Chapter 1 - The City of Blood
Woe to thee, O city of blood, all full of
lies and violence: rapine shall not depart from thee.
|One early winter evening a
priest named Father Abel Nightroad arrived to István on a train from
Rome. Located in the center of the marquisate of Hungaria, the free
city of István served as a key link between the Vatican-dominated
Western Europe and the mysterious True Human Empire in the east.
An extremely tall silver-haired young man, of a somewhat ditzy
disposition, Father Abel got off the train at the main train station
of István. In one hand he was carrying an old-fashioned
luggage-case. With the other, he adjusted his small round glasses,
whose lenses reminded one of the bottom of a milk-bottle:
|However, his newly regained composure didn't last him
long, as barely a few minutes later he was knocked off his feet by a young boy,
clad in thick woolen clothes and a hunting cap, who was rushing heedlessly down
the platform. The ensuing commotion attracted an attention of an István City
Guard squad commanded by Colonel Gergey Radcón, a giant bionically-enhanced
human. In the Germanicus kingdom, the technology of artificially amplifying the
strength and the endurance of the human body had been salvaged from the ruins of
an old high-science civilization. The civilization which perished near to a
thousand years ago in a cataclysm commonly known as Armageddon. Colonel Gergey
Radcón possessed all the strength of a grizzly bear - and all the charming and
friendly personality of one. He proceeded to harass the two about their business
at the station so close to the nightfall - and therefore to the curfew. The
priest's obsequious manner and smooth-talking had almost gotten him and the boy
out of trouble. The colonel, exasperated, had already turned around and started
to walk off, when the boy, under his breath, spat out a few derogatory remarks
on the subject of István City Guard.
They were heard.
The giant colonel whirled around and grabbed the boy by
his lapels. How dared he, the giant howled, to speak like that of the glorious
defenders of the civic order in István!? The boy replied in a pained but clear
voice that he only spoke the God's honest truth. The enraged colonel was about
to howl something else, but suddenly paused and peered closely at the boy's
face. Then his giant anvil-like fist swung down... and the boy's hunting cap
went flying off - in a shower of long, beautiful strands of red hair. The boy
was revealed to be a beautiful red-haired and blue-eyed young woman by the name
of Esther Blanchett. The events started take a really nasty turn then, with
Esther being about to be raped on the spot by the gorilla-like Colonel.
The priest tried to intervene on her behalf, but only
landed himself in hot water as well. The colonel, it seemed, was amenable to
inflicting some grievous bodily harm before proceeding with the rape. However,
just as the Abel's spine was about to snap under Radcón's feet, the relief
arrived and from a rather unexpected avenue. Major Tres Iqus, a subordinate of
Radcón, a short-heighted, then and expressionless man, always immaculately
dressed, arrived on the scene. The major informed his superior that, fun as it
all looked, it would be well-advised for them to return to their duty
immediately. For their master, the Marquis of Hungary Gyula Kádár, would be
returning to István thirty minutes earlier than planned - at 19:00, instead of
19:30. Cursing profoundly, the colonel hurried away to ensure that all the
security was in place for the Marquis' imminent arrival. But not before having
ordered, out of the sheer spite, to have Father Abel arrested on the charges of
assault against the City Guard and disruption of the public order. The priest
was to be taken along to Várhegy, to the Marquis' castle, for further
* * *
|Half an hour later a full escort of the dark-blue clad
City Guard, led by Colonel Radcón and Major Iqus, were greeting Marquis Gyula
Kádár as the latter disembarked a train freshly arrived from the True Human
Empire. The Marquis was a beautiful man. He was tall, his hair was jet-black,
his skin - snow-white and his facial features - delicate and refined. The
light-grey eyes shone with something that brought to mind an image of a
thoroughbred wolfhound. Yet their dark pupils were darker then the deepest of
the night. The Marquis wore a black Inverness, a white cravat and moved around
with the grace and the proud stature of a hereditary aristocrat. Noticing Father
Abel, who was held under the arrest by the soldiers of the Guard, Gyula inquired
to the identity of the prisoner. Despite Radcón's best efforts to shut him up,
Abel managed to explain that he was a priest, freshly arrived from Vatican to
take up his appointment at the St. Matthias' church. Having heard that, the
Marquis scolded Radcón and ordered to have the prisoner immediately released. He
shook the priest's hand and welcomed him gracefully to the city of István.
Suddenly the priest paled. And then his supple arms took hold of the Marquis and
threw the noble, with force, to the ground.
Colonel Radcón and his men reached for their guns, in
disbelief, but then noticed that, deeply embedded into the side of the train
carriage just where the Marquis' head was few moments ago, there was a crossbow
bolt. Still trembling from the impact.
And then the night had exploded with masked men and the
sound of gunshots.
The partisans of the István Liberation Front came
pouring out of the seemingly-empty waiting-rooms and from behind the nearby
trains. The guns were fired. The Molotov cocktails thrown, scattering the
burning gasoline around. For few moments, a pandemonium reigned. Someone cried:
Never mind the goons! Gyula! Get Gyula! Another crossbow bolt whistled by
Abel's cheek and smashed itself into the lamppost behind him. An acrid stench
filled the air - clearly the tip of the bolt was filled with acid of some kind.
After the initial shock died down, the City Guard took
cover and began to return the fire in organised fashion. It soon became clear
that the partisans are actually very few in number. Colonel Radcón ordered Major
Iqus to take ten men and circle around the enemy to cut off their escape route.
The partisans slowly began to back off. From behind a far-end carriage, the
anonymous sharpshooter kept the deadly volley of the crossbow bolts coming,
covering for his comrades. Noticing where the bolts came from, the Colonel
emptied a bullet clip in their direction. With a sharp yell, a short-heighted
man stumbled out from behind the carriage, carrying a crossbow in one hand and
clutching a wounded shoulder with the other. Csillag!, cried one of the
partisans. The operation has failed. Escape! I shall cover for you! The
sharpshooter hesitated. Idiot! We can't have our leader dying here! I shall
hold them off, you take our people and get them out of here!
Suddenly the fire from the City Guard side intensified
as the reinforcements arrived. This decided the matter. The Csillag put
two fingers inside his mouth and whistled. Immediately all the partisans ceased
fire and began to disappear into the darkness of the evening. Colonel Radcón,
determined not let the partisan's dimunitive leader escape, held out his large
gun, carefully took aim... and it was then that everything was suddenly drowned
in a cloud of smoke. For the priest, who for the last few minutes was fumbling
with something inside his cassock, had at last produced out of it an old-fashion
revolver. The kind which didn't even use the bullet cartridges - the gunpowder
was poured directly into the cylinder compartments. Shouting that the foul
terrorists shall not escape him now, the priest pressed the trigger - and the
gun misfired, spitting out a cloud of white smoke which for a few seconds
obscured everything in sight.
When the smoke had cleared, the partisans were long
gone. The City Guard was treating their wounded and counting their dead. The
Marquis Kádár walked over to Father Abel and thanked the priest for saving his
life. The priest replied by asking who were the people who had just attacked
them. Colonel Radcón angrily spat out that they were the vile terrorists, who
infested the István. The scum, who under the command of their leader, the Csillag,
assassinated important politicians, blew up public facilities and otherwise
disrupted the peaceful life of the city. The colonel's tirade was interrupted by
the several soldiers ushering a prisoner before the Marquis. It was the
machine-gunner, who had earlier shouted for the Csillag to escape.
Smiling the Marquis told the man that he appreciated such a warm welcome
provided upon his return to István. The partisans, it appeared, were as lively
Monster!, the prisoner's eyes lit up with hatred. The
bane of our city..! Because of you, foul creature, the István... How dare you
to speak of Lord Gyula like that..!? Colonel Radcón's boot silenced the man, as
it smashed into his solar plexus and threw him to the ground. Father Abel
started to protest, but the Marquis ordered the colonel to stop first. The
prisoner was wounded... and it wouldn't do for him to die, before he could tell
them all that he knew. But first, someone had to get Father Abel home before the
night had descended in the earnest. István was a very dangerous place after
dark. Major Iqus was ordered to take a carriage and drive the priest to the St.
Having waited for the officer and the priest to
disappear off the platform, Marquis Kádár turned his attention back to the
prisoner. A monster, you have said... With a single hand, the Marquis took
hold of the prisoner and lifted him up into the air. A strength far beyond the
noble's delicate body. Far beyond any human body, in fact. But in the eyes of
his victim there was no surprise. Just the terror - and the resignation. Beneath
the Marquis's thin upper lip a pair of long fangs appeared, glistening sharply.
With an expression of mild curiosity more befitting a high-society wine-tasting
party than the grotesque circumstances at hand, Gyula Kádár lowered his face to
the man's neck. A short scream filled the air and was cut off sharply.
