Following on from this explosion of 19th century French vampire weirdness…
There is a little-known place which is undoubtedly the strangest in the world. The people who inhabit the barbarous lands around Belgrade sometimes call it Selene, sometimes Vampire City, but the vampires refer to it among themselves by the names of the Sepulchre and the College. It is normally invisible to mortal eyes–and to the eyes of each of those who contrive to catch a glimpse of it, it presents a different image. For this reason, reports of its nature are various and contradictory.
Some tell of a great city of black jasper which has streets and buildings like any other city but is eternally in mourning, enveloped by perpetual gloom. Others have caught sight of immense amphitheaters capped with domes like mosques, and minarets reaching for the sky more numerous than the pines in the forest of Dinawar. Yet others have found a single circus of colossal proportions, surrounded by a triple rank of white marble cloisters lit by a lunar twilight that never gives way to day or night.
Arranged there, in mysterious order, are the sepulchral dwellings of that prodigious people which the wrath of God has placed in the margins of our world. The sons of that people, half demon and half phantom, are living and dead at the same time, incapable of reproducing themselves but also deprived of the blessing of death.
The city of Selene exists in a shadowy dimension parallel to earthly reality. It’s congruent with our reality near Belgrade in Serbia – specifically, near the district of Zemun. (The name Zemun, by the way, derives from zemlja, soil – native soil, anyone?). At the stroke of midnight, a vampire can open a portal to Selene.
On the far side of the portal is the bizarre city of Selene – a vast necropolis of huge tombs and temples, all built of the same stone (green-tinged porphyryr, mortared together with seams of black marble). The temples are decorated with statues and friezes depicting scenes of horror and torture; the tombs bear monuments to the vile deeds and atrocities of the vampires who slumber there. Every vampire has a tomb – Monsieur Goetzi, who was a relatively young and insignificant vampire, had a tomb to match his lowly status that was “only a little grander than St. Paul’s in London”.
The portal from the outside world brings visitors to the dead centre of the city, to a great circular plaza. From there, six streets lead to the six great divisions of the city, each named after a creature (the Bat Quarter and the Serpent Quarter are mentioned by name; presumably, the other quarters are named after other animals associated with vampires, like wolves or rats).
Although the city seems empty at first, it must be remembered that every vampire who dwells there contains a multitude. A single vampire incorporates within its pale form an entire household – or two, given their innate ability to duplicate their shades – and a whole army of shades and monsters arrived to avenge the burning of Goetzi’s heart.
It is as well to put on record that the number of young women devoured by vampires in the immediate environs of their convent was much less considerable that one might have imagined. In order not to rouse the entire country to revolt, the vampires had agreed between them that they would not inflict any damage within a perimeter of fifteen leagues. Monsieur Goetzi had, therefore, broken this pact in slaking his thirst to the detriment of an inhabitant of Semlin–a prohibited town, like Peterwardein and Belgrade. In consequence, for fear of being reprimanded by his own kind, he had not dared enroll the two Szegeli girls in his company of slaves and had made mere art-objects out of their carefully-prepared cadavers.
The laws of Selene forbid vampires from feeding near the invisible city. They must go further abroad to find victims – and to win renown. A vampire’s tomb in Selene appears proportional to the vampire’s infamy in the mortal world. Thus, the relatively unknown Goetzi had only a cathedral-sized tomb, whereas his neighbours (a Prussian prime minister and a Parisienne vampire) had far larger monuments to their sins. Presumably, it’s customary for a vampire to spend a few decades out among mortals, committing all sorts of vile deeds and atrocities, and then return to the city to bask in the glory of their expanded tomb and slumber for an age.
This brings up the question, of course – who builds these impossibly huge monuments? Do the vampires themselves employ their shade-slaves to labour while the vampire sleeps? Are the mysterious ‘evil priests’ involved? Are the buildings magical conjured – or is Selene itself a dream, and the structures are the spiritual reflection of the vampires?
The pallid blooms of all these flower-beds slept on their stems, unswayed by any breeze. The enchantment which had suspended their animation had power enough to freeze the water-jets of fountains in mid-air. You know how monotony enlarges everything by discouraging thought, even immensity itself; twilight as cold and clear as the face of the moon struck that symmetrical crowd of monuments–all built of the same stone, colorless and semi-transparent–from every side at once, casting not a single shadow.
Time appears to be stopped in Selene; nothing ages or rots here, and even the vampiric inhabitants appear listless and disinterested in intruders unless provoked. Characters cannot Refresh any ability pools within the confines of Selene.
