Elysium: The Elder War
The Cult of the Augurs
Mad-eyed oracles and somber spiritual guides once founded this, the only Wing of the Inconnu that claims the right to speak directly to the gods. Those with designs on legitimate practice are lost now, among a ranging mass of charlatans, professional toadies and power-hungry opportunists. Tenuously balanced between maintaining the necessary appearance of honesty and flexing the Wing's own considerable influence, the Wing of Prophets may be straining to the breaking point but provides one of the speediest routes to power and authority in the whole of the Inconnu.
The Wing of the Prophets is a parasite body, drawing off the state religion imposed by the Senex and surviving on the payment and dedication of faithful followers eager to communicate with the gods. While there are many true believers in the Cult of the Augurs, the ever-present threat of disapproval from above and punishment at the hands of the Legio Mortuum have created an atmosphere of necessary corruption that silences all but the most ardent and fearless oracles. In effect, the Cult is allowed to survive so long as its readings are in accord with the wishes of the Senex.
Or so it seems. In fact, the relationship between the Cult of Augurs and the "superior" Wings of the Senex and Legion is note quite so cut-and-dried. Centuries earlier, when the Cult was small and relatively disorganized, it may have been powerless to resist coercion. Now it may be true that the Wing of Prophets is corrupt, but figuring out who benefits from that corruption and separating consciously false proclamations from honest errors and perfectly well-intentioned readings are extremely difficult tasks. High-ranking Vaticinators know that a carefully timed and cleverly planned augury can force the hand of the Senex effectively, and that the high-ranking Kindred of the Senex themselves can often be depended on to cover and rationalize the manipulation, if only to maintain their image of superiority.
In truth, nobody really understands where the Cult of Augurs figures into the structure of the Inconnu. The Cult is clearly a body with significant influence, but also one with little official power. The Cult is ostensibly subordinate to the Senex, but is also the most likely to question and resist the official policies the Ancient Wing dictates. The Cult is technically held in higher regard than the Peregrine Collegia, but scandal after scandal has exposed Vaticinators taking payment from the Collegia in exchange for political cooperation. Most of the members of the Cult pursue their own agenda — empowering themselves and the Wing with opportunistic abandon, and that leaves a lot of Kindred (including many of the Cultists themselves) confused.
A crisis of the Cult, precipitated by this confusion, is rapidly coming to a head. A significant portion of the membership has begun practicing magic that strays beyond the bounds of legal divination, hoping to reinvigorate the Wing with genuine divine purpose. Others are struggling to use what influence they have to build a material fortune in hopes that it will defend them when the inevitable happens: rumors are already running wild about dark auguries, predicting the splintering and collapse of the Wing and, some say, all of Rome. Panic is working its way through the ranks with startling rapidity.
Those outside the Cult have yet to discover just how bad the Wing is getting. Most believe that the Vaticinators maintain the necessary appeasements and continue to see the favor of the gods in their readings. Since many of the Cultists are all too willing to keep the good news coming — especially in exchange for money, blood and power — Kindred without access to the Cult's inner workings believe that the officials of the Cult of Augurs can be depended on to provide genuine information (or, at least, to cooperate nicely with state policy). As the official go-betweens to the gods, the members of the Cult usually enjoy a proxy respect and fear that are really meant for their divine overseers.
There are two types of vampires who find their way into the Cult of Augurs, and they are as different from one another as night from day.
The first group is genuinely faithful and fearful of the gods, seeking to make a practice of maintaining favor for the Inconnu and guiding the Kindred in accordance with the will of divinity. Unfortunately, because these vampires often bring warnings to the Inconnu — more so in recent nights than those long gone — these vampires are less likely to be perceived as sage advisors and more often treated as simple or self-aggrandizing troublemakers. The designation couldn't be further from the truth, but it tends to stick.
The second group is composed of the real opportunists in the Wing: liars and smooth-talkers, they make a practice of telling the Senex and the Kindred of the Inconnu exactly what they want to hear. These vampires are the profiteers of the spiritual trade, and their frequent attacks on the incorruptible adherents of real faith are usually assisted by the dupes the vampires work so hard to please. Where once these frauds were few and far between, they have multiplied without restraint, and now threaten to dominate the whole of the Wing.
