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Embrace: 897 A.D. (Born 874 A.D.)
Apparent Age: Early twenties (?)
Physical Strength 4, Dexterity 5, Stamina 5
Social: Charisma 4, Manipulation 2, Appearance 2
Mental: Perception 5, Intelligence 4, Wits 5
Talents: Alertness 5, Athletics 4, Awareness 5, Brawl 4, Empathy 4, Intimidation 2, Leadership 2
Skills: Animal Ken 4, Crafts 3, Drive 1, Etiquette 3, Firearms 2, Larceny 3, Melee 5, Performance (Music) 3, Stealth 4, Survival (Arctic) 5
Knowledges: Academics 2, Investigation 3, Occult 5, Rune-Lore 5
Backgrounds: Allies 4, Contacts 3, Generation 5, Resources 3, Status (Camarilla) 3, Status (Clan Gangrel) 5
Virtues: Conviction 4, Self-Control 3, Courage 5
Morality: Road of the Aesiergard 7
Merits: Fae Affinity, Rep, Open Road, Rune-Wise
Flaws: Vulnerability (Cold Iron); Eerie Presence
Disciplines: Animalism 5, Auspex 5, Celerity 3, Fortitude 5, Necromancy (Sepulchre Path) 2, Potence 2, Protean 5
Discipline Techniques: Fenris' Talons, Loki's Gift, See the True Form, Shattered Fog, Call Upon the Blood
Rune Magic Paths: Divination 3, Fortune 3
Eirik stands about 5' 2" tall, but is well muscled for his height. Although appearing clean-shaven from a distance, a close look will reveal that his face and body are covered with fine fur the colour of pale skin. He has the golden eyes of a wolf, which he hides behind wraparound sunglasses when he ventures amongst mortals. His hair is long, shaggy, and white, like a wolf's fur. Like many of his childer, he has developed pointed ears, which are normally hidden in his hair, and paw-pads on his feet, and he exudes animal pheromones that make mortals nervous and edgy in his presence (+2 difficulty on social rolls). Vampires are immune to this effect.
You seem surprised to see me in jeans and sneakers. Or is it the Brooklyn accent that startled you? What was you expecting - some monosyllabic cretin in fur and leather armor, carrying a battle-axe? Please. I'd just like to thank Hollywood for creating that ridiculous stereotype, Kirk Douglas for acting it out, and every uneducated teenage dork in the western world for believing in it...
You should think a little more deeply about the world, which spawned me. The defining characteristic of the Norse was always our pragmatism, not our ferocity. Our land was cold and harsh, and we needed to be fierce and self-reliant to survive. That doesn't mean we liked bloodshed any more than any other people. And it didn't quench our creativity or curiosity, either. Have you heard our sagas, seen the craftsmanship of our weapons and jewellery. Marvelled at how a few men in a tiny, fragile longboat could traverse the six-thousand-mile gulf of the Atlantic - oh yes, lad, that's not just a story; I spoke to one who actually made the crossing and returned to tell the tale.
I was a skald, a singer and poet. My father and brothers never thought the less of me for that, fierce warriors though they were. The crops won't grow because they fear your sword-arm, my father used to say, the strong would soon starve without the guidance of the wise. Actually, my father took great pride in my reputation for fine music and rune-wisdom. But I was restless; I longed to see more of the world. I wanted the truth behind the legends and sagas. And so I travelled; to England, to Ireland, and to Lapland, where I lived for a time amongst sorcerers; and finally, to Wales, where I met my sire - Caradoc, the Celt.
Did I choose the Embrace? I honestly can't remember. I know I felt no fear of vampires - they were the chosen of Odin, to be respected for their power, certainly, but not reviled. As for why Caradoc chose me... he said it was because I was the first mortal in a hundred years who could best him at chess! I stayed awhile with him; I learned of my new powers, and the customs of my clan. And then I resumed my travels. Sometimes at Caradoc's urging, sometimes by my own will.
As the seasons turned, a new faith came to Norway, turning the people away from their old, true gods to the worship of the Hvitachrist, the White Christ. I fought back with all my strength, but the damned Ventrue and Lasombra, and those mortal priests with their strange magic born from fanaticism, were too numerous and too strong, especially after Uppsala burned and the All-High, greatest of Clan Gangrel in these lands, disappeared. On occasion I would come close to surrender, and abandon my home for a time. I spend a lot of time in France, in those early days, watching as the Normans - my distant kin, the name really means "Norse-men" - carved a great Empire out of as much of France and England as they could lay their hands on.
It was in Caen, in Normandy, that I met my friend of many centuries, the Lady Alinor of House Scathach. I'd gotten myself into a fight with a Lupine, a hideous creature that seemed half-eaten by disease and luminous fungus. I own quite frankly that I was overmatched, and I probably would have perished had the Lady not appeared out of nowhere and split the thing in two with a single blow from her sword. It's hard to describe the impact she had on me. Clad in armor that seemed spun out of glowing gray light, she was as beautiful as... whatever you think is the most beautiful thing in the world. I wanted to fall down on my knees and beg to serve her.
It's, as well I didn't, for "acerbic" is the kindest description, which can be given of the Lady's personality. She can flay the skin off a man's body with a few well-chosen words. She wasted little time in telling me how I might discharge the life-debt I now owed her - nearby, she said, was a family of minor Norman nobility whom she'd agreed to protect, but her other duties prevented her from devoting all her time to them. I was to aid her in discharging that responsibility.
So began my association with the FitzGui family. In truth, they needed little enough help from Alinor or I, for they were capable warriors and competent rulers. Sadly, their normal good sense deserted them when that pompous strutting buffoon, Pope Urban II, preached the first Crusade at Clermont. Nothing would do but their three younger sons must take the Cross and free the Holy Land from the Infidel. Against my own better judgment, I accompanied them, travelling in the entourage of a Danish nobleman attached to their party. As well I did, for it was the occasional gift of my blood, which made them strong enough to survive the journey, when many of their fellows perished of malnutrition and disease. I was there when the Crusaders sacked the city of Jerusalem. That was the first and only time that I can remember being repulsed by the sight of blood. The hypocrisy of those accursed knights, yelling out to their supposed god of peace as they raped and tortured and slaughtered...
