submitted by Gavin Bennett, former White Wolf writer
This is a piece of old World of Darkness fiction, a possibly apocryphal, possibly not tale of how the situation in Berlin resolved itself (created for a proposal for a Berlin By Night Revised)
There is ice on the ground; lumpen, crusted, deceptive. In the moonlight, the dirty ice glows white. The air is hard, chill, static, waiting. There is no wind. The Siberian air that chilled the city is gone; the air belongs to Berlin now â€“ stagnant and smoky. The temperature has drifted above freezing, but it is still desperately cold.
The Spree River is still. Hard, brown lumps of sheet ice float on the oily waters. The lights of the streetlamps, pale yellow, gentle and civilised, shimmer across the almost still waters. In the dark, the river is a whispering, greasy black hole, stealing light, save that reflected by the diesel-rotted ice. Sometimes, here, it gets quiet. The S-Bahn does not pass away on the bridge; the angry murmur of cars seems to fade, far away. But there is no silence. The boats, a few lonely, cheap riverboats, past their prime, lie moored besides tourist craft, waiting for the summer. The boats groan, eased against their jetties by the slow, slow, sleeping shoulders of the river. The groan is deep, bass, and painful; the sound carries across the park.
Look north, in the chill smoggy haze, the blue devilish gleam from the insurance companyâ€™s new skyscraper, an ugly thing, a Western building thrown willy-nilly into the heart of the old, Communist city. Progress, someone must have thought. There is an S-Bahn station close to that tower, but it cannot be seen, obscured by the trees. Even closed, even now, long before dawn, the building seems to watch, a sentinel of the capitalist world frowning down on the remnants of what once was.
The water boils, a little, as the body goes under. There was still some air in his lungs. It floats back up again. The boyâ€™s stupid, adolescent face, a frozen mask of surprise, betrayal, perhaps. The body is forced down again, and this time it does not re-emerge. Soon the water, rippling against the filthy wads of ice, subsides, and the body is gone, forgotten.
The creature on the bank chides himself for his carelessness. Hunger got the better of him. He promises himself that he will do better next time. He always does. Hunger, he thinks, yes. Nothing else. Not the sharp ecstasy of that last sip of a dead childâ€™s blood. No, not that. Hunger, mere need, mere need for sustenance got the better of him. Yes.
He says a prayer. It is an old prayer, whispered to him by the one who made him, as they lay, naked in a Baghdad cellar a decade ago, while the mortals died above him. An old prayer, recited in a moment of love and weakness; an old prayer, which gave her face such peace, such sanctity. Eyes closed, humming to herself, touched by some distant grace of God or Satan. Weak. His claws sliced her throat; her blood, her stolen, black, brackish blood arced across him, making him strong, making him angry and wild. She was stronger. She was so much older. But she was taken by surprise. She had forgotten what it meant to be one of the creatures. As he stole her stolen blood, and her soul rippled across his, he loved her. He had always loved her, even after she had killed him, and made him alive again. As her body faded away to dust, he wept, missing her.
He opens his eyes. He checks his watch. Dawn is still another two hours away. Even now, a strange weariness steals across him. He forces himself to focus.
It is a long walk home.
He moves away from the river, closes his eyes, whispers again, another prayer, perhaps, but of a different sort. There is a sudden, screaming hiss, from the river, and something echoes around the park. The mist draws in closer, for a moment, and then, all is still. There, he thinks, it is done.
He crosses the empty road that cuts through the park, lights from the Treptow shops burns down at him from the railway bridge. He crosses the road, and disappears into the dark, icy embrace of the woody path on the far side.
The path leads into the night, away from the streetlights. The open lawns of the park give way to old, gnarled trees, their branches arcing across the path, shading everything, blocking even the moon. There is little light, save the treacherous, glistening reflections from the ice. He walks slower now, his footing unsteady, fearful of slipping.
He has been here before; he knows the way. But still he watches, pays attention, following the path. The trees give way a little further on, and the hazy moonlight washes down over the scene below. The clearing is acres long, a rectangular place, cleared from the trees. The moonlight reflects hard and white from the frozen old snow on the ground. Fives great squares are arranged in a long line, away to the south, rising a little from the dirty ice of the path. Five great shapes, each blanketed by old, almost virgin snow. Few walk there. Each of the squares is bounded by a small hedge, perhaps two feet high. In the centre of each, a large iron circle, fashioned into a laurel leaf. On either side of each square, a marble wall, eight feet long, perpendicular to the path, sentinels to the square pavilions in the middle. At the far end, looming out of the dark, a massive, perfect shape of an iron Russian soldier, stationed forever, looking down on the graves of his comrades, where thousands lie interned, under the hard ice of the squares. In each square, a thousand men lie rotting. On each of the walls, some forgotten sculptor has carved heroic murals of Communist struggle and German evil. Here a Belarussian peasant woman cries, there a Luftwaffe bomber leaves death in its wake. Everywhere, carved into the cold granite, the handsome, strong, powerful faces, of the Great Soviet Man, leading the resistance against Hitler. On each wall, facing towards the grave squares, a message from Comrade Stalin, praising the epic heroism of the Red Army and its unasked-for war against German fascism.
