Exile in Byzantium

411 A.D.: Meet the New Optio

New friends, old friends, new worries

• • •

And not a drop that from our Cups we throw
For Earth to drink of, but may steal below
To quench the fire of Anguish in some Eye
There hidden—far beneath, and long ago
.

—The Rubaiyat of Omar Kayam
• • •

The group goes to see Decimus, who at first seems nervous at the sight of Gaius—is this to be a coup? But when he realizes Gaius is actually there to help, he gives him a small test. Pyotr the self-appointed Guardian of the Masquerade is there, arguing for the right to bring Final Death to a criminal (at least in his eyes) who has wantonly embraced the daughter of a local patrician family. While embrace is less rigorously controlled that it will come to be in future nights, this is a potentially serious matter, as the family is influential.

Gaius agrees that this is a serious matter, and says that he personally will interrogate and, if necessary, deal with the perpetrator, known as Arnulf, who is being held in custody while his fate is determined.

• •

Later, as Tiberius is hunting, he is attacked by four vigilantes. He fights them off, dispatching two of them, and saves one to question. He finds that they don’t seem to be affiliated with the Aves, but rather local thugs who got fired up by talk of monster-hunting, and wanted to try this new sport. They were apparently urged on by a local priest who has taken an interest in these matters. TIberius dominates this thug to believe he’s actually killed the monster and sends him off to meet his cronies at their local, the Harpy’s Nest, Roundheadicus trotting along behind.

• •

Violia goes to meet with Valentina at the Gemini, and is introduced to Felix, a carpenter, strongman, and leader of the local Greens. He is mortal, but seems accepting of those with . . . different lifestyles. They joke a bit about his patron, the bishop Alexander, who answers those who would shame him for the relationship by asking, is it really more of a crime to love two carpenters than just one?

Felix can arrange for the ladies to rent out the Hippodrome for a night’s festivities. Perhaps a chariot race and some even racier entertainments?

• •

The next night Gaius returns to the so-called Camarilla Nova to discuss matters of command. Decimus introduces him to the first soldier Gaius has yet encountered in this city who seems to have some level of training and discipline, one Titus Valerius Corvus, of the diminished Julii clan. Corvus leads Gaius and his men to the Legio barracks, with a somewhat reluctant air. Why becomes clear when they enter the common room to a motley collection of ruffians and louts who would have been viewed as unseemly even in the lowest levels of the Roman Collegia.

Gaius demands to speak to the senior officer on duty, who turns out to be one of the Propinquii dicing on tables that would have been better purposed to maintaining the shoddy arms and armour of the ranks. He interrogates this Faustus Cornelius Varro, who is truculent and defensive, but accepts Gaius as the new commander and Thascius of Rome as his Optio.

Gaius appoints Thascius and the seemingly trustworthy Corvus to set about instilling some proper order and discipline—with an imprecation not to spare the rod as needed. He then demands to be taken to where the prisoner is being held. A sulky junior member of the Legio leads him down a long dingy hallway. Suddenly he hears the unlikely sounds of girlish voices. He looks to the junior legionnaire who somewhat reluctantly leads him to a cell where two pretty young mortal girls are lounging, looking drugged but not unhappy. It turns out they’ve been kept by the soldiers as easy feeding, and to appease to tastes of prisoners. Gaius presses some coins into their hands and sends them on their way.

At last reaching the most secure cell, his guide stops in what is clearly not feigned shock. Heavy shackles hang from the walls, the heavy iron cell door is securely chained . . . but the prisoner is nowhere to be found. Suspecting trickery, Gaius closely questions the junior soldier and then, finding no good answer, the rest of the cohort. It becomes clear that his sort, Propinquii of the North, are not well known in Byzantium, it being a culture dominated by Theban and Roman clans, while the true natives are the monstrous Nosferatu of Pyotr’s line. Thus, given also the general lack of education or training amongst these dregs, they were unaware of the tricks a powerful Gangrel might bring to the table. Or the earthen floor.

Infuriated, Gaius orders the Legion to fan out, searching haven to haven for this Arnulf.

