“Out of game I have a horrible realization, so in-game I yell up the stairs at Anstis, telling him NOT to touch the Fresnel lenses, they’re not made anymore and are priceless. Oh also if he’s silhouetted against the light it will totally bring the coast guard down on our asses.
Not…that I have experience breaking into lighthouses…when I was a national park intern…or anything….”
“Good,” Marcus says. “Then they have no way out.”
There’s a few moments of silence as this statement sinks in. Once it does, I’m barely able to hold back a smile.
Next to me, Anstis is also grinning. “Yarr,” he nods, “I be liking this one.”
Anstis wanders away to investigate the vats—mostly to determine their scrap-metal value—while Georgia fills Paul and me in on what’s going on, namely that this is what appears to be a gargoyle factory. Of course, then we have to explain to Paul what gargoyles are and how they are made.
Anstis wanders back for this part, looking grim. “Ye were going to use me for this?” he growls at Georgia.
She throws up her hands. “Not me!”
Anstis still glares at her suspiciously.
I fill Marcus in on what I know about Alcatraz: that it’s run by a guy going by the name of Leopold, that there’s guards and workers—both mortal and im—all over the place, and the last time I was here the boat Norton and I were taking back to shore blew up and I haven’t seen Norton since.
Marcus nods, rubbing at his head again. He is obviously still feeling the hangover of whatever the fuck the Chantry did to him. “I am not up to dictating right this instant, but if I can make a suggestion? By sunup, it would be beneficial if those of us standing right here were the only living things left on this island. Do I hear objections?”
Silence. Marcus turns to Georgia. “From the Tremere, perhaps?”
She shakes her head. “None here.”
Marcus’s eyes narrow. “You’re awful quick to sell your clan out…. I’ve never known a Tremere willing to engage in such things.”
Georgia hurries to make her case. “It’s well known that I had no love for Max. If this kind of plot is happening directly under Max’s nose, or anybody else’s nose, this must be sanctioned by…I can’t even begin to guess how high up in the Tremere.”
“People my own stature, no doubt,” Marcus says, then pauses. “…Figuratively speaking,” he adds.
“Which is terrifying,” Georgia says.
“It should be,” Marcus says, turning to look at the tanks again. “Where did they get this much blood?” he asks thoughtfully. “You could exsanguinate Oakland and not get this amount….”
We discuss a plan. Marcus is keen to not let anybody leave, and for that we’ll have to make sure all the boats are secured or destroyed. Paul points out that we also don’t want any reinforcements coming in either. We decide to try to mitigate that by taking out the radio tower. It won’t stop people from calling out on cell phones, but it will stop them from calling in the coast guard.
“Boss, what should I do about….” I trail off, hoisting Aquilifer’s bundle in my arms.
Marcus sighs. “Put her down,” he says quietly. “You’re going to have other things to worry about in a moment.”
I place her gently on the concrete floor. Marcus takes a few steps toward her, then stumbles. He presses his hands to his head again, his skin paler than usual. The moment passes and he regains his color, but he still looks unsteady.
True to form, I am getting very concerned. Marcus doesn’t seem to be getting worse, but he’s definitely not getting better. I had hoped that once we released him he would just roflpwn our way to freedom, but it’s obvious he’s going to need some help with that (almost as if the GM planned it that way >:| ).
I pull the extra bottle of blood I grabbed out of my jacket pocket. “Boss, I grabbed this from the dungeon before we left. Do you want to keep it with you?”
He looks up. “It’s my own blood, I don’t know how much use it will be, but…certainly.” He reaches out and takes it.
(Incidentally, this is the first time any of our characters have heard that it was Marcus’ blood we drank. The reactions are mixed. I for one have no problem with this, since I’ve been pretty much acting in a manner similar to a 3rd-level blood bond anyway.)
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to take some time on this one….” Weakness is starting to settle into Marcus’s voice. “The Tremere…applied a blood toxin of some sort.”
I glare at Georgia. I still don’t entirely believe that she wasn’t involved in this somehow. She, though, is also looking concerned. When Marcus mentions the blood toxin, her expression turns thoughtful.
“If the poison is liquid, I could attempt to turn it into water….” she suggests.
Marcus shakes his head. “The poison is the blood. They…drained me and filled me up with it. I guess they had use for an elder’s vitae. Although why they didn’t go for diablerie I’ll never understand.”
“I…am guessing they would have eventually,” Georgia says, hesitantly.
“Most likely,” Marcus mutters, glancing at Aquilifer. “Most likely….”
Silence again. I shift my weight nervously. “Boss, should we be concerned about Perkins? Or…what was the name you called him, Paul?”
“I’ll let Marcus tell that story,” Paul says, face grim. “It’s his to tell.”
Marcus stands in silence for a minute, staring down at Aquilifer. “…I don’t think this is the moment for that story,” he says quietly. “But yes, that was Gnaeus Perpenna Vento, otherwise known as the ‘Man of Wind.’ ”
Paul, Georgia, and I stir uneasily at the name, remembering Flagg’s creepy speech before stabbing himself in the middle of the ritual circle. I have also noticed that Perkins takes little sniffing breaths before performing major feats. I have never seen anything like it but am sure it doesn’t mean anything good.
Marcus, though, snorts, a slight smile on his face. “You know the English expression ‘wind-bag’? Means the same in Latin. Another good translation is ‘blow-hard.’ He had the name before he was embraced.”
Ah, well…. Ok then.
