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.