Session Fifty

Notes on Corcyra Investigation

Maude has clarified some of the details of order to which the nun in the red habit belongs. Considering Maude’s suspicions as to this nun and her servant’s occult abilities, I believe it worth noting the details here.

It is an order known as the Order of St Theodosius. They are approximately 200 years old, and are centred in France and Italy. The Order still permits cohabitation between monks and nuns. Most members are scholars, and the Order itself is inclined towards the more mystical aspects of the Christian Faith. Stigmata is common, an indication perhaps of the powers of Faith in the Order. The Order is not popular within the larger Catholic Church and a heresy involving the practice of “black magic”, likely necromancy, was found in one of their Chapter Houses in the Languedoc around the Year of Our Lord, 1170. The Order’s founder, St Theodosius, hailed from Cappadocia and believed one must experience all things, and know what is Evil as well as what is Good in order to be able to choose with wisdom the path of Righteousness.

After Maude’s mercy-killing of the two Norman mercenaries taken prisoner after their murder attempt on the Cainite leadership, there was a lively discussion among the coterie about the morality of the Crusade. Well, Maude and Yulia debated back and forth; Veceslav was only mildly interested and I, sick of Maude’s moralising, stated the problems now lying before us regarding how to move among the Crusade, and retired to direct my energies to more practical pursuits. I can only assume that the discussion went long, and pointlessly, towards dawn.

My man, Alfonzo, has taken the last letter to you via the Greek network. I worry for his safety and hope he returns soon. He has a disturbing tendency to require far more vitae that Myra; perhaps this is due to his active lifestyle, but I suspect it is more than that for while my experience as a domitor is brief, I do not recall from my own time as a servant needing the resources that good Alfonzo does. Should time permit in the future, this could be something to study in closer detail.

The pressing point of the current politics within the Crusader camp is the imminent departure of what has become known as “the deserters” or “the loyal opposition”, depending on whom one asks. I approached Sir Aimery in his tent and found him engaged at dice with several knights from both the Loyal Opposition and the Loyalists, including one Roger de Bessancourt, a landed knight of some standing. I joined them for the game and discussion.

Some 3,000 knights and men-at-arms have separated themselves from the main camp and seek to move in their own way to the Holy Land. The remaining Crusaders are lack-luster about the intended move to Constantinople to put on a show of strength and place the Angeloi youth and his father on the throne. “What can a few thousand do against such a city?”, they ask. I was disinclined to point out to them how much harm they could indeed do, and while some of the knights present see futility in sword-rattling directed towards Constantinople, some – your typical Big Strong Fighter types – are confident that their sword-arms and faith-in-God will see them conquer any foe.

I noted that Sir Aimery was fleecing the knights with him through some sort of loaded dice; a not unsurprising act considering his past. I note that his connections to those vile snakes of Set has not been investigated by the coterie, but while my enquiries are subtle, rest assured I have not moved this pot off the fire completely. For now I shall watch and continue to use his services, such as in the provision of some armour. While my role as a craven coward has taken something of a battering due to recent events (see below), for now people seem to accept that while I shrink from combative endeavours, I am at least not so much a craven that I will not look to likely future hard times and obtain a set of armour against the occasion I might actually have to wear it.

Feeding is proving to be quite easy around the camp, and I certainly cannot fault Sir Guy for his arrangements in ensuring all needs are being met sensibly. The saturation of those of the Clan of Kings means there are clusters of herd types that are reasonably easy to identify. For example, one Sir Felix of Vaucluse, a captain of Sir Guy, is known for his propensity for whores; a fairly simple tell as to his tastes. I intend to find a place in the systems here in order to feather my nest as appropriate and thus aid in my efforts to be accepted into the tapestry and so be near when called upon to act for the best benefit for the Dream.

It was to this end that I directed my efforts the following evening; I had had enough of the moralising company of the coterie and sought my own company and ends. Godwine, Maude’s servant, sought me out to inform me that, miracle of miracles, the coterie had indeed decided to leave off from moaning about the sad state of the world and move forward with the problems of the moment. I hurried to meet them at the cemetery.

It seems the plague that had been spreading about camp was the direct result of some sort of magic box, a focus for a death magic similar to Maude’s own. The presence of this box was making people sick. Its contents was described to me and Yulia and I headed back to camp to find it, starting with questioning those who were sick in the hospice tents and finding the pattern from there. Maude and Veceslav would seek out the Cappadocian elder directly and find out from her what she knew of the situation; they would head for the necropolis to do this.

