Nights of the Camarilla

357 A.D. No Redemption Without the Blood

“My wrongs, perhaps, now urge me to pursue
Some desp’rate deed, by which the world shall view
How far revenge, and woman’s rage can rise
When weltring in her blood the harlot dies.”

Ovid, The Metamorphoses

The coterie approaches the Suburra for their regular evening rendezvous at the Green Amphora, only to find a most distressing scene. Outside the Vesuvius, a massive bonfire burns in the square, and the air is filled with strangely scented smoke. They see Castilla, one of the most popular of Cal’s girls, standing before the crowd, flinging item after item into the flames. Pots of white lead makeup, sticks of kohl, jars of scented oil, fine silk gowns. As she burns them, she chants out a list of names. The crowd hoots and cheers at the display—with the occasional man suddenly looking abashed, perhaps at hearing his name spoken.

In fact, all of the girls, save for Cal and Gallix, are gathered, dressed in rough sack-cloth, their hair cropped brutally short, their skin smeared with ashes. And yet, they are singing hymns of praise, their faces transfixed with joy.

Gaius orders some onlookers to fetch water and quench the fire, drawing on his authority as a centurion and, even more so, by asking if they are really so stupid as to wish the fire to spread and burn the city—again. At the fire’s edge, with the girls, stand a small, scruffy looking man in monk’s robes, and a tall, eerie woman, pale as a ghost, her short hair framing her face like a halo. She has an unearthly air about her, but does not appear to be of the Propinquii. Only one other member of the undead is in the crowd, a barbarian in traveling clothes, unknown to the coterie.

The monk, Ursulus, begin to preach. He tells of how he had been cloistered in a monastery in Thebes, and took it upon himself to wander for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert to test his faith. In that time he became lost, and fell into a ravine far from any road or settlement. His leg broken, he surrendered his will to God, and prayed while awaiting his inevitable death. But then, out of nowhere, a vision appeared to him, a saintly woman who healed his injuries and led him to safety. Her name is Thais, and together they have traveled far and wide, ministering to the sinful and the godless, and especially the kind of sinful woman Thais had been before finding God.

Ursulus asks if there is anyone in the crowd who would be healed, and a small boy is pushed forwards, limping badly. Thais lays her hands upon him and murmurs something, whereupon he leaps up and scampers off through the crowd. Others press in, but Ursulus informs them that God performs only one miracle a day through her, but that all can return tomorrow to hear a sermon and seek God’s favor. The coterie is highly suspicious of this showmanship and, while they can’t get though the crowd quickly enough to follow the boy, Tiberius sends Roundheadicus to shadow him and report back.

The group confronts the interlopers, Tiberius having to be restrained from savaging them there and then, as they’ve not only shuttered his source of income but bewitched his girls and endangered his neighborhood. Thais speaks only in cryptic, nonsensical phrases, which Gaius (by virtue, as it were, of his intense scholarship these days) recognizes as being entirely from the Christian scriptures. Thais seems to know or sense that the group are not human, but her words are so vague as to be inconclusive.

It seems that at least she and Ursulus believe (or claim to believe) that she is the same Thais referenced in the tale behind Gagliauda’s amulet—the prostitute walled up in a nunnery to rot in her own filth for years, who asked only to remain, and died two weeks after being forcibly freed from her cell. Is this “Saint of Whores” the same woman? If so, is she Kindred, a revenant, or some new supernatural being the group has never seen? Or is she some poor, deluded madwoman who’s being used by this street preacher? Gaius shows her the amulet, and gets only more scripture for his pains.

The situation is not improved by the fact that the girls clearly welcome these changes, and in fact are filtering back into the Vesuvius, but not allowing anyone to follow them. The group considers a brute force attack, but the Gangrel stranger presents a measured alternative. He tells them he’s new in town, having come to Rome to seek his fortune. He’s managed to convince a traveling companion to throw in with the girls, claiming to have been inspired to join their penance. She’s now inside the Vesuvius, and will get the lay of the land and, the following night, let him in. The group is welcome to join him. They ask him why he’s so interested and he tells them that he just came upon this scene and decided to seize the moment, that clearly something bizarre, even unprecedented of is happening here, and he wants to be part of it. After all, this is why he came to Rome—for new adventures. The group can tell there’s something not quite right with this foreigner, but his plan allows them to avoid a public bloodbath, so they agree to meet up the next night.

• • •

In the intervening hours, Crispus unexpectedly shows up in Rome to speak with Gaius. He reports that the Emperor Constantius is setting up a temporary headquarters in Mediolanum, and more interestingly, sending Julian to lead a campaign in Gaul. Julian, the only remaining survivor of the Slaughter of the Princes is now 25 and, while still a bookish sort who prefers philosophy to war, he’s also nominally the heir to the empire after Constantius. The Emperor has officially named him as Cesar, as a sign of his favor. There is some speculation this “favor” is intended to lead to Julian being killed in Gaul, far from the increasingly paranoid and fearful Emperor. Crispus sees potential in the lad, and proposes he accompany the army to Gaul, and help Julian become a warrior in deed as well as title. He is helped in this by the fact that Julian secretly rejects Christianity in favor of the traditional Roman gods, so an offer of counsel from a dead ancestor is not likely to alarm him overmuch.

Across town, Roundheadicus leads Tiberius to the home of the child who Thais supposedly healed. To his great surprise, he learns that the boy had been born with a withered leg, and had been resigned to life as a cripple. Now, he is whole. It seems from what the family has heard that the “saint” can perform one healing a day, and is said to have other strange powers as well. Tiberius was certain he would leave the scene with proof of fakery and lies. Now, he doesn’t know what to believe.

• • •

The next night, the group meets up with Vitericus, the barbarian Gangrel, and makes their way to the Vesuvius. As they approach, they see Ursulus and Thais being harangued by a clearly important (or at least self-important) church official. They note that the two travelers are clad in rags (Ursulus’s tattered robe is road-worn and filthy. Thais, while equally ragged, somehow seems to radiate cleanliness and purity.) The prelate, by comparison, is wearing immaculate robes and wears an ostentatious gold ring of office. The group hangs back, trying to eavesdrop. All they can really catch is something about witchcraft, and threats of violence from the prelate.

Gaius, as is his way, loses his patience and confronts the prelate, leaving the man with an irresistible compulsion to carouse, gamble, whore, and drink until he loses consciousness. After the prelate’s departure, he briefly confronts Ursulus and Thais, bringing out the amulet found on the body of Gagliauda, the monstrous Kindred prostitute who had corrupted Flavius Gaudens’ daughter. Left with only more questions, he watches as the duo slip away into the Suburra.

As promised, Vitericus’s associate, Camilla, lets the group in to the Vesuvius, and into a horrific scene. The fine furnishing and art have been destroyed or thrown out the windows, and the girls are engaging in mortification of the flesh of a much less pleasant sort than might have been seen a mere week before. Some kneel on the bare floors praying, grinding their knees into the wood until they bleed. Others have bound their wrists into a praying position, so tightly that the flesh is bruised and torn. They draw crosses in their foreheads with hot coals. And yet, all of them are singing, joyous, lost in rapture.

Asked what his plan was, Vitericus suggests they test the newly converted nuns’ faith by cutting one out from the herd and draining her to death in secret. In the morning, when a mysteriously exsanguinated body shows up, all sorts of interesting results might ensue. The girls might find deeper faith, or they might be burned as witches. Either way, what fun!

Tiberius tells the newcomer in no uncertain terms that this is unacceptable, and orders him to leave immediately. Vitericus shrugs, implying there will be other opportunities to play with mortals and their faith. The group lets him go, but with the uneasy sense that there’s something not at all good going on here.

