Roderigo al-Dakhil, Lich of the Dead City
His first touch of magic almost broke him. A Castilian soldier in the army fighting to reclaim Cadiz, he’d drilled for the day when he encountered the Moors, like many young men he knew. But the reality was very different from the stories, from the scenarios a fervent young Spanish man had woven in his imagination.
Gone were the monsters he was sure the Moor would be, flaunting God’s grace and the sovereignty of his beloved Spain. When he drove his sword through the first of his enemies, it stuck, trapped between two ribs. He pulled and grunted, trying to work it free, while the dying man screamed his life away and soiled himself.
The reality wasn’t noble or brave — it was horrifying. This was a man, a man with a mother and two younger brothers, Roderigo saw somehow, a man with a lover who at that moment was praying for him to return to her safely. He glimpsed all those who were important to the dying man: a loving son, a devoted brother, a passionate and tender lover.
And when the man died, Roderigo’s soul shattered.
He woke to find a strange monk bending over him on the nighttime remnants of the battlefield. The man shushed him and told him to rest. The monk gave the man he’d killed a blessing and took Roderigo away to explain what had happened. He was now one of the secret angels of the world, blessed by God with a great destiny. On his head and soul was placed the mark of Uriel, the angel of death.
For a year, Roderigo learned from his new mentor Brother Figueroa, and once Cadiz had fallen and Roderigo released to go home, the two undertook a long journey along the Silk Road. Eventually, they found themselves in Turkey, where Brother Figueroa introduced him to other magi like himself, in a citadel carved by magic within the volcano called Nemrut Dagi. They were not only Muslims and Christians, nor even all People of the Book. They belonged to every faith Roderigo had ever heard of, and several more besides. And all claimed the same destiny: to bring an ending to the world when the thread of Fate was overlong.
There he studied the arts of destiny, death and the afterlife. He learned the great Mysteries of this order of death-sages. Roderigo met ghosts from ancient civilizations, and mystics from all corners of the world. He met stranger figures, as well, including the one who would have the most lasting impact on his existence, the scholar and necromancer called Mokhadaji Ranpur, a vampire of great age.
Ranpur and Roderigo spent many nights together, discussing the nature of the dead and death itself. From Ranpur, Roderigo first learned of the soul of a whole city, an ancient city lost in the howling ghost-winds of the Underworld. In time, however, the order to which Roderigo belonged came under attack by their enemies. Ranpur disappeared one night, returning whence he’d originally come, with only a written promise to Roderigo that they would meet again.
Roderigo found his soldierly talents in demand once more as their enemies sent great and shining angelic spirits to bring an end to the “spiritual corruption” taken root in the volcano. He and all his order fought hard, but they were outmatched in sorcerous resources. At the suggestion of Brother Figueroa, the magicians of the order performed a great ritual to move their citadel to the mountains of northern Spain.
Over the next several years, Roderigo and the vampire Ranpur carried on an extended correspondence, carried through the winds of the Underworld by the voices of ghosts bound to their service. By the time Roderigo had seen his fifteenth year as a sorcerer, his power had grown, and for the first time he ventured into the Underworld.
Into the Dead Lands
His journey was fraught with dangers to body and soul for a lone magus, and he braved their terrors with an iron will. Following one of the ghosts bound to his and Ranpur’s correspondence, he managed to find his way to the strange black city in the heart of the afterlife.
Sadly, these walls did not offer him sanctuary, but dangers greater than any he’d faced. A small moment, a lapse in judgment and the black horrors that lurked within those ancient walls snuffed Roderigo al-Dakhil’s life. Before his soul fled him entirely, however, Mokhadaji Ranpur found and Embraced him.
Thus, he woke a second time as a changed creature. For a time, the loss of his connections to the realms of spirit and magic broke him, and he howled in a prison labyrinth beneath the ancient city.
For years, Ranpur would venture down into the cells where the mad neonate dwelt, and simply sit and talk. He spoke on many topics — Hindu theology, philosophies of the ancients, funereal customs, the role of fate in mankind’s destiny. Ranpur read to Roderigo from the Guarded Rubrics, the sacred texts of the Tal’Mahe’Ra, the sect that Ranpur served as a rawi. In time, through sheer pedagoguery and tenacity, Ranpur restored some sanity back into his suffering childe.
