The Concord of Ashes

Session 47 - part 1

FROM: Lotario Acuto
TO: Vashtai

SUBJECT

Investigation into the Death of Eudokia, part two

March, 1203

The investigation was concluded that night. I hope you will forgive my taste for theatrics, Mistress, by resorting to two letters. Perhaps by the end of this missive – for I shall delve into my reflections on the consequences of this investigation – you will have forgiven me.

The Tremere, Benjamin by name, was led away none too gently by Jerro. The Gangrel sheriff was rougher than was warranted given that guilt had not yet been established, but the twin factors of his rough nature and the high emotions running through the group at the death of Prince Bernhard meant that such aggression was overlooked.

The Tremere’s aura was a pale brown; he was bitter. His manner seemed to indicate feelings of regret. My instincts told me this was more to do with being caught. He was fearful, but not in fear of his life.

Back at Lucien’s manor-house the Tremere was secured in the basement; well, placed rather than secured as with so many hostile Cainites around him, the mage’s chances at escape were deemed negligent and the mage himself deemed clever enough not to try. (That being said, perhaps the coterie wanted the Tremere to try to escape, so they would have an excuse to act.)

I noticed Lucien’s basement, a root cellar with a dirt floor, held a stone sarcophagus. This sarcophagus showed signs of use as his sleeping bed; subtle clues and patterns nearby. Lukas held the composure of one who has been there previously and was comfortable; the Leper and the Roman obviously have an understanding. Jerro hovered near the Tremere, looming as threateningly as possible and occasionally boxing the mage’s ears. Erzebet, the neonate shaper, stayed by Knez Veceslav, her quick eyes watching everything at once.

The others turned to me to speak. Lucien stuck with his habit of letting others speak for him. Prince Yulia displayed a similar style. Knez Veceslav seemed content to merely watch, as did the Leper Monk, Lukas, who sunk into dark shadows and tried to be ignored. The Crone looked on, waiting for my lead, waiting to see what I would do to extract the information and confession we needed.

After ascertaining the others wished me to speak, I began my questioning. I took out my wax tablet and recorded in my short-hand scrawl the answers to my questions. I spoke calmly and evenly, pausing to clarify details when they were obscured by a turn of phrase or unfamiliar expression. While I scribbled notes, the others looked on silence, content to let me work. The Tremere was suspicious, but told his story as I coaxed him along.

He had arrived a few weeks previously, coming to Kronstadt with his clan-mate around 7th March. After being prompted, he informed us his clan-mate was called ‘Hesin Trada’. (This was the woman mage from Vienna known to the Crone; the two were rivals and after the Crone’s acerbic wit caused a fall from grace for the woman-mage, Maude was forced to leave the city.) The Tremere Benjamin said he disliked his noble-blooded traveling companion and despised her weakness and inability to look after herself. He had been instructed to escort her, having done that, they parted ways. But I get ahead of myself.

The two warlocks arrived in Kronstadt during the day. Benjamin archly told us the Tremere have ways of moving around during the day, using magic. (Later domination of his mind revealed that he had in fact arrived sealed in a brandy barrel.) They chose to haven at the Angry Axeman tavern. It had a brothel and they deemed this a good place for feeding. They met, acknowledged the presence of, but not speak to Eudokia.

I questioned the warlock strongly on this point. He denied speaking to ‘the Greek vampire’. He waited for her to come back following their brief nod-and-acknowledge-meeting that first night, but she never did.

The lady-warlock was deposited, presumably, at the Stone Mason’s Guild, the Tremere Chantry in the town. Benjamin claimed to know nothing of the Stone Mason’s Guild. It was Lucien who called the Tremere on this lie and urged him, with all the force of his mind, to tell the truth. Yet, any attempt at questioning on this led to a mind-wipe within Benjamin; the memories were lost from his mind as he tried to recall them. This, non-subtle, use of Cainite mind-powers revealed a powerful but unsubtle mind behind the obfuscation. It also confirmed the suspicions held by Lucien and myself. We would return to the matter of the Stone Mason’s Guild later.

Under questioning, no force required, Benjamin told us of the lady warlock, ‘Hesin Trada’. His comments have been largely spoken of earlier. He noted she was a formidable magician, but lacked other skills. She had been sent, escorted by him, from “Cay-or-ris”, the Tremere stronghold. This place lies not more than 100 miles – one week’s travel – to the south of Kronstadt, making this town the closest large population centre to this warlock stronghold!

Benjamin told us that, with his delivery job done, he had no further instructions. He stayed in Kronstadt because he saw an opportunity – a town with minimal vampire presence and an absent prince; he saw a haven going empty and an opportunity to move in.

