by Timothy Toner
"Tomas. Wake up. Now."
The Lasombra's eyes blinked open slowly, as if he was unsure how they worked. "The light...it hurts! Turn it off."
Tendrils of recognition finally solidified. The voice didn't belong to any of his packmates. It was Leon, Cardinal of Pittsburg. He sat bolt upright. "Yes sir?"
"Take a shower. We have a very long trip ahead of us."
Tomas touched his face. It felt so odd, like it was covered in gritty soot. He brought his fingers to his dry, cracked lips. Blood. Dried blood. He was covered, head to toe, in dried blood. It felt...good.
Standing, he took in the communal haven. Where were his packmates? Probably off, looking for a snack--
The door lay in splinters, shattered by some awesome force. Their beds were shredded, soft fluff covering the floors, red and sticky from absorbing random puddles of blood. A single scarlet streak stained the floor, beginning at Mark's mattress, and going up the stairs to the outside. When Mark left, he obviously didn't do it in one piece.
Glancing half-heartedly at Gina's bunk, he only saw a river of blood, as if she were a sponge, and someone had squeezed her thoroughly. Her body was not in sight.
"They're gone, Tomas. Get cleaned up, before you join their fate."
He was in and out of the shower in three minutes. All the while, a hundred thoughts and fears raced through his mind. What had they done wrong? Were the two Infernalists? He tried to recall anything he had seen, but nothing came to mind. Standing in front of the mirror, a force of habit from his mortal days, he realized that there was only one escape: complete faith in the Cardinal. Tomas knew that the moment Leon stepped in, justice would be served.
When Tomas re-entered the living area, Leon was still standing in the same spot, waiting. The Cardinal then extended his left hand, an action which terrified Tomas. This was a custom as old as the Sabbat. To prove utter loyalty, a vampire suspected of treason would have to kneel before the accuser, and kiss her ring, to surrender his fate to the judgment of the superior. It was a custom normally out of place in a society like the Sabbat which relished personal freedom and equality, which is why it was seldom used, except when the verdict was already delivered, and only obeisance would save the vampire.
Tomas fell to his knees, closed his eyes, and pressed his lips to the ring, as cold as the flesh beneath. He had passed his Creation Rites without once flinching, he had dove into waves of gunfire, and yet now, with the prospect of the Final Death before him, Tomas shuddered.
"Coward." The cane of the cardinal, heavy and wickedly sharp, came down on the side of Tomas' head. It buried itself deeply within the temple, and when Leon withdrew it, it was very much like the sound of an oyster being forced open to extract the pearl within.
During the first week of Tomas' Creation, he had been literally beaten to a pulp several times, until he had come to understand that pain was not a curse, but a liberator. This pain, however, was horrid, worse than any he had faced in either life. "Eat the pain," he reminded himself. "Let it nourish you."
"At least you didn't flinch. If you had flinched, I would have destroyed you. Perhaps you are less the traitor I thought you were." Leon looked down at the Lasombra. "Time will tell."
The Cardinal walked out the door, deftly avoiding the larger pools. Tomas stopped only to pick up a rag, and stuff it into the gash in his temple. Healing would have to come later. He wrapped a bandana around his head, and stepped out the door.
Leon's car, a 1938 Rolls Royce, sat at the curb. Glancing down, Tomas watched the blood trail that was once Mark terminate at a spot just in front of the vehicle. There had been another car. Without asking questions, Tomas climbed in.
The car lurched forward, and immediately headed for the outskirts of the city. Traffic was heavier than normal, and Leon continually glanced at his watch. Stopped at a red light, he finally tapped the driver on the shoulder. "Andre, we're running behind schedule." Andre nodded, and gunned the motor. Two seconds later, those pedestrians still in the way were removed. Andre did not stop at another red light.
Tomas stared at Andre. The Sabbat wasn't about extravagant luxury, and mewling yes-men, and yet Leon lived alone in a haven that made the average Cammie red with frenzy, with a right hand man who probably didn't know the meaning of free-will. Despite his Prince-like idiosyncrasies, Leon was the best Cardinal Tomas had ever met. He often walked within the city, never hiding from problems like Camarilla leadership was known to do. Had Tomas been a member of the Cammies, he would be dead by now, killed on the whim of a Prince miles away. As it was, Tomas was still alive, sitting next to the man who controlled his future. And he wasn't scared. After fifteen minutes of silence, broken only by the occasional crunch of metal against warm flesh, Leon straightened his tie, and popped open a refrigerator in the back of the limo. He withdrew a bottle, and handed it to Tomas. "Heal up."
