Image by Danilo Reyes. Please do not use without permission
Concept: Elizabethan actor turned Camarilla Archon
Sire: Karsten von Hamburg
Physical Strength 3, Dexterity 5, Stamina 4
Social: Charisma 3, Manipulation 4, Appearance 3
Mental: Perception 4, Intelligence 4, Wits 4
Talents: Alertness 4, Athletics (Acrobatics) 5, Brawl 3, Dodge 5, Empathy 4, Intimidation 3, Streetwise 3, Subterfuge 4
Skills: Animal Ken 2, Melee 4, Drive 2, Firearms 3, Survival 3
Knowledges: Academics 2, Computer 1, Investigation 4, Linguistics 4, Occult 4, Politics 4, Medicine 2, Science 2
Backgrounds: Allies 3, Contacts 4, Herd 3, Generation 6, Mentor 5, Resources 5, Retainers 2, Status 4
Virtues: Conscience 4, Self-Control 3, Courage 4
Morality: Humanity 6
Disciplines: Auspex 3, Celerity 3, Dominate 5, Fortitude 5, Potence 3, Presence 4
[Sigh] Yes, it's my real name. A friend of mine won a bet with Conan Doyle and got him to insert my name into one of his stories as the henchman of an evil mastermind. He said it was his way of congratulating me on my attainment of the "exalted" status of Alastor. Some congratulation. It's the kind of thing that Ranulf thinks is funny. I swear, if one more damn' Nosferatu Obfuscates himself into a copy of Basil Rathbone, I'm going to puke blood all over him.
That or rip his throat out. That works too.
Okay, now you know where you can stuff all the Sherlock Holmes jokes, let's talk about something a lot more interesting - me. Where did the vision of charm and beauty that stands before you come from?
Oh, stop rolling your eyes like that, Ranulf. I'm having a moment here.
I was born at an early age - sometime around 1504, if you want to get pedantic about dates - to a good, traditional family of Norfolk landowners. They were pious, hard-working, un-ambitious country squires, but every generation or three, they managed to produce a major-league black sheep.
I was a rebellious, uncontrollable teenager, and when I was fifteen I did something pretty traditional for a rebellious, uncontrollable teenager - I ran away to join a circus. Well, not actually a circus as such - what you think of as a circus in a modern sense didn't really exist back then. I joined a troupe of itinerant acrobats who'd staged a performance in our little market town. I was absolutely fascinated by their juggling and tumbling, the sheer grace and skill they showed. A couple of them were my own age, and we'd gotten to talking.
That same night, my father had beaten me and locked me in my room for the umpteenth time - it's funny, I can't remember what for any more, but I'm sure I deserved it - and I just decided, on the spur of the moment, that I'd follow the troupe and ask to join them. I climbed out of the window, slipped into the stables, saddled my horse, and rode off. I let the beast go a few miles from where I knew the troupe was staying - let my family think I'd been abducted or had a fall, I just didn't care. Yeah, I was a selfish little bastard back then.
They were amused, I think. Amused, and seriously doubtful that a spoiled little rich kid like me had what it took to survive life on the road, much less learn to be a decent acrobat. It was a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I proved them wrong. My father would have been torn between approval that I was finally knuckling down to work at something, and horror at what I was working at. Not to mention the loose morals and casual promiscuity of the troupe.
To me, it was nirvana. For all the occasional hardship and danger, it was a time of pure, perfect happiness.
I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you it didn't last. But it lasted seven years. Long enough for them to become my family, my friends - my lovers, in one or two cases.
It ended one night in 1526, on a road about forty miles from London. We heard horses in the distance, and we shifted our wagons out of the way to let them go past. There were six of them, four men and two women, all on big, expensive-looking stallions. They were dressed expensively, like nobles, and we didn't expect them to deign to acknowledge our existence. Unfortunately, they did acknowledge us. As food.
