The Discord Trilogy

 
 

Prince Lucius

This takes place during chapter eight in The Golden Apple of Discord - Prince Lucius of the Noricum Vampires

 

Edson calls from the jet after wheels-up in Toronto with news I never expected to get.


Alton is dead.


An allectus is no more, and that, from what little information is available, is not the most pressing problem. Four criminals have escaped apprehension and the North American prefect barely escaped with his life. Edson has no idea how they were defeated to the point of taking casualties. I have instructed them to report to the Quorum as soon as they arrive in Boulogne.


Priam, Sabine, and Verus and I wait in the east turret sunroom for the Detachment to arrive. How did a group merely four strong defeat my Premier Detachment? If Priam is correct about Dacian involvement, the implications are vast. Not since the Dacian armistices have the Socious killers dared raise a hand against us. Why now?


The creak of old heavy door hinges pulls everyone’s attention. Edson; Francisco; Ismet; the North American prefect, Duncan; and his assistant, Castile, all enter single-file through the old wooden door, still wearing their field cloaks. Ismet’s face does not betray his sorrow.


They form a line, then bow. 


Priam says, “Duncan, while it is good to see you, I wish it were under better circumstances.”


The prefect steps forward. “As do I, High King.”


Priam nods, then looks to Edson. “Captain, I understand you have unpleasant tidings.”


Duncan steps back and Edson takes his place in front of the group. His face is a mask of decorum. I know he takes the responsibility of successful missions to heart; this will not be easy for him.


“Your Majesty, we were dispatched to assess possible Dacian involvement regarding errant vampires in Toronto, Canada. We pursued and confronted a group of four women in a very remote area, based on intelligence provided by the North American prefect and Francisco. Our orders were to do nothing until the prefect determined if this coven was of Dacian affiliation. After questioning one in the group, Duncan issued the order to seize what appeared to be the group’s leader.”


I ask, “How did you ascertain which one was the leader?”


Edson glances at Duncan, and the prefect answers me. “She was protective over the others, and they deferred to her in subtle ways.”


Sabine says, “A female leader? That is not Dacian at all.”


Duncan answers, “I do not think they are Dacian.”


“Clearly, since you issued the order to attack,” I reply.


Edson says, “We advanced toward the criminal but were physically barred from apprehending her.”


Priam leans forward. “How?”


“I, along with Francisco, Ismet, and the prefect’s assistant, were physically repelled. We do not understand how, but one moment we were standing together, and the next we were flying over the trees. We crashed into the forest several kilometers away.”


“Flying?” Priam repeats.


That does not seem possible. Is this some trick of the mind? Verus says, “If you would permit me, Priam, I believe we may better understand the events should I read him.”


Edson flinches. Such an invasion into one’s life is hardly desirable, and under any other circumstances, I would object. But the fact remains that these are not normal circumstances. Then an idea occurs to me.


I say, “Verus need not invade anyone’s privacy, not when the Queen is present.”


Visible signs of Edson’s relief are only detectable to one who has trained him.


Sabine asks, “Duncan, may I?”


“Of course, Majesty.”


Verus is not pleased.


With one touch of Edson’s ring, Sabine closes her eyes, taking in the visual history his ring has seen. “Two of them caused the flight. They move their arms and most of the Detachment is launched skyward. But that is not all, is it, Duncan?”


“No. The smallest one wields a terrible power.”


Verus grows impatient. “I want to see.”


Duncan’s jaw drops as he gasps.


Priam asks, “What is it, old friend?”


Duncan stares at Verus. “The one with a braid in her hair, she said the same thing. She forced me to watch Alton’s execution, saying he wants to see.”


Verus is almost out of his seat. “Priam, I think—”


Duncan cuts him off. “I agree Verus reading me is in the best interest of the investigation.”


I have not had many dealings with the North American prefect, but he just gained my respect. Not many would offer their memories up to Verus for the greater good.


Priam stands and approaches the Detachment. “Thank you for your report. If there is nothing else, you are dismissed. Ismet, I shall grieve the loss of your brother.”


Ismet is stoic. “Thank you, High King.”


The Detachment leaves, and then Priam motions for our bodyguards to depart as well. When the door scrapes shut, Priam says to Duncan, “Thank you for your care in this matter.”


Duncan approaches my fellow prince. Verus greedily touches his outstretched hand, closes his eyes, and processes the memories of an entire lifetime. While Verus sorts, the prefect says, “They sent me with a message; I was spared to carry it. The group’s leader says that they are beyond the power of the Noricum and that I was to leave and never return.”


