Although the Garou and Mages both claim to be the earliest supernatural inhabitants of the British Isles, the truth is that they arrived together, crossing from the European mainland among the tribes who would become the ancient Britons, and the land in which they settled was already host to fierce battles between the Firstborn and Inanimae of the Summer and Winter Courts of the Fae.
Those early Mages were an ur-Fellowship of tribal shamans, allied with (or more frequently, subordinate to), the Garou. The Impergium provoked a split in their ranks. One faction, the ancestors of the Spirit Talkers, chose loyalty to Gaia, the spirits, and the Garou above solidarity with their fellow humans. The other, which would eventually evolve into the Old Faith, sided with their fellow humans against the werewolves. They resisted the Garou's savage cull with every resource at their disposal, including Oath-bound alliances with the Summer and Winter Courts of the Fae. Eventually, these pacts influenced the very shape of their magic, promoting a seasonally-focused paradigm mirroring that of the Fae Courts.
By the time the Impergium ended, the proto-Old Faith and the Garou were irreconcilable enemies, and rivals for power over the mortal tribes. The Spirit Talkers, disregarded as lesser beings by the Garou and hated by many of their fellow tribesmen, were marginalized and frequently driven out of their communities.
An uneasy balance of power persisted between the Old Faith and the Garou for centuries, before it was disrupted by Britain's first Cainite immigrants, the pagan Lhiannan. Fleeing from a distant and long-forgotten conflict on the steppes of Asia, they carved out a substantial power base for themselves at the expense of both werewolves and Mages. The three-way struggle between them had already been raging for several centuries when a second wave of vampire settlers, the Gangrel, started to arrive. According the Gangrel legend, the Lhiannan were "betrayers", (though of who, or what, they do not say), who owed a debt of blood to the Gangrel.
The Old Faith, who had been losing ground to their two rivals, neither knew nor cared whether the Gangrel's claims were true. What mattered to them was that these savage newcomers could be badly needed allies against the Lhiannan and Garou. Negotiations were neither easy nor devoid of sometimes-lethal friction, but eventually, an uneasy pact was forged between them. At its core was the leader of the Gangrel, an ancient blood sorceress sired by the Gangrel Antediluvian herself, and a circle of eight Old Faith priestesses who served as their Fellowship's strategic and tactical Brain Trust. Their first combined action was a complete success, ousting the fourth-generation Lhiannan who ruled Ynys Mon from her Domain, and forcing her to flee. They renamed themselves the Circle of Nine, with the Gangrel Methuselah taking the title of "Eldest Sister", and established their own base of power on the island.
The Garou, of course, were doubly enraged that their long-term rivals had allied themselves with Leeches, and reacted with savage attacks against the Old Faith's villages and communities that rapidly escalated into a near-revival of the Impergium. The Circle of Nine needed a weapon to check the werewolves' attacks.
They forged it from the son of a local chieftain, a young warrior renowned for his cunning, resourcefulness and ingenuity. The Eldest Sister Embraced the young man at the climax of a powerful ritual that left echoes of the magic of the Old Faith and Winter Fae coursing through his Gangrel blood. Those Fae and Mages with an affinity for Winter found his presence invigorating, even inspiring; in battle, they were able to channel their power through his body, granting him a strength beyond the already considerable might of the fifth-generation Cainite. Those advantages came at a price; the Winter King, as he soon came to be known, was unable to use any Disciplines which controlled the mind or emotions, and his otherwise potent blood could never form a blood oath. The Circle of Nine, itself an uneasy coalition battling numerous enemies, had no wish to see their formidable new General build his own independent power base.
The Winter King, backed by the Circle of Nine and their Fae allies, gradually turned the tide against the Garou and Lhiannan forcing the former to retreat and leaving the latter broken and scattered. It wasn't until some centuries later, with the arrival of the Celts and their druid priests, that the Lhiannan achieved a partial resurgence, using the druids as a front. The Circle, in turn, sought to infiltrate and control the druidic movement in order to keep the Lhiannan in check. Preoccupied with their shadow war, neither side really noticed the arrival of a third force that was destined to lay them both low.
In 60. A.D., the legions of ancient Rome arrived on the shores of Britain in force. Accompanying them was their god of war, the Ventrue Methuselah Mithras, and his Mage allies, a corrupted faction of the Roman Cult of Mercury who followed Mithraism.
The society of England, now largely Celtic, fought back against the invasion, but disunity among the various tribes didn't help. Nor did the fact that one of the most powerful unifying forces in Celtic-British society, druidism, was itself split by the struggle for dominance between the Lhiannan and the Circle of Nine.
