<1>Lady Margaret Willoughby, Keeper of the Lost Secret
<n>On a wicked night in Scotland, five self-styled witches had gathered in a guestroom in the eastern wing of Balmoral Castle. Their coven had convened to ensorcel their hostess, the Queen Victoria, who had become morose after the death of her husband the Prince Consort Albert. Led by the traitor Lady Lise Paulmann, the witches convened in the library, drawing forbidden sigils on the floor and lighting candles so that they might call forth the ghost of Albert and compel him to beg her to join him, driving the queen to despair. Even if the queen didn’t try to cross the Veil into the ghostly prince’s arms, the moment she spoke in public about a visitation form her lover’s ghost, she’d no longer be suitable to lead the empire in the eyes of her subjects, despite the Romantic mysticism of the time.
For her part, Lady Paulmann sought to place the queen in thrall so that the newly unified Germany, growing in power, might keep its European neighbor in check. For the rest of the witches, such treachery was unimaginable, and they were seduced by the idea of having the queen in their debt of silence. Paulmann herself lived in Victoria’s United Kingdom and had no desire to invite the bellicose Germans to sack her adopted home, as she too greatly enjoyed the affluence and comfort to which she had grown accustomed. Without a doubt, she was a spy for her homeland… but she had no desire to aid the fatherland too much.
In truth, Lady Paulmann was a ghoul working at the behest of a coterie of German Ventrue, waging their secret Jyhad against London’s Prince Mithras. Acting directly against Queen Victoria was a bold and desperate move on their part, and the ruse unraveled only because of the timely arrival of the agents of Scotland’s Tremere Lord.
Scotland had long been a territory of primarily Toreador fiefdom domains, owing to a connection between the Caledonian Degenerates and the House of Valois, which had attached the Scottish domains during the rule of Mary Stuart and her marriage to Francis II of France. Dispossessed French Toreador traveled to Scotland, claiming domains there from independent lesser Ventrue, Brujah, and Gangrel Princes, backing their praxis seizures with the power of the French throne before the ascension of Elizabeth in England and the complicity of many English Ventrue along the way.
Amid this centuries-old political and Kindred quagmire, Lady Paulmann’s plot against Victoria formed. And the night her seance began, it was interrupted by the arrival of Baladin, who then held the Lordship of the assembled domains. Baladin’s arrival was purest coincidence, but the guilty looks of the Queen’s other guests when he made his introductions queered the entire ritual and roused his suspicions. Under his withering presence, one of the assembled “witches,” Lady Margaret Willoughby, admitted the entire plot, and with a hasty session of Dominated probing, Baladin confirmed the conspiracy and its betrayers.
In most cases, this would have spelled the end for both the holdout traitors and the one who gave them away, for Tremere justice is an unyielding thing. A greater tumult in the House of Tremere changed the outcome this night, however, and the plot against Queen Victoria became the catalyst for a greater scheme that would span continents. The crisis had yielded an opportunity.
The opportunity wasn’t a pleasant one, however, as might be expected of the treacheries of the Damned. Of the five witches, Baladin killed three, to protect the secret of the conspiracy — and to slake his thirst on their blood. Thereafter, the Tremere Lord sequestered himself at an ancillary Tremere chantry in Glasgow with Ladies Paulmann and Willoughby as his “guests,” where they were attended by obsequious ghouls and bizarre Thaumaturgical constructs that placated their needs. The ladies responded differently to their host’s hospitality, and Baladin made plain that he had plans for them that involved a greater degree of the sorcerous arts than their limited attempts at Balmoral had provided.
For a month, Baladin courted the two ersatz witches with temptations to power, exacting from them tithes of blood that he used to initiate them into the mysteries of Clan Tremere. On the most auspicious night, when a cloudless sky yielded a long, raw solstice, the Tremere Lord brought his apprentice into the chantry vault to Embrace Lady Paulmann. Incensed, Lady Paulmann protested, for if the secret of true witchcraft traveled in the blood, why should she have to settle for the Embrace of a low and common apprentice? Baladin slapped her, stunning her into silence, warning her that the structure of the pyramid must needs have its foundation, and that there were… ways to rise the potency of the Blood. Lady Paulmann then churlishly submitted to the apprentice’s Embrace, while Lady Willoughby looked on in horror and watched her die.
