Rome is an expansionist empire of ultra-militaristic and highly organized wolfmen whose star is in ascendancy. They are matchless warriors who possess accelerated regenerative powers, superior strength and a near immunity to pain. Their dominant religious cults worship Mars Ultor and Jupiter Maximus, the avenging god of war and the great benefactor god of triumph and fortune. Roman society is complex, with the expanding empire bringing many influences from far-off lands to intermingle with Roman wolf culture. A trend many among them see as a threat and a weakening of their pure wolf bloodlines. Formally the senate rules over Rome, but in reality a handful of very powerful families dominate all decision making underneath the façade. Rome dreams of ridding the world of the vampiric corruption, their sworn nemesis, and unifying it under the ‘Pax Luporum—Peace of Wolves’. But until that day, the Romans will wage ceaseless war: against the vampires, the barbarians, the old empires and literally anyone that stands in their way, be they mortal or supernatural being alike.
“Veni, vidi, evisceravi.”– Imperator Aurelius, 745 AR
[“I came, I saw, I eviscerated.”]
Legend holds that Rome began when two brothers, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned by their mother. It is said they were the twin sons of Mars who suffered misfortune on their divine father’s behalf. Left to certain death in the wild, the infants were found by a she-wolf who took them as her own and raised them in her tribe of lycans. The wolfmen were savages, feared by humans and hunted on sight, which forced them to live a life of liminality at the borders of civilization. As the years passed, the boys grew into capable men. At first rejected by the wolves, the brothers quickly proved their worth as the most skilled huntsmen among their clan, and rose to organize the splintered wolfmen families under one leadership. Romulus and Remus lead the wolves with reason and prudence, tempering their feral nature, and soon they were wielding the very same weapons their human tormentors came to slay them with—fire and metal.
Organized into an army, under the sons of Mars, the Wolves’ superior physical nature became unstoppable. Stronger than humans, they could tear off the limbs of an opponent with their bare hands; mortal wounds healed within short stretches; their superhuman senses made it difficult to be caught off guard; and they could march for days on end, without the need for sustenance nor sleep, making them an infantry army unlike the world had ever seen. When the time came to unleash this fighting force—all of Italy trembled. The humans that came to hunt them were the first to fall before the wolves, after that, they turned their sight on bigger settlements, more lands, and took them triumphantly. With this an imperial hunger was awakened in the Wolves, that burns to this day. To honor their victories, Romulus and Remus built the city of Rome, to serve as their new capital, at the same spot their wolf-mother found them.
Following, Rome expanded its dominion further. The Sabines, Samnites and Etruscans all fell in quick succession to the Wolve’s power. As the stories began to spread, many surrendered in a flash, fearing to meet the wolfmen in combat. The Greek colonies in the south mounted heavier resistance by employing their dreaded silver weapons—the lycans’ major weakness—and their empire conquering phalanxes. But by now the wolves were no longer mere savages in the grip of bestiality. Embracing the advanced military tactics of their subjugated enemies, the Wolves overcame even the Greek’s legendary cunning. Thus, having secured the Italic peninsula, the Romans not only adopted the sophisticated military knowledge of their conquered foes, but they began the study of their philosophers, the appreciation of their great works of art, their science and architecture, turning Rome in the process into a center for all civilizatory marvels.
As fate would have it, the growing empire soon found itself the target of another, more equal, predator. The Vampires of Carthage set out to subvert Rome and stir its course to their advantage. They sought to undermine the fledgling Roman empire from within, through infiltration by vampiric secret societies, a strategy that had proven itself so well during Carthage’s rise to power. But the vampires soon found a rude awakening to their ambitions. The vampire’s power is based on secrecy, a luxury that was denied by the Romans’ superhuman perception. In a crude but effective manner, the vampire’s distinct scent revealed all to the Romans. Carthage saw its efforts violently thwarted, their spy networks and sizable portions of their secret societies across the Mediterranean decimated in turn, as the Romans mercilessly uprooted the vampiric corruption wherever they encountered it. Both empires clashed with special vengeance that seemed to be in equal parts rooted in political necessity as in an innate visceral hatred for the others’ very nature. The enmity of the two superpowers forced the Carthaginian puppets into the open thereby supplying the casus belli for further Roman intervention—and conquest.
