Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
The first among the Paragons of the Trinity of Constantinople, this Ancient was the Dream incarnate. Haunted by the loss of his lovers and driven mad by treachery, he met the Final Death in 1204 at the fangs of Mary the Black.
Few Cainites extant in the Long Night had the pleasure of gazing upon Michael the Archangel, the late Patriarch of the Dream of Constantinople. However, many of the icons and mosaics of the many churches within the empire bear his likeness.
On the rare occasion that he deigned to make an appearance among his fellow Cainites, it said that the Patriarch appeared in the form of the Archangel Michael, entirely composed of stained glass. Light, as if from a noonday sun, shone through his form, and his vibrant emotions played upon his halo. His face was unchanging in its calm benevolence, he exuded warmth and love, and brilliant wings of white spread wide as if to embrace those basking in his splendour. Those who beheld the majesty of his form have said that he inspired immediate supplication and joyful reverence for the glory of God.
(Expanded from the character as presented in Constantinople by Night, pp. 103-104, Bitter Crusade, pp. 88-89, and Dark Ages Clan Novel: Nosferatu).
Variously known throughout his long years as Mi-ka-il of Ebla, Beshter the Wanderer and a host of other names, the Ancient most well known as Michael the Patriarch, or Michael the Archangel, was one of the oldest “active” methuselahs of the Long Night. While others among his very few peers may have boasted greater power, more influence among the Children of Caine, and certainly rather more coherency, none could truthfully claim to have created such a powerful legacy, for Michael literally shaped the most influential civilisation in Europe and the Near East. Together with the the Dracon and Antonius, he founded the Dream of Constantinople in the 4th century, and for centuries the city prospered under their tripartite leadership. Michael provided the inspiration for the enterprise, the Dracon its spiritual vision, and Antonius its material structure. For more than four centuries the Dream brought about a Golden Age of Christian civilisation in the East, and for centuries more its echoes have inspired immortals and mortals alike.
The story of this ancient vampire’s origins are a subject of legend and speculation. Those tales are frequently discussed among the Michaelites, the countless Toreador that descend from them, immortal historians, and the multitude of Cainites that have long felt the influence of the Dream. Few know his tale with any degree of completeness. Sister Maude Khlesl, being possessed of an extraordinary facility for memory, and having briefly touched his mind, is one of them. She has related much of his story to her fellows.
Michael was Embraced in the Mesopotamian city of Ebla in the 23rd or 22nd century before the birth of Christ. At that time, Ebla was thought to hold perhaps a quarter of a million souls, a veritable Rome or Constantinople for its day. For centuries it was also the home of the Toreador Antediluvian, who moved through the circles of noble and commoner alike, inspiring wonders of art, architecture, and literature and glorying in her status as the living goddess Ishtar. In his more lucid days, Michael was heard to say that in his barely remembered mortal years he was a mere scribe, the son of a foreign visitor in the king’s court, gifted with a beautiful face and a gift for turning a phrase. Both brought him to the attention of “Ishtar,” and she brought him across to be her heir as god-ruler of the city. Hunted by another Cainite of her own vintage and a legion of her enemy’s combative childer, the antediluvian moved on after a short while, and for the last fifty years of the great city’s existence, Mi-ka-il existed as a virtual god as he sought to guide Ebla to further heights. He was worshipped and adored by the mortals as Kura, the son of Ishtar, and he developed a taste for that worship- a tendency that would remain a constant for much of his existence. His beloved consort and ghoul, Ma-ri, was also revered as his divine consort, Barama, and they abided peacefully, surrounded by adulation, luxury, grandeur, and above all, love.
