He sat on the balustrade of the ruined fortress. It had been nearly destroyed by natives who didn’t have catapults or trebuchets, but they had lobbed small hand held bombs of liquid fire at it. The plains that stretched out from the edge of the fortress belonged to the Bachtoohai, white savages. When the world was wearing linen and wool, silk and satin, they were still in animal skins.
Faust could smell them. They were out there in the tall grass, watching him. If he chose, he could see the world in shades of heat, a hunter vision all vampires came with. He would then easily be able to pinpoint them, but he was not here to feed off them. The Bachtoohai were mostly unwashed and though Faust craved blood, any blood, the thought of his tongue on any throat that hadn’t invented soap yet, was just beneath him.
He’d been summoned, well hardly summoned. No one summoned Faust anywhere. He’d received what could be best described as a letter, but it wasn’t any conventional letter. It hadn’t been written on paper, but on the dried skin of prairie dog. It hadn’t contained any actual words, but from what Faust could make out from the pictograms, the Bachtoohai did not exactly have a written language, they were asking for him to come to them, they had something to show him.
Finally one of them stood up in the long grass. A brown pelt of some animal, maybe bear, maybe deer, it had antlers on the man’s head, but that didn’t mean the antlers had belonged to the animal the pelt had come from. The man, though white, the Bachtoohai were Caucasian savages, and his entire body was painted with mud, making him well, a muddy color.
Faust, normally in his finery was dressed down for this meeting, as far as he could dress down. He’d forgone the usual frock coat, and just wore white shirt, black breeches and black stiff boots. Across his chest was the belt that held the Phoenix on his back. He never went anywhere without the sword.
His long white hair was swept back from his brow, and loose down his back. Faust normally kept it under control by keeping it in a queue at the nape of his neck, but he wasn’t being formal tonight.
Another native popped up from the grass. This one with a pelt of multicolored feathers on her back, and the curves of one of the female persuasion. She carried a spear in her hand, lacked the mud body paint, but had more feathers around her wrists and waist.
He waited. He didn’t exactly speak Bachtoo, they had their own language, and had somehow managed to avoid being ‘civilized,’ even though they lived on the plains between Zurish, a silver mining town to the west, and Saint Thomas Mission, the monastery that trained fanatical vampire hunters. Faust wasn’t exactly sure how they planned to explain to him why he was there. Well, Faust knew he was there cause he was curious. Why would the Bachtoohai, ask him, the most powerful vampire in all of Noristrad, to come to them?
One after another, more of them stood up from the grass. He counted at least half a dozen men and women. Their ages were indeterminable, they could’ve been teens or in their fifties. Bachtoohai lived long, healthy lives.
Faust finally dropped down from the balustrade. Normally he’d have asked his cousin, Dante to come along with him, but for once had forgone dropping in unexpectedly at Angelwood and dragging his cousin away from his wife and library. These were just savages; Faust could easily handle them or anything they had to show him.
He had landed on his feet and one hand, Faust rose to his full height, well over six feet. The Bachtoohai were small compared to him. He easily could see over the head of the tallest one. He was also nearly twice as broad in the shoulders as them. They were skinny and sinewy, looking undernourished. The pelts made them look larger, but Faust assumed that was just them being like birds or animals that puff themselves out to look larger. They of course failed in Faust’s presence.
Faust waited as they approached him cautiously, as if they were expecting him to pounce on them. He was certain they had had run-ins with vampires before, but he had to smile inwardly, they had never had an encounter of his caliber. He crossed his arms over his muscular chest. He was unnaturally vampire strong, but the fact he’d been a muscular man in life didn’t hurt him.
The Bachtoohai moved across the ground crab like. They’d drop back to all fours and scuttle. He could make out their movements in the tall grass as they managed to slip through it, rather than flattening when they moved. Faust was rather reminded of large predatory felines. He supposed this too was intended as an intimidation technique.
The fortress behind him was testament that the Bachtoohai could stop even the most modern encroachment on their territory. Without bows and arrows, without swords, without an army they had destroyed a stone fortress. Faust had to give them some credit, which was rather an impressive feat.
When they neared him, they stood again. He hadn’t moved. Vampires had a gift of being able to remain absolutely still for long periods of time. If he didn’t breathe he’d have been a painted statue. They cocked their heads at him, looking at him like a basket full of curious puppies as the breeze ruffled the grass and his hair.