Few minutes later, the Marquis discarded a now limp body
to the side. Certainly a very strong flavour... but too simplistic. I wonder if
this Csillag of yours would taste any better... The vampire spoke
softly, wiping the blood off his lips. Pfeh. Lowly Terran. What's this our
city? Don't make me laugh. This is my city...
Colonel Radcón was told to order their intelligence
network to set a watch over the priest. Discreetly. Something just wasn't right
with the man. Biting down the objections, the giant saluted in obeyance.
Starting to walk briskly down the platform, the Marquis asked himself if the
priest's presence meant that Vatican began to suspect something? A new priest
transferred to the St. Matthias' church just as his plans were nearing their
fruition? Not that they could stop him now, of course, but still - all the
potentially obstructive elements should be reduced to the minimum. And even if
the priest was a Vatican's dog... Well then, he certainly looked... delicious.
Smiling, Marquis Gyula Kádár accelerated his pace.
* * *
|When Father Abel had arrived at last to the St.
Matthias' Church, he was greeted by it's overseer, Bishop Laura Vitéz, an
amiable woman of about thirty years of age. Seeing how tired the newly arrived
priest was, Bishop Vitéz immediately offered to have him shown to his cloister.
She summoned a young nun, one of the orphans whom the church took in to be
raised under its care. As soon as Sister Esther appeared, Father Abel
immediately recognized in her the boy he met at the train station earlier.
After Esther guided him to his cloister,
|The priest inquired as to the reason for her earlier
disguise. Sister Esther replied that it was for the reasons of safety. István
was no longer a place, where it was safe for a young girl to walk the streets on
her own. Before the priest could inquire any further, their conversation was
interrupted by the all-too-familiar voice of Colonel Radcón. The giant officer
appeared in the doorway and announced that he had come on the orders of Gyula
Kádár with an invitation for Father Abel Nightroad to come up to Várhegy and
share a dinner with the Marquis of Hungary. Upon hearing this, Sister Esther
became very agitated and implored Father Abel to stay at the church that
evening. However, the colonel went on and made it very plain that the
consequences of the Marquis' invitation being turned down would be very dire.
First and foremost - for the residents of St. Matthias' Church. This appeared to
have decided the matter for the kind-hearted priest and, despite Esther's
protestations, he boarded the carriage which was to take him to Várhegy.
* * *
|Meanwhile, in Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, the Vatican
Council was in progress. Present were all the key power-holders of the Roman
Catholic Church. On the agenda was the sortie between one of the units of the
border guard at the eastern border of the Vatican Dominion and an unidentified
enemy force. It was almost certain that this force belonged to the István City
Guard and Duke Francesco di Medici of Florence, the Supreme Commander of the
Vatican's army, pushed for an immediate and deadly retaliation. An old soldier,
hardened in the flames of countless battles, Cardinal Francesco was an
awe-inspiring, imposing figure, who relentlessly sought to exterminate the seeds
of heresy wherever he only found them. Opposing him at the Council was a
soft-spoken beautiful woman in her mid-twenties. Radiating a calm and confident
elegance of a thoroughbred aristocrat, Duchess Caterina Sforza of Milano, the
Secretary of State and the chief spymaster of Vatican, was the opposite of
Francesco di Medici in almost every way. Except for one - the unmistakable smell
of an immense political and personal power, which she exuded with her very
being. The opinion of Cardinal Sforza was that Vatican didn't yet have enough
evidence to justify the invasion of Hungary to the rest of the world. The damage
to the political reputation of Vatican, caused by what would undoubtedly be
viewed by the rulers of the other European countries as an expansive invasion,
would be too great. They must stand back and wait until they had at hand an
irrefutable evidence of a foul play on the Marquis of Hungary's behalf. The
council had split between these two cardinals and the argument raged on. Both
sides tried to appeal to the Pope, but Alessandro the XVth, the current Pope,
was just a frail-looking boy in his early teens, of an ordinary - if not to say
mediocre, countenance. He seemed quite afraid of both his domineering
half-siblings - Francesco and Caterina were illegitimate children of the
previous Pope. And though he clearly preferred the apparent gentleness of
Duchess Caterina to the fierceness of Duke Francesco, he still kept endlessly
swaying between the arguments of the two.
|In the end, the Council's conclusion was for Cardinal
Sforza to be granted one week to obtain the requisite evidence of the Marquis of
Hungary's foul play.
Once the council was over, Caterina returned to her
rooms fuming at ignomity of it all. She switched on the holographic transceiver
and issued orders to one Sister Kate. Iron Maiden II was to set
course for István immediately. Moreover, there were changes to the orders of the
previously infiltrated field operatives Crusnic and the Gunslinger...
Chapter 2 - A Banquet in the Darkness
|...for they will come to
kill thee, and in the night they will come to slay thee.
|Father Abel was staring out of the window of the
carriage at the mud-strewn, tattered, half-derelict streets of Pest - the
eastern part of István, the city once known as the Pearl of Danube. Aghast,
the priest expressed his surprise at just how run-down the city was - and was
promptly told by the giant Colonel Radcón that it was a result of the recent
upsurge of the terrorist activities. But before the political discussion could
progress much further, the carriage stopped before a huge iron-wrought bridge.
Lánchid, the famous bridge across Danube, which served as the only link between
Pest, the eastern half of István, and Buda, its western half. An armed guard
asked the passengers to identify themselves. Colonel Radcón complied and the
carriage was swiftly waved through. The observant priest couldn't help but
notice just how heavily guarded the bridge was or the several latest-model
Germanicus-manufactured tanks standing nearby. The ride continued. Buda, on the
contrary to its eastern counterpart, was the very picture of prosperity. The
reason for such an evident disparity was soon confided to the priest by the
gigantic colonel. The lands west of Danube, including the whole of Buda, were
all a private holding of the Marquis of Hungary.
Finally, the carriage reached Várhegy. It was greeted by
the automata maids, beautiful - and much sought-after - doll servants, the
technology of whose making was lost since the Armageddon. Having unloaded Father
Abel into their mechanical hands, Colonel Radcón returned to the carriage. The
giant was chuckling, unpleasantly, at the last words of the priest. The man was
apparently under an impression, that quite soon he would be back at the
* * *
|On his way through the castle, Father Abel had lingered
before an old-looking portrait on one of the walls. Depicted on it was a
beautiful black-haired woman, with a gentle-looking blue eyes. The priest
couldn't help, but wonder - aloud - as to the identity of the lady on the
portrait. She is my wife, announced a voice from behind the priest. Whirling
around, Father Abel found himself face to face with the Marquis of Hungary.
Apologizing for the involuntary intrusion, the Marquis waved for the priest to
take his place at the dinner table.
During the dinner, served by the silently efficient
automata maids, the priest inquired what was the delicious wine they were being
served. The Marquis replied that it was the famous Egri Bikavér - the Bull's
Blood - which the Marquis's own vineyards were famous for. Its special taste
was achieved through use of a certain fertilizer on the soil of the vineyard.
When Father Abel asked what the fertilizer was, he was told that it was the
blood. The human blood. After enjoying the expression of shock on the priest's
face for a few seconds, Marquis Kádár reassured the man that it was merely a
joke. The blood used was that of a bull.
The conversation moved on to the citizens of Pest. The
priest implored the Marquis to look into their plight. Surely, with all his
wealth, there was something he could do help the people, whose living standards
were fast approaching those of livestock animals? Gyula Kádár replied that, as
far as he was concerned, they were the livestock animals. And pretty dangerous
animals, too. His wife had thought differently, once. She'd been like the
priest, she would often say: They are human too! She had loved the city, and
on the moonlight nights she would go down and hand out the sweets and the
medicine to the poor. And nothing that the Marquis did or said had succeeded in
dissuading her from doing thus. The look Gyula Kádár threw at his wife's
portrait, just then, was full of nightblack sorrow. But one summer, he
continued, the Plague had come to these lands. The cityfolk had begun to drop
down with it, one after another. His wife, full of concern for them, had gone
down to the city to distribute the medicine. She never had returned - she had
been killed by the very people she had been trying to save. Now, how were they
any better than animals?
Father Abel tried to argue, but his words were soon cut
short by his own scream. Having lifted the lid of a newly served plate, he
discovered on it a human head. The head of one of the partisans, who took part
in the terrorist attack earlier on in the evening. The Marquis smiled
unpleasantly and told the priest that these were the just desserts for all the
foolish Terrans who would try to defy the Methuselah. Shocked, the priest
stuttered out a question. And was promptly told that yes - Gyula Kádár was a
vampire. A vampire, who particularly hated priests. For it was one of these
hypocritical sowers of the love of God who had his wife burned at the city
square. A fanatic, dispatched from Vatican. Just like Father Abel.