Back to the plans. Marcus insists that the radio tower should be our first focus, since they probably rely on encrypted radio transmissions with one-time pad codes, rather than conventional cellphone networks. Paul volunteers to take the lead on that attack and Marcus discusses a few technical details with him.
Anstis stares at both of them. “Ye be speaking a language that not be English,” he grumbles.
Something occurs to me. “Speaking of, Boss, when you came out of torpor you were muttering in a language that none of us could understand, and it wasn’t Latin.”
“Ah….” Marcus nods but his expression looks guarded. “Yes, it wasn’t..… I can’t speculate as to what I was saying but probably it was…Numantian Celtiberian. It’s been extinct for two millennia.” He trails off, lost in thought.
I look at him with slightly new eyes. Unlike many people, it seems, I haven’t made the mistake of viewing him as anything other than a vampiric elder of unconscionable power. Or at least, not since the first time I met him. I keep forgetting, though, that there’s a whole other side to him that is no less mysterious than his vampiric one. The world he was born in is as alien to my own time as the supernatural world was to me before I joined it.
After a few more moments of silence, the group hesitantly goes back to making plans. Marcus, unfortunately, will stay behind for now, hopefully to regain some strength and also to, quote, “see to Aquilifer,” using some ritual that he’s only used once before, some six centuries ago.
Marcus asks what else I know about this “Leopold” who is supposedly the leader of the facilities here. I say not much, but…some sources (I glare inwardly at Mr. Tails) seem to connect him with imagery of fire and ash.
“With the Tremere, that could mean anything,” Marcus says. “I’ve known Tremere that would get involved with all manner of horrendous shit.”
I glance at Georgia. She looks a little taken aback. “Nothing wrong with fire,” she mumbles.
“Nothing wrong with the right fire,” Marcus replies. “But when have the Tremere ever known the difference? The Tremere meddle with things they barely understand. ”
He glares at Georgia, voice growing stronger. “They are an ursurper clan, I am older than all of them, and yet they run about as if they know everything there is to know about the occult, but are surprised when things like this happen!” He gestures at the vats and bodies lining the room around us. “They play with fires they cannot possibly control! And then the building burns down and they stand around wondering where the fire department was.”
Georgia droops and looks away.
“If ye all be done with yer chattering I think we have a job to do,” Anstis growls, arms crossed. He’s still wearing nothing but the ill-fitting lab coat from the Chantry. I’ve got no problem with nudity, of course—I’ve spent my fair share of time in the Castro afterall—but this guy?
We gotta get this guy some pants. Stat.
From where we’re standing, we can see some doorways on the far side of the room. Anstis slaps the still-morose Georgia on the shoulder and starts walking that way. Georgia and Paul follow, but I linger back a bit. Marcus takes the bottle of blood I handed him and kneels down next to Aquilifer. He pops the top, but instead of drinking it he pours it out in a circle around her.
The enchanted sword I stole from Max’s office is on the ground next to him. “Boss are you going to need that sword?”
Marcus looks at it. “This sword? No….” He tosses it to me and turns from Aquilifer, pouring out a small patch of blood on the floor a few feet away. He mutters something under his breath, tracing sigils in the blood. When he finishes, he leans back….
…And slams his fist into the floor, shattering the concrete and plunging to his wrist into the dirt below. He grunts, then slowly pulls his fist back out.
Slowly revealing the hilt of his gladius sword clenched within it.
My jaw drops as he pulls the sword out of the rubble, like some sort of King Arthur wannabe.
No, wait, check that… Arthur was the wannabe to this.
“Holy shit, Boss,” is all I can say. He pulls the sword free, wiping the dirt off on his tunic. He doesn’t look at me, but I can see a pleased smile on his face.
“Simple bound weapon,” he says smugly. “You didn’t think I’d leave this thing to chance? This sword is older than your continent.”
(We assume he means continental recorded history, and not literal geologic-age.)
He lays the sword next to him and returns to the circle around Aquilifer, tracing more sigils in the blood.
I look over my shoulder at the rest of the group across the room. “Boss how much time do you think you’re gonna need?”
He sighs and leans back on his heels. “I don’t know when I can force the poison out, but for this?” He gestures to the circle. “Either forty-five minutes or no time at all. If it’s no time at all, I assure you, you’ll know.”
I nod and turn to leave.
“Oh, by the way,” he says before I walk away (a variant of Jason’s favorite “Oh Just One More Thing….” Columbo-move). “On the outside chance that Perpenna does follow us through here…” He looks up, meeting my eyes. “…Run. Take a boat and run. Leave the state, and do not come back to it, because it will not be in existence for much longer. Do you understand me?”
There’s no anger or fear in his face as he says this, just a sober seriousness. I stare back with an equally stoic gaze and nod slowly.
“Good,” he says crisply, turning back to Aquilifer. “Take it from me, he is not someone you want to mess with.”
Take it from him, he says, the guy who shut down Elysium single-handedly, and whom even the werewolves give a wide berth….
My stomach churns as I jog over to rejoin the group.
Anstis reaches the edge of the room first and pries open a big set of industrial-looking double doors. Behind it is a mechanical room filled with equipment, but no obvious means of exit. Paul, Georgia, and I turn away to discuss options.
Anstis, though, stands in the doorway, staring at the machinery in shock. “God’s wounds….” he mutters.
