12/26/13 – Part 1

Me: “There’s something weird going on here!”
Kara: “What, you mean with Perkins? That’s not that weird.”
Me: “What do you mean, it’s not that weird?? This guy shows up out of nowhere, starts teleporting around, and has this magical knife!”
Chris: “And Marcus has been to a bunch of hells over and over and fought all sorts of hell-beasts. Maybe Perkins is from Hell!”
Kara: “That’s…not that weird.”

Norton and I are approaching Alcatraz on the ferry we shanghaied. We’re both out on the fore-deck, watching the mass of the island loom closer. Approaching from the east, with the last dim colors of twilight fading to the west, the island appears as a single dark shape, cut only periodically by the rotating beam of the lighthouse. Norton and I stand in silence.

Well, except for Mr. Tails, who has been humming the theme to “I’m On a Boat“, on repeat, the entire fucking trip.

We pull up at the east dock and hop off. Norton pulls out his broadsword and starts whispering to me about vagabonds and brigands who would threaten his fair city. Norton being Norton, though, the “whispering” comes out in shouts loud enough to scare flocks of gulls from the rookeries. Fortunately the dock is otherwise deserted.

We make our way up the road, heading to the south side entrance of the main cellblock.  (side note: How fucking magical is Google fucking Earth? Out of game, we are able to pull up a zoomable, rotatable, 3D-elevation SATELLITE VIEW PHOTO of the island within SECONDS and are soon pouring over it to plan the scene.) As Norton and I approach the buildings, we start to hear the sounds of activity. Thumps, crashes of wood and metal, and people talking at normal volume. It sounds like generic construction work, overlaid over the sounds of machinery.

Norton and I are spotted by two doods in private security uniforms. They stop us, say the island is closed, what are we doing here? I immediately make up a story about Norton and I being out on the bay for crab fishing, our boat had problems, we had to pull into the docks, can we borrow a phone please?

One guy goes to get a supervisor, the other looks at me suspiciously. “You…use a machete for crab fishing?”

I glance down at my machete, very obviously hanging from my belt. “I…use it to cut the pot lines when they get tangled.”

“Ah. And that? The guard points at Norton’s enormous sword, held low but still visible.

Norton glares at him. “…Fish knife,” he growls.

“You use a broadsword for a fish knife?”

Norton stares at him. “…You haven’t seen what I catch.”

The other guard comes back with a third guy, this one in a lab coat, which OF COURSE is covered in ominous stains, some of them fresh. He also tells us to gtfo. I have no problem with this, as I doubt Sebastian is even here in the first place. Norton, though, is pretty dead -set on checking this shit out, so he Demontates the three of them into reenacting the 1962 prison escape. They run down to dive into the bay. Norton turns to me and points out that they all had brands on their foreheads, just under their hairline.

Brands of the Tremere.

#

Clarence has finally made it back to his Douchehaus in the city. He’s in the middle of taking care of some business before Elysium when he receives word that he has a visitor.

It’s Sebastian.

Clarence hasn’t interacted with Sebastian yet in the game, but we assume they know each other from years of hanging around high society. Clarence lets him in. Clarence says he’s surprised to see him again. Sebastian says he is glad to be able to be seen again, reports of his death have been somewhat exaggerated (Me: “They usually are, around here….”), etc. They chat, and it becomes apparent that neither of them are particularly fond of Norton, Paul, or myself. Sebastian points out that it would be relatively easy for him to just destroy us, but he wants more than that. He wants our reputations ruined as well, and he wants Clarence’s help with that. In return, he points out that the Prince’s tenure as ruler of the city is likely to be short-lived at best, and with things the way they are no one would trust anyone but a Ventrue to rule in his place.

Considering that Clarence has already been making attempts at power grabs, this is very attractive to him indeed.

Clarence also points out that he’s been having problems with werewolves infesting his house and would like help with that. Sebastian says he knows a guy and will make arrangements for them to meet. Sebastian also points out that “the Sabbat Methusula” (aka Marcus) is likely to be an-ongoing problem for the city itself and all of these plans might fall apart if he isn’t dealt with in some way. Oh and speaking of the Sabbat, he pulls up a video on his phone, taken from security feed or something at the Shark Tank, showing Paul hanging around on the ice with Marcus, Andre, and a bunch of Tzimitze, with another clip showing me, also at the Shark Tank, hanging around with my goddamn Sabbat fan club. He sends the video clips to Clarence, pointing out that this will go a long way toward destroying us in Camarilla society, which will go a long way toward Sebastian’s initial promises of an exchange of power.

You can practically see the wheels turning in Clarence’s head.

#

So after Georgia was knocked out by the Assamite, Paul tried to revive her by giving her some blood, because he doesn’t know what the hell happened so why not. Unbeknownst to him, and unfortunately for her, this means that she has now been unwittingly subjected to a rather strong blood bond to him (Me: “Welcome to Team Marcus!!”) He loads her into his car, still unconscious, and heads toward the city. She awakens on the way. He tells her about what happened with her “Assamite friend” (Georgia: “Ah, yes. She’s not very good.”) He also mentions that he tried to revive her with blood. Georgia tenses, suddenly realizing that yeah, she is feeling strangely amiable to Paul and his intentions. But she doesn’t tell him about the Tremere susceptibility to blood bonds just yet.

