Nights of the Camarilla

410 A.D.: Farewell to All That

Suspecting now the worst, they said,
If not mistaken, our lot are much betray’d.
With fury this precipitates their flight:
Eastward under shadows of the night
Toward Sol Invictus, and his cursed light.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

On what will be the last night the coterie spends in Rome, Violia and Gaius awake at the Marii compound, pleased to find that the servitors have, as instructed, packed a series of traveling carts, to form a caravan easily capable of the difficult overland journey to Byzantium. The household gods are packed, cuttings of the Tree carefully preserved, the torpid Julii safely ensconsed, and more mundane essentials crated for what may prove to be almost a year’s journey.

From the cellar where Gallix’s body has lain in something not quite resembling state, an ungodly set of screams and crashing noises are heard. Gaius moves quickly to quiet and sooth the revenant and, in an almost instinctual action, brings her to Agata for succor. Agata feeds her vitae and wraps her in her arms, murmuring reassurances in her native Gothic.

Elsewhere in the city, Tiberius awakes and finds himself, after a brief but strenuous inner battle with Hostilinus to be . . . himself again. He is momentarily confused to be havened beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in the realm of the Lance, but has vague, dreamlike memories of the prior night, as thorugh a glass darkly. He thinks wait, did I really . . .? And doesn’t need to look far to see that, in fact, he had rendered Rhetrix into torpor. His taste for diablerie not yet quenched, he makes quick work of her soul before making his way to rendezvous at the home of the Marii.

He is met by Gaius, and immediately senses on him the taint of amaranth. He expresses surprise that the oh so honorable Lanceatus would sink to such a level. And, with Victrix screaming a war cry somewhere deep in his mind, Gaius runs Tiberius through with a spear, avowing vehemently, “I am not like you! I only did what was necessary.” The others intervene, reminding the two that everyone is needed for this journey, and such clashes help no one but the Striges. Victrix’s spirit is not pleased at this cowardice, as what is left of her sees it. Nor is the glimmering shade of the Cat.

• • •

The members of the coterie decide to bid farewell to the heart of the city that birthed them, embraced them, and now sends them on their way. Gaius checks the temple of Minerva one last time, and to his surprise finds a message sealed with the mark of the Sacrora Rex, the position currently held by Nocturna. It bears the mark of an official augury, and reads:

Not every veil conceals
Not every threat looks out from yellow eyes
Should I not join you
Avenge me not
Save by your survival
Seven and seven and seven
The sum can only equal doom

Shaken, they continue on to the nearest gate to the Necropolis, moving towards the Temple. As feared, the temple itself is empty, desecrated. The room that had held the statue of Remus seems to have come in for some particular measure of wrath from whoever or whatever did these acts. The statue itself is . . . destroyed? Missing? It hardly seems to matter.

Fearing the worst, they decide, with what would be heavy hearts were those organs still in play, to pay one last visit to the Baths of Caracalla, a solemn farewell to the former glory of Rome and the Camarilla. And then, if they cannot reunite with Nocturna, to move East, knowing that she has a sire in Byzantium and thus will have a strong pull to that city as well, traveling the same roads.

Passing through the upper levels of the Necropolis, they find themselves skirting an alarming amount of ash that represents the remains of their fellow Propinquii. Perhaps more alarming is that Mio is able to determine that not all of this devastation was caused by the Striges. Others have been hunting the undead, mortals trespassing in these once forbidden realms.

Unexpectedly, they sense another of their kind, weakened from loss or vitae, nearing torpor. Scrabbling through fallen rocks in a caved-in tunnel, the group unearths a Legio soldier. Gaius recognizes him as Thascius Marcellus, a good soldier of the Gangrel clan who had not thrown in his lot with Bassianus and the Lance. They assume that Marcellus will welcome the chance to join them, but in fact once he is restored to his former state he avers that he plans to stay in Rome, to fight the Lance and work with the tiny resistance movement that intends to restore the Camarilla. Gaius manages to talk him out of this, saying that Rome can be carried with us, that by preserving the memory of what was, the future can be better assured.

Marcellus takes some convincing but, once he agrees to accompany the group, he hesitates a moment, clearly concerned at revealing some misdeed to a superior officer. Gaius reassures him, saying that these are nights for extreme actions, the old rules do not always apply. (And manages to ignore Tiberius’s snort, a reminder that he has broken his own code of honor most conclusively.) Thinking it over, Marcellus then shrugs, and leads the group into a hidden chamber, where he had secreted weapons, gold, and armor for his planned rebellion. Now, he says, they are for the Camarilla in exile, and shouldering a fine shield bearing the emblem of Mars, he gestures to the others to take what they will.

• • •

At last, the group reaches the Baths. As would be expected, the once luxurious grounds are littered with trash, a feral dog rends at something unspeakable. Within the walls, the water is murky, a bloated body floats in one of the pools. There are human bodies stacked haphazardly, rats scurrying around. And, inevitably, at least one pile of ash. Mio kneels to examine it, sifting the remains through her fingers, then stands, even more sober-faced than usual, to speak two words. “It’s her.” Their eyes are drawn upwards to the wall, where a strange symbol is daubed in blood. Gaius realizes from his time in the library that this is both the mark of the Cainites, and also resembles the strange numbering system used in Persia, in which it would represent the number VII.

Casting their minds back to the message from Nocturna, the realization dawns that her message was an augury foretelling her death, perhaps at the hands of Vitericus’s mad followers, or perhaps by whomever has left the number VII at the sites of other murders. Either way, it’s time to leave.

Gaius’s sense of civitas will not allow him to leave all of these bodies like this, in a state that will bar them from the fields of Elysium. Mio, more pragmatic, notes that their shades might then decide to hound the group, angry at this treatment. So, they soak the bodies in oil and make haste to run as Gaius lights torch and flings it, igniting a cleansing funeral pyre.

• • •

And with that, the hour of departure has arrived. Like Orpheus leaving Hades, they resolve to move only forwards, despite the overwhelming urge. The road to Byzantium lies ahead.

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410 A.D. Packing for Byzantium

Ghosts, new-arriv’d, and strangers to these plains,
Know not the palace, where grim Pluto reigns.
They journey doubtful, nor the road can tell,
Which leads to the metropolis of Hell

—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Tiberius awakes . . . or rather, something awakes in Tiberius’s body. He struggles to gain the upper hand over his consciousness, and fails. His awareness is relegated to that of an observer, as Hostilinus commandeers the vessel, with full command of his former disciplines and knowledge. Taurus had grown almost cavalier about the act of diablerie, and able to ignore the voices screaming in his head for some time after the ungodly act. But this, this is something entirely different. An individual as old and powerful as the Eyeless One and as powerful in sorcery presents a whole new experience.

As the possessed gladiator strides through the Necropolis, he realizes that his feet are taking him to the Lance’s sanctum. Almost without thinking, his hands go to his face, and he rends his eyes from the sockets, investing the Willpower to keep them unhealed for the night.

Once he reaches the church, he is disgusted to see Rhetrix having usurped his place. He challenges her, and she initially rebukes him on the assumption that this is one of the unbelievers mocking her. However, it quickly becomes clear that this unexpected (and to her eyes, unworthy) vessel contains if not her former leader, then something equally powerful and frightening.

