Prologue – A Clash of Wills – Session 1

Rigotto Bernini, of clan Toreador, awoke in his apartment above Vetrina in San Marco, eager to check in with Francesco and see how business had been. After dressing for the evening, he headed into the store to meet with his retainer. Francesco handed a sealed letter to his master, explaining that a messenger had delivered it during the day while the vampire slept. Rigotto recognized the wax seal on the letter. It belonged to Gabriel, a fellow childe of Caine whose path he had crossed before. Like Rigotto, Gabriel had an interest in the arts, although his tastes were more Sotio than Guglielmo.

The vampire easily broke the seal on the letter, moving near a candle so that he could read it:

“Ave, Rigotto. I hope you are well, my friend. I have a business opportunity I was hoping to discuss with you in Verona. It is an opportunity that will benefit both of us. I can arrange transport and lodging to bring you from Venice to Verona. One of my servants in La Serenissima will await your response.
Vale, Gabriel”

Elsewhere in San Marco, Salah ibn Ishaq, of clan Assamite, was handed a similar letter by his retainer, Heval. Salah knew Gabriel to be an honourable man. Still, he would not consider traveling to Verona without checking with Rigotto first. The Toreador knew Italy and its politics better than Salah. The Kurdish vampire had to make sure he wasn’t walking into a trap. He had Heval fetch his sword and armour. Salah wasn’t sure if he’d need it, but he didn’t like being out in public unarmed.

Rigotto’s business was a short walk from Salah’s house. Even at night, Venice was still busy. The Piazza was alive with the beating hearts of Kine. Truly it was a city that didn’t sleep.

Salah approached the front door of Vetrina and knocked loudly. As the business was now closed for the evening, he wanted to be sure that Rigotto heard him. Francesco opened the door, bowing slightly to Salah. “Please come in signore. Maestro Rigotto shall be with you shortly,” the Toreador’s retained motioned towards the showroom of the store, closing the door as Salah entered.

On Isola di San Michele, Conall Ua Cleirgh, of clan Ravnos, awoke in a mausoleum. The “isle of the dead” was a great place to sleep during the day. He had seen Nosferatu on the island, but both sides seemed content to leave the other be. He stole one of the funeral gondolas, rowing across the canal to Cannaregio. Checking in with his contacts in the sestiere, he was handed a similar letter from Gabriel as the other Cainites. It was in his early days as Kindred that Conall had first encountered Gabriel. The neonate had attempted to steal the elder vampire’s coinpurse, but had been caught. Rather than punish him, Gabriel freely gave his coinpurse to Conall, with the promise that the elder would one day require a man of Conall’s talents. It seemed that day had come.

Conall liked to keep his ear to the ground, determined to know as much as he could about Venice and the movers and shakers of the city. Gabriel’s name was important enough that Conall knew where he could find one of his servants.

Having convinced Salah that Gabriel meant them no harm, Rigotto set out for the meeting with Gabriel’s employee, Agapitus. With his supernatural senses, Rigotto could tell Agapitus was a ghoul – a human fed enough vampire blood to bond him to his undead master. His loyalty to Gabriel would be unwavering. Rigotto handed over the letter, explaining that he and Salah accepted Gabriel’s offer of employment and would require transport to Verona.

“My master had me deliver three letters,” Agapitus explained. “I have a carriage that can transport you to Verona, but I would like to wait until I receive word from the final recipient before it departs.”

Rigotto was uneasy at the prospect of traveling with a Cainite he had never met before.

“The third message was delivered to a Kindred? That we’ve never met and are expected to travel with?”

Agapitus nodded. “He has assured me that you are all his friends and have nothing to fear from one another.”

Salah used his supernatural abilities to vanish from sight. Despite Rigotto’s assurances that this was not a trap, this certainly felt like a trap to the Kurd.

The Toreador was displeased. “Your master had best hope that his assurance is accurate.”

Rigotto waited inside the covered carriage while Salah stood guard outside. The third recipient, Conall, approached the carriage. Salah could see he wasn’t armed and relaxed. This wouldn’t be a fight. Like the others, Conall was also wary of the prospect of a trap. He knew of Rigotto; the Toreador’s name was known to other Kindred within Venice, but Salah was an unknown. Using his own supernatural abilities, Conall sent an illusion of himself to meet with Agapitus. Seeing that is wasn’t a trap, the Ravnos dismissed the image, stepping out to meet Agapitus.