Strange he thinks, for the hundredth time, strange how fascist and communist statuary always look the same, praise the same values. Militaristic, Romantic, heroic, and its heroes are always frozen in handsome perfection. How very unlike the statues of the British, with their sad faces, and grim ironies â€“ a soldier marching to war, his face looking away into the distance, perhaps scared, perhaps excited, but doomed; or the Americans, whose sculptures capture moments: raising flags on Iwo Jima, sitting on a rearing horse, grim and determined. But in Berlin, no such artistry; in what remains of the old city, great houses, government buildings, the Brandenburg gate, the Victory statue, all look back, yearningly, to mythical, classical times. But those things are few. What is left is the hard, grim, futurism and perfection of the Nazis and the Communists.
He stands in the centre of the tableau, now. Behind him, looming up against the sky, a crying Mother Russia. Moved out of the way, behind construction workerâ€™s fences, two giant figures of Russian soldiers; a bearded officer holding a machine gun, his expression grim and blank and inhuman, the other an infantryman, holding a rifle, crushing a swastika under his foot.
The dead lie underfoot. But many, many thousands more died in the death camps in Siberia, considered too westernised or corrupted by immoral Nazi influences or the victims of some obscure party politics. Though they died later, away in the frozen wastes, and perhaps decades after the war ended, they are still the dead of Berlin.
He stops himself, forces his eyes away, forces himself to keep walking. He had become entranced, beguiled by the work, the strange artistry. Such is the curse of his kind of monster.
He walks on.
â€œThe dead are restless here,â€ a voice says. He freezes, listens, and plans. He reaches inside his coat, slowly, slowly, trying to let his senses guide him. Behind me, he thinks, listening again.
Time stops. He twists around; the scimitar is out in his hand, slicing behind him. There is no one there.
â€œStop that,â€ the voice says again, closer this time. â€œPut away your sword, I do not wish to harm you tonight.â€
He looks around, eyes flashing red in the darkness. There. A woman, her voice muffled by a mink scarf worn over an old greatcoat. He looks harder, watches her cold, pale skin, notices the sharp, spiky hair, punkish, youngâ€¦ she has not been dead more than twenty years, he thinks. She lifts her head, smiles; a pretty face. A ruby glints in the ring in her left nostril.
â€œSo,â€ he says, coolly, â€œto whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?â€
She laughs. Itâ€™s a girlâ€™s laugh; she died younger than she appears.
â€œDo you always dump your leavings there?â€
They stand a good twenty feet apart, on the path between little, ordered lawns planted over the mass graves.
â€œYou used magic,â€ she says, matter-of-factly. â€œOdd little ritual that. Not the sort of thing Iâ€™d imagine someone like you would use.â€ Her German comes from the Southwest; from the rich country close to the Black Forest. Her parents would have driven the latest BMW, he imagines, lived in a small, sleepy hamlet, and drove the twenty miles to some fancy Western company.
â€œOne does as one must. Though Allah forbids it. I am not fool enough to imagine that Allah does not also forbid our existence.â€
She steps closer. She is shorter than he is, but not much. Thin, lithe, graceful. He admires her easy grace.
â€œInshallah,â€ she says, and he resents her for it.
â€œDid you follow me?â€ he asks, pointedly.
â€œYes.â€ She stares at him. Her eyes are black and distant and empty. There is nothing to be seen there. â€œI watched you in the club, watched you take that impressionable boy away, heard you whispering about the eternal night. You have such poetry. I was impressed. I was tempted to join you. But I watched.â€
She is goading him, he knows. Goading him with the truth. Goading him with the petty knowledge of his seduction techniques. It angers him, but he will not show it.
â€œMy name is,â€ he breaths â€“ a mortal habit, filling cold, dead lungs, â€œGibreel Al Aqaq.â€ It is not a true name, rather one stolen from the one who killed him, but it suffices.
â€œMascha,â€ she says, bowing a little, mockingly. She waves.
â€œTell me Gibreel,â€ she says. â€œWhere did you learn our sorcery?â€
â€œFrom the one who made me,â€ he says, lying again. She grins, amused.
â€œWell, it has been pleasant meeting you,â€ she says, with finality, â€œbut the sun will rise very shortly. I would suggest you go to your bed.â€ She smiles again. â€œAfter all, it will take at least 40 minutes for you to get home on the S-Bahn.â€
He walks away. She watches him closely as he leaves. He is handsomeâ€¦beautiful perhaps. His blood is old, and powerful. But he is young. He has not been dead long. Perhaps he has slept for some time. Yes, she thinks, that is it. Intriguing, she thinks. Yes. He will do. She watches him a little longer â€“ watches his tall graceful form walk slowly, gingerly away. He has Berber blood, she thinks. The darker skin makes him seem so much more human, so much younger, but in the harsh moonlight, it makes him seem so alien, so distant.
He will do.
