Nights of the Camarilla

323 A.D. Blood In, Blood Out

The hapless group with wild thoughts was fired
And madness, by a thousand ways inspired
‘Tis true, th’ unwounded body still was sound
But ‘twas the soul which felt the deadly wound
Nor did th’ unsated monster here give o’er
But dealt of plagues a fresh, unnumber’d store.
Each baneful juice too well we understood
The terrible price of monster’s blood
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

The coterie gathers to search for the Fons Ater, the perhaps mythical cave that the ill-fated Cunctator was certain lay at the root of his troubles (of course, it seems that he had a constantly changing list of things that were blamed for his troubles.)

Following the directions indicated by the Vermes and by Julia Sabina’s books, they move into older and less well maintained corridors under the Esquiline hill, following little more than instinct and a vague sense of growing power. While only Mio and Nocturna have any real occult sense (although Tiberius feels the stolen Auspex thrumming in his blood), all can feel a sense of supernatural discomfort, as though in the presence of something even more wrong than their own monstrous existence.

A close look makes it clear that these tunnels, while clearly ancient, do not come by their air of disuse honestly. Footprints have been erased and dust kicked up to obscure passage by some—how many and how recently is not clear. Rounding a corner, the group sees a strange black panel in the wall. On close inspection it is engraved with a panoply of horrors, images of every grotesquerie that might horrify a mortal or Kindred—babies being decapitated, Kindred burnt alive, rape, torture. The images seem to have been carved over many centuries, some seeming almost Etruscan.

Gaius goes to test the panel with a knife, and it swings outward, revealing a narrow chamber, and another door bound to it with massive chains. Upon investigation the engineering becomes clear: one door swings open automatically closing another, so that whatever lies beyond is never exposed to the outside world. Tiberius, being foolhardy in general and knowing secretly that he possesses Auspex, volunteers to investigate what lies behind the second door.

Once through the small intermediary chamber, he enters one that is truly, profoundly dark. With his new ill-gotten sense, he sees a natural cave with a spring running through it, creating two deep pools. The cave’s walls are rugged, with hundreds of natural or carved niches, seemingly filled with artifacts of some sort. He returns to the main tunnel, proving the doors safe to use, and the entire group enters.

It becomes clear that the “spring” is actually highly flammable mineral oil, flowing through porous rock. The cave’s natural niches have been supplemented by many, many more, and they are filled with supernatural objects, mainly lead curse tablets, some seemingly centuries old if not older.

Mio and Nocturna use their powers to determine that one such tablet has been placed there to curse Violia. The perpetrator is not clear, as it speaks only of “my rival,” although of course they suspect Drusilla or some agent thereof. In an unexpected turn, they also find one cursing Septimus Aurelius, the head of the Cult of Augurs. Nocturna takes this with her but, on the way to the temple, it bursts into flames. No one is injured, and she is able to bring the remnants to Aurelius, who thanks her and disappears into the oldest, most sacred part of the temple with it.

• • •

Meanwhile, speaking of sorcery, it becomes apparent to Tiberius that he can only feed on the blood of the diseased, whether animal or human. He is loathe to have this known too widely, but is also somewhat panicked at what it may mean. After some inquiries, it seems that this is an uncommon condition, but that there are rumors that some Mek’het Kindred are said to have this curse. He asks Flaviana for help, and she says that she will look into it, but that this is a rare and strange condition and she’s not sure how much she’ll be able to find out, especially if it is tied to the Egyptians in some way. He does not tell her of the diablerie, and it’s not clear whether she can smell it on him or not.

• • •

Tiberius and Victrix’s rematch at the Camera Obscura goes well and is a crowd-pleaser, although to his great disappointment she once again bests him. Given that the rules of engagement called for them to fight under the guise of being mortal, at least he’s not sent into torpor again. After the bout, nearly drained of vitae, he has a momentary panic that he won’t be able to feed, but luckily one of the blood dolls provided has some sort of fever and he’s able to get nourishment.

• • •

Violia and Gaius formalize the engagement of Lucius and Beatrix, allowing Beatrix to move into Fausta and Naso’s home. Violia chooses a large calico cat to be the girl’s guardian, and asks Gaius to use his abilities to bid it guard the girl. A large black cat watches the proceedings; Fausta laughs and says that one’s a great ratter, always leaving us little presents. Gaius picks the cat up, stares into its eyes . . . and sees a yellow reflection. But probably no more than you would with any yellow-eyed cat.

Overhead somewhere, the cry of an owl can be heard.

View
322 A.D. The Ties That Bind

We fall to wallow in a flood
Of sweeten’d poison, intermix’d with blood
When suddenly a speech was heard from high
(From smoke it came, there was no speaker nigh)
“Why can you not with secret pleasure see,
The future and what all this dust might be?”
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Violia wakes in her cellar haven, to the sign that her husband wishes to speak with her. He tells her of a forthcoming convocation in Nicea, a massive gathering of bishops and political figures. His Egyptian suitors wish him to attend, and to argue or influence the side they prefer, which is to ensure that any embrace of a new holy man be sanctioned by the church, not done without proper approval.

She reaffirms that order does seem wiser than chaos—all the while thinking, but managing not to say, that she doesn’t have the highest faith in his ability to persuade emperors and bishops of anything. He mentions that Beatrix misses her, and she commits to speaking with the girl in a day’s time.

As she leaves to go about her business, she is presented with an easy and tempting opportunity to feed—and falls victim to what appears to be some sort of forbidden blood sorcery, as the prey’s blood is mysteriously poisonous to her. She is injured, though not severely so, as she had not been too greedy with the vessel.

Upon meeting up with the coterie, she asks if they have heard of such a thing. Nocturna is aware that destructive blood magic is possible (and Mio doesn’t seem surprised), but is unable to gain any insight into this particular case through Veneficia.

As the group talks around a table at the Amphora, Mio bristles. A low-level Mekhet of her acquaintance has entered the bar. She glares, and he retreats. She tells them this is Ephesius, a relative neonate affiliated with the Lancea, and no friend of hers. An annoying troublemaker.

Later in the evening, Corbullo asks to meet with Violia, and seeks her input on a spectacle for his next party, a way to make a rematch between Tiberius and Victrix more interesting. He also suggests it be held at the Camera Obscura and, as the club is open to mortals as well as Kindred, she suggests they be constrained to fight as though both were mortal. He’s pleased with this idea, and asks her to plan it for as soon as she can.

• • •

Meanwhile, Gaius and Tiberius meet up with Bassianus to see whether the tattered remnants of the Gangrel rebellion will attempt anything foolish. As they wait at the appointed time and place, a phalanx of the Legion behind them, the assembly of the Senex lets out. High-level Propinquii fill the corridors and, for a moment, Gaius is pretty sure he spots one of the troublemakers lurking. The Gangrel makes eye contact with him and slips away, the crisis never comes to pass.

Bassianus thanks the two for their service, and complains a bit about the current state of affairs, with these rogue offshoots of the Lancea popping up everywhere, and the “official” church denouncing them in public while probably encouraging them sub rosa.

• • •

Later, Tiberius visits the Vesuvius. He has a brief, uneventful exchange with Gallix, who says that she and little Marcus are doing well. Cal then takes him aside, and asks for his help. Rome is going through one of its frequent bouts with rampant disease, and she’s worried that one of the girls, Lucretia, may have been ill, and have run away rather than submit to being quarantined, perhaps fearing for her ability to live if she’s not allowed to work. Cal is worried for the girl, as she was a decent sort, just scared, and also worried that a prostitute once affiliated with the Vesuvius now spreading disease in the streets would be terrible for business. Tiberius agrees to keep an eye out.

• • •

Gaius meets with Julia Sabina, and learns more about the possible location of the Fons Ater. It is rumored to be located somewhere under the Esquiline Hill, which is roughly the region that the Nosferato digger also indicated was off-limits for the Vermes of the Necropolis. She tells him that her books are largely silent on the topic, as the place is associated with the most forbidden types of sorcery, but it does seem to be a real thing, not made up to scare the easily influenced. One thing sources do agree on is that it is truly, completely dark, and that to bring any sort of light is forbidden and deadly. She does not discourage Gaius in his interests, but does implore him to be cautious.