While many sided with their Carthaginian masters some city states and kingdoms openly beseeched Rome for protection against the vampiric subversion. The wolves took the crisis as a gift from Mars to advance their drive for hegemony over the Mediterranean. To the North, the Barbarians were pushed back beyond the Alps to the cursed forests of the North. Across the Adriatic Sea, Corrupted Epirus and the troublesome Illyrians were annexed and the local vampire infestation eliminated. The once mighty Hellenic city states suffered the Roman onslaught next, followed by the kingdoms of Asia Minor who all saw the Roman banners raised above their capitals and their lands annexed into the Roman Republic. Campaigns against Syracuse and the Seleucid Empire, whose ruling bodies were all in the firm grip of the vampires, saw the Romans victorious and the vampire menace vanquished.
The world was as ripe for the taking, ready to be united under the “Pax Luporum”. A term of Roman philosophy that denotes a lasting peace of prosperity and high culture—under Wolf dominion. Empowered by Mars and blessed by the great benefactor Jupiter Maximus, the Roman war machine ate up everything in its path. With the conquered riches flowing back to Rome, the city became ever more grand and glorious. But with the riches there also came an influx of new Romans, non-wolves. Rome had sprawled far beyond its initial territories. Seeing the need to enlist conquered peoples into their armies, all were offered full Roman citizenship upon completion of military service in the legions. And today, many legions advance without one Wolf of pure Roman descent in their ranks. A development most factions within the Roman elite, the patricians, observe with troubled attention.
It is said that Rome wasn’t built in a single day but that it can be burned to the ground in one, and Rome’s enemies are working relentlessly towards that goal. Unlimited warfare has come at a steep price. Although Rome’s achievements are nothing short of astounding, fissures are forming within the Republic despite its many glorious attainments. Powerful families vie for total control, their leaders ready to crown themselves emperor. The distance between rich and poor keeps on increasing as wealth continues to pour in. And the division between the different peoples under Rome’s banner begins to show under pressure.
We mark the year 736 AR (i.e. after Romulus), and the Lycans are continually advancing their borders, with, so far, no one to match their martial prowess. What the future holds only the high gods of Mount Olympus know, but one thing is for certain: the Wolves will stop at nothing short of complete self-annihilation before their voracious hunger has abated, or all their foes lay slain.
“We all know the ‘Peace of Wolves’ is a pleasant fairy tale dreamed up by distant musings of philosophers devoid of any connection to the real world. There will never be such a thing. We can only hope that we never run out of enemies, or Romans will sink their teeth into their own brothers. Our hunger is not of this world, and neither can the world hope to satisfy it.”
—Iamblichus, the Younger, 699 AR
Underneath the workings of the senate, there exists a small number of ancient families that hold all real power within the republic. These houses trace their lineages back to the founding of Rome, and are pivotal in all of Rome’s decision making, be it overt or clandestine. The most prominent houses are:
House Aquilla; also known as the Noble Aquillii: Led by the celebrated war hero Septimus Aquillius Coelius; the Aquillii are known for their honorable ways and adherence to Roman warrior tradition. They are generally well liked by the public, but often at odds with the other more pragmatic and ruthless factions within the senate. The Aquilii represent Rome’s finest both on the battlefield and in the halls of power, where they lead with equal amounts of wisdom and Roman brazenness. Their symbol is the eagle.
House Valeria; also known as the Brutal Valerii: The Valerii are a powerful faction known for their “might makes right” attitude that gained Rome many victories in the past. The Valerii completely embrace the hunger for carnage and conquest, burning in each wolf. They are led by the bloodthirsty and fearsome Manius Valerius Venator who is as much preoccupied with his many vendettas against the great houses, as with his extreme hatred of Carthage, that outshines even the other Wolve’s inborn aversion towards the vampires. Their symbol is the bull.
House Obsidia; also known as the Cunning Obsidii: This house is known for its strong ties to the plebeian population, and its embrace of many non-Roman influences that border on the illicit and disreputable. Gaius Obsidius Corvus is the leader of this faction and a favorite among the plebeian masses. He’s famed for his poetry, rhetoric mastery and charity work. Nonetheless, the Obsidii are viewed with a suspicious eye by the other Patrician houses. Their detractors claim they are involved in all criminal activity within the Roman republic—one way or another. Their saving grace being—ironically—their unconventional ways: House Obsidia has swung many seemingly lost battles in Rome’s favor due to their outside of the box thinking and rule bending. They are Rome’s wildcard and their symbol is the scorpion.
