Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Once a servant of the late Basileus of the Antonian Ventrue, this longevous ghoul is now a friend of the Concord and the secretive methuselah known as Byzar. He is the last of the excubitors, once the most feared warriors in all of Christendom.
A very large, imposing man with the unmistakeable carriage and confidence of a soldier of long experience. With his square features, thick head of brown hair, and salt and pepper beard, he could be judged as roughly handsome if not for his blank, even soulless, stare. There appears to be little humanity left in those dark eyes. He has an unnerving tendency to look through people, and while he seems to be a very watchful man, those around him would seem to merely be in his way. He wears no armour, and is armed with nothing more than a knife, but you get the sense that he is a very dangerous man. Although he does not limp, there is a very, very slight stiffness to his gait, as if his feet pain him a little.
Note: Although he arms himself with nothing other than a belt knife, the Concord knows that Barentis stores his klivannion armour, his spathion sword, and his dagger in a locked chest in his room at Maude’s clinic in Constantinople. They are all of extraordinary craftsmanship, and he continues to care for them, but he is aware that his secret would be out should he use them in public. Many Cainites saw and took note of Caius’ fearsome excubitor bodyguards over the centuries, and many would wish to see him punished or slain for the hurts and intimidation that he visited upon those who had displeased his master.
For over 600 years, this warrior served the Antonian Basileus, Caius, in his cadre of elite bodyguards, agents and (when the occasions demanded) butchers. Armed with the finest weapons and girded in full, gilded klivanion, these four warriors accompanied the leader of the Byzantine Ventrue on all ceremonial occasions, flanking him in procession and standing guard over Caius’ golden throne when he received his many clients in audience. The elite squad, called the Excubitors by the Cainites and ghouls of the Queen of Cities, were feared for their power, their lack of mercy and their ability to exercise both in the noonday sun. However, their reputation for fell deeds did not begin with Caius , but instead lay in their centuries-long service to his sire, Antonius the Gaul.
Prior to the destruction of Antonius the Gaul, the excubitors were his foremost mortal catspaws in his intrigues against the Dracon during the Iconoclast Controversy. They maintained ties with the crack imperial bodyguard regiment of the same name, harvesting some of the best among the mortal soldiers to join the basileus’ private army. At one point, Antonius commanded no fewer than 400 of the most dangerous warriors in the empire, and scion families as far afield as Naples in the West and Trebizond in the East could expect an unpleasant visit from these potent men if they did not toe the Antonian political line. The excubitors had already diminished in importance as an imperial bodyguard regiment before Caius inherited them from his sire, and his manipulations eventually reformed them into an elite imperial tagmatic unit stationed in the capital.
He would use them to solidify his power and that of his Caesar Magister , Septima Dominica, in the bloody and treacherous political climate of the early to mid 9th century. They again diminished in competency throughout the Macedonian era, before attrition, soft privilege and the rise in importance of the Varangian Guard saw them vanish by the 11th century. Like his brothers-in-arms among Caius’ ghoul bodyguards, Barentis was often called upon to wield the assassin’s garotte as much as the soldier’s sword, and innocent men, women and children beyond his ability to count or recollect have all died at his hands, usually for nothing better than the twisted jealousies and intrigues of his domitor and the vain aims of the Antonian Family. Conditioned by the arts of Dominate to obey orders without hesitation or any sense of mercy, the old ghoul never gave his abominable duties a second thought.
For better or worse, all that is slowly changing.
On the 12th of April, 1204, with the barbarian Franks of the Fourth Crusade having breached the walls and commenced their rape of the Queen of Cities, Basileus Caius finally appeared to realise that the world for which he had sacrificed everything had come to an end. With the reports of his officers ringing in his ears and echoing in the empty pit where his soul once dwelt, the old Roman focussed on the Patriarch , the source of his obsession, rather than his own calamitous culpability. The despondence that had interminably paralysed him was finally shattered by the clarity of his rage, and a great frenzy many decades in the making boiled forth with the strangled words, “I’ll deal with him!” Everything, and everyone, within his sight at that moment, was taken for a substitute for Michael.
