Exile in Byzantium

Tending the Savage Garden
"An ape is an ape, even dressed in purple."

Crispus’ torpid body, a jagged length of hardened ash wood still transfixing his heart, thuds to the ground heavily as Gaius drops it at the foot of the pomegranate in his garden. Almost imperceptibly, the dark, tangled roots of the tree begin to draw back, the leaves nearly trembling as if in a faint breeze.

Gaius regards the pale, silent body before him, shaking his head slightly in disapproval, speaking as if Crispus could see or hear him. The house’s servants are all abed, far from the arboretum.

“I would have gladly aided you, had you been true,” he murmurs, drawing the short, broad-bladed pugio from his belt. “Rome could have been restored in some form.”

He lays the edge of the dagger’s blade against his palm, making a quick, deep slash, barely even noticing the sting. After all his battles, his time among the dead, and now the attempt Crispus and his friends in the aves made at killing him—their blades, infused with spells and blood, left hardly a trace of their passage through his throat and ribs—nothing so minor can harm or even discomfit him.

“But now I know.”

He tosses the dagger to one side, the blade clattering as it skids across the flat stones of the garden path, and massages his palm, urging the vitae within to spill across Crispus’ expressionless face, trickling into his slackened mouth. A few drops darken the roots and trunk, and the tree quivers as if shaken to dislodge its fruits.

“Now I understand.”

Gaius plants the sole of his boot against Crispus’ body, giving it a shove, and the ground gives way fully, letting his staked corpse slip beneath the earth and into the embrace of the tree’s roots, which begin to weave together, drawing over the soil in almost unseemly haste.

“You are not Rome. You never were Rome. But you will serve Rome.”

The earth is quiet and still once more, but Gaius can still just barely sense the presence of Crispus buried beneath his feet, the roots of his tree weaving around and through the torpid body, like a sparrow impaled on a thornbush by a shrike.

Elsewhere, he can still feel the waiting bodies of the sleeping Julii, safely locked in their sand-and-natron-filled sarcophagi beneath his study.

“And I—and those like me . . . are Rome.”

He turns his gaze to his palm. The gash made by his knife is gone as if it never happened, the only sense that his blood was spilled coming from the growing thirst in the part of him that wishes to join the lemures, the hungry mindless dead.

“You were a slow learner in life, Crispus—and in death.”

Gaius picks up his knife from where he cast it earlier, the blade itself free of blood as well.

“But I will return.”

He gives it a cursory inspection, before re-sheathing it on his belt, as he continues talking as if lecturing a contubernium of poorly-trained soldiers.

“And I will teach this lesson as many times as I must, until you understand it.”

Reaching into the pouch on his belt, he pulls out the shard of engraved and glazed pottery, and the blade wielded by one of the aves, its steel still darkened with the smeared VII of the man’s blood.

“After all,” Gaius finishes, as he turns to take the objects to his study, to prepare a message for Violea, “we have plenty of time . . .”

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The Weight of Responsibility
Or, Into The Lion's Den

Cave ab homine unius libri : ‘Beware the man of one book.’ —Unknown

Standing bolt upright next to the Optio’s desk in this barracks, Gaius Marius Calidus conveys to the legion soldiers on duty as to why one of his cognomina is Cetus . . . sea-monster—arising suddenly from unknown Rome, and into command, like the monster from the depths of Mare Nostrum seizing lost ships in its jaws. If his words had teeth, the centurion on duty would have been savaged.

“Find this one nicknamed ‘captain’,” he growls through clenched teeth, barely restraining the urge to loose himself on the young propinquo soldier before him. “Have him participate in the search thoroughly, then have him report to me immediately after, no matter the result.”

The legionary salutes sharply and all but sprints from the room as a runner arrives from elsewhere, handing Marius a scroll, stained with salt, its edges ragged, but the seal still intact: Pluto’s three-headed hound reclining beneath a shading pomegranate, pressed deep into dusty vermilion wax.

He would breathe in relief if he still needed to breathe, but something nearly imperceptible in Marius’ mood shifts as he breaks the wax seal, perusing the writing within:

‘Honored uncle, adopted father, I hope this finds you and our family well in Constantinople . . .’