Minor Houses: There are many smaller houses within the Roman hierarchy of families that rise to prominence and fade into obscurity, just as quickly as they arose. But some have more permanence than others: Minor houses include House Aternia, famous for its unbroken lineage of heroes that traces itself back to the times of King Romulus; House Claudia, an upcoming house of strong warrior breed and loyalty to the Aquilii; House Horatia, best known for their valor during the Punic War; House Numicia, famous for their defense of Rome in its hour of need. These houses are of significance but Rome’s power revolves around the axis of Aquillii, Valerii and Obsidii whose unceasing battle against outside forces is the only thing keeping them from breaking out into open hostility against one another.
“The antechamber of death is every Roman’s second home.”
—Galenus of Pergamon, Preceptor of Physicians
Of the Romans many remarkable traits, a few set them apart like no others, and are of particular noteworthiness. These are: their voracious hunger, their ability to heal even the gravest wounds, their averse relationship to silver, their superhuman strength and sense perception, and lastly, their unnaturally glowing eyes.
Romans have a well known, and well earned, capacity to ingurgitate large quantities of food— especially meat—but few know the exact extent of their ravenousness. While it is true that Romans crave meat like nothing else, they have long since tempered their bestial passions, and can indeed exert self-control for very long periods of time, in which they can abstain from any sustenance at all, including water or other liquids. But these periods of voluntary or involuntary abstinence come at a hefty price. With each day of fasting, the lycan mind becomes a little more unhinged, a little more irrational and paranoid. And if this situation is not remedied, the Lycan will experience a psychotic breakdown, after about fortnight since the abstention. At this point, the Roman will be hardly recognizable as a being of reason, he will revert to its pre-Roman savagery, and attack anyone and anything in his vicinity, in an effort to devour their flesh. This includes other wolves, or even his own family members. The only remedy at this point is to supply the wolf with stupendous amounts of meat—equalling to about more than half his own body in weight in meat— or the other option is to kill the Lycan. This is why it is said that ‘Rome is always only one missed meal away from descending into violent madness.’
The ability of the Romans to heal even the most shocking wounds is directly tied to their consumption of flesh. Lost tissue needs to be replaced, and other healing processes consume large quantities of the Lycan’s internal resources. Therefore, the need for the consumption of flesh is increased around the time of injury. And in some cases of extreme severity, it is essentially to provide the injured Wolf with meat, or the regeneration might be halted before the life-life threatening injuries are remedied. The healing itself can be quite the spectacle on its own. Excessive heat is produced along with minor electric sparks that can be seen around the wounded area. Romans can withstand nearly all injury to the body that would kill normal humans. The exceptions are decapitation, or excessive destruction of the nervous system. Similarly burning, and other forms of alchemical disintegration can undo the Romans regenerative capabilities. Minor wounds might heal within minutes, while the regeneration of entire limbs might take even days, depending on the age of the Wolf.
With this ability to withstand damage, the Wolves are also equipped with the accompanying ability to endure extreme pain. While the Lycan’s heightened sense perception lets them experience every sensation in a more intense way, their strength of will overpowers the natural instinct to withdraw from the source of pain. It can only be assumed that the Romans’ barbaric origins have something to do with their readiness to brave physical hardship, including extreme agony. Worryingly, to the elder patricians, the younger generation seem to quickly be losing this useful savage vestigiality… When the Romans set out to subdue Italy, many enemies surrendered either upon sighting frightful armies of wolf monsters marching in formation, or did so shortly after battle ensued and the Wolfs could display their full talent for violence The Lycans possess physical strength that far outmatches regular human dimensions. A Lycan is able to rip the arms off a human with sheer brute strength. His legs allow him to jump great distances and tear his prey to shreds with their preternatural jaws. All excellent qualities for an infantry force. Additionally, extraordinary stamina allows the wolfmen to march for days without rest, giving them a swiftness in campaigns few forces can match.