• • •

The next night, Violia visits her adopted daughter as promised, and learns disturbing news. Apparently the girl’s tutor, Sophia, has taken her out at night to meet a “pretty lady” who sounds altogether too much like Drusilla, and who offered her refreshments, including pomegranate juice. Violia informs Marcus that the girl is not to be allowed out of the home with Sophia, and demands to meet with the tutor in a night’s time.

• • •

As Tiberius prowls the streets, he hears a scuffle, which starts to sound like a real struggle, a woman fighting off an attacker. He investigates, and discovers Ephesius, the neonate Mekhet, attempting to corner a small, dark-haired girl in a flimsy silk dress. He recognizes her as Lucretia, the missing girl from the Vesuvius, and challenges Ephesius. They fight, and the Mekhet loses, only to be diablerized by Tiberius. Something in him tells him this is a terrible idea, but he doesn’t want to control himself. And doesn’t.

• • •

Violia’s meeting with the tutor is somewhat unsatisfying. The young woman is clearly a good, dedicated teacher who was somehow impelled or bound by a Kindred to put Beatrix in danger. While Vioilia struggles with the desire to give her adopted daughter a good education, she decides that the danger is too great, and Sophia too compromised, so she offers the young woman enough money to return home to Athens and marry.

She speaks to Gaius about the betrothal they’ve negotiated between Lucius and Beatrix, and suggests formalizing it so that Beatrix can move into Gaius’s family home. She also asks his opinion of getting the girl an animal guardian, perhaps one of the cats his sister feeds in their courtyard.

The night ends with everyone slightly on edge—a sense that terrible dangers have been averted, but perhaps not for long. Overhead, the cry of an owl can be heard.

View
322 A. D. Transformations, Revelations, Rites of Passage

Before to farther fight he wou’d advance
He stood considering, and survey’d his lance
Doubts if he wielded not a wooden spear
Without a point: he look’d, the point was there.
This is my hand, and this my lance, he said
By which so many thousand foes are dead
O whither have the pious charlatans fled!
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Six months have passed since last we visited the coterie. They have had some interesting experiences both apart and together, but in general it has been a relatively uneventful period.

Nocturna has been working hard to increase her skills in the Veneficia, increasing her abilities in prophesy and various rituals. Her transition from sybaritic spoiled rich girl to serious student has not gone unnoticed and Flaviana, a rising star in the Cult of Augurs, has offered her official patronage.

Gaius has mainly worked to help prepare Lucius for his Liberalia, while also working with Albertus and combing Julia Sabina’s library seeking any information on the Yellow Eyes. And always keeping an eye on the Lancea and particularly Pestilens. He also studies law and oratory with the help of Sabina’s books, preparing for future debates.

Violea concentrated on creating her entertainment establishment, the Camera Obscura, aided by Mio who seems to have taken an interest in the coterie’s doings, at least for the time, and for reasons that are not entirely clear. She cultivates the handsome blonde barbarian whom she’s employed, and seeks out further talent. To her pleasure, a second blond appears, giving her a matched set. Meanwhile her husband, Marcus, has continued to increase his contacts and influences in the Senate, looking for advancement any way he can.

Tiberius continues to oversee both the Vesuvius and the Green Amphora, with the avid assistance of his devoted ghouls, and to battle in the arena when a bout takes his fancy. While Gallix’s condition is not exactly easy to ignore, he’s doing his best, as he fears being forced to settle down and lose his reputation as one of the Necropolis’s top gladiators. He has also been asking discreetly (as discreetly as possible for him) about the Fons Ater, and gotten a better sense of where it might lie.

• • •

As the night begins, Tiberius is summoned to Corbullo’s presence. His patron (just thinking that word gives Tiberius a warm, happy feeling. Corbullo is so misunderstood, he thinks. If only they knew him like I do!) has a request (which is essentially a command, not that Tiberius minds). He had commissioned a very expensive necklace as a gift, and before it could be delivered, it was stolen from the goldsmith. He has had the artisan tortured, just in case he’d been trying to swindle him himself, and believes that he is telling the truth about the theft. Suspicion has fallen on a barbarian named Silberic who had been a little too interested in the smith’s work. Tiberius realizes this is the same lout who fought with him in the Collegia, and who Albertus warned might be up to something. He recalls that after the fight he’d taken Silberic’s purse and found it surprisingly heavy with gold.

While still eager to continue his search for the Fons Ater and for an answer to the mystery of Cunctator’s death, he cannot deny his beloved patron, and agrees to find and interrogate the Gangrel thief.

Meeting up with the rest of the coterie, including Mio, he explains the situation and asks their help. As Gaius has already been warned by Albertus that Silberic may be embroiled in something more serious than thievery, he is more inclined than he would otherwise be to help in an exploit to assist Corbullo. Mio is intrigued by the notion that Silberic may have vast riches, and the other two agree this is worth investigating.

After asking around a bit, they learn that Silberic’s haven is said to be in a lightly traveled area on the outskirts of the Collegia’s district. Heading out there, they are surprised to see a figure in the distance that appears to be their quarry. He doesn’t notice them, but they see him approach what appears to be a solid rock wall, and then vanish through an opening that appears unexpectedly.

Following at a discreet distance, they come to the wall and figure out its mechanism. It opens, not to the treasure trove they’d hoped to find, but to a surprisingly large chamber and network of tunnels that loop back into some of the more unsavory areas of the Collegia.

They manage to avoid detection, although Silberic is clearly nervous and highly alert, possibly sensing he’s being followed, or fearing it. He winds through a variety of areas including a shrine to Minerva, which he desecrates, throwing amulets on the ground and stealing offerings, which adds to Gaius’s growing anger.

After a circuitous chase through the tunnels, Silberic apparently feels confident that he has shaken off any followers, and head to his actual destination. The coterie expect to be led to his treasure trove but, to their surprise the tunnel widens out and becomes a simple meeting room. Luckily, the room is crudely dug, with nooks and alcoves, and it’s easy enough to secure themselves out of sight and out of the path of traffic. Luckily, most of the Kindred filtering into the room are coming from other directions, as the room apparently has multiple entries.

When about 20 scruffy, disreputable-looking Gangrel barbarians have gathered, a slightly more composed looking member of the group steps up to the front and begins to preach. His speech bears a glancing similarity to rituals of the Lancea, to the small degree that the coterie have heard such drivel. However, rather than speaking of how the Propinquii are damned and about the way of the missionary, instead he speaks of victory and glory. Of tearing down the Camarilla, murdering the Senex, and becoming gods themselves. It slowly becomes clear that he is not speaking metaphorically. The group is literally planning to attack the chambers of the Senex a few nights hence, and delusionally believe that they can succeed, and that whatever short-sighted, bloodthirsty god they worship will then elevate them to divine rulers.

Gaius decides he can’t stand any more of this, and in his best drill-sergeant manner, whistles loudly and calls to an imaginary cadre of the Legio. Most of the conspirators scatter down the tunnels, leaving the preacher, Silberic, and two other strong-arm types facing down our group. The coterie—including Mio and Roundheadicus—do battle, overmatched in brawn but less so in finesse. A lot less so. Mio displays some of the dark arts of the Khaibit in combat, raising questions as to how deep and strange her powers really are.

The battle ends with the preacher and Silberic subdued for questioning, one combatant fled, and one in torpor. Tiberius, consumed with bloodlust and still smarting from his defeat at Victrix’s claws, falls upon the body and diablerizes it, eager to take on some of the Gangrel powers he covets. He ends up reeling with ecstasy, the most amazing and exciting experience of his life. And all he had to pay for it was another vestige of his humanity. And the Vesuvius as a touchstone. And he can hardly conceal his desire to do it again.

Gaius delivers the bodies to Legio headquarters, but interrogation proves unsatisfactory. The possibility remains that the delusional barbarians will still attempt to mount an attack. Bassianus guesses that having lost their leadership they may simply melt back into the Collegia, or even back north. Still, he plans to be ready, and asks Tiberius if he’d like to fight along with the Legio, as reward for helping bring the heretics down.

Guided by Mio’s Auspex, the group find Silberic’s trove and it is amazing, filled with gold coins, jewelry, and other precious things clearly stolen from Romans for many decades of Silberic’s unlife. Tiberius finds the necklace that started this adventure, and sets off to return it to Corbullo. Corbullo. Just the sound of his name makes him happy. What a wonderful patron.

