Dreams at the Crossroads

Session 11

The Return of the Last Roman

September 12-13, AD 1071

The coterie awakened, and with Theo’s expert knowledge of the city’s sewers, made their way back to the Harbor of Heptascalon and escaped the city in a stolen boat. They reached Jucendiae Palace in the early hours of the morning. Though Malachite was no longer present, Theo found a note that explained the hoary Nosferatu elder had gone to meet an old friend and directed his childe to remain at the palace.

Belisarius.jpgThe next night when Malachite returned, he introduced the coterie to his old friend strategos Flavius Belisarius, an Antonian Ventrue of great prestige and renown. Upon meeting one of the greatest generals and most celebrated figures in Roman history, Theo was unabashedly star-struck.

Though not quite jubilant, Malachite was pleased none-the-less to reunite with his old friend. The bent Nosferatu spymaster and regal Ventrue strategos spoke for some time. Belisarius had retreated from the endless schemes and intrigues of his fellow Antonians to Alexandria and was thought destroyed after his disappearance in the wake of the Rashidun Saracen conquest of Egypt in AD 641. When Malachite had heard the tale in the late 9th century, he had known better. After the death of Emperor Basil II in AD 1025, as the empire began yet another decline, he began searching for the lost Antonian. Nosferatu agents eventually discovered the strategos havening in Edessa, and the two Cainites initiated what would become a regular correspondence.

Over the centuries, Malachite had asked Belisarius to return to the City and take it in hand many times, but the weary strategos had always refused. The disaster at Manzikert had changed all that however. Upon hearing of the catastrophic defeat of the army, the capture and humiliation of Emperor Romanos IV at the hands of Sultan Alp Arslan, and the possibility of a Byzantine traitor responsible for these events, Belisarius determined that the Queen of Cities needed its most prestigious and decorated guardian once again.

Having just arrived amidst the ever-flowing throng of refugees fleeing the Turkish advance, only Malachite and his young visitors were aware of the _strategos_’ presence. Unwilling to be turned away at the gates by Caius’ and Epirius’ decree, Belisarius and the coterie discussed their options and sought Malachite’s counsel.

Apparently, after hearing of the disaster at Manzikert in which much of the Byzantine military was decimated, Belisarius had decided to return to the Queen of Cities to call a Trinity Council of quaestors.

The strategos found fault in the Ventrue Military Prefect, Lyseros, for allowing the military to degrade from a disciplined superpower in Basil II’s reign to little more than a ragtag assortment of mercenaries under the influence of several powerful noble families. He also laid blame at the feet of the Ventrue Eastern Praetorian Prefect, Peter the Hermit, for diverting imperial subsidies from the eastern theme armies in favor of his personal holdings in Trebizond. Belisarius’ intent was nothing more than the final death of those responsible for the devastating defeat at Manzikert and to position himself within the Antonian hierarchy to again guide the Empire back to glory.

Lady_Septima_Dominica.jpgAs Belisarius spoke on the corruption behind Manzikert, news arrived for Malachite – the Lady of Blood, Septima Dominica, was dead. According to the report, a group of witch hunters dressed in black with a white cross emblazoned on their doublets had set fire to an elicit pleasure-house where the prestigious elder had been havening. The quaestors had called the Sixth Council of the Triumvirate to confront the events at Manzikert, to address Septima’s murder, and to decide who would take on her responsibilities as caesar magister, the Antonian Emperor Caius’ chief administrator, advisor, and confidant.

Lady_Kari'ansika.jpgThe news came as a great shock to the coterie. As their initial confusion faded into clarity, they came to a terrible realization: the Cainite they staked and left to the flames was not Kari’ansika. It was Septima. The letter they sent to the Lady of Blood must have been intercepted and the response forged by persons unknown. They had been used to assassinate one of the city’s most powerful elders. The consequences and implications thundered through the four neonates. If someone discovered their part in Septima’s murder, final death would be the least of their concerns. Luckily, even Malachite didn’t know about the Lady of Blood’s letter. The coterie stayed silent, allowing Belisarius to take charge of the conversation.

Once those assembled had taken in the news, Malachite mentioned that, with the death of their potential patron, the coterie would need to look elsewhere in the Antonian family to acquire support in their bid for citizenship. Picking up on the insinuation, Belisarius made the young Cainites an offer.

Belisarius explained that there were several obstacles blocking his goal to reorganize the Antonian power structure. Like Theo, Belisarius also needed to have his citizenship reinstated due to the Council’s recent decision to expatriate all Cainites outside the city during the events at Manzikert. Once his citizenship been reinstated, the strategos would need to call for a formal Council of the Triumvirate. Finally, he needed to not only accuse Lyseros and Peter the Hermit in council before the quaestors, but to make those accusations stick.