When Ebla fell to the Akkadians (and their Gangrel and Assamite masters), Mi-ka-il was secreted out of the city by retainers who, whether out of jealousy or neglect, left Ma-ri behind to face certain death. In a great, grief-fuelled frenzy, the first of his existence, Mi-ka-il slew all of his servants and then despondently took himself to the city of Kish, on the Euphrates, where he attempt to exist simply and quietly. When he returned at a safer time he found Ebla deserted and broken, scourged by fire and razed to the ground. He then entered into a period of deep grief and melancholy after the loss of his love, his home, and his followers. After discovering that Akkadian vampires were on his trail and hunting him for his blood, he changed names several times and kept on the move around the Fertile Crescent. Unfortunately, Mi-ka-il was used to being adored and finding his sustenance among those worshippers, and Osiris cults inevitably formed around him wherever he went. For centuries, his existence was a delicate balance between his need for survival and his need for worship.
Beshter (as he had come to call himself) eventually chose to remove himself from the threat and embarked on a journey of self-discovery, leaving the East altogether and making his way to the West. In the centuries to come he took in the lands of the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Greeks, and the farthest flung colonies of the Phoenicians. He had long since transferred his passion from writing to the arts of metalwork, painting, and sculpture, and Beshter sought out the greatest mortal and immortal masters to study with wherever he went. With each journey his conviction grew that in return for their sustenance the Children of Caine could provide a great service to the Children of Seth- they could physically remember the past in a way that mortals could not, and inspire the future with the lessons of that past. Furthermore, with their immortal years the Cainites could actually guide men to rule more wisely, and avoid the disasters that ruined the great cities of old.
Perhaps 500 years before the birth of Christ, he came upon the city of Byzantium, a colony on the Bosporus built by Byzar the Megaran. The fledgeling trading post and coastal colony captured his heart, but it was already claimed by a Cainite of some power so he moved on after spending the best part of a year there.
Finally, Beshter came to a proud settlement in Latium, a city built on seven hills with a river winding through them. The city of Rome, with its powerful Cainite Senate and proud republican ideal, entranced the Toreador and he settled in to shape the city with his appreciation for wonder and beauty. Even then he was one of the oldest Cainites in a city of elders, matched or rivalled in years only by a handful of others such as the monstrous Tiamat. He left the excessive politicking to the likes of Tinia, Camilla, Mithras, Alexander, and Montano, choosing instead to focus on the arts and the cultural convergence that occurred under the aegis of the Roman model.
For over five centuries Beshter dwelt in Rome, counselling when asked against the corruption, bloodlust, and pointless intrigues of his fellows, and seeing the worst qualities of the Cainites infect their mortal pawns. Moved by his wanderlust and frustration with his peers, Beshter frequently volunteered as a diplomat for the Eternal Senate. His eloquence and charisma brought many powerful Cainites into the arms of Rome. Of course, Beshter himself was not immune to the pettiness and villainy inherent to the Children of Caine, and he continued to almost instinctively form cults of worshippers eager to bask in his greatness and give up their blood. At his worst, the Toreador took many lovers, sired numerous progeny, and discarded both with little thought other than his own gratification. By 68 BC, he had taken the potent Ventrue elder, Antonius the Gaul as his lover. The Ventrue was a notorious intriguer, noted for his efforts to have the empire conquer his native land. He and his supporters engaged in every kind of power game that first republican, then imperial, Rome had to offer. Beshter, however, aspired in the least to be something greater than a mere Cainite and he curbed the worst excesses of his lover with gentle words and diversions.
Beshter also spent time travelling throughout the territorial acquisitions of the empire. He studied the conquered peoples and assimilated those cultural qualities of which he approved. Whenever he left Rome to wander, his friends Antonius and the Dracon guarded his interests and his childer. He in turn returned the favour by representing their endeavours when he was present in the city. The Triumverate, as they came to be known, presented themselves as steadfast friends and lovers to their rivals. Behind closed doors, however, Antonius and the Dracon were jealous of Michael’s love for the other, and they vied for his affections. The drama appealed to the Toreador’s vanity, and he grew used to playing them off against each other to maintain his status quo.