But there's no point in reopening those old sores now. The FitzGui sons chose to remain in the Holy Land, carving out territory for themselves in the new Palestinian kingdoms, which would be known as Outremer. I took my leave of them, departing with a party of Danish men-at-arms. Unfortunately, we were sorely pressed by Turkish raiders on the way home. I lost my protectors and nearly perished myself. Luckily for me, I was able to find new allies - my good friend St. Cloud, of Clan Nosferatu, and his compatriots. We returned to Europe together, and I spent a long time devoting myself to St. Cloud's goals. The FitzGui family, those who had remained in Normandy, proved useful allies on several occasions.
It was half a century before I returned to Norway, and when I did, I finally saw some hope of preserving the old ways against the Christian invaders. I allied myself with a group of young magi who'd founded a community - a Covenant, they called it - deep in the forests of Norway. The Covenant of the Ice Lake.
One of my greatest hopes, that Covenant was, and one of my greatest failures. At the time that it was formed, I was almost ready to despair of my chances of protecting my faith and my culture. Then young Sven Iron-handed and his followers appeared one day on the shore of a lake, in the heart of the territory I claimed as my own. He was a Bonisagus, a member of the Order of Hermes, the great brotherhood of magicians in the lands to the west.
He'd been born in mighty Byzantium, the Queen of Cities, where his father was a member of the Emperor's Norse Varangian Guard. Sven himself had become a minor official in the Emperor's service. He'd been raised to revere the Hvitachrist, as most within that city were, but he turned against that faith when he met the "Crusaders" of Peter the Hermit. Perhaps you don't know that story. The children of the modern era associate the word "Crusader" with a noble knight in shining armor. And aye, there were some knights amongst their number, although few enough were noble in spirit.
Peter the Hermit was of a different type. He was the "leader" - if a mob can be said to have a leader - of a disorganized peasant rabble, a bizarre mix of every kind of disgruntled agricultural labourer, visionary and madman, which Europe had to offer. I never set eyes on them myself, but my childe Damian tells me that some are reputed to have joined this merry band following a goose, which they believed, possessed by the Holy Spirit!
In any event, young Sven had the misfortune to be in a Hungarian border town called Semlin, on some trivial piece of imperial business, when this extraordinary collection arrived. And when Peter's forces rioted and stormed the town, slaughtering four thousand Hungarians under the banner of the cross, Sven became caught up in the carnage. One young "warrior of God" sliced off his right hand for naught but sport while the town burned around them, and Sven would have bled to death but for the sudden emergence of his talent for spae-work, what Hermetics call the Gift.
How he escaped the mob, and how he joined the Order, I cannot say. He would never speak of it, to me or, as far as I know, any other. I know that he conceived a passionate hate for the faith of the Hvitachrist, that he was left with no place to call home, and that he was drawn to the tales of his father's homeland, the old ways and the old gods. Few within that great Order wished to live in Norway. They had a great fear of a mythical organization of Norse wizards they called the "Order of Odin", which they imagined to be a reflection of their own society. But young Sven had fire, and courage, and in truth, little to lose. Two young magi followed him - Aline of Verditus, with her pure white hair and purple eyes who crafted a hand of metal to replace the one, which Sven had lost. And Robert Tyrell of Tremere, of the House which had become the Usurper Clan of vampires, who came to our lands in the hopes that they were distant enough from his former fellows for him to escape the Embrace. In time they were joined by two Valdaermen, Norse rune-crafters, twin brothers named Aki and Thorgeir Olafsson. And by me.
As our Covenant grew in strength, we became a center of resistance to the Hvitachrist 's followers. Sven was ever more interested in melding the rune-magic with his own Hermetic theories to be of much help, though his power to heal was unmatched. But Tyrell's organizational abilities and silver tongue, Aline's clever devices, and the bravery and resourcefulness of the brothers Olafsson, allowed us to build a network of resistance to the Christian conversion. We slew Lasombra and mortal Churchmen, sowed dissension amongst the ranks of the nobles, and helped followers of the old gods to flee persecution and join us in safety.
As more and more followers joined us, the Covenant's size and needs grew ever larger. To ease the burden, I Embraced my first childe in almost a century, a lass named Megan of Bristol. She'd inherited her father's trading house when he died in a foolish brawl, five years before, and had expanded it so that it dealt in goods throughout the Mediterranean. My blood awakened the wanderlust in her, and she began travelling extensively, finding new markets and opportunities at a rate, which seemed near magical in itself. In 1216, she Embraced her own first childe, a lad named Marc de Brabant. He'd been another victim of the Hvitachrist's false promises, a "child crusader," one of a great band of idiot infants from France who imagined that they could liberate Jerusalem through the force of their love. Of course, the ones who didn't die of malnutrition and exhaustion ended up in slavery. When Megan found him, he was the property of a fat and greasy Venetian merchant, who used him to keep his accounts by day and provide other, less savoury services by night. Though I'm told that young Marc found the Venetian very savoury indeed, after his Embrace...
The three of us made an effective team. Megan could not only, as my childe Damian puts it "sell ice to an Eskimo," but also turn him into a happy repeat customer. Mind you, when she didn't want to sell you something, her acid tongue was fully a match for that of the Lady Alinor. Marc was like a living ledger-book, who knew every detail of every transaction we ever made, and could recall each one flawlessly. He still looked like a mere slip of a golden-haired lad, in those early days before the beast marked him, and he'd often play the negotiator, with fools who thought to take advantage of his supposed youth and innocence. Well, perhaps not totally "supposed." Marc was truly a kind and gentle soul. He'd suffered too much himself to ignore the suffering of others. When Megan called him our "conscience," it was with respect and approval, not mockery.
And I... well, I hadn't survived three centuries without learning a trick or two of my own. Both Marc and Megan sired other childer, with whom they retained good relations for the most part, but they all drifted away to pursue their own agendas after a while. Our little coterie remained stable. If only I could have known such a bond with my first childe...
Well. My first childe is perhaps a story best forgotten.
Of course, the Covenant wasn't the only thing, which occupied us, in those years. The wise and clever Nosferatu of Eastern Europe appreciated our services as go-betweens and our ability to transport their most valuable possessions (including themselves!) in safety. For a time, we established a secondary base of operations in Prague. We battled some vile monsters, learned great secrets and entered into solemn alliances. But much of that is best left untold, for the moment.
