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Harbingers of Skulls: An Alternative Vision

By Randy Price
This is a first-person narrative as told by one of the Harbingers, but before we get to the meat of things, I felt that a bit of history and explanation was called for so that the reader gets a clearer picture of what happens behind the scenes, and shows that the majority of this is supported by White Wolfs writings. When I first read the entry for the Harbingers of Skulls in the Revised Sabbat Guide, I excitedly thought to myself, "Cool! They brought the Cappadocians back!" Unfortunately, I was later disappointed with further information provided on the Lazarenes in Giovanni Chronicles IV: Nuova Malattia and Clan Novel: Giovanni. Justin Achilli put together the basic elements for a possible Final Nights confrontation between the Giovanni and their Cappadocian forebears in Clanbook: Cappadocian and Clanbook: Giovanni with the story of the True Vessel. Depending on which book you read, the True Vessel contains either the vitae of Cappadocious (and the last remnants of the Antediluvians soul, Clanbook: Giovanni, 2nd Edition, pp. 16-18), or the preserved mortal blood of Augustus Giovanni prior to his Embrace (Clanbook: Cappadocian, pp. 13-22). At first glance, this might be seen as an editorial error, but when you consider other possibilities, you have the makings of an exciting story seed for your Giovanni storylines. I opted for the latter. For me, the idea that the Harbingers had been hiding in the Shadowlands for the past 600+ years was the epitome of lameness, especially when there were hundreds of ancient Cappadocians lying in torpor within the confines of Kaymakli and Lazarus (supposedly the nominal leader of the "Lazarenes") had been active from as early as Clanbook: Giovanni. Lazarus is the Capuchin mentioned in various Giovanni sourcebooks. He has been gaining the tentative trust of Augustus Giovanni since the 1600s. Although the Capuchins true identity is shrouded in mystery, it is easy to put two and two together with what you read in Giovanni Chronicles III: The Sun has Set (pp. 136-137). In the third installment of The Giovanni Chronicles, the troupe of players discovers an abandoned Coptic monastery that previously belonged to Lazarus. Deep within the hidden underground layers of the monastery is an ancient laboratory of some kind with the skeletal remains of Claudius Giovanni laid out on a sandstone altar. After all, CB: Giovanni states that Augustus handed over the remains of Claudius to the Capuchin. Perhaps the Capuchin is merely a retainer for Lazarus, but I doubt it. This alternate background for the Harbingers ignores the fourth book of the Giovanni Chronicles. In the alternate reality given here, Cappadocious soul is still wandering the shadowlands, if it still exists at all. Anyway, on with the story.... Gather around the hearth, fledglings, and listen to a tale of ages where we were freed from the treachery of an insane father and reborn from the great beyond by a baptism of blood. Long, long ago there were thousands of us. The great father, Cappadocious, called us to gather in the deep underground city of Kaymakli. Little did we know that this meeting would be the fathers way of separating the wheat from the chaff, those who met the fathers ridiculously strict rules of being, and those who did not. Cappadocious stood forth on a platform of basalt beside Japheth, Caias, and Constancia and looked down upon the lot of us. His normally peaceful voice turned harsh, and he asked us, "Who of you has not delved into the great mystery of Death? Who among you cannot read or write? Who does not follow the Road of Bones? Who has not built a church or library?" With each question, scores of us were led off by one of the fathers firstborn to the lowest halls and then sealed in by a huge stone that was rolled across the entrance. When the massive stone was lodged securely, its final placement echoed thunderously throughout the torch-lit chamber. The ensuing silence was deafening as what had been done to us began to sink in. The more enlightened of us began furious argument

