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Virtue: Fortitude. Nick Owen survived homelessness, working as a teenage prostitute, and what would have been a death sentence from AIDS if the Mages at Pans hadn't magically removed the HIV virus from his body. Even now, he has to handle the potent cravings of vitae addiction on a daily basis. He has a level of mental and emotional toughness far beyond the norm.
Vice: Gluttony. Nick appreciates his food with the keenness of someone who faced starvation more than once, but his Vice isn't about stuffing his face. It's about a craving for emotional warmth, for the way his sense of self-worth is affirmed and reinforced by knowing that he's special, that he's cared about and trusted and accepted - and yes, loved - by Mother and by Tom, his adoptive "family". Beyond that, he's genuinely fascinated by the shadow world and loves the dangerous rush of being secretly a part of it. In a way, the two desires are mixed up, since he became a part of the supernatural world by virtue of his privileged relationship with Tom, even though he's now a Mage in his own right
Physical: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Stamina 3
Social: Presence 3, Manipulation 2, Composure 3
Mental: Intelligence 3, Wits 3, Resolve 3
Mental: Academics (History) 2, Computer 2, Crafts (Mechanic) 3, Investigation 2, Medicine 1, Occult (Kindred, Ghouls) 2, Politics (Kindred) 2, Science 1
Physical: Athletics (Horse riding, archery) 1, Brawl (Dirty tricks) 2, Drive (Motorcycles) 3, Larceny 3, Stealth 3, Survival (Street) 2
Social: Animal Ken (Horses, Dogs) 1, Empathy 3, Persuasion (Seduction) 3, Socialise 2, Streetwise 4, Subterfuge 3
Merits: Barfly, Danger Sense, Fast Reflexes 2, Iron Stomach, Languages (Romanian, Russian), Natural Immunity
Arcana: Life 3, Prime 1, Spirit 3
Cleanse the Body (1)
Organic Resilience (2)
Purify Bodies (2)
Healing Heart (3)
Exorcist's Eye (1)
Spirit Tongue (1)
Peer Across the Gauntlet (2)
Control Spirit (3)
Greater Spirit Summons (3)
Spirit Road (3)
Supernal Vision (1)
I never knew my parents. I don't even know if they're still alive. Not all of Ceaucescu's orphans were really orphans, after all. Some of us were simply too much of a financial burden for our parents to bear - the consequence of Ceaucescu's decision to ban contraception for women with less than four children, despite the grinding poverty which most families lived in.
I grew up in a state orphanage. Our "keepers" - I call them that because they treated us more like animals than human beings - varied between those who saw us as the worst nuisance they had to deal with in their dead-end jobs, those who saw us as a cheap, disposable labour force, and those who saw us as playthings. Of those who fell into the "plaything" category, the ones who saw us as sex toys weren't always the worst. I finally fled at the age of twelve, after having my back beaten bloody by a fat, ugly, asthmatic woman who liked the sound of young boys' screams.
A week after I'd run away, I found myself working as a prostitute in the shadows of the Gara du Nord railway station in Bucharest. I joined a gang of others like me in order to survive. The older members of the gang pimped the younger ones as well as prostituting themselves, but they were kinder and more considerate than the other pimps who tried to move in on our territory. We were small, but we had numbers and agility on our sides - like rats, we were dangerous in packs. I killed my first man at the age of fourteen. Stuck a knife through his heart. One of the older members of the gang had shown me where to strike. We slept in the public parks, public toilets - in sewers, when we needed to survive the lethal cold winter.
I realized I was developing AIDS just before I turned fourteen. I didn't stop sleeping with clients, though. I had a choice between infecting them and starving. I chose to live. But I don't deny that it still haunts me, sometimes. It didn't, then. And that's a life lesson that most people never figure out - compassion is an indulgence of people who don't have to worry about surviving.
I didn't celebrate my fourteenth birthday, but I remember it, because that was when the disappearances began. One by one, the members of our gang began to vanish. There had always been those who didn't come back, of course, and though we felt sorry for their disappearance, mourning is a luxury for those with full bellies. But this
this was systematic. One by one, something was picking us off. We tried to avoid being alone, tried to make sure we knew where each other were, tried watching each others' movements. Nothing seemed to work.
We never questioned that the ones who disappeared must be dead. The irony is that the cause of the disappearances weren't death, but salvation.
There was an English businessman, a man who called himself "Gerald Heath", staying in Bucharest, in one of the upmarket hotels that none of us could ever hope to enter. His real name was Dale Locke, and he was a Mage. He wouldn't like to be described as a "servant" of Thomas Wyncham - he thinks of himself more as an ally - but that's pretty much what he is. And he was recruiting to Tom's new business venture, a brothel called Pan's.
When he walked up to our sadly diminished little group in the public park and asked us to go with him, we agreed without hesitation. You might think we were insane to go along with him like that after what had been happening, but he had, quite literally, cast a spell on us.
The next few days passed in a blur of wonder. Wonder at being reunited with most of our vanished compatriots, wonder at being truly clean, wonder at having enough to eat, wonder at having new clothes. I think we would have gone with him even if he hadn't used his magic to convince us.
I spent the next few weeks in various safe-houses on the outskirts of London, undergoing a battery of psychological evaluations - not that I realized at the time that that was what they were, of course. The whole time, I was terrified of what would happen if I admitted I had AIDS - terrified that I'd be cast out onto the street, in a strange country, with no friends and no support.