Tiberius begins to bring the girls around using his supernatural powers, and finds that they are strangely more resistant than usual. Things are going less smoothly than expected, but the group is slowly gaining ground. Then, not only do Thais and Ursulus return, but so does Athanasius the prelate, along with a small force of Legionaries. Athanasius looks much the worse for wear, and Gaius realizes that it’s entirely possible that in the hours that have passed the man might have—as ordered—committed a night’s worth of debauchery, passed out in an alleyway somewhere, and thus rid himself of the compulsion, if not its unseemly aftereffects.

It transpires that Athanasius wants to have all of the women burnt as witches, and has obtained an Imperial writ. It seems that Constantius’s paranoia extends to witchcraft, and he takes a “better safe than sorry” approach to executions. There is much argument and debate and, in the end, Tiberius gains pardon for his girls by convincing the soldiers that the poor things were the victims of sorcery performed by these religious charlatans.

Thais, however, is not so lucky. She is dragged to the square where the bonfire has been re-lit. She does not scream in pain or cry for help, but Gaius, still puzzled by this mystery, halts the soldiers’ preparations to burn her alive. After a brief attempt to interact with her, he offers a merciful dispatch by opening her throat with his dagger. She dies with a beatific smile, quoting scripture to her last breath as her body topples into the flames. Her body is not consumed by the flames, and as everyone reacts to this strange event, Ursulus hurls himself into the fire, finding that he is not so incorruptible as Thais—though he is just as quickly put down by Gaius as he writhes and shrieks in the flames. Once the fire is extinguished, Thais’ body still appears to be oddly unburned. Nocturna attempts to gain some insight from laying her hands upon the inviolate flesh, but the remains crumble into fine white ash at the merest touch, then evaporate in a cloud of white light.

A stillness falls over the coterie, as well as the Roman soldiers, the now subdued and confused girls of the Vesuvius, and the usual nighttime street crowd, as everyone tries to make sense of what just happened. In this moment of calm, Vitericus strides purposefully up to the prelate. In a flash a bared claws, he rips the man’s throat out without hesitation. Gaius pursues him down a side street, until the barbarian sinks into the earth beneath the cobblestones. Gaius binds him with vitae but, after standing vigil for some time, reluctantly cedes this round to the infuriating stranger.

Somewhere in the night, a black cat hisses disapproval.

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337 A.D. – 356 A.D. Tempus Fugit II

Tempus Fugit II

As 336 draws to a close, the coterie form a plan to bring Hostilinus to doom, and perhaps even final death. In the way of vampiric plans, it is a long con. They find a willing Mek’het (an associate of Mio’s who hates the Lancea as only one who is constantly assumed to be a member can) to impregnate one of the Vesuvius girls, allowing them to raise their own Mek’het dhampyr to eventually snare the Lance’s leader with his irresistible Lure. The child eventually conceived is given the name Felix.

Beatrix gives birth to her first ghoul child, a girl she and Lucius name Spera.

Tiberius ghouls Gallix and (a few years later, when Marcus reaches his full growth, his son as well. He considers ways of embracing the lad without ingesting any of his deadly blood, but figures he has time to figure it out now that the young man will barely age.)

Crispus heads East to be on hand for his father’s imminent demise and the inevitable struggle for power. While he has resigned himself to the impossibility of openly taking the throne himself, Gaius encourages him to take the role of shadow councilor.

337 A.D. The emperor Constantine finally dies, leaving his empire to 5 heirs, with 2 in waiting. They are his sons by his second wife, Fausta:

Constatine II, then 26 years old
Constantius II, 20 years old
Constans, 14 years old

In addition, he named two nephews, Dalmatius and Hannibalianus, as well as two younger cousins then only small children, Gallus and Julian.

Constantius was the closest to Byzantium when their father entered his last days, and rushed back to hold his funeral and, not coincidentally, kill off the two nephews and a number of other male relatives on trumped-up charges that they had all conspired to kill his father. He spared the two small children out of some sense of propriety, although they were sent to a remote villa, essentially a luxurious prison.

The three brothers then divided the Empire as their father had, more or less, proposed: Constantine II went to rule in the West, over Gaul, Brittania, and Iberia. Constantius kept control of the East, and the young Constans “ruled” Italy under his_ loving_ brother’s close scrutiny.

338 A.D. Constantius II declares Arian Christianity to be the religion of the Empire, replacing the Nicean creed that had prevailed under his father. He exiles the prominent bishop, Athanasius of Alexandria for refusing to bend to his sect. In return, Athanasius threatens to have the grain supply disrupted.

340 A.D. Constantine II is killed in an ambush in Northern Italy. No one knows by whom, though word is put about that it was barbarians.

341 A.D. Constans bans pagan sacrifice in Rome. In the Senex, a member of the Lancea suggests they follow suit, essentially crippling the Augurs. After much debate, this indeed becomes the law, although it is said that senior members of the Legio turn a blind eye. Violea and Drusilla open their dining establishment to the now nearly fugitive Augurs, to conduct clandestine rituals.

343 A.D. Gaius sends Fausta, Naso, and their children to care for their now quite aged parents at the family villa outside Rome. It is well placed, and a hill overlooking vineyards and, now, encircled by trees grown from seeds of the original pomegranate that has protected the Roman Marii’s compound for a decade.

346 A.D. The fifth of Tertia Julia Comitor’s Decade parties is held successfully, with all factions playing nicely. The Augurs bless the party, without trouble from anyone.

349 A.D. Disgusted with all of the infighting, Bassianus orders those troops under his direct command to remove all insignia from their shields, carrying only a plain black standard when on Legio business. Some see this as a noble declaration of independence, others as a sign that the troops’ favor is up for auction.

Gaius is most displeased, but as a good soldier agrees to follow this new protocol, despite outranking Bassianus, as the much elder vampire holds great sway due to his age and experience.

350 A.D. Constans, having become increasingly more corrupt and immoral, is assassinated by his own guards in Rome. Constantius is now the only remaining heir, with the exception of the two boys whom he’d spared.

Magnentius, the general who killed Constans, claims the right of rule in Rome. Constantius prepares to launch an attack against him. To keep the empire safe, he brings his nephew Gallus, one of the two boys he’d spared (now aged about 20) to Byzantium, marries him to his sister (the boy’s aunt), Constantia, and elevates him to Ceasar.

351 A.D. All of the Legio now marches with the black shield; both the Senex and the Lance are said to be wrangling to have their marks borne exclusively, but to no current avail.

354 A.D. Constantius took a few years to put down the rebellion, during which time Gallus and Constantina brought charges of witchcraft against various wealthy families and took their estates for their own. They may or may not have plotted against Constantius. Constantina died on her way to plead her case, and Gallus was put to death.

356 A.D. The sixth Decade party is held, and considered a great success, with all factions attending and behaving civilly; even Flaviana and Pestilens manage to remain cordial.

357 A.D. The coterie, heading to the Amphora for their evening confab, are distressed to hear the sounds of a mighty fire, and smell strange smoke arising. They are met by Calipygia, Spurius, and Gallix all in great distress, Cal the most distraught.

They enter the square to see the girls from the Vesuvius massively changed. Their hair cut brutally short, dressed in sackcloth, they approach the bonfire one by one, burning their makeup, perfume, and finery, and renounce their past lives, chanting the names of their clients. The crowd sees this as great sport, until their names are called, or perhaps even then.

The coterie determine that this behavior is being encouraged by a Nicean monk whom they’ve never seen before in Rome, and attended by a strange, ethereal woman who also has short, raggedly chopped hair, although on her it looks almost like a halo.