During a journey to North Africa in the 3rd century, Beshter encountered adherents of the fledgeling religion known as Christianity. Curious about their tenets, he returned to Rome and had contacts among the local Nosferatu spy on their secretive cells in the catacombs beneath the capital. Many of the Hidden were drawn to the humility and mercy of the new religion, and before long they converted. These Nosferatu returned to Beshter and spoke passionately of the doctrines of Christianity, and the methuselah was soon inspired to convert himself. Some of his detractors have speculated that the Toreador was moved by hubris; that the similarity between the chief and most potent angel of the sect and his original name renewed his divine self-obsession and ancient vice. Whatever the case, Beshter soon changed his name to Michael, and took the sect under his personal protection.
After the crises of the late 3rd century, Michael and his lovers realised that the empire was deteriorating, and in no small part because of the interference of the Children of Caine. After some years of debate, and many more of preparation, the three Cainites left with a small number of their progeny and a number of other supporters, abandoning the failed Eternal Senate, the fractured glory of Rome, and those of their childer that were unwilling to embrace change. Together, the Triumvirate and their supporters moved en masse to Michael’s fondly remembered Byzantium.
The Triumverate ejected, destroyed, or subsumed the Cainites that lived in their new home, and then watched over the Emperor Constantine and his successors. Under their guidance, the Eastern Empire avoided the centuries of blood, fire, and ruin that engulfed the West. Michael, Antonius, and the Dracon created the Dream: a world where vampires were not just predators, where they were more than the limitations of the curse levied upon Caine, a place that could be a symbol that Heaven can exist on Earth, and that vampires can be its protectors and shepherds. There was no “Dark Age” in the Eastern Empire, no failure to hold back the barbarian tide, no loss of civil amenities and little reduction in value of life. The East entered a Golden Age for centuries, and even after the dissolution of the Triumverate in the 8th century with Antonius’ subsequent destruction, the memory and promise of that Dream remained.
Despite the echoes of the greatness that was, however, the truth is that the Founders of the Dream were as much hindrance as help to their creation. The petty jealousies and intrigues of Antonius and the Dracon existed because Michael enjoyed them, and their machinations against each other did untold harm over the centuries. However, after the vindictive and obstructionist Ventrue had been destroyed with the tacit permission of his two lovers, the Dracon entered a state of melancholy for the best part of a century before abandoning the Obertus and Constantinople to his heirs. Michael himself spiralled into an increasingly delusional state, unable to come to terms with his guilt over destroying his ancient lover.
He marshalled his faculties and resources one final time in the 9th century, ruling openly as Byzantine Emperor Michael III, stabilising the empire and creating a time of prosperity that lasted for more than a century. During this time he had the foresight to recruit the talented but broken priest Malachite, who had suffered the cruel Embrace of a Nosferatu for displeasing his domitor Magnus. Gently, he cared for and rehabilitated the cleric, creating a servant and devotee who would never falter in protecting the Dream. By AD 900, however, Michael had retired once more. He slipped into a state of cyclical torpor that continued right up until his destruction in 1204, and in the absence of the leadership, experience, and vision of he and his lovers, the Eastern Empire faltered and floundered.
For centuries Michael spent years at a time in torpor, arising only to act in ways that made sense only to his addled (or perhaps enlightened) mind. The Cult of the Archangel, created and maintained by the Magnus Lasombra, came to worship Michael as the incarnation of the actual Archangel Michael, “He Who is Like God”, and the delusional Ancient did nothing to disabuse the world of this notion.
The ancient patriarch’s heavenly form lay in state inside a great church well below the foundations of the Church of Holy Wisdom. This benighted church is an exact physical replica of the Hagia Sophia, though it was lit only by the light emanating from the still form of the methuselah. The Magnus Orthodox Lasombra, and Sarah the Chaste in particular, controlled access to his body, and the Cult of the Archangel held its services there to worship his connection to the divine. Gregorius, the Michaelite Muse of Performance, spent countless hours over the centuries serenading the sleeping methuselah, seeking to give comfort to him and guide his torpid dreams in inspiring ways. For centuries, no one was foolish enough to seek to trespass Michael’s haven, for it was whispered that angels guarded it. There was some truth to this rumour, for the dangerously puissant Michaelite warrior known as Sariel guarded the Under-Church of the Archangel. In an echo of the madness afflicting Michael himself, the younger Toreador believed himself to be a fallen angel, but unlike his master Sariel was possessed of a forbidding, vengeful spirit that terrified vampires many years his senior.
