Me: “Oh my god, I just realized: I have a radio tuned to the bad-guys’ channel, and the detonator for the explosives. I could literally go Full Die-Hard on this shit.”
Jason: “You also have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”
I stare up at the cell-block, processing what Marcus has just told us.
Just fucking great.
I mean, I’ve been jokingly referring to the German Tremere (which is most of them) as Nazis, but that was mostly just to entertain myself and piss them off.
But, I realize, as a cold wind blows across the rocky courtyard, part of me probably knew the truth, subconsciously, before the rest of me did.
I shudder, and not from the wind.
Unfortunately, of course recall that our party is not fully together at the moment, as Georgia is off at the inn getting drunk.
And by that I mean she’s chained up in a dark solitary-confinement cell with Emperor Norton, whose stay with the Tremere came with free radical eye-surgery.
(Jason: “Do you have Auspex?”
Jason: “Ok, then you can see perfectly well.”
Jason: “Norton, though, probably can’t.”
Kara: “Probably not.”)
Georgia is struggling futilely with her chains when the bolt in the door screeches and the door is dragged open. Three men are standing there: two normal-looking guards with machine guns, both flanking a big, beefy, glowering guy carrying a meathook. Georgia freezes as they walk into the cell.
The big guy—whose name, incidentally, is Martin, which we know because he was the one who got in the screaming match with Norton when I last visited the island—points the meathook at Georgia. “You. How many did you come with?”
Georgia thinks. “Um…four and a half.”
His glower deepens. “You think this is funny, Fraulein? You think this a joke?”
Martin steps forward and swings, plunging the hook into Georgia’s back and dragging her to the floor. “You want to answer again, ja?” he asks calmly over her screams of pain.
He wrenches the hook out and steps back. Georgia coughs and gasps a few times then lifts herself back to a seat.
“Who did you come with?” he repeats.
“Um, well there’s the Pirate, the Loose Canon, the Small-Fry, and the Executive. Oh, and a bird.”
(The room goes quiet as we ponder these.
Me: “Wait, am I the Loose Canon!?”
Jason: “I’m trying to figure out which one’s the Executive and which one’s the Small Fry….”)
Martin twirls the meat hook ominously. “You bring outsiders to this island, you kill our guards and you kill our allies. You betray the Tremere and you betray the Chantry!”
Georgia pulls herself up proudly, or as best she can. “This place is against everything the Tremere are working toward!”
(Jason: *laughs* “That is such a lie. This place is exactly what the Tremere are working toward, and you know that!“)
“This facility was authorized at the highest level, and you know that,” Martin growls.
Georgia lifts her chin. Whether or not she believes the lies she’s spouting, she’s pushing on with them. “Just because one arm of the Tremere has OK’d it doesn’t mean the other has.”
Martin leans back, his face showing mock-surprise. “Ooooh, we have here…what you call…we have a narc…. You wish to run off to the High Chantry and report all the bad things that your rivals have been doing? Do you know what we do with the narcs in this place?”
Georgia glances at Norton. “…Yes?”
Martin smiles. “Good, then you should expect something like this.” He nods to the guards. They drop their guns to their hips and take out very large knives.
“Start with the extremities,” he says to them, then walks out.
Outside, things are just getting good and ominous as we stare at the cell block when Paul’s phone rings. It’s Gates, so he immediately takes it.
I frown at him. “Is this really the time to be taking calls, Paul?”
He glares at me and walks a few feet away, still glued to the phone. The rest of us can’t hear all the details, of course, but their conversation basically amounts to the fact that Gates is at Tesseract, with Klaus, and there’s…some freaky shit going on. They caught an intruder, and…well…Paul needs to get there as soon as he can to see it for himself.
Anstis sidles up to me as I’m straining to hear the conversation. “Who he be talking to?” he growls.
“It’s…a communication device,” I say, trying to ignore him so I can listen.
Apparently the only thing scarier than whatever the hell Klaus caught is Klaus himself. He’s storming around campus, trying to wrangle order amongst the few people that are there, and his frustration is only increasing. Paul informs Gates that Klaus knows about the whole vampire thing now and is very concerned about protecting the people and the company from these forces that he barely understands.
“This one be a Malkavian?” Anstis asks, still staring at Paul suspiciously.
“It’s the modern world, Mr. Anstis,” Marcus sighs. “Everyone is a Malkavian.”
Paul finishes the call and rejoins us. Anstis stares at the phone in his hand before Paul puts it away.
We discuss strategy. There are at least twenty guards, who are mostly human, but they are armed with stacks of various defenses, including flamethrowers and other incendiary devices.
“What we need is a surprise of our own.” Anstis jerks his head toward the dock. “Does that boat back there carry any powder?”
We stare at him a moment. Marcus figures it out first. “Oh, gunpowder. I doubt it. But they might have something better. You’d know it as naptha, the rest as gasoline.”
We obviously can’t just burn down the prison, though, since it’s made of concrete and stone. We consider setting a trap and luring them toward it. There are a lot of wooden crates around, perhaps we can use those to start a fire.
“Speaking of crates, Boss, before we met you, we found a crate at the gift shop that contained a stone sarcophagus like the one you were trapped in, only much larger.”
Marcus nods. “A Tremere warding sarcophagus, used to transport prisoners. Or I suppose gargoyles.”
“I tried to open it, but couldn’t,” Anstis adds.
“No, it probably wouldn’t. Tremere sarcophagi won’t open without either the key or the application of sufficient force to destroy anything inside.”
Of course we know that a key exists, but unfortunately it is with Georgia.
At the mention of Georgia, though, Marcus’s face darkens. “This begs the question, since she is not here…. I appreciate that you are all from the modern world and the modern world operates differently, and you all seem to all believe it is wise to trust this Tremere.” He looks at us in turn, especially Paul and I. “I know better. I know the Tremere from back in the day, I know what they are capable of, and I know what they invariably do to those that trust them. One day I’ll tell you the story of a clan called Salubri.”
Marcus is still keen on leaving no one alive on the island, both because everyone here is obviously implicated with some fucked up shit, and because having no witnesses to report to the Tremere and tie the attack back to us is a reasonable strategy as well.
Marcus stares at the cellblock again. “If we’re making a clean sweep of the Tremere on this island I see no reason not to include this one….” Meaning, of course, Georgia.
I’m torn. On the one hand, there’s been no love lost between me and the Tremere, all the Tremere, since Isaac the Dick tried to Dominate me (and not in the fun way) outside the Chantry last fall. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been taking my loyalty to Marcus very seriously, so I’ve taken the attacks on him and Aquilifer personally as well.
But, on the other hand (which is still currently missing, fyi) Georgia did risk her own life to help save Sophia, and was instrumental in rescuing Marcus himself. I still don’t entirely know why she did all that, but it does give her some points in my book and makes me uncomfortable with the idea of so casually throwing her under the bus.
Perhaps if I convince him that she’s really a part of Team Marcus, he’ll view the situation differently. “Isn’t…she bound to you now, Boss?”
“Is she?” He looks at me pointedly. “There are bonds in the universe stronger than mine. One can never be sure. I know the Tremere, I have known them for a very long time, and before them I knew the ones they devoured. I have never known a Tremere that could be trusted, for any purpose. Ever.”
I nod and let the matter drop, but Paul gives it a shot. “We’re not going to judge anyone for things they haven’t done yet,” he says matter-of-factly.
Marcus snorts. “May the universe accord you the same respect, then.”
Anstis stares at Paul, arms folded. “Is he always this naive?” he asks, directing the question at Marcus.
Marcus sighs and flutters a hand. “It’s the modern world, they’re all young. They’ll learn. And I supposed the burned hand teaches best.”
Now I glower. Seriously? Captain No-Pants here has only been on Team Marcus for…what, all of four hours, and he’s already angling to be Bottom-Bitch?
Fuck that noise.
Marcus brings the conversation back around to the attack plan. He’s not keen on simply marching in there, mostly because of the flamethrowers, so the three of them discuss ways to lay traps or sneak around. I, though, am staring down the hill at the ferry, remembering what we said earlier about gasoline.
More importantly, though, something has occurred to me.
“Boss,” I interject, “Sebastian said that he had entered into a ‘partnership’ of some sort with Leopold, so I would assume that Leopold was getting something out of the deal as well….”
Everyone follows my gaze down toward the ferry. They agree that this is a good point, perhaps Sebastian was trading weapons or something else of use. We decide to check it out, so head back down the hill toward the docks.
Meanwhile, Georgia is having a bad time.
(Kara: “Not yet.”
Jason: “…Um, yes.”
Kara: “No, not yet.”
Jason: “Oh, I’m sorry, is it going to be worse later?”
Kara: “I don’t know, maybe.”
Jason: “…Let me be less coy. The two guards begin to beat and slice you.”
Kara: “But they don’t, because I get to take actions at this point.”
Jason: “Oh, you wish to take actions? Very well….”)
The guards approach her, knives drawn. Georgia is still sprawled awkwardly on the floor, tangled in her chains. She looks up at them, meeting the eyes of the one closest to her.
“Are you sure you don’t want to…Release me?” she asks, dropping a whole lot of Dominate on the word release. He hesitates momentarily, then drops his knife to reach for the keys. He leans over and pops the cuffs on Georgia’s wrist.
The other guard doesn’t notice this, though, as he is stepping forward to slash at Georgia with his knife. He gashes her across the upper arm, then stops as he realizes what has just happened. She is now free.
And he is now in big trouble.
She grabs his hand, casting Blood to Water, which does pretty much exactly what you’d think it does. His skin instantly goes pale. He spasms, gurgles once, then collapses on the floor, dead.
