The Letters Page: Episode 44
An episode on the vital essence of most living things in Sentinel Comics!
Run Time: 1:25:30
(A quick note on run times - I've been asked to stop listing the minutes in just minutes for episodes that take over an hour, thus the new format! Just to be entirely clear, the first number is the number of hours, the central number is number of minutes beyond that hour, and the last number is the number of seconds beyond those minutes.)
The overview portion of today's episode covers a lot of topics!
Right off the bat, we recommend you check out the Deadline/Lifeline episode, as it has some Blood Magic hints.
Then, we get into the Blood Countess and the Court of Blood.
After that, we talk about Bugbear, who we previously introduced in the NightMist episode and further explored with the Naturalist episode - both also recommended listening.
Then, you might think we'd get into Hermetic, but first we have to go down a weird rabbit trail first about time and then about spices and flavoring. Oh, and then alchemy.
After all that nonsense, it's Hermetic time! And what a time it is...
Finally, about at the 23 minute mark, we get into your questions. That's right - the vast bulk of this episode are the questions you fine folks asked about blood. You're welcome.
56 minutes in, we're asked to tell the story of Lifeline in the Court of Blood. So we do!
At the one hour and eleven minute marl, we're asked about werewolves... and we deliver!
8 minutes later, we talk about future stuff.
Thanks for listening!
- Elizabeth Báthory was a real historical figure who killed something like 80 people (that's been verified - something like 650 was the figure cited in her actual trial). Her family was powerful, and she was sentenced to solitary confinement in some rooms in the castle (like, they bricked up the door except for the food slot) rather than execution [they mention that she died "days" later, but it was almost 5 years - she died in 1614 at the age of 54]. If you've ever heard of some noblewoman bathing in the blood of virgins to retain their youth, those were (unsubstantiated) stories told of her.
- Moving on to the fictional comics version of her: she definitely killed over 650 people and bathed in the blood of virgins. She had access to old tomes with the required knowledge for the blood magic rituals and used her power and influence to collect additional ones. She wasn't the first blood magician in the world of Sentinel Comics, but she was the first of any importance to the story told therein. The main ritual she started with was the one related to the blood bathing - she'd have to soak in the blood of virgins for hours to get it to work, but it would rejuvenate her, giving her energy and maintaining her youthful beauty (very important as she was very vain). She finds the requirements of the ritual tedious (hours spent doing it, the numbers of victims necessary to fill a bath, how often it was necessary, etc. - not that she found these details unpleasant in themselves, just that she had other things she'd like to do with her time) and looks for a better solution.
- The solution she finds is a ritual that will turn her into an entity that can be sustained by blood magic itself. This eliminates the need for food, oxygen, and the blood bath ritual as she would gain everything she needs from the blood itself. She gets together the wooden troughs full of blood from the various sources outlined by the ritual and when she completes it, she has become the first vampire (although she wouldn't be thinking of herself as such at the time). She grows the trademark long pointed teeth to better access the blood of the living that she now requires and her body becomes cold and seemingly ceases to function as one would expect a living body to.
- All vampires in Sentinel Comics can trace their lineage back to her and comics involving her started up in the Pre-Comics Code Authority era of horror comics (like in Tome of the Bizarre) and so predates many superheroes [only Golden Age heroes would pre-date based on this]. In keeping with this, the comics would introduce a protagonist who's being stalked by a vampire the whole issue and would end up dead by the end. Later superhero stories would take place in things like TotB or Arcane Tales and featured her stalking heroes like Ra and just being a general antagonistic character that worked well because she could participate in big fights, seemingly die, but still come back later.
- When Fanatic was introduced later on, she became a perfect foil for her and as a result the Countess got a lot more appearances. This increase in "screen time" gave the writers an excuse to actually develop the backstory given above and flesh out things like the Court of Blood. Standard fight between them, only this time Fanatic follows her back to her base in central Romania (this would be the big castle full of blood and lots of vampires, some of whom are also centuries old - many are based on other real people associated with the historical Countess, like her daughter) and loses. This sets the stage for the Court to become a recurring location for her stories.