The S-Bahn â€“ the elevated train system that threads through the city from the central hub of Zoo Station, to the early suburbs, encircling the city centre and wending its way through many of Berlinâ€™s scattered districts â€“ runs all night. The carriages come in two flavours â€“ the modern, electronic, almost sleek, newer trains, built for the Western tracks, or built in the 1990s; or the older, Eastern rolling stock, wood and Formica and ill-lit, whose lights flicker randomly, plunging the carriage into darkness, rattling through the city. Gibreel sits on the furthest bench from the door, staring out into the slowly, inexorably lightening gloom. Itâ€™s not bright enough to harm him yet, but soon, soon, the sun will seep over the horizon, and bleach the sky. This is his favourite time to be awake. The monochrome world of the night is about to give way to the technicolour of day, and now, in this brief time before dawn, the night is alive with the possibility of colour.
The carriage in one of the old Ossie â€“ eastern â€“ stock. The doors are wooden. Stopping at Ostbahnhof, a young woman forces the wooden doors apart. He watches her, dimly, wrestling with the temptation, deciding if she would be worth killing or not. She looks towards him, catches his gaze, stares. The hunger rises, a fever. He pushes it away, pushes the lust deep down inside. No, not again. Not tonight. She is pretty in the way Berliner women are always pretty, Germanic faces, their hard bones sharp underneath their pale chilled skin. She is tall, her dark hair clipped awkwardly and hurriedly to one side. Her clothes are too bright for this early in the morning; a red party dress, a long fake fur coat. He closes his eyes, tries to lose himself in memory, but he can still smell her. She has been with a lover this night; he can smell the salt on her skin. He imagines her evening, dancing in some underground club; there is cigarette smoke lingering in her hair, and her breath still smells of some sweet cocktail. He wonders how her blood would taste. He looks back at her; she is staring at him, frankly. Her eyes shine a little too brightly â€“ drugs he thinks. Her heart skips little beats, occasionally. Yes, drugs.
The light goes out in the carriage at Warsaw Street. Her curiosity is gone, replaced by fear. But even as he feels himself about to rise, about to move across the carriage, about to sup from her â€“ he looks out, out from the carriage, across the city, framed in the deep indigo of this hour before dawn, out across the distant lights of the offices, of the towers and spires of Berlin. He weeps at the sight. He feels a single blood tear trickle down his face. The lights flickered again, on then off. Then they come to life again, blanking out the world around, and once more they are staring at each other on the train. But she has seen the blood.
Her mouth is open. He stands up. Curiosity turns to fear. Before she can react, he is upon her. He kisses her, holds her fearful struggling arms still, and involuntarily, his fangs pierce her lip. Eyes closed he drinks from her. She cried out once, in pain, then her cries subside.
â€œYou are a vampire,â€ she whispers. Her eyes are wide, pupils stretched out, mouth open, breath short. Ah yes, they all react like that. They all fall in love with their killers.
â€œYes,â€ he says. He slides down to her neck and nips her, draws blood, drinks deeply.
â€œMake me one of you,â€ she whispers.
A lick, and the wound is gone.
â€œNo,â€ he says. She bares her neck again.
â€œPlease,â€ she says.
He shakes his head, stares into her eyes.
â€œForget,â€ he says.
He cannot sleep, in the day. Instead, he paces the blackened loft he calls home. His sleep belongs to ghosts, ghosts of those he has killed, and those he has betrayed. The mortals- they are terrible, their voices, their pathetic screams, echoes in his soul. â€œWe loved you,â€ they say, â€œyou destroyed us,â€ they say. But the worst, the ones who cannot be ignored, are the vampires. The two whose heartâ€™s blood he stole the ones he staked and left out for the morning sun. Their voices are black, whispery, and cold, like ice water. â€œWe are waiting,â€ they say. â€œWe are part of you now,â€ they say.
It is raining in Berlin.
Black sheets of filthy rain sweeps in out of the west, from the North Sea. The water streams down on the icy streets, melting and smoothing, making the way treacherous. The clouds sink lower onto the city, obscuring the tops of the Berlin towers, glowing a little, from within.
Look: the cityâ€™s scarred, smog blackened spires, struggle into the night. The cityâ€™s modern heart of Potsdamerplatz shivers out in its neon colours, purple and white and yellow, the great electrical signs on the corporate buildings shining out into the night. The modern heart of Berlin is new, built in faint echo of the old, but that is a lie. Closer to the river, the new dome of the Reichstag pours its arc lights into the night sky tracing its white fingers into the rainclouds. A brief wind makes the drapes covering the renovation of the Brandenburg gate shift uncomfortably. Across the park, the Victory column is lost in the murk, spotlight haloing the violent angel in sodium orange.
The rain falls down onto the Spree, falling in amongst the dirty ice floes, washing across the bones of all the people the vampires have killed, washing on the riverboats and the ultramodern apartment buildings, built by westerners to colonise the east. The rain falls on the scarred cathedrals, where you can still see where Russian bullets impacted, and Russian tanks tore holes. It falls on the insular Turkish communities, where they defiantly still hate the Kurds, and refuse to teach their children German.
Listen: As the rain stops, the sky sounds like a radio tuned to a closed channel, humming, static and distant. Trains rumble past in the distance, heading east to Warsaw and Budapest and Moscow, sidling west to Paris and Amsterdam, and all the other far-flung outposts of a new German Empire, an Empire build by German production and German trains and German money.