For almost a century, Roderigo remained in the Dead City, learning at the feet of his master. He read the crumbling libraries of the Tal’Mahe’Ra and spoke with its most learned sages. He listened to the philosophies of the enigmatic Del’Roh and made himself available to the sect’s Liches for any tasks that might need the attentions of a young and eager Kindred.
Finally, at the dawn of the 14th Century, he petitioned the Basalt Throne for permission to return to the mortal world. The Del’Roh considered the request for one week before granting permission. Roderigo would go and serve as an agent of the Dead City in the world of mortals, however, acting as the voice of the Del’Roh to those Cainites of the sect who worked to inflame the Inquisition against the rebellious childer of the Antediluvians.
Seeker of Heresy
For years Roderigo worked tirelessly in Spain, applying a gentle pressure to the agents of the Church. Many vampires claimed to have controlled the Inquisition through the years, but if any came close to it, it was Roderigo. Even his influence was subtle, consisting of whispers in the right ears, relaying information on the whereabouts of vampires to them occasionally and — most important of all — preventing any other Kindred from gaining unreasonable sway over the Inquisition.
While acting in this capacity, he found evidence of strange heresies among the Bogomils. While the Tal’mahe’Ra specialized in seeding their own strange rituals and beliefs into the heretical notions of mortals, this was different. According to one informant, these Bogomils used full stanzas from the Guarded Rubrics as liturgy of some kind in their debased chthonic rites. Moreover, they quoted the Rubrics with scriptures that had never been heard of, suggesting that they might possess a fuller copy of the Rubrics than had been seen to date.
Delivering responsibility for continuing his work to another agent of his sect, Roderigo departed immediately for Kievan Rus. Upon his arrival, he found the truth of the matter soon enough. These Bogomils did indeed worship the wicked demiurge of their Gnostic faith using a tattered, but almost-complete copy of the Guarded Rubrics.
The gap-toothed, cloudy-eyed priest merely smiled and pointed to the ground. Clearly, some Kindred who masqueraded before these degenerates as a demon or devil of some kind had left it with them. But for what purpose? Intrigued, Roderigo remained, copying the Guarded Rubrics and continuing the investigate the origins of the manuscript.
Weeks later, however, he discovered the truth of its origins when an ancient Gangrel rose from the ground at the center of the village. The priest’s gesture was not an indication of infernal origins; it referred to an earth-melded vampire. Roderigo introduced himself, explaining why he was present in this elder’s domain.
The Gangrel’s name was Mitru, who claimed to have once been a Prince, but who sickened of the ways of the Damned and retired to the crags and forests away from the cities of the Eastern Lord Ventrue and their wretched minions. This ragged-bound, scrawled manuscript had belonged to one of them before he’d removed her worthless head from her neck. The manuscript had been among the things he’d claimed as his trophy. Since it did him no good, he’d given it to these degenerate Gnostics, who believed him some kind of apostle of their demiurge.
Unfortunately, far from solving the riddle, it merely deepened it. True Hand holy writ stolen from the hands of a secular Ventrue at the bloody whim of a Prince who abandoned his domain and gone to haven in a den of heretics? Madness.
Finally, though, Roderigo’s probing and questions raised Mitru’s suspicions, and then his ire. When his herd of Bogomils came to to regard Roderigo as a figure of importance for his knowledge of the Guarded Rubrics, that was the last straw. Mitru attacked the interloper late at night, and Roderigo escaped only by befuddling the Outlander with hostile ghosts. He fled west, stealing the tattered copy of the Guarded Rubrics as Mitru screamed his rage into the night.
Among the Rroma
Although Mitru pursued him, Roderigo found aid and succor with strange nomads whose people had just found Europe and had been entering it in small numbers for the past few decades. They called themselves the Rroma, and those who aided Roderigo claimed they did so at the behest of their ancient patron, the spirit called Mokhadaji Ranpur.
He learned that the elder vampire had been watching his endeavors, and reporting his successes to the Del’Roh. His sire lent his aid where he could, mainly through the network of temporal connections he’d somehow managed to keep intact through the years. These connections slowly became Roderigo’s as he employed them.