En route back to camp, I head riders approaching. Yulia and her bodyguard, the burly Agmundir, stepped off the path and cloaked themselves in shadow. I, making my living from my curiosity, stayed near the path to determine more information.

The riders were numbered eight, all Cainites, and all clad for war. They were Sir’s Russel di Caoale (the Cappadocian swordsman, leading the group), Felix de Vaucluse (Ventrue captain), Bertrandus d’Apt (childe of Felix), Martin de Toulon (childe of Sir Guy), Arnaud le Brave (childe of Petrus), and Roderick de Rouen (a Knight of the Sable Rose, of our own clan). Two Cainite men-at-arms, Thierry de Villiers and Marcel de Villiers (mercenary off-siders of Felix, a Gangrel and Nosferatu) were also present.

They were making for the necropolis to take the elder into custody. Sir Russel was suspicious of my presence, demanding to know where my coterie was and why we were near the cemetery. I told him we were there so Sister Maude could perform her death magic, and pleased off to go and search for the ‘plague box’ that was threatening the camp. Sir Russel, however, demanded I accompany them or be left with Final Death there on the spot. I caved and rode behind Sir Betrandus. Yulia remained unseen, and I assumed she would continue in our mission to find the ‘plague box’.

Sir Russel frightened me; genuine fear. You know the horrors I have confronted in my time, I can assure you this… creature… of death felt to me to be a horror and a nightmare, a plague upon the living, as it were. There was no good in his heart, and I shook to my bones to be near him.

This fear lent a certain credulity to my performance as we rode to the necropolis. I shook and moaned and despaired as we rode up the switch-backs, “I’m a lover, not a fighter” was my choicest phrase used, one I shall remember for later in this role. I even fell off the horse in my fright. While the other riders spurred ahead, Betrandus recollected me and assured me he would protect me. He seemed a nice enough fellow.

Roderick spied Maude on the necropolis as we rode up, hearing her speak to something. Shortly afterwards a horrible shriek filled the air. (Maude later told me this was some kind of death-magic warning device, a shrieking skull set on a pole, designed to warn the elder of anyone or anything’s approach.)

Upon reaching the necropolis, the elder stood with Maude and (slightly to the rear) Veceslav. The riders lowered lances and fanned out to charge the elder. (I performed a lovely prat-fall off Betrandus’ horse, but the situation was too tense for the slapstick to be noticed.) Sir Russel demanded the elder come quietly in the name of Sir Guy, or be taken with force. The elder, Drenis by name, agreed to come without violence in order to prevent harm to those present. The riders seemed both relieved and disappointed at not being able to combat the elder.

(Of note, the elder had given Maude and Veceslav some kind of death-magic ash powder that enhanced their physical capabilities. I suspect an earnest match between the elder, Maude, Veceslav and the riders would have ended in tragedy for the riders.)

Drenis was marched back to camp. I led some of the horses. So focussed on their charge were the knights that none noticed how at ease the horses were around me. Neither did they appear to notice the in-depth conversation Maude proceeded to have with Drenis in some foreign tongue. Maude seemed quite concerned with what Drenis was relaying.

Drenis is, it seems, quite skilled at aura reading. Drenis informed Maude of some terrible things. It seems five members of the knights bore the stains of recent diablorie on their souls: Russel di Cassale, Felix de Vaucluse, Theiry de Villiers, Marcel de Villiers, and Roderick de Rouen. Maude believes Drenis. I saw nothing but black hate in the elder’s aura and so cannot know the truth of what she says. My own attempts to read the auras of these Cainites later on had only mixed success. I can confirm that Sir Russel, Sir Roderick and Thierry de Villiers bear the stains of diabolism in their auras, but I am unsure of the others. This is disturbing news if true, and I am uncertain at this stage as to how to mention it to Sir Guy, if at all. But please add to my previous warning this information; for while it bad enough to have a horde of angry unpaid Crusaders at the gates of our city, it is far more dangerous in the extreme to have them influenced by soul-eaters!

