An empire falls, and from its ashes echoes a deafening silence and stillness. The peace brought about by the death of the tyrannous Lord Alcaeus left his former kingdom abandoned, damned to stand forever as a symbol of the fall of a dark age, and the rise of a bright, new one. Before long, Esdras of the Solemn Darkness renounced his title of king, and his citizens dispersed in the hopes of finding a life free of torment and despair. The buildings left there, though not quickly relieved of the stench of blood, were left cold and alone, lifeless forever more.

It took decades, but eventually, the fields regained their vitality and dignity, and human caravans passed by plentifully again, the horror that took place there for so long having been reduced to mere rumor. It was as if Alcaeus' pestilence had never wrought its dominance. Throughout all of this, the former kingdom remained still, a fertile land now covered in moss and weeping willows. Cronus was no more.

An age had dawned of vampiric Renaissance, and many forgotten arts of the ancient mystics were revived. The birth of a new vampire legend, that which would transcend the very degenerating grasp of time itself, was to be born in the Scottish Highlands. In this, the name of one village would be forever remembered, forever cursed: Gaist Clachan. A gathering of vampires in the bringing up of sages rather than soldiers, Gaist Clachan kept itself shrouded from the view of the humans, for blood and food were plentiful as the humans fought their own battles.

Gaist Clachan, a village below the hovering grace of the mountains, at their feet, embraced deeply in the arms of an ever-present fog, reminiscent of cold-blooded murder. There burnt a flame that some might call destiny, but eternity might call it consequence yet to happen. Shrouded from humanity, the village housed the best and brightest, the wave of power to lead the new generation of the people of the dark. It was a holy land to the vampire race, deemed worthy only of the feet and person of representatives of the great empires sent to study the forgotten arts. The hopes of all vampire kind resided in Gaist Clachan, for one day, it would give birth to a new power, the return of the ancients.

As bright as their purpose was, their sight was not. After thousands of years of day-to-day meditation and living below in dark labyrinths isolated from the surface, they grew to detest the sun. Perhaps they were the first of the vampire to hunt solely at night. Above them rolled an endless green valley, rolling forever in waves that marched for the horizon. The grass thrived, competing for life and overlapping itself, separated only by a cross breeze. The ground twisted into hills, which twisted into mountains, and all surrounded itself in beauty, but it seemed never smiled on by a blue sky. An ironic scenery, and greatly captivating, but they sacrificed the view, leaving their eyes exposed only to the teachings of old. A dull existence, but honorable.

The inhabitants were nameless due to the recruiting process, and still, one youth stood out above the rest. He came on a night that hung a heavy, yellow moon, and the smell of the damp air of a previously fallen rain surrounded him, as if he had walked a thousand miles under the pressure of the storm and fog before arriving. He was a handsome boy, though tall and lanky. His figure was completely obscured by the black monk's robe, but his face was revealed from the lowered hood as he stepped in past the guards. His eyes were his most alluring, yet confusing trait; their dull, gray eyes were a clear sign that he was an anomaly in all aspects, and they stood forth brightly among the common blue.

He walked slowly down the torch-lit, stone hallway toward the room of ceremonies, and there faced the elders, seeking their acceptance, kneeling before them at a distance. Their oldest, their founder, sat deified in the center, several feet above the rest in a throne of ivory, and they all dressed in the same black robe as he, though their faces remained hidden in the shadows of the hoods.

"Lo, brethren, that I have cleansed myself of all my eyes have seen, my mind has experienced. I have cast away my name and past. I kneel before you a vessel, willing, and in welcome of the knowledge that I so humbly request that you bestow upon me. I am as your disciple, and pose now empty, that you might fill me and renew me." The boy sternly said, sounding his voice over the distance between them, but careful to be respectful.

A long, almost awkward pause settled in between them, but none of them changed their posture or pose. Then, suddenly, the eldest spoke. "Arise, my son." he said, and the boy stood. "We have examined you thoroughly, peered into your thoughts, and we've decided to accept you." The boy smiled and took a deep breath, and for a moment, seemed immature, though charming.

"However, take heed." said the elder in a rough, almost frog like voice while pointing a lengthy finger at him, specifically at the black book beneath his arm. "You have studied the Tome of Darkness, and realize its power. You have chosen your path, and, in this, great responsibility. Many of the arts along your journey are forbidden. Be careful not to stray from the path of righteousness, for the darkness grips and pulls in temptation."

The boy nodded with a serious expression. "I understand. I will take your words to heart, and my mind will remain clear of temptation. I begin my endeavor not for myself, but for those in need of my guidance. I will learn for my kind, and deliver your words and wisdom." Bowing, the boy sealed his pact with the elders, and thus, became a brother of the clan, a monk of Gaist Clachan.

"Young one," croaked the eldest, "you have been cast as a pillar to uphold a grand, cataclysmic power. As such, you must remain strong of mind and soul, lest the weight of responsibility and temptation crush you where you stand. You will join us in meditation for the evening before we rest. Understand that your position as a monk of this clan, and as a future Sage of Darkness, will deny you many of life's simple pleasures. You must sacrifice for the common good."