Salah turned to Rigotto, whispering to him, “Our friend is a sorcerer.”

Rigotto was concerned. He knew magic existed, practiced both by humans and certain vampires. But he had never encountered it himself. As both Rigotto and Salah had supernatural abilities of their own, they were willing to accept that this new arrival had his own supernatural abilities, but they would still keep an eye on him. It was possible he might be useful. It was just as likely that he might be trouble.

Conall handed his letter to Agapitus. “Gabriel wanted to see me.”

“Of course. The other gentlemen he requested a meeting with have already arrived,” Agapitus motioned towards the carriage.

“Can I ride up top?” Conall asked.

“You may. There is a seat next to the carriage driver,” Agapitus answered.

With the group gathered, the carriage set off for Verona. Rigotto spent the trip filling Salah in on his previous dealings with Gabriel. As Rigotto’s experience with Gabriel was mostly connected to the art world, he wasn’t certain why Gabriel would summon Salah as well. More to that point, Rigotto wasn’t certain how Gabriel even knew who Salah was. The Toreador had heard once that Gabriel classified people in two groups: good friends and people who hadn’t yet had the opportunity to become good friends. This felt like one of those situations.

Conall was more concerned with digging up dirt. The hired help were always a useful source on dirt. The Ravnos was interested in who the carriage driver had previously driven around. Conall made note of the names he recognized – and the names he didn’t. Were they important people who controlled things from the shadows?

Several hours later, the carriage arrived in Verona. Gabriel’s haven was within a secret labyrinth beneath the basilica of St. Zeno, the patron saint of the city. The vampire received the three travellers in his audience chamber, a large, vaulted room lit by hundreds of flickering candles. Frescoes and statuary evoked the ancient cultures of the Adriatic Sea. Rigotto was entranced by the artwork, particularly a massive tapestry depicting the final moments of Icarus’ fateful flight. The look of terror on the plummeting figure’s face was breathtaking.

Gabriel was a handsome man of English descent dressed in reds and blacks, accented with tasteful jewelry of gold and silver. He was charming, articulate, and the very personification of gentility. The shadows created by the guttering candles danced around him, making his expression difficult to read. Although he was at ease and contemplative, the shadows made Gabriel’s expression seem to shift from menacing to sad to angry.

Finally, he leaned forward to speak. “Thank you for coming, my friends. I hope the journey here was a pleasant one. I have brought you to fair Verona with a job offer. An opportunity to help Venice has presented itself; success would not only help the city, but your standing in it as well.”

The Count of Scarmiglione was dying, he explained. Normally, this would not be a concern, as he was a minor noble whose lands would either pass to his only son or be seized by Venice – whose mortal rulers were firmly under Cainite control.

“However, certain events have come to my attention, events that indicate Cainites acting contrary to the interests of Venice might be attempting to manipulate the count and others in his service,” Gabriel continued. “There appears to be a new sect who wishes to challenge Venice’s authority and they are using the Church to do so. It is also said that the Prince of Ravenna wishes to expand her influence and base of power. Rumours have it that one or more Cainites now hunt in Scarmiglione, against the will of our prince.

Gabriel bid them to go to Scarmiglione and uncover any Cainite subversion there. They would act in the name of Prince Narses, and success would earn his attention. If they upheld the Traditions and stopped Venice’s enemies from gaining the upper hand, Gabriel would see to it that they would be generously rewarded. Should additional news come to his attention, he would send a servant to meet with them in Scarmiglione. Further, while it was his hope that whatever they might find in Scarmiglione would be within their capabilities to address, it would not be a stain upon their honour if they returned to Verona for aid.

He could supply each of them with a fine steed accustomed to serving as a Cainite mount. They should easily be able to reach Scarmiglione by dawn. The elder vampire would also give them a letter of introduction from a mortal in his thrall. Danilo di Marino was an old acquaintance of Scarmiglione’s. The letter would be them past any guardians who might otherwise wish to keep them from the count.

Gabriel wished he could accompany them, but he needed to remain in Verona and work on freeing the city from Ravenna’s control. The city’s mortal rulers were thralls to Ravenna’s Brujah prince.