In order to cleanse the city of impurities and to save the Dream from imminent collapse, Belisarius needed outsiders – children of Cain uncorrupted by the City’s political mire – to help him. And it just so happened that Genevieve, Theo, Rodrigo, and Gaurin fit that bill seamlessly.

Belisarius made a deal with the coterie: if they supported his bid to remove Lyseros and Peter the Hermit, he would help them attain (or reattain) citizenship in the Queen of Cities. This suited the neonates’ purposes perfectly as it would allow them to continue pursuing their investigation into the origins of the Nod fragment and the identity of the killer. With all in agreement, Malachite and Belisarius departed to petition the Council for a citizenship hearing, leaving the coterie to cope with the new burden on their consciences.

View
Session 10

Murphy’s Law

September 11, AD 1071

Leaving the paralyzed elder staked to the bed behind them, the coterie rushed to the bedchamber door and out into the hallway. Domianus, their guide, was gone. As they began descending the stairway, the sounds of breaking glass and cries of distress emerged from the doorway.

The first floor of the bordello was awash in chaos. The hallways were filled with billowing smoke flowing like a snake along the ceiling. The hysterical mortals choked the doorways and halls, madly running, screaming, shoving, and trampling one another. Silhouettes of frantic men and women disappeared and reappeared as the coterie rushed to find an exit, always avoiding the passages flickering with a terrible red-orange glow.

After turning a corner, the coterie came upon a hallway leading to the building’s open front door. The sun’s hateful rays poured through the portal and into a small foyer where Domianus was confronted by two men carrying swords and dressed all in black with a white cross emblazoned across their doublets.

From what the coterie could make out, it was very clear that these men had set fire to the building and that Domianus had expected the fire to kill both Kari’ansika and his Cainite catspaws. What Domianus didn’t expect was that the witch-hunting swordsmen would also consider him a monster in need of cleansing. Apparently, Domianus’ master had thought the ghoul had outlived his usefulness. As he begged and plead, the swordsmen cut Domianus down.

With the only way to the tunnel through which they’d infiltrated the building earlier that morning blocked off by the sunlight pouring through the front door, the coterie retreated to the basement without being seen by the witch hunters. Utilizing her heightened senses, Genevieve was able to locate an entrance to the sewers from the basement. The coterie escaped into the sewers just as the basement ceiling began to collapse in flame. They made their rest in a nearby cistern.

Basilica_Cistern__3_.jpg

View
Session 9

The Serpent’s Bounty

September 9 – 11, AD 1071

Domianus.jpgThe coterie found Damianus, a broad shouldered but well-dressed Macedonian, waiting not far from the Marble Tower in the Industrial District. Refusing to answer any questions regarding the nature of their meeting or what they were intended to undertake until reaching a secure location, the contact led them to a small boat. Only once they were upon the water did the ghoul contact explain Lady Septima’s request: discipline a serpent who had slithered her way into the Garden.

According to Damianus, a Settite going by the name of Kari’ansika had been holding a blood feast every night for the last month. Naturally, the river of vitae and unceasing necessity for new vessels had begun drawing unwanted attention from mortal authorities, putting all the cities Cainites at risk during a time when inquisition would be most inconvenient. It was the Lady’s will that the she-serpent be brought to justice to send a message to all those who would use the city’s imbalance as an opportunity to defy the Codex of Legacies. Kari’ansika was to be humiliated, and the coterie was to be the instrument through which Septima would achieve her vengeance.

With Damianus as their guide, the coterie docked at Kontoskalion Harbor and traveled down the Makros Embolos before splitting off into the dingy, refuse-choked slums and alleyways a few blocks before reaching the Mese and Tetrapylon.

Eventually, the group was brought to a small, broken-down plaza at the dead end of an alley. Damianus pointed out the snake’s den, a decrepit, faceless two-story building with a single, large red door on the far side of the square. Rather than approach it however, he ducked into a nearby, abandoned building. Inside, piles of wooden boards and thick woolen cloth lay on the floor, and Domianus immediately began covering the windows. When questioned, their guide explained that the deed was to be held off until the sun had risen and the ancient serpent was at her day’s rest in the building with the red door.

Red_Door.jpgTired of being left in the dark, the four Cainites surrounded the ghoul and in no uncertain terms expressed their desire for transparency. Unruffled, the Domianus nevertheless accented to their request and explained the plan. An hour after dawn, he would guide the coterie in through a hollow wall the buildings shared with one another. Once inside, he would guide them through the bordello to the second floor vault where Kari’ansika would find her rest. Once inside, they would seek her out – knowing her by her unearthly beauty and her hair, which would be dyed with henna to be a bright, bloody red. Finally, they would stake her as she slept, leaving her to contemplate her humiliation and vulnerability before presumably being found by a servant. Disturbed but sated for the moment, the four would-be assassins settled in to fight the exhausting weight of ages that always came as dawn broke across the sky.

