The Curia Regis

Although each Polis largely runs its own internal affairs, there is a single body which sets policy - and where necessary, hands down judgements - for Kindred, Mages and Uratha alike. It's power comes from the fact that its membership includes the most significant power players from every Polis - the Prince, Seneschal and leading Primogen of the Kindred, the Hierarch and most prominent members of the Consilium Council, and the most powerful pack leaders of the Uratha.

Such a disparate collection of powerful individuals is not - and cannot - be totally harmonious, of course. Disagreements are the norm rather than the exception, but the very existence of the Curia Regis is a tacit admission by all concerned that they have more to lose than gain from not keeping those disagreements within bounds. Since the Soviet War, mortal society has developed a slight degree of "Reds under the bed" paranoia and suspicion that looks askance at unusual or suspicious behaviour, posing a serious threat to the secrecy of the shadow world unless its denizens conduct themselves discreetly. Traditionally, each Polis sends three representatives to the Curia Regis - there was general agreement that a wider membership would render the Council deadlocked and ineffectual

The Kindred

Prince Hugh Marlowe

The leader of the Invictus and the Kindred as a whole, Marlowe is a quiet and generally unassuming figure, who survives in his position by being a master manipulator with a knack for seeing four or five moves ahead of any other player. His sense of humour is as dry as old bone and as sharp as a razor - "so sharp", as Hierarch Mjöllnir once commented dryly, "that you often don't even notice you've been cut until some hours later"

There have been rumours and speculation for centuries regarding his relationship with the Elizabethan dramatist, Christopher Marlowe. The few details of his mortal life that he's let slip in casual conversation - notably that he served as an agent of Elizabeth I's master-spy, Sir Francis Walsingham - sound suspiciously similar to the playwright's, to the extent that many have wondered whether they might, in fact, one and the same person. On the other hand, starting a rumour like that as a subtle and elaborate practical joke is Marlowe's style through and through, and everyone knows it.

The foundation of his rule is intelligence, in both senses of the word. He doesn't remain Prince because he's stronger than any of his possible rivals, but because he's smarter and better-informed - and because he's skilfully arranged the game board so that anyone who might be able to remove him stands to lose out in a big way if they try. He's not a cold man - he's a warm and sympathetic figure to his few friends, in his understated way - but he is supremely calculating. He takes a bread-and-circuses approach to the Kindred, ensuring that all - even the lowest - have a stake in his rule and a share of the spoils. Perhaps he's simply guided by Machiavelli's dictum that "men must either be pampered or crushed, because they can get revenge for small injuries but not for grievous ones". His spy network, which some younger Kindred refer to as the "Eyes of the Night", is the most extensive and reliable of any Polis - and the best-run

It's an open secret that he's a best-selling novelist, the author of the "Kit Drake" espionage thrillers (The author the mortal world knows, James Defries, is one of his ghouls), and a rather less well-known secret that he's a Telegraph political columnist by way of another ghoul. His skill as a writer may lend some credence to the Kit Marlowe rumours, or it might be yet another of his in-jokes. Marlowe isn't saying.

Seneschal Thomas Wyncham, Kindred Primogen

Image of Thomas Wyncham by Ulysses0302, background by moonchild-ljilja. Please do not use without permission

The junior member of the partnership which has ruled the Kindred since the mid-eighteenth century, Thomas Wyncham is the fire to Marlowe's ice, the passion to his calculation. He also has a reputation as the Merlin to Marlowe's Arthur, thanks to his extensive knowledge of Theban Sorcery.

The childe of Simon Mercadier, the Sanctified Archbishop of London destroyed in the Invictus coup of 1744, Wyncham was a founder member of the Temple, the predecessor of the Curia Regis. He's a humanist and moralist whose fiercely vocal condemnation of Kindred abuse of mortals has won him many friends amongst the Mage Polis and a few enemies in his own, but those Kindred who have mistaken his principles for weakness have universally regretted it - although in the majority of cases, fairly briefly.

