Exile in Byzantium

411 A.D.: Eastern Promises

A Parliament of Strangers

• • •

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
—“Sailing to Byzantium,” William Butler Yeats

• • •

The caravan headed by the Marii has joined with that of the Sassanids, bound for the walled city of Byzantium, where Nadzhir promises the coterie an introduction into Eastern Kindred society. But first, a few pieces of unfinished business remain.

Tiberius is pleased with his new acquisition, the pox-ridden prostitute Britta. However, when the others start quarantine procedures to keep her from infecting their ghouls and mortal family members, he starts to reconsider. With a sigh, he bids her forget everything she’s learned, and return to the city.

He then turns his attention to the captured bandit. Unable to resist Tiberius’s commands, the man, Nikos by name, grudgingly tells of outsiders from Rome who made extravagant promises to the local roughnecks. If they would only turn their larcenous attacks upon certain selected caravans, they could be assured of gold, women, spices, silks. And all the Roman interlopers asked were a few trifles—some fruits that were said to be stored carefully in the lead wagon, as well as some mysterious heavily sealed crates. And if a few of the more peculiar caravan members were killed in the process? All the better.

Frustratingly, Nikos knows little of these murderous Romans, except that they call themselves the Aves. Gaius realizes that these must be Gaudens’ former students, now corrupted by the bizarre teachings of Vitericus, turned to monster hunters and calling themselves the sons of Cain. The group realizes that they can perhaps gain more information through a quickly improvised strategy. Tiberius brings Britta back, and has her accompany the mesmerized bandit as his putative conquest. The hope is that one or the other will gain greater insight into the strength and organization of the Aves.

• • •

A scant month later, the group arrives at the gates of Byzantium. Nadzhir has sent a messenger ahead to prepare the way and, indeed, a servitor is waiting for them at the gates. He leads them to the graciously appointed home of Kassandra, the late Nocturna’s sire. She welcomes them, asking word of her childe, and of the Julii of Rome. She receives the dire news with calm sorrow. As one of the Julii herself, she notes that the local members of that noble clan does not seem to be cursed as were those of Rome. Perhaps these far-flung descendents of Remus have made their home far enough from the Eternal City to escape his angry tormenters. No one seems inclined to wonder whether those yellow eyes have just not yet focused themselves to the East.

Kassandra tells the group that she once served on the Senex, as the tribune of the Augurs. Now that the old religions have been declared anathema by the Lance, she has of course converted and no longer follows the old gods. Gaius hears a tone in her voice, and assures her that he understands precisely what she means. She gives a small smile, and mentions that she has of course kept the old statues and other trimmings of the cults, for historical value. He lauds the wisdom of this historical preservation and says he’d he honored to view these discredited old artifacts. For . . . historical purposes.

The venerable Julii notes that while she no longer sits on the Senex, she retains some small influence with Decimus Lucius, praetor of the Legio and default Prince of the city. While she can’t promise anything, there is a small territory that has recently . . . become available for the right undead tenants. Until this year, it had been occupied by an unaligned Gangrel and his associates, all of whom had become ensnared in the worship of some mysterious demon that demanded bestial atrocities as its due. After warnings were ignored and attacks on the populace began to escalate, the Senex was forced declare a blood hunt. The coterie that brought down the Gangrel Josephus claimed the better half of his territory, but some remains yet unclaimed—not the finest area, but not the worst. And adjacent to some fine feeding grounds. But of course the final disposition lies in the cold, alabaster hands of the Senex.

• • •

The Council awaits them, in a chamber reminiscent of the Camarilla though smaller and less grand. Still, the walls are elaborately decorated with mosaics celebrating the history of the Propinquii, and the Council has its own air of gravitas and menace.

The leader, Decimus Lcius, wears the black garb designating him as an officer in the Legio. He inclines his head in respect to Gaius, who returns the nod with a proper salute. Beside him is his second in command, Sedeh, a Theban who reminds the coterie strongly of Mio, though they cannot quite say exactly what so overwhelmingly gives them this sense. Not the long black hair, the air of ancient power. It’s . . .something else. In the eyes, perhaps?

The group is rounded out by Timothy, the surprisingly benevolent appearing Bishop of the Lance and Lazar, an ancient and terrifying Nosferatu of the local vrykolaka. Even in repose, he seems to emanate a low level of Nightmare, like a miasma he cannot—or does not wish to—entirely quell.

The group is questioned closely. Sedeh in particular stares intently, seemingly trying to see something that ordinary eyes—even supernatural ones—cannot discern. She has a servant illuminate their faces, looking for the telltale flash of yellow. Gaius assures he that they know what it is she seeks, and they too are enemies of the yellow-eyed demons. She responds with a dismissive wave . . . and a sudden piercing look at him, and at Tiberius, as though she can’t quite figure out what about them reeks of sin.

Nonetheless, the group is eventually welcomed to the city, and indeed granted the haven and feeding grounds Kassandra mentioned. They are warned that, unlike in Rome, here the Propinquii must live amongst the kine, and that failure to properly blend in is a serious offense.

• • •

Kassandra escorts the group out of the chambers and to their new holdings. She asks of them one favor—she has a ward, Amira. Not a childe, but a former student of the Veneficia whose sire was brought to final death in the last decade’s religious riots. Kassandra feels it’s unwise to make the girl a member of her own household, as any coterie of Augurs is bound to raise suspicion. She asks the group to allow Amira to haven in their territory, and they agree.

She mentions in passing that Sedeh has been a strong ally and a wise leader. However, she seems to be getting perhaps a bit unstable, as happens sometimes with elders who have foresworn torpor for some time. She seems paranoid, giving in to bizarre obsessions, such as having her soldiers hunt and kill all of the owls in the city.

At that, it almost sounds as though something shrieks protest in the distance. Probably just the wind swirling in from the Bosphorus.

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