Following the story featuring Laszlo, it's time to the second story of the Masters of the Night anthology, written by Gareth Hanrahan, based on the boardgame designed by Nikolay Aslamov. It presents six stories, one for each vampire of the Family. The protagonist of today's story is Imre.

Johannes put the phone down on its cradle. His hand shook. “It is confirmed. Our brethren have found signs that the Eldest is here too. All the known Family are in the city. For most of the others, we have descriptions, portraits, even detailed records. We know what to tell our hunters to look for. But for Imre…” Johannes sighed. “We are chasing a ghost.”

“Everything we need to know is here,” declared Abraham. “Have faith, my friend. We shall catch him.” He opened his hands in a wide gesture, encompassing row after row of library shelves, the micro_ che machines, the dusty scrolls in their glass cases. It included, too, the younger acolytes searching through the shelves, and the old curator who silently placed a plate of sandwiches on the table between the two scholars, then withdrew.

Johannes, shook his head. “Maybe. But there are such gaps, Abraham. Take this – it’s an interrogation of Mikhail. One of the Family, captured in Vienna in 1917. He was encouraged to confess with the usual methods – fire, I think – before being released from his damned un-life. Now, this Mikhail was an acolyte of Imre, and…ah, let me quote:

INQUISITOR: Your master, Imre – where did he come from?

MIKHAIL: Out of Egypt… the city of the dead in Cairo. He dwelt there for centuries. He was a priest of Anubis, god of the underworld… ten thousand years before your so-called Christ, Imre walked the earth, and learned secrets under the desert moon.

INQUISITOR: He is the eldest of your kind, then? The progenitor?

MIKHAIL: He has forgotten. His mind is like an overfull treasury – he must cast out lesser treasures to make room for greater ones. What does it matter where he came from? He no longer remembers that himself. He has forgotten so he can retain other secrets.

INQUISITOR: What other secrets?

MIKHAIL: Yours! Yours, you fools! He will be the doom of you all!

The mysterious Imre.

Abraham shrugged. “What do you expect?” he said, then bit into a sandwich. “Of course there are going to be lies and crazed ravings. We are dealing with the testimony of the Devil’s spawn here. But there are more reliable sources. Look, here, in a history of the court of Rudolph of Prague, there is an alchemist named Aimery or Aimeric – the French form of the name ‘Imre’, mind you - who claimed to be immortal. He’s said to have brewed an ‘elixir of longevity’, said to be the fabled Rubedo – the red stage of alchemical transformation, the final step before perfection.

Listen to this!

That night, we went to dine at the house of Aimeric, who is rumored to have achieved a degree of bodily immortality. We were greeted by his servant, who ushered us into his dining room and served us fine wine and all manner of delights. Presently, we became aware that Aimeric himself had joined us and was in our midst, although none of us noticed him enter the room. He remained silent for much of the evening, listening keenly to all the talk. In time, the conversation moved to the study of scripture, and we discussed the topic of the Crucifixion. Now, Aimeric made several comments about the weather in Jerusalem that day, and the manner of speech of Judas Iscariot, that some in the company took to be proof that Aimeric had indeed found that which we all seek. Others, including Baresch, accused our host of boasting or even blasphemy. One turned to Aimeric’s servant and said, “you, sir, are an honest fellow. Is it true your master was at the Passion of our Lord and is more than 2,000 years old?”

The servant replied, “forgive me, but I cannot say – I have only been in my master’s servant some four hundred years.”

“’Reliable sources’” scoffed Johannes. “Occultist gossip and speculation, you mean. The anecdote about the manservant is lifted from de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, and the Rubedo’s a reference to cinnabar, I believe, not blood. You’re chasing phantoms and seeing patterns that aren’t there. It’s folly! You know how these occultists and fabulists work – all lies and borrowings. It’s in the reliable works and findings of our predecessors that we shall find our quarry, I think. Here’s one of the oldest documents in the Order’s collection – the by-laws of the Family, codified in 1365.

It is forbidden to enter the domain of another of the Family without permission; the penalty for breach of this law is a forfeit of three parts.

It is forbidden to strike another of the Family in anger, except in a duel of honor; the penalty for breach of this law is a forfeit of five parts.

Those charged with the keeping of the law of the Family must be obeyed, and their word is the word of the law; the penalty for defiance of their edicts is a forfeit of between two and seven parts, as judged by Imre the Eldest.

“So, he is at least eight hundred years old. Maybe Mikhail was right when he claimed that Imre came out of Egypt.”

Imre: Grey Cardinal dark ability

“More like at least 1200,” said Abraham. “Imre is called the Grey Cardinal, and several times he’s infiltrated the Church of Rome. We know he was a cardinal in Paris in the 17th century, but there are also accounts that a ‘pale cardinal’ instructed Pope Sylvester II in the year 999. It’s well known that Pope Sylvester was a scholar of the occult, and some even say that his ascent to the papacy was orchestrated by sinister forces. Maybe this Imre has been manipulating all things, like a fat spider in the middle of a great web. Maybe he knows we’re having this conversation!” He grinned, amused by the thought, and took another sandwich from the plate.

