An Empire of Brotherly Love

The New Jerusalem
Prester's Journal: Entry 1

For those of us actively engaged in the Quest there’s an unusual euphemism that often gets used. “Looking for Jerusalem”, we call it. Sounds odd to outsiders. Where’s Jerusalem? Well, it’s at 31°47′N 35°13′E, naturally. Contested capital of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Literalism is such an accursed, beige way of thinking.

What the grail means, what Jerusalem really means is the center of the world. A hub around which life and un-life spin and dance. It means so much more than that, but that’s the best I can put down in my limited capacities. Obie was always so much more eloquent than I am. I hope he’s dreaming peacefully of the Grail and Lamb. A vain hope, but there it is.

But enough theology, on to the record. I arrived at Grand Central a few nights ago and made contact with one Demitri Rose, a member of the underground Circle here in New York. He confirmed my prior intelligence from my correspondence partners that being an acolyte in the Big Apple is a one way ticket on the Final Death express. Next stop oblivion. He sounded Russian. If she’s any brains in that cultist head of hers Polina Rurik ought to look him up. I wish she had a bloody cell phone. It’s not that hard, people, I’ve been up and walking around since when we had to turn a crank to make them work, you can too.

Anyway, the ostiary found me within a few hours in my suite at the Doubletree. He grilled me about why I was in New York and I put on my best Ohio accent and said I was a traveling scholar from Columbus. Not strictly a lie, but obviously not the whole truth. He believed it, or chose to.

I met the Prince the next day. Firstly, anyone powerful enough to hold court in the biggest Cathedral in the Americas is not someone to be fucked with. I think I saw more Kindred gathered for midnight Mass than I’ve ever seen in my entire existence. Secondly, it’s clear that the Lance and Chapel hold absolute power here. The Movement and the Estate dance to their hymn. The Dragons seem absent but not strictly proscribed. Anyway I kissed hands with the seneschal and mingled a bit. I took a seat in the back pew after Court to think for a bit.

It’s a beautiful church, St. Patrick’s. All Tuckahoe marble and burnished Vermont oak. I prayed and looked on Him on the Cross, floating candlelit above the Gothic reredos, looking down on us Damned from his lofty perch. I wonder what He thinks of us.

Obie believes that Christ’s blood damned us when it touched Longinus’ spear, but that in that same Holy Vitae there was the essence of forgiveness. That’s what the grail is to him, and sitting there in that church, it was to me as well. Spear and Chalice. Damnation and Redemption. The wrathful Lord and the forgiving Lamb. I told him it was more than just Christ, that the Gnostic gospels show us that the Grail is much older than that. He just smiled under that ridiculous toothbrush mustache of his and asked me if that proved him wrong. I suppose it didn’t, at that.

I crossed myself and rose. Amen.

Apart from that, I conducted a little research for the quest at the Public Library (another lovely building, I’ll say this for NYC the architecture is top-notch). Set up my haven not far from there, actually.

I took a little jaunt down to Brooklyn to play Mephistopheles with a down-on-his-luck day trader, too. I figure if I’m going to make progress in this New Jerusalem, well, I’d better start to get to know the priests. Jesus wasted his time casting out the money changers; they just built their own Temple Mount.

To-Do List:

  • Pick up a new set of lockpicks and a crowbar. Left mine in previous Haven like an amateur.
  • Take sob story to see his boss, negotiate a new contract for him. So I enjoy playing the Devil looking for the Grail. So sue me.
  • Make contact with Rurik and see if I can’t find anyone else from previous location that came to NYC.
  • Buy new clothes, furnishings for apartment.
  • Patch hole in shower.
  • “Grocery shopping”
  • Get bank statement and lease copy for library card. Bloody Blackshirts at the NYPL.
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Fragments Part 3 - Massacre in Manhattan

Previously…

I found my mark in the hotel bar. Young enough, comely, blathering on about his yacht. It should have been easy. Slide up, flash a smile, take him back to my suite…

“I hardly think so,” he scoffed.

The proverbial straw. All the anger I’d felt for the past two nights came back to me in that moment. Gloria’s hired agents, her death before I could respond, Eve’s smirking face as she took my lands, losing everything in one stroke. I felt the beast inside me, snarling at this new slight. Red hot rage. I didn’t even try to reign it in.

I lunged.