(Note that part of the process of this was, like, five minutes of us discussing the hypothetical physiological effects of having one’s blood replaced with water. We agreed that the main issues would be lack of oxygen and burst cells from the hypertonicity. We even go far as to debate how long someone would remain conscious and how much pain they would be in.
Jesus fucking christ what is wrong with this fucking game….)
The other guy stumbles back. The Dominate has dropped, so he stares in horror and confusion at what just happened. He curses and pulls his machine gun around.
Both he and Georgia, though, have momentarily forgotten that there is someone else in the room.
Norton’s voice drifts from the other side of the cell. “Mind the leeches,” it says lightly.
The guard screams and drops his gun, clawing at his face. He runs blindly and crashes into a wall. Georgia immediately hauls to her feed and falls on him, draining him dry.
Meanwhile, we’ve reached the ferry. The engines and lights are off, no sign of anyone around or movement inside.
Anstis appraises it as we walk up the gangplank. “How does this boat sail?”
“Magic,” Marcus calls back from the front.
Anstis looks at me. I shrug. It’s certainly a better answer than trying to explain intricate details to him all the time.
We reach the deck. It’s a single-hulled ferry, rather than one of the catamarans, so it’s not too large. Still, we split up to search. Paul covers the main deck, Anstis and I head up to the bridge, and Marcus heads down to the hold.
Paul soon discovers a series of enormous crates, lashed down toward the stern. He sticks his head in the stairwell to the hold to inform Marcus, but the stairwell is dark, and in fact has gotten darker. He can hear muffled noises of things being moved around. He decides to leave Marcus to whatever he’s going and goes to find Anstis and me instead.
Anstis and I poke around the bridge. I dig through cabinets, but Anstis is enthralled by the navigation equipment.
“Do all boats run on magic these days?” he asks, tapping the glass of an inactive screen.
“No,” I call back over my shoulder. “We still have sailboats, but they’re mostly for fun. Most of them have magic as a backup, through.”
I stop as something occurs to me. “If…you get interested in hanging around sailboats, and ever run into a guy named Ellison, no matter what you do, don’t. Tell him. Anything. Don’t even talk to him. And for the love of god, don’t Embrace him.”
Paul comes up the stairs at that moment. “What about Ellison? Is he here?”
“No, I just told Anstis not to talk to him.”
Paul snarls. “Fucking asshole….” he mutters under his breath. Anstis stares at the two of us but doesn’t say anything.
Paul recovers, tells us about the crates, and we follow him back down to check them out.
They’re wooden crates, and large. Large enough to hold a small elephant. We walk around them, peering under the nylon webbing lashing them down. In many places, the wood has been engraved with symbols. Paul and I recognize them as some kind of Tremere occult symbols.
Anstis, though, thinks they’re symbols of the East India Trading Company. Before we can stop him, he shreds his way through the webbing and tears the nearest one open.
Anstis wrenches the top off and stops. “Where be the tobacco and spices?” he mutters. Paul and I climb up to look inside.
There’s no spices, of course, nor are there weapons, like I was hoping. Instead the crate is filled with more stone sarcophagi, packed in like sardines. There are at least a dozen in this crate. I look across the deck. There are four crates on this deck alone, and who knows what Marcus has found below.
Just like before, these sarcophagi are sealed with star-shaped locks. On one of the, though, close to us at the top of the crate, the star is shifted out of alignment. We haul it out of the crate and place it on the deck. Anstis lifts at the lid experimentally. Surprisingly, it opens.
Revealing a gargoyle inside.
It’s smaller than the ones at the Chantry, but still large. Fortunately it’s staked.
“We should call this in,” I mutter. “Boss?” I yell.
Marcus comes up the stairs. The noise of objects being shifted and moved continues to echo from the hold, though. “Did you find—oh my….” He approaches the sarcophagus. “Well, well…it looks like we’ve found at least part of our quarry.”
Marcus sizes up the other crates. “So you were able to get this one open, what of the others?”
“This one was not closed properly,” Anstis says.
Marcus frowns. “I’ve never known the Tremere to be sloppy. Has it occurred to you there might be a reason?”
We look at each other. I speak up first. “Well…they weren’t expecting us to take over the ferry—“
“No, but they were expecting someone who wasn’t Tremere to take it off this island.”
We stare at the gargoyle thoughtfully.
Anstis flicks the stake with one of his claws. “What happens if we take this out?”
“It will awaken. At which point, we will discover what it’s been programmed to do,” Marcus says.
“How do they…program…it?”
“They look it in the eyes and tell it what it must do. Gargoyles are built to serve.”
“Can we not do the same?”
“We might, but there may be a geis upon this one. Still, I could likely bend it to my will if I needed. Might be worth a try.” Marcus shrugs. “Normally I’d burn the thing alive, but….”
“…We could use more firepower,” I add.
“Yes, well we seem to be making a habit of arranging deals with those that we ought to by rights burn alive, so, I’ll let you all have your head in this regard.”
Anstis hands his gun to me and leans over the sarcophagus to grip the stake. Paul hovers nearby, ready to blast the gargoyle with some Awe to hopefully keep him subdued enough for Marcus to get his Dominate off. When everyone is in place, Paul nods to Anstis. He pulls the stake out in one movement.
The gargoyles eyes flutter open. Paul leans in. “Do you know where you are?” he asks, blasting it with the full strength of his Awe.
The gargoyle looks at him. “I obey,” he rumbles in a voice like grinding stone, and lifts one of his hands from where it was wedged between him and the wall of the sarcophagus.
In the hand is a square device that looks unmistakably like a detonator.
I react first, diving forward to grab his wrist, pinching his tendons to keep his thumb from compressing. While we struggle, Anstis steps forward, slicing at the gargoyle’s hand with his claws. He severs the hand, but unfortunately cuts deep gouges across my own in the process.
My last good hand. Of course.
The gargoyle growls and starts to sit up, but before he can, six tendrils of darkness loom out of the shadows around us, grab him, and thrust him back down. The lid slams closed. The whole sarcophagus shudders and shakes from heavy thumps hitting the lid, but it stays sealed.
We regain our composure. Paul leans over to pick up the detonator from the severed hand on the floor.
“What is that?” Anstis asks.
“It makes something explode,” Paul says. “…Probably. We don’t know what yet.”
“Son of a bitch,” Marcus mutters, staring at the sarcophagus thoughtfully.
“Boss, were there explosives in the hold below?”
“No…” he says, “I know where the explosives are….” He turns to us. “The rest of the caskets.”
(The entire room: “Oooooooooooooooooooh….”)
“Open one of them to show him the gargoyle, assume he won’t check the others. Pack this boat with enough explosives to reduce it to matchsticks and send him on his way. Isn’t that what he did to you?”
Right now, if I had them, my hands would be clenching, but at the moment all I can do is glower. Goddamn Nazi son of a bitch….
Marcus walks across the deck, looking at the crates. “Didn’t you say something about looking for a bunch of Semtex, Tom?”
I stop, surprised I hadn’t made the connection yet. “Yes….”
“Well I doubt two people lost massive shipments of it.”
My mind reels through all the information I’ve picked up on that case so far. “Everyone’s been assuming that this guy Helgi had the Semtex, though….”
“Well, as large as this is, it isn’t a thousand pounds-worth.”
(Jim: “Have I heard of Helgi before?”
Jason: “Roll for it.” *Jim rolls* “Yeah, you have a vague memory of hearing the name before, but not much more than that.”
Me: “Wait, shouldn’t Marcus know the name?”
Jason: “Yes, but Marcus already knew he was in town. Helgi…isn’t the most subtle of guys.”)
Right now I would be rubbing my face with my hands, if they weren’t mangled and/or missing. I hate this intrigue bullshit. All I care about is what the solution is and who I need to punch on my way to get there. We’ve been hearing about this Helgi guy for months and I’m still not sure what to think about him, but I know that I’ll have a lot of questions for him for when we finally do meet.
For now, though, on the plus side, we came looking for some sort of weapon, and ended up finding casket upon casket filled with a metric shit-ton of explosives.
And now we have the detonator.
Yippie-kay-yay, mother fuckers.
Back in the cell block, Georgia has retrieved the keys from the guard she just killed and has released Norton as well. She helps him to his feet. He is better than he was when she first arrived, but he is still obviously very unsteady and disoriented.
“Emperor, it’s time to go,” she says, leading him toward the door.
“Ah, yes. Forgive me, I cannot…see very well.”
“Ah, well it’s quite dark in here, if that helps you feel any better.”
Norton looks around with a little more confidence than one would expect from someone without any eyes. “It is, isn’t it. Well, it matters not. But first…. Where is my sword?”
Georgia instinctively looks around, even though it is obviously not in the cell. “Well, we’re just going to have to go find it, aren’t we?”
Norton hesitates. “…YES!!!!” he barks, raising a fist, and rushes out of the cell. Georgia charges after him.
They come out on a catwalk on the second floor of the cellblock. The area appears to be empty, but lights are on in a guard station immediately to their left. Georgia turns and sees a guard standing inside, staring at her and Norton in shock.
Her gaze pierces his. “Silence!” she commands. He staggers briefly, mouth gaping uselessly, but he lifts his rifle and loads a round into the chamber.
“Hey!” Georgia says, holding out a finger. “Hey…. That’s noisy!” The guard, though, butts the rifle to his shoulder and sights along the barrel.
“Uh, Norton,” Georgia mutters, “We have a problem….”