At the time of the invasion, the Circle of Nine was in the ascendant in this long struggle, and what little co-ordination there was to the native resistance was centered around their stronghold of Ynys Mon. Sensing an opportunity, the Lhiannan encouraged both the mortals and Mithras' Ventrue to believe that all native resistance was directed by the Circle. They hoped that the Circle and the Romans would destroy each other, leaving the Lhiannan free to move into the resultant power vacuum.
Mithras applied his tactical and strategic brilliance to the problem of Ynys Mon. A few probing attacks swiftly convinced him that a frontal assault was out of the question. The Circle's magical wards made it enormously difficult for unfriendly Cainites - or Mages - even to approach the place. Those who attempted it experienced excruciating pain as they drew nearer to the isle, eventually collapsing into torpor or (in the case of mortal magicians), death, once they got too close. And without the support of their supernatural puppet-masters, the mortal legions would be easy meat for the Circle's spells and Gangrel warriors.
Tricky. To overcome the Circle, Mithras concluded, would require a betrayal from within, someone who could get his vampires or their Mercurian allies past the wards.
A couple of years of patient spying identified a possible prospect, a Mage who served as one of the island's guardians, but whose family lived in land under Roman occupation. Mithras had the man's daughter and their two children placed under arrest, and personally captured him when he came to rescue them. The captive was placed under a Blood Oath, and handed over to the Order of Mercury for interrogation.
With the captured Mage's knowledge, the Mercurians found a way to breath the wards. Ynys Mon burned. The Mercurians held off the Circle's magical counter-offensive by the narrowest of margins, though it cost them the lives of five of their number. The Circle's champion, the Winter King, attacked Mithras himself. Although he was of slightly weaker blood than the Ventrue, the Winter King was far older, more experienced, and empowered with whatever magic the Circle and its allies could spare. He slew Mithras' personal bodyguards, two of the Ventrue's own childer, in mere seconds, and drove Mithras himself into torpor. The Winter King, too, was in torpor by the end of the battle, and the inert bodies of the two titans were dragged away by their allies in the chaos.
Nonetheless, the Circle lost the battle, and fled their stronghold. The legions triumphed.
The Mage who had betrayed the Circle was discovered shortly thereafter, and confessed after the witches magically destroyed his Blood Oath. Taking the name Pryderi, "accursed", he asked to be executed for what he saw as his betrayal, but the Circle refused. His actions, they argued, were the result of supernatural compulsion - he was not responsible for what he had done, and should not be condemned for it. They believed that he needed time - time to make peace with himself, time, perhaps, to gain vengeance on Mithras.
So they passed a sentence, not of death, but of life. They subjected him to a magical ritual that broke off shards of his soul and scattered them amongst a number of women, who become pregnant and bore children whose souls were grown from the fragments of Pryderi's own, much as a plant is grown from a sapling. Those children, in turn, went on to bear children whose souls were grown from their fragments of Pryderi's soul. As long as one of the descendants of the ritual lived, Pryderi would be immortal, able to regenerate any injury, even decapitation or incineration. In time, he discovered that he could project his own soul out of his body and join it with the soul of any of the children, becoming a sort of gestalt entity in which their two souls were merged together.
Pryderi never managed to forgive himself, but he spent the next few centuries scheming incessantly against Mithras. The feud only went into (temporary) abeyance when the Ventrue dropped into torpor in 409 A.D.
The Lhiannan, meanwhile, had not profited from their betrayal as much as they had hoped. With the back of native resistance broken, they found their sacred groves despoiled, their herds scattered, and their very unlives threatened by triumphant Roman Cainites. The Circle, by contrast, stealthily reclaimed their old stronghold, working through the emergent Romano-British class which gradually developed through the fusion of Roman and native peoples. Within a century, they were once again the masters of Ynys Mon, albeit now in secret.
With Rome gone, and the legions recalled, Britannia disintegrated into a collection of warring fiefdoms. The Romano-British vampires, mostly Mithraic Ventrue, were accustomed to working through subtle influence over mortal bureaucracies - they were ill-suited for unlife amid the chaos of the barbarian invasions. Within a century of Rome's fall, most had been destroyed. In their place came the less sophisticated, but more vigorous, Brujah and Gangrel Cainites who had accompanied the invading Saxons.
London suffered badly from the fall of Rome, becoming little-more than a hollowed-out shell of its former self. A few vampires continued to eke out a precarious existence amongst the ruins. One was the Jackdaw. Another was a cabal of Cappadocians led by a vampire named Maxentius. Former members of the Cult of Mercury, the Cappadocians had come to Britain in search of a magical means to raise large numbers of undead troops to fight for the dying Empire, and had willingly accepted the Embrace in the hope of unlocking the secrets of undeath.