Maude’s conversation also revealed that, according to Drenis, she had taught Aglaia the dark arts for the two were lovers for many years. However, Aglaia sought more knowledge and power, seeking other tutors in necromancy such as the mercenary Lamia known as Eustacia, based out of Genoa. Drenis stated that Aglaia sought power, regardless of the danger or cost.

In the court of Sir Guy, this was discussed. Initially, Drenis sought to accept whatever punishment Sir Guy would mete out as a result of the plague attacks. Yulia had indeed found the box, hidden near the mess tent, and it now – rendered powerless – before us in the tent-court. Drenis’ plan to fall on her sword was halted by Maude’s revelation that the magic had likely come from Aglaia, the angry former prince who was seeking revenge for being thrown out of her home and domain.

I opted to stay silent, and simply use the Spirit’s Touch on the plague-box to ascertain the truth.

The results were most distrubing.

The box, or ‘Ark of Pestilence’, was indeed made by Aglaia. It renders those near it more likely to fall ill. Aglaia was using it in conjunction with some other death magic powers to spread disease through the camp.

Aglaya is of Corinth and was Embraced in the early part of the 10th century.

She is plain looking, and has long dark hair. A sketch accompanies this report.

Her state of mind was overwhelming: full of hate, rage and despair. She was very, very close to her Beast, and almost on the edge of Wassail. Imagine a sand castle before a raging, storm-tossed sea; that is what is left of her self-control.

I began to feel physically sick at the touch of the Ark, as if a scream was building inside of me that I could not stop.

Aglaia had a mortal sister, a twin called Adonia. This twin was Embraced by her aunt-in-blood, Phyllida.

I saw an image of the night lights of the port of Corcyra, as seen from a couple of miles away. I saw too an image of a large house on a small island.

Aglaia and Drenis had been lovers for almost a century, and the Blood Bond still existed between them.

I took my hand off the box, and returned to my position in the crowd.

Maude was speaking in defence of Drenis, with the aid of the silver tongue of Veceslav. Drenis’ clanmates Sister Farancina and Sir Russel did likewise, with Russel noting the high regard in which Drenis is held by her clan. Apparently she is called a charnel-maid, a station for which she is accorded considerable respect by her brothers and sisters in the clan. Sir Guy sentenced Drenis to remain in custody until Aglaia was caught and the truth discovered.

Drenis called for the recognition of an ancestral boon, recalling that Sir Guy’s sire, Dominius (once Seneschal of Rome), took shelter with Drenis’ own sire, Asushunamir, long ago when the city fell. This life boon, with the passing of Drenis’ sire, was now owed to Drenis, and Drenis called upon Sir Guy to recognise it and grant Drenis’ request that the agents sent to capture Aglaia be of her choosing, and not of Sir Guy’s. The boon was recognised and Drenis asked Maude to bring in Aglaia, intact, to face justice via a fair hearing.

I was stunned with ‘not surprise’ at this turn of events.

I approached Petrus the Troubadour. I had heard he could make magical illusions of the land, and used this trick to help Sir Guy plan. He confirmed this and I asked him to make an image of Corcyra by night, as seen from off the coast. He did so, shaping the image to match my vision. We soon drew a crowd, as discussion had largely ceased. Sir Guy was quick enough to see what was happening, noting when someone asked that his bet was that I was showing the location of Aglaia’s hideout. Maude asked how I could know this, but I waved her questions off, instead asking Drenis what she knew of the island we had now, thanks to Petrus’s image and some maps, identified. Drenis stated the island belonged to a merchant Aglaia had raised from childhood, and was a likely spot for her to flee after having been removed by the Crusaders.

I asked a few more pointed questions of Drenis, establishing her relationship and bond to Aglaia. The elder was in equal parts both sad and angry at my intimate knowledge of the affair. Whether Drenis saw the writing on the wall given her position, or whether she recognised that her lover was all-but-lost, she proved to be forthcoming in information.

The island, known as Aghios Dimitrios, held an estate which sheltered a family and servants. Aglaia was served by ghouls, including one known to be over a century old; Charis, whom I had encountered and defeated the previous evening. Aglaia was an adherent of ‘entelechy’, the ancient art of self-mastery, and as a result was a master of unarmed combat and proficient in many powers of the Blood.