His eyes scan over the page, quickly taking in its contents, mumbling the words to himself on and off: ‘Egypt’ . . . ‘traveling west’ . . . ‘Augustinus of Hippo’ . . . ‘wealth of possible knowledge’ . . . ‘risk’ . . . ‘safety’ . . . ‘swift decision’.

Something about the name pricks at the back of his memory, from the scrolls and books he’s amassed over the decades and kept in careful condition. Something to do with the Christians and their One God.

But this opportunity cannot be passed up; he is clearly a scholar and time is short. Even as Marius grabs stylus and ink and begins a quick but cautious reply, the name still gnaws at the back of his thinking.

There is no time to retreat to his domus, and peruse the library. “Go with my blessing, nephew and adopted son, and may Mercury watch over you in my stead.”

With one black candle, carefully lit with extended arm, he spills legion-black wax, thick and molten, over the hastily written reply, turning his ring and pressing its seal into the wax, the Kerberos’ three heads in their different moods beneath the branches of Arbor Felix.

“Get this safely back to Egypt on the next ship,” he tells the runner, handing him enough bronze coins to make sure that it does. As the messenger leaves the room, he turns back to the Centurion’s desk, gritting his teeth at the disarray, closing his eyes and shaking his head briefly at the message from the pair of girls, growling low in his throat at the mess this ‘captain’ made of his duties—

—then falls as still as his statue of Minerva Victoria in his home’s cellar.

“Augustinus of Hippo.” He says softly to himself, barely audible at all but to the sharpest of ears.

“The bishop.” His voice is slightly louder this time, and full of a sudden intensity.

’He’s the one who wrote their Christian stories in the common tongue.’

As Marius sits back against the desk’s edge, his head tilts down in thought, arms folded over his officer’s cuirass.

‘I may have sent Lucius to the place he should be the least. May the Gods watch over him.’

His gaze falls on the optio staff, leaning against another side of the desk, its iron pommel and foot both spotted with minute blooms of rust, the ash wood shaft dry and unoiled. He reaches out, taking it in his grip. His gaze slowly raises toward the doorway leading out of the room, thinking over the evening’s hurried events, the legion’s incompetence that’s infuriated him so, the distraction it’s provided to remembering such an important name . . . and the idiocy of this ‘captain’.

Awaiting further news from runners in the city who have passed the word to get out every spare man on guard to search for Arnulf, and awaiting the return of the ‘captain’ whose irresponsibility started this all, Gaius Marius Calidus Avitus stands utterly still, gaze fixed on the doorway, the only motion coming from one arm as he raises the short staff and methodically beats its weighted head lightly into his other palm. He hasn’t wielded the staff since he himself was optio ad spes ordinum in his days with Minerva’s First Legion, before his promotion to centurion. But he can feel its handling coming back to him quickly enough.

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411 A.D.: What Lies Beneath
Fire and Water, Smoke and Ash
• • •

Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Has fled the Heav’ns, the mortal world below
While Byzantium smoulders in its ling’ring Light
—The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

• • •

Smoke. Again, smoke, a faint smell of burning. The windowless, doorless room. This time, a double layer of familiarity—yes, this is the same place the coterie dreamed of before. But deeper than that . . . there’s a nagging, yearning sensation. Each thinks, I know this place. Why? Why does it feel like . . .what? Tiberius looks up, sees a faint rectangle overhead, perhaps the night sky? Or a larger vault? He feels about, almost stumbles over something. A ladder?

Meanwhile, Gaius, in a different room. The same room. A different room. He pounds on a wall, testing its strength, finding thick plaster, rough to the touch. He drops to one knee, feels the floor beneath him. Packed earth and . . . something? A faint tingle, a sense of great power, layer upon layer of stories.

Each wakes again, this time in their respective havens. They exit their homes quickly finding, to their great relief that no fire burns nearby this time. The relief is short-lived . . . one of Valentina’s boys from the Gemini appears seeking Violea, asking her to come right away, as something has happened to Elias. Gaius asks where the unworthy’s haven was, and he and Tiberius prepare to investigate while Violea hastens to the Gemini.