As diminished as London had become, however, there were still those who were interested in claiming it. In 521, one of them swept into the city, destroying all before her and establishing herself as the city's de facto Prince (although she never laid claim to the title).
She took the name of Morrigan, the ancient battle-crow of Celtic myth. In truth, however, she had walked the lands of Britain for far longer than any Celt. The Lhiannan ancient who had been defeated and forced to flee by the Circle of Nine, so long ago, had arisen after her torpor was disturbed by the clash of arms between the Anglo-Saxon invaders and the Romano-British. Sensing a dormant site of great, mystical power in London, with no-one left with the strength to deny it to her, she seized the opportunity to gain a new Domain in place of the one the Circle had usurped.
For a time, her power seemed secure. In 596 A.D., however, she awoke from her daytime sleep, plagued by nightmarish visions of a burning cross, fire, and her own destruction. She puzzled over these images, aware that they were somehow linked to the old Roman religion of Christianity but unable to guess what they portended.
What they portended was the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury, sent from Rome to oversee the conversion of the English.
The Morrigan was taken aback by the extent to which the followers of this new religion seemed to wield the power of True Faith. She'd been in torpor during the centuries of Christianity's rise, and while she recognized in it certain elements drawn from Mithraism, the old Mithraic cults had never attracted so many nor so fervent believers. Fearing that she would only draw attention to herself by working against the missionaries directly, she chose instead to keep a low profile
It worked for a while, but in 841 A.D., a young group of Christian missionaries finally discovered her and -they thought - destroyed her, tracking her to her haven and burning her as she slept by day. They lost more than two-thirds of their number - including all of their most experienced and powerful members - in the process, and they never found her body, but by the time the sun set, they were the owners of her subterranean lair. Eventually, the Morrigan's former domain was converted by the Red Order into a Library for blasphemous and forbidden times, the Library of St. John the Beheaded.
Maxentius' Cappadocian cabal had been driven from London by the Morrigan, but they had managed to establish a power-base elsewhere. They chose to work through the Cainite Heresy, seeing it as the key to assembling the large groups of believers upon which their Mercurian magical principles - now adapted into vampire blood sorcery - depended.
On the night of Beltane, in AD 1000, they performed a great ritual working before the entrance to Wayland's Smithy, the Neolithic barrow which had been the site of their very first researches, back in the fourth century. With them were a congregation of about a hundred mortal Heretics, who were expecting the ritual to translate them into Heaven.
They got a one-way trip into the spirit world, all right, but Heaven it most assuredly was not. As the barriers between the worlds of spirit and matter fell away, the entire assembly found itself transported into the shadow lands, the dark spirit world of the restless dead. Worse, the breach in the barriers proved to be a temporary phenomenon. They sealed themselves behind Maxentius and his followers, leaving them trapped.
At first, the Cappadocians considered this a temporary inconvenience. All they needed to do was repeat the ritual, breach the barrier from the other side, and return to the world of the living. But then they discovered another problem. As dead things themselves, the lands of the dead exerted a strong attraction upon them, dragging them back whenever they tried to cross over into the living world. Their mortal followers were able to escape - and the coterie sent a good number of them back to the lands of the living, realizing that they would need agents in the outside world to keep them supplied with food - but the vampires themselves could not. For years, they eked out a precarious existence in the Shadowlands, mostly in torpor. Their mortal servants used hedge magic to send them human and animal victims on those nights - such as Beltane and Samhain - when the veil was weak, but these occasional sacrifices could do little more than keep them from starving.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Europe, another group of survivors of the Cult of Mercury had embarked on an enterprise which was to have a profound effect on English Cainite society. Trianoma, a powerful maga and former Mercurian who had been wandering Europe for about three hundred years after the fall of Rome, formed an alliance with Bonisagus, a brilliant magical researcher who had developed the Parma Magica, a sorcerous shield which could protect its wielder from hostile magic. With the Parma Magica as an insurance against treachery, twelve of the greatest surviving magi in Europe met at Durenmar, Germany, in 767 A.D., and formed the Order of Hermes, a new fellowship dedicated to preserving the old Roman ways of magic. Also included in their number were a German shape shifter, Bjornar, and Diedne, a follower of the Druidic magical tradition. Each Founder gathered followers into a House, dedicated to preserving his personal style and philosophy of sorcery. Tremere, the youngest and weakest Founder, established his base in the Carpathians, where he found himself immediately embroiled in a struggle with the vampires of Clan Tzimisce, who claimed the "land beyond the forest" as their own domain.