• • •

The next day, Gaius manages to force himself awake to attend Lucius’s Liberalia, able to be at his side when he places his bulla on the household altar and takes on the toga virilis, and ducking from shadow to shadow so as to watch the boy, now a man, being presented by Naso to the forum. The night is one for further transitions and celebrations. Gaius brings Lucius to the Vesuvius to continue his transition to manhood, spending some of Silberic’s gold to buy him Callipygia’s finest. Several of them, in fact. It was a lot of gold.

Suddenly, a shriek pierces the air. One of the girls comes running from the upstairs calling to Tiberius, “It’s time!”. Momentarily confused, he runs upstairs, where Gallix is being delivered of a healthy baby boy.

• • •

Across town, Violea pauses backstage. If she still breathed, this would be the moment for a deep breath. She hears the rustling and murmurs of a full house, goblets clinking, senses the warm bodies of ghouls moving amongst the crowd, passing plates of delicacies. Opening night.

She gestures to the stage hand, looks to her matched pair of barbarians, to Mio concealed in the shadows. The curtain begin to rise. She smiles to herself. Show time!

View
321 AD: Family Matters

By diff’rent methods we maintain our right,
Nor am I made to talk, nor he to fight.
In bloody fields I labour to be great;
His arms are a smooth tongue, and soft deceit:
Nor need I speak my deeds, for those you see,
The legion’s brave are witnesses for me.
Let him who fights unseen, relate his own,
And vouch the silent stars, and conscious moon.
Great is the prize demanded, I confess,
But such an abject rival makes it less
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Somewhat reluctantly, but with a growing sense of interest and purpose, Gaius allows himself to be pressed into service as the Legion’s advocate and orator. The Lancea has been peppering the Senex with requests (more like demands) for matters to be formally debated and decided, and in the face of the barrage, the speaker of the Senex, Octavius, has agreed to allow them to bring one issue to the floor. Their demands had included being granted equal status to the Augurs, having the Sabbath set aside as a holy day for all propinquii, and many other ridiculous notions. In face of all this, Octavius decides to choose a relatively controlled item—the proposition that the Legio bear upon their shields the Chi-ro, in honor of the “as above, so below” tradition that the Necropolis has, in general, followed. Many Kindred consider this a matter of no import, but nonetheless the chamber is crowded with Senex members curious to see a member of the Legio speak against the increasingly strident Pestilens.

The debate features Octavius, as the voice of Senex tradition, and Gaius, as the Legio’s tribune. Pestilens speaks for the Lancea, with Marcia Longina Rhetrix as his second. The opposition takes different tacks—Pestilens harassing and threatening the assembled audience with hellfire and damnation, while Rhetrix attempts to appeal to their sense of charity and faith. Gaius makes a passionate defense of a soldier’s right to march with the protection of his gods and, supported by a vocal and ominous phalanx of legionnaires in the audience carries the day. This ains him the rare gift of Bassianus’s praise. And, for better or worse, the job of advocate for future cases.

• • •

Meanwhile, Violea chats with her husband and discovers that, with her encouragement, he has hired a promising governess for their daughter. Beatrix seems quite taken with the young woman, Sophia. He mentions that as Beatrix is nearing 11 years old, it’s time to start thinking about making her a good match. Violea lets him know that she has done some thinking on this and will let him know soon, having already discussed with Gaius a possible union of their houses.

She asks Marcus how his work in the Senate is going, and whether he’s been further contacted by those followers of the fish god lobbying him to help them press their case, the ones with some mysterious connection to Egypt. He says yes, they’ve asked him to argue on behalf of a movement to stop Christian church fathers from being able to embrace new bishops as they see fit, rather than all promotions being approved by Rome. She notes that order is always a good thing, and that it sounds like he’s on the right side of the debate, while also agreeing that this new religion is confusing and annoying.

Finally, she asks Marcus whether he might know a suitable groom for a beautiful and well-born widow of her acquaintance. He says he may, will need to think on it.

• • •

Tiberius feels like he’s the only one who still cares about the mystery of what happened to Cunctator, and vows to keep investigating—partly because Cunctator’s fate is tied to that of his ghoul and friend Cal’s murdered sister, and partly because the mystery haunts him, and he’s certain it’s important to Kindred society in some larger way.

Interrogating Spurius about his former master, he gets from the ghoul that Cunctator had become increasingly paranoid, certain that someone or something was out to get him. He feared the cult of Vulcan which, it turned out, was in fact after him (as the group learned some nights ago), but his fears were more wide-ranging. Perhaps supernatural demons hunted him, or perhaps sorcery had been done against him. He was obsessed with finding the Fons Ater, a mysterious black spring that he believed to have some supernatural power. Asking around, Tiberius determines that this does in fact seem to be a real phenomenon, not a product of Cunctator’s fevered imagination, but has a difficult time finding anyone who will admit to knowing where it is.

Finally, he learns from one of the Nosferatu who dig the tunnels under the city that an area in the northeast has been declared off-limits to diggers, perhaps because something lies there that should not be disturbed.

• • •

Some time later, Marcus having recommended a Senate colleague of his—Junius Valerius Quarto, known as Naso, as a suitable husband, Gaius arranges for the candidate to meet his sister and Lucius. By means of a bit of sleight of wrist, he introduces vitae into the wine, causing Naso to see him in a very rosy light. It becomes clear that a betrothal is nigh, and Gaius obtains a promise that Nsso will help to prepare Lucius for his Liberalia.

Fausta mentions that the dog has been a fast companion to Lucius, and that the big cat that’s been hanging around seems to be quite attached as well. Gaius asks about the cat, and she says well, it’s a cat. Big, black, yellow eyes, good ratter. He asks her to keep an eye on it for any strange behavior and, not quite sure what he means, she nonetheless agrees. She pretty much agrees with everything he says these days. And watches him hungrily, her eyes drifting to his wrist, and to the wine jar he’s been handling. Never a heavy drinker she is suddenly thirsty as she’s never been before and, when the company parts, downs the rest of the wine from each glass in a guilty rush.

• • •

Tiberius goes to visit Gallix for his usual roll in the hay and determines, to his shock, that she is pregnant with his child. Few Kindred are aware that blush of life animates all human functions for the time it’s in use, and it had not even occurred to him to take any precautions. While petulant about the possibility of having to change his lifestyle, he nonetheless assures her he’ll do the right thing. The girls of Vesuvius are happy to care for Gallix and, for an unexpected and somewhat horrifying situation, it seems to be under control.

For now.

View
320 A.D. Unveilings and Embraces

In various shapes thus to deceive the eyes
The woman may be shadowed in disguise
Daughter of darkness had the pow’r
And brought it faithfully as dow’r
Her atheist sire the slighted Gods defy’d
And ritual honours to their shrines deny’d
Which doth the venerable gloom invade
And violate with light the awful shade.

—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

As the night ends and each of the coterie head to their havens—Gaius to ground, Tiberius to a niche near the Vesuvius, Nocturna to the Temple, Violea to her family’s cellar—they agree to begin meeting at the beginning of each night at the Green Amphora, unless other business intervenes. And, if possible, to leave messages with Spurius if they cannot meet.

Consequently, the next night, Violea heads to the Amphora, where Spurius is waiting with ill-concealed ardor for Tiberius to appear. He mentions that the Egyptian, Mio, has been waiting for Violea, gesturing to a table where the girl is nursing a drink and looking surly as ever, although she brightens up when she sees her soon-to-be benefactress.

She mentions to Violea that she has friends in the local Crossroads Club who could be helpful in securing a venue (and ensuring that it doesn’t accidentally burn down for lack of protection money). She leads Violea toward the grain dispensary, where it’s known that shady characters lurk, buying and selling services to the city’s lower classes. As they approach, they hear angry voices raised—apparently the dole has come up short, and hungry citizens who are owed their meal ticket are being denied. A riot breaks out, but the two women are quick enough, due to Mio’s lightning-fast reflexes, to avoid it by ducking down an alleyway.

Unfortunately, in doing so, they are set upon by criminals looking to benefit from all law enforcement attention being focused on the riot. Mio clearly takes a moment to consider fleeing and leaving Violea to her fate, but upon a hissed threat and promise from the other woman, chooses to stay and fight. The first blow reveals her to be something quite different than the ordinary teenage girl she appears, as she clearly draws power and pleasure from the violence, rather than taking any damage. Violea’s first thought is that she’s possessed by the yellow-eyed spirits, but has no time to do anything but fight.

