The Concord of Ashes
November 21st, AD 1196
Feast of the Procession of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple
The Antonian Blood Feast
The coterie assembles early in the evening at the Saut Aswad. With the exception of Sir Conrad, who felt most comfortable in the simple garb of a penitent knight, each of them wears the best that they have, whether it be the typical silks of the Byzantine courtier or fine damask robes. Sir Gunther in particular spends nearly two months of his income on his new robes.
They are escorted along the Mese to the Great Palace by Anna Sgorina and their sires, all of whom are similarly well attired. They are admitted through the famous Chalce gates, massive portals of bronze.
The Great Palace is actually a series of palaces, built over the centuries, which are a mix of Byzantine architectural styles. The result is a dizzyingly labyrinthine mess, but the structure is aesthetically pleasing on every level, with beautiful mosaics, fountain courtyards and great, hanging vaults and domes. Silk, porphyry, silver and gold overwhelm the senses from every direction.
The coterie is escorted to Petronius by the elite Scholai Guard, who all appear to be hard and competent men, in spite of their gilded ceremonial armour. They find the ancient Toreador in a massive banquet hall, filled with scores of couches in the Roman style and hanging banners showing the symbols of the Byzantine Empire, the Trinity Families and their Scions. There he oversees last minute details for the party, including paying Sir Jules of the Children of Judas for the victuals, a large stable of comely slaves.
Petronius complements the coterie on their work, and outlines the evening’s activites. Firstly, the party will begin in the Chrysotriclineum Baths where they can meet, mingle with the other guests in the baths and enjoy massages from the Antonian servants. Then a polo match will be held by lantern light, followed by the banquet itself where Petronius, his friend Gregory the Wondermaker and the Muse of Performance, Gregorius Dimities, would provide entertainment while the Cainites enjoy their sanguinary libations. Finally, he says, as the evening winds down it is customary for the party to gradually break up, with small parties taking walks in the garden or playing games of chess or checkers. This is when the intrigue tends to take place. The party usually disperses a few hours before dawn.
At the Chrysotriclinium
The party are among the earlier arrivals at the baths. Over the next couple of hours they enjoy themselves to varying degrees, mingling more amongst those Cainites they already know. Malachite (whom obviously doesn’t bathe) introduces Gregory Lakeritos, called the Wondermaker, and some of the coterie also make the acquaintance of the famous Belisarius and his progeny, Helena the Armenian. Perhaps the most aggressive minglers are the Childe of Judas, Sarrasine and his companion, the stunningly beautiful Galatea. Meanwhile, Gregorius Dimities plays a doleful, thoughtful tunes on a harp to provide mood for the various Cainites.
Sir’s Gunther and Conrad follow the sybaritic Sarrasine and Galatea into a room, expecting to make pleasant conversation over a massage and instead find the two engaged in a creative, ecstatic sexual act in a manner that would make a Latin Quarter whore blush, biting and bleeding each other all the while. Both knight’s leave immediately, with mixed feelings about what they had seen.
The Polo Match
The Antonian Ventrue are fans of the sport, having watched the teams sponsored by the Imperial family. The teams playing tonight are Caius’ Porphyry (purple), captained by Nicepherus, and Anna Comnena’s Gold, captained by Theodorus Kolettis. Sir’s Conrad and Gunther both ask to play, and several ghouls turn over their sashes.
Quaesitor Symeon also steps forward, intrigued by the notion of some new blood on the field. Both teams lobby for his favour, as he is apparantly an excellent rider, and he elects to take the purple sash.
Prefect Belisarius steps forward, saying that it wouldn’t be fair if he did not. There are cheers, for apparently Belisarius is also a former Champion of the Field, but hasnt played for decades.
A rough and tumble match follows, with the betting heavy on the sidelines. Sir Gunther knocks the Domestic Prefect, Irene Stellas, from her horse and breaks her arm, though she takes it in good spirits and has the arm set and healed within minutes.
The Porphyry team wins the night, and Sir Gunther is accorded much respect for having scored a goal. Lord Symeon is made Champion of the Field, and the Cainites soon head in to the Blood Banquet. Belisarius takes his leave from his kin and leaves at this point.
Magnus of the Orthodox Lasombra says a brief prayer in honour of the Procession of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, and then the guests begin the festivities with gusto. Gregorius Dimities and his men provide the mood, playing serene and quiet music to prompt conversation without drowning it out.
To begin the evening on the right footing, Petronius “roasts” most of the guests, but does so with such wit that the jibes are received with good humour by all.