Selene might be a sort of ur-vampire – just as vampires can split off and re-absorb the shades of their victims, maybe entering Selene means being absorbed by the vampire city. As above, so below – the whole city might be a gigantic clockwork-heart hyperspace.
Féval never explains where his vampires come from, but offers three intriguing hints.
First, in his description of Selene, the narrator notes “most experts agree that the moon may be assigned to the vampire race as a fatherland” – which, clearly, means SPACE VAMPIRES. For that matter, Selene – time-less, cloaked, accessible through a portal, of uncertain dimensions and filled with impossible buildings – sounds a lot more like a starship or alien hyperdimensional otherspace than a city.
Second, there’s the intriguing case of Goetzi himself, who only recently became a vampire when he “when he received from Peterwardein the diploma of a master vampire”. (Peterwardein, now known as Petrovardin, is another town near Belgrade, so presumably this diploma came from Selene). Was Goetzi just an ordinary human before he graduatedinto vampirism? Selene’s also known as the Invisible College; maybe it’s a school for evil sorcerers, the fabled Scholomance where Dracula studied. And given Goetzi became a vampire in England, it’s a correspondence school.
Third, there’s the thoroughly weird clockwork heart of the vampires. It’s not a metaphor – vampires literally have mechanical hearts, and these hearts have a manifest connection to the vampire’s incorporated shades that can be severed, freeing the shades from the vampire’s tyranny. In the novel, the characters are able to free Polly from Goetzi’s control with a Medicine spend.
Putting it all together – these vampires are humans bonded with alien technology from Selene. A suitable candidate (according to whatever criteria the evil priests use) is given a mechanical heart-module that transforms them into a vampire. The ‘tenuous and sticky’ flesh of vampires is some form of protean shape-shifting slime or nanotechnology, able to bud off and reabsorb ‘shades’, given form and pattern from the stolen DNA samples of drained victims. The heart functions as some sort of regulator, keeping the vampire from collapsing into a cancerous blob of overlapping genetic expressions. This might also explain why the ashes of a vampire’s heart are so lethal – one heart interferes with another, causing the vampire to lose control of its many forms; instead of budding off, the vampire spawns overlapping copies of everyone it’s eaten within itself, and… boom.
Both the vampiric ability to duplicate themselves and Selene’s invisibility suggest the vampires are slightly out of phase with our reality, and they can take advantage of this discontinuity to copy themselves.
Those Pesky Evil Priests
So, who are the mysterious ‘evil priests’ who seemingly sit around waiting to rewind damaged vampires? Selene has temples as well as tombs – the priests presumably dwell there, but it’s unclear if they serve the vampires, or if the vampires are merely the tools or agents of the priests. If Selene’s a starship, the priests might be its maintenance drones – or its original alien crew, unable to leave their ship, so they’ve turned to the native fauna of this planet, turning them into cybernetic probes to gather information about Earth. The gigantic ‘tombs’ of the vampires might be gigantic memory-stacks, where the memories of the shades are processed into a form the aliens can understand.
There Are A Million Stories In Vampire City…
And here are three of them.
The Agents learn of a mysterious financier. He’s got connections at the highest level of power – but no-one’s quite sure where his money came from. He invests in cutting-edge science – and invites the best scientists to his mansion for dinner. He’s secretly a vampire brain collector, absorbing the accumulated knowledge of human civilisation. Worse, within the vampire’s mechanical heart, the shades of these stolen geniuses are forced to labour on a single project of terrible intent… finding a way to open the portal to Selene fully, so the vampires can swarm out en masse and consume all humanity.
Selene’s no longer invisible. It’s one of the great cities of Europe, a jewel of the continent. The culture of Paris, the financial might of London, the architecture of Prague, all rolled into one. When people say bankers and corporate lawyers are bloodsuckers, here they mean it literally. Run Selene as a modern-day spin on Cthulhu City, where everyone knows the vampires are in charge, but no-one dare say it aloud.
The Goetzi Identity
For a super-weird campaign – the player characters are all shades. They got killed and eaten by a vampire, but managed to break free of their master’s control. Now, they’re on the run from the other vampires. They’ve all got the power to spawn disposable duplicates of themselves, and can merge with each other (a great way to explain what happens to the character when a player can’t make game night) – but there’s a whole city of vampires hunting them, they’re slowly degenerating into ectoplasm, and their master’s synovie is out there too. Better to burn out (green) than fade away…