by Timothy Toner (8 Oct 92)
I'm not very pleased with this puppy. I got into it for about a week, but now...yuk. I give it to you, as a source of inspiration not only for villains, but a source of temptation for players. There is some secrets I have not revealed, which I will not reveal until the Sabbat player's Guide comes out. I have a few more levels (yes, more levels 1-5) dramed up, as well as complete rules for Ars Magica. It's not really finished, but that's all I want to do for now. There are so many _more_ stories to tell...
Questions, comments, criticisms appreciated...
In the days before the Tremere allowed the Great Fear to turn them away from light and life, they were the most feared members of the Order of Hermes. Gifted with the mightiest spells, it was no consolation, for every gesture they performed, every breath they took was tainted by the knowledge that life was all too short...and that _it_ was waiting.
The Great Fear was taught unto the apprentices, mere moments after the initiation, the solemn ritual that triggered the flow of true magic into a magus' body. Whispered with the sweetness of a demon lover, some wept openly, some took it with grim resolution, some looked upon those of the Order of Hermes who did not bear the weight of the Fear with unending hatred, and sought their destruction at every turn. Finally, a few were merely driven into the arms of the mistress Dementia. These were the fortunate, for the Great Fear was locked away, never to be glimpsed again.
Whatever the effects, the Fear was so enompassing that it was believed to be the single reason why Tremere allowed himself and his mages to be Embraced, to allow the magic within to be thinned by vampiric unlife. This submission was very uncharacteristic of a proud order, normally determined to fight their dark fate to the bitter end.
Stories abound about these noble magi who refused to let the Fear consume them, as it did Tremere and his ilk. One was Fritz Dolmen, the Horror of the Tremere.
It is written in the book of Hans Dolton, Dolmen's master, that the boy trembled mightily as the Secret echoed in his mind, and he did not sleep for many nights afterwards. In the years that followed, the nightmares that woke up the Fall covenant came less and less often. Perhaps it was because Dolmen accepted his fate, and embraced it in the twilight hours? No. His own journals tell a very different story:
"He came to me again last night, a mocking creature, laughing at my fear. He (I can only guess it was male) stood above my bed and stared down at my trembling form, as a wordless scream echoed in the room.
"I know you," he said, with all the force of vis behind it. "I know your fears and dreams. I consume them in the shadows, where I dwell. I will use you. I will make you great, and crush you from within. You are mine, now and forever, Forsaken One..."
He reached out without moving, and grabbed me with a hand as black as night. I felt life and hope draining from me, replaced by something rank and foul, a darkness growing.
He left me."
"Being the First and Only Entry in the Journal of Dolmen the Damned."
Soon after that night, Dolmen became obsessed with the formula Vim, as a means to drive back the forces of twilight. However, he soon realized that Vim was merely a means to an end that the Darkness used. To control them, nay, to destroy them, one must find their very nature.
Tales of the atrocities he committed in the process of finding the answers he sought could fill many tomes, to no end except the titilation of the sadistic and perverse. Suffice it to say, Dolmen was a man possessed. He knew of the nature of what he sought...he had tasted it in that touch. He would not settle for conventional thinking on the matter which dictated that the very nature of the demonic lay in magic (vis). When power coursed through his veins, it was an altogether different sensation from the soul devouring cold he had known.
He theorized such creatures wielded magic readily, and used it to form shapes that their true nature could manifest through. To defeat them through Vim, then, was merely slicing off the tip of a greater iceberg. Despite the voice that whispered in his head, telling him none of this made sense, that since the demons needed Vim to manifest, perhaps you could not touch their "true" nature, he continued on, even after it took him well beyond the sphere of Hermetic magic.
And then, one night, quite by accident (as is so often the case), he found it.