Verus scoffs. “You think them a rogue clan? They know of my ability and awaited your arrival. Their supposed ignorance is a charade. There is no corner of the earth where the name of Noricum is unknown. They deceived you, nothing more.”


Duncan steps back. “I respectfully disagree. Dacians would never protect women and children, yet that is the only pattern I could decipher from their feeding habits.”


Priam says to Duncan, “Thank you for your insight,” then is quiet like he always is when weighing out options. “Verus, what say ye?”


“In addition to the two repellants, one only touches you and paralysis ensues immediately.”


Sabine adds, “It is more than paralysis.”


Verus says, “It is hard to describe. The smallest one touched him and his body was struck comatose. Then, a translucent replica of himself stood next to his body. If there is such a thing as ghosts, Duncan was one.”


How can so few possess so many abilities? It took centuries to gather the most powerful among our kind into one place. I have never heard of a vampire moving people with their minds, and what is this terrible new ghost-making ability? If these are the Dacians, where are Cothelas and Draco?


Verus continues, “Only the Dacians would openly flout our laws. The protection of women and children Duncan mentions can be merely a diversion to hide their signatures.”


Priam asks Verus, “What would you have us do?”


He answers, “We have the capabilities. Bring them to heel.”


Verus overlooks some crucial items. I say, “If I may?” Priam waves me on. “I agree with Duncan and do not believe they are Dacian. From the information offered, it seems they possess two mind movers and one ghost-maker. With such powerful gifts, where is Cothelas? It would be an amateur mistake to leave such powerful vampires outside of his control, and the Dacians are not unpracticed. You and I both know, with weapons of that magnitude, Cothelas would not let them out of his spell, not for an instant.”


Priam looks to Sabine. She says, “In my opinion, they are not Dacian, even though I believe they are related. I saw what looks to be a female leader, which is decidedly not Dacian. The situation warrants further inquiry. I would be happy to go and investigate if My Lord deems it prudent.”


Priam says, “Thank you all for your counsel. The possibility of these rebels being Dacian is high, and that gives me reason enough for pause. If we are to seek them out again, it must be with more information about the current state of Dacian affairs than we have now. We have taken a casualty. This will not happen again.”


I am glad he is showing restraint, despite Verus’s wishes.


Priam looks toward my fellow prince. “Verus, take some human women; wipe their memory clean. Place them in the path of the Romanian sex slave trade to see if the Dacians are selling to vampires. Make sure Ismet sees them before they depart so we can track them.”


Verus replies, “As you command.”


“Duncan,” Priam calls.


“Majesty?”


“Return to Toronto and create a public health emergency like you did in New Mexico with the hantavirus in the early nineteen-nineties. Pick something communicable through the population, but tailor it to the human food profile of this Dacian coven. It will account publically for the unauthorized deaths. We do not want the Dacians to risk exposure, and this grants us time to investigate without them becoming suspicious, if they are not involved.”


Duncan says, “I will use meningitis outbreaks in liquor establishments known to be frequented by those who seek to purchase women. It grows rapidly yet is hard for epidemiologists to quantify.”


Priam says, “Very good, Duncan. Lucius?”


“Yes?”


“Have Verus and Sabine brief you at length concerning the abilities of this new threat. I want tactical attack and defense plans before we pursue contact.”


“You will have preliminary battle simulations within the day.”


He nods. “Sabine, if you would be so—”


She interrupts, “I will go speak with Ismet. It will mean more coming from me.”


A small smile graces his face, one reserved for his Socious. Sabine rises and kisses Duncan on the cheek. “See me before you leave.” Then she heads for the door. I quickly follow her; the death of Ismet’s brother will be difficult, and with this new threat, we will need him. Sabine speaks without breaking her stride down the hall. “If they are not Dacian, where they have come from and what do they want?”


“I would leave that speculation to vampires with talents, such as Verus and yourself. His experience with the general population will provide answers much more quickly than I could produce theories.”


“And that is one of many reasons your opinion is valued. Although you will not speculate on their agenda, I will speculate on their ancestry.”


Sabine is just as much a pragmatist as I am but with a more skilled tongue. Her theories are of more interest than my own.


Opening a bulky castle door for my Queen, we continue the long walk to console the grieving. “What about their ancestry?”


She waits for me to close the door behind us before descending a stone staircase. “They all have the same red hair.”


“Which means what?”


“Red hair is a recessive genetic trait. They must have ancestors without mixed heritage to have it manifest in all four women. They were found at an isolated cabin with no others but have been excessively reckless. For such noticeable women to hide for long would be impossible. Neither I nor anyone Verus has read has ever seen them before.”