“Gabriel, is it your wish that you would have me work with these gentlemen?” Conall inquired.

The elder vampire nodded. “You are a friend, they are friends. I feel it would be in everyone’s best interests if you became friends.”

Conall did his best to hide his displeasure, putting on a smile and offering a hand to his new “friends”. The Irish pickpocket was unable to resist his old habits and stole a coin from Salah’s coin purse. The Kurd shook his hand, unaware of the thievery.

“So Conall, what do you do? What use are you?” Rigotto asked.

“I am primarily an information gatherer,” the Ravnos replied.

“That could be quite valuable, since we don’t know where we’re going or who we’ll be dealing with,” Rigotto said.

“And what are your talents?” Conall asked, “I’ve heard your name spoken, but know little else.”

The Toreador smiled, “And I’m sure everything you’ve heard was good. Our friend Salah is a former soldier with many years of combat expertise.”

“I’m a people person,” Salah offered.

“And I am a people person,” Rigotto continued. “I like to see the big picture and help people realize what direction they need to go in order to achieve our goals.”

With introductions finished, servants appeared at the far end of the audience hall to escort the group from Gabriel’s presence. Rigotto was handed the letter of introduction from di Marino. The servants then led the coterie through an underground tunnel to stables a few streets away from the basilica.

They mounted their newly acquired ghoul horses and set off for Scarmiglione.

The county of Scarmiglione was sparsely populated and heavily forested near its boundaries. The light of the moon shone through the high treetops, crisscrossing the path before the coterie with shadows upon shadows.

Salah’s focus was on the trees. He was certain there was something in the forest following them, watching them. He was paranoid at the best of times, and this wasn’t helping matters.

Conall signalled to Salah, pointing out two pairs of eyes in the woods. Rigotto had noticed it as well. “How should we handle this?” he asked Salah, slipping from Latin into the Venetian language.

“I will go and investigate,” Salah replied, handing the reins of his horse to Rigotto.

Two creatures burst from the woods, an unholy hybrid of man and beast – they were werewolves, or Lupines. Conall used his chimerstry abilities to create an illusion of Salah behind the Lupines to draw their attention while the real Salah used his obfuscate abilities to vanish from sight. Not a fighter, Rigotto used his presence abilities to paralyze one of the Lupines with fear. It could only helplessly cower as Salah drove his blade through its pack mate. Thanks to his celerity, Salah was able to move at superhuman speeds with his sword, easily slaying the werewolf. Rigotto’s dread gaze terrified the second Lupine, forcing it to run into the woods.

With the ambush dealt with, Salah wondered if the pelt of the wolf was worth anything. Rigotto assured him it was not. They dragged the body off the road and into the woods and then mounted their horses. The coterie continued on the road to Scarmiglione, keenly aware that the battle could have gone poorly for them had they not gotten lucky.

Ahead on the road, they could hear men laughing. The path bent, and they caught sight of a small cottage. Five men sat on horseback in front of it, their lanterns on long staves. They laughed loudly as one of their number, a balding man whose physique had started to slip with the onset of middle age, made an exaggerated gesture of farewell to a dark-haired woman standing at the cottage door. She had a blanket wrapped tightly around herself.

“Consider my offer, Juliana,” the man threatened. “You will learn that we can make you hear the angels sing.”

The other riders laughed uproariously, and the group spurred their horses and galloped down the road. The young woman, Juliana Vaccaro, leaned against the door frame and slipped to the ground, drawing her knees up under the blanket and resting her forehead on them.

Rigotto was entranced by her beauty. Even in the dim light, her green eyes shone like emeralds. Toreador were easily captivated by beautiful things, and Rigotto was no different. It took all of his willpower to break out of the trance and speak to the girl.

“Forgive me,” Juliana blushed deeply as she pulled the blanket tighter around herself. “I was lost in my thoughts and didn’t hear you approach. Can I assist your lordship in some manner?”

Rigotto inquired what troubled the girl, using his supernatural abilities to influence her opinion of him, drawing her closer to him. While they spoke, he used his auspex abilities to inspect Juliana’s soul. It glowed a brilliant white. She was innocent, and her faith was strong – strong enough to ward off supernatural evil if necessary. A rare thing. She was truly beautiful in both body and spirit.

