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Despite my efforts to purge it from my mind, the voice haunts me still. I write this to strengthen my resolve in moments of weakness - to affirm my heritage, my birthright, and what is mine by conquest. To remember who - and what - I am.
I am Lowerniel Vergidiyad Drakan, Lord of Vampyrium.
I am no one's slave.
The doors of the temple were three times the height of a man and a full foot thick, carved from a vast oak in an age past, and engraved with intricate patterns and signs. Pilgrims would come for miles, it was said, simply to gaze upon their beauty and to contemplate the mysteries hidden within their interlaced lines and complex ideograms.
They shattered and were rent asunder with a single blow.
I crossed the threshold alone, for what had I to fear from the cult of a dead god, and the fool who styled himself its Pontifex? The expanse of the temple yawned before me, and there - of course - he stood, head bowed, hands on the altar between two smouldering censers, muttering prayers to his absent, Empty Lord.
'Azzanadra,' I roared, my voice filling the chamber, 'Zamorak demands your presence and your fealty. If not...your death will suffice.'
The temple guards stationed by the altar stood ready. They were unaccustomed to the sight of my true form - their stances were too rigid, trembling as they held forth their halberds. The panicked beat of their hearts and short, frantic breaths betrayed them, loud in my ears, even as their faces - obscured by long, ceremonial helms - remained unknowable. Like him.
- DRAKAN... WHY DO YOU PERSECUTE MY FAITHFUL?
I hissed. No...it could not be him. Zaros was dead, slain by the hand of his foremost Legatus, Zamorak.
And yet the voice came. It crept between the clink of mail surcoats that covered fragile, human bodies. It whispered in the wake of Azzanadra's low murmur. It echoed my own footfalls, and chased my breaths like a sigh.
- The Legatus placed a hand on my shoulder.
- 'You will hear his voice not only in the silences, but in laughter and cries; in the tumult of battle. One does not spend as long as we in his service and come away unchanged.'
- 'Arise, Drakan,' said Zamorak, and I stood to meet his gaze. 'That was the first - and last - time that I expect you to kneel before me.'
'What, Azzanadra?' I called, shaking off the memory and stepping forth between the pews. 'Too busy prostrating yourself to greet an old comrade?'
'A pious man knows when to defer to his betters,' came the response, low and even. To his credit, Azzanadra's voice betrayed no fear. He turned slowly, and I saw that his face was pale and drawn, his eyes sunken. 'It's part of being civilised, Drakan,' he growled, grinding his teeth, 'Of being more than a beast.'
Azzanadra grimaced as I began my approach. 'And I see you're no longer concerned with maintaining any semblance of respectability. You look disgusting.'
- THE HUMAN GUISE I TAUGHT YOU HAS SERVED YOU WELL, HAS IT NOT?
- Lord Malachi of House Ghrazi laughed - deep and full - as I approached him and knelt. Indolent and corpulent in ill-fitting ur-maggot leather and dire bat fur, he lounged on his great throne, beneath the wall-mounted husk of a giant leechwyrm, slain by his much-storied grandfather.
- 'By the blood, is that you, Drakan? You have...changed your form, somehow.'
- 'It is our effect of choice in House Drakan, my lord, taught to us by the Stranger from Afar. It is...convenient in many ways.
- Ghrazi snorted. 'Leave your tribute and begone - hopefully the rest of my vassals still have some self-respect.'
- I inclined my head, words souring in my mouth as I knew my blood tribute would sour in his. Poison was an alien concept on Vampyrium, and Lord Ghrazi so very resistant to change. I would be sure to transform fully when later - alone - he lay before me, mouth frothing, paralysed...unable to close his eyes.
By now I was halfway down the temple nave. The humans' breathing had quickened yet further, and one in particular struggled to maintain composure.
Azzanadra noticed too, his eyes flicking quickly away from me and back again.
'Hold, Titus,' he said, 'Do not approach-'
But the human let out a high, tremulous cry, and brought the brass pommel of his halberd staff down onto the flagstones with a long echo. He swept the palm of his hand - exposed beneath his steel bracer - up over the weapon's blade, and red tendrils began to wind together above his upraised hand.
- THE ARRIVAL OF YOUR KIND HAS CHANGED THIS WORLD FOREVER.
- The forum grew silent, save for the shivering breaths of the human who knelt before me, naked but for a loincloth, eyes large and wet beneath a matted fringe, his bound arms upturned as if in supplication.
- I stretched out my hand, and turned my wrist. The man's eyes rolled upwards and he let out a long, hoarse gasp as his veins opened, thick red blood pulsing upwards in languid gouts from his wrists.
- When I had drawn enough - for enough was what Imperial Law allowed us to take - I snapped my hand shut into a fist, coalescing the blood cloud and coagulating the blood in the thrall's wounds, allowing him to collapse, pale and limp. His chest barely moved with each shallow, gurgling breath, but he would live.
- I levitated the oscillating crimson orb above my left hand and presented it to the room. Cowled human initiates whispered to one another and scratched on slate tablets, and Magus Axius puffed thick green smoke from his long pipe, his facial tentacles curling around its shaft as they did when he was deep in thought.
- It would take the best of them a full year to master the fundamental principles of blood magic.
- For me, it was as breathing.