Faust waited for them to speak first. They had summoned him to this place after all. They needed him, not the other way around. If they didn’t give him a good enough reason to keep his interest he’d go back to his castle, and… And what? Be Isadora’s errand boy? This was probably the first outing he’d been on in a while that wasn’t at her behest.
They positioned themselves around him in a half circle. As if this would give them an advantage over him, should he attack or they attack him. At the moment he had no reason to kill them.
“Vandouin,”one stated pointing a dirty finger at him. Faust’s brows rose. They spoke Lesdegray? After all this time, he thought that they spoke their own language, when in fact they spoke the language of the Gods, Faust’s own native tongue. This was surprising, but Faust had to take some fault, though he didn’t want to. He’d never had had anything to do with the Bachtoohai. They were there, but he’d never taken notice of them, they were unimportant to him. He knew a little about them, Faust prided himself in knowing a little about everything, it was how he kept his reputation of being all knowing.
“Hardly,” Faust stated in Lesdegray, “Isadora’s child, not one of the wild ones.” From the looks on their faces he wasn’t sure if they were actually understanding. He could’ve misinterpreted that they spoke Lesdegray because they just knew one word.
“Help. Us.” Now they were speaking Common. So these people were wanting to be an enigma. This was one of the women who spoke. Faust noticed a few peacock feathers sprinkled through her pelt. He was mildly curious as to where she had got them. She was the only one who had them. He also noticed she stood a little straighter and a little more proud than the others.
“Why? What is in it for me? I do not scurry around rescuing people. You have me mistaken for my cousin,” Faust replied in Common. Once again he wasn’t sure how much they understood. “You want a hero; you send a message to Dante Seraphim.” They seemed to be studying him. He made display of turning and leaving.
He normally would’ve just instantly moved through the realms to where he wanted to go. Faust could travel anywhere in Noristrad instantly, but he was giving these people time to continue to pique his interest. If they let him walk away, he’d never come back. Faust gave everyone a single chance, and they were on the verge of losing theirs.
“Stop,” commanded the woman with the peacock feathers. Faust glared at her over his shoulder. No one commanded him, and no one spoke to him in that tone of voice and usually lived, but he was giving this woman another single chance. Faust wasn’t closed minded enough to believe that there wasn’t a language barrier. He turned back to face her completely.
“What do you want?” He asked her. “I’m a very busy vanisakara and if you don’t tell me why you requested to be graced by my presence within the next few seconds, I will leave and never come back. Whatever help you are wanting from me will never come.”
One of men stepped forward, a strap of leather in his hands, he approached, extremely cautiously as if Faust was a dangerous animal. At first he thought the man was going to restrain him with the leather, but he raised it up, towards Faust’s face, and that was when he realized that the man was intending to blindfold him.
Faust lashed out, grabbing the man’s wrist, and with a twirl had the man’s arm twisted behind his back, and Faust’s other hand had him by the throat. With his talon like nails Faust could rip out the man’s esophagus. He squeezed until the man’s breath was a wheeze. The man had made no sound, but Faust was pretty sure that he was surprised. The other men and women who surrounded him raised their weapons threateningly. Faust failed to feel admonished by them.
“You presume to think you could blindfold me?” Faust was angry now, “I should kill the lot of you and be done with you. I’ve never taken an interest in the Bachtoohai and you don’t want me to start.” His voice was normally a soft baritone, and when he was angry, it lowered even more.
“No outsider has seen our village,” spoke the peacock feathered woman. When only moments ago she’d been speaking halting, as if the words were foreign to her, she had produced a clear sentence. She was an enigma. Faust released the man and shoved him to the ground, tripping him with a boot foot so he fell. It was a low move, but Faust had never considered himself to be a nice person. That was Dante’s job, which sadly wasn’t here. Dante had a tendency to smooth things over between Faust’s arrogant, but sometimes brutish approach.
“Well. I shall be the first, and don’t think you can hide it from me. I will not be blindfolded. You either show me the way, or once again I will leave,” Faust stated crossing his arms over his chest again. It was his turn to be intimidating.
He watched the wheels turn behind the peacock woman’s eyes, and she snapped something in a language that Faust had never heard before. It was more clicks, whistles and hand signals than actual words. The warriors around him lowered their weapons, which would not have saved them from Faust’s anger.