I don't remember much of what happened. Perhaps that's a blessing from a God I ceased to believe in on that terrible night. I remember watching everyone I loved and cared about slaughtered before my eyes like cattle. I remember the screams, the panic, the frantic, futile efforts to escape. I remember a tall, coldly handsome man with greying blonde hair bite into my neck. After that, I don't remember anything until I woke up with a cold body and an unbeating heart.
The troupe's bodies were lying all around me. There wasn't any blood to speak of, of course. Their eyes were open, and the looks on their faces... no. I don't want to remember that.
All I could feel as I looked around me was this burning hunger in my gut. I didn't understand it, but when I saw the man standing a few yards away, watching me, I just lunged for his throat, sank in my fangs, and drank him down. I didn't come to my senses until his body was lying slumped in my arms, as dead as the bodies of my adoptive family.
It was the sight of his eyes - open, staring, empty - that brought me to my senses. I'd killed him, just as I'd seen the others kill my family. Dead God, what was I? He was young, I saw, maybe even a little younger than I was. He had pale skin, vivid green eyes, and unfashionably long, dark-red hair tied back in a pony-tail. And he was dead in my arms, and his life blood was warming my guts.
I wanted to vomit it up, but I couldn't even manage that.
I stumbled off into the darkness, weeping bloody tears. I just wandered, confused and terrified and not thinking, until the horizon started to lighten. Then, a terror like nothing I'd ever felt before took me, and I ran. Back to the wagons. We had a big trunk we used for storing props and costumes, and some instinct made me frantically pull out its contents and dive inside, pulling the lid down behind me.
When I emerged the next evening, I'd regained enough rationality to be surprised that the trunk was covered in clothes, all in good, heavy cloth, suitable for stopping sunlight seeping in through the cracks. There was a crackling coming from outside - a fire. I felt another, milder stab of the same terror which had forced me to flee before the sun, at the thought of fire, but I resisted it and walked down the steps of the wagon. I knew the sight that would greet me outside, but somehow, on the visceral level my mind was operating on, I felt as though I owed it to them not to turn away from their corpses.
The bodies were gone. Some kind of small animal, a rabbit perhaps, was roasting over an improvised spit across a modest fire. There was a figure beside the fire, turning the spit, and as I walked out of the wagon, he looked up.
My reason almost failed me again. This was the man I'd killed last night, walking around. How could he be here, alive, whole? I felt myself slipping towards madness.
"Stop that!". His voice wasn't unkind, but it carried a ring of effortless authority that I found myself reacting to instinctively. "I didn't save you from that Sabbat pack just to see you surrender to the madness and the Beast. I couldn't save their lives", he added, his voice soft and bitter with self-reproach. "Them" must be my troupe. "I couldn't save your life, not really. But I'll give you all the salvation that still remains within my power".
He stood up, his movements quick and graceful. He wore and expensive russet doublet, chased through with threads of gold, but looking a little torn and travel stained. His thick auburn hair was loose now, flowing over his shoulders and concealing the marks my teeth had left in his neck the night before (my sanity slipped another notch at that recollection). When he extended his hand, I stared at it with blank incomprehension before unthinking memory made me reach out and clasp it.
"My name", he said, almost conversationally, "is Ranulf Fitz Rufus"
Ranulf had had his servants take away the bodies while I'd slept during the day. The priest on his nearby estate was used to his Lord's strange whims, and accommodated Ranulf's request for a night time funeral, so I could say my last goodbyes. If anyone noticed that my tears were the colour of blood, they didn't remark on it. His house contained several lightless, underground bed-chambers where I was able to take refuge during the day. And for many nights, sitting in his private herb-garden, surrounded by the scent of roses, we talked.
"Yes, you killed me, in a manner of speaking". That had been my first question, once I'd regained enough of my reason to think clearly. "I knew you'd need to feed when you awoke, and I didn't want your hunger to threaten my servants. So I sent them away and offered myself to you. I knew the death wouldn't be permanent. I'm immortal".