Silver is the Roman’s only major shortcoming. While it is perfectly safe, and sometimes even therapeutic in balancing the humors in humans, the Lycan reaction to it is nothing short of extreme. Even small amounts have a totally corrosive and incendiary effect on Roman tissue. Wounds inflicted by silver weapons either do not heal or leave behind permanent scar tissue that does not regenerate. Silver is of such importance to countering the Roman warmachine, that the precious metal has become more sought after than gold in the mediterranean. Since the Romans ascendance, silver has become a rare commodity due to the major empires buying up all available quantities. The Carthaginians and others acquire silver to coat their weapons of war with it; While the Romans buy silver to move it off the market and out of the hands of their enemies.
The doors of perception stand wide open to the Roman awareness. Undeniably, the most remarkable is their olfactory sense, which has allowed them to see through the conspiratorial machinations of the Carthaginian Vampires and their enthralled minions. But sight, just as hearing, are developed to a heightened degree. The sense of touch, and proprioception makes Romans move with uncanny agility and precision, usually not encountered with higher, intelligent life forms.
Many organisms possess seemingly superhuman abilities and powers. Cyclopes, ogres, harpies, orgoliths all have astounding capabilities. However, with Romans there appears to be more than the hand of nature at work. Their glowing eyes being perhaps the most glaring hint, that is not found in natural denizens of this earth. Some scholars argue that the Lycan race, like the vampire curse, are not of this world, but have somehow been transported here, across the infinite chasm separating the spheres. The Romans do not appreciate these rumors, as they undermine their legitimacy and sovereignty. They see themselves blessed and chosen by the gods, specifically Mars, for the acceptance and submission to his sons, Romulus and Remus. Only the Roman mystery schools, like the Arcani, might know the whole secret, but for anyone with the eyes to see it is clear, Romans, like their archnemesis the vampires, are creatures of magic.
“Our planar excursions have revealed many things, far beyond what the Pythagoreans or the Orphic school ever dreamed of. Rome has exploited this to her advantage, of course, as it should be. Yet, there are many more insights that must never leave these hallowed halls. For they would destabilize the commoners’ understanding of the universe and reveal our frightful position therein. The authority and infallibility of our time honored traditions must remain undisputed, or it will be our doom—the empire would plunge into chaos and all that our ancestors have built and died for will have been in vain. That is, if the full extent of our insight were ever to be revealed… The Arcani serve at the pleasure of the senate, but we must forever remain a mystery.”
—Hypatius the Aerophagite, the First Arcani, 23 AR
The Arcani are the secret service of the Roman empire and function as an auxiliary magic force on the battlefield. Lycans, like humans, are not naturally endowed with magical attunement, only rare births feature this exceedingly useful ability. The general population of Rome looks with both suspicion and awe at the Order of Arcani due to their strangeness, making them both feared and revered by the masses. A feeling of uncanniness is experienced by people in close proximity to the magical adepts. It is due to the astral pull, or aperture within the Arcani’s psyche that evokes such a reaction of uneasiness; perhaps an instinctive fear of death, that is tied to the escape of the soul into the Astral Sea. Commoners assume that the Arcani bloodlines were blessed long ago by the goddess Hecate, for their piety and heroic service to the divine, while more sinister tales speak of an abominable merging of vampire and lycan blood. But the Arcani keep this intimate knowledge to themselves and will not easily divulge such delicate secrets.
Besides the usual cloak and dagger business of intelligence gathering, interrogation and propagandic social engineering, there is an entire clandestine war being fought on the astral plane. Unbeknown to most, the Arcani protect Rome from prying spectral eyes that would otherwise spy on the senate, collect information on troop strength and other sensitive matters, putting Rome at a distinct disadvantage Thanks to the Arcani, such ethereal incursions are fought off and confronted in this most unusual theater of war. Making the Arcani crucial to Rome’s hegemonic ambitions, especially against their archnemesis, Carthage, who are known for their excellence in the area of ethereal assassination and subterfuge.