Her theory raises more questions than answers. “That would make me think they are more likely Dacians than not. The Socious killers are the only group of vampires on earth we do not govern and would have no contact with. I tend to agree with you but feel we need more facts. Verus has seen this new rebellion in a way we cannot.”


“But Duncan has. I will ask him more on this.”

Her mentioning the North American prefect reminds me of a question I meant to ask earlier. “How long have there been out-of-control feedings in Toronto?”


“Duncan said only a few months.”


A few months does not make sense. No one is only a vampire for a few months and capable of defeating the Premier Detachment. “That means they are either new to this life or have been sheltered by those who know how to avoid us. Still, I do not understand why the Dacians would rekindle a conflict now. We are missing crucial information.”


After we round the last turn, Ismet’s door is several meters away, at the end of the hall.


“Agreed,” she replies softly. “But we have one of our own to console first.” She truly cares for those who serve and support her as High Queen. Those who remember Priam’s first Socious, Ides, did not always love our Sabine, but her warm disposition quickly won them over and mended rifts.


I open Ismet’s door to find Francisco sitting across the room. He stands and bows. Sabine discreetly puts her hand up and shakes her head. I nod and glance toward the door. He understands, departing quickly and quietly. Ismet sits and stares at a chessboard with a game in progress…one that will never be finished.


The Queen kneels before him and gently holds his hands. “May I see what you have seen?”


She takes his barely perceptible head movements as acquiescence and lightly brushes her thumb over his ring.


“Losing one as close to you as Alton is the hardest trial you will ever encounter,” she says. “You and he shared a special bond not many of our kind enjoy. He was your brother not only in life, but also in adoption into this life. While it does not bring him back, know he died a soldier’s death and we are forever proud of him.”


He whispers while staring at the chessboard, “I want her blood on my hands. I want all their blood on my hands.”


Ismet was always the more serious of the brothers. Special care must be taken to prevent his grief from festering into wild rage. I say, “Ismet, know this. We live by a code. Peace to the victor, mercy to the meek, and death in rebellion. It will not happen overnight, but I promise you this rebellion will be sealed in their blood.”


Sabine cradles his face with her hand. “Will you help us find them when the time is right?”


His eyes flash to mine. “I have seen them and want their blood now!”


It is Sabine’s role to comfort, mine to command. She says, “You will have it when we are sure it will be their blood spilt, not our own. Mourn your brother; do not create more empty chairs in haste.”


He stares at her but doesn’t accede.


I ask, “Did you use your ability on them?”


His lip quivers before he answers. “No, I did not get the opportunity.”


I say, “Until we know if this tragedy is of Dacian making, you will not trade sight with any of them. Sun Tzu once said, ‘In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them.’ If they are not Dacian, and even if they are, there is no reason to believe they know of your ability yet. They will find out seconds before they die.”


He finally nods.


“Verus will send for you soon. You are to assist him with an intelligence mission.”


“When?” He is eager, too eager. Captain Edson will need to carefully watch his soldier.


“Verus must prepare the spies. Francisco will stay with you until then.”


Sabine pats his hands, then rises. “I will send one of my ladies along for anything you may need.”


Ismet rises and bows to us both. “Thank you, Majesties.”


Sabine and I walk down the hall; Francisco is waiting at the end. I say, “Send word for Edson to find me, then stay with Ismet and make sure he feeds.” Francisco bows and turns to find his commander.


Next, I must visit Verus and try to understand this new threat.


I say to Sabine, “I must let Verus speak freely but do not want him to assume Dacian involvement. It will shape what he tells me about them, and I do not think his perception of their origin will be helpful in this instance.”


She nods. “Although understandable given his experience, Verus jumps too quickly to see Dacians. From Duncan’s perspective, they looked defiant and casual in their demeanor. Those submissive to Cothelas do not act with power.”


“But,” I reply, “he and Priam have experience with the Dacians we do not.”


“Current events appear different when viewed through a looking glass of the past,” she replies. “Do you not notice how we, who have only heard stories of the Dacians, both believe this coven to be simply rogue?”


Sabine is wise as she is beautiful. She, like I, comes from Roman ancestry. What a Caesar she would have made. Still, there is history here that cannot be ignored completely.


Sabine says, “Do you disagree?”


“No, I agree with you.”


She stops walking and turns toward me. “You have something else to add. Everything you say and do has a purpose. Pray tell, what thoughts have you on the matter?”