The courtiers, both Cainite and kine, backed away as the growl started in his belly and grew in intensity. Herd, clients, servants; all had come to take shelter and succor with their invincible patron, and all became targets for his frenzy. Barentis and those few of his fellows that had survived the centuries, familiar with the phenomenon of a frenzy but unfamiliar with their domitor being the source of one, were but seconds late to react to Caius’ descent into madness. And despite their formidability, they were nothing more than wheat before the scythe next to the power of a 900 year old Cainite mindlessly bent on the destruction of all before him. Barentis stood closest to the Basileus, and before he could even ready his sword to defend himself, his legs were grasped and torn from his body. He fell behind his master’s golden throne, but did not lose consciousness, battened as he was on the ancient blood of Clan Ventrue. Shock claimed him as he watched, paralysed, as Caius tore apart his fellow excubitors, all of whom were Conditioned to hold their ground no matter the odds. Their unthinking stand allowed more than a dozen mortals and a handful of Cainites to escape, but they were all dead, torn limb from limb, in less than ten seconds. In a blur of motion, the Basileus of the Antonians, the man who gave Barentis’ life meaning for centuries, then departed his throne room without so much as a backward glance.
He should have, and would have, died then. If his mind was his own, he may have wanted to. But centuries of Cainite blood in his system has changed Barentis, like all ghouls, into something no longer quite human. And again, the Conditioning that had dictated his life for all those years commanded him not to give in. The stumps below his knees began to heal, the bleeding stopped, and the flesh knit itself back together. He sat there, in the ruins of Antonian power, and stared blankly at the carnage of the throne room as the night wore on with the screams of a city going through hell. And then, something broke loose inside him. The love and devotion he bore for the monster that had ruled his life and taken his legs suddenly seemed to evaporate. Caius, Basileus of the Antonian Ventrue, had gone to to the Final Death, and the Blood Oath that bound Barentis was most assuredly broken.
For the first time in fifteen lifetimes, he realised he had a choice, albeit one filtered through the clouded lens that was left to him. A choice to feel sorrow for the throes of suffering the city suffered, remorse for his part in the immoral acts that his master ordered him to carry out for so long, gladness for his sudden freedom, a sense of loss for the identity that he suddenly realised he no longer had. Or none of those things. It didn’t matter. He was free to feel, and free to act. As the din drifted across the palace, he sat for several hours, numbly listening to awful sounds of the Sack. Finally, Barentis made a decision. When the Concord happened upon the throne room, the excubitor was dragging himself through the pools of inspissating gore towards the blade that he had lost when he was mutilated. Sister Maude Khlesl rushed to treat his wounds, while the others stopped his agonised progress, then began to question the warrior.
When asked, he gave them a frank account of what happened when his domitor went mad. He told them that Caius was no more; an end that they confirmed with a first-hand account. And when asked what he was doing, he claimed that he was free, and rather than be lame, he would exercise his newfound freedom to die. If they would not allow him to do it himself, then they could at least grant him a merciful death.
After a short discussion, Maude and Veceslav told Barentis that there was a “good chance” they could return his legs. Combining his arts of Vicissitude and her advanced medical knowledge, they had performed chirurgical miracles in the past, although admittedly never something so challenging as what they were proposing. While perusing the stacks of the Library of the Forgotten, Maude had read much of the formative Ancient Greek knowledge in the science of what would one day be called neurology, and she was confident that she had enough understanding to further their miracles a step further.
With hope offered, the old ghoul relented and admitted that he would much rather live, if there was a chance that he could do so as a whole and free man. An accord was quickly struck, and the Concord took charge of the crippled soldier. Calling upon their Nosferatu allies to assist them, they had him removed to safety while they continued their (ultimately fruitless) quest to bring the Patriarch to his senses before the city was utterly lost.
In the wake of the Sack, Barentis spent several months enduring further agonies, as Sister Maude instructed her Tzimisce ally in the finer points of not just stretching and shaping the bone and flesh, procedures with which he was well-acquainted, but also in harvesting and reconnecting nerve tissues. The process was painful beyond words, even through the vast quantities of milk of the poppy that Barentis consumed to dull his senses. It shouldn’t have worked, but with the benefit of their combined talents, Barentis was made whole, if not hardy. They observed him closely, discovering that he had need of huge quantities of vitae, not just for the purposes of healing but perhaps also to fuel his unnaturally long lifespan.