Scanning with their supernatural senses, they discern only one vampire near, a well-dressed barbarian who is also new to town. He seems amused by the entire spectacle, calling it great fun. On hearing that the former whorehouse is Tiberius’s property, he asks if he might have leave to torment the girls. Tiberius angrily says no, and begins plotting ways to regain his small empire of sin.

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336 A.D. A Long-Awaited Victory

My flesh is warm’d with such unusual fire
This victory is all that I desire.
Let me not fail; my fate draws nigh;
In all the pride of blooming youth I die.
I should with joy my latest breath resign!
And oh! I see the glory that is mine.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

The time has come for the great Decade party of 336, celebrating the Camarilla’s prophesied 2,000 year reign. (No one seems to note that former head of the Augurs, Septimus Aurelius, who made this universally accepted prophesy burst into flames a scant decade or so after, which might be considered an inauspicious omen.)

The party begins with a gladiatorial extravaganza, participated in by Tiberius, Gaius, and Victrix, as well as two combatants each from the Collegia and the Legio. The Peregrine combatants are disqualified by frenzy very early in the games, and their names are lost to history.

One of the Legio competitors, Placidus, is similarly—if slightly less ignominiously—embarrassed. The second, Septimus, acquits himself somewhat better, but still comes in a distant fourth behind the better-known participants. The three finalists trade the lead back and forth, each excelling at some challenges and each thwarted by others. At the final obstacle, a pit of fire, both Gaius and Victrix eventually succumb to frenzy, while Tiberius, finally, triumphs over the field.

At the party proper, Corbullo seems to rouse himself slightly having seen his protégé best the field at the Games, but he is still nowhere near his old self. Eupraxis and others are interested in Corbullo’s state, but Tiberius manages to shield him from too much unwanted attention.

A contingent of Sanctified attends the party, including Hostilinus, and largely comport themselves well, even when goaded by Gaius for not being brave enough to participate in the Games.

Later in the party, Crispus seeks Gaius out to get his opinion on the worsening situation back East, as his father the Emperor Constantine the Great sickens, having named an unworkable group of seven heirs (Crispus’ three half-brothers, two adult uncles, and two very young cousins who will be held as, essentially, princes in waiting). Gaius gives Crispus his blessing to head East immediately, binding him to report fully and frequently.

The gathering is surprised at the appearance of Flaviana, back from her mysterious journey. While in general all are pleased to see her, one of the more brash and younger members of the Lance becomes belligerent, pointing out that at the last party, Horatia Vera had predicted that the Black Abbey would burn. Instead, Vera herself burned, while the Abbey still stands. Gaius puts the offensive deacon in his place brusquely, to general approval.

Violea notes that Drusilla seems to be watching Hostilinus closely, but of course everyone is interested in the eyeless one’s actions, so this is not too surprising.

Not much else of note occurs, although the more gossipy of the Propinquii note that Tertia Comitor seems to be awfully close with her oldest slave thrall, Agata, leading to speculation that she has entered into a slightly unorthodox relationship with the barbarian ghoul.

The party winds to a close with all agreeing that the Games staged by Violea were absolutely the highlight of the season. In the clamor of congratulations and revelry, the cries of distant owls are barely audible.

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336 A.D. Probatio per Ignem

When, in the darkened caverns pent
His will, against the hollow curse, is bent
The quaking world above, and worms below
This mighty pain, by dear experience, know
Tremble with fear, and dread the fatal blow.

—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Tiberius is contacted by Horatia Vera of the Augurs, with word that she may be able to help further with the mystery of Gagliauda’s necklace. Further augury indicates that it is imbued with supernatural power by a skilled artisan. It has probably been crafted by a goldsmith gifted in the art of making ritual objects, objects imbued with power. She gives them the name and location of a artisan who has done work for the Augurs.

The coterie finds the smith’s shop and show him the amulet. He says yes, he thinks he knows something of this, heads to the back of the shop saying that he needs to check his records. They hear a crash and realize he’s run out the back. Gaius manages to catch him as he heads up a ladder to the roof.

Under some duress, the goldsmith tells them he bolted in panic, afraid because it seems that everyone associated with the amulet has died horribly—some at the hands of the coterie. However, he is pressed to tell them its secret. Under the onyx stone is an inscription in the Egyptian language. He doesn’t know what it meant, he simply copied the parchment he was given by a hooded intermediary. He still has the parchment and the coterie determine that he in fact knows nothing more, not even the identity of he who commissioned the work.

They find Mio and have her translate the requested inscription. It reads, “You who made me, have pity on me.” She asks them if they know the source, the tale of the Theban saint Thais. Thais was an Egyptian prostitute who sought knowledge of God. The local abbot walled her up in a nunnery cell, to be fed bread and water through a tiny slot in the wall. She was left to rot in her own filth and contemplate God, allowed to utter only that one phrase, “You who made me, have pity on me.” When she was freed, she begged to be returned to her cell, saying she had not yet fully been cured of her sin. Two weeks later, after being granted unwanted freedom, she died.

Thais has become a folk saint in Thebes, called upon to heal supernatural ailments and seemingly incurable spiritual malaise.

Mio says that she believes she knows what this amulet requires. It can likely cure Tiberius, but at a steep cost. He must take it to a place of great dark power, and must sacrifice something he holds most dear, or give up some of his will and risk the consequences. Tiberius is willing to take the risk, and the coterie travels together to the Fons Ater and perform the ritual. Tiberius is seemingly cured, but with loss of Willpower, and the unexpected cost that the group all learn of his crimes. Indeed, they experience the diablerie on a visceral level, understanding what his victims suffered as he destroyed their essence.

Later, he tries to rouse Corbullo, but the fat man cannot be brought to care about anything in his unlife, and seems to be slipping farther away. Tiberius wonders if a chariot race might help—something violent and bloody that he loves.

As the situation appears to become more dire for Corbullo, Horatia Vera asks Tiberius to care for the ailing elder, and to watch out for his affairs. Tiberius struggles between coveting Corbullo’s empire and wishing him restored to his former self.

• • •

Violea speaks to Beatrix about taking on the priestess position, and Beatrix expresses cautious enthusiasm—she doesn’t wish to appear to be unappreciative of her position as a matron and mother but, as she notes a bit wistfully, in her new form she has many more hours of wakefulness each day, and much more energy than ever before. It would be . . . nice . . . to have a way to be of service to Rome that involved getting out of the house a bit more.

Late, Violea speaks to Victrix about performing at the Decade Party. The barbarian is distant and sarcastic, but agrees to put on a show for the glory, a sizeable purse, and the chance to humiliate Tiberius once more. Violea feels her out carefully, seeing if it’s possible to raise the topic of Drusilla and what their relationship might be. After all, she’s received the supernatural knowledge that it’s Victrix whom Drusilla would seek out if she needed help (Victrix on the other hand would seek her Gods, whoever they might be these days.) However, she’s also learned from one of her child spies that Victrix has argued with Drusilla, telling her she’s playing a foolish and dangerous game. Unfortunately, no chance to raise any of this presents itself, and Violea is too clever a manipulator to press her luck.

• • •

Gaius, with Bassianus’s backing, confronts Hostilinus about the Gagliauda matter, and is shrugged off. It is most unfortunate the actions some devotees take, the leader of the Lance tells them, but he cannot see or save every sparrow that falls, not quell every fervid breast.

Later that night, Gaius visits the Marii family home, and is pleased at the growing compound and the health of his ghoul family, guarded by vigilant animals and the ever-expanding tree.

While there, he seeks out the Black Cat again and it teases his Beast, hinting to Gaius that there is a way to ride out a frenzy, to harness it to his will. He is intrigued but wary, afraid of losing himself. The Cat assures him that no, this is the only way to find his true self.

