The Hollow Crown
Pawns, peril and plots
Eleanor Van den Berg, diary entry, October 2001
I’m all right, thank all the powers that be. And although all of our rescuers look as though they will ultimately survive, they are in bad shape. Declan is the worst, and lifting him with my enhanced strength I carry him in my arms as gently as possible to the waiting transport, Imaad rousing Kingston on his phone to alert the chantry, get him the help he will need.
It’s Gwendolyn I am worried about. In the holding cell she underwent a crisis of conscience, preparing herself to kill Stephen, the artist, in his sleep as the air ran out. I don’t really understand why she wouldn’t let me do it, we both know I’m already more removed from what it is to be human than she is despite how much longer she has been what we are. I also had more faith perhaps that help would come, that Imaad and maybe others would come for us in time, even as I grew frustrated at the lack of a way out, even anything my enhanced strength or shadow powers could achieve.
I also hadn’t realised till then to quite what extent Gwendolyn despises what she is, what we are. My reasons for not considering making the artist, or the possessed girl, into one of us were quite simply that I did not want to incur the wrath of the Prince for creating a childe without permission. The girl, I also suspected, would make rather too good a Lasombra.. One that would fit far better in the main clan than with myself or my sire. But I don’t regard my unlife as the hell Gwendolyn seems to, to the extent that she believed it was better for Stephen to die than become one of us. I don’t consider what I have lost, though there are things I have indeed lost.. The ability to feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and of course to see my reflection. But surely we gain as well? I have gained love, excitement, powers of strength, will and shadow, and I see little point in dwelling on what might have been. I wish to retain my humanity, of course I do, but I will never be mortal, never be fully human again. I am not my alternate. But I am a vampire. If there was a way I could turn back the clock for Gwendolyn, I would: she is my friend, and I do not like to see her unhappy. But for myself? I made my choice when Johannes embraced me, and I can’t bring myself to regret it.
It had been an interesting few months. We finally got to the bottom of what had happened to Hardcastle: my research suggested the Ventrue, on looking into the shipping company it seemed to be owned by Konrad but have been chartered by a company with links to Bartleby. We returned to Stephen’s gallery and it was evident that the information we had found had now been covered up. Plus, Gwendolyn remembered that Bartleby had been slighted by Hardcastle in the past, or felt he had. There was a motive, and the Ventrue of course have fingers in so many pies. We also visited Silas, and saw Alison clearly rattled by something in the chess game she was playing, to the extent she said she would no longer play that opponent, and rushed out. Given how calm she usually is, that was something of a shock, and on the occasions we saw her subsequently, she seemed distracted, not herself.
Gwendolyn seems to be flavour of the month with the Ventrue, having found Tobias’ missing money, and been given a sizeable sum for her charitable works. Is she going to rejoin the clan? If so, what will it mean for Concord? Will she have to dissociate herself from us? I hope not, and don’t feel I can ask. Whatever, the reaction when she approaches them with her suspicions says it all. We are told by Quincy-Adams quite specifically to drop our line of research in return for Winthrop ceasing his objections to the mosque. Something of a result for Imaad, and realistically we don’t have anything to gain by pursuing it. At least we have the satisfaction of knowing we are right, and if anything we have gained some status in the eyes of the court for how things have panned out.
The next couple of months pass in a blur. I spend a great deal of it in study, not least into the occult; my shadow powers continue to grow, and Gwendolyn lets me spend time in her occult library, though I also start to build up one of my own. Having also received a warning about Silver Branch activity at Harvard, I start to gradually withdraw even more than I have to date, the excuse being to focus on my research. I may have some material for a new book, on the Underground Railroad, though it seems so many areas of the history I specialise in have Kindred at the heart of it, not least my own sire. As time passes since his banishment, I am learning to manage without Johannes, realistically I have no option although there are many times when I would value his guidance, his tough approach to training or even his sarcastic wit.
Imaad also studies a lot, we are essentially now living together, and although I find lovemaking quite draining unless I have fed very recently it is for me an anchor to a reality that has nothing to do with shadows and flame. We study, we train together, we watch rubbish on TV (both finding Buffy particularly amusing) we take pleasure in each other: in many ways a normal couple, in many ways anything but, as I’m reminded any time I go to the bathroom and look into the only mirror that remains in the house, or we hunt, tasting the sweet nectar that is human blood, the vitae that gives our unlives sustenance. Little seems to happen at court, the vassal court passes with little of note which in itself is a bit surprising, there is no sign either of Hardcastle or of a judgement being passed on him which seems odd. There seems to be little or nothing in the way of Sabbat activity either, which also seems odd; I don’t flatter ourselves by thinking that the defeat of Lucas at the expo site would in any way put them off, in fact one might expect the non appearance of my sire to be an incentive to attack rather than otherwise, if anything, it feels like the eye of the storm, things swirling about us, a calm that cannot last.
