Beatrice

They walked through the cemetery gates, and stepped among the tombstones, a bunch of brainwashed kine behind them. She tried to not show it, but she was a little scared. Not of Jacob and the madness he pursued; that ship had sailed. No, she was afraid of Jack.

He'd accidentally hurt these kine, their brains, with how easily he'd dominated. Accidentally performed an act most ancilla Ventrue would have struggled to perform, let alone a neonate, no less. And he wasn't lying about it, either. The kine behind them were thoroughly brain fucked. She could have turned around, slit the throat of one of them, and the others would have barely reacted. Normally, a kine brainwashed by a Ventrue's Dominate, could break free if the stimulus they were exposed to was too extreme, or if they thought their orders went against their beliefs, or self preservation.

These five might as well have been wearing blindfolds and drugged to hell, with how little they were thinking. A blessing in disguise, she supposed. Killing an animal was easier when it didn't display signs of intelligence.

The woman Jack had left unconscious was still there, on the ground and sleeping against a tombstone, untouched. She'd be fine. No kine came to the cemetery with ill intent, not with people like Jacob and Black Blood haunting it. In the past, the kid would have felt horrible about leaving a kine unconscious and unguarded like this, but Jack walked past her, sparing only a quick glance and frown. He probably still felt bad, but didn't let it stop him. Sad. Every night was turning the kid more and more into a typical Kindred.

What would Julias say about that? He was the one Kindred in the whole city who tried to keep his humanity, keep thinking about kine as more than food, and tried to keep the peace between Kindred. Superman, a real white knight, who would tell Jack he should find a better place to let the kine woman sleep off the Kiss coma. He was dead, and Beatrice was about to kill a dozen kine in a prayer offering to the Crone, in hopes of learning a Crúac ritual to hunt down the hunters.

Depressing.

She guided Jack to the mausoleum in the back of the cemetery. They said nothing. This wasn't a fun time, and it wasn't a chatty time. It was a shit time, and she was about to expose Jack to a side of it she'd prefer to not.

The journey through the tunnel was gloomy as all hell. The warning sign above remained, Jacob's sign, and Jack took note of it, but he'd seen this tunnel before, from that time Black Blood rescued him. Black Blood, and Jacob. The kine behind followed. Some managed a glance up at the sign, but where there should have been fear, she saw only numb faces. And when it got too dark for human eyes, they started feeling along the stone walls to guide them. Sheep to the slaughter.

"Clarice! How nice of you to join us. And five more? The Crone will be pleased."

The sight was horrific. The seven kine Jacob had prepared dangled from hooks over the bowl, alive, and unconscious. Triss didn't know if the Crone cared about pain, beyond what the Kindred had to suffer to learn Crúac, or if Jacob had ever indulged in torturing his sacrifices, but she was thankful he'd never done that with her around.

The elder stood by the giant bowl, dressed in his black robes and black eye bandage. Jennifer was there, wrapped in a black cloak as well, and her eyes were wide, locked onto Jack and the offerings he brought.

"You did this?" she said.

Jack nodded to her, frown deepening, before he turned to the people following. "Do whatever they tell you to." And the five kine nodded, like ants obeying the word of their queen, off to die without a thought.

"Excellent," Jacob said. "Nice to see you putting that gift to use."

"Gift?" Jack walked up to Jacob, glared up at his bandaged eyes, and grit his teeth. "Don't. Just don't. I'm here so we can find the hunters. I'm not helping you beyond that, and it's not a gift. It's a curse, treat it as such."

Jacob's smile grew, but the ice behind it was growing, too. Gulping, Triss and Jen both took a step back as they looked between the two men; so much for Jack being a kid. Two men fighting, two rather strong Kindred evidently, was not something she wanted to be near when it started.

"Curses can be gifts, Jack. Problems can be opportunities. You think so small! Give it a few hundred years, and you'll learn to see the bigger picture." Jacob stepped around the bowl, put it between him and Jack, and gestured to the enormous metal sacrificial altar. "Now, since your sacrifices seem to be thoroughly under your control, I won't bother with drugs."

Beatrice raised a hand. "We could—"

"Nonsense! Come, you, you, you, you, and you, stand over the bowl, and lean forward." If Triss could have seen Jacob's eyes, they'd no doubt be wide with madness. Jennifer was in awe over Jack's abilities, impressed by his ridiculous power of Dominate, and Jacob was getting giggly over the power of it.