• • •

The next night when the coterie wake, Nocturna comes to them in a state of great upset, with word comes of a terrible crime. Horatia Vera, head of the Augurs since Septimus Aurelius was mysteriously consumed by flames, has been destroyed in a suicide attack by a Mek’het assassin who set himself ablaze in her quarters while she slept, perhaps using some blood sorcery to stay awake into the daylit hours when most Kindred must rest no matter how far underground they are sheltered from Sol Invictus.

Gaius speaks to Bassianus about calling Hostilinus before a meeting of the Senex, to answer for this crime. He asks that a solid Legio presence be visible, as passions are running high, and the Lance is attracting more power than anyone outside their ranks is comfortable with.

The Senex meeting is well attended, with seemingly everyone who is anyone in the Necropolis in attendance. The Gagliauda matter was a mere curiosity to most of the Propinquii, but Vera’s destruction is an attack on the very foundations of the Camarilla.

The debate is, in a word, fiery. Gaius makes use of clever and incisive rhetoric, swaying the crowd to him. Pestilens makes a serious miscalculation as to how to best affect listeners, relying on bible quotes, and dismissing Gaius as a brash neonate foolishly treading on ground he cannot possibly fathom. Gaius clearly carries the day, although not to the extent that Pestilens is actually found guilty.

As the event wraps, Gaius is largely celebrated, but has an odd confrontation with a soldier who offers him faint praise, essentially telling him he was very impressive for one so young and inexperienced.

As various causes of unease swirl, the party approaches, promising a diversion from these cares, if only for one night.

The coterie go to their various havens, whether in the luxury of Corbullo’s palace or an anonymous blood-spattered patch of earth. Far above the Necropolis, in the skies about Rome, the haunting cries of owls pierce the night.

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336 A.D. The Sins of the Father, the Sins of the Childe

The shadows and the flesh were now transfixt
With the innocents, their blood the monsters mixt
Childer like the seed from which they sprung, accurst
Who against the Gods immortal hatred nurst
An impious, arrogant, and cruel brood
The sire’s sin expressed within the blood
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

The group brings the torpid body of Gagliauda to the Augurs, but she disintegrates into pestilent slime before any examination can be performed. By quick thinking, Violea saves her necklace. Augurs determine that somehow the necklace may have protected her from this fate til now, or slowed it, so Taurus takes it to wear in case it may help him as well.

Later, Corbullo surprises Taurus at the Vesuvius, and in the course of a debauched celebration feeds on Marcus (Taurus’s son). Immediately overcome with some strange affliction, Corbullo is carried home by slaves, weak and almost unconscious.

Marcus is as confused as anyone else, and terrified. The coterie discuss how he seems to be strangely attractive to Julii, and he needs to be cautious of his appeal to them, try not to attract undue attention.

A few nights later, Corbullo remains listless, won’t eat, though if fed he gains some nourishment. Horatia Vera, the new head of the Augurs, is still unsure how this happened, and ask Taurus to watch over him and manage his affairs.

• • •

Violea visits her family, is surprised to have Mio appear out of the shadows, back from her journeys. She tells Violea that her trip to Egypt yielded both earthly and supernatural news. She makes to leave, but Violea asks for at least the broad details, well aware that any of them might meet their end any time. Mio tells her that a storm is coming, all are in danger, she is trying to find out more about how and when. In the mortal realm, Constantine, alarmed by Crispus’s treasonous intentions, has decided to name seven co-heirs to the empire so that no one individual has motive to kill him before his time, though that time seems to be drawing near as he is old and sick.

They make plans to meet later, Violea visits the family, learns that Beatrix is pregnant with her third child—her first ghoul baby (not that she knows what that is, but Violea does). Tells her to ask Fausta for advice.

Also, checks in with Freya, the barbarian woman, gets the inspiration to have a truly risqué new show at the Camera Obscura with her trio of barbarians.

Back at the Obscura, one of the young boys she’s planted in Drusilla’s house seeks her, to tell her he’s observed Drusilla and Victrix arguing, Victrix saying something (he couldn’t quite get close enough to hear) about how one cannot serve two masters, and to not forget who the real gods are.

Meanwhile, Comitor has asked what might be planned for the 336 Decade party (the third of these celebrations of the 2,000-year prophesy). Violea has an idea about perilous obstacle courses, some suggest a flaming chariot race. No more hand-to-hand combat for some time, that’s grown tired.

She looks forward to using this opportunity to subtly question Victrix when she recruits her for the party, to try and find out what’s going on between her and Drusilla.

• • •

Gaius checks on the family as well, is surprised to see the Black Cat, clearly the same animal but looking different somehow, its body not quite the same. It speaks with him further, urges him to stop chasing humanity in himself, to embrace the Beast (though neither of them use that language to describe it).

Later, he speaks with Crispus, who also has heard of the seven heir plan, and says that he knows that whichever of his half-brothers, cousins, or nephews (who make up the seven) makes it back to Byzantium first upon his father’s death will no doubt put the rest to the sword. He and Gaius discuss his maybe going back there to serve as a shadow power behind the throne, whoever may end up taking it.

Julia Sabina summons Gaius, asks him to gain access to the library of Minerva, and to let her know what it contains that her library does not. He’d planned to get such access anyway, but now he knows that she knows and is watching, if benevolently.

He meets Gaudens at the temple, is shown to an underground sanctum, both library and sacred vault of some sort. On a dais is an ancient amphora that seems to contain blood, mingled and uncoagulated, apparently the source of the Aves’ magic.

Gaudens tells him that his daughter was to have been the next priestess of the blood, before Gagliauda corrupted her, leading to the events that caused Gaudens to be forced to end her. Now, without a priestess, they are in danger of losing their magic, and without a guardian of the temple, even of losing their entire organization. Gaius says he may know a young couple who could fill those roles; they part on wary but hopeful terms.

• • •

The next night, Albertus meets the group at the Amphora, and informs them that he’s learned that some of Gagliauda’s followers are still afoot, attempting to spread her word (some may not know she has been ended, as it seems she was in the habit of binding many men to her will, but not fully ghouling them). He confirms that she was serving the Sanctified cause in some way, and adds that the more he listens, he has to admit they do seem to be awfully wise at times. Gaius looks sharply at him, and he demurs some—most are crazy, of course, but some seem to have some interesting knowledge, that’s all.

He tells them to look out for a cenobite by the name of Matthius; Gaius has already been solicited once for God that evening (which ended in debauchery for the missionary and a wanton state for Gaius), and recalls having heard another preaching nearby.

The coterie investigates, and is identified by the cenobite as monsters. After a brief struggle, they subdue him (not difficult as he is frail, and has been torturing his own flesh). It seems briefly that the crowd may riot, but Gaius faces them down, with some injury to both himself and (much more severely) a rowdy individual.

After some interrogation, they learn little except that the cenobite is in love with Gagliauda and sees her as an angel of mercy, of pox and vengeance. Her mission is to torment and afflict mankind, to allow the pure to triumph. It’s a confusing, rambling message, the kind of irrational logic only the true faithful can follow.

They learn that, as suspected, she is a relative neonate, sent out to ravage the world by her sire, who rescued her from a life of prostitution. This mysterious sire had intended to feed upon her and punish her as he would any mortal sinner, but her devout belief in God, despite her profane life, swayed him and he decided instead to make her an instrument of his scourging faith. They ask about this sire, but learn only of how the cenobite was jealous of their pure love, how she spoke of gazing into the pools of his soul. Gaius asks . . . “black, bottomless pools, perhaps?” but is not given a satisfactory answer.

Finally, convinced this pathetic creature knows no more, they allow him to end himself as the night draws to a close.

