October 2, 2012
We caught the steward just as he was exiting his office. A rail thin man named Anowon, he appeared engrossed in the piles of ledgers perched precariously in his arms. The servant sketched a brief explanation and bowed himself out, practically sprinting to return to his duties, as Anowon beckoned me to walk with him. Ducking by the steaming kitchen, a quick glance showed a pair of sangromancers bleeding a hog into tiny aperitif glasses, while a hexmage sat a nearby table, sketching decorative blasphemies onto wall panels. A glance in the other direction showed an entrance into the dark depths of the manor.Walking down seemingly endless corridors, we passed room after room before finally exiting into the manor halls proper. Wider and richly carpeted, they evinced none of the bustle happening just on the other side of the walls; the still and quiet broken only by a soft jangle from up ahead.As we moved toward the source of the sound, the hallway opened out into a grand ballroom of polished silver and scarlet marble. The source of the noise was clear- a group of servants were in the midst of raising the chandelier, a caged sun in flamboyant wrought iron, up to the shadowy reaches of the cavernous space. Standing at the top of the cascading central staircase, a fop in scarlet was haranguing the workers and directing them about, to little positive effect. I realized the dandy must by the lady’s rakish heir, whose recent ascension to siring age was the raison d’être for the evening’s festivities. After a brief introduction, the steward deftly pawned me off to the noble scion and took his place overseeing the readying of the ballroom.
The young nobleman prattled on as we finally headed to meet the lady of the manor, bragging about his underworld connections and the local influence network he was building up. I listened as patiently as I could until, after what seemed like eons, we reached the master suite. A quick rap at the door, an invitation to enter, and I came face to face with Olivia Voldaren, Lady of Stromkirk Manor, Queen of Stensia. She hadn’t changed a whit since our last parting- eternally flawless, with alabaster skin and a mane of scarlet hair cascading to her waist. Even her expression was the same, haughty reserve flavored with a dash of mockery and the barest hint of surprise.
“Why, Sorin, it’s been such a long time! Whyever have you come so early?”
“Olivia, you did request House Markov provide an opponent for the childe’s prix de sang, did you not?”
A flash of terror briefly marred her perfect features. “But, surely, no one expected, you wouldn’t-”
“Calm yourself, of course I will not participate directly. I merely arrived early to set terms and see how your household was faring.”
“I… of course,” she swallowed and regained her composure, “If you will excuse me, the boy and I must ready ourselves.”
With a curt gesture, the lady’s maids and valet stepped forward to finish their preparations. A maid bound her hair into a complex, interweaving web with a living braid of fire as another helped lace up the corset of her diaphanous gown. Sliding a Sol ring onto her finger, she beckoned to her childe, who painstakingly drew a gauntlet of power up one hand and a gauntlet of might up the other. Suitably attired, the servants were dismissed and the childe was sent to meet his demonic tutor, a Bloodgift demon of some renown, for a few final lessons before the festivities. I won’t bore you with the details of our activities prior to the ball’s onset; suffice it to say the servants were required to redo the lady’s hair.
At the tenth stroke of ten, the lady of the manor, her childe, and myself were formally announced by the bloodline keeper. His staff of office struck the floor in time with the clock’s chime as we descended the sweeping staircase into the ballroom, silencing the chatter of the arrogant bloodlords, assorted minor nobles, and various other guests as echoes reverberated around the room. The audience applauded for the Lady Olivia as she swept down onto the floor; the captivating vampire positively radiated ownership of the room.
The grand entrance made, the greater nobles began to arrive with their own retinues, guided in by the Stromkirk captain of the guard. The closest major family sent the first contingent to follow us to the floor, some no-name Falkenrath aristocrat and her clique of hangers-on and bodyguards. They were followed shortly by the blindly religious Bloodlord of Vaasgoth and his priestesses. Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet made his entrance alongside his fellow Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief in a quite unprecedented display of Red Court unity. The interim Necropolis regent put in an appearance, revenant souls spinning about her. Some dark impostor even had the gall to announce himself as “The Baron Sengir”, though everyone knew the ancient creature had finally met his demise not long beforehand. The buzz among the vampire nocturnuses only increased when the Mephidross Vampire swept in on the arm of a large, dark-skinned human, but they hit the floor without much disturbance and the whispers died away as the feast of blood began.
Scattered applause greeted the demon as he vanished and reappeared in the center of the dance floor. The crowd backed away quickly as the demon scorched a wide circle in the marble tiles. His arena complete, he backed out of the circle and turned to the Lady Stromkirk.
“Milady, the ground is prepared, and I am willing to act as impartial witness. Do you wish your childe to undertake the prix de sang?” asked the demon.
“I do, maleficence,” she replied, beckoning her heir forward. “I hereby nominate House Markov to provide concurrence.”
“I accede to the House Stensia’s desire,” I beckoned my swordsman to take his place in the circle. “Let your childe prove his right to sire.”
“I beseech the queen to so allow me,” said the childe, completing the rite.
Drawing the aspirant’s blade of the Bloodchief with a rasp, a footman armed the scion, and the duel began. Though the prix de sang is usually a fairly matched fight, not all aspirants survive; the attending vampires watched in absolute stillness, senses straining for the first drop of blood. The childe’s first attempt to go for the throat was batted aside with contemptuous ease; he grinned and began to fight in earnest. They spun through patterns of strikes, blocks, riposting faster than the eye could see. The childe was surprisingly competent with a blade; after a few passes both had picked up a collection of shallow cuts. However, his endurance began to flag as the fight wore on, and it he was clearly overmatched. More cuts appeared to blossom across his arms and chest, but his self-control held and no blood flowed from the wounds..
Before the duel could be decided one way or another, a blinding flash lit the room, phosphorescent light literally throwing guests back with explosive force. Out of a glowing circle leapt a phalanx of gold and alabaster-armored figures who began laying into the stunned vampires; a flight of angels blew through the stained glass windows in a deadly prismatic hail.
“Crusaders!” came a shriek from the crowd, and all hell truly broke loose.
Red Count: 21/53 – Not super this time, but the list hews more closely to a theme than any before this, and suffers from a not-particularly-red theme, at that. An acceptable ~40%.
Quick Tips – This is a Big Red deck at heart; it wants to get mana doublers and play lands from here til Sunday and then ride all that mana to victory. If you can get a few Vampire lords out at once, you’ll have a fair shot at racing people to death; for the most part, the individual creatures are threatening on their own, but in concert they can be truly scary. For opponents with lifegain shenanigans, look to Sorin, Blood Tribute and Heartless Hidetsugu.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these story-based renditions of decks. Next week I’ll be returning to a more traditional, technical style of article as I try to build a storm combo deck with Animar, Soul of Elements!
Until then, may you rise to the occasion when you most need it.