A pair of crescent-shaped fangs glimmered dangerously in
the twilight of the dining hall. Death, imminent - and no doubt excruciatingly
painful, stared Father Abel right in the face and smiled gently. What had saved
him was a huge explosion which shook the palace right then, shattering the
stained-glass windows and sending the automata maids a-scatter. The arms
storehouse! But before the Marquis had as much as a moment to think, the doors
of the dining hall burst open and a group of armed men poured in.
The partisans, led once more by their dimunitive leader
the Csillag, first attempted an assault on the Marquis. But neither
them nor their weapons proved to be a match for the vampire's Haste, a
special ability possessed by the Methuselah, which through temporarily
stimulating the nerve system allowed them to move and react at over ten times
the normal speed. One of the partisans went down with his own crossbow bolt,
caught and hurled back by the Marquis, buried in his chest. A brown-eyed young
man, whom the partisan leader was calling Dietrich, shouted for everyone to get
the priest and withdraw. A half of them moved to do just that, while the other
half covered for the Csillag, as the latter engaged the Marquis again.
He shot a crossbow bolt and the vampire, once more, had easily caught it.
However, this crossbow bolt was stuffed with the explosives and the subsequent
blast dealt heavy damage to the Marquis, slowing him down just enough for the
partisans to have thrown up a smoke screen and escaped to the outside court.
As the partisans paused briefly, waiting for everyone
involved in the attack to re-assemble, Father Abel addressed the partisan leader
as Sister Esther and asked why was she doing this. Throwing off the gas mask
and letting the familiar fiery-red locks fly in the air once more, the girl
gestured at the open lid of a sewer chute in a corner of the courtyard. She told
the priest that they were withdrawing to their hideout and that he was to
* * *
|The hideout of the partisans turned out to be in the
wine cellar of one of the largest pubs in Pest. While most partisans engaged
themselves in drinking, dancing and otherwise celebrating the success of the
night's operation, the priest was questioning Sister Esther about the activities
of her group. The girl, together with the brown-eyed young man whom she
introduced as Dietrich von Lohengrin, her second-in-command, explained that the
partisans struggled to liberate István from the vampiric Marquises of Hungary.
Their clan, for centuries now, have been ruling István with the iron fist of the
City Guard, all the while hiding behind the democratic facade of the City
Council. The priest wondered why didn't they turn to Vatican for help. Dietrich
replied that Vatican was more than aware of the situation. However, the
Marquisate of Hungary was one of the supposedly free domains, which made up the
neutrality belt between the Vatican-dominated Western Europe and the True Human
Empire. The latter being the country of the vampires, their chief dominion in
this world, situated on the Balkan peninsula and other lands surrounding the
Black Sea. Presently, an uneasy ceasefire existed between these two major
powers. But were Vatican to commence an armed intervention into Hungary, the
situation could easily escalate into another world war. Thus Rome chose to turn
a blind eye to the István's plight, leaving its citizens to fend for themselves.
As this night had shown - they weren't entirely unsuccessful. But it was
regretful that the partisans hadn't also managed to destroy The Star of
Sorrow. A piece of what was commonly known as the Lost Technologies, the
artifacts of the high-science civilization which perished in the Armageddon,
The Star of Sorrow was rumored to be a fearsome weapon capable of calling down
the fire from the skies and destroying cities with a single blast. Little more
was known, but that the Marquis had gained possession of it and was working to
restore it to the full battle readiness.
Eventually, the priest excused himself to go to the
kitchen and pour himself some more milk. As he was drinking the milk, he heard a
female voice greeting him. The kitchen looked completely empty. Far from being
surprised, however, Father Abel had greeted the owner of the mysterious voice as
Sister Kate and proceeded to enquire whether they had arrived here. The
answer was confirmative. Furthermore, Sister Kate had just received a report
from the Gunslinger. Apparently, the City Guard were about to be
dispatched on a large-scale mission of yet unknown nature and the watch over St.
Matthias' church was to be strengthened. In the view of the latter, Lady
Caterina wanted all the church people evacuated to safety. But as Vatican still
couldn't move directly, Father Abel was to enlist the help of the partisans for
the evacuation. And there lied a complication. It seemed that just before this
night's attack, almost all the ammunition had been removed from the arms
storehouse which the partisans had blown up. This indicated a strong possibility
that a mole had been present amongst the partisans. Father Abel should be very
careful in his dealings with them. Nodding, the priest told everyone on the
Iron Maiden to take care as well and cut the contact.
* * *
|Next morning a rather striking group was seen making its
way down the Andrássy street towards the St. Matthias' Church. A tall and
exceptionally handsome brown-eyed young priest drew the looks of almost every
woman on the street. The priest was accompanied by two nuns. One nun was near to
two meters tall, wore small round glasses and had unruly silver hair peeking out
from under her wimple. The other was the opposite - short, red-haired and
|These were, of course, Dietrich, Sister Esther and
Father Abel, disguised so as to avoid being identified by the Marquis' spies.
Upon reaching the church, they were immediately received by Mother Vitéz. Sister
Esther explained the situation and told Mother Vitéz that she and every one of
her churchworkers were to leave István the very next morning on a caravan bound
for Vienna. Everything had already been arranged with the head of the caravan.
Sister Esther herself, however, would stay behind with the partisans. Much to
everyone's surprise, Father Abel had volunteered to stay behind as well.
Everyone jumped to dissuade him - but before any could succeed, the door flew
open and one of the churchworkers came running in. Apparently, the City Guard
had surrounded the church. Indeed, even before the man had finished speaking,
everyone began to hear the stomping of the army boots in the corridor outside.
Loud voices had announced that they had reasons to believe that hiding somewhere
in the church was one Father Abel Nightroad, suspected of aiding the recent
terrorist attack on Várhegy. Mother Vitéz walked over to the bookcase and
pressed in one of the books. The bookshelf slid to the side, revealing a hole in
the wall and a staircase, descending into darkness. Mother Vitéz ushered the
other three into the passage, telling them she had to stay behind herself to
protect her fellow churchmen.
The bookcase barely had time to return to its original
position before a group of the City Guard soldiers burst into the room. Leading
them was the familiar figure of Major Tres Iqus in his impeccable midnight-blue
uniform. Iqus demanded for Mother Vitéz to hand over the priest. When she
protested that she didn't know where the priest is, Iqus took out his gun and
shot. But not Mother Vitéz. Instead the 13mm bullets of his Jericho M13 Dies
Irae blasted the bookcase to pieces, revealing the secret passage behind.
The major ordered all his soldiers to commence the pursuit of the priest and his
companions. Just then a new voice interfered, countermanding this order. Colonel
Radcón himself was standing at the doorway. Claiming to be acting on the
personal orders from Marquis Gyula Kádár, he commanded for the pursuit of the
priest to be abandoned. The priest was to be allowed to run loose for a while
longer. Instead, Mother Laura Vitéz and all her fellow churchmen were to be
arrested and taken to Várhegy, on the charges of obstructing the public justice
and aiding the escape of a known criminal. The church of St. Matthias was to be
burned to the ground.
When Father Abel, Esther and Dietrich got back to the
partisan hideout, they were met by Ignatz. The old man, looking rather worried,
told them to listen to what was being broadcast on the radio. Marquis Gyula
Kádár declared himself the sole ruler of István. All the Terrans in the city -
his private property. The City Council and the courthouse were to be immediately
disbanded and the whole city was placed under a martial law for an indefinite
period of time. Furthermore, it was established that the responsibility for the
yesterday's terrorist attack lied with one Father Abel Nightroad, a priest in
the St. Matthias' Church. Therefore, it was decided that, along with expressing
a most emphatic protest to Vatican who undoubtedly directed the hand of the
priest in question, the St. Matthias' Church would be shut down, indefinitely,
and all its personnel - detained until further notice...
The last sounds of the broadcast died down, leaving only
a stunned in their stead.
* * *
|Not any less stunned were the members of the Vatican
Council, in Castel Sant'Angelo, as one after another reports started to arrive
from the Hungary border. The 14th armored infantry battalion The Knights of
St. Stephen reported being under an attack by armored vehicles, identified
as belonging to the City Guard of István, and requested the permission to return
fire. The border patrol airship Ramiel reported than an unknown
aircraft had just violated the border at the point 209/037, ignoring all
attempts at communication. The crew of Ramiel identified the ship in
question as Sárkány of the military airfleet of István and were
requesting further instructions. Many similar reports followed.