- See the Nightmist and Naturalist episodes for a good amount of his story. He was seriously wounded and collapsed, bleeding, onto an elaborately carved stone and when he woke he found that his wounds had healed with no sign of his blood anywhere, but now he found a bloodstone that was under where he had lain and it's turned him into a slavering beast man who needs to now consume the life essence of others, he hunted the naturalist for a while, eventually Nightmist had to banish him outside of reality. The important stuff here is the detail of his blood magic and how it differs from the others.
- The Countess's blood magic is due to her own learning and understanding of it - allowing her to transform herself into an entity of blood magic that can pass that status on to others. She's the "most powerful practitioner of blood magic" in the comics - not all vampires are blood mages and not all blood mages are vampires, but she's both. Bugbear has been changed into a creature of blood magic, but the source of this power is an external thing (the blood stone) that represents his life essence. If he were to lose it he would die, but it also hungers (more than he does himself) and he needs to feed it - Moris Dugal is a victim of blood magic and he has no choice in the matter now that he's been transformed into this monster, Bugbear. He's not at all a "practitioner" - the process of draining victims' life essence into the stone is a blood magic effect, but he's not casting a spell or anything.
- Still old, but not quite as old as the Blood Countess. He's using blood magic to kind of cheat his way into alchemy, so we need to discuss that a bit first.
- As mentioned in the Scholar episode, alchemy in Sentinel Comics is the combination of science and magic. Scholar is the premier alchemist in the setting and he combines his knowledge of science with the "natural magic" related to the whole ley line thing he's got going on (not to be confused with "nature magic" which would be a different subcategory of "natural magic"). Natural magic is built around the way things are "supposed to work" (and is distinct from Void magic, discordian magic, or blood magic). Hermetic tries the same kind of thing, combining science with his knowledge of blood magic.
- A few hundred years ago, there was a man from a wealthy southern family named Bartholomew Tremaine, but that wealth didn't prevent him from coming down with consumption as a young man. He squandered all of his money in the attempt to find a cure but, being lazy and not wanting to put in a lot of time and hard work on it, he was easily duped by snake-oil salesmen who offered easy, but ineffective cures. Eventually, lacking further resources, he heads out west as many did, hoping that the dry climate would help his lungs. He travels around, doing odd jobs, but has learned nothing from his previous efforts and continues to spend what he has on miracle cures and spirit healers (the natives he talks to quickly stop putting up with him as he's still arrogant and also grows increasingly bitter about the whole situation).
- He eventually has the luck to fall in with a man named Connor McKenna who happens to be a traveling alchemist. Connor is older, but has a youthful exuberance about him as he moves around making curatives and otherwise helping people (sounding a lot like the Scholar in the old days). He sees something in young Bartholomew and, while he can't cure him, he offers to show him how he can sustain himself and potentially overcome this affliction (although it'll take a lot of work). Bartholomew agrees and starts traveling with him. He starts learning, but quickly wants to know about these other sources of power that Connor's books talk about. Connor tries to explain that those options are a dark path that he doesn't want to go down (spoiler - he goes down that path, which is blood magic).
- He couples the blood magic he learns from the book with what Connor had taught him of alchemy. By this point his body is in really bad shape due to his disease. In a fit of arrogance and desperation he performs a ritual to draw the life force from Connor, the only person who's really treated him well this whole time, which he uses to sustain his failing body. That gets him back on his feet for a while, but he needs to continue his study/use of blood magic to maintain this. He continues to travel around in the wagon offering aid like before, but not always offering the best he has. He's charging a lot of money, and sometimes people go missing in the towns he's visited. "He is attempting to cure humanity of its ills by powering himself from their failings."
- During Vengeance, he falls through a portal in time which brings him from his time to the present and he takes part in the fight. He's very anachronistic and is just sort of this creepy, old, powerful blood mage guy. From then on he's a minor villain in the comics who shows up from time to time, but generally in Scholar stories given their similar histories. It's after one of these encounters that he gets the idea to make his own version of a philosopher's stone with his blood magic. This blood stone gives him even greater power, but at what cost?
- What system does blood magic follow with regards to how it works in the Sentinels setting? Is there a fundamental difference between using your own blood vs. the blood of others? It's not necessarily a single system, but it's a source of power. The three people listed above and Lifeline all use it, but they go about it in wildly different ways. Sometimes its their own life essence, sometimes its others', sometimes it's a combination. The more skilled the practitioner, the less it matters whose blood they're using and how much. Blood Countess survives just fine with her own blood and her own powers, the Court of Blood (and all of the extra blood there) is for the sustenance of the other vampires who are low-level blood magic entities (although a vampire can sustain themselves on like a pint of anybody's blood for a month or more).
