Dr. Eleanor Verne has spent her entire life - and undeath - in an uphill fight to do the right thing. The child of an English mother and an African father, she faced down racism, sexism and the old boy network to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor. At at time when a woman - especially a black woman - had to be not just as good as her white male colleagues, but significantly better, she was a hell of a lot better. Which added professional jealousy to the problems she had to face, but she proved more than equal to that challenge, as she had to every other.
But she was human, and even with her formidable reserves of courage and will, she needed a way to cope with the stress. Unfortunately, the way she chose was a twenty-a-day cigarette habit that left her with lung cancer. The prognosis was terminal.
Her sire was a Ventrue ancilla of the First Estate, who knew of her work through his mortal retainers and herd, a number of whom were her patients. Perceptive up to a point, he saw in her a truly unconquerable will, worthy of the name Invictus. He introduced himself to her socially, seduced her, and Embraced her - without her consent - in what was supposed to be a night of passion.
She was furious, outraged, and revolted by what she'd become. Her sire had seen only her incredible determination to succeed, without understanding the compassion and ethical code that lay behind it. About the only thing that stopped her from facing the sun - about the only thing that stops her to this night, if she's honest - was that refusing to give up is too ingrained a habit for her to break.
If you're going to be a Kindred, the Carthian Web suggested, you might as well be a moral one. By that time, she was savvy enough to doubt whether there was such a thing as a moral Kindred, but she figured that the Web was as close as she was going to get. Certainly closer than the First Estate, which she walked away from without a backward glance.
The Carthians already had an established hierarchy, but beating entrenched old fools at their own game, by being better than they were, was nothing new to her. And as the Carthians came to know her, they realized two things. First, she really was, for the most part, better than they were, and second, astonishingly... they liked her anyway. That in itself wouldn't have been enough to secure her the position of Prefect against far older and more powerful Kindred. But when those older Kindred were looking for a compromise candidate for a position that they weren't willing to concede to each other, a natural choice was someone with a lot of friends, no real enemies... and not enough power or experience to be a serious threat in her own right.
Embraced in 1973, Eleanor Verne is still a neonate, but she's a very capable one. She's not universally popular - she's the public face of the Web faction, whose views are controversial amongst the Kindred - but she's respected, even by her opponents (and almost miraculously, opponents are the worst she has to worry about - she still hasn't made any actual enemies).
She served on the Kindred Council from 1980 - 2008. Her decision to stand down from the Council baffled many Kindred, and she refused to explain her reasons. The truth would cost her almost all her support amongst her fellow undead. Seeking some way to bring some good out of the Kindred curse, she had already begun clandestine experiments in using vitae to cure or arrest cancer before the existence of Wayland's Smithy was discovered. When she learned of the organization, she approached it with a proposal for a joint research project. Wyncham agreed to "overlook" the matter, in exchange for her not opposing Andrej Stolypin's elevation to the Council
Her collaboration with Wayland's Smithy continues. Wyncham has approached the Smithy, warning them that any attempt to exploit the relationship for reasons other than medical research will be taken by the Kindred as a de facto declaration of war. So far, the Smithy has heeded his warning.
Without a doubt, Katherine Shaw was one of the greatest actresses to ever trod the boards of London’s theatrical stages. Renowned for her perfection, creativity, brevity, flawless diction, and radiant presence, few could claim to be her equal. Colleagues and audiences alike referred to her as “The Great Kate”. She was as adept at drama as she was at comedy or tragedy, and Shakespeare was clearly her forte. It was said that, whenever Katherine performed in one of his plays, the Bard himself watched in awe from his place in Heaven. Beloved throughout the continent, hosted by royalty and the cream of the aristocracy, adored by the masses, her personal and professional lives were as close to perfection as was possible.
It seemed a sorrowful waste that, a mere eighteen years after her illustrious career began, Katherine Shaw died penniless, without friend or patron, in a tiny, forgotten alleyway in Edinburgh, wasted away from alcohol and opium addiction, starving, and riddled with disease.
However tragic her demise, the Great Kate would later remark that, like the phoenix, her subsequent resurrection only added to her legend.
She was born in 1844 just outside Stirling, Scotland, the only child of a fairly affluent family. A keen interest in literature led to a lifelong love of Shakespeare and, despite her family’s protests that a career in the legitimate theatre was not something a lady should pursue, Kate would not be persuaded to give up her dream.
Katherine Shaw eventually found herself in London and obtained the services of one of the most respected theatrical agents in the city - Richard Bosworth. With his guidance and financial advice, her career flourished and it seemed no part was beyond her reach. Along with critical acclaim came considerable wealth and countless suitors. While she had a succession of lovers, no man could hold Kate’s affection for very long. In truth, her dedication to her craft was quite genuine and she felt that the adoration bestowed on her by the public was the only true and constant love she required.
