Title: A Song for St Valentine’s Day
Author: Ashtoreth Eldritch
Rating: R (violence and gore)
Word Count: 3882
Written for: Holly’s Horrorland Fifth Annual Vampire’s Day Soiree
Author’s Disclaimer: I do not own Ambrogino or Lucretia. They are characters created for the (old)World of Darkness Vampire Chronicles by White Wolf games who allow humble players such as I to bring them to life in games.
A Song for St Valentine’s Day
Casa Giovanni, Roma, A.D. 1324
“One must always have an objective when meting out punishment, Lucretia,” Ambrogino spoke easily, patiently even, as he enjoyed each word as it formed in his mouth. The night sky being cloudless and displaying the full canopy of the stars added to his enjoyment, they were a perfect counterpoint to the breezes blowing in from the Tiber. He didn’t particularly care for the noises of the fountain, it was a distraction at the moment, although soon it would be easily ignored. “For without an objective, it is not an effective punishment and becomes merely an indulgence in tormenting the kine.”
Lucretia looked at her sire curiously. “You are not normally so keen to abstain from a chance to torment the kine.” She looked at the courtyard and the privacy it afforded them, her eyes ignoring the night-blooming flowers in favour of focusing on the man tied to a post before them. His hair was matted with blood and his own filth, giving him the appearance of a man much older than his score and three years. Her sire’s gaolers had not been kind to their old comrade.
Ambrogino followed his childe’s gaze and smirked. “That is true, to an extent,” he agreed readily. “This night, though, this night is about punishment for trespasses incurred in my demesne and I shall ensure that the lessons are fully absorbed.” His dark grey eyes moved up to lock on a mortal man being held on a balcony by two men-at-arms. He had been chosen to replace the man Ambrogino was going to break tonight and the necromancer thought it best that he knew how swiftly and brutally he changed things which displeased him. “It will reinforce the idea that I do not like history to repeat itself upon my lands.”
Blue eyes the colour of an Alpine lake followed Ambrogino’s and Lucretia smiled as she scented the fear coming off the witness. “What if this display fails to deter him a few years down the road? What if his wit dulls and he thinks that he can outwit the master of the land?”
“Then you may have him to play with, my dearest one,” he smiled at his precocious childe. “But enough. The night will get away from us if we are not careful. I intend to saturate the night with screams and pleas, and I should hate to lose even a minute.”
Canto I: Justified~
Ambrogino gave a curt nod to one of the waiting ghouls. The man disappeared into the darkness of the waiting house for a few long minutes. The Giovanni lord was content to wait in silence, his eyes reading the stars as if they held more interest than the condemned man before him. In fact, they did, and Ambrogino was becoming more favourably inclined to Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī’s theories that it was the earth that moved through the celestial arc instead of the stars revolving around the earth. One night, he really must reread his copies of قانون مسعودي [The Mas’udi Canon] and التفهيم لصناعة التنجيم [Understanding Astrology].
His thoughts were interrupted by the reappearance of the ghoul and two others in tow. A pale, whey faced woman and two mewling brats were brought out into the courtyard, producing the most piteous wails from the man secured to the whipping post. Ambrogino didn’t even bother to listen to the pleas. He had heard them all before and simply had no interest in hearing them again — not when more impassioned pleas would be forthcoming — the more heart-felt, gut wrenching ones, the ones that might make a stone saint weep. His expressionless facade cracked to allow a smirk — Ambrogino knew that he was far, far removed from sainthood.
Showing as much mercy as their master, the ghouls secured first the woman and then the children to their own posts with thick chains. The only difference was the amount of slack afforded to the woman: she had enough to move to her children and comfort them, but too little to reach her criminal spouse.
“You are aware of the numerous treacheries you have committed against me and my holdings,” Ambrogino’s spoke flatly. The preliminaries always bored him, yet they needed to be seen to so that his actions were justified in the eyes of the elders. “The Giovanni family has given you a roof, food, and clothing for your backs and in the face of that, you saw fit to place yourselves above us. I am here to remind you that you live, and die, upon our sufferance.”
Lucretia laughed, bell-like notes ringing out into the night. Her eyes gleamed in expectation, mouth opened slightly in anticipation as she scented fear from all of the mortals present. Their voices joined as one in a litany of terror and horror, pleading with the Lord Giovanni and the lady to spare them in the name of God’s mercy. Pink lips parted to show the gleaming white tips of elongated canines when Lucretia turned to look at her sire. “Now?”
Motion caught his eyes. Cringing and shrinking as much as possible within his bonds, the man tried to screw his eyes shut, perhaps against tears or perhaps against bearing witness to the results of his actions. “Hold!” Ambrogino’s voice carried across the yard. Sliding up to the man, a vast dark shadow of malevolence, Ambrogino tutted softly and motioned for one of the ghouls to come forward.