We debate trying to shut the machinery—which appears to be some sort of hybrid diesel-steam boiler—down (explained to Anstis as “killing it”), figuring that they will send some doods to check on it and then we can jump them and take their clothes or something. Unfortunately it is a very complicated device and, being a boiler, very hot, so we can’t figure out how to go about this. We discuss how the machine is used, which requires us to briefly explain steam power to Anstis, (which somehow turns into a discussion of awesome Will it Blend? videos we’ve seen, and Jason starts describing one he saw that was a whole golf club, and then the boys start debating the strengths of various metals, and then the efficiency of mass-producing carbon nanotubes—)
Georgia finally is beset with her Impatience flaw and storms off to try one of the other doors. She finds a staircase, leading up, with the distant sound of voices coming from somewhere above. She starts to climb it. Eventually, we realize she’s gone and follow.
There’s a landing one flight up, with another door. Georgia opens it cautiously. The door opens to another large room that’s been coopted with various equipment, but this one seems set up more like a factory, with an assembly line and everything. Right now, though, the assembly line isn’t running and there’s no product on it. The voices she heard earlier are coming from the far side of this room.
We three come up behind her as she’s listening at the doorway. “There’s three or four of them,” Georgia says. “They’re German, I can’t understand what they’re saying, but it sounds like they’re repairing something so they’re probably distracted at the moment.” She hesitates, concentrating a moment. “And…they’re all mortals, I can hear them breathing.”
We talk Georgia into talking to them to get more information. She’s hesitant, but we point out that they’re Tremere ghouls and she is—as Marcus has pointed out repeatedly this evening—Tremere herself, so they will probably have to do whatever she says. She grumbles and walks into the room.
She finds the ghouls, three men doing repair work on the assembly equipment. She bustles up like she’s in charge and asks them what their progress is. As expected, they immediately snap to attention and babble some mechanical specifics that are useless, but do mention something about Leopold having a, quote, “daily production quota.”
Georgia reports back to us and we huddle again. We decide that the best way to get around them will be to knock them out by taking a few blood points from each. Georgia heads out again, followed by Paul and Anstis. I rather begrudgingly bring up the rear.
The men look up as we approach, but before they can react to the presence of the rest of us, Paul subdues them all with Awe. Paul and Anstis take blood right away, but unfortunately being mind-controlled like that effectively makes them “powerless” so Georgia can’t drink at all. They offer me the third one.
I…decline. It’s one thing to grab blood when I’m desperately low, or from one of my attackers in the middle of a fire-fight, but right now my conscious won’t let me risk spreading disease to a man simply because he was inconveniently in the way.
Anstis looks at me funny and takes the third man himself. I look away and wait for them to finish.
Paul and Anstis drag the unconscious bodies off to a corner. Anstis, though, takes a moment to loot the largest guy of his work uniform, thus securing himself some more appreciable clothes.
We’re just getting ready to press on when a distant roar echoes through the room, coming from the stairwell. Georgia says it sounded like Marcus’s voice. It’s followed by silence. We hesitate, then Paul volunteers to run down and check on him.
Paul finds him where we left him, next to the ritual circle around Aquilifer, but now he seems to be out cold. There’s still no sign of anyone else in the room. Paul steps forward cautiously. He doesn’t see any outward damage on Marcus’s body.
But all the wounds on Aquilifer have been sealed up.
Paul runs back to rejoin us and tells us what he saw. We decide to stick with the original plan, hoping that Marcus just needs to sleep off whatever magic he did and then he’ll be able to rejoin us.
“Why is he so important to you all?” Anstis asks.
I look at him suspiciously. He drank more of Marcus’s bottled blood than the rest of us, he definitely should be feeling the effects of the blood bond. “He’s…our captain,” I answer.
“Hmm.” Anstis looks skeptical.
“He did a favor for me, I’m doing a favor for him,” Paul adds.
At this Anstis nods. “Aye, makes sense.”
Before we leave, we check the unconscious workmen for supplies. None of them have guns, but one has a radio. Paul hands it to me, I turn the volume down and pocket it. Anstis finds the wallet of the guy whose clothes he stole and starts rifling through it, perplexed.
“Ye seen anything like this before?” Anstis growls, thrusting a hand out.
Paul looks at it. He’s holding a quarter and two dimes.
“That is…forty-five cents.”
“Cents?” Anstis frowns.
“Um…hundredths of a US dollar?”
“Dollar” at least sounds familiar to Anstis (“dollar” apparently being one-eighth of a piece-of-eight in his time), but he still glares at the coins suspiciously. “Finely crafted but…terrible metal,” he grumbles to himself, pocketing them anyway.
We move through the room to the next door. It opens to one of the cell-blocks. Again, no one seems to be around. There’s no equipment in this room, but deep grooves have been worn into the concrete floors. They don’t have the weathered look of original wear and tear from the prison years.
Although the room is empty, there is a faint smell of old blood on the air. We make our way forward cautiously. Georgia steps closer to investigate one of the cells. Although they are all empty and open, she can sense inactive wards on them. Very heavy wards.
And the blood smell is coming from the cells.
She reports back to us. We agree that it’s highly possible the cells were used to hold gargoyles at one point, and might do so again.
This raises an interesting question, though. If this place is designed to churn out and restrain tens of dozens of gargoyles, where the hell are they?
We find a door out of the cellblock, but there are voices on the other side of it. We decide to retrace our steps back to the stairwell and continue up to the next landing. We do that and come out of a door leading outside.
We come out on the north end of the island, near the watertower. Ahead of us we can see the lighthouse with the spindly shape of the radio aerials perched on top of it.