He didn’t see me coming. He had no defense against me, no time to raise his hands to deflect the blow or protect his neck. My fingers twined through that mop of curly hair, jerking his head back, neck exposed for my fangs to slide right in. I tasted the sweet nectar of his blood for one brief moment before my eyes were drawn to the doorway of the bar. The yacht boy slipped from my fingers into a bloody heap on the floor, broken spine collapsing once I no longer held him up.

The anger inside of me reigned itself in to make room for the curiosity of the Beast. It stretched out toward this newcomer – assessing, sizing him up. His beast rose to meet mine; in the instant our eyes locked my feral self was satisfied. I had time to cringe at the black hat and brown trench coat combo before I knew that something was off, that he was reacting negatively to the taint. I expected fear, expected him to run; I’d encountered that reaction often enough in my many years of unlife. I didn’t expect the attack, the weapon. He reached beneath his coat to grasp the stake.

I was off and running in a heartbeat. He blocked the only exit in the bar; I barreled toward him at full speed, launching myself into the air at just the right moment to dive over his head and tumble past him. The stake grazed my arm. I shook it off and kept running. The lobby loomed in front of me: front desk, outside, elevator, staircase. Into the stairwell, crouching behind the door…then lunging for him as he came in, fist exploding for his face. No dice; he stepped aside and flashed out with the stake again, another arm wound.

I took off up the stairs. Floor two, three, four. He was hot on my heels. Could I make it to 20? He made a grab for me. I launched myself over the railing, free falling to the first floor landing. I felt something pierce my back as I slammed into the ground. No time to check it – out the door and into the lobby again, just in time to watch the front desk clerk slam the phone back into its cradle. No time for that, for the mess I’d made in the bar. I spilled out onto the street, head whipping both ways to find a way out of this mess. A crowded area, somewhere I could blend in with the mortals. He wouldn’t breach the masquerade, would he?

I didn’t get the chance to find out. I was half a block away from a long line of people when I felt him at my back. I whirled on him, letting him see the feral inside of me, twisting my features into a monstrous countenance. I watched his eyes widen; he reigned up in terror, turned on his heel, and fled.

My relief was instantaneous but short-lived. Hunger rose up inside of me – I needed to feed. My eyes scanned the street, landing on a young man in a green jacket with dreadlocks. He seemed unsteady on his feet, staggering with a glazed look in his eye. An easy mark. He mumbled something about “Crust Juice” as I lured him into an alley. I went for the neck, drained him dry. His body slumped to the ground and I stripped him of the ugly green jacket, rummaging through the pockets for anything of interest.

And then I waited. I’d made a mess in the hotel bar by tearing the man to shreds in front of witnesses. I knew the bartender at least had seen the fangs; I could tell by the fear I saw in his eyes as I stepped away. I needed to take care of that.

He emerged some few hours later. It was easy enough to convince him to forget he saw me at all, but as he walked away I wondered if it would be best to have him removed from the picture entirely. I would take it up with Angelo.

I retired.

The next evening I rose with Angelo on my mind. I had been forced to find a new hotel because of the event last night, leaving me without easy access to him. I called his room at the Ritz, left a message, and within thirty seconds he was on the line. He agreed to move hotels; he and his men took a separate room down the hall from me and deposited Otto in my closet. I have a vague notion of what to do with him.

Angelo spent the evening teaching me to use a mobile phone – it was a frustrating five hours. I told him he’d need to lie low during our time in New York, at least until I figured out the local opinion on ghouls. He brought up the Embrace again, and again I put him off. Right now he’s more useful to me alive. He can learn things that I have a harder time picking up. He can walk around during the day. And then there is the curse of my bloodline. It is not something I would wish upon an enemy, let alone someone whom I regard so fondly.

When we returned from shopping for cell phones I found a visitor in my room. The local Sheriff, if he can be believed. He asked after the potential breach in the masquerade and I brushed it aside, but he did give me some interesting news: the bartender did not report for work this evening. I will need to find out what has happened to him. I was given the Prince’s court location and sent the man on his way. Only after he left did I realize I could have used this opportunity to explain my presence in the city.

Perhaps next time.

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Fragments Part 2 - Forced Relocation

I have reigned in Philadelphia as Regent of the Docks for nigh on seven decades. To find that power so abruptly wrenched from betwixt my fingers was startling; to be informed that I must leave the city I called home for a century is downright cruel. And then to watch my territory be handed over to that scheming bitch Evelyn – it was almost too much to bear. The Beast called for her blood; I wanted to wrap my fingers ’round her skinny throat and throttle her, to wrench her limbs from their sockets and throw her damaged body into a blazing fire.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The note from Clinton St. John came as something of a surprise. A new Prince in town? Gloria eliminated before I could get to her myself? So very…frustrating. Dispatching of her with mine own two hands would have been nothing short of satisfying. (There seems to be somewhat of a theme this evening – my blood is boiling. I cannot vouch for the safety of whom so ever crosses me next.)