The coterie acquaints itself further, and discovers that each of the herd provided by the Children of Judas is exotic in some fashion. Some are Nubians, some from the lands of India and one even from Taugast, which apparently lies even further away than the rumoured Kingdom of Prester John. Each has been fed one kind of food, whether it be a particular kind of fruit, or perhaps a variety of sweetmeat, so the Cainites can remember what the food tastes like.
Midway through the Feast, Gregorius Dimities and his troupe of madcap players perform a play depicting the battle at the Mangana mansion. Sir Gunther is pleased to discover that it relies heavily on the version that he has tried to spread.
Gregory the Wondermaker walks forward near the end of the Feast, holding a small silver box. He opens it, and the guests crane forward to see what lies within. He removes a number of silver eggs, and throws each up into the air one after the other. Each bursts into movement, becoming a mechanical bird that moves and sings like the real thing. They flit about the room, almost too fast to see. With his keen eyes, Veceslav makes out that each bird bears the face of a coterie member. In time, each of the birds flies back to Gregory and lands on his wrist, before transforming back into the silver egg and being neatly deposited back in the box. The crowd applauds with sincere appraciation for the master’s work, and Gregory bows (with difficulty, owing to his deformities) and sits next to Malachite once again. Later in the evening, he offers to accept a commission from Sir Gunther, but with the caveat that it will take years to make.
The party eventually seperates into smaller gatherings, to take walks through the fantastic Imperial gardens or to play games or make small talk. Sir Gunther is pleased to make the acquaintance of Doux Chrysopolis Maris Argyrus, whom appears to be in charge of the city’s ports, as well as Irene Stellas. Due to his polo heroics, he also gains a measure of favour with his other team mates .
November 22nd, AD 1196
The Feast of St. Cecilia
A party of a different kind…
The following evening, the coterie attends Bishop Alfonzo’s party in celebration of the Feast of St. Cecilia. This gathering is to begin much later in the evening, at ten o’clock. The coterie settles their seperate business before again assembling at the Saut Aswad.
The coterie is accompanied by Lucien, Lady Katerina and Gabor. Procet entrusts Sir Conrad to properly acknowledge the receipt of the Lasombra boon, and has no desire to take part in Venetian festivities on account of the bad history between the Lexor Brujah leadership and that of the Narsene Lasombra. They still haven’t “answered for Tribonius.”
Upon arrival, Iulia notes that they appear to be among the last arrivals. Dress is much more informal, and favours the fashions of the Franks and Italians. Most of the guests are armed, albeit with daggers for the most part. The servants, whom must be quite new, already display signs of heavy Conditioning.
Gregorius Dimities plays for this crowd too, though his manner, dress and music is far more gay and festive than at the Antonian party. The lovely Galatea is here also, this time dressed in Venetian silks rather than damask. Rather than Sarrasine, she is being escorted by the roguish Sir Jules Talbot, whom seems to be crowing with delight at his good fortune. Sir Jules is keen to have the opinions of the coterie about the vessels from the previous evening, as to which “flavours they preferred”.
Bishop Alfonzo sits at a table with a striking Italian lady (Magdelena Castelucci Bortellino), whom appears to be listening to his idle conversation while her fingers are busy embroidering a kerchief. The Bishop’s senior childer, Gregorio and Marko, hover nearby ready to attend and comment on this and that. Both seem quite taken with the lady, though Marko is rather less obvious in his amorous intent.
The Bishop rises cheerfully from his episcopal chair and formally welcomes the coterie, acknowledging that they have served him in “helping to bring justice to the carrion who have trespassed on my Domain and slain my childer.” He further states that. “in return, each of them is worthy of a minor boon, to be claimed now or held in abeyance until such time as they felt the need to call upon him”. Lucien gives a curt bow, nods to Sir Gunther and immediately leaves. Gabor commits a major faux pas by inviting himself to sit at the Bishop’s table, and while Gregorio’s eyes bulge at the affront Alfonzo laughs surprisingly warmly and the two appear to get along famously.
Another Italian lady (Bishop Gabriella of Genoa) stands opposite the Bishop and his guest, and gazes cooly at Alfonzo while she makes conversation with a lady dressed as a pilgrim (Basia of Ragusa). Lady Katerina and Gabriella appear to have an much business to discuss, for the two Lasombra rarely leave each other’s side for the rest of the night.
