Death stalk’d around with such resistless sway
The temples of the Gods his force obey
Go now, said Death, your deities implore
For fruitless aid, for I defie their pow’r
Then with a curst malicious joy survey’d
The very altars, stain’d with trophies of the dead.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses
Violia is called to a mysterious meeting; using every method at her disposal, she attempts to determine whether it is a danger or a trap, but the invitation, while uncanny in some way, does not seem to pose a threat. She brings her barbarians, of course, and also Gaius as protection. The messenger leads the small group deep into the Necropolis, through tunnels and cellae they have never seen before, become more and more ancient and primitive in aspect.
At last, they enter a seeming dead end, the murky light from one dim torch showing what appear to be several sealed stone doors, as if to ancient tombs. Only one seems to have been opened any time recently, and it is to that portal the group is led. Their guide says that Gaius may enter with Violia, but the barbarians must wait in the antechamber, as this is business for Propinquii alone.
In the dim light of the chamber, an incongruously young-looking Daeva lounges, with the face and figure of a teenage peasant lass, yet with the uncanny air of something much, much older. She tells them a tale of a girl who went to see a traveling fortune teller one night long, long agp. Asked what she wanted her fate to be, she replied that she hoped to have a long and exciting life, with many children. The fortune teller seemed to see something unexpected in the girl, and asked her to return later, after the rest of the villagers had left. As the night waned, she not only Embraced the girl, but left her with a blessing and a curse. She would travel to the new settlement of Rome, and make a haven there, at the center of its newly dug Necropolis. She would meet the local luminaries, and after one year, she would make a childe. Then, she would sleep for 100 years, waking again to walk amongst the living and the monsters, and again embrace. This was to be her unlife—100 years of slumber, a brief awakening, and a childe—each of them created to make a mark in some way, to change the world for better or worse. She would be led by the spell to the right person, but never know why this rather than that one at the time.
Her children have included Drusilla, who helped to bring down Julius Ceasar, Nero, who almost destroyed Rome, Flaviana, who helped shape the Augurs . . . and others whose fates she knows not. Now, Violia. How will she fulfill this prophesy?
Violia notes that she has done a few notable things already perhaps, but of course who can know what the future holds. Meanwhile Gaius has been bursting to ask a question, and at last is given leave to speak. He asks what of Remus, does he truly still slumber here? The ancient one says she’s not sure, though certainly that tale is widely told. As far as she knows, her old friend Aulus Julius Senex, who slumbers nearby, is the last of that age to remain. She speaks of the yellow-eyed creatures who gave Remus his unlife, and how the stories tell that they will return and strike in fury at any of their lineage who have not fulfilled their promise of bestial rage. It appears they view the Julii much as the Black Cat viewed Gaius, but with much greater penalties for not succumbing to inhumane urges.
With that, an a few pleasantries, aher sire returns to slumber, and the two Propinquii and attendants return to the higher reaches of the Necropolis to ponder what they’ve learned.
• • •
Later that evening, Albertus comes to meet Gaius at the Green Amphora, to deliver shocking news. The general Stilichio had been noted for his decent treatment of Barbarian soldiers in the Roman army, and integration of their families into Roman territory. This did not sit well with one hysterically racist chancellor, named Olympius, who had Stilichio and his family executed, and then ordered the slaughter of tens of thousands of barbarian women and children in Roman towns. This led to about 30,000 soldiers—highly trained and armed with Roman weapons—defecting to the barbarian King Alaric, himself a one-time Roman soldier who’d deserted after poor treatment.
Alaric’s troops are massed at Mediolanum, Albertus has heard, preparing to strike for Rome. He muses on the circular nature of fate—he stalked and found Gaius on the road to Mediolanum almost a century ago, now he perhaps loses him to walk the same road. Gaius is unexpectedly sanguine, understanding the call of ones blood, especially when family have been endangered or in this case, put to the sword. He bids Albertus farewell, hoping that they not meet again on opposite ends of a lance.
This talk of families imperiled causes Gaius no small concern as his family’s estate in Nomentum lies in the path of those legions even now possibly marching on Rome, stripping the land of its bounty like locusts at best, raping and killing in a frenzy of revenge at worst. He determines to make sure things are secure in Rome, and then move quickly to ensure his family’s safety.
• • •
The next night, the coterie has gathered and Gaius and Violia are briefing them on what they’ve learned and the need to prepare for potential attacks from foes both mortal and supernatural, with wildly different reasons for rage. The barbarians’ anger is only too understandable. That of the Striges may, in fact, be impossible to truly grasp if one retains any shred of humanity at all..
As they talk, they hear the sound of thunder, growing louder. Suddenly they realize—this is no thunder, it is the sound of thousands, literally thousands of feet. The city’s northeast gates have been breached, and the barbarian hordes are pouring in, bent on vengeance.
Flavius bursts in, ragged yet unharmed. He brings news that throughout the city, the less savory elements are taking advantage of the chaos to settle their own scores, through murder, theft, or mayhem. He fears the Library may be in danger, as the so-called Cainites who covet knowledge of the supernatural may use the madness as cover to try and take the building, or at least pillage its treasures.
Each of the coterie goes to attend to what they must—Nocturna to assist the Augurs in protecting the temple in hiding, Tiberius to make sure the inhabitants of the Vesuvius are safe from soldiers bent on rape or destruction, or both. Gaius, Lucius, and Flavius go to ensure the Marii compound is safe, and then on to the Library. The group agrees to meet at the Red Amphora as soon as they can, and retreat into the Necropolis for safety.
Gruesome sights are to be seen on all sides—a member of the Sanctified, pinned to a wall with spikes, in a mockery of crucifixion. A priest of Apollo set aflame on a altar as an unholy sacrifice. One of the vaticinators has had his head smashed by a bust of Aulus Julius Senex.
• • •
Gauis ensures that the Marii compound is safe, and instructs the pomegranate tree to weave its guarding branches even closer. At the Library, they determine that the wards hold safe, but hear angry mortals inveighing against the newest of the Aves, saying “We know where the monsters sleep.” For now, there’s no time to investigate this further, especially as its doubtless nothing more than empty words.
• • •
The group meets and descends into the Necropolis, passing by collapsed tunnels brought down by the weight of smashed and burning buildings. They make their way to what seems a relatively secure place as dawn is threatening, and settle down uneasily, dreading what the next night’s wakening might bring.