It is the 11th Age of Karnstein (year 327), and the power of the vampire House Karnstein is dwindling. They fear the rebellion of lower planes, which threaten their dominion.
Karnstein keeps 10 crack squads of mercenaries for covert actions. One has recently been destroyed on a particularly perilous mission. The elderly warlord, Triac Karnstein, a name synonymous with slaughter and brutality since the 5th Age, has invited three of his House’s top agents to the Fortress-Ship Kail. A new squad is being assembled…
The human Black Guard Bellatore, the dwarf Rogue Krevlorneswath, and the mysterious Shade Apparition have spent some few days waiting on Triac’s pleasure aboard the Kail. All have now met, and sized each other up, recognising the skills that their fellows have (and working out how hard they would be to kill, if it came to that…).
It is late when the three are summoned to present themselves to Triac in his throne room. They enter through cavernous doors into a gargantuan hall which stretches into darkness far above. Slabs of cold marble cover the walls, and on almost each one, a body is staked and chained with steel. Those whom would defy Triac, those who have enough power or strength for him to respect, to them he pays his highest compliment: they are turned into vampires, and chained here to suffer for a thousand years or more. Blood trickles slowly down the walls, from the wounds of the doomed, and the mouths of the gargoyles which adorn the foot of each slab. As the agents stride down the endless hallway, each spots a face they recognise – Leoric Devoc, the King of Sangoll, the whore Arissia – each is now no more than decoration for this room of agony.
Triac sits on his throne of human bone, a slave caught in his claws, teeth buried in his neck. As he senses his agents approach, he casts away the slave, who scurries off, alive this time. Licking the blood from his lips and chin, Triac stares at the three before him, black eyes of true darkness spearing through each of them, tearing a shiver even from the shadowy Apparition. He looks like a wizened, weak creature, but this thing has bathed in the blood of thousands, it would be unwise to underestimate his power.
“You have done well” he says in a voice like the opening of some dark crypt, “each of you has served me well, but now I need more, more from any of you than I have asked before.” Triac coughed and spat "We do not fear! Karnstein fear no House!” The words ring out in that hollow palace, echoed by the moans of the defeated.
“But there is a threat, an annoyance – fools on the 6th Plane.” The rust in his voice sounds like the crash of chains now, “They seek to ally themselves together, to close the Planes below from Our House. This. Shall. Not. Be!” he ended in thunder.
“I want them turned to war, I want them to slit the throats of their neighbours and wash their Plane in blood. Do you understand?”
The three before the throne kneeled and nod in acceptance of the task. The old vampire snaps his fingers, and three comfortable chairs appear behind the agents, "Be seated now, I have intelligence to give you, listen well for I am not patient with failure…
“There is an alliance on the 6th Plane, between 7 great Houses. The 8th House of this plane, Hob, has stayed clear of this group for many years, but we now hear rumours that Hob have been approached, and they are listening closely to this spit rebellion. We will remember their treachery, and soon they will be naught but a memory.
Two of the great Houses, Dae, and Carfax, have been at odds for two centuries, a pittance of time, but significant to humans I believe. They have joined forces in this alliance, but the bonds are weak. Tear them apart, set them warring amongst themselves once more and their plot will turn to ashes. They forget how long my arm is, and I will reach out and crush their pathetic conspiracy.
“This alliance has been orchestrated by one man, one pitiful human monk – a brother of the Order of the Severed Rope – he has called on the Houses to join together to defy our lawful rule. He speaks and sets the land on fire with his words, peasants cheer and nobles smile, and all the while the natural dissension of these idiots is reduced. This monk must be stopped. He must be killed, and soon. His name is Plath. Do not fail me.”
A silence falls as the agents assimilate this, but they rise quickly as Triac steps creakily down from his bone-laden throne. He beckons them to follow as he limps out of the hall, leaning on his slender, night-black staff, which flickers with an unnatural light at each step. Doors are flung open for the commander of the Kail, and all four step out into the Docking Bay. Here lie craft of all sizes, for all purposes, but it is to the strangest one in view that Triac leads them.
“You shall be my new squad; since the Vengeful Brothers fell, there has been a gap in my ranks, now it shall be filled again, and you shall be my fist, striking our enemies. This is the Bonescraper, and it shall take you where you need to go. Its name is fearsome, and its reputation more so, but use it wisely, for it does not belong to you. This is merely one of my tools, as are you.”
Above them looms a dark horror – 100 metres of black iron, cladding a dodecahedral cylinder, dotted with 2 metre long bone white spikes across its’ surface. There are no sails and it seems to burn freezing cold in the dark of the Bay.
Triac leads the curious trio aboard, where warm polished mahogany and brass fittings cover all surfaces. It is a far cry from the brutal exterior. All the furniture is gimballed, as if the craft can travel in any axis without disturbing its’ occupants. Along the walls, four clear glass plates sit atop brass tracks, displaying the outside of the craft, and it seems that they can be moved to view from any part of the walls.
Triac shows his new squad around their vessel, pointing out the stunted, utterly black, goblin-like crew, chained to the ship with cold iron collars. They are known as The Tethered, and they serve the Navigator, known as The Needle. He sits in his cage at the bow, chained into the bones of the ship, every inch of it a part of him. He is the true captain of this vessel, and though he may move it as required, he cares for the passengers not at all.
At the back of the ship, tied securely to the deck, are ten glass cases. In each can be seen an ordinary human body, a merchant, a traveller, a minstrel, a barmaid, and others. Each seems frozen in their clear caskets, unwitting passengers on this dark craft.
“These are your treasure, and the instrument of destruction I wish to inflict on House Carfax first of all. Drop these from a moderate height and they will break, and each human will wake and start moving, remembering nothing of their imprisonment. But they are infected with the worst plague my doktors could design, to ravage the people of Carfax and leave them a stinking, rotting ruin.” Triac cackles, “Be wary though, I would not care to be too close to one of these when it breaks…”
As they emerge from this horror, Triac beckons, and an unseen minion pushes a chair forward. Bound to it with stout chains and manacles, a fighter of obvious prowess struggles. The ancient vampire grasps his neck and stretches him out above the Bonescraper. With one swift blow, he rips out the warriors’ throat, and life’s blood splashes across the bow. “Let this be a dark blessing for your mission. Succeed, and you shall be raised up with my House… Fail and your suffering will be eternal.”
With that warning, Triac turned and left, the tapping of his staff echoing behind him.