To all intents and purposes, István had declared a war
When the Council had recovered enough from the shock to
request the information on the total military assets of the Marquis of Hungary,
it turned out that they consisted of a mere 2-3 regiments of infantry, a
battalion of Germanicus-manufactured tanks and other armored vehicles, one
armored infantry company of Germanicus-manufactured mobile armor and robotic
soldiers, plus the airfleet - a destroyer and two frigates. Such a force could
be handled by the border guard alone, without any reinforcements being
necessary. The shock gave turn to the glee, as the Council realised that they
had now all the excuse they needed for the invasion of Hungary. None were
rejoicing more than Cardinal Francesco di Medici, who was roaring triumphantly
that they could easily take István in under three days. But amidst all the
rejoicing, Cardinal Caterina Sforza kept silence. It all seemed too perfect to
her. Was the Marquis hoping to gain the support of the True Human Empire? But
why would the Empire break a self-imposed ceasefire on the behalf of a single
free town? That left only one possible explanation. "The Star of Sorrow"...
Chapter 3 - "The Traitorous
Their tongue is a piercing arrow, it hath
spoken deceit: with his mouth one speaketh peace with his friend, and
secretly he lieth in wait for him.
|From the ruins of an old handcraft museum in Pest,
abandoned since the times of the Armageddon, Esther Blanchett watched through a
looking glass an orange light of a signal rocket to soar into the skies above
the palace across the river. Immediately, a series of explosions shook the
residence of the Marquis of Hungary. Most of the City Guard had left István for
the border with Vatican, but the remaining First Regiment, under the command of
Colonel Radcón, lived up to its elite reputation - within five minutes of the
first explosion most of the regiment had boarded the armored cars and were
speeding towards the palace.
Having seen that in the looking glass, Esther turned
around and told the assembled partisans that Dietrich and his team had completed
the first step of the operation successfully. Now it was their turn. They were
to take an abandoned subway tunnel to the point, 80 meters below the City Guard
headquarters, where the hostages from St. Matthias' Church were held. Esther and
her squad, which included Father Abel, were to rescue the prisoners. Another
squad were to provide a distraction by attacking the HQ itself. It was now
6:00pm. Estimated time of the arrival to the prison facility was 6:30pm. By
7:00pm, regardless of the outcome of the operation, everyone was to withdraw to
the safety. That said, Esther turned around and led her people into the darkness
of the underground tunnel.
* * *
|Upon reaching the entrance to the underground prison,
Esther and Father Abel knocked out the guard with a blunted crossbow bolt. They
picked up the keys from the unconscious man's body and entered the prison
facility. Inside, they found pitch-black darkness. Then, suddenly, the light
went on and the partisans found themselves face to face with about 50
midnight-blue uniformed City Guard - and Marquis Gyula Kádár, himself. Smiling,
the vampire greeted his unwitting guests and told Esther that never had he
expected the fearsome Csillag, the leader of the partisans who plagues
his existence for so long, to turn out to be such a young and beautiful lady.
Esther was still reeling from the shock, when Father Abel, in a small voice,
advised her to surrender immediately. If they were meant to be killed, they
would have been dead already. So they were wanted alive - and there was a good
chance they would be imprisoned together with Mother Vitéz and her people.
Convinced, Esther ordered her people to drop their weapons. The Marquis laughed
and asked if the Terrans really were so foolish a species, as to have their
young part with their lives so readily. Then he turned to Father Abel and asked
if his hospitality was found so lacking yesterday, for the priest to have left
so early in the night. Father Abel responded by complaining that it was really
mean of the Marquis to use him as a lure for the partisans and then falsely
accuse him - and the Church - of terrorism. "Falsely?", - the Marquis smiled
wryly. "But didn't you, in fact, come here to kill me? A field operative of the
Ax, Abel Nightroad..." Here, Esther interjected demanding to know where Mother
Vitéz and the churchmen were. As a response, Gyula Kádár held out towards her a
bloodied rosario and told Esther that he had killed the woman himself. And that,
in fact, all the prisoners were executed yesterday's evening. For a moment,
Esther just stood there as if struck by a thunderbolt. Then she jerked the knife
off her belt and charged at the vampire in blind fury:
|The Marquis dodged the girl's thrust easily, grabbed her
hand and threw her across the room. Esther would have probably cracked her skull
open, were it not for the priest diving forwards and catching her. Meanwhile the
partisans drew knives and axes and charged the Marquis to protect their leader.
But once more they couldn't match the vampire's Haste. Ignatz shouted
for Father Abel to take still unconscious Esther and escape. The rest of them
would try to hold off the vampire and the remaining City Guard for as long as
possible. Hesitantly, the priest complied. But the Marquis had no intention of
letting the two go - and had easily caught up with them using the Haste.
His hand transformed and a sharp sword-shaped bone slid out of his palm. Just as
the bone-sword was about to pierce the priest's heart, Father Abel somehow
managed to pull out his antique revolver and fire. Cursing, the vampire jumped
back, dodging a deadly silver bullet. The priest fired again. The Marquis dodged
again - but the passing bullet had brushed his hair. And then he suddenly
collapsed to the floor with a howl of pain. The second bullet hadn't been aimed
at him - but at the steam pipe behind him. Choosing not to hang around and see
how long would it take for the vampire to recover from being scolded by a jet of
a boiling hot steam, Father Abel disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel,
with the unconscious girl and his now empty gun in his hands.
* * *
|The two shook off the pursuit by losing themselves in
the air duct network of the facility. Esther, once she came to, was blaming
herself for everything and feeling that all hope was lost. Father Abel had to
pause and talk at her for a while, to get her out of the slump. He managed to
convinced the girl that their first priority was to escape and see who else
survived the massacre. As they traversed an abandoned maintenance tunnel, Esther
belatedly asked the priest what did Gyula Kádár mean by the Ax and the
field operative. The question was not asked in much more than idle
curiosity, but the priest suddenly got very serious and said that there was
something very important he had to tell the girl. He wasn't really a priest, he
was... Father Abel never finished the phrase, because a hate-filled voice out of
the darkness ahead finished it for him. ...a field operative of Ax, Abel
Nightroad. Codename: Crusnic. That's what he is. The Ax is the
name of the Special Operations Department of the Vatican's Ministry of State.
The spymasters of Vatican. This man is a spy of Rome.
The voice was unmistakably that of Dietrich. Indeed, it
was him who subsequently emerged from the darkness of the tunnel. Battered,
bloodied, bandaged - and pointing a gun at Father Abel:
|He told Esther that after fiasco at the church he had
started to suspect there was a mole amidst them. Now he was certain - the priest
was leaking the information to Gyula Kádár all along in order to escalate the
conflict and create an excuse for an armed intervention into Hungary. For the
proof, Dietrich showed Esther a document he found during the today's raid on
Várhegy. The burnt remains of a copy of a Vatican dossier, which read: Abel
Nightroad. Birth: Unknown. Height: Unknown. Weight:
Unknown... Almost every field read Unknown. In the very end,
there was a hand-written note: Can not be contacted at present due to an
involvement in an undercover mission in István..
Shocked, Esther asked the priest to answer just one
question for her. Was he really this Ax Field Operative, was he really
a Vatican spy? Reluctantly, the priest nodded. Esther blew up, flying off into a
fit of high hysterics. Assuming everything else Dietrich said was true as well,
blaming the priest for everything, for all the deaths, screaming at him.
Dietrich handed her his gun and told her to shoot the traitor. Taking the girl
by the shoulders, he told her it would be her rightful revenge. The revenge for
the death of Mother Vitéz.
It was then that Esther had suddenly frozen.
Turning slowly around to face Dietrich, she asked him
how did he know that Mother Vitéz was dead? She herself was told this barely an
hour ago - and Dietrich wasn't there at the time.
Oh, dear... There nothing worse than the half-clever
All the fatigue and all the weakness had suddenly
disappeared. Before Esther stood a stranger - a beautiful and deadly stranger,
who radiated a feeling of sheer power. A malicious fire was dancing in his eyes.
Esther took a step back, pointed her gun at him and told Dietrich not to move.
Else she would shoot. Dietrich smiled and told Esther to shoot him if she could.
The girl closed her eyes and hesitantly pressed the trigger... only to find,
having opened her eyes, that she had shot Father Abel through the right
shoulder. Her hands moved again, entirely of their own accord. Helpless, Esther
stood and watched herself shooting the priest again, this time through the left
shoulder. Something was glistening, almost imperceptibly, between the fingers of
the Dietrich's right hand. The man explained amicably that the reason for
Esther's seemingly inexplicable behaviour was a piece of an organic
monomolecular wire. He attached it to her when he had touched her shoulders few
minutes ago. A piece of the Lost Technologies which he unearthed, the wire
buried itself into the body of the victim and attached to its nerve system. This
allowed the wielder to control the victim's body at will by sending the
appropriate electric impulses down the wire's length. Like this, for instance. A
third shot thundered through the air. Father Abel collapsed on one knee, his
thigh shot through.
