The northern landscape of Nosgoth is dominated by mountains: the snow-covered slopes of the Erebus range; the active volcanos of the Tartarus; and the life-devouring peaks of the Eumenides at the edge of the known world. Whereas the Razielim hid their secret lairs under the remote Erebus Mountains, the proud Turelim built their cities under the harsh landscape of Tartarus where survival would hone their strength. Harnessing the elemental power of the earth itself, the Turelim were originally tasked by Kain himself with defeating the one true obstacle to the Vampire’s domination of Nosgoth – the sun itself. Using a combination of engineering, alchemy, and geomancy, the Turelim shaped gargantuan volcanic furnaces that belched forth smoke thick enough to block out the sun’s deadly rays. Over the centuries of Kain’s campaign against Humanity, Tartarus remained the heart of the Turelim’s expanding surface territory. Here can be found countless forges and workshops, gladiatorial training grounds and arenas, slave pens and birthing catacombs. Here the new war for Nosgoth brings daring – or foolhardy – Humans to strike at the heart of the Turelim’s war machine. Here a new generation of warriors will be forged in the crucible of battle.
The air here tastes of metal, of ash, of fire, of blood.
Generations of slaves have lived and died here before Andris and the other prisoners of war are marched through the desolate landscape of Tartarus. Those who fall by the wayside are drained by their captors, their desiccated corpses left to lie in the endless choking heat. The city is on the horizon for days before it registers on the stunned minds of the survivors, the chimneys of its countless foundries and forges made insignificant by the inhuman scale of the Smokestack itself. An artificial rival to the volcanos, the sheer fact of its existence is hard for Andris to comprehend. It renders coherent thought almost impossible, the instrument of the Vampires’ domination and the physical embodiment of their power.
The prisoners are an infusion of new blood to the Human livestock of this place. A new generation is forced into existence in the breeding camps. The stories of the twisted experiments of other Clans are infamous among Humans, but the indifferent brutality of the Turelim is not often mentioned. They do not delight in torment and torture, they simply ensure their commands are followed with crushing, unthinking and unstoppable force.
Pregnant slaves are exempt from work, as are those who have been fed upon recently. The others are put to work in the quarries and mines, the warehouses and the forges. Even though the Turelim try to keep the Humans alive for as long as they are useful, the war requires their expenditure. Falling rocks, cave-ins, and searing lava from cracks in the earth or the magma furnaces leave the fragile Humans scarred or crushed. Vampire scientists read the treacherous terrain as best they can, but their efforts are focused on the safety of their own kind first and foremost. A Vampire’s existence is precious. There are always more Humans to seize or breed.
Andris survived the march but is not sure he will survive the mines. He was a Warden in his previous life, and at times the claustrophobia of the tunnels threatens to overwhelm him. He was captured on a skirmishing patrol out from the walls of Meridian, and when the darkness claws at his sanity he mutters private litanies to remind himself that there is still a world of light and horizons out there. The names of the causeway forts he had garrisoned: Hochburg, Tür des Tages, Winternacht and Sommerdamm. The correct uses of different arrows: bodkins to pierce chainmail and even plate if you held your nerve until the leech was close enough; cruelly barbed arrows to tear at the flesh on the way in and out of the body; and for the desperate the ‘fire cage’ warheads that the Red Sisters filled with vials of naphtha and explosive dust. Memories of home and war, the two never to be separated now.
On the few occasions they are not so exhausted that they fall asleep at once, the slaves mutter stories to each other. Tales of the past from the more recent captives, although those can be too painful to bear. Myths and horror stories have sprung up among the Human population of Tartarus like weeds in the volcanic soil, thin and twisted things. Of how the Smokestack is fed not just by the heart of the volcano but by sacrifices of rebellious slaves or the mundane disposal of the dead. Of how the eternal flames are used to scour traitorous Vampires, who writhe and burn in their admonishing fire, only to heal afresh for a new interrogation before their inevitable ceremonial transport through the Doors of the Dead from which no exile returns. Of how the Turelim in their lust for conquest have come across a new hazard which threatens their immortal flesh, some kind of otherworldly energy that Marked and twisted the Vampires who were exposed to it.