House Diedne spread throughout Britain and north-west Europe. Pryderi, himself a follower of the Druidic school, became one of its first members. He had lacked a focus since his arch-enemy Mithras had dropped into torpor, and he was delighted to see his own culture and traditions revived so successfully.
Little did he know...
According to the histories of Clan Tremere, it was in the year 1000 A.D. that magic began to die.
Rituals, once unfailingly reliable, suddenly ceased to work, or worked only at greatly reduced power. Once-plentiful sources of vis, the raw stuff of magic, started to dry up. Worst of all, the longevity potions which had once granted the magi near-immortality began to fail.
Tremere and his followers weren't the type to accept this meekly. Dozens of different lines of research commenced, studying the problem from every conceivable angle. None yielded practical results. So the Tremere started to cast their net wider, looking for beings who already possessed forms of immortality which did not rely upon Hermetic magic.
But the House did not neglect its primary passion - politics - while all this was going on. There would, after all, be no point in living forever if one were forced to do it in powerless obscurity - at least, not in the mind of a Tremere Mage. House Tremere took every opportunity to gain additional power within the Order of Hermes.
One of the greatest obstacles to their ambitions was House Diedne, the strongest and most numerous House throughout north-western Europe, and one which had little taste for being dominated, by the Tremere or anyone else. Tremere and his Inner Circle decided that, one way or another, House Diedne would have to be removed. Goratrix, one of the Inner Councillors, had other motives besides politics for favoring action against the Diedne - even at that early stage, he was studying the nature of vampirism for clues to immortality magic, and he felt sure that the Diedne, masters of blood magic, knew many secrets which could help him.
The clinching factor was the news, from a spy planted within the Diedne ranks, that a powerful immortal, his longevity apparently unaffected by the decline in magic, dwelt amongst the Diedne of Wales. If there was one, reasoned the Tremere, was it reasonable to assume that there was only one? It was not. The leaders of House Diedne must all be immortals, who reserved this greatest secret for themselves, not even sharing it with their own lesser ranks. Yet what if, one day, they did? The offer of life everlasting would be a powerful bargaining chip with the rest of the Order of Hermes, one which might trump all the Tremere's carefully built accumulation of favors and influence.
There was nothing else for it. House Diedne would have to go. And the Tremere would take their knowledge.
Unfortunately, House Diedne was larger and more powerful than House Tremere. And even if it weren't, a pitched battle between only two Hermetic Houses would do serious - perhaps irreversible - damage to both, whichever eventually came out on top. To achieve more than a pyrrhic victory, the Tremere needed a way to draw the other Hermetic Houses into the fight.
So they manufactured one.
Dark rumors started to spread through the Hermetic Order. The Diedne were infernalists. The Diedne powered their rites with human sacrifice. The Diedne were plotting to take over the Order of Hermes. The whispering campaign had its effect in isolating and weakening the Diedne politically, but by itself, it wasn't enough. The House was simply too large and too powerful for mere innuendo to destroy it.
What did destroy it was evidence that the rumors were true. A minor Diedne chantry was destroyed in a mundane conflict between two mortal barons in northern France; magi who arrived there to recover any valuables not destroyed in the fighting found underground sacrificial chambers, stacked with exsanguinated bodies. Non-Diedne magi who had known quarrels with their Diedne counterparts were found slain in a number of gruesome ways. Pockets of infernal power began to crop up around Diedne strongholds. Accusation piled upon accusation until finally, when the Tremere declared Wizard's War on House Diedne, fully half the Order's magi were ready to stand with them.
What the Order didn't realize was that the impressive accumulation of evidence was almost entirely fabricated, concocted by specially formed cabals of ambitious, able young Tremere magi. These "war cabals", as they were known to Tremere and his Inner Council, joined in the fighting once the so-called "Schism War" erupted. Their task in the conflict wasn't principally to fight, but to loot the Diedne chantries of the information which the Tremere had gone to war to acquire - particularly anything to do with immortality. Their primary quarry, Pryderi, escaped them on several occasions, destroying many of their number in the process. One particular War Cabal, led by a brilliant and daring young Mage named Hugh Mortimer, learned the truth of Pryderi's history and nature from the records of the Diedne chantry where he'd lived for decades as a teacher, but the one thing they really wanted - the spell which had granted Pryderi immortality, the Ritual of the Sundered Soul - had never been written down.
By 1012, House Diedne had been destroyed, although House Tremere had lost half of its own membership in the fighting. Even Tremere and his Inner Circle were taken aback by the savagery of the magical battles, and the experience had concentrated their minds on what would happen of the rest of the Order of Hermes ever realized that they'd been tricked. If mighty Diedne could fall, the depleted ranks of the Tremere would be easy prey. Precautions would need to be taken to ensure that the truth never came to light.