(I must admit, I found myself not blaming him one iota for this way of thinking. Eudokia held a truly fortunate position here under the absentee prince. Considering our interests here, I began to think it might be worthwhile to place my network here and step into the gap created by Eudokia’s unfortunate passing and try to continue her mission. The proximity of the Tremere stronghold makes it even more important that her work is continued.)

Benjamin said he saw no need to present himself to the prince, indeed he saw none present in the town. The ghoul bartender at the tavern knew nothing of the matter. While Benjamin noted that the bartender was the possession of ‘the Greek’, when she did not return he made a new arrangement with him. The Tremere knew of the havens of all of the town’s vampires, and he noted their lack of communal activity, their lack of a ruling vampire. He did not see the Cainites of the town as an obstacle to his stake of domain.

I was beginning to have my doubts as to the guilt of this Tremere regarding Eudokia. The nature of the crime did not fit this mage. Still, the questioning needed to go on to confirm the complete picture. He gave his lineage, compelled by the simple truth that we would drag it from him if it was withheld. He was of the 9th generation, as we count such things, and his lineage is attached in a separate note for your files. While I did not explain to the others why I pursued this line of questioning, my rationale was two-fold; first he showed no emotional agitation regarding his generation, which made me suspect he had not committed the crime of amaranth; and second, considering the power of Eudokia’s blood, he did not seem to be physically strong or skilled enough to overpower her in the manner that her murderer did.

Something was not right. And as the conversation turn to generations, the Gangrel sheriff Jerro grew more and more agitated. He was ready to pop. His claws flexed in and out. His aura was an angry pale grey; he was prey to his darker natures of hate, regret, resentment and nervousness.

I began to see what had gone on here, and asked to speak to Lucien and Prince Yulia outside. The rest stayed below.

I discussed with these two the idea of using Prince Yulia’s mind powers, or Lucien’s age, to overcome the blocks placed in Benjamin’s mind. Prince Yulia agreed to try. I asked Lucien to remain.

I told the elder what I had seen in Jerro’s aura. I let the question slide, unspoken, into my tone. The Roman came quickly to the dark place I had. He asked my guidance as to how to get Jerro’s to reveal the issue; he suggested Yulia. I counselled patience, seeking leave to continue the questioning and force the Gangrel to reveal his crime himself. Lucien agreed, and – when I asked – assured me he could contain the sheriff.

I was briefly troubled by the thought that Jerro was now more powerful than before, having taken Eudokia’s soul, but drew comfort in the undeniable fact that even if the millennia-old Roman Gangrel could not overpower the younger one, an entire room for Cainites would do the job.

Down in the root cellar, Knez Veceslav had sought to calm Jerro. The Gangrel had seized on his chance for a way out and sought Veceslav’s leave to be excused. The foolish Shaper granted the request, not suspicious in the slightest – or not concerned. Fortunately, as Jerro was leaving, he passed Lucien and me. The guiding hand of the Roman forced the neonate back downstairs.

Perhaps I am not as subtle in my old age. Perhaps the mood was different in the room. But as I ‘began again at the beginning’ with my questions, the others shifted in their stances, all uneasy at the sudden tension in the room.

It was only another minute before Jerro snapped.

“Enough!” He yelled and, claws out, launched himself at the Tremere.

“Maude,” I spoke, having heard of her power to freeze combatants with a magical gesture. To help distract the Gangrel I aimed a side-kick at him; he nimbly dodged aside – something of a confirmation of his skill at hand-fighting.

However, his skill proved useless, for the Crone’s magic held him in place.

And then the Tremere, rolling aside from a blow that never came, uttered magic words, gestured with his hands and twin jets of fire flashed forward to set the Gangrel alight!

I backed away, fearful of the fire. The others present put out the flames with blankets and water. The Tremere sensibly desisted from any further attacks. Jerro was staked swiftly by Lucien, and placed unceremoniously on a wooden stool.

The Tremere was moved upstairs; his hands bound together by the Shaper’s powers. Knez Veceslav took pleasure in displaying his power over the warlock. I questioned the Tremere further; the results of which confirmed little further and so have rolled into the narrative above.

The Tremere did vehemently protest his innocence of any crime worthy of death. He admitted to failing to present himself to any vampire of authority, but felt he had committed no other crime. Cutting to the chase, Prince Yulia probed his mind for information about Eudokia; he knew nothing and was not responsible for her passing.

Retuning downstairs, I noted the sadness in Lukas’ voice as he left Jerro and went outside;

“What a waste,” was all he said, though I know not if this related to Jerro or Eudokia.

Lucien moved to remove the stake, sending his will into the mind of the younger Gangrel.

“When I remove this stake you will be calm and accept with equanimity your punishment.”

