PROLOGUE Fabian Cortez

 

In the year of Our Lord 1752, the Count of Toulouse decided toend the raids against his border once and for all. Marching toward themountain fortress of Pau, the nobleman moved 3,000 musketeers against ahandful of Montegards, knowing they were responsible. For two weeks, theyseiged the place until their cannon had pounded an opening into thecitadel. The musketeers charged, suffering tremendous casualties from theMontegards, killing ten of the French for every one of them. In the end,the Montegards were dead and the Count believed he'd won.

However, they were so caught up in their victory, that they onlybelieved that their enemy was dead. Preferring to burn the citadel, oneman escaped the inferno. In five years, that man killed not only theCount, but his wife, his family, his servants, and his clerks, but alsoburned his chateau to ashes, sowed salt in his fields, poised theirwater, and killed off three claimants to the throne before the King ofFrance split his territory among his neighboring nobles. He had utterlyannhilated his enemy to revenge the deaths of a hundred Montegards, their only crime was becoming a target of opportunity.

Fabian Cortez was that man.

At least, he believes he was that man. He doesn't know forcertain. He's seen Jerusalem liberated, Charlemagne crowned, and Nerofiddling as Rome burned. Fabian is not mad in the conventional sense; heactually DID see them happen. However, they weren't HIS memories. Theywere the memories of long-dead souls. Through the diablerie of thesanguine vitae which he drinks from his master Mordecai, the longevity hereceives comes with a price. With that life is attached terribleknowledge. Thos memories have let him see Enoch before it fell; butCortez has forgotten where he began and where the others end. Not that it matters to him. It allows him one more weapon for hisarsenal... and there is always room for one more.

In the year of Our Confusion 2225, his master Mordred hadestablished the Sabbat on Wilke's Star. When the Liberation raised theirhand to strike the Federation, the antideluvian gave his support. Indoing so, his fragile tie to the Earth government was shattered. Angry,the Tech Infantry landed an impressive two legions to eliminate him. Onlanding, the multiple divisions were confused, disorganized... trappedfighting firefight after chaotic firefight. Only the actions of thenBrigadier-General Sarah Dunmeyer saved a quarter of the Tech Infantryfrom being destroyed.

As in France, the mortals were too quick to proclaim theirvictory. They didn't check the dead. They had been assured that Mordecaiwas dead; that the Sabbat had been leaderless for years and that only thelast remains existed on this grey, desolate world. No one bothered tocheck under the rubble of a hundred story building where Fabian Cortezwatched over the sleeping Modred, waiting a year to rise again.

Elder Vampires have a favorite saying: "If you wish to defeatyour enemies, outlive them." His master had confided in Fabian yearslater that he knew about the attack on Wilke's Star before it struck. Infact, he planted the idea at T.I. Command. Mordred knew that bysacrificing the Sabbat, he would weaken the military enough so that thewily antedeluvian could develop in secret.

In the year of Our Master 2242, the Sabbat had indeed grownstrong. More powerful and more elusive, Mordecai's hand reached out toevery planet in the Earth Federation... and a few planets beyond. In allthat time, through triumphs and trials, Fabian Cortez had been there for500 years. Now, his master called him into his confidence and his chambers. The lights were off when he entered his master's room. Fabian'seyes glowed with a sickening red, allowing him to see Modred's desk.

Ah,he thought, my master's trying to be amusing; it wasn't easy for one soold. As he approached the desk, Mordecai himself was nowhere to be seen.Cortez's devilish grin widened as he called out, "You sent for me?"

"Indeed I have." came from behind him. Fabian didn't turn around. This was only one of his master's tricks.

"Where would you bid me?"

"Where you must go." came from the curtained windows, "where youhave always gone. Heard you not of the corporations?"

"O'Reilly, Inc. gained 2 1/4 yesterday, bringing them up to ashare price of 115 and three-eights credits."

A chuckle came from above him. "And what does this trivia tellyou?"

"That they benefitted from the loss of funding for DiagramGroup's hyperspace communication project."

"Which means..." Mordred's voice questioned him from the floor.

Cortez smiled, "... that O'Reilly perpetrated it."

A candle lit on the desk before him and Mordecai appeared beforeit. "Good. It's nice to know that your mind is still sharp after allthese years."

Fabian's eyebrows lifted. "Still?"

"It's not that I don't have faith in you, Cortez, I was simplywondering if you saw the larger picture."

"Which is the corporations are fighting?"

"Which IS that we have a greater opportunity than ever before." Mordecai rose and the lights rose with him, bringing the room into clearfocus. "It was my ego that failed me before; believing one planet wassufficient for our restoration. It was the Black Hand's folly that simplyleaving the Federation would bring another. I have learned more in thiscentury than in millenia past."

"So the corporations are the key to this... restoration?"

"Exactly. Little Stephanie..." Mordred's face looked blankly atthe ceiling. "Ah, such promise in younger days, but so few brains. Sheunited the daughter corps into a political unit, rivalling theEnlightened and their rebellious children, but struck low because theyenvied her. Pity. What wonders she could have been... I have seen themall. Yet that girl wasted her life trying to rebuild what her mother hadmade."

Cortez wanted his master to get to the point. "Why are theHarringtons important?"

"Oh they're not... not any more. But their legacy has causeddissent between Steph's fragile alliance. The political power theywielded once balanced the Tech Infantry and the Chairman's ambition. Nowthose businesses fight each other, oblivious that they are sowing theseeds of their own destruction."

"So you want me to seek out these corporate leaders?"

"Yes."

"And do what?"

"I'll leave that to you. If we bring them under our dominion, wecan use them for our restoration over these mortals. If not, theirdestruction can only weaken the Federation, leaving us to rise from itssmoldering ashes. These mages are only maintaining a crumbling throne. Iwill see myself on it or crushing it." "Yes, my master."

"Then you understand what I ask you to do?"

"Of course."

"Good. Then start on Avalon. All the major corporations radiateout from there. The awakened's new Rome is as corrupt as the last. Use it." "They will kneel in pools of their blood. Mordred smiled. "But you must not slip in them. Here," theantediluvian cut his wrist with his thumb, "drink of my blood and tasteof my flesh. In them, find ye strength and never thirst."

As his master held out his bleeding arm, Cortez took it, greedilysucking up the blood of centuries. While Fabian felt the strength flowinginto him, the ghoul also felt the calling of past voices screeching fromMordred's cursed blood. One voice among many rose up to control Fabian."Kill him now! He cannot stop you... he is weak! Strike now and become a GOD!" Cortez looked up at Mordred's face, still raptured by the embrace, but a look of shock had crept in. Still, his master did not pullaway. Summoning his willpower, Fabian ignored the voice and pulled away.

Mordecai sighed and licked the wound clean. "'The Children of Seth not bemerely swords in the hands of dark strangers.' Why didn't you finish me?" "One voice among many, I didn't listen." Mordred smiled and simultaneously measured up his ghoul with hiseyes. He seemed to be thinking whether to trust or whether to kill hisbeloved retainer. The vampire sat back down, apparently deciding totrust. "Then I send you to Avalon as I once was sent. Though Arthur andhis table have changed, the hearts of mortals have not. Beware."

 

FIN DE PROLOGUE

 

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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.