Our trading ventures allowed the Covenant to survive and prosper, but in a way, they were also responsible for its destruction. We didn't know it at the time, of course. The next part of the story is one I learned second-hand, from that mangy dog Hugh of Winchester, after many years had passed. Indrid Setsdottir. Even now she is, at last, dust, I cannot hate her any less. The architect of our covenant's destruction began her existence as the child of a prostitute in Alexandria. Her mother was a woman of Norse blood, sold into slavery by a particularly corrupt merchant, and Ingrid inherited her blonde hair, blue eyes, and great beauty. The Setite who controlled her mother's existence initially allowed the child to live with the idea of adding another "exotic" blonde to his stable of girls. But as the child grew up and he witnessed first-hand her intelligence, relentless determination and total lack of scruples, he decided she was destined for greater things, and inducted her into the local temple as a handmaiden and ghoul. At length, he Embraced her.
He chose well, after a fashion. Ingrid was always calculating and ambitious, and the corrupt blood of the serpent clan made that ambition a kind of fanatical madness. Whether it was Set or herself she wanted to exalt, I cannot say. Perhaps both. But she was an adept politician and skilled merchant, who took advantage of Alexandria's position as a trading hub to develop a web of contacts throughout the Med. basin - and beyond. Her web touched even England and far-off Russia. She traded in whatever would make a profit - furs, slaves, jewels, and mystical items. It was the latter, which led Megan and I to deal with her. Her agents made several sales of vis-rich materials and exotic relics to us.
Ultimately for her, Ingrid's ambition proved her downfall in Alexandria. Her sire had gradually fallen further and further into decadence, becoming weaker and less effective with each passing year. In the name of Set, Ingrid reclaimed his blood and power, and diablerized him. Her plans were perfect, so she thought. Her sire's guardians were eliminated, and the slayers slain in turn to prevent them from talking. There were no witnesses to her act; indeed, she had carefully prepared evidence that pointed to her being elsewhere when her sire met his end. But the foolish little viper had never developed the power to see auras, and never realized that the evidence of her act would be plain to one who had. Caught unawares, she was nearly slain by the enraged Setite elders, and forced to flee.
The Covenant of the Ice Lake would not, in ideal circumstances, have been her chosen destination. But her circumstances were far from ideal, and the Covenant was the only available refuge both far enough away to elude most Setite pursuit, and mystically powerful enough to deal with any pursuit which she could not elude. Her fair skin and blonde hair allowed her to pose as a pagan Viking vargr fleeing Christian persecution, and her remaining reserves of wealth proved sufficient to ensure her welcome. The Covenant took the snake to its bosom. Had Megan, Marc or I been there, we could have warned them, but we were all away - ironically, in the very city of Alexandria which Ingrid had fled.
Ingrid had found safety, for the moment, but her oh-so-sophisticated Alexandrian tastes chafed at the Covenant's rough and honest appointments, and its remote location made any hope of rebuilding the remains of her network seem slim. Sheltered by the magi she would betray, she started to cast around for an alternative refuge.
She found her ally in one of our most clever and dangerous enemies. Sir Hugh of Winchester, an English Lasombra Ancilla Embraced while on Crusade in Palestine, had been sent by his sire to aid in the conversion of Norway. But had found the Covenant of the Ice Lake a painful thorn in his flesh - a source of support to the pagans which was too powerful and too isolated to assault successfully. Ingrid offered him a deal: she would betray the Covenant, weakening it from within and allowing Hugh's forces to destroy it. In exchange, she would accompany Hugh to Italy when he returned in triumph to his sire, and receive sanctuary from the Lasombra. Facing the possible failure of his mission and the consequent ... displeasure... of his sire, Hugh seized the offer gratefully.
I'm still not sure how she did it. The magi and Valdaermen were probably too powerful for her to affect directly. I'd guess she did her work amongst the common folk, the farmers, carpenters and fishermen who kept the place well supplied and in good repair. However it happened, the results were the same. The Covenant burned. The Olafsson brothers died as they lived, with courage and honor. I found Sven's body amongst the remains of three score opponents whose very skeletons appeared to have been melted. His hand had been severed once more, but this time, it had seemingly taken on a life of its own and leapt at the throat of his killer, choking the life from him. Aline, I later learned, had been Embraced and Blood Bound by that mangy cur Hugh. Only Tyrell, away from the Covenant spying on our enemies, had survived.
I dare say you can guess my reaction. Tyrell arrived back at the remains of the Covenant nearly a month after I did, which is fortunate, for had he returned at the same time, I surely would have slain him in my frenzied rage and grief. Even with all Megan's far-flung connections, it took us more than forty years to find Aline, but once Tyrell's clever spae-work had severed her blood bond, she led us to her sire in mere weeks. The fool was so confident in the power of the Bond that he never considered that she might betray him. With her help, it was easy to get past his defenses and pry the truth of the Covenant's downfall from him.
Aline chose to face the dawn with her staked and bound sire. Tyrell told me later that she didn't suffer. He said that she stood for a moment wreathed in flames as white as her hair, smiling gently in that way she always had, then seemed to explode in a single flash of pure light. Unfortunately, our hunt had alerted the Tremere to Tyrell's continued existence, and he was forced to flee. His skill at illusion and concealment was great, and he was eventually able to evade them, but my childer and I were forced to continue the hunt for Ingrid on our own.
By this time, Ingrid had been safely ensconced in the courts of the Italian Lasombra for forty years, busily re-establishing her trade and information network, scarcely giving another thought to the Covenant, which she had betrayed so successfully. It must have filled her with shock and fear when Megan, Marc and I started tearing apart everything she was trying to build, one piece at a time. She was a merchant and politician who thought in terms of favors, money and influence - the kind of thinking which Megan and Marc could anticipate fairly well. But I was a warrior who thought tactically, hunting and destroying her agents and holdings. Where we discovered a part of her network, we could often tear it apart in a single night, destroying a decade or more of careful groundwork in a few hours. She laid trap after trap for us, but she was forbidden to Embrace as part of her agreement with the Italian Lasombra, so the only agents she could send against us were ghouls. They were no match for us, of course.
Yet in spite of that, our ultimate goal eluded us. We were never able to find and destroy Ingrid herself. I suspect she knew at least some of the magic of the snake clan, and used that combined with frequent changes of haven to escape from us. Needless to say, we couldn't devote every waking moment to our hunt. As immortals, we scarcely needed to. Neither we nor Ingrid were getting any older, after all. In addition to the tasks, which we undertook for the Nosferatu and other allies, Megan's ventures were now growing to a degree which ever clever Marc was finding it difficult to keep track of, and Ingrid was occasionally trying to undermine them in clumsy attempts to distract us. We were constantly on the move. (Perhaps that's why we stayed together so long - few Kindred have shared as many centuries as the three of us. Our constant changes of scene, the never-ending new challenges we faced, stopped our existence from becoming stale. But I digress).