Michael would wake periodically, and sometimes remain so for several months or, more rarely several years, and go about his own mysterious business before returning to his sleep. The Queen of Cities became known during this time for the vast number of angelic phenemona reported by mortals and immortals alike; whether tales of the beating of giant wings out of sight, a stray feather of purest white descending from the clouds, heavenly lights seen from the windows of empty churches, or an actual sighting of angels circling the city in numbers. Even when the Patriarch was deep in his torpor did such sightings continue, which only fuelled the belief of his adherents that he and his city were divine in nature.
The erratic behaviour of Michael was also echoed in various ways by his muses, of whom only Petronius appeared to be lucid. The younger Michaelites were in even worse shape, for they seem especially disposed towards corruption, holding themselves as they did against the impossible example of their ancient founder. And how could their mortal charges hope to succeed in their crafts through the madness and predation of those who should watch over them? Petronius at least tried to single-handedly prop up the failing family by taking nearly all their responsibilities upon his own shoulders. He engaged in endless, exhausting intrigues with the other families, hoping to create unity out of discord. He has also sought to add new blood to the family in an effort to reverse the decline but despite the talents amongst them his Reformed Michaelite faction arose too late to stave off disaster.
And in the meanwhile, the Dream rotted and Constantinople’s enemies gathered. Some wonder if perhaps Michael could have ended all of the weakness, all the uncertainty, if only he could be woken from his fitful slumber and put to rights. After all, he did so once before, so the reasoning went that he could do it again. Others wondered if perhaps the Long Night could survive the explosive awakening of a 3000 year old vampire if indeed it did occur…
Certainly Petronius agreed with the former assessment, for as matters continued to devolve for the empire and its capital, the old Toreador sought a means of restoring his sire to his faculties. After the Cappadocian Maude of Vienna arrived with the Fourth Cainite Crusade, her friends among the Concord introduced her to the Arbiter, who had performed as a patron for them in the past. A brilliant practitioner of the dark arts of Mortis, Maude offered to craft a ritual that might awaken the Ancient and perhaps even restore a measure of lucidity to him, for it would temporarily tether Michael’s psyche to her own in order for her to serve him as something of a guide. With only the slightest reservations, Petronius agreed, and the clever ancilla put herself to the task.
The ritual took months for Maude to craft. In the meanwhile, the threat of renewed conflict with the Fourth Crusade loomed ever larger with the failure of their erstwhile puppet Alexius IV Angelus and his father, Isaac II, to raise sufficient coin to pay off the pilgrims and send them on their way to Egypt. Immediately after their regime was toppled by Alexius Mourzophlos Ducas the Cappadocian pronounced her ritual ready, and a near-frantic Petronius bade her enact it. With the assistance of her friend and student, Iulia, Maude did so.
Michael did indeed awaken in all his glory, but his sanity had unfortunately not returned. Further, the onslaught of his ancient psyche sent Maude into a defenceless stupor as the confused Ancient grasped her by the throat and began to squeeze. As her thoat was crushed and her bones began to crack and pop, Petronius leapt upon his sire’s arm and begged him to stop. The Arbiter’s soothing voice seemed to draw the Patriarch into quiescence, and he sat back in his sarcophagus, smilingly benignly and stroking her hair as if she were an upset, wayward child. Neither Petronius nor Iulia wished to chance further aggravation, so they left the two Cainites to smile together in a companionable stupor. They would remain so for several weeks as the mortal political situation continued to deteriorate.
