Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Gabriel von Sankt Wolfgang
Once the adopted son and squire of Bernhard Billung, this young man was psychologically traumatised by Aimery de Versey, and later slain by crusaders during the Great Sack of Constantinople. Now a wraith, he is full of hatred for the Children of Caine.
A good-looking young man with clever hazel eyes, dark auburn hair, a strong nose and delicate lips. Of average build and height, he is quick, sure of step, confident and poised. He favours neutral colours, and tends to keep his hood drawn up. Although he appears unpained, his belly is a mess of blood and rent guts.
Gabriel was first encountered by Bernhard Billung in 1196 working as a go-between for the ghoul Andrew and his old friend, Peter of the Seraglio. At that time, the old man led the fraternity of the poor who watched over the local streets of the dilapidated military district in which Andrew was found by Veceslav Basarab many decades earlier. A bright-eyed, streetwise lad of ten, the precociousness of Gabriel struck a chord within Bernhard, who elected to befriend the boy over the weeks in which the Seraglio Fraternity assisted the the formative Concord in their hunt for the murderers of the Narsene Lasombra Juliano and Adrianna. Throughout the course of the investigation, the Gangrel took an interest in Gabriel’s potential, and was particularly impressed with the manner in which the boy made his way along the rooftops and streets of Constantinople without being seen.
After the successful conclusion of that mission, Bernhard wintered in Constantinople, and eventually convinced Peter that if he turned Gabriel over to him, the boy’s prospects would be dramatically improved — as a ward of the Saxon knight, he would be made his squire, given an education, wealth, and the opportunity to satisfy his curiosity of the wider world. In time, he would be a knight in the Burgaviate of Kronstadt, with all the land and respect that entailed.
With reservations owing to his knowledge of the true nature of the knight before him, Peter agreed, and Gabriel returned to Transylvania with the Gangrel. He was among their entourage through the difficult journey to Tihuta, and he worked as a water carrier and assistant during months it took to construct the first level of the tower. Over these difficult, cold months he became enamoured of Sherazhina, a Romanian girl of noble birth whom the Concord had rescued from the slave block of Pest. Older than he by perhaps 6 years, she seemed to have the poise and wisdom of a woman many years older, and he instantly looked up to her.
Over the following years, Gabriel became dear to a number of the Cainites of the Concord in addition to Sir Gunthar (the name that Bernhard Billung was using at that time). He spent time in the city of Weißenburg learning history and numbers from Prince Iulia and Sister Maude, but he kept company also with Sherazhina, who had fallen under the protection of the prince.
He would also accompany Maude on one of her lengthy journeys to the west, seeing a number of grand cities in the kingdoms of Germany, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary, though all seemed little more than glorified villages to him next to the Queen of Cities. Indeed, his extensive congress with the relatively benign Concord normalised the notion of vampires in his midst. Not only did he lack fear of the immortals or disgust at their feeding habits, he fully expected that at some point much later in his life he would join their ranks.
To the people of the burgraviate, he became known as the ward of the far-travelled Sir Gunthar, who also trained him as his page, with an eye towards a knightly education. This suited Gabriel well, for although he understood almost immediately what his protector was, he also appreciated who the man was. The boy knew that the vampire might be cunning, proud, and occasionally ruthless, but he was also brave, honourable, and smart, and he tried also to be good. In any case, he was good to Gabriel, for as soon as he made the boy his ward, for all intents and purposes he adopted him as his son.
The villages of Sankt Wolfgang and Lünedorf near Kronstadt, became his home, and Sir Gunthar and his kin, the Dresslers, became his family. Karl and Eadith welcomed him into their home, apparently believing that he was the natural son of his long-lost, errant knight of a cousin. Gabriel won them over quickly with his precociousness, and their younger children, Wanda and Axel, soon came to see him as a part of the family. The older daughter, Ingrid, knew him only briefly before she left the village to marry Edmund, a prominent knight, but Bernerd, the eldest of the Dressler children, instantly disliked the boy for his wit and streetwise ways. He bullied Gabriel mercilessly, using his larger size to good advantage in their frequent squabbles.
Over a number of years, his links to the Dresslers and the people of Lünedorf and Sankt Wolfgang grew and, as the ward of Gunthar, he came to be called by the knight’s name as well. Even after Bernerd became his guardian’s squire, and he continued to bully the younger boy, Gabriel prospered. Under the heavy regime of training that the knight enforced upon the youths, they grew stronger and quite fit, and as it would happen Gabriel had more of a talent for sparring than Bernerd. By the time that his guardian took the cross and indicated that he expected the lads to accompany him on the forthcoming crusade, Gabriel too was a squire and very nearly the equal of the much older Bernerd in all aspects of his training. He took a special pride in knowing that his guardian trusted him with his secret but that his fellow squire was either too stupid or too untrustworthy to share it.