Norton wheels in the general direction of the guard station. “SNAKES!!!! EVERYWHERE SNAKES!!!!!” he roars.
The guard shrieks and starts firing at the floor in a panic.
Unfortunately, Georgia gets hit with the full force of the spell too. She screams and presses herself against the wall. “Snakes!!!” she yells, staring at the floor in terror. “Why are there so many snakes, Norton???”
Norton, though, is now fully lost to Malkavian madness. “THERE ARE SNAKES AAAALWAAAAYS!!!”
Down at the dock, we hear shots echoing from the prison. “Guess the party is starting,” I mutter.
“Seems like that’s our call,” Anstis says, and lifts an entire sarcophagus—one of the sealed ones—to his shoulder. I grab one too, just managing to hoist and balance it on my shoulder without a full working hand. Marcus takes one as well, but instead of lifting it himself, one of his tendrils wraps around it and raises it up on a column of inky shadow.
Paul and Anstis head immediately down the gangplank to the dock, but I linger back, staring at my mangled right hand. “Boss,” I say slowly, “I can heal my damage here, but it’s…gonna take a lot out of me. I might be useless without it, but…. I haven’t frenzied since the first time, twenty years ago, and I don’t really know what would happen….” I trail off.
He looks at me, face unreadable. “Are you a vampire?” he asks.
I look at the sarcophagus on my shoulder, easily weighing close to a ton. “…I guess?”
The shadow underneath his sarcophagus is spilling forward, gathering around his feet and climbing higher. “Then it’s time you learned,” he says grimly. The shadow swells, engulfing him and the casket. It swirls once, then dissipates. They’re gone.
I hesitate a moment, then hurry down the gangplank after Paul and Anstis.
Georgia is still screaming, trying to stomp at the snakes she sees on the floor, but every time she hits one it splits into two new snakes.
She presses her back against the wall.
(Jason: “There’s snakes on the wall.”)
She presses her back against Norton.
(Jason: “There’s snakes on Norton.”
Kara: “Why are there snakes everywhere?!”
Jason: “Because there’s snakes!”
Chris: “Were there ever not snakes?”
Jason: “No. At no point has there ever been not-snakes.”
Chris: “Have all of her memories become snakes?”
Chris: “Then why does this seem unusual to her?”
Jason: “It doesn’t. But there’s still snakes.”
Kara: “I…calm down.”
Jason: “No. There’s snakes.”
Chris: “My hope is that when Colleen does her writeup there are two paragraphs of just ‘Snakes. Snakes. Snakes. Snakes.’ “
Jason: “Roll me courage plus snakes.”
Kara: “Wait, what?”
Chris: “Wait, that’s good! You have all the snakes!”
Jason: “Ok, roll me courage plus snakes, minus snakes.”
Kara: “Ok, I get…two snakes.”
Me: “What is happening??? Why are all the words being replaced with snake??”
Jason: “Because it’s madness, it’s not supposed to make sense!!”)
Norton appears to be a shape made up entirely of writing snakes. Georgia screams and turns to run the other direction down the catwalk, but stops as a shadowy apparition coalesces in front of her. It dissipates…
…Leaving another form made up of writhing snakes. Trapped between these two forms, Georgia cowers in the middle of the catwalk.
Then, suddenly, all of the snakes at her feet disappear.
Georgia carefully climbs back to her feet and looks around. Norton’s mania seems to have passed. He is now gripping the railing of the catwalk unsteadily. The guard from the guard room has completely disappeared.
And standing at the other end of the catwalk, where the second snake-figure appeared, is Marcus, standing in front of a large stone sarcophagus.
Georgia throws up her arms excitedly. “Marcus! Excellent timing!”
He frowns at her. “How did you get out?” he asks suspiciously, looking between her and the obviously-weakened Norton.
“Um…with the key,” she says (which is the best kind of smart-ass response: one that’s actually true).
His eyes narrow further. “They gave you the key to your own cell?”
Georgia laughs, completely oblivious to his suspicion. “Oh, ha, no. I dominated one of the guards and got the key off of him.”
Marcus regards her silently for a few moments, glancing at the guard lying dead in the doorway to the cell.
She follows his gaze. “Oh, I wouldn’t drink that one. He has water in his veins.”
Marcus’s head snaps back to her. He stares at her again, but this time in confusion. “Does…he…? Well…he is Tremere….”
(We look at Jason with similar levels of surprise and confusion. He’s grinning and chuckling to himself.
“What? Is that an expression or something?” I ask.
“It is in Latin. Someone who had water in their veins could never be trusted for any purpose.”
The room explodes in laughter.)
Georgia stares at Marcus vacantly. He flutters a hand. “Nevermind. Where are the rest of them?”
“The rest of who? The guards? Well there’s another one in there—“
“The rest of the Phoenicians, who do you think I mean??” Marcus barks.
“Well you know about as much as I do, cause I just came out of that room. And then the world turned to snakes, and then you got here.”
“Where. Are. The rest. Of the Tremere ghouls,” he says, voice darkening, but before Georgia can answer, gunfire erupts from below.
Georgia throws herself back, away from the railing, but gets hit a couple times before getting clear. She presses against the wall, but from where she is standing, she can see more guards pouring into the cellblock on the ground floor.
All of them are aiming up.
Paul, Anstis, and I reach the front doors of the cellblock, which are still locked. We can hear more gunfire inside the building, but so far there’s still no sign of guards outside. We debate using one of the sarcophagi to blow the doors.
The problem, of course, is we only have the one detonator, which conceivably will blow all of the Semtex at once, so we can’t use just one. Also we can’t blow it till we know if Marcus is clear from his yet.
We settle down to wait.
Georgia is cowering against the wall, trying to decide which way to run, when someone grabs her arm. She screams and looks over.
It’s Marcus. His face is angry but focused, a few stray bullet holes healing on it as she watches. “Take the madman,” he hisses. Georgia reaches over and grabs Norton’s arm.
Darkness wells up around them. Georgia is overwhelmed with absolute, bone-chilling cold, slicing through her as if she wasn’t even there. Then the moment passes and all three of them are outside.
Standing in front of us, blinking at them in surprise.
I sigh in relief to see Norton, but it’s short lived, as I take in the extent of his injuries. “Oh, Jesus, Emperor….” I mutter.
Anstis frowns. “That is the Emperor?”
I ignore Anstis and try to pull myself together. “Boss, what do you want us to do with these?” I gesture at the sarcophagi.
“Throw them against the wall and run,” he says darkly, turning to stare at the cellblock.
We follow suit, dropping both caskets against the wall and bolting down the hill to find cover wherever we can, Georgia leading Norton with her. Marcus, though, lingers, staring at the doors. Tendrils of darkness lift from the shadows around him and fuse into one large tentacle that wraps around him. The shadow starts to lift him up, but right before it does, he steps forward and shoves the sarcophagi against the doors. Moments later, there’s a thud and muffled yells as people start pounding on the other side of the doors. The tendril whisks Marcus away toward cover on another side of the island.
(Me: *Hums as I doodle* “Cool guys don’t run from explosions….”
Jim: “It’s ‘Don’t Look At Explosions.’ “
Me: “What?? Aw goddammit! I just spent the last two minutes drawing the phrase as ‘Run From Explosions’ in grafitti-letters in my notebook!!”)
Paul and I have hunkered down near each other, behind some cement rubble. Paul pulls out the detonator, flicks the cover off, and peers over the rubble. The voices behind the door are getting louder and the thumps stronger, as if more people are gathering to push at the doors. Paul continues to wait, watching the doors closely.
The thumps are getting stronger, now visibly rattling the sarcophagi. I glance at him nervously. “Paul….”
He holds up a hand. The voices grow stronger, then finally there is one large thump that actually opens the door a few inches. Someone tries to peer out.
Paul clicks the button.
A pillar of flame erupts to our right, coming from the docks down the hill. We’re buffeted by the concussion, but otherwise untouched.
The sarcophagi in front of us, though, are still whole.
Paul and I glance at each other. Crap, maybe the caskets are filled with gargoyles, and the Semtex was hidden somewhere else on the—
Moments later, the sarcophagi in front of us explode as well.
The entire front of the building vaporizes instantly, blasting rubble toward us, along with a much stronger shock-wave. Everything on the south side of the island that’s in line with the shock wave shatters, showering dust and rubble.
(Jason: “Everything, including the actual lighthouse.”
Me: *Gasps in actual horror* “OH NO!!! The LENS!!!!!”)
We’re protected from the worst of the shockwave, but since this explosion was closer, we still get buffeted pretty hard. Paul and I manage to hang on to our cover, as does Anstis, but Georgia and Norton are blown out toward the bay.
Georgia slams into the water. She’s beat up but otherwise uninjured. She regains her senses, orients herself toward the island, and starts swimming toward it. She’s only fifty feet or so from shore, but the current is strong, and despite her efforts she is starting to move away from the island.
Meanwhile, once the heat and the smoke clear and all the largest pieces of rubble seem to have fallen, Paul, Anstis, and I get up to check out the damage.
Half of the cellblock is gone, just gone, like it was ripped off. The rest of the building is sagging from the damage. The courtyard is littered with concrete and rebar. Paul and I pick our way through cautiously. There’s no sign of the guards who were trying to beat down the door. Likely there’s nothing left of them to even find. We survey the damage, expressionless with shock. From this vantage point we can also see the wreckage of the ferry—and, in fact, the entire dock complex—burning below us to the east.
Well, Leopold did say he liked Michael Bay movies….
“Boss?” I call out hesitantly. No response.
Paul pulls his sword, the one he took from Sebastian, and steps into the shell of the building.