“This will not be acceptable. Our man does not wish to bear witness to his actions whilst I wish it to be so,” he looked at the ghoul with something akin to amusement. “Cut off his eyelids.”
A piercing scream rent the air when the ghoul moved to obey. One of his fellows moved up to lend a hand, pulling out the offending bit of flesh so that the other could pare it neatly from the prisoner’s face. Staring eyes gazed unblinkingly onto the scene before him, blood tears mercifully offering to obscure his vision. A harsh, metallic taste invaded his mouth and the man tried to spit out the liquid. Too late, the Cainite vitae moved into his system and healed his cut flesh. His eyes rolled madly trying to clear out his blood, the instinct to blink was so strong and impossible to resist. The prisoner began to weep, his salted tears helping to wash his eyes clean.
Satisfied that the thieving wretch tied to the post wasn’t about to miss a moment of this night’s lesson, Ambrogino nodded to Lucretia. “Now, my childe, you may begin.”
Canto II: Compassion~
Ambrogino watched as Lucretia moved slowly forward, savouring each thought of peril her movements would be planting in the minds of the frightened peasants before them. Even before her Embrace, she had a near unquenchable desire for torture that went beyond simply being a calling. It was as if such a thing was in her very lifeblood, a dark addiction that needed to be fed regularly.
Lucretia slowly wove between the prisoners, weighing and testing, almost tasting the level of their fear. A languid smile rested on her lips the whole time and she spared a glance to her sire. His nod was all she needed to continue as she had been — now that the wheels of that night’s lesson were in motion, there was no need to rush things along with little thought. Frantic pleas to spare the children as they were innocent coming from the mother were ignored but the prayers to God for mercy from both man and wife caught her ears.
Cocking her head slightly as if their words were a foreign language that needed to be carefully deciphered, Lucretia knelt between the two bound children. “God has neither mercy nor compassion for such as you,” her voice was bell-like in the night. “You have forgotten that He detests those who bear false-witness, who thieve, and who seek to disrupt the order of His world.”
Pale, slim hands encased in fine dark blue silk reached out to caress the children’s cheeks. They weren’t unclean, but they were children who laboured in the fields and it showed in the grubbiness of their clothing and skin. They seemed to be a dun colour in comparison to Lucretia’s glowing whiteness. “These small lambs, though, have done nothing and I shall show them my compassion. My hands will not harm even a hair upon their heads,” she cooed.
Standing, she moved away from the children and nodded at the ghouls. Instead of releasing the children, they moved to the mother and dragged her bodily away from them. The woman’s sobs of relief turned to cries of panic quickly enough. Confusion and fear vied for prominence on her face when the Lady Giovanni advanced upon her. “We should pray,” Lucretia’s mocking sing-song rang out again in the night.
“Blessed are you Lord. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the soul and work of human hands. It will be our spiritual drink.” Her fangs extended and Lucretia bit down without remorse into the woman’s neck. The artery was perfectly punctured and the heart began to pump out the woman’s life blood in a steady drum tattoo.
The Beast roused in Ambrogino’s breast as Lucretia fed. His mouth could almost taste the vitae that was being taken by his childe, and he gave a low growl of want. “My Kingdom come, my will be done, in the next world and in this. Give me this night my daily blood, and forgive no one, as I forgive none who trespasses against me, and lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the burden of lesser men.” His words were a perverted whisper of the Pater Noster. Still enthralled by the sight of his childe draining the life from the drudge, he reached out and grabbed one of the ghouls by the throat. He was compassionate as well, and Ambrogino snapped the man’s neck before ripping into his throat to sate the Beast’s hunger.
Canto III: Malediction~
The prisoner screamed silently as his wife’s life blood was drained and drunk by the creature the city called Lady Giovanni. By all that was holy he tried to look away, wished to be able to screw his eyes shut, but the devils had ensured that he would be denied even that small refuge. Blood still trickled freely over his exposed eyeballs, mingling with his tears, stinging and irritating them with no mercy. He desperately wished to blink away this torture and fell to sobbing when Satan himself began to intone his hellish malediction.
Ambrogino tossed the empty mortal shell to the ground and nodded at two other ghouls. They hastened to obey their master and pulled their expired compatriot back into the gloom of the house. Alive or dead, it hardly mattered, the body and spirit of the man would continue to serve the family. Moving forward a few paces, his eyes rested eagerly on the exsanguinated woman before him. Her skin was pale, almost lending colour to the drab rags she was garbed in, though her staring eyes ruined the illusion of any beauty she might have claimed in death’s embrace. A bright splash of crimson enlivened her lips, precious vitae gifted to the corpse by his sweet Lucretia.