In tears, Esther asked Dietrich why had he betrayed
them. The reply was that there were two reasons for that. The first was the
business - the Marquis of Hungary was a client of his. The second was that he
really loved Esther. And if you loved someone, you really wanted to mess them up
a bit, right? Especially someone like her - a weakling, who knew only how to
spew out pretty words. A happy girl, loved by all who met her, who didn't ever
know what did it feel like to be hated. He always wanted a plaything like that.
A twist of a hand - and Esther gasped in a soundless scream. Dietrich explained
that he could send anything down the wire: a taste, a feel, a touch... or a most
agonizing pain, like he was doing just at the moment. But what should he attempt
next? A torture, the likes of which even the Inquisition couldn't match in their
interrogation chambers deep beneath Vatican? Or an opposite - make Esther feel
like a few dozen men were simultaneously ravishing her body in every way
possible? But wait, said Dietrich looking back at the unconscious priest, he had
just thought of a really perfect game. Esther screamed, as she watched herself
repeatedly press the trigger. One after another, bullets bit into the shoulders
of Father Abel. Finally, the nozzle of the gun came to point straight at the
priest's face. Please, stop..!, begged Esther. No, I don't think I would,
was the reply. As the shot resounded in the air, the black oblivion swallowed
the girl at last as she lost consciousness.
Chapter 4 - "The Star of
The light and the sun rose up, and the lowly
were exalted, and they devoured the glorious...
|Staring at his dead wife's portrait, Marquis Gyula Kádár
silently promised her that it would all be over soon. Those who drove her to her
unhappy end would soon get their just desserts. He dropped a thick tablet into a
wine glass before him. Like many vampires, Marquis Kádár found the taste of
fresh blood rough and repugnant, particularly in the aftertaste. He preferred to
dissolve the blood extract in some refined, elegant drink, like the red wine.
With some extra spices, it made for a good way of getting over the Craving
- a physiological dependence of vampires on the human blood.
An automata maid announced the arrival of Dietrich von
Lohengrin. The Marquis seated both him and Esther Blanchett, whom Dietrich
brought along, at the dinner table and ordered the supper to be served. Sister
Esther asked where the priest was and got told that her friends were safe. Then
she told the Marquis that he was finished - after what he did, Vatican would no
longer stay silent. The vampire nodded and said that indeed right at that very
moment the Vatican's army was smashing the last remains of the City Guard forces
at the border. They were probably planning to be in István by the morrow. The
way the vampire said this, made it sound like it was of no more importance than
yesterday's weather. Promising to show the girl something interesting, the
Marquis told Dietrich to proceed with their arrangements.
Few minutes later, a dark-gray hologram was hovering
above the table. Esther peered in and saw an image of a landscape, taken from
some very high vantage point. Higher than any airplanes should be able to fly.
Then the dots on the landscape moved - and the girl realised the image had been
live. The Marquis explained that what they were seeing took place about 200
kilometers west of István, where the 6th brigade of the Vatican's Eastern Army
was battling the forces of the István City Guard - and winning. The vampire
turned to Dietrich and asked him where the Star was. The youth replied
that at present the Star was was at 44·5°N, 33·3°E. The territory of the Empire,
above the city of Babylon. In 40 more seconds it would have charged enough
energy and in 7200 seconds it would be in an appropriate position to fire. The
Marquis smiled gently at Esther and suggested she watched closely as this city
they arrogant Terrans all worship, this Rome, enjoys what would become its last
* * *
|Major-general Unbert Barbarigo stood and watched as
broken remains of the István City Guard fled pursued by his arditi. Veni,
vidi, vici, is it..., he muttered. The skirmish had barely lasted an hour,
leaving the field of battle with him - and his Justinians, the 6th
brigade of the Vatican's Eastern Army. Hic iacet pulvis, cinis, nihil.
And we ended up just watching from the sidelines, spoke Major Mark-Anthony
Braski, who stood by Barbarigo's side. His Golden Knights, the 28th
battalion of mechanised infantry, didn't get to fire a single shot during the
whole engagement. The two men proceeded to discuss how to conduct the warfare on
the streets of István tomorrow. The HQ had already permitted the civilian
casualties of up to 20%. Suddenly, Major Braski paused, stared intently at the
sky to the south and then told Barbarigo that there appeared to be an
abnormality in the concentration of the ion in the atmosphere. A few moments
later, the sky to the south was lit up by a huge wall of pale blue-white light.
Aurora Borealis? Here? The major-general crossed himself. Braski's mechanical
voice continued talking. What the..? A magnetic storm..? Your Excellency, I am
reading off a major energy surge... It's coming from directly above us..! The
two men raised their heads to the skies above. And then the night sky, burning,
fell down on them.
* * *
|In Rome, the Vatican Council was listening to the
reports pouring in from the east. Constantinians, the 5th brigade of
the Eastern Army, had destroyed the 3rd regiment of the István City Guard. Justinians,
the 6th brigade, were in a pursuit of the remains of the 2nd regiment, near to
200 kilometers west of István. Kalocsa, one of the satellite towns of István,
had declared itself neutral in this conflict and asked for the protection of the
Vatican's army. The battleship Nathagiel had finished the bombing raid
according to schedule, the damage inflicted was being estimated. It was clear to
everyone on the Council that István would be taken by tomorrow's sunset. Within
seventy two hours of its declaration, the war would be over. It was an
indisputable masterpiece of military strategy and tactics on the behalf of the
Supreme Commander Cardinal Francesco di Medici. Even Caterina Sforza had to
agree that her half-brother's triumph was well-deserved. For all their
difference, she knew full-well that he was probably the most skillful general in
the Western Europe. But the doubts continued to gnaw her - the enemy was too
weak. Far too weak. And there was still no sign of the Marquis Kádár's secret
weapon, whose existence her spies had confirmed. The Star of Sorrow...
An operator reported that Sandalphon, the
battleship which provided the air support to the Justinians, was on the
line. Francesco di Medici ordered it patched through. A hologram of a
middle-aged man appeared above the Council table. The captain of Sandalphon
Colonel Arnoldo diCambia reported that the Justinians advanced to a
point 200 kilometers west of István, that the enemy resistance was
insignificant, but that even taking it into account, they should be able to
reach István by the morrow. Just the captain was about to sign off, an
interference appeared on the screen, breaking up the signal. Suddenly the whole
image flashed brilliant white for a few seconds, near blinding the members of
the Council, and then vanished altogether. After a few minutes the operators
managed to restore just the audio link. The shaking voice of Colonel diCambia
stuttered, incoherently, that all their optical devices went dead. An evil
foreboding clutched the heart of Caterina Sforza. She surged forward, ignoring
an aggravated look of her half-brother, and ordered the captain to get a grip on
himself and report the situation as best as he could. Then the whole Council
heard that there was a change on the battlefield below the Sandalphon.
Both the Justinians and the City Guard troops were annihilated. Not
massacred - annihilated. There was nothing left on the ground below!
* * *
|In Várhegy, Esther was struggling to regain her voice,
as the swirl of light was subsiding on the holographic screen. This is the Star
of Sorrow, my trump card, said Gyula Kádár in a voice torn between the
satisfaction and the regret. A high-powered satellite-mounted laser, rotating
around the Earth on a low orbit at the speed of 4000 m/s. Each of its blasts had
the explosive power of near to 1 megaton. Four or five such blasts would suffice
to reduce a city the size of Rome to smoking rubble. Crying, Sister Esther asked
why was he doing all this. Almost sadly, the Marquis said: To survive. Let's
be perfectly clear - this was a war. The war for the survival of the species.
The Terrans and the Methuselah - one would live and the other would perish. The
co-existance was but a foolish dream! No screams for mercy would stop the crazed
Vatican fanatics once their silver spikes and their oaken stakes are raised. The
Marquis turned to Dietrich and ordered him to prepare the Star of Sorrow for the
second blast. The target coordinates were 41·53°N, 12·29°E - the center of the
city of Rome. Oh, and Sister Esther. I am afraid I have lied to you before.
Your friends I captured this morning and the priest - they are no longer in this
world. I had them executed already.
* * *
|When Father Abel, his wounds
barely treated, was pushed, at last, out of the car, it was already
nighttime. In front of him were a long runway and a concrete
watchtower. It appeared he had been taken to a remote army airport
west of István. Also there were Colonel Radcón, his City Guard
troops and about a hundred partisan prisoners. The giant colonel
loudly announced to the prisoners, that they were found guilty of
many heinous crimes against the residents of István - including
murder, burglary, extortion and arson - as well as of the high
treason against the city itself. They were, therefore, sentenced to
death by shooting. More specifically, they they were to be used as
the target practice for the machine guns of the Sárkány,
the huge dirigible hovering in the sky above. They could try to run
- but any who crossed the white line before the runway would be shot
by Radcón's people.
