A Gilded Cage

PLAYING THE DANSE MACABRE

The need to build up both mortal influence and Kindred allies is a vicious cycle that constantly feeds into itself. Young, unattached Kindred who are new to the Requiem quickly find that they need some degree of leverage in order to make a place for themselves in the world of the Damned. Maybe a fledgling vampire has accidentally angered another neonate, someone holds a grudge against her sire, she needs to convince an elder to allow her to feed in his territory, or maybe she simply runs across someone who dislikes her covenant, clan, bloodline, or hair color. She needs allies among the other local Kindred, or at least something to offer or with which to threaten her rival. The greatest asset most Kindred truly have to offer one another is access to their ties and connections in mortal society. Certainly, some particularly skilled Kindred provide other services, and a Prince can offer territory or other special privileges, but influence is the currency with which most Kindred barter. One elder with leverage at the local airport might agree to smuggle something for another, if the other will use his own contacts to make sure that the police don’t break up the first’s drug-trafficking operation. Without some measure of influence in mortal society, most Kindred have little to trade.

So the young vampire discovers that she must develop mortal allies and contacts if she wishes to cultivate Kindred allies. The more Kindred allies she has, however, the more attention she draws. The enemies of her allies become her enemies. Other Kindred who might have left her alone suddenly see her rising in power and decide to cut her off at the knees before she becomes dangerous. Suddenly, her allies aren’t sufficient. She needs more connections, more influential sponsors. For that, she needs to develop more contacts and influence in kine society.

Despite the amicable-sounding name they have chosen for themselves, the “Kindred” don’t particularly see themselves as family unless they’re forced to do so. The bonds of friendship are all but nonexistent among vampires, and those relationships that do form against all odds rarely survive as long as those who enter into them. Kindred who attempt to remain aloof, who try to avoid entangling themselves in mortal or Kindred affairs, usually find that society won’t permit them to sit the game out.

And so it goes, an endless loop ensuring that few Kindred ever manage to haul themselves out of the quagmire that is the modern city.

Perhaps the single greatest reason vampire society has developed as it has is the Kindred’s unbreakable tie to the city. The undead are bound to the cities of the kine as tightly as they are to the Blood itself. For them, the city is really a cage, gilded though it might be, and the Kindred could no more abandon it than they could become vegetarians.

It would be foolish, of course, to suggest that Kindred never travel. If they did not, they could never have spread as humanity has, and they would still be restricted to select areas of the Old World. Despite all the reasons not to, reasons that have literally shaped Kindred society as it’s known tonight, travel is sometimes necessary (or simply the best of a list of bad options). It’s not the Kindred don’t travel, it’s that they don’t travel casually.

What is it, then, about cities that hold the Kindred as though their feet were nailed to the floor? Why does each city exists as its own fiefdom, with little if any congress between it and its neighbor?

Staying Near the Well

Perhaps the most obvious reason for the Kindred to gather in cities, and to remain there, is the simple fact that that’s where the people are. Ultimately, no matter what sort of religious, cultural, or mystical face the Kindred wish to put on it, blood is all that matters. It’s at the core of everything they do. While hunting is never a sure thing, a Kindred can be relatively certain that, with a reasonable degree of care and effort, she can find someone on whom to feed in a city without attracting too much attention. Cities have slums, clubs, drug dens, hospitals and, if it comes down to it, dark alleys. Even when Kindred can find people elsewhere, they don’t always present a viable opportunity for feeding.

Certainly, it might be possible for a particularly hardy or desperate vampire to eke out an existence outside an urban center. A rustic town of 500 people out in the middle of nowhere might provide enough Vitae to support a particularly careful Kindred for a short time. In a population of that size, however, someone would eventually discover his depredations when he inevitably loses control and frenzies. At best, the vampire has a frightened and angry population of mortals on his hands, all of whom move on or look for the culprit with shotguns. At worst, the elaborate charade that hides the Kindred from the world’s awareness is compromised, at least on a local level.

Some few vampires take the idea of escape a step further and attempt to survive in the wilds, feeding on animals. Many give it up after a relatively short time, though. Not only do they face a relative paucity of available blood, Kindred eventually reach the point at which animals are no longer sustaining. Why scavenge and scrounge in the yard when they can simply stay nearer the table and feasts?

In addition to the difficulties involved in feeding, existing outside a city invariably leaves a Kindred subject to the other hazards and difficulties inherent to travel.

Social Support

The paradox of the Kindred is that they possess both the solitary nature of the predator and the social leanings of humans. They gather in groups, though their competitive and aggressive nature often renders such gathering dangerous, or at least uncomfortable. They compete against one another – plotting, scheming, backstabbing – yet they find themselves unable to function in other environments. Even if the Kindred could easily acquire blood outside the urban sprawl, few would be willing to leave cities behind, for both Kindred and mortal society supports them.