(NOTE: Jason and I obviously failed our SF Lore rolls, since we mixed up the lighthouse—which is actually on the south end of the island, near the main cell block—with the smoke/steam tower of the physical plant on the north side, and we didn’t realize it until a couple days later. So…our bad.)
Anyway. No one is around at the moment so we walk toward the lighthouse.
Anstis and Paul go to sabotage the equipment while Georgia and I keep watch. Anstis enters first, taking out a guard and climbing the stairs and coming out in the small workspace under the lens room. Our advice to him was to look for “metal twine” and other “pointy metal bits” and destroy them. He finds boxes of radio equipment and immediately starts tearing into them.
Paul comes up after, but since he’s a Toreador with a hard-on for electronics, all he can bring himself to do is unplug the rest of the panels.
(Out of game I have a horrible realization, so in-game I yell up the stairs at Anstis, telling him NOT to touch the Fresnel lenses, they’re not made anymore and are priceless. Oh also if he’s silhouetted against the light it will totally bring the coast guard down on our asses.
Not…that I have experience breaking into lighthouses…when I was a national park intern…or anything….)
Paul carefully sticks his head into the lens room and surveys the island through the windows. He spots a couple armed guards walking the perimeter path, slowly coming this way. He and Anstis descend the stairs and report back to the rest of us.
We’re now starting to get in the groove of things. We hide in the bushes and take out the guards easily, me via punching and Anstis through discreet application of claws. Paul and Georgia negotiate some “blood-laundering” for her (since once again the guards are powerless). I drag my guard off the path…
…And get back just in time to find Anstis staring down the barrel of the MP5 gun he picked up off his guard.
“Whoah!” I reach my hand out. “Captain, uh, let me handle that….”
He pivots the gun out of my reach. “What is this?”
“It’s, uh…a very advanced blunderbuss.”
He frowns and starts fiddling with the trigger. “Where do ye put the powder?”
I sputter and grab for it again. “It’s a very complex weapon! Here, let me, I don’t want you to…dirty your claws….”
He glares at me. “I don’t appreciate being talked down to…” he growls, slipping the strap over his shoulder. “This be a strange gun but it will do. Explain how this works.”
I sigh, defeated, and show him how to work the safety. “The shot and the powder feed automa—feed by themselves. Just…don’t point it at anything you don’t want to put a hole in.”
He grumbles and stalks off. Luckily I find another MP5 on my guard and take it for myself.
Our next action is to take out as many boats as we find, so climb up the embankment back to the path to head toward the docks. We don’t see any other guards at the moment but we stick to the shadows just in case.
We get a few feet down the path when we realize that Anstis isn’t with us. He’s a few yards back, standing where we first climbed up the embankment.
Staring open-mouthed at the San Francisco city skyline.
We walk back. “Mountains,” he mutters as we rejoin him, “Mountains made of light….”
Georgia pats him on the shoulder. “This is what cities look like now.”
“…All of them?”
He gapes around, taking in the lights of the bridges and a few planes moving overhead. “The stars…they be moving! And…what be that??”
Directly ahead of us, a container ship—glowing like a miniature city herself—has just changed course, passing the island on her port side on the way toward Oakland. Anstis stares, taking in her size, her speed, her noticeable lack of sails, and her cargo: bins the size of houses, stacked to the skies.
Glee gradually replaces the shock on his face. “The treasure in this land….” he mumbles. You can practically see his pupils change to dollar-signs (or, more likely, doubloons). “We need to be finding a ship. That,” he points a claw at the container ship, “will be mine.”
(Chris: “Man he’s going to be disappointed when he finds out the ship’s filled with shitty Chinese electronics.”)
Anstis gathers himself and brushes past us, heading briskly in the direction of the docks. We follow.
We skirt the east edge of the island without incident. We stop at the crest of the road where it dips down toward the dock and hide behind one of the ruined buildings. One of the Blue and Gold ferries is tied up in the main slip, but there’s no other boats in sight. Two people are descending the gangplank, heading toward another small group of people waiting for them on the dock. Georgia has her heightened Auspex senses but doesn’t recognize any of them, and the rest of us are too far away to see their faces. The two groups meet on the dock. Two of the men shake hands and begin talking. The man from the boat is dressed normally, but the man from the dock is wearing a peaked, military-looking hat and Tremere robes of a deep, blood red.
We debate what to do about the ferry. The engines are off and the lights are out, so we assume there’s no one left on board. We can’t decide whether we want to try and blow it up, or perhaps simply untie it and let it drift away. Anstis points out, though, that we will be needing a way off the island eventually ourselves.
While this discussion goes on, Georgia, having the best senses, decides to sneak a little closer, trying to catch a hint of conversation or some other clues about who they are and why they’re here. From here, she can see that besides the two men who are talking, there are two guards and one man who seems to be the ferry captain. She’s also finally able to pick up some of what they’re saying:
Man from the ferry: “I can’t wait to put this partnership into…practice. Assuming, that is, that the goods are as good as you have promised.”
Man on the dock: *slight German accent* “Oh, I assure you, you’ll have no trouble. We took extra precautions with this one, he is a…squirrelly bastard.”
She reports back to us what she heard. I’m starting to suspect that the man from the dock might be Leopold, but since many of the people on the island have German accents, it’s impossible to be sure.
Mr. Tails, though, has something to contribute at this point: “Ashes, ashes…. Ring around the rosey….” he chants in my ear.
