actually written in an Etruscan military code of the 5th century BC, and gives detailed information on the organisation of vampiric society in the Everglades. Sure enough, as he puts the article down with shaking hands, a car purrs down the driveway. The hidden bugs in the Magnolia blossom reveal Milicent Smith at the wheel, a grim but righteous expression on her face, while Full Metal Anorak the Muddled Vampire Hunter is rummaging around on the back seat trying to load his shotgun with DBRs whilst at the same time reciting the Exorcistic Mass ... I'm reading the reports of religious nutcases rampaging through the American South, slapping my thighs and howling with laughter. Ah, it's times like this when it's good to be dead. O what's this, a party invitation from Dear Constanza .... "Orgy tonite, Palazzo de' Borgia. Black Tie. Bring your own Blood Puppy" O dear, that would have been fun ... but with my responsibilities, these nights I don't get out much, y'know? Excerpt from chapter 7: The Sturmberg ..... this great black concrete drum was built as an anti- aircraft tower and air-raid shelter during the war, and despite several direct hits in Lancaster raids it is still standing. Here the pathetic human spindrift of the Balkan war huddles in the dark, but it is not the bombers they fear now..... Gaspare stalks the corridoors with mad eyes, gibbering with the intensity of his blood lust. Where to hunt? Suddenly he feels himself surrounded ... shit! A HORDE of hungry-eyed Caitiffs! He crouches, ready for battle, but instead they push forward a living human, pulsing with that which Gaspare needs most of all .... with a cry he springs upon her, and in seconds she is an empty husk. He leans back against the wall and studies the young vampires, who are all watching him intently. Not hunger in their eyes then ... but what? - "Why?" - "We love you, man .... if all that's wrong with us is a sorta disease, then maybe it can be cured, right? Maybe we can be human again, yeah?" Secretly Gaspare doubts that, but then he has known me for a lot longer than they have .... but hey, he thinks, maybe this fame thing ain't so bad after all .... Bit of tricksy camera work for this next scene ... first we see through the eyes of Front-de-Cuir. Legbiter is squatting naked on his desk, feeding from Front-de-Cuir's wrist, and pausing occasionally to hoot, mournfully. Feathers are stuck here and there onto his body, some with copydex and some with sellotape. A real owl is perched on top of the computer, and sometimes it hoots back. Front-de-Cuir's hobby is bird-spotting and he knows that this is a great Canadian Eagle Owl ... mildly he wonders why it is here, and what relationship it has to his Master's increasingly obvious derangement. Owls and flowers, isn't there something about that in Celtic myth? The Gangrel would know ....... Suddenly the scene changes to the viewpoint of Legbiter. All the colours are different here, and time and space have strange conjunctions and lacunae invisible to the ungifted eye. I AM an owl, and a flower, and the High Prince of Wales, invulnerable except to a spear passed through the eye of a self-bored stone .... time I told the WORLD ... time to reactivate http://legbiter.tripod.com .. lessee, how did it go again? One bad thing about having wings is that it's rioly hord ot tpye wiht them ..... oops, silly me, I seem to have crashed the entire internet again .... Another image ..... interlinked brightly-coloured balls rotate in the darkness. Pan back, and we see that it's a Silicon Graphics image "VAMPIRE peptide energy minimised" appears in the top right corner. Sir Walter Nash, Camille the Raven, Alexandria and Felicia Mostrom are studying it. Just a little twisted flat ribbon .. can this really be the curse of Caine? - "Is this true?" - "It's a level of truth. But right now that hardly matters. We have to deal with the fact that the Anarchs know about it now, and some of them are even volunteering to participate in clinical trials of anti-vampire drugs. The Masquerade is in ruins .. all that we have worked for ...." - "O very sensitive I'm sure, but blubbing isn't going to help. I see the situation quite differently. Legbiter is a Sabbat fiend and a lunatic and not even on this continent, but somehow he contrives to thwart us at every turn. Somehow his influence is everywhere. How can this be? Simple. There is treachery in the Camarilla." Alexandria turns her beautiful face towards Camille and gazes upon her with sad eyes that seem to contain all the contempt and pity that there ever was in the world. For a second she quails .... then remembers her master's secret instructions. - "And we have recruited someone