He could imagine the changes as they happened. The internal organs shriveling up, useless and redundant now, the flesh sinking as the husk dried out before the Curse of Caine began to reanimate the dead flesh. Eyes snapped open – feral, wild, and in near fenzy as the hunger gripped the woman. Lucretia’s vitae was enough to gift the drab peasant with eternal life, but not nearly enough to sate the overwhelming hunger that would be punishing the newly created Cainite. Blood would be moving into the places it was never meant to be, would be driving her thoughts and hunger, would be screaming out to her to fill the emptiness of her shrivelled body completely. The woman’s head snapped to attention, the scent of fresh vitae for the taking reaching her senses. Ambrogino was aware of another moving next to him and turned to give his childe a quick, pleased smile before returning to the passion play about to unfold before them.
“No! No!” The wail came from the heart. It was the pure sound of agony and torment that was not meant for man to bear. It was music to his ears. Ambrogino smiled seeing the mortal man straining at his bonds, his flesh tearing under the assault of cruel iron as he struggled to rip free of his tethers.
The creature that had been his wife looked at him once, her eyes staring fixidly on the red tears he was weeping. The small, piteous cries of ‘mamma’ reached through her hunger and the newly birthed Cainite fixed starving eyes upon the sweet sacrifices offered before her. They were closer, they were whole, they were going to be sweeter than any wine she had ever tasted on the other side of the grave. Ambrogino leant forward in anticipation of the carnage that was to come.
“Think, Rosalba, think,” the man pleaded to his instinct-driven spouse. He might as well have been pleading with the ocean waves to cease their eternal rhythm and motion upon the shore. Lucretia’s laughter rang through the courtyard in mocking counterpoint. The new vampire grabbed the first of the children and pulled its head back savagely by the hair, grubby neck fully exposed to the uncaring night a few seconds before she plunged her fangs into the delicate skin of the sweet flesh, drawing deep draughts of fresh, warm vitae into her.
It was an ugly, hurried feeding, bordering on frenzy, Ambrogino thought with more than an ounce of merriment. The screams of the older child and the father just underscored the enjoyment he was taking from the sight before him. He looked over to the man who was the object of this punishment. He was straining his bonds terribly, blood dripping freely to the ground as he tore his flesh and muscle in the effort to get free of the shackles to stop his once-wife from feeding upon their youngest child.
The small husk was dropped to the ground with no regard after it had been drained. There was a second, bleating lamb to be drained. More laughter from Lucretia rang out as the second child was grabbed. Its scream was aborted as the fangs of the Cainite tore deeply into its throat. Ambrogino’s eyes caught the new groundsman shifting uncomfortably between the ghouls that were acting as his guardians. His eyes glowed red briefly in the night before the man blinked and looked away from the scene in the courtyard below.
An angry snarl sounded. Ambrogino turned quickly enough to see the hungry Cainite prowling and growling now that her feed was over. Her eyes locked on his and he cowed her with his will. Ambrogino could almost feel the Beast slinking away and smirked when sullen anger gave way to unbelieving horror on the woman’s face. Her screams of anguish rent the night as she cradled her dried and drained children to her breast.
“Monsters! Devils and daemons,” the woman spat at Ambrogino and Lucretia. “Unholy spawn,” red tears rolled down her cheeks. “Please, please kill me now.” Her tone changed as she looked at her restrained spouse and then back to her dead children. “I just want to die.”
Ambrogino listened to her curses and pleas. “Oh, you will die,” his voice was a velvet purr in the night. He looked over to her imprisoned spouse, eyes hard with further cruelty, “Just not quite at this moment.”
“I’ve lost faith in all of that now.”
The words were simple and filled with more bitterness than the young brother could understand. Once more he tried to wipe the brow of the broken man’s forehead only to be rebuffed again. “It is not God’s wish for you to suffer, for has He not led your feet to our door?”
A harsh, grating laugh wasn’t the answer the young monk was expecting and it grated on his ears like the raucous call of a jackdaw portending death.
“It was the refuse of humanity that led me here,” he answered the monk. “The only mercy I had was being spared the look of revulsion I must have caused stumbling through the shit-strewn alleys of Roma. God has forsaken this world and His wishes matter for naught.” The monk was turning his head from him, the man heard the sounds of fabric rustling in his ears, telling him what his useless eyes could not.
The Lord Giovanni was mocking his wife’s distress. Could she even still be considered his wife? Dead but yet existing with unholy animation. Fresh tears obscured his vision and he found himself joining it the chorus pleading for mercy. His only answer was a rising ring of laughter from the Lord and Lady Giovanni, picked up and echoed by their unearthly servants.