I glance at Paul. “Do you hear that too?” Paul nods. “He mentions ashes a lot whenever Leopold comes up,” I add.
“Ashes in the countryside, falling like snoooooow,” Mr. Tails continues, almost gleefully. Paul and I trade a disturbed look.
Georgia looks back and forth between us. “Ashes? What are you guys talking about?”
“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” I grumble, looking back down to the dock.
The men are starting to leave, walking slowly up the road toward the old dock administration building, which is now the gift-shop. Paul and I decide to sneak forward and try to identify the men while we still have the chance. Paul moves quickly between the shadows of the ruins, while I….
…trip on a fucking empty soda can, sending it clattering down the rocky embankment to the bay below.
(Which makes this the THIRD TIME in the WHOLE GAME that I have fucking BOTCHED a stealth roll, pretty sure it’s been EVERY stealth roll I’ve had, I am not even exaggerating—)
I freeze instinctively. The men all turn and look up the road, spotting me silhouetted against the stars. Now, though, I am close enough to see them. As suspected, the man in the robes is Leopold, blinking at me in surprise.
The other man is Sebastian.
Confusion and anger roll across Sebastian’s face. “No….” he snarls at me. “You’re supposed to be dead!”
Paul has made his way further down the hill and chooses this moment to pop up. He blasts Awe at the men, telling them to come up the hill toward the rest of us. The human guards obey, but Sebastian and Leopold shake it off.
“Ooooh, a party!” Mr. Tails chirps happily. Paul looks at Sebastian and says the same thing, mimicking Mr. Tail’s maniacal intonation.
Sebastian turns to Paul, a crazed look in his eyes. “Oh, you want to dance with that devil? Let’s see how much you actually know….” He draws a thin rapier from his belt and levels it at Paul.
Meanwhile, Anstis has also been making his way down the road through the shadows. He leaps out at the human guards, slashing at the two nearest him, skimming one of them but gutting the other. I sling my gun around and shoot at the third man (Jason: “Fully automatic or semi-auto?” Me: “…FULL AUTO!”) in a rapid-fire burst. He dodges, getting away with a couple of light grazes.
Georgia comes up behind Paul and blasts Sebastian with a gout of flame. He stumbles back, beating at the flames on his chest but maintaining control of himself. He gets most of them out, snarls up at Paul….
“Goddamit!” Paul yells, whirling around futilely.
Behind him, Georgia does too, peering through the shadows with Auspex, then staggers as blood fountains out of her. She turns in time to see it fly into the outstretched hand of Leopold, chanting and glaring up at her from down the hill.
The remaining guards have staggered back and leveled their guns at Anstis and I. We both get sprayed before we can duck out of the way (Jason: “It hurts, but it’s just bullets.”). While the guards are focused on us, though, Paul comes in from the side and tackles one of them, biting him and knocking him out. Anstis comes back for his counter-attack and literally tears the last guy apart.
I stagger away from the melee. The only target left is Leopold, and right now he seems focused on Georgia. I shoulder my gun and fire a burst at him.
His body shudders as bullets rip through him, blood misting out. He staggers, momentarily disoriented. Which is enough to cancel whatever magic he was about to cast on Georgia.
Georgia turns to Paul and sees…something…ripple through the shadows behind him.
“Behind you!” She yells.
Paul dives forward just as Sebastian materializes from the darkness, slashing his rapier at Paul’s spine. The sword sings through empty air as Paul crashes to the ground. Georgia lunges at Sebastian to do a touch-magic attack, but he dodges out of her way.
Paul rolls onto his back. Sebastian is still focused on him, the look in his eyes somewhere between anger and sadistic glee. He steps forward, angling to drive his sword through Paul’s heart.
Paul stares back into his eyes and casts Entrancement.
(Chris: *rolls* “Uuum…. 10, 10, 10…9…8…5 and 2.”
Sebastian shudders to a halt like he’s hit a wall. His face goes blank with shock. His sword arm falls limply to his side.
Anstis bolts down the hill and launches himself at Leopold, claws extended. He crashes into him, tearing huge rents through his torso, neck to groin. Leopold screams and staggers back.
Out of ammo, I drop my gun and draw my sword, running down the hill to help Anstis. I slash Leopold across the back, severing his spine. He gurgles and drops to the ground, incapacitated.
I lean over him and give him an extra kick for good measure. “That’s for the boat, jackass!”
From up the hill, Georgia sees Leopold go down, incapacitated but not dead. She glances at Paul, staring down the now-meek Sebastian. He obviously has things under control. She makes a snap decision and charges down the hill toward Leopold.
She’s going to try to diablerize him.
Sebastian stares at Paul, stunned awe on his face. His sword clatters to the ground.
“What…are you….” he whispers.
“What do you think I am?” Paul asks calmly.
Sebastian’s mouth works soundlessly a moment, then the crazed smile returns to his face. “Don Juan….” he sighs. “Have you come to bring me home?”
Paul’s face remains expressionless. “I’ll make this fast,” he says.
“It’s never fast,” Sebastian says, a hint of sadistic glee back in his face.
Paul leans over and picks up the sword.
A flicker of sanity crosses Sebastian’s eyes. “You think this will save you?” Sebastian continues. “You think this will save any of them?”
Paul stands up looks at him. “What am I, you asked?” He leans forward. “I am Paul Stewart, Sunbearer, Daybringer, and the last living thing you’re ever going to see.”