The conspirators stand in a rooftop cafÃ©, closed for the season, in Mitte, the pretentious artistic quarter. They sip wine that they cannot taste, and breathe air that they do not need. There are five of them. One, a tall, middle aged man, dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, bespectacled, dignified, his hair grey and swept heroically back, stands a little apart. The others defer to him. He speaks English â€“ he refuses to speak German. Perhaps he cannot. He looks out into the rain, out at the city. A little away, another man leans against a wall. His suit is a hand tailored Armani. His accent is faintly Dutch, but deeply foreign. His English is perfect and clipped, but he cannot â€“ and does not attempt to â€“ disguise his differences. He wears expensive Calvin Klein glasses. His face is bland and handsome and aristocratic; he has an ease of authority that the Englishman does not have.
â€œWhat does Vienna say, George?â€ he asks, in an overfamiliarity borne of much contact.
â€œVienna has not said much, Van Tongeren,â€ the Englishman replies, stuffily. There is a private joke between them. But they do not share it. Both remain cool to the other. â€œSuffice it to say, Vienna would appreciate a friendly â€“ and unified â€“ Berlin. I would doubt that if Prince Willhelm were to have ambitions to the East, Vienna would not be displeased.â€
Another man paces restlessly by the windows of the cafÃ©, listening, commenting, but uninvolved. There is violence in his walk, suppressed aggressiveness, but no less than real. He wears loose fitting clothing â€“ an old British Army jacket thrown over a T-shirt and jeans. His Nike sneakers are tattered and torn. He smiles. His teeth are feral and sharp.
â€œI assume,â€ he says, his Belfast accent softened by travel and tempered by sarcasm, â€œthat we cannot just shoot the fucker? Blow his head off with a big enough gun and just set whatâ€™s left on fire?â€
â€œNo, Fergus,â€ Van Tongeren says, â€œWe cannot just shoot Gustav. There are rules. There are those we do not wish to antagonise. And we do not wish to jeopardise future contracts by acting like some â€“ Knave Column.â€ He gesticulates, frowning. â€œDumbass,â€ Van Tongeren sneers; when he sneers he uses Americanisms.
â€œWhat about the Sabbat,â€ one of the others asks, a small, punkish girl.
â€œWhat about them, Mascha?â€ Fergus says. His posture is cocky, insolent.
â€œThe Sabbat,â€ the last conspirator says, softly, â€œis in disarray. That attack on Bonn left them in disarray. They have been killing one another quite happily in Berlin for years now. If we are to move boldly, then they may not even notice that Gustav is floundering.â€
â€œIf Gustav flounders,â€ Mascha says, quietly.
â€œIf Gustav flounders,â€ Van Tongeren repeats. â€œDid you find one?â€
â€œYes,â€ Mascha says. â€œToreador, I think â€“ he moves so fast, and can sense things, gets distracted easily. Pretty too.â€
â€œEnough to tempt Gustav?â€
â€œPerhaps,â€ she says, agreeing, smiling. She shakes her head. â€œSo,â€ she looks at the Englishman. â€œDo I have Viennaâ€™s permission?â€
â€œYou do,â€ the English conspirator says. He smiles, to himself, amused at his own arrogance. He does not speak for Vienna, but he knows they approve. Of course, he imagines he knows they approve. Had they not approved, he would have been summoned to appear before his betters a long time before.
Mascha lifts out a cellphone, dials, speaks, utters an address into the phone, rings off. â€œThere,â€ she says, â€œit is done.â€
They come for him two nights later, at sunset. He only has time to open his eyes, when the stake rams its way through his heart, and then all sense leaves him.
When he comes too, he is nailed, Christ-like to a wooden scaffold. Underground, no light, but he knows it is daytime, and he cannot sleep.
Everything is pain.
Sometimes they hurt him more.
But in the day, hanging, sleepless, weeping, the ghosts come again, and this time, their voices are louder, more insistent. He knows why. He is close to them now.
â€œYes,â€ he says, through pain, but no sound emerges. They have nailed his tongue to something.
â€œI know who you are,â€ the voice says. They have cut his eyes; he cannot see. He doesnâ€™t have the blood to heal himself. A long metal spike has been threaded through muscle and bone of his arms and back, holding him helpless. Something kicks him to the ground; hard concrete, dead, dank smell of petrol, distant sounds of cars passing. His nose breaks, again, and what little blood he has left, oozes out, onto the cold, unyielding ground.
He feels himself falling, falling, into the black murk of the long sleep.
â€œNo,â€ the voice says again, and some horrible fire tears through him. He screams, awake, frenzied, uncaring, lunging at his unseen tormentor. But they hold him tight.
â€œWhy?â€ the voice, again. Gibreel opens his mouth, pushing broken teeth out.
He shakes his head. He does not know the answer. He has asked himself that question many times. The ghosts have always answered.
â€œBecause you are a sin against God,â€ the ghosts say, as unseen hands pour pigâ€™s blood down his throat, enough that me may live another night.
They hurt him again. He looks up, forces sound into his voice, forces speech.