One visit to York, sometime late in the thirteenth century (I forget the exact date), led to our getting involved with one of the periodic riots against the Jews which plagued medieval townships. Now I don't overmuch like the Jews - the fact that they spawned the Hvitachrist is enough to damn them in my eyes. I was all for taking to the air and leaving the Kine to kill each other as they chose, when I happened to see a lad of about twelve, making a pathetic attempt to shield three even younger children from the five so-very-brave men who were threatening them. He had a half-size torch, which he was waving in circles in the air, trying to fend them off.
The contrast between their cowardice and his courage impressed me, I'll admit it. Jew he might be, but Odin himself could scarcely fault his valor or loyalty to his family (for the other children were surely kin). My Beast was not pleased at being so close to that waving flame, feeble though it was, but was I to show less bravery than this child? I would have called the five attackers gutless, but rather to my surprise, they did have guts. I pulled them from their bellies to check.
"Now what?", Megan asked me dryly. I had to admit it was a good question. The children just stood and stared at us as we drained the corpses - no point wasting perfectly good blood, we would put it to better use than these wretches - and probably believed that they were next on the menu. The boy, Isaac, certainly seemed to think so - after we finished feeding, he raised his torch as though ready to take on all three of us.
Convincing him we meant them no harm was quite a challenge, even for Megan's formidable powers of persuasion, but the cold truth was that their parents were dead and they had nowhere else to go. Getting them out of York and to safety with the family of one of Megan's ship-captains was a considerable nuisance, given our inability to travel by day, and reuniting them with their relatives in London a calculated risk. Though we had a Ventrue ally Dominate the younger ones to forget what they'd seen, some instinct prompted me to allow young Isaac to retain his memories. Megan and Marc made some rather wounding remarks about my intelligence when I announced that decision, but in fact he grew into a fine and steadfast ally for us.
It was another two centuries before Megan found a more skilled and efficient manager for her London shipping ventures. He died at the (for the time) incredible age of eighty-four, having lived to see the birth of his first great-grandson. In a gesture of respect to me, he named his family in the Norse style, the Isaacsons. In the decades and centuries since, they've been valuable allies, although only a very few in each generation know the truth about their family history. Megan said once that they were the best investment we ever made, and she must have believed it. In 1937, she was cut down by Nazi flame-throwers while helping a German branch of the family to escape to New York, and she lies in torpor still.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
For the next century or so, matters more urgent distracted our attention from Ingrid. I'll not discuss the details - those are better left unsaid, I think. Suffice it to say that there are things in the world, which even vampires who view themselves as monsters will band together to destroy. And for those vampires who view themselves as the chosen warriors of the gods, as I do... well, their duty is clear. The Black Death was ravaging Europe, and in the face of such disaster, there are always a foolish few who will deal with the darkest powers. Mortal and near-mortal Infernalists caused us more trouble than our fellow blood-drinkers ever did. We spent nigh-on twenty years hunting one particular group- a clever and resourceful cabal of conspirators who posed as monks in the great Abbey of Fountains, in Northern England. . Their leader, Ghilbert de Rouen, was a magus of some skill, and the only one to escape when the three of us, St. Cloud, and a two of St. Cloud's eldest childer descended on the abbey.
We might never have found them had it not been for young Stephen FitzHugh, a novice monk at the abbey with family connections to the local wool trade and hence to Megan. He led us right to the cult, and Marc rewarded him with the Embrace when the demon-worshippers tried to kill him in revenge. A clever lad, was young FiztHugh. He'd been the second son of a mid-ranking baron, whose father had bought him a monastic position as the first step in a career. Not a good choice for the clergy, was our Stephen - too fond of wine, women and song. But if he had a redeeming feature in the eyes of his superiors, it was his gift for scholarship. He had but to read something once in order to remember it, his logic and rhetoric were worthy of an ancient Greek sage, and he could produce illuminated manuscripts of such beauty as to make the most jaded Toreador weep.
His boredom with life at the Abbey drove him to seek out so-called "forbidden knowledge" - such as the idea that the Earth might be (gasp!) round instead of flat. (Pah. Those ancient Greek sages, with their clever mathematics, had realized that centuries before. My own sire had explained the principles to me, how it could be deduced from the way a ship sinks beneath the horizon. How typical of the followers of the Hvitachrist that they should seek to bolster they're own power by suppressing knowledge and promoting ignorance).
Well, Ghilbert's mistake was to imagine that the boy would be drawn to all forms of forbidden knowledge, including the demonic. His attempt to recruit FitzHugh were a dismal failure and led us straight to the cult. Stephen was not best pleased by his transformation. As I said, his principle interests beside books were wine, women and song, and becoming a vampire had cost him two out of the three. Still, the alternative was to have died with a slow poison eating his guts, so he bore no malice against us. And events were soon to more than satisfy his interest in the strange and the fantastic. The Lady Alinor reentered my life, but in a much changed form. She spoke to us of a great draining of magical energies from the world, somehow triggered by that accursed plague. The huldrefolk - the fae - were dying, their access to the spirit worlds cut off. Those who had survived were forced to hide in human hosts, blending their otherworldly natures into human flesh and human souls. The Lady herself was one such - she was still radiant, still mighty, but the radiance was muted now, shining out from the brown, human eyes of a sturdy peasant wench from Aquitaine.
As if these troubles weren't enough, the Lady told us, the huldrefolk were being hunted. A group she referred to as the "Iron Slayers" were seeking them out, trying to banish them from their human partners or simply putting them to the sword. The Lady herself and a few of her comrades amongst House Scathach had conceived a plan for survival. Deep in the wastes of Iceland, they'd found a crack in reality, a gateway to an Otherworld where the magical aura was strong enough to sustain the fae. What they did not have was any means to transport a large number of fae from all over Europe to Iceland, nor the means to fight back against a foe who used weapons and armor of cold iron.