#

Norton and I make our way closer to the main cell block. No one else stops us. Out of nowhere, though, Mr. Tails starts whispering to me, his wheedling voice creeping across my mind.

He built this place…. He built this place…to remind him…of his last one.

I pause. “He built this place…to remind whom?” I whisper, out-loud.

“...Himself. To remind himself of where he was…in fire….

I glance at Norton. I’m still not entirely sure how Malkavians work (probably no one is), but I figure it’s not impossible for Norton to hear Mr. Tails. He doesn’t react, though, nor does he acknowledge my own whispering. Mr. Tails goes quiet and we press on.

We get to the cellblock. We can’t see through the windows, but the sounds we heard earlier seem quieter from this side of the building. Berefit of ideas, I simply open one of the doors. We see a group of people–guards, workers, and more people in stained labcoats–in the process of moving things and opening crates. They all stop and stare at us. Norton and I stare right back. Luckily, though, no one starts shooting or throwing magic around, so we’re already a point ahead.

A big burly guy with a lab coat and a heavy German accent storms up to us, demanding to know who we are. The name on his coat reads “Martin.” I repeat my story of being lost crab fishermen but he doesn’t believe it. He and Norton get into a screaming match that rapidly escalates. I try to pull Norton back, some of the Martin’s people try to pull him back, but they remain focused on each other. Martin screams louder and pulls a revolver. Norton pulls his sword.

Before things come to blows, a new voice drifts down from above. Another German accent, but smoother and more refined. Everyone turns. A thin man in light glasses and a dark suit is standing on the catwalk above us. He tells everyone to calm down, he’s sure it’s just a misunderstanding. He introduces himself as Leopold, the overseer of the facility, and invites Norton and I to follow him.

We enter one of the old guard cages which has been repurposed as an office. Norton is now  quiet, glowering at Leopold as we sit down. I introduce myself, Leopold says he’s heard of me, which isn’t suprising considering all the other evidence I’ve seen that my reputation is running well ahead of me.

He asks why we’re here, I say we’re looking for Sebastian. Leopold says Sebastian did stop by the island some weeks before, but he has not seen him since. The Tremere…operations…there are kept pretty private, they don’t like visitors around, but do not worry about it too much, they are there under the full knowledge and permission of the Prince.

I glance out the window of the office, at the workers milling around the unmarked crates below. I remember Mr. Tail’s words from earlier. “Did…you…build this place?” I ask slowly.

“The prison?” he chuckles. “No, the prison was built some time before I arrived here. We have merely repurposed it for our work. Thaumatologial research, primarily. You see, some things that we do are too…tricky to work on in a well-populated area. We have precautions in place, of course, but we would rather that if something went drastically wrong, it would happen here and not in Russian Hill.”

I nod, still watching the workmen. “That’s…very considerate of you.”

“Yes, well, for reasons of Masquerade as much as practicality. If anything goes wrong over here we can always blame it on an exploding boiler or some such. In fact we have had to do so on occasion. Thanks to Mr. Bay, people believe us.”

I frown, wracking my mental list of prominent vampires in the area. “Mr. Bay?”

Leopold looks surprised. “Mr. Michael Bay and his movies, you have not seen? Where he has the island exploded? It’s a good movie!”

He asks if we need anything, some boat assistance perhaps? I figure that by now the Demontate has cleared up and the ferry has probably bounced, so Leopold offers to have one of his men give us a ride back to shore in a powerboat. He also offers refreshments, but for once I politely decline.

Norton is still uncharacteristically silent, glaring at Leopold over folded arms. Mr. Tails, though, suddenly speaks up. “I can smell the ash on his breath…Clouds of ashes….” he whispers. My skin crawls slightly, but otherwise I don’t react.

I turn to Norton. “Your eminence….” He breaks his glower at Leopold and turns to me. “Sebastian is not here, we should probably be leaving if we want to get back to Elysium in time.”

“Mayhaps we should,” he growls, then stands up and leaves the room without a word.

Leopold sighs. “That is Emperor Norton, yes? Primogen of San Francisco?”

I nod. “Of the Malkavians, yes.”

“Why is a Brujah in the company of the…emperor…of the city?”

I shrug. “I owe him some favors. He’s looking for Sebastian so I thought I’d tag along.”

Leopold nods. He takes off his glasses and nonchalantly starts to clean them. “I understand how these things work, but….” He tips the glasses toward the door. “How much do you actually know about that man?”

I frown. He’s right. I don’t know much about Norton beyond legend, hearsay, and his wikipedia page from before he was a vampire. “I…know he’s good with animals.”