Wyncham is, indeed, extraordinarily human for a Kindred elder of his age and power. Embraced a few months short of his fifteenth birthday, he seems to retain a teenager's energy and enthusiasm, frozen in amber by the Kindred curse. His wild but lavish parties are a favourite amongst the younger members of all three Poli. On occasion, the high point of the festivities will be a dazzling display of fencing between Wyncham and Prince Marlowe, both of whom are noted duellists with centuries of experience and the supernatural stamina and strength of Kindred elders to call upon. Informally, their displays are known amongst the younger shadow set as "Matrixes", after the Keanu Reeves movie, despite Wyncham's pained protestations that it should really be "Matrices"

Wyncham isn't just a party boy, of course. He didn't survive the gruelling, lethally dangerous and often bloody campaign to oust his sire by being an empty-headed hedonist. In his own fashion, he's as clever and perceptive as Marlowe, although he prefers to rely on instinct, intuition and empathy rather than Marlowe's meticulous logic. Despite being hampered by the Gangrel clan weakness, he probably has the second-best political mind amongst the Kindred after the Prince himself.

Although keeping order amongst the Kindred is formally the responsibility of the Sheriff, Wyncham keeps his own staff of enforcers. His "lads", as he calls them, have similar backgrounds - ex-military personnel, with few family ties, who suffered battlefield injuries beyond the reach of conventional medicine but which could be healed by Wyncham's vitae. No other Kindred in London would be permitted to build up a tightly disciplined force of ghouls with military backgrounds, but Wyncham is well-trusted by Marlowe, and with good reason; the two are as close friends as it's possible for a pair of Kindred to be. The differences between their networks of servants reflect their personalities and roles - Marlowe has his "Eyes of the Night", whose primary function is to gather information, while Wyncham's retainers are focussed on direct, unsubtle action

The Seer, Hierophant of the Circle of the Crone and Kindred Primogen

First of the Norns (Skuld, the Crone)

With the Lancea Sanctum expelled from London, the Seer's position as the spiritual leader of London's Kindred is unchallenged. This has created its own problems; Christianity remains the dominant faith in mortal society, and the minority of Kindred who still cling to a religious viewpoint find the beliefs of their breathing days difficult to reconcile with the brutally harsh, polytheistic teachings of the Circle. On the other hand, the Sanctified ideology is itself a cruel perversion of Christian tenets, with little connection to the concept of Christ the Redeemer - as the Invictus are swift to point out to any doubters.

As a result, those Kindred who follow Christianity tend to join the Invictus, which shrewdly extends considerable tolerance to their faith provided that it doesn't interfere too much with Covenant business. Marlowe and Wyncham both discreetly encourage this trend; Marlowe because the Christians tend to be more socially cooperative, less power-hungry, and thus more likely to contribute to the Covenant's stability, and Wyncham because they tend to be more humane and compassionate than their fellows.

The Christians, however, are a distinct minority, both of the Invictus and the city's spiritually inclined Kindred population. The Circle of the Crone, on the other hand, numbers roughly a third of the city's Kindred, but command an influence out of proportion with their numbers. The membership is quite eclectic; many of them are scholars drawn to the Covenant's pagan roots, others are occultists with more interest in the Circle's blood sorcery than its religious doctrines, while a small but significant faction are counter-cultural rebels repulsed by the formality and stagnation of the Invictus.

Above them all, however, is the Seer, an ancient so powerful that she was able to dwell in London during the height of the Sanctified reign of terror, in open defiance of Mercadier's Blood Hunt against her. Considering the tremendous effort and unprecedented levels of cooperation that the three Poli were forced to resort to in order to destroy Mercadier's regime, that in itself is enough to make her a legend. Without her presence in the city and the protection she offered its agents, it's unlikely that the Temple could have operated there at all after de Courcey discovered the plot in 1697.