Well, Marc and young Stephen were almost literally enchanted by this magical and noble creature, and rushed to volunteer their support. Megan concealed her sympathy behind a brusque manner and a brisk devotion to the practicalities, as is her wont, but she set to work with a will, working out the best way to turn her shipping ventures to the Lady's service. She and Alinor understood one another perfectly. Neither had much patience for fools, and both preferred hard work to soft sentiment. It was the first time my "family" had met Alinor, and it gladdened me to see their ready acceptance of her.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten one of the first lessons my sire taught me, so long ago. "We who are descended from the Winter King," he'd told me "have the blood of the hidden folk in our veins. It makes them willing to accept our presence, but it also makes us vulnerable to their bane". Well, I had cause to remember, soon enough. The Lady's "Iron Slayers" turned out to be Mages of some kind. I'm reasonably certain that they were some renegade offshoot of House Verditus. I remember Aline had kept a metal songbird, a wondrous creature with dozens of magically animated moving parts. The Iron Slayers had similar creatures, only these were no songbirds. These were armored knights on metal war-horses, their very bodies made of pure cold iron.
At first I was contemptuous of these contrivances. What could some Mage's toy do against a vampire elder?
Slice off his arm with a cold iron sword, drive him into frenzy with the pain, and very nearly slaughter him, as it turned out. My foolish overconfidence nearly finished me, the first time we encountered those things. Marc had to stake me in order to subdue me and drag me clear of danger. I had to endure a double tongue-lashing from Megan and the Lady throughout the long weeks it took me to regenerate my arm. We swiftly discovered that even our vampiric disciplines - even my rune-magic - could do little against those metal monsters from a distance, and to approach them closely was to kiss obliteration. Somehow, the fae affinity deep in our blood made our powers ineffective against creatures actually made of cold iron.
But the accursed contraptions did have two weaknesses. One, all that metal was unbelievably heavy, and two, they were very, very stupid. Good company for me, Megan told me acidly, and the Lady nodded agreement. Even Marc joined in. After that humbling initial encounter, our tactics were twofold. Firstly, lure the damned things into swamps, marshes, pits covered with greenery, or over cliffs. Second, ignore the servants and concentrate on the Mages who controlled them. In many ways, the masters were even more deadly than their creations. Many, many centuries into the future, I would watch the wonderfully comic absurdities which are the James Bond movies. I'm sure you've seen them too, so you'll understand me when I say that Major Boothroyd of Q division was an unimaginative amateur compared to those Mages. The diabolical ingenuity of their death-dealing devices seemed limitless.
Well, to cut a long story short, we successfully evacuated hundreds of the fae. We were allowed into their otherworldly realm as honored guests, and marveled at the incredible palace they'd crafted with their magic. It was a fantastic, gigantic thing of polished stone, whose curves and angles made the brain hurt of you looked at it too long. Carved beasts leapt from its rocky surface, so life-like that I often thought I truly saw them moving. But the realm was too... dream-like, too unreal, and prey was hard to find there - at least prey whose vitae would not drive a vampire mad. So we returned to the cold, mundane world once more. Marc, who'd done more than any of us to rescue to huldrefolk refugees, received a special gift before we left, though. The fae strength in his blood was increased tenfold by one of the mightiest of the Sidhe, granting him a strange glamour. It cost him a great price in his altered blood, but for a night and a few minutes after dawn - until the disc of the sun is fully above the horizon - Marc gained the ability to become fully human once again. I never realized what joy that would give him until the first time he did it, and I saw the salty, human tears of joy running down his face. I left my humanity behind centuries ago, but Marc, gentle Marc... aye, he was different.
We left young Stephen with my old friend St. Cloud, cataloguing his library and being trained in the Nosferatu arts of stealth and concealment. And at last, after so many years and so many distractions, we resumed our war against Ingrid in earnest. Our successes mounted, and she became ever more frustrated and desperate. And that frustration, in the end, was her downfall. She tried to set the Inquisition's hunters upon us, and in the process slipped somehow. They knew of our existence, all right, but they knew of hers as well.
Our decades of experience as nomads paid off. We had an admittedly narrow escape when one young Inquisitor set fire to the town house we were using as a haven. Luckily, prompt action by the town watch extinguished the blaze, and the over-excited young man was hastily hauled away by a trio of burly guardsmen before he could incite a riot. We slept through the entire incident. After that, we rested in the earth, well beyond the city limits, and travelled even faster and more randomly than usual.
As a creature of the Italian cities, Ingrid wasn't so lucky. We learned of her fate when our old friend Robert Tyrell found us in Seville. Apparently, Inquisitors had broken into her haven in Venice and set her ablaze. She'd thrown herself through the window into the canal beneath, and hadn't been seen since. Most of her servants were dead or fled, as were many of her Lasombra allies. Tyrell was a little vague on how he'd found us, but I got the impression that he'd become involved in the Inquisition himself, and was subtly directing it against his former comrades, the vampiric Tremere. The years had been kind to him - he now looked like a man of fifty or so, but in truth he'd lived at least five times that span. And he was alive - he was continuing to avoid the Embrace, as he had for so long.
It was Tyrell who finally put an end to the Inquisition's hunt for us. His skill in illusion was now phenomenal, and he was able to create a completely realistic image of our three bodies, running screaming from a burning building and collapsing into dust. A little too realistic, if truth be told... unlike Marc and Megan, I watched his little theatrical from across the street, and ended it on the verge of frenzy, with the blood-sweat matting my fur. But it did the trick. The Inquisitors were now satisfied that we were dead.
A few months after that, Tyrell left us for the last time. At a guess, I'd say he was moving on to avoid other enemies, or to lead those enemies away from us. I've never seen him since then, but it wouldn't surprise me to know that he survives to this day. He always was a tricky bastard. Wherever you are now, be well, old friend.
The year was now 1407 AD, and for the first time in two and a half centuries, I lacked a driving goal of my own. I still had my faith in my gods, as I do to this day, but with the destruction of the Covenant and the destruction (so I thought at the time), of its betrayer, I was able to raise my eyes from my own concerns and face the bitter truth that the world had changed. The cursed Hvitachrist had won, at least for the moment. I returned alone to the site of the Covenant of the Ice Lake. There was nothing left to show that it had even existed. Even the stones of the library and Great Hall had been taken away by someone. I felt bone-weary. I sank into the earth, and rested.
I lay in torpor for four decades, before I was jolted awake by the combined telepathic voices of Megan, Marc, and St. Cloud. The world held challenges for me again, they told me. The Anarch revolt was raging, the Camarilla was forming, the Cappadocians were in the grip of civil war, mortal and vampire society alike was in turmoil. My old friends and allies needed me. They say that heavy sleepers don't appreciate being awakened suddenly, and that was certainly true in my case. I was, as Damian might have put it, "grouchy" at being disturbed. In retrospect, thought, I find myself grateful for the summons. I would have hated to miss those fascinating, turbulent decades.
