The Roman settlement in the area the Creightons call home entered decline after the 2nd century. Part of that was an increase in aggression from the Picts. Part of that was a series of general uprisings and a mood of unrest amongst the Roman troops and citizenry in Britain. Part of that – perhaps the largest part, though historians debate this point – was the reputation it developed.
The town was at one point an important town with a considerable amount of traffic, somewhere between the highly Romanized areas to the South and the wilds to the North. The Roman occupation included a temple complex, regional administration, an inn, and baths. Troops and traders from all over Roman Britain would move through to reinforce the northern border or to return South to London. Trade was good. Amenities were sophisticated. Wine flowed. The bath complex grew to accommodate the increased traffic.
But rumours began. Rumours of witches and demons. Rumours of people going missing. Of bloodstained cobblestones and mutilated bodies. Of one elderly patron’s interest in hearty young men and women, who would occasionally go missing. Of tattoos – strange symbols, not pagan, not Roman – borne by those who came and went from the estate. Officially, nothing was confirmed. But soon enough the rumours started to coalesce around the wealthy patrons of the town, the ones who owned the baths and funded the small temple complex and paid to maintain the catacombs beneath. And bit by inexorable bit the centre of the town’s life started to shift away from the patrons’ estate, towards the other end of the settlement.
This suited the patrons just fine. They allowed the traffic at the baths to dwindle. They accepted when a new temple drew the focus of worship away from their land and dismissed the temple staff to work elsewhere. The catacombs lay dormant as burials ceased.
As the wider area entered decline, there continued to be traffic, although less. But by this time the attention had shifted far from the strange family that had founded and overseen the town. And so nobody noticed when the Roman estate was slowly subsumed into the ground, and a new house was built on the hill. By the time the Romans had completed their withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century, a new Briton house stood on the spot where the Roman settlement had once flourished. And so it continued unmolested through the years. But folklore in the area did not quite forget the idea that there was a spirit or creature in the area that fed on the young and healthy. And whenever anyone went missing, there was a murmur that the spirit folk were at work. Perhaps a pale woman who stalked graveyards and preyed on bereaved lovers and passers-by. Perhaps an undead Celtic dwarf who delighted in cruelty and could only be dispatched with a sword made of yew wood. In the 50 years after the Roman withdrawal, there were intermittent flurries of disappearances and strange occurrences.
But then, for nearly a century, quiet.
Eventually, whispers began that something was again stirring. The kingdom of Mercia, which encompassed the area, began to experience a rapid increase in power. It remained pagan much later than other areas in England. The Northumbrians especially held a distaste for the pagan Mercians, and talked in low voices about pagan demons who feasted on the blood of virgins. Questions were raised about the provenance of the Mercian king’s power, where his knowledge and tactics came from. How so many of his opponents seemed to die or disappear at inopportune times. And the old ghost stories started again.
The Mercian throne passed from king to king, with favour blowing in one way or another. The old Breton estate that stood on the site of an old Roman settlement evolved into something else. And all grew quiet for some time.
Eventually the Mercians stopped being useful, and in the 9th century Danish invaders put an end to the Kingdom of Mercia. Some historians called it an inevitability. Others saw peculiar machinations, and a pattern beginning to emerge. More and more infrequently through the centuries, but always in the same way, power was being brokered. And the keen-eyed would note that the calm centre of the storm in the British Isles was a small estate in the North of Warwickshire.
Lady Ada Creighton snapped the last sinews, separating the head from the body. She tossed the head off to the side and it rolled into the shadows. The body, spasming and enthusiastically pumping out its hot blood, collapsed to its knees and slowly tipped forward, landing at the edge of the retrofitted Roman bath in front of her. Lady Creighton watched as it emptied itself into the pool. Beneath, fed by pumps far away so as not to create noise, oxygen-rich air bubbled through it, and slow, gently turbines kept it moving. There were many human lives’ worth of blood in the pool. But the last one was Lady Creighton’s privilege to add. It was an offering.
“Lamashtu,” she called gently. “Lamashtu. It’s fresh. For you. Thank you, progenitor.”
Lady Creighton’s husband, her sire, the vampire who turned her, was nearly the latest in the unbroken line of House Scion. But the creature that lived in the depths of her estate, moving slowly through the crypts and the temple complex and only ever venturing out as far as this ceremonial bath, was something far different. A pureblood vampire, impossibly old. One who had whispered in the right ears and made clever decisions and deals for over a thousand years more than a thousand years before Caesar was murdered in the Senate. She had amassed a horde of gold and secrets in the catacombs and guarded it like a dragon.
And now, here she was. Impossibly old. Still whispering. But in many languages, most dead, and to no one. Sitting in the dark, being fed like a child.
Lamashtu would be worshipped and nourished and sacrificed to. But Lady Creighton, Matriarch of House Scion wielded the power now. A half-breed. A convert. Lamashtu had reminded Ada of her status many times early on, when Ada’s power was still developing and Lamashtu would still venture above ground.
Lady Creighton caught a rustle of movement in the deep darkness on the other side of the pool, and a babble of whispers. She stepped back from the pool of blood. A slender, pale figure slipped to the side of the pool on all fours, smelling, dipping its fingers in like a child would, tasting gingerly. Its hair trailed along the surface of the blood, turning the white to pink. It spoke to itself, spoke to the dark alcoves of the room around it, spoke to ghosts. Lady Creighton allowed herself to watch as Lamashtu emerged. Her face and body were oddly ageless, but impossibly old at the same time – like a classical statue carved out of flawed marble, translucent and veined but polished beyond any semblance of texture. Finally Lamashtu slipped beneath the surface of the pool.
The sacrament was complete. Lamashtu would live on, for all the good it did anyone these days. It felt like half of Lord Creighton’s attention was focused on his mother in recent decades, worrying and doting and hunting – him, hunting for her and carrying the catch back like a servant. Once, he was a force to be reckoned with. The Lariat would never have been so much as a whisper on the Americans’ lips if he had his full attention on the authority that was their birthright.
One day soon, Ada Creighton vowed, they would be rid of Lamashtu and could shape the fortunes of House Scion free of her legacy.
Until then, the Mother of Vampires had been appeased. Business concluded.
With whispers and small splashes echoing behind her. Lady Creighton ascended back to her house.
Hopefully, news would be waiting from Dutch, Normand, and Cash. She had designs on the American port cities.