While she has never admitted her true age, it hasn't escaped anyone that she's an open worshipper of the gods of Rome. Her coldness and stillness send chills down a great many spines, particularly those Mages who are unused to dealing with Kindred elders. There are few who would call her friend and ever fewer upon who she would bestow the same honour in return, but she does genuinely command respect, not just fear, from all three Poli. Her intelligence, perception, and uncanny ability to see the future - as much through experience and shrewdness as supernatural insight, although she has no lack of the latter - guarantees that the Curia Regis will always at least hear her out, and it's a very rare thing for them to go against one of her recommendations, on those even rarer occasions when she deigns to offer one.

For her part, the Seer is content with the status quo. Her Covenant dominates the religious and spiritual life of the Kindred, and commands a near-monopoly of its knowledge of blood sorcery. As for routine administration and keeping order, she's perfectly happy to leave that to the dullards of the Invictus - if they won't be faithful, they might as well be useful, and Marlowe is careful to nip any anti-pagan moves by their Christian faction firmly in the bud.

The Mages

Colonel Jonathon Farrell, "Mjöllnir", Consilium Hierarch

Colonel Jonathon "Jack" Farrell was born in 1929, although thanks to the Life Arcanum, he looks closer to a well-weathered fifty than his actual age of almost eighty. The child of a comfortably wealthy upper-middle-class family - his father was a London stockbroker - he received an exclusive private education, and excelled in the School Corps. His parents were less than pleased by his decision to join the Army, but bowed to his wishes when they saw the strength of his determination.

His training was barely complete when Stalin made his audacious bid to seize most of Eastern Europe. Farrell's unit fought on the front lines of the conflict, seeing action in most of the Baltic States and eventually in Russia itself. Farrell distinguished himself repeatedly, winning many commendations not only for bravery but also for shrewd tactical sense and inspiring leadership.

During the final phase of the conflict, a rocket attack from a desperate Soviet counter-offensive hit his headquarters, setting it aflame and leaving almost two hundred troops trapped inside and in imminent danger of burning to death. Farrell passed out from smoke inhalation trying to find a way out, and found himself inscribing his name in the Watchtower of the Golden Key.

When he came around, newly Awakened onto the Obrimos Path, his instinctive, untrained use of his new powers was enough to clear an escape path out of the burning building before it collapsed. Over the next few weeks, he suffered what he at first assumed were hallucinations caused by the inhalation of toxic chemicals. It was only on his return to England, several months later, than he confided his trouble to his father, who immediately insisted that his son seek help from a Harley Street specialist.

Fortunately for Farrell, the specialist in question was a Mastigos Guardian of the Veil, who immediately recognized what had happened to Farrell and introduced his to Mage society. Farrell was a perfect fit for the Adamantine Arrow, although he wasn't a particularly active member of it until he retired from the Army in 1986. He found the idea of Shadow names faintly ridiculous, and the one he chose - Mjöllnir, the hammer of Thor - was actually a sort of in-joke, since "Mjöllnir" was the Allied name for the class of Soviet missile which had destroyed his headquarters and triggered his Awakening.

Following his retirement, he joined a political-military think tank, the Harrington Foundation, and enjoyed a new career as a commentator and analyst for the BBC until the late 1990s, when he decided it would be prudent to drop out of sight to prevent his longevity from becoming too obvious. In parallel to his media career, he was steadily climbing the ranks of the Adamantine Arrow. He was finally elected - by unanimous vote - to the position of Hierarch in 1999, and has held it ever since.

Farrell is a political moderate. His personal beliefs are a curious mixture of authoritarianism and democratic ideals. On the one hand, he saw first-hand how much damage an dictator can do when no-one has the power to check his excesses. On the other, he was shaped for decades by a military culture in which questioning the orders of a higher authority was actively discouraged. The sometimes-uneasy fusion of the two results makes the Hierarch a forceful and decisive leader, but one who tries, with rigid self-discipline, to stop and listen carefully to dissenting voices. Quiet-voiced, incisive, charismatic and a little abrupt, he inspires respect far more readily than friendship, but there is no serious rivals to his authority within the Mage Polis. Even his opponents in the Free Council find it hard to imagine anyone who could do the job any better than he does.