“We need your aid, vandouin.” The peacock woman stated sounding proud and defeated at the same time.
“You call me a feral vampire one more time and I’ll rip your head off and gulp your blood from the neck stem,” Faust pointed a finger at her. Not only had she dared to command him, she was adding insult to injury. The warriors around him suddenly took a step back from him and Faust knew why. His sword, the Phoenix was attuned to his emotions and when he was angry, flames would flare down the blade, even if it was not in his hand.
It was the peacock woman’s eyes that he was watching. They constricted and he could see his reflection in them. Faust had not entirely meant to be this menacing. All he’d come here was to alleviate his boredom. If he’d wanted to be angry, he’d have paid a visit to his own wife.
He watched as the woman worked her jaw, either trying to decide to apologize or searching for words. Faust decided to help her along. They knew who he was, but he hadn’t exactly introduced himself, and from the treatment they’d given him it was extremely unlikely they paid any attention to Noristrad’s aristocracy.
“You can call me Faust,” he began, he was going to tell them that they could also call him ‘Your Grace’ which was the proper way to address a duke, but he wasn’t entirely sure that she would understand that she was supposed to say ‘Your Grace’ rather than ‘My Grace’ based on the odd language barrier. “Or if you wish, vanisakara. Since you are so keen to use one of the Lesdegray terms for vampire.”
She bowed her head in agreement or defeat or both. She did not apologize and Faust had the feeling her people did not do such things. He also had the impression that she was someone of importance in the Bachtoohai, she’d done the most speaking, she’d given the orders to the others, and she had the peacock feathers, which Faust was assuming were a sign of rank perhaps.
Faust didn’t know much about Bachtoohai society, he was aware they were primitives, which were obvious from the leather loin cloths and the stone tipped spears. She could be the chieftain’s daughter or something. She could also be the chieftain, Faust was a sexist but he’d encountered female governed societies before. Noristrad had a population of Amazons, led by a High Priestess and the only purpose a man served in their society was basically to be a stud horse. They didn’t even keep male children, they abandoned them, and maybe the infant would be lucky or blessed enough to be rescued.
“You are already at our village, you just cannot see it,” she finally said and Faust actually looked around him. All he saw were the ruins of the fortress and the waist tall grass of the Placid Plains that were as flat as still water and continued on for miles. There wasn’t even a horizon of trees or hills. Just flat where the sky met the grass.
“You live in the fortress?” Faust felt silly after asking it. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected of the Bachtoohai, he had at least expected a village. All he saw were the six warriors that encircled him; the one he’d tripped had stood back up, and glared angrily at him. He had a white knuckle grip on his spear that Faust had not overlooked. He would have to keep an eye on that one. The problem was that with the mud encrusted skin, the brown furred pelt and antlers, he didn’t look any different than the other male warriors. So apparently Faust would have to keep an eye on all them because he couldn’t tell them apart.
“You will see,” the peacock woman stated and walked towards him, then past him, coming so close as to nearly brush his chest with her feathers.
They were playing the same game as he had been. He’d been threatening to leave if they didn’t tell him what he’d come down to the Plains for, and now they were falling one by one in behind the peacock woman. Unlike how they moved through the waist tall grass of the plains, they were walking upright and proudly. They were leaving him hanging, as if to further entice him. If he wanted to know why he’d been summoned, he would have to follow them.
Faust was curious. He couldn’t hide that. Well he could, but he wasn’t going to. The pictograms on the message had indicated him, and that he was to come meet the Bachtoohai here at the fortress ruins. Faust didn’t know what the fortress had been called, it was a small thing, with crumbling walls, and nearly overcome with vegetation that had decided to reclaim it.
The Bachtoohai moved deeper into it. Under a canopy of vines, they passed through an entrance into darkness that Faust had not even known was there if he hadn’t seen them slip through it. The vines covered a series of steps that were cut into stone. The fortress had been built from the marble taken from an abandoned quarry nearby. Faust wondered if they had been living in the sub-basements of the fortress. If so, why? From the looks of the warriors Faust was certain that the Bachtoohai had not built the fortress. He’d heard stories as they had been the ones who had destroyed it.
