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.