In my absence, my two childer had forged close alliances among the Ventrue. Their primary motive was commercial -the Ventrue clan was then in the process of changing from the landed nobility of the middle ages to the merchant princes they are today. Megan had found this new breed of commercially savvy traders much more congenial and useful allies than the disdainful aristocrats of yore. But though he was now an elder in his own right, Marc had never lost the compassion for the unfortunate, which he'd gained from his time as a slave. He saw this new vampiric alliance proposed by the Ventrue, this "Camarilla," as a means to protect the mortals from vampiric predication. Enforcement of this "Masquerade" would provide a cover for culling our population of its most vicious members - which, by no coincidence, included a large number of Tzimisce Anarchs. St. Cloud and various others amongst my peers and contemporaries also supported this new alliance -for many reasons apart from Marc's or Megan's. I did my part, using what influence I had amongst my clanmates to gather support for the idea. It was Marc, though, who became the most visible and vocal of its advocates. To this day, he remains a respected and influential Camarilla elder.
Following the Convention of Thorns, our little family group began to drift apart. Not in terms of loyalty -our feelings for each other, such as can exist in our unbeating hearts, remained as strong as ever - but geographically. As rumors of the gold-rich continent to the west began to circulate, Megan set to work shifting assets into Spain and Portugal, hoping to capitalize on this new market. Her time was increasingly spent in the warm lands to the south. Marc was preoccupied with Camarilla politics in the courts of London and Paris. And St. Cloud, myself, and certain others found that many of the elders destroyed in the revolt had owned books or artifacts best kept well away from the foolish or the greedy. In between which, I had my sharp-taloned hands full trying to limit the Sabbat presence in my homelands, and harrying the Tzimisce in theirs.
Plus, of course, the matter of the Cappadocians. But that tale is too complicated to go tell here, even were I so inclined. Suffice it to say that boredom and inactivity were not a problem for a very long time. Well over a century and a half, now that I come to think of it. Megan's little bout of gold fever hadn't paid off as well as she'd hoped, and she fell into torpor in the decades following its failure. Luckily, the Isaacson family was able to take over her major enterprises in her absence. One figure in particular - Joshua Isaacson, domineering, ambitious, mind like a steel trap - played a role. I personally suspect that he was siphoning off her resources for his own use in those years, but if so, he apparently made enough money to keep her from noticing. I've sometimes wondered if the Isaacsons - who for centuries we've viewed as our loyal servants - might not have resources, agendas, even members, which we know nothing about. Come to think of it, I can't recall what happened to Joshua. Presumably he dies centuries ago, but I don't remember hearing that... A pity Marc couldn't have kept a closer eye on things, but he was still distracted by the demands of the Camarilla.
Around the middle of the seventeenth century, I came closer to death than I had for a long time. The ironic thing, considering the many supernatural beings I'd faced, is that my foe was a mere mortal. (At least, I think he was; to this day, I'm not totally certain).
John Thurloe, Oliver Cromwell's master spy, had one of the most subtle, devious, brilliant minds I've ever encountered - and I've encountered Ventrue and Tremere elders. How he learned of the existence of the Kindred I'll never know, but he embarked on a quiet campaign of investigation and extermination, frequently under the guise of government-sponsored witch-hunts. I was careless, overconfident, and very nearly reduced to ash. I hope Thurloe's really dead; I shudder to think what he's be like with a few centuries of experience under his belt.
In the course of my game of cat-and-mouse with Thurloe's agents, I made one of my greatest mistakes. The one feeble defense I can offer is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Gabrielle Lemor (not her birth name, but I'll respect her right to choose her own identity -I owe her that much), was one of Thurloe's best operatives. Beautiful, courageous, highly intelligent, she was from a wealthy merchant family, which had bought its way into the aristocracy and come out against the Stuart dynasty's attempts to curtail the powers of Parliament. She could ride as though the horse was a part of her, shoot with deadeye accuracy (even with the clumsy flintlocks of the day), and fence d'Artagnan himself to a standstill. (Yes, I know The Three Musketeers. I read it in the first edition, if you're curious). She could play any role from whore to nun with flawless conviction. She even beat me at chess (only a handful of times in a hundred games, but I'd been playing for eight centuries longer than she). Few people at the time could recognize such ability in a woman; Thurloe's ability to do so was part and parcel of why he was so dangerous.
Do I sound like a love-struck teenager to you? That, in essence, was what Megan accused me of, with her characteristic tact and understanding. But even Megan, who cordially hated Gabrielle at first sight (a sentiment which Gabrielle returned with interest), freely admitted the girl was extraordinary. From the first, she reminded me of one of the All-High's Waelkyrige. I didn't Embrace her because she dazzled me, though; I did it in desperation, after she led a hunt for me that lasted three months and almost caught me on a half-dozen occasions. Short of killing her (and I couldn't face the sheer waste which that would represent), I saw no other alternative.
I suppose I would foolish to imagine that one of her indomitable will would meekly accept the situation, even after time had passed. She acted it out perfectly -rebellious rejection followed by gradual grudging acceptance to seeming loyalty. We trained her, introduced her to the Kindred society of Britain, and began to give her a role in our various enterprises. She took the name "Gabrielle Lemor" The surname was a clever kenning, a play on words; in French, it might be seen as either "le mort" - death - or "l'amour" - love.
Thurloe and our other, older enemies in the Catholic Church had claimed a number of Kindred scalps already, so we didn't at first notice when the witch-hunts started to get more effective and better targeted. Gabrielle had decided that she didn't have to quit being a witch-hunter just because she was dead, and had set to work eliminating the vampires who we'd so obligingly introduced her to. She went for half a decade without our suspecting anything, and she might well have gone on longer if she'd not made the same mistake that Ingrid did, so long ago - she committed diablerie without realizing that it would mark her aura.
Not that she meant to. The latest Ventrue elder whom she and her henchmen had eliminated merely proved a tougher nut to crack than she thought, and the injuries which she received from him drove her into frenzy and left her tearing at his scrawny throat. But whatever her intentions, there was no disguising her guilt from anyone with the power to see. It was fortunate for us all that we were the first kindred she encountered after returning from her assassination.