Roderigo and his caravan of gypsies arrived in Western Europe just in time to encounter the Black Death, and the devastation was terrible. Worse, they were often hounded by minions or childer of the Princes of the western domains, who considered Roderigo’s intrusion a violation of the Traditions.
One by one they came, and Roderigo defeated or confounded them. One such agent of a Bohemian Prince realized that he could not slay the necromancer alone, and so Embraced one of the young women of Roderigo’s Rroma family, a young woman named Reveka. This Nosferatu agent hoped to use her to strike at the necromancer unaware, he underestimated the ties of the Rroma with one another — even one who’d become accursed shilmulo. His plots undone, the Prince’s childe fled with specters on his trail.
Ashamed that the aid his hosts gave him selflessly was repaid by the death and cursing of one of their daughters, Roderigo swore to avenge her. Departing to find the fleeing Nosferatu, Roderigo found Reveka following him, insisting that she be allowed to take her revenge. Although hesitant at first, Roderigo agreed, and set about teaching her the intricacies of her undead state.
In a short time, they found the Prince’s pawn and the confrontation was short and brutal. In the grip of frenzy, Reveka consumed her sire’s blood and plucked the amaranth of his soul, consuming him wholly.
Returning to the encampment, Roderigo and Reveka found the small tribe fled, broken off in a dozen directions, each going their own way, in hopes of evading the shilmulo. Roderigo offered what comfort he could to the mourning Reveka, promising her that she’ll never be alone. From that night forward, Roderigo acted as a sort of surrogate sire to Reveka.
The two traveled Europe for a time, though the Black Death scourged all of Christendom. In the midst of the devastation, however, the two became lovers. In time, however, Roderigo’s duties called him back to Spain. The two parted ways then, for Reveka felt that she could call no domain her true home. Privately, Roderigo suspected that she sought her family. He only hoped it wasn’t to kill them.
The Anarch Revolt
In the late 1300s, a fury gripped the Blood of Caine, like a frenzy that overtook them as a race. The Anarch Revolt sundered all of Kindred society, and stories of atrocities trickled in to Roderigo’s havens in Spain. As the Revolt ran its course, strict lines of allegiance emerged, and the war of factions made no place for those who wished to avoid the strife. Unfortunately, it was not Roderigo’s intellect that chose his place, but his affections.
Reveka returned in the early 1400s, a harried creature full of fear. “Hide me,” she begged him, and her kisses tasted of old blood and wormwood soul. Her nightmares were terrible, and for a time she was deeply afraid of the dark. Eventually, Roderigo prised the full story from her, a story of the ultimate rebellion. She’d joined the coterie of a Cainite named Gratiano, and together they’d done the impossible. They had consumed the heartsblood of an Antediluvian.
The horror of her act was almost too much to bear for Roderigo. What would his masters say, his masters who revered the Ancients in some capacity? Knowing that this act would not go unremarked upon in the Black City, Roderigo found safe haven for Reveka and entered the Underworld.
Arriving at the foot of the Basalt Throne, he found the Tal’Mahe’Ra just as he suspected he might, in a state of wrath over his protege’s betrayal. Seeking justice for the destruction of one of the Holiest, its elders demanded swift and terrible punishment for those responsible. Knowing the ways of heretics and blasphemers as few other did, Roderigo spoke up against that plan.
Wouldn’t it be better, he argued, to shape this nascent tool to their ends, rather than shatter it? Why make martyrs of those involved, when they might make amends for their evils, willing or not? Roderigo won many enemies in the Black City that night, but the Del’Roh merely narrowed its ancient eyes, and gestured for him to continue.
If this force were guided away from the actual resting places of the Antediluvians, and instead directed against the many elders who’d built empires in the mortal world, it might succeed where the Inquisition had been intended to work, but failed. The Church would not bring its might to bear against the elders who accrued the kind of power that might allow them to battle the Antediluvians at the End of Days. But a ravenous pack of hounds, clamoring for their heart’s blood?
“We must command them, and shape them,” he said in his quiet, refined tones. “With ourselves among them in ways we never could be among the Inquisition, let us chain this rabid dog rather than put it down, and unleash it upon our foes.”