The coterie retired with Drenis to discuss strategy and plan the assault. It was pointed out that Aglaia was extremely unlikely to come quietly, and so conflict was almost a certainty. It was decided to send a force over during the day to evacuate, by force if necessary, all of the mortal servants of Aglaia. In this way we sought both to reduce the likelihood of collateral damage, and reduce her support network.

Hah! We were so very very wrong.

Preparations were made, and I strongly encouraged the coterie to prepare and make mortal arrangements, for there was every chance that they would not come back. In such circumstances it was more likely that we would meet Final Death at the hand of this formidable foe.

When Veceslav presented the plan of attack and request for daytime support from Sir Guy, I had a quiet word with Petrus. I outlined all I had learned and gave my advice that, given Aglaia’s shattering of the Silence of the Blood, she be dealt with along those lines by the ranking Cainite, Sir Guy, for to do so would sure up his authority and demonstrate that the Laws of the Night still apply. I also gave my strong endorsement of the “_clear out the place by day and be prepared to send in back-up to mop up after we get killed_” plan. Petrus approved of my advice and I would like to believe I have gone some way to wheedling into the power structure as a result.

Preparations by the coterie encountered something of a snag. While I procured for Maude, who was in dire need of sustenance, Veceslav demonstrated once again his talent for getting caught in the middle of things. The vessel he found, a young girl, turned out to be a Lupine. The knez ran, and rightly so, but the howls of some four other wolves were heard throughout the camp as this wolf-pack – for what else must it have been – communicated to find the girl’s attacker. Dear Gods, Lupines in the camp of the Crusaders, with some 30+ Cainites here as well!

The coterie decided not to mention this just now, for all efforts were to be placed in bringing Aglaia to heel. Rest assured, that I will certainly be raising the issue as soon as possible.
“_Congratulations, Sir Guy, on pronouncing judgement on the former prince who has broken the Silence. Now, about the Lupine pack in camp, what are your plans?_”

Yes, that will go over nicely.

I will have Myra prepare a boat to take me as far away from this place as possible. Yes, I have sneaked around Lupines before in my visits to Skopje, but I have zero intention of actually confronting the brutes!

The following dusk, with hearts and stakes in hand, and clad in our finest war-fighting gear, the capture party rowed out for the island. Present was Sister Maude and Godwine, Knez Veceslav, Prince Yulia (her bodyguard, Agmundir, had gone with the daytime party to provide assistance by way of his might and experience), Sir Martin and his boon companion Sir Arnaud, two men-at-arms called Lawrence and Buffo, and a knight called Sir Charles. I was there, clad in some rather uncomfortable mail. I was interested to see that Veceslav’s ‘war dress’ was a plain shift; it seemed he prefers to fight in the nude!

We saw a fire on the island as we approached. When we came closer, we saw the horror. At first, we saw it on the faces of the survivors, huddled behind the fire they had built on the island’s only dock. Then we saw the reason for their horror; the island was full of the walking dead!

Aglaia had used her magic to reanimate the dead. Sister Maude had discussed this possibility with us; the rest of the coterie had endured horrors before on their journeys and I have, as a requirement of my profession, being forced to wallow in some gruesome scenes. As a result of all of this, the coterie and our allies were shocked, but not insensate at the horror we saw. For Aglaia, quite evidently, had gone mad and slain her servants and the family of the place in the most gruesome of ways. And then used dark magics to reanimate them. Men, women, children – all were dead, and more than a score of them wandered as restless dead.

In fits and starts we learned from those frightened survivors sheltering behind the bonfire, what had happened.

No-one greeted them as they arrived at noon. Not a living thing. They searched the island, and on entering the manor house, witnessed the slaughtered remains of the islands inhabitants. I examined the scene in brief after we arrived and can put together what I saw with the witnesses claims.

Blood was splattered across the walls, floors and ceilings; hardly a thing was left unsmeared. (A rather ineffective way of frenzying, I would say. Surely it would make more sense to consume and conserve all blood…) I can only imagine the horror that the inhabitants felt as they were hunted through the house; to date I have not used my Gifts on the area, although I fear I must for the sake of completeness in this investigation.

None were spared this mad destruction. Torn limbs were evidence of bodies ripped asunder by brutish hands and inhuman strength. Skulls were crushed and organs spilled throughout the manor. My mind’s eye repainted the scene of terror as the victims fled in vain…

And then, with souls traumatised, the dark arts were used to fuse souls into reanimated corpses. Sister Maude tells me this is the blackest of black arts, and denies souls rest in the afterlife. She was horrified to see it all.

