Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
The Prince of Hermannstadt; a careful Nosferatu who prefers to rule her demesne unseen. With the aid of the Concord, in 1214 she prevailed in a generation-long war with Marelle, the Sculptor of Wolves.
A wild woman of the woods, wearing a black cloak to hide her hideous, violently deformed face, a pair of mud-caked, sturdy boots and a homespun peasant’s dress. Her ruined visage is calm, but the Beast is in her eyes, causing an unsettling glare of authority. She appears to be unarmed.
(Expanded from the character as presented in Transylvania by Night, pp. 88-90).
The reclusive prince of Hermannstadt is an oddity, both because of her clan and her style of ruling her demesne. Firstly, in point of fact, very few Nosferatu rise to the position because of their status as one of the Low Clans. Furthermore, while Marusca’s title is not in question so far as her subjects and her fellow princes among the failed Council of Ashes are concerned, very few have actually ever met her face to face. Instead, Marusca either communicates through proxies, such as her seneschal, Adelard, her sheriff, Gustavus, sometimes the official messenger of the Council, Tiberiu or via animal messengers. Even most of her instructions to her Brood are delivered as a disembodied voice. A very few existing Cainites, including Prince Radu of Bistritz and Lady Nova Árpád of Mediasch, have met the “Wild Woman of the Woods” face to face. Marusca still maintains reasonably cordial, though distant, relations with the former and is known to despise the latter.
The progeny of the famed Nosferatu architect and stonemason known as Zelios, Marusca is a Vlach who is thought to have been a healer or wise-woman of some sort before her Becoming. Even as a mortal, it is thought that she had some special connection with animals, and this gift has only grown since she was brought across into the ranks of the Nosferatu. While she follows the via bestiae like most of the Transylvanian Lepers, Marusca’s vision of the Road of the Beast appears to be rather different than some of her clan-mates and the other Savages of the region.
She has claimed the mortals of Hermannstadt as the rightful herd of herself and her Brood, and they reportedly treat the mortals much like a pack of wolves might treat a herd of cattle or sheep. There are few sickly or weak people to be found in the Margraviate, nor do their appear to be many homeless or destitute among the town or her satellite communities. This is because the Nosferatu cull them to keep the rest of the herd strong. Or perhaps a gardener might be a more accurate analogy, for Marusca tolerates no savagery in the dispatch of those who weaken the herd, seeing them off into the afterlife with uncommon gentleness. She also retains the pagan religion of her mortal days, and it is said that far more Vlachs in the outlying settlements secretly cling to the Old Faith too.
Unlike many princes, Marusca appears to refrain from directly influencing mortal politics in her demesne, leaving her underlings to manage affairs or else leave the mortals to find their own way. Instead, she chooses to simply enforce her domain over Cainites that visit the city and the surrounding lands, and make sure that they understand that the city belongs to her Brood, most of whom lair within or around Hermannstadt. Some years ago, she also commanded a very large pack of wolves that patrolled the area outside the walls. However, this is no longer the case.
Most of the wolves in the region are now dead, victims of a punishing war of attrition contested between the prince and the Tzimisce ancilla known as Marelle, a rival master of Animalism who delighted in fleshcrafting the beasts into monstrous engines of war. The sheer, vengeful ruthlessness of Marelle caused significant disruption to Marusca’s status and also the well-being of the vampires, mortals, and wolves in her demesne. The fact that Marelle was the discarded progeny of her colleague, Radu of Bistritz, only added salt to the wound, straining the relationship between the two rulers somewhat. Furthermore, Marusca’s perceived weakness led to several other challenges to her power, even from rival Nosferatu who resented her protection of valuable herd stock and adoption of the less savage ways of her more westerly clan-mates.
In the late 12th century, the formative Concord briefly passed through Hermannstadt on their way to Mediasch and they availed themselves of the prince’s offer of hospitality. Unfortunately, Marusca was reportedly displeased with their over-feeding in her domain and, through her intermediary Adelard, ordered them to move on quickly in spite of their profuse apologies. The coterie also offered their aid regarding the Marelle “situation” to Marusca’s sheriff, and Gustavus promised to pass on their offer. However, Marusca chose not to involve them, feeling superior in the stronger blood, advantage in the arts of Obfuscate, and greater experience of her followers.
