Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
This elder was sometimes known as the Saint of the Divinity Within. He was co-leader of the Obertus Tzimisce along with his brother and childe, Symeon. Gesu was destroyed during the Great Sack of 1204.
This young man was inhumanly captivating and unearthly, like a saintly apparition or a platonic ideal made flesh. He was over seven feet tall, but proportionally correct, making him appear as a giant of sorts. He was not at all physically robust, appearing to be emaciated, as if he had suffered a long illness. Garbed in a simple crimson habit, he was unarmed.
When under attack by the Serene Brotherhood, a manifestation of the Divinity Within leapt to Gesu’s defence. Barbed tentacles of impossible length and girth erupted from his belly and back, tearing mindlessly at his attackers as he begged them to run for their safety.
(modified from Constantinople by Night, pp. 108-109)
Hoping to heal the rift between his lovers, Michael presented Gesu and his younger brother, Symeon, to the Dracon and Antonius to be Embraced on the boys’ 21st birthdays. Although they were separated by two full years, they appeared nearly identical. Gesu was only 7, but his countenance showed a blossoming intellect, while his brother’s child-like innocence could not hide the ambition and pride that radiated from him. For over a decade, the Antonian and Obertus families knew peace.
A few nights before the Dracon planned to Embrace Gesu, a small delegation from the Carpathian Tzimisce, including the ancient Triglav, an envoy of the Antediluvian itself, arrived and demanded to speak with the Dracon. The envoy urged his consanguineous brother not to Embrace Gesu, for the clan seers had predicted that he would bring a terrible curse on his sire and the whole clan. Having long before parted with their atavistic ways, the Dracon only mocked them for their superstitions.
When the Embrace took place, dark clouds gathered over Constantinople, centred over the Monastery of St. John Studius. As Gesu’s life slipped away and the ancient Tzimisce’s blood flowed through his veins, a terrible change gripped the vampire-to-be. His skin became yellow and taut, and his bones contorted into impossible shapes. Gesu then slipped into torpor and his body withered.
While he lay in deathless state, his sire raged across the lands of Transylvania, destroying dozens of his clan-mates in his hunt for Triglav, whom he blamed for the curse laid upon Gesu. When he finally found his brother-in-blood, the Carpathians shook with the horrible battle that ensued. Terrible visions wracked the elders of the clan with the outpouring of power and hate as finally, the Dracon tore Triglav’s three heads from his body and destroyed him. Only the intervention of Demenaus the Sage, a former student and lover of the Dracon, prevented him from continuing in his vendetta against his Carpathian kin. To this night, the acrimony between the Carpathian and Byzantine Tzimisce still occasionally boils over into hostility, and the clan in Transylvania rejoiced when the Obertus were finally brought low in 1204.
For a full year, the torpid Gesu’s mind was plagued by dreams in which he prayed to God for salvation, only to be given a dark vitae that flowed from a crucifix for him to drink. These unsettling dreams eventually awakened him from torpor. Finding Symeon holding vigil, Gesu Embraced his brother so that they would never be parted again. This betrayal infuriated Antonius, and he renewed his attacks on the Tzimisce with redoubled fervour. Over the coming years, his rancour would bring about the Iconoclast Controversy, which led the empire into more than a century worth of political instability and internecine religious strife. This unreasoning mission of revenge ultimately led to Michael and the Dracon agreeing to allow Caius and Septima to destroy Antonius, and the very fabric of the Dream fell into decline as a result. Although the Dracon remained in the Queen of Cities for nearly a century after that fateful night, he was never the same, and he eventually deserted the city towards the end of the ninth century.
During the tenth, eleventh, and much of the twelfth centuries, the Obertus Order thrived under the dual leadership of Gesu and Symeon. Gesu reformed the ghoul Akoimetai monks into an order that was utterly devoted to him and his notions of exploring the Divinity Within each and every Cainite and mortal. The Akoimetai, or sleepless ones, were once known in Cainite circles as the Draconians, but now came to style themselves the Gesudians in honour of their unliving saint. Symeon took charge of the secular arm of the order, seeing to the growth and maintenance of the land holdings that belonged to the Obertus monasteries as well as handling political responsibilities with the other Families. Through the course of his duties, he made many alliances with Bulgarian, Serbian, Vlach, and Greek clan-mates south of the Danube, all of whom were happy to further the ongoing grudge against their Carpathian kin.
