Blood in the Water
It begins with death – a torrid rush of blood spilling from the throat or wrist of the victim. At the right moment, the vampire tears her own skin and places a few drops of precious Vitae on the lips of the victim. The dark magic works its blasphemous miracle then. The vessel dies… and yet he doesn’t. While his natural processes cease, his sire’s Vitae infuses him with the force that sustains him beyond death. This is the Embrace, the first step from existence as a mortal into the gothic world of the Damned.
What is the secret? What causes vampires to rise from beyond their natural life, to consume the blood of their erstwhile mortal fellows? Even the most erudite of the vampiric race do not know. Origin stories trace vampirism back to the Bible, to pagan ways and witchcraft, to the infamous Vlad Dracul, to the Devil himself and to any number of other sources. Every culture in the world has vampires in its mythology, and likely among its populace as well. “The Kindred condition” is an utter mystery, with an unknown number of members but no shortage of would-be prophets and philosophers with their own dogmas, theories and heresies as to the meaning or genesis of damnation.
If anything is certain, it’s that the Embrace is not some kind of blessed immortality. Existence as a vampire is a curse, and quite possibly a curse handed down by God Himself. While being one of the undead certainly has its advantages – Disciplines (the mystical and eldritch powers of the Damned), deathlessness, the potential to transcend mortal boundaries – the drawbacks easily outweigh them. The price of undeath is steep, as foolish romantics infatuated to by the myth of the vampire occasionally learn. One is forever apart from the world into which he was born, unconsciously shunned by it. Indeed, he can only pretend to be a part of it, and even that for only a short while, as the vampiric state forces him to prey on that world. It is his sustenance now, rather than his company. Never again shall a vampire see the light of the sun without feeling it burn him. Never again will he know the vital pleasures of life. The Requiem is a forced ostracism that may literally last forever. No wonder, then, that so many of the Kindred blind themselves to it with their petty schemes and rivalries. Their endless war, the Danse Macabre, might be the only way to escape their damnation, and even then, it is only a distraction and not true redemption.
It is curious, if not unfitting, that the most common name for unlife among the Kindred is a musical reference, the Requiem. The word itself means a mass or musical composition for the dead. In some cases, a requiem is a dirge. In other cases it is a chant intended for the dead’s repose. In still others, it is a gesture of respect.
No surprise, then, that the word has taken on its own meaning among the Kindred. The word has connotations of its own, suggesting that the Kindred must have adopted it in a more enlightened and sophisticated time. Tonight, however, all but the most cloistered Kindred knows that the word bears its own specialized meaning. The Requiem is the Kindred’s unlife, the grand, doomed waltz through which every one of their kind dances every night, urged on by metaphorical strains of music that represent the hidden powers that guide, manipulate, and inspire them.
The reasons for Embracing are many and varied, and every Kindred who exists in the world tonight probably has a host of her own for why she’d Embrace a childe. First and foremost is loneliness, as becoming Kindred imposes a state of isolation that many vampires seek to combat. Of course, the Embrace creates another Kindred – who is then himself alien and isolated, continuing the desperate, doomed cycle. Some Kindred Embrace to preserve a mortal’s talents, only to find that the Embrace renders that childe unable to reach the apex of her living abilities. Other Kindred Embrace out of a sense of duty or to prevent disaster, such as when accidentally killing a vessel and then “saving” her with the curse of undeath – whose existence will then possibly doom other mortals on down the road. The trend is inevitable but irreversible. Despite its intentions, the Embrace never causes anything but damnation, as it brings another vampire into the world.
Whatever the reason, no vampire is Embraced recklessly or without some degree of thought on the part of the vampire making the new childe. Creating a Kindred requires an act of immense will, and even a vampire who says she created a childe “just because” certainly hides her own reasons.
The Danse Macabre
If an individual vampire’s existence is the Requiem, the way she interacts with her fellow Kindred is the Danse Macabre, through which any number of individual Requiems play, conflict, resolve, and end.