The giant was
clearly deriving an immense enjoyment out of the proceedings. He
told the prisoners that his only regret was that he didn't have time
to murder them at length, like he did Mother Vitéz and her
churchmen. Father Abel paled. Then a familiar voice had inquired
from behind the colonel whether they've begun yet. Tres Iqus, newly
arrived, explained to Colonel Radcón that he came on the orders from
Gyula Kádár to inspect the battle-readiness of the ground-to-air
artillery unit, stationed at this airport. Which provided him with a
fine opportunity to watch the slaughter of the prisoners. The
colonel grunted and ordered one of his soldiers to have it
transmitted to the Sárkány that they could open fire.
The Gatling gun, mounted at the bottom of the dirigible,
started to rotate - and little fountains of earth went up, in a line, bare
inches before the first row of the prisoners. All the hell broke loose, as
prisoners scrambled to get away from the guns, trampling each other in the
process. The colonel shouted for the gunners to get that priest first. Just as
the priest, and the old man Ignatz he was helping to run, were swallowed up by a
fountain of earth, everything suddenly became very bright. Those, who looked up,
could see a huge ball of fire blossoming in the night sky above. As they
realised that it was emerging from the broadside of the Sárkány, a
second blast had pierced the helium-filled balloon of the dirigible and skewered
the hull below. With a deafening thunderclap, the dirigible split into two and
fell to the ground in a trail of fire. It crashed onto a small hill nearby and a
second explosion shook the air. Flabbergasted, the colonel struggled to make out
what happened in the sky. When he finally saw it, he could barely believe his
own eyes. A huge dirigible of pure white, sleek and elegantly shaped, was
descending towards them from far above. It was both larger and more beautiful
than any airship the colonel ever saw. Burning in scarlet red on its snow-white
hull were a catholic cross and the words ‟Arcanum cella ex dono dei.
A Vatican battleship.
A loud female voice announced clearly from the sky:
This is Iron Maiden II, a battleship of Ax, the Special
Operations Department of the Vatican's Ministry of State. I am Sister Kate, the
ship's captain. This is a warning to all the soldiers of the István City Guard
on the ground below. This airport had just been brought under our armed control.
Please drop your weapons and surrender immediately. I repeat, drop your weapons
As an indication of the full seriousness of the threat,
a blast of guns from the battleship's side tore up a few nearby biplanes as if
they were paper planes. Trembling with fury, Colonel Radcón grabbed his wireless
operator by the neck. What is the anti-aircraft artillery unit doing!? The giant
screamed into the wireless, telling them to shoot that monster down. It's no
good, a voice from behind the giant told him, emotionlessly, they were wiped
out, to the last man. The colonel started to shout for Tres Iqus to stop
talking nonsense, but suddenly froze. ...came on the orders of Gyula Kádár to
inspect the battle-readiness of the ground-to-air artillery...
As the colonel stood and boggled, one of the soldiers
attempted to take Father Abel hostage - and collapsed with a bullet wound the
size of a fist. Were you not clearly told surrender your weapons, inquired
Tres Iqus, now holding a pair of huge guns. Iqus, you bastard..!, roared the
colonel. 0·44 seconds too late, replied Tres Iqus and fired. Radcón collapsed
to the ground clutching his stomach. Switching the battle program to the
Genocide mode. Commencing combat. Four of the City Guard exploded in a
shower of blood. Major Iqus, have you betrayed us!?, shouted one of the
officers. Negative. I was never your ally to start with, replied Iqus and shot
the officer's head off. When, eventually, his guns ran out of bullets, Major
Iqus had to pause to reload. While he did so, he calmly told the remaining
soldiers that they were guilty of an assault on the St. Matthias' Church and
would be questioned at Castel Sant'Angelo in an appropriate fashion. Castel
Sant'Angelo..? So you are a Vatican's dog, you bastard! Father Abel's warning
shout came too late. The bionically-enhanced colonel managed, even after taking
a 13mm bullet to his stomach, to grab a machine gun off one of the fallen
soldiers and stand up. And now he emptied the whole clip at Major Iqus, who was
still reloading his guns. Hah! Serves you right, you traitorous bastard! Did
you really think Vatican scum could kill someone like me!?
Negative, Colonel Radcón. I never had any intention of
killing you. You will be taken to Rome alive.
The voice from the cloud of dust raised by the
machine-gun blast rung with coldness of the tempered steel. And when the dust
settled down, Colonel Radcón's eyes popped out of their orbits. Standing before
him was Major Iqus, arms crossed in a crucifix, a gun in each hand:
|His uniform was torn to shreds, but there wasn't a drop
of blood on his body. The bullets pierced the polymer-made skin, but were
stopped by the artificial muscle below, made out of the shape-memory plastic.
You ain't human!, shouted the colonel. Ain't human? Positive.
Certainly, I am not human. I am HC-ⅢX (Tres Iqus), codename:
Gunslinger, a field operative of Ax, the Special Operations
Department of the Vatican's Ministry of State, the android killer introduced
himself in a colourless voice. With a howl of rage, Colonel Radcón charged
himself at him. Die, you robotic bastard! 0·25 seconds too late, calmly
replied Tres Iqus. He then slid the fresh magazines into his guns, neatly
side-stepped the colonel's fist and fired eight shots. Elbows, shoulders, knees
and hips. Like I said, Colonel Radcón, you are to be taken to Rome alive. A
special interrogation cell had already been prepared for you in Castel
Sant'Angelo. There you will tell us everything you know. This body of yours can
withstand a lot. Without sparing the collapsed giant another look, Tres Iqus
turned around and informed Father Abel that, regretfully, the Star of Sorrow had
been fired two hundred seconds ago. An earcuff in Father Abel's ear suddenly
spoke with Sister Kate's voice, relaying the orders of Caterina Sforza. Father
Tres was to stay with the partisans and help them to take possession of the
city. Father Abel was to board the Iron Maiden Ⅱ immediately and, through any
means necessary, prevent the second blast of the Star of Sorrow.
* * *
|In Várhegy, the thick glass of the windows designed to
block out the ultra-violet rays shook audibly. The Marquis looked outside and
saw a tall pillar of fire rising towards the sky to the west. Something must
have happened at the airport. Dietrich said that he would go to investigate it
and left, hurriedly. Meanwhile, Esther sat still at the table and contemplated
her plight. All whom she cared for were dead. The only thing left to her, it
seemed, was to slay the vampire responsible for this horror - or at least to die
trying. Her only hope lied in the silver rosario she always carried with her.
Its bottom end was sharpened, so were she to get one lucky strike in, it might
prove out to be enough. The silver had an extremely adverse effect on the
Methuselah. Seeking to distract the Marquis, Esther asked who was the lady on
the painting which hung on the wall. Perhaps the Marquis was more in a state of
mental turmoil than it appeared - for his answer was more than the girl had
bargained for. He told Esther that his wife was a human who was lynched by the
Vatican priests for being a wife of a vampire. But the bitter irony was that at
that very time he and his wife together were working to better the lot of the
humanity. The Star of Sorrow was originally an energy-relay satellite, designed
to receive the energy gathered by a solar-battery unit on the Moon and relay it
to the power stations on Earth. Were it to be restored to a fully-operational
state, many of the dead cities, abandoned since the Armageddon, could become
His wife was originally a Programmer whom he
invited to work on the project. Very few such people existed still, who
possessed the skills necessary to communicate with probably the most arcane
artifact of the lost civilization - the Electrical Intelligence. Before
long, his wife had become the chief enthusiast of the project. But in Rome they
thought that the Marquis and his wife had been restoring some fearsome ancient
weapon - and had the wife killed. Without a Programmer, the Marquis
could no longer carry on with the project. And so he wallowed in self-misery,
until one day they had contacted him. The Order. Even now he still wasn't sure
who exactly they were - but they consisted of both the Terran and the Methuselah
and they claimed to oppose the Vatican. They had sent him a new Programmer,
Dietrich von Lohengrin, to continue with the restoration of the Star of Sorrow.
Thus he gained his chance to wage a war on Terrans. To gain his revenge. But
maybe... The Marquis paused, lost in a labyrinth of his memories. Maybe it was a
It was then, that Esther swung down the rosario from
behind, aiming at the back of the vampire's neck. The Marquis' story threw her
into a turmoil - but still she had found it within herself to strike. The
vampire's last words, however, caused her to falter for an instant - and that
instant proved fatal. The vampire had time to turn around and block the
improvised weapon with a palm of his hand. An acrid stench filled the air. The
enraged vampire grabbed the girl and threw her across the room so hard that she
almost had broke her spine slamming into the opposite wall. Cursing all the
filthy Terrans in this world, the Marquis strode over to where Esther had
collapsed. Grabbing the girl by the chin, he bared his fangs... and with a
deafening noise the anti-UV window behind them shattered. Miss Esther!, cried
a familiar voice. And the Marquis of Hungary went flying to the floor with a
silver bullet lodged in his shoulder.