When the time came, things went unnervingly well. Domianus guided them into the building and up to the second floor without encountering or even observing a single guard. That, however, is not to say the house was inactive. Despite the dilapidated exterior, the building’s interior could’ve competed with even the most grandiose of the City’s brothels – if only catering to less savory tastes. Prostitutes, musicians, and drunken patrons lounged half-clothed in side rooms filled with pillows and hashish smoke billowing from intricate brass hookahs, but none paid the pale newcomers any mind.

Producing the key to the heavy, iron-banded oaken door, the ghoul quickly enabled access to the second story of the building where Kari’ansika was predicted to be havening. Just as they stepped inside however, the sound of a deep male voice could be heard from a nearby hallway.

“No one was supposed to be here,” Domianus hissed as the five intruders hid in a darkened washroom.

Outside the speaker came into view, a large, barrel-chested man costumed as an Egyptian soldier and carrying a crook and net. Beside him, a second, slightly shorter man in similar costume carried a burlap sack w/ something squirming at the bottom.

As the two passed, oblivious to the trespassers listening in on the conversation, it became clear they were in the Lady of the House’s employ, and that they were capturing serpents that had been released throughout the building during the festivities the night before. Just before going out of earshot, the first mentioned his desire to free himself of his uncomfortable costume and back into something less patronizing. Once the two were gone, Domianus described the way to where he believed the Lady slept and declared that he would be awaiting their return by the oaken door to redirect any other possible interlopers.

It wasn’t long before the coterie found the Lady’s chambers. A large bed, curtained with sheer linen dominated the center of the opulent boudoir. Not far away, on the dark leather cushions of a broad loveseat, a python of magnificent size worked its meal, a young, half-dressed boy of the brothel, further into its stretching, pulsating jaws.

On the bed lay a queen of ice and snow, a goddess of elemental beauty with the perfect blue-white complexion of death. Her fine hair, dyed bright red with henna, contrasted with her fairness like fire, and despite the oblivion of torpor, a pained expression marred her youthful countenance. To look upon her was like experiencing the angelic visions of the saints and prophets. The coterie stood over her like statues, frozen by the power of her very presence.
-
Stirred by something more than awe, Rodrigo, stake in hand, drew back the coverlet. Her naked, sleeping form was something he could never possess. It was as if eternity were being revealed – an eternity from which he was denied. He would never know intimacy again. Only violence. To touch her as she slept would be nothing more than feeding on kine – taking that which was not freely given. His lust roiled, a cruel mockery of love, but it was all he had. All he’d ever have. A desperate ache wrapped around the emptiness in his chest and took hold there, like a squawking buzzard clinging to the craggy outcroppings of a cliff-face, and came to rest beside the Beast. Daniel and the lion.

When Rodrigo reached out, his fingers quivering inches from her delicate lips, he noticed the reflection in the mirrored headboard. The fantasy vanished. On the unflinching face of the mirror, reality was plain to see: a dark, looming, disjointed figure reflected in the shadows of the room. A grotesque, bent monster. In the mirror, he watched as his own face warp into an expression horror. Inside, Rodrigo felt the Beast howl, a sound like the thundering hooves of a pale horse beating down the road of his heart.
-
Geneviéve watched as Rodrigo and Theo hesitated, standing like the statues in Cluny’s garden. Realizing the dire portents of the elder Settite’s power on herself and her companions, even from torpor, she called on all her reserves of hurt to fight off the spell with the knife’s edge of reality. The slow, painful death of her husband. The loss of their home. The indignities and humiliation her callers subjected her to. The pogroms. And suddenly, she broke free.

Instead of a woman, Geneviéve saw the creature before her for what it was: a brute descended of the same reviled race who’d enslaved her people on the banks of the Nile. Suddenly, she remembered a verse of the Seder: “You shall tell your child on that day saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” Grabbing the stake out of Rodrigo’s shuddering fist, Geneviéve plunged it deep into the serpent’s breast.
-
Like a hurricane, the room suddenly erupted in violent movement. Cold, dark blood spurted out of Kari’ansika’s chest and across Geneviéve’s arms, face, and neck. It spewed from her mouth onto the sheer, white Egyptian cotton sheets as the elder Settite’s face contorted into a horrific mask of betrayal, fear, and fury.

Rocked from his trance, Rodrigo looked at the limp, bleeding form on the bed. Her eyes, like emeralds, gazed up at him, and for an instant her expression seemed to plead softly. Like a whisper, he heard her voice in his mind. “Please.” Mercy, however, was not forthcoming.