For a time, the Muntenian nobleman Veceslav Basarab dwelt among the Obertus Order during his studies at the Pandidakterion. He was considered to be a postulant, and had the privilege of making the acquaintance of Symeon and his most notable progeny, Myca. Gesu however, was only seen from afar by the young scholar- remote, inspiring and distinctly unsettling in his unearthly piety.
Until the Latin Riots of AD 1182, the Obertus were truly a cohesive and influential force in the city. Afterwards, the order appeared to grow deeply insular. Always something of a recluse, Gesu was not seen again outside the Monastery of St. John Studius after the Massacre of the Latins. Rumour had it that he had reached some sort of spiritual epiphany, and that he was praying and meditating upon its meaning. His brother continued to sit on the Quaesitor Tribunal, but Symeon’s sharp mind and lively persona had become withdrawn, uninterested for the most part in the politicking and intrigue that formerly gave his existence meaning. He rarely visited St. John Studius in the coming years, preferring his own haven at the monastery attached to the Church of Christ Pantokrator as well as the parlours of the Antonians and the Michaelite Arbiter, Petronius. Some speculate that the Obertus had become riven by internal dissent, since the quaesitor’s followers lapsed into referring to themselves as Draconians, but as ever with the reclusive and secretive monks, no one could ever really ever say for sure.
After the Fourth Crusade marched on the Queen of Cities, Veceslav elected to renew his association with the monastic order of his youth. He first reacquainted himself with Simeon and Myca before being given leave to enter St. John Studius and speak with Gesu. He discovered the Saint of the Divinity Within to be much changed, not least because the face of a young female vampire was visible on his chest, seemingly sleeping in peaceful repose. Further, Gesu seemed aware of the threat posed by the crusade, but oddly indifferent to it, and his monks followed his lead. In all, they were more concerned with divining the depths of their unique spirituality rather than their personal survival. At least an interest was taken in the preservation of their Library of the Forgotten, for after some months the young Tzimisce became aware that the Covenant of Three was smuggling a good deal of it out of the city and to safer environs.
Once the city fell and the Great Sack began, the monasteries of St. John Studius and Christ Pantokrator were targeted for attack by the pawns of the Cainite Crusade. Most of the Draconians had prepared for the worst and had made contingency plans to flee but not so the Gesudians. While the monastery, church, and hospital of Christ Pantokrator was damaged and sacked, few of Simeon’s followers were destroyed. The same could not be said of St. John Studius, which had been earmarked as an easy target by the ruthless crusading coteries known as the Serene Brotherhood and the Sodalicium of Swords both of which were hungry either for the riches and the Blood of the monks within, or else the knowledge to be stolen from their library. Unbeknownst to the Cainites, Gauthier de Dampiere and his band of vampire hunters had also been drawn to the monastery, and they too attacked when they encountered the Concord who had rushed to the monastery in their mission to protect the Library of the Forgotten.
Later, having escaped Gauthier and his Truly Faithful band of Templar and Hospitaller hunters, the Concord hazarded the flames engulfing the monastery to head below, into the labyrinth of the Gesudians. They risked so much because Symeon had exacted a promise from Veceslav to protect his brother, calling upon past kindnesses and debts owed by his sire, Gabor, to the secular Obertus. As they travelled the labyrinth choked with the smoke from the burning Library of the Forgotten, they came across a number of murdered monks; both mortal corpses, and dust piles in bloody robes, the remnants of members of the order who had run afoul of attackers. When the Concord arrived at the central chamber of the tunnels, a subterranean chapel, they found the Saint of the Divinity Within under attack by the Serene Brotherhood.
They tried to fight through to Gesu, only to be countered by Georgio di Renzo, Silvio Veccio, and 12 mortals, all ghoul henchmen of the Brotherhood. While the Tzimisce elder begged those who thought to slay him to flee and save themselves, Salvatore Varagine, Brother Carmichael, and Remigio del Nero all used the Arms of Ahriman to restrain him, closing in alongside Innominatam Stulto, Lando di Durazzo, and Carmine Giovanni, all with fangs bared, ready to take his Blood. Oddly, the Tremere Florian von Marxzell was also present, but his courage, already strained by the thick smoke and threat of fire, failed him as the Concord appeared, and he fled immediately.