The Kindred gain most of their power and strength not from their own innate abilities, but from the influence they wield in the mortal world. No matter how old or powerful a vampire is, someone is always older and stronger. Why risk one’s own potentially eternal existence, miserable as it might be at times, when one can manipulate pawns into taking those risks instead? Rare is the Kindred without some influence, or at least a few contacts, whether in government, business, organized crime or in some other potentially useful element of kine society. And for the most part, those connections are all within the city because that’s where the people are.

A Kindred without his contacts is, to a large extent, helpless. He certainly has his innate powers – the strength and abilities inherent in the Blood and his undead nature – but so do his enemies, and he no longer has any help on which to call.

Even Kindred society serves as something of a safety net, as long as everyone involved is willing to follow the rules. For the most part, any given vampire is unlikely to attack another openly within the city. All but the most desperate Kindred think twice before blatantly violating the Traditions of their kind or the local law for fear of reprisal from the Prince or other authorities. Away from the reach of the Prince, however, all bets are off. For the Kindred, anything beyond the city limits is lawless territory, lacking any supreme authority to whom grievances can be brought. As most wise Kindred stay inside their cage, those who do not have no undead allies on whom to call, just as they have few or no mortal pawns.

The bonds of clan, bloodline, or covenant also provide ample ties to make common cause between vampires. Kindred who dwell among a large population of, or in a region dominated by, their clan-mates and covenant members have an undeniable social and political advantage over those who do not. These bonds are, almost by definition, found entirely within cities. Leaving them all behind might seem like a liberating notion to young Kindred, as they wouldn’t have to worry about upsetting their brethren, angering elders, hunting on the wrong ground, or speaking to the wrong person. Too many Kindred have found, however, that the inherent difficulties of surviving away from population centers are greater than expected, and they have no assistance on which to call.

Loneliness

One of the most ingrained reasons to remain in cities is loneliness. Kindred are no longer mortal, but the transition is relatively recent for most. Not even the eldest can fully shake the last lingering traces of what they used to be. Predators tend toward solitude by nature, but people are gregarious in the extreme, and the Kindred’s waning sense of community, of belonging, helps tie them to their remaining Humanity. Vampires certainly feel lonely as often or as easily as mortals do (if not more so), and some who remain apart from the masses too long discover they can no longer blend in when they attempt to return.

Some young Kindred have recently attempted to survive in the wild as coteries, rather than as individuals. Doing so goes a long way toward alleviating the loneliness of such isolation, but many of these coteries run into difficulties finding enough sustenance upon which to feed. It’s hard enough for a lone Kindred to feed herself on animals and the occasional hitch-hiker. For a group, the task is extremely challenging in the long run.

Elysium

One of the most ancient and honored surviving Kindred customs, and one whose importance many modern neonates drastically underestimate, is that of Elysium. In essence, a Prince may declare specific locations of his city to be Elysium, places free of violence, safe for all Kindred. Most official Kindred business takes place in Elysium. The Prince’s court is most frequently held in one such location, and most young vampires who need to speak with a leader or elder come to Elysium to seek them out. Politics and intrigue are as common here as rats on the street outside, with debate and negotiation heard as frequently as casual gossip. Many elders spend entire nights here, and while neonates are welcome (most of the time), they are expected to remember their place.

Most areas of Elysium are cultural or artistic centers, conducive to intellectual pursuits and the sense of calm reflection that most Princes hope to maintain. Such places include everything from theaters and opera houses to museums and galleries to university halls and libraries. As more Princes come to accept the ways and conveniences of the modern world, and as young Kindred ascend to positions of power, the number of nightclubs and restaurants declared Elysium grows as well. In any case, wherever an Elysium is, attendees are expected to dress and comport themselves appropriately, for the sake of the secrecy, if not simple courtesy.

While refreshments are often provided at Elysium, especially during court or other formal gatherings, such is not always the case. It is considered bad manners to show up to Elysium hungry, as not only does doing so lead to short tempers and potential violations of the laws of nonviolence, but most Princes discourage or even forbid hunting within several blocks of Elysium. After all, these locations are centers of Kindred activity. If hunting were permitted in the region, it would only be a matter of time before the number of strange occurrences and deaths attracted attention. Kindred who bring guests to Elysium – be they blood slaves, mortal retainers, new childer, vampires from outside the city or even local Kindred who simply were not specifically invited to a given event – are responsible for their guests’ behavior, and they can be punished severely for violations committed by companions.

Any sort of physical or mystical confrontation is strictly forbidden within Elysium (though social conflict has risen to both an art form and outright war). Violators of this rule are inevitably banished or executed posthaste. When tempers flare beyond words, the Prince, Sheriff, or Master of Elysium might as those involved to leave and cool off elsewhere in hopes of heading off an explosion that would result in violence and punishment. Elysium is strictly neutral ground, and Kindred are expected to leave their conflicts – or at least any physical continuation of them – outside. That said, elders are experts at holding grudges, and while a neonate might get away with mouthing off to an elder while inside, he’d better have reliable transportation home and learn to sleep with one eye open. Many Kindred conflicts that have eventually erupted in violence began with a single misspoken word in the corridors of Elysium.

A SIRE’S HOSPITALITY

A Gilded Cage

Blood in the Water djasonwright djasonwright