Humiliated and enraged at falling prey to her power and surrounded by the pungent smell of blood, Rodrigo’s Beast shattered its cage. Drawing his dagger, he drove it into her flesh again and again until her throat was nothing more than ragged strands of tendon and exposed bone. Satisfied, the Beast subsided.

That is when the coterie noticed the faint smell of smoke…

View
Session 8

Reunions & Patrons

September 6 – 9, AD 1071

Malachite.jpgOnce they were settled in, Malachite insisted his guests explain the circumstances surrounding their arrival and intrusion upon his solitude. Over the next several hours, the weary coterie told the hoary Nosferatu elder of their travails; of the companions lost to poisonous assassination, of the connections between the murders and the transportation of a Nod fragment from the Croatian city of Zara. They described their passage across the sea to the Obertus monastery, its perverse ghouled monks, and their discovery that the fragment’s journey had originated in Constantinople. Finally, they reiterated the oath they’d made to one another and to the memories of their lost friends: to find the unknown assassin and bring all those involved to justice.

Malachite listened in silence, and when the telling had finished, declared his support for the young coterie’s mission. There were problems however. The rogue Paulidis had told them true, the city had restricted traffic into and out of the city to refugees, but the number of mendicants seeking asylum beneath the Wall of Theodosius grew exponentially every day. As a result, the city had completely closed its gates to non-citizens. Furthermore, at the behest of the Antonian basileus Caius and Domestic Prefect Epirius, all Cainites who’d been outside the City and unaccounted for during the weeks leading up to and since the battle at Manzikert had their citizenship revoked. According to Malachite, rumors had surfaced that Turkish sympathizers within the City had betrayed Byzantium. Thus, the coterie would be unable to gain entrance to the city and continue their mission. Dismayed and exhausted, the night’s young travelers submitted to the day’s rest.

Baron.jpgIt was decided that an appeal must be made to the council of quaestors to be granted special dispensation for repatriotization and official citizenship. To secure the opportunity for this appeal, the coterie would need the patronage of one elder for each aspect of the Triumvirate. Naturally, Malachite offered his patronage for the Michaelite block of houses. After much deliberation, it was decided that Baron Thomas Feroux (representing the Obertus houses) and Lady Septima Dominica (representing the Antonian houses) would be most likely to respond to a request for support. Letters were drafted, and early that morning, pigeons were released to carry the messages to their intended targets.

On the following night, a bird returned not long after nightfall. The Baron had responded. In exchange for a boon at some undisclosed time in the future and so long as each would be citizen made an oath to leave Obertus affairs to the Obertus, he would support their bid for special dispensation. He also reinforced that it was due to Malachite’s word of support that he had even entertained the idea and therefore, their debt to the Nosferatu should be double what they owed him for his patronage. The Baron went on to say that upon granting his support, the coterie ought to act with honor and discretion as his reputation was now bound to theirs. Finally, he warned that any action to tarnish his standing would be treated gravely indeed.

The second bird didn’t return until much later, after Malachite had already left for a hunt. Though the Lady of Blood’s response was less enthusiastic than the Baron’s, it did open the possibility for her support. In it, the caesar magister explained the impediments standing before their appeal and her reluctance to invite five more Cainites into the city. Already burdened by over-population, suffering from the sting and accompanying strife of Manzikert, and struggling with the sudden resulting imbalance of power and the blooming of both ancient and fresh grudges, the Crossroads had no room for any other destabilizing elements – and inevitably, new blood would further disturb the delicate dance already underway.

If, however, the potential citizens were to illustrate their personal goodwill and then demonstrated their ability to be a stabilizing influence, she would consider supporting their bid for a special dispensation. Humbly, Septima submitted an opportunity through which they could prove their commitment to these values: meet Damianus, an agent of hers, in the Industrial Quarter Harbor on the night of the 9th of September, and follow his instructions to the letter. If they successfully accomplished the endeavor he set before them, she would consider them friends of the Antonians and speak on their behalf before the quaestors. With few options before them and even fewer friends, the coterie agreed that they would champion the Lady’s cause… whatever it may be.

View
Session 7 continued...

Home Sweet Home

September 6, AD 1071

Upon granting Paulidis his freedom, Theo ghouled the rogue and sent him out to gather information on the city’s current condition. As the coterie continued on its trek and came closer to the battlements, they passed small collections of homes painted white, light blue, or a pale yellow. Lazy curls of woodsmoke spewed from the chimneys and the faint glimmers of candlelight escaped from cracks in the shuttered windows. Beyond, the industrial quarter protruded from the city’s walls, like mass of ashen barnacles surrounded by a russet haze of noxious fumes sprung from various acids and dyes and the decaying piles of raw animal hides behind the district’s many tanneries. Even to the undead, the place seemed unclean.