“Such a beautiful woman as yourself shouldn’t cry,” Rigotto smiled. “What is wrong?”

“Nothing of concern to someone such as yourself, milord. Nothing but the problems of a peasant.”

The Toreador gestured towards the others. “As you can see, I am well accustomed to helping out peasants.”

“My parents died of the fever this spring,” she replied. “It was horrible. One day, they were healthy, and then they just got weaker and paler with each passing night until they died. I prayed to the good Lord for the sickness to take me instead, but my prayers were for naught. Their deaths must have been part of His great plan.”

“So, I was left to bring up my three brothers. We’ve been doing our best to tend our field so we can feed ourselves and give the count his due. All the while, Warden DuBois has been making unsavory proposals and lustful advances toward me. Of late, he has threatened not only me, but my brothers. He wants that I should give myself to him, and maybe even to his men. Yet, none of them has any desire to wed me. They only want to rob me of one of the few things I have left to cherish in this world, my virtue. And if I don’t surrender it, they intend to rob me of the three other things I cherish in the world, my brothers.”

Juliana began to cry again, the tears rolling down her cheeks and falling from her jaw. “I pray to God for deliverance every night, but I am beginning to lose hope. And Warden DuBois is beginning to lose patience. I’m at my wits end. I have nowhere to turn.”

The Warden DuBois was the count’s top man. Juliana was certain no assistance would come from the Church, since the count recently built the Monastery of St. Christopher in a distance corner of county.

“You have somewhere to turn now,” Rigotto said. “What would you wish to happen with your dealings with the warden?”

“Would you be willing to speak with the count on my behalf? Perhaps you could convince him to allow you to take my brothers, and possibly me, with you to your own holdings? Please, I need help, milord,” she pleaded.

Rigotto couldn’t imagine a scenario where he’d say no to something as beautiful as Juliana. He was already headed to speak with the count, it would be no problem to help her out. He was certain the count wouldn’t want his subjects to suffer. He would require one small favour from her first: from speaking with her it was evident that the village of Rossiguado was at least an hour away, and there was roughly an hour until sunrise. The coterie would need a place to sleep during the day away from the sun.

Juliana was more than happy to allow them to rest in her cottage, so long as they understood she could offer them no meal greater than some dry bread and berries. She rigged a partition using a pair of rakes and blanket, ensuring privacy for the travelers. She assured them her brothers, Pietri, Paulo, and Simone would not trouble them while they slept.

Before they turned in, the coterie discussed the “sickness” that had taken Juliana’s parents. It bore the marks of a vampire carelessly draining its victims. It appeared Gabriel was right: there was a vampire active in Scarmiglione.

The next evening, the coterie thanked Juliana for her hospitality and left for Castello di Bosco. The castle was a cramped, ugly structure. It squatted on a hilltop like a broken tree stump. Closed gates greeted the coterie, but they could hear raucous laughter beyond the walls.

Before they approached the gates, the Cainites devised their plan of action. Rigotto and Salah would pose as representatives of Danilo di Marino, while Conall infiltrated the Warden’s men, posing as staff. They knew at least one vampire was active in the area, but didn’t know who the vampire was yet.

Salah pounded on the gate to draw the attention of the guards within. One of the assessors opened the gate, snarling at them to identify themselves.

“Apologies for the late hour,” Rigotto bowed. “We’ve been riding hard all night to get here in time to pay our respects to the count.” He produced the letter of introduction.

“You’ll have to clear it with Warden DuBois,” the scruffy-looking man said, admitting them into the courtyard.

By the light of a small campfire and several torches, they could see several figures gathered before the weather-beaten door that led into the keep. Four men sat on barrels and stools around the fire while a fifth sat further away. Two young women, both partially naked, wandered from man to man. Each man cut away a little more of their clothing with a dagger, or ran his hands over their exposed skin, while laughing loudly. One woman looked frightened, while the other had a blank expression on her face. Both women had tiny cuts on their arms and chests and legs, and both were haphazardly smeared with blood.

“DuBois, we got some late night visitors here,” the guard announced.