View
336 A.D. Paterfamilias

She takes her staff, hung round with wreaths of thorn,
And sails along, in a black whirlwind born,
And the fields and flow’ry meadows o’er which she steers
In her baneful wake, a mighty blast appears,
Mildews and blights; the meadows are defac’d
The fields, the flow’rs, and the whole years laid waste
On mortals next, and peopled towns she falls
And breathes a burning plague among their walls.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

This past decade has been largely good to the coterie and their associates, if marked with court intrigue, potential death or torpor at every turn, and a few impenetrably malevolent acts of sorcery. Business as usual, in other words.

Violea’s establishments are thriving. Still, she remains constantly on guard (and guarded) against underhanded moves by Drusilla. To date, her former (?) nemesis has made no overt moves against her. So, either the centuries-old Daeva has mended her ways or she’s too clever to be caught. Violea continues to seed Drusilla’s household with spies, generally in the form of delectable young boys. So far, she’s garnered some interesting information, but nothing truly damning. As it were.

Meanwhile, her husband Marcus has grown (with guidance from her shadowy hand) into a powerful senior senator. There is some talk of him being sent to assist the current Prefect of Aegypt, who is seen as weak and out of touch with the modern era. Political gossips wonder how nervous the old Prefect is about the nature of this “assistance.” Or how nervous he should be.

• • •

A short distance away, Beatrix and Lucius have spent 10 happy years in the Marii home. A home which is becoming more and more of a family compound as Nasso and Gaius buy up neighboring properties and expand outwards, gardens and structures surrounded by walls that are wreathed with thorns almost as soon as they’re constructed. The younger couple has two children, a boy and a girl, while Fausta and Nasso have three girls. Gaius has brought Nasso into his ghoul family.

He has gotten used to seeing the black cat around the family home from time to time and has decided that for now it poses no threat, strange and perhaps Strix-kissed though it may be, as well as larger, more powerful, and somehow ineffably different than any other feline he’s ever seen. And not just when those yellow eyes flash in the firelight.

Gaius’s has had some exchanges with the beast, trying to understand its motivations. His use of animalism has to date been limited to simple commands and inquiries (“Guard the boy.” “Has anyone entered this gate today?”) and he quickly discovers that extended conversations with the mind of another species are frustrating at best, incomprehensible at worst. Though he also senses the Cat’s thought processes . From these exchanges, he’s gleaned that the Cat noticed him one day and immediately felt a bond, as though they shared some essential nature. Neither of the two have the terms to describe it, but the Cat is dream to his Beast, and considers his attempts at greater humanity or to suppress the Beast ridiculous, even offensive. One night, in a rare effort at abstract imagery, the Cat tries to communicate what’s wrong with Gaius’s thinking, saying (rough translation from cat) “Cat wants to swipe, to scratch, to kill, cat reaches out with claws, with paw. Paw is cat. Cat is weapon. Stupid dog fetches stick, stick is not dog. Stupid man has sword, sword is not man. Claws are you, body is weapon, you are death. Paw is strong. You are paw.”

That doesn’t clarify much for Gaius, except that talking philosophy with cats is almost as confusing as it is with Greeks.

• • •

Over the years, Tiberius has continued to seek a cure for his condition, with the assistance of the Augurs. They have looked into rumors, hints, tales of rogue blood sorcery, and other possible leads, but so far nothing much has come of it. Luckily, the “specialty menu” at Violea’s dining palace can take care of his feeding needs quite frequently, although he’s careful to use t sparingly. So far, no one outside of his close circle or a few trusted Augurs knows of his curse, and he intends to keep it that way.

His son, Marcus, is 13, and just beginning to show the big, powerful man he will likely become. Locals call him Vesuvio which would imply a temper but in fact he’s slow to anger and quick to charm. This is no doubt die in some part to having been raised by a house full of doting women, but that can’ explain the mysterious ability he has to charm the highest ranks of the Senex without even trying. Not all feel his allure, but Comitor, Julia Sabina, and even Corbullo have been enchanted by him since he was a small baby.

Taurus daydreams sometimes of embracing both Marcus and Gallix when the time is right, if his condition is ever cured. He curses himself for a the moment of foolish desire in that alleyway all those years ago that infected him. And laughs to himself—he’s not the only man in Rome to have that thought, possibly the only Kindred.
• • •

This night’s story begins when Taurus drops by the Vesuvius to get an update on business form Callipygia. She informs him of a few unnerving events, possibly unrelated, although her street sense tells her otherwise.

She asks Taurus if her remembers Claudius Vitalia, a fixture for 20 or so years in the red-candle district. A pimp and procurer specializing in tending to the needs of slumming patricians, he was reputed to ne utterly discrete, and to treat his girls well. Then a few weeks ago he apparently fell in with the new fish cult, and began haranguing people in the street—paying customers!—abut sin and redemption, and warning of the coming storm of God’s vengeance.

A few weeks later, the killings began. All the victims were his former regulars, but this didn’t stand out at first, as most had seen other girls and boys as well. Even worse, their wives a and children were often killed as well, cryptic notes about fornicators and tainted blood scrawled on the walls of the scene.

At first no one suspected Vitalius—he’d gone religious, but that was the trend these days, not a warning sign. Then his madness accelerated; he began accosting strangers, claiming to be pursed by owls who sought not only his death but also that of his beloved Lady. Not long after, he was found with his throat cut.

A week later, a new girl appeared in his old territory. Other streetwalkers said she seemed reckless, taking customers they warned her were dangerous or stingy and seemingly working al night every night from sundown to sunset with a feverish intensity. She too seemed obsessed with owls, but in this case giggled about how she’d show them a good time when they arrived. One in particular.

Soon thereafter, the pox began afflicting unprecedented numbers of clients and whores alike.

Cal says perhaps these things—the murders, the crazy girl, the plague—are unrelated. But that’s not what her thrall-enhanced this mystery might end up harming the Vesuvius in some way. Taurus agrees to look into it, and Cal tells him the only other thing she knows that might be helpful is the girl had been seen taking client to an insula nearby that was empty, decrepit, awaiting demolition.

• • •

The group meets at the Amphora and thence to the insula. One by one they check out the floors, finding nothing until the fourth level where they discover a room that has obviously been occupied, to use that term loosely. A few pots of makeup . . . and a pile of ashes. Violea takes a sample for the Augurs to look at later.

Suddenly, they hear crackling, smell smoke. Dashing to the landing they confirm their worst fear—the insula has become an inferno. They pause to evaluate options—jump out the window and risk the physical damage? Dash though the flames to the ground floor (just thinking this almost trigger fear frenzy), or head for the roof and hoping to jump to another building. Their discussion is interrupted by a loud, commanding voice. Flavius Gaudens of the Birds of Minerva announces himself, and states that they will pay for their crimes, not the least of which being the corruption and death of his daughter.

The coterie break for the roof, only to find the entrance warded with a blood magic Nocturna has never seen and his partner have warded the doors with blood magic, but the coterie is able to break through. Gaius shows him the emblem of Minerva on his own shield, and demands a fair hearing in the name if the Goddess.

After a rushed conversation, Gaudens is persuaded that he might have the wrong Kindred and, while he’s not happy about the whole situation, agrees to help them escape the fire if they help him. As they already suspect his daughter’s case may be part of a larger threat—and needing his help to escape the fire—they agree.

• • •

The next night, Gaudens, who tells them about the Birds of Minerva. Once a powerful underground brotherhood dedicated to the eradication of all manner of supernatural monsters, they thrived on Minerva’s patronage and drew from the be of her followers. With the new god on the ascendance, followers of the Owl do as well.. (Gaius warns him to avoid using that term, despite it being the emblem of their shared patroness).

The Order maintains a massive library of works on occult hidden beneath the Temple of Minerva. Through research and dedication, they have learned some powerful blood magic of a sort unassociated with the Theban Sorcery or the Veneficia. Each carries with him a vial of his own blood to conjure up wardings, fix a quarry in place, run more swiftly, and so on.