Tomas gladly accepted the blood. It was stale but sweet. "Thank you."
"Did you ever wonder why we fight this war?"
Tomas looked confused at the Cardinal. Such words, such thoughts usually bordered on the treasonous. Was Leon trying to entrap him, see if he was well-versed in the propaganda?
Leon didn't wait for a response. "We fight this war for the best interests of ourselves. It is a selfish, demeaning holocaust, consuming both sides frivolously. But rather than fighting a meager war of simple attrition, we, both sides, see fit to drag new combatants into the eternal fray. Our respective ideologies say that it is wrong, but we do it anyway. A war unlike any other."
There was an uncomfortable silence that hung in the air. Tomas desperately wanted to say something, but none of it made sense. Why was Leon acting like this? Where were they going? What did he--they do to deserve death?
We, not I. The central core of the Sabbat. If one fails, all in the pack fails. If one sins, all had better sin, for the fate of one is shared by all. By all he believed, he should be with Mark and Gina, dead...or worse. In the Sabbat, there is always worse.
"So what did you do last night?" Leon's questioned seemed terribly familiar, but there was an echo of a threat.
"Uh...what we always do, I suppose."
"Hunting. Seeking out Cammie moles. Having fun."
"Having fun. That's a rather vague term. Could you be more specific."
Tomas did something terribly human. He touched his forehead, and tried to think. "Heh, I'm not sure. I knew it was fun doing it, though."
Leon nodded. It was thoughtful, and a tad frightening, as if he knew the answers already, and was merely going through the motions.
"We can win this war." Another non sequitur, but once again, with a deeper context. "When I was Created, two centuries ago, I spelled it out to my packleader. He beat me until I was senseless, but he could never get the concept burned out of me. I even acquired a computer a few years ago, and ran it on simulation. We could win this war, if we do one thing."
"What?" It seemed appropriate.
"Become like the enemy. Abandon the Creation Rites. Glut ourselves with the blood of diablerie. Surrender to the Grand Vaudlerie."
Tomas stared at his cardinal in fear, and shot a look at the driver. At first it was intimations of treason. Now it was open blasphemy. "You would be robbing us of what we are!"
"For a time. War is brutal, and to win, you must be the most brutal. Do you wonder, since it was so effective, why we do not do it? Why we have created a wall of propaganda around the issue? I'll tell you. I will tell you a secret few know, for most who do discover it die while learning it.
"We Sabbat are not so different from our Camarilla adversaries. The crucial difference is that they despise what they have become, while we despise what we once were. We both still fear the future. If we did not, then there would be no war.
"It is so odd to consider it; they are humane to the kine because they despise their vampiric nature. We are humane to each other, because we despise our human nature. But vampirism isn't a switch one can turn off. By all rights, those who celebrate their form, and its powers, should carry the night. And yet we do not.
"They claim it is a matter of numbers. If it is numbers, then abolish the Creation Rites! Create Sabbat by the thousands! What's so terribly wrong about going into battle properly prepared? If we created enough, then the Kine could do nothing to stop the inevitable. We would wash the Camarilla under in a scarlet sea of hate.
"The true reason is none of these things. I know. And you know."
He paused, gathering thoughts. "Had you asked once why you were being taken away, why your packmates were destroyed, I would have killed you on the spot. Your faith in me and the Sabbat was your redemption. It was solid proof that there was more to you than a snivelling whelp.
"There is a secret to the Sabbat, and the Camarilla, I suppose, that all elders fear escaping. It revolves around the blood, and the power that blood awakens within us. All power comes from the blood. After all," he chuckled, "could you do the things you do now before it ran in your veins?
"I once heard a story about a Gangrel learning all his powers from observing nature in its splendor. I do not believe this to be true. Instead, I think the latent power lies within the blood. Those who teach Disciplines are not implanting new seed, but merely indicating how to use what is already there. Thus, it is theoretically possible to gain access to this power before it is formally learned. Future echoes of glory, I once called it. The Gangrel then saw things that opened doors within his own Blood."
Tomas had been mesmerized by the lecture, and when Leon paused, he glanced about. They were in the mountains now, in front of an elegant house, darkened within. Far away, the lights of Pittsburgh called to him.
"Come inside, Tomas. I have something to show you."
Both left the car, and entered the home. Small candles were tucked into the corners of rooms, providing an eerie illumination. Leon paused before a heavy oak door.
"When I learned this, I wondered if it was possibly to use the Blood to prematurely awaken these hidden powers. I explored my own nature, and the nature of my pack. What I found terrified me, and destroyed them." The Cardinal sighed. "It is possible."