“Our guests are suffering some small distress.” Ambrogino’s words dripped with mocking cruelty. “The question now begs how to answer their distress. Which one shall receive my mercy and the comfort of death’s full embrace?”
For the first time, Ambrogino moved to examine his prisoners. Slowly he circled them — a predator sniffing for the greatest whiff of fear, searching for the first sign of weakness and submission to his will. The woman was weeping red tears, crooning an unintelligible lullaby over her dead children. “How touching. Your wife seems to have no answer to my question,” he gave the pathetic heap a disdainful look and sauntered over to circle round the bound man. “Choose for her.”
“Have pity, my lord,” the man rasped. His throat was raw from screaming, his bowels had long ago turned to water, and he felt as if an iron band clenched round his heart when the monster’s eyes bored into his. The cold will from the Lord Giovanni pressed into his, a foul evil thing, searching for cracks in the man’s mind to widen and exploit. Choose for her, the words echoed painfully in his mind. He broke fully under the assault, his body falling limp to the ground only to be stopped with a harsh jerk when iron shackles bit into his wrists. “Please you, m’lord, spare my wife. Allow her to accompany our children into death.”
Ambrogino nodded. “It will be as you wish. In time.” Drawing his sword, he struck with lightning speed to impale the man’s wife. With a look of horrified surprise she fell back in torpor as the momentum from the thrust pinned her to the courtyard floor.
In that moment, the man knew that he was indeed forsaken by God.
He could not bear the sights of this hell any longer. He silently prayed for the death that steadfastly refused to arrive for him.
The monster beckoned. Two shapes detached themselves from the darkness to stand before him and wait upon his pleasure. “Clean up the remnants of our guest’s evening supper and prepare a brazier-“
They were going to burn his family in front of him. He could taste his own blood where he bit his tongue for the necessary moisture to speak. His screams and pleas to be spared the sight echoed in his ears, and he could not tell if he was speaking aloud or if his words were helpless echoes rattling about the prison cage of his skull.
He was indeed calling out, he realised when a strong hand clamped over his mouth and nose, near suffocating him. For a second he considered not breathing in, but his own body rebelled and strove for the air that is being denied him. “Very well, if that is truly your wish,” Lord Giovanni answered him. His lidless eyes saw the monster’s thumbs briefly before there was a sickening pressure on his eyes and a sudden pop. He screamed in agony as the hot vitreous humour that had been his sight ran down his cheeks.
“Prepare a brazier and the brands of a thief and a murderer, for that is what this filth before us is,” Ambrogino continued, wiping the ichor of the man’s eyes upon the stained rag that was the wretch’s tunic. “When you have finished-“
He heard no more and fell into the questionable comfort of unconsciousness.
“Wake up,” he heard the words in his head. They felt as if they are being punctuated in his head by a sharp knocking. The man realised that they are — each word, every repetition, was accompanied by a blow to the head with the hilt of a sword. The sword that Lord Giovanni drove into his wife’s chest. His eyes try to focus and it is then he remembered he had no eyes that will penetrate this gloom. Fresh tears fell as he heard the desperate frightened pleas of his wife to be given shelter. Shelter? He felt it now, the warmth of the sun on the back of his neck.
He screamed in pain, echoing the unholy shrieks of his wife. His forehead burned and blistered with the searing pain of an iron brand. Which one it was hardly mattered and he hoped that sweet darkness would claim him again. It was not to be and another anguished scream was ripped from him when the second brand blistered into his burnt flesh. His sobs faded after the span of a quarter of an hour. The screams from what had been his wife, on the other hand, became increasingly frenzied and piteous. He couldn’t imagine how they could become worse — and then the sun touched her damned flesh.
The damned creature cried out in hate and pain as her flesh began to bubble and broil before catching aflame. The man wished desperately to clap his hands to his ears as the scream rose in its frantic pitch, but he was helpless to the will of the demonic lords of this demesne. He was wrung dry. There were no more tears, no more screams of horror or whispered pleas for mercy. He was broken, defeated, his faith in the Shepherd of lost souls utterly ruined. He craved death, wished for it with all his being as the last of his wife’s screams ceased their dreadful echo in the courtyard. But the devil-spawn had one last cruelty for him.
He was set free and thrown unceremoniously out into the streets of a city slowly waking for the day.
“Can I persuade you at least to take some water?” The young brother offered gently. The man’s earlier words and attitude were forgiven as he offered his charity to the world weary man.
“You cannot. Perhaps God has led me here, but He has led me here to die. I welcome it. Burn my body after I’ve died and scatter me to the winds where I will be content to roam until the Day of Atonement,” the broken man breathed out. He turned his head away from the monk, his words were all but spent. “I welcome it,” he breathed out allowing his spirit to slip free from his mortal shell.the