"How is this going to play out?" Jack said.

With a menacing grin, Jacob shrugged, and walked up to the first kine, the woman. "I have prepared the altar, and Black Blood has assisted. All that's left now, is to prove our commitment, before I make the prayer."

The slaughter commenced.

Beatrice forced herself to watch, but Jennifer had to look away. Triss didn't blame her, honestly. If it were any other circumstance, Triss wouldn't watch either, but the murder happening in front of her was her fault, her choice. Jacob may have been the one pulling the trigger, but she pushed for it, asked for it, and now she was neck deep in death because of it. Thankfully, Jacob wasn't asking her to do the killing. Maybe he was protecting her, or maybe he liked killing kine and wanted to do it himself. Either way, she was more than fine with letting the old man do it for her.

Except, she would have killed them in a less messy method. A knife in the skull was instant death in almost all cases, and she knew Jacob had knives. The elder, on the other hand, never killed cleanly, as if the act of spilling blood needed to be as gory as possible. Maybe it had to be, for Black Blood to do whatever it was that Black Blood did. The spirit wasn't in the room with them, far as Triss could tell, but that didn't mean it wasn't.

Jacob ripped the girl's throat out, literally. The shower of blood into the empty, rusty bowl, and the struggles of the dying woman, were enough to stir reactions from the other sacrifices. If given time, they'd have probably broken free from Jack's brainwashing, with the threat of imminent death weighing on them. But Jacob worked fast, spending no more than two seconds per sacrifice. The first one was still alive, by the time he'd ripped the throat out of the last one.

With each disgusting mess of murder and blood, he tossed the bits of throat into the bowl; blood and flesh were a part of the sacrifice, too. He let the writhing, silent sacrifices fall to the floor, where they bled out onto the Earth and stone, but not after having lost a gallon of blood into the bowl.

"Not exactly kosher, are they?" he said as he looked down at their bodies. His smile was gone, replaced by something else, something strange and twisted. Not a grin, or a grimace, but something Triss didn't recognize, something between intrigue and resolution. Her boss was making jokes, but he didn't mean them.

Jack turned his back to the slaughter, and stepped clear. For a second, Triss figured he was going to walk out, but he didn't. Like her, he probably felt committed to being present for the results of his actions. Unlike her, he couldn't stomach seeing such a horrible death.

Once upon a time, she couldn't have either. Even at her worst, when she hated life and killed scum to vent, she didn't delight in gore. This was disgusting. This was the road she was going down, if she wanted revenge. And it was the road she'd continue going down, if she ever wanted to see Julias again. Hell, this was a small taste of the Hell that she'd be treading on, a road paved in blood and murder, if she ever wanted to see him again.

Stop thinking about that, Triss. For now, just focus on catching the hunters. Killing some fucking shithead kine that were bad for the city, in pursuit of catching the hunters, was a perfectly reasonable action to take. Vampire lives came first.

Julias wouldn't agree. Julias, was dead.

The blood poured, and only got worse when Jacob hopped up onto the edge of the bowl, reached out for a person hanging over it, and continued with the same process. These sacrifices didn't squirm, and only swung mildly, giant hooks snug under the bindings on their wrists. Unconscious, they went to death with all the fight of a stone. Blood gushed from their ripped open throats, down into the bowl, and onto the bits of throat from the other sacrifices.

The longer she watched, the more it felt like she was watching chickens, cows, or pigs being slaughtered. Now she knew why some people became vegetarians after visiting slaughterhouses. She grit her teeth, forced herself to keep her eyes on the murder, and waited until Jacob was done.

It only got worse. Jacob slipped each dangling kine off their hooks, and set them in the bowl, piling them on each other. Then he reached down and tossed the five dead into the bowl as well. A pile of death, limbs, flesh and blood, that was their offering to the Crone.

Jack turned around eventually, and winced as he stared at the pile of empty vessels. "And what if this doesn't work?"

"Then we'll try something else," Jacob said.

"Until you've gone through all your ideas, like checking things off a list?"

"We're dealing with gods and demons, aliens and angels, really fucked up shit, Jack. It isn't about business, or checking things off a list, it's about commitment, and intent."

"Intent? I—"

Jacob walked over to him, and this time Jack backed up. The Nosferatu was soaked in blood, mostly at the hands, but every motion the elder made splattered blood around him. It got onto Jack's suit coat, and his face, but it was a pale comparison to the rivers of red that coated Jacob's sleeves.