* * *
|Without sparing the collapsed vampire a glance, Father
Abel ran over towards Esther. The girl was unharmed. Hurriedly, she explained to
the priest that they must stop the Star of Sorrow before it destroys Rome.
Half-way through her explanation, the priest whirled sharply around, having seen
something reflected in her eyes. Advancing on them from behind was the Marquis
of Hungary. The vampire had extruded the bone-blade from within his palm and
used it to carve the silver bullet out of his body. Along with a better part of
his shoulder. Cursing Father Abel for a rotten Vatican dog that he was and
inviting him to feast his eyes on the destruction of Rome, the vampire charged.
The two of them fought. Marquis Kádár turned his other hand into a second
bone-blade and was able to vibrate the pair of blades, each composed of many
razor-thin plates extending one from under another, in such a way as to produce
between the blades a high-frequency high-energy sonic wave which shredded
anything that came near it. In particular, it shredded all the priest's bullets,
rendering his gun useless. But the priest threw the gunpowder flask he kept on
his belt to refill his gun with into the air and shot it. This created a small
explosion and the Marquis ran straight into it. The shock-wave of the explosion
had interfered with the sonic shield for long enough to allow the priest to
shoot off the Marquis' right arm. The vampire couldn't use the sonic shield
anymore and Father Abel fired his last shot, almost regretfully, straight
between the Marquis' eyes. But the one who collapsed in a shower of blood was
the priest himself. At the last moment, the vampire managed to kick his torn-off
arm, sending it towards Father Abel's stomach and skewering the priest with the
bone-blade. The silver bullet whizzed harmlessly by the vampire's ear and buried
itself, with a thud, in the portrait of the Marquis' wife.
Right between the eyes.
It was over. The Marquis glanced at the holographic
display which hovered above the dinner table. There was ten seconds left until
the second blast. Behind him the girl rushed over to her collapsed friend.
Seven. A stream of blood spurted out of the priest's mouth. Five. Somewhere high
above the surface of the Earth, the Star of Sorrow, rushing at the speed of near
to 4,000 m/s, began to concentrate the charged energy. The energy which Gyula
Kádár and his wife meant to present to humanity as a gift. Three. It really was
all over now. One.
And then the air exploded.
* * *
|Even after the blinding flash of light had subsided, it
took a considerable length of time before either the Marquis or Esther could see
anything. And when the vampire had finally regained his sight, he lost his
breath instead. Out of the shattered window he could see that, on the opposite
shore, a large part of Pest was simply no longer there. In its place was a giant
smoking crater. The waters of Danube were pouring into it with a roar.
Flabbergasted, the Marquis checked the data on the
holographic screen. Indeed the coordinates for the second blast were nothing
like what he had specified. While the Star of Sorrow was already preparing for
the third blast. Dietrich! He needed Dietrich! As if answering to the Marquis'
thoughts, Dietrich's face appeared on the holographic screen above the dinner
table. The Marquis told him that something went wrong with the coordinates they
had entered, so Dietrich needed to return re-program the system. Wrong? No,
Your Excellency, these coordinates are exactly right, the youth smiled back
from the screen. The second blast was centered on the City Guard headquarters.
The third blast will hit the very center of Pest. And the last blast will be
aimed at Várhegy and Your Excellency's palace. My program is in perfect order.
Dietrich!? You've... betrayed me..? You've used me!? The Marquis made the only
possible conclusion. No. I haven't used you. I've used the Star of Sorrow. Of
what use could a one stupid monster be? You flatter yourself, Your Excellency.
Dietrich proceeded to explain that the goal of his Order here was to escalate an
armed conflict between Vatican and the True Human Empire. The last major
skirmish between the two occurred 270 years ago, when the 11th Crusade, summoned
forth by Pope Sylvester XIXth, was massacred near Debrecen. Not the least reason
for this long-lasting peace lied with the neutrality belt of free domains like
István, which humans thought was ruled by humans and the vampires knew was ruled
by a vampire. An occupation of Hungary by Vatican, therefore, was certain to be
followed by an armed retaliation from the Empire. But why would the Order want
that?, cried the Marquis. What is your game!? Who side are... We are not on
anyone's side, interrupted him Dietrich. We are contra-mundi.
Leaving the Marquis to gape, the youth turned his
attention to Esther. He apologized at length for what he had done to her,
claiming that he always quite like her beneath it all. As a token of how sorry
he felt, he would teach her a magic spell: IGNE NATURA RENOVATUR INTEGRA.
At the sound of this words, the eyes of Father Abel, whose limp body Esther held
in her arms, flew wide open. Unmindful of that, the girl asked what were these
words. Dietrich replied that they were the self-destruction code for the Star of
Sorrow, which he programmed in, unbeknown even to the Marquis. She only had to
enter them using the keyboard on the table and the Star would explode. Provided,
of course, she could enter them without someone interfering first... The stares
of Marquis Kádár and Esther collided, almost striking a spark. Dietrich laughed
and wished Esther good luck. That done, he vanished off the holographic screen.
The girl and the vampire raced each other to the
keyboard. Esther stood closer at first - but the Marquis was significantly
faster. He overcame Esther and slammed her away from the keyboard, projecting
the girl halfway across the room. He then took up the keyboard and looked
desperately for a way to regain the control of the satellite. But Esther took
hold of the priest's gun and, threatening him with it, demanded for the vampire
to step aside and let her destroy the Star. Cursing, the Marquis extended the
bone-blade out of his palm. He'd have had to kill her anyway - no one who knew
the self-destruct code could be allowed to live. He advanced on the girl. Esther
fired - and immediately realized her mistake. The gun was out of bullets. Die,
Terran! The bone-blade swept down in a flash... and it was then that a tall
cassock-wearing figure suddenly stepped in between the girl and the vampire.
* * *
|Father Abel caught the descending blade in between his
palms and held it there, few inches above his head. The Marquis tried to aim a
kick at the priest's mid-stomach - but went flying across the room himself.
Having crashed onto the floor, the vampire stared in disbelief at the man before
him. The man, who still had a bone-blade protruding from his stomach. The man,
who had so many injuries he should have been dead twice over. What are you!?,
cried out the Marquis. The humans feed upon the cows and the chick, replied
Father Abel. The vampires feed upon the humans. Don't you think that there
should be something, somewhere which feeds upon the vampires? The priest pulled
the Marquis' hand out of his stomach and brought it to his lips. Sharp fangs,
the vampire fangs, bit into the dead flesh. The hand started to shrivel... to
wither... until it became no more than a bone clad into a thin gauze of the
flesh. A deep dark voice, which sounded as if it came out of the bowels of the
Nanomachine Crusnic 02 initiating the operation at 40% limit.
|The color of the priest's eyes changed from its usual
pale-blue of a midwinter lake to the scarlet of the blood. I am Crusnic, he
told the Marquis, The vampire who drinks the blood of the vampires.
The two of them fought.
The Marquis split the bone-blade in his left hand into
three and was able to vibrate them so as to create a miniature version of the
sonic wave he employed earlier. Father Abel's hands burst - and the dark liquid
which flew out instead of the blood solidified into a giant monolithic
two-bladed scythe, which the priest used to fight with.
In the end, the vampire used his blade to dead-lock the
priest's scythe and then his sides burst open. Eight bone-spears, eight
ribs, sped towards the priest from all sides like giant snakes... and bounced
off, shattered, as something dark enveloped the priest's body, something tough
enough to withstand the diamond-like bone-spears. A pair of huge jet-black wings
sprouted from Father Abel's and enfolded him completely.
What... what on Earth is Crusnic!?, cried out the
I am..., said the priest and whispered something into
It can't be..! Then you... no, thou art our...
Giant black wings fluttered, unfolding with a rustling
noise. The black scythe swept down and the bone-blade shattered in its wake,
depriving the vampire of his last weapon.
This is the end.
The shining jet-black blade swept down once more.
* * *
|Is he dead!? Who... who are you!?
Esther had many questions to ask. But Father Abel, whose
body returned to its normal state and whose eyes were once again the pale-blue
of a midwinter lake, silenced them all and told the girl that first of all they
had to enter the code. He pointed towards the holographic screen, where the
countdown to the third blast of the Star of Sorrow was still running. Esther
hesitated. But there being no better option left, she walked over to the
keyboard and entered the code. Igne Natura Renovatur Integra. The girl
checked it over once more and pressed the return button. Nothing happened. The
countdown continued to run. The priest walked over to her. Together they were
staring, puzzled, at the screen when suddenly Dietrich's face appeared on it.