When the undead creature that Lise Paulmann had become rose from the death-chrysalis, the Tremere Lord ordered her to feed on the blood of a ghoul. And as if to demonstrate the sanguine hierarchy of the clan, he compelled Lady Paulmann to perform the same act upon Lady Willoughby, to pluck the thread of her life and replace it with the midnight blood of Damnation. The look in Lady Paulmann’s eyes as she approached Lady Willoughby paralyzed the still-mortal woman with despair. She had always been docile, and had joined the witches’ coven largely out of obligation to the others, and to see the monstrosity that awaited her under the curse that this Baladin fiend had explained — but the time for such terrors vanished as her life poured from her body in a thrilling rush that bloomed within her voracious accomplice.
Baladin then gave a practical lesson in those “ways to rise the potency of the Blood.” He explained to the fledglings that by drinking another Kindred’s blood and beyond, by consuming her very soul, one could focus the power in vitae, distilling it, alchemically reducing it to a more potent humour and gleaning from its puissance a more acute power over the Kindred condition. And then, as the viselike grip of a Thaumaturgical servitor rendered Lady Paulmann immobile, he instructed Margaret Willoughby to perform that very act.
The Amaranth scarred Lady Willoughby with its violence, with its carnal pleasure, and with the unwholesome blasphemy of its function. As her sire of a few moments’ blood streaked from Lady Willoughby’s mouth and nose, Lise Paulmann’s body crumbled to ash.
“This is for your protection and mine,” Baladin spoke cryptically, and only later did Lady Willoughby come to understand the value of the remove from her grandsire’s lineage. At the cost of her own humanity, she gained the power of her grandsire’s Embrace, but also a distance between them — a progenitive gap that suggested an autonomy from Baladin’s will accomplished only by the illusory pretense of ancestry. “Besides,” the Tremere Lord disclosed, “a sense of entitlement like your departed sire’s makes for a dubious foundation in the pyramid.”
Alas, the newly Embraced aristo showed little skill with Thaumaturgy, finding its practice repulsive and medieval. At Baladin’s urging, she gravitated toward the political theater of the clan, but here she similarly had little success. The political weight of a Tremere who was a minor lord’s wife in Toreador-dominated Scotland was negligible, and she proved as much a liability to the Warlocks as she did an asset. About this time, Baladin’s own career with the Tremere was in decline, and the two parted ways.
In an effort to leave the United Kingdom behind, Lady Willoughby took her own monies, left to her after the unfortunate consumptive death of her husband, and invested in the Transandine Railway. Shipping off the entirety of her estate to Argentina, Lady Willoughby looked very much the part of the expatriate investor, and despite the difficulties the Ferrocarril Trasandino Clark company had in breaking ground, the endeavor eventually not only launched but prospered. With a modest investment quietly accumulating resources for her, Lady Willoughby’s interests turned inward. With a humble haven in Mendoza, she learned the language and enough of the Argentine culture to play up her role as an urbane emigre.
Such quiet resolutions rarely occupy the Kindred for long, though, and such proved to be the case for Lady Willoughby. One evening, when she had held a dinner party for several of the city’s elite at her californiano home, she received a visitor: her grandsire, Baladin. His star hadn’t faded by chance, he had simply constructed a quiet exit from the Lordship of Scotland with the aid of a silent patron placed elsewhere in the Pyramid. This had all been part of his long-term plan, he confessed, because he and his patron had discovered a secret that might have sparked a war in Europe, and with tensions rising in Austria-Hungary at the time, the last thing the Kindred needed was high conflict on top of the worsening mortal political climate.