“And very little else.” He sighs again. “As I said, Sebastian was here. Whatever is going on with him, and Norton, and you, is not my business. But…Norton is not a reliable man. How do you think it was that Sebastian became Primogen over him in the first place?”

My stomach drops. This guy is creepy as hell, but what’s even creepier is that he is making some very good points. “I assume it was the usual sort of politics and machinations. When…did the transition happen?”

Leopold shrugs. “It was sometime before I arrived in the city, I have only heard rumors. But I would be very careful in assuming you know anything about this man. Norton has a reputation, and not all of it is as charming as his stories. He believes–or so they say–that he can improve his city by…fighting the good fight. But….” he puts his glasses back on and looks at me over the top of them. “A Malkavian was never born who could distinguish ‘the good fight’ every time.”

I sit quietly, processing this. “Well, I am at least on his side when it comes to the whole ‘Frisco’ issue.”

Leopold chuckles. “Yes, well one must have native pride.” He stands up. “I shall have a man conduct you to the boat. I hope to see you again, Mr. Lytton.”

Taking that as the dismissal it is, I nod and stand up as well. “And you too, Herr Leopold.”

A guard escorts me out of the cellblock. Norton is standing outside on a concrete terrace, looking over the water toward the city. I stop next to him and we stand in silence for a moment.

“This is not what I had thought to find,” he growls suddenly, still staring over the water. I nod, still puzzling over what the hell the Tremere are doing here.

Norton turns slightly to glance at me, fury in his eyes. “…What has Sebastian done?”

I recall what Leopold said and my heart sinks a little bit.

“Does he have the first notion…” Norton continues. “I knew him capable of every depravity, but not this!” He looks back to the water. “Not this….”

I sigh and gently clap him on the shoulder. “Come on, we’re getting a ride back to town.”

“A ride from whom? One of that man’s creatures? Do you not know whom it was we were speaking with??

I look down and sigh again. “No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me.”

“No. It is not mine to tell.” Norton’s voice is low, and uncharacteristically clear. “But his name is not…Leopold. Any more than Sebastian’s is ‘Sebastian.’ But whereas Sebastian was once a drunken sodomite of a writer–” my eyes narrow but I don’t say anything, “–this man….”

He turns back toward the prison. “They say the embrace robs one of one’s soul…” he glances at me again. “But not everyone has one to lose.”

With that, Norton storms down the hill toward the west dock. I hesitate a moment, unsettled. I turn back to glance at the looming wall of the cell block, then hurry down the path after Norton.

A powerboat, manned by a guy in one of the security uniforms, is waiting for us. Norton climbs in without a word. I follow and we head off toward the city. It’s cold, with the wind and the spray, and too loud to talk. I sit next to silently Norton and watch the glittering lights of the city approach.

We’re about halfway across the bay when I hear a voice. It’s Mr. Tails. He’s singing again.

(Me: “…God I hope it’s “In the Navy”….)

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel. The monkey ran as fast as he could….”

His voice is lilting and slow, building as it reaches the crescendo of the tune. My stomach drops. The last time he did this, it warned me of a shotgun blast moments before it went off. My mind races. As the song reaches its end, I do what I did last time and hit the deck.

Unfortunately, this time that was the wrong choice.

The ENTIRE BOAT blows up from underneath me.

(Jason, though, does commend me for having the right instinct, but the wrong reaction. I am now referring to these circumstances as “Mr. Tails Quicktime Events”)

The next thing I know, I’m in the water, getting dragged out to sea on the ebb tide. I struggle my way to a swimming position and crawl toward the city, eventually washing up on the beach at Marina Green. I cough up quarts of water from my stomach and lungs, then flop onto the sand and take inventory.

I’m hurt bad (with some agg-damage) but not unbearably so. My jacket, however, is completely ruined. I’ve also lost my machete and who knows how my new Desert Eagle will have reacted to the salt water. Oh, and my phone is ruined too. (Me: “Oh goddamit, ALL MY CONTACTS ARE IN THERE!”)

I look around. There’s no sign of Norton, but if I survived then it’s likely he did too, somehow. He’s survived worse. Alcatraz looms in the distance, the lighthouse winking cheekily at me.

At this point it’s almost nine, and almost time for Elysium. Pissed, cursing to myself, I storm up to Marina Blvd to hail a cab. Fortunately I get one right away. I wordlessly climb into the back and sit with arms folded, staring straight forward. I already know how this is going to go.

Driver: “Hey buddy, where do–OH MY GOD!!!”
Me: “…Yeah.”
Driver: “What the hell happened??”
Me: “…Crab fishing.”
Driver: “We gotta get you to the hospital!!”
Me: “…No. I’m fine.”
Driver: “You are NOT FINE! We gotta do something about this!!”
Me: “…Awe.”

I cast Awe to convince him I’m fine, it’s just makeup for a thing, just take me to the Hyatt at Embarcadero Center, because for the love of Christ, we’ve been trying to get to tonight’s Elysium for real-time weeks now.