Jucendiae_Palace.jpgThe coterie split from the Egnatian Way just as it began to sink into the slums of the industrial quarter, heading instead to a Nosferatu haven in the wine cellars of Jucendiae Palace. The road they followed took them first along the walls, and then back out into the surrounding countryside. Before reaching their destination, the four travelers came upon the outskirts of the refugee camps mentioned by Paulidis. Surrounded by a hastily built yet expansive palisade of garbage, overturned wagons, and sharpened logs, the grounds appeared to be more of an internment camp than a refuge for the poor sods escaping the Turkish hordes.

Upon reaching the cellars of Jucendiae Palace, Theo introduced his 3 companions to his sire Malachite, who was residing there to gather news on the disaster at Manzikert. Although somewhat vexed by the sudden intrusion upon his haven, Malachite welcomed his childe’s companions, but made it clear that they were being granted sanctuary thanks to his good graces.

View
Session 7

The Road to Byzantium

August 5 – September 6, 1071

Coterie_s_path.png

The next night, the four beleaguered Cainites drained Abbot Heroch of what pitiful life remained in him and began a harrowing journey from the snow-peaked mountains of Croatia to the gilded city of Byzantium, crossroads of the known world. The road was cold and dark, like a slab of stone resting heavily upon a tomb. They passed over churning rivers and mountains rumbling with thunder, and stalked through slumbering villages and hoary forests stirred by their driving hunger… and above it all, the pitiless black sky gazed down from above like the distaining dark eye of an onyx, pagan idol.

The distinctness of time receded, blurring together amidst the nightly struggle to reach that fabled city of God and gold. Each member of the coterie became as familiar with one another as with the resonance of the cricket song carried on the spring winds. At times, they laughed together or gravely discussed God and his great cosmic plan, a mystery often obscured by the urgency of life in the world, but occasionally made so clear it pangs as when one gazes upon the holiest works of art. At others, they frustrated one another with stubbornness, rankled at differences of faith, and blamed one another for the various difficulties experienced on the road. Sometimes though, alone and safe from the day in some roadside sanctuary, each Cainite wept for those he’d lost, those he’d pushed away, and of course, shamefully yet most poignantly, for himself.

As the Balkans gave way to the rolling hills of Macedonia and Thrace, the coterie gained a new vigor as they joined with the Egnatian Way, a maintained flagstone road, and their destination grew near. The road approached Hebdomon, a suburban sprawl of one room farmhouses with small cultivated fields, orchards, and small groves of trees. In the distance, the nighttime torch fires of Byzantium blazed, reflecting off the surrounding blackness of the Marmara Sea like a jewel or a star in the sable cloak of sky.

Outside Hebdomon, the travelers came upon a crossroads with a gallows and four cages hung from wooden posts. While three cages contained human remains in varying states of decomposition, one held a ragged looking man who identified himself as Paulidis. In exchange for water, Paulidis described the situation currently besetting the great city.

According to the rogue, he was an Anatolian levied at the behest of Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes to bring battle to Alp Arslan of the Seljuk Turks. His unit of hastily trained peasants was to provide support to the mercenaries and professional Byzantine army. The Emperor led his army across Anatolia towards the Seljuk fortress of Manzikert. Greedily, Diogenes split his army prior to reaching Manzikert, and when his half of the army came to blows with the Turks, the battle quickly degenerated.

Manzikert.jpgJohn Ducas, a Greek general and rival to the throne, refused to commit his troops, instead sounding a full retreat. Inevitably, what remained of the Byzantine levies routed and the conflict ended in defeat. Adding insult to injury, Paulidis heard rumors that Emperor Romanos IV had been captured during the battle by Turkish forces.

Furthermore, Paulidis informed the coterie that the cities walls had been closed to all refuges. Instead of being offered succor, the refugees were being petitioned off in internment camps outside the suburb of Hebdomon. He’d escaped the camps himself, but had been caught stealing his dinner from a baker’s shop. Thus, he explained his captivity.

Recognizing the significance of the rogue’s tale, Theo offered to release the miscreant in exchange for his service. After some coercion, Paulidis agreed, and became Theo’s ghoul. The coterie separated from the hapless refugee and continued through Hebdomon towards Jucendiae Palace, a haven and retreat for Malachite, Theo’s sire and the city’s lone Nosferatu.

View
Session 6 continued...

Eyes Wide Open

August 4, AD 1071

Theodosius’ sudden awakening was very unpleasant for the two monks who were loading his nearly blood-dry carcass onto a stretcher for disposal. In short, the two unarmed mortals were no match for the frenzied, slavering, blood-starved sanguisuge who ripped them to pieces in mere moments. After slaking his terrible thirst, Theo released his fellow prisoners whom he revived with the monk’s remaining blood.