(While we spoke to the terrified survivors, Maude used her powers to drift as an unseen ghost about the island, searching for this insane prince. She found nothing but slaughter.)

We learned from the survivors, some 14 remained for the 20 sent in, that at dusk the dead had gotten up to walk and attack the living. They had fought, but found their weapons had little effect, and fell back to the dock. There they found the undead had pushed their boats out to sea, trapping them on the island. Agmundir instructed them to build a fire, for the dead feared flames, and then ran off to draw the attackers away.

Maude found Agmundir trapped in a shed by the pool, the door barricaded against some dozen undead battering against it. The Rus warrior was severely wounded, and pale from loss of blood. Maude appeared and told him help was at hand, that his mistress was near. The Rus asked if the gods had made the dead walk again. When Maude said that this was not the case, that the dead were made to walk through magic like hers, the Rus nodded and made himself ready to fight again, his courage returning at learning his foes were not servants of dark gods, but merely tools of Cainites. Maude bid him to stay behind cover but the Rus would not have it and began to clear the barricade from the door.

Back at the bonfire, we prepared ourselves to rush the undead. Yulia learned that her arrows did nothing to truly harm the undead. The knights crossed themselves, shook hands, and charged out. Veceslav and I waited to let the brave sturdy fellows go first into the undead mass.

I admit to no small degree of enjoyment at the battles that followed. I enjoy what little competence I have in the martial arts, and while laying about me with an axe while armour- clad is a long way from my preferred state of being, I understand the simple joy that comes from measured physical contests with such instant gratification and feedback.

Presumably, the knights did not reflect as I did as they charged forward and dealt savage blows to the near mindless shambling corpses of farmhands, servants, old men, women and children, rendering the reanimated into their component parts and this, unable to maintain their forms in any useful way. The whole thing was entirely gruesome.

Vecslav, myelf and Yulia ran past the knights’ battle, and made with all speed to the shed to rescue Agmundir. Yulia proved to be quite the dab hand with her purloined long blade, making a considerable impression upon the undead besieging her bodyguard. I flailed about rather ineffectually with a hand-axe; weapon fighting not being my greatest skill. And Veceslav? The Hungarian noble transformed into his “zulo-shape” or war-shape, growing several feet to take on the appearance of a fearsome green monster from nightmare. His skin developed a stony cast, the result of some heathen “koldunic sorcery” he has mastered, and his taloned fingers grew into vicious claws, a gift from his former coterie brother, Bernhard the Red Wolf; all in all, Veceslav transformed from half-naked noble fop into nightmarish killing machine. He fell, quite literally, into the pile of undead and short work was made of them.

Agmundir soon joined the coterie and a joyous reunion was forged amidst the blood splattering and flailing weapons, limbs and claws of all present. Well met indeed!

But there was no sign of the former prince.

Some suggested splitting up to search the island in small groups. This insane suggestion was soon squashed as I reminded all present that Aglaia was able to kill most of us even if we fought in a group. So, with some preservation of self making its way through the haze of red-misted war, the entire group of Cainites got together.

Still no sign of the prince.

Then Maude had an idea. What if the prince was playing dead amidst all of the bodies? A good point, only Maude did not know what the ex-prince looked like. I described her as I saw her in my vision; something I should have done before. And, sure enough, Maude recalled seeing a body matching the description near the shed. We moved there as a group, but the body was gone.

Gone where?

The docks!

We ran as fast as we could, but were too late.

Everyone who had been left at the docks was killed.
And in the distance, we saw Aglaia rowing away.
She was too far to reach by shadow-tendril or by a leap.
She had sunk the other boat.

Maude was overcome with despair at the loss of life around her.
Veceslav made some comment about being unable to fly out, but otherwise seemed unphased.
I contemplated swimming out to Aglaya, but alone I would not been able to take her on and live.
The knights cast about for a way to raise the sunken boat.
And Yulia used her shadow-power to do just that, lifting the entire boat out of the water. The sight of shadows growing, writhing, building and lifting up that boat, turning it upside down, and then setting it right was both amazing and awe-inspiring terrifying at the same time; what power she wielded!

The boat set aright, Yulia collapsed, her Blood spent on the display, and sought to feed from a nearby corpse.