#

On the ride back up to the city, Paul and Georgia have been talking extensively, and some sort of accord is forming. Paul wheedles information out of her about the blood bond, but in return he says that there are apparently obscure ways to erase it. He mentions the Vaulderie, which is what Marcus used to erase my bond to him, and conveniently enough the extra vial that I gave to Paul still hasn’t been used yet, though he doesn’t tell her about that. He also asks her more about Tremere magic and how it works (ostensibly through the power of directed douchery) and specifically asks her about magic that can affect or redirect sunlight.

Clarence, meanwhile, finishes his meeting with Sebastian and gets some of his highest people together to discuss werewolf-proofing the Douchehaus. He’s worried about bugs and other surveillance in his territory so they meet in the ass-middle of Dolores Park. He instructs them to start investing in silver.

The three of them all arrive at Elysium before it opens and immediately fan out into the atrium to schmooze. Paul meets with the Prince privately and tells him that not only is Sebastian still alive, but somehow has connections with the Sabbat and was able to arrange the kidnapping of many of his people. The Prince says he needs more proof of that (Me: “Lol, if only we knew a Sabbat who was planning on coming to Elysium tonight…”) but he would keep it in mind. Paul also admits to the fact that Andre has declared Monomanse against him. The Prince is surprised, but not as furious as one would expect, considering Paul is doing something highly illegal. He advises Paul to mind his shit and keep things under wraps.

Elysium-proper opens. People file in, but Paul makes a bee-line for the drink table. He’s still very low on blood AND needs to get some healing done, so he needs to stock up fast. Unfortunately, tonight the drinks are small, so it takes about three drinks to equal one blood point. Paul looks around, says fuck it, and starts pounding drinks.

The Prince calls Clarence over and instructs him to perform the Summons on Everton, as previously planned. Clarence does so, but there’s no way to tell if it was successful unless Everton shows up. They both turn to look at Bell, who is lurking at the side of the room, back to the wall, watching the doors and brandishing his shotgun openly.

#

I arrive at the hotel and enter the lobby, but I’m stopped by a concierge the minute I walk through the doors.

Concierge: “Hi sir how can I–OH MY GOD! Are you alright?”
Me: “…Yeah.”
Concierge: “Should I call an ambulance??”
Me: “…Nah.”
Concierge: “I uh…Ok. Are…you here for the meeting?”
Me: “Yes.”
Concierge: “Ok, well I can direct–”

He stops midsentence, all expression dropping from his face. Before I can say anything, he calmly turns and walks out the front door.

Perplexed, I turn around. Every other person I can see–staff and guests–are also leaving, quietly walking out the doors. In moments, I’m the only one left in the lobby. I look around but nothing else seems amiss. Still, I keep my guard up as I walk into the hotel.

I decide to take the stairs (after an out-of-game discussion about flame-throwers mounted in elevator-cars made me decide to never take the elevator ever again) but when I open the stairwell, all the lights in it are off. Even the emergency exit lights. I peer into the darkness. I can’t sense any movement, but in the distance I can hear a faint, fluttery keening. I’m nervous but I enter anyway, feeling my way down the stairs to the level Elysium is being held at.

I exit the stairwell into the foyer of the banquet room. The doors to the banquet room are open, with most people inside, but a few people are lingering around the foyer talking. Nothing seems to be wrong. I walk toward the doors, but as I reach the middle of the foyer the lights go out.

Strangely, no one seems to react. I still hear calm talking and murmuring from the other people in the room. It’s as if I’m the only one who can see it. I stop. Moments later, the lights come back up.

Marcus is standing in front of me, between me and the doors to Elysium. He’s wearing his favorite Roman garb, sword slung across his back. He’s very distinctive and very obviously in the middle of the room with me, but once again, no-one else seems to react.

I nod at him, holding back a smile. Seems like every time I see him, he makes a grander appearance than the last. “Boss,” I say.

“Hello, Tom. Funny seeing you here.”

I shrug. “I heard there was going to be a good show.”

He looks me up and down. “What happened to you?”

I sigh. “Crab fishing.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Some nasty crab.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend fishing off of Alcatraz….”

He smirks. “Well, I have an appointment I need to keep. Oh, but before I go, someone I think you should meet….” He looks up. I follow his gaze.

The largest bird I have ever seen is perched on the chandelier directly above us. Her size and shape screams eagle, but she’s bigger than any eagle I’ve ever seen. Even from afar, I can tell that she is as large as Marcus, if not larger, with legs are as thick as my wrist and talons as long as a finger. She’s peering down at us over her beak.

My jaw drops. “Wooooooow,” is all I can say.

Marcus’s smile deepens. “This is Aquilifer. An…associate.”

“She’s stunning.”

“She’s the product of a great deal of work. A great deal of work. I thought she might want to be on hand for this. She makes…quite an entrance. But, then again…” He slides his sword off his back and flips it a couple times. “…So do I.”

He clenches his hand. Shadows erupt from his fist, wrapping around him. They cover his body in moments, then dissipate and he’s gone.

