Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
A fugitive Nosferatu of the Iron Hag's brood; a talented storyteller and humanitarian
Vladka was born into a large peasant family in the depths of rural Russia. Like most of her family, she was of sturdy stock – healthy but homely, ponderous and ungainly.
Vladka possessed a wanderlust, a desire to see the world, that she knew she could never fulfil; the idea of a peasant girl travelling through patriarchal Russia on her own was unthinkable. Instead she channelled that desire into refining her extraordinary imagination. She would embellish the oral traditions of her village, or make up tales from scratch, that would enthral the people of her clan. Over time she started to add subversive elements to the tales as a way to gently challenge stale orthodoxy. A tale of a dashing prince sent to rescue a damsel in distress might unexpectedly end with the damsel rescuing herself, rejecting the prince, and cleverly defeating the villain.
The tales of Vladka’s storytelling ability spread, and people from neighbouring villages would come to hear the extraordinary tales of the girl. She also came to the special notice of the reclusive fae of her area. Centuries previously, the fae had agreed to a pact with Vladka’s forebears to keep the village safe from the depredations of the supernatural world: vampires, malign werewolves and so on. Whereas they had previously remained mostly unseen in their stewardship, one of their number, Lillianka, took an interest in Vladka and her impassioned storytelling. The two became cautious friends over time.
Once Vladka reached adulthood, her family struggled to find a match for her because of her homely looks and, at times, controversial stories. Eventually Millivoj, a farmer from a neighbouring village agreed to marry her. She didn’t really love him, but he was hard working and kind. They had four children, and for a while she was content.
Six years after their marriage, there was a summer of floods followed by a winter more terrible than any in living memory. Famine and disease swept the region. All of their children died that winter, and Millivoj fell grievously ill. One morning, emaciated and sickly herself, she woke to find Millivoj dead, his body drained of blood. The villages whispered of curses and unseen vampires in the night. Completely bereft, she mourned her family and considered ending her own life, but was pulled back from the brink of despair by Lillianka.
The village eventually recovered from the famine. Vladka remained a solitary widow dispensing wondrous tales, commonsense advice and a sympathetic ear to those who needed them. She became something of a living legend in the area, renowned for her compassion, poise and unshakeable equanimity.
15 years after the famine, disaster struck the village again. A marauding band of Nosferatu, displaced by their incessant wars with the werewolves, overran the village one night. They slaughtered most of the men, and rounded up the women and children to be used as disposable Herd in their travels. The onslaught was so swift and unexpected that the guardian fae were in no position to oppose them. In a single night the centuries-old village was lost.
The weeks that followed were a hellish sequence of forced marches, deprivation and mistreatment. Over the course of their travels, Vladka tried to ingratiate herself with her captors by offering to entertain them with her stories. She had hoped to soften her captors’ hearts, but all it meant is that she was spared from the occasional cull often at the expense of one of her relatives or friends. However, her interactions with the Nosferatu allowed her to learn a little of the nature of vampires, including the process of the Embrace and their vulnerability to fire. On learning this, Vladka managed to smuggle a tinderbox and some fire-making material to her fellow captives.
After three months, only a couple of dozen captives remained alive, including Vladka’s mother, sister, two nieces and a nephew. The incessant travelling had halted as the vampires set themselves up at an ancient and abandoned fort, apparently awaiting reinforcements. They never came. Instead, one night a pair of werewolves began to make guerrilla strikes at the fort, leaping over the walls to maim or kill individual vampires and then retreating before the defenders could rally in numbers with their few silver weapons.
During the chaos of the night, one of the Nosferatu, a sixth generation monster called The Butcher, burst into the captive’s dugout., suffering from grievous and unhealable injuries from Lupine claws. He intended to Embrace a couple of the women to serve as shock troops against the attacking werewolves and, tired of her tales, selected Vladka to go first. Newly Embraced and near frenzy, Vladka was cruelly directed by the Butcher to drain dry her own mother and nephew. This she did – but not before surreptitiously placing a splash of her own blood in each of their mouths, so Embracing them in turn. The three of them then turned on the Butcher, along with the rest of the captives armed with flaming brands hastily lit from the smuggled fire-making material.
Even though they outnumbered him twenty to one, even though three of them were now vampires, even though some were armed with fire, and even though he was grievously wounded from Lupine claws, The Butcher should have been more than a match for them, but by some miracle they prevailed. After a few short moments of terrible violence, the Butcher ran blazing and doomed from the dugout leaving a dozen dead and dying women and children in his wake. Vladka’s newly Embraced nephew, Okim, survived, but her mother, Olga, lay in torpor from her injuries. However, Vladka has no recollection of the fate of her sister and two nieces. Vladka herself was overcome with Rötschreck from the burning Butcher and fled into the night.
The memory of the hurried flight that followed is unclear in Vladka’s mind. There was endless running through forests chased by pursuers, great pain as her body completed its transformation and she heaved up her humours, and neverending confusion as she stumbled blindly in the dark. Finally, alone and bereft, she spotted a campfire in the distance and staggered towards it. Fortune was with her, for it was the caravan of Durga Syn. When Vladka emerged weeping and delirious from the treeline, Durga’s calmed her, fed her with the blood of summoned rabbits, and later whisked her away to safety..
