by Timothy Toner
To say that the Prince's office was comfortable would be no lie; it had all the luxurious grace of the finest spiderweb: delicate, singular, and most important, ever so deadly. But this evening, John St. Clair, Prince of New Orleans and Toreador rake, was entertaining other spiders, to talk shop, as it were.
Osric crossed the floor, and warmly grasped the hand of the Prince. His retainer, Michael, stood precisely three steps behind his master, and awaited his every command, the leather satchel hanging from his neck giving him the air of a well-travelled messengerboy.
"Osric. So good of you to come at such short notice!" "I came as soon as you called. So how does the new title fit?"
John sighed mightily. "Terribly, I'm afraid. It's taken me thirty years to consolidate power away from those Tremere bastards, and seize control of the domain. Fortunately, enough magic gets slung around these parts that when I presented the Elders a unified front of Non-Tremere magi, who would raise an unholy stink if the black bastards weren't booted immediately, they saw the wisdom of my rule, and elected me. That was five months ago. Now this!"
"This? A simple theft, easily reversed!" John looked up, eyes glazed in admiration. "You really think so?"
"My Prince," Osric spoke, letting the words float out with all the respect due a better, "my services do not come very cheap. Resultingly, I hold myself to very strict standards. I will return the item to you, have no fear."
John smiled. He knew Osric would not fail him. "...but for me to do my job properly, I'm going to need some information. I already know the facts. I would not have agreed to take it if I didn't. However, I want to hear them from you."
"By all means! Sit...sit..."
Osric took a chair in front of the desk. Michael, as always, remained standing.
"Where to begin..." The Prince's ageless face contorted wickedly as signs of near supernatural stress furrowed his brow. "I suppose at the beginning...
"To consolidate my power, I had to make...arrangements...with certain local elements more magical in nature than most. The majority demanded some form of repayment for services rendered. The bodies of my vanquished foes served as some of the payment, but they wanted more. I was compelled to open the vaults the last Prince had left behind, and give them whatever they desired.
"One of them, an exceptionally powerful fellow, wanted a chalice dating to the early days of the Inquisition. It was on display at a local museum, and protected by Elysium. Only I could lift the ban, and allow the chalice to be removed.
"I arranged for the chalice to go on tour, with a variety of other sundry items. These would then disappear in shipping, and that would be the end of it. However..."
"...however, the chalice disappeared from the museum three days ago. All evidence points to Kindred involvement. None of the thermals were tripped, nor were any light beams broken. Somebody would have to have turned into mist to get NEAR it!
"You're positive it was one of us?"
"Most assuredly. I can imagine a human wanting such a chalice for a collection, but the nature of the "current" owner is such that few of those capable of gathering the means to do it off would endanger themselves by stealing it. I suspect the Tremere."
"They have everything to gain, and nothing to lose. By stealing from Elysium, it makes me seem incompetent. By stealing the chalice from its new owner, it breaks my pact. And its power supposedly still lay untapped."
"That is very important to me. To track down the one responsible, I must find out why that person wanted such an item. Remember, you must be truthful. Any hidden details will jeopardize your chances of getting it back, and jeopardize my men. Neither event is particularly pretty."
"Of course. It was picked up in France by the Tremere Prince two before the previous one. It is said that it can artificially raise the generation of one point of vitae, allowing those who must feed on the vitae of other kindred to subside on transformed human blood. It is even rumored to be able to duplicate the effects of diablerie, if the differences between the generation of the source and the drinker is great enough."
"So you never tried it?"
"No. No need...yet. It would have been nice to have around, if the situation presented itself, but I could not sacrifice the treaties of today based on my pathetic fears of tomorrow."
"So you know of no other powers it possesses, besides that one?"
"None to speak of."
"Then, in my frank opinion, that expedites things nicely." Osric rose slowly, signaling wordlessly that the casual atmosphere had lifted, and it was time to discuss formalities. "You know my price..."
