For more background to The Rising, see chapter 14 of "Land of the Falling Sun." Thanks for reading.
In the time before the Dark Ages…
Their new god was to be called Lamia Redemptor, the Vampire Savior. This was the hallowed title uttered by the Old Ones, so rumor had it. Word had spread quickly through the shadows: a Savior was coming. Among the common ranks, the divinity was simply referred to as the Redemptor. Regardless of what they called their god, all knew that to invoke the very idea of him was enough to charge into the fires of battle, to win forever the final victory for their race. Nothing was said about the time or place, but like the Second Coming it mattered not. The Christians had their Christ; they now had a parallel.
The Rising had begun more than a century before, after the prophecy of the Old Ones. The few remaining vampire clans of the earth, once scattered into hiding, now had united under the banner of the Redemptor. Hope had soon given way to courage, and courage had paved the way to the massive vampire armies of the present. There were now three great armies of the Kindred: from the North, led by the worthy Lord Belial; from the East, led by clever Gushka; and from the Southwest, led by savage Bahamut.
All three vampire "generals" had been chosen by the Elders, and all three commanded great respect. The wars bled across continents, gory and ruthless. Conquest of the humans would not come easily, the Elders preached, but in time the vampire race would prevail.
And Malphas, of the Orias Clan, knew all of this well. His father, with the entire brood under his wing, had pledged to fight as a component of the Northern Army.
As warriors, his clan was unmatched by any other, and their fierceness in battle led to many victories. But the road to conquest was long; the number of humans was still vast. Humans had the advantage of daylight and fire, and to reproduce rapidly. The longer the Rising went on, the more success seemed to slip away.
In his heart, Malphas knew that his duty lay with his father and with his race. From birth, there was nothing else. But despite this fervent loyalty to his Kindred, Malphas felt every human he killed on the battlefield wrenched him farther apart from the spirit of his long dead mother.
She had been human, after all.
The black gates of Orias Castle heaved open in the dead of night, powered by well-greased cogs and pulleys, as spotters on the high walls signaled the arrival. From the surrounding forest four horsemen emerged, their dark steeds galloping and breaking the silence of the winter night. Their paced was rushed, their goal focused on reaching the safety of the castle. The dawn was approaching, and any clansman who did not return within the designated time would be left out on their own, to face the daylight and the cursed hunter.
The horsemen finally galloped through the gatehouse and into the outer courtyard, safe for now. Behind them, the black gates slowly closed and sealed, now making the entire castle an impregnable fortress.
The lead rider dismounted as a messenger came forth, the youth's frail appearance speaking of his inability to fight as a warrior. He bowed immediately and spoke, his incisors almost too short to be considered a vampire. "Young Lord Malphas, we were afraid that you would be caught outside in the dawn. What news?"
The rider removed his hood and cloak to reveal blood and gore-spattered armor. "Tell my father that we came across an outpost on the Carpathian slopes," the vampire Malphas spoke. His voice sounded deep and calm, devoid of any emotion as any of the Kindred. "A Roman scouting party, heavily armed." From underneath the cloak he retrieved a severed human head, its eyes filthy white and dark red mouth hanging agape. "Here is all that remains of them, take it to my father and his counselors."
The fledgling messenger took the head, his terror at Malphas' words unmistakable. "Yes, master," he whispered, and scurried off.
The first hints of morning crept over the horizon, yet Malphas remained standing there, thinking. Their discovery that night changed everything: the enemy, only a few hundred miles away, was virtually at their doorstep. What would it mean? Would their plans be moved up ahead of schedule?
The rider beside him dismounted, his knight's armor discolored and battle-scarred. "Lord Orias surely knows what this means, Malphas. Now that the humans know where we dwell, we are no longer safe here."
"I know, Agares. But this will depend on the wishes of General Belial. Only he can order us to leave the region."
Agares nodded and, for the first time since Malphas had known him, seemed to frown. Agares was a trustworthy comrade, one of Lord Orias' five lieutenants of the Clan. Although he was two centuries older than Malphas, the two related to each other as equals.
"Leave the region," Agares repeated somberly. "The land that our ancestors ruled for millennia…this is unthinkable."
Malphas remained silent for some time. He watched as familiars—human servants—came forward and tended to their warhorses. Slowly, he stalked away from the courtyard and from his clansmen. "Rest, all of you. We will need our strength in the coming nights."
Dawn came at once, its golden rays bursting into the sky and dissolving the murky remnants of night. Sunlight poured over the land and cast long shadows off the castle towers. Within the fortress itself, however, hardly a movement could be detected. Except for the dozens of human familiars maintaining and guarding the stronghold during the day, there was no one but Malphas. All of his Kindred were sleeping away in the earth, deep within the foundations of the castle. All but him.
As the son of Lord Orias, he also had the duty of overseeing the castle during the day, giving orders to the humans, making sure livestock were fed, and the like.
Malphas, the dhamphir, half-human and able to withstand the sunlight.
He retired to his private chambers within the sprawling citadel. Servants took away his armor and sword to be cleaned, leaving him to bathe in privacy.
There were so many things to think about now.
Standing before his mirror—the only mirror in the entire domain—Malphas studied himself. Physically he looked the same; tall, lean and muscular, pale blue skin, thin-jawed with short black hair. That alone distinguished himself from the rest of his clansmen: his black hair could be cut short, whereas his Kindred's immortal locks grew long and flowing. Yes, he looked the same physically, yet now in the morning light he no longer felt the same.
Everything had changed because of what he had learned last night.
He alone had killed the owner of the severed head, but not before he had heard the soldier's rambling. 'I knew your mother!' he had screamed. 'I knew her, and she forgives you for what you have done!' The soldier screamed this again and again in his native Latin, until Malphas angrily answered with the flash of his blade.
And now, there was no escaping it. It was in his mind, tormenting him.
Malphas stared into the mirror and into his own cold, hard eyes. "Who are you, dhamphir? Who are you?"
Soon a servant came with his morning meal. A thin, small young woman from one of the healthier pens. An exquisite morsel in these times, he felt, and was glad that the familiars were handling the livestock well.
The woman screamed and squirmed in his iron grasp, pleading. "Have mercy, master, mercy!"
Something suddenly stirred within him, and Malphas paused to look at her. So helpless…so fragile. At once, he decided to be merciful and grant her request. He would not kill her today.
The dhamphir pulled the sobbing girl closer to him and bared her neck. With a primal growl, his jaw extended to reveal the razor sharp incisors that defined his race's very existence. The Hunger took over, urged him to slice into her jugular vein.
Malphas did so with blinding eagerness, and once again tasted the sweet blood of humankind as he did so many times before.