Once the humans are vanquished, she looks into Mio’s eyes, and sees no flash of yellow. She asks what on earth is going on, and learns that the girl essentially told a true story . . . only with a gap of a few hundred years. She is a Mek’het of the Peregrine Collegia, and an assassin who was hired to stalk the coterie. As an opportunist, she’s decided that perhaps Violea’s offer is the best on the table, and she’s willing to switch sides. She doesn’t know who hired her, as these things are carefully arranged with several layers of anonymity, especially when contracts are taken out on members of the Senex in good standing.

• • •

Meanwhile, Tiberius meets with Corbullo and now, one step bound to him, feels an overwhelming urge to make him happy and proud. They discuss a rematch with Victrix, and Corbullo says he thinks it’s a grand idea, just needs a little time to think of how to make it even more fun for everyone.

Later, he returns to the temple to see if Marcus Aurelius, the first among the Augurs, can tell him anything further about the dead girl’s amulet, but receives only the vague reading that something very old that was once very powerful was involved, but we need not fear. Its power is long gone, only the wing beats remain.

• • •

Gaius finds messages at the Temple of Minerva from both his sister and from Albertus. He meets first with Albertus, who tells him that he is concerned about heretical factions of the Lancea who may be truly dangerous—and that he fears no one takes them seriously, as they seem so weak and pathetic in comparison to the might of the Camarilla. However, he notes, even a small rabid dog can bring down a noble beast, if its attack is vicious enough. He mentions that there’s a stranger, one Silberic, who bears watching. He’s the sort of barbarian who gives the northern tribes a bad name—uncouth, stupid, pugnacious. And rumored to be a thief who is only tolerated in the Collegia due to the massive bribes he pays the nominal leaders of the group.

He then attends Julia Sabina, updates her on his activities and investigations, and is granted the priceless gift of unlimited access to her library. She counsels him on the proposed debate with Pestilens, and assures him that with enough research he can prevail.

Bassianus echoes this, noting that members of the Legio, being comprised mainly of Nosferatu and Gangrel, sometimes lack a certain polish. A patrician Gangrel is a rare creature indeed, and as such Gaius may be a valuable resource. He informs him that Pestilens has brought dozens of proposed motions before the Senex for debate—to have Theban Sorcery declared as respectable as the work of the Augurs, to establish a Lancea temple in the central Necropolis, to mandate the Sabbath be celebrated throughout undead society. Finally, the Senex has agreed to allow him to bring one of the more trivial matters (at least in their eyes, the War Crow feels differently, it seems) to the floor—his demand that the Legio bear the chi-ro on their shields. Pestilens and his neonate, Rhetrix, will be taking the Lancea’s side, Gaius will support the speaker of the Senex, Octavius, lending the Legio’s gravitas to the proceedings. While the matter at hand is not of great concern to most Propinquii, the novelty of Pestilens being allowed to take the floor formally is likely to draw quite a crowd.

• • •

After his disappointing visit to the temple, Tiberius, accompanied by Nocturna, is making his way through a somewhat crowded portion of the Necropolis when he inadvertently jostles a low-class and angry looking barbarian. The surly Gangrel immediately challenges Tiberius to fight, jeering him for being beaten by a girl in his last bout and, when Tiberius tries to laugh it off, pressing him, his Beast snarling at the collar. It ends in a brawl, with Tiberius eventually temporarily blinding his challenger, and acquitting himself with enough flair that his reputation does not suffer for engaging such an unworthy opponent.

• • •

As the night draws to a close, Gaius visits his sister Fausta, who tells him she’s made up her mind. If Gnaeus hasn’t done his fatherly duty by the time of Lucius’s Liberalia ceremony, she will take Gaius up on his offer to help her become free. But, she wants to give him one last chance to be the father she hoped he would be. She and Gaius discuss the particulars of how the shade of her brother would participate in the ceremony given his disinclination toward the sun, and she admits, reluctantly, that she has dreamed of having a better spouse, but feels this is unseemly.

At that moment, Gnaeus comes home drunk, and demands to know why Fausta is up so late, and whom she was talking to. She falters, not wanting to say anything about her dead brother, and Gnaeus leaps to the conclusion that she has been entertaining a lover. He insults her and strikes her, and Gaius cannot stand any more. He falls upon Gnaeus, killing him and draining him dry. He then calls to Fausta, who had retreated in terror to her sleeping chamber, and gives her a taste of his blood, taking the first step towards making her his thrall. He assures her everything will be all right, that her life is beginning anew, that she will remain young and beautiful forever, and that he will find her a suitable husband. She goes to curl up on Lucius’s sleeping palette for comfort, and Gaius starts to leave. He stops, turns, smiles a smile that’s unnervingly close to a rictus grin. With that, he slashes his palm, and feeds his vitae to the pomegranate tree in the villa’s entryway. He turns to leave, and its branches seem to almost twist in his direction as he melts into the night.

View
Ad Conjunge Duos Familias
Calidus and Violia Negotiate over Future Prospects

In a shaded corner of the caupona, Gaius Marius Calidus sits at a table with his back to a wall. Overhead, dim light flickers sullenly, as smoke from a guttering oil lantern drifts out of a narrow high window. Dressed in tunica, boots, cingulum, and heroes’ cuirass, he cuts an imposing figure—as does the richly-dressed woman seated across from him at the same table, attired in silks in shades of purple, and silver and gold jewelry set with amethysts.

Despite their slightly out-of-place appearance in such a rough establishment, no one has dared to accost them, aside from the proprietor, who served them each a large clay cup of overly-watered wine and then beat a hasty retreat. Amid the roughspun tunics, beaten sandals, and weathered features of the rest of the patrons in the caupona, these two stand out in an unnatural manner, especially with their quiet, intent conversation, pitched so low that no one can hear them.

Gaius toys with the rim of the wine cup, raising it to his lips and giving it a cursory sniff. Almost gone to vinegar; no wonder the barman had to water it so much. He barely wets his lips with the drink—it barely holds any meaning to him as one of the dead, beyond a prop to hide among the living—before setting it down again and speaking cautiously.

Domina, you spoke recently of a . . . relative,” he begins. “One who nears her womanhood, and marrying age along with it. Have you given much thought to whom or how she will be married when the time comes?”

Cincinnata Lucretia Alba, so-called Violia, gives him a tiny, fleeting smile, absently swirling her own cup of wine in her hand.

“Not as such, yet, no. But I do know that she will need a good husband, one who will take proper care of her with the right amount of dignity and finances. Of course,” Violia’s smile widens a hair, as her eyes narrow, “I suppose you asked me to meet with you because you might just know someone?”

He returns her gaze steadily, seeing something challenging rising in her eyes, but does not look away.

“In truth, I do,” he tells her.

Violia’s brows raise in interest. “A son?”

Gaius frowns, shakes his head briskly. “I was unmarried. I had no issue before I was sent north. But . . . my sibling bore a child—my nephew, Lucius of the Marii. He is growing swiftly, and though he is not quite a man, he is eager to be a good servant to Rome.”

Violia favors Gaius with a skeptical look. “What of his father? Is your . . . sister widowed? Does your nephew not have a patreus? After all . . . the man of the family should be seeing to his upbringing, should he not?”

Gaius turns his gaze to one side. Despite his stoic upbringing, it is plain for Violia to see the distaste in his expression.

“There is . . .” he begins, “. . . some complication. His father is less than fulfilling in his parental duties. So it may fall to me—even if I’m the avunculus, I still would rather see them well taken care of.”

“Ohhh,” Violia says, dipping a fingertip into her wine and making a show of savoring it. “So, not just your nephew, then. You are hoping I will play matchmaker for you nephew and sister?”

Gaius shakes his head again, lips pursed tightly. “Not unless you had some very strong prospects for a good woman of Rome, no. I may settle the matter myself. But my nephew will soon pass the Liberalia, and it would not be . . . proper . . . to see him unmarried in time, whether he should choose politics, or soldiery.”

Violia shifts in her seat, leaning more casually as she runs a finger around the rim of her cup.

“Agreed,” she says, “It wouldn’t do for either of our relations to be in an improper state. But, what can be offered in this proposal—if it is indeed such?”

Gaius looks around the room warily, even turning his head to gaze up at the window behind him, before continuing.