The warden rose slowly, regarding the visitors through narrow eyes, grimacing. He offered his dagger to another, “Would you like to take my turn, Wilfred?”

Wilfred, a short man with stringy, reddish-blond hair, shook his head, taking a deep drink from the flagon he was holding. “No thanks, Warden. I gave it up for Lent.”

DuBois laughed, and the man seated to his right pulled one of the women toward him. “Let’s see what we can do about the rest of the skirt, dear,” he said.

“Who are you people, and how dare you disturb our fun?” DuBois snarled, his grimace becoming a scowl. Alcohol tainted his breath.

“Charming,” Rigotto thought. He used his abilities to entrance the warden, making DuBois into a pliable servant.

“My sincerest apologies for interrupting your…fun,” Rigotto said.

“It’s no problem at all, milord,” a now much more pleasant Dubois responded.

“We simply wish to represent the well wishes of Count di Marino,” Rigotto continued the ruse.

“The count is currently speaking with his son. However, the young lord will surely step aside for such important visitors, as the count’s time in this world is growing short,” DuBois said.

He ordered one of his men to escort Rigotto upstairs, but Wilfred leapt to his feet, swiftly offering to take the visitors up to see the count.

Rigotto leaned in close to DuBois. “There’s a new member of your assessors that will be coming shortly. Be sure to bring him into your inner circle.”

“Of course, milord,” DuBois said. Now Conall would have the perfect opportunity to infiltrate the castle staff.

Rigotto and Salah followed Wilfred up to the keep doors. Wilfred spoke in a low voice to Rigotto, “Soon after you left Verona, word reached Gabriel that there are indeed other Cainites in Scarmiglione. They may cause problems. I have been sent to help you address them.”

He opened the door to the keep, revealing a torch-lit hall. He gestured towards Rigotto and Salah and followed them in.

“I only arrived here this evening so I haven’t had an opportunity to find out more information yet. I’ve been posing as a brutal ruffian, like the scum in the courtyard, to get their assistance in exploring the county for suitable Cainite lairs. I intend to continue the search in the morning,” Wilfred explained.

As he led them upstairs, they caught sight of a beautiful woman gazing at them from a room across the hall. As Rigotto looked in her direction, she lowered her eyes and swiftly closed the door to her room.

“I believe that’s Lord Federico’s wife, the count’s son,” Wilfred offered.

It became quickly evident that the castle was cramped and unpleasant. The hallways were narrow, most rooms were small with low ceilings, and most windows were no more than arrow slits. A constant draft moved through all the chambers and hallways, causing the tapestries on the walls to stir gently.

There were servants, monks, and other subjects of the count everywhere. Privacy was not a word that existed.

A knock on the door of the count’s chamber promoted a muffled, “Enter.” Beyond the door was an opulent bedchamber. Fine animal skins covered the floor. A large fireplace blazed in one corner of the room, casting dancing shadows across the people and furniture within. Over the mantle hung a shield that displayed no coat of arms, but had a pair of long swords crossed over it. An exceptional tapestry showing Frankish knights in combat with their Lombard foes covered the entire eastern wall.

A writing desk and a chair stood near an arrow slit, and a tall lacquered cabinet stood in one corner, but the dominating feature of the room was a large four-posted bed. The count rested on the bed, looking pallid and discomfited. Three other men stood around the bed: Father Lucien, a small man whose wrinkles and grey hair marked him as a man who had grown old before his time, Lord Federico, a darkly handsome man with an easy smile, and a young monk with dark circles around his eyes. All three looked solemnly at the visitors as they entered.

“Who is that?” The old man in the bed asked. “Is that the Devil, come to take me away?”

“No, father,” Federico answered, turning his attention back to the old man, “It appears you have some late night visitors. And they are not devils.”

Rigotto used his soulsight on the room, surprised to discover that Lord Federico was a Cainite. The Toreador introduced himself as Rigotto Bernini, representing the Count Danilo di Marino, here to pay his respects in this difficult time.

The count of Scarmiglione remembered his old friend, and wondered how di Marino was doing.

“He’s well, but has difficulty traveling,” Rigotto lied.

From the courtyard, the sound of DuBois’ men laughing drifted through the arrow slit. It mingled with the sobbing cries of a woman.