"You Invictus are all the same. You live inside numbers, and you treat respect like a currency. You're so blind to the greater mysteries, God could come up to you and kiss your forehead and you wouldn't even notice. He could take off your sandals, wash your feet, and you'd try and quantify, identify, qualify, and turn it into a footnote for your books." The chuckling vanished. Jacob snapped his hands out, and grabbed Jack by the collar, splattering more blood everywhere. "You're swimming in the blood of a bleeding universe, walking on the ashes of dead deities, and you're too scared to even consider what could possibly exist beyond your insignificant, immortal lifespan."

For a second, Beatrice was almost impressed with the metaphor. But as she looked at Jacob, watched him clutch Jack as if desperate to get his point across to a boy who was desperately trying to stay grounded in the real world, she knew he'd been literal. Where had Jacob been in his life, what places had he visited, what entities had he talked to, to think like that? He was good friends with what might as well have been a deity, and he spent his time reading ancient manuscripts and sacrificing kine — and his own vitae — to a hidden god.

She came up to him, set an arm on his cloaked, dripping wrist, and nudged it off of Jack. Jacob turned his head to her, sighed, and stepped back, joining her at the bowl. When she looked back at Jack, she found the man looking down at the ground, caught between a frown and seeming genuinely hurt.

"I..." Jack stirred, still looking down and staring at the mess of blood the witches walked through. It was everywhere, flooding the cracks of the cave, until it sparkled like rivers in the candlelight. "I... I'm terrified, Jacob."

The three witches froze, and stared at him.

"What?" Jacob said. And for the first time, Triss heard the sound of complete, total, genuine shock from her boss.

"I'm scared shitless. I've lost my sister. I've lost my sire. Now I'm carrying around something inside me straight from a horror movie, something that belongs in a fucking tome of dark rituals, not in my chest. And now we're slaughtering people while we make prayers to dark gods. You might think this is all just another day, or maybe you're excited to see things get shaken up, get fucked up and twisted, but every fucking day all I can do is hope and push for a time when things are back to the way they were. The sooner we can stop all this, the better. I'm hanging on by a thread here, and everywhere I look, all I see is shit that makes immortal bloodsucking vampires look blazé. So yeah, excuse me if I resist the idea of killing twelve people for a fucking prayer."

All eyes fell to Jacob. Beatrice had never expected Jack to pour his heart out like that, especially not to Jacob. Maybe he felt like he could trust Jacob because Triss said he could. Or maybe he just couldn't hold it in anymore. Whatever it was, Jacob didn't look at him, keeping his head turned toward the bowl in front of him instead.

"Down here in the dark," Jacob said, voice calm and almost soothing, "it gets pretty frightening. We're buried in corpses and struggling to keep from drowning. Sometimes, you can hear the voices, and feel their fingers trying to drag you down." Sighing, he shook his head, and motioned for Triss and Jennifer to step in toward the bowl with him. "Don't worry, you'll do better than most."

"Better than most..." Jack lifted his eyes back up to the bowl, sighed, and stepped in closer. "So how does this prayer work?"

Jacob smiled, and pulled out a knife. "The sacrifice has been prepared. The three of us are going to imbue the sacrifice with our vitae. And then, we shall burn the corpses, a signal, to whoever's watching."

"Burn? There's limited oxygen down here. The fire will die out."

Chuckling, Jacob shook his head again, even as he slit his wrist. A thick, heavy glob of Kindred blood pooled at the wound, before eventually falling onto the corpses. Normally they'd use a single drop in their rituals, but Jacob forced out another, and another, each large and landing with enough impact they could hear it in the silence. Once he'd lost enough blood to make a kine lightheaded, the knife was passed around. Triss took it and did the same. Jack met her eyes, and she held a smile for him, a warm one, hoping it'd lesson his worry, as she bled into the bowl. Jennifer did the same, without the smile, and grimaced as she forced out her blood; poor girl was too soft for this insanity.

Jacob walked to the back wall, and disappeared into the heavy, unnatural shadow that covered it. Triss knew what was back there, the body parts and tools of torture, the symbols drawn on the walls, and the overwhelming dread, but it was better to not let Jack see it.

"Is Black Blood here tonight?" Jack said. The silence was absolute, and his soft voice echoed.

Some things went clank and clunk in the black. "He's watching," Jacob said, "from the other side. His followers help him perform their own rituals."