Anstis notices Georgia struggling in the bay and wanders toward her, shaking his head. He stands on the shore and watches her lack of progress.
“Ye alright there, Tremere?” he shouts.
“You could throw a rope or something!” she shouts between strokes. Anstis looks around. There’s nothing of the sort nearby, so he shrugs and continues to just watch her.
Finally, she catches an eddy in the current and is able to pull herself onto shore. Anstis climbs down to help her onto the rocks. She coughs and sputters, hauling herself to her feet….
…And sees Norton, lying on the rocks nearby.
Georgia gasps and scrambles over to him, followed by Anstis. If Norton was beat up before, he is absolutely pulverized now—torn to shreds in some places, even—and unconscious. Georgia stares in shock.
Anstis, though, barely bats an eyepatch before leaping into action. He hoists Norton—big guy though he is—to his shoulder. “He be needing blood,” he announces, then starts scrambling along the shore, in the direction of the two guards we left unconscious—but not dead—on the north side of the island, by the “lighthouse,” now ret-conned to “the radio tower.”
Paul and I peer into the disemboweled carcass of the cellblock. We can’t see much through the dust and the smoke, but right no there’s no sign of anyone, or anything, moving.
Still, I linger back as Paul climbs in through the rubble. He asks what’s wrong. I tell him the same thing I told Marcus, that I’m low on blood and things could go pear-shaped rather quickly, and if they do then he should gtfo my way cause I have no idea what would happen. He nods, and we enter the ruins.
One whole half of the cellblock has collapsed into a mountain of metal shards and concrete. We split up, looking for signs of Leopold and his men.
Paul finds a sign first, at the far end of the cellblock. Three men are smashed up against the remains of the wall, flattened like bugs on a windshield. The rest of the wall has collapsed into a pile of rubble.
Half-buried in the rubble is another guy, human, barely still alive, wheezing and straining for a gun just out of his reach.
The man doesn’t notice as Paul approaches, but looks up when Paul places a hand on his shoulder.
“Let it go,” Paul says softly. “Let it go….”
The man gasps harder, eyes rolling in terror. Paul’s no doctor, but even he can see that this man is beyond help.
“Nothing can be done for you now,” Paul says, “but I can make it quick.”
The man wheezes harder, gasping words that sound like German, but it’s hard to tell.
I catch up with Paul and stand behind him, staring quietly at the guard.
“Tom I don’t think this man is long for this world,” Paul says without turning around. “But, um…there may be some mercy….”
I groan and rub my face with the remains of my one hand. He’s right of course, this solves my blood problem rather neatly.
I’ve killed before, obviously; by accident, in the heat of battle, or both. But I haven’t yet approached a human like this with the express purpose of killing them, especially not one who’s functionally helpless. (Good thing Georgia’s not around….) But Marcus’s words still ring heavy in my head.
“Fine,” I say and step forward, kicking the gun further out of the man’s reach just in case. His babbling stops as I bend over him. He waves his arms feebly in an effort to grab my coat. I let him.
He pulls himself up slightly and whispers in my ear, “…..Heil Hitler….
Ooooooooh! Oh FUCK! THIS!! GUY!!!!
Qualms gone. I do the thing.
Paul’s still there as I finish, watching me. I stand up and unceremoniously wipe blood off my chin with my right hand, now healed.
“He say something?” Paul asks.
I snarl down at the body. “Yeah, fuck that guy. They’re Nazis man, they’re all Nazis, and I don’t even mean this ironically.”
(Chris and Jason: *chant together* “Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, but at least it was an ethos!!”
Me: *sadly quotes Philip Seymour Hoffman* “This is our concern, dude….”)
Paul picks up the machine gun, I show him briefly how to use it, and we continue through the cellblock. We find more rubble—pieces of the cellblock, pieces of guards—but it’s still quiet. Most of the rooms off of the cellblock are collapsed or blocked with rubble, but we find a door at the rear that seems to be still intact. Paul kicks it open. Behind it is another cellblock room thats been converted to a factory room, filled with crates, equipment, and more sarcophagi.
And blood-stained meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. Because of course there fucking are.
Georgia catches up with us as we’re staring into the room. We step through and peer around in ominous silence.
Then the silence breaks for Paul.
“Who want’s to play catch?” Mr Tails wheedles in Paul’s ear.
Paul hesitates. “Well, that’s ominous…” he mutters. “Mr. Tails, would you care to elaborate?” Georgia and I both stare at Paul in concern, although my concern is of a considerably different nature than hers.
“It’s a fun game! Catch the baaaaaall!” Mr. Tails squeals joyfully.
Paul frowns into the darkness. As he stares, a shape stands up from behind a pile of rubble across the room and throws something at us.
“BACK!” Paul yells, shoving us back to the doorway. Georgia and I stumble through, followed by Paul, moments before something explodes in the room behind us.
(Me: “Yaaaaaay, you just had your first Mr. Tails Quicktime Event!”)
More rubble and shrapnel land around us but we’re largely unhurt. Paul, though, apparently forgets what clan he is and decides to go Full Brujah on the room. He hoists his machine gun and runs back into the room, spraying wildly in front of him. We hear the shots ricochet of concrete, then someone screams. Paul stops shooting.
Then more gunfire erupts, directed at him.
Anstis, meanwhile, has reached the incapacitated guards on the far side of the island, Norton in tow. He dumps one of the guards on Norton, who has just enough instinct to bite and exsanguinate him, then drops the other one (after taking a few bites for himself first).
Norton tosses the last guy aside and sits up, staring groggily at Anstis, even though his eyes are still missing. “Who are you?”
Anstis draws himself up tall in the shitty stolen coveralls. “Thomas Anstis!”
Norton peers at him sightlessly. “Anstis…. Captain Anstis!?”
“Aye!” Anstis grins. “You’ve heard of me?”
“You should be dead! Are you dead, Sir??”
“Betrayed by me own crew, I be. But alive now.”
“VIIIIIIIIIILE TREACHERY!!!!!” Norton roars, scaring a flock of gulls from the Not-the-Lighthouse.
Anstis eyes Norton appraisingly. “So, an emperor you be?”
Norton slams his hand on the ground, nearly cracking the stone. “IIIIII AM EMPEROR NORTON THE FIRST!!!! RULER OF THESE UNITED STATES, AND PROTECTOR OF MEXICOOOO!!” He punctuates the last three words with more pounding on the ground.
Anstis strokes his chin (which, I am going to declare, has a damn-fool beard on it just like Jim does). “The Viceroyalty of New Spain?”
“The Viceroyal have left long ago. These lands ARE NOW MINE!!!”
Anstis glances at the skyline, glittering across the bay. “Tell me of these United States….”
Anstis slowly pulls some useful information out of Norton, finally getting the sense of where the hell he is: the western shore of North America, and not Spain like he had first assumed. Whether or not be believes that Norton is actually the emperor of this land is still up in the air, but his pirate sensibilities say that, for now, it is probably better to be safe than sorry. Emperor or not, Norton could eventually be worth something.
“We best be getting you off this island,” Anstis says.
“Yes…. Have you a VESSEL???”
“I…be without a ship at the moment.” Anstis glances toward the bay again. The cargo ship from earlier is gone, but there are a few other delectable-looking small craft moving around on this calm night. “Do you happen to know the fate of me ship? The Good Fortune?”
Shockingly, Norton recognizes that name too. “Sunk with all hands. At the hands of the Royal Navy.”
Anstis stares at the water and clenches a fist. “Admiral. John. Flowers….” he growls.
(Me: “Lol, Nemesis….”)
After a few moments, Anstis shakes himself out of his reverie. “I did not see another ship on the island, but there may be other ways.”
“Where are the others?”
“They be inside. I heard the…pistols.”
Norton’s face darkens. “Yes…pistols. We shall allow them their pistoling. And then we shall see what befalls the enemies of the emperor. There will be…a reckoning….”
Anstis looks up the hill toward the cellblock—largely undamaged on this side—looming over them. “Shall we discover the remaining secrets of this place?”
Norton chuckles grimly. “That is the work of a lifetime, Captain.”
“Well then we best get started, for we live longer than life’s time.”
Paul continues to stand in the middle of the room, spraying shots at any movement he sees around him. I, though, having had more than my fair share of X-Box time in the years before I lost all my shit at my apartment, take cover just inside the doorway and start shooting cover fire for him.
Paul blasts the room with Awe (he’s getting pretty good at it), telling everyone to stop. The men firing at us—two of them—both stop.
“Nazis, eh….” Paul mutters, then shouts, “The Fuehrer is dead! Himmler is dead! Your cause is defeated and you are disgraced! Go now with dignity!”
A tense moment passes. The two guards look at each other. Georgia sticks her head around the doorway. She and I stare at Paul in confusion.
Then one of the guards yells in German and starts firing again.
I decide that enough is enough. I launch over my cover and dash at the guard firing at Paul, tackling him to the ground and biting him to finish the job.
Paul turns to the other guard. “Throw down your weapons!” There’s a clatter of a gun hitting the floor, then the guard turns and bolts from the room. Paul and Georgia dash after him, followed by me as soon as I can.
The guard runs toward a heavy door at the far side of the “factory” floor. He crashes into it and tugs at the handle with all his weight. Even in his adrenaline-fueled panic, though, it’s too much for him, and we catch up. I grab him by the back of the neck and pull him away from the door. He babbles in German and claws weakly at my forearm, eyes rolling in panic.
Before I can do anything, Paul interjects. “Tom, he threw down his weapon….”
