I didn’t receive an invitation of my own for the next new vampire introduction. Might as well be for the best, as I was out of town, doing the Prince’s bidding. Kira was with me, so it wasn’t as if I was lonely. Still, I’d have liked to see Pälvi and meet her sire, Anges the Huntress. My Sire speaks highly of her and her skills as a werewolf hunter. An Archon, and a powerful Elder. One to watch, and learn from.
But, that comes later. So does why and where I was, as well as what I was doing. Part clan business, part by order of the Prince. It was a night hard to forget…
My sire, Kira and I were the first to arrive: having spent the night before fussing over what to wear, as this was supposed to be a “casual” affair (believe me, nothing is casual to a Toreador – I learned that the hard way). Just a few of the clan, coming together, enjoying a meal, as well as bring your ghoul(s) to the feast, too.
Turns out, it wasn’t ironic.
So, we arrive to a large apartment block - in the fancy part of town - by our personal driver (my Sire's personal driver: Kira doesn't hold a Danish license at present and therefore can't perform that task just yet).
Prince Jean-Baptiste, whom I only knew from the last Elysium, lives on the three top floors, and has his heard and ghouls reside in the rest of the building. Apparently, large gatherings are commonplace; but smaller clan meetings such as this wasn’t.
The building, being quite old, didn’t have an elevator. Not that physical labor taxes me, it is simply just vexing having to walk up a set of seven staircases while wearing high heels and a tight dress. Kira was making a great show of not appearing flustered at all, and my Sire simply enjoyed himself – perhaps a little too much, on my behalf. After knocking on the door, and finding it opened by a beautiful young woman, I had to keep my hunger in check. “Come hungry”, the Prince had instructed, so no unsanctioned drinking before the allotted time. And the greeter girl was not part of that deal.
She guides us into a kitchen. A rather clean and white washed kind of thing, more or less sterile, to my eyes. Kira seems impressed, though: it still might be the passing living room with a Rembrandt, a bust of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (the last Russian Tsar, if you didn’t know), and a hand written declaration, signed by Napoleon: I'm not sure what strikes her fancy the most.
Now, I’m not sure why a French vampire would idolize one Russian Tsar; actually, make that two – there’s a painting of Peter the Great (again an original, I suspect) behind a glass cover, at the far side of the kitchen. Actually, “kitchen” might be too poor a word to describe the room: it’s more like a combined dining room and a large restaurant kitchen, separated only by a small kitchen isle, perfectly fitting to keep plates on.
While the furniture seems practical, it is wood: I’m not sure what kind, but it looks sturdy.
Jean-Baptiste doesn’t greet us: he’s busy at the stove, whipping up a cream of some kind, and humming loudly to a track of classical music. (Is that Chopin, or Debussy, or maybe Bach – I can’t tell – being played on a gramophone?) The greeting lady offer us chairs: well, she offers the ghouls chairs, and Kira accepts a place next to a rather peculiar looking man in his fifties. As she does, a tall vampire throws me a long, hard look: I’m guessing the ghoul belongs to him.
Not wanting any foul memories to sour the evening, I trot up to him, smiling, offering a hand and a smile. He doesn’t accept either. Puzzled, I introduce myself, as if this isn’t phasing me a bit. It does, however: as this is a Toreador only event, I’m not sure what he might have against me.
Rising an eyebrow, he accepts my hand, kissing it in a gentleman manner, his eyes burning at me. Maybe he’s just hungry? I know I am.
I leave him be, for now, and move over to the group of people I can only assume is other vampires.
Another man, dressed all in Prada, pulls me close and kisses my cheek. I’m not entirely displeased by his acceptance, but find his behavior mildly disturbing: he tells me that he is Andrea Grimaldi, an Italian noble from Genoa. Having no idea how that translates into Kindred society, I tell him that I am honored to meet him, and that I don’t know the proper reply in his language. Unfortunately, he takes this as an opportunity to educate me.
Then Prince Jena-Baptiste bangs a soup casserole rather loudly, and all fall silent. We move to the table, or, us vampires moves to stand behind our ghouls: the tall, less spoken vampire stands beside me: I was right in assuming the man besides Kira being his ghoul.
As we await, Jean-Baptiste demands our attention. Nobody is foolish enough to deny him.
He welcomes us to his haven, and talks – at length – about the dishes he’s prepared. I can barely not roll my eyes – cooking is one skill I find to my dislike (meaning I’m terrible at it), and as vampires can’t eat Kine food, this seems a waste. However, he is the Prince, and the performance itself is well done (I do so appreciate acting skills).
The lady who greeted us begins serving the first dish: a small aperitif, neatly placed on a far too large a plate.
We watch as our ghouls eat, all hungry and eager, but not for Kine food.
Then the main course is served: a red fish (Salmon?) of some fancy French wording; it looks like part soup, part sushi to me. A lovely wine comes with it. Kira drains the glass almost too soon for my taste, and I place a hand on her shoulder, caressing it, half absent minded, half menacing: I get no enjoyment out of watching her eating – well, maybe some, if I hadn’t been wanting to half drain her myself.
My Sire, having brought no ghoul, stands behind one of what I assume is one belonging to our host – I know he keeps several around, both for blood dolls, as well as retainers. I suddenly understand why he owns the entire building.
The dessert arrives, and small talk continues. The vampire beside me keeps silent, only glaring at me from time to time. I try to meet the eyes of my Sire, but he’s too enraptured in a conversation with two other vampires: a woman I only know as Maud and from the sound of it, a Russian noble, whom I can’t place in the Kindred hierarchy.
Then Kira taps her wrist.
It is a preset signal, becoming my attention like a hawk spotting a mouse a thousand meters below.
I lean in close, putting my lips at her left shoulder, touching them to her exposed skin, but without teeth. The trick is to make it seem like I’m having a bite without actually doing it: she whispers that the vampire next to me is Pieter Zederzoon; a voice actor, Dutch, and that his ghoul is his younger brother. Satisfied, I let my tongue roam Kira’s naked shoulder, giving it two quick tabs before I withdraw – that means I’m grateful for the information.
You can see why I adore this girl: dutiful to a fault, and oh so eager to serve me in every way possible (thoughts for later).
But this really doesn’t explain my mission, does it?
It’s only after the feast (of the ghouls) that the Prince takes me aside to a different room, as well as my Sire and Pieter (our ghouls are waiting outside – I hope Kira is okay after the meal). Prince Jean-Baptiste outlines a situation in Russia, and he wants me to take point. My Sire seems hard to agree, but he doesn’t argue. Pieter will be our outside line – ever since the Baba Yaga incident (don’t ask)*, it’s imperative to keep a contact with the outside world.
Pieter is going to be that tech savvy outsider. He doesn’t appear too pleased about the prospect.
I have a fortnight to pick and assemble my team before we'll depart Denmark.
Sadly, Pälvi can’t come along with me – it is my first question – but Kira is vital to the mission (as I don’t know any Russian besides what little she's taught me - she's much more interested in learning Norwegian).
I meet the eyes of my Sire across the table. He nods. I am ready for this. And I hate to disappoint. This will be my moment to prove myself.
I rise, offering to do my best and complete the mission. Pieter snorts. It ruins the seriousness of the moment. I silently vow to have my revenge.
*Picture the most hideous hag imaginable, and you might be able to imagine Baba Yaga. She is an eight-foot-tall monstrosity with four-inch iron (yes, iron) claws, sharklike iron fangs, stringy hair, grey, scarred flesh covered in pustules, rheumy eyes thick with cataracts and a long, crooked nose marred by numerous hairy warts and moles.