Rhetrix’s great secret, known to none, not even her sire or her former bishop, is that she has lost her faith. Ironically, she was embraced as a reward for her depth of faith in God, but in crossing that dark river to immortality, she lost her God. What she does have is fear and ambition, and she is not going to allow the former to get in the way of the latter.

Her second secret is that Hostilinus does not know that she stole the secrets of blood sorcery from the cave of their birth in Thebes. She throws caution to the wind and attacks him, in front of the whole congregation. However, Hostilinus’ powers are far superior (it’s one thing to steal a book about martial arts, after all, even a very good book, another to spend centuries practicing and studying to become a master, after all). She is barely able to use the magic she has stolen, while he repels her every thrust and parry with ease, resisting frenzy at every turn.

Finally, she is beaten into torpor and he has some acolytes remove the body, once more regaining his control over the Lance ascendant. But whose hand is it, really, that grasps the lance?

• • •

Meanwhile, Gaius, Lucius, and Violia attend the meeting of the Senex. Nocturna sends word that she won’t be present as a select council of Augurs is attempting some sorcery intended to guard the Julii, and her presence is needed, but she will meet up with them later, hopefully protected by a veil which cannot be pierced by the Striges’ hungry eyes and deadly talons. She adds that one of her fellows will be in the Senex, and is to be trusted no matter how unlikely his words may seem.

When the three propinquii arrive, the Camarilla is sparsely filled, a few ragged Julii guarded by wary-looking members of the Legio. At the center, Victrix, accompanied by two fellow soldiers, is speaking with one of those Julii, this one in the robes of a Vaticinator. One of the soldiers tells Gaius that Julia Sabina has ordered them to round up all the remaining Julii and escort them to the chamber, so that they may be properly protected. Gaius says little to this, besides asking when the Senex leader is at this time. The soldier answers that she should return shortly; she’s bravely chosen to lead the hunt for lost and frightened Julii, to help bring them together.

At this moment, the conversation is interrupted by Festus, the Vaticinator, who tells Gaius and Violia that there is amazing news—the tomb of Julius Aulus Senex has been located, and he is proceeding there forthwith to try and awaken the true Prince of the City. As the two coterie members are so high in status, he asks if they would like to accompany him, which, of course, they do.

• • •

The directions on the scroll Festus clutches lead the group deep into the Necropolis—in fact, the group slowly realizes, to the very area where Vitalia, the Etruscan sire of heroes and villains, is entombed. Her tomb is resealed as though it had never been opened, but a little further into the heart of the underworld is the final door. Festus slashes his palm and performs a complex and unfamiliar ritual, the unwarding of the tomb’s door. Once it’s opened, they see a small chamber, empty except for a niche at the far wall. In that niche is what looks like a bundle of ancient rags.

There is a moment where the entire group falls quiet. Then, Victrix ushers them in, offering to guard the rear. As they enter, one of the Legio soldiers suddenly an unexpectedly lunges forward, slashing Festus’s throat open so viciously that his head is practically severed, rendering him into torpor.

Their eyes flashing yellow, both soldiers turn to face the group. Victrix draws her sword and steps in front of the door. As a brawl in the tiny space ensues, it quickly becomes clear that not only is Victrix fighting on the side of the Striges but also that, confusingly, she appears not to be one of them. The former is made manifestly clear when she attempts to use the battle as cover to destroy Senex. After no small struggle, the coterie triumphs and Gaius, in a final monstrous act, diablerizes the treasonous Victrix. She had, indeed, been free of possession, possessed only of a deep and murderous hatred of Rome and all that it stood for. This hatred was enough to allow the Striges to sweet-talk her into acts from the murder of Cunctator and of Callipygia’s sister (these were early experimentations by the Striges to try and see how to control propinquii and humans alike) to the failed attempt at snatching Crispus, and now this.

• • •

Carrying the bodies of Senex, Festus, and the two Legio guards, the group returns to the Camarilla, to the sight of Julia Sabina, head down, deep in thought. She spars verbally with Gaius, making a few lewd comments that seem almost in keeping with her (not so) secret sexual dark side, but it’s a side of her that never before was attracted to Gaius in that way, so he is wary. Indeed, as she raises her head at last, her eyes flash yellow. She reveals herself to be a spirit that was closely allied with the Black Cat, and she tells him the Cat was very proud of his progress.

He is able to drive the spirit form her without destroying the body, and when it escapes she is left in deep torpor. (This is how the Owl was able to possess her—it first took one of her human “pleasure” slaves, who then waited until daytime and beat Sabina into torpor most viciously, perhaps in vengeance for how she had treated him those many years. The spirit then took her beaten, torpid body, and has ridden it for several nights now, sowing discord throughout the Necropolis and using the mantle of Senex authority to hunt down and destroy Julii one by one.)

• • •

Lessened in size and strength, and subdued in manner, the small group—minus Tiberius, who is still the lesser partner in his own body and mind—gather at the Marii compound. Gaius has worked a form of blood magic to protect the party’s torpid Julii, his own version of the spell Nocturna and the Augurs are creating. They decide that the time has come to move East as discussed, waiting only for the next night to gather up Nocturna and Tiberius, pack a train, and say farewell to the Eternal City.

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410 A.D. The Center Cannot Hold

Now our revenge shall take its proper time
And suit the baseness of your hellish crime
These vessels abandon’d, and devoid of shame
Thro’ the underworld your actions will proclaim
Your leader imprison’d in this lonely den
Obscur’d, and bury’d from the sight of men

—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Night falls and the coterie awakes on the second night of the Sack of Rome. Each goes to check on their holdings, families, or other associates—Nocturna to her remaining Vaticinators; Tiberius to his villa.

Gaius checks on his home: The tree has protected it, and Agata helped by informing barbarians that she was a freed slave, and had posted herself here to warn her countrymen off from this demon-haunted building. Lucius stays to watch over the home while Gaius takes the fastest of the horses, turning it to a ghoul with a palmful of his own vitae as he mounts and rides like the very devil to Nomentum.

Once there, he discovers that the family’s villa and grounds have been ransacked, although only within the bounds of acceptable behavior in wartime. Which is to say, the fields have stripped of grain and fruits (although nothing near the pomegranate orchard has been touched), but the house and land have not been damaged. The home is apparently empty and there are no bodies, but he senses a small spark of life and, on closer examination, finds a small child (one of his many grand-nieces or such, he’s lost count) hiding in a root cellar. She tells him that a front guard of soldiers set upon the house and seemed intent on what Gaius interprets from her words could only have been rape and murder, but were put in their place by a superior officer who rebuked them, reminding them that a patrician family has value as hostages.

Scooping up the child, Gaius soon finds where the barbarian army is encamped and is taken to a high commander . . . Albertus. His sire is pleased to see him, though not to learn that his men have inadvertently taken this particular branch of the Marii clan hostage. That is soon remedied, and as “ransom,” Albertus asks Gaius to deal with a little problem . . . the captive general Olympias, he who started this war by ordering the slaughter of barbarian families. Albertus’ superiors want the general dealt with, but not at barbarian hands, as this might prove politically unwise. Gaius convinces the hapless idiot to do the honorable thing, and fall upon his own sword.

