Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
A spirited, independent-minded young lady of the Romanian nobility; she was rescued from a slave block in 1197, and she soon became an ally and ward of the Concord. She now lives in a secret location known only to Iulia and Maude.
A graceful Romanian beauty, clearly of high birth. She has cascading black hair and thoughtful, haunted dark eyes. Although she is dressed as a daughter of the middle-class, in comfortable travelling clothes, she projects a certain imperiousness that cannot be mistaken. She is armed with a small knife.
(Expanded from the character as presented in Transylvania Chronicles I: Dark Tides Rising).
The formative Concord first encountered this talented young lady in AD 1196, as she stood on the slave block at the Royal Market in Pest. There she was being offered to the highest bidder for a sum many times that of the other “stock”; her selling points being her virginity, beauty, and breeding as a member of the failing local Orthodox Romanian aristocracy. Despite her filthy rags, matted hair, and unwashed body, her pride and self-possession were immediately apparent, and at the first opportunity she audaciously managed to trip the auctioneer and make a break for freedom. The coterie diverted her pursuers and Conrad and Gunthar took the young lady under their protection. They even risked the displeasure of Prince Vencel and his master, King Bulcsú, to ensure that Sherazhina did not fall into the clutches of the odious Roland Gravois.
According to Sherazhina, she was kidnapped in the dead of night from the security of her own home. She suspected that either her “troubled” brother Dragomir was somehow connected with the abduction, or else her “uncle” Vintilla finally grew disenchanted with her precocious and incorrigibly unladylike behaviour. Either way, while she initially offered a reward for her safe conduct back to her “uncle’s” estate in Transylvania, Sherazhina eventually admitted that she actually did not feel safe returning home. In response, the coterie extended their protection indefinitely, for so long as she may need it.
In return, Sherazhina was a font of information regarding the traditions and culture of the Old Country. She is distant kin to Veceslav Basarab, and has been well schooled in the history of their family and the connection that they appear to have with the Clan Tzimisce. Her own grandfather is Vintilla, an elder of the clan and Voivode of Cindrel and Săliştea, a territory to the south of the settlements of Weißenburg and Mühlbach and west of Hermannstadt. She also had extensive second-hand knowledge of the fallen Basarab tower in the Tihuta Pass, and knew enough to locate the secret bolt-hole haven in the foundation that contained mysterious, mad writings of what can only be surmised is an Antediluvian.
Sherazhina charmed each of the coterie in her own way, with Sir Gunthar and Sister Maude showing particular concern for her welfare. During one attack by some bandits, she was seriously injured and displayed supernal healing ability. At the time she claimed that having worried over her survival chances throughout the harsh and perilous winter trek, she had secretly sought the aid of her kinsman Veceslav and consumed some of his blood in order to become a ghoul for the time being. Both were reluctant to admit this to the rest of the coterie, and they were also guarded about going into much detail regarding their familial ties. Iulia considered her to be a fellow Romanian noble, and displayed all due noblesse oblige to the mortal as well as seeking her advice regarding the character and aims of Voivode Vintilla. Before he was forced to take his leave, Sir Conrad kept a polite, chaste, and protective distance, and Sherazhina found his odd ways more than a little amusing.
Throughout the course of the journey and the consequent construction project, she was a quiet travelling companion, preferring to blend into the background and help where needed. On the occasion when they entertained each other around the campfire, she was found to be an accomplished singer and dancer, enchanting all with her songs of the Old Country. Most of the Herd and several of the coterie’s retainers considered her a friend as well, especially Marius, Laszlo, and Gabriel. She was also a capable and diligent fighting pupil of Sir Gunthar, Agmundir and especially Laszlo, with whom she shared a strange and curious friendship.
After the successful conclusion of the tower project, Sherazhina found herself welcome in the newly established demesnes of the Concord of Ashes. For the most part, she preferred Prince Iulia’s domain at the city of Weißenburg as it was close to her childhood home of Săliştea but far enough away to feel safe. Sherazhina was careful to keep a low profile to prevent tensions with her kin, and her valuable advice to the court concerning her belligerent “Uncle Vintilla” and the other surrounding magnates of the Tzimisce clan was instrumental in the establishment of the successful domain.
