House of Thantos
Worshippers and masters of the passions and secrets of Life, Death and Unlife, the Thanatoi’s ultimate goal is to transcend the Cycle of Life and Death, to become immortal without being Undead and to unify Earth and the Otherworlds. Besides these long-term and perhaps unattainable purposes, the House also works to protect members from those who would destroy them, and to fight any incursions from beyond reality, specifically the bizarre entities known as the Mad Gods.
Like the Twilight Order, the House of Thanatos wishes to study and uncover the mysteries of Death. Unlike the Mediums most Thanatoi have first-hand experience in those secrets, being Ghosts or Undead themselves. The House is also more involved in the politics of the Death Realms, and their influence extends to both worlds. The Thanatoi, as the core House members call themselves, are a motley crew of Undead, Spirits, Necromancers, Mages and Seers.
The House of Thanatos has a firm presence in the fringe areas of society. Wherever discontented youths and jaded artists gather to jeer at the world and ponder about the meaninglessness of life, a Thanatoi or two can be found among the crowds. Members frequent underground clubs, cafes, and other dark places. They recruit new members from among those misfits and educate them in the secrets and passions of life after death. New House members soon find themselves exploring the Death Realms, where the darkness is all too real, and where the revelers found drinking, imbibing coffee and smoking cigarettes are quite dead.
Members of the House of Thanatos include Undead (mostly Vampires), Spirits (usually Phantasms or Ghosts), and humans including Necromancers, Magicians, and highly skilled or influential Mundanes. The leadership of the House is dominated by supernatural beings, but there is no bias against humans, provided they have the right look and attitude: dark, ominous, and Gothic.
Some members of the House claim their origins lie in the legendary times of Lemuria and Atlantis. The Lemurians were the first Necromancers, who trafficked with the spirits of the dead tens of thousands of years ago. The Undying Caste of Lemuria were a special type of Undead, with characteristics of Vampires, Phantasms and living beings mixed together with powerful necromantic abilities. They were the rivals of the Immortals of Atlantis, and ruled over a powerful civilization in what is now the Indian Ocean. The Lemurians were all but destroyed in the Flood, and the Undying Caste was obliterated, but a few surviving disciples preserved some fragments of the Lore of the Dead. Many contemporary members dismiss these tales as mere fantasy.
For most of human history the Thanatoi have lived as scholars on Earth, and as explorers and adventurers in the Death Realms. They have generally not involved themselves in the affairs of the living. The Thanatoi were not kingmakers or world-rulers. At least not in the Lands of the Living.
According to the Doctrines of Thanatos, the Death Realms are way stations, stages of existence not too different from life on Earth, but with their own rules. The separation between Life and Death is not necessary and may one day be overcome, allowing all humans to transcend mortality. This, of course, will not happen overnight, nor to everyone at the same time. The requisites for true immortality, the Thanatoi believe, include a maturity of both soul and mind. This maturity can be achieved either through a lengthy cycle of death and reincarnation or by living for centuries or millennia as one of the “lesser immortals”. Beings like the Undead, Phantasms or Gifted humans who somehow learn to cheat death. Enlightenment and longevity often do not go hand in hand, however, so neither a long life nor multiple reincarnations may be enough for a large proportion of humankind. Some people may never learn the right lessons to transcend their limited state of being.
Some Thanatoi believe that there may be shortcuts to gain true immortality. Secret rituals or mystic processes hidden somewhere in the Death Realms. If found, Vampires might be able to lose their weaknesses and become living and still undying, while humans would lose the frailties of the flesh and become god-like beings. So far, these secrets remain undiscovered.
The Thanatoi are the full members of the House. Many of them have returned from Death for one reason or another. They are Vampires, Phantasms, and a few Relentless Dead. Most of these latter Undead are too driven by their passions to give their loyalty to any large organization. About a third of the group are humans, mostly Necromancers, Seers or Magicians with an interest in life after death. Rank among the Thanatoi is not strictly regimented and is based largely on one’s deeds and reputation. The older and more active members eventually become well-known within the organization, and their influence is informal but quite real.
Beneath the Thanatoi are the Companions. They include both human dupes and servants who know little or nothing about the true goals of their masters, as well as lesser Ghosts and Spirits who serve the Thanatoi in return for protection or mystical teachings. Human Companions know they work for mysterious and very wealthy patrons, but few suspect the truth. Common Ghosts often offer their services to the House of Thanatos in return for greater power and maybe even advancement to the status of a Phantasm. Some seek only a release from the burden of their incorporeal existence as their reward.
The group is broken down into Chapters, which are organized somewhat like Mundane gentlemen’s clubs. Most Chapters can be found in the largest cities and world capitals, although a significant minority are located in the country and other remote areas. A large building in a city or its outskirts is chosen by the Chapter to serve as a meeting place and also to provide lodgings for any member who needs it. The taste of the local members of the Chapter determines the location and quality of the meeting house. They range from expensive brownstones in the best neighborhoods to condemned properties and abandoned graveyards. Some of the wealthier Chapters own several properties in one city. Almost all these Chapter houses have extensive libraries on the occult, especially the fields of Necromancy and the Death Realms. Additionally, all Chapter houses have at least one permanent Gateway leading into the Death Realms, mostly the Twilight World. Many houses are located in Places of Power.