“My sister and my nephew both are of the Marii.” His expression twists in distaste more openly this time, before he continues. “My brother-in-law, Gnaeus Marius—” he spits the name out in open displeasure— “was of the Cuspii, a family barely known. He provided a sizeable dowry for the name, and so my relations kept their family name, and enjoy a modest sum of wealth. Lucius would be able to provide well for a wife, and with the proper education, I feel he would do well either in the Forum or the Legion.”

“Mmm,” the Domina nods in thought. “A good name, and a good dowry, and good prospects.”

“Of course, if you might find this arrangement to your liking,” Gaius proceeds cautiously, “if you still have a husband, he would also need to give his blessing . . .”

Violia gives a little smirk and an amused sound in response.

“You leave that to me,” she says with a slowly widening smile. “If this proposal is of use to both of us . . . he will certainly agree.”

“My thanks, Domina,” Gaius bows his head politely as he rises.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Violia replies as she pushes her clay cup across the table and stands, adjusting her stolla. “I haven’t yet made up my mind.”

“I’d expect nothing less; it’s an important decision to make.”

Violia gives him a modest nod as she settles the mantle around her head and shoulders, turning to leave the caupona with Gaius following in proper guard fashion to a noble lady.

“And you never know,” she offers as they depart into the night, “Perhaps something can be done to help your dear sister find someone more . . . appropriate . . .”

View
320 A.D. Parties to the Crime

“Now through ecstatic crowds young Bacchus rode
Whilst howling matrons celebrate the God
All ranks and sexes to his Orgies go
To mingle in the pomps, while blood doth flow.”
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

When Tiberius awakes, Spurius is waiting for him, and tells him that Calipygia asks for his help, and suggests that he bring his powerful friends. A body has been found that might be her sister’s, and she wants their help investigating. Spurius clearly does not want to come along, fearing some supernatural doings, but his bond to Tiberius means that he reluctantly offers to. Luckily for him, Tiberius merely gets a description of the girl (tall, strongly built, always wears an amulet of Diana), and agrees to investigate after meeting with the group.

When the coterie reach the dock along the Tiber where fishermen have dredged up the body, everyone who witnessed the body being found have gone for the night, but the body is there, and does appear to be the sister’s. It’s hard to tell much, as she’s been in the water some days, but the body looks oddly mangled, as though it had been tortured, bones broken. Nocturna attempts to use her occult powers to determine what happened.

When she is performing her divination, the others detect an odd smell. At first, it just smells like rich, powerful Vitae, almost like a fine vintage wine. But to Violia’s nose there’s something . . . wrong. It smells corrupt in some way. It’s like nothing they’ve ever encountered before, but it’s unnerving.

Nocturna shakes herself from her reverie, says she can’t really read much, clearly Amelia met with a violent death, but augury is hardly needed for that. She has a sense that whatever did this did it for fun more than to obtain information or other “normal” reasons for torture. She tells them she’s going to try to discern more, and closes her eyes again, laying her hands on the body.

The others sense something stirring in the air, some force at work, and Tiberius’s ghoul cat seems terribly distressed. When Tiberius queries him, the cat is thinking “Have to run, have to go, being called. Can’t go, master is here. Must go, can’t go.” Tiberius scoops him up, which seems to calm the beast. The coterie scan around for clues, and see a figure far down an alleyway, tattered cloak whipping around in the wind. And suddenly a flood of vermin come pouring down the street, like a black wave. Mainly rats but also feral cats, insects, mice. They sweep over everything, devouring any food in their path. The group realizes that Amelia’s body is being consumed and try to save it, but it’s too late, Gaius manages only to grab the amulet.

Once the wave has passed, there is no sign of the figure who, they assume, called it forth. They take the amulet to Flaviana at the temple, but she’s unable to discern much, though she gets a sense of something about wings beating. She asks if she can keep the amulet, as the Rex Sacrorum, the most powerful of the Augurs, may be able to tell more. Tiberius had hoped to return it to Calipygia, but agrees that further information is desirable.

The group then goes to the Vesuvius, where they deliver the sad but not unexpected news to the proprietress. They then ask if they can speak with Mio, the Egyptian girl. The conversation is much less interesting than they expected—she appears to have a perfectly normal, if sad, story of being sold into prostitution at a young age by a poverty-stricken family. Through thrift and the kindness of a sympathetic client, she was able to buy herself out of slavery by the age of 17 or so (she’s understandably a little unclear on her age), and came to the Vesuvius because she’d heard it was a house that treats its girls well. Her main goal is to make enough money to go home.

The group debates raising the money to send her home, but then Violia offers her the opportunity to work at the new establishment she’s planning, doing a job that involves entertaining, but not in a sexual or degrading way. Mio is clearly surprised and suspicious that anyone would do her such a favor, but agrees, admitting that while she has longed to go home, in reality she left so long ago and when she was so young, that the reality awaiting her might not be any better than her current situation.

• • •

Later that night, Gaius checks the altar of Minerva for a message from his sister, and finds a request for him to come. When he does, she asks him further how he can help, and what she might become as a result. He answers that he can help and protect both her and Lucius and, if she wishes, help her obtain a respectable divorce and a more suitable husband. She asks again if he is of the Lemurae and he tells her he is unsure, but that this seems to be likely. She has more questions about unlife and semi-unlife, and he has fewer answers than he would like. She says she’ll need to think more, but that his support is greatly appreciated, and that it becomes more and more clear that he will need to take on Lucius’s education in preparation for the festival of Liberalia.

• • •

Violia meets with Corbulo regarding the upcoming party to finalize plans. She suggests that if possible Lachryma be served, and he agrees that would be delightful, and tells her to contact Eupraxis, as the young man is good at finding the strangest and most exotic things. They speak of a few other plans, and then he tells a long and threatening story about a client of his who betrayed him and how he had her destroyed. She carefully responds that she’s sure he will be happy with the party’s results, without promising anything further.

Eupraxis is able to obtain a small amount of the Lachryma, which Violia deems a success as it can be reserved for the true elites of the party.

The party begins well, with Nocturna, Eupraxis, and Gaius (who was pressed into service) performing the Call to Dionysus with success, ensuring the party will please the gods and the Propinquii alike. Comitor attends and as one would expect is perfectly gracious, paying the statue no attention. As everyone socializes, a Martyr of the Lancea bursts in, calling everyone degenerate beasts and threatening them all. Corbulo finds it hilarious, and tries to incite the guests to make more of a spectacle of him. Gaius’s Beast strains at the leash, intimidating the interloper into leaving.

And, at last, it is time for the big event of the party. Tiberius and Victrix spar, and all are impressed and surprised (Tiberius included) that he holds his own quite well, inflicting no small amount of damage. However, in the end, she reverts to Gangrel form and sends him into torpor with her claws, finishing by daintily removing his insulting garment with one disdainful flick of her claws. He is roused by Corbulo, further increasing his blood bond to his patron.

As the party winds down, we learn that the Lancea Martyr was beaten into torpor, no one knows by whom. The Legio hand him over to representatives of the church, and don’t see much point in investigating. Gaius has a conversation with Julia Sabina in which he asks her about yellow eyed entities. She gives the party line that they’re an old folk tale, but given her trust in his instincts, agrees to make some discreet inquiries.

View
320 A.D. Ashes to Ashes to Dust

They ponder’d the mysterious words again
For some new sense; and long they sought in vain
At length he clear’d his cloudy brow
And said, the dark Aenigma will allow
We look fearful to the augury
And doubt the Gods; and yet resolve to try.
—Ovid, The Metamorphoses

As the night begins, Callipygia asks Tiberius for help—her sister, Amelia, has gone missing, and she’s worried. A big, strapping girl, Amelia served both Venus and Mars, acting the whore when needed, and the body guard otherwise. Or, for the right client, both. Cal doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of information except that Amelia knows Rome but lives in the north, travels to the city a few times of year for business and pleasure, and to see her family.

“This time she was different,” Cal says. “She seemed ashamed of what she was here to do, acted standoffish, wouldn’t meet my eye. Usually, she’d look you right in the face, tell you who she wanted to fuck, or fight, or both. This time, she just looked at the floor, wouldn’t really talk about anything, not even family.” She was carrying a fine sword, and talked of meeting a possible client, though Cal was unsure what services were on offer. Something she didn’t want to talk about.