The Roman paused, and behind him I furrowed my brow for I disapproved of using mind-powers to rob someone of their chance to defend themselves. Before I could comment, Lucien corrected himself.

“Forget that. You will be calm, and answer what questions we have.”

The stake was ripped out roughly. Jerro recovered and looked about him. Knez Veceslav had sculpted the Gangrel’s hands so they were bound and, if he popped his claws, he would injure himself. The Gangrel offered no violence. He laughed.

“Yeah, I did it. No point not admitting it now. I did it, and I’m glad. The bitch deserved it. I’d do it again.”

With this tirade over, I began my questioning.

Jerro had fallen in lust with the pretty Greek vampire. He protected her, staying in town while the prince roamed the borders of the domain. The more he watched over Eudokia, the more he grew obsessed by her. He protected her women when the “Johns” beat them. He protected her – a tragically unnecessary gesture. He watched her closely and more closely. He wanted her physically, wanting to possess her sexually as she let other men do. She denied him, and he grew more obsessed at this denial, this dismissal.

And he saw her communicate with her network.

He confirmed his suspicions, watching her communicate with her coterie on three occasions. He drew the conclusion she was spying against Prince Bernhard. His obsession and rejection turned to bitterness and anger. He followed her and took her soul.

“Now she lives inside me forever,” he said. “She wouldn’t share herself with me, so now I have her forever.”

None of us, hearing this, had any compassion for this sad killer, this monster to be put down. We left the room to deliberate.

The discussion was short; only one penalty would be appropriate. Lucien, as the eldest present, would deliver it in the absence of Prince Bernhard.

“Absence”, not “death”; Lucien refused to accept that his childe was gone forever. I saw anger in the ancient’s eyes. There would be a reckoning with Koban over Lucien’s childe.

(A thought occurred as I dwelled on Jerro’s murder, and another raises itself with me now as I report this to you, Vashtai. Jerro was new under the blood; less than ten years I believe. Much of that had been spent with Prince Bernhard, as his second. Bernhard, known for his competence at the physical arts, had taught Jerro how to fight, how to best use his gifts of blood and self. That this rank neonate was able to so overwhelming destroy Eudokia despite her power speaks wonders for Prince Bernhard’s instruction.

(And this prince was known not just to be a fighter, but to be a thinker as well, at least in terms of waging war. He fought and thought in his sire’s campaign to destroy their ancient progenitor. He excelled in what they call irregular warfare, where the small or odd combats the large and powerful in unorthodox ways. And he took risks, risks which seem to have always panned out, up until his death in the snows fighting this Fiend war-master.

(But did he die? The evidence of Maude would indicate the Gangrel lives as a captive of the Fiend Koban, no doubt to be enslaved and tortured. Odds on, Koban will make him a servant, and use the Gangrel knight against his former allies.

(Is this not what happened to Lucien upon his Embrace? Before Lucien broke the Blood Bond and, eventually, slew his maker and tormentor? And would not that story be as familiar as moonlight to Bernhard? As familiar as his sire’s powers, cunning and love, love that would not let a childe remain as a slave and would send Lucien into conflict with Koban?

(I wonder, Vashtai, if this all isn’t some grand plan of the Saxon Gangrel, some way to bring his sire into battle against Koban? Logic would brand such a plan as madness, that it risked almost certain Final Death or worse. Yet what was it his coterie-mates said of him, that he “put himself to the hazard”? That he was losing his humanity piece by piece? I wonder if this was not some mad plan of Prince Bernhard to risk everything in the hope for victory and redemption?

(Or is it just Fate, or luck, and I have given the Saxon Gangrel too much credit? Time will tell.)

Regardless of such wondering, it was Lucien who executed the murderer.

“Tell my Prince I was loyal,” were the murderer’s last words.

Lucien’s claw tore his throat out.

As the blow fell, I looked away for I am not comfortable with blood. I left the room, as did the others. Knez Veceslav stayed. He collected the Gangrel’s blood for reasons I do not know.

As best as I can tell, Vashtai, the murder of Eudokia was a crime of passion carried out by a savage-hearted peasant.

Eudokia’s murderer had been revealed and justice meted out. This will not restore your friend and agent to you, but I hope the knowledge of what has happened has helped you.

The fact of Eudokia’s activities is revealed, but its nature remains hidden. Perhaps the others will ask further; perhaps not. I believe the coterie will dismiss Eudokia’s correspondence as an idle curiousity. Lucien will move on, bent on vengeance or rescue of his childe. (Oh, he’ll file the information away, but considering my presence here he will most likely simply ask you directly.)

The presence of the Tremere will hold the coterie’s attention, as will the need to return to the Crusade. For now, I believe the organisation’s network will remain in the shadows, ready to be rebuilt as required.

Your humble servant,

LA

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