As she grew older, Kate easily progressed from younger roles to ones more mature. At the age of only 30, she played Hamlet’s duplicitous mother, Gertrude - a part many said she was too young to play. It became her greatest triumph. It was rumored that Queen Victoria herself attended the play four times. Sadly, it was at the height of her fame that Katherine Shaw’s career came to its untimely end.
Stories began to circulate about Richard Bosworth’s personal life, in particular, his desire for much younger lovers. He had been seen, it was said, ushering young girls into his lavishly furnished townhouse. Furthermore, there was a certain ‘gentlemen’s club’ which catered to these tastes - a place called “The Eastern Palace” - and rumors floated about the city that Bosworth had financially invested in the establishment.
A late night raid on this wretched establishment revealed a number of sad truths: Bosworth was, in fact, the sole owner of the Eastern Palace. It employed not only underaged girls, but young boys as well. Several similar ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ - located in London, Bath, and Glasgow - were also owned by him. It had taken all of his own wealth (and most of Kate’s, unbeknownst to her) to finance these ventures.
The scandal hit the London newspapers and soon spread throughout the country and on to the Continent. Bosworth was arrested and sent to prison, where, not more than six months later, he committed suicide.
Unable to prove she had no knowledge of how her money had been invested, Katherine Shaw’s career was in ruin. Within days of Bosworth’s arrest, the triumphant production of ‘Hamlet’ came to an abrupt end. The newspapers delighted in printing hearsay and gossip, and the actress had no other recourse but to retreat to an estate in the country, owned by steadfast (though somewhat Byronesque) friends who assured her that, in time, all would be forgotten.
Unfortunately, along with the scandal came profound depression. Kate, with the encouragement of her bohemian cohorts, turned to drink, then opium. Weeks of leisure (and increasing debauchery) turned to months. Kate went through what remained of her money. When that was gone, she borrowed. When no one would lend to her, she escaped England and went home.
Her parents were both dead by this time and the money she’d inherited already gone. Kate had nowhere to live in Edinburgh. Addiction had weakened her thin body and, in utter desperation, she turned to prostitution to earn enough for a small room.
In late October of 1876, the great and beloved Katherine Shaw, fatally ill with influenza, having serviced three customers in the course of an evening, slumped against the wall of Advocate’s Close, just off the Royal Mile, not far from Edinburgh Castle. She’d consumed a half bottle of gin and, thoroughly drunk and cold, Kate hoped that, God willing, she’d be far too numb to feel death take her.
And take her it did, but not in the way she’d expected.
Kate’s final human vision was that of a monster, staring into her face, its expression a strange mixture of boundless joy and extreme sadness. Its skin was white, its eyes black, and its countless teeth pointed and very sharp. When it spoke, the words were almost indecipherable, but the sound was an unmistakable Scottish brogue.
“Don’t ye worry none, child. Ah’ll save ye from this Hell.”
Some would insist that what followed was a nightmare. Katherine has always referred to it as a ‘wonderful dream’ - but then, she’s always had a flair for the dramatic...
Present day - Katherine Shaw’s haven is the top floor of an elegant old house on Bedford Street, in the theatre district, not far from Covent Garden and St. Paul’s. The lower two floors are occupied by solicitor's offices (whose clients are primarily theatrical folk), who are unaware of Kate’s presence and have no access to the upper level. Her apartments are elegantly furnished and in keeping with 19th century fashions of the day.
Kate has retained her former beauty and seems even more regal in unlife. Her demeanor remains that of a diva - an elegant, unfailingly polite and composed Lady - well aware of her own talents, gracious, sometimes haughty - every inch the ‘grande dame’.
The result of her Nosferatu Embrace, however, is a strange and extremely disturbing aura - one of death and decay. At one moment, she is classically beautiful, but when the light shifts, her face becomes that of a corpse - empty sockets and rotted flesh rotted, revealing the bone underneath. There are few who feel entirely comfortable in her company.
Kate is alone most of the time, save for her most devoted audience - her rats. A dozen or so are almost always by her side, attuned to her every move and gesture, as they await her commands. It is an unexpected gift after her embrace, but one that she finds most comforting. She dotes on them and they, in turn, are eager to please her and share all the news of the city. They are her eyes and ears. In addition, she is aided in her information gathering by her vampiric ‘siblings’ - Eugene and Farquar. Though in Edinburgh, the pair are masters of the internet. Never leaving their small room in the bowels of Edinburgh’s underground warrens, no website, files, or communication/security systems are impervious to their tampering.