Tiberius isn’t sure what he can do, but offers to ask around. He finishes the conversation asking about Mio, the Egyptian girl. Cal doesn’t know much—she was a slave, bought her freedom, and came to work at the Vesuvius. Not the most friendly of the girls, but keeps to herself and doesn’t cause trouble. Why? He’s not sure, just gets a weird sense from her. Asks Cal to keep an eye on her, let him know if anything unusual happens.

• • •

Meanwhile, when Violia awakes, she sees the sign beneath her haven door alerting her that her husband wishes to speak with her. They speak of family matters, including his wish to employ a tutor to make Beatrix as marriageable as possible. He then speaks of the Egyptians who seek his support in the Senate. It’s a bit confusing—for a new religion, the Christians seem to sprout a new heresy every week, and it’s hard to keep score. This current one seems to center on whether a bishop can embrace any holy man he wishes to become a church father, or if the process must be approved by the state. The forces of order and hierarchy fear that this populist notion, prevalent in Egypt, might become the law of Rome, and want his support should it come to a vote. They have made veiled promises of great wealth and influence if things go their way, but Violia counsels caution. Finally, he gives her an invitation that was delivered during the day, summoning her to Comitor’s presence.

When she arrives at the designated place, it’s a private, intimate party, a few high-born patrician women feasting on artfully drugged mortals and languidly discussing literature and philosophy. Comitor is too much the politician to register surprise, but it’s clear Violia was not invited. Things fall into place when it’s revealed that one of the attendees is Drusilla, who mocks Violia for trying to reach above her station, implying that she crassly tried to crash the party. In the standoff that ensues, Violia handily faces down the much more powerful Kindred, sending her virtually running from the room. Comitor apologizes, saying that Drusilla’s antics are getting a bit tedious, and offers Violia a spot at the party and the mortal feast of her choosing.

• • •

Gaius visits the temple of Minerva, looking for a message from his sister. There is none, but he does get word from Albertus that he is hoping to talk, and to be introduced to Bassianus. The older Gangrel is eager to serve the Legion, and suggests that he could be a valuable asset in the Collegia. As a barbarian and a seemingly unaligned newcomer, he hears much talk of heresy, of treason, of armed rebellion. While most is nothing more than idle talk, his soldiers’ sense is that some of these murmurings might be more of a threat than anyone currently realizes. Bassianus agrees that this is a valuable role, and asks Gaius to help Albertus remain undercover yet protected.

• • •

Later that night, the coterie meets up to continue their investigation of Cuncator’s mysterious destruction. In an alleyway, they are set upon by a group of four mortals, apparently vampire hunters. After winning a heated street fight, they interrogate the group’s leader, Gervasus. It transpires that the men were part of a cult devoted to Vulcan, based in a small town near Mediolanum. Gervasus, visiting Rome, had seen Cuncator and recognized him as a man he’d known 30 years prior—not aged a day. Taking this to mean that he was a demon, they set out to vanquish him, to bring greater glory to their cult, and prove that the older, more violent ways were better. Under interrogation it appears that, in fact, these cultists did not destroy Cuncator, if only because someone else got there first, but Gervasus seems to be telling the truth when he says he doesn’t know who that was or how it happened.

The coterie return to the Temple of Remus, bringing Cuncator’s ashes, in hopes of gaining more clarity. Flaviana herself performs the augury, confirming that these are Cuncator’s remains, and that she senses no connection between his destruction and the group. She says that she’ll be happy to testify to this if need be. When asked to delve deeper into Cuncator’s fate, she is unable to glean much beyond a sense of beating wings.

Gaius asks her if she knows anything of yellow-eyed creatures, and she tells them that there are old myths and fairy tales of creatures who can possess the bodies of both mortals and Propinquii, but these are stories told to frighten the gullible or to explain otherwise unknowable mysteries. Some even say that these creatures were the disembodied voices that came to Remus as he lay dying, and offered him eternal life in return for his soul. Gaius says he’s heard stories that make him wonder whether these creatures are real after all, and she is polite but dismissive.

As the night ends, the group agree to meet the next night upon awakening to see if there are any further leads to be followed or if this death is to be another of these unknowable tales.

View
320 A.D. Following in Death's Footsteps

The morning came, the night, and slumbers past
But still the furious pangs of hunger last
But tho’ the land, air, seas, provisions grant
Starves at full tables, and complains of want
As rivers pour’d from ev’ry distant shore,
The sea insatiate drinks, and thirsts for more
Or as the fire, which all materials burns,
And wasted forests into ashes turns,
Grows more voracious, as the more it preys
Recruits dilate the flame, and spread the blaze.

—Ovid, the Metamorphoses

The coterie set out to determine what happened to Junius Cuncator, a low-level member of the Senex who is apparently not particularly missed by anyone (even his nominal patron, Corbullo). However, his disappearance is unusual and worth investigating and, perhaps more alarmingly, someone seems to have started a whisper campaign implicating the coterie. This may be because Tiberius had suspected Cuncator, or perhaps just his ghoul, Spurius, of trying to steal his girls and undermine his business.

The investigation starts at the Vesuvius, where Callipygia has little or no information on Cuncator, but does affirm that he hadn’t been causing trouble or trying to steal business as far as she knows. Tiberius catches a glimpse of a tiny Egyptian girl with long, black hair and deep black eyes who seems to be watching him from the shadows, but who slips away when he turns to look. Cal says that’s Mio, a new girl. She was captured as a small child by Romans and brought back as a pleasure slave. She’s now bought her freedom and continues the only job she’s ever known. She’s popular with the customers, but Cal gets an odd feeling from her. Maybe just anger at how she came into this life, who knows? Also, she seemingly hates cats.

A fight over dice breaks out and Tiberius is forced to step in a enforcer, keeping the peace but angering one of the customers, a blowhard named Gervasus.

• • •

A visit to the Green Amphora reveals the ghoul, Spurius, to be in terrible condition. He looks to have aged 20 years in a week. From questioning him, it becomes clear he is unaware what he is, and thought his miraculous youth and health were magic only Cuncator could perform. Tiberius gives him vitae, healing him and binding him as his new ghoul, but keeps the mystery, telling him that his family, too, knows the same ancient magic. Spurius tell the group that Cuncator had seemed afraid for his safety, had asked him to contact “the tall barbarian woman with the tattoos” and try to hire her. It becomes clear to the group that Cuncator had been overly cagey in his paranoia, and Spurius completely misunderstood, trying to hire Gallix for unknown (to him) purposes rather than finding Victrix and trying to hire her as a bodyguard, which seems to be what Cuncator intended. It sounds like his last days were wracked with paranoia and strange behavior.

They ask Spurius if he knew of Cuncator’s haven, and he says his master was always very cagey about his exact address, but spoke often of “going to church” or “going to visit St. Peter,” which seemed a little odd since he also appeared to worship cats, implying he perhaps followed some of the older Egyptian gods. Tiberius tells Spurius that he’ll take responsibility for him, and for the inn, until such time as Cuncator is found. Spurius confides that he feels that his master is dead, almost as though he himself experienced the death with him, but it was so traumatic that he can’t really recall anything else, except that the feeling washed over him about a week ago. With that, the group agrees to meet up the following night, after pursuing their various personal needs, to continue the investigation.

• • •

The next night, Gaius is finally able to visit his family and speak with his sister, Fausta. She thanks him for the death mask, which now sits on the family’s altar, noting wryly that her husband Gnassus doesn’t seem to have noticed it. He doesn’t notice much, she adds, perhaps a bit sadly. She does not seem afraid of Gaius, but demands of him, “What are you? Are you of the Lares, Manes, or Lemurae?”. He admits that he is not sure, but affirms his commitment to protecting the family, whatever he may be.

She asks if he will stand up for Lucius at his Liberalia if Gnassus proves unwilling or unable, and he says that he will, and adds that he may have ways of bringing Fausta and Lucius greater supernatural protection. She says she’ll need to think on this, and will no doubt have further questions. He tells her that any time she needs to speak to him, leave a message at a certain temple to Minerva, and he will come by the next night if he possibly can.

• • •

Meanwhile, Violia meets with her husband, who seeks her counsel. He has been approached by some shadowy figures who want him to support their cause in the Senate, and hint at incredible rewards if he does so successfully. They are battling an Egyptian heresy that’s gaining popularity with the Christians of Rome, and which is likely to come before the Senate for debate now that Constantine has declared Christianity the official state religion (loosely followed though that is). It’s hinted that if he helps them prevail over these heretics, great wealth could be his, and perhaps even a chance at the prefecture of Egypt itself.

