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.