Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Formerly a Voivode of some power in Bulgaria, as well as the favoured progeny of a scion of the Clan Tzimisce, this elder fell on hard times and wound up a vassal of the Obertus family of Byzantium. He is now adjudged an embarrassing failure by the clan.
A short, severe looking Bulgar wearing fine clothing and a bear fur cloak. Despite his relatively youthful face, his long hair and spade shaped beard are streaked with grey. His brown eyes glower cruelly beneath bristling eyebrows, and he carries an air of suppressed rage about him. The overall effect is that of barbarian royalty. He is armed with a dagger and a sabre, but he wears no armour.
One of the few remaining childer of the destroyed methuselah known as the Dacian, these nights the terrifying elder known as Gabor is more of a laughingstock than a threat. Originally sent south with the other Bulgars to expand the territory of his sire, he was at some point a coterie-mate of the elder Noriz, whom Demenaus had placed in command of the expeditions. Gabor never subscribed to Noriz’ lust for the Amaranth, and his frequent admonishments on the excesses of the elder captain led to the start of the acrimony that endures to this night. When Noriz later consumed the torpid Demenaus’ soul, their enmity was sealed and neither will rest until the other is finished. Naturally, Noriz is performing rather better in this regard, for Gabor’s power is now but the ghost of history.
In centuries past, he modelled his methods closely on his Transylvanian brethren according to the traditions originally set down by Ionache and propagated by Demenaus. In time, he rose to the position of Voivode of Serdica, making him the most powerful Tzimisce in Bulgaria. Over the following 2 centuries he came to style himself as Warlord of Bulgaria, and he seeded the growing cities of the region with his progeny and vassals in a manner that was both overbearing and highly effective. By the mid 10th century, the Voivodate of Bulgaria was the strongest in the East, surpassing even those of the Rus’, Transylvania, and Poland. Gabor reigned supreme, and even entertained ambitions of attaining the coveted position of Voivode of Voivodes. Naturally, being a clan largely composed of petty lordlings and tyrants, his lessers resented his domineering interference in their own domains, and his heavy-handed methods alienated most of them. In the end, even a number of his own progeny grew to plot against him, as time and distance atrophied the Blood Oaths he had forced upon them.
When the Byzantine Empire swept through the Bulgarian Empire in the early 11th century, a Lasombra called Basilio the Elder managed to convince the other knezi to support his claim on Serdica. Gabor was badly wounded in the coup, and his remaining loyal childer, compelled by the power of the Blood Oath, were slain defending him. Barely escaping with his unlife he fled to Constantinople of all places, gambling correctly that his pursuers would rush for the Transylvanian passes and his allies there. Bereft of options, he threw himself upon the mercy of Gesu and Symeon of the Obertus Order. Swearing a life boon for their protection, he was given sanctuary, succumbed to his injuries, and slipped into torpor.
He awoke at the turn of the 12th century to find that the empire he had ruled was but a memory, and the tatters of his reputation to be little more than a cautionary tale. Unfortunately, his old alliances had withered away to nearly nothing and his status was little better than that of a neonate. Indeed, he had little to offer the Obertus but his personal strength, which was undeniably potent, and his experience, which was undeiably useful. What they had little use for was his pride and his ambition to restore his dominion over Bulgaria in general, and Serdica in particular. Symeon made Gabor’s position clear: he was to be an agent of the emergent secular Obertus organisation, and if he proved useful enough, they might eventually consent for him to rebuild his power as their vassal.
He resented his fallen state, but had little recourse but to get to work for his new masters. Gabor spent the entirety of the century working off his life boon, while secretly seeking to form alliances to retake Serdica (now called Sophia by the Greeks and Sredetz by the Bulgarians). Chief among the allies he made in this time was Katerina, a Lasombra diplomat originally of the Kievan Rus’, but now in the service of her grandsire, Prince Marcus Licinius of Adrianople. Another contact was Vencel Rikard of Buda-Pest, whose assistance allowed Gabor to regain a measure of wealth and also an introduction to his kin among the Árpáds.
His servitude was a tremendously humbling experience for a Cainite who once commanded a legion of subordinates. By the time that he met his future childe, Veceslav, Gabor was fairly close to the Beast most of the time. Indeed he was known to take a whip or even a sword to mortals for even the slightest error, and he routinely punished more useful servants with gruesome flesh-crafting exercises. He did learn subtlety, however, and in time he grew to be more of a plotter than a fighter. Never terribly charming, he mustered the ability to be polite to his social betters when necessary, and his particular brand of violence and innovative impulsiveness did him service when treating with the Carpathian Tzimisce on behalf of Symeon.