And then it happens. The night should have passed without incident; lesson one, don’t make assumptions. Lesson two, don’t assume that just because others seem to be getting away with something doesn’t mean that you can. Lesson three, if something seems to be too good to be true, then it probably is.
The event is a party thrown by Merisi, at his club, the Cathedral. I dress in a fitted black velvet trouser suit, black lace vest top and pointed black boots with a lot of silver jewellery; Imaad wears a smart black suit and shirt, and Gwendolyn is in a black dress. We wander around, everyone who is anyone in Kindred society seems to be there, and some we haven’t seen before; I notice Winthrop playing chess with an older looking vampire I haven’t seen before, who looks somewhat dishevelled and has an unsettling and rather wild gaze. There are quite a few humans here, and it becomes apparent that some are sharing blood with each other, others are being led off to feed by vampires. I’m reminded again of my ‘dinner date’ here with my sire, feeding off Sebastian, the human dressed as a highwayman in one of the private rooms, before Johannes taught me how to evoke tentacles of shadow. I feel the shadows start to crawl in the back of my mind, and then I see him, and for a moment I think it is actually Sebastian in front of me.
It’s not, but the general dress and appearance suggests blood doll; he is very handsome, probably mid twenties, with long black hair in a ponytail, black leather jeans and a brocade frock coat, I think he is wearing eye liner though it is hard to tell. He beckons me over and the next thing I know is suggesting we go outside, this is of course too easy but since humans in here seem to be willing prey I let myself go with it and just as I am about to sink my fangs into his throat I feel myself hit with shattering force. I just about register the stake entering my chest before I black out, thoughts swirling about me.
I don’t know how long I’ve been unconscious when I wake. I’m in a steel room, and there are two other people in it, a girl who I don’t recognise but appears to be human, the other I realise with a shock is Gwendolyn. The room seems to be both airtight and secure; I roam it looking for a way out, there is a trapdoor but it seems sealed. Then it opens and the mocking face of the chess player appears and throws someone inside, it is the artist, Stephen. The chess player makes a derisory comment about someone walking away from a match, and it hits me this must have been who Alison was playing with, he then makes a comment about having captured a knight and a bishop, then the door slams shut again and we are left to our thoughts. Gwendolyn tries to engage the girl in conversation, and it becomes clear she is not entirely human, though what possesses her I can’t say. Whatever it is, it is surrounding her with air, leaving little for the artist; we of course don’t need it, but that isn’t of any use to him.
Time passes; Gwendolyn more and more despondent about what she feels she has to do, determined to take it on herself. I make fruitless attempts to look for a way out, or some way of breaking through the door all to no avail. I wonder what we are doing here, why us? Who is the chess player? Are we simply pawns in a larger game? There is a very obvious reason why someone might capture me, to draw out my sire, and I can only hope that Imaad and anyone else who might care are looking for me, I don’t want to think about the consequences should Johannes become involved.
I have faith that someone will come; I don’t know why, but I do. As time passes it becomes clear the artist doesn’t have much time left. Once again I say to Gwendolyn that I will take the necessary step but she doesn’t seem to think this helps any. Help arrives just in time as a bloodied and beaten Konrad opens the trapdoor. Picking the artist – Stephen – up in my arms I climb up the stairs, Gwendolyn after me, I don’t know where the girl had gone, she simply disappears. The scene is frantic, I don’t know what they have fought but they – Konrad, Declan and De Luca- are a mess, De Luca seems to be holding most of his insides in, I pick up Declan and carry him out as tenderly and carefully I can, and then Imaad, Imaad is there, eyes wild with worry. I long to embrace him but we must see to Declan first.
I look over to Gwendolyn, her eyes full of despair, as she makes arrangements for the artist to be taken in to hospital.. would she really want to become mortal again if she could? Or if she had been given the choice, would she really have chosen death? Or is that what she thinks now after a century as a vampire? That with hindsight death would have been better? Her conscience is what anchors her to humanity, in the same ways as passions do for me, and with that dented, I worry for her. I will be there for her, give whatever help and support I can, I am her friend.. Yet on this our views are fundamentally different.
I know what choice I’d make with the hindsight of two years as a vampire. The same one I made the night Johannes gave me that choice. If I’m still here in a hundred years, when I’ll no longer have any real idea what I look like, when I’ll have long since seen my mortal friends die, my brother and his wife and their children pass into dust..ask me then. Ask me then. But I suspect my answer will be the same.