Some of the War Cabals had their memories magically excised, but a few were too powerful - and paranoid - to be dealt with using such tactics. Hugh Mortimer's Cabal was one such, and hence House Tremere sabotaged one of their experiments, causing them to be dragged into the spirit world on what was supposedly a one-way trip. And it likely would have been, if Maxentius and a few of his coterie hadn't found them.
The alliance was a natural one. Maxentius and his followers knew the spells which Hugh and his colleagues needed to escape the spirit world, but they couldn't make use of them themselves. Hugh's group, as mortals, could use the magic - if Maxentius would consent to teach them. A bargain was reached, sealed by a magical geas; Hugh's War Cabal would work to free Maxentius and his followers, if Maxentius would give them the knowledge of how to escape.
From that point on, unlife became a lot easier for Maxentius and his followers. Hugh and his Cabal were full magi, not mere hedge magicians; they could enter and leave the spirit world at will, not just on a few days each year. They were able to provide the Cappadocians with a steady supply of mortal victims, re-establish control of their Heretical Cults, and establish new networks of kine agents.
For all their skill, however, Hugh's Cabal weren't able to free the Cappadocians from the grip of the Shadowlands. Hugh made several attempts, including constructing an entire underground Church beneath the village of Grinlow and using the combined will and faith of a heretic congregation as a power source for a massive ritual working, but nothing seemed to succeed. Hugh started casting about for a fresh approach. Recalling the old stories of Pryderi from the old Diedne records, he reasoned that such a man might form a bridge between the worlds of life and death through his own, symbolic, death and rebirth, and started searching for him.
The Saxon Cainitess who had come to England in the fifth century had established themselves as the dominant culture over the intervening half millennium, notwithstanding the colonization and settlement of large parts of the north by the Danes. The most numerous Cainite clans were Brujah and Gangrel, with a small but influential minority of Ventrue.
All that changed with the Norman invasion of 1066. Duke William of Normandy defeated the last Saxon King, Harald, at the Battle of Hastings, and installed a new, alien, Norman-French nobility to rule the English natives. The Saxon Cainites' influence over mortal institutions was shattered as their pawns were killed or displaced. A trio of Norman vampires, the Triumvirate, drove out and destroyed their Cainite rivals as ruthlessly and effectively as Duke William's followers displaced the mortal Saxon nobles. The Triumvirate seemed triumphant
unaware that in the north, their nemesis, the Ventrue Methuselah Mithras, had arisen from torpor.
The Saxons were equally ignorant of the Methuselah's presence, at first, for he remained in the shadows after one disastrous abortive attempt to reactivate his temple in London. When William the Conqueror died, the Saxons tried to regain power through the new King, the Conqueror's son William Rufus.
Rufus was a secret devotee of the Old Faith, though not himself a Mage, and a rather less secret - in truth, rather flamboyant - homosexual. Despite this, he managed to produce a bastard son by a pagan priestess, during one of the Old Religion's fertility rites. He named the boy Ranulf, after his minister and lover, Ranulf Flambard.
Ranulf was a talented lad handsome, intelligent, and, as he discovered after he turned twelve, a magic-worker as well. Unbeknown to anyone at court save the King, he was also one of the children descended from the immortality ritual cast upon Pryderi, so long ago.
Pryderi, at this point, was an embittered old man. House Diedne, his new home, had been destroyed, just as Ynys Mon, his first home, had once been. In his rage and despair, he had considered withdrawing from the world and becoming a hermit - until he sensed Mithras awaken.
Tracking the Methuselah, he realized that Mithras was using the Saxon Cainite faction, long before the Saxons themselves did. On the principle of "the enemy of my enemy", Pryderi resolved to aid the Norman vampires. Ranulf, the favored child of the King, was the perfect avatar to help him achieve that.
Unfortunately, Pryderi had failed to consider one thing. In merging his consciousness with that of Ranulf, Pryderi would take on some of the characteristics of an adventurous thirteen-year-old boy, even as the boy acquired the knowledge and abilities of a thousand-year-old Mage. The result of the merge, while powerful, was incautious to the point of recklessness, and certainly no match for Mithras' cold tactical brilliance. When the influence which Ranulf was exercising through his father grew too irksome, the Methuselah arranged for the King to be assassinated, with all the casual indifference of a man swatting a fly.
William Rufus had been aware of Pryderi's relationship with Ranulf. Unlike his son, he had a clear-eyed appreciation of the risks that he was running. And he knew, as he lay dying in the New Forest, that his son would be Mithras' next target.