Baladin disclosed his situation, that he had found an unlikely ally in a thread of Thaumaturgical research during time spent in the late 1700s in Vienna. In various studies of Kindred blood, the composition of the Gargoyle bloodline, and the curse-haunted soil of Eastern European domains, Baladin and a small cabal of fellow Tremere of House Goratrix had discovered a curiosity that seemed to have flourished, if such could be said, in the vitae of Clan Tzimisce. And, if the experiments conducted by the chantry proved true, Baladin and his cabal would have the ability to render the “anomaly” inert. Lady Willoughby didn’t understand, so Baladin explained — if the blood magic could be developed, the Tremere would have the ability to terminate the Curse of Caine in the Tzimisce, sending the ritual traveling up the mystic lineage of the Fiends like a virus, reducing them to ash where they stood.
The broad and fine details still eluded Margaret Willoughby, but that was why Baladin had chosen her. She lacked the ability to effect the ritual herself, so he had no worries that she’d abuse it without his knowledge, and her lack of effectiveness in larger Kindred politics had meant that no one had taken undue notice of her. She was an excellent candidate to protect the secret that he was now poised on the verge of discovering.
The problem, of course, was that House Goratrix had chosen to league with the Sabbat, which had been formed after the Anarch Revolt as a union of Lasombra and… Tzimisce. With the power of the Sabbat on the rise in the New World, Goratrix saw an opportunity to place his rogue chantry of Tremere antitribu in a position of advantage among them. This didn’t quench any of House Goratrix’s enthusiasm for finding the ritual. Rather, Baladin confided, his old coven seemed highly motivated to do so — it simply made their motives somewhat different from those of the Tremere still faithful to Vienna and the Council of Seven. The Spellbinder’s priorities belonged first to himself and then his House, with loyalty to the Sword of Caine falling to a distant third on the Usurper’s agenda. To Goratrix, the Sabbat represented a useful tool and a powerful patron sect rather than an ideology to venerate in and of itself.
Since Baladin’s arrival in South America, the Sabbat had its eyes on him, and despite his expert use of Thaumaturgy to hide his trail, the rebels of House Goratrix had greater sorceries at their command. His movements known to those Sabbat agents that Goratrix’s faction had deemed appropriate to tell, Baladin knew that his time was running out, but that someone outside the rogue faction must possess the secret. He stayed at Lady Willoughby’s haven for several months, though he vanished for weeks at a time, intentionally keeping her ignorant of his movements so that anyone who questioned her wouldn’t be able to pry his whereabouts from her, regardless of what anyone who sought him might inflict on her.
During these months, Margaret Willoughy considered her fate. Her sire had abused her since her first night among the Damned, treating her as a pawn and a patsy, pushing first his condition and then his agenda upon her. By the coming of autumn in 1912, Lady Willoughby decided she’d had enough of Baladin’s ill treatment. When the Víboras de Dios pack came calling, with murder on their minds and fire at hand, she offered them a deal. She’d present them with a staked Baladin and they’d leave her alone while she fled their domain. Disappointed at the lack of need to force her to yield her guest, the Víboras de Dios left Lady Willoughby with a grim warning. If she planned to renege on the agreement, they’d hunt her too the ends of the earth and splay her innards in a blood eagle for the sun to devour. Margaret had no intention of backing out of the deal, but she had played the shrinking violet long enough. Having steeled herself to her course of action, she planned a betrayal that to her bore the gravity of justice.
The next night, Lady Willoughby rummaged through Baladin’s rooms, looking for through his meager belongings for anything that might have looked like it might bear Thaumaturgical value. Baladin was no fool, however, and had both hidden his journals that contained the ritual and warded his makeshift haven from tampering. When he returned to Margaret’s haven, filthy with the grime of obviously desperate travel he demanded that she show him her hands. There, beneath the lace of her evening gloves, glistened his weeping sigil, opened raw upon the flesh of her hand.
Lady Willoughby confessed to the arrival and fierce threats of the Sabbat pack that had come to demand that she deliver him to them, but that she had no idea where he was. From there, however, she concocted a lie that suited her meek demeanor, that they demanded some personal trinket of his and that she relented, rifling his belonging in a desperate attempt to give them something of value.
Baladin bought the ruse, prideful of his own anticipation that someone might have been tailing him and the wisdom in hiding his ritual journal. He forgave Lady Willoughby the transgression and questioned her as to the identities of the interlopers. She described the Víboras de Dios, whom he recognized as Sabbat, but without any known connection to the Tremere antitribu.