She also visited quite often with her kinsman, Knez Veceslav, enjoying the company of her cousin even if their relation was distant. However, it was to Gunthar that she felt drawn, for the gallant and charming German knight had intrigued her with his tales of foreign lands and his strange and wistful manner. In return, he found the ease with which she accepted his condition to be refreshingly liberating, and her gentle and friendly manner soothed the Beast that rattled its cage far too often for his liking. The two of them engaged in something of a courtship for several years, being something more romantic than friends but less so than paramours. Ultimately, fate would disrupt anything else that might have otherwise developed between them.
In 1202, the Concord elected to answer the request of Thomas Feroux that they take the cross for the Barons’ Crusade and work to divert the pilgrimage away from Constantinople. As part of the entourage of Prince Iulia and Sister Maude Sherazhina took the overland route through Hungary, Croatia, and Friuli before they arrived outside the city of Venice in July. There they met the rest of the Concord, all of whom had travelled from throughout Transylvania at the behest of Sir Gunthar.
They made 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, the camp fever, and the autumn rains of the northern Adriatic. Her presence was much heartening to Gabriel and she immediately turned the head of Sir Gunthar’s mortal kinsman, Bernerd. Word soon reached them that thousands of their expected sword-brothers had failed to arrive, but that the Venetians demanded full 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 the pilgrims 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 vampire called Aimery, Chevalier 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. She and Gunthar resumed their odd courtship, but while he made a point of spending time with her when he could find it, Sherazhina did not seem to number among his priorities. She now found him to be somewhat distant than in the past, and after a few attempts to draw him out to speak of his troubles, the young lady found other ways to keep herself busy.
Her impressions had been correct about her Gangrel friend, for after more than 130 years of undeath, and too many of them under too ready a preoccupation with conducting the business of war, Sir Gunthar was losing his grip on his humanity. The Beast gnawed at his soul nightly, and his headstrong pride and the habits of a bloody lifetime made it difficult for him to change his ways, or to discuss them with any save those whom he felt to be his equals in both years and intellect. 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.
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 supposed sword-brothers 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 last was revealed to be an enemy vampire Erzebet Toth, who was subsequently captured by the Concord and their allies. Without giving too many details to their mortal charges concerning the mission, the Concord told them that they must take a difficult journey through the winter snows to forestall further attacks on the pilrgimage. With Gunthar’s endorsement, the squires and Sherazhina would be left 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 the Gangrel knight much comfort in addition to Aimery’s proffered regard and trustworthy demeanour.
Several weeks after their departure, word would reach the camp of Sir Gunthar’s death 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, and the count would give the fallen Saxon a moving eulogy when he and his retinue returned to Zara. Sherazhina, Gabriel, and Bernerd, were all struck by the grief of his loss, and 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. Not so Sir Aimery, who was very much at loose ends.
Unfortunately for the grieving youths, Aimery was a deceiver for he was no Ventrue crusader but actually a Settite bent on subverting the pilgrimage. 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. Investigating quietly and quickly, they discovered 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 swiftly 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 in general and the Assamites in particular. The rest of it — the corruption of other crusaders and the degradation of Sherazhina 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 her, or each other, in the eye. In the case of the Dressler lad, he became suicidally reckless, and in that of Gabriel, he was plagued by a sense of rage and betrayal at the vampires he had naively trusted as his friends. For her part, Sherazhina was almost mute with horror. She no longer danced, sang, or took any joy in the travels of which she had always yearned, and she retreated into melancholia and fearful timidity as the months dragged on and the crusade found itself at war with the Eastern Empire.
After the first siege of Constantinople throughout July of 1203, Prince Iulia took the extraordinary step of trying to remove her memories of Sir Aimery and his foul works, and this ameliorated her pain a little. She was still plagued by terrible nightmares for several months longer before Prince Iulia seized upon the notion of speaking to Orpheus and Achmet, two elder Salubri healers that had taken shelter with Obertus Order. The former owed the Concord a life boon, and she asked him to attempt his healing arts on Sherazhina and the squires. Neither of the boys could be readily found, but the young lady submitted to the treatment of the Salubri and was much healed. Her heart was still broken but the horrors she had suffered no longer stained her soul, and she found herself able to smile again.
Afterwards, she asked to take her leave of the Concord and the horrid intrigues of the Children of Caine. Iulia took her to an undisclosed location in the Eastern Empire and established a place for her, giving her an income and a home far away from the cares of the immortals. Throughout the years since, her only Cainite visitors have been Iulia and Maude, both of whom have said that they check in on her welfare from time to time but otherwise respect her need to keep herself sequestered.