Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
The legendary founder of Byzantium, this long-lost Ancient is the Childe of the Antediluvian, Cappadocius. Awoken from a millenia-long torpor in the wake of the 4th Crusade, he now quietly struggles to find his feet in a new epoch.
This pale man is a platonic ideal of beauty made flesh. His skin is pale as marble, and his bones and muscles are perfectly formed. Shoulder-length, wavy black hair barely moves, even in a stiff breeze, and his pale eyes are ancient and full of knowledge. A serene expression adorns his features. When he stands still, he could be confused for a statue.
To even the most studied of Cainite historians, little is known of Byzar, the most mysterious of Cappadocius’ progeny, other than the facts that he was the mythical Byzas, that he has not been seen since well before the birth of Christ and that, until the Embrace of Augustus Giovanni in AD 1005, he was the youngest of the 4th generation Cappadocians. He is little more than a footnote of the vampire histories, not just because of the length of his absence from Cainite affairs, but because he was particularly secretive even before his disappearance. Even the fact that he was sire to Lady Alexia Theusa of Constantinople was relatively unknown to all but the most assiduous of scholars, and many assumed that the Alexia herself was a childe of Cappadocius.
Indeed, it would seem that the existence of Byzar will remain a myth, shrouded by the shadows and dust of changeable history and cruel time. Some believe that he was an early victim of the Jyhad, or perhaps he was a victim of the Feast of Folly? Others wonder if he ever existed at all…
The Concord, and a select group of their allies, know better. Following a series of clues, from prophetic dreams to ghostly disruptions, they beat a series of contenders including a coterie of Giovanni and a cult of strange death magi to the resting place of an unliving legend.
Byzar does indeed survive. A victim of the treachery of his mad progeny Alexia Theusa and her quest to return her lover Andreas to life, this childe of Cappadocius lay in a death-magic sustained torpor for more than 1400 years. In that time, while he and his followers had their immortal vitality drained to fuel her entropy warping magics, his Byzantium was destroyed and raised up again to greatness as Constantinople. The destiny of his domain was shaped by other ancients, it became the focus of the Dream, and it endured many cycles of exaltation and decline. Finally, when the 4th Crusade put the city to the sword, the sack and the torch, Alexia fled Constantinople in company with the Nosferatu Malachite, and for the first time in many centuries she left her haven unattended. In her absence, many of Lady Alexia’s magics have been undone.
Byzar has returned.
At least, in a manner of speaking. So far as Byzar is concerned, and he cannot (or will not) explain how in definite terms, he never really left. Rather, he has made claims to a number of the Concord that his spirit has roamed both the earth and the Underworld free of his trapped body all this time. He has clear memories of avoiding the power of the Triumvirate of Michael, Antonius and the Dracon. He remembers studying the unmapped road to Golconda at the feet of Saulot himself and indeed he claims he was with the Antediluvian just weeks before his destruction at the fangs of Tremere. Of course, those among the Concord who came to know the ancient one in the years immediately following the Fourth Crusade also came to seriously (if privately) question Byzar’s sanity, so it is just as likely that the old Cappadocian dreamt these many encounters and experiences in a death-magic induced fantasy state intended to keep him sedated.
Even so, despite the obvious flaws in his story, there can be no doubt that his proficiency with the Healers Path of Valeran, the signature Discipline of the beleaguered Salubri, is well beyond the mastery exhibited by even puissant elders of that bloodline. He was able to restore full use of his legs to the ghoul, Barentis, after both had been torn off below the knee and aptly (if not entirely successfully) rebuilt by the flesh and bone-crafting arts of the Tzimisce Veceslav Basarab and the brilliant medical knowledge of Sister Maude Khlesl. How else could the ancient Cappadocian wield such potent knowledge of such a rare Discipline if not learned at the feet of an Antediluvian?
Likewise, his pursuit of “the unmapped road” of Golconda, albeit so far unsuccessful, is informed by the enigmatic analects and riddles that only Saulot or one of his closest disciples would know. Even Sister Maude, whose frighteningly sharp and sarcastic insights have stymied Cainites some centuries her elder, and Iulia of Weissenburg, whose encyclopaedic learning and mercurial wit have proven the equal of the Byzantine intrigues of elders of the Dream, were stumped by Byzar’s conundrums. Although Maude is privately as dubious as ever regarding the “selfish” pursuit of Golconda, she is no longer quite so quick to dismiss it, if only to placate the expectations of the Ancient. For her part, Iulia spent many evenings picking Byzar’s brain regarding his first hand understanding of Ancient Greek history, both mortal and Cainite, his involvement with the Eleusinian and Orphic mystery cults, as well as the workings of the Delphic Oracle.