"It is possible to gain mastery of a discipline while only a Neonate? Leon, what a boon for our side-!"
"No, Tomas. I misinterpreted the theory. You do not master the Discipline, the discipline masters you." The word was cold and haunting, and with its inflection, Leon swung open the heavy door, revealing a staircase leading down into the depths. "Come." They continued their journey down.
"The theory was simple. Those of greater experience have greater power over the Blood. But if one consumed enough blood, it should be possible to tweak the right doors, and activate these hidden powers, if only temporarily. Put simply, given enough blood to make mistakes with, anything was possible.
"So we glutted ourselves on the blood of the living. We let not a single ounce escape our lips, and we searched for deeper meaning. And we found it."
At the bottom of the stair was an iron door, rusting with age. "There are five such places in the country. It would seem my discovery was not a new one by any stretch."
Leon wrenched the door open, revealing a long line of iron doors, covering both sides. Tomas stepped to the first, and looked within.
There a wolf lay, looking very much like a faithful dog, waiting for its master to come home. "A lupine?"
"A Gangrel." Leon scraped the thick layer of grime off the door plate. "Heron Nightfoot." He left this cell, and indicated the next.
"We keep these wretches alive for two reasons. First, the insight they have gained in their powers often proves invaluable when we seek to exploit a weakness. Also, a few still hold crucial information.
A hiss announced that they were at the next cell. The room was alive with hissing, spitting cobras. "An entire pack of Serpents. Pitiful fools.
"What is this place? How did they get..."
"Trapped? The Blood. When you feed too much, when you consume too much, your body gets used to the flow of power. You open doors accessible, and controllable, only by those of greater generation, and greater power. When you reach that level, the power takes over. You cannot shut it off. Ever."
The next room contained a relatively normal vampire, sitting in the center of the incredibly bare room, naked. "That's Belina. She was once the leader of the Philadelphia Toreador Pack. She cannot turn off her Spirit Touch. Everything, from the clothes she once wore, to the prey she touched, flooded her mind with alien memories. Even sitting on the floor is agony, since she constantly picks up the echoes she herself has left on the ground."
They continued walking down the hall, talking. As they passed doors, Tomas glanced in to see empty rooms, vampires forever melting, rooms darkened by perpetual shadows, and things far worse than he could ever imagine.
"The sad thing," Leon continued, "is that it is so easy to do. If you get into a lot of fights, and consume a lot of blood, eventually the conflict catches up with you." A dull ache spread through Tomas' torso, as if Leon was striking too close to home. "Let's go back to our example of creating the legions we would require to destroy the Camarilla. Those who would create would be awash in the blood of the Kine they were Turning. They would unwittingly Surrender, as I call it, to the power, and become monsters far worse than anything we could control. They would, in their insanity, rip into the newly created Neonates. I have seen it happen.
"It is in the nature of the Sabbat to consume as much blood as we please. That is our terrible weakness. We cannot let the secret out, for it would lead to questions best left unanswered about our past. Still, every month brings another disappearance, a Sabbat who left an Orgy, never to be seen again. We blame Camarilla moles, but occasionally the corpse of the wretch washes up in the river.
They came to the final door. "So there are no moles?"
"Oh, I'm sure there are either true spies, or Cammies who want to know what it's like to live without regret. But that's my problem. Not yours."
He seemed as if he needed to finish this speech, get it over with. "Occasionally, the Surrender hits a particularly sadistic Cammie, or a pack of Cammie Diabolists, so glutted on the blood of the Elder that they do not notice what's really happening. But by and large, it is our problem, and our curse."
He grabbed the slide for the peephole, and wrenched it open. "Behold."
Tomas looked. There was a creature in there, moving fast, faster than...it suddenly slammed into the wall, and crumpled to the floor. Its face, its entire body was slick from the blood that flowed from a hundred wounds. Tomas began to turn away, when he recognized the clothes. "Mark-?"
"Yes. He has Surrendered to Celerity. Don't worry, we'll put him out of his misery soon." Leon peered in and tsked. "He's quite mad...can't slow down at all. The world is stationary to him, and his frail mind just can't comprehend.
"Most we destroy outright. A few we keep, to learn any information we can. The Surrender is old, much older than anyone probably could imagine. I'd like to think that good old Nosferatu accidentally Surrendered himself to Viccisitude. Once it's in the Blood, it's hard to get out."
"Is there any cure?"