It turned out Durga’s arrival wasn’t purely fortuitous. Unable to prevent the initial massacre and abduction, Lillianka had been tracking the Nosferatu and their captives for weeks. Once they had settled into the fort, she had been able to contact her kind and a message was sent to Durga, an ally, who was in the area. Durga soon realised she was in no position to aid any more captives in a war between lupines and the Iron Hag’s Nosferatu, and was forced to leave the other villagers to their fate.
Vladka travelled with Durga for a little over a year as she returned west. With Durga’s tutelage, Vladka managed to master the Discipline of Obfuscate to the level of the Mask of a Thousand Faces, as well as the rudiments of Animalism. She also began study of the basics of Chimerstry and Durga’s weather-affecting sorcery, but lacked the time to achieve any kind of mastery.
Having Vladka travelling with her caravan posed an increased risk to Durga and her people, so once they reached the Siebenbergen she passed her into the care of her friend, Maude of Vienna. Maude’s instruction was more prosaic than Durga’s, and more structured and intensive. For a year she taught her the things she would need to survive in the courts of European vampires: reading and writing including literacy in several new languages, and the basics of etiquette, melee combat, horse riding, medicine, stealth, and so on. But above all, Maude insisted she spend countless hours learning to suppress the urges of her Beast.
After a year studying with Maude in Weissenberg, Lillianka managed to track Vladka down. Bound by her kind’s oath to protect the people of Vladka’s village, Lillianka had tried to track down any more survivors after their hurried escape, but without success. For now she travels with Vladka, bound by the oath, but also by their friendship and their shared curiosity of the strange lands and customs of these western peoples. However, she hopes to one day be able to resume her search for any survivors, a search Vladka hopes to join once she has more mastery of her new form.
Maude has used her Nigrimancy to attempt to summon the souls of all Vladka’s fellow captives, so Vladka knows with some certainty who is alive and who is dead. Her nephew, Okim, and mother, Olga, and are either alive or have been diablerised. Her sister is dead and has moved on. One of her nieces is alive, while another is a wraith and, after being summoned by Maude, now resides at the Shadowlands sanctuary near Wiessenberg.
After Lillianka arrived, Vladka made it clear to Maude that she was ready to move on. She had become aware of the burden she was on the Cappadocian’s time and on her worthy endeavours, so with Lillianka now available as a companion she was ready to find her own way in the world of darkness. Maude protested that Vladka was not ready and could benefit from several more years of tutelage, but Vladka was resolute. Feeling indebted to Maude, Vladka offered to travel to Kronstadt to be her eyes and ears in the region for a time; Maude had interests there but for reasons she wouldn’t divulge was unwilling to fall in the orbit of a Ventrue called Lord Jurgen. Reluctantly, Maude agreed to the plan, asking Vladka to write her frequent letters, to stay out of harm’s way, and to do what good she could while there.
Although Vladka’s Embrace was on the back of great suffering and loss, she has taken to her new condition reasonably well. Her Nosferatu hideousness is easily masked by her Obfuscate: in fact, her Mask of a Thousand Faces allows her to be prettier than she ever was in life. The stifled wanderlust and curiosity of her mortal life can now be satisfied by the unending wonders and spectacles of the world of darkness. Every night promises a new adventure, a new experience, a new story. And if she dies tonight? … well, she should have died a dozen times by now, so she would still consider herself lucky.
She loves and admires both Durga and Maude, but realises that she lacks the Cappadocian’s intellect and ambition, and the Ravnos’s experience and wisdom. She will try to help others when she can, but perhaps the best way she can affect positive change is through her stories. She has seen the power of stories on people; the power to open minds, to challenge orthodoxy, to invoke sympathy for others, and to encourage perspective-taking. The lessons of history are often forgotten, but it is through stories that some of those lessons may hope to be retained.
Still, despite her iron-clad inner strength and poise, and despite her acceptance of her new condition, she remains haunted by her experiences. Her mother and nephew, who she sired, are likely in terrible circumstances in the hands of the Iron Hag’s brood or their lupine enemies. Worse, one or both may have been diablerised, a possibility she wasn’t aware of when she Embraced them – in hoping to save them, she may have set them up to have their souls consumed. And she is haunted by a lingering memory from the night of her escape: her looking down at her sister’s exsanguinated corpse. To this night, she is unsure if it was she that killed her.
Vladka also realises that the circumstances around her Embrace may be hard to escape forever. In theory, the Iron Hag’s brood should (short of mystical means) be unaware of where she is, what she now looks like, or even if she’s still alive. But they will never forget the peasant woman who stole their blood and instigated the uprising that killed one of their brothers. Whether they would cut her down without mercy or offer her a chance to join the fold is uncertain. For now she uses a false identity, calling herself “Saga”, augmented by her master of Obfuscate.