In his own inscrutable manner, Byzar appeared to warm somewhat to both Cainites, although it could be speculated that he was simply repaying his obligations to them for assisting in his freedom from Lady Alexia’s ritual prison. During their instruction, both of them found Byzar to occasionally drift off into long and extremely absorptive reveries, or to display great confusion when attempting to order his thoughts. Even so, there can be little doubt that both benefitted immensely from his knowledge. By the time both of them were free to attend to their many spheres of interest in Transylvania, both were confident they had an ally of sorts.
Svenin the Tall and Veceslav Basarab found him much more cool in his approach. While he acknowledged that a boon was owed to both for their service, it was clear that the Ancient trusted neither of them. Indeed, he seemed positively wary, and in the relatively short time that both Cainites remained in the city after the Bitter Crusade, he neither invited them again into his sanctum under the Byzantine Acropolis, nor offered them anything other than the most formal acknowledgements. Both Iulia and Maude know that this was due to the black veins of diablerie that scored their auras.
Byzar’s sense of philosophy and cosmology appear to be steeped in the cross-fertilisated mystic traditions common to the ancient Near East; a fusion that he claims lay at the roots of Saulot’s own teachings. He would explain his point of view regarding the unmitigated evil that was diablerie in the years to come. In short, all things move in cycles, and to consume the soul of another would annihilate all the potential that anima contained; all the possibility for good or ill, for redemption or damnation, would be gone. And, according to his experience, the actions of all of these animae mattered in the “Great Scheme”, for they all served as cogs that affected the turning of the “Great Wheel”. The “vampiric state” was intrinsically outside the natural order, but the soul held in stasis within it was still viable. Therefore, if a Cainite must be destroyed, it is the duty of the destroyer to return the anima of the departed to the cycle. Diablerie, therefore, is the worst possible crime to Byzar, a blasphemy of the highest possible order next to true Diabolism.
Of course, the fact that dozens of very low generation and absolutely helpless Cainites slumber within the sanctum still may also have something to do with Byzar’s caution towards two vampires who had so very recently committed that very crime.
It would appear that Alexia’s obsession with the recovery of her own lost love compelled her in strange directions indeed. Although her encrypted writings have yet to be deciphered, she evidently felt that those who were intrinsically tied to the destiny of the Queen of Cities had a special power to affect a desireable outcome. Byzar has indicated that this belief in the facility to manipulate entropy was not such an unusual belief in the melting pot that was the occult tradition of ancient, pagan Greece, which had imported many magical principles from distant Persia and even beyond. And in this particular case, Lady Alexia obviously felt that the emperors of Byzantium possessed this power.
No fewer than thirty-four of them were Embraced and interred for this reason. When the Concord initially discovered them all, and found plaques above each burial niche, they discovered that over half of the emperors between Arcadius (died AD 408) and Manuel Comnenus (died AD 1180) were undead, suspended in torpor by Lady Alexia’s necromantic rituals. Ten others, in varying degrees of age, rested in niches unnamed, including her most recent paramour, the missing Reformed Michaelite known as Komanos of Stomion. Most of the ensepulchred were nothing more than desiccated corpses, wrapped in dusty linen shrouds, their withered lips ghoulishly drawn back over their fangs. Even so, to the supernally sharp senses of several of the vampires, faint auras flickered within their bodies yet, but the older the trapped Cainite, the weaker each nimbus of energies guttered. A number of the most ancient corpses had only the tiniest spark of necrotic energy remaining to them.
And in the middle of it all, lying restlessly on an ancient altar in the main chamber, lay the cadaver with the strongest aura. To the eyes of Maude and Iulia, both of whom were empowered to see across the Shroud into the land of the dead, a tenebrous vortex seemed to twist and distort the fabric of reality over the Cainite. Tendrils of stygian energy seemed to radiate from the vortex, spreading throughout the tomb and grounding in each of the bodies that lay within the niches. The obviously ancient vampire beneath the gyre appeared to be the focus of a powerful ritual that filled both the Lasombra and the Cappadocian with dread. The old one seemed to struggle weakly against its linen bonds, and the vortex pulsed in time with it’s exertions. A telepathic voice called out to Concord for their assistance, identifying itself as Byzar, childe of Cappadocius and sire to the “mad bitch” that was the vanished Alexia Theusa.