When they sank their fangs into him and began to greedily devour his potent vitae, Gesu begged his attackers to flee, to save themselves. The look of pleading urgency in his eyes was lost to them in their single-minded thirst for his heart’s blood, but it was not lost on several members of the Concord at the rear of the fighting, who looked on in horror and trepidation as his form began to bulge and elongate. Veceslav Basarab and Svenin the Tall failed to notice immediately, concerned as they were with beating down the unexpectedly competent efforts of Georgio,Silvio, and the guards, but Iulia and Adalbert shouted a warning. The Serene Brotherhood ignored the shout, all save the Tzimisce called Innominatum Stulto who slowly backed away towards an open secret door in the apse.
Suddenly, barbed tentacles surmounted by fanged mouths and covered in blood red eyes, tore themselves free of Gesu’s abdomen and back, ripping several of his attackers free and smashing them down to the floor and against the walls. The size of the things defied understanding, seemingly much larger than the form of the Tzimisce should be capable of harbouring, and it would appear that while the Saint was apparently resigned to his fate, the Divinity Within was not. Perhaps in his centuries-long esoteric meditations on the nature of the transubstantiation of the Blood of Caine, he had touched something beyond the ken of men and the monsters they make? Something that had returned with him, and now fought for its existence even while he was ready to cast his aside. Gesu stood, his face transfixed by a mixture of transcendent pain and fearful perturbation as the tentacles struck out, seeking to throw down the Serene Brotherhood.
As the Concord steadily cut down the ghouls and struggled against their Cainite foes, his attackers were thrown off one by one. Lando was hurled through a narrow pillar with a sickening crunch, careening off into the darkness of the eastern transept. Brother Carmichael was the first to go the Final Death, constricted by one unnaturally strong tentacle as another tore his head from his neck then slithered down his open throat to find his heart. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, innominatum Stulto picked up a stack of books near the alter and fled for his life. A few moments later, the hated Salvatore was snared as he backed away from the awesome horror that Gesu had become. He would find his legs grasped and constricted in a like fashion, then lifted and repeatedly pummelled into one of the chapel’s pillars until the column cracked from the force and he was reduced to so much meat. Seeing the powerful Lasombra so easily subdued, Carmine Giovanni sought to run, but his face was smashed by another strike from the Divinity Within. His jaw hanging loosely, and his teeth a jagged ruin, he pathetically dragged himself through the secret door and fled after the Fool. Remigio too was thrown into a pillar and then the ceiling before his arm was torn loose, cartwheeling to land near Iulia, his agonised screams echoing as a section of the vaulted nave collapsed upon his legs.
Adalbert momentarily transfixed Georgio with his Dread Gaze, allowing Svenin to finish him off. The viking then outflanked Silvio, giving the furious but desperately outclassed Veceslav the opportunity to gain the upper hand. Together they then laid the expert duellist low. Enemy ghouls fled if they were able, or else died under the blades, fangs, or arrows of the Concord. The Transylvanian Cainites stood, helplessly watching as the thrashing manifestation of Divinity Within continued to madly pummel and tear at the room, destroying pillars, smashing icons, holing masonry, and tearing at the bodies of the fallen. A shadow slipped away from where Remigio had fallen, indicating that he was conscious enough to flee using the form of the Tenebrous Avatar.
Through the haze of dust and smoke, Gesu looked at them calmly, weakly. His crimson habit ripped from him by the violence of his attackers and the instinctive, emergent self-defence of the Divinity Within, they saw the face of Lillian, still seemingly in repose despite the streaks of bloody tears that escaped her closed eyes. With a sad smile on his face, Gesu then motioned for them to go.
As they fled the collapsing chapel, the Concord saw that Lando di Durazzo had dashed from the transsept and leapt upon Gesu’s back. As the ceiling came down, so did the fangs of the audacious ancilla upon the neck of the dying elder.
Neither Tzimisce has ever been seen again. Both are quite rightly presumed to have found the Final Death, buried under hundreds of tons of masonry.
Embrace: AD 701.
Final Death: April 12th, AD 1204.