In July of 1202, outside the city of Venice, they met the rest of the Concord, all of whom had travelled from throughout Transylvania at the behest of Sir Gunthar. They would make their camp on the Lido, with the rest of the gathering force of the crusade, and there they would languish for several months, miserable amidst the mosquitoes and the autumn rains of the northern Adriatic. At least Sherazhina had accompanied Lady Iulia and Sister Maude, much heartening Gabriel and immediately turning the head of Bernerd. Word soon reached them that thousands of their expected sword-brothers had failed to arrive, but that the Venetians demanded payment for the huge navy that they had constructed for the crusade. The city and the pilgrims were at an impasse, and negotiations were ongoing.
While they waited, Sir Gunthar was eager to meet others of his kind on the crusade, looking to strategise for the coming campaign or simply to socialise. One such compatriot was the charming and urbane French knight known Aimery de Versey. An envoy for the Crusader Ventrue faction of the Holy Land, he had long resided in Venice as it was a trade hub that allowed him to do his job quite effectively. Although his house was in the city, he spent much time in camp and disarmed not just their guardian, but both squires and Sherazhina as well, entertaining them with his tales of far cities and lands and showing them how to play (and cheat) at dice.
Finally, Doge Enrico Dandolo and the Venetians agreed to delay remuneration in return for the pilgrims assisting the Serene Republic with “certain military objectives.” By December, the Christian city of Zara had been sacked by the Fourth Crusade, most of the pilgrims had been excommunicated, and the Kingdom of Hungary had withdrawn from the campaign citing the perfidy of the men who should have been respecting one of its possessions rather than attacking it. Moreover, the crusaders had fallen to bickering with the Venetians over the booty taken from the city, and a plague of pests had struck at their food.
The cause of the latter was revealed to be an enemy vampire Erzebet Toth, who was subsequently captured by the Concord and their allies. Without giving them details, their master announced that he and his allies among the Concord must take a difficult journey through the winter snows to forestall further attacks on their food sources, but that the squires and Sherazhina would be safe in the company of his new friend, Sir Aimery. The fact that the Ventrue diplomat happened to owe the Concord a life boon for saving him from an Assamite assassin gave Gunthar much comfort in addition to Aimery’s proffered regard and trustworthy demeanour.
Unknown to the boys, however, all was not well with Sir Gunthar. After more than 130 years of undeath, and too many of them under too ready a preoccupation with conducting the business of war, the Gangrel was losing his grip on his humanity. The Beast gnawed at his soul nightly, and Gunthar’s pride and the habits of a bloody lifetime made it difficult for him to change his ways. He was resolved to seeing the crusade through in hopes of protecting Constantinople, but he had decided that he could no longer be a soldier. Instead, he planned to fake his death at the earliest opportunity, have his friend Veceslav Basarab flesh-craft his face, and return in a new guise as a physician attached to Maude’s medicine tent.
This part of his plan went off without a hitch, for brave Gunthar of Sankt Wolfgang perished in battle with Dalmatian rebels on a snowy cliff road in the Dinaric Alps. No lesser a personage than Louis of Blois witnessed the knight struck by a spear and go over the cliff with his horse. The count would give the fallen Saxon a moving eulogy when he and his retinue returned to Zara, and Gabriel, Bernerd, and Sherazhina were all struck by the grief of his loss. Sir Aimery, of course, commiserated with them and promised to see to their welfare in their time of need. Martin of Toulon also agreed to take some responsibility for the youths, but in truth his duties to Guy of Provence kept him quite busy, while Aimery was very much at loose ends.
Unfortunately for the grieving youths, Aimery was lying. Now free from the potential repercussions of Gunthar’s vengeance, he elected to “free them from the ten commandments” by inducting them into the twisted worship of Typhon, a Greek aspect of the dark god, Set, that held both as pale reflections of Satan. In his own debased mind, the Typhonian heresy of the Children of Judas had made him strong and free to decide his own destiny free from morality, and now he wished to make his new charges just like himself. Over the following months of winter and on into the spring, Aimery used his Dominate discipline to force the three of them to demean and degrade themselves in all manner of ways, both with each other and with a multitude of others that he sought to corrupt through his influence in the crusader camp.
His depredations would break the minds of all three of the youths.
By the time that the Concord could return from Transylvania and take ship to rejoin the crusade in Corfu, it was April of 1203. Armed with Sister Maude’s empathy and Veceslav’s Aura Sight, they noticed that something was terribly amiss with their mortal friends. They investigated quietly and quickly, finding the truth of Aimery and his growing cult. The crusade had clutched a serpent to their unsuspecting breast, and many mortals were now compromised by the Settite puppetmaster. Aimery fled, but he was out-classed by the wrathful Concord and quickly brought to heel.
“Put to the question” by the insistence of Guy of Provence, his will to resist collapsed after five hours under the ministrations of Veceslav, and he confessed all. Aimery was indeed a Follower of Set who had masqueraded as a Ventrue for decades. He was a Typhonist heretic from the pure faith of Set, and he had links to the Children of Judas, though not so many as his murdered friend, Roland du Rochere. His role on the crusade was to ensure that it found its way to Egypt where it would weaken the Ashirra and the Assamites in particular. The rest of it — the corruption of other crusaders and the degradation of Gabriel and the others — was just to “keep him busy.” Disgusted, Guy delivered unto the prisoner the sentence of the Final Death for his crimes, and gave his new friend Veceslav (as leader of the Concord) the honour of carrying it out.