He said it as casually as he might have said, "I'm red-haired". I gaped at him, and he laughed softly.
"Sorry. I was a little blunt, wasn't I? I'm a sorcerer - though not a devil-worshipper", he added hastily, catching my reaction. "The word doesn't really mean what most people think it means. In any event, a long time ago my teacher used a powerful spell to grant me immortality. I can die, but in the end, I always return from death. Your kind are immortal in a more fragile fashion - you can endure for ever, but once destroyed, you do not come back, as your attackers discovered"
"What do you mean?"
He looked at me in surprise. "When you woke up, you didn't notice the heaps of clothing lying around, leaking ashes? No, I suppose not". His face clouded. "I slew all but one of them - your sire, the vampyr who changed you. By the time I arrived, all the others were dead, and you were dying, drained. When your sire saw me kill the other vampyrs, he offered me a bargain - your survival, in the only possible way remaining, in exchange for his own".
I felt my Beast starting to rise. "You spared him?"
"On that night, yes". Ranulf's green eyes glittered. "There will be other nights"
My fists clenched. "I want to kill him myself". A red haze began to descend across my vision. "I want..."
Ranulf raised his hand sharply, and a vortex of ice-cold wind lashed at me, driving my Beast cowering into the deepest corners of my mind. "I'll do my best to give your that opportunity", he said, his voice hard and insistent. "But before that can happen, you must learn self-control, lest you become as he is - a monster"
I remembered Ranulf's body lying dead in my arms, and a wracking sob shook me. I closed my eyes and hot blood tears started to trickle down my cheeks anew.
Several months had passed, and the balmy summer evenings had turned to autumn. I was slowly mastering my Beast, adapting to my changed condition. Ranulf was a superb teacher, knowing exactly when to be encouraging and when to be harshly judgemental.
Emotionally, I was a void. Or almost a void. Ranulf, my teacher, my guide to the hellish new existence I now found myself trapped in, was slowly filling the empty spot in my heart where my adoptive family had once dwelled. He was a friend, a companion, and as time passed, even a brother. I might have said "father", but his youthful appearance prevented me from thinking of him in those terms, even though he'd admitted that he'd lived far longer than a normal mortal life span.
At the time, I sometimes wondered uneasily if the word lover might not be more honest, but now I realize that that was just a holdover from my mortal world-view. I did want Ranulf physically, but, not in the sense you're probably thinking. As a mortal I'd preferred women, and as a cold, dead vampyr I felt no sexual desire at all. But I couldn't banish the guilty memory of sinking my fangs into his neck and draining him dry, that first night. The recollection of his dead face gazing up at me was laden with horror and self-loathing, but it also carried with it such an intensity of remembered pleasure that I found myself repulsed by any vessel which lacked his physical attributes - pale skin, rich red hair, and green eyes. A couple of his servants met that requirement, and were willing to share a little of their vitae with me, but their blood compared with his was like water compared with wine - enough to fulfil my physical needs, but thin and unsatisfying. So Ranulf, sustained as he was by his superhuman vitality, was usually the one to offer me his neck. There was nothing sexual about our relationship, at least not on my side. But with only my human experience to draw upon, I found it hard to conceive of the physical intimacy involved in feeding from him other than in sexual terms.
"Why was it so important to you? To save me, I mean?"
I looked at him, annoyed. "That could mean anything".
Ranulf sighed. He reached up a hand to pull his hair away from his neck, then paused. "No. Distracting you with my blood is no answer, and you have the right to know the truth of it, even if it makes you hate me".
A trickle of ice went through my already cold gut. "Go on"
"I've told you about the Camarilla and the Sabbat".
I nodded. Two great alliances of vampyrs, one of which had formed bare decades before, born from a slaughter in a village called Thorns, a slaughter much like the one which had claimed my troupe. Ranulf had told me that he was allied, in some unspecified way, with the faction calling itself the Camarilla, and that my sire and his followers had been Sabbat.