"I doubt it. Who really cares? Those who succumb to it are weak willed fools, and deserve to be destroyed. Those that survive have learned a valuable lesson.
"There's a few anomalies we don't understand. Something happens to the vampire. They enter a strange sort of Frenzy, where they see everything, including Blood Bonded friends, as enemies that must be destroyed. Some react with cunning, but most just go on rampages. During the Frenzy, they do not need to feed at all. Somehow, they tap into another source of power. They can remain a cloud of mist forever, and too often do. Why they become so violent with Kindred is anyone's guess. There are those Tremere who try to unearth the source of their limitless power, but so far, none have succeeded. To me, it is an answer not worth knowing.
"She was that pool of blood. Quite alive, I would imagine. I suppose eventually we'll get around to burning her out." He slammed the peephole shut.
"Then there's no way to save her? Them?"
Leon looked at Tomas long and hard. "You really don't remember last night, do you?" He reached over to the door immediately opposite the one that held Mark, and slid the peephole open. "Look."
Tomas glanced in, and caught the fleeting glare of red eyes. It lasted for but a moment, but a moment was all it took. "Remember," the eyes told him. "Remember."
The girl, a fountain of blood, and quite tasty. She had notes, documents, a courier? She had a map to a place, a haven! No one recognized the name, and knew it must be a mole, and a powerful one at that. Gina was the first to bring up diablerie.
They knew it wasn't going to be a walk. They kidnapped 20 motorists, and handcuffed them not far from the haven. When the time came, they burned the blood, becoming inhuman killing machines, surging with blood and power. The elder withered before them, and they drunk deeply from his sweet neck, burning the blood as soon as it passed their lips, racing the others to the promise of power only one could attain.
And then Gina exploded. And Mark became a blur, and vanished.
And Tomas, he just faded away.
The memory ended.
"I killed him."
"Yes. A visiting Bishop. He was to announce his presence today."
Tomas stared forward mutely. "I Surrendered?"
"Apparently so. A streak of light, a pool of congealing blood, and a dark mass were seen leaving the haven. We followed the blood to your haven. Why you recovered remains to be seen. But we'll find out. Or, should I say, they'll find out."
He knocked on the final door in this alcove, a brisk but deep pounding. The door opened inwards. A woman, bearing the tattoo of the Black Hand on her left cheek answered it. "He's ready," muttered Leon.
"Wait! You mean you told me all that, and now you're going to kill me?"
"Only animals die in ignorance, Tomas. And you proved to me with your faith that you weren't an animal. It was the least I could do."
There is no absolute limit to the amount of blood that can be safely consumed before Surrender comes. In many ways, it is the opposite of Golconda, an acceptance of the Beast. Achieving Surrender should be as mysterious, though easier, than Golconda. If you ever feel a character is too easily giving into the Beast, begin to spread stories about Surrender in your chronicle. All should be legends from the distant past, reflecting a kind of Contra passo, or fitting punishment.
Surrender affects one of the Disciplines that the character either has a low rating in, and wants to improve, or one that he wants to learn in general. It activates the higher levels (mostly 4 or 5, but sometimes 6-8 if the character has the proper generation) permanently and quite uncontrollably. A vampire who Surrenders to Protean 4 remains a wolf or bat essentially forever, completely given over to the bestial mindset of the Frenzy. Those that take a more formless form (Protean 5, Vicissitude 5, Obtenebration 5, etc.) quite often lose their minds, and essentially die on the spot.
All mechanics are essentially null and void. If the character needs to spend Willpower or Blood to make the power work, none is spent. Then again, no degree of control can be achieved. All run from a vampire Surrendered to Majesty, and any command given by someone Surrendered to Command the Wearied Mind will be followed. Often, such Kindred are killed outright to protect the Masquerade. Any dice that need to be rolled to determine level of success are done on a case by case basis.
The Surrender Frenzy is quite strange and difficult to explain, since those who survive Surrender often burn the memory of the Frenzy out of their minds. It is a combination of a Rage and Rotschreck Frenzy, making the Kindred extremely jealous of his new power, and paranoid about others discovering it. Coupled with this is a gloating arrogance, a desire to flaunt and abuse this new gift. To truly recover from Surrender takes an extreme act of will, almost as difficult as regaining Humanity.
The Sabbat always run the risk of exposing the Surrender as the problem that it is. The problem they face is that certain factions within the Sabbat have a second tier of Creation Rites, where they try to Surrender themselves to Celerity, Potence, or Fortitude. Many who seem to be excellent Sabbat die as a result of the Surrender. Those who wish the practice stopped dare not anger the factions, though.