to help us track down the source of the treachery." Camille snaps her fingers, the door opens and Gaspare Giovanni walks in. He surveys the vampires with hooded eyes, then extends a talon and points at Sir Walter Nash. - "Him." - "What is your proof?" Gaspare turns to the slide projector and presses a button. On the wall we see Sir Walter Nash and Knightmare locked together in Sir Walter's great marble sarcophagus .... several slides later, Sir Walter strides up to the projector and turns it off. Then he kneels before the Toreador Inner Circle member. - "As Prince of Chicago I demand my Right to be Tried by Combat" Deep silence. Then, slowly, Alexandria nods her head. - "WHAAT???" - "It's true! They've killed Gaspare! It was the fuckin' Inner Circle man! I TOLD you they would never let this happen!!!" Hasina is quivering with rage, but hers is focussed. She slaps Igo, hard, and then seizes him by the throat and picks him off the ground. - "Now you listen to me, fuckwit. Get the Molotov cocktails, send Nik to dig up the arms dump, and rouse out that treacherous bastard Uriah. Meet me in the cargo bay of Miami airport at 2100 hours, and don't forget the flamethrower this time." - "Hey, what about me?" - "Do I know you?" - "Smudge ma'am, sure you do!" - "O yeah, ok you can come along too. Just don't ever talk to me or come within four feet of me again, k?" Meanwhile, back in Washington, Knightmare is visiting the sick. With a cry Natasha awakes, vomiting up a little of her rescuer's vitae. Knightmare picks her up by the throat and looks deep into her eyes. - "You really are a little piece of shit, arencha?" - "Who - oo - whadya wan'?" - "Apparently you have to be free to find Redemption, Caine knows why. Or maybe Legbiter fancies ya. Hey, don't worry, you might run into a sunbeam or a lupine before he gets round to doing anything about it." Knightmare lets Natasha go, and she sinks to the stone floor, burying her head in her hands. - "What's happening to me?" Knightmare squats beside her. - "Look, you're dead, alright? But you're still female, and the shit still flies the same way as when you were alive, you got that? And now here's the choice, the one you flunked when you were alive, and the only choice you've ever had or ever will have ... you can curl up and let them whack you, or you can whack 'em back first, by joining the Sabbat." She stands and pats the younger vampire awkwardly on the cheek. As she strides out of the crypt she calls back over her shoulder; - "Later, sister. Anytime you want to choose, we'll find you." We see a burnt and headless figure blindly groping its way through the tower of Shades, awooden stake sunk in its chest. In the library it hunts out a book, feeling the raised letters with its charred fingers .... then it lets the book go, and we see the head and flesh reforming ... the most beautiful man we have ever seen stands and stretches. He gazes around himself with clear eyes that seem to cut through the shadows like razors. Brushing aside the Legionaries and Summoners he strides out onto the plain of the dead, where an Angel awaits him. The Angel touches his hand, and a clear bright light spreads, swallowing the scene .... Back in Heidelberg, momentarily lucid, Legbiter brushes away a tear. - "Dear M, you were always my favourite brother. Live long, and prosper!" What's that? Hmmm, a buried Red Cross convoy, eh? So THAT'S how the Brujah are getting around our current supply problems .... well, let them, for now ..... my, won't the Ruffians be pleased when they find out who exactly is pulling their strings? hehehe ...... Exceprt from chapter 8: Huge thunderheads mutter and flicker over the Rhine, and Gotterdamerung is playing on the CD in my desktop. This internet thing is SOOOO cool. Hang on, what's this .... a site where you can play virtual card games????? Yummee!!! Oops. Fink ..... that's a familiar name ..... think I'll just put a child-lock on that site, burn this computer and get my new sysop friends to erase all tapes that might allow him to trace me .... phew! SUICIDE OF NOTED SCIENTIST Dr Mordecai Stark, discoverer of the so-called VAMPIRE prion, died yesterday in what German Police are treating as a suicide incident. Ingenious to the last, Dr Stark appears to have killed himself by deliberate impalement on a wooden stake, the impact with which activated a device that first cut off his head, and then doused his body with flaming petrol. Dr Stark leaves a wife and 750 hungry lab-rats. In the darkness of the Sturmberg, Knightmare is feeding. Despite the depradations of the vampires the old air-raid shelter is fuller than ever. And not just of the living. The wraiths of Europe's ancient