Tension hanged in the air like an oily mist as three dignitaries sat around the small table, warily eyeing one another. One, sharply dressed and with an unwavering gaze, served as the vampire Prince of Sonoma County—not the first time he held the most powerful position in the land. Run out of the Domain years before in a political coup, he returned and seized the reins of power when the ruling Prince made an error of judgment most grave. Whether they liked him or not, the populace was forced to respect the man they once, and now again, called “Prince Kingsley.”

O’Keefe, the disgraced former prince who had deposed Kingsley from his first rule and thereafter returned the throne back to him after being embroiled in public scandal, served as the Keeper of Elysium—an embarrassingly low-visibility position for one who served as the area’s sovereign ruler for a period of years. His continued existence in the Domain served as a reminder to his supporters that even the highest in the land was not immune to the rules of propriety, and a reminder to himself of his failure to live up to the noble demands of the position he once so earnestly sought.

Though the two former Princes had a great deal of unspoken animosity between them, much of their derision was aimed at the third member of the small council, the self-proclaimed Prince of Vallejo. For decades Ryan Petty had been a Baron of the Anarch movement, the juvenile upstart sect that desired the downfall of the historic feudal system of Princes and vassals, when he unexpectedly informed the neighboring Domains that he had decided to switch teams. Neither Kingsley nor O’Keefe believed his conversion to be real, and more likely a trick to further his attempts at embarrassing the system they upheld. Nevertheless, in the very off-chance he had a genuine change of heart, they met with him in the basement of the little-used Marin Civic Salon, orders given to the populace that they not be disturbed.

Thump … Thump … Thump

Three sets of eyes darted to the ceiling from whence the rhythmic shaking came; regular concussions boomed through the subterranean meeting room as if someone were attempting to break apart the building with a slow-tempoed jack hammer. As dust and ceiling chips began to filter through the dim light, the three turned their attention to one another—had the meeting been a trap, set in order to rid two enemies in one fell swoop? O’Keefe surely still desired the throne and to rid himself of his annoying southern neighbor. Kingsley, a staunch traditionalist, could have easily hired others to do the dirty work of disposing of his old foe and the annoying joker, all while keeping the appearance of innocence. Petty could have lured the pair into the private room and set his hordes of anarchs upon them, destroying two powerful vampires that stood to oppose his plans.

The three rose to their feet, keeping eyes on the dangerous foes in their midst, trying to ignore the booming that grew closer with each muted thud. Cracks began to appear in the ceiling, sending more waves of dust onto the dignitaries beneath. Movement at the door caught the Princes’ attention—the sound of footsteps in the hallway outside.

With a shattering snap, a large part of the ceiling broke free under the repetitive onslaught of the force attempting to break through. O’Keefe’s eyes darted to Kinglsey, who looked back in fear—was this the moment? With a blur of motion that was hard to track with even supernatural eyes, O’Keefe shoved his sovereign out of the way of the falling debris, shouldering the crushing load himself before tossing it aside. Kingsley was a master of politics and social manipulation, but had never been a student of the more offensive physical disciplines of speed or strength. He realized with horror that his Keeper of Elyisum could likely destroy him with ease and it was only his adherence to the tenets of their society that kept death at bay.

They both turned to “Prince” Petty—O’Keefe’s quick action and Kingsley’s shock left but one option to consider. Standing with his back to the wall, razor talons extended from his fingers, the former anarch narrowed his eyes. “What the hell is this, Kingsley?” he snarled.

“You tell me” he replied icily, taking a half-step behind his overly-capable officer. “Are those your friends at the door?”

A maniacal laughing issued from the expanded hole in the ceiling. “You’re so bad at this, all of you. It’s time you learn about real power, and how a Domain should be run.”

All three Princes looked up in confusion, none recognizing the voice. “Who dares threaten the Prince?” O’Keefe bellowed into the yawning darkness.

“Your betters!” the voice replied with a high-pitched hyena laugh. “Prepare to suffer!”

As if at his command, the door swung open to reveal five members of an occult vampire family, strange practitioners of even stranger arts. They were allowed to keep their secrets in return for their continued support of the local feudal society, but it seemed they had been chafing under the arrangement.

As the forefront magus began to trace arcane symbols in the air, all three of the powerful Princes unleashed the full brunt of their vampiric charm, almost palpable as a wave of dominance streaked toward the door. Regular mortals would have fallen on their knees, pledged undying fealty, and given up their first born in the face of such mystical force. The wizards, having no small command of the undead arts themselves, merely stumbled over one another to become scarce, the youngest managing to mumble a pitiful “sorry m’lords” before he too turned tail and ran down the hallway.

“You idiots!” the voice from above cried out as his companions fled, unable to raise a hand against their betters. “Not one of you prepared protections against social powers? These are Princes we’re trying to kill here!”

“Prince Kingsley,” Ryan Petty began, a savage grin on his face and eager tone in his voice, “I fully understand this is your home and you have all right to defend it, but as a guest, may I be permitted to chase down whomever above attempted to orchestrate this failed rebellion?”

The Prince of Sonoma County considered the request; if the anarchs had been behind the attack, he could make use of the opportunity to silence any who would lead back to him. Then again, it was quite unlikely that an outsider would have been able to sway an entire family against his rule.

“Alive,” he nodded curtly.

With a feral growl, the outsider leapt into the hole within the ceiling, causing an excited and perhaps horrified yelp of surprise and fear from the strongman who had attempted to break his way into the meeting room, likely as a means to bolster the wizards’ assault.

“Keeper,” the Prince turned to O’Keefe, “bring me the head of that family.” Then, after a pause, “the leader, not just a body part.”

“Of course, my lord.”

I had opportunity to play through the above scenario long ago in my live-action role-playing days, portraying the anarch Prince Ryan Petty. Even though I was one of the game-runners, the players involved had been very careful to keep their plans from me on an out-of-character level, meaning I was fully unprepared for what could have happened.

That an entire Clan of powerful vampire wizards didn’t prepare the single and (internally) well-known ritual that would have neutered all of the Princes’ defense remains a point of laughter for the three of us, who fully expected to lose our characters when we saw the forces arrayed against us. So much of the game revolved around internal and interpersonal treachery, it was often just as fun when plans failed as when they succeeded.

Header image created by Julia Lepetit as part of an art challenge on the DrawFree YouTube channel.