Media Vita in Morte Sumus(In the midst of Death we are in Life)
Biagino grinned as he scrutinised the two prisoners before him, an expression of joy somewhat marred by the sharp fangs revealed in doing so, and the malignant gleam of his narrowed eyes.
They were the only two living people within a mile, yet this did not mean the graveyard was otherwise quiet, what with the fluttering of Biagino’s robes in the breeze and the clinking clatter of bone meeting iron armour – the undead were unquiet.
“I have to say, this is a most pleasant surprise,” Biagino declared, his voice a croaking whisper, yet audible nevertheless. “You are exactly what I was hoping for. More than that,” he added, his dry hiss transforming into something more akin to a growl, “I like you. It will be a pleasure to have your service for a long, long time.”
The men before him were a disparate pair. Both exhibited deep fear, but each in their own, particular way. One, a dedicant of the Disciplinati di Morr, stood in desperate, rigid defiance, determined to die on his feet and so conjure the illusion of courage to the end. Open mouthed, he gulped at the air, like one who had only moments before been drowning. Both his robes and flesh were torn and bloodied, the delicious sight and scent of which stirred up with the smell of his hot, exhaled breath to arouse the ancient hunger in Biagino.
The other was a lesser priest. He knelt, his tonsured head bowed, wringing his hands tightly together as he stumbled over a prayer, his strained voice nothing more than a suppressed whine. A mortal man would have struggled to discern the words, but Biagino had the acute senses possessed by most vampires and could hear every syllable. Not that he needed to, for he knew the prayer intimately, having spoken if often enough when alive. It was a prayer for protection against evil.
“Júdica Morre nocéntes me,” the priest intoned, forcing the words – along with spittle and blood - through clenched teeth, “expúgna impugnántes me … me … Confundántur et revereántur quaeréntes ánimam meam.”
Biagino was surprised to feel the prayer’s potency working upon him. There was a sting to the words, a sharpness, as if their very sound was barbed, and the intent they carried scratched against some weakness hidden deep within him. Rather than recoil at the sensation, however, he gave himself up to it, like someone lowering themselves into bath waters a little too hot for comfort, and so turned the feeble curse into a source of stimulation. Quite contrary to its purpose, he was enlivened by it, pricked into an even more present awareness than his ordinary state of being.
“Your faith is palpable,” he said. “I am impressed by the power of it. Such spirit, such strength. I want you to keep these things, only I would have them serve the great Nagash and not your pathetic, sleeping excuse for a god. Morr is not worthy of such passion. It is wasted upon him. I will put your fervour to much better use.”
Biagino turned his attention to the two robed and hooded thralls standing behind the prisoners. They were the first of his newly made clergy, La Fraternita di Morti Irrequieti
. They too were vampires, but begotten in such a way that they were wholly beholden to his will. Their service was so complete that their very thoughts consisted almost entirely of echoes of his own; their minds were almost solely concerned with serving him, with just enough of their own, personal cruelty to revel in their deeds.
It took only the tiniest of nods to convey his command, and the two thralls began chanting.
“Anima Nagashi, sanctifica me. Corpus Nagashi, salve me. Sanguis Nagashi, inebria me.”
“Yes, we are
blessed by him,” said Biagino, and for a moment was tempted to join them in the chant. Instead he looked down at the Morrite priest, who was rocking gently as he continued his own prayer. Biagino chose instead to listen to the priest’s words, having completely forgotten that when alive the confused jumble of sound – rasping breaths, chanting thralls and mumbling priest – would have left him struggling to comprehend any individual part. Now no effort was needed, especially as the words were laced with delicate shards which prickled at his mind.
“Avertántur retrórsum … et ... et … confundántur, co … cogitántes míhi mála.”
“I am not going to wrong thee,” complained Biagino, “but rather make thee right in the eyes of a true god. And I am afraid it is too late to overthrow us, for your battle was fought and lost.” He chuckled. “I am surprised you did not notice. It didn’t escape my notice, as you can see. Why don’t you turn your thoughts to what is to happen now? It is foolishness to dwell on that which has passed, that which cannot be changed. You would do well to accept that which is happening now, and to embrace that which is to come.”
The priest whimpered pathetically …
… then recommenced his weakening attempt at prayer, “Fíant táamquam pul … táamquam púlvis ante fáciem vénti …. et … et Daemonus Morre coárctans eos.”
“Tut tut, good priest. You can see that I am not dust, and you know your prayer cannot make me so. As for the languid demons who serve your god, they are no more able to wake than he. Your prayer is wasted, your power is waned, your god is wanting.”
Biagino brought his staff down to point at the priest, mere inches from his bald pate. “Enough,” he hissed, for the first time allowing anger to brace his words. The priest fell silent, his hands suddenly limp, his shoulders sagging. Biagino had wrapped him in his own curse, unspoken as it was but much more powerful than anything the priest had conjured.
“Forget all the prayers you have learned. They are ash. Forget all whom you loved. They are lost. Forget all whom you knew. They are doomed. You are to be remade, your flesh refashioned to serve us despite its worldly corruption, and your mind will no more be your own. Oh, and you must learn some new prayers.”
The thralls’ chanting, delivered as if one voice, grew louder. “Aqua lateris Nagashi, lava me. Nagashi, conforta me. O Nagashi, exaudi me.”
“Listen, learn and know. He will wash the flesh from you, and give you strength like you have never known. And your prayers will allow almighty Nagash to drink deep of your soul.”
Biagino smiled, his eyelids part closing as malevolent satisfaction coursed through him. Then he turned his attention to the dedicant. This one would be easier, for not only was the man of a more malleable nature, his raw anger and fear already almost perfectly formed, but he had already made the mistake of looking into Biagino’s eyes. As soon as he did so, Biagino refused to let go, and within moments the man was so entranced that he lost the power to blink, or do anything else for that matter.
Now Biagino joined the thralls’ droning intonation. “Intra tua vulnera absconde me. Ne permittas me separari a te. In hora mortis meae voca me, et custodierit me in aeternum, ut cum servos tuis laudem te in saecula saeculorum.”
There was a moment’s silence. Then Biagino said, “Now, let us all pray together.”
The prayer was repeated, once, twice, thrice. By the fourth repetition both priest and dedicant also intoned. Biagino himself fell quiet, to watch and listen for a little while. When the prayer came to an end, there was silence.
Then Biagino made the tiniest of gestures with his forefinger. Quicker than any mortal man could manage, the thralls lurched suddenly forwards, arms outstretched, as if they might embrace the two prisoners as old friends.
Needless to say, that was not their intent.