In the years to come, she would regret that decision.
After losing a number of key progeny to the savage fighting prowess of Nicu and his band of aggressive childer, the capricious Sculptor of Wolves lost interest in winning a victory over a healthy domain, and instead chose to drive the margraviate into ruin. Trade, livestock, the sanity and indeed the very lives of the people of Hermannstadt mattered nothing to Marelle and her reavers. With the dawn’s light, farm animals would be found grotesquely transformed and maddened with pain, attacking their owners in suicidal fury. Plagues of locusts, grasshoppers, rats and, worst of all, packs of “hell hounds” (wolves mutated by Marelle’s arts) choked off trade around the city, and the people came to assign all their misfortunes to the devil wolves in the hills and forests. Throughout the first decade of the 13th century, fearful tales were told of the strigoi or Iad Caini of the Black Cave, and the good burgers of the city eventually began deserting Hermannstadt by the score. Delighted with the fearful moniker, Marelle’s followers eagerly took on the name for themselves, and to this night they are remembered throughout Transylvania as the Hell Hounds of the Black Cave…
By 1205, the vast majority of the local wolf packs had been lost, torn to pieces by the mutated hell hounds of the Tzimisce, or else taken and forcefully coopted to strengthen the monstrous packs of the enemy further. Although many of the Sculptor’s followers lacked the experience or strength of blood necessary to withstand the Brood, and her losses were high, there seemed to be no shortage of fresh recruits eager to replace them. The reputation of Marelle had grown such that many dispossessed Tzimisce, Gangrel and Nosferatu flocked to her gruesome banner, looking for hunting grounds, glory and the status of being associated with the charismatic, notorious Sculptor of Wolves. Two subordinate packs, the Twisted Oak and the Cloven Peak, pledged their aid and their blood to Marelle, and she soon found that she was able to call upon nearly 20 potent Cainites when the need presented itself.
In contrast, Marusca could not easily replace her numbers. Unlike her enemy, she did not enjoy widespread respect among her clan-mates in Transylvania, many of whom hated her for denying them their “rights” to hunt among the multitudes of her city. It would seem that many Lepers felt that despite her adherence to the via bestiae, Marusca felt that “her” mortals were simply too good for her clan-mates. Moreover, arguments that the city of Hermannstadt, already struggling under the thirst of so many Nosferatu huddling within its walls, could ill afford the potential damage offered to the Silence of the Blood or the health of the people by allowing even more vampires in the city, were met with scorn by her fellows. The tide turned in Marelle’s favour when the packs of Nosferatu led by Nicu and Oana were destroyed by the allied Tzimisce packs in 1209. When four of Marusca’s own Brood, led by the wise and ambitious Octavus Silberschmied, deserted the city in an attempt to claim Weißenburg for their own, the prince of Hermannstadt quickly found herself unable to match the strength of the enemy outside her walls.
Slowly, but surely, the Sculptor of Wolves’ net closed about the city. By 1210, none of Marusca’s Brood dared hunt outside the walls of the city. In the years to come, Marelle’s Hounds probed the strength of the Nosferatu inside their city and, despite being sent packing, they returned the next year. In the year 1214, the war was all but lost. Hermannstadt had lost nearly half of its population, either to emigration to other settlements of the Siebenburgen or through murder at the fangs and claws of the Hell Hounds. The economy of the city had shrivelled to a shadow of its former glory, and a pall of expectant dread had fallen over its streets. Marusca and her Brood gathered, determined to hold their ground no matter the cost.
Then, in the late summer, members of the Concord approached once more, repeating their offer of 1197. Stating that the southern cities of the Siebenburgen were all under threat, not just Hermannstadt, and that all settlements must become stronger to survive the coming conflicts, they offered their services to assist in the destruction of the Sculptor of Wolves. Realising that this was their last, best hope, Marusca and her Brood agreed. Planning for an offensive commenced immediately. The coming month saw a plague introduced to the region that decimated both wolves and hell hounds, causing a painful wasting disease that not even the vitae of Cainites could hold off for long. And when Marelle’s massive pack of mortal and ghoul hounds was sufficiently weakened, the Brood and the Concord struck.