Albertus allows the Marii to go free and, further, gives some insight into the happenings in Rome. He says that this is not intended to be an occupation, but rather a sack, and within a day or two, the forces will move on, to meet with King Alaric in Ravenna. He adds that it is whispered that Alaric is unwell, and may not be long for this world. Albertus, learning well from Crispus’s manipulations, has decided he could do worse than to be there to whisper in the ear of Alaric’s successor He advises Gaius to abandon Rome to the Striges, and promises him safe passage East.

• • •

Meanwhile, back in Rome, Violea finds that the aboveground portion of the Camera Obscura has been ransacked and put to the torch. She holds out hope that the Red Amphora will be safe as it is entirely contained within the Necropolis but, in fact, it too is desecrated. Vessels are smashed, decorative hangings ripped to shreds, and worst of all, the bodies of many of her servitors lie dead, twisted into gruesome configurations that echo those of the slaves at Comitor’s last party, so many years ago. No mortal enemy did this damage.

Later, as she gathers together what she can salvage, a slave approaches, wearing the insignia of the Lance. She is invited to meet with Rhetrix at the Lancea chapel beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. Accompanied by her barbarians and by Mio, she arrives to find a ceremony in process, led by Rhetrix. At her feet, a chained Marcus gazes placidly and adoringly at the newly powerful Martyr.

Rhetrix thanks Violea for the loan of her husband, who proved so instrumental in allowing the younger, less powerful Mek’het to steal the secrets of Theban blood sorcery. She then offers Violea and her servitors a place of honor in the Lance, a safe haven as Rome falls to barbarians and to demons bent on destruction of the Camarilla. Violea demurs politely, saying she’ll need to give it some thought—to Mio’s horror.

• • •

As all this is going on, Tiberius heads upwards to check on his household, currently stashed in Corbullo’s palazzo. As he moves through the higher levels of the Necropolis he can’t help but notice an alarming number of columbaria scattered with ash, as though propinquii had been murdered in their sleep. Daubed in a few places on the walls is a symbol he vaguely recognizes as being associated with that annoying bunch of mortals who followed Vitericus. Could mortals be brave or stupid to be venturing to the world below for vengeance?

He then stumbles upon Pestilens and the Legio soldier Placidus, both possessed by Striges, trying to lure any remaining Julii to destruction. He managed to battle them to torpor, causing the Striges to flee. Unable to resist the temptation, he diablerizes Hostilinus, ending the Lance leader for good or so he thinks), but regaining the Morbus curse in the process.

Upon reaching the palazzo, he discovers that all is largely well, except for the tragic fact that Gallix was killed in the retreat from the barbarians. His initial impulse is to embrace her but he wavers, having just been reinfected and not wanting to burden her with that curse for all eternity, especially since the he has already destroyed the Fons Ater, the power of which was all that allowed him to heal the curse the first time. He decides to defer the decision, telling Marcus to keep her body safe while he makes up his mind.

• • •

Gaius and Violia discuss the various offers on the table—joining the Lance, heading East under Albertus’ protection, staying to fight in the fledgling resistance—and reach no firm decision, merely an agreement that they will attend the forthcoming meeting of the Senex and makes a decision based on what transpires.

Gaius goes to meet Julia Sabina in her chambers and is met with a horrific scene. The library has been destroyed, desecrated, scrolls and servitors alike ripped to shreds, splattered with blood, vomit, and feces. With a growing sense of dread, he realizes that his patron may have been taken.

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410 A.D. The Sins of the Fathers

Death stalk’d around with such resistless sway
The temples of the Gods his force obey
Go now, said Death, your deities implore
For fruitless aid, for I defie their pow’r
Then with a curst malicious joy survey’d
The very altars, stain’d with trophies of the dead.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Violia is called to a mysterious meeting; using every method at her disposal, she attempts to determine whether it is a danger or a trap, but the invitation, while uncanny in some way, does not seem to pose a threat. She brings her barbarians, of course, and also Gaius as protection. The messenger leads the small group deep into the Necropolis, through tunnels and cellae they have never seen before, become more and more ancient and primitive in aspect.

At last, they enter a seeming dead end, the murky light from one dim torch showing what appear to be several sealed stone doors, as if to ancient tombs. Only one seems to have been opened any time recently, and it is to that portal the group is led. Their guide says that Gaius may enter with Violia, but the barbarians must wait in the antechamber, as this is business for Propinquii alone.

In the dim light of the chamber, an incongruously young-looking Daeva lounges, with the face and figure of a teenage peasant lass, yet with the uncanny air of something much, much older. She tells them a tale of a girl who went to see a traveling fortune teller one night long, long agp. Asked what she wanted her fate to be, she replied that she hoped to have a long and exciting life, with many children. The fortune teller seemed to see something unexpected in the girl, and asked her to return later, after the rest of the villagers had left. As the night waned, she not only Embraced the girl, but left her with a blessing and a curse. She would travel to the new settlement of Rome, and make a haven there, at the center of its newly dug Necropolis. She would meet the local luminaries, and after one year, she would make a childe. Then, she would sleep for 100 years, waking again to walk amongst the living and the monsters, and again embrace. This was to be her unlife—100 years of slumber, a brief awakening, and a childe—each of them created to make a mark in some way, to change the world for better or worse. She would be led by the spell to the right person, but never know why this rather than that one at the time.

Her children have included Drusilla, who helped to bring down Julius Ceasar, Nero, who almost destroyed Rome, Flaviana, who helped shape the Augurs . . . and others whose fates she knows not. Now, Violia. How will she fulfill this prophesy?

Violia notes that she has done a few notable things already perhaps, but of course who can know what the future holds. Meanwhile Gaius has been bursting to ask a question, and at last is given leave to speak. He asks what of Remus, does he truly still slumber here? The ancient one says she’s not sure, though certainly that tale is widely told. As far as she knows, her old friend Aulus Julius Senex, who slumbers nearby, is the last of that age to remain. She speaks of the yellow-eyed creatures who gave Remus his unlife, and how the stories tell that they will return and strike in fury at any of their lineage who have not fulfilled their promise of bestial rage. It appears they view the Julii much as the Black Cat viewed Gaius, but with much greater penalties for not succumbing to inhumane urges.

With that, an a few pleasantries, aher sire returns to slumber, and the two Propinquii and attendants return to the higher reaches of the Necropolis to ponder what they’ve learned.

• • •

Later that evening, Albertus comes to meet Gaius at the Green Amphora, to deliver shocking news. The general Stilichio had been noted for his decent treatment of Barbarian soldiers in the Roman army, and integration of their families into Roman territory. This did not sit well with one hysterically racist chancellor, named Olympius, who had Stilichio and his family executed, and then ordered the slaughter of tens of thousands of barbarian women and children in Roman towns. This led to about 30,000 soldiers—highly trained and armed with Roman weapons—defecting to the barbarian King Alaric, himself a one-time Roman soldier who’d deserted after poor treatment.