He could have chosen to live. Pryderi's magic was powerful enough to heal him, but that would have left Ranulf still vulnerable. So Rufus chose, instead, to die, knowing that the mystical energies released by the death of a King would give Pryderi the power he needed to make Ranulf immortal.
Ranulf was furious, bitter, terrified... he begged his father not to do it, but Rufus was not to be dissuaded. And so Ranulf Fitz Rufus felt the power of an immortal surge through his body and mind as the final breath escaped from his father's lips.
He was never the same after that.
The wild, carefree young boy became a cold, calculating engine of vengeance. Pryderi was horrified by the transformation, the more so because he saw his own obsessive lust for revenge on Mithras reflected in the boy, and blamed himself for causing it. After several fruitless attempts to deflect Ranulf from his new path, Pryderi walked away. Ranulf never saw him again.
He didn't much care. He was too busy plotting his revenge.
He seemd to emerge from his dark fugue briefly when he befriended his cousin, the young Prince William. Initially, the idea was purely to use the young man as a pawn, but to Ranulf's surprise, a genuine friendship blossomed between them. But William was lost when his ship was assailed by a magically conjured storm. Ranulf was on the ship at the time, but never saw the assassin. He only sensed that it was something powerful, and undead. He felt sure that Mithras must be responsible, and resumed his campaign against the Methuselah with even greater fanaticism.
The Saxons had no idea of the reasons why Ranulf seemed to hate them - and after he'd eliminated a few of them, they didn't much care. They just wanted him dead. Mithras had by now emerged from the shadows and openly allied himself with the Saxon faction, and under his direction, a Blood Hunt finally cornered the young Mage and burned him to death. Ignorant of Ranulf's true nature, the vampires left his charred corpse to rot without realizing that his demise was only temporary.
The first thing that Ranulf did when he opened his eyes was to laugh. Uproariously. The Cainites thought he was dead! It was a perfect chance to lay his plans against them, undetected and undisturbed.
Unknown to Cainites Ranulf might have been, but Hugh Mortimer was another matter entirety. He discovered Ranulf while searching for Pryderi, and concluded that, being younger and more impressionable, the boy might well prove a more suitable pawn that his teacher. Posing as a Diedne survivor, Hugh made a tentative approach to Ranulf, only to be rebuffed. Ranulf didn't believe Hugh's claims to be Diedne, and even if he had, his priority was to avenge his father, not some vanished House of long-dead magi. Hugh began contemplating ways to force the boy to co-operate.
Blissfully unaware of Hugh's machinations, Ranulf was busy plotting his revenge. Pure happenstance handed him the first element of his plot against Mithras, who had by now resumed his throne as Prince of London. In 1098, a Roman spear believed to be the Holy Lance, the weapon which had pierced the side of Christ, was discovered in a cathedral in Antioch. In fact, the Lance was a magical item, a potent artefact of necromantic sorcery capable of trapping and commanding the spirits of those it slew. The Crusaders used it to summon up an army of ghosts to break the siege of Antioch, but later concluded that it was a fraud when it became the subject of internal political bickering. The weapon ended up in the custody of the Templars, along with a cache of other items found with it but overlooked by the Crusaders as unimportant.
Ranulf knew that he could use the Lance against Mithras, and blackmailed a disgraced former Templar, Godfroi, into stealing it. Alarmed by the theft, the Templars moved the remainder of the cache into the most distant, uncivilized place they could think of - England. Ironically, the items were stored in the vault of the Templar foundation in London.
The second stand of Ranulf's plan involved undermining the mortal cult from which Mithras derived much of his personal influence over Kine affairs. He recruited Philippe, a knight of Richard's Crusade, to infiltrate the Templars, over whom Mithras was seeking to gain control. Philippe was a child of Ranulf's immortality ritual, and thus subject to "possession" by Ranulf. He suffered from a type of post-traumatic stress after watching 3,000 Saracen prisoners - including some 300 women and children - butchered at Richard's orders, and Ranulf found him easy to recruit because of that.
Like Pryderi before him, however, Ranulf failed to anticipate the effect that merging with Philippe would have on him. Philippe was a good, honest man, and Ranulf's ruthless lust for revenge profoundly disturbed him. Slowly, Ranulf's humanity and conscience began to reawaken under Philippe's influence.
But too slowly for him to abandon the third element of his plan - to weaken Mithras by attacking his mortal pawns. To this end, Ranulf intended to stir up a civil war by drugging King Richard into violent insanity - not a large step for Richard - on his return from Crusade. Richard was a brutal killer beneath his romantic exterior (his contemporary Gerald of Wales said that he "cared to tread no path which was not carved by his own sword and soaked in the blood of his enemies"), so Ranulf hoped is that Richard would become a cruel and hated tyrant, and the barons will be split between those who stayed loyal to the King, and those who would welcome his brother John as an alternative. To this end, Ranulf recruited John Fortyn, one of his mortal descendants (though not a child of the immortality ritual). Fortyn was a London merchant who supplied wine to the royal household, a perfect pawn.