"13 million. Half now, and half upon receipt of the chalice. All in cash. I know how you despise banks."
"In the electronic age, the paper trail an immortal being leaves behind it frightfully easy to follow, especially one who travels as much as I do."
John nodded in agreement. "So here it is." He handed a leather case to Michael. Wordlessly, Michael snapped open the case, checked inside, nodded to Osric, and remained standing.
"There are a few...addenda I want to make to the contract." John looked questioningly at the mercenary. "Addenda?" "I would hate to exploit a friend in need, but by retrieving the chalice, I firmly cement your power base, correct?" He did not wait for a reply. "Being a prince has certain perquisites, abilities that I would like to capitalize on."
"Two things:" Michael slid the papers out of the bulky satchel he kept at his side. He waited, pen in hand, for his master to speak. "One. I have the right to embrace two individuals in the greater New Orleans area, without your direct consent. Two. Final judgement over the cretin or cretins who stole your chalice will be dictated by me." A sudden silence filled the room. Osric burst the bubble. "This, of course, allows me to utilize any force I deem necessary in the apprehension of the culprits."
John smiled. He had heard rumors that amongst the sins heaped upon Osric's head was the most heinous of all: diablerie. He knew that Osric loved to cover all the possible angles. Osric would never pass up such an opportunity, since the trail could lead straight to an Elder Tremere...too great a prize to pass up. Besides, what did it matter? If it was one of those few cainites whom he owed a favor, and thus would normally be spared his wrath, so be it. One less boon owed, one less treacherous backstabber.
"I agree to both parts." The first part was fairly standard. Osric had asked a boon, and John would grant it. This was a fairly typical one in times of Jyhad, to replace fallen retainers. Osric would not have asked, unless he knew the task would be fatal enough to warrant it. The second part...well, that was personal, between Osric and the thief. Someone powerful enough to take the chalice would stop only at death in its defense, and the Prince could not have protected him, even if he asked specifically for mercy. And he didn't.
"Excellent." Osric took the contract, the revisions added in red ink, and handed it to the Prince. John wasted no time in adding his signature to the bottom line. He handed it back to Michael, who looked it over, and nodded to his liege.
Osric turned, and bowed. "As a man infinitely more gifted than I once said, 'The Game is afoot." Whirling, he led the way to the door, briefcase in hand.
He suddenly stopped. "I am in a great hurry myself. Do you have the second half of the payment here, right now, so that I do not have to interact with quite so many clueless lackeys as I did getting here?"
"Going straight for the source, eh? Yes, I will be here, ready to receive the chalice when you recover it. As for the money, it's safely tucked away in my safe nearby. I did not seek to hire you out until I had checked you out as well. I know how you operate, and how you despise late payment. Have no fear...the money is ready"
"Excellent. Michael, we are off."
Both turned once again to go, then stopped in their tracks. "One more thing," Osric muttered distractedly. Michael reached inside his leather case, and handed something to his lord. Osric delicately unwrapped it, as if it were made of eggshells. He turned toward the Prince, and threw the item high into the air. "Catch."
Of all the things John St. Clair was good at, sports was never one of them. In that moment before he lunged forward to intercept, he noticed all the chairs, tables, and footrests that lay between him and catching that item, and he made a mental note to burn each one in a bonfire for making this action all the more difficult.
It was a good throw, with plenty of loft, which allowed John to maneuver underneath, and just catch the item. Within a moment, he had caught his breath, and looked at the object intently. It was the chalice.
"Damn they were good," he thought quietly to himself. He glanced up, with words of gratitude on his lips, cuddling the chalice to his bosom. His expression soon turned to puzzlement and horror.
Michael stood there, and levelled a pistol crossbow at the Prince's heart, its shaft all too wooden. The retainer's flush cheeks indicated to the Prince that blood had been spent, and the fight was over before it had begun. Osric moved toward him, slowly and meaningfully, a cat stalking its prey.