Alaric’s troops are massed at Mediolanum, Albertus has heard, preparing to strike for Rome. He muses on the circular nature of fate—he stalked and found Gaius on the road to Mediolanum almost a century ago, now he perhaps loses him to walk the same road. Gaius is unexpectedly sanguine, understanding the call of ones blood, especially when family have been endangered or in this case, put to the sword. He bids Albertus farewell, hoping that they not meet again on opposite ends of a lance.

This talk of families imperiled causes Gaius no small concern as his family’s estate in Nomentum lies in the path of those legions even now possibly marching on Rome, stripping the land of its bounty like locusts at best, raping and killing in a frenzy of revenge at worst. He determines to make sure things are secure in Rome, and then move quickly to ensure his family’s safety.

• • •

The next night, the coterie has gathered and Gaius and Violia are briefing them on what they’ve learned and the need to prepare for potential attacks from foes both mortal and supernatural, with wildly different reasons for rage. The barbarians’ anger is only too understandable. That of the Striges may, in fact, be impossible to truly grasp if one retains any shred of humanity at all..

As they talk, they hear the sound of thunder, growing louder. Suddenly they realize—this is no thunder, it is the sound of thousands, literally thousands of feet. The city’s northeast gates have been breached, and the barbarian hordes are pouring in, bent on vengeance.

Flavius bursts in, ragged yet unharmed. He brings news that throughout the city, the less savory elements are taking advantage of the chaos to settle their own scores, through murder, theft, or mayhem. He fears the Library may be in danger, as the so-called Cainites who covet knowledge of the supernatural may use the madness as cover to try and take the building, or at least pillage its treasures.

Each of the coterie goes to attend to what they must—Nocturna to assist the Augurs in protecting the temple in hiding, Tiberius to make sure the inhabitants of the Vesuvius are safe from soldiers bent on rape or destruction, or both. Gaius, Lucius, and Flavius go to ensure the Marii compound is safe, and then on to the Library. The group agrees to meet at the Red Amphora as soon as they can, and retreat into the Necropolis for safety.

Gruesome sights are to be seen on all sides—a member of the Sanctified, pinned to a wall with spikes, in a mockery of crucifixion. A priest of Apollo set aflame on a altar as an unholy sacrifice. One of the vaticinators has had his head smashed by a bust of Aulus Julius Senex.

• • •

Gauis ensures that the Marii compound is safe, and instructs the pomegranate tree to weave its guarding branches even closer. At the Library, they determine that the wards hold safe, but hear angry mortals inveighing against the newest of the Aves, saying “We know where the monsters sleep.” For now, there’s no time to investigate this further, especially as its doubtless nothing more than empty words.

• • •

The group meets and descends into the Necropolis, passing by collapsed tunnels brought down by the weight of smashed and burning buildings. They make their way to what seems a relatively secure place as dawn is threatening, and settle down uneasily, dreading what the next night’s wakening might bring.

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376 A.D. Invitation to a Beheading

A blood-drenched scene, a mime to represent
A plundered tomb or toppled monument
A crypt to hold the murder’d sire’s remains,
Is empty but for ash in these hard rains
The city’s every edifice defac’d
The high brought low, the low much worse disgraced
—Ovid , The Metamorphoses

Ripples of unease spread across the Empire, echoing into the Necropolis in the form of rumors and forebodings. News of barbarian uprisings in Britannia spark riots above and below the city, and a number of the Legio meet Final Death before order can be restored. The foot soldiers of the Legio proclaim Bassianus Imperator—a rather unorthodox move, but these are unorthodox times. His centuries of service, his unparalled military experience, and the respect awarded him by all wings of the Camarilla overcome any grumblings about his humble origins or Nosferatu lineage.

In the wake of this development, Bassianus meets with Gaius, and affirms that he is interested not in power or glory, but rather is alarmed at how the Senex is fragmenting. He asks Gaius to take the official title of Legatus, which of course he is happy to, for the greater glory of Rome. He goes on to confide that he may well need to make even greater allegiances with the Lance. He may have no particular religious faith, but if the Lance believes the Legio to be led by a believer, it might help the cause of cohesion. Gaius is not pleased, but understands the gambit.

At the next gathering of the Senex, Rhetrix publically denounces Comitor as a degenerate, a parasitic sybarite who cares only for parties and spectacles, while making a public spectacle of herself with her perversities. Rhetrix has some support in the room, but not as much as she’d expected. The vote of censure dies quickly for lack of supporters, but Comitor leaves the chamber clearly shaken. She has been the unbeating heart of the Necropolis for centuries and now everything is changing far too quickly, and not for the better.

• • •

The next night, Violia and Mio visit Marcus hoping to determine whether he represents a threat to the established order (or to themselves, particularly). Their fear is that he was somehow turned into a weapon in those caves beneath Karnack. They are able to glean that in fact, he has essentially been turned into a library, his memory filled with the secrets of blood sorcery as detailed on the cavern’s walls. While he can neither remember what he saw, or understand the language it is written in, he has been conveying these secrets to Rhetrix in a series of private sessions.

• • •

Not long after attacking Comitor, Rhetrix announces that the Sanctified are claiming the Fons Ater for the church, and cleansing it of “evil.” This is the chance Tiberius has been waiting for to strike at the lance—and fulfill his bizarre fantasy of detonating the chamber. Unbeknownst to anyone but Roundheadicus, he waits until a quiet evening, then swiftly makes his way to the cursed spot, armed with flint, steel, and naphtha.

He finds the doors only lightly guarded, two neonates of the Lance keeping a desultory vigil. Using Dominate, he overcomes their defenses, rendering them harmless and learning that the chamber is not currently empoty. In fact, the martyr Noah is within, performing some tedious ritual. On a monstrous whim, Tiberius diablerizes both of the Sanctified guards, stealing their souls and power, and slipping back intro monstrousness. Entering the dark chamber, he mesmerizes Noah and then hands him the flint and torch, instructing him to count to 20 . . . and then set the place alight. Tiberius exits the gates swiftly and then races upwards, reaching safety by the time a massive explosion rocks the underworld, collapsing tunnels smothering the fire that might otherwise consume the Necropolis. Between the explosion, fire, and tunnels collapsing there is no chance of an investigation into the incident. As an amusing side effect of the obliteration, many Kindred who’d been named in a submerged curse tablet suddenly experience improvedluck and a new joie de morir.

• • •

As the number of Julii in the Senex continues to dwindle, Julia Sabina asks Gaius is there is any chance of the Lance, perhaps aided by the Legio, being involved somehow. Gaius assures her that if Bassianus has issue with anyone, his way is to face them openly, not stake them in the night. He reminds her of his research into vengeful spirits, saying that he fears the disappearances are due to some supernatural terror.

• • •

During a secret ritual at the Red Amphora, Flaviana is drenched in a shower of burning blood. The building and other participants are unharmed, but the Daeva is badly damaged, and chooses to leave the city in order to heal. She leaves Nocturna the task of maintaining the now-proscribed rituals of the Veneficia, and keeping up the temple in exile.