I glance back up at the ceiling. Aquilifer is still visible, watching me. She shifts her weight, causing the chandelier to sway and tinkle slightly. Again, no one else in the room seems to notice. As I watch, she rouses her feathers and makes some muttery bird-noises to herself.

I continue to walk into Elysium, barely able to hide the smile on my face.

A ghoul hurries up to me the moment I enter asking if I’m alright. I say I’m fine, was doing some crab fishing, you know how it is, are there any drinks around? The ghoul leads me toward the refreshment table, but stops in shock a few feet away.

Paul is standing at the table, in front of a pile of empty glasses. Fully half the table is empty. Blood is smeared wontonly all over his face, yet he is still sipping on another glass.

The ghoul sputters in shock. “Wha…THOSE were for EVERYONE!!!”

Paul glares at him. “I have an addiction, not a problem.”

I brush past the ghoul and walk up to Paul, clapping him on the shoulder. “Hey bro! How many drinks you done?”

Paul looks at me in surprise, then down at the mess he’s made of the table. “Uuuuh…nineteen?”

I grin. “Great! I gotta catch up then!” And I start downing the remaining drinks.

#

After some further time for networking and socializing, the Prince stands up. The chatter in the room dies down.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he calls, voice commanding, “I’m very glad to see you all here today. We have had a…rough time of it these last couple of weeks. But, I have been consulting with Bell and others among our fair city’s population and I have every faith we are finally beginning to master the situation that has been afflicting us for the last year. So, before we get started, I would like to–”

The lights go out. For real this time.

The energy in the room grows nervous. People start murmuring. I’m still by the refreshment table, but I back up slowly to put my back against the wall.

There’s a pop followed by a hiss. Someone in the middle of the room has lit a road flare, the red glow the only light in the room. People instinctively back away from the flame. As the crowd pulls back, it becomes easier to see who is holding it.

Marcus. (Duh.)

He holds up the flare and stares into the flame. Despite being closer to it than anyone else, he is apparently unaffected. He holds it in front of his face as he circles the space that has cleared around him, the tension of the room ratchetting up with every step.

“Interesting setting you have here. Interesting facility.” He tosses the flare a few feet away. The people nearest to it jump back, letting out small screams. “This is a fine meeting. So, what shall we talk about?” He continues to circle the clearing. “Politics? Research? Maybe ‘who’s in and who’s out’? Do forgive the interruption but I have business to attend here.”

Marcus gestures and the lights come back up. He scans the room briefly then walks toward Bell, the crowd clearing before him. Bells watches him approach but doesn’t react, even as the the crowd retreats from him as well.

The Prince finally shakes himself out of his shock. He steps forward and points at Marcus. “This vampire is under Interdiction!” he announces to the room. “A Sabbat Methusula! Ten million dollars on its head!”

Marcus stops and turns toward him. “Really? Ten million dollars? Well, who will be the first?” He looks around the room. “No one? Come now, there’s forty kindred in this room, I can’t kill all of you….”

Meanwhile, Clarence’s mind is working. Recall that a man named Walter Perkins showed up in town a few days ago and gave him a knife that has some sort of special +20 against Marcus enchanted blade. Perkins gave this knife to Clarence, but unfortunately the knife is locked up back at his citadel. Luckily, the Douchehaus is less than a mile away up Market Street. One of his people could probably run it down here asap. Clarence pulls out his phone to text them.

A massive tentacle of darkness erupts from the corner nearest Clarence and races toward him. He sees it just in time and jumps out of the way.

“I’m sorry, no calls are allowed at this time,” Marcus says flatly, turning to face Clarence. “Please silence your cell phones and put them away.” Clarence glares and does as he says.

Marcus looks more closely at Clarence. “I know you, don’t I….”

Clarence grits his teeth. “We’ve met.”

Marcus looks thoughtful. “Yes, you’re the…what was the term?…’Useful Douchebag’? Do I have that right? This isn’t my first language.”

Clarence looks up to glare at me, across the room. I grin and shoot him some pistol-hands.

Marcus now has his back to Bell. Clarence sees Bell unclip the holster of his shotgun and rest his hand on the stock. Marcus, though, continues talking to Clarence. “Tell me, are you going to collect the bounty?”

I am not going to…”

“Really? Your prince just gave you an order! Come now, you’re twice my size.”

“And you’re a little more than twice my age.”

Marcus smiles grimly. “So no one then?” He turns to scan the room, focusing again on Bell. “Mr. Bell,” he says, taking a step forward. “Justicar. Slave, no less. Who sees it fit to…call other people to his bidding. Irrespective of circumstance, employment, or anything else.” He takes another step. “And when those people turn up dead, what consequence do you face, as a Justicar?”

Bell stares back, still expressionless. Marcus shakes his head slowly. “…None. After all, he’s just a Sabbat. An animal, I believe is the term being thrown around?” He walks closer to Bell. “So what will it be, then? You called Aitor here to ask him questions about me. To find out what makes me tick.” He spreads his arms. “Well, here I am. So why don’t you ask your questions. If you think you have the mental…celerity…to get them off.”