Of course, the destruction of Aimery de Versey was cold comfort to Gabriel, Bernerd, and Sherazhina. They had been used in the most despicable way, and they were full of self-disgust and shame. Neither of the others could look Gabriel, or each other, in the eye. In the case of the Dressler lad, he became suicidally reckless, and in that of Sherazhina’s, the young lady was almost mute with horror. For his part, Gabriel retreated into a long, brooding silence punctuated by fits of extreme anger and resentment. In his heart of hearts, too late he had realised that the Concord were an aberration among their kind, and he should have feared the vampires in his midst from the start. Now all he could do was get ready for the next evil that they had brought down upon him.
By the time that the Fourth Crusade reached Constinople in July of 1203, Gabriel had made up his mind. As soon as the dust from the first siege had settled, he fled the Concord and the crusade and returned to the Seraglio Fraternity. Peter and the others welcomed him back immediately, for recent years had been hard on them — vampires from the District of Arcadius had preyed upon them extensively, stealing not only their blood but what little wealth remained to them. Incensed, Gabriel took charge of the protection of the fraternity, using the knowledge and skills that Sir Gunthar had taught him and passing it on to the others. Before long, the Seraglio put up barricades, and torches were kept lit and ready at all hours of the night. The guards would watch for steaming breath or the lack of it, for an unusual pallor, and they learned not to make eye contact with strangers.
In company with their new members, Brother Adalbert and Svenin the Tall, the Concord would find Gabriel at the Seraglio during their hunt for their enemies of years before: the Chosen of Calomena. The cult had kidnapped the Michaelite Muse of Performance, Gregorius Dimities, and Petronius had asked his allies to assist the Malkavian. The trail led to the poor neighbourhood near the Seraglio Fraternity, and Gabriel welcomed them guardedly, especially with the towering Viking among their number. He was mollified somewhat to discover that Svenin was the descendant of his late surrogate father, but he would not trust the Viking and the monk enough to join forces with his old friends. He and his people provided plenty of intelligence on their quarry though, for prior to Gabriel’s fortification of their warehouses, his people had been preyed upon frequently by vampires fitting the description of the Chosen. Bidding them good luck, he pointed the Concord in the direction he believed the enemy cult had built their lair, then told them not to return to the fraternity. Such was his newfound mistrust that he personally barred the gate behind them when they left.
Sadly, for all his education on matters of war and his good intentions regarding his people, Gabriel’s preparations proved next to useless when the city fell to the crusade in February of 1204. He had taught his people to protect themselves from Cainites, but like most of the city he had never seriously entertained the notion that the invading Franks would actually succeed in taking Constantinople. Once the Great Sack was underway, the best they could hope for was to present a strong front, make it clear that they had nothing worth taking, and hope that the enemy army would go after a weaker target.
It was not enough. Indeed, scores of fraternities across the Queen of Cities had the same idea. When they encountered such bulwarks, the rampaging crusaders often chose to make an example of the fraternities to break the back of any hope the citizens may have had of resisting them. The Seraglio fraternity was one such. The Concord happened upon the ruins of Gabriel’s makeshift fortress as they circled towards the Great Palace away from the fire consuming the districts in the valley between the second and third hills. The Seraglio was the site of a great massacre, and several of their warehouse habitations were already afire. They found their young friend dying in the courtyard, close to the house where the fraternity kept most of their provisions.
His belly was rent, run through by a shattered lance. Barely conscious, quietly weeping in fear of his impending demise and with shame at the destruction and death that he had failed to prevent, it was clear to them that he was not long for the world unless one of them gave him the Embrace. Several of them offered to bring him across, but despite his pain and fear he refused to become “an unclean, rapacious, cursed thing.” He asked only that they not let him die alone. Maude and Iulia gave him some mandrake and the Lasombra then used her Dominate to convince him that he could not feel pain. The two of them then sat with him as the others looked on. Surrounded by the monsters that had given his life shape, Gabriel died less than an hour later.
His last words, slurred by his moribund delirium, were “damn you all.”
Many months later, as part of her curious habit of trying to summon the shades of deceased and disappeared acquaintances, Maude discovered that Gabriel might be dead, but he certainly wasn’t gone. Indeed, he had reawoken as shade on the other side of the Shroud, and been claimed by something called Grim Legion. Gabriel was angry and discomforted by her Summons, and he let her know that his rage and regret had only grown over the months as he watched the depredations of vampire and mortal Latins alike on his fellow hapless Constantinopolitans. Consumed with bitterness not just at the circumstances of his death but the bleakness of his new existence, he cursed her and all her kind, demanded that she release him, and asked that she not summon him again.
The current disposition of Gabriel is unknown.