Valentina lets her know that Elias’s haven burned during the day, and he is presumed lost with it. Already tongues are wagging amongst the Propinquii, who love nothing more than gossip, especially about someone else. After all, Gaius challenged Jonas a few nights ago, and the day following Jonas’s home burned. Now, Elias after his encounter with Violea. Pyotr, self-appointed keeper of the Masquerade, is already making inquiries as to whether any of the coterie’s human or ghoul servants had been seen acting suspiciously during the daytime.

Valentina goes on to say that while no one will really miss either of the now-ended Julii (Elias with his tendency to drain his clientele to near-death, Jonas with his fondness for underage kine), it doesn’t look good. Still, she says, none of her business. Pyotr is no friend of the Gemini, as he feels that kine and Kindred should not meet for pleasure—or at all outside of sheer necessity. She waves a pale hand dismissively. “ Let’s speak of something more pleasant,” she continues. “Tell me of these entertainments for which you grew so acclaimed in old Rome?”.

As Violea details some of her exploits in party-planning and in her businesses, Valentina nods appreciatively. “I’ve been thinking of expanding this establishment,” she muses. “Perhaps we should plan a grand celebration to mark it. We cater to a certain . . . adventurously minded mortal clientele. And the nobility of this town are much more open-minded than you may expect coming from propriety-bound Rome as you do.” And thus the two get to planning.

Gaius gathers up Thascius and strides purposefully to the wreckage of Elias’s home, Amira trailing behind. The Hound, Lucretia, is already there, although she looks to be wrapping up any inquiries. “Oh, you again,” she says. “Did you bring my recruit or just sightseeing?” Gaius lets her know Tiberius is close behind. Lucretia repeats that this pair of fires seems awfully suspicious. She then asks whether the coterie’s party had sent advance scouts in the months before their massive wagon train had arrived. Gaius replies in the negative and she seems skeptical. “If I find you’ve lied,” she says, “it won’t look good. Only the fact that the other one burned before you showed up makes me doubt your involvement at all.” And with that she strides off, brooking no discussion.

“Other one?” Gaius asks Amira. She replies that she wouldn’t have connected the events, but now that she thinks about it, Lucretia may be right to suspect something. A month or so before the coterie arrived, there was a suspicious fire and, right around that time, another insignificant low-life Julii vanished. It’s not clear whether she burned, as no one cared enough to investigate. The disgraced childe of a sire who vanished mysteriously in Rome, this Petronia was vicious and careless, and had at least once been brought before the Senex by Pyotr for draining a tavern-goer in an alleyway, leaving him to die where anyone might find the body. She was let off with a warning due to her sire’s status, to Pyotr’s disgust.

Gaius decides to ask around as to whether anyone has useful information that might help put all of these pieces together. He stops a passing Nosferatu to ask a few questions, which doesn’t go well. One of the local Vermes, the passer-by spits out criticisms of Rome and high-and-mighty Roman nitwits coming to his city asking stupid questions. Gaius, enraged, orders to Nosferatu to go dive into the closest sewer.

Tiberius, suspecting there may be more to this than meets the eye, follows the receding figure into the vile waste pipes, easily tracking him. However, when he goes to attack, with diablerie in his mind, something baffling happens. He has mesmerized his prey, ordering him to forget Tiberius was ever there, in case the attacks fails and the intended victim escapes. But he is thwarted is a new and inexplicable way . . . the body flows between his hands like water, seeming to dissolve into the flowing effluvia.

• • •

The coterie regroup at the Siren to share what they’ve learned. Upon hearing of the tenuous connection between the three who’ve burned over the past few months, Violea asks Amira if there are any other trouble-making Julii she knows of.

Amira replies that the Julii have in fact been disappearing for some time, whether to torpor or flight. And last year was marked by rumors from Rome and by Sedeh’s purge of what she claimed were demon-haunted traitors, most of whom were of the Julii. No one dared question Sedeh, though she was the only one who could see this supposed taint.

The society of the Propinquii is relatively small in Byzantium. While of course some unaligned may go unnoticed through assiduous effort, in fact Amira can think of only one who might fit that “troublesome” label . . . Kassandra, her mentor.