â€œWho are you?â€ he asks, screaming.
â€œI ask the questions here,â€ the voice whispers.
â€œStop hurting me,â€ he says, whimpering. Someone touches his face, caressing him, almost. Then the hand is gone, and its loss hurts too.
More pain, as he is hauled to his feet. They let him go, but he is still on his feet. He is suspended on something, he thinks.
â€œWhy?â€ the voice whispers again, intimately, now, a manâ€™s voice, old and cruel and tender.
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
â€œThey put you up to it, did they?â€
Gibreel says nothing, confused.
â€œAh,â€ the voice whispers. â€œAh.â€
Someone kisses him, open-mouthed. Gibreelâ€™s lips are forced open by the otherâ€™s tongue, and then his mouth is awash with blood. He drinks greedily, grasping for more.
â€œNo,â€ the voice says, softly, now.
Inside, Gibreel is screaming; itâ€™s not enough. He cried out for blood. The lust comes upon him again, a maddening, wild thing. Tears, weak, watery blood tears roll down his face. But the tears seem to wash away the pain a little. Dimly, he can see now, his eyes a little healed.
â€œAh, seeing now?â€ the voice says. Gibreel looks up, into the handsome, almost noble face. The voice belongs to a man, a tall, Saxon man, dressed in a new Italian suit; hand tailored, but somehow ill fitting. The manâ€™s face is haughty and cruel, and perhaps a little afraid. Gibreel closes his eyes, succumbing to the pain.
â€œWho where they?â€ the man whispers.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Gibreel whispers. â€œI donâ€™t know. Please.â€
Something cold touches itself to his neck and the fire begins again. Gibreel screams. A rough hand grabs his throat; ice cold talons tear his flesh.
â€œOf course you know,â€ a new voice says, its accent rough and foreign. Gibreel opens his eyes, moves his head as far as the skewer allows, looks into the face of this other tormentor. The face is utterly hideous; worse are the horrid, mocking eyes, staring at him. There is nothing there, in those eyes, absolutely nothing. â€œDo you know who I am?â€ the man with the horrible face says.
â€œNo,â€ Gibreel mouths.
â€œMy name is Sergei Voshkov. I know everything that happens on this side of the river. Do you understand? I know everything that happens on the other side of the river too. Do not imagine that I do not.â€
Gibreel nods, says nothing.
â€œNow,â€ Voshkov says, â€œNow, let us start again. You know what will happen when you lie to us. You know what will happen when you are silent.â€
Gibreel whispers: yes.
â€œNow then,â€ Voshkov says, his voice, low and insinuating. â€œMy Prince is willing to be merciful. I am not. I like nothing more than to destroy those who would work against any whom I owe my loyalty. Does that make sense to you?â€
â€œGood. Now. What is your name?â€
They ask the same questions for hours. They hurt him again, and again, and again. But they leave him his eyes. When they are finished, Voshkov sighs exhaustedly.
Someone takes the skewer out. That hurt more than anything. Gibreel falls to the floor, and fades from consciousness.
Prince Gustav stares at his prisoner, lying in the small empty office. Seven days, they have been torturing him, keeping him from sleep, tormenting him with a lack of blood. But even Voshkov cannot extract the answers he needs from him. Gustav has let the prisonerâ€™s face heal. He is beautiful that one. Foreign, African. A Berber, Voshkov said. Touched by a little madness, Voshkov had noted; the prisoner spoke to unseen, ghostly things, in the few moments they would let him sleep.
But this one is an assassin, Gustav thinks, this one has been sent to destroy me. Sent by the Wessie, or by the Sabbat, or by the Oradea League, or by one of the other Princes. It does not matter. Voshkov paid well for the information that led to the assassinâ€™s capture. Paid the others of his sewer dwelling kind very dearly. Such information cannot be wrong, can it?
Gustav allows himself to imagine that he had made a mistake. But the assassinâ€™s aura carries the black stains of Amaranth â€“ of a Vampire who would drink anotherâ€™s soul. More than once, this assassin murdered another vampire for its blood. But there is something about this one, Gustav says to himself. Perhaps it is the assassinâ€™s beauty, his honey-coloured skin, and dark, dark eyes. Perhaps it is the exoticism â€“ Voshkov had claimed that this oneâ€™s blood is old, that the assassin was made in another age of the world, but somehow had managed to survive in a modern Berlin. How long had he lived here? Not even Voshkov knew.
Voshkov had come to Gustav from the east, two years ago, fleeing some nameless terror. In return for sanctuary, Gustav made him a spymaster. Voshkov had old blood too. Truly old blood. But he was afraid. He was terrified of some nameless terror that had made his creator simplyâ€¦die. Voshkov would never say who had turned him. Gustav had neither the time nor the resources to find out. He remembered the rumours from the east â€“ that the Hag had risen.
Gustav paces, wondering. Once he was the Prince of a city, the capital of a nation, a capital of a nation where the mortals lived in utter fear of one another, and no one would ask too many questions when their children or lovers disappeared. Such a place was a small paradise for the Vampires, and ruling such a hunting ground made Gustav a powerful, and popular, ruler. But the Wall had come down, and that other state had been trampled on, and made yield up its secrets.