The Del’Roh considered, and the rawis spoke in favor of the suggestion. The voice of Roderigo’s sire was loudest among them, and finally the Del’Roh assented. “Let us forge of them a sword, with its hilt firmly in our grasp,” was the command from the Basalt Throne, and Roderigo empowered to make that happen.
Returning to the world of flesh, Roderigo engaged Reveka in his plan. She had already proven herself to the rising Sabbat, and she quickly found her way into its growing throng again. From the shadows, Roderigo aided her, slaying her rivals and seeing that her own goals were realized.
Even as Reveka helped to shape the movement, however, Roderigo became aware of other forces operating within it. With time, research and the interrogation of at least one vampire, he found a name: the Lost Tribe. His masters in the Black City identified this as a sect of vampires from the cradle of civilization founded by ancient rebels against the authority of Alamut. By this time, it consisted of more than merely outcasts and rebels of Haqim’s get, however. The Lost Tribe had become practically a cult, dedicated to the destruction of the Ancients in revenge for Zillah, whom they revered.
Forced to conceal himself more carefully, Roderigo’s efforts became a game of cat and mouse, requiring him to avoiding discovery while uncovering those who also hid in the shadows of this Anarch’s Movement.
Forging the Sword of Caine
While Roderigo was not himself present at this momentous occasion, Reveka was nearby, ready to lend aid to her compatriots should it be required. The wildest of the Anarchs christened themselves the Sabbat, and Reveka was one of its first adherents. She seemed the perfect fit for the new movement, exulting in the rituals introduced by the old orthopraxic Lasombra who still longed for some measure of religious symbolism, and the hoary kolduns among the Tzimisce.
In short order, Reveka became a respected member of the burgeoning Sabbat, well-regarded for her dauntless pride and tenacity. In many ways, the Nosferatu antitribu counted her as one of the first among them, and she was among the first in the Sabbat to use the term “pack” to describe the cohort she gathered for herself.
Returning from a year-long visit to the Black City to report his actions and continue his education in the theology of the Tal’Mahe’Ra, Roderigo discovered a change in Reveka, not the least of which was a strange black crescent tattooed to her palm. She’d joined the faction of assassins and warriors made up of the remnants of the Lost Tribe, he discovered.
More terrifying still, she’d suggested calling the group the Black Hand, a name that seemed to stick. Not once had Roderigo ever mentioned the vulgar name of the Tal’Mahe’Ra to his adopted childe. How did she know of it? Had someone suggested it to her? She was evasive on the matter, dismissing it as unimportant, something she’d thought of in the passion of the moment when she’d seen some of the others sporting the black crescents.
In the Dead City, Roderigo claimed to have fostered the name himself through his adoptive childe, and quickly called for more Tal’Mahe’Ra initiates to infiltrate the Sabbat and its Black Hand. Over the next decade or so, younger members of the cult and the childer Embraced for the specific purpose of seeding it with agents were all inducted into the Sword of Caine, while Roderigo continued to see the disciples of the Lost Tribe.
The necromancer quickly found his power base threatened with the death of Reveka. Intoxicated with her own growing power, the ancilla Nosferatu antitribu decided that she was owed a position of more authority within the Black Hand, and foolishly challenged one of its leaders. Roderigo’s agents said that not only did the Assamite antitribu extinguish her life mercilessly, but also did so with such ease that he could only have been far older than he claimed.
Enraged, Roderigo stepped from the Underworld into the haven of his childe’s murderer and slew him as he slumbered during the day, scattering his ashes in the howling tempests of the dead lands. In the last moments of the Assamite’s existence, he threatened the retaliation of the Lost Tribe, and Roderigo understood then. The elder leaders of the Zillah-worshipping cult were not hiding behind the Black Hand. They were in it, posing as younger vampires. He then returned to the Dead City, grief-stricken and disillusioned.
There was no way he could exert the kinds of influence on the Sabbat that they could, Roderigo realized, even manipulating multiple agents from afar. No control is quite so firm as direct control, and his own lineage and occult talents were strange enough to invite unwelcome scrutiny.