Gaius asks that Gaudens consider him a Roman first and a monster second.
to serving the same goddess and the same nation.

• • •

As soon as the group leaves the Amphora they are accosted by a “special legion” of Roman soldiers, claiming to serve the Vicar of Rome and to be above the quotidian law of the Legion. They threaten the coterie with arrest, and claim they need no reason. The leader, Paul, also speaks somewhat incongruously of his Lady, and how if she wishes them dead, then die they must. When he speaks of her, his voice betrays his blood-bound fervor. After a scuffle, Gaius challenges them. We have nothing to fear, he says. Take us to this Lady if yours.

Paul leads them through the Suburra, stopping finally at a building even more decrepit than the one they so recently escaped except for tattered silk hangings, and smashed crockery, it smells of perfume, incense, dust . . . with a rotten, almost putrid scent pervading all.

In a once-grand chamber where the Lady Gagliauda waits. Practically a textbook example of the Roman idea—full hips, shapely breasts, aquiline profile and noble bearing—only her fair hair and pale eyes betray her Northern birth. She lounges petulantly on a tattered brocade chaise, a retainer hovering nearby.

The faint smell of corruption in the air intensifies as they approach.

She regards Taurus with surprise and curiosity. She alludes to his cursed condition, but refers to it as a gift, and praises him for bearing it even if he does not use it properly. Her comments are oblique enough that it’s not entirely clear whether she knows what he is, let alone how he got that way.

Gaius’s demand for answers reveal Gagliauda to be petty, self-centered, and stubborn with a disdain for humanity that seems at odds with her apparent neonate stats. As the story unfolds (with my eye rolling and annoyance that they possibly care about such trivial things), it seems she’d enthralled the pimp to help her punish the sinners of Rome. When Gaudens killed that murderous thrall, whom she’d been grooming for greater acts, she took a perversely creative vengeance. She had his only daughter kidnapped and tortured in what she calls delightfully inventive ways, and when her mind broke, Gagliauda herself embraced the girl and turned her loose as a monster, a whore, and a bringer of pox and vengeance. The girl’s first mission was to find and seduce her father,, killing him if need be. It was a shock that Gaudens resisted and killed his daughter instead, so she needed him eliminated. Her sire suggested that framing the coterie for the crimes would be beneficial to hi as well, which set the plan in action.

They decide to take her to the Senex for judgment, hoping in then process to also wound Hostilinus, whom they suspect of being that sire. The ensuing combat ends with her servants dead and the Lady herself in torpor. When Nocturna tries to gain some insight from examining her, she staggers back, filled with images of rot and disease, as thought the Lady is a miasma of corruption wearing a thin skin of beauty. Indeed, when Gaius pulls his sword from the body, it shows not Vitae, but a foul black fluid.

View
326 A.D. – 336 A.D. Tempus Fugit

Ten Years Pass

327 AD: The Emperor has Fausta, Crispus’s stepmother, strangled as soon as her baby is born. The baby survives, as do rumors about its parentage. A thorough campaign ensues to erase Crispus from history—statues tumbled, documents burned, tablets smashed. As reports of this reach the Necropolis, Crispus is alternately outraged and indifferent, secure that his day will come. As he says to Gaius, “It’s easier to re-carve a statue than to reattach a head.”

Naso and Fausta have their first child, a girl. Gaius has already enthralled Naso, so this child is born into what is now a proper ghoul family.

Beatrix and Lucius have their first child, a blessedly normal girl.

328 AD Tiberius is forced to admit to himself that Spurius and Callipygia get sick more than any ghoul should, certainly more than they did before he got this accursed condition. To his relief, Roundheadicus seems unaffected. He makes a bargain with Nocturna. If she spends the Vitae to maintain his ghouls, he will support the Temple generously, and take on official status as a member (although a low level one, not to have the mysteries revealed to him.)

329 AD Drusilla and Violea’s restaurant, which Drusilla has suggested naming Sanguine innocentium, begins as an avant garde novelty, but as the years pass, it becomes trendy for Kindred of a certain class to disdain hunting for every meal as so very old-fashioned. Feeding on docile vessels selected for their combination of beauty, health, and spirit seems so much more civilized. Of course, there are always those patrons who want to order something a little more exotic . . .

330 A.D.: Although aging, the Emperor Constantine leads victorious expansion against the Goths, and starts considering an invasion of Persia.

Naso and Fausta have their second child, another girl born with ghoul traits.

Marcus turns 8, surrounded by all of his doting “aunties” at the Vesuvius. Nocturna and Tiberius lavish gifts and attention on him like a little prince, the rest of the coterie try to be polite. Except for Mio, who’s never mastered that trick. Comitor and Julia Sabina send slaves with little trinkets for the lad, and Corbullo sends a basket filled with decadent pastries. Gaius grabs the basket and throws it into the fire, prompting tears of outrage from Marcus and a pitying shake of the head from Tiberius. Poor Gaius. So paranoid. Uncle Corbullo would never hurt his little family!

331 A.D.: In the middle of a ceremony at the Temple of the Augurs, Septimus Aurelius Maxentius is consumed by a pillar of flame. Panic ensues, provoking a riot in the Necropolis. In the weeks and months that follow, dozens of allegations of forbidden sorcery are brought to the Legion’s attention, nearly all of them naming the Lancea, but nothing is ever proved conclusively. Hostilinus does not gloat, but nor does he express concern.

Horatia Vera, the Vaticinator named as second in command at the last Decade Party assumes control of the Cult of Augurs.

Beatrix and Lucius have their second child, a girl.

332 AD: Schisms in the Lancea cause in-fighting, some of which spills over into rioting; 7 Propinquii meet final death in the violence. Calls to have the Lancea banned are raised in the Senex, but even Gaius’s most impassioned arguments cannot win the day.

333 AD: After a difficult pregnancy, Fausta bears twin boys, seen as a good omen by most, except the elderly and superstitious who mutter about Rome not being kind to twins.

335 AD: The Lancea establishes their first true church, The Black Abbey, beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. In a public augury, Horatia Vera predicts that it will burn within 5 years. Hostilinus counters that, in fact, it is she who will burn.

Reports abound of birds flying at night, of mortals behaving erratically before dropping dead, even of low-level members of the Propinquii mysteriously vanishing, perhaps to meet final death. And there are whispers of some new scourge, tainted Kindred who intentionally infect mortals as a judgment for their sins.

Troubling times. And it is in these times that we rejoin the coterie.

View
326 A.D., A Formal Arrangement

A rivalry exacts a price most dear
A challenge met with pain and fear
Triumph, cruel rival, and display
Your conqu’ring standard; for you’ve won the day.
Yet I’ll excel; for yet, tho’ again
Superior still in spirit I remain.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Gaius accompanies Crispus to the spot where his men have camped just outside the city. Protasius, the agens in rebus faithful to the emperor, is suspicious something is up, although not to the point that he’s secure in challenging the emperor’s favorite son. Only one of the men, an officer named Valerius, was fully aware of Crispus’s treasonous plans, and Crispus has him remain in Rome, while ordering the rest to return to the court in Byzantium.

Gaius is otherwise occupied with assisting in wedding planning, nurturing his thralls, and attempting to educate Crispus in both Kindred survival skills and Camarilla politics, as the neonate’s abrasive personality and enormous sense of entitlement have not made him popular.

• • •

Tiberius grows frustrated that no cures for his mysterious condition is forthcoming, although the number of disease victims in Rome makes it less burdensome than it would be in other times and places. Flaviana tells him that her divinations strongly suggest that he is not alone in his suffering, but the gods are annoyingly (if not uncharacteristically) unclear on what can be done. Intrigued, she assures him she’ll keep investigating this mystery, but warns him again not to feed upon or otherwise share vital fluids with anyone he cares about.