Across the river, the other, the adversary, Willhelm, held court. And little by little, Willhelmâ€™s city â€“ West Berlin, stole a little of Gustavâ€™s. But still the Vampires of East Berlin stood by Gustav, partly from respect, and partly â€“ mostly â€“ from fear. Gustav was not weak, and he was not idle. He had a long reach â€“ for three long, horrid years, he had reached out across the rivers, bringing death to his adversaries. Mostly, though, he killed the neutrals, the Caitiff, the Thin Blooded, the forgotten and uncared for. This was deliberate. Through the fear of the Westerners, he bought time.
With Voshkov bound to him, he had an even longer reach. Vampires in Gustavâ€™s claimed domain were cowed into silence. None tried to flee. A young neonate, newly made, fled to Paris. She died, a slow, horrific, cruel death. What was left of her was shipped back to her sire.
Gustav stopped pacing, looked around the room. He enjoyed this place. Willhelmâ€™s money owned corporations, building firms, high-technology firms. Those companies had poured money into East Berlin, as the mortals tried to re-imagine their city as something new, something without the shadows, something without the monsters, and something without history. One of Willhelmâ€™s companies had built this place, with its broadband Internet and its fierce modernity. The effort had bankrupted that company, and no tenants were to be found. A common story in Berlin; no one, not even Willhelm, must have noted its passing. Gustav had made it his haven. Voshkov had signed the forms, created a rich Russian company to own the building, to be investing in the infrastructure of the area, to bribe and threaten the government, and the mortals of nearby streets.
He enjoyed the irony, but knew, more than anyone, the true significance of the construction. There were no longer two Berlins. The west had swallowed the east whole, the tattered remnants of communism were being bulldozed; the ugly architecture demolished; things destroyed in the name of socialist progress were being rebuilt â€“ so long as they fit into this new, re-imagined Berlin. In a unified city, there could be no room for two Princes of the Vampires. Sooner or later, Gustav knew, the Camarilla would wish the issue to be properly resolved. After all the authority of the Camarilla was enforced by the Prince, and to have two Princes in a city was at best unseemly, and at worst, a sign of weakness.
Time was passing, and things moved too slowly, but Gustav was as yet too weak to challenge his rival outright for the Princedom, to enforce his will on all the Damned of Berlin. Voshkov had told him that such preparations would take another year. Voshkovâ€™s sometime ally, a creature known as Erasmus, who had dwelled in the desolate, irradiated wastes of southern Belarus, has assembled various stragglers from whatever strange cult they had all seemed to belong to in the East, and was slowly, slowly, smuggling them to Berlin.
But Willhelm must have divined this, Gustav thought, obsessed with the thought of that other creature across the river. Somehow, he knew. Somehow. This youngling would be merely the first. He suspected that this assassin, was somehow brainwashed â€“ Tremere trickery, he thought â€“ and no amount of torture would loosen his secrets.
He stared at his prisoner, handcuffed to a thick iron hoop, embedded deep into the concrete, as he shifted in his sleep. It wasnâ€™t sleep; it was the semi-comatose of despair and pain. Vaguely, in his dead, grey heart, Gustav regretted the pain. Vaguely, he wondered what those on the other side of the river had offered this youth. He ruffled Gibreelâ€™s hair, matted with blood sweat, and kissed Gibreelâ€™s cheek. Gibreelâ€™s eyes tried to open, but he could not rouse himself out of the murk of his pain. Again, for the second time, Gustav took his prized, old, Prussian dagger, and sliced his own wrist, and watched, coldly, as the black blood welled, slowly from the wound. The blood fell thick and heavy, like old rotten honey on Gibreelâ€™s lips. And, involuntarily, Gibreel drank.
â€œI should kill him,â€ Gustav whispered to himself. â€œI should stake him and leave him for the sunrise.â€
But he shook his head, and touched Gibreelâ€™s cold forehead, and left the room.
â€œThere,â€ Mascha said. Mascha and the soldier, Fergus, sat in an all night cafÃ© in Charlottenburg, staring out into the darkness, watching the people pass in their fancy new cars. They sat at a table strewn with newspapers from Europe and North America, written in eight different languages.
â€œThere, what?â€ Fergus replies, belatedly, swilling the hot coffee on his tongue, imagining that he loved it now as he did when he was alive.
â€œItâ€™s done,â€ Mascha said, smiling.
Fergus grinned. He pointed to a strange article in a Montreal newspaper about a series of arson attacks.
â€œYou know,â€ he said, almost wistfully, â€œwhen I was newly made, I used to sit up, in the daytime, scouring newspapers, looking for evidence of the Jyhad playing out, evidence of the hidden hand of the elders.â€
â€œThen I realised that Vampires do not control, they merely interfere. This,â€ he said, pointing to the article again, â€œis likely two very boring, very mortal, organised crime gangs killing one another. Probably of the hairy and smelly and much tattooed variety.â€
â€œI think they all just feed us that line to impress us. Remember school, when the teacher would say â€œI have eyes in the back of my head?â€ Like that.â€
â€œAye,â€ Fergus grinned. He liked the strange little German witch. It would be a shame if he had to kill her; but Van Tongeren was obsessed about ensuring that no mistakes were tolerated. If she did well, then she would be well rewarded. If not, then it was nothing personal, was it?