"John, you were a fool. You almost allowed one of the most important Kindred artifacts to fall into the hands of the enemy. That was...is...inexcusable."
"Please! Osric, I'm so confused! Where did you get this from? Who stole it? Are they paying you more to take it back from me? Whatever the cost, I'll DOUBLE it!"
"Who stole it? Why I did, you cretin! Business was a bit slow, so I decided to go out and...stimulate my economic sector. I had heard about the chalice, but knew it well guarded by the Tremere. Your ascension to Prince made retrieving it child's play. And best of all, I was getting paid to do it."
"This is all about...MONEY? Christ, Osric, you're a vampire! Unlimited funds lie at your FEET! You have no need for currency of the kine!"
"You are correct. I have no need for the cash of the kine, but when I traffick amongst Elders and Princes, I find a different kind of currency readily accessible." A knife flashed out of his pocket, and gently grazed the Prince's cheek. John could feel a rivulet of blood flowing down his face.
"With the boons you have granted me, I will consider the job 'paid in full'...almost. I do want to see if there is something else you can offer me, something more valuable than a mere boon."
Osric brought the bloodied knife up to his lips, and concentrated terribly. He spat out the residue. "As I suspected. Only 7th. How unfortunate. You get to live."
"I will NEVER agree to your boons! "
"Oh yes you will!" The stabbing force of red eyes bore into the twisted soul of the Prince, and wrapped his will into a tight little package. "You have no choice."
Osric paused, and began the Litany. I have retrieved the chalice for you, as you requested. The thief has been dealt with, and I will be well paid for services rendered. I did such a good job, that you will recommend my services to all your friends. I am the best, after all. You will forget my domination of you, in act, and not in the words I say now, and you will think only the absolute best of me. And you will take my blood, and think it is the vitae of a charming girl in Boston, whom I keep for such occasions as this. Do you understand?"
John replied by bowing his head, and waiting for Osric to offer his wrist, freshly slashed, to drink from. The haze lifted a moment later.
"That was good!"
"If you'd like, I can send some more down to you." "Please, by all means! I've never tasted anything so...refreshing."
"Thank you. And remember, when I send it, don't drink it all at once. Savor the taste over a couple of days."
"By all means! Oh, the rest of your payment." John walked to the back of the room, and revealed a safe behind the panelling, cleverly concealed. He removed an armored courier's case, and handed it to his dear friend. "Allow me to pay you for that vitae!"
"No...the pleasure's all mine."
Real Name : Damon Strange
Sire : Hernshaw
Nature : Director
Demeanor : Jobsworthy
Apparent Age : 25
Physical : Strength 5 Dexterity 6 Stamina 5
Social: Charisma 6 Manipulation 7 Appearance 5
Mental: Perception 6 Intelligence 5 Wits 6
Talents: Acting 4 Alertness 2, Dodge 5, Leadership 4, Subterfuge 5
Skills: Melee 5, Masquerade 5, Etiquette 4
Knowledge : Finance 3, Occult 5, Kindred Lore 3, Lupine Lore 2
Disciplines : Auspex 5, Dominate 6, Presence 5, Celerity 5, Obfuscate 1, Protean 1, Thaumaturgy 4 (Lure of flames 4, Movement of the Mind 4, Path of Corruption 4), Obfuscate 2
Backgrounds: Contacts 5, Fame 1, Resources 5, Retainers 5
Conscience: 0 Self Control: 5 Courage : 7 Humanity: Zip. Zero. Nada.
Blood pool: 30 / 6
Image : 5'6" tall, well built, with near regal bearing. His eyes are chocolate brown, and his hair is a dirty blonde. He always dresses impeccably, and keeps his sword about him at all times. Roleplaying Hints: Playing people for fools is what you do best. Never let them catch on, until they're yours, and all that's left is skinning the prize. Treat your men with respect, as they are due, and punish insolence out of hand. Weep not for fallen comrades, since they're easily replaced. When faced with a Justicar, cut your losses and run, fading into the haze of the Masquerade.