and modern tragedies are massing, sensing something ..... an evil older than vampires is stirring, and a strange smell is drifting over Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have planted the star of David on a hillock in Arab land. "Hey, Shmiel, stop the excavator for a second willya?" "Why, what ya got?" "Dunno, looks like a kinda tunnel or something .... phuagh, guess something died down there alright!" How I love the fair. This was well worth the 10 million marks. The colours, the laughter, the children ... such nice, FAT children. What a wonderful thing modern nutritional science has turned out to be. "Ah, dear Brother, how nice to see you again. How are you?" "Well, dear master. And how are you feeling this evening?" "MUCH better. I realise now that I am not an owl. I am, in fact, a goatsucker, an INFINITELY more attractive bird ... and talking of sucking ....." Front-de-Cuir takes his responsibilities seriously. He has listened to the talk of the refugees in the Sturmberg, and tonight he is on his way to the Balkans, to do a little freelance work on behalf of the Hague war-crimes tribunal .... ..... and here's that dam'd packing case again. The much-battered form of Gaspare emerges from it (aided by Knightmare), and staggers out into the bright lights of the city, positively HOWLING for blood .... which he eventually finds. Excerpt from chapter 9: Heidelburg, Germany In the town below the castle my minions are feeding, but I have more important things to attend to. Here, do you think this picture looks better like so, with a black background, or like this, with a sort of swirly red one? O, sorry, didn't I say what it was? This is the anti-VAMPIRE peptide aptamer that the guys in Ioshi's company isolated ..... the one we've been doing the secret clinical trials on. It's truly amazing what modern molecular biology can accomplish, doncha think? Mind you, between ourselves I think Knightmare's unusually high humanity was a major factor in the success of this compound. Amor Vincit Omnia sorta thing, doncha know? A little later, Knightmare is visiting Sir Walter in Chicago. They are sitting in a quiet corner of the Succubus club. He hasn't seen her like this before ... despite the fact that she suggested this meeting, she is moody and tearful and not at all her usual passionate self. Suddenly she gets up, gags, and hurries into the ladies, whence she emerges a few moments later looking pale and ill, her makeup all smudged. - "Darling, poor you, you must have eaten someone who disagreed with you. Shall we go home?" She nods. "I'm sorry my love .... but there's something I have to tell you first." Walter waits, expectantly. "I'm ... going-to-have-a-baby ..." They both drop to the floor as if poleaxed. Front-de-Cuir emerges from the shadows and lifts them up with his massive hands. He sits the Prince in his seat, and slaps him gently on the cheeks till he comes round. - "May I be the first to congratulate you, sir?" - "But .... it's not possible .... o, see to her, please ... I am too weak..." Front-de-Cuir raises up his stricken sister and feeds her some of his rich vitae. Reviving, she smiles shyly as Sir Walter silently gathers her to him, rocking her gently as though she were a child ... the other members of the Succubus club are watching, bemusedly. Those with Auspex can see strange unfamiliar colours around the three vampires .... could that be hope??? The ancient vampire is brought snarling to the Caern of the Hanging Tree and tied down in the middle of a circle of ceremonially-garbed Werewolves. Looking to left and right, he sees that all his minions are among the throng, and knows he is doomed. Still, he will show them how a scion of Caine dies ... The tribal elder, Pearl River, rises and approaches him. "Drink this" "Never!!!" She signs to the strongest Ahrouns, and after a brief struggle they succeed in holding Maastracht's jaws open for long enough to get the liquid in. It tastes of .... nothing, a little sticky perhaps, a little salty ... Everyone sits in silence for what seems like an age ... then Glooms-without-Friends, the young Ragabash, comes out of the circle and looks at Maastraacht, carefully. "It's working." And so it is. Maastracht's body is changing, becoming hairy and muscular ... A tail grows, and he stands up, effortlessly snapping the chains that hold him. A whole new WORLD of scent bursts upon his brain, and he reels ... He hears the voice of the Theurge intoning ... " ... Our new brother's tribal name shall be Twice-born, and his auspice shall be Ahroun, since that moon shines on this his birth-night. He shall have all priviledges and rights of his tribe, rank and auspice from