A infrequent visitor is her sire, Kestor. Though his primary haven and responsibilities are in Edinburgh, he can never resist spending time in the company of his favorite childe.
Katherine is also the Guardian of the Theatre Royal, a Kindred Elysium classified by the Ordo Dracul as a Wyrm's Nest because of its heavily haunted nature. She was sponsored for the position by Thomas Wyncham when she was a freshly minted neonate newly arrived in London, and has held it ever since.
François Simonet de Coulmier was born in 1779 in Dijon and went on to become a French Catholic priest and abbot, and the director of the Charenton insane asylum in France in the early 19th century. Despite his significant work in psychotherapy, today de Coulmier is known primarily for his interactions with the Marquis de Sade, having been the asylum director when Sade was institutionalized. His semi-enlightened administration of Charenton was of concern to France's medical establishment, which opposed Coulmier because he was not a medical doctor. He was often criticized for his "overly liberal" methods of treatment, as he favored allowing patients the right to express themselves via art, and discouraged the more primitive habits of crude physical restraint and punishment of mental patients of the day.
The Abbe had unwittingly attracted the attention of a vampire and by 1816 he had been embraced into the Clan Mekhet for his insights into the darkness of the soul. Leaving a deformed Mortal to live out the last two years of his life as a smoke screen, François travelled to London at his sires request, to further distance himself from his meager fame and to start his requiem in a fresh land. His sire, a member of the Ordo Dracul, had schooled him in the philosophy of embracing change and François was a quick study in the Sect's lessons. He began to haunt the edges of British medical society. He even ministered to the "unfortunates" of Bethlem Royal Hospital, the infamous Bedlam, where he studied at the hospital library, and continued to pour over the books his sire and mentor sent him once he had finished with them. He in turn studied the patients and reported back what he discovered of their inner turmoil's.
Even as a vampire. the Abbe's dedication to others could not be fully denied and he continued to act as priest to the mortals he could fool into accepting him as one of their kind. Over time his readiness to listen and his softly spoken advice garnered for him a reputation and a new role, as confessor to the Ordo Dracul. By the time the Bedlam hospital was moved in 1930, François had already succumbed to Torpor and he remained that way until the mid 1990’s. Since awaking from torpor, François has remained interested in the mental health profession, and has maintained a close relationship with his adopted mortal flock.
François deliberately maintains two opposing persona's as part of his quest for enlightenment, one as the quiet and dedicated scholar, one of the orders confessors and another as a socialite and haunter of London's nightspots. François often uses his Auspex to mask the monster within so that he can pose as a priest to mortals, listen to their confessions and act as their confident. He dresses monochromatically, a sign of the warring natures within him. Official engagements and meeting of the Dragons usually see him dressed as a catholic priest, while socializing might elicit a crisp white suit or black silk shirt and slacks. For this secular persona the Abbe often adopts the pseudonym Simon.
"Bloody" Mary Aldridge is Thomas Wyncham's rival in the quiet struggle for the heart and soul of the Ordo Dracul. She's neither cruel nor sadistic, but she is both callous and ruthless, to a degree that frequently appals the humanists
Born around 1628 to a poor London family, she was forced into prostitution at an early age, just to survive. As Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army came together, she became one of its camp-followers, and caught the eye of an unusually competent barber-surgeon named Geoffrey Aldridge. Through an accident of circumstance, she found herself at his side in the thick of battle, and was pressed into service as an extra pair of hands to help treat the wounded.
Aldridge was impressed with her steady hands and steadier stomach, and began using her as an unofficial assistant on a regular basis. Their relationship deepened, and eventually, much to the chagrin of his moderately prosperous family of yeoman farmers, developed into marriage.
Surprisingly, Mary managed to win them around with her competence and willingness to work hard. She proved to have - by the standards of the seventeenth century - a remarkable aptitude for medicine, and soon many of the estate's workers were coming to her for help.