This time, they do not hurt him. They merely bind him, and take him away from his tiny prison. The faces are different, this time. They have young, handsome faces; they stare at him resentfully, but they do not harm him. They drag him inexorably up a long, long spiral staircase, lit by footlights.
At last, he is pushed into a dark room. It feels huge, Gibreel thinks, listening to the sounds, and feeling the way the air moves, sniffing the scent of leather upholstery. They chain him, again, to a hoop in the corner. Dimly, Gibreel notes that these things are everywhere. He tugs at it a little, but he is held fast. He slumps down onto the floor, defeated. How long has he been here? The wounds have healed â€“ mostly, but he is barely strong enough to keep his head up.
Inside, the hunger rises, a sharp, painful thing, clawing its way into his soul. He jerks at his chains, harder now.
A light comes on, a dim faint light in the far corner.
Gustav stares at him, with pale satisfaction.
Slowly, slowly, Gustav comes towards him, staring, oblivious. Gibreel cowers back, the hunger inside him fades, and he is weak again, broken again.
â€œHush,â€ Gustav says. He takes Gibreelâ€™s hand, kisses it.
Gibreel opens his mouth, tries to say something. Gustav kisses him, then places a cold finger on Gibreelâ€™s lips. â€œHush, beautiful one,â€ Gustav says, â€œthere is nothing to fear.â€
Gibreel says nothing. Gustav kisses him again, and Gibreel can taste blood in his mouth, tasting some strange, horrible love for the other.
But then he remembers the pain.
And then the hunger awakens inside him, and surges into his soul, into his limbs, and then he can see no more.
Gibreel awakes to pain. Gustav stands before him, torn, bloody, an eye gouged out, pale dead skin hanging in flaps. But in that one good eye, Gibreel can see pain, see betrayal.
â€œWhy?â€ Gustav whispers.
Gibreel is still chained to the hoop, but his shoulder has dislocated, and one arm is free. He stares, blankly at his free hand, shattered, bloody, and twisted. There is so much blood.
â€œWhy?â€ Gustav whispers, again, louder now, fear and anger and pain in his voice.
â€œWhy did you do this to me?â€ Gibreel says at last.
â€œBecause you betrayed me. Because you are sent to kill meâ€¦â€ Gustavâ€™s voice, at first firm, and haughty, fades out to a sob. â€œBecause I loved you.â€
Gibreel closes his eyes, uncomprehending, Gustav is screaming now. â€œI loved you! I could have made you perfect!â€
â€œNah,â€ says another voice, and a sharp stake seems to grow from Gustavâ€™s chest, as he watches. Gustav screams, for a moment, and then falls silent, forever. The dim light is gone, and Gibreel fades into his own darkness. Rough, clawed hands take Gibreel, and chain him back to the hoop.
â€œItâ€™s done,â€ the voice says. â€œSuitably gory.â€
When Gibreel awakes, he can see Mascha standing over him, smiling, apologetically.
â€œSorry,â€ she whispers.
There are others in the room. Gibreel tries to make them out. He recognises the one who re-chained him, a tall, violent looking man, a military jacket thrown loosely over his shoulders.
â€œSo,â€ someone says, his voice cold and English, â€œhow shall this look?â€
â€œHmm, well, George, here is how I think it should look,â€ another says. There is silence for a moment. â€œOK, the Sabbat recruit an Autarkis,â€ the man waves at Gibreel, â€œand send him to kill the Prince. Probably some sort of initiation thing. Hmm. Now, he is caught, dragged down into Gustavâ€™s house of horrors downstairs, and then, I dunno, Gustav drags him up here for a final interrogation. A bit of an ego trip, big mistake, an egotistical thing, and wham, the devious assassin kills him.â€
â€œWith a stake?â€ the English voice says again.
â€œIâ€™m going to cut his head off, and pour the ashes in the river,â€ the soldier says. â€œNo worries about a stake. We could keep the assassin here for interrogation, or just to let the Justicar see him.â€
â€œNicely done, Mascha,â€ the third voice says. â€œMaking the Prince fall in love with our Judas goat. Beautiful. Consider yourself hired.â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t love,â€ Mascha said, staring, sadly, at Gibreel. â€œThere isnâ€™t a magic on this earth that can do that. Obsession, we can do, lust we can do, desire we can do. Not love.â€
Gibreel howls then. He cannot take it. These people stole into his life, and justâ€¦killed him. He screams. Maybe he is screaming â€œdonâ€™t hurt me again.â€
â€œHungry, are ya?â€ the soldier says.
â€œFergus, let him feed on Gustav.â€
â€œYessir, Van Tongeren,â€ the soldier says, â€œthree bags full, sir.â€
â€œOh get on with it,â€ Van Tongeren commands.
Fergus hauls Gustavâ€™s inert form to Gibreel. Vaguely, through the pain, through the despair, Gibreel tries to reason; this is wrong, they have set me up before, and they will do so again. He fails. The hunger takes him. He drinks Gustavâ€™s blood until, at last, he drinks Gustavâ€™s soul.