• •

Meanwhile, Tiberius learns that the ruffians who tried to bring him to Final Death have a headquarters of sorts at a low-life drinking establishment called the Harpy’s Nest. Calling as little attention to himself as he can, he lurks in the shadows, nursing a cup of wine that’s a lot closer to vinegar than anything he ever smelled, even in his most sordid mortal adventures. He learns that the monster hunters range from the badly organized louts who weren’t even sure what sort of creatures they were out to bash to some who seem alarmingly more aware of the Undead, and how to harass them.

Particularly, some vigilantes who use language reminiscent of the Aves of Rome (and encountered so unwelcomely on the road from Sardica), seem all too interested in forming a sort of Crossroads Club, bringing the Blues together as ad-hoc Vigiles hunting the Undead. A local church seems to be an organizational hub, there is talk of “the preacher” as an organizational linchpin.

Tiberius decides to report on this development to Lucretia, the Hound and his nominal supervisor. When he approaches her headquarters, adjacent to those of the Legio, he sees a female figure inside and enters, assuming it to be her. Instead, it’s a younger vampire, clad in garb similar to Lucretia’s, if a bit less intimidating. This, it turns out, is Simone, his fellow Canus Minor. They chat a bit about the night’s developments, and she suggests they investigate this troublesome priest.

• •

Violia has been planning how she might craft a spectacle that would cement her business partnership with Valentina, gain her part-ownership of the Gemini, and in other ways continue to help her rise to the position of power and influence she had come to enjoy as apprentice to Julia Comitor. As she sketches a few ideas on scraps of parchment, letting her mind wander, she is called to attention by one of her servitors, letting her know that a slave from the Gemini is asking whether she is available to meet with Valentina, for a matter of some importance and discretion.

She has the servitor relay that of course she’ll be delighted to meet her new business partner, and to ask Valentina to receive her in an an hour or so’s time, to allow her to make herself presentable. Or rather, she thinks, to allow her to gather her thoughts and prepare for what she certainly hopes is not battle.

As she makes her way towards the Gemini, a hooded figure catches her eye, beckons with an unnervingly greyish and clawlike digit. “Domina?” he murmurs. “My master wishes if he could have but a moment of your time?”

“And who is your master?” she asks. Being informed that he serves Pyotr, she makes the calculation that this is a brief detour worth making. Or, perhaps, dangerous to ignore. So, she follows the nightmarish figure to a small chamber piled high with scrolls, tablets, and ominous-looking lead lozenges inscribed with cryptic writings.

The elder Nosferatu makes her welcome and gets quickly to his point. He says that while there is still much gossip that she and her coven are implicated in the series of suspicious fires and Final Deaths that have occurred, he feels certain they are innocent. And, if not . . . well, he sighs. None who were finished were a credit to our society. If not for the danger of drawing mortal attention upon us, I’d be ready to congratulate whoever rid us of those miscreants.

If he expected anything other than a politely remote response, he is disappointed. Violia agrees that the victims did, indeed, seem to be troublemakers but, of course, it is not ours to decide such things. And mortal inquiries are so very tedious.

He then goes on to let her know that her colleague Gaius is hunting for a most egregious criminal, and that he certainly hopes that she’ll see fit to use her influence to convince her hot-headed friend to bring Arnulf to Final Justice. And further, he implies, he would be very happy to count her amongst his friends. Because really, who does not need powerful friends?

Violia makes all the right polite noises, and then pleads pressing business and makes her exit as quickly as possible while still appearing polite.
At the Gemini, Valentina apologizes for the cryptic message, saying that the topic is not one she’d want to have fall into the wrong hands as a missive. She asks Violia if it’s true that back in Rome, once the Cult of Augurs was made illegal, she allowed the Vaticinators to practice in secret in her establishments. Violia cautiously indicates that such a thing might have transpired once or twice. Valentina lets her know that she’d greatly appreciate her assistance in addressing such an issue here, as followers of the Goddess are being persecuted by the Lance and, as a devotee of Venus, she feels it her duty to help out.

And wonderful news, she adds. A recently arrived dignitary from Rome is willing to help guide us! She leads Violia to one of the lushly appointed private rooms. She takes in a languid figure lounging on a silk divan. Long legs in an almost obscenely short tunic. A tousle of curls. Their eyes meet. “Why hello, it has been a long time hasn’t it,” he drawls.

Eupraxis.

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