Sebastian grins wider, sanity gone again. “You’re not alive. But then…who is?”
Paul whips the rapier around for a neck strike. Just before it hits, Sebastian’s eyes close, and a look almost like bliss crosses his face. His arms spread open.
The sword hits, decapitating the head in one clean strike.
Anstis and I are still standing over Leopold when Georgia charges up and throws herself on Leopold’s body. It’s immediately clear what she’s trying to do. I step back, shocked. I want no part of this but I’m also not about to stop her.
Anstis, though, growls, and ALSO attacks Leopold’s body.
I step even further away from them and look around. Paul is up the hill, picking up Sebastian’s decapitated head and wrapping it up in Sebastian’s own jacket. There’s no other guards or people in sight.
Moments later I hear a thump and a frustrated yell. I turn back to Anstis and Georgia. Anstis is face down in the dirt, where Leopold’s body was. I say was because the body has disappeared.
And Georgia has as well.
Anstis picks himself up. Paul rejoins us, Sebastian’s head and sword in hand. Before anyone can ask what happened, an air raid siren activates, echoing across the island from the main buildings.
“What is that?” Anstis growls, glaring up the hill.
“It’s an alarm,” I sigh. So much for the secret guerrilla takeover.
Anstis turns his glare on me. “Ye be an adle-brained lout!” He barks. “What was that back there?”
I blink. “What was what back there?”
“Ye tripping and making all sorts of noise!”
I return the glare but don’t respond.
We decide to get out of the open and away from the docks asap so we head to the gift shop building. The inside looks pretty much as expected, lined with shelves of books and racks of tchotchkes.
The racks in the middle of the space have been pushed to the side, though, to make room for a large wooden crate. Something tells us that it isn’t full of magnets and novelty handcuffs.
We tear open the crate and find a carved stone sarcophagus, exactly like the one Marcus was trapped in. This one, though, is obviously sized for someone much larger than Marcus. It is also sealed with a star-shaped lock. But unfortunately, Georgia still has the key from the last one.
“Aye, I believe I can persuade it to open,” Anstis says, stepping forward. He gouges at the lid with his claws.
And breaks off every single one.
“Who be a lout now?” I say with a grin. He grumbles and ignores me as he heals the damage.
We leave it where it is and exit out the back of the gift shop (though Paul takes a moment to steal a tote bag to carry Sebastian’s head), which returns us to the road that winds up the hill to the main prison block.
Georgia comes to in the suffocating dark. It takes her a moment to realize it’s from a bag over her head. Her head is reeling, but as she regains herself, she remembers appearing in Leopold’s office—along with him—and being overpowered by multiple ghoul guards with chains and cattle-prods. Leopold was alive, though just barely, and obviously gave orders to the guards to drag her off to….wherever she is now.
Her hands are chained behind her but she’s able to scrape the bag off her head against the wall. The room that she’s in is also dark, likely one of the solitary confinement cells, but she’s still able to use her senses to peer through the gloom.
And see that she’s not alone.
A man is chained up against the wall across from her, looking in even worse shape than Leopold was. His flesh is torn up badly, huge chunks missing in parts, and what skin is left appears to be terribly burned. His head hangs limply, chin against his chest.
“Hello…?” Georgia whispers.
The man groans and stirs. He lifts his head, turning it toward Georgia.
It’s Emperor Norton.
“Who speaks….?” he mutters. Georgia peers closer at his face, then chokes down a gasp. His eyes have been gouged out of his face, as if with ice-cream scoops. She stares in silent shock for a few moments.
“Who goes there?!” he repeats when she doesn’t reply.
“Emperor, it’s…Georgia,” she says hesitantly. “What’s…how did you get here?”
“Where are we…where am I???” His head whips around, staring sightlessly around the room.
“Alcatraz!” she cries.
“…Alcatraz….” he mutters. “…Where is he?”
She blinks. “Who….?”
“THE ONE WHO RUNS THE MADHOUSE!!!” His shouts echo deafeningly off the concrete walls.
“He’s…in another room…somewhere….”
Norton shouts a few more times, then slumps against the wall. “Do you not know where you are?” he gasps weakly.
“No….” Norton cackles in a series of halting sobs. “This is not Alcatraz. This is Golgotha. We are its victims. And that man…is the jailer of Hell.”
Norton’s head lolls down against his chest again. Georgia stares at him, at a loss for words.
“What are you doing here?” he mumbles. “Why would you come to this cursed place, Tremere? Do your masters demand fresh victims?”
Georgia groans in frustration. “I didn’t know this was here. We attacked Leopold, and somebody else he was with—“
“Leopold?” Norton starts to laugh, but it’s a mirthless sound. “Leopold? His name is not Leopold… Do you not know who you see before you?”
“You should know, you were the ones who dug him out of that ruin.” He turns his eyeless sockets to her again. “Followed the clouds of ashes until you could dig him up.”
Georgia’s skin crawls, remembering that Paul and I were mentioning something about ashes earlier. Beyond that, though, she has very little to go on to guess what Norton is talking about.
“I have seen him,” Norton growls, “The lord of the dungheap, standing in the falling ash like snow. Preening before his gods. Sacrificing nations. I have seen him….” He turns away, gazing somewhere far beyond their cell. “He once moved armies. Mighty armies. I have seen them march and bleed and die and rot into the steppe. And so is he. And now he would have another…” He shakes his head, chuckling darkly. “Where have you been, Tremere? Locked in a library?”