The moment I saw her aura, I confronted her. She didn't even try to defend or excuse herself. She gave a rueful smile, like a sporting loser at a trivial game of chance, and was flying out of the window in bat-shape before I could blink. I gave chase, of course, but the ancient blood she'd just consumed gave her the edge, and she lost me. Well, as you can imagine, Megan and Marc were furious, more with me than with her. She was known to most of the vampires in Britain as my childe; she'd become closely associated with our coterie in many minds; her crime would be very embarrassing to us - perhaps lethally so. She would, of course, avoid appearing openly in vampire society from now on, but it would be difficult to concoct an explanation for her disappearance if we were to remain in England.
So we needed to disappear for a few years. Marc, we agreed, would stay in northern Europe, watching for Gabrielle and hopefully covering up any evidence of her activities, which came to light. Megan and I would travel to India. Megan had recently committed several of her ships to the service of the new East India company -she'd long wanted to take a personal look at this new market, and now was as good a time as any. In the event, most of our fears about Gabrielle were unfounded. She was, and still is, a fearsome hunter, but apparently after she left us, something happened which convinced her to turn her fire upon the Sabbat. I met her once in the 1890s and again in the 1930s, where we briefly found ourselves allies against a cabal of Nazi occultists. She assured me that I and my childer were safe from her attentions - she acknowledged that I'd spared her when I could just as easily have killed her, and that even Megan, who loathed her, had nonetheless treated her well. She felt honor-bound to leave us in peace, she said, but she hadn't changed her view that vampires were a scourge upon the Earth, and she meant to scourge us from the Earth.
All that was in the future when we took sail for India, though. I never imagined, at the time, that I could grow to love the land so, or that it would do so much to heal my spirit. India is an amazing land. Every bird and beast you can imagine dwell there. It has tropical forests and ice wastes, open plains and mountains... and its own magic's and dangers, too.
Knowing what I do now, I see we were lucky to survive a week in that country. We had a stroke of good fortune, though it didn't seem like it at the time. Soon after we arrived there, Megan was attacked by a demon. Oh, maybe not as the followers of the Hvitachrist would define it, but a spirit of pure evil and malevolence from some place in the other worlds, animating a human corpse. We knew of such things in Norway in my youth - they were known to us as Draugar. Megan gutted the creature, which is what saved us. We'd met members of clan Ravnos in Europe. One line in particular, the Phaedymites, were trusted allies, honest and honorable warriors who subscribed to the knightly ethic of chivalry. But in India we found Ravnos of a different stripe, the wellspring from which the clan had sprung.
The old Gather tales speak of the enmity between Ennoia and Ravnos, how he drove her from the lands to the east with the help of "Giants". I never gave the tales much credence myself, but in India, I discovered that the "Giants" which the legend referred to were, in fact, the Indian Draugar. In the legends of the Indian Ravnos, it was the Gangrel who'd betrayed the Ravnos in their war against these monsters. The Ravnos of India had been fighting the Draugar for millennia. One of their number had been following the one which Megan had dismembered, preparing to ambush it. He was so impressed with her prowess that he was able to persuade his clanmates to try recruiting us as allies rather than attacking us as foreign invaders.
And I found that I had a lot in common with these supposed enemies of Clan Gangrel, these Ravnos. Like me, they were mystics who believed themselves to have been created by gods, set upon the Earth to fight supernatural evil - in their case, the Draugar. They followed a warrior philosophy which my father and brothers - long dead, but still with a special place in my cold, unbeating heart - would have recognized instantly. And we found common ground in our belief that the only good Draugar was one that had been reduced to dust. We never forged any deep bonds of friendship or trust, but we were easily able to negotiate a tentative alliance. In return for our help against the Draugar, Megan and I were welcome to stay in India, under the protection of the local Ravnos Princes.
I told you that my spirit was healed in India. Truth to tell, my faith and will had been declining steadily since the conclusion of our hunt for Ingrid. My belief in my gods was wavering, and I had nothing to put in its place. My rune-magic, gift of my gods, was waning along with my piety. It was my contact with the Indian Ravnos, which changed that. They had a complex belief system based on the idea that all souls have a destiny to pursue and fulfill. My discussions with the Ravnos elders helped me to see that my own destiny was inextricably tied up with my religious convictions, my sense of myself as a member of Odin's chosen. I felt... renewed. The old fire was burning in my belly once again.
And fire I needed, for the creatures which we battled were numerous, and very strong. We developed a variety of tactics to defeat them. My rune-magic, at full strength now I'd regained my old faith, could sometimes ward against them... it was new to them, none of them had ever encountered its like before. The Ravnos used their skill at deception to divert and confuse them. Megan had become adept in the use of gunpowder, and we were able to lure entire groups of Draugar into explosive ambushes. And if all else failed, we had very sharp claws.
Normally, we prevailed, by one means or another. But once, we faced a creature so powerful we couldn't even approach it. As soon as we got near, a freezing wind would hurl us away like leaves in a breeze. It stood there, laughing at us, mocking us, filling our nostrils with the stench of corruption. It boasted that only its master could claim its soul now. It would have destroyed us all, once it tired of taunting us. Another member of Clan Gangrel killed it, one the Ravnos had known only as a legend. We called it the Pale Tiger, for it burst from the jungle and fought the thing in the shape of a great tiger with fur as white as bone. Age and power steamed off the Pale Tiger like sweat from a weary horse, but even so it barely won the battle.
We never learned much about the Pale Tiger. We never even saw its true form, for it either took the shape of the last mortal it had fed from - a clever trick that, my sire was very skilled at it, too - or remained in the shape of a tiger and spoke in our minds. It occasionally fed us information on the Draugar's movements and strongholds, but it never aided us directly again. A few years later, history repeated itself, for we once again faced a Draugar, which almost destroyed us. I was left in torpor when its magic's burned me, and Megan was badly injured. Without our ability to fight in their battles, the local Ravnos grew less and less tolerant of our presence, and so Marc hurried over from England to support Megan, accompanied by his childe Stephen FitzHugh. They remained for thirty years as I made my slow recovery.
By the time I was back at full strength, I had another problem to contend with. St. Cloud recalled me to Europe, urgently. The Lady Alinor had reappeared, her fae spirit now merged into a new human host, and warned us of a new group of looters who were raiding throughout Europe and beyond for magical treasures. It seemed that these idiot meddlers were Infernalists, descendants of Ghilbert de Rouen's group. After much investigation, we discovered that some fool Toreador had embraced De Rouen, himself, soon after he'd escaped from Fountains. We were never able to locate him - I fear that he may yet exist - but we were certainly able to deal with his followers.