Andris is close-mouthed during these whispered exchanges, does not tell of what he has seen with his own eyes. Sent back underground at shift’s end to look for a missing workmate, Andris found the lost slave at the bottom of a quarried workface, his broken body slaking the thirst of a hulking Tyrant with strange burn-like scars and a seething glow in his flesh. The gaze of Human and Vampire met, and though as he looked into the green fires Andris was sure his end too had come, the deformed Turelim simply went back to his feast. Trembling and silent, then and since, Andris crept back to the surface and shook his head when asked if he found any trace of the lost miner. He has survived the mines for a little longer, even though he has lost track of time in the fumes and the darkness of this place.
Now comes a morning undreamed of. Woken not by the whips and blows of the overseers, but a calloused hand over his mouth and an excited and urgent voice hissing in his ear. Words of infiltration, rescue, escape. Soldiers creeping through the ash-fields and obsidian-edged mountains to sabotage the Turelim war effort. Unheard-of daring to strike at the Tyrants at the site of their world-changing engineering. Many of the freed captives are too weak to fight, but whisper from scarred lungs of the layout and weaknesses of the surrounding sprawl. Andris now does speak up, his Watcher’s eyes having taken in the terrain of his confinement and instinctively translated it into lines of sight, fields of fire, choke points, and covered routes of advance or retreat. The rescuers listen carefully, exchange glances, separate him from the others and take him aside to where a cold-eyed captain waits. Andris bares his upper arm, where under the ingrained grime can still be seen the wolf’s head tattoo of his old cadre.
Andris watches the column of escapees file off into the pre-dawn murk, a handful of soldiers escorting them, and knows something is wrong. How can these half-dead civilians hope to make it out alive through the city and the wasteland beyond? Then the answer comes to him: they are not expected to. They will be a distraction, a diversion. Their escorts too are a sacrifice the cold-eyed captain is willing to make. Their gazes meet, and the captain deliberately turns his gaze up at the Smokestack looming over half the horizon. Andris thought he had been stunned by its presence before, but now his knees buckle at the enormity of this new idea. What could bring these men and women into the heart of enemy territory, knowing that they would never make it out alive again? What else but the ultimate prize: to bring down the Smokestack and bring back the Sun.
Andris can see it in his mind as clearly as if he was actually airborne, looking down on the landscape from high above like those men of the wild who are said to be able to see through the eyes of their raptors. Looking down at the bands of infiltrators and saboteurs creeping through the city to their assigned targets, at the stumbling clusters of escapees moving off in deliberately opposing directions to each other. Whoever planned this knew that discovery was inevitable, is gambling on it, and is spreading the presence of Humans and the chaos that they will bring. Somewhere the true strike force will be making their own slow, secret way to the real target. Andris wonders if they are at the base of the mountain-sized throne yet. He wonders what secrets of alchemy and witchcraft they are armed with to have a hope of success, whether their own deaths will somehow feed the ritual of destruction.
Then the alarm sounds, and with secrecy gone explosions and sounds of battle echo from across the city as the saboteurs trigger their diversionary devices and prepare to sell their lives dearly. Andris can hear distant screaming. He looks at the warriors who will stand and fight here to buy time for those secret others. At the Vanguards digging in behind their shields. At the Hunters with their box-fed crossbows and the Prophets priming their multi-barrelled flintlocks. At the Alchemists with their own flames waiting to be unleashed. At the Scouts with their great war bows half drawn. His hands ache to feel the tension of the bowstring, the flex of the yew wood and horn one last time, and he nods thanks as an archer in Marksman’s Regalia hands him a surplus composite bow and quiver of barbed arrows. It feels like coming home, or as close as Andris will ever get now. He hopes, briefly, that he might live long enough to see the Smokestack fall, but he will settle for sending some of these cursed leeches back to the Abyss.
For the Vampires of Tartarus the time has come for the air to taste of metal, of ash, of fire, of blood.
--Cat Karskens, Square Enix