Gibreel does not even notice when Fergus wrenches the stake from Gustavâ€™s chest, and Gustav tries, desperately to stir, to escape. But it is too late. Gibreel swallows Gustavâ€™s soul, even as Gustav awakes, and then, slowly at first, Gustavâ€™s corpse falls to ashes.
The Prince of the Vampires of East Berlin is dead.
Gibreel lies in satiated ecstasy, free from pain for the first time in so long, clear headed, free happy. He looks at the others in the room, stares at them. They are so cold, he thinks, so efficient, so ruthless. But he realises, horribly, belatedly, that they are so young. None are more than a decade amongst the damned. He is Gibreel Al Aqaq, of the Rayâ€™een Al Fen; he was made in a desert kingdom so very long ago. He has never played politics, never interfered, just struggled to survive; he has slept, many times. He did not seek power, nor redemption. He merely strove to survive, to exist, and to appease the hunger inside. Why must he suffer like this?
The one called Fergus pounds the stake into Gibreelâ€™s heart.
There are stories. The stake may paralyse, may steal all control of limb and body, but sometimes, sometimes it doesnâ€™t steal consciousness. Sometimes it leaves you awake, life in death, helpless. Gibreel sleeps, mostly, sleeping the deep, horrible sleep of the undead. But sometimes, he awakes, a little.
â€œOne of the Assamites,â€ an unfamiliar voice is saying, â€œobviously.â€
â€œYes,â€ another voice. â€œI hear that some of that brood have offered allegiance to the Black Hand. Yes, it makes sense.â€
Gibreel falters again, falls into unconsciousness.
When he awakes, he hears Van Tongeren speaking.
â€œWell, Prince Willhelm, the rest is up to you.â€
â€œThank you,â€ the Prince says, grandly. â€œTell me. Who among Gustavâ€™s loyalists still operate?â€
â€œHis spies,â€ Van Tongeren says, â€œthat Russian. Some others. What should I do with them?â€
â€œHunt them down,â€ the Prince says. â€œHunt them down, and kill them all.â€
â€œAnd the Sabbat?â€
â€œMake an example of them. Gustav may have been a fool, but we cannot be seen to be allowing them to murder brother Princes.â€ The two share a laugh.
â€œThis will, of course,â€ Van Tongeren begins, â€œrequire a re-negotiation of our contract.â€
â€œOf course,â€ the Prince says. â€œNow, what shall we do with this assassin?â€
The stake is removed once, and replaced. Gibreel surfaces, for one blessed moment of life and freedom. Then another is forced back into his chest. He screams as it runs in. He screams for the pain, and screams for the loss.
The stake was carved in Vienna. It is made of hardwood, and treated, with blood, so that time may not age it, and water not rot away with it. Someone whispered something about this being a favoured method of dealing with prisoners in Vienna. The Danube, they said, is littered with those who have fallen foul of the lords of Vienna, lying, for eternity, rotting in the black waters.
But as an assassin, an example must be made. They cut out his tongue, and place a single, live, hot coal in his mouth. In his soul, Gibreel screams.
They take him to Treptow Park, one night, when winter ended, when the ice had gone, and they cast his form into the river. They have chained his hands and feet together, and the coal, someone whispered, will burn for eternity. Lead weights are hung from the chains. As a last gesture, they take his eyes again.
They chose his resting-place well. They cast him amongst the broken skeletons of his victims, the ones burned by his stolen magic; the magic stripped their flesh off, and aged their bones.
When his body settled into the thick mud of the riverbed, and the others had gone, the ghosts came for him again. They whispered to him, welcoming him.
â€œWe have all eternity to talk,â€ they said.
Then the sun rose and the dim, refracted light burned at him, teasing him with the agony of death. In the day, the single hot, endlessly burning coal burned less, but at night, when the moon rose, it flared again into new life.
But those pains were easily forgotten. Somehow he could now see into the world of the dead. Somehow, he could see the ghosts, as clear as clear, and they could see him, and they clustered about him, whispering to him their sorrows, about how he had killed them, or about how others of the damned had killed them.
Worst, though, were the three forms of the vampires whose souls he had stolen. His sire, one he had loved, and stronger than them all, his voice louder, his whispers the most painful. Gustav. What remained of his soul burned like acid in Gibreelâ€™s head. All whispered: â€œwhy?â€ in the chill, singsong voices of the dead.
Gibreel has no answer.
Above him, Berlin continues on as before, loud and rude, dirty and beautiful, reaching out into the heart of Europe, tormented by history, teased by the future. And ever, the Spree flowed ever onwards, as it had when humanity was young, and would when the Final Night came.
Perhaps Gibreel should content himself with the knowledge that the end was not long off. Perhaps he should find solace in the fact that each night, Mascha would come to Gibreelâ€™s spot by the river and whisper an apology. And although the dead would torture him with their stories and their guilt, he should content himself to know that no matter how many the Vampires had killed, the mortals had killed so many, many millions more.
But Gibreel just lay there, trapped, another dead soul in a graveyard city built on bones.