He followed them down the steps. The Bachtoohai did not light torches or any other means of light. Faust assumed they knew this passage well enough to not trip in the darkness. Faust on the other hand had excellent night vision. He could easily see without much light.
The stairs finally widened and he was in a chamber that looked to be a hand carved cave. It only contained two more Bachtoohai warriors, both men, and a massive round stone door. At the peacock woman’s approach the men both moved to push the stone aside. From its thickness, either the Bachtoohai were very strong or it had some mechanism to help balance the weight and make it easier to move.
What lay beyond the door impressed Faust.
Noristrad had its fair share of ruins. The most famous being Xandria, the vampire city, brought to ruin by Saint Thomas, back before Faust was even a vampire. Faust knew absolutely nothing about an underground city that from his sense of direction, stretched out under the Placid Plains.
The cave was so massive that Faust couldn’t make out the other side. He did notice that someone, but at the same time, didn’t appear to be the Bachtoohai, had built a city. Faust didn’t recognize any of the architecture.
Carved pillars of stone held up the ceiling which was lit with orbs that hung down from chains. Some were broken, but most of them still worked. He had no idea what was causing the illumination, only that they gave off a soft white glow. The orbs appeared to be made of frosted glass as he examined the remains of one that had fallen from its chain and shattered on the ground.
“What is this place?” Faust asked the peacock woman. She obviously was used to all of this and hadn’t even stopped when he had to study the broken light orb.
“Home.” She stated and Faust wanted to slap her. He wasn’t sure if she was being sarcastic, her voice didn’t change, and it just remained as flat and proud as always.
He followed them past the buildings. Faust noted that they were not built of the stone, but were in fact carved from it, painted white, which was peeling and inlaid with tourmaline which gave a multicolored glittering… almost magical look to it. The amount of tourmaline just on the buildings made this entire city the wealthiest Faust had ever walked through. The Bachtoohai had no idea how much semi-precious stones being used as building trim.
He wanted to enter a few of the buildings, he noticed that the doorways were short, and he would have to duck to enter, but he continued following the warriors deeper into the city that for all intents and purposes appeared abandoned.
They finally stopped at what was most likely a town square originally around a fountain that still worked, bubbling water, but it spilled over the rim and there was a puddle around the fountain where white flowering plants were growing. He could see small white fish in the water, and white frogs. The growth around the fountain seemed to be the only vegetation alive in the underground city. He had passed decorative planters, hanging baskets and even what looked like gardens, he was no horticulturist, but Faust assumed that the lack of water was why they were all filled with dead plants and the water had living ones.
The Bachtoohai village was not the abandoned city. He was not fully under the impression that the Bachtoohai had somehow found the city and had been just living in it. They weren’t even living in it, in the sense they were utilizing the buildings.
They had an encampment in the town square, around the fountain. Rather than living in what Faust could tell was perfectly good stone houses, and from what he could assume was had even been stone businesses. There were no signs, but Faust could make out a blacksmith’s stall, and a few other miscellaneous use market stalls, all carved from stone. Rather than living in them and using them, the Bachtoohai were just living in the town square.
Behind the fountain was a building that could’ve easily been a temple of some time. It was taller and larger than all the other buildings, and instead of being painted white, it had been painted green and inlaid with… Faust has hoping that it was just white crystals and not what he was thinking. Diamonds.
Faust had deep pockets, however with the wealth in this city alone he could hire a mercenary army and conquer Noristrad if he wished. He could probably buy Noristrad rather than conquer it. Faust was damn curious as to who built the city and who had lived in it, but if he was having greedy thoughts he could only imagine what Gedstru could do if he got his hands on all this.
He sighed, Faust would have to protect it, and he wasn’t the protecting kind. The best thing to do would probably be to collapse the stairs that led down to the city so that no one could enter it.
The Bachtoohai village was something like he’d imagined a primitive village would look like, except the odd guarded fence and gate. Faust wondered if the Bachtoohai were really that paranoid that someone would find them in this place and attack them. The fence was the some of the only wood in the city. It would seem the Bachtoohai had brought tree trunks down, cleaved them to a point, and then angled them facing outwards. They were however far enough apart to allow a man to slip between them.