Returning to the Basalt Throne, he begged that this burden be lifted from him, and the Del’Roh agreed. His sire Ranpur lauded his achievements before the Basalt Throne and other rawis, however, urging the Del’Roh to consider a position worthy of his devotion and successes. To Roderigo’s shock, she agreed, naming him one of the Liches of the Ancient City.
The Third Lich
For several hundred years, though, Roderigo found his new position demanding of him, and almost fatally so. The Liches of the Ancient City are rivals beneath their skull-masked veneers of politeness and noblesse oblige. His sire aided him where he could, but his greatest aid was demanding that Roderigo seek out and master blood magics with the fervor with which he had once learned magic as a mortal.
As part of his researches, Roderigo often undertook journeys into the world of flesh. This made him unique among the Liches. Indeed, among many elders of the True Hand. He always made it a point to learn the nuances of the world, and how it had changed since he last was there. Even when in Enoch, the Sabbat agents of the Tal’Mahe’Ra often learned that they might foster a patronage with one of the venerable Liches if they but maintained correspondence with one who wished to know as much about the world as possible.
For decades, he studied the venerable necromancies chiseled into the walls of Enoch, and whispered into the crypts of the Aralu, hoping for a reply. Roderigo journeyed into the world of mortals frequently, investigating various forms of blood sorcery. The Tremere fascinated him, as did the blood sorceries of the Tzimisce and Assamites, but the paranoia and xenophobia of those clans prevented his acquisition of any but the most elementary of their mysteries.
The Giovanni, on the other hand, were a whole other business. Roderigo learned long ago that patronage was a quick route to obedience among the childer of Caine, and the easiest way was to aid an ambitious Kindred in secret, without even that vampire knowing it. Roderigo put these methods to tremendous benefit, recruiting agents both on behalf of the True Hand and for himself.
In his investigations of the Giovanni, Roderigo discovered the ancient vampire named Apacia, an outcast Cappadocian who was neither cast into their founders’ prison nor consumed by the childer of Augustus (though not for lack of trying). Her presence in the Sabbat drew his attention, and he approached her directly.
Suspecting that his normal subtleties would do nothing more than antagonize her, Roderigo instead chose to approach her with an open proposal of alliance. Fascinated with another Cainite necromancer not of the blood of Augustus, she returned his overtures. The two spent almost thirty years together in the 1600s, she teaching him the deathspeaker-lore of the Scythian peoples and the Cappadocian clan, and he subtly aiding the Sabbat in whatever of its goals interested Apacia.
In many ways, she reminded him of Reveka, though with the feral sort of barbarian wisdom Reveka might have developed if she’d existed long enough to cultivate it. By the early 1700s, their goals and obligations took them in separate directions, but the two remain bonded by oaths and Vinculi, as fast as elders of the blood of Caine might ever be said to be.
Upon his return to Enoch, Roderigo found himself in a position of active knowledge of the Sabbat’s workings that outstripped even the Del’Roh’s preferred agent for such things, a Ventrue by the name of Karnof. It made him a new enemy in the Black City, but Roderigo publicly humiliated the Ventrue before the Del’Roh, demonstrating his own knowledge of the workings of the Sword of Caine.
In response, the Del’Roh ordered the hierarchy shifted, and Karnof now answered to Roderigo. The Sabbat’s status within the True Hand ceased to be one of political identity. By the command of the Del’Roh, the doings of the Sword of Caine were now an occult matter, within the purview of the Liches.
Although he remained in the Ancient City almost exclusively, Roderigo has never allowed his understanding of the Sabbat to fade to the risible levels that Karnof did. Once a decade or so, he journeys into the world of flesh to speak with his agents and see the workings of the Sabbat himself.
In the early 1900s, a hallucinogen-maddened pack priest in Guadalajara, Mexico spotted a skull-masked man among the nacreous caverns beneath the city where the young Tzimisce’s pack held their Ritae. Over time, various Sabbat have seen him lurking here and there, and the tales about him have grown over time.
The name for the skull-faced figure has stuck: Padre Cráneo. Some packs have taken him as something of a totemic figure, incorporating the mortal rites for La Santisima Muerte into their Ritae, calling on Padre Cráneo to help them in an upcoming crusade. Others believe he was the herald of the Harbingers of Skulls, and yet others believe he is an identity that Sabbat elders in the Black Hand assume among themselves like a costume. Others wonder if he isn’t perhaps a member of the Inconnu, seeking to eradicate the most monstrous of the Sabbat as an affront to the ideals the Inconnu hold precious.
