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.