- Why is it particularly bad to combine Void magic and blood magic? Don't combine Void magic with anything else! To a lesser extent, don't combine blood magic with anything else. You can get results that are a net positive for yourself out of blood magic, but it's still an innately evil thing to do, so don't do it. Lifeline is an antihero and is mostly using his own life essence to power this stuff (well, and Aeon Men and the Court of Blood), but it's still bad (and Slamara calls him out on it at some point).
- What's up with Relict Dorotya's husbands? She finds a guy she likes, marries him, eventually gets bored with him, and uses him up. Most of them probably even enjoyed being married to her until the end.
- What sort of powers does blood magic grant to vampires in Sentinel Comics? How are they created? Vampires get the increased strength, speed, and vitality that they do in many settings and can heal from grievous wounds as long as they get some blood to drink (and the Blood Countess is at a higher level than the weaker ones as all of their power is just a portion of her own). Without regular access to blood over a long enough time they wind up a shriveled husk of a being, but if you drip some fresh blood on them they'll wake up and regenerate. "Normal" vampires will eventually crumble to dust if left like that for long enough, but powerful ones like the Blood Countess can last like that indefinitely. They can't fly bodily, but they can turn into a mist of blood that lets them drift around in similar fashion. They can hypnotize animals and people with eye contact, and it's limited by the mind on the receiving end (animals are easier than people - standard trick is to control a flock of bats that fly around them while they turn into mist, making it look like they turned into bats, feeding the mythos - the Countess is very theatrically-minded and loves all of the legends about vampires and so all of this stuff is great from her perspective). The power "tiers" of vampires are Countess at the top, the ones she sires herself, and then all the rest - it's just the three levels and they don't continue to get weaker the farther they get from the original. The "contagion" of vampirism is in the vampires' blood itself. Merely biting somebody won't pass it on, the vampire would have to feed their blood to the victim.
- What are their weaknesses? Weakened by the sun - a "regular" vampire who's weakened or without blood could be destroyed by direct sunlight. The Countess doesn't like sunlight, and is weakened by it, but she'd merely still just be more powerful than any other vampire rather than her normal heights of power. Silver/crosses/etc. all falls into the category of "objects of faith" which applies to all vampires (and, again, Countess is more resistant than most), when similar to sunlight, a weakened vampire could be destroyed if damaged by something like this. One reason that Countess gets a pass here is that the strength of her presence itself in all her unholy glory is often enough to shake people's faith and her ability to desecrate things can cause objects of faith to cease to be so. Fanatic is very good against vampires generally, but the unhallowed ground of the Court makes her less effective. Generic wooden stake through the heart of any non-Countess vampire will render it "dead". If you were to pull that stake out and drip some blood on the body, they'll regenerate. If you stake the Countess with most kinds of wood, she'll pull it out and laugh at you. The initial ritual that created her involved all of those wooden troughs that were made from the wood from black poplar trees and if you stake a normal vampire with one made from this kind of wood, they turn to ash, the Countess will be immobilized (like a regular vampire with any other wood) and is the first step in the complicated (and nasty - remember this is blood magic, so bad stuff will be required) ritual necessary to destroy her.
- How long have the named vampires been around (oldest and youngest)? There are a lot of vampires in the Court, ranging from contemporary with the Countess to fairly recently-turned. Technically one of the vampires is physically older than the Countess, but she has been a vampire for a shorter time by definition (Dowager Ilona). Vlad Tepes of Wallachia predates the Countess by over a hundred years, and there are stories of Dracula in the Sentinel Comics setting, but he wasn't an actual vampire. The youngest shown in the deck is Dame Katarina, the Countess's daughter, who has also been taught the most blood magic.
- How about folklore aspects that don't apply them? Garlic does nothing (other than some having a preference to not have that in their victims' blood, but it's just a taste thing). They can cross running water and can enter a house without an invitation. They don't turn into animals. They might have trouble entering certain churches or other places of worship due to the whole place being an "object of faith", but others not so much. Silver has no inherent quality to affect them (in cases when it works it's a matter of it being blessed). There are a small number of hunters, like Fulepet, who might have silver weapons and have a belief that it's the silver specifically but that's down to the vampires themselves spreading the story to make it less likely that there will be actually effective weapons around. Vampire hunters in general tend to be people of faith that drives them - this typically means that they'll have all of their weapons blessed as a matter of course anyway. They don't have to sleep in coffins/in dirt from their homelands. Some do anyway (again, the pageantry), but the Countess sleeps in a very nice bed.
