Fiction Friday: The Cainite Conspiracies
This week we look at Acts of Cruelty by Justin Achilli, a piece from the V20 Dark Ages anthology The Cainite Conspiracies.
Nojus petitioned the eldest Cainite in the domain of nearby Voruta, troubled at the foulness of the acts that had the mortals of the city reaching for their brands. His brood had nominated him for his wisdom and esteem to make the trip to Voruta, distant from their own domain, but along the well-traveled paths worn first by mortal feet then by the undead in their wake. Voruta, where the king-to-be Mindaugas would shield himself within stony walls from the ill-tempered Duke Vykintas, but where now ruled Eglė, the widowed bride of a dead lord who once
dwelt beneath the sea that foamed blood at his passing .
“The monster Gabija has broken none of our ways,” Eglė rebuked. “Evil as the acts may be, they are no crime.” She offered a cup of cold blood, decanted from a beaten-silver carafe. It was how she preferred it, absent the passions of a living vessel, with the humours found in fresh blood separated by the pouring. Nojus found it revolting. He declined.
A ghoul in thrall to one of Nojus’ brood had witnessed the monster take the remains of the murdered priest, having been one of the crowd standing in a rude half-circle at the edge of the village when the killing had happened. When word of the monster’s presence had made it back to the brood, Nojus hired other spies and had them follow Gabija. Even the Nosferatu loathed the monster, and spied on it for lesser boons than they would normally have exacted. Three of them had secreted themselves in the vicinity of the monster’s lair.
The shadow of Voruta’s walls and the smoke from fatty candles hid the dark look on Nojus’ face. “The monster grows bold. It rouses the living to action against us.” Nojus had partaken of the blood of Eglė’s lord husband and would not act against her. Gabija enjoyed no such reverence, however. “This story has played out again and again, from the Neris to the broad Baltic. When one of our kind grows overly bold and incites the living to challenge it, we all suffer.”
“Your lament is as old as the First City,” said Eglė.
Nojus knew this, of course. Esteemed by his brood as preeminent in the histories of the Damned. “And look what it brought them,” he replied through clenched teeth. He had always been quick to anger, despite his bookish calling.
“What would you have me do?” Eglė asked. “Pronounce Gabija’s death? Speak the lex talionis like a tyrant?”
Nojus bowed his head. “Žilvinas would have sacrificed one monster for the protection of the Blood.” His marble cheeks burned with shame, the remembrance of a mortal emotion.
“My husband Žilvinas is ash on the wind. And perhaps you forget, Gabija is elder even than he.”
Nojus shook his head and considered his words. These Serpents had their own strange ways, stranger even than the Fiends who tore the flesh from dead men and capered in their tattered skins or crafted ikons from their victims. This would end in dolor, surely.
From the depths of a dusty memory, Nojus recalled Žilvinas. Their relationship was less contentious than the one that existed between he and the widow. Žilvinas had granted him more leeway, had allowed himself to be… advised. Eglė was perhaps more just, but it bordered on righteousness. Then again, he owed her less than he had owed Žilvinas… these damned Serpents knew how to use a Cainite’s hypocrisies against him.
“You are a scholar, but here I am first among elders, even if time distinguishes others before me,” Eglė said. Nojus’ shame continued, as Eglė’s pronouncement acknowledged both Gabija and Nojus as having more years under the night, but that her own status exceeded theirs. In the west, those of the blood used the honorific of Prince, but the ironies of those decadent courts had few adherents here in the cold north, where the sun had fleeting dominion. Gabija obviously had no regard for even these minimal courtesies that more sophisticated Cainites observed. Eglė shamed Nojus by suggesting that he could similarly ignore the social contract of the vikolakis.
Shame came with a cost. Nojus’ Beast, unwilling to be coddled, roared inside him, bringing a flush of mortal life to him. Only by effort of will did he bring the Beast to heel. And he made sure Eglė saw this triumph as such. Widow of the former lord or otherwise, her position wasn’t unassailable. As she would know if her entreaties to the First City were more than mere blandishment.
Outside, a gale howled, and the too-common tik tik tik of freezing rain against walls of stone spoke to the harshness of the Baltic winter clime. Although Nojus had fewer fears than the mortals for what forces acted at night, even he had to admit that evils greater than himself, whether they be forces of nature or the weight of tradition among the Damned, held sway where individual intentions differed. This same regard for tradition meant that Eglė had granted him audience, and was responsible for his protection while visiting her domain.
Still, bitter comfort. His brood would howl for Gabija’s heart from beneath the frozen earth where they hid from the fleeting sun.
You can find out what the monster Gabija is going to do next, and what Nojus and his brood will do about it, in The Cainite Conspiracies for Vampire Twentieth Anniversary: The Dark Ages, available now from DriveThruFiction in ebook and print.