Federico introduced himself to Salah. He hoped the traveler would do him the personal favour of extending his best wishes to di Marino. Federico hoped to continue the relationship between the two families that his father had. He was certain his father was going to will the lands to him.

“I wouldn’t want to steal you away from any moments you have left with your father, but if you have time, we would love to speak with you later about continuing the family relationship with our master,” Rigotto stated, hoping to speak to Federico alone.

“If it’s not a trouble to your lordship, on our way into town we met one of your subjects. She was kind enough to let us rest at her cottage, and asked if I would be willing to intercede on her behalf. She wishes, in light of the passing of her parents, that she could perhaps travel with her brothers to Venice with us,” Rigotto inquired.

The count’s excitement over news of his old friend had waned, and it was quickly obvious that his only focus was on his impending death. He intended to will all his properties to the Church so that his immortal soul wouldn’t burn in Hell. He didn’t fear death as much as he feared what may follow if he didn’t take steps to undo all the evil deeds he had committed in life.

Salah watched for Federico’s expression. It was obvious that this wasn’t the first time the subject had come up. The count’s son was clearly trying to hide his reaction.

While they spoke, Father Lucien excused himself, intending to retire for a time to pray for the count’s soul.

Rigotto didn’t want to inconvenience Federico, but wondered if it would be possible for he and Salah to stay at the castle for a couple of days; ostensibly to forge a new friendship between the two families.

Federico agreed, escorting the visitors to the guest room, leaving the lone monk to pray over his father. Federico introduced them to a serving woman, Lucille, assuring them that she’d be able to take care of them. He was sorry to cut thing short, but he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his father.

“Of course. Tomorrow evening, if possible, I would love to meet with you to discuss the family business,” Rigotto inquired.

“I look forward to it,” Federico excused himself, heading back to his father’s room.

Once they were alone, Rigotto informed Salah that Federico was a Cainite. The priests, however, were not. Salah contemplated what that meant. They had clearly found their vampire.

Their discussion was interrupted by a knock on the door. Rigotto opened it to reveal the serving woman, Lucille.

“Beg your pardon, milords, but my mistress was requested an audience with you,” Lucille bowed.

“Of course, lead the way,” Rigotto said. Salah vanished from sight, following Rigotto carefully from behind.

Lucille led Rigotto to the chamber of Lord Federico and Lady Catrina. The lady sat in front of a lacquered cabinet that featured expensive mirrors on the inside of its doors. She was occupied fixing her rich, red hair for the evening. She glanced at Rigotto’s reflection in the mirror as she finished her hair.

“I am glad you have come to see me,” she said. “I believe we might be about to walk a path from which there is no turning back. I want to stop the journey before it begins, for it will lead us all to ruin. And I do mean us in every sense.”

She turned to Rigotto, drawing back her lips in a smile that revealed the sharp fangs of a fellow Cainite. “If you have not already discerned the true nature of myself and Lord Federico, I stand revealed before you as a child of Caine.”

Catrina explained she was there to secure Scarmiglione for the Prince of Ravenna. She was of the opinion that there was little Rigotto could do to stop her and Lord Federico unless he intended to start a brutal fight, which no one wanted. “Let us settle this like reasonable beings,” she suggested. “I have no animosity towards you or your companions, and I would hope that you have none towards me.”

Before any real conversation could begin, there was a knock at the door. Father Lucien entered without waiting for a welcome. Lord Federico entered behind him. Both men were stone-faced.

“The count,” said Lucien, “has passed on. I am afraid I have been remiss in my duties. I was not there to give him his final blessing.”

Catrina’s face slid into a sympathetic mask as she opened her arms to console Federico.

“It was his time,” Lucien continued, “his God-appointed hour. At least his soul was given absolution, even if no priest was with him at the end. He granted all his lands to the Church, and God will reward his generosity.”

“I believe you are mistaken, Holy Father,” Federico interrupted Lucien.

“No mistake, my son,” Lucien replied “Your father wished for his entire estate to go to the Church. He had a will drawn up, and although he never had a chance to sign it, I trust you will-”

“You are certainly mistaken,” Federico interrupted, pulling a rolled up piece of parchment from inside his tunic. “My father willed his lands and titles to me, his only son. And this will he signed.”