about what the father intended for us. The less intellectual began clawing and beating upon the unyielding rock that now formed our tomb. As day became night and night became day, the Hunger began taking its inevitable hold over each of us and we reverted to the primal beasts that we innately were. The battles were horrid, savage affairs of skeletal talons and vicious fangs. Our high-flung ideals melted away as the blood flowed from the fallen in red rivulets. Only the strongest of us survived, until even those succumbed to the oblivion of torpor and the great slumber finally overwhelmed us. It was Lazarus servants who broke the fathers mystic ward that kept us captive. According to one of the Lazarene retainers, Cappadocious invoked a mighty curse that forbid any Cainite to leave the lowest halls of Kaymakli and prevented any Kine from entering. Perhaps it was the eight centuries that weakened the potency of the fathers curse. Mayhaps it was the unique lineage of Lazarus Obertus retainers... which were neither fully human nor vampire... that addled the contingencies of the curse. But, most of all, it was most likely that our ancient father in all of his maddened wisdom never anticipated the huge machines that burrowed deep into the ground and unearthed our tomb. I must give due credit to the Gangrel, Beckett, and the Nosferatu, Okulos, who led Lazarus to us, even though they did so unwittingly. The name of Ren Caros must also never be forgotten, as it was this revenant that saved us from oblivion. The mortal workmen who manned the mammoth machines were sacrificed by Ren and his fellow revenants, hung upside down over us on long chains, and decapitated. Lazarus ancient vitae was then added to the workmens lifeblood as Ren baptized us to new unlife through the sprinklings of an aspergillum. Ren and the other retainers then left the chamber to arrange for the night shift of workmen to make their way down to us. The revenants then wisely waited aboveground while we gorged on the hapless mortals. After our ageless hunger had been satisfied, we staggered from the former tomb and basked in the cool night air outside. Once it was clear that our bestial madness was subdued, Ren and his allies emerged from their hiding places and explained to us what had been done to free us and that it was Lazarus who was responsible for our newfound liberty. We then followed the ghouls into nearby caves where Lazarus was awaiting us. The sole

surviving childe of the father explained to us what happened to our clan and the coming of the Giovanni. The rest of the night was spent relaying stories between us and mourning for the loss of our brothers and sisters. I see the look in your eyes. Why would we mourn for those who were saved while we were locked away to be forgotten? We only hold Japheth, Caias, and Constancia at equal fault with the father. Our other siblings were as innocent as we... as innocent as the undead can be, that is. Japheth, Caias, and Constancia met their ends at the arrogance of the father... just as Cappadocious himself let himself be devoured by the traitorous Augustus. Cainites are predators first and foremost. We do not begrudge Augustus for devouring the father. It is in our nature to prey upon the weak. However, we cannot forgive how he systematically hunted down and destroyed the rest of our kind without any reason more than we were descendents of Cappadocius. The destruction of the Lamia we find to be particularly unforgivable, and have recently banded with their survivors to form a force to exact vengeance upon Augustus Giovanni and his loathsome brood. Lazarus reasons for enmity against the Giovanni were far more personal. When Lazarus refused to heed the order of the father to come to Kaymakli, his brother, Caias, took great offense and journeyed to Lazarus Egyptian sanctuary. "Why did you disobey our fathers wishes, brother?" Caias angrily asked. "Because I foresaw what he intended. My path is not that of our father. I do not choose to waste my time humoring the deluded dreams of an addled-brained relic such as he. I have spent my years apart from the rest of our kind investigating the mysteries of death to a scope yet unparalleled with the rest of our clan. What have you done, Caias, besides playing lapdog to an insane old man?" Lazarus calmly spat back. Caias face snarled in contempt and he called upon his blood to summon a terrible curse upon his brother: "For your disobedience and your dark obsession with the forbidden aspects of death, I curse you in the name of our father to forever walk the Earth as a putrid cadaver, leaking bile and stinking of decay. You and your rebellious kin shall be ever more reviled as walking carrion. By Cappadocius decree, so mote it be!" Lazarus was instantly struck down as if by lightning and forced to wallow painfully in the desert sand as his skin tightened and sloughed away in patches. His formerly dead