History: As a boy, Damon Strange loved the theater. His father, a well landed yeoman, longed to give his son a better life than he had. When his son proclaimed interest in the theater, at only age 11, he immediately found a sponsor for his child.
At that time, there was but one role for the young boy: playing the various women's roles in the pieces. Damon never much liked getting kissed by another man, acting or not, and thoughts of the passes made to him by the older actors repulsed him. He knew this was one of the ways to rise quickly, but he would have no part of it, and it ended up costing him much, as he was held back from the better female roles.
He eventually found his way into the troupe of William Shakespeare, a remarkable playwright of his time. At about this time, Damon's voice was maturing, and he could no longer play the part of a female. Shakespeare, sensing the skill within the boy, took him under his wing, and made him understudy to the great. Damon was all ready to launch his career, as Banquo's son, when disaster struck.
A coven of witches did not take kindly to Shakespeare's theft and publication of one of their incantations. They lay a curse on the play, making ill luck fall on whomever spoke the name on stage. Shakespeare, frazzled by the experience, decided to do a revival of his popular play Hamlet, with Damon playing Osric, a minor part. However, Damon was understudy to Hamlet, and should anything happen, he would take over the role.
During dress rehearsal, Osric, patiently waiting a sign of fate, accidentally uttered "Macbeth" on stage. A fine silence filled the theater. A few actors took necessary precautions to stave of the curse, and most avoided Damon out of hand.
The play proceeded as scheduled. Damon uttered his lines, and contently slogged offstage for the final death scene. What happened next surprised everyone.
One of the mechanicals accidentally left a lit lamp in the rafters above the stage. It now plummeted, and struck the actor playing Hamlet, covering him in the highly flammable material. The wick, still lit, turned the actor into a walking, screaming inferno. He died weeks later, still screaming in agony at the curse, and one man would profit from the demise of the lead actor: the understudy. He was summarily fired, and thrown roughly out of the theater. No one noticed the shadowy figure walking in the rafters.
Damon was soon blackballed from all troupes, considered a unlucky risk, at best, and a demon in disguise, at worst. His expulsion from Shakespeare's troupe was considered a figurative Kiss of Death. Hernshaw arrived to make it literal.
He explained that he was an old friend of Shakespeare's, a patron of the arts par excellence. It was he who convinced Shakespeare to take on Damon, since Hernshaw spotted the hidden talent within the boy. The only problem was the blackballing. Hernshaw had tried to "convince" Shakespeare to take Damon back, but it seemed the poet had a patron of his own, a patron potent enough to make the witches unable to curse Shakespeare, and have to settle on the play then. It would take time, Hernshaw said, but mortal memory would forget the accident.
Damon liked the old man, and embarked with him on a tour of Europe, watching the greatest performers Western Civilization had to offer. There was something about Hernshaw that Damon distrusted, but in every way, he seemed to be simply an eccentric blue blood, worried about the damaging effect the sun would have on a pale complexion that took a lifetime to achieve.
When Damon was 25, after four years of constant travelling, he expressed concerns about his career. He was, after all, never getting any younger. Ought not he go back, and try his luck anew? Hernshaw disagreed, but told Damon that there was a way that he would never have to grow old again; in fact, he could live forever.
The thought made Damon's head spin. Immortality! He readily embraced the idea. And so Hernshaw did the same to him.
They waited 10 more years, and then returned to England. That was a cruel mistake. Most of his peers had transcended into middle age, and were doing Lear and Prospero. Damon's youthful appearance seemed to back up the claims that he was in legion with the devil. His inability to appear during the day did not help, either.
When he returned, fully humiliated, his master laughed at him, chiding his lack of patience. He kept on speaking of the future, a future that never seemed to come.