The four exhausted Cainites navigated St. Gesu’s winding catacombs until they finally found themselves at Heroch’s quarters. Furious, they assaulted the elderly abbot, quickly subdued him, and barred the door against the alerted monks rushing to his rescue. After coercing Heroch to reveal a hidden tunnel nearby, the coterie escaped with the concussed, unconscious abbot as a hostage.

Gesu1.jpgThe passage led out of the monastery to a small rose garden surrounding an imposing statue of red-veined black marble. It depicted a tall man in long robes with hauntingly beautiful features and a lean, nearly emaciated physique. Though nothing as mundane as a placard identified the mysterious figure, the coterie deduced it must depict the monastery’s patron St. Gesu.

The statue’s hands were open in a gesture of humble invitation, and his legs extended down into the bare, snow-covered rose bushes at his feet. It was there that Rodrigo discovered a little cloth bundle, nestled in among the thorns. Inside, he discovered the frozen body of an infant. Convinced this was some dark ritual that granted the monastery’s children the blood, the coterie fled into the forest to find shelter before the sun rose on the horizon.

View
Session 6

A Dream of the Crossroads

August 3 – 4, AD 1071

Within the silence of torpor arose a dream. Each prisoner suddenly found himself freed, standing before three arched, golden gates, the middle larger than the other two, and flanked by angelic bronze statues, one of Victory, the other Fortune. Above the gates, a stern, fatherly man in the armor of a Roman centurion stood in an elephant drawn chariot: the bearded man taller, prouder, than the beasts.

The Gates opened, revealing a flagstone road leading through the heart of a great city bristling with stone buildings wrapped with intricate mosaics. Golden domes reached towards the heavens, like a thousand, thousand suns, the crosses on their peaks momentarily disappearing in the rolling clouds. Marble statues of angels and saints lined the thoroughfare, hands outstretched, almost pleading with the dreamer to venture further into the city.

With each step down the boulevard, the sky grew brighter. Soon, as the clouds broke overhead, the sun’s rays rained down, warming the skin with the soft kiss of morning light. Behind the angelic sculptures flanking the roadway, lush gardens stretched out on each side, buffering the towering facades of the city’s manses and providing ample shade for weary travelers.

constantinople_cityscape.jpg

Each dreamer heeded their calling…

Rodrigo

As you took in the sublime beauty of the scene, there was movement at the end of the street, a small figure darting through the willow branches. The figure, a child, ducked into the corridor between two imposing villas lording over the gardens before them. You called out, reaching after the child, your pose momentarily the inverse of the saintly statuary flanking the roadside, but he didn’t hear.

Following him through the willows, you drifted into the alley, the smell of the surrounding lilies suspended in the air. He was sitting on the ground, his back against the building. At the sound of your approach he looked up, and you saw that he wore your face. Not the deformed, monstrous visage of unlife, but the vulnerable, delicate skin of your mortal childhood. You’d chased yourself here.

Tears began to stream down your cheeks as you reached out for the boy to embrace him, to guard him from the vicious, hungry world you knew would soon be breathing down his back. Your twisted, clawed hands gripped his shoulder and arm as you pulled him in. At your touch, the boy’s face, your face, suddenly transformed from curiosity to revulsion and horror. He loosed a scream. It pierced the air as he squirmed and kicked, terrified of the bent, grasping monster.

Suddenly, as you wrestled the boy to stillness against your chest, you noticed the choking smell of smoke. Embers danced in the air and came to rest on your wretched, bald pate and face, singing like dozens of tiny punctures. The idyllic garden around you was no more, replaced by a blazing hellscape: the trees transformed into sharp, blackened bones, the lilies and ferns mere shoots of flame from the earth. Where before the city’s noble buildings and towers reached up to the sky, they now hunched like the shattered teeth of a gnashing madman. The sculptures of angels and saints that lined the road lay dashed upon the ground, and the flagstones jutted from the earth like tombstones.

And the boy… the boy was changing too. His skin was blanching, growing boils and pustules. His bones popping. His joints swelling. The boy had ceased his struggle, and his screams sunk to a whimper. Your presence had crumbled this gilded city to its foundations. Your touch had turned the boy’s purity to ruin, but you couldn’t let him go. You held him like an infant as he turned to ash in your arms.

Geneviève

At the end of the street a door inched open and a figure ascended from the darkness of the room beyond. At first the figure was little more than a silhouette, a ghost of shadow-play and light. As you drew closer, however, and he stepped out into the street, his features became illumined by the sanguine rays of the dawning sun. The man had broad shoulders. His shirt was dusty and his hair was as dark as the shade he’d left in the doorway. It was the eyes though, hazel like a maple leaf in early autumn, that gave him away.

