Orlando looked ahead, and, sure enough, there was the caravan. It consisted of a good twenty coaches and more than double that in carts. In tents that varied in state of disintegration, at least five hundred poor souls, dragged from their homes by their ‘lord’, slept fitfully, their dreams disturbed by the howls of undead, plagued by horrors beyond their understanding. Spaced evenly around the camp were guards, nearly dead on their feet after the days march and now the night guard. They also suffered from the proximity of the shades and wraiths that Orlando commanded, but their fear did nothing to sharpen the senses.
Uriel, standing next to his brother, murmured under his breath, and behind him, regiments of skeletons, long dead soldiers disturbed from their hard-earned peace, formed, dirty bones gripping half-decayed spear hafts and rusted swords hilts. Striding forwards, Orlando shimmered, his body seemingly translucent, not quite invisible but the light, what little Mannslieb and Morrslieb produced, seemed to bend around him.
“Hail, mortals. You have no business here. Except death. And that, friends, is a business I’m obliged to serve.”
The guards seemed shocked at hearing a voice; they’d heard stories back in the Empire of things like these, but had never thought to fight anything ethereal. Before now, they’d always had an enemy of flesh and blood, no matter how horrific the body itself was. Clouds moved and Morrslieb seemed to shine more powerfully, giving the scene a necrotic light, everything tinted green. The light gave show to the sweat of fear that was working it’s way down the faces and necks of the guards.
Lord, we serve. What would you wish us do? came the voice of Assilan, puncturing the serenity of Orlando’s thoughts, the thrill of the rush of blood he could hear in the poor souls ahead of him. Anger washed through him; how dare Assilan, servant, shade, bound to him, interrupt his contemplation.
You shall do as you’re told, Shade. And what you’re told is to draw the life out of them. The guards, no more. Except the one in the centre. He’s mine. Understand?, he growled silently, the threat tangible to even the guards who didn’t know he was communing with their doom. Silently, gliding on the winds of death, shades and wraiths entered the encampment, and with but a touch, drew the heart out of the mortal’s only protection. Poor lamps, Orlando thought. About to be caught by the wolf ... He became corporeal again, touching the bodies of those he passed like a lover, stalking his way to the captain of the guard. As he did this, Uriel marshalled his troops, the skeletons moving to circle the tents, penning the humans in, not that they were needed. Their fear did that for them.
“Orlando... Brother! Stop this foolishness, Father will want his prize soon,” Uriel called. He hated this part; Orlando always took his time over his kill, savouring each and every second of misery he caused, whether it was physical or purely in the mind, for a sadistic streak ran in the first of Batram’s get, only enhanced by his rise to the ranks of the undead decades, maybe centuries, earlier.
Orlando didn’t even hear his brother, for the sound of his chosen victims blood filled his ears, and his fangs extended, gleaming pearlescent-green in the moonlight. Oblivious to the fact that Uriel had his skeletons herding the captives back to the castile. Before him, the captain of the noble’s guard, a burly Empire man, born and bred loyal to the Imperial throne. He’d had his world torn to pieces by his lord’s expulsion from the lands he’d loved. Now he was about to be torn to pieces by this monster from his nightmares. The vampire stalked forward, not even bothering to draw his sword.
Driven by fear, the guard attacked, with not a modicum of his normal control or skill. Orlando easily dodged out of the way, and, with a single claw, broke the human’s guard, ripping through the mans triceps and biceps like he might tear silk, had he ever deigned to wear it. A shriek echoed throughout the land, and the peasants in the village at the foot of the castile cowered under their harsh woolen covers, fearing the beings of the night. Smirking, the beast within him went to work, ripping through all the muscles in his victims body, rendering him a useless wreck, spead-eagled on the solid-packed earth that was turning to slush in the copious amounts of blood ushering from the Empire-man’s broken body. Finished with the ‘delicate’ work, he looked up and grinned, his blood-specked face the very spit of Konrad’s in his madness, but he was in control, knew exactly what he was doing. Orlando, then revelling in his power, used his pure awesome strength to tear limp from limb, until before him lay an obscene jigsaw, the once silver armour stained crimson forever. Finding a crude wooden bowl in the officer’s kit, he filled it with the blood emptying the body, and drank deep, again and again. When his liquor eventually ran dry, he crushed the bowl with his hands, and then his skin rippled, changing, elongating, until in his place stood a wolf, as high as a man at the shoulder, and from his slavering jaws emanated a howl to instill horror in even the most devout man. He bounded back to the castile, mauling everything is his path.
As the sun rose, and the commoners rose to tend their fields, the scene in Orlando’s chambers was horrific. He lay in the centre of the marble floors, with Iolanthe, his one and only get, and love of his unlife, intertwined with him, and around them the bodies of fifteen of his most faithful servants, the remnants of their blood still pooling in the creases between the marble slabs, the stench enough that even carrion-feeders wouldn’t approach.