It is a feeling I have, nothing more. Unease, if you will. A sense of being . . . hunted!
* * * *
I was sitting in my study, sipping wine and contemplating my next several moves – as any good Dragon Chess Master would – when I received word: Refruchard was dead!
* * * *
After arranging a 'chance' meeting in Seltaren, I concluded that the new 'Lord Maure' was nothing more than a mere pretender and quite obviously not a true scion of House Maure.
House Maure had been established centuries ago – by truly Noble Suel families – gathered from among those who escaped the calamitous destruction of our proud and glorious Imperium. Those devastated families merged, forming a new House – the House of Maure – joining together in common cause, for no less a purpose than the restoration of that ancient realm. The true scions of the House of Maure would never have stooped to mere 'social climbing' within the wretched aristocracy of a backwoods Duchy!
No, the real family – or what's left of it – still resides within the ancient Fortress and rarely socializes with outsiders. Sadly, over the centuries the family's grown enervated, even vapid. They are no longer even capable of exercising complete control over our ancient demesne, whereas we once ruled a combined territory greater than this entire Duchy! Utterly chagrined, I found that portions of the ancient Citadel are, even now, occupied by others, rather than by our glorious family! Pathetic wretches that they are! I blame the insanity that now runs rampant within our House. This was not an unforeseen event, no, for we of House Maure have long been worshipers of the Demon Prince, Yeenoghu.
Sadly, today the true scions of House Maure reside in the ancient Castle, weak and emasculated, surrounded by a decayed and fading glory, while a clan of parvenu – upstarts – runs amok in the country-side, using our family name! Through careful investigation I have learned that most of these 'new relations' are merely arrivistes, pathetic social climbers, who took the family name only a few centuries ago. They are not directly descended from the founding families and do not seek to reconstitute the Imperium, satisfied with joining the Duchy's licentious aristocracy. 'Fresh blood,' bah! It is no wonder that our family lands are in decline, ostensibly ruled over as they are by such . . . nonentities!
'Lord Maure,' indeed! I need to guzzle copious amounts of wine just to wash the bilious taste from my mouth . . . and I had only been thinking of the title! I gagged, nauseated by the very thought of it! But that will soon change, yes that will change . . . once my 'nieces' and 'nephews' realize that I have returned!
* * * *
It was at this point that Nishka interrupted my thoughts with disturbing news.
* * * *
The large, oak doors of the hall opened and Nishka entered the room. He stopped before the dais and bowed. "Master."
"You have news?"
"Refruchard is . . . no more."
I was caught off guard and sat erect, slightly alarmed. "What do you mean, 'no more'?"
"His mutilated body was discovered in an alley," Nishka answered. "His head was missing."
"Missing?" My thoughts raced. "Either head hunters from Hepmonaland are in our midst, or someone knew Refruchard's true nature."
"There have been no reports of half-naked savages running through the streets." Nishka sarcastically pointed out the obvious.
I sneered at his effrontery. "Obviously."
The slaying of Refruchard could not be an accident, could not be just some sell-sword getting 'lucky.' No, Refruchard was too old a vampire for that to happen and whoever it was took the head. This action revealed that the slayer knew the truth of Refruchard's vampirism and possessed knowledge of how to deal with my kind. There was 'someone' here; a hunter of vampires . . . there had to be! But who?
And that's when it came to me. How many Vampire Slayers could there be in the Duchy? How many in all the entire Flanaess, for that matter? Even among that small number there could be no more than a handful that could have dispatched Refruchard with such apparent ease? I was struck with trepidation . . . it was him! It had to be!
I crushed my goblet in my hand. The mangy mongrel, of that louse infested, thrice cursed god-ling Pelor! He was back! Roglais' whelp was back to dog my heels! I felt bile raising upwards, the foul taste filling my mouth; just from thinking the name of that accursed purveyor of light! I motioned for Nishka to replace my chalice; I would need lots of wine this night!
"The city Constabulary have recovered the body and have placed it within the barracks' courtyard," Nishka continued, his eyes revealing his implication.
Of course, not knowing Refruchard's true nature, the Constabulary would not cover the body. In the morning sunlight, it would spontaneously combust and the presence of my kind in the city would be revealed to all and sundry; the 'rumors' confirmed. Well, that eventuality couldn't be helped now. It would make it all the more difficult for me to remain hidden. Add to that the fact that the disappearances of a few derelicts each month would no longer pass unnoticed. Damn it all to the Abyss!
Nishka handed me a wine filled goblet. "It could not have been an accidental slaying."
I sneered at the inference. "Don't you think I know that!?" I gulped down the wine.
"It must be . . . him." Nishka's voice dropped to a whisper. He meant Roglais' brat Ivon, of course. Did I perceive a slight quaver in his voice? Was the Necromancer frightened by that possibility?
"Of course it's him!" I cried, for to me there could no doubt. "Of course it is! Roglais' issue continues to hound my trail! He is persistent, to be sure, it has been a year. He is obviously no longer content with merely 'freeing' his father from my hegemony. He now seeks vengeance for his family's demise."
I self-consciously nodded at this thought, for I well understand familial loyalty. "Long has he awaited to hear word of me, of my location. He is quite patient – our Ivon – and longsuffering. That makes him all the more dangerous." Vexed, I slammed the goblet down onto the arm of my chair. "It is the maladroit feeding habits of Refruchard and the others that have revealed our existence here in Pontyrel!"
I had found Refruchard already dwelling here upon my own arrival. Three others had taken up residency within the city since that time. None of these others were bound to my service. Each of them hunted and fed as they pleased; one or two of them in the most uncontrolled manner, especially Hevidet. That bitch would get us all killed! It was this behavior that had caused Refrucahrd to be caught . . . and eternally destroyed.
I looked off into space, contemplating my next move, thinking about the ways in which this event changed the nature of the game. How long has he been prowling the city, haunting the public places, searching for me, shadowing my steps? Does he already know where I am? Am I even now, discovered? I was momentarily unnerved by the thought and quickly began turning my head to and fro!
"Go!" I lurched forward in my seat, thrusting my hand at Nishka dismissively. "Make sure that our domicile is secure!"
I must plan, must prepare for our encounter, for surely there would be one. It was unavoidable . . . unless I ran. Run? I scoffed at the very notion! Run? Never! Still, he was gifted, there could be no doubt. A well thought-out plan was needed, a reliable trap required. But what to use as bait . . . me? Far too dangerous! My Spawn? No. They were expendable, to be sure, but I would need them to join me in assaulting him, I could take no chances.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to me: Could the others be used to bait a trap? I owed them no loyalty and it was their carelessness that was about to cause me to be found out, after all! Yes . . . yes of course! I would use the others to rectify matters! I could not – would not – allow their arrogance and careless behavior to ruin my designs! My plans had been laid long ago and would not be disrupted by these careless individuals, especially Hevidet. She took no steps to hide her existence, enjoying the terror she evoked, too stupid to realize that men such as Ivon existed and possessed the patience to hunt, and the power to confront, our kind.
Aye, Ivon was a patient man; patient and infused with the power of his cursed god-ling. Killing Refruchard should have been a very difficult task, yet to all appearances, Ivon did it relatively easily; too easily. A holy blade, no doubt, nothing else could have caused such damage.
Bah, I was jumping at shadows, working myself up over nothing! Refruchard had never been my equal, nor are the others! Striplings, every one of them! Still . . .
I looked down . . . the goblet trembled in my hand.
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