To many Kindred, the Danse Macabre has negative connotations. Relationships between Kindred are forced, at best, as vampires are seemingly designed to be solitary predators. The Embrace doesn’t completely deny the urges the individual knew as a mortal, however. Inevitably over the course of undeath, all but the most withdrawn yearn for contact among whose who might be able to understand them. Is it so unnatural to seek fellowship among others who have experienced the same pains and sorrows inflicted upon them (and inflicted by them) throughout the Requiem?
Indeed, the notion has undeniable risks. Although the Embrace doesn’t strip the Man from the individual, it leaves its own mark, that of the Beast, the urges and wiles of the facet of personality inside all Kindred that requires blood to survive and doesn’t care who it hurts to fulfill that goal. When Kindred come in contact, they innately fear or see each other as a challenge. Indeed, all Kindred vie for limited resources and secrecy, and other Kindred threaten both. In a world where Kindred must skulk and kill to survive, how trustworthy is any other vampire?
The Requiem weighs on the Kindred soul. When one knows he will never truly die, he has no sense of urgency. Over the course of forever, what can sustain a vampire’s interest, or even a Kindred of a hundred years’ unlife? In the interests of fighting off their own timeless malaise, the Kindred plot and scheme against each other. Once they’ve exhausted all of the sources that legitimately brought joy or interest to their unlives, many turn to treachery in hopes of provoking any response at all from their jaded emotions.
This last, then, is the true Danse Macabre, the “dance of death” orchestrated by vampires to elevate themselves above their peers socially, politically or even physically. It is a dangerous dance, punctuated by vampiric traps, scheming elders, ambitious neonates and ruses that can take decades, centuries or even millennia to come to fruition. The Kindred potentially have forever to concoct their master plans and hatch their vendettas – they have no need to rush. For many vampires, revenge is best when left to grow cold, prompting another turn in the Danse Macabre in response. Thus the cycle continues indefinitely.
The Danse Macabre is at once a saving grace and a resignation to damnation, for it distracts the Kindred from their nihilistic, introspective Requiems, but only by causing conflict that jeopardizes those very Requiems.
Decades and centuries ago, when cities were smaller and technology far less advanced, the Kindred could afford to remain solitary predators, moving alone through the massed ranks of humanity. Tonight, the world has changed. Both mortal and Kindred populations are substantially larger than anyone could have dreamed even a few score years ago. Kindred, particularly young ones with no political clout and minimal influence in the mortal world, need allies in ways their elders never did at their age. Combined with the lingering desire for companionship left over from their mortal days, this need inspires modern Kindred to gather in small social groups called coteries.
The coterie, which normally consists of anywhere from three to six Kindred, with a few unusual groups growing as large as a dozen, has existed as an ideal for hundreds of years. In ages past, coteries tended to assemble for a specific purpose, such as the taking of an important road the construction of a lair, or perhaps defending a domain against outside aggression. The notion of a coterie that assembles and remains together for long-term goals, or even more strangely for social purposes, seems alien and artificial to most elders tonight. Their positions in society are already secure, their havens well hidden from enemies and unsuspecting kine alike. They dismiss the formation of coteries as youthful foolishness, or even worse as the behavior of animals.
For those Kindred not considered elders, however, coteries are just common sense. Some modern coteries do assemble for a particular goal, as they did in years past. It might be an objective that members wish to achieve, or they might be assembled at the behest of a Kindred leader, faction, their sires or by any others with the authority to demand some service of the group members. In most cases, coteries are purely social constructs, with no purpose other than the long-term benefit and mutual protection of their membership. They provide allies and support that young Kindred haven’t yet managed to find anywhere else. At the very least, such community provides someone to watch one’s back, to aid in the hunt and to corroborate any accounts that might have to be given to elders or authorities – advantages not be underestimated in the world of the damned.
That said, coteries aren’t happy bands of friends rollicking through a domain. The mistrust endemic to all Kindred doesn’t end with the formation of a group. Coteries are subject to the same internal squabbling, double-dealing and, on occasion, outright betrayal as any other Kindred institution, especially owing to the fact that most coteries are cosmopolitan with regard to members’ origins. In fact, almost every coterie ever formed is temporary; even if it lasts decades, it eventually falls apart. The more time that passes, the more opportunities for advancement by betrayal (or at least abandonment) come up, and eventually some member is almost certain to succumb to temptation. Even on the off chance that nobody leaves or turns against the group, Kindred tend to grow increasingly paranoid as they age. Considering the sort of society in which they “grow up,” this reaction isn’t unreasonable. What it means, however, is that beyond a certain age, most vampires aren’t willing to trust their former coterie-mates, even if nobody has engaged in any direct treachery. Those coteries that don’t tear apart due to dishonesty or ambition inevitably separate out of mistrust that someone will turn traitor.