He had been studying the decaying remains of a mage found guilty of conspiring with the forces of darkness. His teachers thought such a study would shake Dolmen's obssession with the darkness in all things. Instead, as he carefully mapped the effect the darkness had etched on the mage, he found something still... alive. It was not of the mage)) that was for certain. Older? Yes. The residual essence of whatever coiled around the mage's soul. And most important, it was not vis.
With baited breath, he called out to it, and the energy responded. Sluggish at first, it reacted to the summons, and slid forth, an ebon snake, blind yet seeking. It touched him, gently, like a pet asking for a small treat. Dolmen felt the horrid draining, and collapsed in pain and fear. The snake faded and died.
Every theory Dolmen had postulated proved correct. The thing sensed him, and his magic, unlike any other formula, controlled the damnable thing. He was ready to move forward, but one factor still barred him. The creature drained life from him, as it stole light from the air. He needed protection, protection only the damned could offer.
Escaping from the stifling confines of blind fools unwilling to see the inherent good of his actions, he fled deep into Spain, secluding himself amidst some of those covenants who cast a blind eye toward questionable practices. There he summoned forth and bound the Demon Kastaris. Compelling the foul pestilence, he struck a pact, trading his soul for immortality, with but one condition...the soul could not be taken until one mortal year had passed. The demon, always one for a challenge, heartily agreed.
During the year, Dolmen perfected his new formula, developing spells that rivalled all he has seen before. The more he spent in the lab, however, the less time he spent eating, sleeping, and excersizing. Taken over the course of months, the effects were dramatic. Dolmen grew pale and thin, foolishly forgetting that despite his immortality, food was required to maintain his appearance. Still, he did not care, preferring this new fearsome countenance to any other that magic could provide. In truth, his own mentor would not recognize him.
When the year was complete, Kastaris returned, blood in his eyes. Taken aback by the dramatic change in the mage's appearance, it allowed the mage to cast forth the first spell. The demon found himself gripped in bonds that did not shackle his vis form as much as trap his very nature in this plane. Dolmen demanded the contract, and destroyed it quickly. Finally wishing to truly stretch his powers, he swallowed the ebony form into himself.
Walking over to a mirror to admire himself in this his moment of triumph, he fairly fainted when he realized the face staring back at him was the very same one that had tormented him as a novice. The circle was complete. The mentor was now tormentor.
To say that Dolmen went a bit insane would be great understatement. He now glimpsed all the points in which this brave new power leaked. The flow was strongest in the shadows, child of light and darkness. He knew its name: Umbra.
He wandered Mythic Europe, and many saw his countenance and cast the Evil eye at him. In his own time, and for his own reasons, he savaged many, draining them first of hope, and then life. During this time, he came upon a strange creature, skulking in the shadows. It was the dead of night, when a horrid chill overcame him, and he kept to the shadows for warmth. It was an ugly creature, with a bulbous, misshapen head, and slaqvering teeth. It lunged at him, teeth bared. Dolmen allowed this indulgence. When the horrid little man tasted his first sip of Shadows, he screamed in pain and suffering. Dolmen, utterly fascinated, giggled and carried the thing home.
The most puzzling aspect, he noted, was its immunity to his newly found power. Try as he might, the Umbra had no effect on the creature. He knew it to be a vampire)) its constant cravings for blood rendered this obvious. However, the initial reaction the creature had to tasting _his_ blood puzzled the mage. By all rights, if this thing was demonic in nature, should it not be totally immune to the nasty side effects? And why didn't the spells he designed to turn the Shadows back on the demons work on this creature? All this and more he wrote in his tome.
Finally, the day came when he entered the room which housed the creature, and it was gone. He opened the cell, and with the exception of a sudden breeze, it was empty. He thought nothing of it, until the Tremere came for him a few weeks later. The creature, it seemed, had...friends.
Somehow aware of his nature (not difficult considering the macabre swath he cut through Europe), they came prepared. They came to destroy him outright, and destroy his damned texts. He ignored all their most fearsome attacks, the force and fury being swallowed in the ethereal twilight that suffused his body. Finally, they discovered a simple Vim incantation bound him tighter than their mightiest enchantments. He was taken back for punishment.