• • •

As the year 376 dawns, Comitor shows signs of shaking off the lassitude and depression that have plagued her since Rhetrix’s public attacks. She meets with Violia and reveals that this decade’s party will be graced by the Persian Emperor, now Embraced as a Daeva, and his lovely consort. They decide that rather than any clever spectacles, this is a chance to pay homage to Rome’s history, in the form of a grand orgy at the Baths of Caracalla.

However, when the coterie and associates arrive at the baths early in the evening, planning to assist in last-minute preparations, they are met with a horrific sight. Comitor’s servants and childer have been not just murdered—their bodies have been grotesquely desecrated, the floors slick with blood, vomit, and offal. The dismembered bodies are dressed in gaudy silks and crudely painted with makeup; the smell of death competes with cheap perfumes. The corpses and fragments thereof have been posed in obscene sexual tableaux and at the center of it all, on a blood-splattered throne, Agata’s battered body has been propped in a seated position, legs obscenely splayed, her naked body streaked with some sort of powder. Upon examination, the group is horrified to discover that all of her orifices have been packed with ashes—all that remains of Tertia Julia Comitor.

At this juncture, the Persian contingent arrives, including an unexpected member . . . Drusilla, who apparently had gone East rather than into torpor as reported. She has embraced the region’s culture . . . and its emperor . . . while also bring the spirit of Rome to the kingdom by copying Violia’s innovations, with a few extra twists to make them more cruel and violent.

It is decided to cancel the party, and the group instructs their ghouls to dispose of the bodies in the bathhouse’s massive furnaces, and slaves to clean the halls thoroughly.

Gaius brings Agata’s body back to the Marii compound, as he has an intuition that her story may not yet be concluded. Indeed, after some nights, she rises from the dead as a revenant, hungry and adrift.

He recalls a scroll in the library of the Aves that describes the fate of such revenants, twilight creatures neither ghoul nor true member of the Propinquii. The scroll’s author speculates that it might be possible for such unfortunates to join the ranks of the Propinquii proper by consuming another entirely, bringing them final death through diablerie.

The pomegrate tree’s branches rustle, as though in a sudden breeze. Gaius turns his gaze to the tree, and a terrifying smile spreads across his face. He makes his decision in what might for another be a heartbeat, and instructs the tree to deliver Vitericus’s torpid body to him, ending its long repose wrapped in the tree’s unholy roots. Gaius takes it upon himself to help Agata through the act of consuming the false prophet’s tragically inadequate soul. Gaius Marius bows his head and says a silent prayer of thanks to Minerva for the inspiration that led him to keep the body inviolate rather than giving in to the immediate pleasure of having him crucified aboveground to await the sun, or tossing him from the Tarpeian rock. This . . . yes, this is a far more subtle and satisfying resolution.

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363 A.D. A Deal with the Devil

Yet, after this so damn’d, and black a deed
Two houses on their fate have now agreed,
That by their future wiles, still void of shame,
They’ll put their enemies hence to the flame.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Gaius requests an audience with both Sabina and Comitor, to present Lucius and request that he be given ranking in the Senex. Sabina receives him graciously, as befits a patron. Comitor joins the gathering late, seeming a bit flustered but quickly regaining her regal equanimity. She gives no explanation for her distraction, and everyone is too polite (or too afraid of the consequences) to enquire.

The two agree that Lucius will make a good addition to the Senex, particularly as the body’s ranks are diminishing rather alarmingly. Sabina notes that this is not uncommon—when times are troubled, some Propinquii step up and face the challenges head-on, but far too many choose to slip into torpor and wait out the difficult times, or perhaps decide on a long visit to properties in Byzantium or Alexandria. Even Persia is not off-limits now that the emperor has apparently taken one of the Daeva as his favored consort. She is said to be capricious and cruel, as is the way of the Daeva, but welcoming to all who bring gossip of Rome, the more scandalous the better.

Sabina notes sadly that in particular the Julii seem to be slipping away, but assures Gaius that neither she nor Comitor have any plans to exit the scene along with their clan. Comitor, airily agrees, and then precipitously declares the meeting over, saying she has pressing matters to attend to in her chambers. Sabina almost seems to roll her eyes at this, but is too politic to comment further.

• • •

Later, as the group passes through the Necropolis, they see something unexpected—a group of the Sanctified, apparently led by Rhetrix, approaching Bassianus’s receiving rooms. They decide to trail them, in case trouble is afoot. They approach cautiously, and Gaius pauses in the entranceway. Bassianus meets his gaze and gestures him in, saying, “Ah, I may as well have my legate here, I have nothing to hide.” It is clear that something momentous is about to take place, and Lucius, trained by Nasso in the subtleties of politics, turns to Gaius and asks, “Is this a parley of some sort?”. Before the elder of the Marii can answer, the meeting is disturbed by shouted curses from the hallway. The group turns and finds themselves assaulted by angry members of the Collegia, barbarian Gangrel shouting about treason and treachery.

As the Legio and the War Crow himself rise to do battle, the Sanctified faction vanishes beneath a supernatural cloak of invisibility. The coterie beat the invaders back, driving several into torpor. In the aftermath of this disturbance, Gaius confronts the War Crow, and demands to know what is happening. The old warrior simply gazes levelly at him, and says, “I have seen a thousand battlefields. I have seen gods rise and fall, and be forgotten. I care not for any god or any master, I care for order. And if I must throw in with the latest shiny idol to stave back the forces of chaos, I consider it a small price to pay. The darkness is coming, boy, and we need all the help we can to hold it back.”

All is silent save the far-off cry of an angry owl.

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363 A.D. The Messenger

His arms and body waste, but are supply’d
With yellow eyes that glare from side to side.
His nails grow crooked, and are turn’d to claws,
And lazily along his heavy wings he draws.
Ill-omen’d in his form, the unlucky fowl,
Abhorr’d by men, and call’d a screeching owl.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Gaius wakes up hungry and with his senses on fire. Something is wrong, tugging at his sense of protectiveness with supernatural force. As he emerges from the ground he hears little girls crying, and finds the horribly decayed bodies of both Felix, Beatrix’s ghoul cat, and the Black Cat, torn to pieces.

From within the house, he hears a growl, and his ungodly sense of urgency impels him inwards, to find Vigilius, eyes flashing yellow and muzzle red, having torn out Lucius’s throat.

The Marius’s first instinct is vengeance, and so propelled he destroys the Strix-possessed dog with fire, so surrounding it with flames that the vessel is destroyed, and the entity cannot escape. With its dying thought, it praises his anger and lauds his frenzied vengeance. “You have learned well,” it whispers, a whisper that will echo in his mind long after the greasy flames have dwindled.

Though torn with indecision, Gaius decides to embrace Lucius, the beloved nephew now his second childe. He teaches the neonate to feed, and brings him to the evening gathering at the Amphora, to begin his education in the ways of unlife.

That evening, Nocturna tells the group that she has gotten a mysterious message from her sire in Illyria. It says that that sire’s own sire has vanished in Rome and, when the Augurs of the East were consulted received the message:

Cunctator was the first. Others follow. A vow broken, vengeance sought. Owls take wing.

