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.