Sabine’s silver tongue could make a tree stump talk.


Lowering my voice, I reply. “I agree that the opinion on Dacian involvement is split between those who have experience with them and those who do not. It is not my wish to offend Verus or Priam. They suffered horribly at the command of the Socious killers. I do not wish to offend you, my Queen, by mentioning Priam's first Socious.”


She waves dismissively. “I made my peace with Priam’s love for Ides centuries ago. Do not fear to bring her up, as she still shapes the rulers of our world. Would you cut out one eye before going into battle for the sake of perceived compassion?”


“That would be foolish.”


“Of course you would not. You were a soldier of Rome. You are our General now. You assess issues from a tactical point of view. Because of that, you see things not even Verus and I can see. Never hesitate to use that and we will all be stronger for it.”


“Thank you, Majesty.”


I chuckle at the memory of when Sabine joined us. Created a century after the end of the Dacian Wars, she came in with a Roman coven on a routine census. Because she was new, Verus read her, then singled her out because of her talent. I remember assessing which Detachment to assign her to.


She was a tracker, placed on an investigative Detachment. But life in Boulogne suited her well. She made acquaintances out of strangers and friends out of acquaintances. Whenever she walked into a room, vampires stopped what they were doing, eager to hear what she had to say.


Priam was no exception.


Not long after Sabine completed her Detachment training, Priam came to me in confidence and asked what effect his taking a new Socious would have on our people. They had lost many friends in a war fought over his first Socious. I told him it depended on the woman, for anyone he married would be High Queen.


When Priam said she was well liked, I knew who it was.


Sabine has been our High Queen ever since. Although I will never admit it to anyone but Melise, I think Verus resents Sabine. Not only is she an alternative to his invasive ability, but she is also his sister’s replacement.


Verus sits at the table in the east turret room with his bodyguard, Marian. He sketches a scene from Duncan’s memories.


Sabine glances at the scene he draws of Alton on his knees, then takes a seat at the other end of the table. My bodyguard, Aleric, and Sabine’s guard, Novak, enter the room as well. They keep their distance unless they are needed.


Aleric’s ability to negate talents within a few meters of himself gives him, and, in turn, me, a comfort many in Boulogne do not have. With him, Verus is powerless.


I say, “You saw four through Duncan’s memories?”


He rouses from his drawing.


“This one”—he points to a woman wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans—“Duncan identified as Taralie, the group’s sire. Although he assumes she is the leader, this one”—he points to one standing farther back from the front line—“gave the order to execute Alton.”


The Queen says, “The one who issued the order has a crown braid in her hair, an old-world style.”


Perhaps she and I are wrong. Sabine wears a similar hairstyle in her golden brown tresses. Has Cothelas successfully hidden such power from us, waiting to strike at will?


I examine the drawing more closely. “Which one is the ghost-maker?”


Verus points to the smallest of the four. "This one right here, holding the slack wrist of the unconscious prefect."


I ask, “What of the wild-haired woman with her hands around Alton’s throat?”


Verus says, “The others called her Coralia. She is one of the pushers and took pleasure in killing Alton. The other one is the sire, Taralie.”


“The one who knew of your power, she told the prefect you wanted to see. Is she the one with a braid in her hair?”


He nods. I look to Sabine. Our case of this being a rogue clan is getting weaker by the second. Perhaps Cothelas trusts these women enough to leave them alone.


I ask Verus, “Do you know the range of the ghost-maker or pushers?”


“I suspect the pushers are like Marian and need a direct line of sight. The ghost-maker touched Duncan before he went slack. You see here?” he points to the small one holding the prefect’s wrist. “She continued to hold his arm, which leads me to believe she needs to maintain contact.”


Pointing to what looks like debris along the tree line, I ask, “What is all this?”


He replies, “Some sort of battle was fought here before the Detachment arrived. There are fully grown trees littering the area, and Duncan saw signs that they were ripped out by their roots.”


Pointing to the primitive cabin he has drawn, I ask, “Do they live here?”


“Yes. They return to this place after feasting on humans in Toronto.”


People do not live on battlefields. It is more like a training range.


“Do they fight in any kind of formation?”


Both Verus and Sabine shake their heads. Verus says, “They look disorganized.”


Sabine adds, “Casual, not chaotic. If the Detachment had held their ground, I would say they were disorganized, but perhaps they are so familiar with each other they do not need a structured formation.”


I say to Sabine, “Common ancestry from an isolated population.”


She nods.


“Cothelas was known for turning even distant relations,” Verus gloats. He has a good point, but his suppositions will not defeat them next time, and, as such, he should keep them to himself.