“Let me see that,” the priest demanded. He paled as he read the document. “Your father has condemned himself to eternal torment.”

“He must have seen it differently in his final hours, Holy Father,” Federico said solemnly.

Anger flashed across Lucien’s face. “You don’t understand what you’ve done, boy!”

Federico bristled in return. “You forget yourself, priest. Whatever you had intended, I am now the ruler of Scarmiglione. Go and see to it that my father is properly place in the family crypt. And be sure to pray over the body!”

The anger on the priest’s face intensified, but he conceded. “Yes, my lord.”

Once Lucien had left, Catrina ran a hand through Federico’s hair. “I don’t know what you did, but I love you for it. You have served your clan and the Lord of Ravenna well. Allow me to introduce you to another Cainite. He came with others to secure your father’s lands for their master.”

Federico eyed Rigotto suspiciously, but Catrina told him there was nothing to worry about. She was confident everyone in the room was a civilized being and they could all arrive at a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

“I need to discuss this unexpected turn of events privately with my beloved Federico,” she said, “just so I am sure I understand the exact situation we find ourselves in. Can we resume our conversation tomorrow, a few hours after sundown? I give you my word, we wish you no harm, and the castle stands as a safe haven for you, should you choose to use it. Consider yourself our guest.”

“I will take you at your word,” Rigotto bowed, leaving the room. Salah remained, invisible.

The two servants of Ravenna discussed what this now meant. Federico was now lord of the land, and this would better Ravenna’s position. Salah quickly grew bored as nothing important was mentioned, and left as soon as it was convenient.

In the courtyard, Conall joined his new friends, welcomed as a member of the assessors thanks to Rigotto’s entrancing the Warden. The Ravnos spun tales to get people talking. He wanted to learn what he could about the count and his people.

It was obvious the count had gotten his power by killing anyone who stood in his way. Now that he was on death’s door, he had found religion. Federico, it seemed, had been gone for the last fifteen years and only returned when he learned of his father’s illness.
Feeling he had learned as much as he could, Conall excused himself and headed inside to find his companions. As he got up to leave, he brushed past the warden, stealing the warden’s dagger. It might be useful for blackmailing the warden later.

He grabbed one of the women, subtly implying that he intended to bed her. The other assessors laughed as Conall took her inside.

Certain that Salah was listening in on Catrina and Federico, Rigotto wanted the castle. He found himself in the crypt where a monk prayed over the count’s body. Lucien was nowhere in sight.

“Where is Father Lucien?” Rigotto inquired.

“He has returned back to the monastery,” the monk replied. “He will return to the castle in the morning.”

Rigotto noticed the monk was wearing a silver ring inscribed with the number VII on his right hand. He also appeared to be missing the ring finger on his left hand. Rigotto recalled hearing about a sect of the Cainite Hersey associated with the Baali who used the number VII. It was said even other Heretics considered them heretical.

The Toreador knew that Prince Narses was also the Archbishop Of Nod. As such, Rigotto knew Narses would likely approve if they were to thwart this “VII”. He needed to discuss this new discovery with the others.

Emerging from the crypts, Rigotto ran into Conall and the girl from the courtyard. Conall sent the girl away so he could speak to his companion. Once they were alone, Salah appeared, revealing he had been following them around invisibly.

While they spoke, Wilfred returned to their side, with news. He believed the Monastery of St. Christopher was a haven for a vampire.

The coterie considered their options. They weren’t against the idea of letting Federico and the Heretics fight each other, leaving Venice to pick up the pieces.

Hearing of the possibility of heretics concerned Wilfred. He had previously had a confrontation with a group of such religious fanatics in France. They were impossible to reason with, and would lay down their lives willingly for the vampire they worshiped. They were often spurred on, he said, by something far more powerful than the status of ghouldom or the power of a Blood Oath: many believed death in the service of their “divine” masters would earn them an automatic place in Heaven.

Before the coterie did anything else, they wanted to meet with Catrina tomorrow evening. Retiring to their quarters for the evening seemed like the best course of action. Before they did so, Rigotto headed out into the courtyard to speak with the Warden.

“Stay close to the castle tomorrow. Don’t venture too far away from it,” Rigotto commanded DuBois, hoping to protect Juliana from him.

End Session 1

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