The Cult of Augurs is ostensibly a purely religious society, but many of its members are motivated by worldly concerns. Well aware that they are only grudgingly tolerated by the Senex, many of the oracles and priests of the Cult are more than willing to make sure that the interpretation of their auguries remain in keeping with official declarations of the Inconnu — in a way, they are as much public relations experts as they are ceremonial advisors. Therefore, many have no illusions about their less-than-divine purpose within the structure of Kindred society.
Ritual Is Faith
To most members of the Cult of Augurs, it doesn't really matter what you believe, so long as you make a point of performing the proper rituals. Those who memorize dozens of complicated (and crowd-pleasing) rituals and observances tend to go far in the Cult, while faithful but subdued Kindred are less likely to attract attention and aid in empowering the Wing.
Even those with true belief admit that elaborately staged rituals and expensive sacrifices are more likely to appease and honor the gods. These vampires point to the structures and detailed practices of the Veneficia, the blood magic of the Cult, demonstrating that more demanding and sophisticated rituals tend to produce more powerful results.
Blood Is Power
Those with true belief know that sacrifice is the fuel that feeds the flame of power. For Kindred, there can be no greater sacrifice than blood — whether one's own Vitae, or that of the nourishing mortal stock. All of the rituals of the Cult are centered around the willful surrender of blood to the gods, invoking a divine exchange for power or knowledge.
Those who care little for faith still understand that blood is the ultimate currency of Necropolis, and they structure all of their operations to provoke sacrifice from the masses. Many of the rituals of the faithless Vaticinators are constructed so that they can skim a proportion of blood (or a fair representation of it in influence or other resources) from the obeisance of the Inconnu.
Members of the Cult of Augurs may learn the rituals of Veneficia.
Rituals and Observances
Structured pomp and ritual are the bread and butter of the Wing of Prophets. Whether it's a simple augury performed before an assembly of the Senex or a long, complicated rite of prayer, sacrifice and dance designed to win the favor of a god, the Cult of Augurs makes business of astonishing and frightening the masses of the Inconnu with the Cult's works. Nothing is subdued; every act is drenched in occult trappings and mysterious gesture designed to highlight the specialized education required to perform it.
The public rites of the Cult are performed with great gravity and an air of exacting detail. While they may or may not be sincere (and may or may not incorporate the true magic of the Veneficia), they are always spectacular. Those among the Cult who cynically provide a service to the highest bidder believe that they are bound to give the client something worth paying for — and something that nobody else is qualified to give him. Those who truly believe in the power of the gods take the arcane, multi-tiered rituals very seriously, knowing that the harder they work, the more likely the gods are to take notice.
The most common public rite of the Cult is the augury: a reading of omens designed to provide recommendation on a course of action. Of the many auguries performed by the Cult, the most popular is the haruspices — the examination of the entrails of a sacrifice. Specialized rituals dicate the exact details: which organs must be examined, which type of animal is to be sacrificed and the circumstances of the sacrifice. Other types of professional augury performed by the Cult include the interpretation of dreams, the movement of undirected animals (birds or rats) or inebriated mortals, the movement of fire, blood or water and, most dangerously, the colors of the approaching dawn.
Many of the other rites involve ritual cleansing, blessing by bathing in sacrificial blood and prayers designed to invoke or appease vengeful gods.
The Calendar: The Cult of Augurs presides over a regular ritual sacrifice meant to maintain the blessings of the gods on the whole of Necropolis and guarantee the continued good grace of the Inconnu. Three times a month (on the nights of the full moon, half moon and new moon), the ritual is performed in great assembly, before a mass of the Cult and the Senex, with attending Kindred from all Wings of the Inconnu. On these nights, the high-Status members of the Cult call for the appeasement of the gods and the reversal of ill omen, spilling a great quantity of blood.
The Veneficia: Veneficia are the legal ritual sorceries of the Cult of Augurs, powered by Vitae and known to invoke potent real-world effects. Drawn from the secret teachings of the Cult, Veneficia represent the dedicated practice for the true believers and the ultimate tool of intimidation for the cynics. No less arcane than the general public rites, these rituals have been proven to work only when the complicated steps and full sacrifice are performed properly. The magic of Veneficia may be invoked without belief in the gods, but no without belief in the Veneficia and their rigid requirements.
THE SENEX - no old man can remember all his year's lessons
THE STRANGERS - their gods surely know things that we would be wiser for
THE AUGURS – we aid the state, but we serve the gods
THE LEGION – remember that they protect us from ourselves, too
THE SANCTIFIED – how naive to gamble eternity on one god