(sidenote: it is probably not a good sign when the characters make worse puns than the players.)

Bell hasn’t moved from his spot against the wall, but he finally speaks up. “You really think this is a smart move? Even if you can win? Kill a Justicar, you’ll wind up on the Red List.”

Marcus nods slightly, eyes narrowing. “I don’t know if you know me, Mr. Bell, but I don’t give a fuck about your ‘Red Lists’. You can send every Justicar, every Archon, every…dust fart in your Camarilla. Send all of them. It just makes my job easier.” He gathers himself slightly. “You have a blood price to pay me, Mr. Bell, and you will pay me here. Tonight. In front of everyone.” Marcus jerks his chin at the gun. “I see you have your…fire implement. Your sword. And I know of your reputation, so why don’t we dispense with the formalities?”

Marcus raises a hand. Inky tendrils erupt from all four corners of the room and snake toward him, forming a mass just over his head. He doesn’t break eye contact with Bell. “So…why don’t you take your shot?”

Through all of this, I haven’t moved either. I’m watching the proceedings with a mixture of shock, awe, fear, and a little bit of pride, but at this point, all I can think is, Oooooh crap I hope Bell doesn’t try to shoot him in the face again….

Paul, though, is a little occupied. With everyone else distracted, he has been moving slowly through the crowd, finding abandoned drinks to steal. As he does so, though, he notices something. He looks around. He has the strangest sense that suddenly there is one extra person in the room than there was when he first started his rounds.

Paul makes his way over to me. “There’s someone new here,” he whispers. I frown and look around as well. There’s a lot of people I don’t know but no one seems to stand out to me.

Mr. Tails, though, decides to chime in. He starts whispering a wheezy, whooshing noise, like the air of a bellows, over and over again. I look at Paul. By the look on his face, Mr. Tails is saying the same thing to him too.

Georgia has been hanging around near Paul and overhears us. She too takes a look around the room. She, though, actually notices someone that she didn’t remember seeing earlier. Someone she knows.

Walter Perkins. Standing in a small clearing of the crowd on the other side of the room.

She first met him when he met with Clarence to give him the dagger and was part of discussions on how to use it. But that was before she became blood bound to one of the founding members of Team Marcus.

She saunters over to Paul and points him out to us. She says she doesn’t know anything about Perkins but she doesn’t think he’s here to do Marcus any favors.

Meanwhile, Marcus and Bell are still trading banter. The tension in the room is building, the crowd hanging on their every word. Clarence, though, gets the sense that someone is watching him. He turns and sees Perkins staring at him through the crowd. Perkins slowly pats his own jacket with one hand, right above the breast.

“I’ll make you a deal, Mr. Bell,” Marcus is saying. “For all these fine people, we’ll introduce them to a policy I helped to write. Dispense with that little fire-stick of yours, I’ll send my little friends away, and we’ll do this as men once did. Do not…,” the ball of shadow above him whirls faster, “…and you will die screaming, and alone, in the darkest place you have ever imagined.”

(Chris: “……IKEA.”)

Perkins is still staring at Clarence, patting his jacket. Clarence, though, stares back in confusion. Finally, Clarence gets the idea and reaches up to feel his own breast pocket.

And feels a heavy weight inside that was not there before. A heavy weight in the shape of the enchanted dagger.

Paul, Georgia, and I have been staring at Perkins and Clarence. We see the gesture Perkins has been making, then see Clarence reach up to his suit and his face lift in surprise. Whatever is happening, I don’t like it. I start making my way slowly around the back of the crowd toward Clarence.

The room rocks with a concussive shot and massive flash. Everyone jumps and screams, momentarily blinded. I turn toward Bell and Marcus. Bell just tried to whip his gun around and shoot, supernaturally fast, but one of Marcus’s tendrils shot forward to grab the gun and pull it aside at the last moment. The shot discharges into the floor. In the confusion, Paul and I move closer to Clarence.

The tendril rips the gun from Bell’s hands. “I don’t think I was clear,” Marcus says. He clenches a fist. The tendril constricts over the gun, bending it in half, then crushing it. Marcus opens his hand and the the gun drops to the floor.

Now Bell actually starts to look a little worried.

Paul gets to Clarence first. He sidles up to him and says that he doesn’t know whats going on, but it’s in Clarence’s best interests to stay the fuck out of this fight. He advises Clarence to not be misled into doing something stupid.

Perkins is watching us from the other side of the room, the only person in the crowd not watching Marcus. I decide to make my way toward him. He watches me approach, but otherwise doesn’t react. I pull up just behind him and loom there. “Mr. Perkins, I presume?” He doesn’t say anything, just…sniffs the air, obviously.

After a moment, he turns to face me. “…Fuck off,” he whispers.