humors awakened and oozed from his decrepit joints, and he soon arose as one of the walking dead in both appearance and spirit. Caias scoffed and turned to leave, but Lazarus was not one to calmly accept such a fate without bitter respite. He had learned much from the childer of Set and called upon those powers to grapple with Caias. The battle that ensued laid waste to that entire area of the Nile delta, and it was rumored that the Nile flowed backwards for a year and a day thereafter. Lazarus finally defeated his brother and utterly obliterated his soul, but the price of victory was costly for him, and he sank deep into the ground and fell into the dark arms of torpor. For centuries, he laid beneath the dunes of Egypt lost in quiet oblivion until a man who was more than a man came searching for his resting place. A swarthy skinned pilgrim from the eastern edge of Byzantium hired a crew of diggers and unearthed the slumbering childe of Cappadocius in the middle of the night. Those who remember this night say that the skies rolled in lightning and thick clouds blacker than pitch. It seemed as if the One was personally affronted by the resurrection of Lazarus. The turkish man responsible for freeing Lazarus simply turned his head upwards and smirked ruefully at the protest of the One. The man was Ren Caros. He was a servant of the Dracon and a child of the Obertus family... a revenant. He poured a viscous concoction into the mummified remains of Lazarus mouth and then watched for a few moments as the ancient Cappadocian began to stir from his ages-old slumber. The diggers became terrified and shouted in fear, attempting to flee from the skeletal creature that was quickly becoming more and more animated. Ren casually drew his khopesh and ran from man to man faster than a blur, slicing their legs out from under them and leaving them crippled and crying piteously for the ravenous carrion creature who feasted on their blood. Meanwhile, Ren conveniently took his leave and waited safely in the distance while Lazarus sated the Hunger that overwhelmed him. When the Beast was finally quenched, Ren returned and introduced himself. "I am Ren Caros, chosen of the Dracon to revive you so that you might meet your destiny. If you will accept me, I shall serve your will in all things, so long as you do not stand in Fates way. The world is nearing a pivotal time, Lazarus, and I wish to assist you in ushering in Gehenna." Lazarus considered the mans offer for a long time, and finally accepted his help,

although Ren would not accompany Lazarus again for three centuries after this. He followed Lazarus orders from afar, but Lazarus was rumored to be more than a little spooked by the revenants words and his unbearably dark demeanor. In the early 1600s, Lazarus had been exploring the ruins of the Cappadocians ages-old library and temple of Erciyes. He had learned from a particularly old wraith that the last remnants of Cappadocious soul had been secreted away in a magic jar somewhere within Erciyes. Eager to locate such an artifact and finally question his fathers actions against his wayward brethren, he returned to Erciyes and after months of searching, located the secret compartment where Constancia had hidden the True Vessel. A small diary was stowed beside the small clay container whose top was sealed in wax and topped by a protective ward to preserve the blood within. From the pages of the diary, Lazarus discovered that the blood inside was that of Augustus Giovanni... taken from him before his Embrace and ensorcelled to restore his mortality to him should the fathers grand experiment with the Venetian necromancers prove to be a mistake, as both Constancia and Japheth feared it was. One evening in the weeks that followed, Lazarus awakened and arose from the earth to find a veritable army of men spelunking the many caves of Erciyes, looting everything they found within. The Giovanni had located Erciyes and were searching for the fabled Khazars Diary. A frustrated Claudius Giovanni ordered the temple to be set ablaze when weeks of searching proved fruitless. Lazarus watched in horror as the flames bellowed from the maw of the many caves and poured forth smoke in such quantities that the heavens were blotted out. Lazarus followed the Giovanni entourage back to Venice and bade his time, carefully plotting his vengeance against those who dared to destroy the most precious library the world had known since Alexandria. It was at this time that Lazarus donned his "Capuchin" faade. He petitioned for a meeting with Augustus and calmly told his unknowing sibling of the fabled resting place for that which Augustus longed for most... the remnants of Cappadocious soul. Of course, Augustus anger exploded when he learned that the thing he wanted more than any other, the True Vessel, was hidden within Erciyes... the very city that Claudius had utterly destroyed months before. After Augustus had beaten his idiotic childe into torpor, the "Capuchin"