He chuckles again and rocks his head back against the concrete. “You will find out soon enough. We will all….”
He drifts off into muttering, obviously very weak. Georgia kindly offers to share some blood with him and reaches her leg over so he can bite it (Jason: “Uuumm…This is a blood-starved Malkavian, I can’t promise he’ll only take a little….” But fortunately he does.) Some of his more superficial wounds heal and more of the natural undead-pallor comes back to his face. He leans back against the wall, visibly more relaxed.
“I should have known,” he says after a few moments of silence. “The Tremere are capable of anything. Every time you imagine that their depravity is at its end they correct you.”
Georgia shifts in her chains. “This is beyond the bounds of what the Tremere normally—“
“This is a Saturday morning to the Tremere,” Norton barks, “The death of a hundred-thousand is but a Saturday morning to the Tremere. They would exsanguinate this city for their rites were they able. I have known Tremere in my day, mageling, I have known them and killed them. And now they will kill me.”
“Well…not if we can get out of here first.”
Norton chuckles again in wheezing laughter, shaking his head in the dark. “There is no escape from the dungeons of the Tremere….” (Me: “Ha, well we’ve already done it once today!”) “Why did they lock you in here? A heresy, perhaps? Did you have the vestiges of a conscience?”
Georgia sighs. “Oh, I tried to diablerize Leopold.”
Norton turns to her. “Did you succeed?”
“Ah, a pity, a pity. But then…perhaps not. I don’t know that one such as you is ready for that.”
Georgia, ever the unflappable, simply shrugs. “Ah well. It’s only a matter of time until we get out of here.”
Norton frowns. “Oh really? And why is that?”
“Because I’m not the only one on the island.”
Norton tenses. “Who else is?”
“Um, well you know Tom, and Paul—“
“…Tom? Tom Lytton??”
“—and we met a pirate, and…Tom and Paul’s friend—“
“Tom Lytton is dead,” Norton growls. “Lytton is dead!”
Georgia laughs. “Are you kidding? Tom doesn’t die. People around Tom die.”
Norton leans back, flabbergasted. “So…Lytton and Stewart are here…. Can they hear us?”
“Not at the moment, no.”
“Um…maybe if we scream?”
Norton’s chains clink as he leans forward. “Then I suggest you scream,” he whispers. “Scream, and tell them…tell them they walk through Hell.”
(Me: “That’s ok, we brought Hell with us, too.”)
Paul, Anstis, and I are making our way up the road toward the main part of the prison. Anstis takes a moment to call on his animalism powers, summoning a flock of seagulls (Jason: “And they begin to sing ‘I Ran (So Far Away)’.“) and sending them out to look for signs of Georgia or Leopold. The gulls cry and circle off in every direction to comb the island.
The moment the birds clear out, we hear the sound of feet and multiple voices heading our way, down the road above us. We jump off the edge and hide in some bushes, waiting for them to pass. They come down the switchback, shouts growing louder. They reach the turn of the road, which passes through an archway of ruins. They enter the archway….
….and don’t come out the other side. Additionally, all sounds of running and shouting have stopped, switched off like a light.
Paul and I glance at each other and climb back to the road. Anstis follows, then stops, jaw agape.
The shadows under the archway are an undulating mass of deepest black, absorbing even starlight.
“More shadow sorcery,” Anstis mutters.
“Actually, that’s probably a good sign,” I say, and walk slowly up the road toward the archway. As we approach, the shadow maelstrom dissipates, leaving just the natural shadows of the arch. Marcus is standing in the middle of these shadows, still looking unsteady, but definitely better than he was before. His skin is dark and glistening like it’s wet. He steps forward, out of the shadows and into the starlight, where we can see that he is wet, but it’s not with water.
It’s with blood. Literal buckets of it, covering him from head to foot. The bodies—and parts of bodies—of the guards litter the shadows of the archway behind him.
The three of us stand silently as he approaches us.
“So,” Marcus says with a sigh. “I hear you’ve been unsubtle.” I stare at him blankly for a moment. He jerks his head at the main cell block, which is still blaring the siren.
I shift my weight uneasily. “Ah, yes, that…. Well, we met Leopold. Oh, and Sebastian…”
I turn to Paul, who holds up his tote bag wordlessly.
Marcus raises an eyebrow. “Really? Show me.”
Paul pulls the head out.
“Your doing?” Marcus asks. Paul nods. Marcus reaches for it, and Paul hands it to him.
Marcus inspects it at arms length, nodding. “Not a bad cut, for a beginner,” he says after a few moments, and hands it back to Paul.
Anstis decides to join Show and Tell. “I nearly shredded Leopold in half, but he teleported away. With the Tremere.”
“So. You’ve met this Leopold. Who is he?” Marcus asks, frowning.
Paul and Anstis look at me. I shrug. “We don’t know. He runs the island. He’s German. That’s literally all we know.”
Marcus nods, staring off silently. I glance at Paul nervously. “Boss, are you feeling better?” I ask.
He sighs. “Better is the wrong word. Give me a moment….” He kneels down on one knee, placing one hand on the ground and closing his eyes. He remains that way for a full minute. We wait patiently, keeping an eye out for more guards on the road.
Finally Marcus begins speaking softly, eyes still closed. “In the prison, on the top level. A metal walkway. Many of them. Ghouls, I should think.… Not all. No gargoyles, though. Where would they be hiding those….”