Dr Simeon Kent, "Lucifer", Head of the Mysterium

An Obrimos Master, the Head of the Mysterium is very good at his primary mission - ferreting out secrets. He's also very good at trading those secrets for power and influence, but subtly. Subtlety is in may ways Lucifer's watch-word; ostensibly an Establishment figure to his toenails, he plays the political game like a master violinist, all the while carefully cultivating the impression that he's a dedicated seeker of enlightened mysteries, above any petty preoccupation with temporal power

He and Mjöllnir duel each other for influence in an elaborate, mostly unseen dance, constrained by the need to present a united front to the other Poli. It's unlikely, however, that either would feel inclined to stand on the edge of a high cliff if the other were behind him...

Dr Irina Buchkiev, "Countess", Head of the Silver Ladder

The daughter of one of Stalin's secret police who defected and fled to England during the Soviet War, Irina Buchkiev holds half a dozen degrees in various aspects of politics and economics, specializing in Eastern Europe. A member of several prestigious think tanks (including the Harrington Institute, where she worked with the Hierarch on several projects), she's also lectured at Sandhurst. Politically, she's more of an autocrat than the Hierarch, firmly believing in rule by an enlightened few to guide the masses, the sort of "Vanguard of the Proletariat" idea she absorbed in her early Soviet education and from her father, She and the Hierarch nonetheless usually manage to find common ground politically, although she resents the Arrow's pre-eminence over the ladder in the internal politics of the Consilium.

Irina is in her late seventies, but appears about thirty years younger thanks to Life magic. A Mastigos to her finger-tips, she enjoys the mental challenge of manoeuvring for advantage against the master manipulators of the Kindred

The Uratha

Caspar Van Lutyens, Protector of the Guilds

The Caspar Van Lutyens of London-Alterna had no Blitz spirit to influence him growing up, for the Blitz never happened in his world. He did, however, spend his youth immersed in the culture of the Guilds, to whom his wolf-blooded relatives had strong connections. The Uratha had long been protectors of the Guilds, and Caspar's life-long involvement with them made him the ideal choice for the prestigious position of their Protector when the former holder of the post stepped down

Unlike his other self, he never really got into the antiquities business in a big way. Although he's still a fence par excellence, he tends to support the needs of the Guilds through an extensive chain of low-budget retail outlets, rather than supporting a few gold-collar specialists. He remains a highly respected - and feared - figure amongst London's underworld

Gareth Jones

The Gareth Jones of Alterna has gone far beyond a single, exclusive private gym, to a chain of health food shops, gyms, and most importantly, private clinics. The latter are important in providing free or subsidised health care to the Guilds - Caspar provided him with start-up capital and business expertise to develop his modest empire, in exchange for supplying the Guilds with help.

Gareth hasn't neglected the political interests of his counterpart, but his information sources and means of influence tend more towards grass-roots activists and away from a few high-profile political players, who tend to be viewed more as a concern of the Kindred. He's still an ambitious and skilled manipulator, but he and Caspar tend to operate as an effective partnership based on mutual respect, even though neither entirely trusts the other

Diana Gallow

With no Blitz to provide a wealth of opportunities for rebuilding the capital, the Diana Gallow of London Alterna is less of an architect and more of an artist than her counterpart. Like her other self, she's intimately involved in the maintenance of Highgate Cemetary, but she also has strong ties with the Church of England, which provides her with most of her commissions - mainly major projects to to with Cathedral restorations. She's highly active in educational projects, sponsoring a number of apprentice-based schemes to train traditional craftsmen. Some of these, intended to "rehabilitate violent and troubled children", are a discreet cover for monitoring wolf-blooded children on the verge of undergoing their First Changes. Unquestionably First Amongst Equals in the Uratha Contingent of the Curia Regis, her input is mostly confined to broad policy issues, leaving the nitty-gritty of implementation to Caspar Van Lutyens and Gareth Jones