One day, his master announced that he was bored with this existence, and would sleep for around 10 years. Damon was perfectly free to do as he pleased. He watched Hernshaw descend into the tomb, and moved the heavy rock to cover the opening.
Damon decided to treat himself to Paris, on this, his first breath of true freedom since the Embrace. He plunged into the excesses of Kindred society, and soon learned all the things his sire had never told him. Most important, he knew he was Blood Bonded to Hernshaw, a fact that he tried to grow angry about, and could not. His fellow Toreadors had much fun at the expense of this novice. He was 13th generation, and virtually anyone could dominate him. Finally, growing bored, they made him frenzy, and threw him into the arms of the Toreador Justicar, who had just returned home.
In anger at the assault, but sensing no fault on the part of Damon, the Justicar wiped his mind clean, and staked him, leaving him to die as the sun rose. His existence would come to an end, and he would not be burdened by his painful memories. A pack of Sabbat Antitribu Toreadors had other plans.
They saved him, only to make him their virtual slave. He had no will, no memories of the past, no knowledge that what they were doing to him was wrong. At times, he found himself crying, but did not know why. Daily, he was beaten, molested, and mutilated. Each night, they would set him free, to be their hound, leading them on the hunt for easy prey. They would allow him to feed on enough to survive, but would never let him truly sate his thirst.
Finally, the crimes of this pack grew too great, even for the Sabbat, and so a Sabbat Tremere Elder was send to "talk" to them. The conversation lasted all of five minutes, and the corpses of the five Toreadors lay steaming on the ground. Only Osric was spared.
The Tremere Elder was about to put him out of his misery, when he noticed the creature huddling at his feet was muttering the lines of Hamlet at an astonishing rate, and rather well at the same time. Always possessing a love for the theater, the Tremere took his captive, who would only call himself Osric, home.
There the magus found out the truth, but in such a way that it was still hidden from Osric. He allowed the Toreador to indulge in his derangements, as he skillfully acted out each of the parts to Hamlet. On a whim, he took the boy under his wing, and taught him how to make himself look like anybody, making the performances all the more real. The Tremere also learned the location of his master, and had the tomb filled with sand. The Childe was now his.
Unbeknownst to him, Osric was recovering steadily. He indulge his new master in his games, but all the while, he watched the Tremere cast his spells, and learned the Art of Magic.
Although the Tremere mage had never done anything wrong to Osric, a blood bile filled his throat at the thought of servitude to anyone. He asked his master to do Hamlet with him, just this once, and perform the title role. The master could not refuse such an offer, and readily agreed. In the final scene, they clashed with wooden training swords. Finally in the momentous scene, "A hit, a palpable hit," Osric drove the improvised stake into his master's heart.
Years at the hands of the Sabbat had taught him well. He bound the mage tightly, and placed burning brands into his eyes, to prevent his mind from being stolen by the crafty mage. He demanded to know all there was to know about the Sabbat and Clan Tremere. The mage, in immortal fear for his life, assented.
Osric learned well, and learned quickly. He knew that the best defense against the burning eyes was to be more potent in generation. This could be accomplished through Diablerie, a normally unspeakable act, but Osric cared little for conventions that no one had followed in respects to him.
He realized quickly that to drain his master was foolish, since only one generation could be gained. Thinking wisely, he lured a few girls into his master's home, drained them, and then force fed them a bit of his master's blood. It had worked. He had done his first Generation Jump.
From there, it was child's play. He quickly became 10th level, and finished off the Tremere to become 9th. He then waited for the cursed stain to fade from his soul. All the while, he read, and practiced, and mastered all that his "master" had known.
In 1802, he finally felt it was safe enough to venture forth from the quiet German village which had sheltered him for so long. No longer content with being a mere actor, he threw himself into one goal: the complete destruction of both the Camarilla and Sabbat from within. He would move slowly, learning his lessons well.