I hesitate. Urg, Nazi or not, Paul’s right. I pivot the man around to face me. “Hey! Sprechen Sie talk?” I growl in his face.
The man’s eyes roll wider but he nods. “Ja, Ja, I…spreche ze English!”
I look at Paul. Paul jerks his head toward the door. “What’s through there?”
(Me: “Wait, I took two months of German in high school—“
Chris: “Did Tom?”
Me: “……No, I took five YEARS of German, Tom took two months—“
Jason: “Yeah, well Teufelraum was not in his vocabulary.”
Me: “DAMMIT but I know what it means!!!”)
We look at each other blankly. We press him for more info but we seem to have reached the limits of his English vocabulary. He keeps repeating “Teufelraum,” then starts mimicking a strange buzzing sound.
We decide to investigate further. Paul tells the man to find somewhere to hide until sunrise. I scoff and roll my eyes.
“Paul, you know he is a Nazi….”
The man shakes his head vigorously. “Nein nein! Nein ist Nazi! Ich….I….I love Jews!! Ja!”
We stare at him. He nods and repeats this assertion. “Ja! Ja, I love Jeeeews! With ze nose!”
I narrow my eyes. “And what about the gays?” I ask, but he just looks at me blankly.
Georgia steps forward, brushing past Paul. “Can you tell me if you’ve ever seen Max on this island? Maximillian Von Strauss?”
The man thinks for a minute then nods. “Ja, ja, Von Strauss!”
“Was he in charge?”
The man frowns. “Nein….”
“Then what was he doing here?”
Georgia nods in understanding. “Was Leopold in charge?”
The man nods, but there’s still a hint of hesitation in his face.
“Who does Leopold report to?”
At this the man’s face falls. He takes a slight step back, shaking his head. “Nein…nein….”
Georgia and Paul glance at each other. It’s pretty obvious that it’s not that the man doesn’t know, it’s that he knows but doesn’t want to say.
The man’s mouth works silently for a few moments, then mutters something just barely at the edge of hearing: “Der…Nachtteufel….”
We look at each other. “The….Night…..something?” Georgia asks.
“Devil,” comes a voice from behind us. We turn.
It’s Marcus. “The Night Devil,” he repeats.
“Interesting….” Georgia says. “So…who is the Night Devil?”
Marcus rolls his eyes. “I’ve known six vampires in my time who have gone by that name. Four of whom merited it. I killed two of them. So at the moment, I have no idea, but if I had to guess….” He folds his arms. “I think we already met him.”
Marcus raises an eyebrow. “Yes I suppose that’s the name he uses now isn’t it. But there’s no proof of course. It could be anyone in the Tremere.” He looks at Georgia, eyes narrowed. “Most of them would merit the name.”
Paul, meanwhile, has pried open the door the guard was trying to open. It leads to a short hallway. A few doors off the hallway lead to offices, but at the end of the hallway is a door with a sign saying “Maintenance – Off Limits.” Paul walks to this door and opens it.
Surprisingly, inside he actually finds a maintenance room, filled with cleaning supplies and shelves and shit.
But all of these things have been pushed to the sides of the room, clearing a space for the ritual circle inscribed in the floor. The circle looks just like the one we took to arrive at Alcatraz, and it is smeared with fresh blood.
Paul returns to us to report, sharing his suspicions that someone went through the circle recently. We all agree that it would be very unwise to follow.
But we do have to get off the island somehow. We discuss options, none of them good. While we debate Anstis and Norton rejoin us. Anstis’s favorite idea is to wait until emergency personnel and such arrive and then steal one of their boats, but we assure him that would be a bad idea. I ask Marcus if he can do his cool shadow-teleport trick with us across the bay, but he says he can’t take other people that far.
Which reminds me of the last member of our party still missing. “Where’s Aquilifer?” I ask hesitantly.
Marcus goes quiet, staring at the floor. “Not here,” he says softly. “I sent her home. There are better places for her to be at this moment.” I nod and don’t question further, not now.
Marcus and Paul press Georgia for more information about the ritual circle. She says she can’t tell where it’s going, or even if it’s been rerouted since Leopold went through. It could lead back to the Chantry, or to another Tremere bolt-hole in the city, or to Germany, or to the middle of the sun for all she knows.
Finally I turn to the guard, who is still standing with us, trembling with fear and glancing at all of us. “Is there any other way off this island?” I ask him.
His eyes dart to me. “Das Boot,” he says.
“The boat’s gone,” I say. He stares in confusion. I clench and flower my fist. “Boom,” I say. His eyes widen and he nods.
The man thinks for a moment. “Ummm…das Flugzeug?”
Marcus raises an eyebrow. “Flugzeug? Really? Show us.”
The man nods and leads us from the room.
We walk back through the cellblock, out into the remains of the courtyard. Helicopters are starting to gather (Anstis eyes them curiously) but for now they’re keeping a safe distance. The guard leads us to a trail that takes us not to the east dock, but the small west dock where Norton’s and my ill-fated boat launched from. There’s no other boats here at the moment, but there is a large shed nearby at the waterline. The guard walks up to this and hauls the doors open.
Revealing a seaplane moored inside.
We let out a small sigh of relief, but it’s short-lived, as we try to decide who is going to try and fly the plane.
(Me: “DAMMIT!!! Jim could ACTUALLY FLY IT!!!”)
Luckily, though, our new guard-friend apparently knows a thing or two and starts up the engine. The rest of us—Paul, Georgia, Anstis, Norton, Marcus, and myself—distribute ourselves through the small plane as weight balance will best allow, but its clear that the plane is going to be running more than a little heavy.
Anstis follows the instructions we give him, climbing in the back compartment of the plane, but is obviously perplexed. “What manner of contraption is this?”
“It’s an airplane,” Georgia says. “It’s going to go up in the air and we’re going to fly out of here.”
Anstis stares at her blankly, then barks with laughter and turns to Paul. “This Tremere is hilarious!”
Paul just stares back. “Mind your claws, you don’t want to damage anything while we’re up there.”
Anstis’s face slowly falls. “Wait…you be telling the truth?”
Norton peers over the seat-back from his position in the plane. “Behold…my imperial wonders!”
(Both in-game and out-of-game, we are very concerned about whether the plane will even be able to make it into the air. We launch into detailed discussion of fuel-load and ground effect, as advised by Jim. Staying low is definitely our best bet, though I’m concerned about boat traffic, like the inevitable coast guard cutter that’s going to come check on the condition of the lighthouse any minute now.)
The motor starts up without a problem and we putter out of the shed and onto the water. Our plan is to head down to the lower Peninsula, so the guard angles the plane south.
The plane picks up speed, bouncing over the low swells. Each bounce sends us higher than the one before. Everyone holds on, waiting to see if we’re going to catch the air. Finally, one last bounce sends us up and we don’t come back down again. The plane roars, just barely holding itself above the ground effect, but not much further above. We make a bee-line for the south bay, passing under the west span of the Bay Bridge (the Emperor Norton Bridge, thankyouverymuch), buzzing one very confused coast guard cutter in the process.
(Jason: “Perception alertness check, please.”
Me: “Oh god, are there EXPLOSIVES on the PLANE!?!”
Kara: “SNAKES!! How many snakes are on the plane, Jason!?!?!?”)
Although he was shoved rather ingloriously in the storage compartment of the tail, Anstis is in awe. He squirms around to peer up over the rear seats, trying to see out the windows. In doing so, his foot kicks against something heavy, shoved in the back of the compartment and stowed under a tarp. Momentarily distracted from the wonders of flight, he reaches under the tarp to investigate it further.
What he feels is the cool, rough-hewn stone of another Tremere sarcophagus.
“There be another coffin back here!” Anstis announces to us over the roar of the plane. Everyone who can peers around. We assume it’s not filled with more Semtex, or else it would have exploded. For now we leave it for later.
We get to the South Bay within twenty minutes or so. Paul directs the pilot to land just outside the marshes around Shoreline Ampitheater, using the peaked white tents as a guide. We putter through one of the sloughs and beach on an embankment close to a corporate park. Everyone climbs out. I help Anstis lift the sarcophagus out of the back of the plane and Paul pulls out a phone to call Gates, asking her to send some cars.
Anstis and I drag the sarcophagus to the parking lot to wait for the cars. Anstis turns back to stare at the plane, shaking his head in disbelief. “Next you’ll be telling me you put men on the moon,” he mutters.
Georgia, meanwhile, has been helping Norton out of the plane. She gets him to shore. Once again he’s looking very drained and barely speaks to any of us. Marcus, though, still hasn’t exited. I go to check on him….
…And find him unconscious.
My stomach flops. I grasp his shoulder and shake it lightly. “Boss??” I ask, barely keeping the concern out of my voice.
(Jason: “What? He’s not asleep! He’s not alive, you’re not going to shake him awake!”
Me: “Shut up, it’s instinct!”)
He, of course, remains out cold. I remove him from the plane and carry him to shore.
Anstis watches me with a wry expression on his face. “Time for a nap for the little one?”
I glare at him. “You’re lucky he’s asleep for that.”
I put Marcus down on the grass and we gather around the sarcophagus. It’s smaller than the ones on the boat, but larger than the one Marcus was in. Despite our rather mixed luck with these things so far, we decide to open it, using Georgia’s key.
While Georgia fiddles with the key, Paul pulls me aside. “I’m planning to take Ms. Johnson and…our new friend…to Tesseract. There will be two cars, perhaps you can take Marcus, Norton, and Anstis and hole up in the Portola house until we figure things out.”