Dear Esther. If you are watching this, then you've done
as I'd told you and entered the code. Dietrich proceeded to explain that,
firstly, this was a pre-recorded video file and that, secondly, he needed to
apologize her once more. The code which she'd just entered wasn't the
self-destruct code. It was a target-change code, instead. Yes - the target of
the next blast was no longer István. It was now Byzantium. The capital of the
Empire. The nest of the vampires, whom Esther hated so much. Of course, their
capital attacked. the Empire would retaliate. There would be a war. The last,
the ultimate war between the vampires and the humans.
How does it feel, to have pressed the button which
would trigger off the Armageddon? You really are an idealist, Esther, to have
believed me once more, after being deceived so much already. But then it was,
perhaps, this very naivete that I always found so attractive about you...
Bye-bye, Esther. Hope we shall meet again some day.
The image vanished. Esther kept standing there, gaping
at the screen, until the blood-splattered fingers of Father Abel hadn't touched
the keyboard in front of her. The girl tried to protest... but was firmly told
to step away and not interfere.
For a little while Father Abel just stood there and
stared at the screen. Then he started to type. Hesitantly at first, but then
faster and faster with each click of a key. Once more Esther tried to warn him
that it was dangerous to experiment with such a technology. She was plainly told
to be silent. The finger of the priest were now flying up and down the keyboard
as if they belonged to a virtuoso pianist. A mechanical voice continued the
countdown: 39... 38... 37... Finally, the priest stopped typing and looked at
the screen. In a clear voice he spoke out: Voice input to the super-user
program. Requesting to switch the system to the administrator mode. For a
moment, the countdown stopped. The numbers on the screen froze up. A soft female
voice, quite unlike the mechanical voice the computer employed before, replied:
Acknowledged. Switching the system to the administrator mode. Welcome. All
tasks are running normally. The time remaining until the next blast is 30
seconds... 29... 28... 27...Give priority to all the emergency-use commands.
Freeze all the ordinary tasks.The command file has been erased by the
administrator. An error at the address R200055, the... Unnecessary. How many
commands are available in the system-freeze mode? There is not the time, so
don't quote the addresses. Acknowledged. Search in progress... completed.
Found 1 item matching the query.What is it?The self-destruction command,
based on the security directive #3090. Inputting the self-destruction command.
Carry out the self-destruction, as per the security directive #3090. An input
of the self-destruction command requires a security level clearance of the
Special-A class and higher. Please present your administrator pass. My
administrator pass is... Father Abel took a deep breath. ...UN Air and Space
Force Commander Abel Nightroad. Affiliation: The Red Mars Program,
Administrative Department, Security Section. ID#: UNASF 94-8-RMOC-666-02ak.
Security clearance confirmed. The system shall carry out the self-destruction
according to the security directive #3090. This will also entail the destruction
of all the satellites on the orbit 9982. Thank you for using this system. The
voice went silent. All the numbers disappeared. Father Abel stared at the dark
screen and sighed. Glancing through window to the skies above, he said, to no
one in particular: Thanks for all the hard work all these years...
Esther watched the scene, which played out in front of
her, with a puzzled expression. What happened..? The Star..? The Star is gone,
spoke a voice from the floor, It's finished now. Or rather, it has been
finished. So I've guessed right about you, Father Nightroad...
His right arm had been torn off at the shoulder, his
stomach had a deep gash through it, but Marquis Kádár was alive. Father Abel
told the vampire that his purpose was not to kill the vampire, but to stop the
Star of Sorrow. The Marquis replied that if he were to be taken to Rome, he
would die there anyway. And if he were to die, he'd rather it wasn't in a
torture cell of the Inquisition. The vampire asked for Esther to be permitted to
exercise her right of revenge. He did, after all, kill so many people dear to
her. For a moment, the priest was silent. Then he took his revolver gun, handed
it over to Esther and told her it was loaded with the silver. A shot through
either the head or the heart - and the vampire would die. The girl took the gun,
aimed... but in the end didn't find it in herself to press the trigger. What was
the difference between her taking revenge for Mother Vitéz and Marquis Kádár
taking revenge for his wife? Was there a difference?
With an expression of relief Father Abel took the gun
back from the girl. In the city below the Castle Hill the shooting and the
explosions had begun to die down. A familiar figure appeared in the doors of the
dining hall. Tres Iqus walked in and reported that 97% of the City Guard forces
have been subdued. After their HQ had been blown up, most of them lost any
desire to carry on fighting and surrendered. At present, the partisans were
sweeping up those few who chose to fight to the bitter end. By the time the
Vatican forces arrived, it would all be over. Father Abel heard the report out
and nodded. Then it was the time for them to withdraw as well. The rest could be
left for the partisans to handle.
Unfortunately, at that point they were interrupted by
Colonel Radcón. The bionically-enhanced soldier managed to overcome his
near-fatal injuries, avoid the partisan patrols and come all the way out to
Várhegy. In his eyes only one thing still remained - a thirst for revenge. He
aimed Esther's own crossbow at the girl. Tres, in one smooth motion, drew his
M13 out of its holster and fired it over his shoulder. Without even turning
around. The bullet hit the colonel between the eyes and went clean through,
bursting his brains out of the back of his head. But not before the giant
managed to press the crossbow's trigger. The arrow sped towards Esther - and
buried itself in the Marquis of Hungary's chest as the vampire stepped forth to
protect the girl. The arrowtip was full of silver nitrate and the vampire's end
was swift. Within a few seconds, the convulsions had started. Crying, the girl
dropped down on the floor and lifted the Marquis' head into her arms.
|Why did he do it, Esther cried. The vampire replied that
he didn't know himself. Really, why would he care to save a Terran..? A nun..?
Half-delirious, the Marquis rasped: Really. Where did it start to go wrong...
All I wanted to see was your smiling face, Maria... When did it suddenly
become... Esther understood whom was the vampire seeing before him and spoke in
the stead of the woman who for decades now lived only within the Marquis'
memories: Thank you, dear... You can rest now. Thank you for everything...
The last expression on the face of the Marquis was that
of a smile.
Tears streaking down her cheeks, made the sign of the
cross over the dead body.
Lord, have mercy upon this poor soul. And let him meet
once more those he loved so dearly.
Epilogue - The Hunter's
|Defile not the land of your
habitation, which is stained with the blood of the innocent: neither can
it otherwise be expiated, but by his blood that hath shed the blood of
|The spring in the Southern Europe came early. The
Duchess of Milano Cardinal Caterina Sforza reflected on that, as she stood at a
window and watched crowds of pilgrims bustling with activity at the Piazza
The whole of Vatican was still busy dealing with the
aftermath of the István incident, which took place three months ago. The
beautiful scarlet-robed woman at the window was no exception. Turning back
towards the room, she motioned for a small priest in an impeccably tidy cassock
to continue with his report. In a mechanical voice Father Tres Iqus pronounced
the whereabouts of one Dietrich von Lohengrin still undetermined. Caterina
Sforza was not particularly surprised. If the man was indeed who the report
indicated him to be, he was unlikely to have left any traces behind. They were
always very, very prudent... Igne Natura Renovatur Integra. So the Contra
Mundi are still very much in good health... Caterina Sforza, who went up
against them a number of times in the past, knew of their prudence more than the
most. Father Iqus complained that the resources of the Ax were stretched to
their limit by the investigation and asked if there were anyone else who could
be asked to assist them. Well, I wonder... Come to think of it, when was Father
Nightroad going to return to Rome?, inquired the world's most beautiful
Cardinal as drily as she could.
* * *
|In István, still under a shroud of snow, Sister Esther
placed a bouquet of winter-roses on the Mother Vitéz's grave. She told her dead
teacher that she was leaving István. She had requested a transfer to a church in
Rome and now her train was leaving in less than an hour. As she sped towards the
entrance gates of the church graveyard, the girl threw a glance towards an
unmarked gravestone next to the rows of the graves of the priests who were
slaughtered three months ago. If anyone were to learn who slept under that
gravestone, undoubtedly her transfer orders would be swiftly replaced by an
arrest warrant issued by the Holy Inquisition.
Near the gates, Esther met Father Abel. The
silver-haired priest was entering the graveyard with a bouquet of winter-roses
in his hands.
Yes, leaving now.
The girl sped towards the carriage which waited for her
just outside the gates. The priest walked on towards the graves. Neither of them
looked back. Both knew full well their paths would cross again.
Trinity Blood : Reborn on the Mars I : The Star