I am immediately overwhelmed with compulsion, some sort of Dominate. I can’t stop myself from G-ing-TFO and going back across the room.

Deprived of shotgun, Bell slowly draws his sword. Marcus lets him.

Paul is still talking with Clarence, trying to talk him out of…whatever is happening, when he feels a tap on his shoulder. He turns carefully, trying to see who it is while still keeping Clarence in his view.

Perkins is standing right beside him, staring into Paul’s face with a blank expression on his own. “I think you should leave this alone,” he whispers.

Clarence uses the distraction to sneak away and make his way closer to Marcus. Bell appears to see Clarence, but doesn’t acknowledge him. He does move slightly so that he is opposite from Clarence’s approach and flips his sword showily a few times. “So, what are the rules, boy?”

Marcus turns to follow Bell, exposing his back to Clarence. Seeing the opportunity, Clarence pulls the dagger from his pocket and lunges forward.

(And everyone in the room starts yelling actions at once, then dives for their dice as Jason calls for a roll for initiative.)

Marcus doesn’t see Clarence coming. The dagger thrusts forward toward Marcus’s back…

…And the room rings with a loud CLANG! as the dagger bounces off of metal, hidden under Marcus’s tunic.

(Jim: “He’s wearing fucking ARMOR??”
Me: “Of course he is! He’s fucking ROMAN!!”)

Clarence’s jaw drops. Strangely, Marcus doesn’t seem to react right away. One of the tendrils, though, snakes up in front of Clarence, and shakes its tip back and forth in a nuh-uh! gesture. Then Marcus turns, his face enraged.

(Me: “I think he likes being stabbed in the back even less than he likes being shot in the face….”)

Bell, now, takes his opening. He swings his sword at Marcus, low. It crashes across Marcus’ midsection, sparking off his armor and knocking him off his feet. A huge chunk is taken out of his side, but as he scrambles to his feet it heals up almost instantly.

Marcus turns back to Bell. “Very well,” he says, and lunges at Bell. They clash, moving almost too fast for the eye to see.

A tendril the size of a tree trunk crashes into Clarence. He stumbles back but keeps his feet and the dagger in his hand. Paul moves to stand between Clarence and Marcus. The crowd is moving now, pushing toward the doors. I fight through, eyes locked on Clarence, who is waving the dagger and moving toward Marcus.

But I’m too far away.

Clarence ducks past Paul and lunges at Marcus again. This time he aims for somewhere unprotected. The slash is wide but catches part of Marcus’s exposed arm with a tiny knick. Marcus snarls and spins out of his attack on Bell to jam his sword into Clarence’s chest. It punches right through him, shattering his ribs and throwing him back into the ground.

Marcus glares down at Clarence, absentmindedly side-stepping one of Bell’s strikes. “Is that the best you can do?” he snarls. “Assault me like Caesar? Perhaps you’ve forgotten what happened to Caesar’s assassins!! Perhaps you–”

He stops, body suddenly clenching. He stumbles, drops his sword, and collapses to the floor.

The tendrils vaporize. Everyone stops in shock, including Bell. Then things start up agains all at once. Some people start shouting and running. Some–including Max–start summoning up power to cast spells. Bell flips his sword and walks calmly towards Marcus’s body.

Georgia is confused. (Kara: “On the one hand, she wants to join the fight to kill Marcus. On the other hand, she’s blood-bound to Paul, and since Marcus is obviously important to Paul, he’s probably now important to her. Also, on the other other hand, if Max is trying to kill Marcus, then maybe Marcus isn’t such a bad guy….”)

I look around, stunned. I can’t see everything that’s happening, but I can see that with the crowd thinning there is now a clear-ish path toward the door, with Marcus right in the middle. If I grab him, I can continue in a straight shot out of the room. I start summoning up all the Celerity I have…..

A hand grabs my shoulder like a vice, pivoting me around. It’s Perkins, appeared behind me out of nowhere. He leans in. “Run….” commands a voice. It’s not Perkin’s voice; it’s deep and twisted like something out of hell.

I’m compelled to run, burning my Celerity to dash uselessly to the opposite side of the room, away from Marcus.

Georgia dashes up to Marcus. He’s paralyzed on the floor, eyes open, but he is still twitching slightly, grunting like he’s trying to speak. Bell comes up then, grabbing Marcus and flipping him onto his back. Georgia implores Bell to wait, that there’s more stuff going on here they might need to question Marcus about. Bell grunts, barely able to speak through a tear in his throat, but gasps that Marcus is a Methusula who has tried to kill him and this ends here. He lifts his sword, swinging it down toward Marcus’s neck….

…And his arm is stopped, grabbed and held in place by someone else.

Perkins has appeared behind him. “This one’s mine…” he growls, in the same twisted voice I heard, “…Slave.

Then in one movement, he rips Bell’s arm clean off.