Because surely Decimus, as head of the Legio and leader of the Senex, cannot be tarred with this same brush.

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411 A.D. Where There's Smoke
Not the Best Way to Meet the Neighbors

• • •

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
“Sailing to Byzantium”—W.B. Yeats

• • •
Gaius awakes as night is falling. He is in a dark room, a room that smells of smoke. It is both completely unfamiliar and yet strangely hauntingly familiar. He feels along the walls. Rough plaster. No doors. No windows. Smoke, definitely smoke.

Violea awakes. Tiberius awakes. Smoke. Doorless room. Smoke.

All of the coterie jolt awake again, this time in their familiar havens, with that strange hangover feeling one gets from a very realistic yet unparsable dream. It’s all dissipated except for the smoke.

They rush outside, alerting servitors to be on the ready with buckets and ladders. Looking across the narrow and already bustling street of the Rack, as they’ve learned that the street of brothels and tavernas is known locally, they see a column of black smoke dissipating.

Crossing the street, they find a building burnt out, the flames apparently devastating but now extinguished. In the ashes, a slender woman, one of the Propinquii, rocks back and forth, clutching a shred of cloth, her face smeared with Vitae. A swarthy man of middle age (of eternal middle age) attempts to comfort her.

“Can’t you hear them? Smell them? The filthy animals, the beasts?”

The man looks up at the coterie. “She sometimes hears the past,” he explains. Gaius nods, “We know of this ability, one of our associates has similar powers.”

The man introduces himself as Samuel, one of the neighbors, along with Tamar and Jonas, who have been granted this territory by the Senex. Gaius stiffens a bit at the name “Jonus,” but before he can say more, Tamar looks to Tiberius. “You’re Lucretia’s latest little puppy, aren’t you? You and you sad little friend SImone?”

“I have not yet had the pleasure of introducing him to his colleagues.” Lucretia steps from the shadows, where she has apparently been examining the scene, looks not to Tiberius but to Gaius. “I hear you had a little dust-up with Jonas last night?”.

Gaius defends his interactions, given Jonas’s disgusting feeding habits, at which Samuel sighs in unhappy recognition. Still, the fact that he sent Jonas into the night with specific instructions to court disaster seem . . . suspicious.

Lucretia tells Tiberius to prove himself by investigating, and the rest of the coterie come along. It is already known that this is Jonas’s haven, and that the fire was apparently set during the day, and extinguished by the VIgiles.

Further investigation by the coterie turn up evidence that a body was apparently dragged from the sleeping palette to the window, and that something had been pried off the now-open window.
The coterie goes off into the night to inquire as they might.

• • •

The next night Violea is summoned to the Gemini, to meet with the proprietess, Valentina, a member of the Kindred who despite her lower status and tawdry surroundings, somehow reminds her of her late mentor, Julia Comitor. They chat equitably, and Valentina expresses some knowledge of Violea’s history staging entertainments in Rome, and her innovative ideas about mixing mortals and Propinquii. Byzantine social mores already allow for much less . . . propriety than in Rome, and members of the nobility often attend erotic circus and theater performances. Valentina is interested in exploring ideas for partnership.

However, first, she sets Violea a small test of her mettle and managerial skills. An attendant, Elias—a member of the Propinquii but, despite his Julii blood, a louche and disreputable sort—has been feeding overmuch from clientele. While of course this sort of thing is expected, it’s the depth to which he rinks, and the attendant risks he brings of attention from the local authorities. Valentina fears that a death or disabling could bring the wrath of both Pyotr, the local Masquerade enforcer, and the mortal authorities. She asks, might Violea have any ideas for handling this situation?

Violea willing confronts Elias, engaging in a battle of wills that, after some heated exchange, leaves the latter fleeing in shame, ordered to return to his domicile and sin no more.

The mystery of Jonas’s death looms large, but at least this is one problem handily dispatched.