He spoke of a dream he had to unite the two cities under one rule, a sprawling powerhouse with himself at its head. He borrowed heavily from the black man that also had a dream. If I accepted his offer I would become Special Envoy Romano, granted the first pick of any territory when he came into his kingdom. Refusal was execution, a blood hunt declared as soon as I left the property. My choice was obvious.

St. John granted this night and the next to settle my affairs. Before I left he spoke of how he planned on disposing of Otto, gesturing to the man that had been unconscious in a chair whilst we spoke. I recognized him as the missing Oak King; I convinced our new prince to spare his life, though he staked Otto before we left.

Arranging to leave the city wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined it would be. Angelo saw to our travel arrangements and accommodations in New York, opting to leave Vinny in charge while we are away. I informed him that war with the Pollocks must wait; at my behest he made peace and will now be focusing on forcing his way into the scene in New York.

Our travel the next night would have been peaceful if I were leaving the city of my own volition. But my thoughts kept returning to everything that I had just lost, all the years I’d spent gathering power wasted on the whim of a man with crazy ideals. Rage bubbled within me, threatening to spill over. I seethed silently, but Angelo must have known something was amiss. He took the first opportunity he could to leave my presence, hunting for a new place I would call home.

That left me to do my own hunting. I didn’t want to go far; I wanted something more than a quickie in a corner. A true feast, no holding back, retreating to my room to make an event of it. I’d even toyed with the idea of another lackey while I was on the way here. And why not? I know no one; mortal connections are better than none at all.

I found my mark in the hotel bar. Young enough, comely, blathering on about his yacht. It should have been easy. Slide up, flash a smile, take him back to my suite…

“I hardly think so,” he scoffed.

The proverbial straw. All the anger I’d felt for the past two nights came back to me in that moment. Gloria’s hired agents, her death before I could respond, Eve’s smirking face as she took my lands, losing everything in one stroke. I felt the beast inside me, snarling at this new slight. Red hot rage. I didn’t even try to reign it in.

I lunged.

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On Leaving Philadelphia
Submitted for the Consideration of the Journal For Semiotic Studies of Genetics and Culture

[This draft will need to be edited down, but I hate rewriting on trains. Once I find somewhere to work in NYC I can revise. —PH]

Sacrifice is, unquestionably, the defining aspect of Kindred existence.

Now, I can hear your protests already. We are predators, I hear you say. Wolves among sheep. The Beast defines us, not some Judeo-Christian claptrap about right and wrong. The Lance says we are made predators by God, the Circle gives the Crone (or Goddess or Hag or All-Beast or whatever theosophical nonsense they’ve cooked up lately) the same authority, but they are wrong. Dead wrong.

We have sipped from a poisoned chalice, Kindred, and only that same chalice can lift from our shoulders the burden of sacrifice. Only the Grail offers salvation, that keystone of history on which both Crochan and Christ shed their Vitae. From which my line, the Bron, in their hubris drank when they were Not Worthy to do so.

Sacrifice. We all give up so much, and so my tale began…

In Philadelphia at this time, the Cult of the Goddess had seized autocratic control in a city that had been, since Franklin’s day, ruled by the Esoteric Companions of the Mystic Dragon (a Masonified offshoot of the Ordo Dracul). And among their beloved rituals was the idiotic perpetuation of an ahistorical practice called the “Oak King”. Essentially, a male Kindred is selected to live a life of privilege and luxury for one full lunar year until the day when he is messily devoured on an altar at midnight as the divine goddesses cavort in his blood, feminine power, the Sacred Crone, vagina-penis-baby-envy, yes yes yes it’s all very dramatic and would make for gripping television.

Quite serious for Mr. Eisenstadt, but still, almost comic in its purpose. They really thought that was something integral to Kindred existence? This was old, deep magic? Please.

I’d been catching up on my correspondence and conducting research for the Quest that night. I was, in point of fact, preparing a thank you note for Ms. Romano for obtaining Vatican Archive Lot #3009 for me with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of efficiency. Fascinating Gnostic text, might have some coded references to the continuation of Classical Kindred pagan religious practices into some aspects of Cruac and Crone Worship. Glad I managed to take it along before, well. I get ahead of myself.