He was never actually considered a member of the Obertus Order, but merely a valued and potent servant to the small band of the secular Obertus. Owing to his debt, he had to elicit Symeon’s blessing and take on still more prestation to have the honour of giving the Embrace to Veceslav Basarab, whom he recognised as a potent potential asset to his future plans. In the years to come, the Basarab scholar would prove to be an excellent gamble, for his suave charm would prove an immense boon to the elder’s attempts at rebuilding his status in the East. Unfortunately, it would also destroy the remnants of his alliance with Raluca of Câmpulung, who also had a claim on Veceslav. Futhermore, it would incur the displeasure of Vladimir Rustovitch, who had plans of his own for the talented young man.
Gabor’s priority was ever the reclamation of Serdica, although he realised that it would take patience and planning, both virtues that he had allowed to wither during his time in power. To this end, he worked to set up his small and largely secret brood of progeny in domains of their own to help support his claim. Veceslav’s claim on Tihuta was the most public of these, but he also lent his support to another progeny, the Varangian known as Lars Sveengard, in claiming the princedom of Thessalonica in AD 1200. Gabor did not publicly acknowledge Lars as his progeny at that time, since he had not sought permission from the Obertus to Embrace him, but the truth of it eventual outed in the years to come. Unfortunately for Gabor’s plans, Lars and much of his own brood appeared to go to the Final Death when the great water-front tavern and inn in which they made their havens was fired at high noon.
During the events surrounding the 4th Crusade’s invasion and eventual sack of Constantinople, Gabor continued to support his patrons among the Obertus secular chapter, leveraging the Black Sea trade assets of he and his progeny to prepare an escape route for Symeon, Myca Vykos, and others. Room was also made for Gesu, although both Gabor and Myca knew that the Saint of the Divinity Within would never abandon the Monastery of St. John Studius. After ensuring their survival, Gabor took great and obvious pleasure in assuring them that his life boon was now repaid in full.
In the chaotic months following the fall of the Queen of Cities, Gabor became aware that the rule of Basilio the Elder was failing, and he hastily moved all of his pieces into place to reclaim Serdica. Among the Concord, Veceslav was pressed into service, and Svenin the Tall was ever ready for a good fight, as was his old friend, the Malkavian seer known as Ulfe. Sister Maude Khlesl simply refused to assist Gabor, citing the greater need of the mortal folk of Constantinople, while Iulia sent coin and her ghouls, Marius de Şimand and Sabbas of Constantinople, but refused to risk her existence on a hasty plan. Katerina regretfully agreed with her progeny, arguing for a delay and a proper plan before action. Brother Adalbert had already departed the city, and in any case he owed no bonds of debt or friendship to the rancorous, grasping Tzimisce elder.
A hasty war party was assembled in December of 1204, and they rode with all due haste to Serdica, or Sophia as the venerable city had come to be known. On the way, they were joined by Gunnald Ivarsøn, the apparent last survivor of Lars’ brood, and Grozdan, Gabor’s neonate, who had served him for many decades as a ghoul. Travelling with them were the Black Lions, a squad of Veceslav’s men from Tihuta, and a handful of Gabor’s own men. As they entered the broad pass south of Mount Vitosha, just south of the city, they were joined by several score men under the command of Iordan, knez of the small domain of Vladay, as well as his own progeny, Ivan. Iordan had been in secret correspondence for a long time awaiting this moment, and he immediately took a knee and pledged his men and his sword to his grandsire. Together they worked to infiltrate the citadel of the city through the secret ways that the Bulgar elder had contrived to add to it centuries ago. As they entered the city, they observed the flight of Basilio the Elder and his court, most of whom had wisely fled rather face a certain, gruesome doom. A number of Iordan’s men took station at the secret sally port of the citadel, and more secured key strong points within the structure. Shortly after, as they arrived via a secret door into the courtyard, where a tower joined the outer wall, they found that instead others were fighting for the domain of Sophia.
Notable, mostly because of Gabor’s furious challenge when he saw the villain, was Marin of Pernik, once his most favoured progeny, and foremost among those who had betrayed him long ago. Locked in combat with Marin and his coterie was the equally repugnant Ivaylo of Vratitsa, an old rival of Gabor’s who was a descendant of Noriz. The two warriors fought each other in the zulo shape, while their childer and vassals used every means at their disposal, both mundane and supernal, to throw down their enemies. Colonies of bats wheeled overhead and rats along the flagstones below, straining under the contestation of practitioners of Animalism, while a pack of wild street dogs and several clusters of venomous spiders also attacked lone combatants. Men crossed swords and spears on the ramparts of the citadel, while Cainites tore at each other with blade, fang, and claw in the courtyard. The Silence of the Blood strained under the blood-curdling screams of fury, triumph, anguish, and pain that echoed across the rooftops and down the benighted streets of Sophia.