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411 A.D. One Night in Byzantium
New Friends, New Adversaries, New Opportunities

• • •

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
—”Sailing to Byzantium,” William Butler Yeats

• • •

The coterie begins to settle in to the area formerly held by the now-deceased demon worshipper Josephus and his equally defunct cult. Kassandra has informed them that the narrow area that separates this land from that held by the group that brought Josephus to final justice is a pleasure district consisting of taverns, houses of ill-repute, and the like. The area is granted as feeding ground to the coterie as well as the demon-hunters across the way. They ask where they are to meet Amira, her ward, and she directs them to a relatively reputable taverna, the Lucky Siren, that abuts their granted territory.

A few nights hence they make plans to meet, as directed by Kassandra. Entering the tavern, they immediately notice one of their kind, a small woman of 25 or so years, dark skinned and haired in the way of the Persian people. Despite her slight stature and seeming youth, she radiates both calm and presence beyond her apparent years. Clearly, this is the member of the undead whom they were sent to meet.

Amira thanks them for their kindness in allowing her to haven with them. Upon inquiry, she confirms that Kassandra is not her sire—she is of the Daeva bloodline, not Kassandra’s more elevated (in their own minds, at least) Julii heritage. However, her own sire met with an unfortunate end and Kassandra was kind enough to welcome her into the local Cult of the Augurs and take over her tutoring in the mysteries of the Veneficia. “Of course,” she adds, “all that is behind me now, as we have all bent our knees to the new god.”

“Of course,” Gaius affirms, with an almost imperceptible air of distaste. “I don’t suppose you kept any of the old artifacts for, perhaps, historic value?” She replies that, in fact, she has an interest in history and has stored quite a number of ritual objects for purely personal study. In fact, she is hoping that her new chambers might have a . . . secluded area where she could display such now-discredited objects. Gaius expresses his similar interest in history, and says that can certainly be arranged.

Amira offers to show the group their new, shared feeding grounds, and warns to keep an eye out for Lazar’s favorite childe, Pyotr. This Nosferatu was attacked by monster hunters, staked out in the sun to die. He was able to escape, at the cost of terrible scarring. And he has chosen not to heal those wounds, as a reminder and warning to all. As a result of this experience, he has an obsession with privacy bordering on the unhinged. He constantly examines the city’s Propinquii for any signs that they have let slip the mask, as he calls it, and allowed mortals to glimpse their true nature. To Romans accustomed to visiting their families and others under the guise of shades and household gods, this seems at the least unnecessary and at the worst offensive. But Pyotr has the ear of his sire who is a member of the Senex, so there is little to be done but attempt to avoid drawing his ire. It’s not entirely clear, at least to Amira, whether Decimus supports this approach, or merely defers to his most ancient council-member.

The coterie split up to pursue their interests and thirsts, whether for vitae, power, information, or some combination thereof.

• • •

As Gaius prowls the streets, he is practically accosted by a seemingly drunk member of the Propinquii stumbling out of a drinking establishment with a very young mortal girl on his arm, possibly as little as 11 or 12 in age. Gaius confronts this individual with the impropriety of what he’s doing, to which the self-important creature replies, “I’m a hero! I can do what I want! The blood of Remus runs in my veins, and I have saved the city!”. It turns out that this is Jonas, a Julii and one of the local demon-hunters from across the way, drunk on blood, cheap wine, and his sense of self-importance. Gaius confronts him and wins a battle of wills, sending him into the night with the command to challenge those who outmatch him to fights for several nights to come.

When he looks back to find the little girl, she has slipped into the night.

• • •

Violia, meanwhile, searches for a properly refined house of pleasure from which to feed. She is directed to the Gemini, a nicely appointed establishment with a sign out front depicting the twins in a way not customarily seen in nicer districts. But quite entertaining. She enters with Alaric, and makes the usual request to have some girls sent . . . supposedly to assuage his thirsts.

Her own thirsts taken care of in this manner, she chats with the house manager, mentioning that she had no small experience staging amusements and events back in Rome, and that she might well wish to partner with the right locals to do something similar here in Byzantium. An enterprise that would no doubt be quite mutually beneficial. The manager, Demetrius, is intrigued, and says he’ll happily speak to the Gemini’s owner, although of course it will take a bit of . . . persuasion, perhaps. Violia, ever the astute reader of men, presses a small but heavy purse into his hand and says she’s sure he’ll be most persuasive. And that no doubt she’ll need some expert assistance from an astute manager such as himself in starting any new enterprise.