The Argentine domains had no formal sect allegiance, being a confederation of territories in which Princes and Bishops of both the Camarilla and Sabbat held sway. Between the most populous areas stretched vast, unknown domains, where Autarkis might be the only power, or where packs of Sabbat or Anarchs might claim praxis of their own. As such, Baladin explained, the only authorities to be found were of the very local variety, and should the Prince of Mendoza not have any personal grievance against the Sabbat, she might not have any issue with turning a troublemaker over to an eager pack if it meant the Sword of Caine would move on from her domain back to its own. That meant that their safety was in their own hands, and that flight was their best recourse.
Weeping tears of blood that Baladin assumed to be borne of fear, Lady Willoughby agreed. They would abandon the californiano the next night, and she would go where he instructed her, waiting until he contacted her again to make her next move. She even suggested that he not tell her his destination, again that his secrecy might be protected. Baladin smiled. His grand-childe knew her role. He had chosen well. He next night, when they once again left each other’s company, he would travel to the macondo where the local Chulupi fearfully revered him as Desmodus. There, he could practice his rites, “Embracing” the victims the Chulupi provided with his sorcerous approximation of the Tzimisce condition and the tie it developed between the fledgling and the land. He collected his things, including the oilskin satchel that contained his encoded diaries, which contained the location of his secret Thaumaturgical cache near the Chulupi village.
It was never to come to pass as such.
While Baladin retired into a smug day-sleep, Lady Willoughby roused herself from slumber and crept to his room in an agonizing lethargy. In her mind, she fought the actualizing urge to rouse her grandsire in the moment before she condemned him, letting him know that his hapless subordinate had finally suffered enough, but too much was at stake. Without the satisfaction of his understanding, Margaret plunged a carob stake into Baladin’s heart and hammered it home with a silver mallet purloined from among the ex-Lord’s meager travel belongings. Sodden with his spurting blood, hoping that he recognized her in the moment when his eyes bulged at the attack, Lady Willoughby crawled back to the comfort of her own chambers and slept a fitful sleep for the remainder of the day.
When next she woke, Margaret contacted the Víboras de Dios and let their pack leader know that she was ready to fulfill her half of their agreement. When the pack arrived, she allowed them to plunder his sleeping quarters. It was in a ruin, she explained, because she and Baladin had planned to flee that very night, but she misled him to allay his suspicions, and they had struggled briefly when she had staked him in his surprise. She had no use for his half-packed things, she said, and the pack could take what they wanted. The pack sought information about the Tremere’s Thaumaturgical breakthrough for its patron Dominion, but they had no reason to think that Lady Willoughby would know what they desired. And she continued to play her part as the timid victim, convincing the Víboras as wholly as she had Baladin.
In truth, Lady Willoughby had taken Baladin’s satchel before she arranged for the pack to collect its gory prize. She knew the satchel didn’t contain the precious secret, but she knew that it contained clues to where it had been hidden. She then asked for the protection of the Víboras de Dios, begging asylum within the Sabbat for, when word of her betrayal reached Vienna, she would be a marked Kindred.
Lady Willoughby’s request was beyond the authority the Víboras de Dios had, especially in the contested domains of Argentina and in a domain claimed at least nominally by a Camarilla Prince. They were savvy enough to realize that they weren’t dealing with a sniveling neophyte who would end up impaled on a spit during the Sword of Caine’s next Fire Dance, however — they knew Baladin’s background and the fact that a powerful rival faction in the Sabbat afforded him some degree of protection. Rather than take a chance at offending that unknown entity, they referred her to Néstor Lavagna, then a Bishop of Clan Lasombra, who maintained a civil discourse with the Prince of Mendoza.