[Should still mail that thank you note, it’s only courtesy. Wonder if she survived. Doubtful. Ah well, I’ll just not sign the thing and leave the details vague, they likely won’t know it was me. —PH]

Shockingly, the Oak King was running late and her grand-high Self Righteousness wanted volunteers to go on blood hunt for the bastard. I’d hoped Otto had made it to Newark by the time they sent up the flag, but I volunteered anyway for an excuse not to be at Oak Park. Far too much to do. I went straight home, naturally. Best decision of my unlife, as it turns out.

They must have taken all of them, it’s the only explanation. They wouldn’t have come after me if it wasn’t done whole and properly. Tear the Circle out by the roots and then burn the roots. I wonder who they’ve picked for Prince? Baltimore? Probably not, too intellectual. St. John, God the Creator, there’s a terrifying thought. That man would turn up his nose at Strom Thurmond as a bleeding liberal. Likely him, then. Invictus are so predictable.

The call was from Jake Pulaski and was brief. Ten minutes. Ten minutes, I had, because the firebomber was stuck in traffic, otherwise I’d already be ash. I have not survived in the Quest this long because I have a knack for hesitation. I grabbed the stash of Krugerrands, my laptop, my wallet, Lot #3009 and my personal effects. The rest be taken by fire, and may God damn them all.

I bought my ticket in cash and now sit here, writing this missive, waiting for the train to leave. They’re just finishing boarding now…

Hm.

Well, well. So Ms. Rurik did survive. Blood flows thicker than coin after all. This should be interesting, to say the least.

By the Holy Grail, Yours,
Prester Halifax.

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Fragments Part 1 - The Takeover
Isabella POV

Woke up, 6pm. Oak king sacrifice tonight at Oak Park. So clever. I’m not particularly into this whole Circle thing, but Vivian has been pestering me for a week about it. I take the car. Tony is driving tonight, on loan from Angelo. He’s a droll fellow. We swing by the club – Lucky 7 – on the way; I go in the back, make a mental note to redo the parking lot, and none of Leoni’s thugs say anything to me on the way in. Angelo is in the kitchen; I snuck up on him, an accident, and after he drops the knife he took to my throat we feed from each other. Exquisite. I chose well in my mortal companion. He wanted more – he always does – and tonight I granted his wish.

It is only after our rendezvous – as he’s tying the halter of my dress back together – that he tells me of the news. Shipments in and out, profits made, looming war with the Pollocks. Angelo has planned to expand his territory, to wrench the train station from their grasp for additional shipping potential. I am pleased.

Arriving at the park on time was a moot point. The Oak King is missing. Frustrating, as I’ve things to do today. Gloria sent out a party to look for him…and shortly after he arrives. But I’m bored. This is a dreadfully dull affair, and Gloria is nothing but a bag of wind. Uppity bitch. So I leave, return to my home. Plans to make, people to see.

Thomas interrupts me as I work. Security alarm is going off, he says, but nothing is on the screen. Just a bug, he says, and offers to call the company. But I know better. I’d pissed off the little bitch by leaving early. I summon Tony and have the two of them meet me in the security room. All of the cameras feed the monitors on the walls. No windows, one door, walls reinforced by six inches of cement and steel. Very little furniture to get in the way. It was to be a Panic Room when the house was built back in the early 1900s. Time makes mockeries of all of us.

She sent two men to do the job. It was almost an insult. They didn’t expect opposition in the form of well-trained mob thugs. Tony and Thomas light them up, round after round piercing their skin. But the would-be assassins don’t die. They flee the scene, my boys hot on their heels, and I watch on the security cameras as they lose the trail.

Thomas calls Angelo; we retire to his home outside of Philly for the night. I am furious. Poisonous bitch, who does she think she is? I wrenched the docks from her power as soon as she came into it and there was naught she could do; now I’ll take the city as well. I am not some docile fool to be cowed into submission by two Kindred come to kill me. They made the mistake of letting me live, and she’s going to pay for it.

Next Night, So Far…
I wake. Angelo is staring at me intently; it is rather unsettling. He has been with me for years, but I can count on one hand the number of times he has seen me sleep. He presents me with a letter.

It seems as if there’s a new Prince in town, and I’m being summoned to attend him. Angelo summons a small team and we take three cars. They wait outside. I proceed alone into the lair.

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