This chapter begins with a script-type dialogue between two unnamed individuals discussing their attack plan. They are going send their troops against Camarilla close to the hunters’ raid, gambling on Camarilla not being able to deal with two strikes at once.Eh, the scene itself is not awful by the standards of this book, but the script format grates me. Unless they are SEELE, it’s just obnoxious. SEELE were so Ominous, it was kinda funny, especially in the manga where they appeared as signature black monoliths before Kaworu for no damn reason other than Ominous. They have style is what I am saying. Hilarious style.
Next scene is just Alexei making a stop on his way to Moscow to kill some unnamed vampire. Vampire is a caitiff, but fast enough to almost get away from Alexei, from which I get a feeling the author wants us to think it’s Sergei. I don’t hold my breath. I know that the characters I want to see dead the most will taunt me by living well forever.
The only thing of note in this scene is that Alexei used a bit of Elder blood to catch up with the vampire. Again, how much of this stuff does he have? Shouldn’t it be running out at some point? Otherwise I am forced to assume that the bottle actually contains a bleeding Elder who sneaks out at night to drink some blood. Coming up with little stories like that is the only solace I have left with this story. I am this close to writing a fanfic about a hungry city consuming everyone with trap streets and buildings that never were.
Next scene is Pavel and Michal arrived to some village and bickering. During the yet another time-skip Michal became a ghoul, and we get a quick exposition on what ghouls are. According to the book, ghouls are people who drink vampire blood regularly, gaining part of their power. They are used by Camarilla vampires as errand boys, though before the cure was invented all vampires first were ghouls for a few years. Hunters are not ghouls despite also drinking vampire blood because in order to make a ghoul, a vampire must willingly give blood and imbue it with power. Otherwise its effect would be short-lived, and the recipient wouldn’t gain full ghoul powers. Ghouls are only slightly weaker than their creators, while hunters are typically significantly weaker.
OK, let’s do another round of spotting the differences. First of all, no, how you get the blood doesn’t matter. Just drinking vampire blood is enough to become a ghoul, there is no transformation involved. Ghouls are also significantly weaker than vampires, especially when it comes to the upper limit of their potential. They might be comparable with a neonate, but any experienced vampire shouldn’t have too many troubles with them. That change really feels to be there just to make hunters more inferior than anything connected to vampires.
Next, I actually would grant the book the errand boys thing. Ghouls in VtM are very valuable to vampires because burning under the sunlight is a bitch when it comes to moving in high society. Ghouls are here for vampires to use as proxies, so they won’t need to refuse some important meeting because it happened to be scheduled during the day in a place where the Sun can be seen. They are valued servants, and many of them are far from expendable. But with vampires walking in daylight, the value of ghouls would go down. Especially since those vampires can change their appearance at will, so even living suspiciously long is not an issue when it comes to secrecy. They would still hold some value because there is only so many vampires you can create without starting to run out of people, especially in this world where they regularly kill people for stupid reasons, but they wouldn’t be essential to the vampire society.
For some reason the book omits the primary reason why ghouls are good servants, however: loyalty. Regularly drinking vampire blood from the same donor creates a blood bond, which makes ghouls devoted to their masters. The bond takes hold gradually, and can be weakened or removed outright if ghouls don’t drink blood too often. At the height of power, such bonds can sometimes get twisted into yandere scenarios, which is why some vampires prefer to give their ghouls only the bare minimum of blood, but for the most part it’s a good way to ensure you have loyal servants at your side.
I guess the author didn’t want to deal with the moral issue here, especially since making Michal a ghoul is framed as a good deed solving his problems, but it’s rather late for such sentiments at this point.
Oh, and also, no, not all vampires were once ghouls. It is practiced among certain clans, especially ones that are big on hierarchy and power structures, but a lot of vampires were just Embraced from humans.