Several days before the renewed attack on the walls began in earnest, Michael abruptly vanished. It is unknown what the methuselah did during this time, but sightings of angels in the city grew to a fever pitch, and many were convinced that the End Times were upon them. In any case, the Archangel was active on the first night after the Sea Walls fell before the onslaught of the crusaders, and he appeared before a number of the coteries active in the city, the Concord not least among them. Maude, present among her friends once again, pleaded with the Ancient through his delirium in hopes of getting him to act, for across the Shroud, a terrifying Maelstrom was taking place above the city and spectres without number were assaulting the defending wraiths of the necropolis. George Davras had already been lost in one such attack, and Maude and Iulia feared that if the storm were to grow any further, it would outstrip the legendary Great Maelstrom that had struck after the fall of Rome to the Goths. The Ancient seemed to only half-listen before opining that the city must fall, but that the Dream was more than mere stones, churches, and people, and that it would enter a new stage after his “apotheosis.”
Later on during the Great Sack, the notorious Baali Ancient known as Mary the Black infiltrated the Under-Church of the Archangel, possibly with the assistance of the Magnus Lasombra Peter the Humble, whose headless corpse was found near the Patriarch’s sarcophagus. Mary took the Heart’s Blood of the apparently unresisting Toreador Ancient, stealing his power for her own. The Concord and their allies faced the unspeakably powerful Baali moments later, but they were unable to prevent her escape, and with the exception of Svenin the Tall they do not widely advertise their attempt.
The walls had fallen, the Queen of Cities had been ravaged, the Patriarch was no more, and his Dream seemed to have died with him. Like their mortal counterparts, the Cainite Crusaders had looted, raped, and murdered their way through the great city in Christendom for three days and three nights, and the city would burn for four more. With the destruction of Michael, Caius, and Gesu, the power of the Families was broken and the Latins gleefully sought to rise in their place. The lamentations of the Greek Cainites were contradicted by the triumphant cheers of the Franks and the Italians as the old order of the Long Night was destroyed not just in Byzantium herself, but throughout the entire Medieval world.
The War of Princes had begun.
Years would pass before the powers of the West grasped the enormity of what had happened, and they began to feel ashamed of their delight at the fallen state of the Archangel and the disaster they had allowed to befall his city. A Blood Hunt of unprecedented scale would be called on Mary the Black, and Narses’ (real or imagined) part in the crimes of the Fourth Crusade would lead to the downfall of the Archbishop of Nod too. Of course, the Concord know that the obscure organisation known as the Incognitus are the true culprits who engineered the fall of Michael and his city, for none other than Gregorius Dimities, the trusted Muse of Performance, was their agent. All of those hours over all those centuries that he had had to serenade the sleeping Patriarch were used to work his Dementation upon him as well, subtly driving the Ancient Toreador slowly, inexorably insane.
In time, the madness of Michael the Patriarch would be forgotten as his name arose as a paragon of the via Caeli (despite the fact that there are private doubts among his peers as to whether he even walked it) and an example of the good that the Children of Caine might accomplish if only they strive to rise above the curse of their progenitors. Songs of his kindness, his faith, and his vision are sung in courts from Dublin to Jerusalem, and no where in those verses do they speak of his petty and jealous lapses, nor his penchant for establishing Osiris cults or believing himself divine.
Finally, praise for the Patriarch might be heard from an obscure quarter, made even moreso by the difficulties of conversing with them. To hear the wraiths of Byzantium tell the tale, the moment of Michael’s Final Death seemed to coincide with a tremendous light that burst forth from the reflection of the Hagia Sophia in the Shadowlands. The great beam of golden light turned night into day in the Shadowlands above the city, striking the eye of the Maelstrom above Byzantium and dispersing the storm of destruction. Thousands of spectres shrieked as they fled the painful light, while the hard-pressed, ghostly defenders of the city looked on in wonder. And then it was gone as quickly as it had come. Gloom fell once more across the Shadowlands, but the wraiths remember, even if they do not understand, how the destruction of Michael the Vampire saved their very souls from Oblivion. Among the Fishers of the Underworld his legend grows, much to the chagrin and hostility of the Hierarchy.
Embrace: The late 23rd century or early 22nd century BC.
Lineage: Childe of Arikel. Mi-ka-il was of the 4th generation.