Magus: Dolmen, Why have you committed this, the grossest of
offenses? Surely you knew that conspiring with the forces of
darkness would destroy your soul, just as we soon must destroy your
Dolmen: Foul Cretins! Know not thy Savior? Had you but eyes opened, you would all grovel at my feet but for the miraculous gifts I bestow. I offer you freedom from temptation! If but one of you embraces the darkness, and takes up the way of Shadows, to combat darkness, thousands would be spared!
Magus: You speak as a priest would. Perhaps there is a force you would bow to, if not magic. >Aside< Piotr! Call forth the bishop's men!
Dolmen: Yes! Call them forth! I have quite a tale to tell thee, of the "Great Fear" and the lengths it drove me. And after the horrid secret enters their minds, we will count the _seconds_ before every brick in this damned place lies scorched. I fear not your hollow threats. The Church, your only hope, is also your greatest enemy."
"Against Fritz Dolmen, Magus of Tremere"
The Church was never called in. Rather than admitting the blight on their house, they buried the crime, and locked Dolmen away, where not even hope could reach. Just as any other foul hellbeast, Dolmen was affected by the binding rituals of vis. There he would languish, until such a time, when his belly gnawed at his spine, and he licked the moisture off the walls to soothe his immortal thirst, when he would sorely regret his immortality, and be all but forgotten from the annals of the Tremere. Such was the belief, but the reality was far different.
Dolmen _did_ accept his sentence, but not before making a pleasant offer. "Take my book," he called to Harrod, his judge. "Keep it far from my damned eyes...keep me from perpetrating any more foul evil." Harrod, noticing his sarcasm, replied, "You think us fools, Dolmen, to slide down the same pit as trapped your cowardly soul? I will take that book, and destroy it, so that none will learn from any of your foul works!" His eyes blazed with a fire that put true force behind those words, but his hands, caressing the black binding like the cheek of a babe, told a very different story. Harrod was found that night, dead, the book laying open before him, turned to the second page...
Repeated attempts were made to destroy the tome, and all failed. The book was placed on a caravan to farthest Cathay, only to reappear the next day in a stack of books destined for the library. During that harrowing time, many Tremere fell to the seductive kiss, as it reached out to the curious and the stupid. But despite all that he had endured, locked in a cell with no nourishment, Dolmen never tried to escape, nor did he try to use his new found powers again to destroy. Instead, he often commented, the Book was doing his work for him. It was decided that he would be sealed forevermore in his cell, so that this blight would be forgotten. But as the final brick was placed, he called out to those on the other side of the wall.
"One day, my brothers. One day, the curse will be upon you. One day your own blindness will root you into eternity, and crush the magic within, selling out for second class hedge magic. And in that moment of awesome silence, when your heart stops beating, and still you live on, you will think of me, and rend your bloodless fingers to stumps, trying to claw me out. I will be waiting."
The Tremere did turn away, and inflicted the Vampirism upon themselves to escape a fate they thought worse, but the ideological difference that motivated the decision caused a schism in the House, which would one day lead to the formation of the Camarilla Tremere and Sabbat Tremere. The one ideological difference: The Book of Shadows. The Sabbat Tremere now understand its true nature, and desire to wield it, to regain once again the power they sacrificed. It was stolen from Vienna to prevent this, and has so far eluded detection. If the Sabbat Tremere were to wield it, it would spell doom for all those who cherish life.
The book underwent a physical transformation when the Tremere changed, allowing them to use the magic. The names of each of the paths hint at the greater power available if one were to properly decode the text.
Game stats: The Book was once a tom,e of over 200 pages, each dealing with the depths of the formula Umbra. Spells and theory abounded in the tome, and merely glancing at a few of the vile pages caused the reader to be overcome with desire to try it out.