With the aid of magical scrying, Hugh watched all this from afar. He couldn't care less about Ranulf's revenges, but if the scheme was important to Ranulf, perhaps threatening to disrupt it would get the mule-headed boy into a more accommodating frame of mind. He sent an agent, the master-archer Llewellyn, to London to harass Fortyn.
It didn't work out quite as Hugh had planned. Llewellyn's efforts merely ended up drawing Ranulf's attention to Hugh and his allies, and the Cainites' attention to Ranulf and his schemes. Very much against his will, Ranulf developed bonds of friendship and affection with the Cainites who he found investigating his plans. He abandoned revenge, seeing that his obsession had come close to costing him his soul. Deciding that the only way to overcome his bitter hate for Mithras was to deny it as Cainites deny their Beasts, he agreed to serve the Prince of London, and forged an enduring alliance with several London Cainites.
Matters came to a head on the Devil's Night, when Ranulf and his Cainite allies stormed the Library of St. John the Beheaded, destroying it and the Lhiannan who had sheltered there for so long. That act, though it no doubt saved thousands of innocent mortal lives, had much the same effect on the Red Order that kicking over a nest has on a swarm or hornets. There was a sudden, massive upsurge in Inquisitorial activity throughout Britain. Hugh Mortimer made a last, desperate bid to obtain the Ritual of the Sundered Soul on the Devil's Night. It failed, and left him Embraced by Lord Raguel and staked in a cellar, awaiting trial by the Tzimisce.
Mithras had been unhappy for some time that his nominal vassal, Viridovix, the Methuselah Prince of Durham, was sheltering the upstart Tremere clan in his northern fief. Rather cannily, Viridovix used the Inquisition's new zeal to divert Mithras' ire, by suggesting a great Conclave at which all the Cainite fiefs of Britain could agree a concerted response to the threat. Mithras, though suspicious, saw the sense in the suggestion and agreed to it.
The London delegation to the Conclave was extensively harassed, by agents of a renegade Cainite Methuselah known as the Black, and by assassins sent by the Tzimisce to kill their leader, Lord Raguel. But the worst of the dangers they encountered were the cultists of a demon, Legion, which had placed its essence in the thirty pieces of silver given to Judas Iscariot for betraying Christ. Legion's followers almost slew the delegates to the Conclave before the London party managed to stop them, and the fief of London learned that it had a new enemy.
But worse was to come
The Tremere's greatest weapons in their war against the Tzimisce were the gargoyles which Goratrix had created from the "raw material" of captured Cainites. The process of creating them, however, was too slow and too complicated for the war to progress beyond a defensive holding action, with Clan Tremere constantly fighting for survival. The Tremere had made a bargain with the renegade Tzimisce House Lucusta to gain access to a mystical site in Tzimisce lands, whose power they could use to endow the gargoyles with the ability to Embrace childer. The plan might have worked, had the Tremere unexpectedly found themselves embroiled in yet another conflict.
In 1201, the Order of Hermes finally discovered that House Tremere had transformed themselves into vampires, and declared war on them. The repercussions were massive. In Transylvania, the secret researchers based at the Tzimisce mystical site were amongst the first casualties. In Britain, Houses Flambeau and Tytalus took the lead in searching out and destroying the Tremere's enemies.
Unfortunately, the two Houses were rather more notable for martial prowess than skillful intelligence work. They correctly identified the Tremere's base of power in England - the northern cities of Durham and York - but in their arrogance and ignorance, they failed to distinguish between Tremere and other Cainites who had merely sheltered them or allied themselves with them. The most prominent casualty of their ignorance was Viridovix, the Prince of Durham, a fifth-generation Methuselah who was the closest thing that Mithras had to a rival. But he was far from being the only one. The Hermetic Order managed to depopulate a wide swathe of northern England of its Cainite population. Ironically, the only Cainites to escape were the Tremere themselves, who understood enough about Hermetic tactics and techniques to evade or counter the Order's attacks.
The destruction of Viridovix sent shock-waves through England's Cainites. Among the visible vampire population of the British Isles, the Prince of Durham had been second in power only to Mithras himself. Such a graphic demonstration of the power of Mages to bring even the mightiest Cainite low caused widespread panic, and Mithras swiftly realized that only a dramatic, visible show of strength would stop that panic from leading to anarchy.
