(JUNE 9, 1967)
It had gone even better than planned.
So eager had Pythias Potter's pursuers been, to get him, that they followed him right to the foot of Mount Brocken, on the East German side of the border. Prompting him to grin as he subsequently exclaimed: "Guten abend, mein scheisskopfen! Meet the aurors of Houses Tytalus and Bjornaer."
Whereupon, the wizards concerned had sprung their trap. The wand-to-wand fighting that followed had naturally been quite fierce! But, in the end, Potter's pursuers were subdued. Thereby allowing the victors to learn the startling truth.
Their prisoners were revenants. Semi-vampirized mortals, of a selectively bred family, blood-bonded to a particular vampire clan!
"It wasn't hard to figure out which one," Pythias Potter had declared, during the debriefing, back in Colonel Durston's office, "But, we took the electro-prods back to House Verditius, for technomantic psychometry, anyway. They confirmed it. Clan Tremere; Duchevski blood line."
Captain Summers had shaken his head in stunned disbelief. But, Colonel Durston had merely shrugged.
"Stands to reason. Those bastards love anything sadistic the way the Toreador Clan loves art and entertainment!"
"Even so," Summers had replied, "...to say that this puts a whole new complexion on things would be putting it mildly!"
"Not to worry," Potter had told him. "Damon and I just happen to know someone who could remove a good part of the blemish from that complexion. A Tyrolean relative of the ones who supplied those electro-prods. And, as it turns out, he's currently on summer vacation... in Trieste."
That was how Captain Summers had wound up at the Hotel Cagliostro, thirty-six hours later, interrogating the initially reluctant Count Sanguinelli. The full details of that interrogation providing much amusement for the good captain's current host. Jan Kalvis; the half-Veela owner of the Lithuanian quidditch team known as the Gorodok Gargoyles.
"I love it! For a long time, now, I have fantasized on doing something similar to that money-grubbing bloodsucker. Ever since he welched on a certain bet that he had with me! But, of course, with his family's connections..."
"If it helps," Summers replied. "...I can give you irrefutable proof that he's the one who started the rumor that's he an antitribu Grimaldi! Proof that I'm sure the Sabbat would just love to act upon, should he refuse, once more, to make good on that bet."
Kalvis' grin broadened until it was downright feral.
"Heh-heh-heh-heh! If that is true, you would find me most grateful, old friend."
"Grateful enough to help smuggle me, as close as possible, to the Alytus chantry?"
"I will not lie to you. Arranging such will very difficult. But, not impossible! How may I contact you when arrangements are complete?"
"Use this," replied Summers (handing over what looked like a Diner's Club card). "It's a portkey that will permit you- -and only you!- -to come to the safe house where I'll be staying."
"Labai gerai! I will see you, then."
VALE OF KASHMIR,
AKSAI CHIN REGION
(JUNE 14, 1955)
As they got closer to the black basalt ruins of Kala Pradesh, Roland Kantos became proportionately amazed at the magical skill and precision that must have gone into the city's construction. There was only a quarter-mile left to go, however, when Fenris Greybeard barred the Immortal nephandus from going any further. The claws of the former's left hand pointed in the direction of the latter's throat with unmistakable meaning.
"We will not be allowed to be proceed any nearer without an invitation. Observe."
The rogue werewolf then looked up toward the sky before emitting an ear-splitting howl. A howl that was answered almost immediately! Followed by a number of loathsome-looking quadrupeds emerging from what was left of Kala Pradesh's gargantuan main gate.
"Are those...?" Kantos began to ask.
Fenris nodded. "Black Spiral Dancers."
In less time than it takes to tell, the two of them were surrounded. But, Kantos did his best to look as unconcerned as his lycanthropic guide. Still, he could not resist looking puzzled when he heard Fenris address the alpha male of this group in what sounded like an obscure Chinese dialect. One that his own fluency in Mandarin and Cantonese proved insufficient at translating. The alpha male replied in the same dialect for a few moments. He then paused so Fenris could translate.
"They don't normally welcome visitors who look as human as you do. But, Tiaowen Kou informed them, beforehand, that he was expecting us. So we are to follow this retinue very, very slowly. Making no false moves, whatsoever!"
Kantos nodded his understanding of the orders. Consequently, it took twenty-five minutes for he and Fenris to finally reach their long-sought destination. The throne room of the castle that once served as the residence of the wizard-kings of Kala Pradesh. A strong reminder of this being the five-headed bust of a king cobra that surmounted the throne room's solid gold chair!
A chair now occupied by Tiaowen Kou of the Ajaba.
"Greetings, Fenris Greybeard!" the latter ritually intoned.
"Greetings to you, as well, Tiaowen Kou. It has been a long time since last we met."
"Indeed! I hope my taotie underlings did not frighten your guest, too much."
The renegade Garou immediately took the hint.
"May I introduce my traveling companion? Roland Kantos; late of the Order of Hermes. Now, a follower of the Golden Path!"
The Immortal nephandus respectfully bowed, right on cue. The striped were-hyena then returned the courtesy with a brief nod before resuming the conversation.
"I was told by certain acquaintances, among the local Corax, that you were headed here. May I ask what brings you all this way after so long an interval?"
"He seeks to capture a live yulan-jin... for 'study'."
Whereupon, Tiaowen Kou quietly laughed. In a tone chillingly reminiscent of one of his African brethren!
"The phrase 'live yulan-jin' could be described as oxymoronic. Emphasis on the 'moronic!' For how can one capture that which can migrate from one corporeal form to another like water through an irrigation ditch?"
"Surmounting such difficulty need concern only he and I, old friend," Greybeard replied. "All we wish to learn from you is the most likely place to find such a kuei-jin."
The previously quiet laughter rose to outright snickering! That is; before he paused to half-seriously apologize.
"Forgive me, old friend. It is simply that you two are not the first to come here on such a quest. There was one other, less than twenty-four hours ago! And I advised him to visit the same location I now disclose to you. The Temple of Shadows... atop the Leng Plateau."
Kantos looked at Greybeard before finally venturing to speak on his own behalf.
"May I ask this other party's name, Ajaba-tuan?"
Tiaowen Kou's grin, at being addressed as a "lord," was positively feral.
"He called himself... Voldemort."