The incorrigible Sanser, whom appears to be more interested in Gregorius’ music than intrigue, constantly asks ladies in the room to dance, including Iulia (whom seems to be demurely embarassed). Markus Musa Giovanni mingles freely with the guests, and gives a friendly smile and bow to the coterie before coming over to make small talk with Sir Gunther. The glassy-eyed wastrel, Galasyn, barely seems to notice the coterie. He sits with several of Alfonzo’s childer: a bull-necked and brash young man (Alessio) and a well-endowed, pretty, young brunette (Eugenia). Whatever he whispers behind his smirk elicits a guffaw from the man and a giggle from the girl.
A number of Cainites unknown to the coterie also engage in small intrigues, dance or stand around looking uncomfortable. A nondescript man (Doriano) in rich Venetian silks and wearing the Bishop’s badge sits by himself, watching the crowd carefully. Another lady, also clothed in the finery of a Venetian, flits about the room gossiping and dancing (Faustina). Both seem to have a relationship with the Bishop, and are likely of his Blood.
A slightly shabby looking German merchant (Adolf Marburg) almost earns a cuff from Sir Gunther when he suddenly reaches out unbidden and touches the Saxon’s face, and is revealed to be a Malkavian. Sir Gunther restrains himself, but then notices a tardily arrived Frank, clealry a Ventrue, in Gabriella’s circle looking down his nose at the Gangrel. Sir Gunther immediately stalks over to the aristocrat, and a heated exchange follows:
Sir Gunther states: “I was noble-born and have been knighted twice, once by day and once by night, the second time by Emperor Conrad himself, and my sire is 2000 years old. You will give me my due station!”
The aristocrat scoffs, and murmurs, “who then, is your sire, Gangrel?”
Drawing himself up, Sir Gunther says, “Lucien of Rome.”
“Ah, then I believe you are mistaken for your sire is a contemporary of my own sire and master. Lucien has seen one milennium pass, but not two…”
Realising his error, Sir Gunther sought to regain the advantage, “And that would be?”
“Lord Valerian, Ambassadar of the Grand Court of Paris, and you may call me Prince George Scarvaryan of Beauvais, Lord of all Beauvaisis in the name of Alexander, Princeps Lutetius, Imperator of the Grand Court." The Ventrue smirks at the Gangrel, for both now realise that they have no cause for quarrel as their sire’s have been friends for many centuries, but that honour and pride have been injured and something must be done.
The two stand of them stand there engaged in a staredown for several minutes, acutely aware of the eyes upon them but neither willing to blink, let alone look away. Finally the Ventrue nods and Sir Gunther walks away. Lord Scarvaryan spends most of the evening in discussion with Bishop Garbiella and Magdelena.
An uncomfortable frankish sellsword (Charles), is here because he recently entered Gregorio’s employ. Charles is clanless, largely ignorant of Cainite society, and interested only in survival and loot. He is not of knightly quality, and both Sir Gunther and Sir Conrad quickly tire of his boorish ways.
Another carrion vampire, this one a Serb (Taszgar) makes the acquaintance of Veceslav. Taszgar arrived to the city only a few nights earlier and is looking for employment under a worthy master and perhaps a small Domain of his own. He seems more educated in Cainite matters than Charles, but not by much.
A young Dalmatian (Gavril), looking to be no more than fifteen years of age, and dressed poorly, seems to take a liking to Sanser and spends much of the evening dancing and laughing with the rake. He and Taszgar also appear to know each other.
The evening is quite relaxed, with little of the formality of the Antonian party. There were two flashpoints to the evening: the first occurswhen Sanser dispels Gregorio’s awkward attempts to charm the aloof Magdelena by stealing her away for a dance. This elicits a contemptuous laugh from Gabor, which in turn causes the Venetian’s hand to drift towards his sword. In the blink of an eye, the Bulgar is on his feet and toe-to-toe with Gregorio, his fangs bared and his sabre drawn. The Venetian visibly trembles under the (shorter) Gabor’s gaze, and the Bishop calmly tells his childe to “stand down.” Sir Conrad and Veceslav both laugh at Gregorio, and even Gregorius’ music takes on a playful, menacing air. The young Lasombra backs off and retreats to the wall, where he closes his eyes and stands stock still for many long minutes, a decidedly odd response to the Tzimisce’s intimidation and the Bishop’s rebuke.
Sir Gunther gets along with Marko, and there is talk of trade between them and also with Markus Musa Giovanni. For his part, Giovanni seems pleased with his elvated position.
Iulia makes the pleasant acquaintance of Magdelena Castelucci Bortellino, and reports that she has learned that Magdelena is the Bishop Alfonzo’s sister-in-blood. She is on her way to Jerusalem where their sire, Narses, has charged her to see to the Venetian trade interests there and liaise with Crusader forces in need of Venetian transport. Iulia says that Magdelena is polite enough, but she received the impression that the elder was bored with her conversation for some reason.