He was lucid enough, if indignant at his fallen state, and he promised to repay their kindness generously if they should release him. Although fragile and emaciated to the point of extreme mummification at the time of his awakening, Byzar was still far from helpless. Upon his release, the ease with which he moved and lifted extremely heavy objects despite his macabrely wasted muscles implied some command of both Potence and Fortitude. He would soon demonstrate that his mastery of the death magics of his own clan is also prodigious, although not so powerful as that of his treacherous childe, and his tutelage was equal to the task of propelling Sister Maude into mastery of a number of paths in a few short years. His facility for Obfuscate not only allows him to make use of any face he wishes and to vanish from plain view, but to grant these boons to anyone in his company. The same mastery gives him the ability to hide the entrance to his haven, even from those who know how to find it (as both Svenin and Veceslav discovered to their consternation). His abilities with the discipline of Dominate more than sufficed to alter the memories of Komanos of Stomion when the Michaelite woke soon after his own rising, and also to unlock the worst of the Conditioning shackling the ancient ghoul, Barentis, to his inhumane state. And finally, Byzar’s proficiency with Auspex is greater than any the Concord has yet encountered.
It is this that may give the answer to his conviction that he was never truly shackled by Alexia’s ritual. After all, clan tradition holds that in life Byzar was a seer of some sort, with unusual insights into the world of spirits, and it was for this knowledge that he was brought into the clan. The old one has been evasive concerning the upper limits of his unusual powers, particularly with regard to the disicipline of Auspex. Perhaps his psyche did indeed roam the earth after his body was imprisoned. Or perhaps not. Despite a good number of years of association, the Concord is still unsure of how addled the methuselah truly is. A great many of the things that the Concord takes for granted appear to be utterly alien to the Ancient, no matter what he says…
His dislocation is complete, notwithstanding the comprehensive history and politics lessons given by Iulia and the clan briefs given by Maude. Byzar has spent much of the intervening years attempting to adjust to a world that has passed him by. The religion and spirituality that he cleaved to is gone, replaced by that of a Christianity that seems to ring hollow to him. The greatest empires the West ever saw have risen and fallen, along with most of the Cainites that he once called friend or peer. Saulot, the teacher that gave him the philosophy that gave purpose to his existence, is destroyed, and the Clan of the Unicorn has been cruelly discarded by their fellows in favour of a lickspittle bloodline of usurping warlocks.
Byzar is not at all sure that he wants any part of what the society of the Children of Caine has become. He currently spends much of his time wandering the city under the cover of his Obfuscate, reacquainting himself with the home that he founded, and casually taking in the venal politics and bloodthirsty diversions that motivate his kindred. Thus far, he is less than impressed. The culture of his own clan inspires him no better. He slept through the Chrisitianisation of Cappadocius, the Feast of Folly and the rise of the Giovanni, and all three affairs have left his ardour to reengage with his own ilk somewhat lukewarm. Envoys from his brother-in-blood Japheth, alerted by the sorceries of Byzar’s elder consanguineous brother, arrived at the Acropolis in 1207, only to be politely but firmly rebuffed with assurances that Byzar will make contact “in due course.”
The advent of the Giovanni’s nigrimancy into the Cappadocian methods and philosophies troubles the ancient vampire, for in his time, meddling with the doings and destinies of the restless dead was considered nothing less than blasphemy. Moreover, the fact that the vast majority of the Giovanni appear to treat the departed as slaves rankles Byzar to no end. The one encounter he has had with the bloodline was with the opportunistic Markus Musa Giovanni, whose meddling shortly after the Sack in 1204 succeeded in bringing the Ancient close to consciousness, only to refuse him freedom. If not for the Concord, Byzar and Lady Alexia’s entire brood would most likely have subsequently fallen into the clutches of the vile Carmine Giovanni, whom they know to be a diablerist of the worst order.
Quite confident in his rituals and mastery of Obfuscate to keep the Acropolis of Byzantium secure, Byzar nonetheless keeps a wary eye on the coterie of Giovanni, led by Carmine, that have set up shop in the Venetian Quarter. Their numerous attempts to locate the lair of Alexia Theusa have been fruitless, as well as entertaining, to the Concord and their ancient ally. He has also taken pains to make sure that the Hierocthonoi magi and Orphic Circle cultists that almost discovered the tomb have been thoroughly led astray from their quest to discover the “entropic convergence point” in the district of Arcadius. The St. Ladre Nosferatu suspect that a Cainite of great age lairs in or around the Acropolis, but they have chosen to respect the wishes of the Concord that they not look into the matter further, and simply trust that their ally Sir Conrad de Monreal has the best interests of the mortals of the city at heart. With the departure of Iulia and Maude in 1209, only the ghoul Barentis has managed to retain regular contact with Byzar, who has made a study of the long-term effects of Cainite blood on the mortal, and the Ancient also monitors the mortal’s “rehabilitation.”