The homes of the Bachtoohai were teepees. Pointed leather tents stretched over wooden and in a few cases, bone, most likely from a dragon, frame. They were painted bright colors and some had pictograms of successful hunts or other stories. The teepees were all close together near the fountain and away from the makeshift fence. He saw a few domestic animals among them. Rabbits and chickens in pens, dogs tied up to stakes as if they were concerned they’d run away.
Faust was eager to explore the city, but he would at first find out why these people needed him. From what he could tell they were all healthy looking, they didn’t wear their pelts in the village or carry their weapons. However at his arrival there was a tension that seemed to rise up. They all stopped whatever tasks they were doing and stared at him.
He followed the peacock woman to the largest teepee. The other warriors with her broke off, going their own ways greeting others who had finally stopped staring at him to go back to what they had been doing. He noticed that this teepee had peacock feathers painted on it.
Faust had to stoop low to enter the teepee. A small smoldering fire was in the center, and lying next to it was an old woman. She had the eyes of the peacock feathers painted on the backs of her hands. Her long hair was white and her face more wrinkled than a raisin. She was covered in pelts that could’ve been bear skin, or buffalo, but Noristrad hadn’t had any buffalo in years, they were hunted to extinction.
“The leader of your people?” Faust asked after being in silence for so long. The peacock woman the younger nodded. He wanted to sit, but didn’t, his large size filled the teepee and he couldn’t even stand up straight.
“Priestess, and mother,” peacock woman the younger explained. The old woman seemed to be sleeping but stirred when the younger woman took her hand. The younger woman spoke in the language of the clicks and whistles and hand signals.
The older woman replied in the same language, but the hand signals were done weakly. Faust was curious as to what was being said. The younger woman placed the older woman’s hand back on the other and removed the feathers from her shoulders, hanging them from one of the wooden beams that made up the frame of the teepee.
“Why am I here?” Faust demanded of her. The woman, now looking at her, with the feathers gone was practically a girl. She motioned that she wanted to leave the teepee and he was blocking the doorway. Faust sighed and stepped back out of the teepee, glad to stand straight again. The girl moved to walk past him and he grabbed her arm. “You didn’t answer me.” She looked from his hand on her arm to his face. She showed no fear, but then again Faust wasn’t angry at the moment, just irritated.
“When night comes, you will see,” she said and Faust gave her his most incredulous look. It was night. Granted Faust was immune to sunlight’s burn, but he still preferred to travel at night. He supposed he had an affinity for the moon and what it meant.
“You tell me, now, or I’ll not only leave, but I’ll make sure your people never leave here alive,” Faust threatened.
“You would not have to do anything. If you leave, we will all die,” the peacock woman stated before trying to tug her arm from Faust’s grasp.
Faust didn’t give a good God damn about these people. They were surrounded by a wealth in semi-precious stones and completely oblivious to it. They had a complete city and were living in the town square like the buildings around them were just trees in a forest or boulders on the plain.
He finally released her arm and she continued to walk away from him. He was just about fed up with her and her people. Faust was still curious about the city but he didn’t need or want their leave to explore it. Faust walked away from her back towards the gate which the warriors on guard had closed behind them when they entered.
He didn’t bother to jump the gate or tear it open, or ask to be let out of the enclosure. He ignored them and slipped between the timbers that made up the fence.
“No! Stop! Vanisakara!” It was the peacock girl who was calling after him. At first he had decided not to turn and acknowledge that he had heard her, but eventually he did. She was on the inside of the fence, as if she herself could not slip through. “Only death is out there.”
“You will not tell me why I am here, I will go find out for myself,” Faust stated.
“We have no name for it,” she said and suddenly the glowing orbs that gave light upon the city began to go out. As if someone was blowing candles. One by one they went dark. Faust looked up, they weren’t going dark in any pattern, except it seemed the furthest ones from the town square were going out first, and the dark began to enclose upon them. “Hurry! You cannot be outside the fence!”
The distress in the girl’s voice bothered him more than the fact the lights in the cavern were going out. This was perhaps what she meant when she spoke of night coming. All but one of the orbs went out, the orb over the temple, but it dimmed, looking rather like moonlight, but the rest of the cavern was in complete darkness.
Faust could see something moving in the dark and could hear what sounded like scales scraping across stone, and the click of talons. He removed his sword from his back, and with a whoosh of light and heat, the entire blade rippled in blue/white flames.
Even Faust had to take a step back at what the sword was illuminating.