In all other respects, the House of Thanatos is very loosely organized, and some members have very different views on what the goals and purposes of the Covenant truly are. There is no central leadership setting policy for all, or exerting control over the various members.
New members are inducted, after being sponsored by an existing member, by the consensus of a Chapter. In some Chapters, this means that a new member only needs to be introduced to the local half-dozen Thanatoi, while in others the members will be far more picky and discriminating. This also means that Thanatoi from one city may find a less-than-friendly reception in another one.
Once inducted into the society, members are taught secret passwords and handshakes and given a silver ring with the emblem of the House. Ownership of those rings, and the use of the right passwords and hand signals, gives anybody entrance to the public areas of any Chapter House in the world. To gain more access, however, outsiders must have references from high-ranking members of the society. Security is not airtight, and over the years a number of outsiders have acquired the passwords and rings. Among others, some members of the Twilight Order have successfully infiltrated the House of Thanatos. Also, some of the more powerful members have tried to use the organization for their own purposes, with varying degrees of success.
Beyond a few broad parameters that most members agree on, factions within the House have their own agendas. The most common groups are known as the Savants, the Paladins, and the Sybarites.
Savants are the scholars of the group. They are fascinated with the rules and limits of the Cycle of Life and Death, although they labor to break them down and eventually achieve immortality. Savants tend to be more bookish and less flamboyant than the typical member, although they still favor dark styles and appearance.
Paladins believe that the House’s main purpose is to protect Earth and the Death Realms from incursions from other dimensions. They are particularly concerned about the Beyonders, who threaten all of Reality with their machinations. Most of the time, Paladins search through the cultural underground, looking for strange cults that might be controlled by the Beyonders or their minions. The Paladins also include a sub-group known as the Death-Dealers, members selected for their proficiency in combat and assassination. The Death-Dealers are the most dangerous and feared Thanatoi, for they are experts at destroying not only the living, but also Undead and Spirits.
Sybarites rarely identify themselves by that title, which is usually given to them by contemptuous Thanatoi from other groups. For the most part, these members concentrate on enjoying the pleasures of Life or Unlife, or both. They are mainly performers and artists for whom the Death Realms are places to explore and enjoy.
Most Chapters have members of all three factions, but generally one of the three is dominant in each locale, or two will have some degree of parity while the third is somewhat small and marginalized. The New York Chapter, for example, is dominated by Sybarites and Savants. Only a handful of its members consider themselves to be Paladins.
The Sentinels know of a “monster-controlled Death Cult” that operates undercover in some cities. They often blame crimes committed by lone predatory Vampires or Dark Covenants like the Lords of Pain on the Thanatoi.
The Twilight Order and this organization are almost mirror images of one another, and there are several individuals who belong to both Covenants, although both groups frown on such divided loyalties. The Thanatoi believe their tradition is far older and more advanced, but the Twilight Order has more members and Mundane influence. Also, the Twilight Order rarely accepts Undead into their ranks, and regard Ghosts and Spirits more as patients in need of attention than as peers. These disagreements make the relationship between the two groups strained at best, although actual violence is rare. Most often, a Thanatoi may try to trick or deceive a Medium, and vice versa.
Since the Fellowship of Judas and the Thanatoi have a lot of Undead members, the two groups have dealings with each other. Some Thanatoi feel the Fellowship “poaches” in what they consider their territory, namely the Threshold, whereas the Iscariots often search for possible recruits to bring back to the world. Beyond the Threshold, however, the Fellowship has little interest in the Death Realms, and by and large leaves the Thanatoi to live in their own little world.
To the Thanatoi, the Disciples of the Flesh are people with warped souls and bodies, and no enlightenment can be gained from them. Members rarely deal with them.
Skills and Abilities
The supernatural members of the Covenant tend to specialize in their unique inhuman powers and abilities. Additionally, many members learn Necromancy. Seers and Magicians can also be found among the Thanatoi, although in lesser numbers. A few Gifted with other Arts exist, but Divinely Inspired characters are unheard of.
The Undead and ghostly Thanatoi have no need to work for a living, but many use their powers to appear as human and are employed. Mostly as performers or scholars. The House owns and runs a number of clubs and cafes, and many members give performances there. A couple of all-Vampire bands sponsored by the House have become quite popular among the goth and post-industrial circles.
Human members of the Covenant are evenly divided among Gifted and Mundanes. The Gifted are almost all Necromancers or Sorcerers, with a smattering of Seers. Most of them live off grants given to them by the House, although a few have other occupations, typically scholastic professions such as college professor, lecturer, or performers.