He’s a little unclear on the heresy, as points of Christian dispute seem so ridiculous, but essentially it comes down to whether any bishop in good standing can embrace another holy man into the hierarchy of the church, or whether all new bishops must be approved by the church elders. Violia counsels him that this entire thing seems suspect, implying in not too veiled language that he’s hardly prefect material, but he clearly remains intrigued by the opportunity.

• • •

After Second Watch, the group meets to search for Cuncator’s haven. The clues lead them to a lightly used part of the Necropolis near St. Peter’s Basilica. A bit of investigation takes them down some wrong turns, including into an active but empty gathering place of the Lancea. Finally, they spot a large ginger cat meowing plaintively outside a door set into the tunnel’s wall. Using Animalism, Gaius learns from the cat that it misses the treats that are supposed to be dispensed here. The food-giver is missing, why is the food-giver not here?

They open the door into a small but well kept-up haven consisting of a sleeping shelf, a chest of clothing, a shelf of scrolls, and a slightly cluttered desk. There is no sign here of any struggle, certainly not of Final Death. It does, however, look as though Cuncator had a visitor and, from the size of the footprint, a female.

On the desk are some scrolls that seem to deal with violent human cults and the worship of dark gods by mortals. There’s a clay augury tablet that reads, “They swarm in darkness, turning our past against our present.” According to marking on it, Nocturna verifies that it’s a valid augury, given by Marcus Auditor, the Nosferatu, a little over a week ago. The only other thing of interest on the table is a wax tablet partly erased but that seems to read “Below . . . Danci— Saty—“. Tiberius is pretty sure he remembers that as one of the more raucous inns in the red-light district near Vesuvius.

The cat weaves around them, clearly looking for attention, and Tiberius decides to ghoul it and bring it with him back to Vesuvius.

• • •

The next night Nocturna arranges for the group to attend the auguries, to further investigate. The Nosferatu Auditor confirms that, indeed, he performed the augury on the tablet, but doesn’t have much information beyond that Cuncator was afraid he was being followed, hounded by some malevolent group. He mentioned seeking a bodyguard, and Auditor told him to look to his own behaviors rather than seeking outside help. He shakes his head, and says he wishes Cuncator had listened, but says he fears he may have met with doom due to his own bad decision-making.

Flaviana mentions that she’s heard whispers that the group is involved in some way. She says that of course she doesn’t believe that, but asks whether they might wish an augury to help clarify matters. They agree, and upon payment of a few coins, Flaviana herself does the reading, which is:

“A single arrow races through the whistling air. It is years in coming, and will fly for some years yet. When it strikes, a multitude of arrows will follow, falling like rain, bringing the enemies of the Camarilla to destruction amidst chaos and ruin. Each has this target. You must stand strong and hold your shield over those you value.”

At this last, she looks deeply at each group member, as though willing them to consider what they value. They ask for no interpretation, and she offers none.

• • •

The Dancing Satyr is an inn apparently frequented by men who enjoy the company of other men for drinking, dancing, and, it would appear from the private rooms in the back, other forms of camaraderie. Gaius gets a bowl of watered wine and mills about, using Majesty to blend in with the patrons, who are watching silk-clad youths dancing on the bar, and making ribald jokes. Tiberius takes a patron to the back to feed, but fails to notice anything interesting besides the expected hijinks.

Meanwhile, Gaius learns that someone who was probably Cuncator had been seen at the capuna a week or so ago with one, maybe two women. Probably nobody would have remembered him except that it’s not common to see females in the place. At least, they’re pretty sure they were female. Some of these lads do a pretty good job of dressing the part a soldier notes, nodding at one of the painted and perfumed house boys.

Tiberius says there’s nothing worth investigating in the back of the bar, but Gaius isn’t satisfied, so he asks the girls to come investigate with him. They follow—Violia looking at the scene with haughty disdain, Nocturna with unladylike curiosity. In fact, upon closer investigation, they find a hidden doorway at the very back of the row of cubicula, which leads down into the Necropolis, to a small chamber.

Opening the door, they are met with a horrific scene. Mortal blood and even bits of rotting flesh are splattered about, and in the center of the room, a pile of ash. A small pendant of a cat lies to the side, its cord apparently cut with a very sharp blade, and there’s a slash in the wall that looks like a missed weapon stoke. The dust on the floor is hard to read, but it looks like Cuncator might have been dragged in here by one person, followed by someone who then backed out. Those prints are the clearest, and seem to be female. It would seem that this person did not kill him, but nor did she stick around to help him. Violia and Nocturna measure the footprint against their own, and it seems to come from a taller woman.

Everyone agrees that questioning the mysterious Egyptian girl, Mio, would be a good idea. And Gaius shakes his head and says, with a sense of growing dread, “And I guess I’m going to have to talk to Victrix.”

View
320 A.D. News from Near and Far

Vain augur, thou hast falsely prophesy’d;
Already love his flaming brand has tost;
Looking on two fair eyes, my sight I lost,
Thus, warn’d in vain, with stalking pace he strode,
And stamp’d the margin of the briny flood
With heavy steps; and weary, sought agen
The cool retirement of his gloomy den.

—Ovid, the Metamorphoses

Having narrowly escaped into an empty insula after fighitng off an angry mob rioting in the streets, the coterie take a moment to compose themselves , then exit via the apartment’s back door and hasten to the temple of Remus for the rituals.

While all of the group have been to the temple for simple auguries, or to observe holiday rituals, it is only due to Nocturna’s presence that they are admitted tonight. The occasion is twofold: First, high-ranking members of the Senex often prefer to have their auguries performed in private, on the chance that some sensitive or damaging news might be delivered. In addition, the Sacrorum Rex uses these private rituals as a chance to test out promising novices and determine their skill at communicating with the gods. Comitor has spoken highly of Nocturna to the leaders of the Cult of Augurs, and her influence is strong, so Nocturna is being awarded this opportunity.

As the group approaches, they see Eupraxis at the temple’s door, flanked by two members of the Legio in full armour, clearly on duty. He welcomes them warmly and waves Nocturna inside to get ready. He notes that the group is the last to arrive and offers to usher them in. As he does so, he mentions quietly to Violia that her gift was greatly appreciated by the gods, and that all should go well for her. She is puzzled by this as, to the best of her knowledge, the group is there simply to support Nocturna, but shrugs it off as Eupraxis being manipulative as ever, perhaps trying to rattle her or to inspire another bribe.

The ritual is being held in a cella usually closed off from the main temple, a smaller room ringed with statues of the gods including, in a place of honor, an ancient stone figure, its features worn away by time. Eupraxis whispers that this is Remus, the first Kindred in Rome, adding that legend says he is buried beneath the statue or, even, that he has gone into a torpor so deep that he turned to stone. Looking up, Gaius notices the ceiling is painted like a night sky and, drawing on his long-ago tutoring in the sciences, realizes it depicts the sky as it would have appeared over 1,000 years ago, on the night when the mortal Remus died and was reborn as the first of the Propinquii.

Closer to the front of the cella is a stone altar; at the back can be seen a sort of podium, extended out over a tile pattern in the floor.

As the small group in the cella settle down, Violia makes eye contact with Tertia Julia Comitor and is acknowledged with a chilly nod.

A tall, imposing figure emerges from the shadows. This is the venerable Marcus Aurelius, the Sacrorum Rex and most exalted member of the Cult of Augurs. He is flanked by Flaviana Galla and an Auditor none of the group remembers seeing before. A small man in the long, hooded cloak of the Augurs, he appears pale and sickly, with skin that resembles an old tallow candle. Eupraxis whispers that this is Marcus Auditor, a most unusual creature. An unassuming man in mortal life, he somehow angered a Nosferatu who decided to sire him out of spite and condemn him to a life toiling underground with the Vermes. He spent 50 years digging beneath the city, never complaining. One day, the gods spoke to him and told him it was time to journey upwards and join the Augurs, which he did easily as the gods had prepared his pathway. He has since proved both talented and honest. But not, Eupraxis adds, unrealistically so when it comes to the material needs of the Cult and, of course, the gods it serves.

