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.