In the meanwhile, he has also set himself to the dual tasks of deciphering the extensive and enigmatic writings of his errant and traitorous childe, who had more than a thousand years to perfect her theories and rituals. The great working that fuelled her attempts to drive the reincarnation of Andreas is disrupted, but not yet dispelled, and Byzar fears that attempting to unravel the ritual without understanding it could bring a great deal more harm than good. He also believes that the other Cainites that lie in shackled torpor within the tomb are not safe to be moved, nor awoken, unless they manage to find their way to consciousness under their own power. At this stage only a handful of them have done so, and Byzar believes that Alexia’s ritual continues to resonate within them too. Each of the awoken has been placed within the charge of a loyal ally, the better to protect and acclimate them to the vampiric state that they did not choose. He is hesitant to destroy any of them at this point, no matter how ill-suited they may be to their condition, which is cold comfort indeed to those such as Leo II, who is currently the ward of Prince Iulia in Weissenburg. A boy of 7, the young emperor was poisoned by his own mother and brought across on his death-bed in AD 474.
Only time will tell if Alexia’s great working will “bleed away” without her upkeep, or if Byzar can undo the power of the ritual. The addition of over 30 low generation Cappadocians, many of whom were ruthless politicians, brilliant strategists and charismatic leaders, to the Cainite spectrum of the Byzantine East could be quite a force for change or restoration, especially if they could be convinced by someone to work together. Byzar might just hold the destiny of the remnants of the Eastern Empire in his hands, if only he could be convinced to care. It is quite likely, however, that once he repairs the damage that the “mad bitch” has done to the “Great Wheel”, he will return to his quest for Golconda, leaving his descendants, and his city, behind.
As always, getting a straight and sensible answer out of the vague, delphian Ancient is all but impossible, but the Concord are thankful for their secret ally nonetheless.
Embrace:By his own admission, early in the 16th century BCE, scant decades after the eruption of Thera.
Lineage: Childe of Cappadocius, although in his vague ramblings he has been known to call his sire Laodice, more rarely Sargon and, once or twice… Ashur.
Alexia’s Brood of Byzantine Emperors
Leo I the Thracian 7 February 457 – 18 January 474 (73, dysentery)
Leo II the Little 18 January – 17 November 474 (7, unknown disease, maybe poison)
Zeno 17 November 474 – 9 April 491 (66, dysentery/epilepsy & murder)
Anastasius I 11 April 491 – 9 July 518 (88, old age and illness)
Justin I July 518 – 1 August 527 (77, old age and illness)
Justinian I the Great 1 August 527 – 13/14 November 565 (82, old age and illness) Shadow Lord kin
Justin II 14 November 565 – 5 October 578 (58, madness and illness)
Tiberius II Constantine 5 October 578 – 14 August 582 (48, food poisoning)
Heraclius 5 October 610 – 11 February 641 (66, illness)
Constantine III 11 February – 24/26 May 641(29, consumption and/ or poisoning)
Constantine IV the Bearded 15 September 668 – September 685 (33, dysentery)
Staurakios 2 October 811 – 11 January 812 (19, battle wounds)
Basil I the Macedonian 867-2 August 886 (75, fever from hunting accident)
Leo VI the Wise 29 August 886 – 11 May 912 (45, illness)
Alexander Emperor 912 – 913 (46,‘exhaustion’ after polo match)
Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos 15 May 908-9 November 959 (54, probably poison)
Romanos II Porphyrogennetos November 959 – 15 March 963 (25, pneumonia from hunting trip, possibly poison)
John I Tzimiskes December 11, 969 – January 10, 976 (50, heart attack or poison)
Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025 (67, possibly a stroke)
Constantine VIII Porphyrogennetos 15 December 1025 – 11 November 1028 (68, possibly a stroke)
Zoë Porphyrogenita 12 November 1028 – June 1050 (72, possibly a stroke)
Romanos III Argyros 1028 to 1034 (66, poisoned or drowned in his bath at Zoe’s order) H1
Michael IV the Paphlagonian 11 April 1034- 10 December 1041 (31, epilepsy and dropsy) H2
Constantine IX Monomachos 11 June 1042 – 11 January 1055 (55, illness) H3
Theodora 19 April 1042 – 31 August 1056 (76, intestinal disorder)
Constantine X Doukas 1059–1067 (61, age and illness)