As Gabor and his small but potent coterie waded into the fray from the flank, Marius and Sabbas took up a position by the secret door, covering their only line of retreat while they picked off targets with their bows. It was a bloody fight. Gabor found his old fire and gave vent to it, tearing through his enemies with ease. Veceslav and Svenin cut a bloody swathe through their enemies; the former in his zulo shape standing as a giant next to the equally towering viking. Together, the 3 of them were an impressive sight as they laid their enemies low. In their wake came Ulfe, Grozdan, Iordan, Ivan, several of the Black Lions and the soldiers of Vladay, who formed a wedge behind the Cainites to drive into the enemy. More of the Black Lions rushed the parapets, supported by more of Iordan’s men and also those of Veceslav. Soon, Ivaylo was struck down by his foes, crippled by the claws of Marin and a horrid hack from Svenin’s axe.
Soon enough, Gabor faced off against the Voivode of Pernik, whom he had once placed above all his other progeny. In a vicious exchange, they tore into each other with a hatred that only centuries of resentment could fashion until finally, Gabor exacted his revenge on his treacherous elder progeny. Suffering grievous wounds wounds of his own, he used his Vicissitude and Potence first to implode Marin’s chest before ripping the head from his shoulders. Holding the head of Matin aloft, the once-Voivode of Bulgaria howled his triumph, only to be answered by warning shouts by Marius and Sabbas.
A new force then entered the fray. Several score soldiers garbed in mail, many with red tabards bearing the symbol of a white crow aloft, emerged from the hall, the tower doors and even the portcullis of the main gate, seeking to surround the combatants in the courtyard. They were led by two Cainites, a tall Slavic warlord wearing armour reminiscent of the Kievan Rus’ and an utterly fearsome warrior with elongated fangs and glowing red eyes, the skin and muscle stripped from the bone of his face. Hard on their heels were even more men — motley penitents in ragged robes, armed with knives, clubs, axes, and lit torches, led by a cold, statuesque Nordic beauty wearing leather and gambeson. Among these new combatants, athanatos corpse warriors with hungry, malevolent cold light burning in their vacant eye sockets and vile Kupala spirits given material form surged into the Cainites, ghouls, and kine, hacking and biting with horrid abandon. And behind them all walked a simple Cappadocian wearing the robes of a scholar, an expression of quiet, mocking triumph writ upon his features.
This new force dramatically outnumbered the winnowed, ravaged ranks of their opponents. They closed in, attacking the reduced numbers of the followers of Ivaylo, Marin, and Gabor. At that moment, a shrill whistle sounded from Iordan of Vladay, and his men turned cloak, attacking the Black Lions and the armsmen of Tihuta — people who had fought and bled at their sides just moments earlier. Fortunately, in this case, they chose their enemies poorly, for neither Svenin’s men nor Veceslav’s were so easily dispatched.
Gabor watched the tide turn against him, his zulo features twitching with hatred, uncertainty, and finally fear.
Then he fled.
Assuming the blood form, he slipped into the cracks around the flagstones of the courtyard, making for the drain in the centre as his abandoned allies looked on in shock.
With no choice, the disbelieving Veceslav ordered a fighting retreat back to the secret passages of the citadel. Krasimir bought the retreat of his master with his own blood, destroyed by the skull-faced Cainite as he attempted to stand between the Cappadocian warrior and his domitor. Unwilling to give ground, Svenin bellowed at Stiguld to get his brothers to safety as he covered their withdrawal as well. Grozdan of Trnovo, cut off from any chance of escape, elected to stand with the viking also, as Veceslav, Ulfe, Gunnald, Marius, Sabbas, Stig, and the remnants of the Black Lions and the Tihuta armsmen made good their escape, cutting down those of Iordan’s men who were foolish enough to stand against them.
Luckily for Svenin and Grozdan, in victory Bela had little interest in their destruction. Only Ivaylo would be summarily executed at the claws and fangs of the Kupala spirits. Together with several vanquished vassals of Marin and Ivaylo, he offered the defeated viking and Bulgarian their lives in exchange for a weighty boon. To those who were landed, the prestation would be negated by swearing oaths of loyalty and to those who were not, the boon involved service. Svenin would spend years and much blood working off most of his boon, while Grozdan serves Prince Bela still.
Of Gabor the Bulgar, nothing has been seen or heard in the years after that fateful night in December of AD 1204.
Veceslav has said that Gabor’s cowardice and abandonment has nullified any bonds of family or duty owed to his sire, but he has still made subtle inquiries as to his whereabouts. Word eventually filtered back that the old Tzimisce was seen briefly in Constantinople in 1205, but not since.
Although he is an embarrassing failure, it is worth noting that even in the cut-throat domains of the Latin Quarter, the legend of his brutality is such that no one has sought to take his territory for their own even after many, many years.
Embrace: AD 894, although Veceslav has said that Gabor served Demenaus as a ghoul for many decades before he was brought across into undeath.
Lineage: Childe of Demenaus the Dacian (d), Childe of Ionache (d?), Childe of the Eldest. Gabor is of the 6th generation.
(d?)= possibly destroyed