Arcanum

Chapter 2 Interlude: What happens in Vyšehrad

Sinead and Riina's adventures in Tzimisceland

[tibert]
Riina moved to Prague from Pardubice after the tragic death of her childe, Mikulaš, to seek solace and counsel from her clanmate, Josef, and the Cappadocians Garinol and Serena. Meanwhile, Sinéad arrived to the city, and, having been acknowledged as an acquaintance by Riina, was allowed to stay as long as she wished.

While Riina and the Cappadocians sought reasons for the spectacular failure of her Embrace, Sinéad established her presence in town; she also took the habit of visiting Riina at the library, trying to socialise and glean stories of the city and its inhabitants, present and past. For Riina, such talks became a welcome distraction from ever-present grief and guilt.

Sinead seemed inspired by the stories of old Prague and, after much wheedling, managed to convince Riina to consider exploring the ruins of Vyšehrad, where the Voivode of the West and his son, Velimir, had been buried during the Night of Fire. Feeling that she had nothing to lose (except perhaps a journey to Cappadocia), Riina agreed to ask Josef for consent; as an elder and clanmate, she got a tentative permission, though she had to pledge to do anything in her power to protect the people of the Jewish ghetto from whatever might emerge from the disturbed ruins. Garinol and Serena, warned about the expedition in advance, leave town to visit an old friend – Balthasar.

After gathering enough supplies, not the least important being a band of well-fed mortal misfits from Prague, Sinéad and Riina set camp near Vyšehrad. They left appropriate orders to mortals to wait and found an entrance to the caves underneath the castle, from where they planned to make their way into the castle proper.

The caves at first appeared spacious and manageable, though damp; the breach through which Riina and Sinéad had entered was caused by running water, connecting with an underground stream. The two companions decided to follow the river, which grew wide and strong, soon engulfing them completely. Sapped of their strength and drenched, Riina and Sinéad eventually found their way to an entrance to what soon proved to be an extensive system of caves. Unfortunately, the strong current swept away their torches, depriving them of their source of light. Fortunately, Sinéad, ever creative, devised a solution – she conjured a cage filled with soft-glowing fireflies. Thus equipped, the adventurers entered the labyrinth.

Soon enough, they found the first cave-dweller – a strange, goat-sized chitinous creature, closely resembling a black mantis. The critter did not seem hostile, but rather curious at the light source in Riina’s hand. To divert its attention, the illusory lamp was left behind, devoured by the cave-dweller. Equipped with a new source of light, Riina and Sinéad carried on throughout the maze, encountering more of the strange, insect-like animals, and losing their lamp again; the creatures themselves seemed to progressively become bigger in size, as well as more numerous. The adventurers eventually arrived at a spacious chamber, where perhaps hundreds of the beasts nested. They managed to distract them by releasing some of the remaining fireflies from the lamp, which left them with but a dim, pale light.

And so Riina and Sinéad ventured farther into the empty corridors and eventually fell asleep, wary of what could greet them when they awoke again. And so it happened that the next evening they found themselves not quite alone in the poorly-lit corridor – another strange creature was lounging nearby, looking at the adventures curiously. The beast was unlike those they had encountered before – graceful and sleek, it much resembled a cat, though its smooth, scaly skin was more akin of a snake; it seemed intelligent and friendly, and after examining its “guests,” set out to lead Riina and Sinéad through the dark tunnels as if it knew them by heart. The kindred followed the creature until they spied a soft light in the distance, which turned out to be another cavernous chamber, this one filled with glowing egg-like orbs. When Riina, fascinated, tried to touch one of them, the creature retaliated swiftly, attacking though not persisting after the Nosferatu had retreated, never having intended to anger the creature.

After a while, the feline creature stirred, obviously unnerved at a distant sound. It let out a call and stood at the entrance to the chamber, listening intently. After a while, Sinéad and Riina heard it too – the sound of chitinous limbs scraping and clicking against stone. The Graceful One (as Riina dubbed it) readied for a fight; the adventurers followed, intrigued. It turned out that the graceful One, joined by its companions, was indeed waging a battle against the mantis Riina and Sinéad joined the side of the cat creatures, though the chitinous carapaces proved to be hard to break, and the hulking critters surprisingly agile and strong. Riina was wounded, and Sinéad decided to retreat – they have both abandoned the battlefield as well as their remaining source of light. Alone and in the darkness, they made slow progress and finally succumbed to yet another bout of enforced sleep.

On the third night of the expedition, Riina and Sinéad woke up battered and tired, but they walked on relentlessly, having nothing to lose. Riina handed Sinéad one of the stakes prepared for the journey, just in case the adventures would lose themselves in the maze, ant the Nosferatu, wounded in the fight earlier, would feel the pull of frenzy drawing near. On the same night, however, the two companions sighted light in the all-encompassing darkness. Having followed the glow with renewed hope, they arrived at the end of the tunnel, where they found an ornate wrought-iron gate, decorated with spindly openwork of ankh crosses and floral motifs, closed shut. Framing it were twin fires, lighting the room, burning seemingly without fuel and rising from decorative vases at the sight of the gate warningly.This time it was Sinéad who succumbed to curiosity and, having burned herself on the flames, lost her mind to frenzy. Only Riina’s strength and resolve kept her from getting lost in the tunnels they had left behind.

After some consideration, as well as an appeal to the host to let the weary travellers inside, Riina decided to try and pry open the gate, which might have been relatively easy for the Nosferatu, but would have been impossible for mortals or even some Kindred. Thus, after many tribulations, Riina and Sinéad entered the infamous Vyšehrad Castle. They ascended to the dungeons underneath the keep, and as they were blindly exploring the old cells (finding nothing but a few old bones and rotten pieces of wood), they felt the castle lurch and move. Worried that the foundations would not hold, they sped up the stairs; indeed, any further exploration would have been inhibited by gravel and rubble blocking many of the corridors. The only bounty Riina managed to recover was a curious, out-of-place piece of cloth found on one of the metal pats on the way to the ground floor of the Castle.

With the first floor blocked off, they slowly, methodically made their way to the corridors on the ground floor, where they, to their astonishment, found traces of fresh interference – a breach in the thick wall of the keep. Someone had obviously been there not hours before they reached the exit. Riina and Sinéad quickly surmised it was probably the source of the quake they had heard perhaps an hour before. The hole led outside, to the moonlit plain stretching before the Castle – they followed the traces of a solitary, prowling figure, who seemed driven by only one thought in mind – indeed, when they tracked the unknown entity to the camp where they had left the well-fed, full-blooded misfits of Prague, they found a site of carnage and whatever, or whoever, broke out of Vyšehrad was long gone.

Later, when Riina relayed the strange, convoluted tale to Josef, the Prince seemed pensive and relieved that the city was left undisturbed by the newly awakened individual (which was what Riina feared might have happened while she and Sinéad were delayed at the Castle). Nobody could know for sure who it was that exited Vyšehrad that night, but Sinéad was convinced (and Riina hopeful) it was the Tzimisce heir Velimir, who had been missing since the Night of Fire centuries before. Still, no matter whether that is true or not, whoever it was is still at large, free to do as they please…

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Tibert

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