At the altar, Auditor sacrifices a fowl and spills his own vitae to begin the ritual. Given the simple query, “How fare Rome and the Necropolis, today and tomorrow and tomorrow,” he confirms the Sacrorum Rex’s prophecy made 14 years before, that the Camarilla’s reign will last another 1,000 years. However, he adds, it is becoming clearer that both above and below the cities will be sorely tested by dissidents and unbelievers, followers of the fish and the lance.

He then raises his pale gaze to meet Comitor’s. “There are indications of a more . . . personal . . . message. Would you have me continue, Domina?” On her assent, he relates a somewhat cryptic message culminating, “The goblet is so tempting, the prize so delicious, he who should be wiser notes not the poison draught as he drinks deep. He eats not his children, not yet, but the punishment may be the same.” Violia notes that Eupraxis, sly as a cat, has slipped away from her side and is whispering to Comitor, who looks intrigued.

That augury completed, Nocturna emerges from the shadows and ascends to the podium. One of the tiles beneath swings aside to allow vapors to ascend and envelop her,curling smoke-like to the vaulted ceiling. Newcomers to the temple reflexively startle at the fear of fire, but quickly realize that the vapors come from so deep within the earth that the heat poses no danger.

Nocturna begins an almost rote recitation of the Camarilla’s grand future, the grandeur of the Roman eagle . . . then stops suddenly, a terrifed expression on her face. She looks into the cloud of vapor, and clearly sees something that horrifies her, though none of the rest of the group can make out anything unusual. She cries out, “The eagle soars, but now grasps in its talons its own child. Wings beating. Rage and betrayal devour paternal love. Beware the honeyed call of your ancestors . . .” and at that she falls to the ground. The group are more embarrassed for her than shaken, Gaius rolling his eyes at the excitability of the young. Violia volunteers to help her return safely to her haven to sleep it off.

• • •

Violia is called to meet with Comitor, who tells her that Eupraxis has helped her to understand the Auditor’s vision. She asks Violia whether she is brave, to which Violia replies, “I am a woman of Rome.” Comitor laughs, and says that also answers other questions she’d thought to ask: Are you a political creature, and are you practiced at the art of deception?

She proposes a small charade to Violia. Comitor will pretend great dissatisfaction with her role in the statue debacle, forcing Violia to consider seeking patronage elsewhere. Violia is to then ingratiate herself with Corbullo and assist him in putting on a truly magnificent party, with entertainments tailored to his monstrous sensibilities. Once she has made herself invaluable to him, at least in his own covetous mind, she will be able to choose whether to actually throw her lot in with Corbullo, or to take the risk of spurning him to petition for Comitor’s favor. Violia asks if she can have a pledge of patronage before beginning this dangerous game. Comitor denies her, but does give her word not to undermine Violia in any way. It is to be a fair test, and at the end Violia can decide to whom she offers her loyalty. Making Corbullo successful will not be held against her but, rather, be a sign that she has truly committed to the game.

• • •

Gaius, feeling remiss that he’s been kept from visiting his family for some nights, sets out to see them, stopping only to quickly feed. As luck would have it, night-time fights are being held at the Flavian Ampitheater, and he is able to ingratiate himself with a group of gambling drunks and drink from one of them.

Sufficiently sated, he is making his way through the surface streets of Rome when, with no warning, a mortal leaps from an alleyway and thrusts a torch directly in his face. He instinctively leaps away, and manages to avoid frenzy, though he remains enraged. By the time he composes himself the mortal is long gone, but he sense another presence close by, the same he felt outside the fort on the road to Mediolanum. Gaius confronts the disheveled barbarian Gangrel angrily; the other meets his attack, staring him in the eyes and saying only, “Lanceatus.” After some heated conversation, it transpires that this is his sire, Albertus, who turned him on the battlefields of the north.

Albertus had been a member of a shadow legion composed of Propinquii who had once been Roman soldiers, whether by birth or allegiance. They fought undetected alongside the mortal legion—against both mortal and supernatural enemies. When the Gangrel group’s pilus primus met final death, the unded soldiers were seasoned enough to realize that none of them were suited for command. The logical solution was to find a mortal who was suited, and turn him. Albertus selected Gaius as the most promising, but found he could not bring himself to murder such an admirable soldier and devoted Roman, even if that murder brought with it the gift of eternal life. He vacillated until a barbarian ambush took the decision from him. Mortally wounded, Gaius breathed his last as dawn was about to break. Albertus turned him as the sun was moments from rising, and he guided the newborn Gangrel safely beneath the earth. That was to be his only proper act as a sire. When Albertus emerged from the battlefield’s blood-soaked earth the next night, his plans were shattered. Gaius had vanished.

Stalking that battlefield in an attempt to solve this mystery, Albertus encountered a much greater and more terrifying one. Dark entities, creatures he had no name for, seemed to be feeding from and even inhabiting the bodies of the dead. Here and there, the recently dead rose up, clearly fueled by some inhuman engine. As they surveyed the battlefield’s burning wreckage, he saw their dead eyes flash yellow in the reflected firelight. Albertus realized that this might be what happened to Gaius and, if so, Rome itself could be in danger. He continued following his quarry, this time out of fear, not admiration. He attempted to get the neonate’s attention by scratching the sign of the lance, to see whether this boidy remembered his identity as Lanceatus. However, Gaius and his group read this as a threat from the Lancea. Finally, Albertus decided to test whether Giaiu’s eyes flashed yellow in the light, and in the terrifying torchlight, determined they did not.

Gaius is initially infurtiated by this, but Albertus locks eyes with him, saying firmly, “You were dead. I gave you a way to keep serving Rome. Do you really desire to lounge in the fields of Elysium when your city and your family remain in danger?”. Gaius accepts this and, in an odd reversal of roles, offers to assist the newly arrived Albertus gain status in the Necropolis, and to introduce him to Bassianus.

• • •

Meanwhile, Tiberius is also drawn to the Amitheater, to feed and to glory in the memory of past victories. To his amusement, he witnesses a gladiator being killed by a giraffe, that animal intended as a humorous opening act before the man’s real fight, against a massive bear. Tiberius seizes the opportunity to vault into the ring and fight the bear in the dead man’s stead. After no small battle, he does indeed slay the beast. Leaving it to be skinned and the meat sacrificed to Hercules, he makes his way to the Vesuvius, where Gallix has an odd story she’s been waiting to tell him. She was walking home earlier that week and was approached by a very strange and nervous man asking about her “services.” Tiberius asks her to describe the man, and recognizes him as Spurius Pateus, the bartender from the Green Amphora. Gallix assures Tiberius she had no interest in whatever Spurius was proposing, but went along essentially out of curiosity and for a free drink. The conversation went in circles that she found increasingly confusing—he wanted something, but didn’t want to say what it was, seemed to be hoping she’d make an offer. Finally, she got frustrated and stood to leave. He got heated, replied, “Oh, so you’ll sell your services to the Legion but not to my master.” Insulted at being called a camp follower, she slapped him and stormed out. Tiberius questions Callipygia, concerned that this means Cuncator is trying to steal his girls, but gets no satisfactory answer. He determines to investigate further in the nights to come.

• • •

Later, Violia meets with Carbullo to help plan the party he’ll be holding in about a month. He tells her of his idea to make a wine press that crushes living babies for their vitae, apparently hoping to horrify her. Calmly, she points out some design flaws in his plan and offers ways to both improve it and make it even more horrifying. Asked if she has any ideas for a spectacle, she reminds him that Tiberius is aching for a fight with Victrix. Why not give him what he wants, she proposes, but make it a spectacle for the ages with the man waxed and perfumed, his hair plaited with horsehair into a multitude of braids. He’d be dressed in scraps of leather and, of course, tattooed to match the barbarian gladiatrix. Corbullo is thrilled with this idea, and swears her to secrecy.

• • •

At the night’s end, Gaius is summoned to meet with Bassianus. The centurion tells him he’s heard news that Cuncator might be in some sort of trouble. The owner of the Green Amphora is a low-level member of the Senex, nobody anyone really notices or cares about, he adds, but it is of course the Legion’s duty to protect all citizens in good standing. In addition, there’s a whisper campaign that seems to implicate Gaius’s friends in the matter. He says he’s sure it’s nothing, but the honor of the Legion demands an inquiry. Gaius assures him that he and his group will look into it right away, and also takes the opportunity to tell Bassiunis about Albertus, and his desire to serve the Legion. They agree that, if the Gangrel barbarian can prove himself to be what he says he is, there will be a place for him.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.