The Battle of the Black Cave was a desperate, blood-drenched melee. Marusca would spend the early moments of the fight circling above the fray in company with Gustavus and Levente, waiting for her moment to strike at Marelle directly. As the Sculptor of Wolves and her inner circle finally emerged from the trees, ready to fall upon the spent momentum of the Nosferatu charge, the three potent members of the Brood dropped from the sky and ambushed them. The prince of Hermannstadt took the shape of a grey, sleek, long-legged wolf as she fell upon the enemy. While Levente and Gustavus worked to keep the Sculptor’s followers away, Marusca was free to concentrate nearly three decades of pent-up rage upon the equally infuriated Marelle. The nemeses tore at each other with wild abandon, determined to see other undone or perish in the attempt.
It was Marusca’s choice of the wolf-shape that gave her the telling edge. Bestowed with increased strength, stamina and speed to supplement the power of the blood, she managed to close her jaws about Marelle’s throat. With exaltation she began to tear and savage her enemy, only to have the Sculptor of Wolves erupt in a shower of black blood just a moment later. Wearing the vitae of the hated Tzimisce, she then looked on in mute surprise and dismay as fleshy, tulip-like pseudopods arose from the land and, with long, fang studded tongues, greedily supped on the blood pooling on the dry, rocky ground. After a score of seconds, the disgusting protuberances withdrew into the earth, and the spell broke.
The Wild Woman of the Woods threw her head back and howled her victory to the night sky. While the Concord looked on, her Brood took up the cry, allowing many years of anger, frustration, and sorrow to pour out for several minutes. The howls finally petered out as answering howls sounded closely from the East. The feared, black-furred werewolves known as the Umbra Domnii had heard the Nosferatu, and issued a challenge of their own. With vitae depleted, and wounds in need of attention, the Brood and the Concord wisely chose to quit the field rather than stand and fight. Together with Gustavus, the prince once more took wing to summon bats and other pests to frustrate the approaching pack of werewolves, while the surviving members of the Brood and the Concord made haste for the safety of the walled village of Freck.
The gratitude of Marusca and her followers has been considerable. Due to the significant over-population of Cainites within the city, only Maria von Roteschloss was granted the right to settle within the margraviate, but all members of the Concord were invited to establish business dealings and visiting havens within Hermannstadt. In addition, the Brood would work to ensure that the climate of such interests would remain favourable as prosperity gradually returned to the city, which it surely would now that the threat of the Sculptor of Wolves and her Hell Hounds had been removed.
Most importantly, however, was the acceptance of the prince to Brother Adalbert’s overtures of alliance on behalf of his liege, Jürgen von Verden. The Nosferatu would not just take on the Concord’s advice that the cities of the Siebenburgen must stand together, but take it a step further and assist the Swordbearer in his war against the Cuman Ceribasi, Kordönül. Granted, the schism between Hermannstadt and Mediasch would continue, but her city would now stand in unison with Weißenburg and Kronstadt to see the southern flank of Transylvania secure. While Marusca herself would not take the field in the war, concerned as she was with reinvigorating her city, a number of her most potent servants offered their services in the conflict. Nicu and Fritzi actively scouted for Lord Jürgen’s expeditionary army in Muntenia, and it is thought that others of the Brood freely shared information with Akuji’s network, significantly expanding the intelligence gathering capabilities of the Burzenland.
In the wake of the successful Cuman war, Marusca continued this alliance with the Swordbearer through the loan of Nicu and Fritzi, both of whom enjoyed the opportunity to test themselves against the Ventrue warlord’s enemies and were well-disposed towards a number of his servants. The Brood also strengthened their information sharing with Akuji and her own agents, thus giving Jürgen access to the best intelligence gathering network in the entirety of Transylvania. On the home front, the Nosferatu of Hermannstadt quickly recolonised the forests of the margraviate, and look now to to the health of the packs of wolves and wild dogs that are beginning to rebound in the region.
Embrace: AD 1110.