this day forth, until Apocalypse." But Maastracht is not listening really. Wonderingly, he puts his hand on his chest. Thump-ump, thump-ump, thump-ump .... what the fuck did they put in there????? Excerpt from Chapter 10: How i do love weddings! Doesn't Knightmare, oops i mean Lady Nash look GORGEOUS???? I designed that myself, y'know .... little bit of lace there, to hide the bump, practical and decorative too doncha think? Come on brother, come along my friend, let's wish the happy couple joy ....... Sir Walter, you're a lucky vampire! My dear, you look DIVINE!!! Walter and Knightmare are too happy to notice anything amiss. Their plane leaves for Greece in 3 hours time, taking them to their honeymoon and their first sunrise in centuries. But Raven and Front-de-Cuir are watching Legbiter carefully ... they can see that he is very close to some sort of edge. "Master, it is terribly hot in here, perhaps you should take a walk in the cloister?" "EXCELLENT idea brother, perhaps we shall see some owls. Raven my friend, will you honour us with your company? And your lovely alter ego? Brother, perhaps you would take the lady's arm ... the one she has left, that is ..... HEHEHEHEHE!!!" Out in the cool night owls are indeed hooting. Legbiter lights two cigarettes, and gives one to Raven. The two old vampires lean on the buttress and smoke companionably for a while. "Monsters we are, lest angels we become. What a terrible, terrible, waste!" They turn to look at the speaker, Front-de-Cuir. Bloody tears are running down his face, and he lets go of Camille's stiff corpse, which threatens to topple over into the grass. Legbiter quickly retrieves it and props it more securely against the buttress. - "I have a quest to go on, dear friend. The Order has one last enemy and I must face it, alone. so I have a favour to ask you." Raven draws on the cigarette and nods. "You cannot win, legbiter. But of course you know that." - "I need you to take over my temporal affairs. The Grand Master of the Order may not go on quest. I want you to be the Grand master, and to give me leave to go." - "That honour belongs to the Leper Knight, surely?" - "He would not let me go. You will. Please, my friend. Afterwards you can give the Mastership to Front-de-Cuir." Wordlessly The Raven nods. It will be safer without the Mad Knight, but lonelier .... so very, very lonely. A week or so later ..... and the sun is setting over the acropolis. Lady Nash is sitting on a fallen column, looking out over the city. She is wearing a green maternity dress and purple boots, and sunglasses because the light still hurts her eyes. She hears a sound and half turns, and at that moment Sir Walter presses the shutter ....... And at some juncture, Legbiter rides out from Heidelberg castle in the full panoply of the Order of the Bitter Rose. Raven and Front-de-Cuir watch him go, but not for long .... the grey fingers of dawn are already tightening around the neck of the night. At the head of a long forest ride the Mad Knight sets his lance in its rest and awaits the enemy. Here he comes! Gotcha now, my friend! With a thunder of hooves, the ghouled horse, its head lowered, gallops eastward. We hear Legbiter shouting: "Onward! Onward! For St Caine and all Dark Angels!" And then with a terrific WHOOMPH! he bursts into flames as the sun's rays strike him directly ..... Front-de-Cuir has tried the cure too, but it does not work on him. Sadly he wanders out into the night. Azreal the Angel of Death is there. They greet each other like old friends, as indeed they are. "Why so sad, Grand Master?" "I am not to be redeemed, brother." The Angel squeezes his hand. "You cannot be redeemed, my friend. Didn't you know? Where there is no sin, there can be no redemption. Come, let us walk together." Under a certain hill in Jerusalem Rends-the-Treehuggers and his unsavoury brethren are feeling their way through a labyrinth of absolute darkness ...... "here, it's here ..... smell it ..." There is a sense of immensity and horror ..... a light goes on, and at this moment the cameraman's sanity cracks and the camera falls to the ground. We can see several hairy feet. The cameraman is making a strange noise, like a cross between a scream and a grunt. "shit ..... give it the fuckin' sacrifice man!" "Ahai Foebok! Ahai CArnala! oshit oshit let's GET OUTA HERE!!!!" ....... The hairy feet recede ...... the sound of the cameraman is subsumed into another sound ..... and some rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born .... **************************** Back to normal next month with loads of insensitive technical stuff and, hopefully, a neat !gangrel deck from pierre rebstock. See y'all then!