• • •

Tiberius is mainly interested in information tonight. He wants to know who these vampire hunters are, these Aves of which the unfortunate bandit Nikos spoke, and if they’ve spread to Byzantium. His hunger assuaged easily enough, he goes in search of knowledge.

He walks the streets, looking for any of the Propinquii who seem a likely source of information. He realizes he is being watched from the shadows by a malevolent-looking Nosferatu, but decides not to engage. Instead, his eye is drawn to a hard-looking Gangrel who seems to have staked out (as it were) a street corner and is watching the human foot traffic with a knowing eye. She is tall, dark-skinned, powerfully built, and dressed in what looks like her own rather personalized interpretation of Legio garb.

Tiberius approaches her, and while she is initially uninterested in conversation, she softens a bit when she realizes that he is not there to challenge her. He learns that her name is Lucretia Cana, and she is the informal investigator for the Senex, and kind of Hound of Justice. She looks Tiberius up and down and asks him if he might want to do a bit of work for her, alongside a few other hand-picked . . . candidates. She doesn’t speaks the word “thugs,” but the implication hangs in the air that some jobs are best handled outside the official purview of the Legio. He asserts his interest, and she says she’ll be in touch.

And thus, the night ends with each of the group having found something of interest. And perhaps having been found of interest as well, though by whom or what is not entirely clear.

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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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411 A.D.: An Appointment in Serdica
What's a Little Arson Between Friends?

• • •

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
Those dying generations at their song,
The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas.
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

—“Sailing to Byzantium,” W.B. Yeats

• • •

The caravan has traveled ever east—up through Italian lands and across Gothic territory toward Byzantium. Even after all these months, they can barely believe that the Eternal City has fallen to crass barbarians, much less that the Camarilla is no more, the Julii almost entirely destroyed. With Nocturna murdered by the insane mortals who call themselves Cainites, the only Roman Julii known to still exist are those carefully wrapped, warded, and stored deep within Gaius’s belongings. And . . . Tiberius, who continues to be beset by the restless and relentless shade of Hostilinus, as well as the altogether too familiar strictures of the Morbus Curse.

One night, as the mortal members of the caravan retire and the undead rise to feed, Mio comes to Gaius’s camp. She tells him that she has interesting news from her people in Alexandria. While it is known that a few decades ago the Christian scum burned the city’s world-renowned library, all may not be lost. It seems that the city’s undead elders had sent ghouls into the burning library to rescue the priceless scrolls and carry them down into the vast Alexandrian Necropolis. Ghoul after ghoul was burnt alive or smothered by smoke, but relentless (and expendable) as ants many were able to return with armloads of papyrus, skins, and even tablets from antiquity.

She plans to take a fast ship home to see what can be learned of the Owls and how to fight them. She asks a mighty favor—that she might bring not only Gaudens but also Lucius, as the two scholars besides Gaius (and the torpid Sabina) most likely to understand the rich but fragmentary texts. Gaius is sore put to grant this wish, hating to lose his nephew’s company, but he realizes that this is, in fact, the young man’s duty. And that perhaps some of his reluctance is his own yearning to join such an adventure. With heavy, if unbeating, heart he tells the old Avis and his young apprentice to accompany Mio, and to send a messenger as soon as they have any news. As they leave, he impulsively unbuckles his sword and gives it to Lucius, telling him to wield it wisely—to make old Decimus, dead these 80 years, proud wherever in Elysium he may rest.

Next, Agata comes to him, asking if she and Gallix might beg his permission to go north rather than east with the caravan. A stranger in Rome, she will also be a stranger in Byzantium, and she yearns for her own people, her own gods, if they will have her. Gallix receives Tiberius’s reluctant blessing for this mission, provided she leaves their son behind, and the two women leave, bearing only a few belongings between them. Gaius asks them to send word every so often, and Agata reminds him that, as far as they know, their life may be eternal. Thus no doubt their paths will cross again.