There is no further message, but the name of the missing sire, Sextus Petronius Aquilina, and a request to investigate his disappearance.

The group leaves the drinking establishment, passing Violia’s new, rebuilt establishment, the Red Amphora. As they pass an alley, Lucius scents blood.

Exploring, the group finds the rapidly cooling body of a messenger bearing Crispus’s insignia, his purse missing and his finger chopped off. They search the body and discover that he carries two messages—a personal one to Gaius and a formal one for the Vicar of Rome.

The one to Gaius, from Crispus, says cryptically “I do not know whether your sire was involved, only that the wrong words were whispered in Julian’s ear.”

The official message, invoking the God of the Christians, tells that the pagan emperor has been killed in battle, struck down as he pursued the Persians, foolishly neglecting his armor in his haste to give chase and strike a decisive blow. Sadly for the Apostate, the decisive blow was struck by the foe.

The message specifically asks that the receiver of the message not spread the rumor that the emperor was struck down by an angel of God. It may be true, the writer says, but still the rumor would cause disaster. The new emperor, Jovian, has retaken the Christian faith, and marches to Byzantium.

• • •

At the news of Julian’s death, the Senex is plunged into chaos. Members of the Lance successfully call for Octavian’s ouster as leader, but Rhetrix (having succeeded the missing Hostilinus) is too new to have enough support to replace him. From the back of the hall a voice shouts, “You might as well elect Herennius Lanista.” The general response is…who? But the voice shouts it again, and others—swept away by the moment or just amused by the chaos—take up the cry . . .” Lanista! Lanista!”. The crowd parts around a short, chubby, undistinguished Julii, who shrinks from the attention, then turns and flees the Camarilla, quickly followed by supporters, detractors, and the merely curious. After all, if there’s one thing the bored and malicious Propinquii enjoy, it’s a good spectacle.

The coterie rather than joining this mod instead follow the Legionnaire who shouted this ridiculous suggestion. Gaius recognizes him as a basic foot soldier, undistinguished but honorable. However, the soldier seems different, and taunts the group, speaking of the night long ago that they stole a prince from him. They realize he’s speaking of their first encounter with the yellow-eyed demons, the night Crispus was embraced.

Gaius wields a torch and the soldier’s eyes flash yellow. A cloud of smoke escapes, and the body sinks to the ground, clearly dazed but back to his usual self, unaware of what he had done.

Meanwhile, down the corridor, they see a crowd around Lanista, Victrix at his side. There is a flash of steel and Lanista falls and, as the crowd parts, a flaming torch is thrown. By the time the group arrived, Lanista is destroyed. They question Victrix but she tells them that while she had her blade at the ready, she was waiting for word from Bassianus before acting. The crime scene bears out her story and the crime goes unsolved, at least for now.

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361 A. D. The Age of Tolerance

Secure from thunder, and unharm’d by Jove
Unfading as th’ immortal Pow’rs above
And those below unshriven and unshorn
So shall unholy fruit thy boughs adorn.
As black wine turns like blood to red
The grateful tree was pleas’d to guard the dead.
—Ovid, The Metamophoses

In the aftermath of the fire that devastated Violia’s sanguinarium, the Sub Rosa, she draws on the many resources at her disposal—the Augurs, Mio, and her not inconsiderable skills of investigation. As a result of these efforts, she learns that common thugs were hired from the grain dole to throw the incendiaries, the identity of the mastermind well concealed through many layers of intermediaries. The devices themselves were of Persian manufacture, or at least thence came the pottery containing the Greek fire.

The Augurs are able to determine that the peril was directed from afar, but by one strangely close, one who envies Violia and covets her position. No more is forthcoming from the fickle gods.

Later, she visits Marcus, her ghoul husband, to learn of his travels and experiences in Thebes and beyond. As the coterie suspected, he was directed to the Theban Necropolis, beneath the Temple of Amun at Karnak. There, he saw walls spattered with blood, and inscribed with strange messages in a language that he could not understand. During his stay, he met often with a shadowy hooded figure, who shared wine with him and talked deep into the night about those writings. He can remember little or nothing of those conversations. Now back in Rome, he has returned to his senatorial duties. All is well, though it seems he has more visitors at night than ever before. Sometimes those caverns haunt him in his dreams, but he awakes with no clearer memory of what he saw.

• • •

The next night, several pieces of auspicious news are learned. Gaius is in the Legion barracks when word comes that Hostilinus has apparently gone mad. It is clear to Gaius, if not to the rest of the gathered undead, that the Sanctified Mek’het has at last taken the bait and fed from the dhamphir Felix. Hostilinus apparently collapsed in paranoia and fear, convinced that everyone knows his darkest secrets. To the coterie’s disappointment, he seems to have vanished—although whether destroyed, fled, or gone into torpor is not known. Felix has been infected with a fever, but luckily it seems to be treatable, and Tiberius promises him a life free of further service to the damned.

In the political realm, even greater tidings come. Crispus arrives from the West to inform the group that Julian’s troops have proclaimed him Augustus, and even now are marching to Mediolanum to confront Constiantus in his temporary quarters and claim the throne for the Apostate. With Gaius’s blessing, Crispus travels ahead and ends the emperor before Julian crosses from Gaul, making him the legitimate heir rather than a usurper. Julian immediately declares a writ of tolerance, restoring the old gods & pitching Christian sects against each other. The Augurs are restored to power and the Senex, were they to breathe, would do so in a sigh of relief. This ridiculous flirtation with Christianity was, as predicted, just a passing mortal fancy.

• • •

A few years pass. Bassianus sends Albertus East with the new emperor to press the war against the Persians—an unnecessary and frivolous war, but one that Julian can not be dissuaded from. Bassianus expresses the hope that Albertus will prove himself a credit to the empire, and places him with Julian’s armorers.

• • •

One evening during Julian’s reign of tolerance, the coterie is surprised by Eupraxis, who comes to the Amphora with his cloak torn, looking uncharacteristically ragged and scared. He is a bit cagy about what exactly has happened, merely stating that he has been attacked by mortals, and that the elders of the Necropolis have refused him help. A bit uncertain what all this is about, the coterie nonetheless agree to accompany him to the Senex where he plans to plead for mercy and tolerance.

As the group moves through the city aboveground, the true nature of his plight—and his role in bringing destruction upon himself—becomes abundantly clear. The sybaritic Daeva had apparently started yet another mystery cult, presenting himself once again as the latest incarnation of Christ. This time, rather than destroying themselves as his last two cults had done, they have turned on him. Or, rather, they have decided to award him the greatest honor in their faith, that of crucifixion. His orders to the contrary are ignored, as the cultists know that even the first Christ faltered, and asked for mercy in a moment of weakness. Eupraxis’s pleas for reason are clearly just another test of their faith, one they know to ignore for the greater good.

As the cultists close in, a cry come from the dark, “Who is Cain?”. Confused, the coterie and the cultists alike are surprised by a group who once followed Vitericus, Gaius’s long-sought nemesis. The Cainites are hunting for their leader, whom they have come to realize is not a holy man, but an undead monster. Betrayed and angry, they seek to punish his wicked deceptions, by which he fed upon them, even draining some to death in rituals he claimed would cleanse them of their sins.