“During the engagement, did they stay within a few meters of each other like in your sketch?”


“There was some confusing movement from the one they call Coralia. Alton blinded her but then stopped for some reason I was not able to discern.”


Strategies start filtering through my mind. First, we need ways to negate all of these abilities at once. Marian’s time perception ability will be a necessity, and Aleric will be vital, particularly for the ghost-maker. If these are Dacians, Marian is our best defense against Draco. Between Ismet and Edson, we can disable the mind movers. At that point Verus could read them at his leisure and we could get all the answers we need. If we keep them all alive and they are Dacian, this will not violate the armistices. If they are not, I hope Ismet will be content with Verus wiping them. What a Detachment they would make.


-X-


Sabine leaves me to work with Verus so she can speak with Duncan before he returns to North America. I ask him to sketch the Detachment’s approach, to tell me what the criminals physically did when repelling them, to repeat everything that was spoken…everything.


After three hours, Sabine returns bearing satellite photos of the criminals’ cabin. If we are to take them at the cabin, there are multiple points of egress, but that is using trees as cover. Clearly they have no problem with clearing forest.


They have the entrenchment advantage. But what about an ambush?


This has possibilities. Could we obtain a law enforcement vehicle and wait for them to feed, tracking them like the prefect did before? We could put Aleric in a constable uniform and have him walk right up to their car. There would be no way for them to know until they are rendered helpless.


Priam, like myself, prefers options, and it is my job to provide them.


After leaving Verus, I return to my apartment in an upper floor of our castle in Boulogne Su Mer. Melise is playing the piano, a requiem. She is as beautiful now as she was when she was human. Her slender fingers glide over the keys, her eyes closed in delight. Her long raven hair spills over her shoulders, decorating her bust line. Priam brought me into this life; I brought her. As a childless couple, it was easy for a General to claim that he and his wife were moving to conquered lands.


Though she is Sabine’s assistant in European prefect duties, she stays out of Quorum business, claiming she doesn’t have the heart for the monotony. The truth is that she does not like to see our kind suffer, and sometimes, to keep order, pain is exactly what we inflict.


My collapse into my favorite chair catches her attention and she ceases playing. After looking to me for a few seconds, she closes the piano lid, saying, “You look utterly lost in thought.”


“It was a very trying day.”


She glides over to me and starts removing my shoes. “Does it have to do with the North American prefect being here?”


Her sweet disposition, it always soothes me. A soldier needs a place to lay his head and forget about the troubles of the battlefield. She is that place for me.


“The Premier Detachment was dispatched to North America. In trying to apprehend a criminal, Alton was killed.”


She gasps and freezes. “How is Ismet?”


“Physically unharmed. Francisco is with him now.”


“Who could have done such a thing?”


“That is what Sabine, Verus, and I are investigating.”


She removes my remaining shoe and massages my feet. “Something troubles you, an unanswered question. Your eyes are stormy this evening.”


I run my hands down her hair. She knows me better than anyone. “Verus and Priam think this coven Dacian.”


“But you do not.”


“Sabine and I think it a low probability.”


“But that is not what troubles you.”


I take a folded sketch of the criminals from my breast pocket and show it to her. “I cannot be sure they are not Dacian. No single theory makes sense. The sire is not the leader and does not give the orders, yet is protective of her creations. The one who gave the order to execute Alton is not the sire yet appears ancient like I would expect the sire to be. We are missing vital information. Nothing makes sense, and with their considerable abilities, I need to find the missing puzzle pieces before we bring their rebellion down.”


She rises from her knees and pulls me up from my chair. “Come, let us drink. Clear your mind. You will find the solution, you always do.”


Her faith in me is not misplaced. I will find how to subdue them, but it will not be in haste.


We travel an hour northwest to Dunkirk and drink a family in an upper-city flat. Their blood slides down my throat, washing my troubled mind away. The parents we eat first, telling them their offspring will live if they comply. Their fear overrules what they must know in their hearts, and they do not even attempt to flee.


Before leaving, Melise has one of her ladies place a cyanide poison in the water cooler. The simple-minded humans will assume the poison was to blame.


All too soon, Melise, her ladies-in-waiting, Aleric, and I return to the castle. I have a battle briefing to prepare for Priam. It is crucial to convey the need for patience. Verus will be impulsive, but if we truly wish to bring the criminals to heel, Priam will need as much pre-attack intelligence as we can get.


One misstep here will cost us more soldiers, or worse, reignite the Dacian Wars.


-X-

 

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