"I understand," said the boy, "and I am very willing to make such a sacrifice. My life is as nothing when compared to the good that I might do for my kind. My goal is for the survival and well being of the people of darkness, nothing more. I do this not for myself, but for the vampire race."

The night was both peaceful and restless. The silence within the chambers and above ground left ample room for the loud roar of powerful auras to the ones sensitive to it. Like a candle that radiated darkness, the new disciple's aura flickered violently about him, but not in the sense that he had little control. The elders could sense that his mind was at complete ease, but his soul hungered for its destiny. It was clear that he would emerge from the clan a phenomenal power, that he was meant for either great or terrible things.

While the others rested soundly in their rooms that night, the new disciple remained awake, examining the Tome of Darkness and stroking the beveled cover with his fingers gently. Taking hold of the top cover with his thumb and index finger, his eyes widened with curiosity, and they seemed to glow.

"No, I mustn't." he said, drawing his hand back with self disgust. "I must not read the forbidden teachings. I must remain pure, free of temptation." He leaned back, sighing and closing his eyes. "Still," he thought, turning his eyes back to the book, "they seem to fear the power of darkness so. I must know what secrets it holds."

Before another thought could interfere with his actions, he tossed the book open to the pages of the forbidden, and the first name he saw seemed to electrify him, stirring an incoherent desire within him. "Vulnus Aeternum." he read aloud to himself in a low whisper. However, he was reluctant to read further, feeling a deep sense of guilt. At this point, though, it was too late. A strange rune of fine detail in the center of the page drew his involuntary attention.

He traced it with his finger, and in that instant, the print began to illuminate. Startled, he slammed the book closed and drew a hard, deep breath, as if emerging from a suffocating fluid that gripped his lungs. "What would the elders think of this lack of will?" he thought, ashamed. "I am to control the dark powers, they are not to control me. This is why I am to resist temptation. I knew that, yet still I could not control my actions or thoughts. Could this be an omen?"

The next morning, the pain of being gripped by the tome was still fresh on his skin and in his heart. If it had not been for a sacred duty to follow the proceedings of the clan, he would have remained holed away in the darkness of his room. Nevertheless, he had sworn a sacred oath. He could only hope that his brothers would not see past his wounded integrity.

This was the day of prayer to the Divine Deities, the two mortal gods of the vampire race, mother and father of the people of the dark. As icons of the dark people, their blessings were believed to have given strength to the sacred endeavor. Not even the eldest of the brothers of Gaist Clachan had ever seen these two fabulous beings, but their combined aura was ever present in the minds of the Sages. It was a ceremony to telepathically link with the Deities and plead for their strength. Even the people of the dark had their worshipped idols.

All at once, the monks emerged from their rooms, chanting in unison the same mantra: "Consaluto dominus caliginis, consaluto domina caliginis." While never dropping a note in their chant, they formed a single file line and slowly marched down the seemingly endless hallway. Though it was morning, and the sun gleamed brilliantly over the emerald hills, its rays halted just there, and the monks were as a line of voices echoing in the shadows.

After several hundred feet, the hallway spilled into a somewhat crudely compiled, wooden spiral staircase that stretched down into an ominous pit, an orange light ablaze from a source of several torches at the bottom. All the while of marching forth, the mantra continued monotone, almost soulless. Reaching the bottom of the staircase, the monks faced their most sacred chamber, the Hall of Origins.

Standing in neatly formed rows and ranks, an even space kept down the center aisle for the passing of the elders, the ceremony was ready to commence. The eldest took his place on the altar, and behind him stood two ominous statues, statues of two children, the king and queen of the vampire race, the Deities. On the walls behind each of the statues were engraved murals of dragon-like figures, symbolic of shadows of their power, or possibly even their current physical forms. A truly breath taking sight.

"Behold! The mother and father of our noble race smile on our cause! Let us pray for their strength, let us pray for their blessings in our future efforts!" the eldest shouted over the chanting crowd. The new disciple was awe stricken at the glorified monument. He had heard many legends about the Deities, but never had he seen such a beautiful monument in their honor.

The monks kneeled and concentrated their telepathy and auras on the goal of contacting their idols. The eldest continued the chant at the top of his voice, and for what seemed like hours, they pleaded for the attention of their superiors. Suddenly, in a most morbid fashion, the chanting and prayer stopped, and an awkward pause followed. Short of breath and struck with fear, the eldest turned to face his pupils.

Throughout the entire ceremony, the new disciple had been trembling in fear of the sin he had committed the night before. As many times as he tried to convince himself that his curiosity was a phase that all brothers went through in their primary training, his uncertainty was dominant. Still, he found it peculiar that his curiosity to discover the true power of the Tome of Darkness only found its peak after being sworn into the Gaist Clachan Brotherhood.

"The Deities.have become displeased with us. They deny us their blessings..they sense.impurity within our ranks." The eldest spoke nervously over a flustered crowd. Clearly, the new disciple's curiosity was to lead to a far grimmer outcome than anticipated. The birth of a new power was certainly underway, but it hungered for cataclysmic destruction. ----------------------- The Forbidden