The blood surged towards me with a sweep of the man's hand. With a sidestep and a circular motion, I drew the missile into my sphere of control. The guard was well trained, at least, and ran in the wake of his opening attack, halberd blade raised.
Following the momentum of my circular deflection, I span my body, and lashed out with the blood like a whip. My backhand blow struck true and it coiled around the guard's neck. I stepped backward quickly and pulled, and - assisted by the guard's own forward momentum - I brought his head down on one of the pews with a resounding clang. Such was the force that he bounced back up, his broken helmet clattering to the ground before he fell, bleeding from a great welt on his forehead.
Azzanadra's shouted orders went unheard as three human voices - shot through with primal fear and rage - raised in unified bloodlust, and the guards charged. I roared with glee, and rushed to meet them.
Slow...so slow. The first guard's halberd fell as if dragged through clay and I darted beneath it, raking my claw through the man's torso without breaking my stride. I met the next one head-on, shearing through her armour and flesh and tearing her arm from her body.
Blood gushed and the woman's weapon clattered to the floor, but her remaining hand gripped my shoulder in its death spasm. I slowed - just for a moment - as ice crackled around my shoulder and neck. Enough for a sharp impact to land between my wings, searing pain blossoming.
- YOU UNDERESTIMATE THEM. THEY HAVE RISEN FAR...AS HAVE YOU.
- The pain was brilliant and stark as Sascha's needle pierced my wing flesh. The red sigils scribed there told sagas of my conquests. Mine - that of House Drakan - was now the Old Blood.
- All the tribes of Vampyrium now came under my rule, and yet...it was but the beginning. The Stranger from Afar urged me to follow him; to come to a new world and aid him with his grand designs, as he had with mine.
- As we stood high on Vampyrium's cliffs, I surveyed my dominion in its raw beauty. The bloodwood copses, just starting to bead with thick, red sap; the lipid pools, the great leechwyrm warrens...and its sky, soft red and bruised with purple cloud.
- The tattoo was complete, and Sascha's arms wrapped around my waist, teeth nipping at my shoulder. When would I return here? When would I be coming home?
Something coating the blades... Some newly devised compound, perhaps, or simply water, imbued to harm my kind. They had known that I was coming.
I closed my eyes and focused only on the pain. I breathed deep, and with a short, sharp bark I pushed, driving my magical field outwards from my centre.
Ice shattered, and blackened blood sputtered from the wound in my back. I turned to see my attacker staggering backwards, slipping on flagstones slick with his comrades' blood. I sliced upwards, and opened him from groin to throat.
An undiscernible word echoed through the temple, and the hairs on my neck rankled. Azzanadra was casting a spell, and the sorcery of the Mahjarrat is not to be taken lightly. I launched forth at my full speed, until my face came within inches of his - twisted with anger and fear, his eyes bulging.
My claws flashed, aiming to remove his head in one stroke, but I struck only air. Azzanadra's frozen form turned translucent and rose away, deforming in angular pieces.
I brought my fist down on the Empty Lord's altar, splintering it in two. Slathering, I turned and loped towards the nearest surviving human, who was pulling himself along the ground with one arm, clutching his stomach with the other.
- NO... I TAUGHT YOU TO BE MORE...
I snatched him up from the ground and sank my fangs deep into his neck. Red bled into my vision and the voice seemed farther and farther away. I closed my eyes, and thought back to a time before Gielinor, before my conquests...before words.
- In my first moments, there was only flesh - roiling, ubiquitous.
- Then, there was will. As I wormed my way through the flesh that was not me, movement became easier, and the churning - in turn - more fierce.
- Something membranous broke, and my body filled with overwhelming sensation. I know this now to be shrieking, chittering, hissing chaos...but then it was the only sound I knew.
- The urge to move was subservient to another need, deeper and more primal. I latched onto the nearest flesh that was not my own, pain hard and sharp as fangs burst forth from raw gums for the first time, and I gorged to the sound of strangled mewls.
- I surged forth - filled with blood-strength - until I grasped something else.
- Earth - hard, cold - and glorious freedom.
- I pulled myself from the spawning pit and the squirming bodies of my kin. I stood on trembling legs and stretched my mucus-crusted wings. For the first time, my eyes prised open, and I beheld Vampyrium's blood moon. I raised my head and howled.
Gore-drenched and ecstatic, I cast aside the desiccated corpse and drank in my surroundings, every sense screaming with bestial vitality. This was what I was - what I am - gods, Mahjarrat and men be damned to the Abyss.
A series of quick breaths and moans came from before me, and my head snapped to the fore. The stunned guard had come to, and he lay frozen with terror, eyes fixed on me.
I stalked slowly forth and his eyes widened, his limbs scrabbling for purchase on the floor.
He wailed as I lifted him with one hand, his legs kicking feebly in the air. I drew my claw along the wound on his forehead and licked the blood from it. As I stared into his tear-streaked, bloodied face, I bared my fangs and rasped just one word:
I set him down, and - after a moment's incredulous pause - he fled the temple, staggering into the night.
I reared up and howled. My vyres lurked in the surrounding woods, and soon they would come skittering to heel. The human would taste all the sweeter for his fear and his desperate, newfound hope, and there were only a few bolt holes in which Azzanadra could be cowering.
The hunt was on.
The Old Blood
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