- Why so many ladies (or so few men - the only dude seems to basically be a Renfield)? The batch of people that the Countess first turned were her courtiers, who happened to be the women left when the menfolk were off doing other stuff. We see her bite Fanatic and Tachyon as she gets more power from feeding on powerful people (drinking Tachyon's blood really does make her faster). They posit that her teeth are likely capable of piercing Legacy's skin enough to draw a bit of blood, but it wouldn't be easy.
- Where do they get all the blood? They harvest it from people. When they feed on somebody they'll occasionally let the person go, but more often they take what they need at the time, and then drain the rest for later use. There's a specific set of blood magic stuff going on keeping it all fresh and clean so they can take a drink from the fountain or whatnot whenever they want.
- Is blood magic more potent when you use your own blood? It's more down to your own capability. The trade-off is that if you're using your own blood, you have your supply right there; it just costs you (accidentally killing yourself is certainly possible). Using others' blood takes more work up-front to get it, but then you've offloaded the downsides.
- How were the mechanics of blood magic revealed to the comics readership? Revealed piecemeal in the various practitioners' backstories as well as more dribs and drabs in other stories over the years. Eventually there are the kinds of "Encyclopedia of..." books published where all of this can be laid out. This required somebody to take all of the various stories that had been told over decades by numerous writers and make certain aspects of it "canonical" for how things really work.
- Why is Fanatic less powerful in the Court? If it's due to the presence of blood magic, is she similarly weakened while around Lifeline? It's the desecration that's intrinsic to the Countess herself - the specific magic that created her kind of makes her a "null zone" of faith. The whole place is also, itself, a desecrated cathedral, so the whole place is also designed to kind of be "Where's your god now: The Building".
- We know that the Court tried to establish itself in Rook City, but everywhere else it sounds like the Court is a singular location; are there "branch offices" around? The story was from back in the Black Fist stories from the '70s, and things were less settled then - the "Court of Blood" more or less just referred to all vampires and the ones in this story were just trying to establish themselves in Rook City. It wasn't until the later Fanatic story that went to Romania that established a specific location as the Court.
- Can we get more info on Lifeline in the Court of Blood? He's out questing for more power and can sense Blood Magic (as described in his part of the Skinwalker Gloomweaver fight), and so he can pick up that there's this huge concentration of blood magic in the Court and so goes there. He fights his way through a lot of vampires as he attempts to find the center of its power and winds up in this throne room (where the Countess will be if she needs to impress somebody with her throne made of skulls and bones). She greets him as she can tell that he's also a powerful blood mage, but he just goes on about how he's there for power. She offers power through a ritual, but he has to accept it willingly (without her telling him the catch first). He agrees and goes through the ritual and then leaves, feeling the additional power but no adverse effects as yet. Everything is fine and nothing is ruined.
- Why is the Countess still around; she seems like a minor villain but is still around despite run-ins with Fanatic and Lifeline and her appearance in Cosmic Contest is after that, right? She is still around at that time. Fanatic can't really finish her off (in the Court or otherwise) and Lifeline wasn't trying to. She's virtually unkillable as the only way to actually do so involves piercing her heart with a black poplar stake, then a complicated ritual involving human sacrifice to undo the existing magic that sustains her. There are ways to defeat her that are good things to do, but she'll be back.
- Have other famous "historical" vampires appeared in the pages of Sentinel Comics? There were two "Draculas". The first showed up and introduced him as Count Dracula and was doing the standard vampire things and was supposed to be the oldest vampire and whatnot - this was a red herring, created by the Countess specifically to be a distraction while she was off doing something else (and one she expected to die in the fight with the heroes). The second was a more powerful and ambitious vampire who shows up at the Court in an attempt to take over - telling the others that he's really the oldest vampire and that the Countess got her power from him, etc. This starts a war between those who believe him and those that don't. Again, he's not really Dracula, he's just a charismatic guy with a bunch of power and skills in blood magic and he loses to the Countess.