And so the Order of Hermes was taught the folly of antagonizing a two-thousand-year-old tactical genius sired by an Antediluvian. The full fury of Mithras' counterstrike hit the Hermetic Order with savage force, killing about a third of the Mages involved in the fighting and forcing the others to flee.
The humbling of the Hermetic Order had wider implications for the Mages. For centuries, the unity of the Order had given it an edge over its rivals, leaving it the dominant faction and its nearest rivals, the Old Faith and the Messianic Voices, constantly playing catch-up. With the Hermetics preoccupied and weakened, both of the other magical Fellowships moved into the power vacuum. Before long, Britain's Mages found themselves locked into a low-level civil war of their own as the Order of Hermes resisted the encroachment. The Messianics were the first to involve the Inquisition, subtly guiding them to target their rivals. The tactic backfired; the Messianics were a far more visible presence in the Church than the other two Fellowships, and far easier for the Inquisition to spot.
The multi-front war was so divided that it almost inevitably resulted in an across-the-board stalemate. The Order of Hermes couldn't defeat the Cainites while it was simultaneously fighting its fellow Mages and the Inquisition; the Inquisition didn't have the resources to hunt every Mage and every Cainite simultaneously; the Cainites couldn't move with full force against the Hermetics because they were busy battling the Inquisition. Britain's supernatural community was embroiled in almost two decades of blood-drenched chaos.
It might have dragged on longer, had not the Mages and Cainites found themselves facing an enemy that was common to all of them. The demon Legion had allied itself both with an Order of Mages known as the Circle of Red and with a Cainite bloodline known as the Baali. The alliance was unstable; the arrogant Circle of Red preferred summoning and controlling demons to making deals with them, and the Baali's inhumanity and greed led both the Circle of Red and Legion itself to see them as dangerously unstable. But it worked, in a rough-and-ready fashion, and it gave Legion's forces a flexibility and understanding of all the sides in the war which none of the others could boast. As a result, they were able to carry out a systematic pogrom of assassination of both Mages and Cainites which each of the two blamed on the other, all the Inquisition.
The London delegation to the York Conclave had faced Legion's cult in Durham in 1198, however, and they eventually realized who was really behind its activities. That gave Mithras the first opening he needed to start calming things down. In 1221, Ranulf Fitz Rufus somehow managed to assemble a large group of representatives from Britain's different magical Fellowships at Glastonbury Abbey. Disguised - in a choice irony - as a party of pilgrims, a sort of early version of Chaucer's Canturbury Tales, the Mages debated for six days about the evidence that Ranulf brought them - evidence that Legion's demonic cult was growing in power, and would continue to do so as long as it could exploit the fighting. Evidence that the Circle of Red was recruiting more new Mages than any three other Fellowships combined under cover of the incessant battles, and might well achieve its goal of becoming the most powerful Tradition in the British Isles in a couple of decades. Evidence that the Red Order of the Inquisition was hunting Mages, and was enjoying ever-greater success in identifying and exterminating them. He proposed a grand bargain - not an alliance, but a simple truce. Stop the fighting between Mages and Cainites, he suggested. Stop the fighting between the different Mage Orders. Focus on the Circle of Red, and allow the Inquisition to do the same.
It took almost two years before all the Fellowships finally stopped debating the matter and signed the Glastonbury Pact, but in the end, they grudgingly accepted the logic of the situation.
When the dust had settled, the north of England had lost more than seventy percent of its Mage and Cainite population, and the Tremere were the dominant powers in the region. Mithras was furious, but he also had sense enough to realize that displacing them would be beyond his depleted strength. Coldly pragmatic, he allowed the despised Usurper Clan to open a small Chantry in London - an "embassy" of sorts. He was surprised by their request that it be established on the newly completed London Bridge, and even more surprised when he learned that a second Chantry - of true Mages from different Fellowships - had been formed there.
In truth, London Bridge was a mystically significant site, a crossing not only of the ancient Thames river, but between mundane and mystical realities, and both the Mages and the Tremere had been attracted by its properties. Having them in such close proximity seemed like asking for trouble, but both sides had been exhausted by the War of Avalon, and were content to eye each other warily rather than re-open hostilities. London Bridge became ironically known as "Night's Bridge", the place where the denizens of the sunless hours could meet under conditions of uneasy truce, and a hub of intrigue and conspiracy.
The time is late January, 1230 AD. Both the Mages and the Cainites are weakened and licking their wounds from the War of Avalon, while the Circle of Red lurks in the background and the Red Order hunts them all indiscriminately. The air is full of fear, tension and uncertainty.
Welcome to London...