Rome is crumbling. The child-emperor, Heliogabalus, diverts the Roman populace with parties, circuses, and celebrations, while his mother and grandmother jockey for power behind the scenes. The government is riddled with scandal and no business is conducted without bribes which grow ever larger. Religions joust for prominence, with factions of Christians seeking to overthrow the ancient Roman pantheon. Courtesans, once honored for their skills and protected by special guards, have become targets of opprobrium. The vampire Ragoczy Germanius Sanct' Franciscus, already subject to extra taxes and regulations because he is a foreigner, falls under the maleficent eye of Telemachus Batsho, a minor functionary who dreams of power and wealth. When Franciscus thwarts his attempts to extort ever-increasing sums from a young Roman of good birth, Batsho swears revenge.