Eventually, Bishop Alfonzo stands and allows the force of his Presence to wash over the chamber. He then makes an announcement that there is a “Matter of Judgement” to be addressed. He calls for Gregorio, whom enters the chamber accompanied by Alessio and several ghouls, dragging three heavily chained Cainites behind them that looked to have been horribly tortured. The one in the lead bears a resemblance of sorts to the description that the coterie has received of Stanislav, though it is impossible to tell for sure with his disfigurements. Behind them are lead some forty mortals that are also chained to each other and wear dazed expressions. The Bishop states that “_these vile, so-called Chosen of Calomena have sinned against me and mine and broken the traditions of Caine by ignoring my rights, invading my Domain, my very haven, and murdering my dear childer, Adrianna and Juliano. I sentence them to the Final Death for their crimes._”
The captives lack the strength (and the tongues) to resist or protest as several of the Bishop’s retainers move forward with torches and set them alight. Their pained gurgles are mercifully short-lived as the flames consume their flesh quickly. Some of the mortals retain the presence of mind to look on in horror and tremble, perhaps anticipating what is to come next…
The Bishop turns to the assembled mortals, his fangs distended and an animal light in his eyes, transfixing them with his Majesty. Looking around the chamber, the coterie observes that most of the Cainites here, including Gabor and Lady Katerina, are also baring their fangs and drawing closer to the hapless mortals. The mortal servants and retainers swiftly leave the chamber, bolting the doors behind them as Gregorio, Alessio, Marko and Doriano unchain the prisoners. A few of them whimper as their manacles fall to the floor. “As for you,” Alfonzo says with a cruel leer, “you are dinner….”
With that, the assembled Lasombra call upon tendrils of shadow to extinguish the torches and time seems to flow once again. The vampires hiss and growl at the mortals, who seem to find their voices all at once as they scream and bolt through the only exit open to them: back into the bowels of the mansion. Bishop Alfonzo, his childer and their guests give chase. Notably Gabor has sprouted claws and howls as he and Veceslav join the throng. Lady Katerina visibly yanks a protesting Iulia behind her as she follows after. Of all of the guests, only Bishop Gabriella, Lord Scarvaryan, Magdelena, and Sir’s Conrad and Gunther remain in the ballroom. As the Bishop’s ghouls unlock the doors, Magdelena gives a small smile to the others and slips out of the room. The rest head out into the courtyard.
Inside, the hunt is an unmitigated massacre. Mortals seek to hide behind columns, curtains or tapestries, in closets, and under beds, chairs and anywhere their panicked minds can find. Feeding is brutal, indiscriminate and messy. Blood is everywhere and most of the Cainites revel in the carnage.
Outside, Bishop Gabriella, Conrad and Gunthar all speak of how what they have seen is not what they would wish to see in Constantinople. Bishop Gabriella and Gunther in particular strike a chord with each other in that while each believes the Dream to be something to aspire to, it is a guide, and not a blind faith. They resolve to meet in private at a later stage and discuss the matter in length. All four present affirm with words their wish to prevent Constantinople degenerate, and head off into the night, with Lord Scarvaryan escorted the Bishop of Genoa home.
The last mortal is finally exsanguinated a few hours after midnight, and the Cainites soon head home. Vecelav and Iulia’s sire’s are pleased with them. The Bishop and his childer, all covered in gore, stand at his front door to offer pleasantries and platitudes as the guests leave, graciously accepting thanks and compliments in return. It is a jarring, chilling and incongruous end to the carnage of just hours before.
As the fierce midwinter storms lash the Sea of Marmora and the residents of the Queen of Cities prepare for the Christmas season, the Cainites of the Trinity Families and the Latin outsiders take shelter amid their golden palaces, opulent villas and decrepit townhouses. They return to their incessant politicking and games of one-upmanship, forever jockeying for status and a piece of what the Triumverate built. The murders of Juliano and Adrianna become just another footnote in the intrigues that plague Byzantium and her Dream, but not everyone forgets or glosses over the events of November in the Year of Our Lord 1196.
Bishop Alfonzo sits in the middle of his web in the Latin Quarter, collecting silver and influence from the ports, maneuvering for ever greater leverage over his enemies and sucking the life out of the Dream like the bloated tick that he is. Yet he stews over the escape of the Children of Calomena from his justice. The neonates and ancillae that conducted his investigation served him well where his own subordinates had failed, but stole retribution from him as well. Yet he saved face by staging an act of justice of a sort, and new nights bring more intrigue to keep the Lasombra and his childer busy.