Unfortunately, one of her patients - a labourer who had had an accident with a scythe - died of blood poisoning. It wasn't Mary's fault, but that didn't stop the dead man's family denouncing her as a witch - a dangerous accusation in Cromwell's England. Matters got out of hand, and both Mary and her husband were arrested and placed on trial
Mary's sire was an Invictus Knight who had been assigned to eliminate the witch-hunter who had arrested her. The Invictus was enormously impressed with Mary, but less so with her husband Killing two birds with one stone, he allowed the witch-hunter to execute Geoffrey Aldridge, and then offered Mary the Embrace as a route to revenge. In a splendid piece of poetic justice, they successfully framed the hunter as a witch
Like Wyncham, Mary maintained dual membership of the Invictus and the Ordo Dracul until the Dragons broke away in 1897. Unlike him, she was never politically visible in the London domain, preferring to concentrate on her own studies. Her belated involvement in the Dragons own internal politics was a reaction to what she saw as Wyncham's "corruption" of pure scientific principle with ethical considerations that she regarded as irrelevant. As the oldest and most accomplished of the Researchers, she became the leader of the faction more or less by default
While Wyncham pursues the Great Work through psychology, Mary Aldridge thinks in terms of physical processes. She has kept up to date with the latest advances in medicine, and is in fact quite an accomplished surgeon - with her Coils allowing her to circumvent the Kindred's usual reaction to the sight and smell of blood. She maintains an extensive range of contacts throughout the scientific and medical community, and regularly publishes papers in medical and scientific journals, albeit under false identities
She was never interested in politics, and doesn't welcome her de facto leadership of the Researchers, but she considers the issue at stake important enough to grit her teeth and accept the role.
Beatrice Holmes came early into the world of espionage. As a young girl in Victorian India, she watched her father, an Army Colonel, play the Great Game against Russia. Her husband and two of her three sons worked for the secret service, and most remarkably, for the time, so did she - well into her seventies. She made the perfect courier for sensitive diplomatic packages - who, after all, would suspect an elderly and slightly dotty old widow, touring the world in her dotage, to have the nerve or strength of will to risk her life carrying top-secret information under the very noses of hostile foreign police and army offficers? Certainly no-one would expect such an obviously harmless old dear to be a crack shot with a Derringer - at least at short ranges where her failing eyesight wasn't an issue.
Her sire, at least, wasn't fooled by her, although he was enormously impressed. He reasoned that, with the frailties of age removed by the Embrace, her natural abilities, combined with a lifetime of experience, would make her a perfect recruit for the Invictus. He was right. Beatrice found the adjustment to unlife difficult, but she knew that her mortal years were drawing to a close, and she resented being forced to leave the game before she'd grown bored with it.
She was, however, a patriot. So when her sire, Angus Deacon, not only fled London in the face of the Blitz, but was found to be consorting with a German spy ring in London itself in order to hedge his bets, she was coldly and implacably furious. She didn't reject the First Estate, but she did write off the cowards who'd fled the German bombing as unworthy of their power and authority. Instead, she chose to begin rebuilding the Invictus from the ranks of those who'd proved their strength and courage by remaining.
She has gradually come to realize that her extra few decades of mortal experience count for far more, amongst the stagnant Kindred, than decades or centuries of unlife. Elder Kindred are just that - old - but Beatrice is mature and experienced, a very important distinction, and one that has made her the leader of London's Inner Circle after only a few decades.
In person, she's soft-spoken and unassuming. Raising her voice and losing her temper isn't her style. A quiet knife in the back, she maintains, is worth any amount of histrionics, and it's that management philosophy which has garnered her a great deal of respect - and fear - from her fellow Invictus.
Luke Gregson was born the son of yeoman farmers in the mid-eighteenth century. Clever, unscrupulous, ruthless, greedy, and somewhat violent, he turned to highway robbery in his twenties in a calculated effort to better his lot in life
He succeeded well enough that he was able to establish himself as a respectable landowner with connections to various London mercantile interests by the time he was in his fifties. His sire was impressed at how well he managed the transition and how completely he managed to put his criminal past behind him once he had gained what he wanted from it
Gregson was an effective enforcer and a skilled financier, but to his sire's disappointment, he never had much of a head for politics. Or, if he were honest, much interest in it
In that sense, his decades-long partnership with Beatrice Holmes has been providential for them both. He provides the money and the strong right arm of the Inner Circle; she provides the expertise in politics, intrigue and intelligence gathering. The two have formed an enduring partnership and something approaching a friendship
Sylvester Goldsmith is an unliving contradiction. As a banker and financier, he's been insatiably dedicated to lining his own pockets since long before his Embrace in 1864. Yet he's also a dedicated patriot and - since his Embrace - a devoted follower of the First Estate, who has time and again sacrificed his own financial self-interest for the good of the country or the Invictus
He's not politically ambitious in a personal sense. He supports the First Estate because he genuinely believes that stability provides the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and that traditional methods and traditional values, as embodied by the Invictus, are the best way to achieve stability
Sylvester is considered a Young Turk by default, simply because of his frequently and vocally expressed disgust at the Exiles for abandoning the city in its hour of need. In truth, however, his loyalty is the the Covenant as a whole, making him the closest thing the Inner Circle has to a swing vote