In 1783, St. Cloud and I travelled to Iceland, to the old gate to the fae refuge, to return a number of the artifacts we'd recovered to their rightful owner. And there, we had our first meeting with Ghilbert's demonic master, a foul creature, which called itself Kaneda. It nearly destroyed us both with blasts of molten lava, in fact. We were lucky to escape. Another century turned. Megan's involvement in the East India company grew ever deeper, but the expansionist colonial policy, which the company was following in India did nothing to endear her to her Ravnos hosts, and she found it prudent to spend long intervals of time away from India itself. The East India company had found a profitable new market importing opium into China, and Megan had her fingers deep in the opium wars and the seizure of Hong Kong. I believe she still has vast investments there. Controlled by mortal agents now, of course. Since 1997, the place has been overrun with Draugar.
Marc, meanwhile, was back in England. The appalling slums and factory conditions in London disgusted him, but many of our fellow vampires saw them as easy feeding opportunities, and Marc burned up much of his political credit in the Camarilla with his support of mortal reform movements. Marc was ever the softest of heart amongst the three of us, but the little bastard is my match, and I'd not change him. After breaking Ghilbert's cult, the last half of Victoria's reign was a quiet time for us. Our old triumvirate was reunited in London as the East India Company finally dissolved, and Megan and I returned to London to take up residence with Marc. All of us spent a few years at a time in torpor through those decades. Our greatest excitement took place in the 1890s, when several teams of Sabbat veterans descended on London. Gabrielle reappeared in our unlives briefly, as she helped us destroy the leaders of the assault.
And then the twentieth century dawned, and our lives became more chaotic and uncertain than they'd ever been before. You can scarce imagine the upheaval and social displacement of the two world wars. Monsters seemed to be breaking out everywhere, like pustules of a festering pox. We were constantly on the move. Our misadventures in those years might fill a dozen books. In the 1930s, it became clear that that hysterical little turd, Hitler, meant to wipe out all the Jews of Europe. We moved frantically to evacuate our long-term allies, the Isaacsons, from Germany and Eastern Europe, and for the most part, we succeeded. Unfortunately, Himler knew altogether too much about the supernatural world, and his SS agents caught us unawares. Their flame-throwers drove Megan into torpor before Marc and I were able to rip them apart, and she lies in torpor still, guarded by St. Cloud's Nosferatu in York.
After the war, Marc and I traveled to New York, helping our Isaacson allies to establish themselves. Marc tells me that he and Megan lost out heavily when the industry of Europe was destroyed by the bombing, but their gains in the U.S. market have since more than made up for it. The Sabbat takeover was very... inconvenient, and we moved further South, to Georgia and Florida. Then in the early eighties, Marc moved to Brussels, headquarters of the grand new alliance of European states. And I? I went home. It wasn't until I found myself in the pine forests of Norway once again, that I realized how much I'd missed them. In the 1870s, Marc had build a stone-and-timber mansion there, and I used that as my base.
For a decade, I wallowed in glorious inactivity. I roamed the forests in my wolf shape, fed from the deer and elk, and howled at the moon. Then one day, I performed a divination. It was whim, really; I'd been remarkably untroubled by Lupines, and I wondered where they'd all disappeared to. I didn't find Lupines, but I did find Ingrid Setsdottir. I felt her gradually emerging from torpor, barely fifty miles to the southwest. I flew towards her as fast as I could. I knew that she'd be able to hide from me once she was fully awake, and I was determined that this time, she wouldn't escape as she'd evidently escaped the Inquisitors. I burned too much blood in my haste, though. I was weak and half-starved when I finally came upon her, draining the blood from a mortal child.
She fought better than I'd expected, but I might still have won if I hadn't weakened myself in the headlong rush to reach her. As it was, it was all I could do to stop her from tearing me apart. I was cursing myself for a fool when the mortal boy, forgotten by us both, hurled a flaming oil lamp at her. It took an effort, but I held the Beast in check long enough to gut her as she burned. Scorched my hands quite badly, but it was worth it. I watched until she crumbled into dust and ash. This time, she wasn't coming back.
Perhaps it's to my shame that it was only then that I remembered the mortal boy. One glance told me that this was a curious one. His face seemed almost Asian, yet those green eyes and red hair couldn't have come from anywhere except Europe. With all the blood Ingrid had drained, he should have been unconscious or dead, yet he'd found the strength to hurl that lamp at her, and even now, he was conscious. I could sense his fierce survival instinct, his determination to live, blazing in those emerald eyes. And his aura blazed, too, with odd sparkles of color I'd never seen before. Something magical had touched this boy, something very powerful. And there was something oddly familiar about him, something I couldn't place until much later, when he told me his surname. Could this lad be descended from Robert Tyrell? He had the same eyes, the same hair, the same canny instinct for self-preservation. It could be a coincidence, of course. Tyrell is a very common name. Tyrells committed three of the most mysterious royal murders in English history, those of King William Rufus and the Princes in the Tower...
... Odd. Why have I never thought of that before? ...
... but as I said, there was something oddly familiar about Damian. The turn of his head, the tone of voice, the way he moved - all these things have sometimes reminded me of my old friend. But that was in the future. As I stood looking down at the boy, I could see that his odd aura was fading. He was losing his fight for life. Not wasting words, I offered to save him. The boy wasn't stupid. He'd seen enough to know what I was and understand the implications of my offer. He hesitated for a moment, and I could see the thoughtful expression cross his face. I found myself admiring a mind that could follow reason over blind instinct even in such extremity.
He nodded. "Do it", he said, his voice now very weak. And so I brought my latest childe into the fold. And there is my story. I laughed at you for your belief that all Norse were warriors. Well, perhaps the joke's on me, for it's battle, which has given purpose to my existence since the night of my Embrace.
I am Eirik Haraldsson, called the Rune-Wise. I am no descendant of a cursed kin slayer, as the followers of the Hvitachrist insist. I am the chosen of Odin, given power and immortality to fight against the enemies of gods and men. The evil spirits who worm their way into human flesh, the Jotuns, the Giants. And lately, the followers of that damned broken cross. Nazis, pah! I must have killed a hundred of those cowardly, thieving maggots, but I never tasted a drop of their blood - it would have choked me.
It's been a long time, and I've learned a lot. Ragnarok won't be as we imagined it in my youth, but it'll come, lad, make no mistake. Even those thin-blooded fool childer with their cries of "Gehenna" realize it. And we'd best be ready. All of us...