"Followers?" Jack began to pace side to side, chin in his fingers. The look on his face was obvious: should he play his hand and let Jacob know more information. Triss would have probably said no, but she was curious. "You mean his red wraiths."

Jacob came back out of the darkness holding a torch, unlit, and a strange smile on his face. "Your visit to the Hisil was informative. Black Blood wasn't too happy that you left before he got to chat with you."

"I imagine it wanted to know how I got there."

Triss and Jen both looked between the two men, and Triss felt horribly lost. What the fuck were these two talking about, and what had they been up to?

"Yes, he, did." With a head motion that suggested eye rolling, Jacob stepped up to the bowl, plucked a lighter out of his robes, and lit the torch. Fire, Kindred's bane, lit the room a hundred times more than the couple candles they had, and everyone but Jacob covered their eyes until they adjusted.

Jacob tilted his head upward, as if in prayer, raised his slit wrist over the fire, and forced another large drop of his dark vampire blood from the wound. It splashed over the flame, and for a moment, nothing happened. But with time, and an unending smile from the Nosferatu, the flame changed color. He'd done this last time, with their first attempt at a sacrifice and prayer. Black flame.

It was a Crúac ritual, to create the flame, one Beatrice had no idea how to perform. Whatever the flame did, Jacob insisted it was a helpful step in bridging the communication gap between their pitiful little physical world, and the great beyond. Smoke signals, was the analogy he used. But like all things Crúac, it wasn't as simple as a drop of blood on a torch.

Jacob tossed the torch into the bowl of blood and death, and without so much as a flicker, the massive bowl, sat upon dozens of carved skeletons below, erupted in flame.

The fire was huge, far bigger than last time, and Triss and Jen both jumped back, jaws hanging. Jack wasn't near the bowl, but he stepped back too, eyes wide and hand raised to block the light that did not come. The flame was black. Like as if she was staring into a void, Triss gazed into the black flame that devoured light, and found herself lost in it.

It danced, swaying left and right, and as seconds rolled by like eternities, faces appeared in the flame. Eyes, mouths, wisps of definition that came and went as the obsidian fire moved about in its deadly waltz, she stared at them all with wonder. They never held still, but she recognized them in the split moments they made themselves visible; the faces of the bodies in the bowl.

Then the howls began. As the fire swayed and flowed, devouring the bodies and disintegrating them, noises echoed within the metal walls of the sacrificial altar. Wails, like banshees crying out for their lost loved ones as they roamed graveyards, filled the cave the four vampires stood in. The sound had nowhere to go, so it echoed against the stone and metal, until it sank into the walls, and into the graves above. Three Kings Cemetery was a haunted graveyard, after all.

Beatrice raised her hand to her mouth, covering it, feigning surprise, but hiding an annoyed smile; annoyed with herself. Hanging out with Jacob had made her thoughts oddly macabre and poetic lately, and she couldn't help but indulge the drama of it all in her mind. No wonder vampires indulged in Gothic aesthetics and poetry, she was doing it and she wasn't even trying. Must have been a natural side effect everyone suffered, when they lost the things most precious to them in the world.

The fire rose higher, and higher, until it licked at the ceiling. It melded into the shadows, creating them and hiding more of the candlelight. The banshee cries and ghostly wails were persistent, but not loud enough to bother the ears. Background noise, the sort a psychopath killer might play as a lullaby before bed.

Jacob waved a hand through the flame before looking at Jack, and nodding to the boy. No damage came to the elder vampire, or his robe, despite how quickly the black flame was eating the bodies. Before Jack could respond, Jacob looked back to the flame, and began to speak.

"Oh Crone, it is I, Malachi, your acolyte, oh Crone. I and my fellow witches offer you this sacrifice. No blood was taken from them. Every drop has been saved, and spilled for you. Three witches have spilled their own blood for this sacrifice, so that we may hear from you, oh Crone. Send us a sign, teach us a way for us to hunt down our adversary, and bathe in their blood."

He was hamming it up. He was really hamming it up, the bastard. Beatrice smiled at the man, if only because he'd adopted the voice of a preacher, saying a prayer to God in front of his congregation. The Crone, according to Jacob, didn't care about words; if anything, platitudes would offend her. What the Crone cared about, was intent, desire, and action. She cared about death and sacrifice. She cared about blood.
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Pub: Feb 22 2021 10:25 UTC
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