For Roderigo’s part, he is happy to be all of these things and more, so long as these urban legends serve him well. He takes a fledgling’s delight in lending small aid to those packs that revere him, or in haunting those that fear him.
When the Black City was destroyed, Roderigo was one of the few among the upper echelons who managed to escape. Some among the Tal’Mahe’Ra whisper that he knew of the terrible storm, thanks to his alliance with Apacia, who somehow foresaw the maelstrom’s devastation. However it happened, Roderigo was quick to gather those elements of the Tal’Mahe’Ra and establish a new sanctuary for them in the world of flesh. The tale had come full circle, and he offered the broken sect his cabal’s sanctum in the mountains of northern Spain, which had been abandoned for many centuries.
Although he has gathered many of their agents together, it cannot be properly said that Roderigo al-Dakhil continues the traditions of the Tal’Mahe’Ra. The Aralu are gone, he assumes, and the Basalt Throne no more. Rather, he maintains the resources and tactics of the True Hand, drawing on its agents for their own ends. He is something of a lost creature, an elder in his own right with no other power governing or commanding him. Some of the former True Hand agents have claimed that he is merely consolidating the Hand’s power to use for himself… and they may be right.
Sire: Mokhadaji Ranpur
Demeanor: Eye of the Storm
Embrace: 1354 AD
Apparent Age: Late 30s
Physical: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Stamina 4
Social: Charisma 4, Manipulation 5, Appearance 2
Mental: Perception 5, Intelligence 4, Wits 6
Talents: Alertness (Running) 4, Athletics 2, Awareness 4, Brawl 3, Empathy 5, Intimidation 3, Leadership 5, Subterfuge 4
Skills: Etiquette 4, Melee 4, Performance 2, Stealth (Urban) 5
Knowledges: Academics 4, Finance 2, Investigation 5, Law 3, Medicine 4, Occult 6, Politics (Sabbat) 4
Disciplines: Auspex 5, Dominate 4, Fortitude 3, Necromancy 6 (Sepulchre Path 5, Ash Path 5, Bone Path 3, Cenotaph Path 5, Corpse in the Monster 5, Grave’s Decay 5, Vitreous Path 5), Obfuscate 3, Thaumaturgy 3 (Path of Blood 2, Elemental Mastery 2, Hands of Destruction 3, Movement of the Mind 2, Path of Corruption 1)
Necromantic Rituals: All Necromantic Rituals of up to ••••• •.
Thaumaturgical Rituals: Defense of the Sacred Haven, Devil’s Touch, Domino of Life, Wake with Evening’s Freshness; Blood Walk, Recure of the Homeland; Clinging of the Insect, Incorporeal Passage
Backgrounds: Resources 3, Rituals 5, Status (True Hand) 4
Virtues: Conviction 4, Self-Control 5, Courage 4
Morality: Path of Bones 8
Blood Pool/Max per Turn: 30/6
Image: Roderigo dresses in simple, dark clothing that fits his small frame well. He is generally quite innocuous, with slicked-back black hair and dark eyelashes. He is given to donning a stark bone skull mask, however, when he intends to be seen, to fearsome effect.
Roleplaying Hints: Roderigo is calm, the very image of the perfectly composed elder Kindred. He has an undeniable haunted, melancholy air to him, and seems to bear some measure of affection for the Sabbat, particularly its younger members. The wilder, the better.
Haven: His primary haven is in an old mage sanctum, concealed through cunning sorcery and now blood magic, in the mountains of northern Spain. Roderigo maintains multiple havens in areas that attract and hold his interest for any length of time. Currently, those areas include Mexico City, Cadiz, London and New York.
Influence: Although he has no influence to speak of in the mortal world, Roderigo was one of the Liches of the Tal’Mahe’Ra and even now still wields tremendous respect among the remaining True Hand agents. He is also one of the only members of the True Hand’s leadership to survive the destruction of the Ancient City, as far as anyone knows.