I sat amongst a pile of satin cushions and rugs in my private audience chamber, waiting for the ghoul to arrive. My guards stood just outside the door, ready to act if anything untoward should happen. While I was confident in my own power to overtake a ghoul, I had no illusions that my rival, Elaheh, would leave me be if she learned of the meeting. Brightly colored mosaics depicting concentric geometric shapes covered the walls of the room, drawing the eye and making the large room seem full. In one corner stood a stone carved image of an angel with a cat-like form and large wings sprouting from its shoulders. I particularly liked this piece, rumored to have been in the palace since before the current Caliphate had control.
Being the Prince of Baghdad had its perks, private rooms, power, and an endless supply of followers bowing and scraping trying to earn favor. It also had its drawbacks, like Elaheh. She wanted my power, and was willing to kill for it. I just had to be faster than her.
A young girl peaked her head into the room, breaking my train of thought and bringing me back to the room. When she spotted the cushions, she entered and walked over to where I was sitting. She was Elaheh’s ghoul, and by rumor, slated to undergo the Embrace soon. I could see the appeal in her dark brown hair, caramel-colored skin, and golden brown eyes. She held herself stately and dignified as a king would, evidence of Elaheh’s grooming.
“Alienor, how nice of you to come to me,” I said, projecting my truth out to her, wrapping her in the fullness of an illusion.
She nodded curtly, not looking at me, but instead fixing on a point nearby. Of course, she could not see my true self through the illusion, only what she expected to see — her regnant.
“Tell me child, would you do anything for me?” I asked her, the words coming to her in a perfect imitation of Elaheh’s condescending tone.
“Anything you ask of me, mistress,” she said, her head down in a submissive gesture.
Anything. I contemplated this. Was she as bound up as all that, willing to live and die by her regnant’s word? I guessed she would have to be if Elaheh was contemplating the Embrace for the girl. But that meant the Ventrue would be keeping a close eye on her, watching her for any mistakes that might mean she isn’t yet ready. The Ventrue clan tended to spend more time training and grooming their ghouls than others, almost as much time as my clan, the Ravnos. Anything was the answer I wanted, it also came with the added problem of fanatic loyalty. I only hoped I had made this meeting late enough that she wouldn’t have time to go back to her real regnant before the sun came up.
I needed to get information from the ghoul to solidify my plans. I had no idea who was working with Elaheh against me, but this ghoul should know who speaks to her regnant most often. I couldn’t very well set her to spying without breaking my carefully crafted illusion.
“Tell me what you know about Mritunjay,” I asked her, starting with my biggest question — what was Elaheh planning against me?
She hesitated slightly. I worried that maybe this was something they had spoken of before, and would this question give me away. She finally offered a hesitant answer, “Not much mistress, I don’t spend a great deal of time at court, as you know.”
I could see that she was worried she would upset her mistress by not knowing. Well, at least the girl wasn’t already part of Elaheh’s plots against me. That worked out well, since it meant she wouldn’t suspect the ghoul’s part in my plan for her.
“I do know Afrah, mistress,” she offered helpfully.
I hesitated. She was the Seneschal, another Ventrue, and likely to be close to Elaheh, if only through their shared clan. This could be information I could use, but how would Elaheh respond to this? The girl spoke out of turn, but I couldn’t betray my eagerness to hear what she had to say. I had to speak as Elaheh would, maintaining the truth Alienor saw before her. My hesitation grew into an uncomfortable silence and the girl blushed, turning her head away.
I spoke quickly, giving Elaheh’s words force, assuming displeasure was the likeliest answer, “Did I ask you about Afrah?”
“No, my lady,” her voice was soft and contrite, she didn’t return her gaze to the illusion. I wasn’t surprised to see how the harsh words scared the girl. Elaheh was well-known for her temper, and she likely expected a beating for speaking out of turn.
I softened the voice, but not too much and said, “What did you want to tell me about Afrah?”
She gave a furtive glance and spoke quickly, “She won’t support destroying
the Caliphate of the city. She believes it will destabilize the city, and that the Abbadid rule is necessary for vampiric survival.”
I nearly let out a gasp. The bloodthirsty woman would go so far to secure rule in the city as to destroy the mortals in charge, destabilizing everything and likely throwing the city into a civil war. Of course she would, she killed indiscriminately to gain power, that is why I was here, wasn’t it? My mind raced with this new information. Where had this girl picked up this information? Surely, she would have detailed knowledge about Elaheh’s plans, but Afrah’s?
My hesitation did not go unnoticed by Alienor. “Mistress?” she asked tentatively.
“Go on,” I said to her, interested in what more the ghoul knew about this.
“She plans to speak with the elders about it, ask them to seek a moratorium on your action.” She said this part carefully, as though she wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. “Can they do that?”
I thought for a moment. Elaheh would certainly have a quick answer to that, but I wasn’t so sure. Of course, the elders could seek to suck, but in the end, the Prince has fnal say, his word the rule of law. But, the elders could force the issue. Certainly, I would support such a motion against her plot, but I wanted more than a moratorium on Elaheh, I wanted her neutralized. Really, I wanted her to pay for what she had done to my clan, and what she was surely planning to do to me. How would Elaheh respond?
“They can ask, but it is meaningless,” I said, condescension dripping from the illusion of Elaheh’s voice. “Alienor, where did you hear this information?” I asked in a gentler voice.
“I heard her talking to someone,” she hesitated and went on, “I don’t remember who, mistress. I’m sorry.”
Well, it didn’t matter, if she was speaking so openly, she was bound to get
around to the elders soon. I realized this could work out in my favor. If Afrah made herself an enemy of Elaheh, then I could use them against each other. This was the break I was looking for.
“Alienor, do you know why I asked you to come here tonight?” I asked the girl, having the illusory Elaheh stand, prompting the ghoul to stand as well.
She looked into Elaheh’s eyes, searching. “I would not presume, mistress.”
“I have a task for you. A final task,” I said, giving the words meaning.
She suppressed a grin, a spark of anticipation lighting her face. Such a lovely face, too bad. “Yes, mistress?
“This is your final test, if you pass, you are ready for the Embrace,” I said,
again attempting to instill gravity into the situation. “Are you ready?”
“Yes mistress,” she said. The calm she mustered surprised me. She was indeed Elaheh’s creature, so completely confident in herself and her mistress. I marveled at both their naiveté. Did Elaheh really think she could just leave a ghoul around and have it go unmolested? She was far too trusting.
“The task is simple, but it will be trying. You must kill Afrah,” I said with a solemnity that surprised me.
She started. This was not what she was expecting to hear. “Afrah?” She asked in a quiet, shocked voice. “But… she’s the Seneschal.” I could see the struggle between accepting the task and doing what she felt was best. I would have to order her, and then hope it overrode any self-preservation she held onto.
“Not anymore. She plots against me, and she will suffer the fate of those who cross me. You must kill her.” My voice rose as I spoke as I pushed emotions into my carefully woven façade.
“I see,” she answered, somewhat fearful of her regnant’s ire.
“Good. Now leave me. The sun rises soon, prepare yourself, for you must kill her today, while she sleeps and her protections are at their weakest. Be careful, those who guard us during the day may try to stop you.” I told her, then waved my hand for her to leave.
She bowed deeply and hurried from the room. As she did, the scent of her ?ushed skin rushed past me on a puff of air. I inhaled deeply before letting it out in a satisfied sigh.
The girl was untested and certainly not a killer. The guards would catch her for certain, though hopefully not before she did her deed.
Read the rest of Veil of Power and other tales in The Cainite Conspiracies Anthology, available in PDF and print from DriveThruFiction.