A street fight ensues. The human cultists on both sides endure losses but survive and scatter. Both Eupraxis and Vitericus end the night in torpor. Nocturna and Mio go to deliver Eupraxis to the Augurs to face Flaviana’s judgment. Gaius keeps Vitericus as a prize, burying him beneath the pomegranate tree in the Marii compound. The dark roots wind tightly around the Gangrel’s torpid body, preserving him until such time as Gaius decides his fate. The cat hisses softly, disappointed at this seeming mercy.

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357 A.D. Beneficium Accipere Libertatem est Vendere

The forms of decency we must debate,
And virtue’s rules by our cold morals state;
We gain one blessing from our hated kin,
Since our eternal freedom hides the sin
—Ovid, The Metamophoses

A month has passed, largely filled with anxious waiting and speculation. No word has yet come from Mio in Thebes, no firm plan has been made for how to roust Corbullo, no chance has yet presented itself for Felix to set the hook for Pestilens. Everyone is unsettled and edgy, with the exception of Nocturna who seems almost giddy, almostthe patrician party girl she once was before embrace.

This is underscored one night at the Amphora, when Nocturna arrives on the arm of Nadzhir, both of them dressed in opulent finery and trading sidelong glances and smiles. The Persian lets the group know that he has had a wonderful time in Rome (another sidelong glance and half-smile), but sadly must soon return to his emperor’s court. He notes that this war has been a boon for those who serve Mars in his land—the makers of swords, of arrows, of those clever Greek fire incendiary jars—but much less kind to those like him who prefer to throw in their lot with Venus.

He says he has one or two more bits of business to wrap up, and then he’ll be off, but hopes to return, adding that his emperor is keen to quash the upstart Christian Constantius and knock this new god back to the volcano whence he came. He refers to the emperors new concubine, one of the Propinquii although the emperor seems to be unaware of this, so besotted is he, or perhaps bewitched. The concubine, Drasaya, has asked for news of Rome, particularly fashion and gossip, and seems very keen to visit the Eternal City. Who knows that the next trip might bring!

After he leaves, with a last lingering glance for Nocturna, a messenger arrives from the port for Violia, bringing a cryptic message from Mio. It states that she is returning with Marcus, and that while all is not well nor is all lost. That’s the message in its entirety, as might be expected from a Mek’het, but assumedly she sent message by a courier ship and is following close behind on a passenger vessel.

Gaius seems to have shed his characteristic gravitas to some degree, seemingly so delighted about something that he can barely maintain his usual expressionless parade face. His companions query him, but to no avail.

• • •

Violia is awakened abruptly, confused and groggy. It is daytime and she hears the crackling of flames, smells smoke and roasting flesh. Cedric and Alaric are hurrying her, almost dragging her along through the tunnels that lead from the restaurant to the Camera Obscura. They are not sure exactly what happened—it was so sudden, clay jars were flung through multiple windows and the building just exploded in fire. The staff rescued as many of the slaves as they could, but the business is likely a complete loss. Violia, always the businesswoman, makes a mental note to be sure the Crossroads Club was paid up in full, although she’s sure it was, that’s not the kind of thing you let slip. The Vigiles are doing their best above, but all they can really do is keep the fire from spreading and becoming a massive inferno.

She forces herself to stay awake long enough to determine that all of her ghouls are safe, and that the Obscura was not also targeted, then sinks back into slumber vowing to begin investigating as soon as she arises that night.

• • •

When Gaius awakes at nightfall and goes to check his messages, he finds one of Julia Sabina’s trusted slaves waiting for him patiently, with a summons to meet with his mentor and Tertia Julia Comitor in Comitor’s receiving chamber. There, they quiz him about his intentions as regards Corbullo, and this challenge. He lays out his clever plan and, as they probe further, reveals that he has done his best to rig the stakes so that any outcome is a victory for Rome and the Camarilla . . . and some outcomes perhaps a bit more pleasant for one Gaius Marius Calidus.

The two Propinquii, the Prince of the City and her seneschal in all but name, are amused by his having managed to package such a delightfully tricky proposition into a genuine advocacy for Rome. Comitor looks at him with new appreciation, and perhaps at Sabina as well, for being able to look at a barely patrician soldier, the descendent of a hayseed Italian with no Greek, and see this potential in him.

Sabina asks him one favor, which is that if he ends up serving Corbullo as a result of losing the popular debate, that he allow her stewardship of the Aves and their library until such time as his servitude ends. He sees that while on one hand she covets the books and the knowledge therein, her motives are honest—she wants to preserve the knowledge from Corbullo’s greasy grasp.

He assures her that he will not allow Corbullo to learn of the Aves, while sidestepping the question of whether he can or will cede his place to her as regent. How he’d present that idea to Gaudens is only the first of his concerns.

Comitor asks if he can be ready to make his challenge in two nights, and he agrees. He asks that he have the support of the Legion in the audience, and she says not to worry, there will be so much advance gossip and speculation that everyone who is anyone will be there.
The dominae dismiss him graciously, and turn back to their watered wine and talk of politics, and gossip, and the terrible fire of the night before.

• • •

Two nights hence, the battle is joined before the Senex. Comitor, who despite her continuing and unseemly distraction with her slave Agata still has her finger on what would be the pulse of the Necropolis if only it had one, was correct in her prediction that the hall would be packed with Kindred of note from every walk of unlife.

The Legio are there in force as are representatives of the other covenants. Even the Lance has an interest in the proceedings, as both Corbullo and Gaius have proven themselves enemies of the followers of Longinus and whichever proves victorious it will be useful to observe and strategize in reaction.

Gaius lays out his rather dramatic plan for patronage or servitude, and Corbullo, roused to competitiveness and out of his decades-long langour by this challenge offers a surprise of his own. He wagers his own unlife, raising the stakes dramatically and riveting the crowd’s attention to an ever greater degree. This, in turn, invigorates him even further, if one can use that term for one of the Propinquii. Tiberius agitates on Corbullo’s behalf, and Violia on Gaius’s, each to some effect but probably not enough to sway the final outcome.

Gaius makes strong use of clever wordplay, playing to the audience while reminding them that Corbullo, despite his past glories, has done little for the Camarilla lo these many decades. He also subtly insults Corbullo’s class and his status as an adoptive member of the Julii with a freedman’s unbeating heart. Worse yet, a freedman turned shopkeeper. Corbullo, in turn, reminds the assembled masses of the barely patrician status of the Marii, and of the first Gaius Marius’s main achievement, opening the Army to the rabble, as evidenced by his opponent’s preference for a peasant’s weapon.

Here he miscalculates, attempting to play to the finer sentiments of the aristocracy while, in fact, the de facto leader of the Legio, Bassianus, is resolutely of the capite censi, and respected by all. With a few more deft oratorical maneuvers, Gaius pushes the crowd in his favor, and Corbullo succumbs to a most unseemly frenzy leading, after a brief but shocking struggle, to his final death at Gaius’s hand. Gaius in the heat of victory and riding his Beast is tempted to diablerize the body, but manages to control his baser instincts. Somewhere nearby, in the shadows, a black cat’s glowing yellow eyes flash in disappointment.