"And I also told you that your sire and his followers were running from a Camarilla Blood Hunt. What I didn't tell you is that I was the one responsible for starting that hunt. If it hadn't been for me, your sire and his followers wouldn't have been on the road that night, and your troupe would still be alive"
My grief welled up anew at the though of them as they might have been, alive, whole. Ranulf looked stricken as he saw my expression, but he didn't try to avoid my gaze. He stood stiffly, as through braced for words of accusation and hate, and willing to accept them as his due.
"You didn't kill us", I told him. My voice was a little ragged, but I needed to say this. "You tried to save us. You called the hunt against them to stop them from doing... what they did to us, yes?"
"And we both know how that turned out", Ranulf said bitterly.
"If I want someone to blame, I'll blame my sire. Or God", I added, matching his bitterness with my own. "They had the power to save us. You didn't. But I need to know the rest of it. We've both been avoiding this conversation for months now".
"All right". Ranulf ran his fingers through his hair, the tension draining out of his shoulders. He was like a condemned man unexpectedly reprieved. "It's a long story, and a complicated one"
"My father was murdered by the agents of a powerful vampyr named Mithras who, then as now, rules London's undead. I swore revenge, and I pursued it so fanatically that I became..."
Light dawned. "A monster like the one you hated?". The fate he'd been warning me about, whenever I spoke of revenge against my sire.
Ranulf shrugged. "Cold, hard, callous, manipulative, ruthless. Yes, I would say quite like. Or too like for my own comfort, anyhow. Ironically, it was a group of vampires who helped me to regain my own humanity".
"To cut a long story short, I forsook revenge. But that left me without a focus, almost without a reason for living. I'd spent so long devoting myself to revenge on Mithras that I couldn't imagine my life having any other purpose. It was the same coterie of vampyrs who brought me to my senses who provided it".
"For the past three hundred years we've maintained an informal alliance of sorts, aimed at curbing vampyr abuse of mortals and limiting vampyr influence over mortal institutions. With the formation of the Camarilla we saw..."
I gasped. "Did you say three hundred years?"
He blinked. "Oh. I've been a little coy about telling you my age, haven't I? I was born about four hundred years ago. The Cainite who leads us has existed for more than twice that span".
Cainite was one of his terms for vampyrs - for us. He tended to slip into using it when he was distracted or annoyed. He continued while I was still gaping and trying to digest the fact that the youthful figure next to me had walked the Earth for four centuries.
"With the formation of the Camarilla, we saw a way to advance that agenda, by using the Masquerade as a justification for restricting vampyr interaction with mortals. And that would make us enemies of the Sabbat even if the Sabbat weren't a bloodthirsty bunch of callous murderers. Which they are"
"You're sire's name is Karsten". It was only after he said it that not once, in all the months since he'd saved me, had I thought to ask my sire's name. I thought of my sire as "it", as a creature fit only for destruction, not an individual.
"He's the childe", Ranulf continued, "of Julia Antasia, Prince of Hamburg, but he doesn't share her vision or compassion. He established himself in London in the wake of the Black Death, and he's spent several centuries using younger vampyrs, like you, as pawns against his enemies. But it now looks as though a few years ago, he had some sort of epiphany, or crisis of conscience. Something made him start to feel guilty about his abuse of younger Cainites, and it led him to throw in his lot with the young rebels of the Sabbat and betray London. We knew someone was passing information to the Sabbat, but we didn't know who or why - until I tracked him down meeting with his Sabbat pack, secretly, on a private estate some miles from London. I told Mithras about his treachery, and the Hunt was called"
My head was spinning. "Mithras? The vampyr who murdered your father? I thought you hated him?"
"I do". There was a long pause. "But he curbs the excesses of the younger ones, like the ones who killed your troupe. He's probably the only one with the personal power to do that. We need him, in a strange sort of way, and however little I might like it".
"I can't understand how you can do that. Work for someone you hate"
God, I was young then. Considering who I work for now, I could scarcely have said anything more ironic...