Bell falls to the side. Perkins stares down at Marcus, a deeply predatory look on his face, still holding Bell’s arm. Paul and Clarence have been struggling on the floor, both grasping at the knife, but now Paul gets an idea. He hauls Clarence to his feet and pulls both of them toward Perkins, trying to knock him over. Perkins sees them coming and swings around, decking them…with Bell’s arm. They’re both knocked off their feet.

(Jim: “Wow, good thing he’s so well armed.”
Kara: “Yeah, I really gotta hand it to him….”)

I finally stop running when I crash into the far wall. I turn and see Perkins standing over Marcus, swinging at Paul and Clarence. I curse and dash back over. While Perkins is distracted, I run up from behind and crash into him in a full-bodied tackle. I knock him back, but not off his feet. He turns to look into my eyes…

…and my own Beast inside me starts to flip. the fuck. out. It panics, telling me to get the fuck away from this thing, now, right now, gogogogogogogogo. I gasp and stumble back but keep control of myself. Perkins grabs my neck, staring at me with flat eyes, pupils slightly pulsing. A growl rumbles from him, then he throws me. I crash into the floor halfway across the room.

Enough of this….” Perkins’ deep voice says and he turns toward Marcus. The lights immediately go out. A sound of rending screaming cuts through the darkness, like a tear through the fabric of reality, and echos throughout the room.

Moments later the lights come back, and Perkins and Marcus are gone.

Everyone is frozen for a moment, then slowly start to come back to themselves. People start to take inventory. By now, obviously, only the high rollers are left in the room–us, the Prince, Bell, Max, a few others–but everyone is in shock. Bell’s arm is on the floor a few feet away from him. Paul walks over to grab it and hand it to him. He stares at it a moment before taking it wordlessly.

I roll to a seat from where I last crashed to the floor. When I see that Marcus is gone, I rest my forehead against my knees, dejected.

The Prince fumbles for his phone, shakily calling for security. Ghouls flood in, some carrying blood packs.

The Prince surveys the room. “What…the fuck…was that?” he hisses. “What…just happened?”

Clarence steps forward. “This.” He holds out the dagger. “This contains the bones of Marcus’s sire.”

The Prince stares at the dagger. “…Where did you get that?”

“…Perkins.”

The Prince stares at Clarence. “Who the FUCK is PERKINS?”

“Walter Perkins,” Paul chimes in. “He’s the one who just ripped Bell’s arm off and abducted the boy.”

“Who the fuck is he? Why haven’t I heard of him before???”

“He came to us with this dagger a few days ago–”

“He came to you with a magical fucking artifact and you DIDN’T THINK TO MENTION IT??” The Prince throws his arms out to enunciate his shouts. “I should have you FLAYED!!!”

Clarence shrugs. “It worked.”

The Prince spins around, pointing at Paul and me. “You two…you’re aligned with that…thing. That…demon-child Sabbat. Did you know he was going to come here tonight?”

Paul shrugs. “I knew he had unfinished business with Bell. I didn’t know tonight would happen this way.”

Everyone turns to me. I am still sitting on the floor, staring at the carpet a few feet in front of me. “Don’t ask me,” I mutter, “I was crab fishing.”

The Prince goes still. “You’re lying…you’re lying to me….”

“They are,” Clarence says. “They’re in league, and I have proof.” He steps forward and hands the Prince his phone, already queued up the video of Paul and me at the Shark Tank. The one Sebastian gave him earlier in the evening.

The Prince watches it in silence, then turns back to me. I feel his gaze boring through my head and finally look up at him. “That’s Andre Russimov,” he says slowly. “Those are his guards, patting you on the back!!”

He steps forward, spitting his words through gritted teeth. “You’ve been with…the Sabbat…the whole time???”

I stare straight into his eyes are he approaches, emotionlessly. I’ve faced a lot of men in my life that frightened me, both before and after I became a vampire. Men that cowed me and made me fear for my life.

In this moment, though, the Prince is not one of them.

I suddenly recall one of Marcus’s favorite expressions: “A patron who cannot defend one’s clients does not deserve to have them.” I glance over at the spot where Marcus fell. I wonder if there’s a counter rule for clients who cannot defend one’s patrons?

The Prince is still shouting at me. “What did he offer you, huh? Power? Money?? My head on a platter???”

I stare at him a moment, then shrug calmly. “Just a steady job, and a shitty apartment.”

The Prince bristles and turns to his guards, pointing at me with a shaking hand. “Take this motherfucker…to the Beach.”

Six guys approach. I watch them come, still motionless. I don’t know what the Beach is, likely it’s nothing good, but right now I don’t even care.

The largest guard stops at my feet. “It’s best not to resist,” he growls. I look up at him, then slowly haul myself to my feet. One of the guards takes my water-logged Desert Eagle, while the others usher me toward the door. I let them.

Before we reach the door, though, a voice calls out. “Hold on.”

The guards stop, and we all turn. It’s Bell, his arm now reattached and back on his feet. He’s walking toward us, face shadowed, but I can feel his gaze piercing me from across the room.

“…This one’s mine,” he growls.

END OF PART 1!!!

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