I agree. Sunrise is coming soon, and my instinct is to get myself—and everyone else—somewhere safe while we regroup.
Paul hands over the keys to the house. I reach to take them, but he grips them an extra moment and stares me in the eye. “Don’t…break…anything.” I roll my eyes and nod.
CLICK! Paul and I turn just in time to see Georgia lever the sarcophagus lid open, Anstis standing at ready nearby with his claws out. Nothing explodes or jumps out at us, so we all peer inside.
Surprise! It’s another gargoyle. This one is also staked, but its hands are crossed over its chest, no detonators or other weapons in sight.
Headlights are approaching, so we close and lock the lid to deal with it later. As discussed, Paul, Georgia, and the guard—whose name, we discover, is Wolfgang—take one car to Tesseract. I take the rest of the crew and the sarcophagus in the other car to Paul’s house in Portola Valley.
The ride to Portola is long, but relatively quiet. Anstis is occupied with peering out the window and Norton and Marcus are in no position for chit-chat. I am in the front seat, staring out at the lights passing us when I feel my phone buzz. I pull it out.
It’s not a text, but a message, from an unknown number. Obviously my phone rang at some point during the escape and I missed it. Perplexed, I dial up my voicemail to listen.
I hear a voice that I don’t recognize, a woman’s voice, in a slight accent I can’t quite place. She identifies me by name and asks me to call a number as soon as possible, citing a matter of “great importance.” The message ends there.
I sigh. I of course don’t have the slightest clue what this could be about but she already knows my name and my number, so I figure it’s minimal risk to see what she wants. I dial the number back.
The call picks up, but no voice answers. “This is Tom Lytton,” I say. Still no response. The call is silent for a few more seconds, then hangs up.
I stare at my phone. I still have no clue what’s going on, but I’m starting to feel like I’m not going to like it. I put the phone back in my pocket.
I glance into the backseat through the rear-view mirror. Norton’s head is sagged on his chest and he’s mumbling to himself. Marcus appears to be missing, but that’s to be expected because Lasombra.
Anstis, though, is staring right back at me, a look of deep interest and suspicion on his face.
Paul, Georgia, and the kraut arrive at Tesseract. Sunrise is approaching and Georgia is starting to fade, but Paul is still going strong. Paul pages Gates, who tells him to meet her and Klaus down in the laboratories.
Gates meets them as they come down the stairwell. She eyes Georgia and Wolfgang. “Paul who are these people?”
“This is Georgia Johnson, this is…a prisoner, I guess….”
Wolfgang waves his hands in front of him. “Nein!! ‘Bin nicht Nazi! I…I love Jeeeews!”
Gates stares at him a moment then turns back to Paul. “Paul, I don’t know what’s going on, but…well…you’re gonna have to see for yourself.”
She leads them down the hall toward one of the laboratory doors. Equipment and boxes, likely removed from the laboratory, are stacked against the walls of the hallway. Two men Paul doesn’t recognize flank the door, both in crisp suits and sporting sunglasses and earpieces. They don’t react as Gates walks up and enters the doorway. Paul follows.
Klaus is in the room, along with four more suited security guys. These ones are openly carrying machine pistols.
Klaus turns as Gates and Paul enter, followed by Georgia. Klaus’s face is even more stern and serious than his normal expression. “Paul,” he says flatly. “You want to explain this?” He gestures past the armed guards.
A cage has been set up, occupying a large portion of the room. Inside the cage is…something. It’s bipedal, but that’s about its only recognizable feature. It has no arms, no head, just a hairless body stuck between two recurved, bird-like legs. It does have a face, though, embedded within the body. An enormous mouth lies across its abdomen in a great toothy gash, and two red eyes glare through the bars. It sees Paul and immediately starts throwing itself against the cage, chattering and screeching.
Paul gapes in horror. It’s now obvious why Gates was hesitant to try and describe this over the phone. “Ms. Johnson, what is that….”
Georgia, too, is staring, but is far less shocked. “It’s a szlachta. A type of Tzimisce war-ghoul. Fleshcrafted. Designed to kill people.”
“Charming….” Paul paces around the cage, keeping a safe distance. “It is sentient?”
“No. It’s not a vampire either.”
Paul turns to Klaus. “Where did you find it?”
“Lurking around the perimeter.”
“How did you catch it?”
“We shot it. A lot. Used tranquilizers to put it down. Dragged it here. It woke up within five minutes.” Klaus sneers at the thing, still chattering and following Paul’s progress around the cage. “We don’t know that it’s the only one.”
Paul folds his arms and frowns thoughtfully. “Ms. Johnson, are these things used for reconnaissance, or are they only used for killing people?”
“Well, they’re mostly for killing, but I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t be used for reconnaissance….”
Paul nods, processing this. Obviously he’s thinking that if Andre sent the thing to try and take him out, that would be a serious breach of the cease-fire before the Monomancy (ha I finally figured out the correct spelling!). Andre seems like a smarter guy than that….
Klaus is now staring at Georgia. “Paul who is this?”
“This is Ms. Johnson, a…a master of the arcane, for lack of a better term. She’s on our side.”
Klaus takes in Georgia’s embroidered Tremere robes, which are now sadly crusted with dried seawater and reeking of marsh. His frown deepens.
“Look, Klaus, here’s the background. Vampires. Different clans, different types of vampires. Some are really ugly, some are really beautiful, some are clever, some do magic, like her. Some of them…” Paul looks at the creature, “do very weird things with body parts and animals. Those are the ones that attacked Tesseract. Those are the ones that made this.”
Klaus turns back to Paul. His face is still stern, but Paul can see some flickers of fear at the edges. “So there could be more?”
“There definitely could be more. I have it on good authority, though, that they will not do any movement against Tesseract or me until after this…ah…fight on Wednesday night.”
“Well, I found this thing on the perimeter. Whether they are planning to attack you or not, they are certainly looking in. I have forty men scattered around Tesseract, equipped with low-light goggles and tranquilizers, but at this point I don’t know if anything is enough!”
“Well, if they’re anything like vampires, they won’t like fire.”
“I can’t exactly set fire to the entire perimeter! At least, not without attracting the attention of the fire department!” (And, as the Hacker Dojo has learned, the Mountain View fire department is someone you want to mess with even less than an army of unholy vampire flesh-monsters.)
Klaus is getting more and more worked up, but Paul is remaining calm. “Lets assume for the moment that they don’t plan to act until after Wednesday.”
Klaus glares. “That’s a hell of an assumption Paul….”
“They’ve had four days to act before now, they haven’t done it yet.”
Klaus demands to know what this whole Wednesday event is that Paul keeps talking about. Paul, in no uncertain terms, describes it as a fight to the death, against the vampire who captured the Tesseract people in the first place. Klaus sputters indignantly, asks if this is some sort of bad movie. Paul sighs and says he asks himself that every day.
Klaus finally makes the connection between the Monomancy and the plan to rig the Shark Tank with solar fiber-optic cables.
Unfortunately, though, a new wrench has fallen into that plan. Klaus produces a letter, addressed to the company, announcing a motion for a public forum meeting for the San Jose City Council to debate the new lighting arrangements in the arena.
The hearing is set for Tuesday. At noon.
(Me: “Oh my god, Andre is fighting you with bureaucracy….”)
Paul is concerned, but not dissuaded. He points out that the Sabbat know he’s up to something, but there’s no way they know what, exactly, it is. The actual work to rig the lights with the fiber optic cable is tedious, but very subtle. Paul suggests a plan where they send in a crew of maintenance people bought-off by Tesseract to complete the work anyway. Klaus is skeptical, points out that the total bribery costs will be considerable, but Paul says he will have a blank check authorized for the mission.
(Me and Jim: “Spared no expense!”)
Klaus starts to come around. He realizes that even if the Sabbat send people through after the maintenance crews leave, all they’ll find is fiber optic data cables, which are already laced through the arena anyway. They’ll be more concerned about explosives or some sort, so they might just ignore the cables.
The plan to use the lights, though, is still a little iffy, as Paul needs a way to attack the Sabbat—or, at the least, Andre—without blasting himself. Paul hopes to get one of their people into the lighting booth, but details beyond that will have to be discussed later.
“Paul,” Gates chimes in hesitantly, “Have you thought through what’s going to happen after you do all this?”
“Yes. There’s going to be a power vacuum in San Jose,” Paul states calmly. “Or, well, there’s going to be a power vacuum in the entire Bay Area. I’m working on that problem.”
Gates still looks unsettled. “Aren’t there pretty scary vampires out there? I mean, scarier than you?”
(You mean, approximately all of them?)
“Well, if things work on Wednesday, there won’t be any nearby. In the meantime….” Paul turns toward the door. At some point, Wolfgang stuck his head in and has been listening to the proceedings nervously. “Klaus, this man is…well, has been a servant of Ms. Johnson’s tribe of vampires for awhile—“
“No! No I am not Nazi!!!”
“…Uh, that is yet to be verified. In any case, he willingly—“
“I love Jeeeews!”
“—He willingly put down his arms earlier this evening. I’m sure that in exchange for being allowed to disappear quietly, he’d be a great source of information for you on steps to take to secure Tesseract.”
Klaus has been glaring at Wolfgang since Paul first introduced him, and the scowl has only gotten deeper the more Wolfgang has protested. As Paul finishes, Klaus folds his arms and drums his fingers against his biceps. “Oh, oh I have no doubt….” he says, an unsettling edge to his voice. “We shall have a chat. Over strudel.”
Sunrise is soon, too soon for Paul and Georgia to get to the Portola house, so they arrange to have themselves shipped there over the course of the day instead.