Johannes sighed at his companion’s levity. “Out there,” he said slowly, pointing a crooked finger towards the windows of the library, “our brothers and sisters are hunting for the Un-dead. Out there, they are scouring the streets, watching every port and railway station, looking for the members of the Family. Our order has nearly eradicated the plague of vampirism – we are on the threshold of victory, and we cannot let that blessed day slip through our fingers because we cannot identify our foe! We cannot – cannot.” Johannes’ impassioned speech was cut short by a fit of coughing. Abraham signaled to the curator to bring the older Inquisitor a glass of water.

As Johannes recovered, Abraham rose and spoke. “All right. Let’s set aside the unknowns, and focus on what we do know. Our quarry is commonly called Imre, Eldest of the Family. We cannot be sure that is his true name, or if he truly is the oldest of our foes. He is commonly called the Grey Cardinal, and it’s said that he’s patient and cunning. Now, unlike the other members of the Family, this Imre has not honed any particular supernatural gifts. He cannot bewitch us, nor is he especially strong or fast. He cannot call forth demons, nor divine the future, nor read minds. Maybe his old blood has turned to dust, and he’s lost most of his vitality.”

“We must not underestimate him. Imre has guided the Family for centuries.”

“And the Family is nearly dead. Maybe this Imre isn’t as cunning a foe as you think him to be.”

“You denigrate the efforts of generations of our hunters, Abraham! If the Family has been diminished, it is because of heroes – like the ones who rely on us! We must find some clue that lets them identify Imre!”

Abraham sat back in his chair. “Are you even sure it’s his name? I found the diary of a Jesuit scholar who guessed that ‘IMRE’ was a Satanic parody of ‘INRI’, and that it stands for ‘Imperator Mortis, Rex Eternis’. The Emperor of Death is the Eternal King. Schoolboy Latin, but it’s possible that we don’t even know his name.”

Johannes groaned. “I need answers, not more games.”

“How about this?” Abraham picked up one document – the by-laws of the Family. “This mark at the bottom of the scroll – it’s a Family sigil.”

“All members of the Family have such a sigil,” said Johannes slowly. “Each beast has its own mark. What of it? The vampire that drew that sign might’ve been dust for five hundred years.”

“Or it might be Imre’s sigil! We’ve never been able to identify Imre’s sigil, have we? Maybe it’s been lying in front of us this whole time, waiting to be discovered?”

Johannes shook his head. “A wild guess. We cannot send our hunters out armed only with a wild guess.”

“It’s better than nothing, surely?”

The old curator glided over. “Master Johannes? You are wanted in the council chamber. A telephone call from Rome, I understand.”

Johannes nodded. “Keep working in my absence, Abraham. I must inform our brethren on the state of the hunt.”

Abraham continued as instructed, rifling through endless folders of documents, rows of books. Page after page of microfiche scrolled by on the reader. The sigil was the key, he knew it. If he could find proof that the sigil belonged to Imre, then perhaps they could find other documents marked with that seal. Make more connections. He poured over photographs of the Family castles destroyed in the war, over books of symbology and demonology.

There were sigils in the dungeons of the castle of Istvan, drawn in blood. The greatest of the Family gathered there. The Eldest must have been there, Abraham thought.

Mastermind, Imre's blood ability.

“More coffee, sir?” The curator placed a cup at his side. Abraham took a sip without looking.

“I told that librarian to lose the scroll,” muttered the curator. “But the man never listened.”

“What librarian?” asked Abraham, absently, his attention focused on the screen of the microfiche reader.

“A monk named Lucento, in the 15th century. A simple-minded wretch, which made him a useful tool, but hard of hearing.”

Abraham tried to turn to face the curator, but his limbs refused to budge. His arms and legs were suddenly stiff, and his breath caught in his throat. He tried to call out but succeeded only in producing a strangled gasp. Even his eyes were paralyzed, locked on the screen. There was no reflection in the glass of the man who stood beside him.

“You’re not simple-minded. You were right about the sigil, but I anticipated that someone like you would try to find me that way long ago. I have planted many false signs over the years. I have layered lie upon lie. I wrote half the documents you read tonight, I think. Which half, I cannot recall. It’s so hard to remember all my names.”

The curator’s breath on the back of Abraham’s neck was cold and foul-smelling.

“Some of my younger kinfolk, though, have not been so careful. A hunter like you might uncover clues that lead to my kin, and that I cannot permit. The only question left to you, Abraham, is whether you wish to live or die. I have the antidote to the poison in the coffee. Serve me, lie for me, and you may live… for a little while.”

“N-n-no.” Abraham forced the word out of his paralyzed larynx.

“You think, in your defiance, you have denied me a victory? Even now, my whisperers are at work, blaming Brother Johannes. He poisoned you out of jealousy, that’s what they’ll believe. That’s what they will record, in accordance with my desires. Who is Imre? I am the lie of your history. I am the shadow behind the glass. Child, I am older than the cities. All things are within my design.”

The vampire leaned closer still, and his whisper was like a cold wind blowing across a grave. “You will never stop us.”


In the next article, read the story featuring Mila.

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