He soon made a name for himself as a loyal adventurer, a mercenary willing to fight for the right cause, as long as the gleam of gold was involved. And as long as they thought his interests lay only in gold, his true desire, blood, remained hidden. Just the way he liked it.
He finally decided he had tracked down a vampire of the 8th generation, a Tremere, and prepared to take him down. He succeeded, but was almost killed by his retainers, if not for the intervention of Michael.
Michael despised his master with a passion, and swore allegiance to this man who had freed him. Osric considered for a moment, and realized where he had gone wrong. The fight was too much for one Kindred. He would assemble a group, a band of mercenaries inhumanly loyal to him.
His first act was to raise Michael from 13th generation to 9th. Then he began doing jobs for "free" to poor, unsuspecting 13th generation vampires, expecting only one favor in return, that at a random point in the future, they would Embrace a mortal of Osric's choosing, and turn him over, untrained, to the mercenary. Many vampires, angered at being at the bottom of the status ladder, readily agreed.
Slowly, one at a time, he brought them up under his rules, following his commands, and believing his version of vampiric existence. The Blood Bond was protection from those who would do their lord harm. Diablerie was the ultimate communion (he didn't bother telling them the newly made Kindred, mere hours old, were vampires). And by 1925, he was finished. The Generation Jumpers were assembled, and ready to feed.
Osric still kept at it though, receiving boons left and right, and paying always in the commodity most of his associates knew best: Blood.
He has finally regained most of his memory, with the jump to 6th. He knows that Hernshaw is still trapped, but is in no hurry to free him. After all, he's safe there, right?
Osric also currently is obsessed with Kindred related artifacts, such as the Chalice mentioned above, or the Egg of Desire which he used on Prince Lodin of Chicago. Any rumor of such an item will bring him looking, and he will offer the stars to gain control of it. He instead gives ashes.
His jumpers, 8 in all, are each 8th generation. Most have been trained over and over to amass 5's and 4's in their clan disciplines, and most also have level 1 in Protean, Obfuscate, Fortitude, Celerity, and Dominate.
Michael, his trusted henchman, the only Jumper not under a blood bond, is 7th level, with a 5 in Thaumaturgy, and 5's in Movement, Lure of Flames, Weather control, and Corruption. He has gained such power from near constant practice, forever using his abilities in new and inventive ways. At times, Michael should be more dangerous than Osric.
Osric possesses a sword he recovered in an altar in the Middle East that makes him immune to the effects of all the 1st level disciplines, and does aggravated damage to Kindred and Lupines. He has also discovered a ritual that requires he bathe in the blood of Toreador and Tremere (equal parts, roughly equal to 10 points) every day he wishes to use it. When this is done, he can set a specific color to his aura, and erase the taint of Diablerie. It is his prized possession, and will let no one touch it.
He also possesses a medallion which is forever around his neck. The medallion acts as a generator of the legendary "Somebody Else's Problem Field." Put simply, if someone catches on to his involvement in the plot, the searcher immediately thinks of Osric as a normal schmuck, punching a time card, and seeks out whomever hired him in the first place. One can search for him in the short run, but the trail will get colder and colder, until, in the long run, new suspects are sought out.
It has been rumored that Osric has never recovered from his derangement. Anyone saying "A hit, a palpable hit," will receive for his pains, a heartful of cold steel. He will follow up the stroke with a wicked grin, and hiss, "Exactly."
All right, so he's kind of powerful. But in my chronicle, he's the illuminati behind the Illuminati, the ultimate cog. The players have met him ONCE and never want to meet him again (he asked a character to retrieve the Egg of Desire, used it to kill Lodin before his very eyes, and then offered Sheriff's head on a plate as payment (he had some minor trouble with the Brujah in the past). Osric then offered the character two kindred freshly Embraced. Without me forcing him in any way, he readily agreed. It was amazing. I'm learning to love this guy, and what he can do to people, power or not. What do you all think?