• • •

Comitor asks Violea’s assistance in planning an entertainment for the coming Decade party, as well as suggesting that the elite of the Propinquii have an exclusive gathering at the Camera Obscura the night before.

She also asks about the upcoming wedding, and shares her belief that, contrary to what many Kindred believe, maintaining an association with the mortal world is a healthy thing, although admittedly a difficult one.

• • •

To that end, the wedding goes almost perfectly. The only unexpected occurrence is the appearance—subtly, slowly, one by one—of a number of Kindred elders on the ceremonial walk from Violea’s family home to Lucius’s home. Only those who can pass as not only mortal but patrician (at least to the casual observer) show up—Comitor, Drusilla, Julia Sabina. Comitor and Sabina both comment on Marcus, Tiberius’s son, lavishing him with attention. Drusilla is somewhere between baffled and horrified at Comitor’s behavior. Certain of the Camarilla just seem to dote on the child.

As the young couple is ushered into the marital bed with the requisite ribald jokes and shouted advice, the party winds down and Gaius and the coterie go to leave before sunrise.

At the threshhold Mio stops, disconcerted, as the black cat streaks past the door. She wants to follow it, sure there’s something deeply wrong with the animal, but Gaius stops her. He has her wait around the corner while he follows the cat. He talks with it and leaves still uncertain what it is, but has ascertained that it appears to admire him, to find him impressive in some way, drawn to the Beast in him. He decides that it seems safe to leave it be, though cautiously.

• • •

A few nights later, the Camera Obscura hosts a most exclusive gathering of the leading members of Kindred society. Drusilla challenges Violea’s status, and is once again pushed back. Comitor takes Violea aside, saying of Drusilla that she is a petty and jealous person, and always has been, for centuries now. And that she is clearly afraid of being displaced by a Daeva rival who is not only beautiful and clever, but more at home in this modern world. Violea asks for advice in handling the situation, and Comitor suggests they manufacture a way for Drusilla to get involved in this mysterious new world of commerce. They decide on a venture that provides bespoke blood-dolls for discerning Propinquii. A fancy restaurant, in essence.

• • •

The Decade party is a smashing success. Septimus Aurelius himself performs the invocation, repeating his divination of the Camarilla’s two thousand year reign. During the party he annoucnes that Flaviana has decided to take a less active role in the Augurs, to dedicate herself more fully to the Goddess Cybele, as a ward against the growing power of the new church. He names Horatia Vera, a respected member of the Cult as his second, fully authorized to speak for and to the gods should he be otherwise occupied.

Tiberius and Victrix stage an exhibition fight that recreates the founding of Rome, and Tiberius comes achingly close to finally winning . . . but is bested at the end, taking on the role of Remus. Violea has arranged for a small child wrapped in smoky fabric to play the role of the Striges offering him eternal life, but Corbullo leaps on stage and usurps the spotlight, declaring himself a delicious font of evil. There is a moment of terror in which Tiberius fears that he cannot be nourished by untainted Kindred Vitae, but then the familiar rush floods through him and he rises, now further bound.

• • •

The next night, Drusilla, Violea, and Comitor meet to discuss the new venture. Drusilla is stand-offish at first, clearly there because desire her age and power, she’s still required by custom and self-preservation to defer to Comitor. However, she warms to the idea and clearly sees the potential advantages, and the benefit of at least temporarily playing nice. It’s not a role she’s accustomed to playing, but at least for now, avarice and ambition have their day. Or night.

View
326 A.D., Owls Come Home to Roost

Then bounding upwards now the wraith has sprung
And in mid air on hov’ring pinions hung
His shadow quickly floated on the main
The monster could not his wild rage restrain
As when night’s bird scoops down and bears away
Its helpless meal, its vainly hissing prey.
—Ovid, The Metamophoses

As the new night falls, the coterie are forced to face the results of their actions. Gaius brings Crispus to the Temple, and demands to know what the Senex has gotten him into. It transpires that Crispus was in Rome undercover, and Flaviana was certain that if he was not embraced by someone loyal to the established order, then he would have ended up serving the Lancea, and only further cementing the ties between the Emperor and the new Church. With the heir apparent now beholden to the Camarilla, this unfortunate outcome is avoided. Gaius is not exactly pleased to have been part of this charade, but allows that he was not actually lied to, and that had Hostilinus embraced the prince, it would likely have been for the worse.

Flaviana also lets the group know that Victrix returned with her own tale of being pursued through the city by corpses strangely reanimated. Apparently, when the fight began in the caupona, Victrix’s eye was caught by something suspicious outside, and when she went to investigate, she was set upon by these creatures. As Flaviana points out, Victrix is not easily frightened, and if these things unnerved her enough to have her abandon the group, that’s a rather terrifying concept.

The simple fact is, no one can now deny that the Yellow Eyes have returned to Rome, but no one is any the wiser as to why or how this has happened, or what it means in a larger sense.

Crispus remains officious, unpleasant, and rather unclear on his low status as a neonate. It also appears he’s likely hiding something about his reason for being in Rome. Gaius leaves him in the care of the Temple in order to tend to his own matters.

• • •

Meanwhile, Spurius lets the coterie know that a strange man has been looking for them or, at least, inquiring around about a group of people who certainly sound like them. When they connect with him, it’s Gervasius, one of the men who had been playing dice with Crispus the night before. He implies that he knows what’s going on, and what the coterie are, and says he’s seen the letter.

When they bring him to the temple, a cascade of misunderstandings is unveiled. In fact, he’d found a letter from Cripus’s stepmother, the Empress, with whom he’d been having an affair, urging him to gather forces in Rome and overthrow his father. Gervasius believed the coterie to be his treasonous connections, and in fact was unaware of any of the other factors.

Gaius and Crispus discuss what to do, especially as Crispus’s men will start tearing up the city if he doesn’t return. Crispus still thinks he might return to Constantinople as though none of this had happened.

• • •

Meanwhile, Tiberius has had a chance to follow up on the experiment with his condition. It does appear that the old woman he fed upon, although her undiseased blood did not nourish him, is now showing signs of plague, raising the concern that he might be a carrier of disease. Flaviana cautions him not to feed from anyone he cares about.

Otherwise, his unlife is going surprisingly well, particularly as everyone remarks on his son and how much he resembles his father. The girls joke about sewing him a tiny little suit of leather armor, and Tiberius wonders how early is too early to start training a child to fight.

• • •

Violea’s husband has managed to consolidate some power as a result of helping out the right Egyptians at the Council of Nicea, and has been named tribune in charge of investigating issues in the grain supply. He wonders aloud at the possibility of visiting Thebes, and whether that might be good for his career. She wonders whether it would be wise to let him out of her sight, but also relishes a little peace from his constant neediness.

That night, Comitor also summons Violea, to talk about plans for the upcoming Decade party, celebrating the prophesy that the Camarilla will last 2,000 years. She asks for help in scheduling, and Violea manages to steer her away from the night of Beatrix’s wedding, suggesting that the New Moon is an auspicious sign for the newly risen. There is also some talk of the Camera Obscura hosting an exclusive pre-party for the Necropolis’s elite.

Violea also begins her plans to purchase a slave who can serve as an informer in Drusilla’s herd. And, to her surprise, learns in her supernatural inquiries that Victrix is the person Drusilla would be likely to turn to in a crisis.