Our car arrives at the Portola house, also close to sunrise. Anstis and I unload the sarcophagus into the garage then set out to find shelter for the day. I’m occupied with leading Norton and carrying Marcus, but not so occupied that I don’t notice Anstis staring around appraisingly.
“Don’t touch anything,” I growl, and head toward the wine cellar, leaving Anstis to wander around the house.
Norton collapses into a corner almost as soon as we descend the stairs. It looks decently safe so I leave him there. For Marcus, though, I take extra precaution and walk through the cellar to the last row, furthest from the stairs. I bend over to lay him down in as comfortable-seeming a position as possible, not that it really matters either way but it seems kind of weird to not make the effort.
Satisfied, I move to stand up. As I do, a hand taps my shoulder.
I freeze. Anstis wouldn’t be so subtle, and Norton is already dead to the world. I slowly stand all the way up and turn around.
Someone is standing there, someone who definitely wasn’t there before. A woman. Tall, almost as tall as me. Her clothes are dark and simply-cut, but even in the dim light of the cellar I can tell that they are made of some seriously expensive fabric, as is the shawl wrapped loosely around her head and half-obscuring her face.
But even partially hidden, her face is arresting. Her cheeks and nose are angular in a classic Middle-Eastern look, but her skin is dark. Not black like a person of African heritage, but dark, cool like obsidian, or a desert night sky, and her eyes shine like stars in its depth.
Even though I’ve never seen one before I know exactly what this is. My natural urge to scoff and snark withers away. I stand very still, waiting for her to make a move, but all she does is watch me.
After a few tense moments, I break the silence. “I assume that since none of us are dead, there’s something you need?”
She is silent for another moment before speaking. “You are Tom Lytton?” Her voice is the one from the phone message. I nod. “My name is Fatima,” she continues. “I am a Child of Haqim.” She inclines her head. “I am not the first one you have laid eyes upon.”
I blink in surprise. “I’m…pretty sure I would have remembered meeting one. That or I would be dead…”
Her eyes widen. “You have not seen it, then?”
I look around the cellar. “Seen what?”
Her eyes narrow. “You truly have not.” It is not a question. “Perhaps there has been a mistake. We were lead to believe that you were the obvious….” She trails off and shakes her head. “Perhaps not.”
I’m still very cognizant of the danger here, and also of Marcus lying unconscious behind me, but despite my better instincts I am intrigued. “The…obvious what?” I press.
She sighs. “I am here on an errand…”
My eyebrow raises, but she holds up a palm. “An errand…not of the sort you imagine. I am not here to kill. At least…not one of you. I seek one of my kind. Two of my kind, if the other can be found, but only one has been known to be here.”
“Ahh,” I relax slightly, starting to feel my way onto more familiar ground, that of Passing the Buck. “An…associate…of mine has had dealings with one of your people recently but I have not been a part of that.”
Now Fatima raises an eyebrow. “What manner of dealings?”
“Fulfilling—or, rather, attempts at fulfilling a contract, from what I understand.”
“A contract? On whom?”
“Georgia Johnson. Tremere.”
Fatima’s eyes narrow down to near-slits in her dark skin. “There are no contracts under that name registered with the Assamite clan. Not in this state.”
I jerk my head back. “Iiiiinteresting….”
Fatima sighs again. “But that is not surprising. The ones I seek do not operate with the blessing of Haqim. They are…what do you call them…antitribu. Defectors from the true path of Haqim.”
“I….did not realize there were defectors from Haqim—“
Her eyes narrow again instantly. “There is a reason you did not realize that, and if you breathe a word of it, it will be the last word you ever speak. I only ask you this because, in all truth, I have had no success in finding either of them.”
Which raises an interesting point… “…Why did you come to me?”
She regards me silently for a few more moments, her eyes considerably softer. “Forgive me, I assumed you knew.” She gazes at the racks around us. “I do not know what name the original traitor goes by now, and what name he had with us has been left long behind. But he sired another after he fled from the Sabbat.” Her eyes flick back to me. “Her name was Isabella.”
Silence in the room. She watches me expectantly. I stare, not entire sure what—
Then what she said sinks in.
I take a step back. “…Wait, WHAT?”
“Isabella,” she repeats. “I was lead to believe you know this name.”
“I do, but…. No, that’s…no….” It’s a good thing I don’t have to breathe because all the air has vanished from the room. I grab onto one of the wine racks to steady myself.
“I am afraid that there is no doubt on this matter.” She reaches into her clothing and pulls out a photo. I take it reflexively. It’s a candid photo, taken from a high angle, showing a woman in an alley standing next to a figure on the ground. Even though the lighting is poor there is no mistake that it’s my Isabella.
She looks older than last I saw her, but still far younger than her actual age should be. Her blonde hair is pulled up in the same high pony-tail I used to tease her about. She’s turned toward the camera, revealing feminine facial features that are still strikingly similar to my own.
In this photo, though, those facial features are smeared with blood.
“This was taken by one of our contacts,” Fatima is saying. “It was the last thing he did. We found the camera in the…remnants…of his body.” She waits to see if I react, and when I don’t she continues. “We believe that she was sired directly by the antitribu. She never had the opportunity to know the truth of Haqim. I have been asked to destroy them both.”
Only some of these words are filtering through the haze in my mind. The little bit of my consciousness that still works is focused on the photo, on the blood stains on her face and hands.
Did she know what she was getting herself into? I wonder. Did her sire lie and trick her somehow?
Just like mine did for me….
“I was lead to believe you knew of her whereabouts,” Fatima says sharply, piercing the gloom.
I shake my head lightly but I don’t take my eyes off the picture. “The last time I saw her, she was at home…in her room….” A room plastered with sketches and watercolors, trying in vain to cover the ludicrously-pink walls that she had already outgrown. It was the night I left and as much as I wanted to I couldn’t bear to wake her up to say goodbye. I wanted my last image of her to one of peace and teenage contentment.
And now I was looking at this.
Fatima sighs and reaches out to take the photo from my unresisting fingers. “You have my sympathies then. We assumed you knew. This man, we have been chasing him for fifty years. Across Europe, to Canada, to the United States, and now to here. He is extremely dangerous and he has sired before. Many do not last long, but this one…has been staying with him. We believe he is…using her for some purpose.”
I lean a shaky hand on the wine rack. All these years I had been beating myself up, worrying what our father had done to her, and our mother, in the years since I’d left. But once again, the universe proves that as bad as my fears might get, it can always drum up new horrors beyond my wildest nightmares.
Fatima watches my reaction with a critical eye. “You truly knew nothing?”
I shake my head slowly. “I haven’t…I haven’t talked to….”
“You are Brujah, you are permitted to speak to your…old life, are you not?”
Jesus, if I am, this is the first I’ve heard of it. But I shake my head. “My old life…drove me….” I gulp and try again. “I haven’t spoken to them, but it wasn’t my choice. I mean, I hadn’t spoken to them for ten years before I….”
Fatima sighs and shakes her head, her eyes pitying. I get the sense that since I’m of no use to her she’s going to leave soon. I hold my hand out. “Wait…why? How? When?”
“We do not know. We identified her…five years ago, perhaps. In Mexico City. Since then she has come here. So has he. We think.” She holds the picture up again. “But he has not been careless enough to be seen. I thought you might know her whereabouts so we might ask directly of her where to find her master.”
“Why would she be acting like there’s a contract on Ms. Johnson if there isn’t one?”
“Perhaps whoever contracted to kill this Johnson of yours didn’t do so with us. We do not have a monopoly on killing for hire, much as we would like one.” A flicker of humor passes across her eyes. “And an Assamite’s services, even a false one, are in high demand.”
She tilts her head back to regard me critically. “I should not have told you all this if you did not know. This was an error. So I must ask you now what you will do. My…instructions are to destroy them both.”
I nod. I don’t have the picture in front of me anymore, but the image is still burned in my mind. “What has she done?”
Fatima’s eyes narrow. “In addition to existing without permission of the Children of Haqim? She has taken contracts in our name. Masqueraded herself as one of us. These are killing offenses in the brotherhood.”
I glare. These…are all things I couldn’t give a flying fuck about. Here I’d been expecting some story about how, like, her sire has made deals with demons, or whatever usual shit. I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed—
“Her master, though, has done far, far worse,” she continues grimly. “He is a diablerist. Well, we all are diablerists, but he…. He practices not for the glory of Haqim but to raise himself up. He traffics with demons and dark thaumaturgists.”
Theeeeeeeere it is. I rub my face and nod. “He probably should get in line….”
Fatima tilts her head down, casting her eyes into shadow. “He is a creature of darkness and he will be destroyed. Haqim has banished him from his sight. Banished both of them. The existence she has now is not one to envy—“
Ha, as if any of our existences are…
“—If you still care for her, you will assist us. I understand if you will not, but we cannot permit you to interfere.”
I nod vacantly. “I’ll…see what I see.”
She seems to accept this. “You know the one which she was hunting? The Tremere? The Tremere have been remarkably hard to locate as of late—“
I snort. “Yeah, well, there’s fewer of them to find right now.”
“Yes. I heard there was an altercation tonight. I know you were involved, I will not ask details. But if you know this Tremere…bring her to me. It is for her own good. Isabella will not stop hunting her.”
I nod, though I don’t entirely like the sound of that. Not that I’m suddenly a huge fan of Georgia, but more that I can’t wrap my mind around the idea of my little sister being a hyper-efficient, unstoppable predator.
Fatima seems to see the uncertainty in my eyes. “She is not a fully trained Assamite. She is not as good as the rest of us. She will likely fail, and if she does, do you think the Tremere will let her live?”