The road is scarecly populated and Gaius elects to stand guard rather than indulging the urge to feed. Violia makes use of her barbarians, so only Tiberius must roam the countryside, seeking a diseased source. He manages to find just such fodder in a squalid camp of refugees from Rome, and the rest of the night passes uneventfully.

• • •

About a month later, the group begins to see signs that they are approaching not just a settlement, but a major city. Consulting maps and memory, they realize that Alexander of Macedon’s old capital, Serdica, lies not far ahead. The group’s mighty wagon train sets up camp some distance from the city walls, to avoid alarming the local populace. The next night, as soon as the sun has dipped below the mountains, Gaius, Tiberius, and Violia—accompanied as ever by one of her barbarians—approach the city’s gates with no small trepidation.

They are met by members of the local Legio, and brought before the city’s Senex. The elders quiz them carefully about rumors of the fall of Rome, and of deadly birds on the wing. They also ask about some reports of injudicious feedings along the roads, leading to possible trouble with the locals. The coterie is genuinely confused by this (after a quick but telling glance at Tiberius). They are examined by a Theban council member clearly gifted with high levels of Auspex and declared to be truthful in their statements. They are thus granted one night’s feeding rights at the massive Ampitheater of Serdica, famed for being almost as large and grande (and riddled with sin and vice) as Rome’s Forum before the fall.

Gaius is starving but manages to stave off frenzy while drinking and gambling with a supporter of the rival Blues. The Greens win at first, but are at the last beaten soundly. As he and his companion stagger off (one truly drunk, the other merely reeling from hunger), he feeds deeply from the man, becoming drunk and reckless himself.

Meanwhile Violia pursues a more nuanced strategy, using Cedric to lure ladies of the evening into a compromising position where she can drink from them. She notes that the two they select are dressed more finely than one might expect of ladies working the crowds at a chariot race, in beautifully woven and dyed silks.

Tiberius, compelled by Hostilinus’s curse to seek out diseased prey (and castigated by a screaming voice in his head, like a migraine of morality), finds a pock-marked but still pretty whore named Britta. He feeds deeply from her and then, as she slumps to the ground, decides almost on impulse, to take her with him as a reliable source of tainted blood.

The three Propinquii and various assorted barbarians, conscious or otherwise, begin their journey on foot to the distant caravan. Out of nowhere, they are set upon by mortals, apparently bent on robbing the travelers. The group (despite Gaius’s deeply intoxicated state) fends off the attackers, managing to leave one alive and unconscious for later interrogation. They relax a bit, sure the fight is over, when one last attacker flings himself like a berserker from a nearby overhang—and is picked off in midair by a umistakably Sassanid arrow.

In a swirl of silk and a cloud of myrrh, Nadzir steps from the shadows, an apparent if unexpected ally. Raising a perfectly plucked eyebrow at Gaius’s state, he turns to greet Violia, making it clear that he and Drusilla have parted ways, and seemingly not on good terms. (Violia resists noting that Drusilla is never on good terms with anyone but herself or her current patsy.) He reminds them of his friendship with poor Nocturna, and intimates that he is acquainted with her sire and can make introductions. Knowing the suspicion that tends to swirl around strange Propinquii attempting to establish themselves in a new city, the ever-politic Violia makes a quick decision. Taking his proferred arm she says, graciously, “What’s a little arson between friends?”, and strolls with him towards the wagons.

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Welcome to your campaign!
A blog for your campaign

Wondering how to get started? Here are a few tips:

1. Invite your players

Invite them with either their email address or their Obsidian Portal username.

2. Edit your home page

Make a few changes to the home page and give people an idea of what your campaign is about. That will let people know you’re serious and not just playing with the system.

3. Choose a theme

If you want to set a specific mood for your campaign, we have several backgrounds to choose from. Accentuate it by creating a top banner image.

4. Create some NPCs

Characters form the core of every campaign, so take a few minutes to list out the major NPCs in your campaign.

A quick tip: The “+” icon in the top right of every section is how to add a new item, whether it’s a new character or adventure log post, or anything else.

5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

That’s it! The rest is up to your and your players.

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