The audience with the Bishop went as well as it could have. For her part, Lady Willoughby was mostly forthright. Bishop Lavagna plucked several illuminating thoughts from Margaret’s mind, as well, smoothing over the ripples in her memory afterward so that she wouldn’t recall the inquiry — and he was intrigued by what Lady Willoughby’s confessions suggested. The question was, how could he turn this best to his advantage? If the mystical knowledge she possessed was true, the Tzimisce rivals of Clan Lasombra in the Sabbat would cease to be a political threat to the Keepers’ rightful dominance. But the weapon was a dangerous one, for without the Tzimisce, the Sabbat stood little chance of holding its already tenuous domains against the Camarilla, and without adequate soldiery, the Sword of Caine certainly could pose no threat to the hated Antediluvians. And Bishop Lavagna had to acknowledge the truth, that he was a remote Bishop in a contested territory who had little grasp of the global status of the Camarilla-Sabbat conflict. So he did what the Kindred do best. He traded his information for favor.
The Lasombra curry favor with one another like no other clan can, and Lady Willoughby soon found herself invited to the domain of São Paulo by none other than the Archbishop. The last anyone saw of her was under the protection of a cadre of Caine’s Chosen in the spring of 1917, and there her trail vanishes from the consciousness of the Damned.
It would seem that Lady Willoughby’s tale ends thus, with her becoming a captive of the Sword of Caine, likely in some wretched hell beneath the streets of Sampa, where she either lies staked or shackled to a scrivener’s desk, scratching out possible permutations of the ritual Baladin thieved from under the collective noses of House Goratrix. That is not the case, however. Or, rather, it was, but it no longer is. The Tremere of the Sabbat did indeed have Lady Willoughby indentured and ensorcelled, bound to the subterranean library of the apostate Pontifex of Brazil. There she remained a prisoner, poring over not the ritual itself, but Baladin’s journals, which held the secret of the ritual that could cripple the Tzimisce.
One night, the ritual binding Margaret into the biblioteca simply… lapsed. She felt the ward cease suddenly, like manacles falling from the wrists of a slave. That was over a decade ago. She still hasn’t left the library — how can she? She’s in an unknown city where she doesn’t speak the language, in a domain claimed by an Archbishop she may or may not know anymore, who may or may not be among the Damned, and the arguable chattel of a clan that has vanished, which is a fact she doesn’t possess. For all of her efforts to free herself from the yoke of Baladin, she’s ended up in an even worse situation, and lacks the temerity to make her own go of it again. Instead, she confines herself to the vast underground library of the absent Pontifex, feeding from a dwindling retinue of still-living servitors (shouldn’t they all be dead by now?), wearing the immaculately kept remainder of a century ago’s wardrobe and guarding a secret she doesn’t actually possess.
Little by little, though, Lady Willoughby has been mustering the boldness to test the confines of her prison. On the night of the new moon, he says, a Spanish-speaking Malkavian envoy of the Black Hand visits her to check on her ongoing progress with Baladin’s journal. She doesn’t trust him, and he knows she lies to him when she tells him that she’s been diligent with the effort but that it hasn’t yielded anything, and so the two play their own private Jyhad. This Black Hand contact does permit her contact with the outside world, though, and faithfully brings her handwritten letters to be posted, collecting what few responses she may receive. It’s a strange code of honor this Freak of Caine’s Chosen possesses, for he doesn’t read her mail, believing that some night he’ll find out whatever it is that keeps him coming back to Margaret’s side.
So who exactly corresponds with Lady Margaret Willoughby? Valkar de la Rosa, a Spanish Tremere Embraced perhaps a decade before the Pontifex’s ritual wavered. When Margaret’s Black Hand attendant first visited her, she had sent a letter to Valkar’s sire, but it ended up in the hands of the childe. From there, de la Rosa continued the communication out of a sense of duty, and has since learned what Lady Willoughby thinks she hides, as well as collecting an incomplete copy of the journals of Baladin, which Margaret encodes with her own cipher, trickling it to him one page at a time. Why did Lady Willoughby choose Valkar’s sire with whom to initiate correspondence? And why does she continue it despite knowing that it’s not her first choice of Kindred who returns her letters? Only she knows, but she plans to soon try again, hoping to reach a different Kindred whose last known whereabouts she hopes to discern from the arcane library beneath São Paulo. With little attention to how much time has passed, she’ll probably reach another descendent of any named Kindred, or even a childe of a childe, assuming the receiving address still exists at all.