- Why is the Court of Blood an Environment instead of a villain deck? Which villain would go there in the first place? It's an Environment because she's one of C&A's "darlings" - they use her for a lot of stuff here and there, but nothing major, and they could have turned her into a Villain deck, but none of the individual stories were that big of a deal in themselves involving a big plot and none of it pushes towards the OblivAeon event. She's also never soundly defeated, which isn't necessarily different from some of the others, but with everything else they felt that she just fit in better as an Environment. She's around, she's a pain, and a lot of different people fight her. She does open the Court to other people who are looking for power (on her terms, like Lifeline did, or just to try to take some. Nobody would "set up shop" there, but some villains (like Glamour or Miss Information) would certainly try to lead the heroes into it to let the vampires fight the heroes.
- What's Hunter Fulepet's history with the Court? He's one of the "vampire hunters" as described earlier. He first mistakes Nightmist for some kind of blood mage (turning into mist being a commonality and her later versions are a bright red mist, which doesn't help her case here). He's sworn to fight vampires and has fought them many times, but is ultimately doomed to failure. The commonality for the hunters is that they've all lost somebody to vampires as an inciting incident.
- Bugbear is powered by Blood Magic, but we see him feeding on Calypso on Stone's Sacrifice; does she even have "blood"? So, on the card what we see is his blood stone absorbing her life essence into itself, destroying her. It's still "blood magic", which doesn't necessarily require blood as it's fine with manipulating life essence directly (blood just being a handy medium for this in most lifeforms).
- What are werewolves in Sentinel Comics (if they occur there at all)? Complicated werewolf lore that they've never needed to explain before! The closest they've come to a werewolf character is Plague Rat, who isn't really the same as he doesn't change between forms. They had a two-headed humanoid wolf guy (in a plaid shirt as his job was a lumberjack - his name was Orthrus) at one point, but he got cut. Anyway, werewolves according to the legend: long ago there was a witch out in the woods who had a pet wolf that she loved. One day, she found that a woodsman had killed him and so she cursed him, changing him into a wolf - upon doing so this new wolf (which was once a man) became her new companion. However, in the curse, there was enough man still in him that in the full moon he'd change back into a man. By the first time this happened they'd been sharing each others' company and he found when he became a man again that he was in love with her. One thing led to another during their time during the full moons and eventually they had a child, although the child was cursed as well. He was half wolf and half human and was the first werewolf.
- So, in Sentinel Comics werewolves are these half-man/half-wolf beings who can look mostly human, but not quite 100% - they're hairy and have strange pupils, but not so much that you'd call them out as being unnatural. Similarly, they can change at will into a "wolf" form, but it's not quite right as a wolf either - they're bigger and can operate on two legs if necessary. Also, when in their wolf forms they're at risk of losing themselves to their feral instincts (and in times of stress they're more likely to change to the wolf form instinctively), so they can be pretty unstable. However, in the light of a full moon they have to change to the wolf form and become completely feral. Generally, this means that they've got to do something proactively to keep themselves contained somewhere before the full moon (even the evil ones who don't mind killing people see the danger of being on the lose completely wild as they're more likely to be caught). Additionally, all werewolves are sterile, despite a desire to procreate. So, the curse is passed on through biting people. Some werewolves will intentionally bite children to thereby gain a child of their own.
- Mist Storm (Tactics) - Bugbear falls out of one of a mist portal when Nightmist dissipates and her power that had banished him is expended. He's a mindless, savage beast and is just eating people. Hermetic's story is kind of a spoiler for events in the Multiverse that they haven't gotten to yet, but his story here is a continuation of that story. The Blood Countess is seeking out more power with all of the increased dangers and whatnot of the world. More rituals to transform herself.
- Sentinel Comics Universe (RPG) - Blood Countess is more like the same-old character that we're familiar with from the rest of the publishing history. She's doing some new things with her powers and she has some new followers and has got some "darker, more savage allies" now. They've got a lot of plans for her since they've had her around forever and want to actually do something with her. Bugbear is locked out of reality [the Mist Storm leftovers from Nightmist seem to have affected things differently between the two realities], but he's helped by an entity with control over the portal between the dead and this realm. Hermetic is saved from the form that he was stuck in at the end of the Multiverse by a power much greater than himself (but is he really saved?).