• • •

As wedding planning intensifies, Gaius visits to share some wine with the family, and interrogate his various informants (Felix, Vigilius, the tree). None of them seem comfortable with the black cat, but none really know why. As he leaves the house, he encounters the cat, and tries to have a conversation with it. It seems standoffish and uncooperative . . . almost as though it were a cat. He tries to see its eyes in the light, and they do appear yellow . . . like the eyes of a cat.

Unsatisfied and uncertain, he heads back toward the Necropolis, where the next night the matter of Crispus’s men will need to be addressed.

Overhead, wings beat and an owl’s cry can be heard.

View
326 A.D., Tainted Victories

“I cannot, cannot bear; ‘tis past, ’tis done
Perish this impious, this detested son
Perish his sire, and perish I withal
And let the house’s heir, and kingdom fall.”
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Three years have passed . . .

Gaius has spent the time studying rhetoric, and also trying to learn everything he can about the yellow-eyed creatures.

Violea has had great success with her club, and has been able to devote her spare time to investigating Drusilla, developing her supernatural ability to divine truths with the goal of determining why the ancient Daeva has taken such a dislike to her, and how to triumph over her.

Tiberius still battles his strange condition, nourished only by the blood of the diseased, and continues working with Flaviana to try and understand it and cure himself.

Nocturna continues her education in the Veneficia, growing in power and gaining some measure of status amongst the Augurs.

• • •

This chapter of our story begins with Gaius awakening and checking the cella of Minerva as he does every night. He finds a note from Albertus, asking to meet. When they speak, Albertus warns that there are murmurings in the Collegia of some new coup planned by the Lancea, this time by forces better prepared than Silberic’s unruly horde. He’s not sure what the event will be, but it’s said it will happen at the next major meeting of the Senex. Gaius resolves to alert the Legio and be sure soldiers are there in force.

In addition, Albertus has spoken with some Gangrel soldiers recently returned from the North, and has learned a bit more about the Yellow Eyes. It seems they, like Kindred, vary in power. The most powerful can take over a mortal at will, but most can only inhabit a dead body, and to take over a body of the Propinquii, that vampire must be in torpor.

• • •

Meanwhile, Violea does a bit of investigation, determining that Drusilla maintains a small herd for feeding, refreshed regularly, since her tastes run to young Syrian boys who are either drained completely or set free once they age out of her interest. Violea is not quite sure how this information will be useful, but she files it away in her mind to be added to as she comes up with a fuller picture of her nemesis.

• • •

Tiberius visits his now-toddler son, and as ever is amazed at how charmed he is by this child. He had never wanted to be a father, and was horrified when it happened, but now that everyone talks about how much his son looks and acts just like Daddy, he’s coming around.

Going on to the Temple, he discusses an experiment with Flaviana. He knows that he can only feed upon the diseased, but is he also a carrier of diseases? They have Eupraxis obtain for them an elderly woman who is disease free, and he feeds on her. The Augurs will now keep her isolated, and see what happens.

• • •

A few nights later, at the monthly gathering of the Senex, Gaius and the Legio wait patiently if apprehensively for any signs of trouble. All seems to be going normally—the usual appeals for the right to sire childer, petitions for feeding grounds, and so on. As the meeting wraps up, Octavius asks if anyone has any further business. At that, Thassius Hostilinus, called Pestilens, strides to the dais, and begins dramatically, announcing “The Camarilla is dead.”

He goes on to present what will come to be known as “The Sanctified Manifesto,” damning the already damned, and predicting that the Camarilla will end in flames within a century despite the 2,000-year promise divined by Septimus Aurelius, head of the Augurs. A debate ensues, with Pestilens joined by Rhetrix and Noah (a neonate martyr of the Lancea) and Octavius supported by Corbullo and—at a nod from Bassianus—by Gaius.

The debate progresses quickly, with Pestilens insulting the Augurs with not-so-veiled references to the Whore of Babylon, and comparing himself to a modern-day prophet Elijah, calling down fire on the mountain. Gaius’s first arguments go down well, but his closing statement does not connect with the crowd. However, his rhetoric sets up a strong closing argument by Octavius, which wins the day.

After the formal debate, Gaius has a brief but intense face-off with Pestilens which ends with the Lancea leader stalking off contemptuously. Rhetrix then challenges the Gangrel’s Beast, only to flee the room when it lashes out.

• • •

The next night, Victrix unexpectedly shows up at the Amphora, carrying a message from Flaviana. The message, addressed to Gaius, congratulates him on his role in the debate, and says that the Senex has decided to reward him by granting him the right to create a childe. However, it must be a specific man, whom she identifies as one Flavius, currently staying at a nearby caupona. She finishes by saying that Victrix does not know the contents of this message, but can be trusted to return with his reply. With a healthy suspicion, he tells Victrix that he needs to speak to Flaviana before making up his mind. She tells him time is of the essence, and offers to walk with him back to the Temple. He says no, he needs to do something first, but to let Flaviana know he’ll be there shortly.

Gaius, trailed stealthily by Tiberius, heads to the caupona to see if he can figure out what’s going on. They see a man in his 20s, with a soldier’s build, wearing plain but very expensive clothing, playing dice with a couple of men in unassuming travel garb. A worn-looking but clearly once-beautiful older woman in skimpy clothing is hanging off his arm. At the bar, two heavily muscled watchers try unsuccessfully to look like unrelated bystanders.

Having discerned what he could without revealing himself to this group, Gaius heads to the temple where, after no small amount of discussion, Flaviana tells him that this is a very important person, and that his being Embraced will be to the greater glory of the true Gods, and a rebuke to the Lancea, who also wish to influence him. She dodges questions about the man’s identity, but stresses again the important of reaching him quickly.

With that information, Gaius decides to at least investigate. The coterie head to the caupona, accompanied by Victrix as additional backup. Gaius sits down to play dice with the group, initially winning but then slowly losing to Flavius, who turns out to be an avid gambler and a sore loser. Attempts to get his dicing companions to drink are for naught, clearly they’re the second line of protection for this Flavius.

Gaius tricks Flavius into coming upstairs with him to collect his winnings. Meanwhile Tiberius dominates the hired muscle into fighting each other, while Violea and Nocturna deflect the other minders, who do not want Flavius to leave the room unaccompanied, charming them into sitting down to “teach the ladies dice.”

At some point, Nocturna notices Victrix apparently see something interesting or alarming outside, and dash out the door after it, but everyone is too preoccupied to think much of this.

• • •

Gaius gets Flavius upstairs and immediately embraces him, giving him no time to fight. The prostitute who’d been clinging to him earlier comes to investigate and Flavius feeds on her, mumbling something about how exciting she is, because she reminds him of his mother.

The group exits the caupona quickly, and heads for the Necropolis. Overhead, there’s the sound of wings beating, and the cry of an owl. Maybe several.

As the group approaches the nearest entrance to the Necropolis, the recalcitrant and suspicious neonate Flavius arguing with them about needing to see to his men, something eerie occurs. A young woman, dressed as a streetwalker, approaches, her head held at an unnerving angle, as though her neck were broken. She calls out “Crispus . . . Crispus my love . . . come to me.”

Seeing the coterie’s confusion, she laughs a somehow terrifying laugh, and informs them that “Flavius” is actually Flavius Julius Crispus Germanicus Maximus, the Emperor Constantine’s favorite son and designated heir. Gaius carefully lights his ever-present torch, and her eyes flash yellow.

With dawn approaching dangerously fast, two of her compatriots appear, eyes yellow in the torchlight, and a fight ensues. The coterie win, perhaps largely because the yellow-eyed creatures seem likely to abandon a body once it’s too injured, flowing away in an owl-shaped cloud of smoke.

The group makes it to safety underground, and Gaius find Crispus a place to sleep in the Legio’s quarter, sinking himself into the ground nearby. Everyone slips into daytime sleep, dreading what the next night will bring.

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