For a moment, disbelief took hold, stealing away the recognition your eyes shared with his, replacing desire with doubt. The denial withered, however, as his deliberate steps brought him within the full scrutiny of the daylight. Henri smiled as the sun beat down on his face, his eyes swelling with the same revelation framed in yours. Even death hadn’t the power to dissever your love.

A cry of exultation and relief escaped your lips as you grasped him, nearly dragging him to the ground. After all the torrid nights of blood, you’d almost forgotten his smell: sawdust from his workshop, wood smoke, and something else… lilies? Tears brimmed from your eyes as you embraced one another. Sobs wracked your shoulders and back. You’d always felt so small in his arms, so whole.

Then, as you fervently pressed your lips to his, you noticed the choking smell of fresh smoke. Embers danced in the air and came to rest on your cheeks and brow, singing like dozens of tiny punctures. The idyllic garden around you was no more, replaced by a blazing hellscape: the trees transformed into sharp, blackened bones, the lilies and ferns mere shoots of flame from the earth. Where before the city’s noble buildings and towers reached up to the sky, they now hunched like the shattered teeth of a gnashing madman. The sculptures of angels and saints that lined the road lay dashed upon the ground, and the flagstones jutted from the earth like tombstones.

And Henri… his skin was being blown from his body by the fire’s hell-winds. It was flaking… no, not flaking. Burning. A feeling greater than desire and more terrible than love reared in your breast. Panic consumed you, and even a century of loneliness and longing couldn’t quench its demand. You flung yourself from him. You let him go.

His body fell backwards as it was dismantled by the flames, revealing elongating eyeteeth. Your touch had changed him into a thing of the night. As the sunlight amplified by the fallen, golden domes had its way with your love, you realized death had never been the barrier between you. It was the sun. He was barely able to whisper, “I love you,” before the conflagration took him. His dusty shirt, his raven-black hair, even his hazel eyes came apart in the air like hundreds of fireflies and were lost amidst the spiraling embers of the once beautiful, once holy city.

Theo

The street led to a great, abandoned plaza, the brilliant, domed façade of the Hagia Sophia rising before you. Above it, the moon still hung in the reddened sky as the morning sun winked over the horizon, the pair like estranged twins glimpsing one another as they pass on the road. Black-tipped spires towered from the grand shrine’s cardinal points, and the air reverberated with the stirring chorus of the Holy Liturgy.

A marble pedestal stood before the Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God, a thick, heavily bound codex resting upon it, inviting you to open it. As you ran your wilting, psoriatic fingers across its face and spine, recognition crashed over you like a brigade of horse. Before you lay the Logos, the Wisdom of God.

A sudden sense of admonishment fell upon you, as though the celestial bodies above were profound, disapproving eyes. You lifted the weighty cover reverently… cautiously, like a starved orphan sneaking a pastry from a distracted vendor. Anticipation built in your chest, and your reaching hand quaked as you pulled the cover open, considering the mysteries to be revealed within; could you too be saved?

But the leaves were blank. Empty. Every one. Unilluminated sheets of skin. Nothing else. And as the starkness speared you, the choking smell of fresh smoke filled your nostrils. Embers danced in the air and came to rest on your mealy, stiffened cheeks, singing like dozens of tiny punctures. The idyllic garden around you was no more, replaced by a blazing hellscape: the trees transformed into sharp, blackened bones, the lilies and ferns mere shoots of flame from the earth. Where before the city’s noble buildings and towers reached up to the sky, they now hunched like the shattered teeth of a gnashing madman. The sculptures of angels and saints that lined the road behind you lay dashed upon the ground, and the plaza’s flagstones jutted from the earth like tombstones.

And the Logos… its spine was crumbling, its pages moldering. Dust fell from the text in sheets, like ashes released from an urn. Beyond, even the shrine itself had changed. Its golden dome, once a beacon for the light of God, now burned and smoldered like the grisly, bald pate of some brutish fiend depicted in a nightmarish fresco of hell’s torments. Its double doors opened, revealing eyes wide as the moon and hungrier than sun-fire, and the spires twisted and curved from the earth like sickle shaped horns. You looked on in horror and trembled to the terrible rumbling from underground.

Suddenly, you felt a hand grip your shoulder. You flinched and spun to face the aggressor, but it was no enemy, simply another soul damned as wholly as yours. Gaurin stood beside you, his eyes replaced by sunken shadow, his pale face displaying the alien serenity of a death mask. As if whispered through a reed, his voice shivered in your ear.

“It doesn’t have to be as this. The Logos can be saved. This is a vision. Your flesh is not here. You are splayed out upon a stretcher by the monks, destined to be staked and left for the sun. I can call you back to the flesh, but only if you free myself and the others of our bonds. We will save the Logos… just take my hand.”