casually asked to be given Claudius body. Augustus concurred, Lazarus brought Claudius back to his Coptic monastery sanctuary where he arranged alchemical devices around the battered remains of the Augustus childe so as to deliver a tiny amount of vitae to Claudius every night... just enough to keep him awake, yet not enough to heal his injuries. And so, Claudius lay there abandoned and helpless in Lazarus laboratory to suffer eternal life trapped within his own broken body. Lazarus then left his Coptic refuge and set about gradually gaining Augustus trust. In the decades to follow, the "Capuchin" would trade Augustus forbidden lore gathered from beneath the hallowed catacombs beneath the Vatican in return for tutelage in the Giovanni branches of Necromancy. Lazarus had sated his appetite with these books years before, so this was no great deed for him. How did he manage to travel in and out of holy ground, you ask? His ghoul servants retrieved the lore for him, naturally. Between his midnight meetings with Augustus, he busied himself by searching for others like himself. Unfortunately, the Giovanni had performed their extermination of the Cappadocians and Lamia with great success. Lazarus was unable to find any others who readily admitted to belonging to either group... not that you could blame them for denying their true heritage considering that such honesty would result in their death should the inquisitor turn out to be one of Augustus ilk. During his travels, Lazarus occasionally happened upon fellow scholars schooled in the arts of death, and without fail, each of these not of Giovanni descent was more corpse-like than the cadavers they studied. At last he had found those other "rebels" that Caias had spoken of so long ago. These other outcasts seemed more bothered by their hideous appearances, however, for many of them either hid in catacombs or assumed the guise of skeletal deities, forming blood cults and terrorizing the superstitious mortals who dared to disrespect their power. It was one such cult that lured his curiosity to the New World where he at last learned of the "Infitiore" and those who called themselves Samedi. Voudoun was especially fascinating to Lazarus. Its mingling of Catholicism and primitive spirit worship captured his formerly cold imagination and kindled it with fresh possibilities. The mortal priests of this faith even possessed a deadly dust that was capable of rendering one into the walking dead... almost.

That "almost" intrigued Lazarus further and the power to bring a mortal so close to death and yet prevent him from fully crossing over seemed to be the key that Lazarus had been seeking ever since he awakened from his ordeal with Caias through the help of Ren Caros. Most of these who called themselves Samedi worshiped a spirit who referred to itself as Baron Samedi, the Cemetery Loa. The Samedi welcomed Lazarus and shared their lore of Voudoun magic in exchange for Lazarus tutoring in the ways of Necromancy. The creature who called himself the Baron at last came calling on Lazarus and the two formed a pact out of similar interests. The Giovanni had similarly driven the Samedi from Europe. While the Giovanni did not target the walking corpses for extinction as they had the Lamia and their Cappadocian forebears, they still resented the Samedis innate powers over death. As the Giovanni do not tolerate even potential competition in what they see as their arena of power, they casually "suggested" that the Samedi make themselves scarce and stay out of their affairs. As the Samedi were too few in number to mount a significant opposition, they reluctantly obeyed the wishes of the Necromancers and sought their fortune in the New World. It was also at this time that Lazarus came to learn of the Sabbat and its war with the Camarilla. Although the Giovanni claimed neutrality in this Jyhad, Lazarus suspected that their methods were more akin to the Camarilla. So, he quietly learned more of their opposition, which called itself "The Sword of Caine," and soon came to both admire the sects intrinsic purity of purpose. The Sabbat recognized the danger the Antediluvians posed and sought to prepare itself against the inevitable war that would ensue when the ancients awakened and broke their fast on their descendents and all who stood in their way. The Camarilla played "ostrich" and buried its head in the sand, pretending that the old ones didnt exist. The Cappadocians had deluded themselves similarly with the threat of the Giovanni and were summarily devoured because of their apathy and arrogance. Lazarus disliked the crude tendencies of the younger members of the Sabbat, but saw a dangerous yet useful cunning in the elders of the sect. He called for a meeting between himself and the Fiend Vykos, whom Ren had recommended to him as being one of the more educated and insightful of the sect. Vykos readily agreed to an alliance with the ancient

Cappadocian and put its resources at Lazarus disposal, including not the least of these the information that had come to it of Beckett and his Nosferatu ally, Okulos. Thus was the precise location of Kaymakli and our cursed tomb revealed. The Sabbat worked with Ren and Lazarus in arranging a large digging operation in the area, which finally freed us from our centuries old slumber. And so, the cycle comes full circle and my story finally reaches the present. With the aid of our Sabbat allies, our time has finally come and plans are being laid to ensure that the True Vessel will find its way to Venice and Augustus hands. Once Augustus imbibes the Vessels contents, the centuries will be brought to bear against him as he regains his mortality and withers to ash within scant moments. There are more details to this ploy, but Lazarus desires that these final details be kept silent until their completion. For now, be content that the fall of the Necromancers will herald our rightful return as the masters of death and life. --Othilios, Keeper of the Ancient Lore