Lady Katerina and Gabor the Bulgar are frequent visitors to the Bishop’s mansion, although the former takes care to spend just as much time among the scheming factions of the Antonian Ventrue. Iulia faithfully does her sire’s bidding in these visitations, though the increased favour of Markus Musa Giovanni among the Bishop’s retinue makes his constant presence a bitter pill for her to swallow. For his part, Gabor seems to be on a recruiting drive, with talk of his marching to the assistance of his nephew-in-blood near Thessalonica with whatever aid he can muster. Veceslav is his lsire’s iaison with the regal Quaesitor, Symeon, and the Obertus Family. He joyfully spends much of his time perusing their forbidden libraries and networking with other scholars in the city, including a certain vizier of the Banu Haqim.
Petronius continues his plans for salvaging and renewing the Dream, by inviting new talents to the city and cutting away the dross of decrepit elders. His friends are still too few and his obstacles are many, but for the first time in nearly a century the ancient Michaelite sees hope. The Magnus Lasombra continue their manipulations of the Orthodox Church and the cultivation of the Cult of Michael while paying only lip service to his orders, and the Malachite Nosferatu have ever answered only to Michael himself. And yet, a coterie of outsiders of disparate clans and loyalties has shown that new blood can succeed where age and pride has failed. Others might see their example, and find that at least one of the Trinity Families is open to change, albeit under the right conditions. Through the wet winter months the Arbiter works with renewed verve, vigour and determination.
The Lexor Brujah cultivate their new contacts among the Scions of the Malachite Nosferatu and the Baron’s Gangrel, perhaps laying the foundations for a new alliance that just might succeed where the Trinity has failed. Their rift with the Antonian Ventrue continues to widen, as Natalya and Anna continue to lock horns over bureacratic and administrative matters. In the coming months Sir Conrad de Monreal works diligently for his Autokrator and his sire, while also receiving instruction from even older Cainites in the shadows. Sir Gunther von Wolfgang does his best to win over the friendship of the Baron’s Gangrel, and succeeds within limits. He spends much time patrolling under the command of his friend, Justinian, while pursuing his manifold plans in Constantinople in his spare time.
The Dream grows in the minds and souls of each of the worthies of this unnamed coterie. All feel it’s pull, as if it were a living thing tugging on their heart-strings, crying out for their worship and their work to bring it out of the darkness and into the glory it deserves. It is unsettling, particularly for those Cainites whom are paranoid, lack religious conviction, or both.
As the Byzantine climate turns more favourable towards the end of January, the business of both Lucien and Lady Katerina comes to an end. The time has come for a parting of ways for the nameless coterie. In the Chrysotryclineum Baths, they took an oath to protect and aid each other in the future, and these sentiments are renewed as they each take leave of their now customary table in the Saut Aswad. Sir Gunther travels north and west with Lucien, through Bulgaria towards Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire along the great rivers. Iulia and her sire return to their master, Prince Marcus Licinius of Adrianople, to report on their political successes over the winter. Gabor the Bulgar does indeed march for Thessalonica, with a number of Carrion mercenaries and the ever faithful Veceslav caught up in his wake. And finally Sir Conrad is all that remains of the new fellowship, dutifully watching over his sire’s business as Procet wanders the western borders of the empire, shoring up loyalties of old friends at the behest of the Autokrator.
The lives of these young Cainites fall into routine as the months go by. Duty, family and the lessons of their sire’s keep them busy. Spring blossoms, summer blazes, and the autumn leaves fall from the trees. Eventually they are all left to their own devices, but their sire’s promise them further opportunities to earn renown and status. The first sleets of winter finally come again, and with it, two letters arrive in the hands of one of their sire’s loyal retainers. The first is banded in blue silk and bears the symbol of your sire. The second is a grand affair, bound in royal blue, purple and gold, the red wax seal bearing the device of a hind sinister facing a wolf dexter, with a hawk in flight above them…
Attendance: Greg (Sir Gunther, 3xp), Jack (Sir Conrad, 2xp), Ben (Veceslav, 3xp)
End of Story XP: Greg (Sir Gunther, 3xp), Jack (Sir Conrad, 2xp), Ben (Veceslav, 3xp)
Total Story Experience Gained
Sir Gunther (Greg) 18
Sir Conrad (Jackson) 12
Veceslav (Ben) 18