The disintegration of what remains of Maragaret Willoughby’s unlife isn’t the worst of the situation, however. Baladin, in the hands of the Víboras de Dios, never made it to the Chulupi macondo. Whether his ritual would or wouldn’t have succeeded never became known, but whatever he buried there in the heights of the Andes did something to the village near where it lay buried. Tonight, none of the Chulupi survive as the mortals they once were. They have long since become the desmodus, the nag loper, and what remains of the village itself is little more than a desiccated necropolis… and its dwellers are hungry.
Sire: Lady Lise Paulmann (deceased)
Clan: Tremere (possibly antitribu)
Embrace: 1864 AD
Apparent Age: Late 30s
Physical: Strength 2, Dexterity 2, Stamina 2
Social: Charisma 3, Manipulation 3, Appearance 2
Mental: Perception 5, Intelligence 2, Wits 2
Talents: Alertness 4, Awareness 1, Empathy 2, Subterfuge 3
Skills: Etiquette 3, Performance 1, Stealth 3
Knowledges: Academics 2, Investigation (research) 2, Medicine 1, Occult 1, Science (outdated eugenics theory) 2
Disciplines: Auspex 2, Dominate 2, Thaumaturgy (Path of Blood) 1
Thaumaturgical Rituals: Communicate with Kindred Sire, Deflection of Wooden Doom, Engaging the Vessel of Transference, Wake with Evening’s Freshness
Backgrounds: Contacts 1, Herd 2, Retainers 2
Virtues: Conscience 1, Self-Control 2, Courage 2
Morality: Humanity 4
Blood Pool/Max per Turn: 14/2
Image: Lady Willoughby has been denied the opportunity to assimilate into modern society. She exhibits the stasis of the undead in her clothing in particular, wearing full Victorian dress when she expects to feed or when she expects to entertain her Black Hand Malkavian rival and confidant. In fact, she has little choice, as the only clothes she has are those with which she was entombed in the biblioteca of the Sabbat Pontifex. Her Embrace came in the cold of December, and she has a winter countenance that stands out significantly among the tropical complexions of the residents — and Kindred — of Brazil. Her hands are small and dainty, almost always sheathed in damask gloves, and she wears her long hair in a proper Marcel wave.
Roleplaying Hints: You are a tempest at sea, slow to rouse, but when the full weight of your wrath has arrived, is is terrible to behold, so long have you been shuttered away from any but simpering thralls and the fractured agent of some killer’s cult. Woe to the Kindred, especially the rapacious Sabbat, who consider your reserve to be timidity or complacency. Confined to this dank and horrid den, you have become its lioness. Were you ever to escape, you would likely be overwhelmed by the immense changes wrought upon the world since your removal from it. Everything would seem familiar enough to unsettle your long-atrophied mind, but sinister enough in its difference to plunge you into fear-frenzy or worse.
Haven: The library of the lost apostate of São Paulo is a wonder, but an incomplete one, and Margaret’s lack of practical skill with Thaumaturgy makes it a gilded prison. Or it would, if Lady Willoughby had any ambition for blood magic. Instead, she haunts its vast shelves like a revenant, bound to it now by the twisted sense of safety she finds in its contemptible familiarity. She has a perfect memory of what books and scrolls reside where, but not their contents. Since the mortal servants who attend the library have slowly begun to die off, she maintains a shrine to their memory in a previously unused alcove of the vault, where she displays their severed heads and occasionally conducts one-sided conversations with them, remembered verbatim from the last time they spoke.
Derangement: With her contact limited and few substantial outlets for conversation, Lady Margaret Willoughby finds herself prone to vicious bouts of hysteria, and it is in these states that she removes the heads from her beloved? — no, that’s not the word — mortal minions when they finally succumb to age and she grieves. In reality, Lady Willoughby obviously suffers some horrific aggravation of something akin to Stockholm syndrome. Under the combination of this, her hysterics, and the unending sameness of dwelling in a candlelit tomb of the written word, she is dangerous and unwholesome company.