The experiment was not a complete success. He could walk, most often with the aid of a crutch, but sometimes under his own power. He was plagued by spots of numbness, spasms of pain and even periods where his feet failed to cooperate at all. While bitterly disappointed that his mobility was not totally restored, the last excubitor remained hopeful that one day he would be truly whole. He was grateful to the Concord for their efforts, and Maude in particular, especially once she made it clear that she could ensure that he could keep his life without the burden of returning to the slavery of the Blood Oath. Her rituals would “sanitise” the blood of identity, leaving him with no master, although she cautioned that nothing would ever take away the tortuous thirst, the unreasoning anger, nor the unnatural urges of the tepid Beast that his centuries-old condition had given him. In payment for all that she had worked to give him, all that she asked was that he strive to regain his humanity, his sense of community, and to try to do no ill.
Not long after that, the Concord secretly discovered the resting place of the methuselah, Byzar. As part of the payment for granting him his freedom and his unlife, Maude suggested that perhaps the Cappadocian Ancient could use his mastery of the Salubri arts to assist her patient. Byzar was happy to do so, and Barentis was brought before him. As several members of the Concord looked on, a third eye opened in the forehead of the ancient Cappadocian, and a warm golden light suffused the room as the methuselah lay his hands upon the ghoul’s legs. For the excubitor, there was no pain, only warmth and a sense of well-being, as the flesh and bone seemed to rediscover their proper positions and shape themselves anew. When the procedure was done, all knew that Barentis was truly whole once more.
His gratitude knows no limits. Barentis has sworn his service, free and unflinching, to the aims of the Concord in Constantinople. He has also sworn his service to Byzar himself, and the Ancient was quick to accept it. To have such a loyal and capable pair of eyes and hands on the street in the daylit hours was a powerful incentive, but Byzar has also taken an interest in seeing the ghoul find his way back to his humanitas, for such could be quite instructive with regards to the Ancient’s own pursuit of Golconda. Also, according to the venerable Cappadocian, even in his time few ghouls survived the vicissitudes of fate and fortune to see 7 centuries of life, and he is much intrigued by the changes that may have been wrought upon Barentis’ physicality and mentality by the blood of Caine. He devotes the use of his extraordinary abilities with Auspex and Dominate to not just study the excubitor, but also to carefully remove the Conditioning that first Antonius, then Caius, inflicted upon him. For his part, the ghoul submits to such studies with equanimity, particularly as he is beginning to remember important parts of the man he was. Also, since Byzar has been taught the ritual that Maude uses to extract the identity of the Cainite from donated vitae, it is in the ghoul’s vested interest to remain on the Ancient’s good side.
Barentis still remembers little of his life before becoming a ghoul. So much of the man he was those centuries ago was excised by the Conditioning that the basileus habitually used to great effect on his subordinates. He does remember that he is a native Constantinopolitan, and that at one time, he was considered a hero of the Excubitor imperial bodyguard before he was given the blood by none other than Antonius the Gaul himself. One of many, he would serve that potent methuselah for a century before the betrayal of his childer left the Triumvir staked and burning at dawn. He remembers well the nobility and grandeur of the childe of Ventrue, and also the extraordinary lust for power and the jealous and bloody rages he displayed in his last centuries. However, it was not until Caius become his master, and over the centuries through which he served, that so much of Barentis was gradually erased and replaced by the endless series of commands and prerogatives that continue, to a very large extent, to dictate his behaviour. So much of his memory and identity is locked away, and perhaps even gone forever. Even so, in between the gaps his recollections are replete with the brilliant and underhanded intrigues of that most unworthy basileus.
In the many years since the Sack of 1204, Barentis has made his home in the rear of the clinic that Sister Maude Khlesl established in one of the poor neighbourhoods near the Harbour of Julian. It is a small, spartan room, containing little more than a rough bed, a chest that holds the arms and armour that he wore for centuries, and a few basic supplies. He sleeps little, but touches base every night or two with Tancred the Bear, the Ventrue who watches over the clinic for the Concord. The two warriors spar often in order to keep up their skills, and it is a testament to the power of the ghoul that he usually bests the Cainite. Much of his remaining time is spent providing door security for a cheap tavern by the harbour, or visiting with Byzar. And finally, on Maude’s insistence, Barentis gives some of his time to tend to the sick and injured at the clinic, the better to understand, empathise and ultimately reconnect with the rest of humanity. This initiative has enjoyed some small success, as the embers of his conscience are slowly being fanned into a flame. However, only time will tell if Barentis, last of the Excubitors, will transcend the sins of his past, and the monstrosity of his condition, to reach for the light.
For a tale concerning Barentis’ attempts to adjust to his new existence, click here for a short story by David Pollard.