We glance at each other, but before we can ask what he’s doing, he continues. “A prison cell, nearby. With your Tremere friend.” His eyes open and he looks at us. “And Emperor Norton. Alive, barely.”
I gasp. Relief floods through me, followed immediately by rising anger. Fucking Leopold, fucking useless Tremere asshole sons of—
“An emperor?” Anstis asks, eyes gleaming. “Fortunes be had….”
I pause my internal ranting to laugh. “Not with this guy,” I say to him.
Marcus smiles. “A madman who thought himself king,” he adds.
Anstis looks at Marcus. “Are not most emperors such?”
Marcus raises both eyebrows, then turns to me and Paul. “Where did you find this one?” he asks, nodding slightly.
“The room next to yours at the Chantry,” Paul says.
“Hmm, good company then. Must have worn off.” He turns back to Anstis. “Quite so. And you said your name was…Anstis?”
“Aye, Thomas Anstis.”
Marcus nods, then addresses all of us. “So, what will you do then? Slayers of Tremeres and Malkavian primogens?”
“Well, we need to get Georgia and Norton out of there—” I say.
(Kara: “So, you need to rescue the Tremere and the Malkavian primogen….”)
“There’s a good thirty men in there,” Marcus says, “With weapons. Interesting weapons.”
“Not when I get done with them,” Anstis growls.
“Oh? Have you ever seen a flamethrower?” Marcus asks him. Anstis looks at him blankly. “It’s a wondrous device. Stolen from the Greeks. Spits fire fifteen yards in the air. Antiquated for the mortals but still finds use among our kind.”
Marcus sighs. “Anyway. There are quite a few men,” he says. “Even for me. Even at my best, which, this is not.”
“How many vampires?” Paul asks.
“Hard to say. This Leopold, of course, and…one or two more….” He stares off thoughtfully. “Strange,” he mutters.
He turns back to us. “So you wish to rescue Norton, but why the Tremere? What use is she to you?”
Paul answers first. “Well, she seems to have thrown her lot in with us—“
“She drank my blood in quantity, she had no choice. That has nothing to do with anything.”
“She was helping before that,” Paul counters.
Marcus frowns. “Why? I’ve never known a Tremere to turn on their own. She’ll make up all the excuses she wants, but why?”
“Well, she seemed to have a grudge with Max, for one thing, but to be fair, it seems like most of the Chantry does.”
“You’ll find in the Tremere that there is no one that doesn’t have many grudges against them from other Tremere. But the only thing they hate worse than their rivals is everyone else.”
Paul sighs and glances at me. I shrug. He’s the one who seems to have volunteered to sponsor her for Team Marcus Rush Week. I don’t know what I can do to help.
“If you want my opinion,” Paul continues, “I think she just doesn’t care. I think she’s in it for knowledge and maybe some amount of magic….”
Paul trails off as Marcus begins laughing. “You are a fool then. Does she have the first inclination of what they do to Tremere traitors? She’s not alive out of any convenience. If they’re following procedure, they’ll wait on her until they can ship her back to Vienna, and then…even I can’t say what they’ll do.”
“Well…how much do you depend on Max to be following procedure?”
Marcus snorts. “Max? Max doesn’t run this place. I’d be stumped if this Leopold even does.”
Paul lets the Georgia Question drop for now and starts discussing logistical plans of attack. Paul seems confident that his Awe will come to his rescue again, but Marcus points out that not all the ghouls will likely know English. Still, Paul suggests we pull something together that will distract the guards and other trash-mobs so Marcus can focus on Leopold and any other high-ranking vampires around.
We start heading up the road toward the cell block. Marcus brings up the rear but by his face his mind is very obviously somewhere else. We get to the courtyard in front of the administration building of the main cell block (where the actual lighthouse actually is). The lights of the building are off but we can see flashlights moving around inside.
Marcus stops suddenly. He stares at the building—or, rather, somewhat through the building—for a second, then starts chuckling.
“Oh…oh well that is fascinating….”
We glance at each other. “What is it, Boss?” I ask.
“Etrius, Etrius, what have you been up to,” he mumbles, shaking his head slightly. “Oh the Kabbalists must love you….” He looks at us, shaking off his reverie. “I’m sorry, habit of the aged.”
He glances back at the cell block. “This…’Leopold.’ I’ve seen him before. Not in person, of course. I wasn’t anywhere nearby for that event, but I have seen him. So have you, I wager,” he says, looking at Paul and me. We look at him blankly.
He looks back at the building. “It’s the hat and coat that gave him away. You might recognize him better if you saw him in black and white. Standing in the back of a limousine. Or at a lectern. Screaming commands. Heiling followers.”
My face is starting to go slack. Horror has spawned in my stomach and is climbing slowly up my spinal column.
“He’s in Tremere red now, but I’ve seen him before in black. With a skull on his hat.” He turns and sees my facial expression. “Oh come now, you must know your own history?”
“I do,” I say, “I just…don’t know if I believe this….”
Marcus smiles grimly. “Oh, I’d believe anything of the Tremere.”
“What history be this?” Anstis asks.
Marcus turns to him. “The man you are hunting? His real name…is Heinrich Himmler.”
Paul and I go still.
Anstis shrugs. “I have never heard of this man.”
“Of course you haven’t, but I would wager they have.” Marcus turns to Paul and me. Paul’s face is grim, but mine is white with shock.
“Clouds of ashes, indeed,” Marcus drawls, turning to stare at the hulking black mass of the prison before us.
END OF NIGHT