Exile in Byzantium

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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