As the boat began to sink again, four of us – Veceslav, myself, Sir Martin and Sir Arnaud – leapt in and rowed like mad, trying to reach Aglaia before the boat sank all over again. Veceslav and I took the oars, with knights both in awe of Veceslav’s power, and surprised at my own physical adeptness; now was not the time for half-measures and false modesty.

Aglaia used her infernal strength and speed to race ahead, but turned when she saw a line of boats coming from Corcyra – the promised help of Sir Guy and Petrus!

Maude, following in her realm of ghosts and shadow, used her shadow-magic to project an image of Drenis before Aglaia. The image begged Aglaia for peace, to give up the fight. The effect it produced was the opposite; Aglaia screamed in murderous rage and threw herself off her boat at the image.

“Betrayer!” She yelled. “You led them to me!”

Further protestations produced the same effect, and allowed us to approach near.

Full of bravado, and figuring the now swimming prince was an easy target, I hurled by hand-axe at her. Alas, I missed, but I did draw her attention. Aglaia duck-dived into the wine dark sea.

We readied ourselves on the boat. The knights shook hands, spoke briefly of their love for one another, and drew daggers, standing ready for the close-in fight to follow. Veceslav look impassively about, his lips quietly moving in prayer or magic, or both. As for me, I smiled, and drew upon strength of Blood and discipline; now here would be a true test of mettle!

Without warning, Aglaia sprang up from the water, grabbed Sir Arnaud, and disappeared again beneath the wine dark waters. Less than a heartbeat later, we were all over the side after them.

Maude, now unable to see the conflict, began to slide through the waters to bring her magic to bear.

Under the sea, our movements barely slowed by the water due to the unearthly strength now powering our limbs, we strove to subdue the mighty Brujah ex-prince.

Sir Arnaud struggled, but futilely, his strength and skill no match for the angry Aglaia. She tore his throat, and the sea turned red.
I lunged at the ex-prince, seeking to restrain her, to take the tiger by the tail, but her skill and strength was too great.
Sir Martin stabbed at Aglaia, his blow doing little.
Veceslav could not bring his powerful claws to bear, the ex-prince being too quick for his blow.
And Sir Arnaud, brave Sir Arnaud, did not give in to his wounds, but sought to take his revenge and bloody the Brujah in turn. Alas, his power and strength was leaving him, and he did little.

With the speed famed throughout her clan, the ex-prince struck again and again and again. Fortunately, she struck at me, and through deft movements I turned aside from her angry blows and bites; not for nothing had I spent so many hours training for such combat.
She struck too at Veceslav, biting down deep into the stony monstrous Tsmisce lord. His stony hide did little to turn the blow, and he fell back in pain, his arm nearly torn in two.

Maude appeared from the nothing of her shadowy realm, and calmly called for us to follow her magic.

We did, waiting for it to take effect and still the god-like limbs of the raging Brujah.
I readied a stake to stab the Brujah’s heart and so make her still for Sir Guy’s justice.

The magic failed.
And Aglaia attacked again.

Again, she sought me out, and again I proved too quick, too skilled or too lucky for her to strike.
Again the knights struck with dagger, with courage and with heart, wounding, but not killing the beast before them.
Veceslav struck out, a voiceless scream of rage burying his pain. His claws marked, but did not harm the raging ex-prince.

And in return, Aglaia struck again, tearing the noble heart from Sir Arnaud, who fell back still and lost into the dark sea.

As the Brujah ex-prince turned to strike again, Maude’s magic took effect, and stilled the terrible beast.

It was the chance I had waited for. I struck, hard and swiftly with the stake, and struck true. The prince was stilled, the fight over.

I dove to grab the prince’s sinking form, and hauled her to the surface. There, waiting for us with lanterns held high, was the flotilla sent by Sir Guy. I placed the still form of the prince in the boat she had stolen from us, but I did not climb into the boat.

There in the boat, in quiet tragedy under the wan light of the lanterns and the stars, was Sir Martin; his best and dearest friend lay dead in his arms, and the knight wept rivers of blood in his grief, his heart bursting with sorrow and with pain.

Attendance: Lotario (Greg, 3 xp), Maude (Dave, 3xp), Veceslav (Ben, 2 xp)

Session Fifty

The Concord of Ashes Haligaunt