Yeah, well, it doesn’t sound like the Assamites would let her live either, so if it’s the frying pan or the fire—
Once again, Fatima seems to read what I’m thinking. “You think any Tremere can be trusted?”
I hesitate, the (very, very many) events of the evening flashing through my mind. I can’t help but glance at Marcus, lying on the floor behind me.
Fatima follows my gaze. “Who is that?”
“Oh, he’s a friend,” I say with a nonchalant shrug.
Her eyes dart back to me, eyebrow cocked. “You make friends with elder vampires, do you?”
I freeze. Fear floods back, but this time it’s not out of concern for myself. I stare silently for a few moments, mind racing. “Some…times….”
“You are bonded to him?”
This time I don’t respond.
“We all serve someone,” she says, almost companionably. “But his blood would be a great boon to the Children of Haqim. We would offer much in exchange for it.”
I keep my face carefully neutral, but on the inside, shitshitshitshitshit….
“How much?” comes Anstis’s gruff voice from behind me.
Now my face goes flat. If there was any color on it, it would have drained. SHITFUCKFUCKSHITFUUUU—
Fatima peers around me to regard Anstis critically. There’s no way he snuck up on her, but she didn’t acknowledge his presence earlier than this, so I have no idea how much he’s overheard. But right now him knowing about Isabella is the least of my concerns. I glance between him at Fatima, the two of them on either side of Marcus and me.
“And you are?” Fatmia asks.
Anstis smooths dramatically at his coat. “Thomas Anstis.”
She nods. “How much? More than I could lay hands upon at this instant. Wealth beyond the dreams of either of you, I guarantee.”
Horror swells in my gut in exact inverse proportion to the calculating glee growing on Anstis’s face. “Well, isn’t that interesting,” he growls, staring at Marcus and stroking his damn-fool beard.
“It is,” Fatima says. “We have a reputation, I am aware of this, but we can be relied upon to fulfill a contract. And we would contract for this one.” She nods toward Marcus. “One does not encounter blood of that vintage every day.”
Vintage?? Jesus fucking Christ. My hand twitches toward the Tremere sword still tucked through my belt, though God only knows that won’t do me any good against these two.
Instead, I try my least favorite weapon: diplomacy. “I’m afraid the kid isn’t for sale,” I say, folding my arms in a way that I hope looks confident.
Her eyes widen in amused surprise. “You say that without even asking a price?”
She gracefully folds her arms to match mine. “One hundred million dollars.” (Dr. Evil pinky finger.)
I snort. Yeah, all the money in the world, and no time to spend it in before Perkins comes back around and kills all of—
“One hundred million dollars…or a favor. From the Assamite clan.”
Now I pause. A favor…like pardoning Isabella? I glance down at Marcus. Shitshitfuckshit—
“Each?” Anstis chimes in.
Fatima turns to him, meeting his eyes. “Agreed. As long as you just mean the two of you.”
The two of them continue to stare at each other. I look back and forth between them, panic rising again. “Could…could you give us a moment? I need to speak to my associate—“
“I should be going anyway,” Fatima says. “When you find the Tremere, bring her to me, at this address.” She hands me a card, which I glance at but barely register. “Tell her that I can arrange it that her Assamite problems are solved. But only if she comes. She will not trust me, I understand this, but you must convince her somehow.”
She looks me in the eye again. “And think on my offer. One hundred million each. Or a favor. Whatever you prefer.”
“Where do we be getting in touch with you?” Anstis asks.
She nods at the card, still held loosely in my hand. “There is a phone number on the back of that card.”
Anstis tilts his head. “Phone…number?”
She looks at me. I hold out a hand placatingly. “I’ll explain it to him.”
If by that I mean I won’t explain it to him, since if he can’t contact her, then he can’t turn in Marcus. I tuck the card into my coat.
She nods. “Think on the offer. I can make you one of the richest men in the city.”
A city that I love, but a city that seems on the brink of disaster, and getting closer each day. “The richest man in Babylon,” I mutter to myself.
“We stand outside of Alamut, Brujah, this whole world is Babylon.” She nods to me, and Anstis. “We will be in touch.” With that, she turns and walks across the cellar, melting into the shadows. Moments later and it’s as if she was never there.
I…have a lot of things to process. I stare off into the middle distance, glancing occasionally at Marcus, as if to make sure that he’s still there. I can feel sunrise approaching, though, so I’ll have to save most of my processing for tomorrow.
Who would have thought that fighting a demon-possessed methusula and blowing up a bunch of Nazis would be the least stressful parts of my evening?
Anstis is still staring at Marcus with a distressingly calculating look on his face. I pull myself together. “Anst—Captain, I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, Marcus is worth far more…well, un-alive, than dead.“
“So find me a better offer,” Anstis says smugly.
I glare at him. Panic is wearing off, but it’s being rapidly replaced by anger. “Pretty sure your life is a better offer. You know all the shit that happened today? It’s peanuts compared to what’s probably coming.” I swing an arm in the direction I think is north. “This guy Perkins? He’s still out there. He knows our faces, knows we’re with Marcus, and will be coming for us. If Marcus isn’t with us when he does, well…that’s not going to stop him.”
Anstis snorts. “You mean he’s after you.”
“He’s after any of us he saw with Marcus, especially the two assholes who tried to cut him in half!”
Anstis’s grin wavers a bit. I’m rapidly approaching the point of passing-out, so I ignore him and settle myself on the floor near Marcus.
“What are these phones she was talking about?” Anstis asks as I struggle to find a comfortable position in my beat-up coat.
“They’re…shit I don’t know, they’re a magical way to communicate with someone over a long distance.”
“Like that…brick-thing Stewart was using?”
I nod, closing my eyes. He doesn’t take the hint, though, and lingers around. “Do you think this be a safe place, then?”
I fake a yawn. “As secure as any. I’ve holed up here before.”
“The Assamite got in.”
“Yeah, they’ll do that. Werewolves too.”
He hovers for a few more moments, but when I don’t elaborate, he wanders off, assumingly to find his own corner of the cellar to camp out in. I let myself drift off into the peaceful sleep of the Damned.
I have no idea, of course, that a few minutes after I pass out, Anstis sneaks back to steal Fatima’s card from my jacket pocket and copy down the information on it.
END OF NIGHT
(Incidentally, this marks the very first time that the real-night has ended at the same time as the in-game night. Which isn’t as surprisingly when you realize that our in-game nights last for LITERAL WEEKS.)
ADDENDUM: THE ISABELLA STORY
Right, ok, so I know what you’re thinking, this seems like some sort of soap opera shit up in here (“Oooh, my beloved sister whom I’ve missed for so long has been taken by the same curse that befell me! Oh angst! Oh feels!”). But believe it or not, this plot twist actually grew organically, and completely by accident.
Here’s the story. In the backlash of The Marin Incident, which occurred maybe two or three months after we started playing last summer, I was suddenly finding myself with more connection to and interest in Tom (and, transitively, the game itself) than I had yet had. I was suddenly barraged with ideas of his backstory and emotional motivations. This was way before I started this blog, so my only outlet to vent these Thoughts and Feels was to barrage Jason with epic emails once or twice a week.
In one of these emails, I outlined an explanation about why Tom was so unexpectedly protective of Sophia when we first met her. I decided that she reminded him of a younger sister he had been very close to and left behind when he ran away from home. Somewhere in all these thoughts, I came up with a name for her, completely out of the blue: Isabella. I included that in my next email to Jason.
A few weeks later, during the Reign of Carlos the Ticklemonster, we were introduced to an Assamite for the first time. She showed up at Carlos’s body-tank as part of some larger plot from Max and introduced herself as Isabella. I gasped. Jason looked at me and was like, wait what? And then I was like, wait what?
We stared at each other in confusion but continued the game. It wasn’t until later when I was doing dishes that we got a chance to talk quietly. I reminded him that I had chosen that name for Tom’s sister, he was like oh crap I totally forgot, but he had already picked this name for the Assamite. I shrugged and was like, oh well I can pick a new name for Tom’s sister, I’m not too attached to it, it would be too confusing to have two characters with the same name, even if one is never seen. Then I laughed and was like, it’s a pretty crazy coincidence isnt it?
He looked at me, then suddenly got That Evil Grin and was like, “Yes…unless…it’s not a coincidence….”
I froze mid-wash. “….You son of a bitch,” I hissed, fighting back laughter.
So for months, that story remained completely under the radar for everyone else. Even as information about Tom’s sister came out in out-of-game conversations, I was very careful not to give her name. The first time I revealed her name was in the sort-of-suicide note I left before I almost died in Sophia’s silver-removal, and the only reason I did that was because in case Tom died, I didn’t want this cool twist we had come up with to drop completely off the map.
But what’s really funny is how the story ended up working itself in on it’s own. See, many of the times that Assamite-Isabella has already been around, Jason has rolled TERRIBLE rolls for her. I mean just atrocious. During the raid on San Jose she SHOULD have been able to one-shot Georgia, but they ended up grappling for three or four rounds. Then, when Isabella made an attempt on Georgia again, at Paul’s house, she kind of choked up and let Paul talk her out of it, which isn’t very Assamite at all. We all started to joke that, as an Assamite, she’s “not very good,” which Jason and I secretly agreed would work rather well for a relatively young American Assamite with some sort of unusual pedigree (although Jason wouldn’t give me his details on her that he was working out).
But yes. Now, here it is, completely on the board for the first time.
And, as expected, it is far, far worse than I ever imagined.