In the aftermath, Comitor autocratically calms the crowd, and announces that, anticipating his possible destruction (perhaps even wishing it, less recovered from his terrible condition that he appeared), Corbullo had left his final will and testament in her care. Breaking the double seal—his and hers—she unscrolls it, and reads his behests. To his childe Julia Sabina, he leaves his library and his subterrean villa in the country. To his childe Tiberius, the rest of his estate an holdings. The assembled Propinquii erupt in chatter while Tiberius stands apart, uncharacteristically without his usual air of swaggering confidence.

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357 A.D.: None So Blind

Now with last looks he seeks his native shore,
Which Fate has destin’d him to see no more;
He sought, but in the dark tempestuous night
He knew not whither to direct his sight.
So whirls the smoke, such darkness blinds the sky,
That the black night receives a deeper dye.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Violia begins her evening at her eating establishment, to be met by Freya. The barbarian asks her assistance with a customer who’s clearly hinting at something, but in a highly oblique and oddly unsettling way, and Freya has no idea what he actually wants. After some conversation, Violia learns that the newcomer is a Persian Daeva named Nadzhir, newly arrived from the Persian capital of Isktar. He compliments Violia on her establishment, saying that he’d not known any such place existing outside of one that is famous in Isktar. He apologises for the misunderstanding with Freya—at the Persian location, discriminating and generous patrons can purchase a private room, the vessel of their choice, and the right to drink as deep as one wishes, to the very end. Violia tells him that this is not acceptable in her establishment, but that they’re happy to meet less . . . terminal requests.

They chat politely, and she learns that he has brought a wealth of silks, perfumes, and other luxury goods to sell in Rome, a rarity given the state of warfare between the two empires. Violia sees the opportunity to not only purchase fripperies for her staff, but also keep her herd safe with not insulting a clearly wealthy and influential foreigner. She makes an appointment to meet Nadzhir a few days hence to purchase wares from him, and refers him to the Vesuvius, where the girls are in need of new finery after their recent destructive madness.

• • •

Later that night, the coterie is joined at the Green Amphora, by Felix, the dhampir they created to destroy Pestilens. He reports that he has not yet had a chance to entrap the eyeless one, but he has been learning his movements and making plans. Just last night he came upon his mark feeding, although there was no way to insinuate himself into the scene without raising suspicions. He mentions in an offhand fashion that he recognized him instantly from the Eye of Horus inscribed on his forehead. No one else has ever seen this, and they realize that Pestilens has used high levels of Obfuscate to mask it. Felix, however, cannot be fooled by Obfuscate due to his dhampir blood.

Mio infers that Pestilens is somehow affiliated with the Priests of Amun in Thebes, an ancient and powerful sect known for acts of sorcery. While most educated people assume that these mysteries are simply fancy tricks to fool the peasants, the group considers the fact that clever stagecraft can be used to mask true magic.

The temple, Mio tells them, is in Karnak. Violia realizes with a sinking feeling where her heart once was that this is the place her husband mentioned in the letter where he spoke of traveling to investigate a mysterious set of caves. They realize this could be very bad, and Mio heads straight to the harbor to find the fastest ship she can to bring her to Aegypt.

• • •

Tiberius next goes to attend his ailing patron, Corbullo, and finds himself torn between the desire to help his mentor and his terrible compulsion to commit diablerie. His inner debate is interrupted by the appearance of Flaviana, who brings new information from the Augurs. She says that if she is reading the signs correctly, a dhampyr’s curse is that a taste of their blood drains away whatever the Kindred’s clan holds most dear. In the case of the Julii, that would be power, control, and influence. Thus, Corbullo now cursed has lost all power, all will to engage with the world. The cure, if there is one, would likely be to force him to remember who he is and to crave power again.

Tiberius absorbs this information, weighing it in his mind against his desire to claim Corbullo’s power for himself through murder. Sensing, if not the depth of Tiberius’s depravity, his uncertainty, Flaviana uses Dominate to bind him, instructing him to do everything in his power to help Corbullo recover.

To that end, he hatches a plan to have Gaius challenge Corbullo in front of the Senex—not difficult as Gaius genuinely both wishes Corbullo’s return to power as a force for Old Rome against the Lance . . . but also find him personally repugnant. So, win or lose, Gaius wins.

• • •

The next night, Gaius receives a carefully coded message from his childe Crispus in Gaul, where he has accompanied the prince Julian, newly charged with leading battle against the barbarians. The message holds the intriguing news that Julian’s soldiers have proclaimed him Augustus, urging him to march East & overthrow his murderous cousin. Crispus, with an eye on the long game, has advised Julian to wait, to be sure he truly has the backing he needs for such an act. Crispus wryly notes that he has some familiarity with the act of regicide, having both plotted and suffered it.

The next message is from Albertus, who has some news of Vitericus, the bizarre Gangrel who briefly joined with them to infiltrate the Vesuvius and liberate it from Thais and Ursulus’s spell.

Gaius’s intuition that Vitericus was both of and opposed to the Lance proves to be accurate. Albertus tells him all the Collegia is abuzz talk of Vitericus’s messsage, the Gospel of Cain, a teaching that he claims was revealed to him by God himself. It holds that Cain, the first murderer, was given the gift of unlife by God as a reward for his strength, making him the first of the Propinquii. Cain then gave certain revelations to both Jesus, Vicar of the Cattle and Longinus, Vicar of the Slaughtermen.

Vitericus is said to have arrived in Rome with a small group of followers, apparently to spread this new gospel and gain more converts. The Lance is not pleased, and both their agents and those of the mortal Christian church seek Vitericus, the prior to silence him and the latter to question him in the death of the prelate Damasus. In the wake of that event, and Gaius’s wrath, Vitericus seems to be laying low, and perhaps has left the city to wait for things to cool down.

Gaius senses that Albertus is holding something back, and asks if he is taken in by this Christian foolishness, if he has lost all loyalty to the proper gods. With a pointed look, Albertus observes that he has served and been wrenched from more than one set of gods in his life and unlife, and seen things that no god could forestall. Perhaps there’s something to this notion of one unified heaven that can rain down fire on its enemies and crush all opposing gods and demons.

Gaius reflects that Albertus has seen what perhaps no other Roman has (unless Remus actually slumbers beneath that statue, dreaming of owls)—the yellow-eyed creatures in force, great clouds of smoke in the shape of hundreds of eldritch birds, feeding upon the dead and dying on the far-distant battlefield where Gaius himself fell so long ago. This may not excuse such a cavalier attitude towards what is right and proper, but it perhaps left a void that his sire foolishly believes that a new god can fill.

The moment passes, and Albertus shrugs off his statements as idle speculation. Gaius lets the matter lie for now and takes his leave, reiterating that Albertus should alert him instantly should there be any word of Vitericus’s whereabouts or return.

Gaius returns to his family home to close out the night, restless and frustrated. He paces angrily, thinking over the night’s events, watched by a pair of approving yellow eyes in the darkness.

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