But let’s move on. Pavel and Michal go around the village asking for anything suspicious, trying to find out if there are any signs of hunters’ presence. We are informed that Pavel had run four times into hunters, which, by the standards of this book, is a pretty low number since his route is described as especially dangerous. Michal also behaves like an idiot, often flaunting his powers before mortals, which Pavel barely manages to stop. I very much doubt it’s going to bite him in the ass despite the whole “clan leader wants him dead” deal. It’s just here to make Pavel look better.
Pavel does discover that there was indeed a hunter right away. It’s Alexei who killed that unnamed vampire.
They follow Alexei’s tracks to the graveyard where he killed the vampire and find some ash on one of the gravestones with a cross on it. Then a zombie attacks. We are informed that the cross must have absorbed “vampire energy” and pushed it into the corpse, animating it. That’s really not how it works, and there is not even a proper analogy in VtM for me to explain. It’s just here for a random encounter fight.
More zombies arise, Pavel tries to kill them, but nothing works: spells fail, slashing zombies is hard, bullets are ineffective. I think it’s werewolf zombies because normally the problem with zombies is not that they are super-tough, but they just keep going no matter what you do with them.
The author also namedrops Perumov and Lukyanenko, two popular Russian speculative fiction authors. I am not surprised the author reads them. While both write much better than him, they are still hacks whose writing happened to appeal to teenagers thinking themselves intelligent and deep, but in reality being anything but. Both like to talk about Light and Dark, seemingly unaware that the concept have no meaning beyond what is given to them in a specific book. They also each have their own host of issues (Lukyanenko in particular rather uncomfortably likes to include scenes of little boys fucking in his books. It’s not William Burroughs level, but then, there isn’t enough drugs in his writing to distract from it, either).
Either way, directly comparing your writing to other authors is just a bad form since all it truly accomplishes is reminding the readers they are just reading a story, destroying whatever tension the scene might hold.
Anyway, Pavel and Michal slow down the advance of zombies, but things are looking grim. Michal proposes to just run away, but Pavel rather uncharacteristically points out zombies will go to the village if not stopped. Don’t worry, he didn’t lose his sociopathy. He isn’t concerned for people, he just doesn’t want them to learn the truth about the secret world, since it would be a violation of the Masquerade. Dude, I recall you making people believe you are a government agent hunting the undead. If that doesn’t violate the Masquerade, I…
Huh, I just realized I have no idea what the Masquerade even means in this world filled with Mary Sues that can easily erase negative consequences of nearly any action.
Let’s cure the sudden epiphany of the sheer meaninglessness of it all with more stupid. A necromancer (human) arrives from the village, banters with Pavel and takes down a third of zombies by making each of them burn in blue flames. What a vulgar magic, eh? He then stands still for ten minutes, “gathering energy,” while Pavel and Michal hold the line. With two more spells, he takes down all of the zombies. All of them. Then he disappears back to the village, probably never to be seen again.
Wait, that doesn’t help, I still feel the void of reason sucking me in.
I am saved by a suddenly appearing plot. Pavel’s car crashes, sending Michal flying through the window. Pavel gets out and discovers a bunch of wild vampires with “blood weapons” armature waiting for him. They banter, then fight. The narration informs us that four vampires are significantly weaker than Pavel, three around his level, and one is stronger. So it could actually be a somewhat tense fight. Two times now the author actually has given Pavel tough opponents who couldn’t be overcome by brute force alone, even if he did save Pavel shortly after in improbable ways…
Ah, who am I kidding. Pavel kills them all without a scratch. He calls Maharnen and informs him about the wild vampires appearing. Maharnen says he knows, they appear all over the edges of Moscow for a few days now. If that’s the massive attack we were promised, I am not impressive. They should have gone for the throat: break the Masquerade to create Camarilla some problems, go after known vampires, follow the hunters’ plan to take down groups of young vampires in synchronized strikes, etc. You know, apply pressure Camarilla would feel.
Well, maybe they do, and we just got a brief summary of their actions. We’ll find out in the next chapter. I don’t hold my breath.