However, with the change that overcame the Tremere, the book itself was physically transformed to a book of about 35 pages. Rather than dealing with the formula, it deals with the Path of Shadow, described below. This is a unique path, accessible only to those who peruse the book. It cannot be learned in any other way.
One of the most dangerous aspects of the Book is that it taps energies far different from that of magic. This energy, heretofore known as Shadow, is the antithesis of life. Any living creature without "demonic" taint who is caught in the influence of _any_ Shadow path takes damage. Unless other wise specified, damage is equal to one health level per turn. It is known that because of the nature of the werewolf's life force, this drain is aggravated. Vampires and demons, tainted as they are, are unaffected. Thus the path is lethal in the hands of any non-vampire or magi without demonic taint.
The book hints at more paths, and it would seem that pages are torn out. If the book were to be reassembled, perhaps the power contained within would elevate a Tremere caster to magic levels lost long ago.
The Path of Shadow:
Level 1: Taste of Shadow. Caster can sense objects in the shadows, as if they were not there at all. Caster applies his Thaumaturgy rating plus perception in attempts to see people using obfuscate. By rolling occult + perception, caster can sense whether someone in shadows (not just hiding) is kindred (no drain), human (slight drain), or lupine (heavy drain). 1 success against difficulty 7 tells whether the target is one of the three. 2 successes allows insight into the Nature or Rank of target. Three gives an accurate figure on Humanity and Rage levels.
Level 2: Stain of Shadows: With a roll of manipulation + occult, the caster can attempt to hide himself as per Level 1 obfuscate. Every success diminishes a perception roll by one die. Five successes, and the caster has merged into the shadow plane. Although unable to move, the caster is effectively intangeable.
Level 3: Grip of Shadows: Imitates Movement of the Mind. Cannot be used on self, however. Roll Stamina + Occult. Difficulty equals how long the caster wants to keep the spell up. Number of successes equals strength of the arm. Caster can burn one willpoer per turn to maintain the magic beyond the time he set for himself. Magic cannot be used for number of turns equal to how long it was previously up. This can be shortened by spending two bloodpoints. If the magic grips a "living" being, it automatically does damage, maximum equal to strength (roll as grapple), minimum of one. Grip can be broken is a resisten strength test, with a positive test meaning the spell is broken, with no damage taken that round. This is normal damage for humans, aggrivated for lupines.
Level 4: Gate of Shadows: Caster must first use level 2, receiving 5 successes and merging into a shadow. Then, by burning 1 willpower and rolling perception + occult. Success is as follows:
Teleport is instantaneous to another shadow. Caster may bring others with him, but this costs him a success, ie trying to bring 2. He rolls 5 successes, but can only take them one block. Unless the traveller is Kindred, he must don a cloak of shadows (see below), and if not, traveller takes i health level / success.
Level 5: Sin of Shadows: Caster can gather shadows about himself. Caster rolls strength + Occult Every success grants him one turn out in the sum. This can be extended by burning 1 wp + 1 bp / turn. It may also be used during the evening to add soak dice to fire attacks. Every success grants one die.
By spending one willpower, the caster can put this on another poor soul. If the victim is living, he takes damage, as seen above. The number of successes indicate how many turns it lasts, extended by burning a blood point. Caster does not even have to hit. This damage cannot be soaked. Use of the power in this manner requires a humanity check, difficulty 10.
As every path is taken, the caster becomes more attuned to the shadows, and loses touch with his humanity. Each level in this path decreases humanity by one automatically.
Weaving the Cloak:
This monthlong ritual begins with the pelt of a werewolf being placed in total darkness for three weeks. At the end of this time, the cloak is sewn and prepared, still in darkness. The final trick is to force the shadow of another into the cloak, to activate its magic. This act is akin to taking the victim's soul, and ends in death. Such an act is vile evil, but leads to the creation of a shadowcloak. With it, a caster gains taste of shadow without even knowing the path, and can wield the paths safely, without fear of drain.