At a young age, when innate magical talent in a Wolf is detected, they are brought before a Roman priest to determine the extent of their arcane gift. And if the child is found to be in attunement with astral forces, the Lycan must give up his family, and takes on a new name after initiation into the Ordo Arcani. During the initiation, neophytes are put under a stress test to determine their mental strength and moral fortitude during a crisis. Depending on the response, a role is assigned to the neophyte, ranging from the more menial to the most esoteric and sublime. The secrets of the Arcani are not for the ears of the morally defunct, as they would imbalance an already frail mind with their revelatory power.
The truth is that the Arcani are successors to the Pythagorean, Orphic and similar mystery schools that themselves have their roots in the ancient times when Egypt was not yet cursed by undeath, but still a place of great wisdom and learning. The Ordo Arcani have since their inception advanced the inherited knowledge of these legacy mystery schools. Through daring planar excursions, new unimaginable revelations were gathered about other dimensions, the nature of the Astral Sea and the spheres beyond, the existence of the Outer Dark, and even insight into the earth and her distant past. Planewalking is a risky endeavor and the other planes hold many dangers that make terrestrial hazards look pale by comparison. But such perilous travel is crucial to Rome’s survival. Surrounded by vast forces only waiting to break into the material plane and wreak havoc, and the mind boggling infinities within infinities encountered by the Arcani are not for the faint of heart. They reveal a woeful discrepancy between what the populace knows about Rome’s position within the multiverse and their actual dreadful significance in the larger scheme of things…
Although the Arcani are rumored to have been touched by goddess Hecate, their worship, besides Mars and Jupiter, includes a less popular deity known as ‘Magna Mater.’ It is a very old tradition that traces itself to the dawn of civilization. Magna Mater is a greater goddess, not interested in widespread worship. She is intimately tied to all things magic and secrecy. Her benedictions and boons are crucial to the Arcani’s continued existence in the face of the titanic powers looming beyond the chasm separating worlds.
“At its innermost core, this is a war universe. War at all times. There may be other planes of existence based on more sublime principles, but ours is based on war. Take pride, we are descendants of the first hundred wolves chosen by Romulus himself. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
— Manius Valerius Venator, Leader of the Valerii, 766 AR
A dishonored general who took the fall for a failed campaign led by an incompetent aristocrat. Several legions perished in the cursed forests of the north, and for this all of Rome looks at Decimus as a disgrace. Having become completely disillusioned with Rome and its corrupt leaders, he sought to end his life to restore honor to his family’s name, but was denied that right by the senate. Instead they have tasked him with a suicide mission in all but name. In exchange for his family’s honor and freedom, he must now venture beyond the pillars of Hercules, to the new world—Terra Occulta, to investigate the fate of the last failed expedition. To prove his success, he is to return with a very special artifact. A scrying stone made out of pure obsidian, that the Lizardmen use high atop their blood-soaked pyramids in their dark rituals. With a grim heart Decimus sets out to do the impossible.
Coming from a humble background of farmers on the border of the empire, Aurelius rose quickly through the ranks of the legion. Aurelius is known as a brave, down to earth commander, who enjoys the adoration of the soldiers under him. His reputation of heroism and acute strategic acumen have spread to all the empire and its legions, which venerate him for his outrageous military successes on the brink of utter defeat. Aurelius has made many friends through his adventures, but also, for the same reason, many more jealous enemies within the ranks of the corrupt senate and established powermongers. They seek to undo this rising star. He has been tasked with futile campaigns, and his men and the military beseech him to declare himself first emperor and put to death the treacherous elements of the senate. The time has not yet come, Aurelius knows, but soon he will need to confront the disease at the heart of Rome, or perish himself.
After the conquest of Syria, Septimia Zenobia was enslaved and sold to a powerful Roman house. Here she quickly adapted to the ruthless ways of her Wolf masters. Zenobia is outwardly cold and calculating but underneath her outward appearance burns the fire of vengeance. Rome will pay for what it has done to her and her family. Soon she will be able to buy her freedom, and when free, she will liberate many more and lead a revolt unlike the world has ever seen. All wronged by the lycans will gather underneath her banner and they shall burn Rome to ashes. And once it is done, she will see it rebuilt in her own image…
“In ancient aeons when the cosmos was created out of the infinity of formless being, and the gods cheated the race of demons for their share of the nectar of immortality, this is when we, and our archnemesis, were dreamed into existence.”
—Plotinus, 988 AR
To be continued…