Then a woman came to see me in my room in the safe house (and that was a first for me, as well - my own room, my own space. I'd never had that before). Beautiful, elegant, and fluent in Romanian, the woman came straight to the point. They knew I'd had AIDS, and they'd cured me in the week I'd spent in the safe house. I was safe from death, and safe from abandonment.
I cried. I almost never cried, even as a child - I was surrounded by people who'd prey on such weakness. But the strain had just become too much.
She enfolded me in an embrace. I was so unused to displays of physical affection that I mistook it for a sexual advance. I was astonished when she turned me down.
Then she explained the choice before me. I could have a normal life in this country if I wished, with a foster-family to take care of me. Or I could join the staff of her brothel.
Surprised I made the latter choice? You shouldn't be. Remember, I'd never known a true family, and I'd heard nothing but bad things about foster-families from other kids I'd met on the street. The other kids from Bucharest were the closest thing to a family I'd known - although I wasn't even really close to any of them, we'd only banded together for the sake of survival - and I still hadn't lost the safety-in-numbers mentality from my years on the streets.
Pan's was a paradise. Again, hearing that description applied to a brothel might surprise you, but I was no stranger to selling my body. The idea hadn't really bothered me to begin with, coming as I had from the abusive environment of the orphanage, and I'd long since lost any vestigial inhibitions I might once have had. But a luxurious room of my own! My own TV, DVD player, stereo! A beautiful house, vast and lovely grounds, an education, gourmet food, warmth, comfort, and above all, the sheer, transcendent joy of being clean all the time. For a long while, I simply couldn't believe it was all real.
I don't know when I first noticed that Tom didn't seem to be getting any older. The Mages at Pan's use subtle magic to stop anyone from finding anything unusual about it, but somehow, I managed to shake off their influence. Dale told me later on that I had an unusual mind - that I could see the supernatural for what it was, in ways that most people couldn't. Then again, maybe it was simply the enduring mystery of how they'd managed to cure me of AIDS, an "incurable" disease. Certainly by the time I was seventeen, I knew that something about Tom was definitely odd, and just after my eighteenth birthday, I finally put all the pieces together and realized he was a vampire.
So I thought about it for a while. Eventually, though my stomach was doing flip-flops, I just walked up to him and came out with it. Well... when I say, "walked", that's not strictly true. We'd been "servicing" a client together, and after the trick left and we were lying there, I pointed to a little drop of blood on the side of his mouth and said, "You missed a bit". He looked at me with the weirdest expression, and then he just lost it. Collapsed back on the bed and howled, I do mean howled, with laughter. Which means that I lost it too, of course.
Well, we talked after that. I don't know why, but once I knew that vampires were real - that the supernatural was real - I was desperate to be a part of it. I wanted to be on the "inside" so badly that I could taste it, and I told him so. I didn't understand the sad, wistful look he got back then. Now, knowing what happened with him and Mercadier, I realize the memories I was stirring up.
We discussed it. He was very concerned - almost paranoid - about making sure I knew exactly what I was getting into. Even so, when I took my first taste of the Vitae on my twentieth birthday, I wasn't prepared for the kick it gave me. I don't deny it scared the crap out of me, but even then, I knew it was worth it. Worth it not just for the power, the immortality, for being on the inside of this secret, incredible world of wonders and horrors.
No, it was really worth it because I finally have the one thing I've wanted all my life - a family.
Tom was keen that I should have a life away from him and Mother to, as he put it, "ground" me. I'd always loved fast, powerful bikes, so he set me up with my own motorcycle courier business, Volaticus. It means "Winged" - Tom tends to wander off into Latin from time to time. And I did pretty well with it. Technically I still own it.
What Matthew Wynter did to me, though - God, I don't even want to think about it. I was waking up screaming for months afterwards, and Tom and Mother agreed that I needed independence like I needed a hole in the head. I moved back in with them in their place above the Wyvern, Tom's new pub and headquarters. We turned Volaticus over the Glen Lowell, the ghoul who Tom took on after his previous Regnant, Nairne, got killed by Wayland's Smithy.
After I managed to work through the trauma, Tom was integrating the Wyvern Pack into his operations and he needed me around to help. The notion of my building an independent life kind of fell by the wayside, but I was getting the thing that Tom wanted me to have - a perspective that doesn't revolve around being addicted to a vampire's blood - in a different way. Stella Grey, the Temple Herald, weirded me out sometimes, but she really made me think about things in ways I never had before
And then I got sucked into an alternative reality, and found myself with the ghost of an Atlantean Archmage in my head. The crazy bitch is gone now, but she left me a bittersweet legacy - my own Awakening as a Thrysus Mage
I didn't want it. I would have been happy as a ghoul forever - and I might have had forever. Now, I'm neither fish nor fowl. The Consilium doesn't trust me because they know I'm loyal to Tom, not them. But my Thrysus nature and Tom's undead one don't mix well, and he can sense it. Between that and the political complications caused by our relationship, there's a distance between us that never existed before. I hate that
But I can't go back. I can't lose what I have now, this heightened understanding of reality, this whole new way of looking at the universe. Even if it were possible, I couldn't bring myself to do it.
So I walk on the edge, careful not to bring trouble on the people I care about - Tom, Alain, my teacher, the Wyvern Pack. It's not easy... but I guess nothing worthwhile ever is