Exceptions exist, of course. Some elders still operate in, or at least maintain contact with, their former coteries, if only to maintain longstanding networks of contacts, allies and the like. These long-standing groups are rare, though. For the most part, elders continue to mistrust the notion of coteries – even those who, in their youth, were members of one – and, by extension, they often mistrust those fledglings who form them. In fact, though few admit it, many elders fear the spread of the coterie phenomenon, concerned that it will provide future rivals with a base of power they themselves cannot exploit.
The society of the Damned is a mysterious and alien thing. After all, Kindred nature – the innate paranoia, distrust, and animosity that vampires often hold toward one another, to say nothing of the constant squabbles over hunting territory – would seem to suggest that they were intended to be lone hunters.
Some believe that Kindred society exists now as it has for thousands of years. Legend has it that vampires once ruled as kings and that their feudal domains have simply passed down through the centuries. Of course, no vampire who walks the Earth tonight, or at least none known, can truly recall the details of events so long past. The memories of those Kindred who have slept away the decades grow uncertain, dreams intruding on reality and none of them can truly know what was from what they simply believe to remember.
Some Kindred, particularly among the neonates, believe that their society is a more recent development, at least in historical terms. They maintain that only in the modern era, when hiding from the kine has truly become difficult thanks to rapid communication and other technological advancement, has Kindred isolation from humankind become complete. Only now, they claim, has the need for a separate society developed.
The primary purpose of Kindred society, Kindred philosophers believe, is regulation. Kindred gather not merely in physical proximity, but socially, under a local government because enough of them recognize the need to police their own. Were the Kindred to dwell in the crowded cities with no overt authority, nothing would prevent the indiscreet or foolish from waging war with one another openly, feeding indiscriminately or otherwise threatening each other’s vitality. A figure known as the Prince (or whoever represents the local government) is an enforcer, first and foremost.
Beyond this, Kindred claim that their kind cleave together socially for reasons far more personal and ingrained than the need to protect themselves from each other. Kindred society grants its members something they could never have among mortals: a sense of belonging, of community. Vampires might despise the greater portion of their fellows and their Prince or governor – and a great many do – but this is nevertheless their community, their city. Where mortals turn to family, the Kindred have clans. Where mortals form nations and cultures, the Kindred have covenants. These social constructs allow the Kindred to feel as though they’re a part of something, to counter the extreme isolation that they would otherwise suffer for all eternity.
The Kindred are still outsiders, proponents of this idealized state, but at least their domains and clans and covenants allow them to be outsiders together.
Many elders, of course, consider such theories a heap of mealy mouthed, revisionist, self-indulgent effluvia spewed by idle childer with no knowledge of the way the world works. As they cannot provide any evidence for their conservative, “society has always existed thus” attitudes, however, elders aren’t likely to silence the social theorists any time soon. And thus the Danse Macabre continues on one more front.
The Body Count
So how many Kindred are there? If they’ve got a society, they must exist in pretty substantial numbers, yet they’ve managed to keep themselves more or less hidden from the majority of the mortals around them.
The truth is, Kindred numbers vary from city to city. In most small cities, proportion of undead to morals tends to be relatively low: One vampire per 100,000 or more mortals is not uncommon. In large cities, the ratio is usually nearer one vampire per 50,000 mortals. In some cities that seem to draw the Kindred for whatever reason – cities such as New York, London, New Orleans, Chicago – the ratio can be substantially higher. Most Princes don’t particularly keep track. As long as the population doesn’t grow so high that people take notice of the predators among them, numbers don’t matter.
If one were to take a worldwide average, the ratio is probably around the one-to-50,000 mark. It fluctuates so thoroughly from domain to domain that one should never assume that any given population corresponds to that figure.