As you reached out and your fingers touched his, a strange sensation washed over you. His hand was clammy and cold as the peak of Olympus. The stygian chill burrowed into you, stealing your brief reacquaintance with body heat and the embers’ singing kiss. The icy wave halted your pumping breast and emptied you of life’s remnants as surely as a Saracen sword. In its place was only hunger. Hunger, and the shriek of the Beast being loosed from its cage.

image.jpg

View
Sessions 4-5

St. Gesu’s Children

August 2 – 3, AD 1071

Travel through the mountains was cold and treacherous. Enshrouded in heavy fog, surrounded with the heady smells of the forest, and harried by the howling of wolves echoing through the trees, the three Cainites nervously picked their way along the crooked trail until the monasteries’ battlements came into view. Geneviève, Gaurin, and Rodrigo approached the imposing gatehouse cautiously, and after a brief explication of their purpose at the monastery, were granted the monk’s hospitality.

Surb_Karapet_Monastery_Hampikian_LoC.png

Upon entering the monastery, the coterie was greeted by Abbot Heroch, a bald old man with a wispy, white beard. The Abbot explained that the monastery shared the namesake of its patron, the Sanguine Saint Gesu, a figure entirely unknown in the Latin Church, and that it followed the Orthodox saint’s prescribed Obertus tenets.

It became readily clear Heroch and his monks were well aware of, perhaps even awed by, their guests’ supernatural natures. After inviting his visitors to stay the night and offering sanctuary from the sun’s hateful rays, the Abbot acknowledged that he and all those within St. Gesu’s walls were ghouls. The blood of Cainites flowed in their veins. Apparently, the monastery’s children had even been born with the blood, something Heroch and his fellows perceived as a miracle of faith.

Curious about St. Gesu’s true master, presumably a Cainite, the travelers questioned the Abbot further, and Heroch asserted that he and his flock had been out of contact with the Obertus hierarchy in Constantinople for some time. Satisfied with his explanation and after supping upon a few willing monks, the coterie accepted the Abbot’s hospitality and retired to the catacombs for their day’s rest.

Geneviève, Rodrigo, and Gaurin became aware of their grievous error of trusting the Abbot when they woke in a pitch black chamber inside suspended, solid iron cages. Panic quickly consumed them as all manner of gruesome possibilities surfaced in their minds, and it wasn’t long before they noticed a fourth cage in the room was occupied as well. The figure identified himself as Archon Theodosius Konstephanos of Byzantium, and confirmed the three travelers had fallen into a dire situation.

Suddenly the sound of voices could be heard beyond the chamber door, and then monks began filing into the room. Abbot Heroch soon joined his brethren, bringing with him the monastery’s children. Muttering a prayer, of which the four trapped souls could only understand the words “of the Within,” the Abbot speared each prisoner in turn, allowing their vitae to spatter upon the stone floor below. As torpor began to claim them, Gaurin, Rodrigo, Geneviève, and Theo watched while the children crawled across the floor, lapping up the blood like leeches…

View
Session 3

A Shadow over Zara

August 1 – 2, AD 1071

St._Donatus.jpgThe coterie parted ways with Gari and his new galley upon reaching dry-dock in Zara’s expansive harbor and began their inquiries as to the location of the Orthodox monastery said to reside near the city. Their investigation brought them to the attention of the local Archbishop Cosimo Madii who promptly had them intercepted by Grimaldi, a man to whom the shadows clung like pitch, and brought to St. Donatus’ Church.

Before discussing his reasons however, Archbishop Madii insisted that his visitors participate in the Sacrament of Confession. Rodrigo, Gaurin, and Geneviève all acquiesced, even to the extent of sharing their sins honestly, and despite their preconceptions, were given sound spiritual and moral counsel by the Archbishop.

Once the three finished their penances, they were brought to St. Donatus’ tower. Each noticed strange inconsistencies with common Roman Catholic symbolism in the stained glass that lined the stairways on the way to the Archbishop’s chambers, the most conspicuous being the striking resemblance between the countenances of St. Donatus and Cosimo Madii.

The meeting took place on the tower’s balcony, the dawn drawing closer with each word. According to the Archbishop, a ward and convert of his named Zubor had disappeared, most likely kidnapped by the Obertus monks at the self-same Orthodox monastery that Geneviève, Rodrigo, and Gaurin were seeking. Madii offered his hospitality in exchange for the return of his student. The three travelers agreed and were escorted from the tower to the church’s catacombs.

After a day’s rest, Grimaldi saw the coterie off the church grounds to their horses, but left a warning before departing. “Do not return.” Whether a favor or a threat, the three young Cainites heeded his message and rode east toward the snow-capped Dinarides.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.